Posts tagged ‘LGBTQ’

Part 2: Worlds Collide

NOTE: This is part two of a five-part series about my faith journey over the last few years. You can find the first part here.

I mentioned fear yesterday.

Turns out, I tend to feel like I need to have everything figured out before discussing my faith, but I don’t and I never will. I need to feel confident, but I sometimes doubt. I need to be perfect and discuss it perfectly, but I’m not and I won’t. In other words, in typical Kyle fashion, I hold myself to an impossible standard.

So here we are: The boyfriend who had me thinking about my faith again called himself a Christian, but wasn’t what I knew a Christian to be. He believed in education and science and logic and reason. And he believed in Jesus and God. I know what you’re thinking – what a freakin’ weirdo, right?!

He didn’t demand I believe certain things or anything like that. He just wanted to help me figure things out. He wanted me to explore the world in a new and different way. He wanted me to know there was a Christian perspective that didn’t exclude things like equality, logic, reason, doubt, or difference of opinion. He told me about writers and thinkers whose work he appreciated, but I explored others beyond them, too.

We also started regularly attending a church service at one of those warehouse-style places with rock bands for worship music and trendy pastors who try really hard to ooze “authenticity.” Let’s just say it didn’t work out. Turns out, they were basically the same thing from my past, just repackaged to look and feel better.

But we also went to another church on Christmas Eve each year. The boyfriend told me about a priest that his best friend had told him about. A female, Episcopalian priest. Yep. Two good ol’ Southern Baptist-raised boys found a lady priest they liked! Then, one of them realized he was gay, got into a relationship, and then told his confused boyfriend about the cool lady priest, too. You know, your average coming-of-age conservative Evangelical story…

As a control freak and a recovering Southern Baptist, walking into an Episcopal cathedral wasn’t the most comfortable thing, no matter how hard anyone tried. But I know there’s a God because it turns out they give you a bulletin that tells you what to say and what to do for the entire service! #blessed

It was more formal than what I was used to, but I was drawn to it. At first, it was primarily the sermons. They were short, but powerful. So I started listening online, specifically to any sermon from this priest. For months, nothing more happened, mostly because I was just beginning to ask what the Bible really said about LGBTQ folks, if anything. Before, I hadn’t cared. Now, I did.

I discovered LGBTQ Christians like Matthew Vines, who wrote a great book debunking the “bible-based” arguments Evangelicals like to make when condemning LGBTQ people, or at least not affirming them. Not only did it open my eyes to what the Bible doesn’t say about this “issue,” it confirmed for me that I really could – and should – challenge what I’d been taught about what a “Christian” was, who Jesus was, and what the Bible is.

I also found one of Rachel Held Evans’ books, Searching for Sunday, and found myself nodding along the entire time. I really loved how she described her faith journey and the sacraments. When she began to talk about how she found herself enjoying an Episcopal church, I really identified with it. For example, in one Washington Post article, she wrote:

“I believe that the sacraments are most powerful when they are extended not simply to the religious and the privileged, but to the poor, the marginalized, the lonely and the left out. This is the inclusivity so many millennials long for in their churches, and it’s the inclusivity that eventually drew me to the Episcopal Church, whose big red doors are open to all — conservatives, liberals, rich, poor, gay, straight and even perpetual doubters like me.”

As time passed, I developed a desire to share with other people that the Bible really doesn’t condemn homosexuality or people in loving, committed, same-sex relationships. I participated in The Coming Out Monologues for a second year, in hopes of changing conservative Christian minds, but also to show LGBTQ folks that millions of Christians affirm and welcome them. I wanted people to hear this message, which I never heard growing up.

A few weeks later, I was representing COM at a local Pride event when a man with his adorable family walked up and introduced himself. He had attended (and loved) the show and wanted to get more involved with the LGBTQ community. I kept thinking, “He looks familiar and his name sounds familiar, too…” It hit me. He was also a priest at the cathedral where we attended Christmas Eve services!

This priest and I had casual chats at occasional coffee meet-ups, where I could toss out whatever issue or question I had. It was probably the first time I had so quickly felt at ease with a minister of any sort, much less seeking out one’s company and input.

I began more intentionally researching the Episcopal Church and really identified with it. So what did I like? And where am I at now in my journey? Stay tuned.

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Part 1: Deep Dinner Chat

So I’m sitting in a restaurant with my boyfriend. I don’t know how it comes up, but it does. 

“I don’t know what I’d consider myself…I don’t really know what I believe,” I say.

Silence. 

I felt bad, but it was true. And he’s an awesome boyfriend, now fiancé, so there were no ultimatums given or anything. We were both just kind of surprised by the conversation, unsure of exactly where to go from there. I think I explained that, though it had crossed my mind at times over the last few years, there hadn’t really been a need for me to think about my faith at length.

I didn’t know where it would take me, but I knew it was time to think about what I believed, particularly regarding faith.

So for the last few years, I’ve been on this journey, but it’s not one I’ve talked much about publicly. Naturally, my increasingly introspective nature leads me to think about why that is. I don’t think I have the complete answer, but I think I can summarize it: Fear.

I can confidently and comprehensively discuss LGBTQ issues with pretty much anybody now. For more than a decade, these issues have dominated my life. And while many conservative Evangelical Christians love to talk about how my sexuality is only one small part of the complete “me,” they’re also the ones who force many of us to focus on it because we’re constantly defending our love and our livelihoods. Fighting to be equal. Fighting just to live in peace. So while I certainly don’t claim to know everything when it comes to the LGBTQ community, or even myself within it, I can definitely discuss it. 

When I was a child and into my teenage years, before I knew for sure I was gay, there was something else I could discuss at length, something else that dominated my thinking and world: my faith. And I loved it. It helped me understand the world. It gave me guidance. Friends. A family of sorts. It gave me hope and love and fun. It gave me a chance to perform, write, and speak to groups. I realized I could be influential in others’ lives. It gave me a sense of mission.

But I also had questions and doubts. Big ones. Even before my sexuality became an issue, I learned that doubts and questions were not welcome at church. Disagreement was not welcome.

I’ve always been one to value education, logic and reason. More and more, I felt these were also not welcome, so I, in turn, was not welcome. As I got older, I started to notice other things, like misogyny and racism. Things just didn’t feel right. It didn’t seem like the Christ I had read about, whose love, compassion, grace and peace I thought I had at least occasionally felt. I realized I needed to leave. As you can imagine, once I realized I was gay, I knew that was it. 

All I knew about “other” non-Evangelical Christians back then was that they were few in number, were all wrong, and were giving into “the world” to make people more comfortable. That’s what I had been taught. Fortunately, I was going off to college and didn’t have to deal with any of it, so I didn’t.

While away at college, I was able to really come into my own. The big, bad, liberal university I spent my entire childhood hearing about turned out to be an awesome, caring community that allowed me to meet other people, learn new things, and gather valuable new perspectives on the world and the people living in it. It solidified what I already instinctively knew: Higher education and interaction with people who were different from me were good things, not bad things. My biggest regret about college is that I rushed through it. 

My drifting away wasn’t entirely my childhood church’s fault. It was inevitable. So-called “Christians” have repeatedly been the most hypocritical, hate-filled, fear-filled people I’ve encountered. And some of the nicest, most caring people I’ve met have been people of other faiths or of no faith. Plenty of “Christians” pushed me farther away. I have to say, though, that I never doubted my childhood church’s love for me. There are certainly reasons to be thankful to them, though I have to wonder what would’ve happened had I known I was gay back then and been open about it.

So there I was, at that table with that adorable man. For years, I hadn’t had to think about my faith, so I didn’t. But it was time. What did I believe? And if I did really still ultimately think I was a Christian, there really wasn’t any welcoming place for me, an openly gay man, right? Turns out, there was, but it would take time to figure that out.

My “Giving Tuesday” Plans

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This year, I’ve been thinking about Giving Tuesday more than usual. I try to give whenever I can, whenever it’s needed, but I also like the idea of a concerted effort to encourage others to give charitably, especially in this season of receiving gifts, many of which we don’t truly need.

There are many, many causes I’d love to financially support, and I encourage everyone to donate some time or money throughout the year, if you’re able. That said, here’s who I’ll be helping on Giving Tuesday:

LOCAL ORGANIZATIONS

St. John’s Cathedral

I’m not technically a member of St. John’s Cathedral (or the Episcopal Church, for that matter), but its clergy, particularly Dean Kate Moorehead and Rev. David Erickson, are wonderful and have really helped me. They are also advocates for the marginalized in our community. St. John’s Cathedral’s outreach efforts include Volunteers in Medicine and the Clara White Mission.

Earlier this year, St. John’s Cathedral invited neighboring churches, businesses and nonprofits to discuss the future of its Downtown neighborhood “and how to return it to a thriving community.” The goal: “…sharing God’s love through urban revitalization,” not by “displacing the poor and the non-profits ministering to them,” but by “moving working class people, businesses, and students into the district, beautifying the area and slowing the traffic so that a true village is born.”

Sounds good to me.

An estimated 3,000 people are homeless in Jacksonville. The Sulzbacher Center is the area’s largest provider of comprehensive services for the homeless. Beyond food, shelter and healthcare, it also helps people find jobs, and offers children’s programs and life skills programs.

JASMYN

JASMYN has directly helped more than 20,000 local LGBTQ youth since it began in the early 90s, myself included. I’m particularly fond of JASMYN because of its focus on helping young people, especially in this community, where love and support for LGBTQ folks aren’t always felt.

JASMYN has a lot of programming and educational opportunities. There’s a support group, resources for people who want to start a gay straight alliance at their school, education on safe sex, and “drop-in” nights where young people can connect and just hang out in a safe, supportive environment. JASMYN also provides free HIV testing.

Jacksonville Coalition for Equality

Jacksonville is the largest American city without human rights protections for the LGBTQ community. The Jacksonville Coalition for Equality is all about getting our city’s existing Human Rights Ordinance updated to include protections for sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression in employment, housing and public accommodations.

More than 600 local businesses and more than 150 faith leaders publicly support this change, yet the city’s mayor and some members of the City Council apparently still need to be convinced. That’s what JCE and the people behind it are trying to do.

Jacksonville Humane Society

While I didn’t find any of my pups through the Jacksonville Humane Society, both dogs I’ve had as an adult have used the JHS animal hospital. Lily hates the vet. In fact, “hates” might be an understatement. But the staff has always been patient and understanding, which I appreciate.

JHS cares for thousands of animals each year. It provides food, shelter, medical care, and of course the opportunity for people to adopt.

NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL ORGANIZATIONS & CAUSES

The Reformation Project

Gay Christian Matthew Vines is a great resource for LGBTQ Christians, particularly evangelicals. Vines created The Reformation Project, which works to promote the inclusion of LGBTQ people by reforming church teaching on sexual orientation and gender identity. The goal is to see a global church that fully affirms our community. What I really love is that Vines and The Reformation Project don’t avoid the so-called “clobber verses” — they address them directly and do a great job of it.

The Reformation Project has regional training conferences and an annual “leadership development cohort,” an intensive program to train LGBTQ Christians to be leaders in their own local faith communities. They are also planning to create local Reformation Project chapters at some point. Awesome stuff. Also, if you’re interested, be sure to check out Matt Vines’ book, “God and the Gay Christian.”

The Trevor Project

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24. And the rate of suicide attempts is four times greater for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth and two times greater for questioning youth, compared to straight youth.

The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ young people. It also operates the only national 24/7 crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ young people and offers help through instant messaging and text messaging.

ACLU

Some of my friends might see this as a controversial choice, but I’m reminded of a quote I recently heard. I can’t recall it directly, but it was basically that some people don’t like the ACLU until they need it. The group has been around for almost a century, and has more than a half-million members, nearly 200 staff attorneys, thousands of volunteer attorneys and offices throughout the nation.

I’m a fan of equality, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to due process, etc., so I’m a fan of the ACLU.

Doctors Without Borders

Just like the ACLU, you’ve probably heard about Doctors Without Borders. In case you don’t know, though, these docs deliver emergency medical aid to people affected by conflict, epidemics and disasters.

For me, right now, this is all about Syria. There are certainly other ways to help with this issue, but there are now no open hospitals in Aleppo. None. Most, if not all, have serious damage from bombs and other fighting. The World Health Organization estimates that more than a quarter-million people are now without hospital care. Doctors Without Borders goes wherever there is need, including incredibly dangerous places like Syria.

Mni Wiconi Health Clinic Partnership at Standing Rock 

If you’re not familiar with the situation at Standing Rock, here’s a good summary. Like Syria, there are various ways to support the folks at Standing Rock and there are many websites that have aggregated some of the options, so if you’re interested, be sure to look into it.

The Mni Wiconi (Water is Life) Health Clinic is a free clinic proposed as a partnership with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe traditional healers, UCSF and others to provide free care to all people in the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, including supporters who have gathered as “water protectors.”

This effort has already met its financial goal, so now all donations will be used to directly support immediate health needs at the Standing Rock protest camp.

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There are many great causes and organizations to support. If you’re able, I encourage you to find opportunities that work for you, whether in your own community or national/international causes. If you’re worried about how much of your money will actually support the programs you want to support, sites like Charity Navigator can help.

I hope Giving Tuesday is just the beginning. So many places could use volunteers and financial contributions throughout the year. I plan to work harder to be more involved, and I hope you will, too.

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