Self-Loathing Is Not a Gift of The Spirit

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“I can’t for the life of me imagine that God would say ‘I will punish you because you are black–you should have been white. I will punish you because you’re a woman–you should have been a man. I punish you because you are homosexual–you ought to have been heterosexual.’ I can’t–I can’t for the life of me believe that that is how God sees it.”
~Bishop Desmond Tutu, For the Bible Tells Me So 

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I watched For the Bible Tells Me So for the second time tonight. When I first watched this eye-opening documentary in 2009, I was moved. This time I was broken. I sobbed, and prayed, and sobbed more. I said aloud to God, “So many wrongs perpetrated in your name.” Then I cried more, and I asked why I was so affected. Finally it hit me. I love the children, and our children are dying.

Back in 2009, I had returned to the denomination of my childhood and was attempting to be a good church-going Christian. Now, I keep the Sabbath by staying home because I am unwilling to endure the intolerance that continues to flow from so many pulpits and from the mouths of so many church leaders. Then, I thought that churches were all basically the same, and the election of President Obama did little to convince me differently. After that election, I essentially dismissed God. His people, at least most of the ones I had encountered, were oblivious to the real hurts of our nation. They were oblivious that their words of exhortation fell on my ears as critical and ignorantly self-righteous. Because I dared not speak out about what I believed in contradiction to their statements–because I am not a fan of conflict despite what some would believe– I became increasingly frustrated, and I eventually quit. Perhaps in my deepest soul I still felt a connection to God, but for a period, those who were screaming the loudest in His name pushed me to identify myself as agnostic, if not completely atheist.

Ultimately, each of us experiences our spirituality in our own way. That’s one of the major beliefs I was taught as a child: the new covenant did away with the middle man, and I have a direct connection to God without needing to go through anyone else. However I also learned that not everyone had the same benefit as the Christians in my denomination. When I attended church as a child, I was pretty attentive during church services. Being smart, I comprehended the essence of what was said by teachers and preachers and evangelists. Basically, my friends at school who went to different churches? Damned to Hell. The kids whose parents didn’t take them to church? Damnned to Hell. My family members who didn’t attend church? Damned to Hell. As for “others,” Eastern religions were dubbed cults, and missionaries were sent to save their souls and lead them to Jesus. Worse, within Christianity were the Catholics who were going to hell because…well, they’re Catholic. If that wasn’t bad enough, right there in our small town there were people calling themselves Christians who were of a different denomination, and they were going to Hell because they had it wrong. And as a privileged Christian in this particular denomination, it was my obligation to save their souls. If I prayed enough, God would do the rest.

So what does this have to do with a movie about homosexuality and Christianity? There is a parallel between the ridiculously crippling responsibility that was cast upon me at an early age and the death sentence that parents and churches are currently handing their own children in the name of God.

Stick with me– this takes a few:

All this knowledge meant that I hit the “age of accountability” pretty damned early, and my adolescent years were hell on earth. First, the problems caused by a church code that required me to wear only skirts; I was a tomboy who rode BMX bikes with the boys in the neighborhood and played on two different basketball teams. Next, there were sermons, lessons, workshops, and audio cassettes that told me the music I enjoyed on the radio was of the devil. Now add a a completely unhealthy dose of perpetual guilt of kissing boys and learning about my own body. Oh, and let’s not forget that my father’s eternal damnation was on my hands because I obviously didn’t have enough faith. The overarching message I got from the church was that I was a sinner on a daily basis, and usually several times a day. The difficulty of being a teen was compounded by the internal fight that I was who I was, and I knew what I wanted to be, but I was going to pay for it with my soul. I was a failure, and I wasn’t even out of middle school.

The tear-stained pages of my journal filled a four-inch binder by the time I was a high school freshman. I kept trying. I still attended church, and sang there, too. I went to Young Life like all the good kids at school. Every summer for ten years I was at church camp, praying, weeping, singing, and trying to be enough. I didn’t smoke, have intercourse, or drink alcohol, and I have yet to ever use illegal drugs. But my church told me every single week that being good wasn’t good enough. And I hated myself.

To be fair, some of my perceptions weren’t specifically stated. However, my intelligent brain could make the connections all on its own. And when you’re a guilt-ridden child, you don’t confess to anyone but God because people will certainly judge you more harshly.

As an adult, I once again declare that I am a Christian, and I try to be Christ-like. I’m also now aware of something called “spiritual abuse,” and I feel it’s a perfect descriptor for what I experienced at the hands of some extremely well-meaning but misguided people. Within the past year, I’ve attended a couple of “progressive” churches, and I’ve talked with people who attend others. Some churches identify themselves as “reconciling,” and I feel a special love for those congregations. A reconciliation is needed for those of us who were pushed out of the body of Christ because we heard the repeated message that we were unloveable.

Now, at this moment– the issue at the forefront of “the Church” is that of homosexuality, transgender persons, and those who identify with LGBTQ ( That stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender, and queer, and it is the collective’s preferred term).  And while it may be a difficult topic for some of my traditional Christian friends, here’s my message. Get over it–Not everything is about you. And THIS is about the children in our churches across the country who are being told that they are wrong, sinful, unnatural, immoral, and (worst of all) “an abomination in the sight of God.” I’m not going to talk scripture. I know that many will immediately pull out those six verses in the Bible that they have been told prove that God condemns homosexuality. I’ve done the research. Have you? Because if you have merely listened to what has been said repeatedly without digging into the Bible, its context, and the history of how it’s been interpreted, you’re not holding up  your end of the bargain as a Christian. And if you cannot find a way to truly accept those people fully as God’s children, then I will pray for you. All I ask in return is that you follow the guidance of the Dalai Lama when he said, “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others; and if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.”

Matthew Vines has done an exhaustive presentation on how those few verses have been used as weapons of division, cruelty, and true persecution.  Be brave– watch it.

The movie I’ve mentioned above includes true theologians and ministers who are experts on the Bible and its history. They also point to professional organizations (American Academy of Pediatrics, for example) who have said for years that homosexuality is not a choice, and it’s not a “preventable condition” as Dr. James Dobson likes to tell parents. Those same organizations are on record with scientific evidence that “reparative therapy” or programs designed to “pray the gay away” are harmful to teens and adults alike.

Here’s the bottom line, people– there are thousands (millions?) of LBGTQ teens in our country. For those attending a church that continues to condemn homosexuality with such fervor, they have two choices. Stay in the closet, deny who they are, and suffer in mind, spirit, and soul. Or come out, be condemned to Hell, possibly rejected by their parents, friends, and community, and suffer spiritual abuse– often violently. The church’s message has been distorted, and there are those who make it their mission to rid the earth of gays. Yes, gays are assaulted, bullied, and even killed in the name of God.

However, the majority of homosexual teens who die, do so by their own hand. Here from a neutral and reliable source, the Centers for Disease Control, is the reality:

“LGBT youth are also at increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors, suicide attempts, and suicide. A nationally representative study of adolescents in grades 7–12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide as their heterosexual peers [3].”

Our children are killing themselves, and we’re handing them the weapons. This is a fact– many teens/children who are LGBTQ are being told that they are worthless or will have to forever deny who they are. They see no reason to live. It’s hideously true, and the stories can be found with a simple Google search of “gay teen suicide.”

Jesus said to love. He didn’t limit that to straight, white, male, American, or even Christian– He said “Love your neighbor.” No qualifications. And excluding these young people with your message of intolerance is in direct violation of what Jesus said.  (For the record, “Love the sinner, hate the sin” is NOT helping. It is difficult to extract yourself from your natural state. Don’t believe me? Write a sentence with your non-dominant hand, and see how “natural” that feels.) As a parent, family member, or friend of a teen who comes out as homosexual, bisexual, or transgender, your responsibility is to that teen–your neighbor. Not the community who may shun you. Not the pastor who may condemn you. Not the person you sit next to in Sunday School who may judge you. NONE of those people will be able to comfort you should that teen decide to kill himself/herself because of judgement. LOVE. That’s all.

Oh, and on a side note, until you have actually MET a person who is homosexual (especially here in the South), stop claiming to know anything about them as a group. They don’t bite; they’re not contagious, and if they’re Christian they would appreciate a genuine effort to talk and share God’s work in their lives. And don’t be frightened of their “agenda.” The homosexual agenda is the human agenda– Live this life the best we can.

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If you want to become an ally, or if you have questions, here are some websites that have helped me in my journey of understanding and acceptance.

The Trevor Project

It Gets Better Project

How to Be a Strong Ally to People with Marginalized Identities

Standing on the Side of Love

Canyonwalker Connections

Rising waters, raising expectations, and lifting up one another

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Jacob’s Well is a coffee house and restaurant in Old Hickory, Tn. I haven’t even visited the eatery yet, and I’m already in love with the place simply because of this post. As I speak of the people who own and/or manage Jacob’s Well, I choose to refer to the business name because I don’t know the people behind the sign.

In Davidson County , August 8, 2013, began with rain. And more rain.  So much rain that Briley Parkway beneath Interstate 24 was closed for a time because the flood waters made it impassable. The communities east and northeast of Nashville were once again subjected to flooding. While the affected areas and the number of people involved were much smaller than the 2010 floods that brought Music City to a temporary halt, the truth of a natural disaster remains. When it’s your home, it’s as monumental a loss as if it were the entire neighborhood. Your world must stop while you deal with the results.

In addition to losing water-logged personal treasures, being stranded in homes and on roofs, and worrying because the rain hasn’t yet stopped, the processes of being human continue. People get hungry and thirsty, and they need to use the restroom, bathe, or take medication. They must care for children or ailing family members. Any one of those tasks becomes difficult, if not impossible, while your home has even six inches of water inside it. According to reports, today’s rains flooded apartment buildings, submerged cars, and at least one sewer valve malfunctioned resulting in raw sewage bubbling from sinks, tubs, and toilets. Another basement held six feet of water. At the time of this writing, more rain is on the way tonight; even more tomorrow.

While a coffee house isn’t designed, built, or equipped to solve any of those problems, Jacob’s Well found a way to help those who are suffering in their community. They posted the photo above with an offer of lunch “on us” for those dealing with too much water on a soggy day. I’m reminded of a sermon I heard once, and a thought put forth often– do what you can, with what you have, where you are.  Jacob’s Well is in Old Hickory and they serve food. The staff/owners have decided to give that food to folks who need a bright spot in a gloomy, wet, and dismal day. FREE. I shared the photo on Facebook with the comment that “THIS is what Christianity looks like.”

Jacob’s Well hasn’t said that they will give food to only those who demonstrate that they spent a defined number of hours bailing water out of a basement. They probably aren’t going to hold onto the best food for the paying customers either. They may have done it because it will increase traffic to the business and serve them well financially in the long run, but I doubt that’s the primary reason. The owners haven’t made this choice because they were called upon to do so by a politician or spiritual leader who poured on the guilt or threatened legal action.  Why then? Because Jacob’s Well’s menu has sandwiches and coffee, not buckets and mops. Yet as members of the community, they feel an obligation to help. This is Christ-like. Will they lose money today by giving away their stock? It’s possible, but not likely. Any monetary loss will be more that recovered by the gratitude and customer loyalty created by the establishment’s actions.

Here’s the link to the coffee house’s page: Jacob’s Well in Old Hickory, TN.

Remember the name. Remember what they do. Let’s do what they do, with what we have, where we are.

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