Monday, February 26, 2007

Soulforce in the News

How effective can a fledgling faith-based gay-rights organization be in fighting the homophobic multimillion-dollar empire that is Focus on the Family?

To find out more, see the article by Cindy Rodriguez in this week's Sunday Denver post.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Why We Do What We Do

Last evening was another reminder of why we, at CWM, do what we do.

Three of us travelled to Western Massachusetts for a panel discussion at Williams College hosted by the local Intervaristy Fellowship group. For those of you familiar with this national campus ministry, you might be surprised that CWM members were invited to talk about being queer and Christian. I certainly was.

Yet, it was clear that the Spirit of God was moving in and through this group of young people. Not satisfied with the presentation on reparative therapy at their national conference, some on the leadership team sought to expand the fellowship's understanding of sexuality through a panel discussion with queer Christians. For the past month they have worked hard with other campus groups including the Queer Student Union to get a good turn out. Far from the negative response I received when I broached this topic almost 15 years ago at this very same Williams Christian Fellowship, the students were both open and appreciative to our testimonies of faith.

Some were amazed that we even existed:

"Your community seems so different. Are there other churches that welcome queer people?"

Others were concerned for their friends:

"I have a friend who has given up on everything because he thinks God has already condemned him to hell for being gay. How can I help him?"

Still others were excited that there were Christians who were open and loving:

"A huge part of me has come to view Christians as judgmental...[but] I was completely blown away by a lot of the things you all said about Christian love, and the work you do is certainly a testament of that."

As a community of faith dedicated to proclaiming God's love with all gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning and straight persons, it is easy for us at times to forget that there are people out there who have never heard anyone say that it is okay to be both queer and Christian. There are Christians who have never heard anyone within the Church say that homosexuality is not a sin. There are queer youth who have never heard anyone tell them they are a Beloved child of God. There are queer Christians who never knew they had a place in the Church.

The stories we heard after the panel of struggle and pain and surprise are evidence that the work we do is important...not just in our gatherings inside the church walls each Sunday, but perhaps more importantly, in our living out and testifying to the gospel of love we have come to know.

As Kirk always says, "We have to be who we are in here, out there."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

A Time of Repentance and Reflection

Growing up my family never went to church. With a protestant mother and a catholic father, no good compromise could be found. Yet, each year without fail my mother led us in a strict Lenten discipline of sacrifice. (Looking back I have to note how interesting it was that my protestant mother, not my catholic father, was the most faithful Lenten disciple in our home!). Each Ash Wednesday my mother would ask us what we were going to give up for Lent. While she inevitably gave up chocolate or candy, I usually gave up something I had every day...some years it was tea, or soda (pop, as we called it in Ohio), or as I got older caffeine in all forms.

Given my mother's solemn instructions, I took this ritual very seriously. Once while eating at my friends home for dinner I was given soda to drink. Without thinking I put the glass to my lips and drank in a big gulp of syrupy sweetness. It was only as the cola was half-way down did I remember I had given it up for Lent. I nearly choked myself trying to spit it back in the cup. You see, I understood Lent to be about my own personal devotion. It required strict adherence and even one drop of pop would be enough to send me straight to hell or at list on God's list of bad children (funny how God and Santa seemed so similar back then). Breaking Lenten discipline meant failing at loving God. It was up to me and me alone to make sure I passed the test and loved God as faithfully as I could through my own individual sacrifices.

While I appreciate the practice of discipline instilled in me by my mother and recognize its significance in my own spiritual formation, I have over the years come to question this understanding of Lent as a time of individual sacrifice and ascetic deprivation to prove one's love to God. Today as I stood in front of the federal building in downtown Boston along with 60 odd clergy and lay people protesting the war in Iraq and seeking repentance for our silence and complicity, it became clear that Lent was not just about me and my ability to sacrifice my favorite foods. Lent is more than individual piety; it is communal commitment to the vision of peace and justice God has given us.

Lent is a common journey we take together as the people of God, seeking to follow the path Jesus laid for us and looking to the places where we may gone astray. In the early Church, Lent was the time when new members prepared for initiation and when penitent members, those who had separated themselves from the community of faith, were reconciled and brought once more into the fold. Lent was a time of concentrated discipleship when the community of faith took time to assess their own pace and place on their journey toward God's vision.

Far from an individual flogging for failures or sacrifice for sacrifice's sake, Lent offers us the opportunity as a community to reflect on our actions in the world and to help each other embody the Gospel message in our daily lives. God does not require sacrifice as proof of our love; rather God desires that we join together in seeking justice, loving kindness and walking humbly the path of discipleship. We are called to live our love of God.

The good news is that we don't have to do this alone, in fact we should not do this alone. We are called to stand together as a community, to "watch over one another in love" (as Wesley would say) and to help one another become better, more faithful, disciples. This is our Lenten journey.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Healing for Haggard

This week Ted Haggard's spiritual counselors announced that he was "completely heterosexual." Just three weeks into his regimen of reparative therapy Haggard claims God has healed him of his brokenness and it is now his "choice is to be married to his wife and love her and be married to her for the rest of his life." While even members of the Exodus International Ex-Gay movement question such a quick cure, many within conservative religious circles are claiming a victory for God and the power of healing.

But, is Ted truly healed? The Christian tradition is filled with stories of healings, tales of binding up the broken and restoring them to wholeness. Healing is an integral part of our faith story that promises a holistic integration of body, mind, soul and spirit that leads to abundant life. Healing in this way is not a cure but rather a reorientation of one's life that brings them in closer relationship with themselves, with others and with the Divine.

Yet Haggard's healing seems to only perpetaute his own brokenness and that of his family. Rather than drawing him nearer to himself, others and God, Haggard's cure creates nothing but alienation...alienation from the person God created him to be, alienation from his partner and family, alienation from an honest and open relationship with God. Life in the closet can never be made whole.

For many religious conservatives his healing represents evidence of the ability to change the nature of one's sexuality through altered behavior. If Haggard abstains from gay sex then he is in fact "completely heterosexual." The problem with theological systems like these that perceive orientation as a "practice" or "behavior" is that they not only distort the nature of sexuality as an integral part of our very beings, but they also dehumanize and objective others by reducing their humanity to a particular behavior. Yet this view of humanity is not consistent with our faith tradition. As Christians we believe that we are made in the image of God, as persons of sacred worth. When we are named only through our behavior and acts, we become less human, less like the image in which we were made.

Healing can only come when we accept who we were made to be and are restored to wholeness in the image of God. We pray for Haggard, his family, and so many countless others who continue to lead broken lives under the oppressive weight of bad theology. We pray that together we might create a world in which we seek and find healing and wholeness, drawing closer to one another and the Divine.