The world would split open."-Muriel Ruykeyser
There's been quite a stir at my alma mater, Harding University, over the recent publication of a zine (I guess that's what the kids are calling it these days) which details the experience of 'queer' (LGBT) students at a staunchly conservative Christian university. Read their beautiful work here.
For the record, no one has asked me to comment on this--for the record, I would be flattered if someone did. I know no one is clamoring to hear what I have to say, yet I feel compelled to comment nonetheless. Why? I don't know. It's probably not the most prudent move, considering my current employment. Perhaps, as a proudly identifying feminist, I too feel like an outlier in Christian community. Don't misread me: I by no means intend to the equate the two--it's still less revelatory to declare that God is not exclusively male than to declare that maaaaybe God doesn't want gay people pretending to be straight, or just sucking it up and living lives without love.
The quote I posted above has been something of a lightning rod in my feminist journey, and I believe it serves the same purpose in this sticky, uncomfortable conversation. Like it or not, gay students are telling the truth.
But why is this particular conversation so uncomfortable? I don't have the answers, but to this I can speak my truth. I believe that, deep down, most people--perhaps many, if not most--really don't see anything wrong with being gay. You can answer for yourself if this describes you. We probably all know someone who is gay, if not outwardly so. And we love these people. They are our friends, our fellow worshipers. In my case, they were my fellow chorus members, my costars in the high school musical. They were gay. They just were. You knew it, and I knew it. Maybe they came from broken homes with absent fathers, so you could explain away their orientation to some defect in familial upbringing. Maybe they had two loving hetero parents, who were Christians, even....those were a bit harder to grapple with.
Deep down, you knew they would never be straight. You would not wish for them to marry a member of the opposite sex in some sham of a marriage that would silently kill the souls of both partners.
Neither would you wish for them to live alone. Just as you would not wish this for yourself.
And yet, there it is, in black and white: 1 Corinthians. Romans 1. Plus the Old Testament, but that also has tons of craziness which we don't do anymore, so we leave that out of the conversation. New Testament, though....that sticks. That hurts.
What does Jesus have to say about gay people? Well, where black-and-white speaks, black-and-red does not. Jesus is silent on the issue of homosexuality. He has more to say on the issue of divorce....and yet I do not see any Christians get up in arms over this sticking point, as I do not see the heartbroken condemnation of "divorced Christians" groups which have become something of a trend in more progressive churches. (Perhaps you have, in which case, at least Christians are being consistent). But I digress.
I have a long quote from Walt Whitman hanging up on my classroom wall, which admonishes the reader, among other things, to " re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, [and] dismiss whatever insults your own soul." Considering the school where I teach, it's a bit radical (but it was passed down from another teacher. So perhaps English teachers are just mavericks, or more probably, no one really reads those posters anyway).
Is it blasphemy for me to refuse to condemn homosexuality because doing so "insults my soul"? Is it heretical to deny love to others who are not me because they love someone whom certain passages of Scripture say they should not love (at least not sexually)?
(*Of course, there are different ways of reading Scripture. I don't have the education on this particular issue to outline them here, but many gay Christian scholars who know much more than me have done so. And before you scream heresy, keep in mind--we re-interpret other passages of Scripture which we do not find appealing all the time).
I don't know. Maybe it is. But I just can't. Perhaps this makes me a bleeding-heart liberal heretic; I choose to believe that it just makes sense. I don't want to serve any god which makes me go against my soul, against the very marrow of my bones. Furthermore, I suspect you don't, either.
The whole "gay question" often makes me think of what is perhaps the defining passage of Huckleberry Finn, a passage which is almost universally applauded and championed by readers and English teachers alike (yes, including those at Harding). I can't detail the events leading up to the passage, mainly because I don't remember them. But the crux of it is this: Huck is in trouble, and he reckons that his quandary is God's punishment for his sins, which include among them helping Jim, a black man and former slave--his friend--out of slavery. (I believe it is absolutely worth noting that, not that long ago, the Bible was widely used to justify racism and slavery).
Huck wrestles with his conscience, and even writes a letter to Jim's former owner which would sell him out. In his mind, he has two options: turn in Jim and be clean with God, or obey his soul and help his friend--and probably go to hell. Here are his thoughts after he writes the letter:
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking - thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:"All right, then, I'll go to hell" - and tore it up.
Good Lord, that's beautiful.
I know many people who read this will disagree with me. I expect it, and encourage it, even. I know many will wonder at my audacity. If that's you, I suppose we are at an impasse, because neither one of us is going to change the other's mind. Perhaps it's audacious and sinful to post this to begin with. Perhaps I'm just tired of Christian morality, at least in climate of the Bible belt, being almost entirely relegated to the margins of society--i.e., people who are gay and women who get abortions.
Please know that I am not trying to make myself higher than God, or encourage revolt against Scripture. Or maybe I am....I don't really know. I guess I'm just trying to be honest, and trusting that there is grace enough to do so. Because one thing's for sure: this issue will never go away, and we might as well stop wishing that it will. I pray that we can re-imagine the role of gays in God's kingdom in a way that is vital and real, and absent of facades that slowly, slowly rot the soul.
I pray that you, dear reader, will do the same.