Category Archives: Marriage

When God Calls: An Academic’s Experience

Almost three weeks ago, my denomination, the Seventh-day Adventist Church, voted not to let major regional divisions decide whether or not they had the authority to ordain female clergy. I won’t waste time on the semantics of this vote, because the vote itself is not the point of this post. Rather, I am thinking in particular about one speech that caused me a lot of inner reflection. It is the speech of a young woman in a position of leadership, a young woman that spoke out against the ordination of women in ministry. It is a speech that has caused me to rethink what we mean by “calling.”

Brief disclaimer: I have decided, for the sake of Christian fellowship and transparency, to include the transcript of her speech, but not identify her or include the YouTube link to this post. I do not wish to shame her publicly, nor do I wish anyone reading this post to shame her publicly. Her opinion is her own, and I respect her right to her privacy and her opinion. If you, however, would be interested in watching the video for your own edification, indicate so in the comments or message me, and I will gladly share the YouTube link at my own discretion.

This is what the young woman said as a rationale for her NO vote to the ordination of female pastors in the Seventh-day Adventist Church:

  1. I want to speak on behalf of thousands whose voices are not being heard in my division. Thousands of NAD members do not agree with women’s ordination, and the initiative bringing it to the front has served not to unify but to polarize this division. As the president of GYC which has the largest annual youth and young adult conference in the Adventist church, I hear from those within the NAD who feel their voices have not been heard or at least not acknowledged. There are those in this division who believe that we should be considerate of the world church and what regional beliefs will mean for our unity rather than feeling the world needs to be considerate of us. And if our division has not acknowledged all the convictions within their own division, how can we anticipate that they will be considerate of the world church family on other issues when we once set a precedent that each locality can decide for itself?
    2. I am a young adult, a young woman, an ethnic minority, and a leader of one of the largest youth movements in Adventism, and Mr. Chair, God has already called me to work for Him and that is all the calling I need. Not all young people, not all young women, not all North Americans, want our church to be divided for the sake of having someone lay their hands on us. And while people recognize my work as the president of a young adult conference, they should give more recognition when I become a wife next February and a mother after that, since the Spirit of Prophecy says that position is higher than the minister in the desk or the king on the throne. We should focus on giving that the dignity and honor that it deserves.I say no to the question, no to dividing the church.

It’s this question of calling that caught my attention. This young woman asserts that, despite her position of leadership, there is no higher calling than becoming a wife and mother for her. Her confidence in God’s will for her life is inspiring, and I applaud her for it.

But does this apply to all women? Should her calling speak for all of us?

That’s the question I find myself engaging to this very day. The implication (given by many people, and not this young woman specifically)—that there is no higher or better calling for a woman than to be a wife and mother—suggests that unless a woman is married and has given birth, she has not fulfilled God’s calling for her. I am uncomfortable with this idea. I know many fulfilled women who do not have children, or who have not married. I myself did not always know if I would marry. And by the time I did, I had already discovered God’s calling for my own life. Yes, I am still a wife. I love my husband. I have grown closer to God as a result of my marriage. But there are many components of my life that I juggle, and it feels odd to chuck one of these pieces in favor of a calling that does not resonate with my own experience.

I’ve talked about the process of getting my PhD on this blog, but I’ve never shared how it all began. This is a story that goes twelve years back, though I had no idea at the time it had begun to unfold. About two days ago, I discovered my Senior English Portfolio, with my collection of writing projects from the course of my senior year. This list I now share, written when I was 18, shows that I had a very specific idea of what my life was going to be like:

Ten Things I Foresee in My Future:

  1. Enjoying new adventures at Andrews University
  2. Travelling all over in my new car
  3. Taking a year off to be a student missionary
  4. Falling in love and marrying a really sweet guy
  5. Graduating with a BA in English
  6. Teaching English at an [Adventist] academy
  7. Having two boys and a girl
  8. Publishing a novel
  9. Living in a two-story house that always needs repair
  10. Growing old with my husband, and enjoying grandkids

At 18, these were my big dreams. I thought in terms of other people: I would teach other kids, I would be a wife, and I would be a mother. These would define my identity and my life.

And then, God called.

My dad took me to my freshman orientation week at Andrews University. He and my mom were so excited for me. Though they are both medical professionals, they have always supported my love of reading, writing, and analysis, and they were excited that I was embarking on an English degree—a world so far removed from theirs. At the parent/student lunch, we were introduced to the Dean of Students, whose husband had been my dad’s dean at Loma Linda University Medical College. She jokingly remarked, “When you get your PhD, you can come back here and teach!” I remember laughing politely and turning to my dad after she left. “I’m not going to get my PhD,” I told him.

My dad looked at me and, with all seriousness, responded, “Don’t count it out.”

Those four words would mark the shift to a future I never even knew existed.

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I had never considered an academic career, and it wasn’t until my junior year in college that I actually returned to that moment and asked myself, “Is this what I should be doing with my life?” In the midst of rousing discussions of John Dryden (no easy feat), Aphra Behn, and Jane Austen in my English Literature II survey, I began to see a new idea and a new purpose.

And yet I decided to be safe and continue on my English education course. I determined to finish my degree as if I was going to teach high school, with an option for graduate school, if I really wanted to.

I forged on with student teaching, on the fence about what to do with my life. But that rigorous semester was fraught with the struggles of balancing preconceived ideas with the realities of high school education, questioning God’s plan for my life, and the simple discouragement from being mentally and emotionally drained constantly. I cried every Sunday night, because that meant school was starting on Monday (The Chancellor can attest to this—he and I had been dating by this point, and he often had to pep me up before the week even started). I had to face reality: this was not my calling. I returned to the fragile, yet growing, idea of going to graduate school, and I decided to take a leap of faith.

I spent money I did not have on the Graduate Record Exam and four MA program in English applications. I asked my professors for last-minute recommendations, which they all very graciously provided. And I waited. After two immediate rejections, I received the miraculous email from Western Michigan University. I was going to get my Master’s Degree in English.

When I began my program, I knew immediately that I had found my calling. I was stimulated by interesting, challenging discussions with my colleagues. I was energized by the diverse capabilities of the students in my classroom. On my worst day, I never felt any regret that I had turned away from my high school dream. I was called.

But at the end of my first year at WMU, I fully began to realize the implications of my calling. If God was guiding me towards a PhD, that would mean a LOT more work. It would mean spending money I didn’t have to retake the GRE to get a better score, spending more money I didn’t have on graduate school applications, getting rejected again, and then, at least four, if not five, years of school, which included qualifying exams and a dissertation to write and defend.

That summer, I had two big decisions to make. First, whether to apply for PhD programs. And second, what to do about my relationship with The Chancellor. I haven’t written too much about the US part of our marriage, for the sake of his privacy and mine, but this actually became really integral to my calling. He had just received his own calling. After finishing his MA at Andrews—where we had met in a young adult literature class—he had gotten an interview from a day school outside a large Midwestern city. I was in agony. I didn’t think there were ANY programs in the area. I began to think that I would have to make a choice: go forward with The Chancellor and give up my calling, or give up The Chancellor. I hated both ideas.

A lot of people in my personal or church life would have told me to get married and forget the PhD. After all, I was 25, not getting younger, and not at an Adventist school anymore.

Several academic friends and colleagues would have told me to go forward with my career. If The Chancellor did not fit in, he didn’t fit in. After all, this was my career.

The Chancellor had his own say: “If you give up the PhD to marry me, I’m breaking up with you.” This was perhaps the most miraculous intervention I’ve ever had. God did not present me with the “really sweet guy” I yearned for at 18. I mean, The Chancellor is a good and kind man, and yes, he can very sweet. But he’s also tough as nails, an ardent feminist, and a believer in standing up for what’s right and following God’s leading in your life. He’s the guy I needed to have the confidence in God’s calling for me, and for him, as well.

So, in the biggest leap of faith we both took, we decided to make it work. He would accept the job. I would apply to every PhD program relevant to my field (at the time 18th and 19th century British literature) within a three-hour driving radius (as it turns out, there were 11 such programs). And then we would get married in the summer of 2011. We were in this with God—together.

When God calls, it’s really scary. You make choices. You make sacrifices. You make it work.

I was accepted into Marquette University’s PhD program in English, which meant a 90-mile one-way drive. One of my dearest childhood friends and her best friend opened up their home to me, which meant I had a place to live during the week. But that meant being away from my brand-new husband for part of the week.

It was a wrenching and sometimes very stressful sacrifice. My first semester of my PhD was awful, in ways I will not expand on here. But I survived it, and I discovered the field I was meant to be in my second semester. From there, I began to find a rhythm in living two lives at the same time, of balancing my academic life with my teaching, my work life with my personal life, my marriage, and my friends. It was not easy, and it’s still not. Not everyone can do this. Not everyone wants to do this. Not everyone was called to do this. But I was.

Not every day of my teaching career at the college level has been magical by any means. But even on my worst day, I can’t even think of doing anything else. I have found the calling God made for me. I balance it with my daily life, and with my marriage. It is in my marriage that my calling has been strengthened. The Chancellor bounces ideas off me, and I off him. We read some of the same books, provide each other with inspiration, and challenge each other. I could not have done this alone. I am grateful that The Chancellor acknowledges my calling, and I his. We strengthen each other and glorify God together.

Fulfilling God’s calling for my life has meant research and teaching. It has entailed me to use my mind and challenge preconceived ideas with new ones. My calling has asked me to consider new perspectives and possibilities, to read books that challenge my Western ideas of thinking. It has asked me to accept students whose views are not my own and to treat them with dignity and respect. It has asked me to spend summer hours on my dissertation, to forgo pleasure in order to fulfill my role for God. And it has asked me to be open to communicating those ideas in my life, in my church, and in my work.

When God calls, and when you answer, there are beautiful moments beyond compare. I cannot describe the moment in which my name was called, and I walked across an auditorium stage to receive my diploma and have my hood draped around me. It all pales to the moment I heard my family and friends cheering loudly and shouting my name as I smiled into the light. The dream God had given me had come true on May 17, 2015.

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And it’s true to this day. While I do not have a tenure-track job at this moment (I’m on the market, so I hope to be employed full-time next year!), I do have teaching to look forward to. I have faith that God will provide me with the employment to fulfill my calling for Him. I have training, a mind He has prepared, a curiosity to seek knowledge and use it to make others’ lives richer and better.

When God calls…He changes your life forever. But only if you let Him do it. You can choose to follow the path you think is acceptable based on ideas of tradition, or you can accept His calling for you. Sometimes, it is that “traditional” path to which He leads you. And other times, as in the case of a teenaged girl with a third-grade education, He leads you beyond the boundaries of your home to reach classrooms, churches, ministries, individuals hungry for Him. When God calls…what will your answer be?

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Filed under Beginnings, Doctorate, Faith, Family, Feminism, Marriage, Teaching

How 50 Shades of Grey Turned Evangelicals into Casaubons

One of my favorite books of all time is George Eliot’s Middlemarch. It’s a rich, complex saga of trying to make the world a better place amidst fools, charlatans, cynics, and misguided morals. It’s in the last instance that we find dear, devoted, ascetic Dorothea Brooke marrying the dried up old clergyman Mr. Casaubon because she believes she can accomplish her life’s work through his book, which is a key to all mythologies.

Now, let’s be honest: Mr. Casaubon is not–exactly–an intellectual panty-dropper.

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He’s a very well-read man, but he’s self-satisfied and pedantic. He dialogues with no one and he relies on his own readings. It’s precisely his intellect that leads him to presume that he can create a Key to ALL Mythologies, and he insists on Dorothea keeping up his work after his death.

It is, of course, a fruitless exercise. How can Mr. Casaubon, a reasonably intellectual (though not curious or intuitive) man, believe that his grasp of mythology will make him the definitive expert on ALL MYTHOLOGIES? Especially since he has not traveled to other continents and heard first-person accounts of obscure mythologies? He’s simply relying on what little he’s read and assuming it comprises the whole.

What does Mr. Casaubon have to do with Fifty Shades of Grey? you might be wondering, dear reader. Well, as it turns out, he’s a handy metaphor for a debate that is currently waging in the Evangelical pop culture blogosphere.

If you’ll recall, I wrote about Fifty Shades of Grey two years ago when I read the first book. I was motivated to read it only after seeing its inclusion on the New York Times bestseller list and realizing, “This book is a THING and I probably need to know something about it.” I was semi-curious out of ignorance, but there wasn’t a whole lot of buzz about the book beyond the cringe-worthy phrase “Mommy porn.” I won’t rehash my blog post, but I hated the book for its bad writing, its terrible depiction of a co-dependent relationship, and its misuse of BDSM as a sexual lifestyle. In short: it’s not a good book, it’s not a sexy book, and I was not about to waste my time and energy on it.

Fast-forward to this year. There’s a movie coming out. On Valentine’s Day of 2015. Le sigh. Now, everyone is talking about it, and Evangelical Christians have taken up the cry of “Do not read this book!!!!” I remember this happening in the Summer of 2006, when the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code was released. This book had been out for what, 3-4 years, and it wasn’t until the movie that suddenly this huge outcry surfaced about the sacrilege, and unbiblicality, and satanic overtones. Of course, no one had actually bothered to read the book to discover it was mostly just a standard mediocre adventure/thriller with an aging academic who wore loafers with no socks (maybe he didn’t. Maybe it was turtlenecks and blazers. But it was some white-man clothing item, and I don’t care to re-read the book to recall my distaste for Robert Langdon’s sartorial choices). But that didn’t stop them from condemning The DaVinci Code from the pulpits, proudly proclaiming they’d never read it and would never see the movie.

I really dislike it when people analyze and evaluate a book they’ve never read. As a teacher of composition and literature, I penalize my students for doing this. Why? BECAUSE IT’S LAZY. And frankly, it’s an insult to my professional practice. I am going to school to be a scholar of literature, and you’re telling me that you don’t need to read the books that I’m reading to give a “better” and more informed opinion? Really?

Look, a bad book is a bad book. But unless you’ve read it, you don’t really know HOW bad it is, and you are not able to form a credible and intelligent analysis on mere supposition and Google searches.

And that is why I am deeply disappointed in the many Christian-themed blog posts admonishing us that Fifty Shades of Grey is a Very Bad and Evil Book and You Should Not Be Reading It, because I Didn’t, But I Can Expostulate on All Those Evils for You So You Don’t Have to Think for Yourself.

For people who struggle within their sexualities (whether erotica drives them away from their partner or if they are single and feeling so horny they are dissatisfied, or what have you) and think this book may be a trigger, I get it. I respect your decision not to read it, and I applaud your mature decision to do what’s right for you.

But here’s where I divide company with these earnest, well-meaning bloggers. You can decide not to read a book, and that’s fine. But then don’t act like an expert on it and tell me why it’s so bad for me, when you aren’t reading this book on the supposition that it’s bad for YOU. It’s mystifying to me that so many people are out to defame those individuals who are supposedly lapping this series up and bringing down the Christian Church with them, when they have no clue or context what they’re talking about. That’s like my student writing a paper on Moby-Dick, when he’s only read the SparkNotes and telling me that he doesn’t need to read Moby-Dick to understand it. That doesn’t work in a classroom, and it doesn’t work in real life, either.

In all the blog responses I’ve seen or watched being posted on Facebook by OTHER people who haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey (and seriously? Ugh. It’s turning into this weird sex groupthink), there’s a common thread: everyone invokes the Bible as a reason NOT to read the book. I believe in the claims of Philippians 4:8 wholeheartedly. I believe in the Bible as the word of God. But then, I have to be incredibly careful how I phrase that, how I live, and how I use the Bible to support my claims. Because if I simply state, “The Bible tells me not to read this book,” that’s one thing. I have made a decision based on my understanding of the Bible and that is MY choice. But then if I tell you, “The Bible tells me not to read this book; therefore, you shouldn’t either,” then I’m imposing my my choice on YOU. I’m acting as someone else’s intermediary. That’s my first Casaubon metaphor: when we try to control others’ behavior, based on our own standards of living and morals, we end up taking away their freedom to choose. Mr. Casaubon continually declare that Dorothea is incompetent to help him make decisions, because he is more scholarly, yet his own limited knowledge makes him a poor choice to collect and anthologize mythology. He creates a will after he is dead that she cannot marry his cousin, Will Ladislaw, or she will lose her settlement–his actions remove her freedom to choose her behavior, and thus make her a slave to his idealism. How do we allow others the freedom of choice that God has allowed us? Are we not supposed to come together and then study individually, to seek truth but to challenge ourselves in the Word? Why is it that someone else decided that Fifty Shades of Grey was a bad book (and again: I believe it’s a bad book), so bad they couldn’t read it, and based on their opinion, decided it was unChristian for ALL of us to read?

I find it disheartening to see such a dismissive, anti-intellectual conversation predominating the discussion surrounding Fifty Shades of Grey. Yes, it’s a bad book. I’m not arguing that point. But why? I’m disappointed to hear non-readers dismiss it as pornography, lustful, or ungodly without invoking the implications of such labels. What does lust mean? What forms does it take for women and men? How do we see it or find it in our own lives and activities? For example: I find Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love gratuitously titillating and sexual. For its thinly veiled relationship to the Book of Hosea, it feels more like a romance novel for women who only read “Christian” books. And yet I’m not seeing people pouring out protests from their personal blogs. Why? What’s the difference between Michael Hosea’s emotional possessiveness and Christian DamagedGoods’ sexual possessiveness? Someone tell me. I’m at a loss over here.

On that note, the sex-oriented critiques, based on the Bible’s views of sex, marriage, and lust, have also thrown me for a loop. People have described the novel’s crudely-drawn and laughable sex scenes as pornographic and something to stay away from. That leads me to my Casaubon metaphor #2: Evangelicals are starting to reveal their deep sexual repressions, and it’s going to have to prompt a discussion on sexuality. Like, now.

*Disclaimer: I’m taking off the gloves here. I’m going to be clinical and frank. You’ve been warned.*

On the one hand, the novel itself reveals a weird, deeply-seated repression that plays itself out as fantasy-fulfillment. Christian DamagedGoods is so abused and emotionally damaged that he forces his partner to eat (food, that is–seriously, it’s super weird) and become a submissive for him? Really? And Ana Snore is sooooo virginal that she has sex for the first time and suddenly has a hilariously unrealistic amount of orgasms from missionary sex? I think we can all agree that E.L. James has no idea what BDSM is, and hasn’t had sex since the 1980s.

On the other hand, the Christian response has bewilderingly focused on lust, pornography, and pre-marital sex. Non-readers have called it pornographic and titillating to the point of being disturbing. One blogger mentioned that her mother had read it and could not get the images out of her head. Really? Vanilla sex with an unrealistic amount of orgasms is traumatic? I’m not going to lie, I was traumatized too: I was traumatized by Ana Snore brushing her teeth with Christian DamagedGoods’ toothbrush. NO. JUST. NO. I was also extremely traumatized by the detailed description of her tampon being pulled out. That’s all I can say. It was really, really discomfiting.

But still: are we  really so sexually repressed that we cannot even *read* bad cheesy romance novels that use terrible and childish sexual euphemisms without fear of being so aroused that we masturbate wildly to images of boringly described millionaires? No, seriously, I’m asking are we that sexually out-of-control that when someone watches a porn, all they see are breasts and vaginas on women everywhere? That when we read bad literature about vanilla sex pretending to be naughty, we turn that into an idol???

It feels like this line of criticism is taking the idea that sexuality is dangerous, that the only way we can remain sexually pure is to tamp it down as far as possible so that we can’t even feel a natural, healthy lust for the sexual partner that we are married to. That a woman is so sexually suggestive that the merest hint of bikini or spaghetti straps reduces her to breasts and a vagina. That a man is so sexually fired up, he is continually always one-click away from fantasizing about other women on the computer. That sex is dirty and bad, even when we are married and trying to sexually pleasure each other in the way that works best for our bodies and minds.

It’s like Mr. Casaubon. He’s a married man. He has this gorgeous, devoted wife. And what does he do on his honeymoon? He spends his time in the library searching for the Key to All Mythologies. He stays up all night and avoids going to bed with Dorothea. Dude. Make use of that marriage bed. It’s okay. You’re married now. It’s in the Bible to be naked and unashamed!

This brings me to my Casaubon metaphor #3: we as Christians see the Bible as the Key to All Mythologies. And for believers, it is. But the problem is, we abuse our knowledge to belittle or shame others into believing what we do. We argue that because we are Christians and we have accepted salvation, we have The Truth and that’s the end of the discussion. But what is truth? How does that look from faith to faith? How does what the Bible said 2000 years ago remain relevant in my life today? These are questions I wrestle with every day. I read my Bible every day, and each time, I gain new insight, new knowledge, new TRUTH.

I’m always saddened by people who “proof text” their way through an intellectual discussion, arguing that because Paul decried the sexual practice of a pagan temple, gay people should not get married. That because Paul declared a woman should not preach in an area where women were priestesses at a pagan temple, women can’t preach. That because Deuteronomy 22:5 declared that a woman should not wear a man’s clothes and vice versa, it is sinful for a woman to wear pants. This kind of spiritual practice does not invite people to know Jesus–it establishes us as The Key Mythologians and others as Wrong. Mr. Casaubon denigrated Dorothea’s assistance, love, and help, because she had an inferior education and a woman’s mind. Rather than invoking discussion, he decried her differences and shamed her into silence.

Let us not go down that dreary route. Instead of simply denouncing something as bad and wrong, let us ask each other why and how we know this. Where do we obtain our knowledge? How do we know our knowledge is credible? Let us, above all, not be made to look silly over something as silly as Fifty Shades of Boring Grey.

 

*If you want an excellent and well-informed blog on why Christians should not read the novel, Jeannie Campbell invokes her skills as a LMFT to provide a therapist’s perspective on Christians, sex, and abusive relationships that is both insightful and godly. *

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Filed under Books, Culture, Faith, Marriage, State of mind

The Face of Love: Why “Just Be Celibate” Is a Poor Response

This conversation about same-sex civil rights and its relationship to my Seventh-day Adventist faith community has exploded in the last few months. I have been following lots of developments–the recent General Conference vote to pass guidelines that would exclude “practicing” gays and lesbians from church membership and the Andrews University LGBT forum are just a few–and reading lots of opinions and blogs, including this most excellent one by an Andrews University student, who responded to a young woman who’d attended the forum (and her initial piece is embedded in his–read them both).

It’s gotten me to thinking about some of the critiques I’ve heard against LGBT inclusion or same-sex marriage within my community of faith. There’s one that’s always bothered me tremendously, and I want to talk about it today. It’s the line of thinking that goes, “You can be gay, but you have to be celibate,” or “You can join our church, as long as you’re celibate.”

Ugh.

Let me be clear: I’m not advocating for a free-love, hippie-dippie sex romp in the prayer gardens of Pioneer Memorial Church. I just think we glibly state the “I don’t want to be intolerant, but I must follow the party line procedure, so I’ll just comfortably talk about celibacy when I’ve been married for 20 years and have no right to do so” catchphrase, because we (I’m referring to Christians here) don’t know how to talk to gay people. Or about sex. Or to gay people about sex. Or about marriage, for that matter.

People who follow the “Just Be Celibate” line of thinking sincerely believe that this moral standard should also be enforced on the straight single people in church. I’m not decrying their sincerity or consistency here.

But that’s what gets me. We don’t ask single men and women, “Are you practicing sex?” or “Are you celibate?” when they code straight and/or cis-gender (that means, you were born a specific gender and identify as that specific gender as an adult, for those readers not in the know). And when we do discuss sexuality and celibacy with straight singles, there’s always an “end point” to their celibacy:

*Oh, the right one will come along.

*There’s “still time.”

*Have you met my (cousin, nephew/niece, son, daughter, grandson, granddaughter, etc)?

*All in the Lord’s time!

*Just for a season.

*[Insert link to ChristianMingle or AdventistSingles.com]

We assume that God will provide the lamb and end the accursed celibacy for straight singles, when the Bible discusses it in far different terms. These above statements assume that celibacy is a cross to bear, whereas Paul treats it as a blessing and a desired state:

“But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. 34 There is[a] a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.” (1 Corinthians 7: 32-35, NKJV).

Paul sees singlehood as a blessing to be desired for the ministry of Christ? Interesting. Because I went to more than one chapel or Bible talk about what to do “until…” with that assumption ringing that there was SOMEONE out there for me, and that the marriage bed was God’s desired plan for my life.

There is a clear pressure to get married in the faith community. Those of us who are married are immediately pressured to have children–I won’t rehash the blog post from last week, but suffice it to say, every year I get closer to turning 30, the coy “When are you having children?” questions become less coy and more pointed. Those who aren’t married get marketed for singles gatherings and ministries. There is nothing wrong with any of this, but I believe we set people up for failure and discontent when we treat marriage and parenthood as the ultimate desired goal for life and singles are treated like the sad cat ladies who just “can’t find a man.”

And that’s where my issues with enforcing celibacy on unmarried folks enter this conversation. I am married; I made a choice to be married; I had the legal right to be married. Therefore, my choice reflects my opportunities available to me. How can I then flaunt my privilege in someone else’s face because they don’t have either the opportunity or the resources to be able to make the same choice I could? I find that fundamentally unkind and unchristian.

I’m not saying that we should all be practicing celibacy and abolishing marriage. Good grief, no. What I *am* saying, however, is that the Adventist Church has implicitly come to regard celibacy as a burden, a cross, a temporary state that singles should not desire. So I find it deeply hurtful to have such a fugue state imposed upon LGBT members. If we don’t want to relegate straight men and women to “being alone,” why on earth would we wish that upon singles who are queer? I don’t, and this is a major reason I stand up for same-sex civil rights. If I am to follow the teachings of Matthew 7:12, which states,  “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” I must treat someone else the way I would want to be treated (NKJV).
I do not want to be told that I must be celibate to be a member of a church.
I do not want to be asked if I am “practicing” my sexual orientation.
I do not want to be told that I must live alone and never have even the chance of a marriage partner.
Therefore, if I ask these kindnesses for myself, I must then reciprocate in kind. I don’t have an answer for doctrine or church policy. But in practice, I have been asked to be God’s face of love. And if I am His face, then I must shine with love and acceptance and kindness in my everyday life.

 

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Filed under #thefaceoflove, Faith, Family, Marriage, State of mind

I am not a mother. But I am a woman.

Mother’s Day is next weekend. I have always been excited about thinking of out-of-the-box books to get my mom and now mother-in-law, and the phone calls or messages I send to the women who genuinely mean something to me, and have been there for me in tangible and intangible ways. I could name them all, but it would take all day. I’m one rich woman.

Woman. That’s what Mother’s Day has meant to me–celebrating the women that made me the woman I am today. But not everyone celebrates it in that way. There’s an excellent blog post going around about the tradition of acknowledging moms at church on Mother’s Day weekend by asking the mothers to stand, either as recognition, or to receive a special flower or token at church. I’ll link it here, because you really should read it. It’s all about the compassion we need to bestow on women, particularly those who bear no visible sign of motherhood but may be hurting in deep, deep ways: http://www.messymiddle.com/2012/05/10/an-open-letter-to-pastors-a-non-mom-speaks-about-mothers-day/

Back? Great. This piece really resonated with me, because Mother’s Day didn’t really become an awkward holiday for me until recently. I’m 29, married, no kids as of now, and no plan for kids in the immediate future. I want them someday, but right now, I have a dissertation to finish drafting (by the end of summer, as per my director’s and my goals, but that’s a different blog post) and a salaried job of some kind to get. I know a lot of women my age in church who have kids already. A. Lot. And it’s put me in a strange spot in this faith community. Don’t get me wrong, no one is persecuting me or singling me out or belittling me for not being a mom. Although, at Christmastime, a complete stranger (one of the parents of the kids at The Chancellor’s school) rubbed my stomach and asked me why I didn’t have a baby yet. I KNOW.

Still, there is this odd undercurrent around Mother’s Day Church that feels like a rite-of-passage. That I won’t be seen in my faith community as a WOMAN until I am a mother and receiving a cheap carnation from a bodied child or standing and being applauded for having a child.

When I think of the many women in my church who are not married but have served God faithfully and joyfully, blessing my life in the process, I can’t help but become a little upset on their behalf. Where is their recognition? When I think of the work that the Chancellor and I do, reaching out and educating students, many of whom have fractious relationships with their parents, I wonder why being an actual parent automatically holds more value in the eyes of my church than in the missions we undertake.

I don’t intend this to be a poor-me post. I am not poor. By no means am I poor. When I think of the students whose paths I have come across, I feel lucky. When I think of the fellow graduate students and colleagues I have worked alongside and mentored and encouraged, I feel blessed. When I think of the miracles worked in my life, the trials, the joy, the deep, deep joy that lives in my heart, I realize that I am a woman. I am not a woman with children, but I am a woman.

If you are a fellow childless woman who has been made to feel less for not having children, I hold your hand in solidarity. If you are a woman who has lost a child, I hug you from this page. If you are a mom, I salute you. If you are a mentor, a friend, a guide, a leader, then I applaud you for making this world a richer place by making the world your children.

It is my hope that our world will recognize the many ways in which we can guide and direct and love without necessarily being a parent. That parenting is more complex than a fleshly child handing you a carnation. That loving a child or a soul is all it takes.

I am not a mother. But I am a woman.

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10 Things I Hate about Love Actually

Of all the subtle and strange subgenres of film, surely one of the strangest must be the “Christmas film.” The marketing is shameless and generally geared towards families or couples (one of the few exceptions being Bad Santa, which has bro-homie fratboy written all.over.it, though I hear it’s raunchily hilarious). I haven’t seen them all, but there is a generally cheesy “holiday” spirit that tends to run through. And if it’s not that overt, then somehow, the movie converges on Christmas and remarkably becomes a “Christmas movie.”

The latter is the case with Love Actually, a film about 99% of my friends love and consider their favorite Christmas movie. I didn’t make it out to the theaters to see it, but the reviews were raves. “It’s so cute!” “I felt like Christmas!” “It’s all about love!” “I watch it every year!” So, several years later, I finally borrowed it from a friend.

I don’t get it.

No, seriously, I genuinely don’t understand why everyone likes it. I’ve had the audacity to criticize it, and everyone looks at me like I’m (a) the Grinch (probably) or (b) insane (not yet, but this PhD isn’t over, either). How can I possibly hate such a romantic, wonderful, Christmas-filled movie??????

In the end, it comes down to the fact that this movie was marketed to me as a delightful Christmas film, and it’s actually got some very sad and dark parts. And the lone movie like that I will tolerate is It’s a Wonderful Life. Otherwise, if you’re selling me Christmas, it had better be sweet and funny and delightful. So, let me present ten issues I have with Love Actually‘s status as a delightful Christmas film (also, a film, if we’re being completely honest):

1. Let’s start with the millions of fat jokes aimed at the Prime Minister’s staff/love interest, Natalie (Martine McCutcheon). SERIOUSLY, THIS WOMAN IS NOT FAT. It’s not funny, and from the first joke, it was never funny. I could not see past the fact that everyone in the movie makes fun of a perfectly healthy, beautiful woman who has the audacity to look like she eats an occasional sandwich and not Kate Moss’s steady diet of cocaine. I cannot sign off on this. Nope. Not at all.

2. Colin Firth’s love story was deeply rom-commish in that there is just no way two people with nothing in common, not even the same language, can fall that deeply in love in such a short amount of time. If you don’t even have language to hold you in common, how do you communicate? How do you sustain it? Riiiight, it’s a romantic comedy. Reality has nothing to do with it. Also: I found it odd that the maid character looks a bit like Firth’s own real-life wife, Livia, who is Italian.

3. I hated that, yet again, we reinforce the token sad-cat-lady figure who just can’t seem to get ahead in her love life. I’m sorry, but what is romantic about Laura Linney *finally* able to get it on with a hot designer, just to abandon him in flagrante to rush off to the side of her cognitively challenged brother? Yes, it’s sweet that she loves him. But this is not Parenthood. It’s not romantic. And it’s not Christmas.

4. Can we talk a minute about how we’re still trying to make Hugh Grant as a protagonist happen? I’m sorry, he’s best when he’s stuttering (see Four Weddings and a Funeral or Sense and Sensibility, because…the floppy hair) or when he’s Daniel Cleaver. Seriously, nothing can beat his one-liners in Bridget Jones, and we all know it. Let’s not try and make him the grand romantic hero. He’s better suited elsewhere.

5. I haven’t even gotten started on the Keira Knightley story debacle. It’s actually got nothing to do with her (for once!). When I watched the film and saw the two best friends interacting, I actually believed the Mark character was in love with Peter. Seriously. And it made me feel sad and melancholy, and a bit achy for him. And then, lo and behold, he’s in love with Juliet. Say, what? He goes so far as to give off the Big Romantic Gesture while Peter’s at home, and basically forces Juliet into silently reading his note cards declaring his grand and stalkerish love for her. Ugh. I just can’t even. It’s creepy on so many levels, and it reinforces the “nice guy” trope, when this guy really isn’t nice, and he’s not even a great friend. He goes through the charade of being an awesome wingman and best friend, while secretly pining for the best friend’s wife.

HOW IS THAT CHRISTMASSY?????

6. I did not like the young man going buck wild in America story at all. It was not funny. That’s all I care to say about the matter.

7. I actually genuinely liked the Bill Nighy singer story. It was a funny takedown of the Christmas album genre, and a very clever glimpse at how the industry views Christmas music—a cash cow with little originality or substance. But is it just me that really wishes the story could have gone a little farther—that Bill Nighy’s confession of his one relationship with his manager could have been an actual love story? Maybe? I was disappointed they didn’t develop it further.

8. Let’s talk about the little boy, shall we? Actually, let’s not. I found it kind of creepy. This little boy is convinced he’s in love with this girl and goes through all these hoops, while his grieving-widower-father plays along. Blah. That kind of precious is too-cute for me, and not in a good way.

9. Thanks to Love Actually, we now have those rotating-cast-movies in which ten stories converge on each other, and we randomly get people together for very little good reason. There’s so little room to develop all the stories that it starts to feel cheap and tiresome after a while.

10. I’ve saved my biggest complaint for last. If you know me at all in real life, you know what’s coming:

HOW IS IT REMOTELY ACCEPTABLE TO LET ALAN RICKMAN CHEAT ON EMMA THOMPSON????????????????????

No, seriously. This is not a movie about the travails of marriage, or the grimy reality of relationships. It’s a f***ing Christmas movie. It’s about big, romantic gestures and fuzzy feelings. And there is nothing at all fuzzy about an extramarital affair at Christmastime. Nothing. It’s heartbreaking for a woman to realize that the necklace she stumbled upon was not for her, and that there is Another Woman. It’s not even remotely Christmassy.

Also, out of this cast, why are we choosing Alan Rickman as the villain? WHY????? If you want Alan Rickman to be your villain, I will direct you to a different Christmas movie, in which he plays a delightfully sadistic villain, and totally outshone Bruce Willis. Yes, dear Reader, Die Hard. If you want bad-guy Alan Rickman, go with Hans Gruber. Not a cheating husband.

 

Come holiday time, I will be watching Charlie Brown and the original (and only) Grinch, and Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. Movies that are fun, delightful, and make me feel happy inside. Because, let’s face it, if I wanted to be angry and depressed and emotionally beat up, I’d just as soon get punched in the ovaries—that way, I can avoid watching Alan Rickman be a scumball on my TV.

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The Face of Love: I’m Not Perfect. I Need Help.

Last July, I posted a much-discussed defense of gay marriage. To this day, it is the most viewed post on this blog. I have received comments, emails, and many, many personal messages either agreeing or disagreeing with my particular stance, and to all of you, I am tremendously grateful for the responses.

Today, I want to think about homosexuality and the Bible, but I want to take a slightly different tack. Instead of thinking about what the Bible says, as I’ve already done, I want to think about the different perspectives and responses I’ve received and put them into practice.

I belong to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, for those not in the know. Right now, the world congregation is struggling to articulate its stance on homosexuality, not to mention gay marriage. So far, the unofficial stance is the prototypical Evangelical, “We support marriage between a man and a woman, etc etc etc, we follow the Bible, etc, etc, etc.” Many gay and lesbian members have fled the doors of the church, to my horror and dismay. But what about members who want to remain, who want the relationship with God? What then?

In the responses against gay marriage that I have heard, some of the most common threads include, “The Bible clearly forbids homosexuality and therefore, to have a relationship is to willfully sin” or “You can be gay, but you have to be abstinent” or “You can come to church, but you can’t hold church office.” It’s hard for me to accept this kind of logic, particularly because I wouldn’t want someone to say it of or to me.

I’m not arguing with the Bible. The Bible clearly denounces sin. But what constitutes sin? And how far do we go to keep it out of our churches, before we start driving people out, in the interest of self-preservation? And how far do we use the Bible to “prove” our point, at the cost of our relationships with others?

Let me share an anecdote from my childhood. It horrifies adult-me. So. Much. I feel, though, that it illuminates the dangers of “having the truth” and trying to foist on people who are either not ready or carry a different truth.

So, in 3rd or 4th grade, I had this antiquated science textbook that included healthful eating and discussed, in great length, the evils of soda (and seriously, it is actually pretty awful for you, but I still love my ginger ale). I was enthralled. Here was the truth, right in front of me. Soda was horrible, evil stuff, and people were drinking it ALL AROUND ME (you can see where I’m going with this, right? Buckle up; it’s about to get real awkward in here).

That summer, in day care (my mom had to work that particular summer), I ended up getting into a fight with two girls about soda. I regret this so much. I pulled out all the stops, the sugar content, the carbonation leaching calcium out of your bones, the WORKS. Oh, yeah, I was THAT kid.

Was I right? Yes, and I even had science to back me up. But did being right bring those girls to the truth? Did they quit drinking soda because I told them it was unhealthy? No, and in fact, they spent the rest of the summer making my life as miserable as they could, because I’d stuck my self-righteous nose in their business. It wasn’t as if they asked me what I thought about soda, or if I liked soda. No, I saw them drinking it and took the “Dare to be a Daniel” idea quite literally and decided to share the Health Message. Much to the cost of a potential friendship.

Obviously, soda and sexuality are very different. But I think my story exemplifies what has often happened when those of us in the Christian faith have tried to regulate others’ behavior because we are convinced of the truth that the Bible tells us. Obviously, if someone is hurting someone else (especially a minor, or breaking the law), we MUST step in. But there are other instances that make me more uncomfortable.

I’m especially dismayed by the idea that we can’t allow our gay and lesbian members to worship alongside us, or that they can’t possibly have partners because it’s an abomination to God.

You know what else is an abomination to God? If we look in Proverbs 6:16-19 (one of many, many places), God clearly tells six things that He hates, nay seven that are an “abomination” to him (again, refer to my post for that oh-too-brief discussion on abominations):

These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: 17 A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, 19 A false witness who speaks lies, And one who sows discord among brethren (NKJV).

Whoa. My biggest sin was just mentioned right there. That’s right, folks. I struggle–deeply and secretly–with pride.

I am an intelligent individual with pretty good health and a fair-skinned, slender(ish) physique. I am in a doctoral program and doing well and making reasonably good progress. I am a competent teacher who receives pretty consistently positive feedback from her students. I feel pretty good about myself. I forget all the time that this is a gift from God, and that I didn’t get here on my own.

God tells me in no uncertain terms, and in many parts of the Bible, that He hates my prideful heart. There are countless stories of men and women undone by their own pride. Pride is bad for me. It drives me away from God.

Yet, I am allowed to be married to The Chancellor. I am allowed to hold church office. I am welcomed into my congregation and shake hands with other members all the time. But my pride leads me away from God. It is toxic to church unity. It is, in fact, the very sin that turned Lucifer into Satan. And yet, I’ve not been asked to leave my church.

And that’s what kills me. All the sins that God continually discusses about run rampant in our church. And the sin we’ve chosen to fixate on is given very little definitive space in the Bible. I find it profoundly ironic.

I struggle with my pride. I have to die to it EVERY SINGLE DAY, and yet I cannot conquer it on my own. It doesn’t really “go away” for good, though God has helped me make strides towards defeating it (only with His help, again might I add). My Sabbath School (that’s the Seventh-day Adventist equivalent to adult Sunday School), a great discussion place for young adults, has unofficially and half-jokingly adopted a catch-phrase: “I’m not perfect. I need help.”

It’s the absolute truth. God tells us that ALL have fallen short of His glory and sinned. I am no better than the person next to me. It’s a sobering and humbling thought. And that’s why I cannot possibly decry another’s sin without first decrying my own.

As a Christian, I am asked to be a light to others, an example of God’s love. Sanctus Real, a Christian band, has written a song that, for me, exemplifies the joy and challenge of being that light: one line in the song proclaims, “You’ve been portrayed a thousand different ways / But my heart can see you better than my eyes / ‘Cause it’s love that points the portrait of your life.” Others see God in us. And how can they see God when our own sins are clouding over the Face of Love?

My challenge to myself, one that I hope others will take on, is this: to love others unconditionally, as God has asked me to love them. To die to my own sins (that God has convicted me personally of) every day. To hope that my friends and family are able to see God in me.

In the words of the song, “Let us see… Let us be your face.”

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The Face of Love: Defending (Gay) Marriage from a Christian Perspective

I’ve wanted to write this post for a long time. Somehow, time, energy, effort, or courage has seemed to fail me. But no longer. I have chipped away at this post bit by bit, until I can bring you some articulated thoughts. I want to defend marriage…marriage for ALL consenting adults (because gay marriage and straight marriage are not two separate entities. Kim Kardashian’s “marriage” was not the same as mine, though our civil unions have been designated with the same terms…but I digress).

 First, I would like to go over some Bible verses that have often been used to clobber gays and lesbians with. You know the verses I’m talking about: from the Garden of Eden, to Paul’s condemnation of certain behaviors, there are all kinds of verses that Christians have used to defend the man-woman-only stance. I’d like to reopen those for consideration. I want to go beyond a formalist, literalist reading of these verses, placing them within context of the passage, chapter, and book, as well as discussing the reasons for these verses’ inclusion in the Bible at all. Cultural/historical/linguistic contexts matter, too (yes, I am a literary scholar).

Then, after a biblical discussion, I would like to offer a more personal defense: why I, a Bible-following Christian, openly and honestly defend gay marriage, as both a civilian in my country and a member of my church. I will share pieces of my own thought-process, how my own homophobia eventually withered in the face of Christ-centered love.

Part I: For the Bible Tells Me So

Let’s get biblical, shall we? Here are some key texts that have been used to “prove” that marriage is only between a man and a woman. I say “prove,” because I believe that some of these verses have been taken out of context, and that the Bible is not always as cut-and-dried as those of us who follow it would like to think. **A note: I will quoting the New King James Version of the Bible, and many thanks to BibleGateway.com for its assistance with finding passages.**

*Genesis 2 (especially verses 18 and 24): This entails the creation of Adam and Eve, and their union, as proclaimed by God. Verse 18 states, “And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” Okay. So we’re not meant to be celibate. As of yet, that helper (or in the King James version, helpmeet) has not been described in detail.

If we look at verse 24, it more clearly declares, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” That’s not too much of a surprise, either. As Bible-thumpers are quick to note, this is God’s idealized roadmap: marriage between a man and a woman.

 But lest we be too quick to stop our discussion here, let’s consider all the ways in which the Edenic model was “violated” after the entrance of sin:

  •  Different races, cultures, and languages (let’s face it, folks, Jesus wasn’t white, and neither were Adam and Eve)
  • Polygamy
  • Slavery
  • Shortened life spans and weakened human forms
  • Eating animals

 Clearly, sin threw so many things off the idealized balance. Using this passage to decry homosexuality is narrow-minded, and it ignores a much larger picture: we have all of us sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, being covered only in the grace brought about Christ’s death and resurrection (Romans 3:22-24). Thus, heterosexual Christian folk are in just as much need of grace as the rest of the world.

*The Destruction of Sodom: here, I’d like to discuss the notion of Sodom, sodomy, and sodomite. This term has today been conflated with homosexual, and thus, all verses with the words “sodomite” have been translated to mean same-sex attractions. I would argue, based on the context where many of these verses take place, it’s a matter of hermeneutics and translation, not at all related to LGBT people.

 Let’s start with our first references to Sodom, in Genesis 13:10-13 and then again in Genesis 19. In Genesis 13, Abraham and Lot have amassed so much wealth (that is, livestock), that they have agreed to part company, in order to maintain harmony within their respective camps. Lot chooses the plain, in which the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah are located. All the Bible says in verse 13 is, “But the men of Sodom were exceedingly wicked and sinful against the Lord.” It’s a little vague, especially since we aren’t sure just what those sins are.

 Genesis 19 becomes more explicit. As the Lord has explained to Abraham that not ten righteous exist in Sodom, and it will be destroyed, two angels come to Lot’s house to warn him and his families of the impending destruction, and remove them from the city. Lot finds these angels, disguised as men, while sitting in the gates of Sodom, and then presses them to have supper and lodging at his house.

Here’s where it gets interesting: “Now before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both old and young, all the people from every quarter, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may know them carnally. So Lot went out to them through the doorway, shut the door behind him, and said, “Please, my brethren, do not do so wickedly! See now, I have two daughters who have not known a man; please, let me bring them out to you, and you may do to them as you wish; only do nothing to these men, since this is the reason they have come under the shadow of my roof.”

 The heteronormative instinct is to jump on the “carnal knowledge” and say, “Welp, that’s what makes them Sodomites.” But wait…did you notice that Lot offered up, instead of these guests, his daughters? Clearly, what we’re dealing with is not gay sex, but sexuality used in an orgiastic sense. If Lot felt that his daughters were an acceptable substitute (and yuck, I can’t believe I had to type that, but Lot’s family is all kinds of effed up), then these men were looking for sex wherever they could get it, or force it. I read somewhere that when you host a stranger/guest, you must protect him/her at all costs. These men violated the guest code, which is part of what makes them so immoral—they were willing to violate guests of Lot, for their own purposes. If you think about rape, it’s rarely about lust and more often, about the sort of power that comes from physically violating another individual. There’s not a whole lot more we can say about Lot, except that his wife got turned into a pillar of salt, and his daughters got him drunk, so they could get pregnant by him, which, incidentally, is a direct violation of one of the Levitical purity laws that God will later outline in Leviticus 18.

I Kings 14:24 mentions the wicked reign of Rehoboam: “And there were also perverted persons[a] in the land. They did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.” The footnote clarifies that “perverted persons” in Hebrew actually means “qadesh, that is, one practicing sodomy and prostitution in religious rituals.” Interesting. So does this refer to an LGBT individual? Nope, I think we’re referring to pagan religious practices in the land. The same wording and meaning also occurs, in I Kings 15:12, I Kings 22:46, II Kings 23:7, with an allusion to sodomites in I Timothy 1:10.  

Another mention in Isaiah 3:9 is a bit more vague. In describing the fallen state of both Israel and Judah, the prophet alludes to the people’s evils, noting, “And they declare their sin as Sodom; / They do not hide it. / Woe to their soul! / For they have brought evil upon themselves.” Is this literally referring to acts of Sodomy, or is this a more poetic allusion, to forge a connection in readers’ minds? That’s something readers have to interpret. But there’s nothing direct enough that cannot be drawn without interpretation.

 It gets really interesting in Ezekiel 16:49, where God (through his prophet) actually chides Israel for being more wicked than both Samaria and Sodom. Ouch! What, specifically was Sodom accused of doing? According to Ezekiel, “Look, this was the iniquity of your sister Sodom: She and her daughter had pride, fullness of food, and abundance of idleness; neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. 50 And they were haughty and committed abomination before Me; therefore I took them away as I saw fit.” Keep the word “abomination” in mind. We’re going to talk about that soon.

 Jude 7 uses Sodom and Gomorrah as examples of sexual immortality and going “after strange flesh” as an example of experiencing the Law’s vengeance. Now, what that means is not clear, and going through other translations has not elucidated that. Take from it what you will.

 *Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20: here’s the Bible-thumper’s mainstay. Leviticus 18 discusses sexual morality at length. Here, God explains to Moses that there are certain lifestyle statutes acquired from both Egypt and Canaan, none of which He wants the children of Israel to engage in.

 Verses 6-18 discuss, in detail, not uncovering your relatives’ nakedness. I searched through several commentaries, which seem to interpret this as incestuous relationships. Much time is spent on detailing the mother-son, father-daughter, etc. verboten encounters.

 Then we get to verses 19-23: “19 ‘Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness as long as she is in her customary impurity. 20 Moreover you shall not lie carnally with your neighbor’s wife, to defile yourself with her. 21 And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. 23 Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.”

 Bible-thumpers have a hey-day with this, since it seems to clearly outlaw homosexual relations. But notice the other practices that God has outlawed for the Israelites: not having sex during a woman’s period, not sleeping with your neighbor’s wife, not sacrificing your family members to the god Molech, and not mating with an animal. And notice that God does not call any of these a “sin,” but an “abomination,” or, in the case of bestiality, a “perversion.”

 This leads me to recommend that you spend some time looking up the word “abomination,” as it has been translated from the Hebrew: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abomination_(Bible). Or, for all references and differentiations in translation of “abomination,” here’s a website that does all the work for you: http://www.dragonlordsnet.com/abomination.htm.

 Okay, so “abomination” in a biblical sense does not mean the same thing that it does today. Therefore, while I don’t see God explicitly sanctioning same-sex relations, nor do I see Him decrying it as an outright sin. This is where it gets tricky for followers of the Bible, because we don’t want to say, “Oh, well, that means I can go have sex with a gopher,” or, on the other hand, start stoning our neighbors for having an affair. For me, this is where faith comes in. 

What God Himself makes most clear, is actually in Leviticus 18: 24-29: “24 ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for by all these the nations are defiled, which I am casting out before you. 25 For the land is defiled; therefore I visit the punishment of its iniquity upon it, and the land vomits out its inhabitants. 26 You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not commit any of these abominations, either any of your own nation or any stranger who dwells among you 27 (for all these abominations the men of the land have done, who were before you, and thus the land is defiled), 28 lest the land vomit you out also when you defile it, as it vomited out the nations that were before you. 29 For whoever commits any of these abominations, the persons who commit them shall be cut off from among their people.”

Because God was trying to set up a nation set apart from the other cultures around it, He outlined a very specific lifestyle for His people to follow, precisely so they would appear unique to the world.

 Let me also note that God spends way more time on dietary laws (Leviticus 11), bodily discharges (Leviticus 15), and leprosy (Leviticus 13-14) than He does on gay sex. In fact, He mentions having sex on one’s period in the same passage as gay sex. So…I don’t exactly see Evangelicals going round and putting women in red tents while on their periods (unless, of course, it’s an underground society). Nor do I see the Evangelicals mobbing Red Lobster stoning people for eating or cooking shellfish, lobster, and crab.

Leviticus 20 also makes clear that the penalty for infractions of all sexual immorality laws (which include “If a man lies with a male as he lies with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them,” in verse 13) is being put to death. In our contemporary society, the death penalty has become an increasingly polarized concept, fraught with warring ideals. What does this passage have to offer? I can’t comfortably rationalize it away, and I don’t intend to. Rather, I point to the word “abomination,” which implies the breaking of a cultural taboo, rather than a mortal sin.

 *Deuteronomy 22:5 declares, “A woman shall not wear anything that pertains to a man, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all who do so are an abomination to the Lord your God.” I love this verse. In fact, I know church members who used it to tell their teenage daughters this is why they couldn’t wear pants that zipped up front (I’m not kidding), and then forced their daughters to wear jeans that zipped on the side. Using this verse to clobber people seems absurd to me, especially since styles for men and women do have more overlap today. Especially when you consider verse 11: “You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together.” Next Sabbath, I am going to check tags on people’s clothing, because NO ONE should wear polyester and cotton mixed together. It’s in the Bible, y’all (I’m done being cheeky; I had to get that out of my system).

 *Deuteronomy 23:17-18. Here, God states that there will be no ritual harlot or a “perverted” son of Israel in the nation, declaring, “18 You shall not bring the wages of a harlot or the price of a dog to the house of the Lord your God for any vowed offering, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God.” My footnotes declare that these refer to the qedeshah (feminine of the qadesh)and the qadesh, which again, refers to those practicing sodomy and prostitution in religious rituals. Other translations of the Bible refer to a “dog” as a male prostitute, or a sodomite (which we’ve established in meaning). Revelation 22:15, also refers to a “dog” in conjunction with sexual immorality.

 *Romans 1:26-32. The apostle Paul, who can certainly seem like an old curmudgeon, has lots to say. Let’s start with this passage, where Paul decries the ungodliness and unrighteousness of certain unidentified men: “26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.”

What’s happening here? At first glance, it seems as if Paul is openly decrying homosexuality. If you look more closely, though, you might see something different. The men are turning away from female partners they already have…their lust has become so enlarged that they have sex with everyone! Another thing to consider: temple orgies. In pagan temples around Europe and the Middle East, where Paul was writing, people were participating in temple orgies, using sexual promiscuity for religious rituals. I don’t think it’s right to say, “God hates homosexuality” using this passage, because I believe it’s just not that simple.

 *1 Corinthians 6:9-10: here’s a translation issue at play. Here, Paul declares, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals,[a] nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.” Stop the presses, some might argue—clear-cut proof! Not so fast. The footnote by homosexuals clarifies to mean “catamites.” If you look up what a catamite is (Thanks, Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catamite), you can see that it refers to a young, beautiful boy who becomes the companion of a young man, often to be groomed for sexual purposes. That is, a concubine or a male prostitute, something the Bible has already condemned. This text is not referring to an LGBT person, but rather, the grooming of a child (Hello, pedophilia? Is that you?) for an adult’s sexual use/misuse.

*1 Corinthians 7:2-16: This passage refers to Paul’s treatise on marriage, using man/woman language. No surprise here, and in a cultural context, it’s just a way of referring to marriage partners. In my opinion, there’s nothing that outright makes gay marriage unbiblical, nor is this something to be used as a weapon to disprove its civil legitimacy. But interestingly enough, Paul does say, “But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” I don’t have an articulate thought, I just found that rather fascinating…

*What does Jesus have to say about gay marriage, or homosexuality? I can’t seem to find anything specifically on that topic. He does say about the Law, “I did not come to destroy but to fulfill,” which can be interpreted as a binding to the Levitical laws, or even a banishing of those Laws, since He was crucified (and there’s a bit of conflict within the Christian Church about interpreting Jesus’ fulfillment of the Law).

 He does briefly mention celibacy (but does not mention it as extensively as Paul does), and categorizes the different kinds of eunuchs: “ For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12). So, lest we think that all gay people become eunuchs or celibate, allow for a little compassion, as Jesus does. Not everyone was made to be celibate, nor does that same rule apply to all individuals. Therefore, to those who declare that in order to be in the church, our LGBT members must be celibate, I respond, “Let him who has no sin cast the first stone…” (para. from John 8:7). Don’t prescribe what you yourself are unwilling to do!

My findings from the Bible are not conclusive. But that’s actually okay. If I am searching, praying, and dialoguing, then I am engaging with God’s Word. Also: it’s good to recognize the incongruities and contradictions that arise. I don’t think we can lambast gays and lesbians with Leviticus 18, ESPECIALLY if we’re mixing our fabrics, eating meats God declared unclean, and not undergoing cleansing rituals after each period. Nor, if we are to believe that the Law was abolished under the Crucifixion, should we eat all sorts of meat, mix our fabrics, and still expect our LGBT friends to still follow the law that we’ve merrily banished for ourselves. The Bible is not to be cherry-picked!

Finally, one last verse to consider, from Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” If we are all one in Christ, I would think it’s time to treat each other equally.

Part II: All About Love

I never thought about my sexuality. I just knew that I liked boys. In a similar vein, I grew up Christian without knowing too much about what my beliefs entailed. It wasn’t until I was 15, facing my mom’s cancer diagnosis, that I actually started to take my faith seriously, and took personal accountability for my own spirituality.

It wasn’t till about seven or eight years later that I began to understand the complexities of human sexuality. You see, I’d grown up believing that homosexuality was a choice. But when I thought about it, I didn’t choose my sexuality. I just recognized it, and at a very young age, too. Ergo, how could someone who was LGBT choose, especially if they recognized it early on? A dear friend of mine came out to me in the fall of 2007, which forced me to come to terms with my homophobia head-on. I realized, “My ignorant/hateful behavior could affect someone I care deeply about.” So I set out to educate myself. Learn as much as I could. Take it to God in prayer. Above all, love my friend as that…my friend. Not a project. Not a sinner. A peer. An equal. I have asked honest and frank questions, praying for an open mind and a devotion to God’s will.

It’s not always been easy to be open-minded, or to balance one’s faith community with one’s world community. I struggle with various parts of my identity, and sometimes it’s hard to be open-minded in situations I am unfamiliar with.

But what has demolished the last shreds of my own homophobia has been marriage: the marriage of friends of mine, and my own. To protect their privacy, I won’t mention this amazing couple by name or gender. Witnessing their loving, unselfish relationship and how well-matched they are has shown me what a great marriage looks like. I saw them endure the devastating loss of a child, and then the tremulous hope of parenthood again. Through it all, they strengthened each other, and inspired me to be a better person. 

And then, when I married The Chancellor, I understood love for God and for another in ways I cannot explain. Marriage is a divine mystery that I still find myself dazzled by. I am with someone who understands me almost as well (better, sometimes!)  as I understand myself.

Why would I let anyone try to mandate that or take it away from me? Why should some unrelated person vote on my marriage? What investment do they have in my personal relationship? Why should someone else tell me that I can or cannot manage my husband’s end-of-life affairs, be part of his insurance plan, or receive benefits that belong to our marriage? Does this sound familiar?

Jesus says in Luke 6:31, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.” The Golden Rule is a lofty order: but if I am serious about my faith in God, it’s what I must follow. If I don’t want someone taking away my civil rights, then I must not take away theirs. It’s that simple.

I used to differentiate my stance on gay marriage into civil and Christian perspectives. I’ve merged the two identities, because I realize that I can no longer be silent in my faith community. Gay and lesbian members are increasingly leaving places of worship, because they do not feel welcome. It is going to take a lot of struggle, prayer, and dialogue for churches to work through both doctrine and the very real physical/spiritual needs of their congregations. But I would like to start by having an open dialogue on this forum. I would encourage you to respond, no matter what your stance is (and I would urge you to do so civilly).

In the end, I have been instructed to love God first and foremost, and then to love my neighbor as I value myself (Matt. 22:36-39). That is the highest calling God can offer anyone. Thus, in loving my neighbor, I am learning to put aside ignorance, fear, and hatred. Instead, I ask God every day to fill me with His extravagant love and take action.

One last thought: I just finished reading Christopher Paul Curtis’s wonderful children’s novel, The Watsons Go to Birmingham—1963. The epilogue finds Mr. Curtis addressing his young readers about civil rights. While geared towards racial equality, I find this passage particularly relevant:

Many heroic people died in the struggle for civil rights. Many others were injured or arrested or lost their homes or businesses. It is almost impossible to imagine the courage of the first African American children who walked into segregated schools or the strength of the parents who permitted hem to face the hatred and violence that awaited them. They did it in the name of the movement, in the quest for freedom.

These people are the true American heroes. They are the boys and girls, the women and men who have seen that things are wrong and have not been afraid to ask ‘Why can’t we change this?’ They are the people who believe that as long as one person is being treated unfairly, we all are. These are our heroes, and they still walk among us today. One of them may be sitting next to you as you read this, or standing in the next room making your dinner, or waiting for you to come outside and play.

One of them may be you. (210)

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