I Don't Want to Be This
After seeing Facebook Christians react to the Nashville Statement over the last few days, I came upon this comment from a young man: "Welp, according to this I'm not a Christian anymore. Glad someone cleared that up for me."
Part of me really wants to say, “Yeah, me too," but part of me also wants to take back that word: "Christian.”
It's hard because, in areas like Seattle, when you identify as a Christian, the local culture treats you like a drunk uncle who is not aware of the damage he is doing to his relationships. Much like a drunk uncle, everyone is intensely aware of how inappropriate, embarrassing and naive that uncle's behavior is. Everyone but the drunk uncle, of course.
So many Evangelical Christians have become so belligerent toward the basic tenets of the faith. “Love your neighbor” and being salt and light are not even on their radar. Instead, there is intense focus on “defending” and “standing firm” and “taking back.” They have exchanged the language of love for the language of war. So they have been tossed out of the minds of the modern masses like road salt. People just roll their eyes as they move about their lives, doing their best to ignore these abrasive opinions.
Perhaps the Western Evangelical Christians have begun to notice that everyone has just stopped listening. So, much like the drunk uncle, they have to make a bigger ruckus to be heard. Which is how we end up with things like the Nashville Statement. A louder beating of the tired old war drum: “We disagree with homosexuals, and we think they should be treated like outcasts.” Or like lepers.
Homosexuality seems to have become a 21st century version of leprosy in the eyes of the Evangelical. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day treated lepers in a similar manner to how modern religious leaders want to treat the LGBTQ community. They are considered “too dirty, defiled and different” to be worthy of equal community. Leprosy didn’t seem to bother Jesus though. Jesus embraced them. (Please note, I am not suggesting homosexuality is a disease, this analogy only extends to similar cultural statuses.)
Ideas have Consequences
If you have made it this far into this blog post, you may be thinking, “Russ clearly thinks the homosexuality isn’t a sin. How about it, Russ: is it a sin, or not?” Jesus hated those kinds of dualistic trap questions, and so do I. You know what I think? WHO CARES?! Why don’t you focus on treating them like valuable, beautiful human beings, and let them work the rest out for themselves?
*Gasp* “But Russ, don't you know ideas have consequences? If they are permitted to do as they wish, everyone will want to do it and it will spread.” Again, it sounds like a 21st century version of the fear of the leper. "I'm scared my kids might catch it." If you are really afraid of consequences, here are a few you may consider:
• The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGBTQ youth and 2 times greater for questioning youth than that of straight youth.
• Suicide attempts by LGBTQ youth and questioning youth are 4 to 6 times more likely to result in injury, poisoning, or overdose that requires treatment from a doctor or nurse, compared to their straight peers." (Source CDC 2016. Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Risk Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9-12: Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Via The Trevor Project)
Now you may WANT to develop some narrative about how “their deviance has caused God to give them the desire to kill themselves” or some other delusional garbage. What is most likely happening here seems pretty obvious though. The abusive attacks of the Evangelical Church on the identities of the LGBTQ communities is having an incredibly traumatic effect.
• LGBTQ youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGBTQ peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection. (Source Family Acceptance Project 2009 Family rejection as a predictor of negative health outcomes in white and Latino lesbian, gay, and bisexual young adults. Via the Trevor Project)
So, to the person who is still a part of the institutional faith based structures: Please open your eyes to the consequences! Let's look at the effect of decades of shaming LGBTQ people. Are christians winning hearts and minds to the Gospel? Or is this just another example of an oppressive religious majority waging an empirical war against “the outcasts?”
I Am An Outcast Too
I felt the weight of this quite personally. My knees buckled under the same burden of the religious convictions and definitions of sin I had grown up with. My story is similar, although it wasn't same-sex attraction. It was habitual stubborn pornography addiction. Mind you this was after all my chemical romances. I drank myself to death when I was 16 years old and was sent to rehab by the State of Washington. Then a year later I got into crack cocaine and meth. I almost died then too. I'm 27 years clean from using those hard drugs. I still drink today but not to the point point where I wake up sick. I have self-control in that area now where previously I didn't.
Anyhow, back to the pornography addiction. Ignoring it just made it worse. Like mold, it tends to flourish in the dark. After a few years of praying, reading my Bible, and unsuccessful "repenting," things only got progressively worse. I regressed to the point of seeing prostitutes and engaging in very risky sexual behavior. All while I was married and putting my wife at risk.
I know about the destruction of habitual sexual sin. I heard many sermons on how I should turn from my sins. I had tried, but according to their doctrine, I felt it was clear that God had abandoned me. I now know that's not true and they were preaching a false snake oil gospel, but those words like "elect" from those spiritual authorities haunted me. At the time suicide looked like the only way out. After all I was going to hell anyway due to my sinful practices.
So I planned to make it look like an accident because I didn't want my kids and my wife to know how bad things had gotten. I remember sitting parked near the Port of Tacoma. Windows down, foot on the gas pedal. Tears streaming down my face and hands firmly gripping the steering wheel. I knew one shot through a flimsy fence and I would be off and into the water. I heard a still small warm voice say from somewhere in my spirit, "Give it one more day, son.”
12 years later I'm still here. My wife and I, after a lot of prayer tearful counseling and healing, are still married. God is present in our lives and in our relationship. God’s amazing grace has covered me and I am grateful today for every breath I take. I've had years of good success from overcoming my sexual and chemical addictions.
Jesus set me free from being a Pharisee too. See, while I was totally addicted to pornography, I was also pointing the finger at “the gays.” I was covering my shame by playing plank-speck. It wasn't until I was in recovery and heard some of their heartbreaking stories that I realised they are Gods valuable, beautiful people and what they feel ain't much different from what was and is going on in my heart.
Turning the Tables
This is why the Nashville Statement got to me. They gave no consideration for people who live in the tension of their struggles. A large percentage of Christians who are giving a nod to the Nashville statement are also struggling with porn as well. It is so hypocritical. Or how many of them are divorced, or have condoned divorce? You want to be a literalist? Then read Jesus' words on divorce and repentance. Matthew 5, Mark 10, Matthew 19:9.
Matthew 5, especially, has been a theme for this post. I encourage you to go re-read it. The last half is Jesus laying out definitions of sin. Except he makes an obvious point of raising the bar so high that no one is free from its grasp. There is no talk of “shades of sin” in that sermon of his. There is no “in” and “out,” there is no “us” and “them.” The “us” and “them” game was the Pharisees’ thing. The Pharisees would have LOVED the Nashville Statement.
I wonder how many tables Jesus would flip and beatings he would give out if he was physically present to see those same old Pharisees playing the same old game 20 centuries later...but this time in his name.
What would it look like for punks to “be like Jesus” and flip tables in the 21st-century? For me it means assimilating into the culture and having it deal with the actual weight of who I am and what I actually believe on my best, but also on my worst day. For me, being a Christian looks like asking questions to upset my pretense and force some honesty. It looks like rebellion towards elusive, cold, systematic religion. Which is not the same as rebellion towards Christ. Matthew 23 is a great example of this.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing about the Nashville Statement is that it is yet another incentive against people revealing the wounds their vulnerable hearts are really actually dealing with. It encourages the vulnerabilities inward, and to protect themselves people end up living secret lives. That only causes deep damage by keeping the most sensitive of souls in the dark instead of living in the light. In the darkness there is no safety, no love, no peace, just a churning inner dialogue of raw and harsh judgement. It is so brutally and painfully contrary to the teachings of the freedom found in Christ.
Instead, let’s give each other the safety to be what we are feeling right now. We don’t have to stay there, but we must be there now because the only way toward healing is experiencing love for our entire selves. This includes all the shit we are hiding behind our masks. That's the place where hearts connect. That's the place where understanding and love flourish. Not on the sterilized surface of a Pharisees plastic, branded, money changing table.
Banner Photo Via Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:La_curacion_del_ciego_El_Greco_Dresde.jpg