Synchroblog for Sanity: Why I Am a Christian Ally
Tuesday, November 13, 2012Tweet
Today I'm participating in the Synchroblog for Sanity hosted on Justin Lee's blog. Justin's book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate comes out today (see my review here).
The point of this synchroblog (which, in case you're not familiar, is a day where a bunch of bloggers all share posts on the same topic) is to bring the conversation on Christianity and homosexuality away from the polarizing rhetoric in which it's usually discussed and instead have some discussions about it that are, like, sane.
If you've been around for any length of time you know this is an important issue for me. I have a whole resource guide on Christianity and homosexuality devoted to relevant articles, videos, books, films, and more. I've posted tips for Christians wanting to talk about LGBTQ people without sounding like an idiot. I've written about how Christians wanting to condemn same-sex couples first having to define "sex," which is not as easy as it sounds.
But one thing I've never really discussed is Why.
Why do I, a straight cisgender woman, care so much about the LGBTQ community? And why do I care so much about changing other Christians' minds about them?
Pretty much everything can be traced back to the end of my sophomore year of high school, when I came across the blog of a 13-year-old boy who had just admitted to himself that he was bisexual. (Which, much like Justin Lee, was a stepping stone to admitting he was gay.)
This was really before "blog" was even a word; when I told friends that I liked reading about other people's lives online, they thought I was a weirdo. But for me, I knew that I could understand the world and other people better by hearing firsthand accounts of what it was like to be someone very different from me.
So this guy, who in the span of a couple years would become my best friend (and senior prom date!), was writing not only about coming to terms with his sexuality but about how this necessitated breaking away from the Christianity in which he'd grown up. It's the logic I've seen applied far too many times: God hates gay people, so accepting myself as gay means I must reject God.
For whatever reason, because of where I was in my faith at that point, I felt the need to argue with him and bring him back to Jesus. I'm not really sure that I had given much thought to gay people before, but I was certain of one thing, and that was that God loved everyone. So I left him comments on his posts, and we discussed things. This necessitated me doing a lot of research and finding out why, exactly, some Christians thought being gay was a sin, and how other Christians countered those arguments.
During the next year, I discovered that not only did he live somewhat near me, but he was on his high school's speech team, which meant that we'd be able to meet in person during the Regionals tournament -- about the safest option for meeting a random guy you met on the Internet, right? Anyway, the details of our awkward first meeting and how we became best friends over the next year or so are mostly irrelevant to the rest of the story, but this whole experience planted the seed for me to care about gay rights.
After that, I thought many times about joining my high school's gay-straight alliance, but I just couldn't get up the courage to do it. I knew that I cared a great deal about my friend, but I wasn't ready to be "out and proud" as an ally yet. I did participate in the Day of Silence my junior and senior year and didn't face any flak for it -- I didn't go to the most accepting high school, but it certainly wasn't a super-conservative, homophobic school either.
Also, at this point in time and in the location where I lived, "gay issues" were not really a topic of conversation at my Catholic church. I didn't face true Christian "love the sinner, hate the sin" rhetoric until one day at the Bible study I attended with some friends at a nearby non-denomnational Protestant-ish church. I have no idea how the topic came up, but I got in a big argument with the Bible study leader about gay people. Keep in mind that I knew exactly ONE gay person at this point in my life, but even then I knew that the things she was saying were false. Like she'd heard some speaker say that 90+% of gay people are gay because they were abused, and the rest just chose to "try that lifestyle." I knew only that nothing she was saying applied to my BFF, and so without any statistics to back me up, I simply continued to tell her she was wrong. And it hurt me that someone would say such terrible things about a person I cared about and think they were being a good Christian.
Shortly after I started college, one of my good friends from high school came out of the closet. So that brought the grand total of gay people I knew up to two. I still wasn't an out-and-proud advocate, but I now had two people I cared about to protect from lies and hatred.
I was now on a Catholic campus, albeit a fairly liberal one; about the only time I heard a mention of homosexuality was a passing mention when someone was listing off examples of sexual sins. However, the summer after my freshman year I went to work for Group Workcamps, a Christian organization, and the college students who made up summer staff were divided up into teams of four. (I found out later through talking with other teams that they'd grouped people by denomination -- except the Catholics, who were each put with three Protestants. I was with the Lutherans.)
One day I was in the supply truck with one of my teammates when the topic of homosexuality came up. I remember that she believed the typical lies about gay people -- that being gay was a choice, or was caused by abuse or bad parenting -- but that she was willing to listen as I told her about the gay people I knew and how they didn't fit the stereotypes. She ended up drawing a parallel to alcoholism because her father was an alcoholic, and while it wasn't the greatest analogy, it helped her understand how something that other people thought was a choice could actually not be a choice at all.
So that's basically how I started on the path to becoming a vocal ally: Some other Christians tried to tell me some lies about people I cared about, and I went all Mama Bear on them and told them they were wrong.
My junior year I joined the gay-straight alliance at my college, which you can read more about here. Through this group I met a lot more gay guys, some lesbians, a handful of bisexual people, and the first transgender person I ever met. Through seeing the struggles this trans guy went through trying to transition while at school, I became more passionate about trans rights. I got TransGeneration on DVD and watched the 20/20 episode on trans children. For one of my journalism classes I wrote an article on the lack of resources for transgender individuals in our city, which was almost run by the local paper until it turned out they were already planning to run a story that was like, "Hey, transgender people exist!" and apparently that was the same thing. (/sarcasm)
It saddened me a great deal that many of my friends in the alliance had left Christianity behind when they came out. Not all of them, of course -- given that we were at a Catholic university, there were still way more Catholics in the group than you'd likely find at an average gay rights group meeting. But I found myself speaking up again and again on behalf of straight Catholics. I corrected misperceptions: No, the Catholic church's position isn't perfect, but they do say being gay isn't a choice. And most of all, I tried to be a face of straight, Christian support: I love Jesus, and I love you, and to me these are not at odds with each other.
Second semester of junior year, Mike and I took a class about LGBTQ issues, and I joined a committee of students from the class to plan the second year of a pro-gay T-shirt campaign on campus. As the only person in both the class and the gay-straight alliance, I served as a liaison between the two groups and eventually helped transition the management of the annual campaign over to the alliance once the professors decided the class couldn't do it anymore. By the time I was helping run the campaign for the third year, I didn't even try to correct the person from the school paper who clearly assumed I was a lesbian. It didn't matter what people thought about me -- it mattered only that our LGBTQ community on this Catholic campus, especially the new first-year students, saw that there were people willing to voice their unequivocal support.
That's the story of how I became an ally, but it's not the whole answer to those questions I asked at the beginning.
My friends in the LGBTQ community are not the only ones who face discrimination because of something inherent in themselves. But they are the ones most likely to face blatant, unapologetic discrimination. They are the ones who still lack many basic legal protections in most parts of the United States. It's not to say that racism and sexism and ableism and the like don't still exist, because they most certainly do, but discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is where I personally see the biggest gaping hole in our society's claim to treat all people equally. Except perhaps for our society's poor treatment of people with mental illness, it's the discrimination that I see most consistently leading to people becoming homeless, or drug-addicted, or suicidal.
And similarly, these issues are where I see the biggest problems in Christianity in America. It is Christian's treatment of and rhetoric about LGBTQ people that most makes me feel distant from my Christian brothers and sisters, that most makes me ashamed for the hurtful things said and done in the name of Jesus. It is within Christian churches that I see flat-out lies and misinformation most often spread about sexual orientation and gender identity. And because of this, I see people -- both gay and straight, cis and trans -- continuing to turn away from Christianity. Because of something that isn't even remotely central to the Bible, and completely unmentioned by Jesus!
I've tied myself to this cause because it affects people I care about, because it's an area where equality lags far behind, and because I can't stand to see Christianity tied to lies and judgment.
I want to see more patience, more compassion, and more understanding in the conversation around Christianity and homosexuality because I don't want any more people to feel they have to choose between lying about themselves, hating themselves, or turning away from God.
If you care about this issue, or just want to know more about it, I can't recommend highly enough the book that came out today, Torn by Justin Lee. I don't get any benefits from saying that except for the knowledge that this book has the power to change minds and bring sanity back into this conversation.
I also invite you to check out the other contributions to today's Synchroblog for Sanity. It's time to bring some peace and sanity back to discussing the issues that are tearing so many people's lives apart.