Dear Friend: in answer to your questions…

You asked me a lot of questions regarding my daughter and her school yesterday. I had talked about a blog post that was added to facebook by a Christian University president in Oklahoma. He was so adamantly against an article published by my daughter’s University newspaper that talked about the lgbtq community in a non-condemning light that he wrote a reply on his facebook page. Incidentally, he was a previous vice-president at my daughter’s school. You know him and several members of the current Spring Arbor University administration as personal friends.

After reading his article, you asked the following questions of me: “Can someone please explain to me exactly how these students feel unsafe and/or in fear? Have they been threatened? Attacked physically? When they’re saying they want to be heard, what exactly does that mean? What do they need to say that isn’t already being said? By saying they want to be heard and affirmed, does that mean they want to be able to walk around campus holding hands with their partner? Or sitting in chapel with their partner as a couple? I’m truly trying to understand what exactly they feel they are not being heard about or not getting. I haven’t read about anyone being kicked off campus. As sassy as this may sound, I’m truly not trying to be. I just honestly want to know. When saying “affirming” I want to know what exactly is their goal by that word?”

First of all, let me say that I don’t believe the students are asking for affirmation. I know that affirmation is not my daughter’s goal and I haven’t heard that from any of her friends. They know that SAU is a denominational school and doesn’t have the option of being lgbtq affirming. There is no argument with that.

If you don’t mind, before I continue I need you to do something for me that you may think is silly, but it is not to me. It is deeply personal.

Ready?

Let’s imagine that your son is gay, instead of my daughter.

You’ve watched him grow up and you’ve seen him act out of his growing love for God. You’ve gone in his room and seen his well-used devotional journal and his Bible laying on his bed. You know they are there because he uses them.

As he gets ready to go to college, he wants to go to a Christian school where he can grow spiritually while also getting a degree. He enrolls at SAU.

Still pretending? I hope so… You won’t understand if you make it about MY daughter or if you only look at this theoretically as an “issue” rather than a person.

Okay. Midway through your son’s junior year he comes home for Christmas break and he asks to have a serious talk with you. You sit down, ready to be a good listening ear in order to help him.

“Mom,” he says. “I love God, but I know I’m gay.”

At that point, what do you say? You know he loves God. Nothing in his life indicates to you that that has changed. But, he’s gay.

You make it through the school break and then send him back. All of the sudden, it matters to you how the school will treat him, what will be said to discourage him from continuing to seek God, and if he will even be physically safe…

As he begins the new semester, incidents start happening on campus. Maybe a chapel speaker (or 2, or 4) compares your celibate son and his lgbtq community to murderers and adulterers. Maybe a community member comes on campus and starts yelling at a group of lgbtq students, including your son, with vile insults while other students gather around to listen. And then, when an administrator comes out the door, your humiliated child hopes that he is going to make this person stop. Instead, he comes to your son and his friends, and tells them to leave. Then he talks to the community member…

In answer to the incident, the administration sends out a letter to the students stating that all students are valued. However, added to the end of the letter is the assurance that  the school believes that these students are hell-bound if they live lgbtq lives. Your son is told that the letter was for a “wider audience” so that’s why they included the admonition.

And then, an article written by Dr. Everett Piper is published, stating that “We are the Imago Dei! We are not the imago dog… One is not defined by his desire to engage in aberrant sex any more than one is defined by a desire to persecute Jews or burn crosses. In both cases, because we are human beings and not animals, we are simply supposed to just not do it.”

So, Friend, at this point is your gay son “safe?” He, recognizing that he has a same-sex orientation that he did not choose and cannot change, carries the “imago dog” and he is now considered an animal as opposed to a human being. And no one in leadership from his school calls out the language used about its own students. Rather, the defense posted on Dr. Piper’s page by SAU president, Brent Ellis, is a defense of the school’s theology and the hope that “we enter into dialogue expressing the character of Jesus.” There was no disagreement with the choice of words used against SAU’s lgbtq students.

At this point, your son, like these students, knows that no one has their backs. That is all they are asking for! Just that the school would have their backs by affording them the same dignity given to other students on campus. There have been multiple meetings with Administration over this issue.

I’m not on campus and I haven’t been in any of the meetings with Administration so I don’t know if they are overthinking what the kids want or what the problem seems to be. I know that the advocacy clause in the student handbook is problematic to the students. The clause states: “All students, regardless of age, residency or status, are required to abstain from cohabitation, any involvement in premarital or extramarital sexual activity, or homosexual activity (including same-sex dating behaviors). This includes the promotion, advocacy, and defense of the aforementioned activities.”

The problem for my daughter and her friends is in that last sentence. They have no recourse to defend themselves when anti-gay oppression happens. And they have learned that no one else will protect them either. If they are sitting in class and having a theological discussion, technically they are not free to acknowledge that they are lgbtq and share their perspective (without being afraid of what will happen to them). They cannot advocate for one another if mistreatment occurs. And I don’t even get the use of the word, “promotion.” No one is recruiting other students to be gay, especially since it’s not possible to switch who you are attracted to (When did you choose to become straight?).

I know this has gotten long, Friend. (And I do mean it when I call you that.) I guess all I can say is that there are many ways to not be “safe.” It’s a scary thing to know that no one has your back and you are on your own in your life, your job, your school or sometimes your own home. At least these students have each other.

Maybe there’s safety in numbers…

article by Dr. Everett Piper

 

Nothing to hide, nothing to prove, nothing to lose

“Nothing to hide, nothing to prove, nothing to lose.” The first time I heard this phrase, several years ago, I was drawn to the freedom that living by it would entail. I never considered myself as someone who tried to hide who I really was: I used to joke that my friends and acquaintances all knew I was a spiritual and emotional mess. And by the grace of God, I was placed in a church setting filled with people who did not make me prove my worth. They just loved me anyway, recognizing that I was growing as a person and a Christ-follower. And as far as “nothing to lose” goes, I really didn’t see much to lose. My friends were Christians, my job was in a Christian environment among people I loved, and I was confident that God wouldn’t take that away from me. Why would He? It was all positive stuff that honored Him and where I could serve Him.

And then in June 2016, my husband and I felt that God was leading him to step down from his position as pastor at our church. After 30 years. This was not only our calling, but our jobs; our friends; our family; our social life; our place to grow spiritually and to serve. It was a painful process that culminated in our last Sunday at the church we love on October 1, 2017.

In the middle of this transition, we also learned that one of our adult children identified as LGBT. Still nothing to hide?

Because we have always championed authenticity in our fellowship of believers, hiding our daughter’s “coming out” was not an option we even considered. We were, and are, proud of the person she is and we have refused to act as though she doesn’t exist when talking to friends and family. We stand by her, without apology.

During this time I read a post by John Pavlovitz, a fellow blogger, that helped me tremendously. Entitled, If I Have Gay Children, he states, “If I have gay children, you’ll all know it. My children won’t be our family’s best kept secret unless they choose that. I won’t talk around them in conversations with others. I won’t speak in code or vague language. I won’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, and I won’t try to spare the feelings of those who may be older, or easily offended, or uncomfortable. Childhood is difficult enough, and most LGBT kids spend their entire existence being horribly, excruciatingly uncomfortable. I’m not going to put mine through any more unnecessary discomfort, just to make Thanksgiving dinner a little easier for a third cousin with misplaced anger issues. If my children come out, we’ll be out as a family.”

So, no, nothing to hide. I’ve got this one wired.

Nothing to prove is a little tougher for me. Although God has done a great work in my life over the last year and a half, and I have finally been able to accept that His grace in my life is all I need to be in right standing with Him, I realize there are things I still have an unhealthy need to prove to my fellow believers. The biggest one in the past year has been the need to convince fellow believers that my daughter, and others like her, are still accepted by God and welcomed into relationship with Him. I’ll admit that some of this comes from being the mom of an awesome person and wanting everyone else to agree with me that she’s awesome, that she is following God, and that He has great plans for her. (As I said, “I’m the mom!” What do you expect?)

As time goes by, though, I realize I don’t have the power to make people agree with me. God is showing me that that’s okay. There will always be people who disagree over scriptural interpretation. What He calls me to do is to love everyone, including both the marginalized and those doing the marginalizing. (Do you know how hard that is to even write? God’s still got work to do in me.) I don’t have to prove to others that someone they personally condemn can still have a relationship with God. I am, first and foremost, called to love the marginalized in such a way that none of them will ever take my reaction to them as God’s rejection of them.

Nothing to prove. I don’t have this one down, but God and I are working on it.

And now, nothing to lose. God certainly has a sense of humor, doesn’t He?

Although I’ve always known that the time of leadership at our church would end, there was no way to prepare for the sense of displacement. God has wiped out the comfort zone that let me take for granted my future, my place in the Body of Christ, and the people with whom I would journey. However, He has replaced all this with a trust in Him I haven’t had before. I know we have followed what He wills for us and I know He’s “got” us during this time in our lives. That’s not to say that there aren’t days where faith is harder than others.

One of the more difficult things for me to risk losing is the approval of others, but I’m getting there. God is giving me the assurance that His call on my life is far more important than my fellow Christians’ approval. His desire that everyone would know His love for them trumps my desire that fellow Christians will think I’ve got it all together spiritually. I am instead trying to live the blessing that states, “Send me anywhere you would have me go, only go there with me. Place upon me any burden you desire, only stand by me to sustain me. Break any tie that binds me, except the tie that binds me to you…”

And whatever I lose, it will be worth it.

 

Room at the table

My heart is full today and I am thankful for all God is doing in the life of my family. This past Tuesday my daughter finished her classes at Spring Arbor University and will participate in graduation ceremonies this May. She packed up her dorm room and came home Wednesday evening. On Thursday, she received two calls from one of the seminaries to which she applied for graduate studies for next year. The first caller told her that Candler School of Theology (Emory University) had received her writing sample and that it was “flawless.” The second caller informed her that she is one of their top candidates and is being offered a spot in the next graduate class, tuition paid. They let her know that an additional stipend may be available for her living expenses—she just needs to apply for it.

But wait, I’m not done…

Today, she interviewed for a job in Jackson that will help her build a small nest egg before she begins her graduate studies. She was hired on the spot and begins next week.

After the experiences of this past school year at SAU and having watched the incidences of non-support of the lgbt students, it means so much to me to find a school that not only believes it is possible for an lgbt student to have a relationship with Christ, but to believe it enough that they will invest in that student’s future.

_____________

As I’ve been excited for this new happening in my daughter’s life, I’ve also been thinking about those who would say that a person who identifies as lgbt cannot be accepted by God or the church. My thought is this:

You may be able to keep an lgbt person out of the church, but you can’t keep them away from God if they desire to have a relationship with Him.

One of the scriptures that kept coming to my mind shortly after our daughter talked with us about her orientation was Romans 10:9-13. I’ve included it here with the part I’m referring to in bold. “…If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, ‘Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.’ For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’”

I cannot tell you how hard I clung to that last phrase while trying to wrap my head and heart around our new reality. I believed (and still believe) what I read, but I struggled with the thought that many other Christians will never accept my child as a fellow believer. I still have a hard time with that, but I realize that what others think is not my problem to solve.

I also realize that while being lgbt is a deal-breaker and a ‘sin’ to some Christians, other sins are easily overlooked. The same people who would say that the Bible stands against same-sex orientation often ignore that it condemns gossip, slander, greed, pride and many other things. But, the people who practice these things are welcomed and accepted in the church (and they should be). We encourage them to grow and to learn how to walk with God, and the church body stands by them to encourage them.

Why, then, for the Christians who believe a same-sex orientation is sin, do we not stand by our church children who come out to us? Why would we not encourage them to stay as close to Jesus as they possibly can, instead of telling them they can’t have Jesus? Why can we not tell them that God loves them and wants to walk with them as they navigate this now-understood reality in their life? And above all, why can we not accept their spirituality and trust God and the lgbt person to weed out anything HE thinks is sinful in their life? We give grace to others we think are participating in sinful practices. We say, “Oh, they’ll mature spiritually.” Or, “God will show them what He wants.” But we still accept them as fellow followers after Jesus—just followers who don’t have it all together yet. As if any of us DO have it together!

Please don’t hear me saying that I believe having a same-sex orientation is sin. I don’t. I believe that what following Jesus looks like for an lgbt Christian is for that Christian to work out with God. They should strive to live as Christ wants them to live, the same as I should strive to live as God wants me to live.

And as we strive as brothers and sisters in Christ to live for Him, we are invited to eat at the same table. And the table is big enough for us all. We just have to be willing to sit next to each other.

 

The last straw

straw3

I used to believe there was such a thing as the “last straw.” You know, that thing that gets on your last nerve. That moment when you’ve had enough and you declare you won’t take it anymore. When you start thinking about how great it would be to run away (or at least get admitted to the hospital for a few days of sleep) and just have time alone.

The last straw used to come when the schedule got so full I couldn’t keep up, or when yet one more person was mad at something petty that had happened. Or when one more piece of equipment or an appliance broke down at home.  Or the car wouldn’t start on a day that was already stressful.

Guess what? Until 2017, I was a “last straw” novice, and a naïve one at that. The true last straw hits at the core of your being.

There’s no deeper core to your being than something that involves your child and family. I have a whole new list of “last straws.”

The last straw is…

…finding out that your newly “out” child repeatedly can’t get seated at a certain Jackson restaurant. If she goes ahead and seats herself, she does not get served until a straight or straight-passing friend comes to the table and flags down the wait staff.

…hearing how someone yelled at her and called her a f!#*ing dyke when she was merely walking down the street to her job.

…finding out she was told that “God hates lesbians!” by a total stranger.

…having your child’s school at every point let her know that she can’t have God if she’s gay.

These are last straws…

…having a doctor suggest that “there’s help for lgbt people if they want it,” and you assume he’s referring to conversion therapy that was disproved years ago.

…having people let you know that they want to remain your friend but they want the privilege of pretending your new reality doesn’t exist. In this way, they never have to acknowledge or discuss what you and your family have gone through.

…having your town put up non-discrimination protections for lgbt citizens and knowing that other Christians fought against it with all they had.

…and the list goes on and on…

As I contemplate all this, I suddenly realize something.

There is no last straw! This will not end.

I will never get the chance to say, “I won’t take this anymore!” Cause you know what? She’s my child and I’ll take it until my dying day for the privilege of walking alongside her. And she’ll take it until her dying day for the honesty of not hiding who she is as she follows God’s plan for her life.

So, for all these “last straws,” I guess I’ll say, “Bring’em on!” God and I will figure out what to create from them.