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LGBT: Home For The Holidays?

The holidays are coming. Thanksgiving is on its way. Christmas is just around the corner and we’re all starting to talk family plans for who’s going to be there. Not to kill the buzz, but this is where the seasonal tensions start. The time of year where we the threat of proximity can ignite our differences. As we begin to stand our ground, we begin the annual reckoning: Who will and who will not be invited home?

thanksgiving-meals-decorations

Who will be at your Thanksgiving table this year? And who will not?

I’ll be straight up. This time of year is stressful for LGBT people, particularly those with Christian families. Many LGBTs will spend Thanksgiving separated from their families because of a religious difference. Gay loved ones (and often times their partners and children as well) will simply not be invited home. For those who believe that homosexuality is a sin, it will, perhaps, be an opportunity to induce the kind of starvation that aims to lead to repentance. For others, it may be the sacrifice of a child upon the altar of God—an act of faith, to do one’s Christian duty to separate that which is holy from that which is unholy.

I could write an article shaming the practice of expressing our personal beliefs at the expense of others. I could write about how homosexuality is natural and not a sin. Maybe I should spend time tearing apart the complexities of Law vs. Love? The usual tropes and traps that get us all hurt, angry and tied up in knots over what is and isn’t “right” is what we’ve come to expect anytime we start talking about sexual orientation and faith. Yet many of us feel it—that inner, spiritual moral imperative to act with consistency to our conscience and we are left wondering if Thanksgiving is the time to do something about it.

As a Christian, I deeply appreciate the reverence and honor that comes with expressions of one’s faith. The things we say and do are important because we see them as reflections of the inner man and the Spirit that lives within us. That is why sacraments are, indeed, sacred. They are the visible activities we do to express the typically invisible, divine, spiritual grace we carry within our hearts. Yet we also know, that any ritual is just some thing to do if we don’t bother to take notice of the inner longings we hope to express in the action. It could be said that the Eucharist is just wine and bread on any other day, but during a moment of sacred worship, it is a connection to the living God otherwise only known in our hearts.

All that being said, it leaves me wondering, what will our Thanksgiving table say about our inner spirit this year?

There will be many Christian homes praying over Thanksgiving meals with a sense of complete and sincere worship toward a loving God. Our Thanksgiving feast will be transformed by our prayers, turning it into a sacrament of gratitude flowing out from our spiritual being. Instead of the sacrificing the fatted calf for our prodigal sons, it will be a frighteningly large roasted turkey and buttery mashed potatoes, but no less propitiatory. Even through the coming tryptophan induced coma, we will make this day one of offering and celebration. In a predictable ritual we will both secretly suffer and deeply long for, we will push back the awkward fear of vulnerability as our overly romantic Aunt boldly insists we all join hands and each express aloud one thing we are thankful for.

As you feel the dry, rough skin of your father’s hand, or perhaps the pudgy, sticky fingers of your nephew in the palm of your own, you may find yourself feeling both uncomfortable and comforted. When was the last time you held their hand for so long? Aren’t you wholly grateful you are not alone today? Your mind will race and grasp for something to say as your turn quickly approaches…

 

What am I thankful for?

Who am I thankful for?

 

In that sacred moment, would you ever think to measure your gratitude by the missing? Can you ever truly say: I am grateful there are no gay people here?

There is no way around it; our thankfulness is always celebrated most when we have people in our lives to love. It is always, unreservedly valued by the presence of the most precious, scarcest of good things. We are always most thankful by what we have, rather than by what we have not.

So, dear Christian, as we sanctify the bounty on our tables to God this year, I wonder, who will we blessed with the honor of sharing it with us?



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‘You Must Come Out’: How Harvey Milk’s Challenge Resonates With Gay Christians Today

Gay brothers and sisters,… You must come out. Come out… to your parents… I know that it is hard and will hurt them but think about how they will hurt you in the voting booth! Come out to your relatives… come out to your friends… if indeed they are your friends. Come out to your neighbors… to your fellow workers… to the people who work where you eat and shop… come out only to the people you know, and who know you. Not to anyone else. But once and for all, break down the myths, destroy the lies and distortions. For your sake. For their sake.

– Harvey Milk 1978

MILK
I think about Harvey’s impassioned plea quite often. It whispers in my brain with both inspiration and reservation. Inspirational, because, as an out woman, I have experienced what only coming out will teach you, that life is significantly more reliable and fruitful without secrets and shame. Yet, as a Christian, I also know that the blanket call for coming out and the purging of all secrets is a dangerous, painful prospect. I know that it is not as simple as pushing folks into a river of deadly rapids with a promise of rest on the distant shore. The reality is, not everyone survives the journey. Not everyone who takes the plunge is a strong swimmer. Worse yet, there are plenty who are more than wiling to follow you into the deep just to push your head under into suffocating silence. When asked what prescription I’d give to an LGBT Christian on the necessity, urgency or even obligation to “come out,” I lack Milk’s confidence insisting that all LGBT should identify themselves. Maybe it’s the burden of my pessimist nature, but for those of us in earshot of anti-gay religious voices, I usually say “It does get better, but make sure you prepare for the crossing.”

Somewhere along the way, particularly in religious environments, coming out is an act more along the lines of a confession than a natural step toward self-awareness. The result is that it makes me think long and hard before I insist that every LGBT show their hand, knowing for certain that the Church still packs a punch. It’s so very difficult for the average person to hold the ground of what they know to be true about themselves against an onslaught of Biblical magnitude, that can be both confusing and demeaning. The reality is, that most people aren’t gay because it’s statement of style, it’s just one portion, one quality that helps complete the picture of their own identity. Yet we live in a time, where coming out often requires one be prepared to defend their position, as if it is, in some way a political statement or religiously justifiable way of being. We are asked to debate, what is in the end, ultimately undebatable. Most of us start out with little more than the story of how we just “know.” It’s the story, and it’s all I’ve got.

I was four years old when Harvey Milk spoke those words. I had yet to hear them when, at the ripe old age of 27, I realized I was actually lesbian. While I stared into the darkness of the closet so many people insisted was my certain destiny, I was fortunate, because Harvey, a gay man, decades before had asked his friends, his family, his neighbors and ultimately the world, to break the devastating chains of LGBT silence. I cannot imagine how I might have fared without the courage of those who came before me, who have risked so much by coming out in times when the costs were so assured and so great. It is because of every single person who has come out, that, today, I have the privilege, though it may not always be easy, to speak of my own sexual orientation today, with more ease than, arguably, any generation that has come before me.

Perhaps this is the hidden wisdom of Milk’s charge revealed by only what experience and time can teach us, in that there is nothing more disarming to prejudice than looking into the eyes and knowing the names of those we harm. For however much sexual orientation and gender identity will ever be debated, investigated or legislated, there is no more insightful evidence than that of the truth we carry in the story of our lives being lived out in the open. In the 36 years since Harvey encouraged the veil to be pulled back, we have discovered, not just to the heterosexual community, but to ourselves, that human sexuality is in actuality, fluid and diverse in expression and identity as the people it inhabits. We are, in fact, doctors, mothers, pastors and children, cross dressers, truckers, artists, politicians and more. Evidence suggests that orientation and gender are not merely expressions of sexual choices, but more likely the mysterious makings of what we call humanity. The more the story is told, the less power the stereotypes and myths have to limit our potential. The ignorance of the dark closet gives way to vibrant life, of whole beings, of good mental, physical and spiritual health. Once we dare to speak of what causes us fear, whether gay or straight, we now know that we are less inclined to punish or harm ourselves. In the light of day we can find community that shares in celebrating our unique traits, disarming those who once ridiculed us.

You see, this is where Milk’s charge broke the barrier of being solely a political call to action and tripped into the territory enduring wisdom, that if one does not speak, one will never be heard. He reminded us that silence in an anchor and it is impossible for any human being to have a full life bound in chains.

As National Coming Out Day approaches on October 11th, I’m grateful for both the discomfort and inspiration Milk gave for me to consider. For behind every political yearning for equality, behind every taboo that has ever been broken, at the core of any religious belief worth its salt, the one challenge that we all universally share is the need to be accepted as we are found.

It’s important to take a moment, at least one day a year, where we put aside viewing “coming out” as a political statement or an act of religious rebellion. I would argue, that it’s not just a gay right of passage. Learning to love yourself and to love others, however and whoever they confess themselves to be to you, that, to me, is a universal kinship we all share. To accept and be accepted. To be treated with equal opportunity, respect and dignity, one neighbor known to the other.



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New Book : Facing The Music

I've always loved questions. (Perhaps you've noticed my lyrics are riddled with them.) I love musing about life's winding road, always curious about what adventure lies around the next corner. Through the years, I've learned to appreciate the many questions that I have faced, both in my own private life as well as those I've faced in public. 

Questions like: 
Why is music so important to you?
What experiences have you had in your life that lead you to write the way you do?
What led you to Christian music and why did you leave it?
How is it that you realized you were gay?
And…
When are you going to write a book about all this stuff?

After many requests, I've finally bitten the bullet and branched out into writing it all down for Facing the Music, coming October 7 and available for pre-order now.

In the book, I explore what have become the major forces that have influenced my path in life and the joy I've had in both the blessings and the challenges presented. From what life was like growing up, falling in love with music, the impact of finding faith, as well as navigating the impact of my coming out, taking the opportunity to write this book has been an adventure all its own.

I've always believed that each of us have an incredible gift to share with the world. We each have an adventure waiting for us in discovering what we have to offer and accepting the risk to share it with others. As my listeners and supporters, you have reminded me of that as you have shared your own with me. So now, as so many of you have asked, I'm humbly honored to be able to share a little of my own.

—Jennifer

Pre-order Facing the Music now



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Affirming Faith Voices Crucial For Advancing LGBT Civil Rights

It didn’t take long for Michelle Shocked’s ‘misunderstood’ anti-gay rant to make the headlines last week. Her choice of language was repugnant. (A few days later, she apologized.) Although she has received more press in recent days than she has had in the last decade, for now, she only has cancelled concerts to show for it. But this isn’t a blog about her. It’s about the missing voice of affirmative LGBT faith leaders in the media.

Many will see the Shocked incident as a typical Christian anti-gay ‘whack-a-mole’, individual and unconnected to the start of Supreme Court oral arguments on Proposition 8 and DOMA. But those on the front lines of LGBT civil rights recognize Shocked as parrot of the pulpit. After Lifeway Christian Resources (a Southern Baptist organization) revealed that 64% of Americans think legal gay marriage is inevitable, you can expect to hear a steady stream of prophetic filibustering this spring. Between now and June, those who still go to church will hear many sermons on the Armageddon inducing powers of homosexuality. The most putrid and sensational will, no doubt, escape from confines of their own dwindling congregations, loose its hated across our public airwaves and further cement the notion that Christians are anti-gay.

Why not? It’s all we ever hear. 3 out of every 4 anti-gay sentiments reported in our public media come from religious sources. (40% of negative rhetoric specifically from evangelical circles.) We often confuse those who speak from lofty perches as having earned the authority to speak for the many, when if fact, they were probably just the first to grab the microphone. An argument could be made that religion-fueled bigotry retains its foothold in LGBT civil rights opposition because it continues to be given the bullhorn. We keep boo-ing the speaker hoping he’ll be quiet, but we’re still filling the room. Walk away and what’s it matter? There comes a time when the onus becomes ours to change the programming. If we change the channel the ratings will fall and the show will be canceled – end of story.

But it is a mistake to steal the microphone from every person of faith.

Author and minister, Rob Bell has sold more books than Michelle Shocked could ever dream of matching in record sales. He is one of the most audible voices of modern Christianity, actively influencing an entire generation of Evangelicals. Recently, Bell publicly expressed his support for gay marriage with emboldened clarity yet, outside of faith-based circles, few noticed. He is one in a handful of articulate, compassionate, and influential religious voices willing to be responsible for moving a generation toward LGBT affirmation. Notable believers like Brian McLaren are crucial in helping Christians understand that the language used by their forefathers is one of an inherited and broken theology that must evolve. It’s important to find positive role models who admit to climbing out of the primordial goo and are willing to build a bridge to safety.

If Michelle Shocked is worthy of a mention at all, it is that she is a Follower being baptized in the rising waters of change. For those who claim a faith tradition, the neutral ground is rapidly disappearing. Silence, apathy and indecision were once an oasis in a rising tide of discrimination. Staying silent meant avoiding controversy – but now we recognize that silence is too easily confused with consent for injustice. For those victims of the current, it is our challenge to give them a recognizable voice that can guide them to safety.



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Wear Purple For Spirit Day!

One of the most frequent questions I am asked while advocating for LGBT social justice is:

“What can I do to help?”

My simplest suggestion: Make it known that you are a friend.

It is easy enough to get swamped by the diverse range of specific issues that accompany LGBT equality. In broad terms, increasing tolerance and compassion, means setting our sights on supporting basic human dignity as well as how we reflect the expression of that dignity through civil rights. I am particularly fond doing what I can to encourage increased awareness and tolerance in faith communities, as I myself have intimately experienced the important connection between a healthy spirit and human dignity. As I am finding out, equality is more than legislation, it is about the heart of community. It is about being open to being a friend.

Through the many Inside Out Faith events over the past year, some of the most heart-wrenching things I hear are the accounts of many who have been bullied because of their sexual orientation. It’s more than sticks and stones. Attacking the core dignity of a human being through words is only the beginning of what can later turn into physical harm. The cunning nature of prejudicial speech is the potential violence it may incite. If violence can begin with an expressed idea…then so too can peace.

That’s one of the reasons I’ll be wearing purple on October 19th.

Along with my good friends at GLAAD, I’m donning my colors to show that I am in the spirit of change. Let folks know your spirit…it begins with being seen as a friend.



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National Coming Out Day 2012

National Coming Out Day ImageOctober 11th is National Coming Out Day.

Much has changed in terms of public awareness and acceptance of LGBT people in our modern history. I wasn’t yet born when the pain of anti-gay prejudice erupted into the Stonewall riots. I have some consciousness of “the Twinkie Defense” but had little clue as to who Harvey Milk was when I was four years old. As a small town Kansas girl, I heard the word “gay” whispered in hushed tones of speculation while eyes winked when a neighbor was referred to as “a confirmed bachelor”. I don’t think any of it set in until some funny lady named Ellen came out on national television to Kansas native and rocker Melissa Etheridge. (Apparently, back then you had to sign in triplicate with a confirmed and “out” witness, but these days it’s a lot more casual.)

Most people forget that Ellen Degeneres paid a heavy price when she paved the way for mainstream “out” entertainers. From “Will & Grace” to “The New Normal” & “The Modern Family”, it might be easy to forget that “Coming Out” can and is for many people, still very, very hard. Lest we dare forget the tragedies of Matthew Shepard, Tyler Clementi or the countless unnamed youth who have lost their lives to silence.

The reality is that coming out is the beginning of openly confronting the stigma and prejudice that keep so many closeted. For every human being who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, regardless of faith affiliation, most will face some form of religious assault to their human dignity. Destructive religious traditions set out to socially and emotionally shame any and all who do not uphold the conditions of membership, including would-be straight allies.

National Coming Out Day is not solely about outing oneself as LGBT, it is about breaking the bonds of silence. It is about showing ourselves willing to be a part of a community that includes all people. A community that is incomplete without the support of straight allies.

Many straight, Christian allies hesitate to act in public affirmation for fear of facing the same measure of persecution and judgment. The “guilt by association” branding is very real. Just ask Brian McClaren. When the popular straight, postmodern evangelical author and ally recently presided over his son’s same-sex wedding, immediate accusations of disloyalty began. (Pull that thread here, here, and here.) Sure, he may lose a few book sales, but the impact of such willingness to act openly not only blesses his son, his act blesses many who have waited in silence for leadership.

So when you think of the challenges facing our closeted LGBT friends, neighbors and youth this week, think on this: For whatever repercussions you might hesitate to shoulder by “outting” yourself as an ally, consider what it means to those who have been waiting their whole lives for your compassion. To my straight Christian friends, let me blunt: little will change until you match the courage of those who have dared to come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered. It is simply not enough to be a friend who says nothing. No burden is fully eased unless it shared by another. We need you. Please come out…



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The Love that Dares to Speak Its Name (HuffPost Blog 5.10.12)

From the moment that I publicly revealed my sexual orientation the whirling vortex of religious authority has not ceased in its attempt to claim sovereignty in defining the rights, privileges and value of my most intimate relationship. For all the ways that my faith has come to shape the integrity with which I hope to love and be loved, I, and others like me must contend with the irony that it is from those who teach love we are most often wounded. After two years of listening and comforting the countless heartbroken religiously induced casualties of this era-defining social issue, I committed to launching Inside Out Faith as a NPO for LGBT faith advocacy. It has been a challenging endeavor, as it often requires stretching the bounds of available grace when many refuse to acknowledge the diversity of human sexuality. Asking folks to stop bullying gay people is one thing, getting endorsements of same-sex marriages can be an entirely different matter. In a foolish attempt to keep some sense of remaining favor with my religious opponents, I have spent considerable effort in hedging my public answer to the marriage equality question with all the adroitness of a dancing hippo. But yesterday, the President called me out. If I intend in any manner to lead, then I must speak plainly: human dignity demands marriage equality.

Blog Image 5.10.12

There is no way around it. President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage strikes at the deepest nerve of religious conscience. I admit, I openly wept at his candid account of personal “evolution”; a conversion he credited to both his faith (as Christian) and his experience in listening to the accounts of his LGBT friends and colleagues. I wept because my own experience was echoed in his confession. I wept because his interview was, at its core, a model of all that I’ve hoped to replicate in my own life as well as Inside Out Faith. The President was willing to expose how his faith was not the impediment to LGBT equality, but rather the inspiration for it. Humbly, he chose the familiar language of his faith to express the significance of his own transformation. And he did so without apology.

Though the faiths we practice are often subject to tradition, we must be wiling to encounter the reality of lived experience. We must be willing to listen, encounter and believe in the experiences of those who dare to speak love’s name. By acknowledging the impact in meeting and hearing the real people who live out love’s hope, President Obama gave value to innumerable families, friends and children in our midst. At the heart of effective social change is the undeniable power of story. Few of us change our traditions or prejudices without a meaningful encounter to lead us there. Our President has experienced how silence is often confused for consent. It is a heavy reminder that without taking individual responsibility to act with compassion and courage we concede authority to those who claim it at the expense of our loved ones.

If our religious institutions and leadership make any claim to speak as authorities on love, then the practiced action must corroborate the claim. Love’s many faces do not threaten the beauty of my faith, but it is easily mocked by refusals to recognize its appearances. If, indeed, I speak with the tongue of angels but have not love I am but a clanging cymbal. If love is patient and kind, then it must also be courageous to speak of its presence. So, after ten years of monogamous, joy-filled and devoted union, my relationship may not be recognized as marriage, but it is sacred and it speaks. Thank you, Mr. President for listening.



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George Fox University

20120311-002621.jpgI will be heading to Newberg, OR March 14th on behalf of George Fox University students and alumni. As is often the case with faith based universities, the current policy of George Fox University prohibits any LGBT faith conversation on campus that does not directly endorse celibacy. It is for this reason that it is important to note that the recently formed OneGeorgeFox have worked diligently to bring Inside Out Faith and Gay Christian Network to Newberg and will be hosted off-campus. (Check out the SCHEDULE page for details.)

There are varying degrees to which on-campus students find they are able to publicly express their need for support and extreme cases where there is no possibility of doing so without censure. The impetus in the formation of this student, alumni, LGBT and ally organization is just one of many that are popping up around the country. Where on-campus dialogue is unlikely, or even prohibited, alumni involvement can offer a ray of hope to those seemingly lost in a world that speaks with only one voice. For more examples, check out the sister inspiration of 1GF, OneWheaton, for what hopes to be a growing trend of institutionally specific alumni support.

Please make certain you stop by the OneGeorgeFox alumni page for some well-written perspectives on LGBT faith inclusion. From both LGBT and allied voices, you will find a wide range of personalities and experiences that I am certain you will find helpful.

As always, I’d like to encourage you to not be a stranger. It takes a lot of strength and endurance to do what some of these folks are doing, and sometimes the local resources can only go so far. So send them an email, a Facebook page, or a Twitter let them know the power of their resounding echo!

XOXO
Jennifer

OneGeorgeFox Facebook & Twitter



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The Building Phase

PicturePicture

Hey folks!

Glad you made it. Please pardon the bare-bones construction work and be careful not to step on any nails! As you can see, the site is up but we’re still piecing things together. I have big plans for this website and for IOF. But you’ll have to keep coming back to find out more…

The primary purpose of this site is to serve as a voice for LGBT Faith Equality. Sexual orientation and gender identity have deep spiritual ties that lead many people to examine their lives against their respective faith traditions. For those who have experienced prejudice and judgement in their journeys, I hope you will find healing here. For those who have experienced joy, I trust you will share it.

Everyone is welcome here. You don’t have to be gay. You don’t have to be religious. All that is required is a curious spirit and mindful heart.

Help me get the Inside Out Faith network started by plugging in to our Facebook and Twitter links. The goal is for IOF to be an interactive and helpful place to hang out.  So let  me know what tools, information and fun stuff you’re looking forward to before we put the hammers away!

XOXO
Jennifer



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Breaking the Silence

From the moment I began to acknowledge my connection to women, many of my Christian friends began to immediately critique my spiritual standing.  The conclusions always jumped to my lack of self-control, some failure of mine to “respond to the Holy Spirit” or that I was willfully sinful, headstrong and purposed to throw out my concern for pleasing God. The thought of my spiritual mentors and evangelical friends always ended with the conclusion that something was horribly wrong with me.

I wish that I could say that I was surprised by these reactions, but I was not. On more than one occasion I was “admonished” privately for the mere appearance of being gay (I don’t really like to wear high heels!) Despite years of celibacy and years of ignoring any sense of my own sexual identity, I was still being cautioned. The message to me was very clear: being gay was not an option for a “true” Christian.

It took many years of fearing to ask the difficult questions, but eventually I discovered that my sexual orientation was not the sole determining factor in my journey of faith. I began to investigate how other people of faith approached the issue. I discovered that there were actually well respected theologians,  supporting denominations, and members of clergy that had been facing up to this reality for decades. What was even more amazing to me was that there were actually gay Christians out there…REALLY!

In 2010, I publicly disclosed that I was in a same-sex relationship. Under heavy scrutiny, I maintained that I still considered myself a person of faith. I received terrible emails and letters. I was deleted from thousands of iPods and dropped from Christian retailers and radio stations. Although a painful experience, I was aware that this scenario was on the horizon. But what I didn’t expect was how my inbox began to fill up with stories from other people just like me.  I was not alone. I was not the only person in the world that was being silenced by their very own faith community.

For a while, I could not be convinced that I had anything to offer this conversation. I considered it a stalemate at best. Frankly, I was more than ready to wash my hands of the whole “church thing”. But then I started to notice something incredibly powerful; simply by being honest about my sexual orientation, a door had opened that encouraged others to speak of their personal stories. Over the last couple of years I have met thousands of LGBT people who have less than pleasant narratives of their religious experiences. I have met many who have not yet known the joy of affirmation and support of a caring faith community. They continue to sacrifice their own spirit in response to the shame they have been convinced they must endure. All of this because some religious folks insist that God would have it no other way.

Much to my surprise, however, I have also witnessed many people who have found healing and hope. They share their deeply moving journeys of spiritual odyssey, limitless love and abiding faith. I have seen that sexual orientation and gender identity is not the lens through which faith can be fully qualified. I have not learned this alone, but by the journeys, experiences and courage of others who dared share their stories with me.

Last year, after many requests, I began to directly engage the faith community by telling my story. Today, I speak candidly of my experience as a gay person of faith through an event I call Inside Out Faith. After experiencing rejection and criticism, I have had to overcome my own prejudices toward the church. I share how I reclaimed my faith experience, owned my sexual orientation and how these two qualities in me co-exist. But I recognize that my story is just the starting point for a much more complicated tale.  For many churches that I go to, it will be the first time they have said, as a faith community, that they will openly stand in support of LGBT people. Some of the pastors I meet are openly supportive of their gay congregants for the first time without threat of losing their position. For the first time in decades, many LGBT people of faith are walking back into the sanctuaries with hope rather than fear. I, for one, am happy and grateful to be one of them.

 XOXO
Jennifer