Wednesday, July 1, 2015

An Open Letter to the Coptic Community

I wrote this letter years ago to one of our esteemed Bishops.  I never got a reply.   Seeing the reaction of many in the Coptic Community in response to Friday's legislation on same-sex marriages, I see the importance of sending this same letter to the whole community, or anyone who will listen.  I made a few edits, but everything here still is true, even years later.

Dear fellow Copts,

I am disappointed that a community of people of our wealth, wisdom, and history, one that I respect greatly, have settled for fear-mongering and fact twisting in order to shape public opinion on a very human, sensitive, and controversial topic.    I cannot say I blame you completely because maybe your sources lead you in the wrong direction.
  As a man who has struggled his whole life to find answers to why he was so different, and has found a place of peace in regards to his faith and his relationship to God, I can honestly say that I am completely misrepresented in your content, posts, and conversations and I don't think I would be out of line if I said that I do not just speak for myself.
  I am afraid for the people in your congregations who are gay, who will read posts like these and think "this is how the church sees me, this is how my family will see me."  There are few options if they believe these things:  1) to hide and repress, only to express their God given desires in very unhealthy ways.   2) to cut off completely, becoming vulnerable to true evils, and to very unhealthy behavior.
  How many people have left the church, not because their homosexuality has made them lose interest in faith and in God, on the contrary, it is their church who has lost hope in them.  It is their church who has told them there is no place for them within her walls.   The result of such disconnection is far worse than you can imagine.   Some like me have been lucky to have maintained close ties, especially to faith, while others have felt they needed to walk away completely for safely.   While for others there have been some great casualties, and preventable disease and anguish, if understanding was sought, and love and compassion were given.
   To the average gay or lesbian, it is clear that sexual orientation is not a choice, nor is it something that can be changed, that it is as natural and as it can be.  While it may not be the majority of what humans feel in regards to sexuality, as one myself, I can assure you that I did not choose this, nor has embracing it taken me further from God or from what is true, on the contrary, my life has improved for the better, and I only have God to thank, and I truly feel lucky that I was not one of the many causalities of being both Coptic and gay.
  My friends, I urge you to reach out to gay people and ask them questions about their lives, build relationship and have dialogue, I assure you that what you will find in the process may surprise you.   Gay people are not an agenda, in fact most of us just want one thing: to be safe to find love and companionship in this world, that is all.   We don't want to brainwash people, we don't hate heterosexuals, we don't even want to rape children.   Many of us feel afraid, and many of us suffer both emotional and physical harm, not just in the USA but throughout the world, and it is for this that people are fighting for equality, so that such atrocities cannot occur.  Injustice is something that we are taught to fight against as Christians, so why is the church only adding to this injustice?
Yes, the gay community does have a lot of pain and and carries many scars due to the decades of having to build a culture without role-models or approval, completely in the shadows, and we often have become reactionary to the world around us, but the time of reaction is over, and the time to build and self-accept is now.  The imperfections of the gay community is also a result of being human, there are imperfections in the church, and it is also easy for the gay community to de-personalize Christians and talk about "the church" and withhold compassion because of fear.   Do you not see the parallels?  Instead of dealing with our mistakes with more misunderstanding, why can't we start having compassion for each other?
  I am just a man, son of heterosexual parents, friend to several, brother to many, who is seeking truth for my life, and justice for those who are suffering at the hands of men; those who are suffering not for the sake of truth or justice, but who are needlessly suffering vain.

I also want to say:

Dear LGBT Coptic Brothers and Sisters,

  One man's voice, and often many people's voices are not the truth of how God feels about you and where you belong in this world.   Above all things you are loved and accepted.   Do not allow the imperfect voices to tell you who you are.   This verse is for you:
"Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven" Matthew 5:11-12
My hope is that truth can find you, and love can embrace you.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

48 Hours of Gay Marriage

Of course it would take something like the United States legalizing same sex marriage to get me out of hibernation and posting again.  It's the perfect climate to make a statement, right?   But unlike  many brands that have adorned rainbow colors to sell more toilet paper and magazine subscriptions, I have nothing to sell, except good old-fashioned conversation!   I wanna write to the LGBT community, and I wanna write to the Christians, especially the Copts.

Let me start out by saying, I am absolutely thrilled that we've arrived at this moment in American History.   It really is a no-brainer that the government honor and respect the commitments made by two adults, regardless of their gender.   I even feel silly getting into arguments about it.   We live in a country where its Constitution demands that all citizens get equal protection under the law, and while we can clearly see that this is often times not the case (and I bow my head in the shadow of the slain children of America like Oscar Grant and countless others), every time we make a step towards that standard, I will celebrate.  But we should not be done striving until we are much, much farther along,  am I right?

Yesterday however, was a moment I've imagined so many times in my heart of hearts, and I imagined it being a day where I could feel at ease, because I would be living in a society that had become more just than the day before.  The problem is, I was not the experiencing this ease or relief whatsoever.  Yesterday was one of the most isolating experiences I've had in a very long time, and it caught me completely by surprise.   The American population was ablaze in dialogue, the kind of dialogue where someone is made to be an enemy.  The cries of victory became muffled along side an ocean of content: written by people talking about things that they have absolutely no intimate knowledge of, and about people they have no relationship with, and doing so with absolute certainty.

Christians pontificating about gays.   Gays pontificating about Christians.   And for those of us who do not fit into the battle-zones clearly mapped out in front of us by the media, some clergy, and the very zealously conservative church servant,  their world quickly became unwelcoming and polarizing.  And the safe place of a fair and equal society no longer feels very safe at all.   And the church that promises to love the broken and heal the wounded, suddenly again, feels like a harsh and hostile place.   We say that Love Won, on Friday, but the world around me was utterly divided.

My Christian and Coptic brothers and sisters:  I understand that the law has now sided with something you do not understand nor agree with.  I know you feel that your morals are under attack, that your children are at risk, and I know that it feels like the whole world around you is celebrating something that might offend some of you.  And it's not just about understanding, but it's about celebrating something contrary to your teaching and dogma.  You are hearing the words in the back of your mind, that the world will be against you for standing for your truth, and you feel you are seeing the prophesies come true, about a pre-apocalyptic world, where materialism and sex are elevated and celebrated over humility and truth. This experience for you must be 100% terrifying, You also feel that you're being under attack for simply having these views and feelings.

Many of you, in your heart of hearts, are trying to speak your truth in love, and many feel that they're being misunderstood, unfairly judged, and publicly mocked.  Many of you moved to the United States, because you know the experience of religious inequality in Egypt, and you came to build a better life for you and your families.   Many of you fear that the church will be under attack in the wake of this new legislation.

I just want to remind you of something, my dear brothers and sisters, remember  that we live in a country where the laws and the Church are often not on the same page, nor should they be.  Shall we make heavy drinking illegal?  What about  divorce?  Do we really want the Christian version of Sharia Law?  What about other religions: and the worshipping of other gods, it's a huge no-no, no?  So, where's the outrage around freedom of religion?   The laws of this country are meant to protect all of its citizens.  Extending marriage benefits to same-sex couples is just part of that protection.

However, some of you are have reverted to more extreme versions of sensationalism.   And I  want to kindly ask you, in the most loving way possible, to just get a grip.  I mean, really, take a deep breath, and please chill out.

If the government starts to tell the church that it has to perform same sex weddings, and do things that are clearly outside of its belief system, I'll be protesting this along side with you, along with many other gay people, who understand the importance of protecting religious freedom, even when we don't agree.  But that's not what's happening here.  Let's distribute the chill-pills.

 But let me remind you of something very important:

These are the voices that the gay community hears when Christians start to pontificate.  Think about what our goal is when we start posting and engaging in these conversations.  If our goal is to merely have a voice and be heard, then I would think volume would be the only tool we need.  Let's be sensational, and controversial, and yell our opinions from the mountaintops then!  But maybe just being heard shouldn't be a goal in and of itself.

If our goal is to represent Christ, speak-love, and to do as Jesus asked, remember our voices are falling on ears that are interpreting them in entirely different ways.   They are hearing the cumulative history of hostile and violent voices, that get amplified, while the voice of Christ gets muffled.  The supposed moral outrage that Copts have expressed is problematic.  Many Copts even retweeted Bryan Fischer's despicable comparison, putting 6/26 alongside 9/11.   Where is the moral outrage, and where is the public outcry, when Westboro Baptist Church declares to the LGBT community that God hates them?  Where is the communal outrage that we should feel because we live in such an affluent society while millions around the world are hungry?

But many of us, are going to an extreme, and spreading sensational news and images.   I saw many posting what I would consider offensive religions homoerotica, and say that "this is the gay community", "this is what they're really like".   News flash: this does not represent me, nor does it represent many others, any more than Girls Gone Wild represents heterosexuality.   Why are you painting a false picture of me and others like me, who are gay and lesbian, sometimes struggling even to follow Christ in the most impossible of circumstances, why must you speak for us, and paint a picture of who we are, when you know nothing of our hearts and intentions?  When you don't know the battles we've fought.  When you don't know the family we've lost.  When you don't know the isolation we feel.  When we are supposedly one Body with you.  Why must you ostracize us?

The voice of Christ is ever loving and ever compassionate.   The voice of Christ is one that only knows how to reflect back a person's dignity, honor, and best self.   My Facebook feed was flooded with requests to love the sin and hate the sinner (yuck)   And quite a few requests to just hate the sinner (yawn)  But just remember this: LGBT people are in our churches and in our families.  It's true, we exist closer than we might think.  Remember this before you speak.

If you want to read what I believe is a fair and balanced response, from a Christian perspective, read this article.   I believe it puts this issue in its place. Open your mind and heart, and consider, that unless you're willing to open up your heart to your neighbor, you may be part of the problem, and the moral decline of society that you are so concerned about.

And the fears mentioned above.  I share them with you.  Materialism and sex are idolized in our society.  We see it everywhere in society, regardless of being gay or straight.   But at the same time there are gay men and women are also struggling like our heterosexual counterparts, to live holy and righteous lives. To live with meaning amongst the materialism and commercialism.  To live pure in the midst of our hyper-sexualized world.  Please don't make gays the scapegoat.

But I promise you, my dear Christian brothers and sisters, the burden to heal the world is not entirely on your shoulders.   We need to work together in order to build bridges and dialogue, and help heal the huge divides that we experienced as a society in the last 48 hours.

Love Wins: but where is the love?    

My LGBT brothers and sisters.   You've been rejected, and  you've lived in fear.   You've heard the sounds of hate from those who otherwise attempt to preach love.   You've been told that you are more broken and more lost than the average person.   You have been told that your sin is not pardonable.   You have been pushed away by those who claim to hold the Graces of God above.  You've had the keys of Life taken out of your hands, only to be locked out alone in the cold.

I've walked this with you.   I have lived each of these experiences. I know what it's like to be betrayed and shunned by those you served and gave your heart and life for.  I know the pain, of being told you don't belong.   I know the pain of seeing your loved ones heartbroken and confused, because what makes you happy, and what could bring you joy, brings them sheer distress.   I know and have been through all of it.

At the same time, we're carrying a banner of love, and that is no small thing.  If we choose to carry this banner, we must realize, that love does not stop with our romantic partners.  Love does not end with those who support us and who agree with our life choices.  No, love is not only when it's convenient, and love is not only when it feels good.  Love is a force that is greater than you or I, and it is what brought us all into being.   So if we say "Love Wins", then we must walk the walk.   I've seen the posts on social media.   I've seen the countless articles ridiculing the religious, and those who don't understand what we're about.  I've seen pieces of content, and tweets, that leave me confused, wondering why so much energy that should be spent in celebrating this victory, is given to mocking the followers of Jesus, when so many are on our side, and even those who don't understand, or don't agree with our life choices, aren't bad people. There is a whole world outside of us.  Why are we trying to undermine its existence?

Some of us have this notion about Christians that are just as extreme and untrue, as the notions that some Christians have about gay people.   It's all the same sensational, click-bait, that keeps dividing.

I just ask, that we don't fall into the same trap, that we don't impart the same judgement, ridiculing, and ostracizing.   I ask that we consider extending that love.  For looking deep within for the strength to love when its inconvenient.   That maybe through reaching across the divide, we may learn about others, and that they may learn about us.  That we may actually be better together, even if we're not on the same page today.   Remember, that an eye for an eye, will leave the whole world blind.   And these days, we all need our eyes, in proper working order, more than ever.  If we are going to be bold enough to carry the banner that "Love Wins", then we must carry all that comes with love.  And it is painful, and seemingly impossible, but it is the only way.

Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8

This is what my faith teaches me, and it brings healing, and forward motion, and dialogue, and complete and utter freedom.  To love our enemies is really difficult.  To love those who curse us, seems futile and weak.   But if love actually wins, and I believe it does, then I want to be on the side of victory.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Exodus Exits: I'm Queer and I'm Not Celebrating

The momentum has been building for almost a decade now, a new generation of Christians have arisen with a desire for authenticity. Smoke in mirrors have no longer been good enough for the people of God found in many branches of faith, and accountability to the truth has tested some of the world's largest faiths institutions in the last 10 years.  It should come as no surprise, that Exodus International, small change in comparison to the cathedrals of old, but very influential nonetheless, has been tried by the same fire. At the end of a period of internal reflection, and interfacing with others in a forum of dialogue, understanding and forgiveness, the queer community and the world is met by a public apology, and immediately followed by a very surprising announcement that Exodus is shutting its doors, for good.

For the gay community at large, most of whom have never even stepped foot through the doors of Exodus or an affiliate ministry, see this as a clear victory, the breakdown of an old mentality that sexual orientation can and should be changed, a belief that many uphold as part of the root causes of homophobia and intolerance in the church. But for many who have been through the difficult and often painful experience of ex-gay and reparative therapy, it's not quite that simple. It's important that even in this conversation, that we uphold the sanctity of the situation.  It's troubled me that while we're so advanced in our ideas, philosophies and shiny gadgets we can't seem to grasp that life, its people, ideas and intentions are not so black and white. So it shocked many when they expected me to jump for joy a the wake of this news, and I did not. They said "ding dong the witch is dead" but I couldn't put on the ruby slippers. I didn't quite know what to feel.

When I heard Exodus was shutting down, I felt like I was about to attend the funeral of someone I once loved who I no longer knew. I thought about the people I knew personally in positions of leadership, and what they must be going through. I think about my friends who believed in the message of Exodus, who are trying to live lives in line with their teachings, and I think about what this means for them and their internal monologues.   I wonder about the relationship between LGBT people and the church as a whole.  I know some of you have been hurt and confused by the teachings of ex-gay ministries. I have a hospital bill, an empty bottle of anti-depressant medication, a plastic bracelet with my faded name printed on it, that says that I was, too. But part of growth is seeing the world from a place beyond the jagged edge that separates friends and enemies,  the good and the bad.

I went through my period of anger and hurt. It was partially what got me over the hump of the confusion I was living in, and the tail end of a long period of depression. There was a moment where I even thought about filing a lawsuit against Exodus, and devoting time, money, and energy to affecting policy, so that ex-gay ministries could become illegal. Yes, my emotions drove me to fantasizing about being part of a liberal fascist state. But as I grew up, I started to take ownership of the choice I made to participate, and how at the time, given the information I had, it was the best I could do.

Exodus ministries and the people I met there, were among the first people I came out to. I will not undermine my background, faith and culture, to think that it should have been so easy for me to come out to anyone outside the context of faith, and my relationship with Christ. I could not have done so without erasing the first 15 years of living. When there was no one else, and no where else, they gave me something to hold onto. Actually, before Exodus, I thought there was one of two answers: condemnation, or faithlessness.

Then there was friendship. The tears I cried back then were real, they were deep, and they were plentiful. There were arms that held me, who let me just express what I needed to. These arms had no intention to take advantage of me, as time certainly told me. But they gave me water when I was thirsty.  But the largest thing i got from  my experience, was my view of self.  Their beliefs triggered me in a way that showed up as a great deal of shame, when I did not measure up.  But something else happened.   "I'm straight" and "I'm gay", are statements that amplify a cultural harmonic that ones sexual orientation is a large part of one's identity, and that sexuality itself is static. Reconciliation with ones sexual orientation is given a lot more importance than other areas of life, not limited to faith and vocation. When we as humans amplify a single facet of our existence, we become imbalanced. I have seen this on both sides of the coin, gays and ex-gays alike. And after my coming out, that stayed with me.  I'm more than who I want sleep with.

Exodus and its leaders have evolved to a more balanced and honest place. So why are they leaving the conversation?   Less compassionate groups will fill the gap when Exodus says goodbye.  Will this be better?

In fact, we need more people in the conversation about faith and sexuality, even to the point of disagreement!  But to lose momentum in this area, and to cease struggling to find a place where people can be their best selves, would be the greatest loss of all.  I look at the things in LGBT culture that no one questions, and hold onto as a cornerstone of what it means to be gay, and I wonder why we point fingers.   Have we ever stopped to think that aspects of the status quo, the mobile apps, the meaningless sex, and venues for pleasure without boundaries is possibly causing damage of an entire different nature than ex-gay therapy?   How many have told me how hopeless they feel in the journey to find partnership and commitment because everything we could ever want is accessible, there's no need to stick around for it anymore.    I will not celebrate Exodus closing their doors until there's a cultural shift towards integration and wholeness. I hope to see it in my lifetime.  I hope to be part of the change.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Looking For You

You emailed me, and the title was "a rather depressing story".  I tried to write you back, but your email address was no longer active.  I'm writing this, hoping you'll read this post, if you indeed are still reading, and will know that you have nothing to fear.  And to please get back in touch.     Brother, you are cared for and loved, more than you'll ever know.   You have to know this.

When email addresses discontinue, it worries me.  It worries me, because I don't wanna see another youth make an irreversible mistake.

Just know that you're in the hands of God who will never let you go, ever.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Forced Ex-Gay Therapy

This post comes with an urgent call.   There have been reports of clergy in the Coptic Church forcing families and youth to undergo Ex-Gay or Conversion therapy.  Everything so far has been heresy and through the grapevine.  We need to know if there is anything factual about these reports.

These practices are dangerous, and in many places illegal, especially if you are a young person and are doing this against your own consent.

If you are in a situation where you are being forced either by your family or community to undergo Ex-Gay or Conversion Therapy, please reach out and let us know what is going on, because we want to help.   You can write me anonymously in a comment, or via my email which is posted on my blog.

Zach Stark: Former Love In Action Graduate

Love In Action, a Memphis-based live-in program to help cure homosexuals, has come under fire over the last few years because of their practices.  Former leader John Smid, came out with this apology and a statement that homosexuality cannot be changed or fixed.  In the years prior to this, they found themselves in a bit of a mess, because they allowed parents of minors to enroll their children in forced reparative therapy.  They called this program "Refuge".  How did the ministry become exposed for doing this? This all began with a young man named Zach Stark, who was registered by his parents in an 8-week stay at the Love In Action house in Memphis.  He wrote on his Myspace blog this cry for help:

"Somewhat recently, as many of you know, I told my parents I was gay. This didn’t go over very well, and it ended with my dad crying, my mom tearing and me not knowing what I’d done – or what to do.
It kind of … went away for about a week or two I think. … Well today, my mother, father and I had a very long “talk’ in my room where they let me know I am to apply for a fundamentalist Christian program for gays. They tell me that there is something psychologically wrong with me, and they “raised me wrong.’ I’m a big screw up to them, who isn’t on the path God wants me to be on. So I’m sitting here in tears…”"

 Many have come forward talking about the damage both psychological and emotional, through the existence of these ministries and having been subjected to them.

Since then many of the ministries are beginning to understand that they have done significant damage to people through their practices.   My question is, why now?  Why is the Coptic Church beginning to jump on a bandwagon that is not only almost dead, but is harmful to her people?

Please let us know if you have been one of those who have been forced either by your parents or others in your community to undergo this form of therapy.   It is one thing if an adult has made a choice to enroll in a program, on their own will, but another if it is something forced under the threat of being ostracized or excommunicated. This has nothing to do with whether you think homosexuality is morally right or wrong, there are other ways of dealing with the things that we deal with, and ex-gay ministries are not the way to deal.   Do not be afraid to speak out.  We love you and we're on your side.

Monday, August 13, 2012

A Question To Those Who Don't Understand

"I love you, man!"

I want you to take a moment and close your eyes. On second thought, open them again, or else you can't read the rest of this. 

Who is your best friend? Who is the person in life you love most?   Is it a friend?  Is it a parent or spouse or child or mentor?   I want you to take a moment and picture yourself and that person in a place you remember fondly where you both shared great memories together.   Where is this place and what are you doing?

Ok, have you found this place with this person?   Are you in your memory?

Now in this moment, I want you to picture this person telling you that they themselves are gay and or lesbian. Try this exercise on and really think about what it sounds like with those words coming out of their mouth. Look at their eyes as they tell you this. What do they look like?  Look at their body and how they're sitting. Look at how they are looking to you to reveal a part of themselves.

What is your honest response in that moment?   What is your response inside, and what is your verbal response?   What is your response today and your response tomorrow?

I'm not asking your response to gay people everywhere, or the gay agenda, or any of these things. What is your response to that individual who you have brought to mind?

If you're willing, please comment below and share. In a way, this will help me get to know you all much better than I do now.

Alec Baldwin - Gay Icon?

So in my last post, I decided to spill my guts out a little bit and be honest and vulnerable about some of the things I've been wrestling with in the last several weeks.  I used an image of Alec Baldwin smiling, holding a sign that says "I'm Frustrated"  Because:
  1. That picture is hilarious
  2. Alec Baldwin is awesome
The only responses I got was that it was offensive that I made Alec Baldwin out to be a gay icon. First of all we've loved Mr. Baldwin since Beetlejuice, and of course SNL's Delicious Dish.  But that aside, I'm pretty sure that people feeling the blues is a human problem, not just a gay problem, but my answer to whether or not Alec Baldwin is a gay icon or not, why not let the man speak for himself: