Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hate The Sin, Hate The Sinner

1600 years ago, a (quite famous) man named Augustine wrote a letter to a community of nuns, giving them some advice on how to deal with grievances among the community.    Apparently some of these ladies were doing some real malice to the other.  He offered some advice to this particular community in how to deal with some of these wrongdoings.  He offers means of discipline, but reminds the leaders to do so with "Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum", which translates  to "With love for mankind and hatred of sins."

Many years later, in his autobiography in 1929, Mohandas Gandhi wrote : "Hate the sin and not the sinner is a precept which, though easy enough to understand, is rarely practiced, and that is why the poison of hatred spreads in the world." In regards to our command to love each other despite the evil things that we do to each other.   It was a statement made in regards to the violence he witnessed against his own people, and despite this violence, he stands against the deeds themselves but intends on loving his enemies, for a reason he explains at another time "An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind."

Years later still, in a supermarket in Portland, a woman notices a young single mother and her baby shopping for some cereal.   The woman imagines the vile, back-arching, moan-inducing positions that lead this young girl to a fate of early motherhood, the kind of lewd acts that the older woman fantasizes about in the privacy of her own bedroom when her husband is away.   After being lost in these fantasies for a brief moment, and in reaction for the fear that the flushness of her face and secretly dripping sexuality is noticed by her fellow Safeway shoppers, scowls at the thought of the young victim, and believes that her 6-month old "punishment", although unfortunate, is quite deserving, but then remembers that while she herself is not partaking in the wild passions of sexual bliss, she is, after all, a better person than the young mother, so she remembers something her pastor said a few Sundays ago: "love the sinner, hate the sin", and with a pat on her own proverbial back, she sighs, smiles to herself, and whimsically turns the corner into the bread aisle.

Years later still, a young man tells his parents that he is gay.   The deeply anguished and self-blaming couple, after many hours of arguing, blaming, and wrestling, kick their son out of the house, but agree to give him money every so often, and tell him the reason is, because they "love the sinner, but hate the sin."

Such an overused non-biblical phrase (equally taken out of context as anything else in the scriptures), with the utility of separating oneself from another person who is different.  It is a callous gesture from a self-righteous people, who have somehow incorporated the call for true love for an enemy despite their malice, in order to preserve the peace and end the cycle of hatred, into a modus operandum that stratifies and slices the society into the deserving and undeserving, the acceptable and the intolerable.    It has become a phrase that is infused with an undertone, that not only brands the sinner a sinner, but by virtue of using the phrase, separates the speaker from the sin they will tolerate the sinner in spite of.

If you are gay, and you have Christian family or friends, you have heard this quote!  It has been spoken about you, it has been spoken to you.  Every time you hear it, becomes more painful than the last, but somehow loses its potency.  Show of hands, how many of you felt the warmth and passionate love delivered by this phrase, the kind of warmth and passion when a loved one holds you and says "I love you, always and forever."  It doesn't quite have the same mojo, does it?   Another show of hands, does anyone know what "love the sinner, hate the sin" love looks like?

It usually ends up looking something like this:

and unfortunately this:

What is the sin of homosexuality that is hated?  Why is homosexuality compared to murder and theft?  Why is it that, when a more open-minded person repeats how God loves us, and our sin is just like murder and stealing, and they have mistakes too, so we're all people with mistakes, it somehow just does not sit right.     I heard one say once, and it makes so much sense, that sexuality is part of the body.  It's part of the mind and psyche.  Sexuality is not just the state of being physically attracted, but it ties in, inseparably with the desire for love, and the need for companionship.   Such desires and needs are celebrated by society when they are fulfilled, just look at how much money you spent at weddings last year. There is a whole industry that the godly and godless alike partake in, in order to celebrate these aspects of being human.   But when someone reminds us that they see our sexuality as equal to their taste for gossip, either as a petty crime, or a grave abomination, it cuts into our bodies, and our minds.  It is comparing that which is life-giving to us, to what is petty, or harmful to others.   Such a phrase is an attack on the body, on the person, on their mind and heart.  It is a form of great disrespect, a psychological "bitch-slap", if you will.

I have received many such comments and emails from people, and I shudder every single time.   I wanted to know if I was the only one, so asked some people out in the social web, how this phrase hits them, and I got some great answers, I had to share some of the quotes:

"Anyone I have EVER heard make that statement doesn't love "the sinner". I've seen and experienced really evil stuff having been done to people by those who have said those very words. Enough that I believe they are a farce."  
"Those of us on the receiving end of this philosophy rarely experience the love, but we certainly reap the hate." 
"For me, it comes across as shallow and self-righteous. It's supposed to sound benevolent, but has a arrogant ring to it. I think it should be, "Love the sinner and hate your OWN sin".

"The only way I can explain it is to explain how being in a gay relationship is so very different in so many ways, from other things that are called "sin." In the conversation, their defense always ends up being, "Well, then we'd have to say we don't hate child molestation, rape, or murder." It reveals a broken moral compass------unable to tell the difference between a harmful act and a harmless one. It makes me want to report them to child services." 
"It smacks of the "I'm OK but you're not," attitude...And it shows a lack of unconditional love." 
"It is, and has always been a "not so subtle", statement of smug moral superiority."

We have gotten many comments recently, saying how while they don't think homosexuality is wrong, it's OK to be gay, just don't associate the word Coptic or Christian with it.    I won't even get into this, but for a moment consider the statement.

I know the phrase this article is about, will be told to me time and time again, and with each time I tire more and more of hearing it.   But until people can be humbled enough to know that they may not have all the answers and they can see themselves as equals, even with us gay people, this dividing line will continue to be placed.   To go back to the original meaning of the quote, before it became bastardized by the masses, that while there are atrocities, judgements, and pain being inflicted, that we stand strong and do not repay an eye for an eye.   That we can separate this immature and fearful thinking from the scared and unsure human being behind it.  That we don't lose the sense of humanity in those who want to strip our dignity.

If you are one of those people who uses this phrase, think again before using it again.  Find another way of saying that you love your brother or sister. You don't have to remind us that you are against homosexuality, we already know.  But if you love, then just love.  End of story.

Even if His Grace Bishop Youssef tells you otherwise.

And to those who are being put down, remember this:
"See to it that no one takes you captive by nphilosophy and oempty deceit, according to phuman tradition, according to the qelemental spirits1 of the world, and not according to Christ. For rin him the whole fullness of deity dwells sbodily, 10 and tyou have been filled in him, who is uthe head of all rule and authority. "  - Colossians 2:8-11

Research shows...

Have you ever been misunderstood?  Has anyone ever spoken on your behalf, only to describe you close but not exactly right, or maybe they got you completely wrong?    What were your feelings about that situation?   What did you want to tell that person?    At the end of the day, did this person have the right to represent you to others?  If so: why? And if not:  why not?

"This is who you are!  Believe me!  I know better!"

Do a web search on being Coptic and gay.   What do you find?    A few articles, sermons, Q&A, and web forums where people discuss it.   The lay people talk about their own theories, which is mainly based on hearsay and projections, and the clergy quote Bible verses out of context and use their own interpretation to make rash judgements without really looking deeper into the issues.    No matter where one stands on the moral implications of being gay, there is a lack of compassion and understanding and it is evident in the writings of the church leadership.

The main response is: "Well, we're just echoing what the Bible is saying."   The Bible says a lot of things and if being Coptic Orthodox has taught me anything, it has taught me that you cannot take a verse on its own and built a doctrine about it.   Sola Scriptura is something the Coptic Church does not embrace, in fact, Coptic Orthodoxy prides itself on being able to take a holistic and historical approach to interpreting and understanding scripture, but they embrace a shallow view of the Bible when it comes to not only this issue, but to many issues where there is not a clear understanding.

I wanted to focus my attention specifically to what I've read regarding what the coptic church is saying about homosexuality, because I believe this is the reason why many LGBT folks in the church are suffering in silence.  And I want to say that I am doing so not to berate the church leadership, but to make light of misinformation and prejudice that is being communicated.   There is a reason many people live in fear, if they cannot turn to their community and family, who can they turn to? Most likely there are many people out there who would more than likely take advantage of the insecure closeted gay person, but why does it have to be this way?   The LGBTs of the church need to find a safe place to explore themselves and their faith, and not feel like they are being told who they are by people who frankly cannot understand what it is like to be in their shoes.   Unfortunately, that place does not exist in the church.

Not In My Church!

The language used to describe LGBT folks is generally postured in a way that bears an assumption that it is an issue not found in the church.  Generally, the language used assumes its someone else out there.

"Some of you may think: 'Why are you speaking to us about this subject [homosexuality], this probably doesn't relate to us.'   I HOPE it doesn't relate to you."
- H.G. Bishop Suriel, Sermon to St. Mark Church, Jersey City, 10-25-2008

Your Grace, statistically speaking, there were probably a few folks who were gay oriented in the congregation that day, how do you think that statement resonated with them?  

This is why our blog and our page exists.    What has your experience been like?

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reader Submission: A Letter From Sharon

The following brought tears to my eyes and pain to my heart.   If anyone questions your intentions, your origin, or your faith.  Pass them this note.   Thank you Bob Gnzls who posted this on LGBT Coptic Christians on Facebook.

Published on May 04, 2000 

Sunday, April 30, 2000 

By SHARON UNDERWOOD For the Valley News 

(White River Junction, VT) Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I've taken enough from you good people. 

I'm tired of your foolish rhetoric about the "homosexual agenda" and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny. 

 My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay. 

 He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called "fag" incessantly, starting when he was 6. 

 In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn't bear to continue living any longer, that he didn't want to be gay and that he couldn't face a life without dignity. 

You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don't know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn't put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it's about time you started doing that. 

At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won't get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don't know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.

If you want to tout your own morality, you'd best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I'm puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that's not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can?

A popular theme in your letters is that Vermont has been infiltrated by outsiders. Both sides of my family have lived in Vermont for generations. I am heart and soul a Vermonter, so I'll thank you to stop saying that you are speaking for "true Vermonters." 

 You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn't give their lives so that the "homosexual agenda" could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.

He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn't the measure of the man.

You religious folk just can't bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance. 

 How dare he? you say. These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage. 

 You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant. God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin.

The deep-thinking author of a letter to the April 12 Valley News who lectures about homosexual sin and tells us about "those of us who have been blessed with the benefits of a religious upbringing" asks: "What ever happened to the idea of striving . . . to be better human beings than we are?"

Indeed, sir, what ever happened to that?"

Friday, October 7, 2011

Gummy Bears and False Promises

My prediction for the 2013 Exodus International catch phrase:

"The Opposite of Homosexuality is Gummy Bears."

Why? It's simple.  Every few years, Exodus International changes its slogan for a variety of reasons probably attributed to marketing, however, I think one of the main reasons is their nagging consciences.  In the early years, Exodus claimed that they could change anyone from being homosexual to heterosexual.  Over the years, countless people have come forward, not only claiming that their orientation was never actually changed, many came forward talking about the harm they experienced going through homosexual reparative therapy.

An early snapshot of the Exodus website makes this claim.  Can you change, the answer is YES!

In the last decade, studies came out that showed the actual ineffectiveness of such treatment for people who would describe themselves as homosexually oriented.   Exodus published their own press-releases, one of which includes a claim that they have a 53% success rate!     However when asked later that year, they cite another study conducted by Dr. Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College, to back up their claims.   The report is linked here.   However if you dig into the study itself,  you see Dr. Throckmorton did not conduct the study at all, but rather is citing a study put out by Spitzer (2001), where he calls the study the most recent study of reparative therapy to date.  But this study does not show a 53% success rate, as claimed by Exodus International at all:
Spitzer (2001) reported that 46% of the men and 42% of the women assessed themselves as exclusively homosexual in the year prior to change. Regarding postchange efforts, 17% of his sample of men and 54% of the women reported exclusively heterosexual attraction.
So to put it bluntly, of the percentage of people who decided to participate in this study, 17% of 46% of the men have shown a change from being gay to straight.   That is about 7%.   And 54% of 42% of the women show the same change, and that would come out to 22%.     I am not even going to go into whether or not these cases were actually successful, because one year of study does not show a change to someone's sexual being, however, these numbers most certainly do not add up to 53%, not by a long shot.

So in addition to these mixed messages, Exodus offers another answer to their success rate:

What is your success rate? The answer never really was a WHAT. It always is a WHO. Jesus Christ is “success” because He was obedient to the Father’s plan. When we find our identity in Christ and not in our own strengths or weaknesses, we too can find success in living. Not perfection, but perseverance. Not absence of temptation, but freedom from feeling we have to give in. Not a guarantee by following rules, but genuine hope empowered by grace.
Now, there is a lot in this statement I very much agree with and can relate to, but not in regards to sexual orientation.   Why are they charging so much money, to help people do what they can do for free?  Develop a relationship with God, no?  Then why go to Exodus?  Oh, because they can help change you… but wait, they aren't that successful at it.  So why do all these people participate?!

Exodus decided to clean up their act and change their message again, to say "The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality… it is holiness."   Flip that around, and it says, "hey, are you gay? guess what.  the opposite of holiness is your sexual orientation."    Nice.

But there is some wisdom to this catch phrase, because it removes from themselves the claim that they can change your orientation, but rather, can help change your behavior.   Which yes, I believe anyone can change any behavior, and anyone can learn to do anything, or not do anything.   The question is: is it beneficial?    The subtext here is, while you may still be gay, we'll help you not act on it.

But wait, there is still more to this story!   Exodus has AGAIN changed their catch phrase.   We can now learn that the "Opposite of Homosexuality is Holy-Sexuality."   Are you as confused as I am?   So they can't change people completely from being gay to straight, so they're going to work on the holiness factor, which for the majority of participants is abstinence and celibacy.  But now, they're claiming to change people from homosexuality to holy-sexuality.   Exactly what orientation is that?  Well, I guess according to the teachings that Exodus International follows, in the modern evangelical movement, we find that the only "holy" sexuality is heterosexuality within marriage.

But at the end of the day, these catch phrases make no sense.  "The opposite of homosexuality is… " basically is a guarantee, or a service offering.   Whatever comes after that sentence, is the promise Exodus makes to its members.   However Exodus cannot deliver a consistent service offering, so they change the catch phrase, to things completely unrelated to the first part of that sentence, i.e. the  state of the people who arrive at Exodus for help.   They would do better just sticking random words at the end of these catch phrases, and at the very least be able to deliver something to its members: and I want to suggest GUMMY BEARS!   

By offering gummy bears, to gay and lesbian people who come to Exodus for help, they can at least deliver something tangible, and real.  They are cute, and they are chewy.  It's something you can really sink your teeth into.   I believe, if Exodus did change their catch phrase to what I am suggesting, they could at least be an organization of integrity, that will not leave their members psychologically harmed, and their hopes destroyed by false promises.    Because they position themselves as an organization of spiritual authority, they can at least rest in the fact that, by delivering what they promise, they will not leave thousands of people at a crossroads with their faith, and their view of spirituality as a whole.

Ultimately, gummy bears taste much better, and are a lot more digestible than what they are offering today.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Playing Monopoly With God

An old joke goes like this:

A man died and went to heaven, where he was promptly greeted by St. Peter at the pearly gates.   St. Peter welcomed him and took him on the grand tour.  They arrived at a room full of people in silent meditation, when Peter explained "Here are where the Buddhists go."    They walked down a few more doors and he said, "And here, we find the Catholics", and everyone inside waved at the new arrival.   A few more doors down the recently deceased heard clapping and singing, and St. Peter explained, "here are the Pentecostals", and then finally they arrived at a room with a closed door.  Peter explained, "Well, you see here is where the Copts go, when they go to heaven, but be very quiet, they think they're the only ones here."
The same could be said about almost any religious group with a strict following and self-important dogma.  But this becomes relevant today for one reason, and it's a question that I have not been asked in a very long time, but it's the question of: "How can you call yourself a Christian and be gay?"   At this point in my life, it's very simple actually: I'm gay.  I'm a Christian.   And that's all there is to it.   But I can see why this idea may be foreign to some, and easier for others.   It really depends in the church environment you grew up in.

I for one, grew up in an environment that taught us, that there was only one correct faith.   From basic dogma, to the resolution of councils, to the explanation of great mysteries (like the nature of Christ, for example), to the proper liturgy, to the kinds of worship, to the modes of dress, to the food you eat, to the things you think, to the people you associate with, to the TV shows you watch, to the music you listen to, to the amount of time you are allowed to shave after receiving communion, I could go on.   It's apparent that we are pretty damn special.   So the idea that I was gay, was one that sent chills of fear up my spine.  We weren't talking about eating a burger on good friday, we were talking about some Soddom and Gomorrah type wrath and destruction!   You know the kind where fire falls from the sky, your aunt Jessie turns to salt, and you miss the last episode of Friends because a meteor just hit your TV: and your dog.

Many years later, I can go to bed at night, knowing that I have an ally upstairs.  I have a Savior in my heart.   It took a bit of work though.  Previous posts can tell you about this process I went through:

The Great Misconception

Of Sheep And Men

So now there is a small movement of people crying out and saying that a gay person CANNOT label themselves as a Christian.  I think I've posted enough about this topic, but I did have a few questions:

If I choose to call on Jesus in an hour of need:  What does it matter to you?
If I choose to pray every night for my loved ones and the world around me:  What does it matter to you?
If I choose to go to Church and seek spiritual and personal growth and worship and praise within a community: What does it matter to you?
If I choose to serve others: What does it matter to you?
If I believe that I am loved by God, unconditionally, in the John 3:16 fashion: What does it matter to you?

Faith is a personal thing.  I would not tell anyone what to believe or not.  There is a great story of seven blind men and an elephant which explains why I deeply respect all faiths.  But if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, and someone is telling you, that you need to abandon things that you believe in your heart to be true, just because you are who you are, I will say to stand up, and shake off the dust, and not believe these lies.   You are more precious than you could ever imagine yourself to be.  And you are deeply and utterly loved.

No, the moment there is a monopoly on who can approach God, we already have a problem, and we find ourselves facing a road, or an opinion, that is just not worth exploring.   If you don't believe me, you can ask some of my friends:    Zacchaeus, The Centurion, The Woman at the Well, and the Good Samaritan.   You can even ask King David, I'm sure he'd say a few things on the matter.   Monopoly is for insecure children, and greedy adults, even when it comes to religion.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Let's Recap... Shall We?

Yeah, I think this picture says it all.  This is what I returned to when I logged on the other day.  But, let's step back for a moment.

A lot has happened since I've last posted, let's review:

1. I got a second job (temporarily)
2. I am single and wanting to remain so, for a long while.
3. I turned 29!   Last year before it's all over, and memory loss begins!

What can I say, I kind of dropped the ball, as they say.   Life got hectic, and I lost focus.  What brought it back?    Well, I was alerted to an influx of spam and hate-speech on our Facebook Community, and was absolutely shocked and disturbed as to what I found there.

After two hours of deleting posts that were just vile in nature, like the one above.  Reminded me of a quote by Ghandi: "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."   But there is a silver lining to all this.   Having spoke to many people of various ages, it seems that this crudeness is concentrated among those in high school and college.  Most people of young adult status, who have entered into the real world, who have been broken down by the reality of life, outside of depending on their mom and dad's financial support, they become humbled and realize, that maybe they shouldn't be judging people.  I had the same lesson myself, and life sure did humble me.   I pity people like the young man, above.   Usually those who are the most aggressive towards gay people, have latent feelings of their own that they do not know how to deal with.   And people who are straight, generally are straight, and do not really care what other people do.

But yes, it's been a few busy days, cleaning up the mess of these so-called representatives of the church, but I know better, than to say that these people are the reps.  The true representatives of faith, are those who you least expect, they are the quiet meek voices, the smiling faces that greet you in the street, the helping hand to those who are week, the one who forgives easy when being wronged, the one who shares his or her meal, and the one who loves unconditionally.  These are the people I aspire to be like.   If the church had more of these people, I do not think a single gay person would have been ostracized by the communities they come from.