The Problem with “If” Questions

A reflection by Sarah

Lindsey and I are always glad to receive questions from readers. We enjoy answering them to the best of our ability through email or directly on the blog. When we respond to a reader’s inquiry, we try to be as candid as possible even if that means the reader is unhappy because our response takes a different direction than was expected. Occasionally, we’ll hear from some disgruntled person who has asked us, “Do you think all LGBTQ people are called to celibacy?” and isn’t satisfied with our answer: “We can’t tell other people what their vocations are. We encourage people to find trusted spiritual directors within their own Christian traditions to help guide them through the discernment process.” Some people consider that a dishonest answer, but it’s the most authentic way I can possibly think of to respond. I’m no priest and don’t consider myself qualified to advise anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, on whether to pursue a married vocation or a celibate vocation. It is because I’m not a member of the clergy (thank God) that I can respond to that question so easily.

Rarely is it difficult to tell someone, “I’m not the person to ask about this. No, really.” It’s much more challenging to respond when a question is very personal and cannot be answered with a simple “yes” or “no.” There’s a certain kind of question that bothers me intensely. It’s the hypothetical, “If x were true, would y change?” Here are some examples that I get frequently both on and off the blog:

  • “If you hadn’t grown up in Eastern Kentucky, would visiting rural areas still give you so much anxiety?”
  • “If you had been raised in a wealthy family, would your political views be different?
  • “If you had not been raised Christian from birth, would you still have become interested in theology?”
  • “If you weren’t a lesbian, would you still sense a call to celibacy?”
  • “If you had not experienced sexual abuse as a preteen and teenager, would you still sense a call to celibacy?”

The first three are fairly innocuous; I can’t see anyone reacting harshly to any response I might offer. The last two…not so much. When most people ask these questions, they are looking for certain responses: Yes, I would still be called to celibacy because it’s a personal choice that has nothing to do with my sexual orientation. No, I wouldn’t because my church’s prohibition on gay marriage is the only reason I’m celibate. Yes, I would still be celibate because I had considered celibacy even before my abuse began. No, I wouldn’t because my abuse made me afraid of sexual intimacy. Most people who ask are looking for one of these “right” answers. My answer is always the wrong one, and it’s the same for all five on the list: I don’t know.

The problem with “if” questions where the asker anticipates a yes or no response is that more often than not, these questions can’t be answered authentically in one word. If I had been raised in a wealthy urban or suburban family with non-Christian parents, I have no idea how different my life would look. Certainly I’d have a different set of childhood and young adult experiences, but there’s no way of predicting exactly how different they would be. Maybe I would have developed a sense of anxiety in cities and a preference for life in the foothills of Appalachia. Maybe I’d be a hardcore Republican or Democrat. Maybe I would have decided to work in the corporate world, or abandon civilization and live in a treehouse just because. Maybe I would have experienced conversion to Christianity as a teenager or adult and had a more difficult time coming out as Christian than coming out as a lesbian. Or maybe not. None of these are part of my story, so I don’t know. That’s as authentic a response as I can give.

The same is true for the last two questions. If I weren’t a lesbian, I’d be a different person. God might be calling me to a different vocation, or to an entirely different set of smaller vocations within a broader construct of marriage or celibacy. I would probably interact with the world much differently. My experiences of beauty, friendship, and connectedness likely would not be the same as they are now. I’m sure that my spiritual needs would be different too. My life would also look incredibly different if I were not a survivor of sexual abuse. I might not be as independent or as compassionate as I am now. The ways I understand trust, safety, honesty, repentance, and so many other facets of life would have been formed through entirely different sets of circumstances. Though this has not always been the case historically, Christian vocations in the modern West are ways of life chosen by adults who are responding to callings. During the time of my abuse, I was an adolescent who did not have the spiritual or emotional maturity to make vocational decisions. My entire vocational discernment process has taken place during my adult life. Though I can tell you confidently that my celibacy is not a fear response or an aversion to sex after surviving the worst few years of my life, there is no way I could possibly know all the particulars of how my identity as a survivor has impacted my experience of vocation. I do not know whether I would have discerned a calling to celibacy if this part of my identity did not exist. I don’t think I can ever know in this lifetime.

About half of you are wincing as you read this. Those words have a tendency to make people uncomfortable, especially in conversations related to sexuality and Christianity. They cause discomfort because we want to have a yes or no answer. If we don’t, people who disagree with us can and will use our uncertainty against us. I don’t know means that a person is wishy-washy, straddling the fence, or afraid of making a firm declaration one way or the other. I don’t know means that a person’s voice doesn’t matter in real conversation, and it will not matter until that person makes up his or her mind. I don’t know is understood as a sort of holding tank that is unsustainable long-term. “Commit to a side in the fight against injustice!” people tell me. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.”  Thanks for informing me that you care about my story only because it either confirms or contradicts your biases.

Why is it that I don’t know is an acceptable answer for the first three questions on my list, but not for the last two? I think it’s because we are told that we have to know, and that knowing is the only way to get any affirmation or validation from other people. It’s also because there’s comfort in knowing. If we know “the truth” about people, we can decide whether or not to give them our trust. A few of you want me to state outright that my decision to pursue celibacy is in no way connected to my sexual orientation. You want to know that if you support Lindsey and me in our blogging about celibacy, we’re not going to burn you someday by announcing that our secret mission is to convince all LGBTQ people to be celibate. A few more of you want me to state that my choice of a celibate vocation is influenced by something negative like sexual abuse so you can write me off as just another example of a broken person who has been hurt and now perpetuates the abuse cycle by using a personal story as a weapon against non-celibate LGBTQ people. Neither of these is going to happen, except maybe the writing off part: whether you take me seriously or not is entirely up to you. I spend most of my life in the grey area but have little tolerance for bullshit. When I tell you that I don’t know something, I mean that. I’m not like a politician who claims publicly to have an “evolving” opinion while holding my actual thoughts back from everyone else.

I have much admiration for people who don’t have black and white responses to everything because I struggle with the temptation to answer questions that way. It’s easier, and it ends difficult discussion much more swiftly. But some questions deserve more than “yes” or “no.” Some questions cannot be answered in this lifetime and it’s foolish to pretend that they can be. This is why I believe that conversations about faith and sexuality would be much more productive if we made space for I don’t know and stopped dismissing those three words as the mark of a weak, indecisive person whose voice is unimportant.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

The Problem of Wanting a Truly Inclusive Church

A reflection by Lindsey

Being and doing church together is hard. I can’t think of many things that are as demanding as trying to be the Body of Christ, built together for the purpose of reflecting God’s heart for the world. Some days I find myself wanting to give up all together.

I have certain scriptures that haunt my consciousness. They have for years. When I think about the Church, I hear John’s observation from Revelation ricocheting between my ears: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.” I’ve wondered what exactly that verse indicates about the life in the hereafter, and I long to be a part of a church community where everyone is welcome with their diversities.

But there’s a problem with wanting a truly inclusive church. I find myself always leaving certain people out.

Over the last several months, I’ve been made painfully aware that I’m an ableist jerk. Attending church and coping with Sarah’s rapidly changing ability levels has been hard. I’ve realized that no matter what parish we attend, Sarah is frequently the only person with substantive hearing loss who needs support in accessing the service. But I’ve realized that there are more people who are absent. I’ve attended church in so many different communities. Across all of those communities, I recall only ever seeing one blind individual, one hard-of-hearing person, and maybe four wheelchair users. That’s really pathetic.

But what strikes me as even more pathetic is my own response. I have it in my head that these people pass through church. They come to church, they get prayer, and God heals them. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work? There are countless stories of Jesus healing in the Gospels, and there are all sorts of exhortations to pray for the sick in our efforts to manifest God’s Kingdom on earth. How many times have I laid hands on a person to say “Holy Spirit come and bring healing”? How many times have I decided that if a particular person isn’t interested in healing, then that person lacks faith?

It’s tough stuff, so I find myself wondering, “What does God’s vision for an inclusive church actually look like?”

I don’t have the foggiest clue. Lately, I’m wondering if God’s Church is full of people who make me really uncomfortable. I am a judgmental, arrogant jerk who asks the question, “What is that person doing here?” But every time I ask the question, I realize that I could very easily be on the wrong side of the line I’ve drawn around who is welcome. When it comes to drawing lines to divide us and them, there’s something in me crying out, “You know Lindsey, by that set of metrics, you’re among the them.” The more I try to wiggle and redefine the boundary so I’m on the “right” side, the louder that voice cries out. Drawing lines to divide people is hard.

The problem is especially pronounced in Christian communities because, as Christians, we have a sacred obligation to present Christ to the world. Over two thousand years, God has chosen to entrust this task to people with the promise that the Holy Spirit will guide us along the way. I can’t help but read the history of the Church without thinking about the Old Testament stories of the Israelites. Does anyone else read 1 and 2 Kings and start screaming at the Israelites to get it to together already? If the scriptures bear witness to anything, I think they tell us that we truly suck at being a people of God.

I live in this odd hope that the Kingdom of God is made manifest now. Here, on Earth, in real time. I wonder a lot about what the here and now is supposed to teach me about the Eschaton. I reflect on everything I think I know and how so many of those beliefs have changed as I’ve really given myself to the task of following Jesus.

I do my best to find my way through the fog. Thinking about how I approach these really hard questions, I keep coming back to, “What are we saying about Jesus if we say xy, or z?” I try really hard to listen for the Holy Spirit. Occasionally, I reach conclusions that x is likely incredibly dangerous and has amazing potential to do harm. I’ve dug into that those questions and have concluded that certain theological tenets are essential. I didn’t have a sense of belonging in a particular Christian tradition when I started asking these questions, but along the way I encountered my current Christian tradition where all of a sudden I had a way of saying, “This is what it means to be the Church.” Fast forward six years, and I find my spirit troubled that I’ve never been in any local church community in any tradition that invites everyone to encounter Christ.

So much of the problem of being a truly inclusive church is that gap between what I believe the church should be and my tendencies to squirm when I see someone who makes me feel uncomfortable. Lord, have mercy.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Praying the [insert identity here] Away

A reflection by Sarah

I’ve been trying to find the right words for this post for nearly two weeks. I’m a bit afraid to write it because I don’t like sounding preachy (which I can be at times) or snarky (which I am most of the time). Most of all I fear coming across as ungrateful even though I’m not. There’s a bit of wisdom from my Christian tradition that says “Lord have mercy” is the best prayer we can pray in any circumstance because prayer is meant to acknowledge our smallness and God’s greatness and express our desire to become fully united to God. If you feel so inclined, I’d appreciate a few repetitions of those words for me as you read this.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been stuffing a lot of difficult emotions. Not surprising. I tend to do that until things burst out on their own in some way that’s self-destructive. I fall into this pattern especially easily when I don’t know how to discuss situations where I’ve felt hurt or shamed because of someone else’s words stated with the best of intentions. Prime example: interacting with my mother who has always believed that my lesbian sexual orientation is a choice, and that I could become straight if I really tried hard enough. As I wrote once before, I respect the sincerity of her convictions and her wanting what she thinks is best for me, and I can still do this while believing with all my heart that she’s dead wrong. I’ve always been grateful when she tells me that she’s praying for me, even though at times I suspect this means she’s praying that someday I’ll stop being attracted to women. As time goes on, it becomes less stressful to take this in, sit with the anger and sadness it brings up, and appreciate my mother’s intentions for what they are. I’ve had time to grow a thicker skin where this is concerned. But that’s not true for similar situations that are newer to me.

Two weeks ago, I found myself awkwardly at the center of attention in a very large group of people as Lindsey shared about some of the difficulties we’ve been experiencing within the past year. My one ear that can still hear speech was full of fluid that day. I can read lips only when I’m standing very close to someone, so I was relying almost exclusively on a friend who volunteered to interpret for me. I watched as Lindsey spoke tearfully about my health problems and the issues that led us to leave our last parish. Soon, Lindsey was motioning for me to come forward. A bit bewildered, I came and everyone began to pray for us before I had any sense of what was happening. The mix of emotions I experienced within the minute or so that followed cannot be expressed in words. I was grateful to be surrounded by kind and loving people from all forms of Christianity who are willing to pray for us when some in our own tradition will not. I was anxious because I had no idea what was being prayed since the prayer was not interpreted. But the most overwhelming feeling came on slowly and hit hard within the few hours after: angst like none I’ve ever experienced at any point after adolescence. Angst that began to surface as soon as I realized that most of the crowd was probably praying for something very different than what Lindsey and I have been focusing on in our own prayers.

I tried to get some rest that night. All my mental focus on reading lips during the day contributed to a significant vertigo episode, and I just wanted to forget about what had happened and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But the next day when I could hear somewhat more, I found the events of the previous evening difficult to put behind me. Dozens of people — folks who have been shamed and harassed by others intent on praying their gay away — were approaching Lindsey and me, offering to pray my deafness away. Within less than 24 hours, I was told of three different herbs that supposedly cure deafness, two different scriptural passages that might cast out the “spirit of deafness,” and God only knows how many bits of advice for passing as a hearing person. Eventually, I stopped engaging in conversation when the issue arose. Every time someone stopped me to ask if I’m the person who is losing hearing, I came up with some reason to end the discussion quickly. It didn’t take long for me to identify that I had experienced exactly the same feelings several years ago — the first time my mother told me I could choose to be straight if I wanted, and that she would be praying for me.

I think perhaps I’ve made reference to the similarities between coming out as a lesbian and becoming a late-deafened adult. I can’t remember the post. Maybe I’m just imagining that I’ve written about it before. Regardless, the resemblance between my life now and my life at 17 is uncanny. It’s bizarre to be feeling teenage angst during my 30s. It’s maddening to encounter well-meaning people almost daily who tell me that I should be working harder to avoid ever telling anyone about my hearing loss, that I should be medicalizing my hearing loss just as much as my vertigo, that they are praying I don’t become more dependent on sign language, that God will certainly restore my hearing in the Eschaton, that because I have the ability to talk I should be using my voice all the time, or that it would be irresponsible for me to decide against getting cochlear implants eventually. I’m tired of seeing people begin to cry when I tell them that I have a deaf ear. I’m tired of reading course evaluation comments from students who are skeptical of my intelligence and listening to people comparing hearing loss to suicide. All this is even harder to manage when the messages come from people in the Church. It’s no wonder so many serious Christians who have been deaf from birth are inclined to look for churches that welcome Deaf culture even if their personal beliefs are at odds with the theologies taught at those churches. It’s also no wonder that so many Deaf people are completely uninterested in going to church at all. I’ve not been dealing with this for nearly as long as some people, and already I find myself wanting to yell (or sign) obscenities.

None of us understand fully the needs of other people. Only God does. I wonder how often in my own prayer life, I’m asking God for something on behalf of another person that would actually be hurtful and disrespectful to that person. So often we see every struggle in a person’s life as a problem that can be lifted away with divine intervention. If something is hard or seems hard to us from an outsider’s perspective, we want to do everything we can to make things easier. But sometimes, what one person sees as benevolence another sees as condescension. Sometimes without even realizing it, we assume that one state of being is superior to another just because one is our experience and the other is a different experience that seems like it would be unpleasant or limiting. Sometimes when we pray with the intention that a person’s life would improve, we ask for the wrong things — things that might, should they happen, bring about reduction in that person’s quality of life. We need to stop praying away the gay, the deaf, the blind, the poor…the aspects of life that make people who they are. We also need to stop assuming that we necessarily know what is best for everyone who is different from us. And I need to stop writing because I’m starting to get preachy. But if there is anything I’ve learned from my own experiences thus far, it’s that “How can I pray for you?” is a question that cannot be asked enough. And when I’m entirely clueless about what another person needs from God at a given time, it’s best to stick with “Lord have mercy.”

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

Ultra-Conservativism in the Church as being detrimental to the faith of LGBTQ Christians

Today, we are featuring a guest post from Patrick who shares a bit of his personal story and describes how a certain type of conservative approach to discussing faith and sexuality can cause serious harm. Patrick shares his story using language of “struggle with same-sex attraction.” This is very different from how the two of us experience our sexualities, but as we have stated before, we believe it is very important to create space for LGBTQ (or SSA if you prefer) people to use language of their own choosing when describing layers of identity. It is important to state upfront that the writer of this post is not promoting an ex-gay ideology or advocating for any sort of orientation change efforts. We believe that all stories are important, and regardless of preferred terminology, we hope that all our readers will learn something from Patrick’s story. As with all guest posts, the ideas and opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the views of A Queer Calling.

A guest post by Patrick

First off, I want to thank Sarah and Lindsey for the chance at writing a post on their blog. I am very honored to share my thoughts and reflections here! Secondly, I want to always say, for anyone in the church reading this post who struggles with same-sex attraction, you are not alone, and not all priests and ministers are your enemy or are ignorant of your spiritual needs and sexual desires.

I should start with a brief summary of my own life. I first realized that I had same-sex attraction when I hit puberty around 11 years old. I had had ‘friend’ crushes before that- since I was 9, and had also had same-sex lust when I was 10- but I never put together lust for a single person and a ‘friend’ crush together until I was 12 years old. By the time I was 13, I knew I was gay, even though I didn’t quite know what ‘gay’ was. I thought maybe I’ll just like girls later- but I could never find myself lusting for women, even after I had seen pornography featuring only women. It was when I was 15 that it finally dawned on me that to be ‘gay’ was not Christian (as I had known it). I had heard my quite right-leaning uncle condemning my own half-sister’s lesbian relationship, and later that year- I remember reading in the bible for the first time in Leviticus where it condemned gay relations, calling them an ‘abomination’. I thought my life was over. That day I was convinced I was going to commit suicide because God wouldn’t accept me as who I was.

While I did not pursue suicide, thinking it was too awful for my family to bear; I kept my secret to myself, and only came out as ‘bisexual’ when I was 17 because of social pressure. I became Orthodox while I was in college (and still in the closet) and had to detail this part of my life to my priest through my life’s confession as I was being received into the church. While he did indeed not judge or condemn me, he did challenge me to make my life less about my sexual orientation and more about my personhood in Christ. I had gone back into the closet in college only to come back out again when I was leaving school, this time through friends that wanted to help me understand my orientation, and through my priest when he started seeing that keeping this secret was making me dangerously mentally unstable. He encouraged me to come out to my family and friends, to develop good relationships with men, and to be celibate- something I wasn’t sure was possible to do at the time. I thank God for him, as I’m not the only person he has saved from the brink of destruction by going out of his own comfort zone to listen to our emotional and spiritual needs as it relates to sexual orientation. While my struggle has *not* been easy, I know it is what I must do for my life. It is my cross to bear, and I thank God for that, as it is how I am being more conformed to his image.

I have found through my own personal experiences in the Church that there is as much diversity in thought and practice as there is in most denominations, in how we frame political and ideological lines in our faith. Liberals, conservatives, and all in between, are found at the chalice each Sunday morning, desiring to draw close to receive the body of Christ and taste the fountain of immortality. The Church is the Church, on behalf of all and for all, the saints and sinners alike. We are all sinners in need of God’s grace, and if anyone should mark iniquities, who should stand? Only God the Father is good. We live our whole spiritual lives following him in his Son, in hopes we too can share in his rich inheritance He has left for us in His goodness. This is the end goal for all Orthodox Christians- a sanctified life in Christ wherein we are saved- no matter who we are or where we are when we begin the race.

I love all members of the Church as best I can, seeing them as co-strugglers. I love them as brothers and sisters in the faith. However, I find it disconcerting when any group takes it upon themselves to proclaim moral superiority above the whole body of believers- as have certain politically ultra-conservative Orthodox Christians. We are all free to have opinions about any number of things, but we are commanded to firmly proclaim the truth in love and abide by the rules and traditions of our faith. We are all to encourage each other to fight the good fight, but to do so in love. I see very little of this happening when some take it upon themselves to be the absolute moral authority of the Church, disparaging those whom they see as lesser, and proclaiming they are not fully Orthodox. I have seen this first hand- when it comes to the issue of homosexuality and gay members in the Church. When these issues are discussed, some ultra-conservative Christians feel the need to reinforce the law to the T– sans grace, speaking only about what the canons say regarding these topics, and using the Church fathers as a backbone of their arguments.

I understand many find it tough to begin to frame conversations on spirituality and sexuality in the Orthodox tradition, without it ending up as an absolute ultimatum of a choice between marriage and monasticism. There is not historically much mention of any other choice besides these that was considered holy and venerable, and this does not help us in the modern day where sexuality is seen as a whole identity in addition to, or rather than just part of that of Christianity. The idea of a sexual identity other than heterosexual is foreign to Orthodoxy- this much is true. But the reality is that this is the world which we find ourselves. We have to be able to formulate an ethical answer to these issues that addresses the needs of the faithful who do find themselves struggling with a sexual identity that is not along heteronormative lines. But as we do this, a core group of people in the Church who want nothing more than to erase that conversation and diminish the life experiences of those who struggle, does not help in any way. The idea that an Orthodox believer could choose to be celibate and able to discuss their sexuality with others, is therefore scandalous to some of the more hard-line Orthodox. When these two groups cross it is an ugly fight of polemics.

What I have found is that many of my fellow believers are more apt to have this conversation about a third way- such as my priest- and some are simply not able to move past a mental block that does not positively allow the notion of any sexuality beyond heterosexuality. I do not blame them. This does not fit comfortably into their worldview- a worldview that only admits the possibility that Orthodox could either be straight or celibate. It is cognitive dissonance, and I do not begrudge any misunderstanding. But, I must raise my voice again when anyone brings it upon themselves to proclaim judgment and diminish another’s interpersonal struggles and validated experiences. I would say that these conversations need to be had not for the sake of writing off those struggling with same-sex attraction and sexual identity by quoting a canon or saying of the Church Fathers, but in a thoughtful, loving way. There is a way to approach these things in love and with concern, but flat out judgment, based on personal opinion and experience is not that way.

Rather than being life giving, this proclamation of judgment about supposed behavior does two things- both of which, are painfully detrimental to the spiritual lives of both sides involved:

  1. In diminishing the person’s life experiences and emotional needs, it creates further mental crisis where it likely already exists, and
  2. It assumes that we have the right to say that another’s sins are worse than our own, which is pride in its ugliest fashion.

What this proclamation often communicates to LGBTQ+ people struggling with homosexuality and same-sex attraction is that there is no hope in finding solace in the struggle- there is no help for them among their fellow Orthodox Christians, and no one who will listen and understand. This proclamation communicates that their struggle is not valid. Rather, it is nothing more than a mental condition brought on by x and y condition. It is not a cross to bear for one’s salvation, but instead it is nothing more than a fluke that must be eradicated for the sake of one’s faith and place in happy society. These assumptions do nothing but drive those who cannot will away their sexuality to develop a worse mental state than what existed before, and causes them to cope with their pain by turning to alcohol, drugs, promiscuity, and in the worst cases, suicide.

The amount of suicides committed and the stories of those men and women who couldn’t ‘change’ their orientation are enough to tell that we have utterly failed to love people who are struggling with same-sex attraction, through failure on the parts of many, to separate the struggler’s sexuality from their humanity. But the truth is that what people who identify as gay, trans, and queer of all persuasions want more than the acceptance of their sexuality is rather the acceptance of their humanity. They are no less human for their struggles. However, a clear bastion of our faith wants to paint them as otherwise lesser, not Orthodox, mentally ill, etc. But what we need to do instead is to help LGBTQ+ folk realize that they too are equally human and deserving of equal worth (without getting into political aspects of ‘equality’). Even if ultra-conservative Christians are unable to validate all the struggles of LGBTQ+ people, we can and should enhance the conversation so that at least the experiences of LGBTQ+ Christians can be heard. This is the only way for both sides to meet their emotional and spiritual needs without a political war zone erupting. How this conversation will proceed, I do not have the answer for. But I can say it will begin by listening.

Only when LGBTQ+ people are able to encounter Christ personally, peacefully, and are surrounded by a community that is positive, encouraging, and supportive, will they be able to actually ford the waters of celibacy. Our faith makes it clear that genital expression outside marriage is a sin- and that all those not in a Church-sanctioned marriage must work against the carnal lusts of the flesh. This is the end goal for all persons regardless of orientation, and it cannot be argued against. Only through the support of a positive community can LGBTQ+ persons struggle against the flesh, find peace, and a positive vocation for their lives and faith paths. They may even choose to be monastics, or be married in a heterosexual relationship for the sake of having a family, but they cannot make this choice with others disturbing their peace by proclaiming that their orientation is invalidated and their emotions a sign of mental illness.

In closing, I want to leave this post with a quote from a dear friend and sister in Christ:

I think doctrinally orthodox Christians- to the extent they are guilty of this, need to stop thinking (that) believing the right things will get them into heaven. You can be perfectly orthodox in theology and go to hell. Right belief is necessary, but not sufficient- you have to live the life. People of all political stripes have to remember any political party you choose will have planks that no Christian can get behind. Who cares if someone calls you a liberal or a conservative? The issue is fidelity to Christ. I have gone on extensively over the years about right doctrine. But if you have right doctrine, and that doesn’t translate into the way you treat the poor, your enemies, strangers, people of other races, etc…then I would suggest something is amiss.

I cannot agree more. If you have true faith, you will know it by the Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance- against which there is no law (Galatians 5:22-23). Let us all cultivate these Fruits of the Spirit and proclaim love, joy, and peace to all truly, in Christ Jesus, the author of our lives. Amen.

Comment Policy: Please remember that we, and all others commenting on this blog, are people. Practice kindness. Practice generosity. Practice asking questions. Practice showing love. Practice being human. If your comment is rude, it will be deleted. If you are constantly negative, argumentative, or bullish, you will not be able to comment anymore. We are the sole moderators of the combox.

The Challenges of Allyship

A reflection by Lindsey

Doing life with people is hard. It’s tremendously difficult, especially when trying to live at the intersections of power and privilege. An ally is a person who sits at these intersections trying to listen, trying to learn, and trying to be present. Sometimes it’s essential to be an advocate for the people closest to you.

I’ll admit, sometimes it’s just plain weird to think of myself as Sarah’s “ally.” The word doesn’t come to mind when I think about our relationship. But then I think about everything I’ve learned from Sarah about life with chronic illnesses, surviving sexual violence, and negotiating rapidly changing ability levels. The more I learn, the harder it is for me to not care. I even find myself incredibly invested in causes I never knew existed before I met Sarah. I want so badly to cast aside my own prejudices and advocate zealously for the dignity of every human being.

Except it’s not that easy.

I can’t turn off my own story. I can do my best to foster compassion, to create space, and to listen, but I’m always living in my own story. So often my story gets in the way. It’s hard for me to look at how power and privilege block what I’m able to see. Most of the time I really don’t want to see from another’s perspective.

In the past several months, I’ve watched Sarah grow towards becoming a late-deafened adult. Along the way, I’ve learned a bit about deafness, the Deaf community, and Deaf culture. It’s amazing how I’m seeing a part of the world that I’ve never seen before. And it’s also hard to realize how I’ve lived my whole life simply assenting to a view that hearing is a superior way of being. In reality, there’s something mysteriously amazing at how deafness enables a different way of experiencing the world, even as my experiences of silence remain remarkably different from Sarah’s.

I’ve been thinking a lot more about allyship lately. As I reflected recently, learning to be who I am as a white person taught me a lot about being who I am as an LGBT person. Sarah also recently introduced me to The Help. And I continue to think about how allies can let our own stories get in the way even when we have the best of intentions.

At a meta-level, The Help already raises big questions about whose story the author is actually telling. Abilene Cooper, a black maid, brought a lawsuit against author Kathryn Stockett on the grounds that Stockett had represented Cooper’s life story without permission. Watching the film adaptation of the book, I found myself asking a lot of questions about being an ally.

To quickly set up my observations, Skeeter Phelan (played by Emma Stone) is trying to make it in publishing. She takes on a job writing a cleaning advice column to gain some more experience. Skeeter doesn’t know much of anything about cleaning, so she gets permission to ask her friend’s housekeeper Aibileen a bunch of questions. She realizes that she would love to write about what it’s like for black women to work as maids in 1960s Mississippi because their perspective hasn’t been heard before. It’s new, it’s fresh, and it deeply connects to Skeeter’s own relationship with the maid who raised her. However, Skeeter jumps into her project with both feet before she realizes what she’s doing. She’s a bit taken aback that the maids she knows aren’t keen on speaking with her. She goes to the courthouse, figures out what she’s doing is illegal, and proceeds more cautiously. Aibileen cautiously agrees to start sharing stories.

I see a lot of myself when I look at Skeeter. She jumps in with gusto before taking any time to listen and learn. Shortly after Sarah had found out that one ear is medically deaf, I saw a story flying around the internet about a “fake interpreter” working at an Ebola conference. I was furious, so naturally I shared the story on Facebook with a guarded statement of “From what I can tell, this interpreter doesn’t seem to be doing a good job. ASL-fluent friends, what say you?” I was definitely not prepared to put my foot in my mouth after I learned the interpreter is a Certified Deaf Interpreter working on a team with another signer. But my friends corrected me, asked me to change something in my initial comment, and took some time to explain to me how Certified Deaf Interpreters work with a hearing interpreter. The hearing interpreter signs an initial English-to-ASL translation to the Deaf interpreter who then polishes the ASL such that it’s more intelligible for native ASL users. As it turns out, using Certified Deaf Interpreters is a best practice. Being an ally means learning, sometimes putting yourself out there, quickly putting your foot in your mouth when you screw up, and listening some more.

Being an ally is not fun, and it frequently means sitting with the discomfort that you are wrong a lot more than you are right. It means working to perfect your “I’m sorry. Please let me know what sort of corrective action I need to take,” muscles. I’ve had to own my story of privilege time and time again as I reflect why I didn’t understand something that should have been so plainly obvious. I’m so grateful for everyone who has had space to correct me when I’ve screwed up, and I’m profoundly humbled by the way folks have responded to me during times when I’ve missed the point entirely.

I’d love to be a part of the solution in making the world more welcoming and more hospitable to people who are different from me. But in order for that to happen, I need to learn how to position my story such that it makes space for other people to share theirs.

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Author’s note: This post has been edited to remove some unintentionally vidist references that negatively portrayed blindness. If other folks see places where my language has fallen short of my goal, please consider taking to the comment box to let me know what I’ve done unintentionally and suggest some alternate ways of communicating the same meaning.