Oriented to Faith: A Preview

CASCADE_TemplateLast week, after some reflections on the first chapter of Tim Otto’s excellent book, Oriented to Faith, we promised you an excerpt. We are thrilled to share that with you today.  Oriented to Faith is beautifully written and heartbreakingly authentic. Tim’s story is powerful and offers a rare, precious, redemptive lens into the conversation on faith and sexuality.  We hope you’ll buy it, devour it, and talk about it with your friends and family.  Here’s an excerpt from chapter one we think you’ll love!

Remembering Pain

When I was six years old, I accepted Jesus into my heart. My parents were missionaries in Uganda, East Africa, and I would stand my mother’s accordion case on end, open the family Bible on top of it, preach loud ‘sermons,’ and recruit a parent, pet, or peer to listen. Waving my arms flamboyantly and conducting hymns, I loved playing “church.” This was also the year I discovered the game “doctor.” When other missionary kids would sleep over, I realized I had more interest in the bodies of the boys I explored than those of girls. Even at age six, playing “doctor” made me feel intensely ashamed. In this chapter I’ll try to relate what it was like to grow up gay. Continue reading

Treasonous Friendships

tf-ldsLast weekend felt a bit like a setup for a bad joke. A Mennonite-raised progressive evangelical wanders into a Jewish school with a crew of LGBTQ and SSA Mormons…

I wasn’t sure what to expect as I prepared for my trip to Salt Lake City to speak at the Circling the Wagons Conference.  I was a little nervous – I wasn’t sure how to speak to a religious perspective (Mormonism) I had rarely encountered in the past. Would I use the wrong words? Would my message make sense in their culture and belief system? Would I accidentally step on toes, or incite further controversy in a conversation already fraught with divides? What if I was too evangelical?

We will not permit our personal or communal loyalties to ideology, labels, or tribes to prevent us from befriending each other. One of LOVEboldly’s core values is “Treasonous Friendship.”  The meaning is simple. We will not permit our personal or communal loyalties to ideology, labels, or tribes to prevent us from befriending each other.  We will embrace those with whom we disagree.  We will open our hearts to one another, even when it seems threatening to us and those we love the most. We will trust that God is in the process of us befriending even our enemies.

When we can say, “Your words offend me but your presence at the table gives me joy,” we are accomplishing something miraculous. Last weekend, I found myself naturally drawn to some folks because we share the same joys, frustrations, and challenges. Paradoxically, I found myself naturally drawn to others, despite our many disagreements. It’s a very confusing experience to like a person so much yet disagree with them so vehemently. It’s disorienting and deeply gratifying all at the same time. That is the work of true dialogue. When we can say, “Your words offend me but your presence at the table gives me joy,” we are accomplishing something miraculous.

By the end of the weekend, I had shed more tears than I had expected, and shoved more down inside of me than I probably should have. To be honest, the intensity of the day had put me in total emotional and spiritual shutdown. I was hurting for those that seemed trapped and bound to a system of belief that felt utterly constraining to me. As an evangelical who believes so deeply in the radical love and grace of a God who fights for us, I couldn’t understand. I imagined myself in their shoes.  How would it feel to believe that God was against you, and yet be so devoted to Him that you yearned to become more like Him? This understanding of God was not much different than those I’ve encountered before in some conservative Christian churches. Yet it troubled me.  I believe in a God who is so willing to fight our battles for us that he actually packed a U-haul out of heaven and moved into our neighborhood. I believe a God who is for us, not against us.

The tendency to rank one another’s level of spirituality in the journey of reconciling faith and sexuality is not a conservative evangelical problem. This is a human problem.Nevertheless, despite our differences, I couldn’t have anticipated how much I would find my story, and the story of many I love, in the room with these lovely Mormons. I never could have imagined how very alike the LGBTQ and SSA struggles are – whatever faith community we exist in – as sexuality, identity, and faith collide. My worldview was broadened.  My suspicions were confirmed.  The tendency to dehumanize, delegitimize, and rank one another’s level of spirituality in the journey of reconciling faith and sexuality is not a conservative evangelical problem. This is a human problem.

I see the hope of something better, if straight, conservatively minded people of all faiths are willing to rise to the challenge. We can carve out more space for those on this journey, in hopes they encounter more of God’s love.  Like Jesus did, we too could welcome treasonous friendships in our lives.

Dream with me.  What if we (conservative straight Christians) committed to being a good friend to LGBTQ and SSA people?  What if we made sure they had homes to live in, support systems to call on when they lose friends and family, jobs to work, and meals to eat? What if we gave them rides to the airport, invited them to family dinner, and embarrassed them by screaming their names from the audience when they accepted a diploma or finished a theatrical performance?  What if we encouraged our kids to color them pictures to hang on the fridge? What if we made sure they had access to someone who would listen if they needed it, someone to help them process spiritual, emotional, or physical traumas they may have experienced? What if we packed up our U-hauls and moved into their neighborhoods to fight their battles with them rather than against them?

If we want to claim we really love the LGBTQ and SSA community, we should show it. If we want to claim we really love the LGBTQ and SSA community, we should show it. From a space of safety, maybe LGBTQ and SSA Christians in our midst could engage spiritual questions authentically, head-on, with an unshakable belief in a God who loves them relentlessly – because they’ve experienced it.  What if we accepted the call to treasonous friendship today?

5 Keys to Faith & Sexuality Dialogues

FullSizeRender_1Several years ago, I began to wonder if the strategies LOVEboldly was employing for hosting dialogue between LGBTQ folks and conservative Christians might work in other contexts too?  I joined a listserv and, before I knew it, had met five strangers who agreed that the LOVEboldly approach, and others hosting sexuality and faith dialogues around the country, could be used as a model for connecting people on all topics across our most sacred divides.  After all, if we could succeed in hosting productive dialogues on sex and faith, what barriers couldn’t we scale together? Together, the six of us presented at the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation in October 2015.

One year later, our team has reunited to join the estimated 10,000 folks who have gathered from across the globe to attend the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City.  I’m tickled pink to be in their company again, and to have the opportunity to take LOVEboldly’s work to new audiences.

The six of us represent our own sort of diversity. Our group includes a Mormon, a humanist, an ersatz monk, a progressive evangelical Christian, a Unitarian Universalist, and a Marxist Christian. We are straight, gay and lesbian, female, male and genderfluid.  Over the past year and a half since we all first met over email, we have exchanged hundreds of emails discussing faith and sexuality.  Together, we agreed to each present the “one key thing” we want people to know about dialogues on sacred topics (such as faith and sexuality) in under three minutes.

Now, if you didn’t know, I am verbose.  Distilling eight years worth of work into three minutes provides no room for nuance, examples, story-telling, explanation, or practical ‘boots on the ground’ advice and it really has felt like torture to whittle it down.  Just three minutes.  Just one thing.

Well, I threw a little fit.  And then I rebelled.  So, what I offer you here is, yes, three minutes of material, but five keys I’ve discovered to faith and sexuality dialogues.  Now, after an introduction that nearly surpasses the length of the actual content of what I will offer, here it is in all of its succinct glory.

  1. We often approach sacred conversations for the wrong reason. Listening to, learning from, and serving those with whom we disagree must be our primary goal – even if it sometimes results in our own marginalization. Some might disagree with me, but I think we must enter dialogue not to transform others, but to be open to our own transformation. 
  2. We often approach sacred conversations in the wrong order.  The culturally dominant position, if there is one, must start with being a student rather than a teacher, a servant rather than a leader. We must earn the right to be heard before we speak.  To be a force for healing, we must be willing to apologize, both in word and in action for ways we have individually and communally wronged one another.  
  3. Dialogue can’t work when you’re too triggered.  Dialogue can be destructive for those who are dealing with open wounds from recent or very personal marginalization. It is not helpful for the abused to dialogue with the abuser. A certain level of healing must be attended to before re-engaging ideologies that hurt.
  4. Sacred convictions should not be checked at the door. Once rapport is built and we’ve earned the right to speak, we must share openly and completely honestly with one another.  We cannot lie to each other.  We must honor one another with the truth and accept the truth from one another – even when it hurts.
  5. There is hope. Even across sacred divides, dialogue can and does work. Sacred beliefs need not be sacrificed for the sake of harmony. To the contrary, sacred belief can be the very facilitator of true peace. Dialoguing with honesty and kindness makes us more like the kind of people God means for us to be.  It makes the world more like God means for it to be.  So don’t ever give up on it.

We are so grateful to all who attended and shared their wonderful insights with us at the Parliament of the World’s Religions. For resources pertaining to our presentation, click the links below: