Meet You in the Middle . . .

This has been a very trying summer!  My beau and I have been sheepishly navigating the worlds of family and developing relationships.  We’ve wanted to marry for quite some time now.  In fact, if we had supportive families, we would already be married.  However, we recognize the need for supportive community, and we both love our families, so we’ve been slowing things down to give them time to grieve their straight hopes, and catch up a bit to where we are.  Meanwhile, we grow closer every day.  It’s been a difficult balance.

We realized we could no longer hold off on at least making the next step (engagement), so when I returned to Vermont to pick up J from his summer school stint, we got engaged!

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There’s been no small amount of retardation since the announcement.  It’s really sad actually, that the happiest, bestest news of my LIFE, is met with such ambivalence (if not antipathy) by our families   On my side, everyone but my parents has been completely silent, and my parents would be too if I hadn’t forced them to say something

We’re going to see his family this weekend.  Do pray that this goes well!  They already know the news, so now we’re all going to “talk” – whatever that entails.

Most of my friends have been very cool.  Even the ones that haven’t quite figured out what they believe regarding Christianity and homosexuality.  There’s one exception: my South African friend Rebekah.  I’ve received nothing but callous judgment and arrogant derision from her . . . all in the name of “Christ”, of course  

But some friends have demonstrated much more empathy, compassion, humility, and grace – even if they couldn’t be 100% supportive.  Like our friends from church – the Mussers.  They sent a very interesting email to us expressing their confusion in how to respond.  So on Labor Day, we invited them over for dinner, had a great time catching up, and discussed things further while in town eating yummy ice cream!   They got to hear a little of our story, and I think we all walked away a little more appreciative and knowledgeable.  Admittedly though, my fiancee and I are really growing weary of having to explain our “happy” news to so many sad, confused faces.  So after this weekend w/ his family, we’re taking a break.  Doing the tough work of meeting people in the middle can get draining!

On yet another front, or church community – which up to this point has been exceptionally supportive – is now embarking on a journey to delineate our stance on various issues (sexuality included).  When we announced we wanted to marry there, they said that we could not do this behind closed doors, but that we’d have to involve the community in discussions about this (not our marriage in particular, but how we will approach gay families and their needs in the church).  Now, the leaders are more than happy to support us, but there is a substantial part of the community that either does not know what to do w/ gay couples, or does not think that these couples are “living out God’s best.”

So yes, this could potentially be yet another piece of our community that we have to in some sense “battle” in order to help them understand.  And yes, the very thought of another battlefront is tiring.  Fortunately, I don’t think it will really come to blows, but it will probably be a little awkward as we move forward.

So there you have it: the drama and woes of living in the tension of the middle.  Pray for us.  It ain’t easy!

D.J. Free! 

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Divorce of the Church

I’ve been fascinated by this guy Andrew Marin since my buddy (previously known as “Chicago Boy”, no known as Michael ) told me about going to a Marin foundation talk a couple of years ago.  Theologically, I think that Andy and I disagree on the morality of homosexuality, but what he and I share is a common goal to see the Church unite, despite our disagreements.

He recently started a blog, and I’ve been following along.  Not too long ago, I made a comment on one of his posts about how I’m affected by “The Great Homosexuality Debate” in the Church, and he asked me if I’d expound on that for his blog.

Yesterday, he released Part 1 of my very long post, followed by Part 2 today.  He did some minor editing, adding some emphasis that he thought was meaningful, and wordsmithing in other areas that he thought would unecessarily detract from the message.  Check ’em out!  Join the discussion!

For the sake of my integrity, I’m now posting the full, unedited version on my blog.  Drop a comment if you like . . . or don’t.  It’s all good

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Divorce of the Church:

How the Homosexuality Debate Affects Gays in the Church

 

Over the past several years, I’ve discovered many revelations about my sexuality, not the least of which is how my former method for dealing with it was chosen primarily out of fear: fear of going to hell, fear of becoming a sex-monger, fear of losing my spiritual community, etc.  It was precisely pressure from the Evangelical, conservative church I was attending that was the final straw for me.  I could no longer survive under the oppressive weight of following all of the right rules in the midst of insufficient supportive relationships.  For the sake of my mental health, I began to visit another church in the area. 

 

Just two weeks into going to services, I could sense God saying, “This isn’t where you should be visiting; this is home.”  I felt a sense of acceptance and welcome that I had never experienced in a church before.  It wasn’t until months later that I began to realize how doctrinally diverse the congregants of my multi-denominational church were.  As I began to take steps towards Christ and accepting myself in the way that he had, I also began to recognize that not everyone in attendance would follow me there.

 

To say I felt split and confused is an understatement.  But I found a safe space there to seek God regarding my sexuality, eventually coming to reconcile my sexuality and my faith.  This had some unpredictable side effects, though: I felt like I would be the cause of a major rift, being one of only a few gay people at the church.

 

As this was a transitional period in our church’s history, there was a significant amount of tension in the air, despite the fact (or perhaps because of the fact) that we never uttered a word about the two big litmus tests for determining a “true Christian”: abortion and homosexuality.  While I was not able to articulate this then, I now realize that the hushed atmosphere began to feel like the dysfunctional home where the family didn’t talk about problems, but where it was impossible to escape them.  And I felt like the kid who was eventually going to be the cause of mommy and daddy’s divorce.  And so we trudged on in virtual silence.  I came out slowly to people I deemed safe, and swallowed my true being around those who felt “lovingly” hostile.

 

At some point along the way, people began to silently (and sometimes boisterously) leave.  No one really said it, but it was clear that things were starting to feel very “liberal”, and “unsound” to some of the more conservative congregants.  And the great divorce felt all the more imminent.

 

I can remember talking to our new senior pastor (in my early days at the church), and divulging my sordid “same-sex attractions” to him.  I intimated that I was very confused about all of this, and trying to find my way – since my previous path had brought me nothing but pain and suicidal ideation.  He made me feel very loved, and valuable to boot.  He replied that he would not preach me into the right way to go, nor look down on me and give me his sage advice, but rather, he would walk alongside me and question with me.  It was a huge relief for me.  And yet, I could tell this would not be the posture of several others in the church.  I remember pleading with him to keep my journey silent, so as not to stir up controversy. 

 

By this point, I had become pretty visible in the church, giving the welcome occasionally, and involved in several lay leadership positions.  If news were to break that I was gay, I feared people would protest. Upon discovering my “struggle,” they’d do as people have done in other churches I’ve attended: they would deem me unworthy of service, and remove me from the ministries to which I felt called.  And then the fighting would ensue.  They would fight those who would dare stand up for me and declare my value to the church, and even fight those who didn’t feel threatened by me.  My deepest fear of course, was not the fighting itself, but the inevitable result: the splitting of the church.  It seemed clear to me that I would be the cause of this split.

 

I don’t think people quite understand the pressure that the gay-oriented Christian feels in the church.  We have a hard enough time not hating ourselves, without having to face the derision and misunderstanding of others.  It is precisely this external pressure that often drives us to extreme measures: seeking ineffectual exorcisms, suppressing the very core of our sexual selves, jumping into relationships to prove we’re straight (meanwhile ruining the life and self-esteem of the hetero other in the process), and the like. 

 

I do not mean to excoriate the Christian stance on curbing same-sex sexuality per se – though I must admit that I personally found it to be a very life-suppressing and dangerous approach.  Instead, I’m merely remarking that in my experience (interacting with several hundred – mostly youth – Christians in ex-gay circles), I’ve frequently found that the motivations behind seeking such ends are dysfunctional.  Those who pursue these methods often do so due to stated and unstated pressure to conform and keep the family from getting upset.  When you think that you’re going to cause mommy and daddy to split – and worse – when one of them might hate you in the process, you will do just about anything to avoid that eventuality.  Silence seems to be the least consequential (and least destructive) way to handle these internal questions, whether you’re openly gay, celibate, or ex-gay.  This silence takes its toll.

 

I still struggle with this sense that I am ultimately the cause of enormous strife in the universal Church.  I sometimes wish there simply were no gay-ness at all.  I wish I could go back to the days before I became conscious of my sexuality.  (Many people in the Church are more than happy to relegate sexuality to this very place.)  But this is simply not reality.  This is not where I am – where we are.  With all of my unrealistic wishing, I do hope that my greatest wish has some hope for coming to fruition: I wish that mommy and daddy would just stop fighting. 

 

Perhaps if more people in the church could recognize that I’m not here to destroy the Church, nor the foundations of our society, some of the dissension would abate.  I’m not here to eradicate families, and I have no evil agenda to recruit your children.  I love the church, absolutely love it.  Why else would I put up with so many abuses from it?  My sad testimony is replete with instances where my greatest wounds were inflicted by “loving” church folks.  But I’ve remained here.  I haven’t left.  I wish everyone would stop fighting because they feel so uncomfortable about my decision to stick around.  It breaks my heart every time someone leaves my church for doctrinal disagreements.  It’s like mommy and daddy can’t seem to be mature enough to work out their differences, so they just leave.  And ultimately, it feels as if they’re leaving because of me . . . .

 

Atrocious

You know, I really try not to trash Exodus.  Not that there isn’t anything to trash.  I’ve had my fair share of negative experiences there with its people.  But at the same time, I also recognize that God was there, and that there is a function for Exodus – even if I do not largely agree with many of the principles guiding most of the ministries (YES, New Direction Ministries of Canada is a notable exception!)

But I think this is where I draw the line.  The way Exodus has handled the situation in Uganda is irresponsible and reprehensible at best. 

I would like to think that Alan is a man of his word.  I would like to think that he has simply been trying not to throw board-member-gone-rogue Don Schmierer under the bus.  I hope that Exodus leadership is appropriately reprimanding this behavior privately, and preparing their denunciation of these Ugandan proceedings publicly.  I really hope . . .

Read the open letter below, followed by the case presented by the Box Turtle Bulletin team.  Read the full article here, and check up on the other coverage they’ve had on the issue (bottom of the post):

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Open letter to the Exodus International Board of Directors:

We, the undersigned organizations, have monitored the ex-gay industry for more than a decade. To our great horror, prominent members of the ex-gay organization Exodus International participated last week in a conference in Uganda that promoted shocking abuses of basic human rights. This included draconian measures against gay and lesbian people such as forced ex-gay therapy, life imprisonment for people convicted of homosexuality and the formation of an organization designed to “wipe out” gay practices in Uganda. The conference also featured Scott Lively, a holocaust revisionist who at the event also blamed the 1994 Rwandan genocide on gay people.

The facts incontrovertibly show that Alan Chambers, President of Exodus International, was aware of the list of speakers and abhorrent content prior to the conference. Exodus board member Don Schmierer, who spoke in Uganda, made no objections to the radical and dangerous platform offered. Instead, these mortal threats to the lives of gay and lesbian people were met with a deafening silence. Exodus, in effect, gave this insidious conference its tacit approval.

Today, we take the unprecedented step of joining together to demand that Exodus International’s Board of Directors take immediate action to hold accountable those who used the Exodus brand to promote an atmosphere conducive to serious human rights abuses. The accountability must begin with reasonable and responsible action by Board Chair Bob Ragan, including:

  • Dismissing Exodus President Alan Chambers for his knowing role in using Exodus to promote human rights abuses
  • Removing Board member Don Schmierer for speaking at a hate conference that promotes physical harm and psychological torture against GLBT people
  • Boldly articulating Exodus’ policy against human rights abuses including forced therapy
  • Promising to end future participation in all conferences that call on the persecution and criminalization of gay and lesbian people

We do not take this call to action lightly. These steps are necessary and commensurate with the massive breach of ethics and trust by the Exodus leadership. Clearly, Exodus has lost credibility and its claim to “love” gay people in the aftermath of Uganda seems duplicitous and insincere. As long as Chambers and Schmierer remain at Exodus, the organization is hopelessly compromised and even complicit in grave human rights abuses. It is time for the Exodus Board, led by Bob Ragan, to assert its moral authority by appointing new leadership and taking the organization in a more humane and principled direction.

Sincerely,

Jim Burroway                                 David Roberts
Box Turtle Bulletin                          Ex-Gay Watch

Wayne Besen                                 Mike Airhart
Truth Wins Out                              Truth Wins Out


The documentation implicating Exodus leaders for their participation at a hate conference in Uganda is robust and powerful. Most important, it is guided by indisputable facts:

The Case
Don Schmierer is a member of the board of directors for Exodus International. Last weekend, he used those credentials while speaking at an anti-gay conference in Kampala, Uganda alongside noted Holocaust revisionist Scott Lively. Those credentials as a leader of American’s largest and most influential ex-gay organization gave Schmierer the ability to speak authoritatively about the policies and ethics of sexual reorientation therapy. And more broadly, his presence as a leader of Exodus International lent credibility to the other speakers at the conference and the policy recommendations that emerged.

And so with Exodus International’s prestige fully utilized, we were outraged to discover that the conference was a forum for some of the most despicable statements and recommendations we have ever come across. During this conference we heard:

  • Gays blamed for the rise of Nazism in Germany. According to one eyewitness, Lively spoke extensively about his revisionist version of Nazi history, based on his book, The Pink Swastika: Homosexuality in the Nazi Party. In that book and in speeches, he claims that Nazi movement was, at its core, a homosexual movement. Despite the historical record to the contrary, Lively blames gays for the rise of Nazism and for the Holocaust itself, and claims that “the connection between homosexualism and fascism is not incidental.”
  • Gays blamed for the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. Lively often claims that wherever gays gain the upper hand, they unleash a murderous rampage on innocent populations. In The Pink Swastika, Lively claims that “homosexuals are responsible for 68% of all mass murders in America.” According to one eyewitness at the Kampala conference, he extended that charge by blaming gay men for the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, which borders Uganda just to the south.
  • Gays blamed for recruiting/molesting children. In line with a common slander deployed by Ugandan anti-gay extremists in recent campaigns of anti-gay vigilantism and violence, Lively claimed that the gay rights movement consists of an entire network trying to recruit young children, including “predatory homosexuals who are always out to satisfy their sexual desires.”
  • Parents blamed for their children’s homosexuality. Don Schmierer presented his contradictory list of fourteen “signs that an adolescent may be struggling with gender issues.” But his focus appeared to have been on one suggested cause: it’s the parent’s fault. One eyewitness said, “He told participants that one of the biggest causes of homosexuality is the lack of “good upbringing” in families. In other words, good parents make straight children; bad parents, gay children.
  • Calls for new laws enacted in Uganda to require that those convicted of homosexuality be forced to undergo sexual reorientation therapy. The law in Uganda currently calls for a life sentence upon conviction for homosexuality. As far as we have been able to tell, no one at the conference called for decriminalization of homosexuality, nor a reduction in the current penalties. Instead, there were calls to strengthen the law to add the requirement that convicted gays be forced to endure unregulated and unproven therapies, under duress and against their will.
  • Announcement of a new organization designed to “‘wipe out’ gay practices” in Uganda. It is unclear what form or tactics this new organization will take, but another follow-up meeting was called for March 15. Our fear is that this will lead to another round of officially sanctioned extrajudicial anti-gay vigilantism, with Ugandan media — as they did in previous campaigns — publicly identifying private LGBT citizens and calling for their arrest or worse.

Given Uganda’s recent history, this is no idle fear. There were at least three successive public anti-gay campaigns in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In the most recent campaign, government-affiliated newspapers published articles identifying specific individuals with physical descriptions, addresses, places of employment — even photos — of those targeted, making them easily identifiable to neighbors, family members, employers, and the police.

Watching this unfold with the active participation of an Exodus board member has left us concerned with the direction that Exodus is taking. Some of us contacted Exodus president Alan Chambers on Friday, February 27 to raise our concerns about Schmierer’s participation alongside a Holocaust revisionist at this conference. We did this even though we do not believe it is the responsibility of Exodus’ critics to inform Exodus about the activities of an Exodus leader.

Chambers is not just the President of Exodus International, he’s also a fellow board member with Don Schmierer. He, along with board chairman Bob Ragan, had plenty of time to contact Schmierer to demand that he withdraw from the conference. (They do have cell phones, SMS text messages and email in Uganda, especially at the luxurious four-star Hotel Triangle in Kampala where the conference took place.) Chambers also had plenty of time of time to publicly articulate Exodus’ policy on forced conversions and criminalization of homosexuality, two subjects which are not new to the controversies surrounding ex-gay ministries. And he had plenty of time to clarify Exodus’ position on Scott Lively’s Holocaust revisionism and to denounce Lively’s dangerous rhetoric. But in all of this, Chambers has remained silent.

Don Schmierer, as a board member — and as one who was identified at the conference under those very credentials — could have spoken out against the excesses of anti-gay violence that has marked Uganda’s history. He could have spoken out against criminalization of homosexuality and denounced the policy recommendation of forced conversion therapy against the will of the individual being “treated.” Schmierer could have denounced Lively’s rabid anti-gay extremism, historical revisionism, and dangerous scapegoating. But in all of this, Schmierer has remained silent.

And the board, particularly Board Chairman Bob Ragan, could have exercised is oversight responsibility to ensure that Exodus’ name and reputation remain unsullied by its association with Scott Lively and the Uganda conference.

Exodus serves as an umbrella organization of some two hundred ex-gay ministries, each of which, according to Exodus, is “an independent organization which has met Exodus’ criteria for membership.” If Exodus is unable to regulate the actions of its own board member, how can we expect Exodus to monitor the practices and qualifications of their member ministries?

Despite informing Exodus of our concerns on February 27, they have remained silent on Schmierer’s association with Scott Lively, as well as their own links to him. And with the passage of each day, as we’ve received more reports about the conference, our concerns have grown to outrage.

It is not the first time forced therapy has become an issue with Exodus International. This issue was raised in 2005 when “Zach”, a 16-year-old gay teen, was forced against his will to attend an eight-week ex-gay therapy program at Exodus-affiliated Love In Action in Memphis. That same year, another father drove his 17-year-old son to Love In Action in handcuffs. Despite all this, Love In Action remains one of Exodus’ most prominent member ministries. Today, the calls for enshrining forced therapy into Ugandan law has been met with silence at Exodus. We call upon Exodus once and for all to address the morality of forcing people into unregulated and unproven therapies against their will.

Laws banning private consensual relationships between adult same-sex couples are no longer in force in the United States. While this is settled law in this country, it is not a settled position among most anti-LGBT organizations. Furthermore, criminalization of private, consensual relationships remain a reality in many countries throughout the world, many of which provide harsh, draconian penalties upon conviction. As Exodus International engages in ex-gay movements around the world, we call upon Exodus once and for all to address the morality of punishing private adult consensual relationships.

Because of Schmierer’s actions, Exodus International will bear responsibility for any renewed convulsions of violence that may arise in the aftermath of this conference. Given the highly volatile history of anti-LGBT vigilantism in Uganda, we find Schmierer’s actions there appallingly reckless and irresponsible. Lives and the well being of many Ugandans may well be at stake in the weeks and months to come. Because of the danger that Schmierer’s actions may pose to citizens of that volatile nation, we call upon the Board of Directors of Exodus International to remove Don Schmierer from the Board of Directors.

Scott Lively, along with another of Alan Chambers’ “good friends”, Seattle pastor Ken Hutcherson, is a co-founder of Watchmen On the Walls, one of twelve anti-gay hate groups identified and tracked by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Incidentally, Scott Lively’s Abiding Truth Ministries is also listed by the SPLC as a hate group. While speaking at a Watchmen conference in Novosibirsk, Russia, in 2007, Lively excused the murder of Satendar Singh, a gay immigrant from Fiji who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime in Sacramento. We call upon the Board of Directors of Exodus International to resolutely and unambiguously denounce Scott Lively’s dangerous rhetoric. We further call upon the Board to end future participation in all conferences that call on the persecution and criminalization of gay and lesbian people.

It is clear that that Exodus under the leadership of Alan Chambers has failed to live up to its claim of challenging “those who respond to homosexuals with ignorance and fear.” The Board must take swift action and remove Chambers as its leader. If the Exodus Board fails to act, it bears culpability and full responsibility for creating a climate where hate crimes can and do occur both at home and abroad.