Here’s my recent guest-post on Dan Savage’s blog:
I’m a 16 year-old male Christian. I’ve been going to the same church for a very long time now, and have been volunteering there on a monthly basis—until recently, when I received the following email from the church.
This weekend we are focusing on the thought, “What is Marriage?” This will be a special sermon that came as a result of two resent events in our country and state.
First in March, the Governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley along with the legislature of the state, decided to adopt a new form of marriage law that would include same-sex marriage. This law looks to go into effect by the end of the 2012 year. However, the legislature and the Governor saw fit to allow for a referendum ballot, for the 2012 election period, in November, to deal with how the majority of Marylanders feel about this new law. It is my prayer that we will overturn this immoral and unjust law that has been forced upon us by our legislature.
Second, just last week, the President of the United States, Barrack Obama, decided to come out in favor of same-sex marriages. He became the “first gay president” according to Newsweek, because of this evolution of his views. Again, this was another sad chapter in our nations history.
So with that in mind, I felt constrained by these events to forego what was planned for this weekend service and deal with the subject, “What is Marriage?” I feel a deep conviction about this subject matter and would hope many of you would come out and listen to what the Scripture has to say about this most important of subject matters for our time.
The old saying is so important for these times we live in: “For evil to triumph all is needed is for good people to say nothing.” Well may that not be said of Crosswind Church during this alarming time.
Thanks for your consideration to attend this weekend’s service.
Needless to say, I was angered enough to renounce my membership from the church. This was easy enough, until my pastor called my mother asking to meet with me. I’m being forced to go. I know he is going to hassle me to come back, and challenge my more tolerant view on homosexuality. I wanted to ask you what I should say to him, since you deal with these kinds of people all the time.
Surrounded By Bigots
First off, young hero: if by “my more tolerant view on homosexuality” you mean that it’s your understanding that God does not to the slightest degree consider gay love, in and of itself, necessarily immoral, then, right off the bat, it’s essential for you to understand that about that you are absolutely, one hundred percent correct.
People care about who is and isn’t gay (because people are basically insane about two things: sex, and belonging to the group with the most power). People decided that the Bible says that God cares a great deal about homosexuality (a decidedly ballsy assertion, given that nowhere in the Bible does Jesus so much as mention homosexuality). People happily project onto God their own fears, ignorance, and the hatred that so often results from that toxic combination.
But that’s people. That’s not God.
God—who, after all, is nothing if not creative—made people gay, straight, bi, and every imaginable combination thereof. And he takes as much pleasure in any two gay people finding each other and falling in love as he does any two straight people doing the same.
Obviously, your pastor has a problem with this. And it’s understandable that he would. The man has a lot invested in the tradition of Christianity that holds homosexuality an affront against God. And, as you know, right now that particular worldview—one upon which your pastor’s whole life is predicated—is under serious attack. By the day now more and more Christians—and in fact entire Christian denominations—are proclaiming homosexual love to be as natural as any bird or bee ever was.
Of course your pastor is freaked. Of course he’s panicking. Of course he’s suddenly moved by a “a deep conviction about this subject matter.” Of course he’s going to try to get you back in line ASAP. He’s on a rotting ark that is slowly but surely sinking. Already he feels the water gathering about his ankles. His wanting to meet with you is essentially him kicking at that water.
You, and your view of homosexuality, are the future. Your pastor knows it; your parents know it; I know it; everyone knows it. That writing is on the wall in indelible, glow-in-the-dark paint. Without question your pastor is aware of all the recent studies which prove that the overwhelming majority of Christians your age share your view of homosexuality. And as a result thousands of pastors are right now calling into their offices one or more of their congregants in order to have with them the exact same conversation that your pastor now wants to have with you.
As to that meeting. During the whole of it do not for a moment fail to be anything toward your pastor but calm, kind, polite, and respectful. Doing anything less will hand him the right to consider you as his emotional and/or intellectual inferior, as the fluffy-headed, overheated teenager to whom he can feel even more superior than he’ll likely be inclined to anyway. Don’t make it easy for him to adopt that attitude. He’s brought you in to talk to you about an adult subject. Show him that you’re more than adult enough for that conversation. Be gracious, generous, even-tempered. Readily give the man his props. Let him know that you know that it’s his show.
In short, let him demonstrate who he is. Let him try to impress you. Just because he is (or was) your pastor does not make him your moral superior. Being a pastor is a job he has; that’s how the man gets paid. Heading a church is inherently no more honorable or worthwhile a job than is anything else anyone does for a living. Pastors too often forget that (and fawning, obsequious parishioners too often let them).
Never forget that the Bible, God, the Holy Spirit and Jesus belong no more to your pastor than they do to you. God speaks to your heart just as clearly as he does his. More clearly, I would say.
Also, come to the meeting prepared. Print out, study for yourself, and then bring with you my The Best Case for the Bible NOT Condemning Homosexuality. Ask the pastor if he’ll read and reflect upon that essay, in the same way that I’m sure he’ll want you to take in and reflect upon one sort of information or another. Also, ask him if in his church he’ll initiate and oversee a series of classes or symposiums whereby the congregation can together fairly, properly, and thoroughly explore the whole question of the relationship between LGBT people and Christianity. If he’s up for doing that sort of thing (and he certainly should be, given his email), tell him that I’ll overnight to him a copy of my book UNFAIR: Why the “Christian” View of Gays Doesn’t Work,” along with a class study guide for it. (Tell him you would like to run the class around that book. Why not?)
If he responds favorably to the idea of his church dedicating to the processing of this issue the time and resources necessary for doing it justice, then that’s wonderful. Then you could go back to that church, because then you’d know it to be a place where discovering the truth is valued above simply being right—where people are encouraged to explore, seek, ask questions, and differ. And why wouldn’t it be that kind of place? A God who desires people to stop asking questions is no God at all: at best that’s a coward with good P.R. God did not bestow upon us the great and nimble minds he did so that we would simply trade them in for lifeless dogma.
I hope that your pastor understands this. But, alas, judging from the arrogant and hostile tone of his letter, I know it’s extremely unlikely that he does. I don’t think that in your meeting with him he’ll be open to anything resembling a genuine conversation. I think that, however subtly, and to whatever degree, he is going to use his time with you to emotionally and intellectually bully you.
Which brings me to my last and most important point. Above all, buddy, protect yourself. Be sure that throughout every moment of your time with your pastor you very carefully monitor and stay keenly attuned to your feelings. If at any point you feel even slightly threatened, or in any way emotionally uncomfortable, do not hesitate to verbally express that. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it or anything—just say something like, “I’m sorry. I hate to interrupt you, but the truth is I’m feeling uncomfortable. I feel like you’re pressuring me, or expressing anger with me. And that’s making it hard for me to maybe hear you as well I might otherwise. Can we maybe rewind a bit, or take a little break, or something like that?”
No sane adult would take exception to a young person saying that to them. (But if the pastor or any other adult in the room does in any way protest that sort of sentiment on your part, get out. Wave adios, and don’t come back. At that point you can be through with the whole thing. You tried.)
Be open, kind, and respectful; be prepared; and make your case for the church as a whole thoroughly and fairly exploring this issue. And above all give yourself permission to keep yourself safe.
That’s it, dude. That’s all you can do.
Good luck! You’re the hero of the day—and I suspect of a great many days to come.