My friend Mike Morrell invited me to read and respond to a post produced by Billy Humphrey of IHOP-Atlanta. Mike graciously reminded me to use my words (and some of those words come from our similarly conservative backgrounds). Mike shared my response as a guest post on his own blog today. Here is my response (and Mike’s note).
Good afternoon. I am an Atlanta-born, Christian mom who recently read your post A Christian Stance on Homosexuality and Gay Marriage. I am writing because I am concerned about the same things you are. As a mother and a Christian I am personally – and ardently – concerned about the rapid changes in our society that reveal a growing acceptance of same-sex marriage.
The source of my concern springs from my deep faith and desire to honor and protect families – especially Christian families like mine who it seems are under constant attack in the public sphere. As I am sure you can understand, my family is everything to me, our children the light of our lives. Every day I am shocked by the rising din of vitriol directed at families who want only the best for our children as we seek to follow the Light of the World. I can hardly explore Facebook or turn on the news without hearing how wrong I am and how twisted my faith is. When my family is in public, we even hear the searing conversations at supposedly family-friendly establishments.
I feel called, like you, to stand in the gap. To pray, and work to stem the rising tide of darkness that seeks to confuse the hearts of faithful followers of Jesus Christ, and citizens of our great land.
What might surprise you is that I am a lesbian – a wife, mother, and Christian, who feels the promptings of the Holy Spirit to stand up to the anti-gay agenda that is tightening its death-grip increasingly over the Evangelical and charismatic church in North America.
In light of having quite a different experience of the Living Christ from you, you might question my motives for writing this open letter to you. No need to question – here’s what inspires me:
- There are Christian leaders and believers who seem to believe they have the authority to speak for the Church Universal when in fact they do not. There are people of deep faith, churches actively engaged in life-changing ministries and whole Jesus-following, God-loving and disciple-making denominations who think, believe, worship and work very differently than what you propose in your letter.
- There are churches, quite clear in their walk with Jesus, affirming their LGBT sisters and brothers in the life of the church and as citizens who deserve equal treatment under the law in a country that has pledged to uphold the separation of church and state.
- This clarity – born out of Scripture reading, discernment, Christ-like empathy and loving our community – has lead to deep conviction that Christians are called to work with and for their LGBT neighbors as we seek to live into the radical hospitality of Jesus, together.
- As you are well aware, all indicators point to the fact that 18-30 year-olds know full well that marriage has been redefined throughout history to suit the needs of powers and principalities. (Might I recommend a book on spiritual warfare that you are likely unfamiliar with? The Powers That Be, by Walter Wink. It might just change your life and ministry.) We both know that it is a lie of immense proportions that the Bible only condones the marriage of one man to one woman. Between Levirite marriages, the sample of King Solomon and the projections of weak and broken men who claim that God would commend them for raping conquered peoples, Scripture hardly has a consistent message about marriage.
- Churches everywhere are answering a call to participate in sacred activism that seeks to bend the arc of the universe toward justice for LGBT people. The United Church of Christ, the PC(USA), the Alliance of Baptists and the Episcopal Church are just a few that represent thousands upon thousands of churches that are working together to shine the light of God in new and exciting ways.
Billy, I have heard of Atlanta’s International House of Prayer, and your reputation for having a passion for both God and reaching people. I commend this, as it is near and dear to my heart and ministry also. It is because of this mutual affinity that we have in Christ that I feel so grieved, as your sister in Christ, to read your words in this and other recent posts. I am afraid that your hyper-focus on individual sexual morality, and homosexuality in particular, draws neither from the Gospel of Jesus Christ nor the cries of God to let justice roll down like water. Jesus said not one word condemning same-sex relationships but did have a pointed word about divorce.
Make no mistake about it, your differing opinion (not your right to differ) is being challenged because you are vilifying people who are children of God, not an “issue.” Your position is being challenged because you strive to impose a single, narrow interpretation ofone stream of faith on a sexually and spiritually diverse nation.
I am called as a mother, a wife, a Christian, a church member and a citizen of this country to stand up and speak boldly in the face of a Christianity that has been twisted by xenophobia and willful ignorance.
A suggested attitude for Christians
In a spirit of love and peace, I am inviting you to a true posture of humility.
- Receive in your heart the action of the Holy Spirit in the world today. Here is truth: I am a Christian. I am a mother. I am also a lesbian. I love God. I follow Jesus. I am devoted to my family. I am not struggling with my sexuality or my faith. I am struggling with fellow Christians who are spending so much time and energy trying to defraud me of the Grace that is freely given. I am struggling with a wing of the Church that chooses to spend the trust, time and talent of good people trying to prevent me from living in peace and pursuing happiness in my own country. I am struggling with churches that waste their faith on policing people’s bedrooms rather than seeking justice for the poor, the weak, the imprisoned as we Christians have been called to do by Jesus.
- Recognize that you are continuing to inflict the very pain you claim to renounce. When you parrot misleading oversimplifications and blatantly stereotypical phrases such as “gay life” you are contributing to a persistently painful paradigm. There is no such thing as a universal gay lifestyle or gay agenda.
- Cease the notion that what you are doing is compassionate. You cannot reach out in compassion if you refuse to see me as a full human and my sexuality as a gift from my Creator. If you think truth in love is “love the sinner and hate the sin,” then your love is a sham, a dangerous lure and conditional. This is contrary to the Grace revealed by Jesus.
- Stop the false polemic of gay vs. Christian. It is simply a lying dichotomy. You are either lying to yourself or to everyone who trusts you. The only agenda I have is to follow Jesus while I work for my own justice and the justice of my sisters and brothers.
I am not an issue. I am a child of God.
- Love compels me to speak truth to power. Your voice is not the only voice of Christianity and to claim it is (or should be) the only true voice is pure hubris. Hubris is not a fruit of the Spirit.
- I am afraid your salt is laced with the arsenic of bitter lies, and your light is fanning the flames of hatred.
- What you are preaching is not the Gospel of undeserved liberation, unmerited grace and unending peace revealed in the Word Who is Christ.
- You’re version and vision of Christianity does speak for all Christians.
Sexuality is as intensely personal as it is communal and (these days) headline-making. I don’t wish to speculate as to what formed you – and many, it seems, in the contemporary Pentecostal, charismatic, and ‘prophetic’ stream of the Church – to focus and fixate on what you perceive to be sexual brokenness. Was it some personal pain? Is it simply the ‘meme’ or message you’ve imbibed? I don’t know. But I want to exhort you, brother, that there is a better way – a way filled with more sweetness, and light. Repent – by which I mean metanoia, change your mind! – in a direction away from obsession with sexual behavior. I understand that you identify as a man of prayer, and of worship, beholding as in a mirror the glory of God. See once again this God’s face, and see if your attention isn’t turned, re-oriented, back toward what Jesus actually beckons us to do – care for the hungry, thirsty, naked and imprisoned.
As a fellow Christian, minister, American, and Atlantan, this is my prayer for you and the IHOP community under your influence.
Your sister in Christ,
Mike’s Note: Why I’m inspired to share this guest-post.
When Billy Humphrey shared his posts on Facebook this week after the Supreme Court DOMA decision - An Apology to Homosexuals from a Christian Leader,A Christian Stance on Homosexuality and Gay Marriage, Homosexuality and Gay Marriage: Answers to 7 Common Questions, and Addressing Homosexuality From The Bible: How Do You Know It’s A Sin? - I felt grieved, and deeply ambivalent. I’ve learned to largely tune out shrill voices calling for a rollback of spiritual dignity and civil liberties for my LGBTQ sisters and brothers, but Billy is frommy tribe. Though we’ve never met (or if we did, it was only briefly – at a OneThing gathering back in 2004 or 2005, possibly), his International House of Prayer was influential on me during my early formative years. As a teenager in the 1990s, the IHOP (then Friends of the Bridegroom) and Rick Joyner‘s Morningstar were – perhaps ironically enough – breaths of fresh air and liberation after the staccato conformity of both the Assemblies of God and Presbyterian Church in America, where I spent around five years each. I wore out Mike Bickle, Andre Lefebvre and JoAnne McFatter‘s Fire of Love album, which is a kind of audio lectio divina riff on the Song of Songs – what IHOP-ers call ‘Harp and Bowl’-style worship. Bickle’s theology in particular – then a combination of the Calvinist ‘Christian Hedonism’ of John Piper and Sam Storms, combined with medieval Catholic love-mysticism and a fiery apocalyptic emphasis, appealed to me. And I wasn’t alone: Dear family friends of mine were among the first to support IHOP – in Kansas City, and then Atlanta. I’ve had friends and acquaintances move cross-country to become full-time, support-raising “intercessory missionaries,” worshipping day and night in the 24/7 prayer that IHOP popularized among U.S. charismatics. My parents gathered with the IHOP-Atlanta community for a time, until they moved locations and the drive was too far. Finally, my tongues-talking, extravagantly-worshiping, Spirit-filled self had found community.
And then, several things shifted for me in the new century. After 9/11, I was no longer able to abide by the Christian Zionism and American Nationalism implicit in virtually all of the Pentecostal/charismatic/evangelical theology I grew up with, which was at Defcon-4 amongst the ‘prophetic’ wing of the charismatic church. I found a stronger biblical honoring of the transnational Body of Christ, inclusive of every tribe, tongue, and nation, via the Kingdom Now 95 Theses circulated around then, ironically enough, by a group of radical Vineyard pastors. From there I discovered Anabaptist resources like Jesus Radicals, Greg Boyd, and Mark Van Steenwyk (who was just featured on CNN’s FaithBlog today - Mourn on the Fourth of July: Inside the Christian anti-patriot movement) who showed me just how different and subversive a “citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven” could be. I learned pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian Christian alternatives to Zionism through voices like Stephen Sizer and the Telos Group. My eschatology was forever rocked and real-ized by Presence International as I understood biblical prophecy to be “symbolic language unveiling the spiritual significance of temporal events,” with prophetic language in the New Testament centering primarily on the impending Jewish Civil War and Roman destruction of Jerusalem which ended up coming to fruition in 70 AD.
Suddenly, my eyes were opened: I saw how the message of God’s Kingdom wasn’t an evacuation from planet Earth as in Premillenialism, or a bloody battle for theocratic domination as it was in Postmillenialism, but instead it was Jesus’ upside-down Gospel calling first century Palestine to renounce violence and embrace love, or face the inevitable, disastrous consequences of colluding with religion and empire instead. We face this same choice today: Embrace the creative, nonviolent love of the Trinity manifesting in creation, or face political, military, and ecological disaster. I could no longer see IHOP, Morningstar, and much of the ‘prophetic’ infrastructure as having their ear to the heartbeat of God’s purposes for the Church and planet. Indeed, as my developing convictions saw it, this “End-Times Intercessory Army” was often standing opposed to the Living Jesus and New Creation Ecology in our midst.
Embracing queer folk as sisters and brothers in Christ – and friends – was the final heart-shift for me. Utter fear of the “Satanic Homosexual Agenda,” as fanned by Bickle, Joyner, Lou Engle and others (as well-documented in the recent documentary about the ‘Kill the Gays’ bill, God Loves Uganda) had kept my heart frozen for several years while my mind had renewed to embrace biblical and spiritual alternatives to seeing LGBTQ people as ‘abominations’ in our midst. It was a mind-and-heart-change that I’ll be giving more space to in an upcoming post, but for now I’ll say that having many friends, both queer and straight, teach me throughout the 2000s, complimented my studies and helped love overcome the lies I had been taught since childhood. Reading my now-friend Sara Miles‘ touching memoir Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion sealed it for me. New charismatic/Pentecostal churches like Church of the Misfits in the West Metro Atlanta area, and my own faith-community, North Raleigh Community Church (a Foursquare congregation), give me hope that the anti-gay charismatic/prophetic hegemony of the 1990s and 2000s is giving way to a diversity of voices on this matter. The behind-closed-doors conversations I have with dissenting leaders in this movement (conversations I have mainly via my work in publishing) encourage me further in realizing that Redemptive History is not over yet. Just as we’ve come around on the dignity of women, abolition of slaves, and most recently, immigration reform, I believe that us ragamuffin followers of Jesus are ultimately gonna do what’s right for God’s rainbow of diversely-oriented friends.
And so: I share Kimberly’s open letter because she is passionate, articulate, and still lives near Billy in my native Atlanta area. And because I did not have the grace and energy to craft a response like hers. The Body of Christ is the better for it; I hope Billy, IHOP, and my charismatic and Pentecostal family and friends tune in, and keep talking.
Mike’s Recommended Resources for Further Reading
If you’re one of my friends or readers who’s more conservative on this subject, and want to know more about how sincere friends of God in the Way of Jesus can possibly work for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church, here are six resources I’ve encountered in the past decade that I think will help you understand where we’re coming from:
Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality. This is a tour-de-force recent history evangelicalism’s morphing into the Religious Right, by someone who helped make this history: Jerry Falwell’s former speechwriter, Mel White, who now works with SoulForce to undo the damage he did to himself and others.
God’s Gay Agenda by Sandra Turnbull is an excellent summary of the Biblical counter-argument to the anti-gay agenda by a conservative, evangelical, Spirit-filled charismatic pastor! Check out her site for more.
Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate by Justin Lee. Justin, in addition to being my neighbor here in Raleigh, is the Executive Director of the evangelical Gay Christian Network. In Torn, he weaves his own story with biblical exegesis, saturating each page with his characteristic kindness and grace.
Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. Written by an evangelical Presbyterian layperson who was part of his congregation’s inquiry into affirming their LGBTQ members, this book is probably the best summary response to Scripture’s “clobber passages” for left-brain verse-by-verse types.
Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today by William Countryman. Simply put, if you find many progressive Christians’ arguments that Scripture contains no coherent sexual ethic ‘lazy,’ but cannot stomach the all-too-certain conservative alternative, this book by a respected biblical scholar is for you. It’s clear, lucid, and life-changing.
Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth – Revised Edition. Produced jointly by the Alliance of Baptists,BPFNA, and AWAB, this is the 400-pound gorilla (360 pages, f’r reals) that you want for an in-depth compendium of biblical, scientific, sociological, liturgical, psychological, and pastoral reflection on full LGBTQ inclusion into the life of church and culture.