#IwasKimDavis, Or “Fearful Hermeneutic Syndrome”

new-quote-500x321Note: Many thanks to Mark Sandlin, author of “The God Article,” for starting the #IwasKimDavis hashtag, which helps to curb our tendency toward scapegoating and instead embrace empathy. This is my #IwasKimDavis story.

“If I have to meet more homophobic people, I hope they’re all like you.”

Sixteen years later, these words still sting.

I was a freshman in college. I had converted to Islam two years previous, which is another story, and I was struggling to maintain my fledgling Muslim identity at a college with very few Muslim students. My conversion to Islam and later reaffirmation of Christianity is not particularly relevant to this story, except to say that I struggled to find a way to relate to and worship God that offended neither my heart nor my mind. Bewilderment about the Trinity and horror at the crucifixion as I misunderstood it at the time were some of the reasons why I embraced a faith with the same roots as the Christianity I had been raised with, without the same paradoxes. What’s important to understand, for the purposes of this story, is that I was struggling to be faithful to the God I was trying to understand. I believed this God to be Most Gracious, Most Merciful. But I also believed that this God had designed men and women to complement each other, and that this God had decreed homosexual behavior sinful.

It was, honestly, something that bothered me about Islam. But it wasn’t my central theological struggle, and Islam’s doctrine of Tawheed, the oneness of God, was so much clearer to me than the Trinity that I embraced it, and struggled to be faithful to the One God of all. I was striving to work through my doubts, trusting that God would eventually make things more clear to me. I struggled to live with the disconnect between my heart, which wanted to be an open ally of the LGBTQ community, and my religion, which (as far as I knew, before recognizing Islam’s more complex and multi-vocal history with homosexuality), told me that homosexuality was at best a pathology and at worst willful disobedience. I was new to Islam. I had much to learn. I wasn’t willing to disconnect from it or from the sense of relief it had given to my theological doubts over an issue that wasn’t even central to my life.

But the issue was about to become a lot more significant to me.

I had been somewhat taken aback when I learned that my new friend was a lesbian, because we had been alone together. I’m embarrassed now by how I might have jumped or flinched at the news, but it wasn’t because I felt any animosity toward her. It had more to do with Islamic purity codes, as I understood them, and how I would have to readjust my interactions with her to fit them. She had watched me pray with my covered posterior in the air, after all, and women stand behind or separate from men in the masjid to avoid that very situation! I recalled the hadith “When an unmarried man and woman are alone together, Satan is always a third companion.” We would have to keep the doors open when we visited each others’ dorms, I told her. I tried to tell her about how I was trying to keep up with my faith and how that meant I would try to interact with her as I would with a man, keeping my modesty.

I was almost embarrassed, and somewhat apologetic, as bumbled through an explanation of why I felt a need to change the way we interacted together. I have no idea what I said. But I remember my friend’s kindness as she listened, and her eye contact when I shyly looked back up at her, and she said the words to me that I have never forgotten:

“If I have to meet more homophobic people, I hope they’re all like you.”

Ouch!

I tried to explain that I wasn’t homophobic, or that I really didn’t mean to be. I wanted to acknowledge that I understood and deeply regretted if what I had told her was hurtful, and that Islam’s position on homosexuality was not something I loved about my new faith, but it was something I was trying to understand. I told her I knew it wasn’t my place to judge what was homophobic since I wasn’t the one hurt by it. I said that I wanted her to know that in my heart and mind, I thought she was a wonderful person, and that, if anything, I was a little troubled that her sexuality didn’t bother me, and troubled that I was troubled by that! She understood. And then we probably changed the subject to our mutual love of Disney, or a class we shared, or whatever. She quickly became my best friend. And as an agnostic, she appreciated the beauty that she found in my faith and my faith journey, and she herself became a part of it, as important relationships always become a part of one’s faith.

I eventually let the modesty codes of Islam, insofar as they separated me from my friend, fall away. I believed in modest dress and humility, and that hasn’t changed, but I didn’t want to keep my friend at an emotional or spiritual distance, so I didn’t.

At the time, I sometimes felt as if I was putting my friendship above God, but I was also able to explore my understanding and relationship with God through that friendship. My friend’s thoughts and questions sparked my own and expanded my heart and mind. Still, I had occasional pangs of doubt that I was doing wrong by God. What I didn’t realize then was that my doubts and struggles, and eventually my putting my friendship not above my faith, but above certain interpretations of religious tradition, was a path to a deeper understanding and a deeper love for the God who is Love and wants humans to relate to one-another in love.

Even after reaffirming Christianity because of a deeper understanding of the revelation of God’s love in the incarnation and crucifixion (while remaining ever grateful to Islam and still desiring to keep my love and respect for it), it took a while for me to come to the understanding of homosexuality that I have today. My understanding of scripture, my hermeneutical lens, is still coming into focus, but it is much more clear now than when I was struggling in the midst of fears.

My fear wasn’t really homophobia. And I didn’t want to admit that it was a fear of God, because I was trying, and sometimes succeeding, in believing that God is Love, though I did fear disappointing God. What I really suffered from is what I coin “Fearful Hermeneutic Syndrome,” or FHS, and I empathize with anyone who struggles with it or holds it as yet undiagnosed.

I was frightened of disappointing a God whom I believed would be disappointed by a violation of purity codes. I believed that this God was merciful and loving, and that this God would even forgive homosexuality, but not approve of it. But the more I came to know my friend, the more I could not understand God being disappointed in her for something that — not only could not be changed, but had no need to be changed. If anything, I realized that if I considered her potential to fall in love and build a family was at all sinful, that would hinder my compassion toward her, and that was a sin. Loving was not a sin. I came to understand that, and it opened my heart to a deeper understanding of God.

I now see sexual orientation and gender identity through the lens of mercy, not sacrifice. The words of Hosea, repeated twice by Jesus, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” does not just contradict certain elements of the Bible in which God clearly does demand sacrifice. It contradicts an entire understanding of scripture, an understanding that distinguishes in from out, clean from unclean. Coming to the understanding that scripture is multi-vocal, that it speaks of human projection of violence onto God as well as God’s revelation to humanity in the form of Jesus, has made all the difference in the world to me. Every word of scripture is important, but some of it reveals the depths of human sin, including the violence that we were deluded into thinking was from God. Jesus definitively shows that God’s love encompasses everyone. There is no way to hold mercy and sacrifice “in tension” within God. Perfect mercy casts out sacrificial systems that exclude and marginalize, just as perfect love casts out fear.

Among the marginalized in today’s world are those who belong to the LGBTQ community. Some use scripture to justify this marginalization. I really believe they are trying to obey God as they understand God. Yet Jesus embraced those whom the scriptures of his own time marginalized, in order to heal us of our delusion that God excludes people the way we do.

I believe that Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk recently jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses after the national legalization of gay marriage, is trying to follow her religious convictions. She does not have the legal right to deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and I feel compassion for those whose lives she has made more difficult through her noncompliance with the law. I lament the pain she has caused them, pain that may be compounded by other voices that marginalize them. But I also feel compassion for Kim Davis, because I have been her. I believe she is suffering from Fearful Hermeneutic Syndrome, and it is not an ailment to be taken lightly.

Kim Davis may or may not feel assured of God’s love for her. I sincerely hope she does. But I also know that we will never know the extent of this love until we come to grasp the fact that God’s love embraces everyone, and that God desires abundant life for everyone, including members of the LGBTQ community. This abundant life often includes a relationship with an intimate partner, which is a human reflection of the depths of God’s love, and God’s love can be equally revealed in a partner of the same sex as in a partner of the opposite sex. I believe this, partly because theologians such as James Alison have successfully debunked the “clobber texts” for me. But more importantly, I believe this because I know that God is Love, that love is relationship (hence the Trinity that so baffled me in my younger days), and that being made in the image of God is to be made for love. Nothing reflects God’s image more beautifully than mutually self-giving love between two people. Knowing this, I understand Kim Davis’s struggle for the sanctity of marriage. Marriage is worth struggling for. But the LGBTQ community has known this all along, which is why they now celebrate their legal right to marry.

I pray that Kim Davis eventually recognizes that right, not just according to the law, but according to the God who is Love, who demands mercy, not sacrifice. Because I truly believe that if she stops trying to prevent others from embracing one another in love, she will find herself embraced in a divine love that is so much greater than she now imagines it to be.

For more on God’s all-embracing love as it relates to this issue, see Adam Ericksen’s article, “‘God’s Authority’: Same Sex Marriage and a Kentucky County Clerk.”

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  • Cassie Devereaux

    Can’t tell you just how awesome it is to keep seeing all of these stories about how y’all used to hate folks like me and how it leads you all to have sympathy for people committed to trampling my rights because, I mean, it’s totally understandable, isn’t it?

    With allies like this……

    Yeah. Practice grace. Practice forgiveness. But maybe have some empathy and understanding for all us who’ve been damaged by people like her and attitudes like hers and stop with all of this outpouring of rhetorical sympathy. MAYBE the moment’s not right to tell us just how much you GET homo/bi/transphobia. Perhaps it’s NOT ABOUT YOU AT ALL. Unless, I guess, you wanna start an #IWasBullConner hashtag or something….. Why is it only homo/bi/transphobes that get outpours of “I can totally relate to that” posts?

    Rhetorical question. The answer’s pretty obvious. Because we all rightly see racism as too odious to admit to, even though many go through journeys overcoming that in our lives. But homophobia….. yeah, well. That’s just plain understandable.

    Except it’s not, people are hurt, and maybe just shut up a bit and listen to those who’ve been wounded in this particular culture war.

    Unless you wanna make an #IWasGeorgeZimmerman hashtag. I didn’t see THAT one.

    • Dash1

      Thank you. This really, really needed saying.

      • Cassie Devereaux

        I REALLY needed to say it or I was gonna burst!

    • lizzysimplymagic

      Whew! I’m glad I’m not the only one thinking this! I don’t think scapegoating anyone is a good thing, but I don’t think the anger being directed towards Kim Davis is undeserved. She acted shamefully. She deserves compassion as all people do, but it’s shitty to play Devil’s advocate in this case. Hell, Josh Duggar deserves some compassion too, but his molestation victims deserve WAY more sympathy, and we don’t need to pretend he’s not a child molesting hypocrite just to make ourselves feel better. Anger is the correct response sometimes. Maybe lets talk less about poor Kim Davis, let’s stop feeding into this whole Christian persecution nonsense, and talk more about the people she victimized. What are their names? How are they coping? How has this effected their lives? Get Kim Davis the hell out of the spotlight already.

      (P.s. I hate to say it, but as a queer Progressive Christian, I’m also worried that everyone is going to think that the only type of Christians out there are bigots or former bigots. Not a great image.)

      • Cassie Devereaux

        Thank goodness, it’s not just me!!!!
        I believe in grace. I believe in forgiveness. I think it’s good and wise to offer these. But this isn’t the moment for straight and cisgender bloggers to blog on this. It’s like George Wallace had just said “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever” and people started a movement to say “boy, I sure do feel for that guy. I mean, I’m TOTALLY against segregation NOW, but…”

        Here’s the thing, “allies”. It is not yours to forgive. She has not sinned against YOU, except in the most abstract sense. Someday, the suicide rates among LGBT folk will even out to about that of the general population. Someday, the mental illnesses and substance abuse that is rampant in our communities as a consequence of bigotry and marginalization will subside. Heck, someday we may even BE equal in the eyes of the law and in social standing. Today is not that day. Today is not YOUR day. Please, stop trying to make it about you. It’s not, except…. again…. in the abstract. It’s our lives, our loves, our mental health, and our rights. The best way to be an ally now to is listen. Let US work through the processes we need in order to be reconciled. Don’t use this moment selfishly. Allow it to be ours, to heal. To give that grace. To learn how to forgive the wrongs that have been done.

        I get what you’re trying to say, but #IWasKimDavis is hurtful, wrongheaded, and a little bit selfish. We don’t need to be reminded of our marginalization, ot how ubiquitous bigotry against us is. We need you to be a friend. A friend listens in concern when one hurts. They don’t co-opt the pain in order to lift themselves up or work through guilt issues.

        Matthew 6:1-6

        • Lindsey

          You are right, lizziesimplymagic, and I am sorry. Thank you.

    • Lindsey

      Dear Cassie,

      You are 100% right. I feel like I am staring into the eyes of my friend and hearing the words she said about homophobia all over again. Those words were a wake-up call to me, but I have more waking up to do.

      The people who are truly hurting are not the cisgender folks like me. People have been abused, bullied, denied civil rights, driven to shame and self-condemnation, forced to live lies, and much, much more because of a fundamental quality that is more than gender identity or sexual preference. Relationships are at the very heart of being human, and so it is the very heart of humanity that is attacked when people are shamed for sexual orientation. While people are being harmed and some are being driven to harm themselves, I certainly did not mean to contribute further harm.

      I saw these hashtags as a sign of hope that people can change, as well as an opportunity to show how I came to understand God in a new and much more loving, much better way.

      But you have opened my eyes to how this is also hurtful. And I thank you for that. And from the bottom of my heart, I am sorry.

      • Cassie Devereaux

        Thank you for listening and considering. I know you had the best intentions. I’m grateful that you considered my point of view.

        There’s an old journalism adage that says “Dog Bites Man” is not a story. “Man Bites Dog”…. that’s a story. Likewise, I’d like to propose “Heterosexual forgives homophobe” isn’t a story. “Homosexual forgives homophobe” is.

        Peace and grace be with you.

    • Mr. Spiffy

      And that’s why I’ve learned to never really trust breeders, no matter how loudly they insist they are allies.

    • Tina Nickerson

      Ok this really hacks me off ok so your gonna blast a person who is sharing where there perspective came from to where it is now which is supportive??? For the record, this article is not for gay people anyway…its for the straight Christian out there that dare not express his or her disagreement or be blasted and dismissed by there faith or church?? uhem which by the way your are doing …I am a Lesbian…and we need people like this …we need people who have always believed the Churches perspective has been wrong on this or has just come to and understanding and had a change of heart..without them nothing changes…so please drop the hammer and take your own advise and shut up and listen!

      • Cassie Devereaux

        All right, you can be hacked off. It’s not my intent, and I know anger like that isn’t fun. But, I feel the way I feel by this outpouring of folks telling us how they used to hate us. Clearly others do as well. Obviously you feel differently, and I know you’re not the only person.

        But, if you’re insisting that I not talk about how hurt I and others are feeling about this….. well. Freedom of speech works both ways, y’know? You can disagree with me, I can disagree with you, and we all get to speak our mind. You can tell me to shut up and listen….. I’ve made this suggestion as well, and most of ’em disregarded it. We each have the right to take or leave that advice.

        Yes, I am finding this painful. I have walked past Westboro to marry my partner of 11 years, had them shout until they spat about what a beast and a devil I am. How subhuman I am. How Satanic I am. And I had to endure this as I stood outside in line to be let in to legally marry the woman whom I love more than my own life. She was trembling, terrified on this long awaited and hoped for day. I had to comfort her in the face of degradation and burning hatred as she heard in her head the voices of her family who abandoned her replayed in the folks of Westboro. Her brother hasn’t spoken to her since the 90’s, because he believes we are abominations against God. And the worst part? SHE feels guilty, feeling like SHE did something wrong to HIM by living in a way that contradicts the beliefs they were raised into. She bears that guilt every single day. I’ve seen my states’ Supreme Court decide I had the right to marry, then several months later I have the majority of my fellow citizens vote to strip me of that right. I found out that the shower for me that my coworkers threw was filled with coworkers who came in, ate the food, drank the drink, and went on their way, later to vote that I was not entitled to what they were supposed to be celebrating. I have lost jobs, security, friendships, and connection with my family because of who I am. I’ve met with a coworker at one of the places I worked years afterward, and she admitted that in administration meetings, I was a running dirty joke after I came out until long after I left on my final day. Yes, even by people who smiled sweetly at me every day. I’ve been stalked, cornered, and groped by someone who thought that because I’m transsexual I owed him sex, and harassed by countless more with this attitude. My mental health is shattered; I am now psychiatrically disabled, unable to work barely able to leave my home for the panic attacks and agoraphobia that come with the homophobia and transphobia that I face when I step outside my front door to the time I return and close that door behind me. I am unable to connect with others, because I find them hard to trust for all the betrayal I’ve been subjected to. When I’m hurting, feeling the ghosts of all that hatred I’ve endured at my back, and well meaning people line up to remind me how how much they once hated me, that’s really painful. I know they did…. I’m part of the same culture as them! I was raised with these horrible attitudes, and the internalized homo/transphobia spitting curses at me all the time ain’t really all that fun. So yeah. “#IWasKimDavis”? I know. Me too. But that their choice of reaction at this moment is to create long posts about it, and that we find them at every turn in progressive Christian circles is hurtful to many of us. Not to you? Cool. But to many others, it is. One with a prominent pulpit COULD use it lift up the voices of those wounded in this culture war. That’s not what’s going on. Where is the movement to lift up the voices of those who’ve been damaged by this fight? The people using the hashtag are not bad people. Their intentions are good, but this isn’t their moment. It’s frustrating. I’m not feeling this way to thwart your notion about the proper way to react to this, nor am I speaking about it in order to offend your sensibilities. I’m feeling what I feel because I have endured this and a great deal more and I cannot feel otherwise. I’m speaking the truth about it and that’s just the way things go.

        Also, I’m not super clear what you mean by “drop the hammer”. I looked up the expression on Urban dictionary and got more confused.

  • Mark Sandlin

    Lindsey, thanks for sharing your story and for helping reshape the conversation.

  • BT

    Nicely written. Thank you.