Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Praying the Straight Away: A Memoir of Conversion from Rush Limbaugh to Queer Christianity

My senior year of high school, I listened to Rush Limbaugh a lot, especially while driving tractor or on the commute to and from school.

By the time I started college, I was thoroughly indoctrinated into the political and social philosophy of midwest conservatism. I remember with particular embarrassment a column I wrote for the Luther student newspaper, speaking out against "Jeans Day," a day designed to express solidarity with gay and lesbian students on campus (this was 1992). I wore slacks. I felt the day co-opted my regular jeans wearing for an agenda I didn't support.

Fast-forward two years. By this time, our campus ministry had had some significant and heartfelt conversations about sexual ethics, culminating in Luther becoming an early Reconciled in Christ congregation. We adopted a statement of welcome. I was on the council, and was fully supportive of inclusion.

What, you might ask, changed my mind? Well, the answer to that is simple: friendship. I can remember signature moments in my college career, including editing the college literary journal with a friend who was gay and who has now for decades worked creating just schools for LGBTQ+ youth in Wisconsin schools.

There were simply so many people who taught me through their patience and love what it was like to be gay. And Luther was a relatively safe space for LGBTQ students to study. So I was blessed with a large enough community to be transformed by it.

In seminary, I remember some signature moments. I remember some classmates posting the Visions and Expectations document for ELCA clergy on the doors of fellow students in the dorms they had been watchdogging who they thought were not living in conformity to certain sexual ethics. I remember being very angry at the self-righteous reporting and ensuing tattle-tale behavior.

I spent a semester in Washington D.C., and volunteered with a gay rights advocacy group. I attended a communion liturgy for those with AIDS, where we shared a common cup and loaf of bread. I bought a cook-book published by gay Christian bikers.

Since then, I've tried as much as possible to be a public, steady, and faithful voice of support for LGBTQ Christians. And I've learned so, so much. In fact, I can't think of anything more transformative in my journey of faith than the discovery I've been on in conversation with LGBTQ Christians.

So if you read my blog somewhat regularly, and wonder where my strong sense of advocacy and ally-ship with the LGBTQ community comes from, some of it comes from this story.

Here's what I learned along the way. I learned first that people need to be able to narrate their own sexual orientation and gender identity without people around them judging them or silencing them into conformity.

I've learned through countless stories how horrible it is for people to grow up trying to "pray the gay away." I've learned that it's hard for people who have grown up with those experiences to return to the church, to trust the church, to trust Christian community.

More than that though, I've learned what "straight" behavior looks like from the side of those who are queer. The truth is, nobody around me ever quotes the Bible. Lutherans aren't known for deep familiarity with Scripture, and they certainly don't quote it.

But suddenly, if we're talking about sexual orientation, suddenly a lot of people become hyper-literate. They know all the passages, and they claim this funny thing, that they don't want to go against the Bible.

Never mind that as far as I can tell, they've never applied the Scriptures so scrupulously to any part of their own life, from their economic behavior to their speech to their charity. In this instance, God-forbid that we would go against God's Word!

And then there is a dogged-unwillingness to consider the possibility that the Scripture-passages that do mention same-gender behavior might require a bit of interpretation, a bit of complex analysis, to read correctly. Because hey, we don't do that with any other rules in the bible like the injunctions against loaning money at interest, right?

And many Christians who do share my perspective, that same-gender love is beautiful and welcome and faithful, and that the experience of trans-people is to be honored, and that queering Christianity is good, many of them struggle with connecting the Christian faith to that perspective, not because you can't, but because they're quite fearful of being connected to the abusive interpretations of the faith perpetuated by the still dominant Christian establishment, an establishment that reifies a cultural form of sexuality and calls it "right."

I write all of this to share the story, but also because I do not think the work of full inclusion is over, not by a long shot. Perhaps some of the discrimination and bigotry of the last year is simply the last gasp of a dying regime, but I don't know. It's quite easy for dominant cultures and those in power to keep up the damaging fear-mongering.

I see it continuing. I see the same kind of awkwardly deontological ethical injunctions creeping up around the sex lives of others. I see very little in our public discourse the emphasizes things like trust, mutuality, the gift of sex, the joy of procreation. I hear rules and trite moralism, strange philosophical systems like "orders of creation" touted.

We seem to be afraid of sex, afraid of children, disgusted and awed by human sexuality all at the same time, afraid to trust people's actual narrative of their sexuality, and so we flee to ancient texts looking for some kind of comfort and solidity, when all those texts really do, used in that fashion, is give us opportunity to refuse to hear God's actual voice spoken through the living voice of God's church.

So there is going to be scare-mongering. The Christians who want to enforce their deontological stance are going to argue slippery slopes, crow in disgust at every new-fangled form of sexuality they discover under a rock (somehow missing the fact that there isn't anything new under the sun, and its simply the case that we live in an era, thank God, when a few less people get to live "out" and don't have to hide in shame in their own communities).

So the Christians who do not want to enforce such rigid deontologies have their work cut out for them. They need to do a bit of study and reading. For that, I recommend Sex and the Single Savior by Dale Martin, followed by Queer Virtue by Liz Edman.

But more than anything else, we need to spend more time with people on the margins who are Christian, so they can teach us about their lived experience, and we need to spend much less time developing our pious opinions about what those on the margins should or can do in order to conform to our behavioral systems.

It is a long and wild ride to get from Rush Limbaugh to queering Christianity, but I recommend it highly. It feels like freedom. It's life in the Gospel.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. This is beautiful, scary stuff...