BLACK SHARPIES AND WHITE SHEETS
Two years ago, while still working at The Grove, I attended Catalyst West Coast with the other pastors. One of the things the folks at Catalyst like to do is set up an interactive arts area in the chapel for people to spend time meditating, reflecting, worshiping, and doing some hands on interactive stuff. While wandering through the chapel two years ago I was drawn towards a large display of three sheets that created a three-walled box. One side of the ‘box’ was open so that you could walk in and be surrounded by three giant white sheets. Scattered throughout the display were black sharpies, and participants were encouraged to write out a ‘confession’ anywhere on the sheet. There were super bright lights that back lit the sheets and made the box translucent, so that you could read all the confessions from outside the box, but they were all backwards. You had to go IN the box to read them properly. I decided to pick up a sharpie and participate.
Just moments before I visited the interactive stations in the chapel I listened to a keynote address by Dr John Perkins who had marched with Martin Luther King Jr in the Civil Rights Movement. His speech reminded me that the stain on our nation’s history of segregation is still so fresh. People are still alive and walking around who witnessed first hand a country who treated African Americans like second class citizens. I found myself weighed down by the gravity of that thought.
We want to believe we’ve come so far as a nation. But we haven’t.
We want to believe we’ve come so far as a church. But we haven’t.
Sadly many, many conservative churches supported segregation. And prior to that, supported slavery. The Bible was even used to buttress such absurd positions.
And I got to thinking that afternoon of how many followers of Jesus there were during the days of segregation that knew it was wrong, knew that we should not discriminate against people because of the color of their skin, but did nothing about it.
And if those people are still alive today (which I’m sure many are), oh how their hearts must break at the stain on their own history. Could you imagine being 80 some years old and having to live with the reality that you were adamantly opposed to racial segregation but you did nothing and said nothing about it back in the 60’s?
I imagine the weight of that guilt and shame would be crushing.
Or, imagine those who were in favor of discrimination at the time (because their church told them to be, or because they interpreted their Bibles so poorly). And now that we “know” how wrong we all were, they must also be crushed under the pain of knowing they allowed a few verses in the Bible to trump their human capacity for reason, compassion, and love.
Anyways, so all those thoughts were fresh in my mind when I walked through the chapel, made my way to the white sheet art installation, and picked up a black sharpie.
Without really thinking much about what I was going to write, I popped off the cap, found a spot high up on the wall (benefit of being almost 6’3”), and followed the lead of my inner spirit as I wrote:
God, I do not want my future self to be ashamed of my present self. I do not want to remain silent and do nothing about discrimination towards the LGBT community. As the world continues changing and we look back on these times 50 years from now and wonder how we could have gotten this issue so wrong, I do not want to have been one of the fear-filled silent ones.
I stepped back from what I wrote and cautiously (fearfully?) turned my head from side to side to see if anyone else saw what I wrote. I don’t know why, but writing that out was somehow a formative moment for me. Even though I only told a white sheet how I felt, it seemed as though this gesture was significant. To actually externalize something like this, to put it out there, outside of simply my own heart and mind, somehow made it more real.
And I realized I couldn’t turn back from that moment.
Even though no one at my church and none of my family or friends knew how I felt about all this, suddenly I was willing to put it out there for complete strangers to read.
I’m not even certain I knew that I felt this way until I entered that three-walled white sheet box and popped off the cap of that lone black sharpie.
It became evident in that moment that a significant crossroad had not just presented itself in my life but that I had also already chosen the path down which I’d follow.
Why do I talk about this topic of faith and sexuality so much?
Because I could never live with myself if I didn’t.
I believe with all my heart and mind that history will show the church to be on the wrong side of this gays and the church just like it was with segregation, women’s rights, slavery… heck, we even swung and missed on astronomy! It is imperative that future-Colby is able to look back on these days, when so much is at stake in the LBGT community and people are finally beginning to lessen their grip on homophobic behavior and actions and legislation, and be able to look his grandkids in the eyes and say, “I helped fight for this. I spoke out when it wasn’t popular. I challenged people’s assumptions and helped educate their ignorances. I took an honest look at the Scriptures are realized how badly we’d missed it. I opened my eyes to the discrimination that had run rampant against our brothers and sisters and stood with those who said ‘no more.’”
AND YET IT MOVES
In 1514 the German astronomer, Copernicus, proposed the idea of heliocentric cosmology (which is the view that the Sun is fixed in space and the planets orbit around the sun). This was the complete opposite of geocentric cosmology (which was the view held up until that point, that the Earth was the center and fixed in the universe and the sun orbited Earth).
100 years later the Italian physicist/mathematician/astronomer/philosopher named Galileo agreed with Copernicus’ assessment. The Sun was indeed (and scientifically proven to be) fixed, and it was in fact the Earth that moved in space.
Unfortunately for him, the Bible says otherwise.
According to Scripture, the Earth is fixed and does not move. (Psalm 93:1, 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30, just to name a few). Therefore the official position of the church was geocentrism. So for Galileo to suggest the opposite was heresy.
In 1633 Galileo was summoned to Rome and stood trial by the Inquisition for writing literature that revealed the truth about cosmology. He was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life in house arrest while all of his writings were banned. (quick side note: lest we just blame the Catholic Church for suppressing the truth and silencing people like Galileo, the Reformer himself, Martin Luther, also rejected the evidence of heliocentrism in favor of the above Bible verses.)
Legend has it that, after his recantation in front of the Inquisition, he muttered the phrase, “and yet it moves.”
As if to say, “though I’m forced to reject what is true because of your insistence on a few clearly misunderstood Bible verses, that does not change the reality that the earth moves.”
Fine, we can all participate in this cosmic comedy of errors… and yet it moves.
Sometimes that which is true has a way of hiding itself for centuries. And when it is uncovered, should it threaten the way we’ve always thought/believed about something (or, even more dangerously, should it threaten a few Bible verses), we find ourselves poised in a difficult place. Forced to make a choice between three paths.
Do we, like the Religious Elite, dig in our heels and insist we have not been wrong. Insist that the Bible clearly says such and such and so all other evidences of logic, reason, science or alternative interpretations must be wrong. Insist on protecting the “truth” as we’ve always known it.
Or, do we, like Galileo, open up our hearts and minds to the possibility that we’ve gotten it wrong. We develop new convictions that reject what we’ve always known to be true even though it could be dangerous. But, like Galileo, do we ultimately acquiesce to the powers that be. Do we ignore our conscience, ignore the guiding of the Spirit inside us, and stick our heads in the sand. Not wanting to rock the boat. Not wanting to invite the wrath of the Inquisition. Fearful of what might be lost.
Or, thirdly, do we choose the path of people like Descartes, Keplar and Isaac Newton who boldly moved forward in life within the newly revealed “truth.” Regardless of the cost, there were those that knew that the Bible was wrong (or, more accurately, had been wrongly interpreted) and weren’t afraid to support heliocentrism. Weren’t afraid to speak out and do their part to move the conversation forward.
Homosexuality is not a disorder.
It is not a choice.
It is not something that can be cured or reversed.
A loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationship is not forbidden in the Bible.
Gay people are not abominations.
These “truths” have been hiding for centuries but have now been uncovered.
The “church” is doing what it has often done throughout history: dig in its heels and insist it is right. Clinging to archaic science. Insisting on weak interpretations. And threatening anyone who dares oppose it.
There are many Christians who have taken the route of Galileo. They have been exposed to these “truths,” have met actual gay people and heard their stories, read material that challenged what they’ve always believed, and discovered how wrong we’ve been. And yet they remain silent. They would rather remain in house arrest, imprisoned within their own consciences, if it means they don’t have to endure the wrath of the Inquisition. Or lose their job. Or lose relationships.
I won’t do that. I can’t do that.
People’s lives are at stake, here. This is way more important than the order of the planets and stars. This is about the livelihood of our fellow brothers and sisters. About their mental health and inner happiness. About the rights that have been denied them that all straight people enjoy. About the destruction of their souls as they’ve been told over and over again that they are rotten sinners who invite the wrath of God on their lives and on our nation. This is about saving the lives of thousands of young people each year who would rather kill themselves than face this world that hates them, fears them, tells them they cannot love or be loved, tells them they are broken and deformed, tells them they have failed in their efforts to surrender to God.
IT’S NOT THE SAME, BUT IT IS
I understand that people don’t like comparing the LGBT movement with the Civil Rights Movement. I get it. It’s different in some ways.
But at the same time there are enough parallels, I think, that render it apropos to take principles from one and apply to another. However, even if you disagree and think they don’t belong in the same comparative sentence together, then I still want to ask you this question: imagine you are living back in the mid 1960’s and a friend of yours was spending all her free time at Civil Rights rallys. They were writing their local paper and calling out for equality. They were attending churches and begging people to re-read their Scriptures. They were focusing enormous amounts of time and energy in to ending discrimination in our country. Would you say to them, “hey friend, I know you’re passionate about this, but can you scale it back a bit? It’s like all you ever talk about anymore. I know it’s important, but there are other things in life that are important, too.”
I don’t think, looking back through the lens of history, you would say that.
You would root them on. You would tell them to not shut up until blacks were considered equal with whites. Until all people could eat in the same restaurant and drink from the same fountain. You would encourage them to never give up.
Well then, if you agree with me on some of the issues relating to the LGBT community, then I propose to you that this is THAT important. And I think future YOU would want to say to present ME, “don’t give up. Don’t stop talking about it until gays are considered equal with straights. Until all people can know the same basic rights. Until churches start to open their doors and their hearts to the gay community, and come to see how wrong they are.”
And if you disagree with me on these issues then perhaps you could step back and respect the fact that I, and many others, think this is THAT important. You may not understand it, but you can choose to respect it.
If you’re not tired of reading yet, I invite you to go here and read this amazing blog post from Richard Beck called “The Fence of Matthew Shepard.” He also discusses the commonality between Civil Rights, the Holocaust, and events like the killing of Matthew Shepard. He says this at the end,
Let me tell you what keeps me up at night. My deepest fear in life is that I’m going to end up on the wrong side of God’s history. Like so many Christians before me. My fear is that a moment will come when I am asked to stand up for those hanging on the trees, literally and symbolically, and I’ll respond with “That has nothing to do with me. That has nothing to do with the church.”
UNDERSTANDING MY PRIVILEGE
I am straight. And white. And a male.
These are three things that are true about me, and three things that grant me certain privileges that I did not earn nor ask for. But I have them nonetheless.
Those who have done study in the world of “privilege” have remarked that those in the majority position (i.e. myself) can speak out for minority positions without the immediate assumption or critique that we are speaking out of self interest.
While I certainly don’t want to take away or replace the “voice” of the LGBT community, I must acknowledge the “privilege” that I have in this arena. I can speak out against discrimination of gays and NOT be waved off simply because “I am gay.”
I don’t deserve and didn’t earn this privilege, but I have it nonetheless.
And for whatever reason I have gained a very tiny sliver of influence over an even tinier sliver of people in this vast universe. I have a platform (regardless of how small it is), I have white/straight/male privilege, and I have the firm conviction that we the church have been wrong on this issue for too long. My voice is needed in this conversation. For every 20 people that wave me off as a heretic there might be one young gay guy or lesbian girl who discovers that they are a child of God. Who learns for perhaps the first time that the Bible does not condemn them, that they are not an abomination. And even though they’ve felt that or tried to say that for years, now they have someone else who is saying it with them… for them.
I won’t be like the person who never stood against racial segregation and lives their remaining days in shame.
I won’t be like Galileo who knew the truth about cosmology but chose to renounce it and live alone.
The earth MOVES, people. It MOVES! And I’m not going to utter it under my breath as I walk away in fear. There are too many hurting people in this world for me to sit by and do nothing. Say nothing. Not use my privilege, my influence, my study, my voice.
Why do I talk so much about LGBTQ persona and the church?
Because it is moving… and I’m moving with it.
While also telling you its moving.
And inviting you to move with it.
I don’t want to be on the wrong side of God’s history.
And I don’t want you to be, either.