Friday, November 12, 2010

The Beginning of the End

I’ve been thinking a lot about Christianity recently. Fortunately, it’s not something that I allow to consume my thoughts too often, but I believe this last bout of mental noise started when I saw Mark Driscoll at the grocery store. He is the pastor of Seattle’s only megachurch and has made quite a name for himself in Christian circles due to his compulsion for posting his sermons on youtube. He and his church go to great lengths to appear “hip” and culturally relevant, but largely amount to dressing up an age old message with torn jeans and thick leather bracelets.

Technically he’s a Calvinist: believes in predestination and has a literal interpretation of the Bible, much like the church I grew up in. I am familiar with the talking points and the apologetics surrounding the more difficult to digest parts of the Bible. I was an Evangelical missionary for a number of years and got my kicks by trying to convert Hindus in India to Christianity.

Seeing him at the store prompted me to search some of his sermons online, just to see what this Seattle pastor has to say about living in one of the gayest and unchurched communities in the country. His church, Mars Hill, is packaged for a younger generation and is full of my cohorts. Each week thousands of them funnel into the nine campuses across the city (and one in Albuquerque, NM) to hear Driscoll preach via satellite feed from the Ballard campus. He enjoys railing against sexual immorality, which includes almost everything except the way that he has sex (with his wife of many years). These aren’t his opinions, he’s always quick to point out, but rather those of God, chapter and verse included. Other Christian leaders, such as Joel Osteen in Houston, TX, often find themselves in the cross hairs of Driscoll sermons, accused of preaching a false gospel that emphasizes health and wealth over sin and redemption.

He opens his lectures up to a question and answer session each week which oftentimes leads to a discussion on the topic of homosexuality. Is it a sin? How should I treat my gay friend? How do I lead them to the Lord? Typical dilemmas for the 21st century Christan. These dilemmas exist because society is slowly changing it’s opinion about the gay, and Christians are finding it harder to simply tow the party line on the issue. Gays and lesbians have a “friend” in the White House now, as opposed to previous years, and are looking to achieve significant civil rights over the next several election cycles. This worries people like Driscoll and indicates to him that our society is rife with immorality and set against God's purposes.

Many Christians tell me, “not all Christians are like that. I’m not like that.” Well, maybe you should be, is usually my response. I mean, the Bible does seem to indicate that it's a sin and at odds with the male/female relationship that St. Paul uses as a metaphor to describe Christ and his church. And if you have a problem with your God hating homosexuals, maybe it is an opportunity for you to really evaluate what it is you believe about the divine and whether those beliefs make any logical sense. It’s a scary proposition, losing everything you thought was true about yourself and the world around you, but one that offers great rewards.

Being gay, something that I wasted years of my life on trying to fix, was ultimately the window that opened up for me to be able to step out of the delusion the church was selling me. The delusion that there is this God out there that has opinions about a variety of social issues. That delusion that human beings are not the product of millions of years of biological evolution on the planet, or that sexual variation within our species is somehow ‘unnatural.’ Those Christians that say they aren’t “like that” or don’t “believe those things” are walking the proverbial fence because they are too afraid to contemplate what it would mean if their God wasn’t real. It is they who extend validity to characters like Mark Driscoll with their silence as their friends suffer under the pressure of such a belief system.

I wonder sometimes if this fight over gay civil rights, and more basically gay peoples right to exist in the world at all, will be a catalyst (among other catalysts) that offers more and more the ability to step outside this delusion of God and sin and redemption, etc. It is a story that has evolved over time and has enjoyed centuries of unchallenged hegemony. But, if creation is to be a reflection of the divine force of the universe, then God is at least a little bit gay. This is one of the places where the narrative begins to unravel, and the grub worms that have enjoyed generations under the cool, damp rock are exposed to disinfecting sunlight for the first time. As the Jerry Falwell’s and Pat Robertson’s of the world die off and people like Mark Driscoll and Rick Warren scamper to fill their shoes with a slightly revised version of the same old shit, who is going to stand up and say “No thanks, not for me.” Windows abound to offer freedom from this archaic belief system, and you don’t have to live your life on the fence, not being “that kind of Christian.”

Ultimately Christianity, along with everything else around us, is certainly set to go the way of the dinosaurs and from this lens isn’t all that consequential. In the meantime, there is a better way entirely, and Mark Driscoll, buying eggs and milk with his wife in aisle three at Safeway, isn’t offering it to you.

The Ex Gays And Their Ministry

Let’s talk a little bit about ex-gay ministries, shall we? They have undergone an reformation recently, as they scamper to appear more tolerant during a time when public opinion and science moves away from them.

For those in the church that have never been touched by the issue of homosexuality, either because you are not one or a close friend or family member is not one, this branch of your religion probably goes mostly unnoticed. You may be only vaguely aware that such programs exist through such non-profit arms as Focus on the Family and Exodus International. There are also regional campaigns run by local churches, all with the same stated goal of curing people of “unwanted homosexual desires." It's foundation is propped up on a fundamental untruth.

This untruth, of course, is that people can and should seek to change their sexual orientation. This is simply not the case, and there are plenty of reputable studies to suggest as much. For a person who has not been touched by the issue of homosexuality, it’s an untruth without any consequences. It really doesn’t matter to their life whether a homosexual can become straight through religious therapy. It’s an easy thing to support because it comes at no cost and requires no thought. But for those who have been made to feel inferior by the constant repetition that their sexual orientation is evil, wrong, dirty, and shameful the consequences are great.

Much attention has been paid recently to the suicide of gay teenagers as a result of bullying in school, but this phenomenon is nothing new. For years, anti-gay activists have toted the suicide rates among gay teens as an indication that a “homosexual lifestyle” is innately depressing or damaging to a young person’s psyche. There is something below the belt about using statistics that you helped create to support the lie you are telling to being with. It’s a statement rambled off by ex-gay leaders and consumed by those that don’t really give it much thought. This covers the ex-gay ministries in a shroud of false legitimacy and gives them the appearance of being culturally relevant.

In an effort of reform their image, these gay ministries are no longer advertising toward the parents of a gay teenager promising that he can change but are now marketing themselves as seekers of those that wish to “rid themselves of their homosexual desires.” Their promotional videos interview men that are “thrilled with the results” and “are excited to start their journey to recovery” from their unwanted homosexual desires. Most of these men are middle aged, and have likely been through similar forms of therapy many times in their lives. They have probably spent a lot of emotional and financial resources on this issue and are getting really desperate for a solution. When pressed on the authenticity of their practices, ex-gay groups hide behind the fact that their mission statement specifically states that they help people with unwanted homosexuality. One always wants what he can’t have, or unwants it as the case may be.

My mother asked me a few years back if I had ever contemplated suicide growing up. I could tell through the phone that she was softly crying, having just returned from a funeral for a friend’s teenage son. For many years in her world, and in the world of most conservative Christians, the gay lifestyle is described as a sad, lonely, depressing existence. It’s what they are told from their leadership because the existence of homosexuality as a naturally occurring orientation flies in the face of the some other “truths” the church has regarding marriage and gender roles. It chips away at their authority and the authenticity of their holy book(s). Historically, saying that homosexuality is normal and OK is like suggesting that the earth revolves around the sun, or that celestial objects like the moon are riddled with craters and therefore imperfect. Ex-gay ministries are a modern day extension of religion’s innate difficulty with change. With any luck, soon enough there won’t be any more men reaching middle age in need of their services. And that can be accomplished by just speaking the truth. 

Monday, November 9, 2009

Closing things out...

Hey All,

As I read over this blog, I realize that it represents a time and place in my life that I no longer feel accurately reflects who I am. As I glace back over this blog, and realize that it's been almost two years since I started it.

When the blog was started I had recently come out of the closet. I was plunging myself into the unknown world of being a gay man, coming out to my friends and family, and gauging reactions of the people close to me. As I became more confident in being who I am, I started to see the large dichotomy between the world that I grew up in and the world that I was entering. Many of these example--which are written about in this blog--made me very angry and made me feel like I was fighting an uphill battle for the hearts and minds of many in my family and childhood friends. It was frustrating, and the tone of many of the entries reflect that.

However, I feel that I am in a different place now. Referendum 71, which was the subject of my last blog post, was passed by a margin of 4 points last Tuesday. Slim margin to be sure, but it marks the first time in the history of this country that LGBT rights have won at the ballot box. It's a significant moment. The same night, gays and lesbians in Maine lost the right to marriage--extended to them by their state legislature and their governor's signature--adding a bittersweet tinge to the victory in Washington.

I realized last week that I am living in very significant times for the gay community. I live in a city that has a large population of gay people. I come from a community that remains very conservative and closed off to this movement of people seek equal rights under the law. They are not simply passive observers, but in many cases active in their desire to see to it that these rights do not come to fruition.

The desire to record what is going on with this movement--both with the hopeful activists and the opponents of gay rights in this country, as well as human rights abuses against LGBT people internationally--prompts me to leave this blog behind and focus my attention on the world of gay rights. To help tell the story as I live through this significant time in the expansion of gay rights domestically and the continued hardship of gay people world wide. It will not be this way forever, and I think it is important enough to record, to offer my perspective.

As for this blog...I suppose it will stay posted, but will no longer be added to. It will collect dust on the internet until someone dusts in off and looks at it again. It's been a good ride.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

My thoughts on Referendum 71

This year Christians in Washington were very wary about trying to put Referendum 71 on the ballot. The self-proclaimed leaders of the religious right in the state were at a disagreement over whether to challenge the new domestic partnership law signed by Governor Gregoire this past May. Some saw it as the moral duty of the good Christian solider, fighting the unpopular fight and protecting straight marriages from gay domestic partnerships. Others felt that the backlash from the narrow passing of Proposition 8 in California in 2008, overturning their gay civil marriage rights decision by the state supreme court, had painted the church in a bad light and that there were better opportunities for the time and money of the (collective) church. There was actual disagreement played out on the front page of the state's various newspapers.

As in so many other areas of civil life, the zealots got their wish. They collected thousands of signatures to challenge the law by using their churches as canvassing platforms and in certain cases misleading voters by telling them this referendum would allow people who support gay rights to vote on the issue. A half-truth is still a lie and Christians know it, but it achieved their end nevertheless. On November 3rd gay people and their allies are going to the polls to secure their basic civil rights which have already been extended to them through the democratic process.

The domestic partnership law is really a final expansion of rights that already existed in part through other domestic partnership agreements in the state. There was a law in 2007 that extended some rights, a law in 2008 that extended some more rights, and now the final law past last May which basically gives gay and lesbian partnership full marriage rights under state law.

Before anyone gets too bent out of shape, it is important remember what it is that we're talking about here. Domestic partnership extends a couple, and particularly a family with gay parents, the right to own property together, jointly raise a child together without jumping through many legal hoops, share important medical decisions together, and transfer estates upon the death of one of the partners. Before this domestic partnership law, a couple had to enter into hundreds of contracts together and hire attorneys to ensure that all the bases got covered. This law the state's way of acknowledging that a family unit exists and to apply the state's benefits and responsibilities appropriately. It is not a law stating that Jesus Christ loves gay sex.

Recent polling suggests that the law is going to be upheld--ff people will get out the vote in an off-year election. 12,000 families have been forced to wait with their civil rights in the balance since May while the conservatives tout their dog-and-pony-show-referendum in eastern Washington. This is the representation of Christ that the people see. That should deeply trouble Christians. It makes me think of my friends back home, many of whom are not supportive of my "gay lifestyle" or the "choice that I've made."

This referendum to me is a statement on the current state of the conservative Christian movement. For those of you who support placing road blocks in the path to full equality for gay and lesbian people, you are wrong. You were wrong in 2004 when you reelected Bush to push writing discrimination into the constitution. You were wrong in 2008 when you spent millions of Mormon dollars to take away rights of thousands of people in California; and you are wrong now. You ask me to trust your authority on spiritual matters, yet clearly have lost your way.

To be fair, many people of faith support the domestic partnership law in Washington. On the website there is a list of many churches supporting the law and telling their congregations that extending civil rights to their neighbors is the right thing to do. However, this is not the Christianity that I know or the example that I've seen in my own life. It has become clear to me in the years since leaving the church that many Christians remain solely interested in being right, regardless of who they have to step on to make their point. But we are real people, with real relationships that deserve validation and respect. You preach sermons on how to reach the "lost" gay community, how to help us turn straight, and then spend millions of dollars and tons of political capital fighting against our basic rights as citizens of this country. It's a losing strategy.

I am going to do my part to prevent the domestic partnership law from being overturned by religious zealots that have no stake in the issue at hand. And just as this fight has continued for decades, we will not stop until we achieve full equality. There will be another vote, and another and another. But personally I do reflect on the absurdity of fighting against the same people I used to be a part of, that raised me, that befriended me in my early years. It astounds me that they view this issue as something separate from the actual human beings they know that would benefit from this law. You've lost touch with Jesus and swim around in religion to pass the time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

My Interview with Carrie Prejean

I recently got the chance to sit down with Carrie Prejean, beauty queen and gay marriage expert, here at the Values Voters Summit. She was the keynote speaker on the first night of the conference and was preceded by many Republican elected officials and national evangelical leaders. The following is a heavily edited transcript that before transcribing it here looked as though it had been blacked out with sharpie marker by the Bush Task force on terrorist interrogations.

Me: Thank you so much Carrie for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me this afternoon. I understand that you've been quite busy.

Carrie: Yes, happycamper, I have. Thank you for noticing how awesome the plan is God has for me. It's my pleasure to be with you today.

Me: Now Carrie, let's remind people of the moment that you rose to national stardom. I believe it was when Perez Hilton, gossip blogger of the stars, asked you a question about gay marriage and Proposition 8 that was on the ballot in California. Is that right?

Carrie: Yes. I was asked a question about gay marriage by an openly gay man and I stood up for what I thought was right...which was opposite marriage, of course. And I received a lot of slack for that, but really it's all been to God's glory.

Me: In what way was God glorified by you taking a stand against a state court ruling regarding civil marriage at the Miss USA beauty pageant?

Carrie: Frankly, happycamper, I am shocked by your closed mind. Shame on you to question my motives.

Me: Never mind. Do you find it odd that the religious right has chosen you to be a spokesperson for the gay marriage issue going into this next round of elections?

Carrie: Not really, happycamper. You see, the Republicans seek out real folks. They want to represent the American people and provide a platform for them to voice their concerns with the way things are changing and they're giving us a chance shout "no more"! Not in my America! No not opposite marriage! Not this time!

Me: You clearly feel passionately about this issue, but what exactly are your goals and what is your presence in the debate going to add to the national conversation over how we extend to thousands of families the civil rights that a majority of others enjoy?

Carrie: I'm just doing it all for the glory of God. And honestly, I am shocked at the intolerance of some people regarding my intolerance. We live in America! It is a country where we can have both, tolerance and intolerance, and same and opposite marriage, and it's un-American to have it any other way. This is why I would like to take this time to announce my candidacy for President in 2012. Sarah Palin and I will be running the together. Quite frankly, happycamper, it will awaken every Republican man's conserva-boner. Watch out liberals, because opposite marriage is about to come all over America's face and there is nothing you can do to stop mean...

Me: Carrie, I am offended by the language and lack of civility regarding an topic that is really only a headline issue for a small portion of the Republican party's constituency. Can we please clean up the conversation and discuss this topic with some dignity and respect?

Carrie: Ok, here's the deal, Drew-ski. I don't really know that much about gay marriage. Before I was asked that question in the beauty pageant I had just thrown up my lunch and was feeling a little bit weak. I said the first thing that came into my head, and now I've just got to go with it. I have this index card here that details nine principals and twelve values and I am not supposed to deviate from it in any way. This group of Value Voters validates my insecurities as a person and hangs on every word that I say. I guess they are unaware that "opposite marriage" isn't even a real thing. I mean this is way better than becoming Miss USA. Fox News in my back pocket and the wind blowing up my skirt.

Me: Bitch, I don't think that's wind. And that last sentence was a fragment.

Carrie: Suck it, homo.

Me: Touche, my dear. Well, thank you for your time Carrie. I know that its always difficult to carve out some time at a big summit event like this, particularly when you have to go the 9-12 Project Boot Camp every morning. Folks, that all from the Values Voters Summit 2009 in Washington, DC. I have to shuffle on to the main stage where I hear Roy Blunt is going to tell a racist joke about President Obama and some woman will say to an applauding audience that abortions should be performed in a public setting. You can watch Carrie's speech from the Summit here. You can't make this stuff up, guys.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Chase Scene

I just woke up from the most bizarre dream. In it, my mother and I were attending a wedding from a friend of mine from high school. Everyone is there, all my old friends. And we are greeting each other and having a great time catching up on everyone’s lives.

Suddenly the bride catches my eye, comes over, and states apprehensively, “Oh, Andrew, I can’t believe you made it.” “Of course I made it,” I replied, “it’s your special day.”

Initially, the comment seemed to be just one of those things you say at a wedding to thank the person for traveling across the country to attend the affair. Then, as the bride goes around the room greeting other guests I get this eerie feeling that they’re talking about me, as their slight glances in my direction suggest.

It starts to become clear to me that I’m not welcome at this gathering. I get up, leave my mother sitting inside the sanctuary, and walk outside the church building where a friend of mine is smoking a cigarette.

“Um, I have a feeling that I’m not welcome here,” I say with an inflection that is as much comment as it is question.

“Is it because I’m gay?” I ask, as if the question had never occurred to me before this moment.

”Well, you took a risk in coming here,” my friend responded. “It’s fine with me that you’re here, but I am sure there are plenty of people inside that would feel differently.” Then her eyes shifted from my face over to the side. “But it seems like that guy over there is looking for you.”

I turn and look over my left shoulder and see one the elders from my parent’s church, a man who actually exists, spot me and take off running towards me. Without hesitation I take off running and wake up while being hotly pursued by respected man in my parent’s church. I guess my mom attended the rest of the wedding without me.

Isn’t that so weird? Why would I dream this? I never have dreams about these people, places, or subject matters. Although there was something that happened last night that could have prompted it.

Kevin and I went to a fund raising event for an organization that offers medical and emotional support to those living with HIV/AIDS. One of the event coordinators started flirting with us, which lead into a very interesting conversation.

He was a 28 year old former Evangelical Christian missionary that had recently returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq. He had married a woman at age 24 because that’s what good missionaries do. 18 months into the marriage he felt he had to come to terms with reality, come out of the closet, end the relationship, and leave the military. I told him that I too was once a missionary in India. Him too. We talked about volunteering for Mother Teresa’s House of Dying Destitutes in Calcutta and the profound simplicity of her message. Her whole purpose was to care for the dying, so that no one ever had to die alone. He said that he was pleased about where he is in life now, and that his whole message to the gay community is that God loves us. God loves him, me, and everyone else, just the way we are. His words.

The domestic partnership debate is heating up here in Washington State. Last May the state legislature passed a bill and our governor signed into law an “everything but marriage” statute. It was done entirely through the legislative process and gave same sex couples all the rights and responsibilities of marriage without using the term and thus awaken the beast. Awakened nevertheless, Christian groups sought out 127,000 signatures, in part using their churches as signing stations, to put a referendum on the ballot to overturn the law. This flex of political muscle has delayed the law from going to effect until the voting results are determined in November. A recent poll shows 73% of Washingtonians support domestic partnership rights. The referendum is an empty gesture to squeeze the last bit of crazy out of the state and to harm their gay and lesbian neighbors as they wait to see if they will be able to share health insurance and have a smooth transfer of property with their life partner.

In December my brother is graduating from college. I am bringing my boyfriend down for the occasion. I want Kevin to see where I’m from, get my family used to the idea of him in my life, see my brother’s graduation, and see some old friends. Kill four birds with one stone, as it were. But making these plans runs into some tactical issues that make it complicated. It’s just one of those things were it would be easier if I wasn’t gay. Lubbock’s not really "gay friendly". Not one of those places I would ever visit with my boyfriend if I didn’t have family there. Planning this trip is reminding me of that.

All of these things in combination make it really hard to feel the love that Christians profess to have for me. A recent article in the newspaper here interviewed some of the supporters of Referendum 71 and each one of them said that they "love homosexuals" and "hate their sin". I think they're confused. They actively pursue a course to take away the civil rights afforded to me through a democratic process and encourage me to change my sexuality with the power of Jesus. That’s not love. You listen to those that you love.

I guess it has felt recently like I’m being chased out of a gathering I should be welcomed to by a scary man from my parent’s church. Weird analogy. After that dream I need a smoke and a nap.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Why Gay Men Should Rule the World

Oh Shit! What's that? Barney Frank's inner queen just came out and slapped this right wing nut job upside the head. Leave it to a homo to set your crazy ass straight. He don't play. Let's elect more queers to Congress...