I learned with sorrow yesterday that Julie Rodgers, a chaplain at Wheaton College in Illinois and contributor to Spiritual Friendship, has changed her views. An alumna of Exodus, she has been a wise and kindly voice for the traditional Christian view of sexual ethics hitherto; now, however, she has changed her mind, and believes (as I understand from the post she wrote) that God blesses same-sex sexual relationships on the same basis as heterosexual ones. She has also, in a move that I think worthy of particular respect (as so many church officials fail to do this), both explained her change of mind publicly and resigned her post at Wheaton on account of the difference between their beliefs and hers.
If you are expecting to read a vilification, or even an argument against, Miss Rodgers' decision, I'm afraid you have come to the wrong place. I disagree, obviously; although I have confidence in the sincerity of her convictions, and the sincerity of her change of convictions, I am a Catholic precisely because my own confidence reposes wholly in the Holy Ghost as the teacher of the Catholic Church, and what Rome teaches with her full authority I therefore unconditionally accept -- the same could scarcely be expected of Miss Rodgers as an evangelical. (Which isn't to say I wouldn't like her to become a Catholic, either, but I would like everybody to become a Catholic.) But this piece is not fundamentally about the basis, or the details, of my disagreement with Julie Rodgers.
This is about the paltry response from traditional Christians. I don't mean that they have not said enough in quantity. I mean that the support, respect, and compassion that we need to live as LGBT believers have been crucified on the cross of a culture war. Morality is not the casualty of the culture war, brothers and sisters; we are -- lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people, intersex people, every kind of person whose sexual attractions or gender identity don't fit the normal (and admittedly beautiful) mold -- Christians, and non-Christians, and ex-Christians. He looked for judgment, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.
The thing that has saddened and appalled me has been the knee-jerk response of blatant disbelief, when it comes to the homophobia she talks about as a stock element of traditionalist Christian culture. I'm saddened by Julie Rodgers' change of mind, yes; partly because I believe she's mistaken about matter of theological fact, and partly because it's a very lonely experience to see a former co-worker, as it were, depart. But that is as nothing to my fellow traditional Christians, whose unbridled hatred, scorn, identity politicking, language policing, reduction of me and my queer sisters and brother to the status of perverts and sexual maniacs, co-option of our witness, accusations of covert doctrinal subversion, and charges of deceit and self-deceit, so exhaust us all as to make every one of us question on a daily basis whether we do want to continue being a part of the church -- not least of the Catholic Church.
Nah, I think this cross is good here. See ya, I'm going to Orange Julius.
If you have a hard time believing me, consider the following list:
Chad Allen, actor
Brandon Ambrosino, author
Jamie Bakker, author and pastor
Vicky Beeching, Christian musician
John Boswell, author
Michael Bussee, founding member of Exodus
Tony Campolo, author and pastor
Gary Cooper, founding member of Exodus
Eliel Cruz, author
Rachel Held Evans, author
Robert Gant, actor
Jennifer Knapp, former Christian musician
Stephen Long, author
Benjamin Moberg, author
John Paulk, former administrator with Exodus
Julie Rodgers, author, former chaplain at Wheaton College, and former Exodus member
Dan Savage, author and former Catholic seminarian
Steve Slagg, author and Christian musician
John Smid, author and former administrator with Love In Action
Andrew Sullivan, author
Peterson Toscano, author, actor, and former Love In Action member
Matthew Vines, author and founding member of the Reformation Project
Jim Wallis, author
Every one of those people once espoused the traditional view of homosexuality, and every one of them changed their minds -- often after years of attempting orientation change and/or celibacy (of those I've listed, only Bakker, Campolo, Evans, and Wallis are straight, though many are ex-ex-gay). All of them spoke, in many cases before they made any public noises about reconsidering their beliefs, of the coldness, bigotry, cruelty, neglect, and willful stupidity of many fellow believers as one of the major trials they had to deal with, often a far weightier one than the actual cross of being attracted to the same sex.
Equally, among those of us who retain the traditional view -- espousing what the Catholic Church has taught about sex for millennia -- I don't know of any one of us who hasn't also spoken about Christian homophobia, regardless of the tradition we hail from: Ron Belgau, Melinda Selmys, Lindsey and Sarah (who blog without last names partly, I gather, due to the years of homophobic harrassment they've had to deal with), Seth Crocker, Matt Moore, Aaron Harburg, Joshua Gonnerman, Eve Tushnet, Wesley Hill, Joseph Prever, Matt Jones, Aaron Taylor, Jeremy Erickson, Chris Damian, and indeed, some heterosexual and cisgender believers like Mark Shea, P. E. Gobry, Warren Throckmorton, Elizabeth Scalia, Lazar Puhalo, and Mark Yarhouse.
And so many have been lost to us. Dan Savage apostatized; Daniel Pierce was beaten by his own family and thrown out of his home; Matthew Shepard was tortured to death; Gwen Araujo was strangled; Tyler Clementi killed himself out of humiliation; Leelah Alcorn killed herself to make a desperate point.
We are beaten. We are bleeding. Stop saying you're doing this because you love us. Your brand of love has resulted in twisted psyches, broken families, suicides. Stop saying that it is our own sins coming back to haunt us; that is an evasion, and what is more, an invitation of divine judgment -- for it is clearly written that with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again. Do you wish your own sins to visit you, rattling their chains in the night? Our anguish is not coming out of nowhere; it is the anguish of those who, at best, wonder whether they are loved at all by our fellow believers, and often believe that Christians are incapable of loving us -- never having seen it.
Those who have eyes only for the (in my opinion, legitimate) threats to religious liberty in this country, and have perhaps never knowingly dealt with a gay person in their own lives -- even, maybe, wouldn't be homophobic if they did, except by accident -- seem to have a difficult time believing that these stories of homophobic harshness, rejection, and even violence are credible, save perhaps in far-off pars of the world like Russia or Nigeria or India. Nonetheless, every single one of the names I've mentioned above -- including every victim of murder and those driven to suicide -- hails from the good old US of A. We are not immune; there are those who would say we are not safe.
Stop talking about us, fellow Christian, and talk to us. We were never meant to bear this cross alone, any more than you were meant to bear yours alone; Jesus Himself did not bear His Cross alone, accepting help from Simon and Veronica. Our anguish is not a guarded secret. There has been no need to break seven seals on the scroll of our pain and call for silence in heaven for half an hour to read it; we have read it from the housetops -- and, too often, been met with the order to seal up what the seven thunders have said, because you saw no reason you should care. You were not, after all, your brother's keeper. Put your fingers in our hands and your hand into our sides, and do not be doubting, but believe: we are suffering. We need you.
Am I proposing a change in the Church's teaching? I have repeated until I am blue in the face that I'm not, and there are still people who won't believe me. But a call for holy compassion should not sound to anybody like a call for a change in belief. When you can't distinguish mercy from doctrinal laxity, there is something deeply wrong with you, spiritually. When your doctrine does not include the obligation to show compassion, it is you, not we, who are the heretics.