Whose Vision? (An Open Letter To Evangelicals)

Dear Evangelicals,

If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a million times.

Homosexuality is just like any other sin. It’s no different from lying or gossiping or gluttony.

Except it’s not. You don’t believe it, and I don’t believe it, and I honestly don’t understand why we’re still saying it.

It’s different because we disagree about whether it’s a sin at all. No one tries to excuse lying or gossip or gluttony. Except, that’s not true, is it? Because we excuse those things all the time. We lie to save our skins or our reputations. We gossip and call it a prayer request or “venting.” We eat too much, drink too much, buy too much, and excuse it because it’s a special occasion. Those are just little sins, after all. They’re easy to excuse.

Obviously, homosexuality gets classed in with the big sins. It’s up there with murder and adultery. It’s the kind of sin that marks you as a morally bankrupt person, because no one jumps strait to the big sins. You start with the little ones and work your way up. So, obviously by the time you get to homosexuality you’re kind of the worst person ever. You’re probably a habitual liar and a bitter gossip and an all around general reprobate, and then you start sleeping with people of the same gender. Because if you’ve already completely abandoned your morals, why not?

So you think homosexuality is a sign of moral bankruptcy while I think it’s just a thing that happens. Some girls like other girls. Some dudes like other dudes. NO BIG DEAL. That’s a pretty intensely different way of thinking about something.

That’s not the only difference, either.  While most sins do come with their own label, no one uses “liar” or “murderer” to describe themselves. No one considers “adulterer” a vital part of their identity. No one uses “gossip” to explain how they see the world and are seen by it in return. (I mean, maybe they do, but that’s kind of unhealthy, and those people should probably seek counseling.) Certainly, no one is proud of those labels. (Again, if you do, please find someone to talk to.) But for us gay people . . . well, it’s right there in the name. Every other sin is something you do, but homosexuality is something you are.

I’m sure that you’re already gearing up some sort of argument about why I’m wrong. I’m sure that you’ve got your Bible open to Romans or I Timothy, and you’re ready to explain to me in painstaking detail how incredibly deceived I am. But you know that saying, “Actions speak louder than words?” Your actions have already told me that I’m right.

There are a lot of different ways to be a Christian. People from churches that sit across the road from each other may disagree about the role of women in ministry, the appropriate clothing to wear to the pool, or the type of music that should get sung on Sunday mornings. We argue about who is saved and how they get that way. We disagree about what the end times will look like and whether or not it’s okay to drink alcohol. But at some basic level, we all recognize each other as part of the same body. When you get down to the brass tacks, we recognize that we are called by Christ to love and to serve, and we are usually happy to do that side by side.

Except for the gays.

When I heard earlier this week that World Vision had decided to amend their hiring policy regarding queer people, the first thing I did was go look at their list of open positions. I’m six weeks away from finishing a degree in public health, and I want to work in international development. I’d pretty much given up on the idea that I would find a Christian organization to serve with. I’m a queer woman. I know where I’m not wanted. But suddenly, this week, I was a part of the body of Christ again. I was welcome as a sister, called by Christ to love and to serve alongside my fellow believers. It was a beautiful thing.

Of course it was short-lived. Less than 24 hours later, I was reading World Vision’s reversal of the decision, complete with an apology to their conservative supporters who were apparently “hurt and confused” by the idea of radical inclusiveness. I felt like I’d been offered a seat at the table, only to have it jerked out from under me while the rest of the group pointed and laughed. Because of course I don’t belong here. Of course, I’m not called to love and to serve. Of course I’m not a part of the body. Not really. I’m just a sinner.

Well I’ve got some news for you. The body is made up of sinners. We’re all saved “by grace, through faith, and this not of ourselves. It is the gift of God.” And without the blood of Christ, your name would be Liar and Thief and Glutton and Murderer. Just like you keep calling me Homosexual.

Sin is sin, and only God gets to decide what that is. Only God gets to decide if I’m forgiven. Only God gets to invite me in or shut me out. And on this side of heaven, we’ll never know who’s right and who’s wrong. You are not the gatekeeper to the kingdom. You are not the arbiter of righteousness. You are not my judge.

We are all sinners, and as long as the Church insists on excluding those they deem unworthy of the name of Christ, they are cutting off their nose to spite their face, because the only thing you do by pulling that chair out from under me is make me wonder if it’s worth it to try. I have gifts to share just like anyone else, and I want to share them for God’s glory. I want to live out the call to love and to serve in a way that honors him. You need my gifts. The body doesn’t work without all the bits and pieces.

So how long will you keep this up? How long will you keep cutting out healthy tissue and calling it cancer? There’s only so much slicing and dicing a body can handle. Excluding us doesn’t help anyone. It hurts us. It hurts you. And it hurts those we should be loving and serving.

So stop lying to me, and stop lying to yourselves. Stop making the excuse that you treat homosexuality “just like any other sin” and think about the truth of your words and actions. Be honest about what you’re doing to the body of Christ, to your brothers and sisters, and to the work God called us to.

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Six Years Later (A Letter to My 19 Year Old Self)

College was an incredibly dark time for me.  I struggled with anxiety and depression and considered taking my own life several times.  My 24th birthday, almost exactly five years after everything got ugly, was incredibly special to me as it was the first birthday in years that I was truly happy to be celebrating.  At that point, I began trying to write this letter as a way to say goodbye to the part of me that didn’t survive those dark experiences.  Several months ago, I finally got it right.  Today, I am posting it in honor of National Suicide Prevention Week with the hope that it will help and inspire others who are struggling in the midst of similar darkness.

Hello, 19 year-old me.

I’ve been trying to write this for almost a year, now.  I’ve thought about it on the bus and in the car.  I’ve put pen to paper time and time again, only to crumple it up and throw it all away.  But I think I’m finally ready to come back and talk to you, to consider the girl I left behind.

Life seems pretty confusing, doesn’t it?  The bottom has dropped out of your world, and right now, you’re in free fall.  You feel scared.  You feel alone.

I want you to know that it gets better.  (That will be ironically funny in a few years.  Just wait.)

I also want you to know that first it gets worse.

The free fall ends with a bang.  You drop out of school in lieu of failing everything.  You feel like a failure anyway.  You go back to your parents on hands and knees, trying to make the world make sense again, and spend a terrifying six months adrift in a sea of your father’s rages and your mother’s standards while trying to remember how to wear the masks and dance the dances like you used to.

In the end, you realize that you will never get that person back.  In the end, you will realize that you cannot tie the blinders back on and go forward in the old, comfortable ignorance.  Instead, you learn to detach.  For a while, you detach from everything, which is almost as scary as that seemingly endless free-fall.  But little by little, you start to wake up again.  The cold, dead parts of you thaw and find that life is still worth living.  You remember how to be passionate about things.  You find a way forward.  You learn how to love and be loved, and you find out what real friendships are like.

It’s a confusing road.  There is no map.  There are hard decisions to make and stand by.  There is medication and boundaries and therapy and journaling and razor blades.  You gain about a hundred pounds.  You chop all your hair off, grow it back out, and then realize that you were happier keeping it short.  You have panic attacks.  You get good at deep breathing exercises.

I wish I could tell you that in six years everything will be wonderful.  I wish I could tell you that after all of that, life makes sense.  The truth is that sometimes I still wake up and wonder if getting out of bed is worth it.  There are still nights when I wish I had a handy razor blade.  There are still days when it’s hard to leave my apartment.

But the truth is also that there are more good days than bad, now.  The truth is that you will learn to have grace for yourself, and the bad days don’t seem as terrible after that.  The truth is that having all the answers seems less important now and that forward progress is the only measuring stick that really matters.

The truth is I have hope.  You will have hope.

I want you to know that even in the darkest moments of the next six years there will be flashes of light.  I want you to know that God never fails to provide for you or to rescue you, even though he seems late a few times.  I want you to know that the loneliness doesn’t last forever.

There will be a day when, after months of wishing you could fall asleep and never wake up, you will wake up and be happy to be alive.  There will be a day when you crouch outside of a classroom having a very quiet panic attack and then find the strength to go inside instead of going home.  There will be a day when you look at a graduate school website and know that you are not good enough, and there will be a day when you finally get your acceptance letter from that very same school.  There will be many days when you wonder if you will survive to walk across the stage at commencement, and there will be a day when you receive two degrees with honors.

Your life looks different than you planned, but it is beautiful all the same.

In the meantime, keep pushing forward, even when it all seems uphill, even when it’s too dark to see.  You’ll come out on the other side.  I’ll be there waiting.

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Empower Women in Africa

I had my first period when I was eleven years old.  I was at school.  The secretary allowed me to call my mother, who came and picked me up, took me home to change clothes, and took me back to school.  Since that day, I have occasionally missed class because I wasn’t feeling well during my period, but by and large, I am able get up and do what has to be done, regardless of the time of month.

This is not the case in much of the world.

In low-resource countries, onset of menstruation is associated with a number of negative outcomes for girls.  They are often unable to attend school during their periods, so drop-out rates for adolescent girls are significantly higher than for adolescent boys.  This, in turn, affects their ability to earn income and contribute to the community in the long term.  Even if they do continue to attend, they are often distracted and unable to focus, leading them to perform more poorly than their male counterparts.  Additionally, these girls are at increased risk for reproductive tract infections.

There are two reasons for these negative outcomes.  First, in many countries, menstruation carries a high level of stigma.  Women are considered unclean, contaminating, and dangerous during their periods.  Traditionally, women in many of these societies were isolated during menstruation.  While that practice is changing, the attitudes behind it are slower to die off, leaving women feeling uncertain and insecure about inhabiting public spaces during their periods.  Additionally, because there is so much stigma and shame about this topic, girls often do not have correct information about what is happening to their bodies, leading to fear and confusion.  Second, girls in low-resource settings are often unable to afford disposable pads or other sanitary means of dealing with their periods.  This leads to a number of improvised methods (scraps of cloth, mud, tree bark, toilet paper) that many not be sanitary enough to avoid infection and may not be effective enough to prevent embarrassing stains.

There are a number of incredible groups working to change this in sustainable ways.  One group that I have been privileged to work with as a student is Empower Women in Africa.  EWA works to works to provide educational and economic opportunities to women in Namibia by providing reusable cloth pads to school-aged girls and by helping local women start businesses to produce these pads for their communities.

In honor of International Women’s Day (which was March 8, so I’m a little late), I would like to invite my readers to partner with me in supporting this incredible organization.  There are three ways you can contribute to EWA.  1)  You can make a monetary donation.  2)  You can host a pad-sewing party.  3)  You can give them a signal-boost by telling your friends and family about this issue or posting about their website on social media sites.

Thanks to those of you who are reading!  If you’d like more information about this issue and the ways it is being addressed, click on the links below:

Empower Women in Africa

Days for Girls

Afripads

Menstrual Hygiene:  A Neglected Condition for the Achievement of Several Millennium Development Goals

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