A Prayer for Sunday 23rd August 2020

Father, sometimes we don’t know if we’re doing more harm than good. Yet you call us to speak truth to power.

Jesus, sometimes we don’t know if we’re causing more pain than we should. Yet you turn the table alongside us.

Me, I sometimes just want to be quiet, still my words and hold my silence, in the hope peace will come. But then I look at the injustice I therefore become complicit in and it and weep.

Spirit, how can I look in the pages of my Bible and not cry out against discrimination?

Mother, how can I look into the eyes of my children and not speak out for a better Church for them?

Father, Jesus, Spirit, Mother, Thou within us and we looking to Thou. Guide us to what breaks your heart and give us the words, the deeds, the ways you have planned for us to act in your great plan to heal it. Heal our world. Heal eachother.

Amen.

Peace be with you.

Justin’s Story: Part Five

Welcome to Part Five, the final part of Justin’s week taking over the Blog – and dare I say it, I think he’s saved the best ’til last. The ending sends shivers up my spine every time! Find him on Twitter at @thejustingriggs, go say Hi and Well done! – R

I recently learned that you cannot change what happened in your past, but you have a choice as to what you take from those experiences.  Sometimes, our reaction to these events have the potential to either change who we are, or to change who we want to become. The difference is entirely up to you. The problem was just that I had no idea who I was anymore. I had no idea where I was going in life, or what I even wanted out of life. I was so sure of my future before all of this started, and I felt like I lost touch with that entirely.

This was such a moment. I asked myself how I could allow life in general to become this bad, and how do I go back? My biggest question was where was God in all of this? I was confused, because I was taught that in every situation, God is with us and that He carries us through it all, and I truly believed this to be true. I asked myself the question that if God was with me in all of this, then where was He?

I forced myself to stand up and fight every single day. Fight for myself and to get to a place where things could get better. I forced myself out of bed every day, I forced myself to think differently about the situation that I found myself in and I worked really hard to just try and be okay. I caught myself thinking the one day that if I had to do all the work and I had to take responsibility and ownership of the situation that I was in, then where did God actually feature in all of this? If you think about a child who is suffering, a father would leave everything to make sure that child is okay, and to pick him up and tell them that it is all okay. I didn’t feel this. In fact, I was made to believe that I had to find my own strength, albeit in God, but that it all rested on how much I was willing to fight for myself to get better. Was God really fighting for me? Was he really ready to pick me up and comfort me and tell me that it is all okay? I wanted to believe it more than anything, because the alternative seemed unreal. The alternative left me in a place where I had nothing, and no one to fight for me but myself. But nevertheless, I fought. Only recently I came to realise that if it was not for the strength that God gave me, even though I did not see it at the time, I would have completely given up and there were moments where I really considered it.

Six months had passed since I sat in the Pastors’ office, and there were a lot of challenges and struggles. I can truthfully say that it was the hardest time of my life. One day I will write about the full journey in that time, but for the purpose of this story I will finish off at the point where I am now.

The purpose of me writing about this is simply – there is hope. I realised over the last few weeks that there are a lot of people that struggle through the same challenges. It might not be the same story but it all comes down to the same thing. There was a time where I thought that I would never be accepted for who I am, and that I will never be good enough. I convinced myself that I am disqualified from the love of God because of my sexuality and I could not forgive myself for it. In fact, I resented God for it. How could the Bible teach us about the unconditional love of God, yet because of this thing I am underserving of it? Or disqualified from it. It took me a very long time, with many nights of tears and there were times where I really lost myself in this thing, but I made it through. I am seeing light again. I feel like I can breathe again.

I am happy to say that I no longer refer to me being gay as having a cancer in my body. The cancer is gone. In fact, I realised that the only disease that made me sick was the society we live in that refuses to accept that there are people that are different. That there are people that show love, experience love or express love in different ways.

Am I completely over what had happened? Definitely not. There are still a lot of things that I have to deal with, a lot of people that I had to let go of. A lot of things that I had to make peace with, and also a lot of things that I had to forgive for. Forgive those people for what they did, mostly forgive myself for what I did, because the truth is that I also had a share in the events that took place, and I take responsibility for it. But I had to let it all go in order for me to move on. I am at a place where I can start loving again. Start trusting again. Rebuild my relationship with God and get back to what it is all about. Getting back to the place where I can look at myself in the mirror and actually be proud of the man that I am. The man that was created by God. Loved by God. Through all of it, God still showed Himself faithful.

So all this said, it all comes down to the fact that nobody can ever tell you who you are or who you are supposed to be. In fact, God has called us to love Him authentically and just as we are, in truth. So I like to think of all this that had happened was maybe necessary for me to come back to my own truth. I wasn’t authentic in the way that I worshipped. I wasn’t authentic in the way that I lead people. There was always a lie inside of me, and the lie was not that I was gay, but that I refused to acknowledge it. Is being gay a sin? Truthfully, I don’t know. But then again, is being racist a sin? Is being an adulterer a sin? There are many different arguments that can be had in this regard, but I decided to no longer focus on the shortcomings or the let downs that could disqualify us from Heaven. I am now focussing on being the best version of myself that I can be. Loving God and loving people. Being someone who stands for those who cannot stand for themselves and believe in someone when nobody else does. This is who are meant to be. This is who we are called to be. Do I still make mistakes? Definitely. Do I still let myself down? For sure. But I am no longer ashamed or judging myself for who I am.

I have realised in all this that there are a lot more people out there who understand and support this community, and I really believe that it is because of this love and support that I can finally stand again. If I could do the same for someone else one day, then I know there was a purpose to everything that I went through. It wasn’t all for nothing. I will forever be grateful for the journey that I had working for the church, but I also know that it is now time for a new season. I don’t know what the future holds, but at least now I know who I am, and this will help me on the road ahead.

So this is why I shared this story. To tell you, reader, that you are loved and valued. That you can be bold in knowing that no one person can take away from who you are. That you are perfect in every way and that life has the potential to be really great. If you are in a similar place as I was, just know, that it does get better. I told myself that and found it really hard to believe, but the reality is, it does get better. Be strong and stand back for no one. Root yourself in the truth which is God, and not the tainted truth the world so often forces on us. Be the unique you you were created to be. You are perfect in every way. Let that light shine, and never allow the world to put it out.

There is a lot more to tell, and I am sure that over time I will share different parts of it, but for now I leave you with these last words.

I prayed one night asking God why I have to go through all of this and does He even love me, because right now I cannot see it, or feel it and find it really hard to believe. This is what He said to me:

“I love you. I formed you. I created you for ME. I called you, and I chose you, you are MY son. I have already paid the price. I love you even though you cannot love yourself. I will love you even though you can’t love ME. Just know, that through it all I am still there. When it seems like  all hope is gone and darkness surrounds you, MY love, MY grace will always see you through.”

I truly hope, and trust that by sharing this a life can be touched and changed. Just as mine was. I am a better person because of it. So be true to yourself. Who you are is pretty great.

Many Blessings

Justin

Justin’s Story: Part Four

Welcome to Part Four of Justin’s week taking over the Blog! Be kind to him, he’s doing a really brave thing, as we have the honour of being the first to ever receive his story. Find him on Twitter at @thejustingriggs, go say Hi and Well done! – R

After the conversation that I had with Charlie, I realized that there was no going back, so I decided to deal with it. I made the appointment with our Pastor as I had said that I would, and the appointment was set for the very next day. I did not sleep that night. I remember lying in bed replaying that conversation over and over, what I should have said, what I could have said. Maybe not saying anything at all. Over and over it played, like a movie stuck on repeat and no matter how bad it is, you cannot stop watching. Did I potentially just end a friendship that was really important to me, all because of this perceived disease in my being. My cancer had a sense of humour. I thought that maybe I had made the biggest mistake to open up to him, because I don’t think I truly understood what the outcome would be, or even what I wanted it to be.

I eventually fell asleep and woke the next morning determined that today was going to be the day that I finally overcome everything that had become such a challenge over the last few years, and that this would be the first day of things starting to get better. You have to build yourself up in that way, because overthinking a worst case scenario was something that I so easily did, so I decided to focus on the potential silver lining. I met up with the Pastor in a local coffee shop, and our conversation started comfortably easy. For a while we spoke about the generic things happening in life, and nothing really of note was said. I knew that I was going to have to tell him what had happened, but I just did not have the courage yet. So, I kept talking about everything except what was really going on.

I have no idea where the sudden surge of courage came from, but before I knew it, I told him what had happened the night before and about me declaring these feelings towards Charlie. I told him exactly how the conversation went and that we both agreed that I would speak to him in order to get the help that I need to move past this. One of the mistakes that I made is that I made it sound like I am was struggling with this so called battle and that I wanted help to overcome it. I found it ridiculous that how after 4 years of STILL struggling to ‘move past this’, I still believed that I had a disease that I had to beat. So, these were the kinds of phrases that I used. That I really want to move past this, or I really want to change. I don’t want to live the lie version of who I am, but live true to who I was created to be. I also said things like, I am really trying my best to overcome this, and I am still fighting each and every day.

These were all lies of course, and deep down inside I did not believe any of it even as I said it, but felt that I had to say these things about myself because the alternative could be so much worse. What I should have said was that the real struggle I was dealing with was not about the feelings that I had for Charlie, but the thoughts that I had about myself. About not being able to accept myself, or rather, accepting myself but the rejection of others was something that I feared more. How I was taught that God cannot love me in this way was the constant in my mind.

This was the sad truth. How I was taught directly or indirectly that the unconditional love of God came with a condition. That little box that I was supposed to fit into, when all I wanted to do was to love myself and live the authentic life that God intended for me. Is this not what it is all about? If the Bible says that we are to worship God in Spirit and in truth, what if this was my truth? What if my truth was to just to love? Or, was I conditioned to believe that the love I had for God and for people was based on gender and that love for one another was meant to be the same.

I did not have the answer to this, and truth be told I still don’t. I was crying on the inside because all I wanted was acceptance for who I perceived myself to be, which in fact to this day I still believe is not a bad person. Do I make mistakes? Of course I do. Do I make the wrong decisions? Definitely. But then again, did Jesus not die so we no longer have to live bound to these human errors? When He died, He did not re write our human nature, He just gave us a hope to know that we are no longer judged by this. Thank God for that thought, but then, why was I subjected to thoughts of inferiority by other people. Was judgement placed in the hands of those who are supposed to lead us only to make us feel that we will always fall short or even that the mistakes we make will forfeit our eternity with God? This is a very deep statement to make, but these were the thoughts that I had even while having that conversation with the Pastor.

I felt like I did not have the answer, or I couldn’t understand what was right or what was wrong even in that moment. So, I kept on lying, to my Pastor, and to myself. After my explosion of confidence and declaring all these statements about myself, it was finally his turn to speak. The long and short of the conversation that we had was basically that it was okay. He assured me that there was no judgement and that he would take my hand, and walk me through this thing. Like a shepherd would walk with one of his sheep that is sick. This gave me great comfort, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, this could be something that would actually start loosening its grip, that the relentless way of attacking me, the cancer would finally ease up. We ended our meeting on a high note, and I felt the same sense of relief I had after speaking to Charlie. The breaths came easier at this point, and I finally thought that things could get better and a calmness came over me.

The first things that I did after the meeting was to send Charlie a message. I wanted him to know how the meeting had gone, and that I was actually feeling good about what had happened and that he was right to tell me to talk to the Pastor. I didn’t think much of it that he didn’t reply straight away, so later that night I sent him another message. To my surprise, still no reply. An uneasy feeling started to get me worried, but I decided to not make too much of it and I left it to go to bed for the night. I told myself that this was just the old me trying to cause unnecessary anxiety and I had to remind myself that this was supposed to be a good thing. That things were supposed to get better from this point on. So I let the thoughts quiet down and fell asleep.

When I woke the next morning, the first thing I did was to check and see if Charlie had maybe responded to my messages, but to my greatest disgust, nothing. What was happening here? I sent him another message asking what was going on, and that I was worried because I was not hearing from him. Out of nowhere I felt myself losing breath again. Could it really be that what I was fearing most was finally happening. That after what I had said, the worst case scenario would actually start playing itself out, and what I feared most would actually become my reality?

Eventually, Charlie responded. As I read his message, I remember feeling like my stomach dropped to my feet, and my heart was about to explode. I read those words and I knew that this was the beginning of the end of a friendship that I treasured more than anything. These were the words that I feared most of all, because it was not at all what I wanted to read, but unfortunately what I was dreading. He could not deal with what I had said. It was too much for him, and he didn’t know how to move forward from here. A brother-ship divinely called, would now be over. This was one of the hardest lessons that I had to learn, because like I mentioned it was all about trust to me. It was all about believing in someone enough that even when you expose that part of who you are to them, they would still be there. In fear of sounding dramatic, it actually felt that all that I had known was now crumbling before my eyes. It was the proverbial end-of-life-as-I-knew-it moment, and there was nothing that I could to stop it. It was too late. I said what I had said, and now it was time for me to bear the consequence.

I think the hardest part for me, looking back at it, was that what I had told him had actually nothing to do with him. It was about something that I was going through, and even though it involved him, it was still about what I felt and me as a person. It was never intended to become something that he now had to deal with. All I wanted was his assurance that it would not change our friendship. The way he chose to deal with the information that I gave him took me by surprise, and really that is what hurt the most. It was never supposed to become about him. It was always just supposed to be about how I finally decided to take a step towards what I thought was the right direction and allowed my vulnerability to get me to a place of actual healing.

A few days had passed after he sent that message, and then a few weeks. We stopped talking entirely. He refused to acknowledge me, refused to speak to me, refused to forgive me. Or maybe that is an unfair statement to make. Maybe he did forgive me, but still did not know how to show it or even how to move past it. But I thought to myself that it is okay, because I knew he needed to deal with whatever was happening so that we can move past all of it, even if that meant that I have to give him time to do so. So even though it was really hard, I understood. I put aside the hurt and disappointment I felt and allowed him the time he needed to move past it, and find a way for us to be friends again. I really wanted to just go back to where things were before, and I knew that in order for that to happen I needed to give him space to be okay with it. I needed to give him time to see me as a friend again, and to trust me again to bare himself before me as he once did.

If I’m honest, there were moments where I resented him and really just wanted him to get over whatever insecurity he felt towards a man dealing with homosexuality,  dealing with the ‘religious consequence’ of what it meant to be gay, and really just dealing with me, but I knew that it was unfair. I couldn’t resent him, because what I had told him was big, and it was a big deal. There are always two sides to any situation, and unfortunately this was his. So I had to allow him his own journey to self-discovery.

A few weeks had passed since all of this started, and unfortunately it was not getting any better. Even though it was such a hard thing to do, I had to make peace with the fact that maybe this really was the end to our friendship. We still hadn’t spoken, and in fact, more and more of the friends that I had made started distancing themselves. I think that ultimately what it was about was that most of them believed that the lifestyle that I was in a way easing myself into, was something that they could not accept, and in turn could not accept me for. I can, to this day, not say with any real fact why they reacted the way that they did, but the fact of the matter was that I was pushed away, and this was what I had feared the most.

I was called into the Pastors’ office, one last time, and a part of me knew what the conversation was going to be about, but then again I was not ready for it. I believe that there was a part of me that knew what was coming, but nothing can really prepare you for the words. What it had all come down to was that because of what had happened with Charlie, the church felt that I could not represent what they stood for with all that was going on, and they felt that it would be better that I stepped down from all forms of serving immediately. This was very hard to hear, and in truth I could not even speak or respond. The Pastor continued and said that because of this, they could not see where I would actually serve any purpose working in the church anymore because they could not trust me to lead effectively because of this. My heart was broken.

I have heard people reference the words “my life fell apart”, and I never really grasped what that meant until this moment. It was over. Every sacrifice, every minute spent, all the hard work done in just one single conversation.

In this moment I did the only thing that I thought I could do, so I said that because of this, I will resign. I thought that at least a resignation looked better than a dismissal because I realised that I would have to find another job. It was unreal in so many different ways. But it had all come to this moment, and even though it broke my heart and I thought this was the worst possible thing that could happen, deep down there was a single sense of relief that all the struggle and hurt from the last few years had reached a climax and I knew that healing could begin.

R – Peace be with you.

Justin’s Story: Part Three

Welcome to Part Three of Justin’s week taking over the Blog! Be kind to him, he’s doing a really brave thing, as we have the honour of being the first to ever receive his story. Find him on Twitter at @thejustingriggs, go say Hi and Well done! – R

I had made a friend over the years at the church and we grew really close. We will call him Charlie for the sake of the story. Charlie had always known about my sexuality, but unfortunately also believed that it was wrong and that it was something that I could change or overcome, so we never really spoke about it. He, just like everybody else, believed that if I really wanted to, that I could make the choice to change that part of myself and live the ‘natural’ life that God had intended for me. Even though we never spoke about it, we both knew that it was there and that it was a constant struggle, but we avoided the topic regardless. It was just always the metaphorical gay elephant in the room. In spite of all of that, we still were really close. Only now I realise that this isn’t what friendship is supposed to be.

Don’t get me wrong, the friends I had did accept me in spite of my sexuality, being there was a constant push to try and be different. This was all I knew eventually, that who I am goes against God and that I HAD to change in order for me to live the life that He had intended for me. The cancer was eating away at every part of me that made me who I am, and the people in my life was feeding it.

I saw Charlie as a brother, and he saw me as the same. The bond that we shared was something that I had never experienced with any other person, and we always spoke openly to one another. I accepted him even with his flaws and own things he was dealing with, just the same way he accepted me. We both realised and understood that people had things that they deal with on a daily basis, and I guess we both decided that none of that was going to get in the way of the friendship that we had. I wonder sometimes if that was really what he felt, or was it just one of those things that he never really wanted to bring up or discuss, because he didn’t really know how. Was it a friendship built on solid trust, or was it more of a tolerance to what he chose to avoid? Still, we trusted one another with anything and everything.

One of the most difficult things that I had to admit to myself was that somewhere along the way my feelings for him started going from brotherly love, to a different kind of love that I had never known. Not even in previous relationships that I had. This made things so much worse, because now not only have a got this disease that I am fighting, but also a mix of emotions towards the person that I thought of as a brother. I started seeing this as a threat to our friendship, and it scared me. You have to understand that rejection was and has always been something that I really struggled with, and the thought of this ‘issue’ of mine, rejection seemed like something that could potentially become more real than what I was willing to risk. But no matter how hard I tried; the feelings would not go away. The cancer had spread, and was now more relentless than ever.

There is a lot more to this part of the story, which I will not get into, but I could see that our friendship was busy taking strain and there were a lot of things that we were avoiding. I have to take responsibility for the part that I had in everything that had happened, because a lot of what went wrong was because I crossed multiple lines in our friendship and that is something that I will have to forgive myself for. We started having arguments about the silly stuff, and I knew that I was going to have to talk to him about what was going on. So, I did. I believed that he deserved to know the truth, even though a part of me already knew that there is a really good chance that he already does. People always say that once some doors are opened, that they can never be closed again, but I knew deep down inside that this was a door that I was going to have to open, even if there was a massive risk involved.

I thought for sure that I was going to have a panic attack. My whole body was shaking and I knew that this conversation could go one of two ways. It could be received as a moment of truth and acceptance, and there could be a way to move forward from it, or it could potentially end a friendship that I thought I really needed in my life. I wasn’t even sure why I wanted to tell him, because I knew that it wouldn’t change the way that I felt, but I also realised that it was time to start letting some of the stuff out that I kept hidden for so long. I can honestly say that the intention was never to tell him how I felt, and then hoped that somehow, he would say that he felt the same way and we would end up happily together. That was not what it was about at all. It was purely to try and get some weight off my shoulders and try and feel some sort of relief knowing that I am not carrying this thing alone. That this friendship would be strong enough that even though I expose that part of myself, I have someone willing to stand with me and help me through a really bad time of my life.

I went over to his place to finally have this conversation, but I could not get myself to speak. He saw that I was struggling to say what I really wanted to say so he started asking me what was going on. He said that whatever it was that I could tell him anything and trust him with it. That the only way he could help me is if he knew what was actually going on. This was the key thing to me – he said that I could trust him with whatever. If someone assures you in that way that no matter what you say, you will not be rejected and pushed away, and then that trust is broken, that is something that leaves a really big scar in your life. I remember telling him that he won’t like what I had to say and that is why I was scared to tell him. He assured me that nothing I could say would ever make him think less of me and that he was willing to take my hand and walk through whatever was happening with me.

So, I finally gave in and I told him. It wasn’t an undying confession of love. It was purely a friend, telling another friend that somewhere along the way feelings got mixed up and confused, and I needed a way to move past it. It felt like a massive weight had been lifted from my shoulders and I could finally breathe. It was like running a marathon, and you knew that the finish line was close so you push and push and give it everything that you have to make it across that finish line. And when you finally do, and you fall into the ground, grabbing your chest hoping that that will help you catch a breath. The feeling you get when breath finally comes back to you and you can feel your whole body just ease from tension and finally begin to relax. That is how I felt at that moment. I thought I could breathe again. I thought that it was safe to breathe again.

Charlie was shocked and just blankly stared at me for a moment. He definitely was not expecting that. After a few moments (a few moments that felt like hours) he said that its okay and that he understood. That was the feeling of breath returning to my lungs; it was okay. He said that he really wanted to help me with this, and that he was willing to do what he could to help me. Another breath; I was beginning to breathe easier. He told me that the only way we can work through all of this though is if I speak to our pastor and tell him what was going on. He said that this thing is so much bigger than what he thinks he can handle, so he doesn’t want to handle it on his own. I respected that, because I knew this whole thing was a lot bigger than either one of us, so I agreed and I made an appointment for the next day.

I wish I could say that things started getting better after this, but it didn’t. That night was unfortunately the last time we had an actual conversation. Essentially the last time we spoke as friends; as brothers. The events that followed that meeting changed my whole entire life, and shook everything that I thought I knew about friendship. About love, trust and acceptance. If I had known that things were about to turn for the worst, I would have appreciated the seemingly fresh breath of air that I experienced that night. But then again, you never see the real tragedies of your life until you are standing right in the middle of them.

Peace be with you – R

Justin’s Story: Part Two

Welcome to Part Two of Justin’s week taking over the Blog! Be kind to him, he’s doing a really brave thing, as we have the honour of being the first to ever receive his story. Find him on Twitter at @thejustingriggs, go say Hi and Well done! – R

For so long I thought that the pressures were coming from everyone around me, but it took me a long time to realise that these pressures actually came from within. Insecurity birthed in self-resentment. A part of me believed that I have already come this far, I couldn’t just give up. I still believed that I wanted to change, but the only difference now was that I no longer wanted to change for myself, but rather for the people in my life. Did I ever want to change? I ponder on this often. Was the fact that I started believing that being gay was wrong because I was conditioned to think that way, or did I actually believe it? And if I really believed it, would it be so hard for me to overcome it?

If you think about alcoholism, when a person realises that he has a problem with drinking, and makes the decision to stop, he puts down the bottle and walks away. Same with any other addiction, you simply walk away from it. Hard is it may be, you still have the choice to turn away from it. How do you walk away from who you are on the inside? What could I have put down in order to let go of my ‘problem’? No, I knew that it was something that I did not have to overcome, I knew it was not a problem, yet I still chose to make it one. I chose this for the people in my life that I did not want to lose, and one of my greatest fears were to let them down, and that they would leave me.

Ironically, this was also one of my biggest regrets. I did not want to be pushed away or pushed aside, because for a long time in my life I believed that people always leave, and that no relationship ever lasts. But I was not going to let that happen this time. So, I pushed. I continued fighting against this thing that I started telling myself was wrong, regardless of how it made me feel on the inside. I remember days where I felt so lost in my own identity that I had no idea who I was. Eventually it just got easier to be who I thought other people wanted me to be. I lived this way until I lost my identity entirely. I had no idea who I was and what I wanted out of life. All I knew was that I had to be a certain way, with different people, in order to conform to their standard of life. I had no idea what was right or what was wrong. Or rather, I knew the difference, I just never felt like my opinion on the matter had any real meaning or relevance, so I just followed the status quo.

Looking back at it all, I realise that I had come full circle back to the place of basically hating myself. I went through a journey of resenting who I was when I was younger, to a place where I loved and accepted myself and found that identity in God, back to a place where God was no longer even featuring in my life, and ultimately back to the self-resent. Through all of this, through losing myself and my own identity one thing remained constant – I knew that my perceived disease was not giving in. I was not changing.

I remember having a conversation with myself one day, trying to make sense of what was busy happening on the inside, trying to understand why I was feeling the way that was feeling because I was so sure that this was what I wanted. I was sure this disease was something that I wanted out of me and finally be rid of, and I was willing to fight for it. But if this was the case, then why did I feel like I was busy doing more harm to myself than good? How did it get to this? All of this happened over time, but still somehow it felt like a sudden awakening to a reality that I had no desire to be a part of. It was like waking up from a nightmare in the middle of the night, heart pounding in your chest, and for a moment it feels like you have forgotten how to breathe. This is how I felt when I suddenly woke to what my life has now become. There were actual nights where I would wake up in the middle of the night feeling like I was having a panic attack. Anxiety slowly began to take a hold of me and I could start feeling the effects that it was having on my body.

There were many nights that I could not sleep and over time it really started taking its toll. It is hard enough to go through an internal battle, but when the fight starts affecting your reality and the way that you live your life, physical exhaustion really does not help your cause. Again you have to understand that the way that I felt about all of this had actually nothing to do with being gay, but I think the fact that I suppressed so much of what I was feeling, and what keeping that side of myself hidden was doing to my self-esteem, all played a part to my own mental state of mind. All I wanted was to go back to when I felt happy with being myself, open and honest and not have the pressure of trying to be something different. Not having the pressure of fitting into the box that this new life had laid out for me, and no matter how hard I tried I just did not fit.

I had no idea how I got here. For so long I was consumed by being busy, or distracted with pleasing everyone else around me, that I never saw it coming. Oh, believe me, the signs were there. I chose not to see them. I had to be honest with myself and I decided that this was my defence mechanism. This is what I did to not have to deal with any of it. I avoided. I ultimately turned my back on myself and decided that I was not going to pay any attention to what I was feeling, because I realised that the moment I started paying attention to these emotions, I am going to have to deal with them. Have you ever been a place where you turn your back on yourself? If you are no longer willing to fight for what you believe or to stand for what you believe. I was in such a place. I told myself that I had avoided my own feelings and well-being for so long, to just keep doing it will not make any difference. This is how far I had lost myself at this point. That I did not even care that I was not happy, or that I was so afraid of conflict on this matter that I avoided it regardless of what I was going through. I taught myself that if I buried something deep enough it would never resurface, which meant that I never had to deal with it.

I think what hurt the most was I felt all of this while being part of the church. The thing that I wanted to do more than anything was the thing that was causing me more pain. There were times where I thought that the solution is simple, that all I needed to do was to leave and then I get to be who ever I wanted to be without having to be afraid of judgement. But you see, I loved these people. More than I loved myself. The friendships that I had built, the way serving in the church made me feel, the way when I spoke to people and they could see the love and care of God in my eyes, these were the things that I could not give up. I couldn’t imagine what else I would do if I could not do this anymore.

Reality is, that is the way that I was made to feel, that if you fall short from the expectations of those around you then you disqualify yourself from all this life has to offer. That is why I kept pushing the lie, that is why I kept on lying to myself, and to everyone around me because I did not want to lose what I had.

Unfortunately, it was at about this stage where things became really bad. I was in a really dark place and I had no idea how to get out. I was trapped in a dark maze of confusion, with no map or no idea where I was going. I was lost in a state of confusion and hurt. How nobody realised what I was going through is a mystery to me even today. Could no one hear the cries for help, or see that something was wrong? There were moments where I would reach out to friends and tell them that I am not okay and that I need help, but I was always told that I just need to keep on fighting. Things will get better. It felt like a generic answer that you give to someone when you don’t really know what else to say. I don’t even know what I wanted them to do, how could they help? All I knew was that I was dangling on the edge and my fingers were slipping.

Then came the moment where it all changed, the moment that would set of a chain of events that part of me knew was coming. This was the day that I finally decided to seek help, and be open and honest about what was going on inside of me.

Trust was always something that I struggled with. It was one of those things that if broken too many times, you just never trust again. What does trust even mean? I believe it is that moment, where you completely and utterly expose yourself to someone else, a naked vulnerability of sorts. To bare a part of who you are, hoping that it would be received in complete acceptance and love.  I met someone.  A man.

Peace be with you – R

Justin’s Story: Part One

Neither of these lovely men is Justin, but he is also the image of God, gay and lovely!

Welcome to Part One of Justin’s week taking over the Blog! Be kind to him, he’s doing a really brave thing, as we have the honour of being the first to ever receive his story. Find him on Twitter at @thejustingriggs, go say Hi and Well done! – R

You know those moments in your life where whatever happens, the outcome completely alters the way that you move forward, or sometimes even completely changes the course of where you are going entirely? I have had a few such moments, and would like to share some of these if you would indulge me?

One thing that I want to make clear is that this is in no way intended to knock the church in any way, or to talk against any congregation, this is simply my own personal experiences and what I have learned from those experiences. This is by no means intended to be malicious against the church, or church goers.

Going all the way back to the beginning I feel would be irrelevant, so rather here is my basic back story. Being a young homosexual boy is something I am sure many people out there can relate to. The struggle of acceptance is something that is very real to all of us. Accepting yourself, being accepted by others or generally just how to deal with the lack of acceptance all round. I grew up knowing deep down inside who I was. The challenge was trying to come to terms with that reality, especially in the society that we live in. This is something, or rather, used to be something that very few people understood and even fewer people accepted. This was very hard for me, because how was I supposed to accept myself in the years of identifying who I am, or discovering myself, if I grew up in a world that would do its best to make you believe that it is an unnatural way of living and the very definition of being gay goes against any kind of belief and even the natural order of things. This is what we are taught to belief, and for many people it was a forbidden topic that nobody dared discuss. The sad thing about this is that as a young man, a lot of who I (or all of us for that matter) will become one day is a direct result of the way people not only see us, but shape the way that we see ourselves through affirmations, acceptance, rejection, judgement; words or actions that will either build us up or break us down. All of these have the power to either help us see ourselves as having worth to the world, or in some sad instances cause us to see ourselves than less than who we actually are.

Thing is, few people understand the fragile state of a human heart. Not the actual muscle that pumps blood through your body, but the condition of your mental state of mind; the spiritual or immaterial part of ourselves that make us human. If there is a flaw in moulding this part of ourselves growing up, the part that make us who we are, then no wonder so many out their struggle with finding their own identity. All of this taken into account, I went through a journey of self-discovery and tried to make sense of who I am and where I fit into the world.

Eventually I came to a place where I had made up my mind and for the first time in a very long time had peace with being gay, or at least with what I understood what being gay meant. Regardless, I knew that I was uniquely created and equally loved just the way that I am. I think that from a young age I had to learn that there are parts of who you are that people will not accept or agree with, but that you are given one life, and it is up to you to live it as authentically as possible.

I have always been one of those people who went to church, not because I was forcibly woken on a Sunday morning by my parents because I HAD to go to church, but having an actual relationship with God has always been a part of who I am. I made up my mind that He still loves me regardless of what identification I find in gender, but that He sees my heart and loves me, in spite of all of that. This was hard at times, because I struggled to understand how God could love me for who I am, because for such a long time I couldn’t love myself, and I didn’t know how to be happy in that state of mind. It was a confusing time of my life! You see this came from the way that society made me believe that being gay, or being different was wrong. It boils down to the way that people feel like they can enforce an opinion, even though these opinions are built on the premise of understanding. Have you ever tried telling someone else with a strong opinion that you do not agree with the way they see the situation, but they just refuse to budge? Or refuse to see your perspective of said situation because they are convinced that sexuality is a fairly black and white context, with no real ‘grey-room’? But how can you fully understand something or a situation if you have not actually been there yourself? Or at least actively standing in it.  I ask myself this question many times.

If you build your premise on homosexuality as being a sin, and use the Bible to prove this by saying that we should be more God-like and follow the rules outlined by God, but then overlook the fundamental principle on which salvation and God Himself are based – which is unconditional love – and using this as a point of argument, are you not putting a condition on the love of God and then calling it biblical?

To me church was safe. I felt like I have a home in the church, and it gave me great joy to worship God in whatever form. I have always been someone drawn to music, and eventually started playing music in the local church band and then inevitably joined the church. I believe that God will equip you with whatever you need in order to walk in whatever purpose He has called you for, and to me at that stage felt like it could be music for me. This is what really got me into the church, and I knew that this is a place that I wanted to be in. I remember though when signing the membership form that there was a portion in their statement of faith saying that as a church they believed in natural heterosexual relationships between man and woman. I remember thinking that maybe that disqualified me from joining the church, and for a moment I thought that maybe I should not become an official member but rather just ‘causally’ attend weekly. Part of the requirements of being part of the music ministry was that you had to be an official member of the church, so I signed the form thinking that I will just keep that part of who I am a secret – my first mistake.

Regardless, things were great. Things were looking up. I even came to a place where I met someone (outside of the church) and I would even go as far as to say that we were dating for the better part of three years. I truly felt that life could not get any better. Even though I was in a gay relationship, I still maintained a good and healthy spiritual life, committed myself to prayer and read my Bible, faithfully went to church and loved serving. I was not prepared to let a relationship compromise that.

I have to note at this point that somewhere along the way my parents found out about the relationship as I was forced into a situation where I had to come out to them; even though it was a hard thing to do, they eventually started accepting me for who I am, and the relationship that I have with them is great even to this day. This made it all a whole lot easier, having parents that accepted me for who I am, and not causing anymore unnecessary pressure to have to change in order to fit into the norm. I think that a lot of the pressure that young people face with being gay really comes from home first. In a way, you can expect outsiders to have an opinion or judgement about who you are or how you choose to live your life in terms of sexuality (even though homosexuality is not a choice, but living true to yourself is) but if that rejection starts at home it can be a really difficult thing to deal with. At the end of the day a child relies on a parent to love them no matter what, and I think that the acceptance I found from home made me more comfortable to be honest and open with myself which allowed me to accept and love myself.

So, all this said, fast forward 10 years later and this is where one of the biggest life changing moments happened.

One of the greatest days of my life was the day that I got the call. That which I had worked for so hard, and for so long had finally become my reality. I was offered a full-time position at the church. This was the dream. This was what it was all about, this moment right here. I remember sitting in the pastor’s office when they broke the news, and an overwhelming sensation of joy, excitement; an array of emotions came over me because I felt like it had all finally paid off. The years of struggling with acceptance, confusion about sexuality, finding purpose and discovering the all-important question – “Why am I here?” suddenly meant nothing because of this very moment right here. At this moment, nothing else mattered.

But. Looking back at it now, I realised that was where the problems began.

Maybe saying problems is the wrong way of phrasing it, but this is where things started going wrong. I was somewhat consumed by the fact that I finally got the job that I have wanted for so long, that a part of me forgot about what was really happening on the inside. I still knew that I was gay, but since I started lying to myself when I joined the church, it became easier to suppress that feeling. I found myself being one of those people I referred to that just avoided the topic and refused to deal with my sexuality. I have made peace with it after all. Fact is, I was still scared or partially ashamed for having this secret, so I made an appointment with the pastor before this to talk about it, and we agreed that it would be something that I would fight and ultimately overcome. I still don’t know why I said that I really wanted to change this part of me, but I think it all comes down to the fact that all I wanted was to be accepted, so I did the only thing I knew to do, and that was agree with the belief that being gay was wrong, and that I wanted help to change.

One of the first things that I thought was that I am not sure if I agree that it was something that needs to be overcome, because I did not see anything wrong with it. Having to overcome something implies that there is an issue or a challenge, but I did not believe that there was. I realised that the notion of being gay could potentially cause me a lot of trouble, so I told myself that maybe it is something that I can fight off. I started believing the lie that I was living a life that was unacceptable to God. If I am completely honest, a part of me did actually believe that it was something that I really wanted to beat, as if it was a disease, a cancer inside my body that they still haven’t found a cure for, and it was all up to me to just force my brain to think differently. To re-write, or re-program a life time worth of thinking. To change my thought patterns on how I saw myself, how I saw my life, how I saw my relationship with God, how I saw the church. It was basically a brain reboot, and whatever I thought for the past 30 years of my life had now become irrelevant. This is what happens when you allow the opinions or voices of others to silence your own voice, and let their opinions cloud your own judgement.

Before all of this I was at a place where I was happy with who I am, and accepted myself for it. I knew that God loved me and that He had such great plans for me, but for some or other reason I completely pushed all that down because I felt like I met people that completely accepted me and loved me for who I am, but not realising that there was a condition attached to that acceptance and love. I had to change who I was in order for them to accept me for who I wasn’t. I had to pretend that I was something that I wasn’t.

How do you even begin to comprehend what that means? I had no idea what the damage would be to myself, or to my self-esteem to consistently live with the thought of “who you are is wrong, you have to change”. Looking back at it now, I realise that if you seek approval or acceptance from people, they will make it really hard for you to be who you actually want to be, or sometimes even need to be. As I mentioned above, their words or actions can cause you to see yourself in many different ways. Unfortunately for me, the acceptance of the people that I met through this time meant a lot more to me than being comfortable with who I am, that I sacrificed my own happiness in order for people to like me. I never realised that these relationships were built on a dishonest truth, and ultimately could not be sustained because of it. All I knew was that these people showed me love and acceptance (albeit built on a lie) and I felt a sense of worth that I had not felt before. I should have built my relationship with God in order for me to grow stronger in who I knew I was, but instead my trust shifted to people. But these are lessons that I had to learn unfortunately.

Like any kind of disease, I did not realise that there was a problem, and that a lot of things that were happening was not allowing me to live an authentic life. I didn’t realise the symptoms of what was happening straight away. You see, I refer to being gay at this point as having something like a disease, because ultimately it is something that we are led to believe is by choice, and ultimately if a choice was made to be this way, then there is a choice to change. Almost like getting vaccinated against this unnatural behaviour and eventually being ‘cured’. This is purely a perception of the world. Don’t get me wrong, this was not my way of thinking, I accepted myself. But this is what I was taught over the years as a part of belief, built on biblical principle. By this point I think a lot of damage had already been done, and I could start feeling it in the way that I saw myself, or the way that I thought other people saw me. I had this consistent fear of never being good enough, never meeting the expectations of others or live up to their standards. I think that that is what happens when you live in a constant lie, or suppress what you really feel or think. It’s like a part of yourself is hidden on the inside, and no matter how desperately that part wants to come out, you refuse to acknowledge your inner-man’s cry, and continue to live a suppressed life. I have to point out that the way I felt at was completely on me, it was my own doing. Whatever happened over that time I allowed it to happen.

R – Justin.  You were a victim of Spiritual Abuse and you need never take ownership of that. Thank you again for your courage to share and I pray you will see from the responses your get that you need never, ever blame yourself for the actions of those cruel enough to take away your self-love, falsely using the name of God to do so. 

Peace be with you.

A Prayer for Sunday 16th August 2020

Abba, You who loves dearly all You created, however they look, feel, identify or express themselves, we thank You for your unfailing, unyielding, uncompromising adoration which holds us when we stumble, cradles us when we weep and enfolds us when we lean in. We lean in now Spirit as we pause at the end of another week, facing the threshold of a new set of days with their own promises and challenges.

This week I pray for all those touched in any way by the ‘Clobber’ verses posts here on this Blog. God may you lead them through any journeys you have encouraged, indeed any precipices which need to be stepped off. May my own thoughts and perceptions be continually examined and may You always be at the centre of everything we do as Christians trying to follow you.

I lift up J to you oh Jesus, as he prepares to share his testimony on the Blog this week. Bring him peace and a sense of calm as he takes this brave and vulnerable step. Give him joy and release as he knows he is following your calling, and may he know he is help before You by many celebrating his witness to the world.

In Jesus name, Amen

Peace be with you

Those ‘Clobber’ Verses: Afterthoughts

So, after yesterday’s epic post on the Clobber versus used to teach against homosexuality, I wanted to end the week by pointing to some resources which give us positive teaching, verses we can use to celebrate diversity and difference, break the shackles of old covenant teaching (if we believe homosexual behaviour is prohibited under this) and become free to move towards the full acceptance and embrace of our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, whatever their sexual orientation or gender expression. Again, I’m scratching the surface of the wealth of information out there, and choosing what has meant the most to me. Feel free to explore what appeals to you the most.

One of the most impactful testimonies for me was Vicky Beeching’s testimony ‘Undivided‘, a sometimes harrowing tale of her journey from popular Worship Leader and Songwriter travelling all over America, to losing it all overnight when finally coming out as gay, having known it all her life. Beeching has put up with so much abuse, vitriol and criminal abuse for having shared her story it is shameful. Yet I applaud and thank her for sharing it, because it is vital we hear it. I encourage anyone who wants to read more following my post yesterday to start there.

In it, Beeching talks about Peter’s vision in Acts 10, when, faced with a conflict over a non-Jew wishing to become a follower of Christ, “He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.” (Acts 10:11-16, NIV). Beeching, and others, have used this text to argue that where God has called people clean, who is anyone else to judge them as otherwise, and where gay people are called to ministry, demonstrating the fruits of the spirit, living lives of demonstrable Christian witness, living authentic relationships with Christ at the centre, no-one has any right to call them unclean, or sinful. Just as I have no right to call my husband sinful because he is sitting next to me wearing clothes made of mixed materials (Leviticus 19:19) or because we make love whatever time of the month it may be (Leviticus 19:19).

What does Jesus say about the issue? Well, that would be… nothing. At all. However if I was to give you his words on love, acceptance, supporting the marginalised, caring for the oppressed, breaking down barriers, loving those others do not love, breaking social conventions and rewriting the laws in the spirit of God’s community, you’d be reading this blog for a month. I think it’s safe to say Jesus was on the side of the LGBTQ+ community, and if anyone would like to challenge me on that I will happily do a blog on this alone another day.

For further voices around LGBTQ+ acceptance, I would highly recommend ‘The Book of Queer Prophets‘ curated by Ruth Hunt, and incredible compilation of stories and essays from those with lived experience of being faithfully LGBTQ+. Twitter is a treasure trove of amazing queer folk and allies, speaking out and supporting each other, it has been an absolute honour and a joy to find them all. There are too many to name check so if you would like to follow up, do go to my Twitter, @DeChurching and view my Following list, you will find many of the key voices there.

There is so much out there, from many aspects of the argument and for many it is such an emotive issues. I am so glad to say I have made my decision and I am at peace with it, I celebrate it and I rejoice in the renewed freedom of spirit it has brought me, my relationships with others and God. However, I will keep reading, keep learning, keep trying to connect with all wherever they are on the journey, and I so hope and pray these blogs help you, wherever you are.

Peace be with you.

Those ‘Clobber’ Verses: Discussion

Having given lots of context in my blog yesterday, which I urge you to read before you read this one, I’m going to dive straight in today. I’m going to look at the main verses of the Bible used to teach against homosexuality and gender fluidity in the order they appear, and discuss one alternative interpretation which therefore introduces reasonable doubt into the absolute certainty of their truth and allow for Christians to hold differing stances while still being in communion with each other in Christ. There are many many others, and this blog merely touches the tip of the iceberg in a bid to make it readable over a cup of tea as opposed to an urnful!

Firstly, and this applies to all the subsequent verses from Genesis, interpretation of these verses depends in the first instance on what you understand Genesis to be. Personally, I understand Genesis as a vast, epic creation narrative, an oral tradition written down after thousands of years of telling and retelling, from parent to child, with seeds of historical accuracy but more akin to mythology than history. At the other end of the scale there are Christians close to me who value Genesis as an absolute historical record and believe everything happened exactly as written. How we therefore engage with the verses we are about to explore will be very much affected by this understanding of their context.

Genesis 1:27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (NIV).

It is worth pointing out Genesis 1:27 is not part of the Adam and Eve narrative and is not specifically telling the story of two individuals. ‘Mankind’ is used to represent all people, not specifically gendered to males, and perhaps more appropriately translated as ‘Humans’ (see CEV – Contemporary English Version). ‘Male and Female he created them’ is perhaps a little more problematic. However when we look at the Hebrew language, we see that gender is binary, masculine and feminine. The previous part of the verse used the word ‘Adam’ we later see as the singular name as a plural (‘Humans’), now the writer is emphasising the wholeness of God’s creation by using the full range of linguistic description available to them, in Hebrew this being two genders, masculine and feminine (whereas for example in Polish there can be up to five). Therefore this passage could mean ‘So God made people in Their own image, in the image of God They created them; all types of people They created them’. In all of us there is something of a reflection of God, and this is the emphasis of the verse, not the specifics of biological sex we have come to focus on.  Look at the beauty of that image once we peel away the binary labels we insist people must fit in order to meet the requirements for God’s love!

You may completely disagree that my suggested interpretation is a reasonable one. But it could be. There is potential for reasonable doubt, is there not?

Genesis 1:28 “God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; (NIV)”

I have seen it argued that homosexuality is against God’s plan because gay couples cannot naturally reproduce. Well, neither can many many heterosexual couples because of a vast range of reasons, and I am sure most Christians would agree arguing they are not worthy of a place at the table with Christ because of illness, life circumstances or abusive experiences would be cruel. So I reject that argument outright for the same reasons. I also recognise the blessings and hard work of many gay parents out there who raise children through blended families, adoption, assisted conception and many other routes just as heterosexual people do, with an equal human right to do so. If the previous verse applies to all whom God creates regardless of gender, this one does too.

Genesis 2:18 “The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him. (NIV)”

Reminding ourselves ‘the man’ here is ‘Adam’ which is being used as genderless pronoun at this point, equivalent to ‘the person’, there is only one person and gender is not yet in existence. There is no gender given for the helper either. The text translates as a partner, a helpmeet, but with no suggestion this needs to be a woman.

Genesis 2:23-25 “The man said,

This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (NIV)

The way verse 23 is written suggests poetry, as I have demonstrated in leaving the text as presented in most Bibles, with new Hebrew words being used in this place that aren’t used anywhere else.  Here is the first division of ‘ish (man) and ‘ishshah’ (woman), but the terms are to denote separation, two equal yet different entities, specific to this creation moment, not to define two different sexes from which nothing will ever vary.  It is important to note at this point the Rabbis of the Jewish Mishnah freely discuss four genders in their writings, allowing for variation from two sexes in the Torah within 9 chapters of where we are now (See Kukla in Ruttenberg, 2009) We then have verse 24 which talks about a man leaving his parents – at this point we just have the two individuals created by God, so this becomes a more general footnote at the end of the poem. 

The term used for ‘clings to’ his wife is used by Paul in Ephesians to denote a faithful covenant, and talks about a state of relationship.  Becoming one flesh has an obvious face value meaning, but the Hebrew points to the establishment of a new family.  So therefore the translation could become ‘Therefore a man leaves his creators and commits to his partner, and they become a new family’, without needing to sexualise any of it.  The word ‘marriage’ is never used, the concept as we have it is a societal construct that has no parallel in the times of the scriptures, therefore to comment marriage is good based on the text is flawed.  Two separate beings entering into this new family unit together is necessary, but that they are strictly sexed at this point is relating to two characters in a story, not a hard and fast rule for everyone.

Genesis 19 – The Story of Sodom & Gomorrah (TW: Sexual Violence, proceed with discretion)

This Bible story, from which the term ‘sodomy‘ is (arguably wrongly) derived, tells the tale of two angels who came to visit who were then threatened with gang rape by a group of men from the village. This is often used as an argument against homosexuality. However there is some important context to this. In verse 3 we are told the angels’ host Lot insisted they join him in his home, and gave them a meal with unleavened bread. Thus he was demonstrating the greatest honour to his guests, binding himself to them as their protector for the evening. When the group then came to the door demanding their bodies, the commitment made to the angels as guests was so serious, Lot taking the shocking action of offering his virgin daughters instead (verse 8) was a preferable violation to letting the men be abused. Just pause there for a moment …

This passage is not about homosexuality. It is about men with evil intentions and the desperate choices good people are driven to when they strive to maintain God’s laws in impossible situations. The sexual orientation or identity of the individuals (indeed, angels are often identified as androgynous) is irrelevant.

Leviticus 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; (NIV)”

I am absolutely persuaded by the many contextual and linguistic arguments that the verse in question comes from a passage listing a series of incests, and therefore is a further addition to this list; this interpretation renders the recognised translations erroneous and the passage would be better translated as ‘you shall not lie with a close male relative as you would your wife’. I learned a lot from this excellent 2014 article by Kelly Kraus I would refer you to, and also this, unfortunately anonymous blog.

Romans 1

This is an extended passage which includes the only reference to lesbian sex in verses 26-27: “For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (ESV)” However, the main body of the text is discussing the Romans and their approach to living. Paul’s teaching to the church in Corinth here is about idolitry, and here the unnatural relations in same sex couplings is due to the worship of the sexual partner in place of God. This is not an inherent homophobic text, the reference to homosexual acts is, on the face of it, an example of exchanging the god given good, or the natural intercourse with women, for the unnatural, so straight men having affairs with men.  This would not of course apply to already homosexual men for whom the natural order would already be to be with a man, and the sin is in the affair.  There is also evidence (Nyland, 2004) that the whole passage is an analogy for idolatry and nothing to do with sex at all!

1 Corinthians 6:9 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality (ESV)

The world translated as ‘men who practice homosexuality’ in this list of misdemeanours comes from two different words, the first being the the Greek Malakos. Malakos has no equivalent word for English translations, the nearest equivalent is the Roman ‘cinaedus’.  Cinaedi was a description for a specific group of people who were portrayed as cross dressing, effeminate and promiscuous, and therefore , in Paul’s opinion, to be avoided.  Corinth, where Romans was addressed to, was a Roman colony and therefore this word speaks into a very specific context – remember Paul’s letters were never meant to be ‘scripture’, they were just his letters at the time, and became scripture due to a vote in a council…

Arsenkoites has no equivalent word for English translations either.  The range of possibilities include anal penetrator (of men and/or women), rapist, murderer, extortionist.  The link to Leviticus 18 is erroneous as it is not presented as the whole word there, but two words which make up the same compound word – therefore it has been assumed to be the same but further study of ancient Greek texts would show this to be false (see Nyland, 2004).  The use of the full word (as opposed to the compound word made of two) is best seen in ancient Greek plays where it is used as ‘rapist’, making that the best translation for the usage in 1 Corinthians too.  It is worth noting it is the same term used for when the Sodomites wish to rape the angels in Genesis 19.

Therefore suggesting repentance from being a rapist is fair enough! But relating this passage to being homosexual is like relating being an abusive husband to being heterosexual. It doesn’t follow.

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I know that was a long haul, well done for getting this far! I want to add some additional verses which support and celebrate the addition of previously excluded peoples into the family of Christ. That is for another blog I think, and I will add a link once it is live (ETA now live here). For now, however you have responded to this one, take it to God. For in Them lies the the answers you may seek, the comfort you may need and the peace we all yearn for. It is where I am headed now.

Peace be with you.

References:

Anon (2016) Leviticus 18:22.  Available at https://blog.smu.edu/ot8317/2016/05/11/leviticus-1822/

Freedman, D.N (ed.) Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible. William B Eerdmans Publishing Co; Grand Rapids, MI

Kukla, E.R. “Created by the Hand of Heaven: Sex, Love, and the Androgynos”. In Ruttenberg, D., Ed. (2009) The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism. New York University Press: London

Nyland, A (2004) The Source New Testament

Those ‘Clobber’ Verses: Foreword

This couplet of blogs has been brewing for a very long time. Months of study, prayer, making notes, revising them, reading various versions of the Bible and supporting texts. I’m going to do my best to lay out the distilled version of what has led me to move from a stance of passive uncertainty around gay issues to one of outspoken allyship which has caused me trouble, cost me much and no doubt will do so still. It is so vital though that we do speak up in support of our LGBTQ+ Brothers and Sisters in Christ, for while full acceptance is not the norm, they will still live under a cloud of implicit glass ceilings or explicit rejection in the name of Jesus, and that cannot stand.

Please do forgive any clumsy wording, any untidy theological exposition or any mistakes I may make. I am not a PhD professor writing an academic thesis to share with the learned world. I am a young interested follower of Christ writing a blog post to share with the world at large. So, here goes.

In the UK Legal system, when we enter a Court of Law to prosecute a case, we have to prove beyond reasonable doubt our interpretation of events is the most truthful one in order to have it recorded as the accepted version. If there is reasonable doubt, or potential that another argument may have equal potential to be the most truthful on, a verdict of Not Guilty must be recorded. The threshold for this differs between Criminal and Civil prosecutions, which is why a victim of a crime may get some form of justice suing for civil reparations where a criminal prosecution may not have a demonstrable enough case.

I wonder how far much of what is in our Bible has been tested beyond reasonable doubt? Whether this would even be seen as an appropriate test to apply to it? Here is the reason I begin in this place. My NIV (New International Version) Bible mentions Junia, an Apostle with a female name, in Romans 16 V 7. However the popular American Standard Version names them Junias, a male name. Which is it. Can some think male and some think female, and both still hold true to the Bible? I’d suggest so. Some Christians interpret Jesus’ words of Luke 22:19 – ‘This is my body broken for you; do this in remembrance of me’ as a solemn instruction and prayer, leading to the formation of a ritual in which mere bread becomes the physical body of Christ through the Transubstantiation. Others see it as the recording of a toast at the centre of a highly charged and emotional final meal between friends, with Jesus asking his loved ones to repeat the action whenever they meet to remember their shared love, and that any re-enactment of this we do should be more akin to a ‘Cheers Jesus’ or a ‘Santé’. Who is right? Maybe one, maybe neither. Maybe both…

I often come back to Colossians 2:1-3, which tells us clearly of God’s mystery, and that the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are held in Jesus Christ. I am more than happy for Jesus to hold them and reveal to me what I need as I need it. I am also more than happy for God to hold the vast mysteries of Their world so I don’t need to hold it all in my little head. I sometimes have trouble holding what I have to cook for tea at night in it, so leaving the world to God is much safer! In doing so, I also accept some things I wish were binary will not be, some things I yearn to understand I won’t and some things I would love a clear answer on will always be shrouded with reasonable doubt.

What do I do in those situations? I come back to this, every time:

36 Master, which is the great commandment in the law? 37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. 38 This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matthew 22:36-40-KJV)

Peace be with you.