Keeping Up Appearances

Every Sunday night on OKC’s PBS affiliate OETA, a British block on the tele airs that includes: Keeping Up Appearances. It follows the antics of middle-class socialite Hyacinth Bucket (It’s pronounced Bouquet!). Nothing embarrasses Hyacinth more than her chav-esque brother-in-law Onslow. She can hear that he isn’t wearing a shirt even on her “white slim-line telephone with auto re-dialer.” She wants to be more like her wealthier sister Violet, who has “a Mercedes, sauna, and room for a pony.” Hyacinth’s biggest fear is that her neighbours will find out that her life isn’t as perfect as she projects it be. Hyacinth insists on formality and proper form as she tries to climb up the social ladder. Her rigid adherence to etiquette sends her falling embarrassingly back to the ground.

The Church shares some personality traits with Hyacinth Bucket; correcting people on trivial facts; insistence on tradition at the cost of relationships; the whitewashing of one’s past or current well being. The result is a Church that caters to the rich board member rather than the homeless non-church goer. The Church’s track record on women in ministry, science, LGBT issues, all have been swept under the public relations’ rug and ignored.

For example, the policy for women in ministry for the Church of the Nazarene has been inclusive since the church was founded, but the practice has been far from it. From 1920 to 1988 there were only two District Superintendents elected. 2005 was the first and only time a women has held the highest office as General Superintendent. Three of the General Superintendents currently elected only had a total of 3 women pastors on staff at two of the top ten largest Nazarene Churches in USA/Canada. When we retell the myth of inclusion for women, and still don’t have the numbers to back it up, that is keeping up appearances.

One doesn’t need to look any further then the story of Galileo. He was convicted of heresy for telling people the sun doesn’t revolve around the earth. The Church pointed to scripture to ‘prove’ Galileo wrong, that the sun in fact did rotate around the earth.  It would be another 500 years before Galileo would be exonerated by the Church that formerly banished him.

The Church’s power and influence is much like Hyancith’s. Those who wish to turn down Hyacinth simply because she won’t accept no for an answer. Similarly, those who wish to stand up to the well polished PR machine of the Church find themselves in an uphill climb. Wouldn’t the conversation about LGBT issues in the Church be different if the Church acknowledged that LGBT people go to Church and included them in the conversation?

Hyacinth has a desire to be around people of the best breeding in higher socio-economic classes like her sister Violet, and doesn’t her best to hide any connection she has with the lower ranks like that her two other sisters. Sadly the Church will cater to those who fit a certain mold instead of focusing on the people the Church is instructed to cater to, the outliers. The PR machine glosses over the homeless and those in poverty when putting pictures up on the Church website.

The Church’s effort to become a “glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle” has hurt many people. Because of it people have legitimate reasons never to step foot into a Church again, or associate themselves in any way with Christianity. The Church has got it backwards. We don’t become spotless and then show up on Sunday, we come as we are full of our sins, dirt, soils and stains. It is only when we acknowledge our faults to one another that the doors are open for the awesome power of redemption, forgiveness, and reconciliation to come through. We play this game of keeping up appearances so to look perfect. That game backfires and hurts the people the Church is supposed to protect.

It is embarrassing to admit mistakes. It is awkward. It is hard for the Church to admit it has gone about things in the wrong way because the Church is made up of people who hate to admit they are wrong. But God is stubborn just as much as we are. God will wait, and God won’t budge on loving us or loving on God’s Church. We don’t have to keep up the appearance of perfection when we are in the presence of God. Why should we when we are around God’s people? Let us all acknowledge our dirt together, for when we finally do, the sooner we shall be clean.

Much to Hyacinth’s chagrins her neighbours and friends know about her brother-in-law Onslow, and her sister Rose whose skirts are too tight and too short for public viewing, and they don’t care. They know, and they don’t care. Everyone seems to know that sinners go to Church except for the denominational Facebook page. How much more will God pour out God’s love on a Church that recognizes its faults and seeks forgiveness from the people it’s wronged?

Advent: The Hope of the Already, but Not Yet

Ty

When people ask me where I’m from, I say without hesitation, “Kansas City.” But that isn’t entirely true… I’ve never actually lived in Kansas City. I grew up 2.411 miles from Kansas City’s border, but that still isn’t in Kansas City. I grew up surrounded by all the great amenities Kansas City has to offer, the fountains, the Country Club Plaza, Swope Park, and KC Royals games, but I still wasn’t from Kansas City. A short 2.411 miles separated me from officially being from Kansas City. I was living almost in Kansas City, but not quite Kansas City.

Life is full of “almost, but not quite” moments too. For example, when people are engaged, they have committed themselves to one another symbolically, but haven’t legally yet. They are almost, but not quite, married. We uses phrases like “for all intents and purposes” or “close but no cigar” to cover the gray area of life’s in-between moments. Between what it technically is, and what we assume it to be.

We are in one of those gray areas right now. The season of Advent is the start of the Christian Calendar, and is celebrated on the four Sundays prior to Christmas, this year starting on Sunday, December 1st. Ordinary Time has come to an end, something different is about to happen, but it hasn’t happened yet. Celebrating Advent means we prepare our heart, mind, body, and soul, for the coming of Christ at Christmas. Advent elevates the way we go about life to a level that isn’t quite actualized yet.

It is easy to miss in the hyper-commercialized, hyper-consumerist culture that tells us that the reason for Christmas is to have a strong 4th Quarter. But behind the shopping, decorations, lights, holiday parties, and music is a call to live beyond those things and to refocus ourselves on something that is waiting up head: The Kingdom of God. It isn’t here yet, but isn’t completely separated from us. The Kingdom is here now, but not quite here fully.

The world we live in is hurting and broken. It is easy to say it is the “not here at all” Kingdom of God. But every now and then, we catch glimpses of this “now, but not yet Kingdom” through everyday people acting as the person of Christ. When people act as Jesus told us to act we steal a glance into that better reality. Jesus told us to look after those less fortunate then ourselves. He told us to love our enemies and forgive those who don’t deserve our forgiveness. He told us to love one another. He told us that some day the Kingdom of God will be here, but until that day comes we should actively engage the World, in ways that widen the view of the now but not yet Kingdom.

When we engage in the systems of the World in the counter-intuitive manner Jesus instructed, those systems of power and control begin to look different. The powers and principalities are themselves reformed and renewed in order to fit into this “now but not yet” Kingdom. As a gay Christian, it is the hope that Advent brings that gives me the ability to look beyond the current status of the church, to one that is free of institutionalized discrimination and prejudice towards LGBT people. It sounds foolish, and maybe it is, but that is my hope.

It may take some time for that hope to be realized, but there are places where the powers are already being reshaped right now. Whole denominations and groups of believers that have committed themselves to be more like Christ simply by including LGBT people amongst them. Sometimes this means actively defying church rules so that Christ’s love can shine through. This is already happening in Pennsylvania; Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist pastor, faced a Church trial for officiating at his gay son’s wedding. His act of love exposed the ugliness of the Church, but it also gave us a glimpse of what the Church should look like. Advent reminds us all good is being done in the Church right now, as well as showing us the long way we have to go before full reconciliation between the Church and LGBT Christians is completed.

I hope to return to Kansas City, and actually be living in Kansas City, but until that day comes, I will still consider myself as being from Kansas City. When I hear the Christmas story this year, I will continue to imagine ways I can engage the world that will usher in the already, but not yet Kingdom of God. As we celebrate Advent, let us all remember the Kingdom is already here, and that should give us great hope.

This piece first appeared in the December 2013 issue of The Gayly, the largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender monthly newspaper in the South Central USA.

Day of Silence 2013

Greg White, Nazarene Ally Vice-President, wrote this piece for Day of Silence 2011. Greg grew up in Bethany, Oklahoma, and graduated from Southern Nazarene University in 2006 with a B. A. in Communication Arts and now works as a professional illustrator.  He is a proud member of Bethany First Church of the Nazarene, and strives to serve by fostering a grace-filled dialogue between the Nazarene Church and the LGBT community.

Day of Silence 2011

Today is the National Day of Silence, a day when students across the country remain silent in recognition of the members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community who feel compelled to remain silent about the truth of their identity.  As a matter of conscience, I feel I must break my own silence and come out as gay.  As someone who has had to endure the isolating pain of hiding his sexuality, I believe that I’ve been called to now be honest.  I’ve heard it said that it isn’t lying to not tell everything you know, and there may be some truth to that.  But to remain silent in the face of the ignorance that has led to so much pain and death in the LGBT community would be, I believe, a great sin.  The truth is that by remaining silent, I find myself complicit with a worldview that discourages honesty and integrity.  And as a person of faith, I think that the truth matters, even when or perhaps especially when it is confusing or inconvenient.

This is not a declaration of a “struggle” or a “lifestyle,” (two words that I would be quite glad to never hear again) but rather a state of being.  As Peggy Campolo, wife of evangelist Tony Campolo has said, “Madonna and I are both heterosexual women, but we do not share a lifestyle.”  More often than not, that word is used as a disingenuous way to confirm the presence or absence of a sex life, which I find to be a deeply personal bit of information, regardless of orientation.  “Hey John and Mary, I see you’ve been spending a lot of time together lately.  Have you been living out the heterosexual lifestyle?”  It’s just an unfair question, and one that I don’t intend to go into here.

What I want to talk about is an environment in which societal pressures such as shame, fear, and intimidation have been used to keep gay people closeted.  Issues of sexuality are, indeed, difficult ones to approach, especially when they may seem to conflict with our deeply held religious beliefs.  I’m sure that, had I not been forced to deal with homosexuality in such a personal way, I likely would have shied away from that challenge.  But to deny its existence, to directly or indirectly discourage others from being open about who they are can only have a negative impact.

I spent more years than I care to remember suffering in silence, hating myself, wishing I would die.  I projected a false self to the world, holding friends and family at arm’s length.  Alone at night, I would cry out to God to change me, to make me acceptable, to spare me from Hell.  I cut myself with razor blades and soon began to resent the God that I’d loved so dearly.  This year, the news has been littered with stories of gay kids committing suicide, unable to withstand the personal hell their lives had become due to the cruelty, silence and indifference they’d experienced at the hands of others.  And the negative impact isn’t isolated only to the LGBT community.  Churches, schools, and societies have robbed themselves of the chance to know these amazing individuals.  Creative, vibrant, loving people who could have had a powerful impact on the lives they would have touched.

I’ve heard the catchphrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin” uttered by spiritual leaders and laity alike, thinking somehow that if they say it enough, that love will become a reality.  But any gay person on the receiving end of that line can tell you that it rings hollow.  Sexuality isn’t something you do, but is rather a part of what makes you who you are.  It encompasses uncontrollable elements, such as attraction and the capacity to fall in love.  You can’t simply carve a person into pieces and decide which parts to love without it being interpreted as conditional love, which is a cheap substitute for the real thing.  Furthermore, I don’t believe it’s within the realm of human capacity to be able to project both love and hatred towards a person’s identity simultaneously.  I know because I tried, and discovered that I could find no love for myself as long as I hated that part of me.  If we are to truly change this pattern of self-hatred and fear, we must start by breaking down the walls of silence that keep people isolated.

My challenge to the broader community is to follow the example of some individuals I know and to stand up beside your LGBT friends with open hearts and minds.  Come alongside them with acceptance and love, willing to learn and grow with them.  I don’t demand that everyone come to believe what I believe, but ask that you would help to create an atmosphere that encourages openness and support for the LGBT community, free from the conditional love and condemnation that we’ve seen so much of.  Always be careful how you speak, because there may be someone in your midst who is weighing your words carefully, listening for signs of love or rejection.

For those of you in the LGBT community that are suffering in silence, to those who bear the scars of the past, for those who feel unlovable, forgotten by God, worn down, beat up or afraid, know that you are not alone.  You aren’t forgotten.  Don’t give up hope.  Don’t give in to bitterness, and don’t give up on life.

Please understand that this message is not intended to offend, but to simply state the truth as I see it.  My faith has always taught me that it is vital to speak the truth in love, not to hide it when it’s dangerous or taboo.  I know full well what this essay could cost me.  But if it can help one gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person feel less alone, or help one straight person to reevaluate their treatment of the LGBT community, I say the cost was worth it.  Because I want to be the kind of person that I needed to see when I was growing up and felt so alone.  In fact, I feel I must apologize for remaining silent for so long.  I’ve felt that God has been calling me to be honest for many years now, but I placed the acceptance of others ahead of what I knew was right.  And if that isn’t idolatry, I don’t know what is.

To each and every reader, know that I love you, and God does too.

Sincerely,

Greg