I spent much of this week embroiled in a Bible Showdown on facebook. An old acquaintance who is very involved with the choral world at my college has become deeply involved in fundamentalist Catholicism (I’m not sure what type exactly, but one of the kinds that makes snide little remarks about Vatican II.) Wherever classical choral music is sung, gay folks and conservative Christians have to find a way to live together. In our choral world, this has been an enduring but uneasy détente. Political and religious views are kept off the listserv, due to the threat of mutually assured destruction.
Facebook has messed this up big-time – you can’t be a hardcore queer activist and hide it from your choir friends. You can’t be a hardcore Catholic fundamentalist and hide it from your choir friends. (Well, maybe you could, but even thinking about those privacy settings gives me a headache.) This Catholic fundamentalist, J, was offended at the jubilation on his newsfeed on the occasion of the New York state legislature passing marriage equality (WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!), which coincided with Pride weekend. On his wall, he shared his views about “sodomy,” urging his Catholic friends not to receive Communion until they have repented of their sodomy and/or approval thereof, and reminding his non-Catholic friends that we are all condemned to Hell. I went after him, and we went back and forth for a few days. We mostly talked past each other, since I don’t accept the authority of the Pope/Catholic Tradition, and he doesn’t believe I have the authority to interpret the Bible for myself. It’s over now, both because I have nothing more to say and because he has unfriended me, so I’m no longer able to post on his wall.
The point was not to change his mind. I don’t think I can change his mind.
I do honestly believe that God can transform people’s hearts, and I hope and pray for that for J. It is a beautiful and a powerful thing to see someone led out of homophobia, led out of a faith based on hatred and fear and exclusion. It is beautiful and powerful to see someone come to know a God who creates us unique and beautiful and loves us extravagantly and welcomes us with open arms. I’ve seen it happen.
God can do that. But it takes time. It takes more than a day, and more than a facebook thread. And J is probably not in a position to be able to hear anything right now from a female UCC pastor.
So why did I bother? Because it was the right thing to do. Because I cannot let someone speak hatred to my friends on behalf of my Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. Because I am called to “proclaim the Gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil.” Because I have heard too many stories of LGBTQetc folks who thought they had to choose between a church that condemns them or no church at all, because no one ever told them otherwise. And because someone on the internet was wrong.
I am still riled up. I’m scattered and distracted. I’m leaving in an hour for UCC General Synod and not yet packed. And I am so profoundly grateful.
My inbox is full of messages of encouragement and support, notes from dear friends and old acquaintances that remind me what a privilege and blessing it is to bring the good news:
“thanks for standing up for what's right...”
“Your work is making your queer and ally friends feel closer to, rather than alienated from, God. That is real ministry.”
“Thank you for being you - today and always.”
And I’m not even going to start on how many "likes" I've seen.
I am so grateful to have friends like this. It is hard and scary to do Bible Showdown. It feels terrible to be called a repulsive, blasphemous heretic. I’m way out on a limb, and I’m afraid I’ve lost some of my more conservative friends (not just J).
What a blessing to have my ministry affirmed, to know that I do not stand alone, to be reminded that people who need a good word are watching and listening.
I don’t get into internet fights in order to get street cred with my liberal friends. I do it because there are people – lots of people – who still think that J might be right, that God might hate them, that there’s no place for them in the Christian church. I do this for people who don’t know where they stand, don’t know how God could love them, don’t know whether to give up on faith altogether.
The people I’m trying to reach are the people who would never click the “like" button, let alone comment. But I couldn’t do it without my community. Messages and wall posts are little epistles, offering strength and solidarity when the world feels really hostile. Friends, thank YOU. Thank you for taking the time to reach out, for reminding me that what I’m doing matters, and for all the good work you all are doing out there. You give me hope.
Loving and welcoming God,
You have promised us courage in the struggle for justice and peace.
Thank you for the courage we receive from community, standing in solidarity in witness to your vision of extravagant welcome.
Bless us and strengthen us to do your work in the world today and every day.
I pray in the name of Jesus, who turns no one away.