Queer

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I brag about my kids on Facebook.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve posted many, many times about my high school senior, Bekah. Yesterday, in my ongoing attempt to dispel my kids’ assertion that I have a favorite child, I posted about my college sophomore, Emily. I mentioned how smart she is. I mentioned how much she’s learning and, consequently, teaching me. I mentioned that she’s a queer woman.

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Red Starbucks Cup

So, there’s this guy named Joshua Feuerstein. He’s a former pastor and current social media evangelist, and, if his website is to be believed, he’s done some commendable things. However, on Thursday he published this video that currently has 11 million views; 147,000 likes; and 431,000 shares. Given the content of the video, those numbers are disheartening, and since I’m a Christ-follower, it’s important to me that you know this:

Joshua Feuerstein doesn’t speak for me. 

There are more things I’d like to say about Mr. Feuerstein, but few of them are kind, and I don’t think Jesus would dig that. So, rather than take an arrogant, childish posture toward him—which is exactly what I’d be criticizing him for (along with those who’ve added their Hell ya! to his rant)—I’m going to (try to) leave him completely out of this and just talk a bit about Starbucks and Jesus.

Starbucks’ Mission and Values

Starbucks’ mission is incredibly compelling: To inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time. The company’s values are no less inspiring: Creating a culture of warmth and belonging, where everyone is welcome. Acting with courage, challenging the status quo and finding new ways to grow our company and each other. Being present, connecting with transparency, dignity and respect. Delivering our very best in all we do, holding ourselves accountable for the results.

This does not seem to be a company at odds with Christianity. But it wouldn’t matter if it were; they’re a coffee house, not a church. And if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, you and I patronize a whole slew of companies that look nothing like Jesus: clothing manufacturers that exploit vulnerable populations; restaurants that serve gargantuan portions, much of which lands in a dumpster; development companies, and the banks supporting them, that are engaged in shameful, justice-averse gentrification; movie theaters that show films exactly the opposite of “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable” (Philippians 4:8).

But we’re going to get all “Starbucks hates Jesus” because their holiday cup artwork doesn’t include Merry Christmas? C’mon.

Just the Facts

Confession: I just typed a rebuttal to each and every bit of Mr. Feuerstein’s video, and it was all sort of snarky (especially about his use of “litrally”), and then I remembered I was trying to do the “say something nice or say nothing” thing, so I deleted all of it, which is a shame because it was hilarious. But it was mean. And that’s never funny, no matter what Amy Schumer says.

ANYWAY… I just need to address some fabrications before I move on:

1.Mr. Feuerstein claims Starbucks isn’t allowed to say “Merry Christmas” to customers. I checked with two Starbucks managers tonight, and that is 100% false. And even if it were true, that is not “religious persecution.”

2. Starbucks isn’t offended by Jesus tshirts. Starbucks gives exactly zero damns about your attire.

3. In the description of his video, Mr. Feuerstein writes, “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus…” Nope. No, they don’t. They also don’t hate Buddha or Mohammed or John Smith or any other religious leader. Or anyone at all, for that matter. And neither does Jesus. 

Political Correctness

Starbucks is being criticized for catering to the secular culture’s desire for “political correctness.” Let’s assume, for just one moment, that Starbucks actually did decide that including snowmen snowpeople (see what I did there?) and reindeer on their holiday cups could be offensive to some people-groups. Wouldn’t that include Christians? I mean, doesn’t it make more sense to be less offended now that secular symbols have been removed from the cups? But instead, we’re supposed to join Mr. Feuerstein’s “movement” to bring them back? I’m so confused.

Jeffrey Fields, Starbucks’ VP of Design and Content, had this to say:

“In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs. This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.”

So that’s it? The “welcomes all of our stories” bit? That’s what’s so politically correct our brains are “litrally falling out of our head”? (Okay, that was a dig. I tried not to. It slipped out.)

Why is Starbucks’ thoughtfulness toward people labeled as political correctness, which has somehow become an insult, instead of compassionate concern for human beings, which is what it actually is? 

Here’s a for-instance: Misogynistic jokes infuriate me, most women, and lots of men I know. If you decide to stop telling such jokes because you realize they’re disrespectful, that’s not political correctness. At the very least it’s courtesy, and at its best it’s love. 

And if you think political correctness is stupid because you think people are too easily offended, you should probably be extra aware of what offends you. 

Come to Me, All Who are Weary and Burdened

You know, I just can’t see Jesus marching into a Starbucks with a gun tucked under His tunic, a smirk on His face, and an agenda to trick an unsuspecting (and potentially very confused) barista into writing “Merry Christmas”on His cup. I think He might give His real name and ask hers. He’d invite her to sit with Him on her break, and He’d ask her to share her story. They’d laugh together or cry together. Maybe both. He’d offer her encouragement and remind her of the whole purpose of Christmas—that He’s with us now. That He’s for us.

If we’re to be Jesus in the world, then we, too, should be people to whom those who are weary and burdened can come for rest (Matthew 11:28). We should be safe. If we’re not careful—if we continue to produce and share videos like Mr. Feuerstein’s—we’ll no longer have even the opportunity to welcome and care for people. They’ll have given up on us.

And rightly so.

I Contain Multitudes

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
~ from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”

Dang it, dang it, dang it. In a post I wrote a few days ago, I said Kim Davis is a person of worth and courage and integrity. And now I’m wishing I’d just kept quiet.

But, because I have an intense fear of being disliked, I don’t want any of my more conservative friends thinking I’m all “Down with Davis.” So I’ll reiterate: She does have worth. (We all do.) She seems courageous, given her defiance of a court order. (Courage and stupidity: two sides of the same coin.) And if you define integrity as sticking to your moral standards, she certainly has that going on.

But (again with the fear of being disliked) I don’t want any of my progressive friends thinking I’m all “Hooray for Davis.” Which seems to contradict what I just wrote.

Here’s what’s going on in my head: Yesterday, I watched this video of her, and for the teeniest moment, I wanted to retract the kinder things I’ve said about her. And then I wanted to throw something at her. (It’s not as violent as it sounds; I’d very likely miss.)

It was this declaration that got me:

“I just want to give God the glory; his people have rallied, and you are a strong people.”

I am a “God’s people,” and I’m a “strong people,” and I’d really rather not be lumped in together with Mr. Huckabee and Mrs. Davis and the throngs of people cheering her on while waving white crosses on sticks (What in the world?) and the people who are saying she’s a victim of religious persecution and Mr. Graham, who says Mrs. Davis “has shown the world how true Christians should stand up for their convictions.”

I am a “true Christian” (I’m trying to be anyway, and it’s stupid difficult and, to be honest, a little irritating—and I’m thankful that Jesus loves me even though I just said that out loud). I’ve stood up for my convictions. Except my convictions and the Huckabee-Davis-Graham convictions don’t exactly jive. So, what is the world supposed to make of that?

It’s really no wonder Christians have such terrible street cred.

Except Mrs. Davis’ arrest really had nothing to do with her convictions. She was jailed because she was in contempt of court. Mrs. Davis was not jailed because of her Christian beliefs. She made a decision based on her beliefs—which landed her in jail. The end.

And yet, I feel a little sympathy for her. This isn’t what she signed up for. She’d been in the clerk’s office for longer than two decades before she became County Clerk in January 2015. She took an oath to discharge the duties of her office before said duties were in violation of her religious beliefs. (Except I’m still turning that one around in my mind, because she would’ve given marriage licenses to people getting remarried, and her religious beliefs should be in opposition to that, too. So I’m confused.)

I also feel sympathy for her because the media has put her personal life on display—largely, it seems, for the purpose of stirring the pot. She’s on her fourth husband and there’s a bit of paternity scandal, and that’s caused people to cry, “Hypocrite!” Except she didn’t decide to follow Christ until 2011, long after all that was going on, so that’s not fair.

Also not fair—or legal: Denying a marriage license to a same-sex couple.

I’m not pro-Kim Davis. But I’m not anti-Kim Davis, either. It’s messy. Maybe that’s wishy-washy of me, but that’s what happens when you throw human beings in the mix; I have a terrible time trying to be either fully for or fully against people. (Even Trump. God help me.)

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

No Tent Big Enough

“Change happens when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing.”

The week before Easter, I received a text on our church’s Google Voice line:

“Hi. I am looking for a church to attend. We are a same sex family.”

This wasn’t the first time I’d received a text like that, and I had the same response both times: absolute paralysis. I wanted to reply, “No worries. You’re welcome at our church” or, “We’d be honored to have you as our guests,” or even, “We’re a safe place.” But I couldn’t, because while those statements are true to a certain extent, they’re true… to a certain extent. I couldn’t figure out how to approach the text honestly without sounding horribly judgmental:

“We’d love to have you as our guests! But you should know a few things before you visit. You’ll never be able to hold a leadership position, you won’t be permitted to become an actual member, and our church’s doctrine would say your relationship is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’ But, you’re welcome at our church.”

Ugh.

To soften the blow, I considered adding, “By the way, I don’t personally agree with any of that.” But then I imagined the person asking, “Well, then why do you work there?”

Oh.

That’s a fair question—one I’ve asked myself 100 times over the last several months. I’ve had many rounds of difficult conversations with Jimmy, my boss/pastor:

  • Even if homosexuality is a sin, why does it seem as though some denominations are elevating it to The Worst Sin Ever?
  • Why does it seem like the Church at large is okay with interpreting some scripture through a cultural and historic lens (e.g., women in leadership and divorce), but won’t apply that same interpretive logic to the passages about same-sex relationships?
  • Why do I see angry, greedy people in leadership positions in all sorts of churches, but they won’t ordain people who are gay?
  • Doesn’t the Church at large see that we’re saying, “You’re welcome here” and “You’re not good enough” in the same breath?

The outcome of these conversations with Pastor Jimmy was always the same. I’d feel grateful he was willing to have them–over and over again. I’d go home and write a rant about the Church and homosexuality, and Pastor Jimmy would allow me to publish it on my blog–something I suspect many Lead Pastors would forbid. I’d feel nauseous and helpless. I’d cry. I’d lament to my husband. I’d consider quitting my job. I’d justify not quitting by convincing myself I could be influential somehow. I’d do some reading on both “sides” of the debate. Meanwhile, I could feel my integrity slipping away as I continued to invest significant time, energy, and resources into a denomination that’s systematically marginalizing an entire group of people.

Then the Supreme Court went and legalized same-sex marriage, and Facebook exploded.

I have gay friends for whom the SCOTUS decision was life-changing, and I wanted to celebrate with them. I have straight friends who’ve been tirelessly advocating for the LGBT community, and I wanted to high-five them. But our church has social media guidelines (that I wrote) calling for “appropriate caution” from our leaders when it comes to controversial topics. Typically, “appropriate caution” has translated to “complete silence,” and I’ve honestly been (mostly) okay with that.

But on that Friday morning, I began to wonder what “appropriate caution” really means. Is it “appropriate” to keep my mouth shut about injustice? Is it “appropriate” to let people assume they know my opinion, by virtue of my position on a church staff? Is it “appropriate” to say nothing when other people are running off at the mouth, spewing “us v. them” language instead of extending grace and mercy and love?

No. It’s not.

It’s at that point I decided I was willing to get fired for celebrating the Supreme Court’s decision, and I “liked” a variety of status updates that morning—gay friends who were thrilled to have their relationships recognized by the Court, straight friends who felt justice had been served, and friends who disagreed with the decision but who did so with a posture of humility.

In the end, Pastor Jimmy didn’t fire me or even call for my resignation. But last Monday morning, I submitted my notice.

I’m not mad at him. And I’m not really even mad at the institutional Church. I’m just… sad. Pastor Jimmy has frequently remarked that he wants to build a church whose tent is big enough for all sorts of opinions and perspectives, and I fell in love with that vision. The problem is, there’s no tent big enough for them all. At some point, his perspective—as a Lead Pastor who is rightly honoring the vows he took at ordination—prevails, and that’s going to leave some people standing outside. I get it. My tent will only stretch so far, too; after all, I’m leaving a staff position and a church I love because my tent requires full inclusion of people in the LGBT community.

Let me say it again: I’m sad. Sadder than I thought I’d be. I’ve found meaningful friendships at The Way, and I’m afraid they’ll disintegrate–either because we disagree about homosexuality or simply because we won’t be around one another as often. I’ve been proud of how The Way is trying to push beyond our walls and truly love our neighbors. I’ve seen people in our church community becoming more generous and more compassionate. In other words, they’re looking more and more like Jesus, and that has been incredible to witness.

Please know I’ve not made this decision easily or carelessly. I’ve prayed. I’ve cried. (I do that a lot lately.) I’ve talked. I’ve listened. And the outcome is always the same: I want to be an advocate and ally for marginalized people—not only those in the LGBT community, but anyone who’s looked upon as less-than: people of color, people without homes, people with mental illness… and I can’t do that, authentically, without saying some hard things. Some controversial things. Some decidedly non-cautious things.

So, heartsick and poured out, I’ve resigned from my position at The Way. I’ve only just begun to experience the fall-out of my decision—or rather, the fall-out for the reason for my decision—and I’m sure there will be some ugly stuff down the line. I’m a people-pleaser, so that’ll be painful. But the pain of staying has become greater than the pain of changing.

And it’s time for me to go.