Sunday, 7 November 2010

Come Out to Save Lives - Megachurch Pastor Jim Swilley

There are many sound religious reason for coming out (which I summarise below).  The Georgia megachurch pastor Jim Swilley, of  "Church in the Now", by his own example has presented another. He has come out to save lives.
Swilley has hidden his sexuality from his congregation for years, through two marriages (although he was at least honest with his second wife, who in turn encouraged him to be open more publicly). Unlike so many other closeted preachers (Bishop Long, George Rekers and Ted Swaggart, for instance) however, he has never fallen into the trap of preaching against homosexuality to hide his own orientation.
The tipping point for him came with the rash of recent publicity about the bullying which leads to so many teen suicides. Many of the institutional churches have a double culpability here: their frequent and misguided condemnations of same-sex relationships often lead to feelings of guilt and shame  by gay young people themselves, while too many others use it as an easy justification for bullying. Young bullies may grow into older gay bashers, and later even into adult killers of gay men, lesbians and the transgendered - all supposedly in the name of "religion".
There have been many reports surfacing on the queer blogosphere about this story - reports that I missed through my personal circumstances last weeks. The best I have seen are those at Bilerico, and at Queerty. Read them yourselves (and watch the on-line videos that have been posted)  - I'm not going to simply quote them here, because from a faith perspective I am more interested in these deeply moving, theologically sound words Swilley posted on Blog in the Now some weeks ago. These do not refer directly to his coming out (they appear to have been written immediately before doing so publicly), but read now they have an obvious and direct bearing on it:
Today I will live in the now! I will live in the now because I have a command to GO into all the world – into every part of the worlds of every man, woman, boy and girl – into every culture and counterculture – into every mindset and philosophy – into every system and network — and preach the good news, without the preferential treatment of anyone!
Today I will embrace the call of Christ. Even though I may be rebuked for my unbelief or hardness of heart as the first disciples were, I have still been mandated to go — to go anyway — in spite of my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. The gifts and callings of God are irrevocable and, regardless of what I have or haven't done, Jesus is still depending on me to give the inhabitants of His world some good news!
Today I will go to where the people are – not just where they are geographically, but to where they are mentally, spiritually, emotionally and philosophically. I will speak with the tongue of the learned (Isaiah 50:4), becoming all things to all men (1 Corinthians 9:22).
Today I will make some movement, knowing that my steps are ordered of the Lord and that God blesses whatever I put my hand to.
Today I will not preach religious tradition, or anything that could possibly make people feel alienated from God. My declaration of the Kingdom ("The Kingdom is at hand!") will make Jesus accessible to those who have been disconnected in their minds. I will go to where the breaches are — and I will repair them!
Today I will be a witness, telling my story, finding my voice.
Today I will be followed by supernatural signs confirming my words. God will bless my efforts because I believe. My faith will be irresistible to Him today, and today I will live in the now!
Father, help me to get up and get going today. In Jesus’ name, amen.
The "It Gets Better" campaign encourages us all to be open, as our visibility can be a demonstration to young people that we can indeed grow into healthy, mature adults in sound relationships - but does nothing to combat the religious roots of the violence. This is why coming out by people of faith, and especially within the evangelical tradition, is so important. Done on a sufficiently wide scale, it will go a long way to undermine both the religion - induced guilt of young queers, and the excuses produced by the bullies.
Other Religious arguments for coming out.
The political and psychological reasons for coming out are well known - it increases visibility and so improves public acceptance for others, it provides sound role models for young people, contributes to personal mental health and can be seen as a psychological growth experience. The religious reasons are less familiar, but are important for queer people of faith.
Theologian and psychotherapist Daniel Helminiak (Sex and the Sacred) says that alongside the psychological growth, coming out is a spiritual experience. Fellow Catholic therapists and spiritual directors John McMillan and James L'Empereur say much the same thing. Richard Cleaver ("Know My Name") describes the process as wrestling with the divine. Chris Glaser has devoted a complete book to "Coming Out as Sacrament".
Many commentators have seen coming out as implicit in Jesus' command to Lazarus, "Come out!", and read it as a lesson from the story of Exodus, using the Israelites flight from Egypt as a model for escaping the bondage of the closet. The Jewish theologian Rebeccah Alpert also sees coming out as a biblical command, reading into Micah's exhortation on justice a requirement alongside living in good relationship with God and with other people, an obligation to live in good relationship with oneself - which is not possible when denying one's own sexual identity.
In the same way I read coming out as a requirement of the Catholic Catechism, and implicit in the conclusion of the otherwise loathsome CDF document "Homosexualitatis Problema", which reminds us of the Biblical injunction to "Speak the truth in love", and "The truth will set you free".
It is not enough for Christians to speak the truth - we must also live it.

Recommended Books:

Glaser, Chris :
Goss, Robert (ed): Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible
Helminiak,  Daniel: Sex and the Sacred
Kelley, Michael B: Seduced by Grace
L'Emperereur, James : Spiritual Direction and the Gay Person
McNeill, John:
Sweasey, P: From Queer to Eternity
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