Blog: International Day of Peace

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

By Rev. Jenn Tafel

I was invited to speak at the International Day of Peace (September 18th) hosted by the Wesley Foundation at MSU and the Shalom Center for Justice and Peace; and specifically to speak on behalf of the LGBTQ-Christian voice as I am religious advisor for Q-CROSS at MSU. I was told me the theme was about agriculture. So, the challenge was set before me as to how to include all of this in a message.

Photo Credit: Wesley Foundation at Michigan a State University

Photo Credit: Wesley Foundation at Michigan a State University

After I was asked to be one of the speakers for this event, I was inundated by the quote from Mother Theresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” I knew that I had to pay attention and it stuck with me while I prepared what to say.

While in meditation and preparation, I began to think about gardens. When I was married, my husband and I attempted to grow a vegetable garden. I say attempted, because anyone who has even the smallest experience with gardening knows how much work is involved. There are people far more skilled than me who can go into great detail as to what it takes to grow a successful garden. Great care is involved, time, energy, and an understanding of factors such as the soil, water, heat, light, insects and animals that destroy efforts, and so on. And like I said, we made an attempt and were able to yield some vegetables for our efforts.

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During this experience, I also learned about concepts like companion gardening, cultivation, and symbiosis in new and meaningful ways. We were intentional about planting the garden and even had a map in order to employ companion gardening. We had to be mindful about what plants would interact best with each other. We had to have a map because when the seeds went in the ground, it was anybody’s guess as to what would be springing from the ground. We spent time weeding, watering and trying our best to get rid of unwanted insects. We even tried creating worm bins in order to create nutrient-rich soil for cultivation purposes. We were researching the best methods in organic gardening. When I would look out the window at this garden toward the end of summer, I saw the symbiotic nature working in ways that words can’t always describe. This creation was alive and breathing.

And so it is with the body of Christ. It takes effort to live out the teachings from Scripture and to cultivate relationships based on agape love—unconditional love that seeks to feed and nurture us. Cultivating also means to break up soil in order to plant new life—which also applies to us. We need to break up old parts of ourselves in order for new experiences, relationship and life to truly take hold. We can’t be lazy about our spirituality. We can’t coast on good deeds done the year before. In order for Christ to work through us it requires intentionality in all we do. The best part is that the more that we practice our faith, the more effortless it becomes. It becomes ingrained in our thoughts, language and actions.

When I first became involved in QCROSS, I would receive emails from the founder of the group whose email signature was the quote from Dr. King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” And I had a sinking feeling—was I being too silent about being an ally? An occupational hazard for ministers is thinking that we are not doing enough, but at that moment I realized that I could honestly do more—or at least more vocal. And I have and what blessings have occurred because of the relationships that I’ve cultivated.

In gardening there are often surprises, some bad and some good. Plants endure a lot and sometimes will spring up despite the harshest conditions. This is also true with the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit lives and breathes and surprises us if we’re not paying attention. As an institution, the Church has fought long and hard against members of the LGBTQ community. However, those of us who have taken off the “institutional blinders” see our family and friends as part of the living body of Christ. What can we do to further cultivate relationships and break up what no longer serves so these children of God can thrive? I leave it to you to find those answers in your life and community.

Original Art by Rev. Jenn Tafel

Original Art by Rev. Jenn Tafel

Again, as Mother Theresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” We all belong in the body of Christ. May we continue to be inspired to do our part to bring forward the peace that Christ offers.

Amen.

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Blog: Gay Conservative Christians: Discussion on the Politics

By Andrew Shutt

By Andrew Shutt

My life has been incredibly complicated internally as I have grown up. I’ve been raised with many values aligned with political conservatism and with mainstream protestant Christianity. When I reached high school, I started to struggle with my own sexual identity. Despite having a girlfriend for nearly the entire time in high school, I was having feelings towards other guys and I was trying to figure out my own orientation, what it means to me, what it means to God, and what it means to other people who share similar philosophical and political views.

Long story short, I’ve discovered myself and I’ve completely accepted myself. I finally figured out that one, I’m a homosexual; two, politically, I’m a conservative libertarian (and I probably always will be); and three, I’m a Christian. I’ll explore more of the homosexual Christian intersection in a later blog post, which I think is a much more important topic, but I would really like to focus on the political aspect of this complex intersection, because it seems this is more immediately useful to the LGBT community.

Forget the fact that I’m Christian, but focus only on my political persuasion and sexual orientation. From what I’ve found in terms of the LGBT community, this is a very rare pairing. And I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that LGBT persons’ first and foremost political subject we like to focus on is same-sex marriage and same-sex rights. Liberalism as a whole appears to be supporting such a positive position while conservatism argues it will harm the institution of marriage. So naturally, more LGBT persons will consider themselves liberal, often for this only reason, only then do the other general views of liberalism get tacked on later.

So of course, I’ve been in fear these past few years, being a conservative, being a Christian, and being gay, all while supporting gay rights including marriage. My conservative views seem to polarize the LGBT community, and my LGBT views seem to polarize the Christian and conservative communities. (However there are some pro gay rights republican groups out there. See Log Cabin Republicans)

What I would hope to do is to help dissolve the tension in former, and I think, if it can be eradicated, can help the progress towards the latter. If conservatives can be reminded of their inner core values of individual liberties and rights and ignore some of the religious dogma when it comes to same-sex marriage views, I think we can get the conservatives on the right side of the same-sex marriage debate.

So here is my call for anyone and everyone to convince any conservative that same-sex rights should be a belief they have. First, ask them the following questions:

As a conservative, do you believe in the individual rights of the person?

As a conservative, do you believe in the religious rights of the person?

If they answer no to either one of the questions, odds are, they are not a conservative. If they answer yes to both, then follow up with these statements:

Then you believe that people should have the right to marry the person they love.

You also believe that people have the religious freedom to marry the person they love, according to their religion.

Some may argue that these are not the same thing, that marriage isn’t a right. To the first, they may be able to contest. But to the second, they cannot contest the religious freedom to marry, regardless of their own religious views. In my opinion, the only solution for the conservative to get out of this situation while maintaining their conservative integrity is to stand on the position of government getting out of the institution of marriage. A position, I believe, that can be the solution for the LGBT community. There are many justices of the peace in several states who are willing to marry same sex partners, and if government got out of such institutionalizing and recognized any such religious marriage, a huge problem would be solved, and it would be a huge step in the right direction to securing many same sex rights. It’s turning the argument from “trampling on the institute of marriage” to “tramping on the religious rights of people.”

Because we are

Because we are.

So consider my intersection again, I’m a gay conservative Christian. And yet, I can advocate for gay rights through the politically conservative lens. I want to use this example to remind LGBT people that not all conservatives are against this particular issue. Conservatives should be on the right side of this issue, given our base beliefs, and yet we are not. This is one of the reasons why I want to arm people with the proper ammunition to get conservatives to be on the proper side of the debate. So I call to please give some of us (conservatives) acceptance and tolerance. We want many of the same things; we simply disagree on many of the means. So the next time you meet someone who says: “I’m a republican” or “I’m conservative,” remember what I positioned in this article, don’t jump to conclusions and immediately shut them out or think less of them (which you shouldn’t do to anyone anyway), just try to get them on the right side of the debate, where conservatives should be. Allow me to leave you with the words of Paul:

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Romans 15:5-7 ESV