Monday, May 23, 2016

How My Time Living as an Ex-Gay Prepared Me (or Ill-Prepared Me) For Life in The United Methodist Church

Note: This post has a different tone that many of my posts.  I've allowed some of my dry, sarcastic humor to seep into this one.  Keep that in mind while reading.  The darker parts of this post are meant to be taken in a more humorous light.  I hope that comes across.

What is Ex-Gay?

I’m assuming that most people reading this blog are familiar with this term, but it is a question that I get asked often when speaking about my story.  Someone who identifies as an ex-gay, just like an ex-wife, ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, etc., is someone who, while they acknowledge that they used to be gay, believes that they are either no longer gay or is on their way to no longer being gay, and, just was a recently divorced or single person can sometimes take some time settling into their new role, beginning to use the identifiers corresponding to that role can be an important first step.  Therefore a person who states they are ex-gay does so almost as a prophetic statement, giving voice to a desired state that does not yet exist within them as fully realized.  The reason that, I believe, this is such a difficult term for some to understand is that it is akin to me telling someone, “Hi, my name is Josh.  I’m a unicorn.”  While there are disagreements about what causes sexual orientation, there is pretty solid agreement that it can’t be changed once it is established; so, this places the label of “ex-gay” into the category of mythical creatures.

The Good

Having lived for over a decade as an ex-gay, I have learned to find hope in even the smallest incremental gains.  When I was trying to rid myself of me same-sex attractions, if I looked at picture of a woman and found her to be pretty or if I was able to force thoughts of an attractive man out of my mind by focusing on memorized scripture, I counted it as a success.  If I wandered into a news store, purchased gay porn and threw it away in a sidewalk trash can before I made it back to my car, I saw this as victory over the devil’s attempts to lead me astray, and, if I went on a date with a woman and any level of affection from holding hands to making out occurred, I thought I was truly winning!  So, I will admit that I am hopeful in the outcome of General Conference in terms of LGBTQIA issues.  In a denomination that is 48 years old in its current incarnation, a battle that has been going on for 44 of those years with no progress has little hope of being resolved through the same process that has been attempted again and again, but I do have faith that our bishops will find a way for us to exist as one united church with room for differing perspectives on human sexuality.

Bishop Bruce Ough announcing proposal from Council of
Bishops on LGBTQIA issues at 2016 General Conference

The Bad

            The downside of my experience is that you are reading the words of a man who believed and prayed for 13 years that he could become a mythical creature.  My hope can, as has been proven, clearly be misplaced.  While I had many darker moments during the years that I was fighting against who I am, I tend to be a pretty optimistic guy these days.  Therefore, I really value the input of realists, the people who help me take my rose-colored visions of the future and convert them into more feasible outcomes.  So, while I might spend the next few years hoping that my church can become the unicorn of my dreams, at the end of this waiting, I might find that it is still just a regular horse with a limp that is still unable to support all of us who wish to ride upon her.  Then, I may have to face the choice of either continuing my delusion or of entering the market for another horse that can get me and my friends where we need to go.

The Real Hope

The real hope, and truly the best lesson that I learned at the end of my ex-gay journey, is that the conversation about who you are in terms of your identity and the relationship between that and God, as you understand God, is something that only you and God can have.  In my own journey, I realized that one of three things was true: 1) God was not healing me of my homosexuality because God was incapable of doing so, which didn’t sit well with me in terms of placing limits on God’s power. 2) God was capable of healing me of my homosexuality but was choosing not to, which presented me with a very cruel and sadistic image of God that I also found to be unacceptable. Or 3) God was not healing me because I wasn’t broken.  That final possibility was the one that finally resonated with me, but I did not get there overnight.  It took a lot of seeking and soul searching to get there, but, as my dear friend, Aaron, put it to me so clearly, “You can read all you want.  You can pray all you want, but tomorrow you’re going to wake up, and you’re still going to be you, and only you can decide what to do with that.”

In terms of the United Methodist Church, there is still work left to be done, and I am committed to seeing that work through, to make sure that every person who needs to finds a welcoming and affirming presence inside our congregations and structures of worship, but, in terms of the individual journey that each of us must walk, the course of that journey is up to you to work out between either you and God or within your own religious or non-religious understanding of the universe.  Know that, as with many things in life, the journey is often the most valuable and life-giving aspect of the process.  While I may see the world through different lenses that you, I affirm you and your place on this journey as you seek your own truth.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Bishops, Lead! Please!

Rev. Adam Hamilton speaks in support of referring issue of LGBTQ inclusion
to the Council of Bishops, asking them to craft a non-binding resolution.
An interesting thing just happened on the plenary floor of General Conference.  A motion was put forward to have the issue of LGBTQ inclusion referred to the Council of Bishops, asking them to craft a non-binding resolution.  The motion was supported 428 - 364.  Now, as Bishop Ough reminded us all this morning, the Council cannot put forward legislation themselves.  I’m curious to see how this ends up playing out.  My thought, and the thoughts of a few others that I have spoken to is that the bishops will craft a proposal and put it in the hands of an elected delegate.  We’ll see.  Afraid to be hopeful.  Too desperate to see the end of the harm to LGBTQ persons not to be.  #umcgc #itstime

~ Culbs

For the remainder of General Conference, I’m probably going to do a lot more of this Tumblr-like mini-blogging.  Also, check out my Facebook page.  I’ve been posting other related information and articles there.

To Schism or Not to Schism?

"We are not advancing any plan to separate the denomination... At the same time, we remain open to any new beginnings, new plans that people may bring to the table.”

“This may be the time to let the Holy Spirit work to allow us to imagine a new future."

-Bishop Bruce Ough, President of the Council of Bishops for the United Methodist Church

Bishop Ough, this morning, brought a level of peace to some and only more questions to others.  While his statement indicates that we can expect the Council of Bishops to not present or take significant action to encourage or advance a plan of separation, it does not take off the table the possibility of someone else introducing such a plan.  The only thing that is certain at General Conference in Portland is that the future of the United Methodist Church remains uncertain.

~ Culbs

Irreconcilable Differences?

At this very moment, as I sit in Portland, rumors of ecclesial divorce swirl about me. The United Methodist Church seems poised to claim irreconcilable differences. This has filled me with a mixture of both sadness and cautious optimism. While I know that I will go through a grieving process myself if the denomination that I now call home dies in its current incarnation, watching my friends and peers who have called the denomination home for decades or, in many cases, all of their lives adds an additional weightiness to this possibility. The optimism comes from the hope of seeing the birth of something new, a church where all are able to be authentic both in terms of their identity and also with regards to how and whom they love.
Very little is certain today, but barring an unforeseen miracle, it appears that we are very likely headed for a split into two, or possibly even three denominations. As with any divorce, there will be discussions of assets and finances, and I know there will certainly be a battle over who continues to use the family name. 

A select group with representatives from across the theological spectrum of the denomination has been meeting at the request of the Council of Bishops to find a way to mediate and resolve our strong feelings of difference over issues of LGBTQ inclusion or exclusion. The members of that panel have come back and said that our differences cannot be resolved.  Certain factions within our church are not willing to compromise on this issue.  So, with two years to go until the 50th anniversary of our denomination in its current form, it appears that we will be filing for divorce.

While in the long-term, this may be best for all, but, in the short-term this has the potential to be very messy, and my heart immediately goes to the children and to think about how they will be impacted by their parents’ inability to agree.  It seems inevitable that, if we split, that at least some LGBTQ children will be left in church’s where they are not fully valued and affirmed as the children of God that they are. I am encouraged to know that a split will allow for churches for those children to come into once they reach adulthood, but, until they reach a point of self-determination, they may be forced to grow up in churches where they are able to live in the fullness of community without hiding aspects of who they are.  I pray that, regardless of the outcome, that we will be considerate of those that are “the least of these,” those that because of age or financial means do not have the ability to self-determine the course of their religious experience.

~ Culbs

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Redeeming Pentecost

This evening, in Portland, in close proximity to over 5,000 United Methodists for General Conference, our denominations largest gathering, and having experienced a rousing worship service this afternoon, the Spirit, the events of Pentecost, and the meaning behind the events of the second chapter of Acts have shifted for me in a rather significant way. Pentecost, the historical moment in the life of the early Christian church in which the Spirit descended, manifesting in the disciples being “filled with the Holy Spirit” and “divided tongues, as of fire” appearing to rest on each of them and giving the disciples the ability “to speak in other languages.” The languages that were spoken during this event were real, documented languages that allowed the disciples to speak to the crowd gathered around them, each in their own language despite the fact that they did not previously know the languages they were speaking.

This moment was pivotal for the disciples in the early church. As they were trying to put things back together after the ascension of Jesus, they were struggling with how they could be a voice of hope to those around them in need. Suddenly, finding themselves imbued with the ability to speak directly to the masses was emboldening to them, allowing them to see that, not only did they have a message that needed to be heard but that they would be given the words that needed to be spoken at that time.

Sanctuary of First United Methodist Church
in Portland, OR (Photo Credit: David Mauzy)
My relationship and understanding of the events of Pentecost have been complicated to say the least.  I used to attend a church where I was taught that speaking in tongues actually took on multiple forms, that it could be a private prayer language between the speaker and God; real translatable language as in Acts; or prophetic messages to the church if someone else has the gift of interpretation. I remember the first time that I heard people praying in tongues in my old church.  I was both intrigued and unnerved by it.

In time, I would come to learn more about their understanding of this practice.  For them, the emphasis was on the power of God being channeled through humans and manifesting in spiritual gifts as described in 1st Corinthians 12 – 14. While many gifts are referenced in those chapters, the gift of tongues was always held out as kind of the gateway gift, the one that allowed you to take on the label of having been baptized in the Spirit.

Now, since having left behind that previous church context, I honestly haven’t thought much about Pentecost, at least not in the same way that I did before. In my old church, the gift of speaking of tongues, which I never actually experienced and never observed it manifesting in real translatable languages as we see in Acts, was more about the power of God being received and channeled through the speaker. Today, I experienced a bit of paradigm shift though. It allowed me to see Pentecost in a new way, a way that brought power and significance back to it for me.

This afternoon, during a worship service surrounded by other queer Christians and their allies, I saw the power of seeing Pentecost, not from the perspective of the speaker, but from the position of the hearer. In my pew today, I saw, heard, and felt the power of God speaking, through the moving worship led by Mark Miller and the life-giving words of Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey, to diverse peoples from diverse backgrounds and diverse ways of being in the world. Diverse languages were included in the service in order to emphasize that there is a place for everyone and that all of us deserve to hear God speak to us in a way that is familiar to us.

Love Your Neighbor Coalition logo on the screen at First United Methodist
Church in Portland, OR (David Mauzy)
 Many from my previous church context would argue that what I experienced today was not the same as what happened at Pentecost, but I would say that they are wrong.  Today, the Spirit of God moved upon human vessels to deliver a much needed message of hope that in diverse languages to a discouraged people, reassuring them that, no matter how many barriers are created by society and the church, God will still find ways to speak to them and through them.

~ Culbs

Friday, May 13, 2016

My First Day at General Conference 2016

Today has been a long and exhausting day.  While I bristle uncomfortably when someone refers to my or someone else’s sexual orientation as a lifestyle, one lifestyle that, whether I like it or not, I have to claim loud and maybe not so proud is that of being a procrastinator.  As such, I found myself at home last night with multiple loads of laundry to do in order to be able to get packed to fly to Portland today.  That coupled with an early flight this morning at 7:30 AM made for a very short night for me.
Then, I got to spend a large portion of my day in airports and on aircraft, activities that I actually usually enjoy, but I think the sleep deprivation overshadowed my enjoyment.  Then, one of my flights was full, and I was placed on a later flight.  Through all of this, I managed to maintain an optimistic attitude.  I tend to be a fairly “glass half full” kind of person, but, somewhere over the course of my last flight, figuring out public transit to get as close as I could to my hotel, and then walking the remaining ¾ of a mile to make to the hotel, I was feeling pretty drained.
On top of all of that, the language being used by some to describe LGBTQIA persons, to speak to us, or to talk around us at this General Conference has been lacking in the basic dignity normally afforded another human being much less to fellow members of your own faith tradition.  Reading various posts on social media since the beginning of the conference has painted a very ugly picture, and I was feeling the weight of that along with my fatigue when I finally arrived at the hotel here in Portland.  All of that weight lifted off of me very quickly though as one familiar face after another greeting me with a hug and a smile.  It truly is amazing to in this work with all of these amazing people.  There is such a joy in the connection that binds us together and to this cause of full inclusion.
Then, tonight after dinner, we went to a local church for an Indigo Girls concert.  Even though my tiredness began to creep back in a bit during the performance, it was very energizing and uplifting, and the opening acts, Momma’s Boyz featuring Kingdom Krew! and J Mase III, were great as well.  I wish I had it in me to share more, but I am drained.  I’ve been up since 5:30 AM Eastern after only having 3-4 hours of sleep, and it is now almost midnight Pacific time.  Time for sleep.  Check out pics from the Indigo Girls concert on my Facebook page at . 

~ Culbs

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Shouldn't Grace Be Available to All People in All Times?

Like many of us in this contemporary, ever-connected existence, the first thing I do upon waking each morning is to reach towards the bedside table for my cell phone, fumbling in the dark for what has become our connection to family, community, and the world.  There were no text messages that I needed to respond to; so, I went directly to Facebook to see what had happened in the world over the past 7 hours.  The very first thing I saw in my newsfeed was the headline, ‘Good News responds to clergy coming out letter.’  My internal response to this was a sincere and heartfelt, “Oh boy.  Here we go.”

        Before I go any further, I want to take a moment and clearly identify who I am in order to give context to my response to their response.  I speak from, not a unique, but somewhat of a minority perspective in this debate.  I have now spent a number of years in both the conservative/literalist camp as well as the progressive/historical context camp.  Also, I am not a life-long United Methodist.  I came to embrace United Methodism about 5 years ago because I was won over by this Wesleyan way of Christian believing and living that incorporated, not only the Bible but also reason, experience, and tradition.  I also appreciated the democratic process that governs the United Methodist Church through which we all may be represented and in which it is recognized that God speaks in all of us.
As I take us back to the debate at hand, let’s go to every literalist’s favorite scripture on this debate of scriptural validity; at least, it was mine and still is.  2 Timothy 3:16, in the NRSV, says that “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”  This translation used the phrase “inspired by God.”  Other versions use the term “God-breathed.”  While I still see truth in those words, my understanding of that verse has evolved to see a distinction between something that is inspired by God and something that is dictated by God.  I see sacred texts as humanity’s efforts to understand ourselves, to understand God, and to understand the connection between God and ourselves.  To me, that voice of shared seeking to understand makes them sacred.

One of the aspects of God that I am most thankful for is God’s grace.  I sincerely believe that the voices on both sides of this debate over human sexuality within the United Methodist Church live their lives in such as way that is aimed at pleasing God and fulfilling what they believe is God’s will for their lives, and, despite our very best efforts and intentions, we all fall short (Romans 3:23).  Still, when we fall, we pick ourselves back up and continue to walk out this life that we believe we are called to.  Why would we be so selfish and so arrogant as to assume that grace belongs only to us?  Why would we assume that the writers of scripture, sincerely God-seeking individuals, were held to a level of infallibility, devoid of grace, that we would never hold ourselves to?  To do so, takes something away from the beauty of God’s grace, and it robs us of the compassion that we should extend to all of humanity in our present, our future, and…in our past.

My understanding of God and scripture is more fluid today than it was in the past.  It is shaped by my own ever growing and changing understanding of the nature of God.  Rob Bell, in his book What We Talk About When We Talk About God, comments that, “Like a mirror, God appears to be more and more a reflection of whoever it is that happens to be talking about God at that moment.”  I believe that we all, across the connections of the United Methodist Church, all of Christianity, and of all who claim to adhere to a spiritual/religious system of beliefs, need to acknowledge the truth of that statement.  I have often remarked that God created humanity in God’s own image, and humanity has not stopped repaying the favor every since.  We all envision a God that thinks like we do.  Is it possible that God’s house is big enough for all of us, the whole family and not just the ones we like?

~ Culbs

P.S.  -  One more thing.  The statement from Rev. Tom Lambrecht of the Good News was exactly what I thought it would be.  It was in line with what a former me would have written, a basic assertion that we all have our sinful natures and that it is only by acting in accordance with those natures that we sin.  I would also agree with him that to acknowledge and allow openly, actively practicing LGBTQ persons to serve in our churches would be “to abandon clear scriptural teaching and 2,000 years of Christian understanding.”  I think he got that part right.  I think that what our church teaches about scripture has been clear.  What is not clear is the scriptures themselves.  Based on biblical texts, I can make a stronger argument in support of slavery or the subjugation of women that I can the condemnation of homosexuality.  I am not going to drag you through the long process of examining scripture now.  If you sincerely agree with Rev. Lambrecht, you wouldn’t believe it from me anyway.  If you believe that scripture clearly condemns homosexuality, I would encourage you to look into those scriptures that are used against those who experience and act on same-sex attractions.  Take an honest, hard look at them.  What I believe you will find is anything but clarity.

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