Saturday, September 19, 2009

I'm Coming Out of the Closet

No, I’m not gay. But there’s a closet that I think a lot of Christians find themselves in. And I think it’s about time I came out of it. So, um, here goes. Gulp. *Deep sigh*

Homosexuality is not a sin.

There. I feel better already.

Yeah, yeah. Go ahead and laugh. I know this is not exactly a ground-breaking idea. I know that plenty of other Christians before me have said it. But it’s not a done deal yet for everyone, so – here I am, choosing where to follow. Serving God the best I know how, standing up for justice and mercy and truth and love. Because it’s about time we all did. It’s about time we all stopped setting the timetable for another person’s freedom. It’s about time we all remembered that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (MLK, Jr.). I’m coming out a bit late, but Now I figure is better than Someday, even if it’s not quite as good as Yesterday. OK. Once more, with feeling:

Homosexuality is Not a sin.


Growing up, homosexuality never bothered me. Gay folks were just folks. My mother was active in civil rights, and accepting the sexuality of other people was part of the philosophy of equality I was raised on.

Then, at the age of 32, I became a Christian. One morning, the week after Easter, I found myself in a pew in the local Episcopal church, trying very hard to act casual (although I could count on two hands the number of times I had been to church during my whole previous life), and desperately doing my best to figure out how my lifeline—The Book of Common Prayer—worked. They didn’t seem to mind that I kept standing up and sitting down just a little late, so I stuck around. This was during the time when the Episcopal church was making up their minds about ordaining active homosexuals, so no sooner was I a Christian than I had to begin thinking it through.

I remember discussing it with a friend of mine in the church—I told her that it seemed to me to be fairly clear that the Bible said homosexuality was a sin, and if we took the Bible seriously we needed to accept that. She got terribly exasperated with me: “If you start taking the Bible seriously, pretty soon you’ll be wearing a bonnet and keeping silent in church!” (She was right on one count, anyway…)

During that first year of my Christianity, I came up with a tentative working theory that I maintained until recently: It is good for people to love each other. It is good for a man to love a man. It is good for a woman to love a woman. It is somehow not good to sexualize that love. Nonetheless, homosexuality is no different from the various sins I commit regularly… and I am (or hope to be!) acceptable to God and the church. So there is no reason to deny homosexuals a place in the church. And every reason to welcome them as fellow sinners.

I was never completely easy with that theory. I never felt that sense of rest and peace inside, that as a Quaker I have grown to expect when my beliefs and actions are in line with my understanding of the world and of God. There was always a vague sense of uneasiness, that told me I didn’t have it quite right yet.

I have met plenty of homosexual people over the years, and they were just like everyone else. Some were nice, some not so nice. Some were smart, some not so smart. Some of them had a spiritual maturity that I admired, and felt would be an asset to my faith community. I wrestled with that. Sinning is stepping away from God, yet these were people who I felt could teach me about following God more closely. How could that fit in with this theory of mine? Over the years, my theory became gradually much less satisfactory, and much more tentatively held.

Recently an online friend, a gay Anabaptist, pointed out to me that the New Testament Greek words that are usually translated as having to do with homosexuality have nothing to do with a committed loving relationship between two members of the same sex, and everything to do with non-loving/uncommitted/dehumanizing/exploitative sexual practices, like prostitution (temple and otherwise). I remembered hearing something about this a long time ago, but I had never looked into it myself. So now I did. It turns out that the words that are typically translated as condemning homosexuality, are so far from actually condemning committed loving relationships between two people of the same sex, that I am appalled that we have mistreated and disrespected homosexuals for so long, as a society and as a church. Appalled. It would be like taking the word that is commonly translated as “fornication,” and translating it as “heterosexuality.”

The New Testament most definitely condemns the misuse of sexuality. It most definitely condemns certain activities that are wrong whether heterosexuals or homosexuals commit them …. Rape and prostitution and pedophilia, for example. But it does not condemn a loving committed sexual relationship between two people of the same sex. It just simply doesn’t.

I mulled over this new bit of information, and I revised and significantly shortened my working theory: Homosexuality is not a sin. Well. All the pieces fell into place. That sense of rest and peace arrived, and stayed. This fits. Everything fits.

I was still receiving this new awareness with joy and relief, and considering whether there was anything in particular I needed to do with it, when another friend on the same forum, an atheist, wrote a post. In it, he said that all forms of religion are bad, because the apparently benign religions make religion look more acceptable than it really is, and shield the bad religions from criticism. He said that the survival of our civilization depends on getting rid of all religion and all belief in God, and that society shouldn’t tolerate any form of religion—good, bad or indifferent. I was devastated and hurt and heartbroken that someone who had befriended me would say that society was better off without “my kind.” That “my kind,” in fact, was responsible for destroying civilization.

But God had once let me know that every time I let my heart get broken, He would mend it and make it bigger. For the first time in my life, I had the opportunity to experience first-hand what it was like to be on the receiving end of intolerance. To have someone I cared about tell me that something that is a part of me, that I cherish and hold to be True and Right, that I couldn’t deny at this point even if I wanted to… to have him tell me that this was wrong. Not only wrong, but an abomination. It hurt. It hurt like hell.

But it was a very important lesson, and it came at just the right time (God’s timing is very very good). Because as I was meditating on the hurtfulness of intolerance, I was able to see the parallels between my current situation and the situations that homosexuals face regularly. And I was given a job to do. Thank you God, for broken hearts.

So, here I am, coming out of the closet. In 1994, Ohio Yearly Meeting disowned Cleveland Monthly Meeting for recognizing that two women felt they were married to each other. We owe Cleveland Monthly Meeting and those two women an apology, because homosexuality is not a sin. I am going to ask for a clearness committee from my monthly meeting to help me discern how best to go forward with this leading. I will let you know how it goes. If I get disowned, does anyone know of a Meeting willing to take in a raggle-taggle heretic such as myself?

An incredibly incomplete sampling of links about homosexuality and the Bible:

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom… is the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”
--Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail


Nate said...

Well done, Shawna. Like you, I have always wondered at the vehement disapproval in which our heterosexual society has held homosexual relationships, or even just homosexuality. I can't point to any conditioning, just a puzzlement about reactions I heard expressed. Perhaps that's because I never witnessed such reactions in my own immediate family.
Your recognition and presentation of the comparison of the pain suffered by those with different orientations is outstanding. Yet we can only imagine how much they suffer on a daily basis from their communities, many from their own families.
If you find a good way to work out your leading, share the information for sure.
Meanwhile, here is a section from Freedom Friends (Salem, OR) Faith and Practice:
2-8) Sexuality

We hold dear the gift of our sexuality, which is given to all persons regardless of gender identity, orientation, or marital status. Because sexuality and spirituality are closely related, all believers are called to be thoughtful stewards of their sexuality. We believe that fully intimate sexual relations are intended to be expressed within long-term, committed, monogamous relationships, and then always with dignity and love. Sexuality that is de-humanizing, promiscuous, violent, non-consensual, manipulative, or predatory in nature is always harmful.

Taken from their web site:

You and others might also like to get a copy of their Faith and Practice, which is available in book form.

I particularly like the positive way they approach sexuality. I guess the first thing we must all do under the circumstances is recognize as you have done that "homosexuality is not a sin," but it will be a wonderful day when we can look at diversity as normal instead of "not bad."

Thank you for "coming out."

Shawna said...

Freedom Friends, I think, are the folks with that beautiful logo that says, "Hold on. Let Go." I looked over their site a couple years ago, briefly, while I was still testing the doorknob on the inside of the closet. Thank you for reminding me of them.

I am on my way to meeting for worship right now. Business meeting directly after... at which I will be asking for a committee. First step, not very challenging... just a committee. Here we go. A prayer or two would not go unappreciated....

I plan to hold tight to God and to our own advice #18: "Be open-minded, ready constantly to receive new light."

Nate said...

What? No after Meeting update?


Shawna said...

Give a girl a minute... :)

I asked for a committee to help me discern the appropriate course of action. After a long long long uncomfortable silence, as everyone let the concern sink in, there was a very quiet and deliberate and respectful discussion about how painful the whole process had been 15 years ago, and how we wanted to honor my concern, and that we also wanted to be sure to be respectful of each other's deep-held beliefs. And we talked about forgiveness, and reconciliation, and hurt and woundedness.

During the course of the discussion, four people were nominated to serve on my clearness committee. One of them said that he was glad to serve, although the topic "terrified" him and had him "trembling" over its potential for divisiveness... But... he was looking forward to finding a path towards forgiveness. He was expressing what appeared to be the common attitude.

The actual issue of homosexuality was not discussed in-depth. A few opinions all along the continuum were expressed, but we stuck mostly to the process (when I say "we" I mean the meeting... I stayed virtually silent and gave everyone else the chance to talk).

Afterwards, at lunch, our clerk told me that the letter I had written requesting a committee was "just perfect." He said that I had done very well, starting out what was going to be a long-term discussion with a request for discernment and assistance from the Monthly Meeting. "Something might actually come of this," he said. "This is good."

So, after consulting everybody's day planner, my committee meets in 3 weeks. That will give me time to write down many things. I am reading about Canaanite fertility rituals right now, so that I can adequately explain Old Testament prohibitions.

It is absolutely essential that I find a way to explain the Bible's position on homosexuality in a way that folks can understand. I know it seems foolish to some, but me and my audience take the Bible seriously. Most of the folks in meeting today would be glad to hear a more inclusive interpretation of the biblical texts... but they're the easy part of my audience. There are others in the Yearly Meeting who will make me work hard for that interpretation!

So, we are on our way. There were actually more people who said (publicly or privately) they were glad to be revisiting the topic than I expected. Unexpected friends are always good :)

Anonymous said...

Hurray for you, and for your Meeting!


Heather said...

Oh, Shawna, well done! You have started a sequence of events that is going to bring healing to so many people. Please keep us all informed! I'm holding you and your committee in the Light.

Nate said...

You and your Meeting are embarking on a process that will need to be repeated until we all get it right, I think, and that is likely to take some time and considerable pain. Fine. That pain is not one-sided.
Your note about Canaanite fertility rights suggests that you are on the right track on approach. It is possible that you should be "up" on clarifying approaches to "law" so that your point is not lost in that area of thought, and I offer the exchange between Marshall and me on the "Bad Quaker Bible Blog" post by Cat Chapin-Bishop as an example of a struggle to clarify meanings:

Yes, interpretation of texts as well as placing them in a social context will be the major area of concern among those who hold to more literal perceptions.

Hehehehe, thanks for the report, I was not a bit concerned, honest.

Shawna said...

Thank you, Rachel!

Thanks, Heather! This will be a long long process. I hope that it will be healing, and not divisive and hurtful... Keep us in the Light, please.

Thanks, Nate. Yes, I think this will be painful. But there is such a thing as good pain. They all went through bad wounding pain 15 years ago; any good physical therapist can tell you that there is going to be some good pain while healing such damage to the body... I think my meeting at least is up for it... even one of the adamant "homosexuality is a sin" folks talked to me at lunch, and explained with tears in his eyes that homosexuality may be bad, but it was far far worse to break fellowship and tear apart a church over it.

Thank you for the resource... I can use any and all information that you can think of!

Robin M. said...

Wow, two posts in one month. It's nice to read more from you again.

I'm glad to read that God is still speaking to you, bringing new light to your life. May that Light shine more brightly for everyone around you.

I hope you'll come visit us one day.

Martin Kelley said...

Hi Shawna: I'm amazed how you can take a topic like this and write about it in a way that's humorous, serious and humble all at the same time.

I've personally never heard anything outrageous in all my interactions with Ohio Friends. It seems that some interrelated issues have gotten tangled up together. There's homosexuality as an issue in itself, of course, but there's at least two others. The first is the question of deliberate due-process and what to do when one monthly meeting in the yearly meeting has come to clear, must-act unity on an issue that the rest of the yearly meeting is divided over. The second is that tolerance of gay issues has been seen as the edge of the slippery slope into liberalism. All these things are true and not true and sometimes true and sometimes not, and... Well, it gets tangled.

I know a lot of Christian LGBT Friends. The example of their strong faith has been the good fruit that has helped me see there's no inherent contradiction between the two. It would be interesting to see a self-confident Ohio untangle the issues around creeping liberalism and yearly meeting unity to see where it stands on homosexuality. The process requires patience, love and care but I think you all have plenty of that (smile). Good luck, God bless and keep holding to the Inward Christ one step at a time.

MaryJo said...

So glad you followed your heart and are now opening the path for forgiveness and healing. I will hold you in the Light during your journey with your Meeting.

Tania said...

As someone who has been where you are, I hope your Meeting supports you. And I encourage you to trust your own sense of clearness as well. And to also remember that it is not your job to change people's minds, only to plant the seed with the hope that they will allow God to nurture it.

Anonymous said...

"The Church and the Homosexual" by John McNeill may offer some ideas on how homosexuality is not a sin.

Many queers are told that God hates them, so they in turn decide to hate God and turn away from any form of spirituality. This leaves a painful void in their soul, a wound which they feel they are forbidden to heal, since they believe God hates them. Having a booth at a gay pride festival would be one way to reach out to queers and let them know that God loves them. (Although, this would only work if your Meeting is welcoming to queers.)

Anonymous said...

As a gay Christian, I'm glad to see you do this. It's one thing for me to try to convince people that my committed same-sex relationship is not a sin, but quite another when a third-party (i.e., non-LGBT person) makes the case.

Oddly, being gay and Christian growing up and through adolescence never mattered. I worked in my youth ministry, I sung in my Church choir, and I was very involved in my Church. Above all, I had unequivocal faith in Christ.

I realized later that it was because I was single and I didn't talk about being gay that everything was okay. It doesn't start mattering until you actually meet the person you want to spend your life with. Then, it gets weird. If you bring them to Church or seek to get married by the Church, the bubble pops. Now you're gay. Now you're a sinner.

What never made sense is this: I'm still the same person who was always involved in Church and always had great faith in Christ. *Nothing* has changed. I just hope some day all Christians will see that.

So, thank you, again, Shawna.

Nate said...

Martin's point is well worth consideration. There will be people who use terms of little or no semantic value such as "creeping liberalism" and you will likely need to point out that use of such is only an insult to people whose ideas you don't like. That use gives them the opportunity to classify the speaker as a reactionary stick in the mud and NObody listens to what the other has to say. There are, of course, people who simply don't want to allow dialogue with people whose ideas they don't like, and that is where you will need to talk about the Quaker tradition of openness to ministry from all sources. Just embarking on this is a huge step, and I think going public with it here is going to be amazing. God bless you richly.

Hystery said...

I teach the information that changed your perspective to seventeen year olds in my Western Civ. class. I'm glad you finally came to the conclusion that bigotry is not consistent with Jesus' message. Now you have the opportunity to repair damage you did to actual human beings during the time you lived with an inconsistency between a message of the equality of souls and homophobic biblical interpretation. Your post indicates that there is hope that we can move beyond the hurtful intolerance perpetuated by too many congregations. A minimal reading of Greek history and/or responsible biblical scholarship is really all it takes. Still it troubles me that any source of authority whether biblical, historical or other could possibly lead us to the arrogance that we have the right to determine the worth of our brothers or sisters.

Martin Kelley said...

Nate, please don't include me in your quote. I think creeping liberalism is a very real concern that Ohio needs to take seriously. What I suggested is that it is a somewhat different issue from homosexuality and that it might be a useful exercise to try to separate the two.

Tom Smith said...

Thanks for your powerful post. As "new" attenders at "your" Meeting, we respect much of the conservative Friends approach, but have been concerned that on some issues we don't quite "fit."

I support your "coming out" and would like to offer what support I can. Your points are very well made and I trust that the Meeting will come through this in unity of fellowship if not entirely in uniformity of "belief."

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

My heart and my eyes are full. Thank you, from the core of my being, for being faithful and continuing to work at your discernment. Thank you for sharing your sense of truth.

Thank you... so much.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

Reading through the comments you made after the meeting, Shawna, I remember the power and intensity felt by those of us who were at work in NEYM on what became an affirmation of same-sex marriage. The sense of being led, well and truly led by the Holy Spirit, and my memory of how hard it was to crucify my own will and my own opinions on where we "should" go... all this came back to me in a rush.

It felt like a miracle--not in the cynical way that word gets used in secular settings, but for real--when we reached unity. And reading your words here, I remember--no, I feel again!--that sense of God working on my heart and on the Religious Society of Friends as a body.

I grieve for all the pain we have felt and caused one another along the way. But my heart sings to know that God is still speaking, and that, as Fox put it, Christ has come to teach his people himself.

I felt what that meant this summer. I feel it again now.

Thank you.

parise said...

i'm so glad i came across your post. it fills my heart with love and trust and joy. thank you. i will pray for you and your meeting.

Nate said...

Martin, I see.

Then perhaps you should re-read my post.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for your honesty and openness to Spirit moving in you and through you . . .

Shawna said...

Wow… Let me try to catch up with you all!

First, Thank you so much Robin, Tania, MaryJo, parise, and sweet Anonymous for your encouragement and for holding me in the Light and your prayers.

Thank you, Tom, for your support. It’s good to have you around. This issue is one where even lifelong members have quietly disagreed with the “official” policy (although there is no policy that has been written down). I wasn’t there, but I am told that most of Stillwater wasn’t happy about the decision to disown Cleveland. I know one of our ministers worked hard to keep Salem from doing it. But it’s hard to be very vocal, when your “opponents” seem to have the advantage of an objective text in their hands. Well, they don’t. Never did. Folks just thought they did. We’ll find our way through in Love, Tom. Don’t worry :)

Shawna said...

Martin, Thank you. No one has ever used the word “humble” in connection with me before. That’s something to live up to! (Kind of intimidating, actually.)

You’re right. The whole issue is tangled up with many strands, not just the single strand of homosexuality itself. There were many things going on fifteen years ago, when this tangled knot was first tied. The issue is still tangled up. I am hoping to concentrate on freeing one strand from the knot… the fact that we have accepted, in error, that the Bible says that homosexuality is a sin. I don’t think this is a liberal, or a conservative issue. It’s an issue of Truth.

As you point out, Martin, experience can guide us to understanding. The Spirit Within can guide us to understanding. And Conservatives believe that the Spirit and the Bible will not contradict each other. If they do, our understanding of one or the other is still in need of work. That’s the work it’s time to do, I think…

But, as Nate points out, there are people who will label my concern as simply “liberal,” without considering the more important issue of Truth. For some folks, the mere fact that liberal Quakers accept it will be enough for them to reject it, without any serious thought. (I was once reprimanded for saying I had been meditating on something… because liberals meditate. The individual in question backed off after I pointed out that the Psalmist meditated also!) The concern to avoid becoming “merely liberal” is real, but hopefully we can navigate that particular shoal safely.

Shawna said...

Anon, thank you for the book recommendation. I will look into it.

I don’t think my meeting is ready to begin witnessing at gay pride events yet. Give us some time to come to our own unity. Meanwhile, I have been doing a little bit online myself. It makes good practice. I have had both Christians and Atheists tell me that the Bible says we need to hate homosexuals. If anyone feels led to chime in, here’s one of the threads. There’s other threads on that forum too:,39590.0.html

When I first realized that I had to do this, I told my husband it was an absurd leading: “I don’t even have anyone really close to me who’s gay. Why me?” And he said, “Because you don’t have anyone who’s really close to you who’s gay. Because for you, it’s just Justice.” I’ll keep making the case, Anon. I’ll do my best.

Cat, thank you for sharing your experience. Letting go of preconceived notions is hard. It can be done though, can’t it? You and others are evidence of that. Jesus was crucified because He told us to let go. And we end up being crucified sometimes when we let go too. But God is singing, always singing us home….

Thank you, Hystery. I’ll do my best.

Shawna said...

Re-reading all your wonderful replies here, I am reminded of something I read today in a little “devotional” that was given to me by a New-Age friend (did I mention I was a raggle-taggle heretic?):

“Focusing on the Light and the Spirit will bring increasing happiness and contentment into your life…. Your endeavors are protected by lions and dragons. Step out and shine.”

I feel like I have just met some of my lions and dragons. Thank you all.

“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Isaiah 60:1

Anonymous said...

Martin: "I think creeping liberalism is a very real concern that Ohio needs to take seriously."

Convergent: "tending to come together from different directions"

Sounds like Martin isn't very convergent after all...

Nate said...

Rats, Shawna, that thread seems to have died on the site, and NObuddy came up with Matt 5:43ff not only to say that "God loves fags" as requested, but that we should try to be like God in that.

Laurie Kruczek said...

Beautifully put, Shawna. My meeting is now making a formal committment to be more inclusive, as Jesus would have wished. Insight from other Quakers is just what we need to help us make this transition. I really appreciate this post. May I share it with our Discovery Group?

Shawna said...

Hi, Anon… one can want to find ways to come together without wanting to lose that which makes one unique. The world would be a poor boring place if we were all alike in all things! How to keep what is Good and True about one’s identity, while discarding what is wrong, and finding what is Good and True in others… that’s a challenge. That’s the convergence, if it is done honestly. If OYM were to become simply another liberal yearly meeting, that wouldn’t be convergent. That would just be assimilation.

Nate… Those threads get resurrected all the time on that forum. It’s called “thread necromancy.” Something will lie fallow for months, and then someone will feel led to add some insight, and it is off and running again (if other folks find the new insight interesting!). If you feel led, you might add that verse. If you don’t, I may end up adding it sometime. Thank you for checking it out.

Hi Laurie,
Of course you can use anything that seems useful to you. Thank you for your encouragement. I will keep you and your meeting in my prayers as you move forward.

JIm Schultz said...

I read the articles but they don't seem to address Romans 1 nor the old testament at all.

Laurie Kruczek said...

Thanks so much, Shawna. You inspire me, as always :)

Shawna said...

Thanks, Laurie. Carry on. Lots of work to do... both here and there! Let me know how your work goes.

Hi Jim,
Thank you for taking the time to be here and to read this stuff….

Here’s the thing about the Old Testament. It’s old. In the New Testament, Jesus summarizes the entire Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind…. and… You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:36-40) With that, He made some of His expectations for us more stringent. And He made some of the portions of the Law simply irrelevant. Jesus cast aside all of the ritual purity laws that had been designed to maintain the Jews’ separation from their non-Jewish neighbors , even while He was tightening up all of the requirements for loving and caring for each other. The prohibitions against homosexuality were part of the ritual purity laws. And so they are irrelevant.

In Romans 1 (1: 18-32), Paul explains that the Canaanites indulged in idolatry and hurtful behaviors and “dishonorable passions.” He does mention homosexual acts in passing, but in context I think he is talking about the temple prostitutes of Baal. Canaanite worship was pretty wild, with orgiastic fertility rituals playing a very large part. Paul is not, in my opinion, talking about two people of the same gender committing themselves to each other in love, to nurture and support and encourage each other in life. He’s just not. Read the passage… it’s about fornication, not about committed relationships.

Anyway, that’s my opinion. Thanks for your patience with me!

Anonymous said...

Peter's visit to Cornelius is the key to the Old Testament, as I see it:

Acts 10:28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean.

Paul discusses the passing of the Law-- specifically those things that are unclean-- in Romans 14.


Jim Schultz said...

I agree that Jesus gives us a new commandment, though as he says it isn't really a new commandment. However, the old testament can't be discarded like an old rug. Many of its prohibitions were meant for the time they were given and are subject to new revelation. I haven't received a new revelation about homosexuality. I do believe it's just a sin like gluttony, one of my own. Fortunately for me, people don't stone me for eating ice cream or chocolate, but I still don't see how either can be accepted as correct or normal, as compared to common, behaviour.

kevin roberts said...

The "new revelation" issue is the key, I think, although I am very leery of "continuing revelation," as it sometimes means simply disregarding something and substituting something else.

The Hebrew word "tô‛êbah" in Leviticus and Deuteronomy refers to things held in abomination. The same word refers to homosexual activity (implicitly temple rites) and to eating abominable and unclean foods, such as bacon and shrimp. There are other terms used for "abomination" and "unclean." This is just one example of very many.

The interesting question to me is why many people have no problem dismissing laws on dietary abominations such as bacon, but cling to laws on sexual abominations like homosexuality. It seems to me that often people do throw out the Old Testament like an old rug, except for the parts considered normal, correct, and common in their own upbringing.

"Normal," "correct," and "common" behavior differs from community to community, and theoretically don't override Scripture. What I want to find out for myself is whether there is Scriptural justification for continuing to single out homosexuality as a sin, but deciding to disregard virtually all the rest of the Mosaic law.

Perhaps this conversation is where a new revelation on the subject might begin to take shape. I don't know.

Liz Opp said...

Shawna, dear Friend,

How might I draw closer to thee as a Quaker woman who is in a same-sex committed relationship? (Many assume I am lesbian because I am partnered with a woman, but I don't identify as that.)

I read your post shortly after you wrote it, but I was not in place to reply until now.

Because of my affinity with Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative), I am aware of a piece of "baggage" that exists between the two yearly meetings, and I have carried judgment against OYM as a result. I myself also need to seek forgiveness...

Because of my direct experience with loving a woman, I can say that my experience has been that God loves love.


God loves those who choose to love in such a way that God can become even more central in that individual's life and in the life of the relationship.

Your public witness and your yearning to be faithful to that Divine Principle means much to me. I wanted to tell you that directly.

I also wanted to say that I have heard a similar reworking of certain words and phrases in Scripture, so I'm glad someone has pointed you to those interpretations.

Another resource you might wish to explore is the video/DVD called Trembling Before God. I believe you can rent it on Netflix, if you have access to a TV and DVD player. It's about Orthodox Jews who come out as gay or lesbian and how some rabbis and communities face the difficulty of What To Do...

Or I can consider sending you the copy my partner and I have, if that is easier, if you wish.

I recommend the video-documentary highly, though I haven't seen it in a few years and therefore can't say how it may or may not speak to the condition of you or your monthly meeting.

Shawna, I don't know how I might help from afar, but do let me know if I can be of help. I mean that, sincerely.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Shawna said...

Kevin, thank you for pointing out Peter’s visit to Cornelius. Yes, I find Peter’s vision to be a key to the Old Testament for our own understanding and practice as Christians.

Yes, Christians tend to accept the Old Testament on some things… the things that they or their culture feel are important… and disregard the Old Testament on other things… the things that they or their culture do not consider important.

Jim, thank you again for your patience with me. Consider this: when you overeat chocolate or ice cream, you are doing damage to your own body and also selfishly hoarding for yourself the resources required to obtain the ice cream and chocolate. So you are damaging your body’s ability to serve God and others AND you are taking resources to yourself that could be used for God and for others. So it is easy to see why gluttony is a sin, because it violates the two commandments that Jesus told us were important. Now, how is it a sin to love another person, to care about their welfare, to help them through the troubles of life, to celebrate with them the joys, and to cement the relationship with intimate loving caresses reserved solely for each other? Our sexuality is often misused, whether gay or straight… but I am not talking about the misuse of sexuality, but about its intended appropriate use. After much thought and prayer, I cannot see how this can be a breaking of the two commandments that Jesus said were the foundation of all the Law and the Prophets.

I acknowledge that one can still disapprove of homosexual activity even if it is not a sin according to the Bible. I don’t have a TV in my house, because I don’t think it is a good idea for my family. But I don’t think that the Bible calls it a sin, and I don’t think that my neighbors sin by owning a TV. My argument that homosexuality is not a sin does not require that you accept it as “correct or normal” behavior. That’s another set of arguments based on the principles that Jesus taught us… and I’m working on that too! :)

Shawna said...

Liz, thank you so much for your kindness.

I have read Iowa’s minute. It’s a pretty good minute. Eventually, OYM may feel led to adopt a similar minute. This concern of mine may lead towards just such an occurrence, although I have no way of knowing for sure where this is going to lead. (The minute can be found here, for reference: )

Thank you for pointing me to the DVD. Our computer plays DVDs, so I can watch it. Thank you very much for offering to loan us yours, but I have 5 little kids in the house, and stuff isn’t safe here… things disappear and are ruined way too often! So I try not to borrow stuff, if I can help it… very stressful. I will get a hold of a copy.

Your encouragement is a great help from afar. Encouragement is more important than people realize. Thank you.

As to drawing closer to me, my friend… this looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship!

Liz Opp said...

Ah, yes: DVDs and computers! I had forgotten about that option. I also appreciate your sensitivity to the disappearances of items that occur within your household...

There is another documentary about Muslims who are coming out: Jihad for Love. My partner came across film when she was coordinating the film program for FGC's Gathering this past summer.

Anyway, let us continue to try what Love might do...

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

P.S. I see the minute I think you are referring to on IYM(C)'s website, scrolling towards the bottom. I also see this minute is dated 2005 and may not be the only minute from this yearly meeting... but I'm not about to go hunting for others.

John said...

Dear Shawna,

God bless you for this! What you said needed to be said by someone who struggled to get to this Truth as you have, and to say it in a community not fully ready to welcome it, and to labor with that community until some kind of unity on the matter can be given by the Holy Spirit. It was John Woolman's willingness to labor heart-to-heart with slave-owning Friends, and not merely his rage and disgust toward slavery, that made his work so memorable and fruitful.

I particularly appreciate your struggle to wrestle with the testimonies of Scripture, and not just cast them aside. I'm afraid that Romans 1:18-32 has so often been used as a weapon against GLBTQ people and those that love them and try to honor their wholeness, and sometimes used against these with such apparent venom, that tender-hearted Christians are becoming ashamed to own that passage, and many good people who might otherwise become followers of Christ are stopped or inhibited by it, thinking (as I once did) that they shouldn't call themselves Christians if they can't accept the Epistle to the Romans.

But Paul's point is not made by these verses ending with Romans 1:32, and it is a wresting of Scripture to present verses 1:18-32 as if they were a complete unit. Paul is working up to a climactic punch line in Romans 2:4b, which is that the kindness of God, His goodness, not any severity on His part, is what leads us to repentance. Treat this precious teaching as a diatribe against homosexuality and you lose its meaning and value altogether!

It may be unfortunate that Paul referred to "unnatural" or "erring" sexual behavior in this passage in the way he did, though in his defense I'd want to point out that he says very strongly in verse 2:1b that we all are guilty of the very behaviors we condemn in others -- which one of us has never inwardly savored a sexual impulse, straight, gay or other, that we'd be ashamed to have made public? -- and anyway, the things that make us _feel_ worthy of destruction are not merely (or perhaps at all) the sexual behaviors Paul cites in verses 1:24 and 26-27, but much more (in this recovering sinner's experience) the "envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity," etc. (verses 1:29-31) that we've allowed to seize possession of our hearts.

Anyway, I'm sure, Shawna, that you can feel the living Christ Jesus rejoicing with you at your courageous and tender-hearted act of bursting your closet door open. And I rejoice with You both.

Jim Schultz said...

I guess we disagree on sexual intercourse between same sex partners as being its intended appropriate use.

Shawna said...

Thanks, Liz! I will have to look into that film too.

Thank you, John, for useful thoughts on Romans. It seemed clear to me, in reading chapter one, that Paul was talking about all sorts of terrible things... the litany goes on for a while (see 1:29-31). And Paul not only points out that we are guilty of the same things, but also very clearly that we are not to judge each other "For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself" (2:1).

The problem with Paul, I think, is that he held very long complicatd thoughts in his head, and many people don't follow his whole train of thought.

Jim, I think sexual intimacy is for the cementing and deepening of the committed monogamous relationship of marriage. I think you and I would agree whole-heartedly on that. I have simply come to the conclusion that God's grace and blessing is not limited by the gender of the marriage partners. I understand that for now, we disagree. I have been praying for Truth on this matter, and I continue to do so; one day I hope that we both find Truth, whichever it is.

Jim Schultz said...


Anonymous said...

Shawna - your willingness to "come out" about homosexuality is a hopeful invitation for me. I am a (not 'merely' or 'creeping') liberal Friend, in the midst of re-discovering my relationship to Jesus and to Christian spirituality. I have been in a committed relationship with another woman for 25 years, married in my Monthly Meeting. Your witness helps me feel invited to explore Convergent Friends, as I seek a deeper understanding of Quaker Christian spirituality. Others in my meeting are also reaching out to 'non-liberal' Friends... we are hoping to feel welcome.

Shawna said...

Thank you, Jim. Amen. May we all find the Truth, whatever it may be.

Anonymous, thank you for your comment. I believe if you begin a conversation with Jesus, that you will find a better Friend than you have ever known.... those of us who follow Him are not always such good friends, unfortunately. I hope that you all will feel welcomed as you reach out to other Friends.

A brief progress report... I have begun meeting with my clearness committee. They have been very useful in helping me discern the steps with which to begin. At their request, I am writing a "working paper" that explains my concern and how I have come to it. It will also attempt to address some of the common opinions that Friends at Ohio Yearly Meeting hold, and how my concern fits in with our tradition of seeking for Truth. After this is written, we go to my monthly meeting's Ministry and Oversight, and from there to my monthly meeting as a whole... if all goes satisfactorily. A few OYM folks outside of my monthly meeting have asked me about this concern, but so far the clearness committee and I are only thinking as far as the monthly meeting level. We keep praying for the Holy Spirit to guide our footsteps on the correct path. So far, it all feels right.

Shawna said...

I recently found a website that I want to link here. It is Soulforce... "The purpose of Soulforce is freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance."

mara said...

You can join the Penrose daily meeting if disowned from all other meetings, Shawna.

Shawna said...

Thank you, Mara. You are very kind. So far, my monthly meeting has been very supportive of my concern, at least so far as feeling that it is appropriate to explore the issue. Even the folks who disagree with me have been very open to exploring and to discussing things. So far so good!

I think of you and Joshua often... give yourself and him a hug for me.

Shawna said...

Just a quick follow-up:

My clearness committee has renamed itself a Support Committee. For those of you unfamiliar with Quaker process, that means it is no longer concerning itself with helping me to find clearness on whether to go ahead with my concern. It is now looking for ways to support me in my concern.

At the last meeting, I was talking about how I didn't know how best to bring my concern to my meeting, and a committee member said, "home visitation." Oh no. To my look of incredulous horror, half the committee spoke in unison... "That's how John Woolman did it." And the others nodded.

I have never aspired to be a John Woolman, and I am pretty sure that I will never become one... but they are right, of course. So, my committee has volunteered to take turns making the rounds with me. The shy, insecure part of me is not at all happy. Luckily for that side of me, my daughter broke her leg two weeks ago and we have been inundated with snow for the last week, so I get to put the home visits off until March... long enough to gather a bit of courage!

After we finish visiting my monthly meeting, I suppose I will have to start visiting the members of other meetings within my Yearly Meeting... but by then I will hopefully have gotten pretty good at impersonating John Woolman.

This Friday, my monthly meeting's M&O will be meeting, and I will be distributing a working paper that I have been writing. My committee and I have decided that it is best to let them read the paper and then for me to meet with them and discuss the issue next month, after they've had time to read and reflect and pray.

All prays and good thoughts of any sort are wildly welcomed.

Tom Smith said...

I trust you are surviving the snow. Thanks for the update. You continue to be in my thoughts even though with Judy's illness for the last several months we haven't been able to participate much in Stillwater.

Shawna said...

Thank you, Tom! You have been in my thoughts as well. Physically, we are surviving the snow pretty well... the basement is full of coal, the cupboards have plenty of food, and I bought the kids a couple new movies last week, so they're happy. Emotionally, I am about ready to go stir-crazy... but the snow is bound to melt sooner or later! Take good care of Judy... Take good care of yourself too...

Liz Opp said...


I am so glad you thought to write an update, especially about engaging in home visits.

It sounds like you are being Held, even in your anxiety and questions. Do not be afraid, for God is with you.

And God is with those with whom you meet.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Shawna said...

Thanks, Liz. The great thing about this whole concern is... I don't feel like it's ME at all... I feel like I'm just sort of a mouthpiece for the Spirit. The more I have prayed, and the more I have thought and considered... the less ME there is, and the more certain-sure I am that this concern is Right and that things will unfold in the way they are supposed to... that is... in totally unexpected and mysterious ways! I figure, this is so much a leading of the Spirit, that when the work is completed, no one will even remember it was me that brought it up (which is a comforting thought for me).

Business meeting is this Sunday... I will be inviting members who are interested to read my draft working paper, and to feel free to talk to me about the contents of the paper or about my concern itself. I haven't done that officially yet, but now that my clearness committee is a support committee, it's time to be more official. *Deep Sigh* I sure hope the water's fine...

Karen said...

Shawna - Having stumbled across you at Hystery's blog and visited your blog because you came across as so real and centred, I'm so impressed by your writing. It *does* seem humble, so there - the real kind of humility that is about recognising limits and abilities clearly, not the fake kind in which we are supposed to make ourselves less.

On this issue, I should be clear that I'm a B in the LGBTQI alphabet soup, and I've found that not one of the (few and elderly) members of the local Meeting are the least bit uncomfortable with that.

I have, though, found a distinct lack of welcome on a Universalist Quaker mailing list, from which I appear to have been unsubscribed. Someone asked if Universalist Friends accepted gay people, and a plethora of emails followed explaining that gay people are not only accepted in the English-speaking world but seem to want special rights, that gay people have already achieved all the rights they need, and that a discussion of attitudes to homosexuality would take attention from "real problems" such as poverty, violence, and injustice in the developing world. An attempt to explain how attitudes to queer and trans issues are real problems which profoundly affect people's well being in a wide range of ways (from immigration to refugee status to disproportionate experiences of physical violence and mental health), I got a couple of emails of support, a lot of vitriol, and a communication from the list maintainer suggesting that I would find an LGBT mailing list more conducive to discussion. Not a single email have I received since.

Sometimes, I'd rather have people just clam up and say that the Bible condemns queer and trans people than deal with people who think they're terribly liberal and tolerant and so don't have to deal with anything that might indicate that they're not the groovy, morally superior people they think they are. They're the slippery ones. At least you know where you stand with someone who's prepared to outright condemn you!

So, bless you for taking the Bible seriously, and your faith seriously, and for being someone who nurtures their own integrity. Bless you for being prepared to set aside your comfort zone and to work alongside others whose beliefs cause you pain in order to come to a mutually respectful understanding and an openness to the Light. That, for me, is what faithfulness is all about, regardless of the issue. I hope to be more like you.

Shawna said...

Oh, Karen... you just made me cry. That was so nice of you! Thank you so much for stopping by.

Anyone who thinks that LGBTQI folks have achieved status-equity, is not thinking clearly. They've come a long long way, but they still don't even have equal legal rights, let alone basic individual respect from many people. I'm sorry that the mailing list folks didn't see that their own reactions were a sign of the oppression they wanted to deny. Bummer.

I have started handing out rough drafts of my working paper to anyone in my monthly meeting who requests a copy... the response so far has been wonderful. So far so good!

Liz Opp said...

A working paper...? Any chance it could be sent to someone outside of your meeting? I'm happy to send you my postal address: just say the word!

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Shawna said...

Hi, Liz --

It's still a rough draft. I don't feel clear yet to make it totally public, although I expect that it will become a public document eventually. One of my ministers has encouraged me to think about whether I feel clear to send it to Pendle Hill as a possible pamphlet. We'll see. I'm not sure the wider Quaker world would be interested.

Once I think the paper is ready for full public consumption, I'll be sure to link to it here.

Liz Opp said...


Thanks..... Please look for an email from me, related to this whole topic.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

Sherrill said...

A couple of nights ago, I came across your posting of March 27 on "the Hope Inherent in Opening One's Mouth" and was appalled at the virulent comments by one of the posters in response to it.

There's a site you might want to look at that is very heartening from the position in which you, and hopefully your Meeting in the future, seem to be heading:

Love, Sherrill

Shawna said...

Hi Sherrill,

Thank you very much for the link. Good minutes. My mom lives in Minnesota... it's a great state!

If anyone else has any links they would lke to share here, please feel free to do so. I appreciate all links to any resources anyone feels led to share, on any perspective of this discussion.