jennifer hanigan

a pinch of this and a dollop of that


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A Little Sermon for Pride Sunday

I was asked to share my story for the Pride Sunday service at my church. This is the text of what I said.

Good morning. A lot of you don’t know me, because I’ve only been attending here since February. For over a decade, I attended another church here in town. They said they loved me, and I think, in their own way, that they did. They became my second family, and I don’t say that lightly. I helped deliver three of the children running around their nursery this morning.

A few years ago I began to notice that the kids in the youth group who didn’t fit into the heteronormative, gender-binary box were disappearing. I never heard the youth pastor preach on the topic, never heard the other kids make disparaging comments, but clearly these kids didn’t feel like they belonged. And that concerned me, because these are the kids most at risk for abuse, exploitation, and suicide. These are the kids who most need family.  I wondered how we, as a church, might better help them.

At the time, I still bought into Side B theology.  Side B people agree that sexual orientation can’t be changed, but they believe that same-sex sexual relationships are wrong. At the time, if asked, I referred to myself as “mostly straight.” I even had a number: 95%. And that 5% of me that liked women was kind of interesting but didn’t really matter, because obviously I was never going to act on it, right?

Side B theology and my desire to better serve the queer people in the church became a rock and a hard place. Those are very difficult things to reconcile. God loves you and you are fearfully and wonderfully made, except this one part of you, which you need to spend your life hating, but that’s okay, because we’re going to come alongside you and support you in hating it. It was tightrope I couldn’t walk.

So I went to an old friend, someone I’d met in a Conservative Baptist church, who while serving as a missionary in Mexico had shifted from Side B to Side A, which affirms same-sex relationships. I asked her how she reconciled her new viewpoint with the Bible. Specifically the New Testament, I said. That mattered to me. I wasn’t entirely unreasonable, after all. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she and her husband had been vilified, had their church support removed, and were still going through all kinds of issues because they had become affirming. She was, understandably, on the defensive, and she asked me why I wanted to know.

I explained my concerns about the kids in youth group, and then added, “Also, I’m bisexual.” I think that was the first time I used the word “bisexual” in reference to myself. There are those who shun labels, and I get where they’re coming from–we don’t owe the world a definition of who we are, and labels can make us feel boxed in–but there is also power to be found there, power in staking a claim to who you are, and power in the community of those who share that label. I think I was able to tell her I was bisexual because I knew, I didn’t agree with her theology yet, but I knew she was safe. I knew I was safe with her.

Assured that my intentions were honorable, she gave me a list of resources, and I spent the next few months studying and thinking and praying. In the beginning, it was mostly studying and thinking. But as I was studying and thinking, as my eyes and heart were opened, I began to pray, “Lord, if I am wrong, if I’m heading down the wrong path here, show me!” I was being drawn to an affirming theology by the joy and freedom and life that it gives, and it was exhilarating but frightening. Two people I was closest to, my best friend at the time and my younger son, were also unnerved by the journey I was going through, as I talked my way through it with them. My friend, especially, tried hard to slow me down, but that was a losing battle. By the end of August, I was convinced.

The LGBTQ crowd seems to fall into two camps: Those who are quietly queer, saying something only when necessary, and those who are obnoxiously loud about their queerness. I’m the obnoxiously loud type. So, my next task was to tell the world. Facebook seemed the most efficient method of doing so, so on September 3rd of last year, I made a set-to-public post.  It began:

“After much study, prayer, and contemplation, I have concluded that homosexuality is compatible with biblical Christianity. And although I embarked upon this journey for other reasons, this conclusion also has personal significance: I am bisexual.”

It also included:

“I am the same person you knew and loved yesterday. I hope you will rejoice with me in the freedom I have found, and join me in hoping freedom, grace, and love abound.”

Some of the reason I was so public about this was that, to me, it was very good news! I was full of joy in who I was and who God was, and it was good news for me and also for others. But I wasn’t naive. The day before I posted this, I sat down with one of my dearest friends, the one I worked closely with in my capacity as head of the music ministry. I made sure he knew everything I knew, in case I disappeared. I still worry that the pianos haven’t been tuned.

Sure enough, I was removed from my ministry position before the following Sunday, and banned from any participation other than showing up to Sunday morning services. I wish I were making this up, but the pastor actually said, “When a police officer shoots someone, they’re put on administrative leave while an investigation is done.” I was left wondering who I’d shot.

The elders, all men of course, convened a meeting to interrogate me about everything from my sex life (they wanted to know if I was living up to the bisexual stereotype) to why I’d come out so publicly. They were very concerned about what I might do or say in church. It was hard not to laugh at that, because I have yet to find a set of queer worship songs.

So I told them about the studies that show that exposure to images of fat people being active reduces anti-fat bias by combating the internalized and false idea that we’re lazy.  And how statistically speaking, the people most likely to be racist are those with the least exposure to people of other ethnicities, because their bias isn’t challenged by reality. I explained that my task, as I saw it, was not to stand up in front of the church and say gay things or sing gay songs, it was just to be myself, and if knowing me, a queer person who was also a Christian, challenged their bias or changed their hearts, then that would be a beautiful thing.

I should maybe not have told them that. After several weeks of meetings both with and without me, they came back with three options:

My first option, the one they were really hoping I would accept, was to return to my former Side B theology.

If that was not possible, they also gave me the option of agreeing not to speak of my Side A theology in OR OUT of church.

And if I could do neither of those things, then I was no longer allowed to attend church there.

Well, option 1 was impossible. Option 2 would violate my conscience. And so I left.

I’m supposed to be telling you why I haven’t abandoned my faith and the church entirely, and Chuck will be happy to know I’m getting to that part.

I’m going to reread this morning’s text: “As God’s partners, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For God says, “At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.” See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see–we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return–I speak as to my children–open wide your hearts also.”

Polls show that the number one attribute assigned to Christians in the United States is being anti-gay. It’s what we-the global church-are known for. This church-versus-gay dichotomy was not invented by queer people, but by the loudest voices from inside the church. And my very existence as a queer Christian is a challenge to that false binary. I make people uncomfortable. I’m okay with that. What I could not do, what I cannot do, is let those loud voices define my identity and the community I’m a part of. For too long, I was not allowed to be queer because I was a Christian. I will not now give up being Christian because I am queer.

“There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours.”

I have been greatly blessed to be here at this church. You have been balm for my wounds. I want to thank you, and also to challenge you. I am here because this church made it obvious that I would be welcome. In the last four months I have seen again and again that you have successfully built a bridge that joins queer and straight Christians such that we are walking and working side by side, and it has brought me joy. Don’t stop. Don’t stop building bridges. Don’t stop seeking the image of God in people who are not like you, not like us. Remember that we have more to learn than to teach. Bridges go both directions! Let us look around, and let us open wide our hearts.

Jesus loves you

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A Word to Homeschool Moms in the Age of Trump

I homeschooled my kiddos. The reasons were myriad but it came down to this: it was the best choice for my kids, my family.

We’d do anything for our kids, wouldn’t we? We sacrifice time, money, careers, privacy, decades of our own lives and wishes and needs. We put up with the rude comments, the scoffers, the “well-meaning” family members. Why? We would do anything for our kids. Anything to give them what they need to succeed in life. The day I handed my youngest kiddo his diploma was one of the proudest days of my life.

I can think of no group better suited to understand an immigrant bringing their child to the United States. Above anyone else I know, homeshooling mamas should recognize the love that drives a parent to extraordinary lengths. And above anyone else I know, homeschooling mamas’ hearts should hurt for the parents and babies coming to our borders for help and being torn apart.

Have you hailed as heroes those moms who homeschooled “underground” in the early days, until they won the fight to legalize it? Did you proclaim the US should grant asylum to German families whose homeschooled kids were taken away from them? Have you refused to follow your state’s homeschool law because it’s government interference in your parenting, or cheered those who have done so, or worked to ease requirements? Do you talk about religious liberty, the pursuit of happiness, the autonomy of the person and the family?

Then you can understand. You can understand the parents who bring their babies here in the hopes of giving them a better life. You can understanding parents who want to protect their kids. You can understand that red tape is hard to navigate, and that the law is not always the primary consideration (though I will note that US asylum regulations require you to get here by some means, legal or otherwise, to request asylum, leaving these parents no choice!). And you can understand the horrific injustice of separating these parents from their kids, of forcibly institutionalizing the children in any way.

I would-and have!-risk my life for my kids. I would-and have!-risk my future for my kids. I know you would, too. I know you’re a fierce lioness guarding the gates of your kids’ future. And I’m calling on you to come alongside these immigrant moms, in all your fierceness, and help them do the same.

beach babies


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Love and Sin

What is sin? Some would say sin is a violation of God’s law. They would point to the Bible, citing various lists of Do Thises and Don’t Do Thats. Some preach that it’s “missing the mark” or “falling short” of God’s desires for us. Some would say it’s mere imperfection.

It’s an interesting debate because, for Christians at least, we have the answer:

“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”” ~ Matthew 22:37-40

Humans are a complicated bunch. In the face of a simple answer, we contrive hundreds of rules covering everything from whether we can watch television on Sunday (or Saturday) to how long our skirts must be to whether it’s okay to kiss on a first date (or second, or third, or…).

But really, it all boils down to:Love is Love
Love God
Love others
Love yourself

Take a look at the phrase there that connects the first and second commandments: “And the second is like it.” Isn’t that interesting? When I read that, I hear that loving others is tantamount to loving God. This makes sense, since each human is made in God’s image! If we love God, we love God’s image-bearers. And don’t forget that loving yourself bit. You’re an image-bearer, too.

The story of Sodom is such a horrific one that it’s a favorite target of the anti-LGBTQ+ crowd. But what made Sodom so evil?

“‘Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me.” ~ Ezekiel 16:49-50

Sodom, the people of Sodom, failed to love their neighbors, and sought to do very unloving things to the visitors we read about in the story of its destruction. The sin in that story was not the sexual desires of men for other men, it was the intent to gang rape them, and the failure to be hospitable.

If you aren’t familiar with the Side A/Side B debate within the world of queer Christians, it can be summed up thusly: Side A folks believe that same-sex romantic relationships are just as fine as different-sex romantic relationships. Side B folks believe that if a Christian is gay, they need to be celibate, that a romantic or sexual relationship would be sin. (Neither side believes a person’s sexual orientation can be changed…anyone who still believes that is lost in the wilderness of seriously bad science and theology!)

So, if we are to call same-sex relationships sin, we must be able to point to the unlovingness inherent in them. I have never met a person who could do this. Each one who has tried has resorted to circular logic: It’s failing to love God because God said no, or it’s failing to love the other person because you’re causing them to sin. No, no, if Jesus himself says the law hinges on loving God and one another, we don’t get to add requirements to that. Especially not while pointing fingers at the Pharisees.

But here’s where I do find unlovingness: Side B theology. Because there is simply no loving way to tell someone that they will never be deserving of romantic love. There is no loving way to sentence someone to a life without the kind of intimate companionship we’re made to desire*. And trust me, there is no way to do so without stabbing at the very heart of the queer person.

I know, I know, we’re supposed to debate this peaceably. The thing is, a Side A person is not going to force a Side B person into a same-sex relationship against their conscience. But Side B churches (and people) insist on forcing Side A Christians to conform or leave.

And that is not love.

 

*I don’t mean to exclude Ace folks, many of whom desire a close relationship on their own terms, and who ought to have it!