“It’s an abomination!” “They want to ‘pick and choose’ what parts of the Bible to obey!” “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!” Most same-gender-loving Christians from fundamentalist backgrounds have heard these phrases, over and over again, from their “Accusers” – homophobic Christians who refuse to acknowledge LGBT Christians as part of the Body of Christ. In Ready to Answer, Rev. Marilyn Bowens responds to their favorite slogans; and shares additional insights from her journey from fundamentalism to peaceful, authentic, and intimate relationship with God. Ready to Answer is food for the souls of LGBT Christians who are struggling to heal from the abusive theology, policies, and practices of Accuser churches. * * * “It is critically important that all LGBT Christians have an answer for those who would dare suggest that we are not embraced by the extravagant grace of our loving God. In the much needed and long awaited book, Ready to Answer , Rev. Bowens will enable us, our families and allies to conquer the fears within and the foes without.” Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder Founder and Presiding Bishop, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries “This is a book that can save lives, sanity; can help people really entrapped. It is very disarming.” Rev. Dr. Nancy Wilson Moderator, Metropolitan Community Church
Introduction 1 Peter 3:14-16 (KJV): 14But and if ye suffer for righteousness' sake, happy are ye: and be not afraid of their terror, neither be troubled; 15But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: 16Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ. There is a principle that I live by that I call “redeeming the pain.” That is my way of expressing my belief that something good can come out of any pain we experience. The basis for that belief is Romans 8:28 – “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” Looking for ways to bring good out of my pain is what I call “redeeming the pain.” To the extent that I can do that, I am relieved of the feeling that I went through whatever I went through for nothing. I find that sharing our stories is often a way to redeem our pain. Those experiences that sear our souls, the ways that we find of getting through them, and the insights that we gain in the process, are often exactly what another person needs; sometimes what another person is desperate for, to get through their own experience of similar pain. I feel inspired to write this collection of essays and musings with a few hopes and prayers in mind. First, my prayer is that Christians of minority sexual orientation and/or gender identification and expression will find hope, comfort, peace, and freedom from the torment of “the Accusers.” “The Accusers” is my label for those in Christian churches who persist in refusal to affirm and embrace us as the full-fledged, equally beloved children of God and members of the Body of Christ that we are. I know that pain. I am on a journey that has taken me through fear of loss of my soul, because of one aspect of who I am that I did not choose and cannot change, to the blessed assurance of God’s unconditional and eternal love for me. It took a while to get through the torturous part of the journey. But I did, with the help and by the grace of God. I want others on that path to know that the same help and grace are available to them. It would redeem my pain if this book conveys that to one person. I also pray that this work will find its way into the hands of our Christian allies and those of “straight” Christians who are asking the hard questions and engaging in the difficult conversation about whether faithfulness to Christian faith allows for the full inclusion of people who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgendered in their churches. It does; in fact, it requires it. I am grateful for all who have engaged in that conversation without investment in protecting the status quo in most churches, but with sincere desire to discern and do God’s will. It will redeem my pain if this book assists even one of you in embracing and helping others to embrace an understanding of God’s love as radically inclusive of all of humanity. Finally, I pray that some Accusers will, somehow, be led or persuaded to read this book. Even if their original intent is to chew it up and spit it out; to play “scripture war games,” pitting each reference to scripture that I make against one that they choose to “prove” me wrong, I hope some will read this. Why? Because I trust the Holy Spirit to bear witness to truth. And I trust that, even if they start reading this with the intent of refuting it and discrediting me, God is able to change their hearts, minds, and intentions by the time they reach the end of it. I have no illusions – that will not be the case for all of them; probably not even most. But it would redeem the pain I have borne if this book plays any part in there being even one less Accuser in this world inflicting that same pain on other LGBT Christians. My intent is to speak in my own voice, from my own experience, in a way that will be accessible to many people. There is a lot of readily available published material in which gifted Bible scholars – LGBT and straight – exegete scripture, do word studies, mine and compile historical information and present eloquent arguments for the full inclusion of LGBT’s in the life of the church. I am grateful for their work. It is not my intent to write a weak imitation of that kind of scholarship. What I hope for is to engage whoever will read this in holy conversation about the topics herein; sharing my thoughts and stimulating thought in them. I am who I am. God created who I am. I am standing fast in the liberty wherein Christ has made me free. No more apologizing; no more arguing; no need to defend. But if anybody asks me, sincerely wanting information about the basis of my hope in Christ, I am finally ready to answer. The rest, I leave in God’s most capable hands. Rev. Marilyn Olivia Bowens Religion or Relationship? Spoon-feeding is for babies, not maturing Christians. The problem I have with religion, as practiced in many churches, is that there seems to be an expectation (at best) or a requirement (at worst) that fully-grown adults allow ourselves to be spoon-fed the church’s religion of choice. They say, “Know God for yourself.” But it seems that they really mean, “Know what we tell you about God for yourself.” That placed me squarely between the proverbial rock and hard place. Doing what they expected me to do was precisely what made it impossible for me to do what they told me to do. I grew up in a religious system that did not encourage independent thinking on theological matters. My sense is that many churches operate the same way. They are “right.” They know and teach “the truth.” If you have a permissible question, they have the answer. If they don’t have an answer, that’s only because the question was not permissible in the first place. Some things are simply not to be questioned. Some people are simply not to be questioned. What a dilemma for anyone who loves the Lord with all of his or her heart, and after (or while) growing up in a church that embraces Accuser-theology, comes to understand that s/he is LGBT! If you continue to allow yourself to be spoon-fed their “religion,” you must accept that you must change something about yourself that you cannot change or go to Hell. The only other slightly more humane choice some Accuser-churches offer is to renounce homosexuality and refrain from “practicing.” You have a shot at getting to Heaven, and having a marginal place in the life of the church until then, if you accept being sentenced to a life of involuntary celibacy. You must deny yourself satisfaction of all of those quintessentially human social, emotional, and sexual longings that are fulfilled in loving intimate partnerships and marriages. For most people, this is not really a humane option at all; just the lesser of the evils, given the choices. When I preach, I often explicitly point out the “take-away thought” of the sermon. This is the main thing that I understand to be the message to be conveyed; the thing that I want to be sure that everyone hears. The take-away thought of this essay is: Authentic faith and personal relationship with God absolutely require giving yourself permission to ask your questions. Many Accuser-dominated religious systems won’t give us that permission. And there are reasons for that. But we have the power to give it to ourselves; and the right to ask the questions. I’ll share some thoughts about why Accuser-churches don’t like questions, and then some thoughts about why LGBT Christians must ask them.
Raised in a fundamentalist church environment, Rev. Marilyn Bowens speaks from the experience of her successful quest for spiritual peace as a same-gender-loving woman. A former attorney and law professor, Rev. Bowens is a dually ordained minister of the Metropolitan Community Church and The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries.