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FROM the Nashville Statement to Washington policy, it has been a difficult month for myself and other LGBTQ folks.
Here in Holland, I have been increasingly discouraged by the promotion, even by those I consider friends, of articles and other rhetoric that misconstrue our situation in this community. One such piece is an August 28 MY TAKE by Sharon Masten, which “assure[s]” us that “the majority of Christians” in this city are “compassionate for their LGBTQ neighbors.” Thus, she reasons, a city ordinance protecting our basic rights is unnecessary.
By this logic, the Michigan law protecting equal opportunity based on “religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, or marital status” (MCL 37.2102) might also be deemed unnecessary—“the majority of” people are compassionate, after all. Yet any Bill of Rights is meant to protect minorities who cannot fend for themselves. It seems incredible that humanity’s Godlike compassion should be highlighted in this case, when Holland usually stresses its sinful nature instead.
As it turns out, the contention that LGBTQ folks undergo no discrimination in Holland is tragically false…
Read the full article HERE.
I thank Marcia Bloemers for her response in “Christians aren’t playing ‘victim’” (Sentinel, June 16). She was not alone in interpreting my words as a personal attack on Seaborn. That was not my intention. I quoted his words as one example, uttered in a public forum, as I might have quoted a book that has influenced the culture of our community.
My purpose was instead to establish two weak claims. The first is that Christians are not generally victims of LGBT people. Yet Seaborn has proclaimed at numerous churches that LGBT people have an “agenda” that will land Christians in jail. This rhetoric accomplishes nothing more than polarization, and inflames attendees already disposed toward hate speech and violence. It serves no one. Instead, regardless of moral opinions, Christians should be taught to advocate for the safety and dignity of victimized LGBT.
The second point is that Christians must not remain silent. LGBT outcry following Orlando is one begging you to hear our plight — a plight that began long before last weekend. Has your church condemned the massacre? Acknowledged the event as an LGBT hate crime? Told a demeaning joke about Saugatuck lately? Contributed to a West Michigan that makes life either miserable or pleasant for us? Some introspection would go a long way.
Bloemers and others also fail to grasp that we have been actively excluded from ministries. Certainly, all people get mistreated — but black people, same-sex couples holding hands, transgendered individuals and many others walk around with targets on their backs. The treatment is disproportionate. Ignorance of this reality is part of what it means to be privileged, and failure on the part of privileged individuals to advocate for the oppressed is a great crime of silence. Holding hands with a same-sex friend downtown might bring some awareness.
Finally, there is the complaint that my letter (“Christians can stop playing cultural victim,” Sentinel June 14) was divisive. Jesus’ own message was apparently so offensive that it put him on a cross, so I myself make no apologies for stating some difficult truths. I believe a conversation has started that holds potential for bringing change. If my letter may be considered a less egregious offense than the murder of 50 people last weekend, let us hope that pulpits across West Michigan shall address current events this coming Sunday by condemning violence, advocating for LGBT rights and considering how they might help to ensure our safety — not painting us as oppressors.
Chase W. Nelson
Originally published in The Holland Sentinel.
In the wake of the Orlando shooting, I am reminded of a sermon once if not often given by Dan Seaborn in which he proclaims that homosexuality is wrong, and further expresses the fear that he might very well be put in prison some day for having said so.
Saturday night’s events expose the utter nonsense these words represent as they issue forth from the lips of a white Protestant male in West Michigan. And while Seaborn’s public words invite a specific response, it is this community at large, and those like it, that have allowed anti-gay sentiments to fester, take root and grow ultimately into the kind of deeply entrenched hate witnessed by all of us who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The indoctrination has finally been mistaken for conscience by its recipients.
Over a hundred men were shot on Saturday, with 50 dead; Seaborn and like-minded men of privilege have so far seen no jail time. The roles in this story are clear. For Christians to play the victim in a “culture war” that has us LGBT folks worried for our physical safety is not only preposterous, it is profoundly anti-Christian. Christians may be persecuted elsewhere, but not much in America, and certainly not in Holland.
That the culture increasingly expresses disagreement with some fundamentalist dogmas should not be interpreted as persecution; it should be interpreted as disagreement. The disproportionately hateful treatment and murder of minorities in America makes this difference clear to any objective observer.
Why say so? Because the blood is on the hands of any and all who fail to act — who do not stand up for “the least of these.” There are the parents whose child blurted “faggot” at me on Eighth Street some months ago; no correction was given. There are the churches who have failed to protect me or else actively excluded me because I am gay; no one cared to call afterward. There are the daily unfriendly stares and avoidance of men whose own masculinity is apparently so delicate that a measure of insult is required to ensure its safe preservation; I am sometimes sure to leave in a crowd to guarantee my safety.
These, friends, are the promulgators of hate, or else the bystanders at the trial of the innocent who say nothing. You have seen the fruits. But will you change the tree?
Chase W. Nelson
Originally published in The Holland Sentinel.
S.C. Equality has long been one of the key players in promoting equal rights and opportunity for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community in the South Carolina Midlands and beyond. As a member of that community who is familiar with and benefits from their tireless hard work, they have earned my admiration and respect many times over.
Yet it is precisely out of my respect for the organization and its leadership that I balk at their February 5 endorsement of Hillary Clinton, who held an enormously beneficial fundraiser for the organization in November. Such an endorsement implies the unequivocal superiority of the selected candidate’s record on issues relevant to the group. I’m afraid that record is absent. Compared to the other Democratic candidate, Bernie Sanders, with whom Clinton is currently tied neck-and-neck at the national level, Clinton’s history on LGBTQ equality is at best similar—and at worst comparably dismal.
It is by now well-know that Sanders defended military LGBTQ individuals as early as 1995, when he objected to the flamboyant rhetoric (“homos in the military!”) of California’s Rep. Duke Cunningham on the House floor. But he actually appears always to have supported anti-discrimination laws, as evidenced by a 1970s letter on behalf of the Liberty Union Party in Vermont and available on Alternet. He supported gay pride celebrations and anti-discrimination ordinances throughout the 1980s. He was also an early supporter of civil unions—an example of his willingness to make moderate progress when the ideal cannot yet be achieved—and was a champion both against the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and for the right of LGBTQ individuals to marry in Vermont in 2009.
Clinton’s record is relatively appalling. Where Sanders’ initial support for civil unions rather than marriage seemed largely practical, Clinton’s objections were decidedly moral. She supported DOMA in 1996. “I believe marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman,” she stated in 2004 on the Senate floor. When the State Department changed passport forms to read “Parent 1 and Parent 2” instead of “Mother and Father” in 2010, she “disagreed” and swiftly catalyzed a reversal of the decision, adding that she “could live w[ith] letting people in nontraditional families choose another descriptor so long as we retained the presumption of mother and father.” Not until 2013 did she reveal unconditional support for same-sex marriage—so late in the day that it came at no political risk whatsoever. Support is support, but let’s be transparent about that fact that, as Kate McKinnon chides with a wink, “coulda been sooner.”
No doubt Sanders’ history of relatively liberal views on LGBTQ rights will count as a strike against for conservatives to whom this is an important issue. It should come as no surprise that his record on civil rights as a whole is astounding, which is remarkable given his identity as a white heterosexual male and secular Jew. Members of our community who are serious about choosing the best candidate to represent our interests should engage in some serious dialogue and research before making their choice. My only concern here is to set the record straight: no, Clinton is not the “champion” for LGBTQ rights that the Human Rights Campaign and others have touted her to be. Sanders, by comparison, is.
This op-ed was published in abbreviated form on 22 February 2016 at The State:
To my LGBTQ family and others who support Hillary Clinton, I’m going to make a very weak (but, I think, important) claim. It is this: that, if you support Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, it must be for a personal reason other than their records. It is great that Hillary now supports us, but she sounded like a GOP candidate as recently as 2004:
On the other hand, Bernie was defending us as early as 1995. I challenge you to find a single progressive stance which she adopted before Bernie (and there are many which she likely would not have adopted BUT for his entrance into this race, e.g., Citizens United). Moreover, Elizabeth Warren has talked about how Hillary has been subject to the influence of big money, just like the GOP candidates. Hillary continues to be the recipient of massive funds from Wall Street in this campaign. I know she’s a celebrity, but what are the reasons for choosing her over Bernie? I am confused.
Holland, MI — My Nov. 8 letter claimed that the Christian response to LGBT individuals in Holland is insane and ignorant. While I am thankful for Lewis Dekker’s thoughtful response, his words still call to mind that familiar thump.
Mr. Dekker cites theologian John Piper on Romans 1. The 1998 sermons rely heavily on the words “against nature” – para physin in the Greek – and assume a moral implication. However, the same Greek phrase is used elsewhere to describe both God’s act of Gentile inclusion (Rom. 11:24) and men who grow long hair (1 Cor. 11:14). It is synonymous with “unusual,” not “against God.” A single good book on the subject is sufficient to expunge ignorance of such well-known facts, but most Hollanders appear not to have invested the time. Withholding civil rights in the workplace, however, seems to them a worthy investment.
As usual, one can make a strong case for several understandings of a text that doesn’t speak for itself, in English or in Greek. That is why the myopic view must be superseded by a Spirit-based view. This same Spirit has, despite tradition, accepted interracial marriage and women like Beth Moore (who does, in fact, speak in church). Thus, while Piper’s sermons call LGBT individuals to change or else celibacy, lifelong loneliness and suicide are well-documented phenomena on this path, and hardly represent God’s Spirit. Beyond the audacity of a married man extolling celibacy, it is obvious that it is “not good for man to be alone” (words that God uttered even before the Fall). Gay Christian role models are now what is sorely needed, yet it is Christians who withhold them from this generation.
Finally, the tone of my letter is hardly anti-Biblical. “Turn from your ways before it’s too late” represents a major portion of the Hebrew text, and Jesus’ intolerance of his own Biblical authorities resulted in throwing things. Yes, it is difficult to shed a lifetime of indoctrination and anti-LGBT propaganda – but Christians are running out of excuses. It has come time to heed Gamaliel’s advice, “lest you be found to fight against God.”
Chase W. Nelson
LETTER published as “Spirit calls us to acceptance” in The Holland Sentinel on 21 November 2013.
Holland, MI — It is difficult to overstate the irony of the Christian response to LGBT individuals in this city. Holland maintains a stubborn ignorance of the ways in which the Bible has been used to justify every manner of discriminatory political agenda. Beyond this classic case of aspect blindness, the English text remains idolized above the Living God, faithfully propagating what Peter Gomes has termed “bibliolatry.”
Many Holland churches go even further, actively working to de-convert the LGBT in their congregations. It goes like this: Any LGBT individual with the spiritual authenticity to come out is immediately banned from any public role whatsoever. For those of us with gifts such as leadership, music and public speaking, this practice renders us unable to pursue our ministries.
This trend of exclusion is why so many LGBT individuals with leadership talents end up secular: because of Christians. Turned away from the place we desire to serve, where else can we go? As Walker Percy has written, “One might even become a Christian if there were few if any Christians around.”
LGBT Christians: Read Romans 1. It simply does not describe you or the love that you seek in this life. Do not be distracted by the devastating lie that love is not for you, as I was for so many years. Instead, use your time in this city as a “dark night of the soul” in which you hone your gifts and grow amidst persecution. God will provide direction for finding a beautiful love and calling.
Anti-LGBT Christians: Your disproportionately apoplectic reaction to this city’s tiny LGBT community is not sane. You continue to cause the little ones to stumble, to prey on the oppressed, and to turn away the hungry. “Lord, Lord” on your lips, you nevertheless avoid the spiritual life and fail to know the Savior you claim. Heed the voice of God before it is too late — for you.
Chase W. Nelson
How far we come to see the miles ahead. Late in the summer of 2009, I sat to gather in words what I knew of love and relationships – especially the relationship of Eros, of romantic and sexual love. I quickly became embarrassed by my naivety; the Note has since disappeared from Facebook. As the growth has taken place, however, the journey ahead has stretched ever more widely and longingly before my eyes. I journal five pages a day, and the territory never seems to end. We gay males (and gay Christians) have been left to find our own way in this world. Just as the progress of science unlocks more mystery than understanding, the spiritual work of introspection and Charity presents challenges of apparently increasing insuperability. This is where Foster is quick to remind us that not to progress in the spiritual life is to go back.
Several lights have arisen on the journey. Thank God for Julia Cameron and The Artist’s Way. Thank God for Brené Brown’s TEDxHouston talk on vulnerability; those twenty minutes have long sustained my soul. Now, this week, a new light has been found in the words of Thomas Merton:
To love another is to will what is really good for him. Such love must be based on truth. … The first step to unselfish love is the recognition that our love may be deluded. We must first of all purify our love by renouncing the pleasure of loving as an end in itself.
Together with the succinct words of a close friend, this passage served the role of an iced bucket of water dumped with great alacrity over my head. I’m selfish – terribly so. I have made love all about me. The way to remedy this is apparently to practice the discipline of “renouncing the pleasure of loving as an end in itself.” What does this look like? What does it ask us to fast from? I do not think it means renouncing the pleasure of love. Nor do I think it means renouncing physical pleasure. But it does insist upon a certain kind of mindfulness. To know what is best for the beloved involves the mind – and deserves the best of its faculties! We might ask ourselves before even the most casual encounter, “Is there any way I can prepare to meet this person with selflessness? Given what I know of him, are there specific words or activities that would not serve this person well?” Importantly, what is best for the beloved may often necessitate that we do not communicate our love in the way we desire. In order to free him from bondage, we do not tell him about the way his hair falls on his face. We do not kiss him at the opportune moment. We give him to God for a better, more lasting purpose.
How, then, to seek fulfillment while following the advice of Richo? He tells us not to look for the ideal man, for an ideal man is not a real man – which is the only kind out there. How to rectify this reality with the desire to find someone who meets our deepest needs, values, and wishes? Another friend helped illuminate the real meaning of this: that two people must be relatively complete, and must not be looking for someone else to complete them. Such a situation (let us call it independent wholeness) is the only one in which real relating is possible. Webber says it like this: “No one is loved perfectly; some part of our authentic self is never going to be met by a partner.” We must accept and feel this reality, and let it saturate our awareness as we seek a partner in this world. Further, we must also recognize that there is something greater than any one item on our list of “partner requirements.” This greater good is a persistent staying with and staying by; a togetherness; a sense that the other will not leave you. Yes, I rail against this. I think of times when I have felt great loneliness in another’s presence. I think of stasis and lazy mornings that call to mind Cameron’s words: “If I don’t create, I get crabby. As an artist, I can literally die of boredom. … Creativity is oxygen for our souls. Cutting off our creativity makes us savage. We react like we are being choked.” With palpable exasperation I can remember, with friends and lovers alike, these times of suffocation. Breathing heavy. I would have killed for coffee, philosophy, and the written word. I would have surged ahead in a marathon just to get it out of my system – the need, for God’s sake, to DO. Yes, I know that mere fidelity and togetherness are not enough for me. Still, it is humbling to realize that I have not properly appreciated their infinite worth. I have much work to do.
These realizations have sent me spiraling. The first glimmer of sure footing lies in what Lewis emphasizes: that Charity, the love of God, must be present in all our relationships; nay, must be its fuel. That selflessness is the only thing that can give our love a backbone. It is the only force that can prevent any of our loves – Friendship, Affection, or Eros – from becoming selfish and destructive. It means seeking the good of the beloved as much as it means seeking the good in him. We must search for the God in him whom we love, and help him also to find it for himself. Sometimes the search will be difficult, but we must, with Merton, become “convinced and penetrated by the realization that without my love for [him he] may perhaps not achieve the things God has willed for [him].” One need not even assent to the existence of God to see that, without some action on our part, those we love may never receive the love, support, and wisdom that they need to find and execute their purpose in this life.
We are bodies and spirits united; the product, as Nee writes, is the soul – the emotion, mind, intellect, and will. Neglecting either component of our existence will lead to decay – to stagnation and disease in our souls. Thus I leave with the words of Webber, published in Psychology Today but no less wise than the writers of the past. They serve at once as a challenge and a mystery. Be honest, be wise, and take seriously (and without shame!) both your biological and spiritual needs. Do the work of introspection that a healthy life requires, and foster that Rilke-like solitude inside your soul that makes real love possible.
To enter a relationship with an idea of what it should look like or how it should evolve is too controlling[;] it takes two people to make a relationship. … One of the most common reasons we choose the wrong partner is that we do not know who we are or what we really want. It’s hard to choose someone capable of understanding you and meeting your most guarded emotional needs and with whom your values are compatible when you don’t know what your needs or values are or haven’t developed the confidence to voice them unabashedly. … Most of us are guarded about our needs, because they are typically our areas of greatest sensitivity and vulnerability.
It will bring me great joy if any of my struggles inspire you to dig deep and do the work; I hope they can also shed a little light on the way.
 Brown, Brené. 2010. The Power of Vulnerability. TEDxHouston.
 Cameron, Julia. 1992, 2002. The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. Penguin Putnam Inc., 237 pp.
 Foster, Richard J. 1978, 1988, 1998. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. HarperCollins, 228 pp.
 Lewis, C.S. 1960, 1988. The Four Loves. Harcourt, 141 pp.
 Merton, Thomas. 1955, 1983, 2003. No Man Is An Island. Fall River, 264 pp.
 Nee, Watchman. 1968, 1977. The Spiritual Man. Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 207 pp.
 Richo, David. 2002. How to Be an Adult in Relationships: the Five Keys to Mindful Loving. Shambhala, 272 pp.
 Rilke, Rainer Maria. 1934, 1962, 1954. Letters to a Young Poet (trans. M.D. Herter Norton). W.W. Norton & Company, 123 pp.
 Webber, Rebecca. 2012. Are you with the right mate? Psychology Today 45(1):56-65.