In the wake of the United States Supreme court’s decision to ensure LGBTQ rights against discrimination, those in the conservative evangelical groups are voicing concerns about their religious rights. For the life of me, I have never understood the unhealthy fascination and speculation about what may (or may not) be going on in a person’s bedroom. Now, I will be the first to tell you that I believe wholeheartedly in religious freedom. I also believe wholeheartedly in equal rights for all people regardless of sexual orientation, sexual identity, race, sex, ethnic background, or any other distinction. These two things do not have to be mutually exclusive. All that is requires is a mutual understanding and respect. That being said, I think the issues go beyond a fear of losing religious rights. I think one of the real hang up issues is that the conservative evangelical church is being forced to look at sex. Conservative evangelicalism has always had an unhealthy relationship with sex. Early in my career development, I attended a Southern Baptist Seminary. I didn’t fully understand the theology and the harsh stances within this group until after I had already graduated. They did have the cheapest seminaries though. (Perhaps there was a reason why.) The church I went to was perhaps a bit more liberal than most, and at the time, I felt relatively comfortable there. I think there were a few of gay couples there, but sex as a topic was scarcely mentioned. Throughout the course of my seminary experience, I discovered quickly that there were some wild incongruities and a general strangeness among this group related to sex. There was a focus on purity and not having sex outside of marriage. I can respect this. However, rather than focusing on equality in relationships and offering a healthy sexual education, there was no discussion of sex at all. When it did come up in conversation, it led to averted gazes and awkward chuckles….not exactly what I would call mature discourse. What is worse is that in the absence of people having actual conversations about sex, the underlying currents became very unhealthy. In one instance, a staff member ended his own life by suicide when it was discovered that his name was on a website that linked people for affairs. Now, I do not approve of him seeking an affair, but I do highlight this as a symptom of an unhealthy sexual perspective. Other guys that I went to school with were dismissed when someone turned them in for looking at pornography. No attempt to help the young men focus on the relationship aspect or to help them re-frame sex in an emotionally healthy way. They were simply expelled and sent off into the world with a continuing unhealthy view of sex. The only discussions of sex were completely Biblical, misogynistic in nature, and limited sex to one man and one woman in the context of marriage. Even in this pigeon holed view of sex, there was perverseness as people still looked at others as sexual objects rather than considering them as human beings. I saw men treat their wives as objects. I saw women living subjugated lives being “required” to have sex with their husband whenever he was in the mood. Sex was not taught to be an emotionally attached and connected activity. It became little more that sanctified carnality for some, and that was only within the cisgendered and heterosexual community. Those who knew inside that their sexual orientation or gender identity differed from others were forced to remain closeted or face judgement, major opposition, and ultimate rejection. This led to many people ending up in marriages that ultimately became unsatisfying. I myself was a victim of this as my own wife came out as lesbian after 7 years of marriage. It was not her fault. Growing up in a conservative evangelical household, she had never had the chance to explore her sexuality. It was only as an adult in the context of a safe relationship that she was ultimately able to do that, and while it was painful, she is now living a life congruent to who she is and I am proud of her for it. The truth is that sex is one of the most misused things in the world. This is as true among evangelicals as it is within the LGBTQ population. People see it as something to be acquired or taken from another person. So often, this focus relegates a person to being little more than a sexual plaything for another. If you are using a person for the sole purpose of “getting off,” then you are subjugating that person. While I am open and affirming, my belief system does call me to handle sex responsibly. In my faith understanding, the purpose of sex is not only to procreate, but to be the greatest expression of physical and emotional communication that two people can engage in. I have a hard time seeing this being able to happen outside of a monogamous relationship. Furthermore, I do not believe that a healthy marriage or relationship can be void of sex. Healthy sex requires intimacy and this intimacy requires a great deal of vulnerability. I do not think that it is healthy to run from partner to partner as this turns sex into little more than a physical act taking away the communicative and intimate aspects. However, I do believe as an open and affirming person that deeply connected, emotional intimacy, engaged out of love and respect for another person that is reciprocated is possible for everyone. It is not dependent up sexual orientation or gender identity. It is simply defined by two people choosing to be vulnerable, connected, and intimate with one another. It is this vulnerability that scares the shit out of conservative evangelicals. Sex has been an unhealthy taboo topic for too long. If conservative evangelicals become vulnerable, then in their minds’ eye they lose power. They lose the power to subconsciously project their shadows related to sex on to others. They lose a sense of moral superiority and rightness, and they are then forced to look ultimately within themselves and consider their own views and true feelings related to their own sexual identity, orientation, and practice. I suspect that many will find when they look deep enough, that the vulnerability they so fear is the very thing missing in their current arrangements and relationships. It is time for the evangelical church to grow and change. In the last 10 years the Southern Baptist Convention has lost over 1 million members. There seems to be a misguided refusal to change based upon the assumption that it is a better choice to become a martyr than to change based upon societal needs. The prevailing attitude of “God doesn’t change and neither should we” is flawed. It presumes that whatever image of God you have created is the correct one and that it trumps all others. This is religious elitism and creates a toxic environment where religion is not used to help people grow, but to control and dominate them. God ends up hating the same people you hate. In this condition, it is impossible to be able to meet the needs of a hurting world in upheaval. In my estimation, the church’s true calling is to adjust to meet the needs as the hurts, pains, and challenges of society change. To assume that the needs of society meet the offerings of the church is just simply “ass backwards.” The church should be selfless and ultimately look back to its origins where is was far more concerned with the rights of others than for its own rights. It should remember back to a time where it existed to help others rather than the other way around. As I close up this thought, I want to remind those reading this that humanity is often referred to as the “Bride of Christ.” That being said, as a heterosexual, cisgendered male I do not have a problem with being in this number referred to as the “Bride of Christ.” This example in and of itself transcends sexual orientation, sexual identity, and for that matter any other label. Yet it reinforces the intimacy and connection that we should have with God and with others. This very example is open and affirming. It is inclusive and accepting, and it is considerate and understanding. This example conveys vulnerability, connection, and love in the true sense. It does not exclude. It is the very essence of what the church is called to be.-

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