ULS Student Shares Harrowing Experience with Conversion Therapy

By Carla Christopher
TW for anti-lgbtqia+ so called “conversion therapy,” spiritual-sexual abuse, suicide

I was 18, a Michigan girl who had flown to New York City for college, the dire warnings of “If you don’t leave now, you never will” still ringing in my ears. My nearest family was 3 states away and the comfort and stability of my church family felt like a million miles distant. A hallmate, also rather lonely and seeking community, asked me to go with her to attend an introductory meeting for a campus Christian group. The banal and pop-tinged music was played by a ruggedly handsome boy with a mop of curls, an earnest smile, and an acoustic guitar. There were hugs and warm smiles and free pizza. It felt…nice.

The carb-laden sing-a-longs became Bible study group, Sunday night gathering, worship team rehearsals, and hang-outs. School, even the Big Apple itself, was becoming more comfortable to me. So was spending time with my judo sensei, a strong and charming tomboy-ish woman from sunny California. I enjoyed spending time with her so much, that I mentioned it to the curly-haired crooner, who was also now my Bible study leader. He listened thoughtfully, hugged me with affection and seeming understanding, and encouraged me to attend a winter gathering of fellow students from a few other schools. It would be good to get away, he insisted, to experience some great prayer and praise, and to gain some clarity.

Clarity was apparently waiting for me in the knee-deep snow of a middle American state. A place I was transported to in someone else’s car, long before the days of cell phones being affordable to broke college students. I was assigned a metal bunk bed in a room of several other strangers. Breakfast came before dawn, the next day and for several days after. Days of hours of long prayer in crowded rooms with uncomfortable chairs. Days of repetitive music on speakers louder than thought. Days of testimony of “changed lives” and “surrendered sin”. The talk was vague. I was separated from my friends and anyone else I knew, except for my group leader checking in on me each day at dinner. I was cold. I was hungry. This place made me uncomfortable. I wanted to go home. Instead, I was told I was ready for “the prayer room”. A special seminar, he said. Sexual Healing.

A small group of us, indicated by group leaders and pointed fingers and hushed whispers. A darkened room with a concrete floor. Frigid cold, empty of furniture except for metal chairs and crosses. A circle of murmuring humans surrounding us. A laying on of hands that pushed me to the floor. Pressing that became restraint, then pain. Cries of prayer that became louder with every ‘no’, with every ‘stop’, with every ‘please stop, just let me go’. A separate, even smaller room for each of us. Still-near-children, now alone, cries of prayer that continued long after our very real tears had stopped.

They prayed in shifts. There was no one to relieve me. I broke in less than 12 hours. To this day, my weakness shames me. I begged God to take away whatever had made me deserving of such shaming, needful of such prayer. I ate, slept, spoke like a robot, moved slowly and mechanically throughout the strange space throughout the next day. I was allowed back to my metal bunk, to the mass sessions of prayer and song. My group leader smiled approvingly at me from across the room. I rose without conscious thought. I walked without feeling or intention. I knew I was dirty. I was aware only of an uncontrollable compulsion to get clean. I made it back to my bunk, to the industrial, open showers. In the metal stall, under scalding hot water, I suddenly realized I was fully clothed. And still gay. That’s when I wept. The kind of slack jawed, snot-releasing, hiccup-causing, soul-deep howls that reveal a broken soul.

I had prayed. I had obeyed. I had surrendered. Hadn’t God promised that if I prayed, if I believed, that I would be heard? I must truly be beyond hope, beyond saving, outside of God’s grace. All the pain of my childhood, my broken family, the weight of my every failing, real or perceived, fell upon me at once. Because hope died in that shower stall. There was no heaven for me. No relief that would ever end this pain, even in death. There was only this life, and an aloneness I hadn’t known since praying the prayer that made the Holy Spirit my best friend at 5 years old.

The rest of that night is blurry for me. I know my mother and uncle drove through a snowstorm on New Year’s and found me in a diner with a pay phone after a 5 hour drive. I know I left the church for more than a decade, punishing my body and my spirit every way I knew how, until God reminded me that if this was who I was, it was who God created me to be, knit together with the beauty of Psalm 139. I know that I made it out alive, barely, but my duet partner did not. He turned to drugs and needles and HIV then AIDS. I know that my first “boyfriend” did not. He took a fistful of sleeping pills and duct taped a plastic bag around his neck rather than live to see his disappointed family. I know that this is the cold, chest-gripping fist I feel on the rare nights I still wake up in a sticky sweat, 20 years later. I know that, as a proud and unapologetic queer person, this is a memory I must carry with me into board rooms and court rooms as very public and very media-accessible fights for conversion therapy bans, and non-discrimination protections, and adoption rights are being fought in America, in Pennsylvania, in 2018.

So many broken souls at the feet of the church. Souls you would have to dig six feet into hard-packed earth to make reparations to. And mine is just one of the thousands of conversion or “repairative” therapy realities still healing, still being prayed through, within our repenting and rebirthing church.

Carla Christopher
Carla Christopher is a culturally Jewish, Episcopalian-raised, Lutheran AF, Black/German/Hint of Mexican queer community organizer and cultural educator turned first-year seminarian at United Lutheran Seminary – Gettysburg.

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Student Organizations at Luther Seminary Call for More than Words about Racism on Campus

The following letter is from ReCharge and Dismantling Racism: Beloved Community (DR:BC)–two student organizations on the campus of Luther Seminary. ReCharge and DR:BC wrote this to the Student Council Executive team in response to their invitation to attend recent listening sessions about concerns of racism at the seminary. This is published here with the permission of the signatories. Decolonize Lutheranism stands with these students in their call for action.

A majority of the minoritized/marginalized students will not be attending this meeting. It was brought to our attention that President Steinke might interpret our absence as if we do not care. To that we would like to respond by saying: We have been creating safe spaces, table conversations and talking circles for the last 2 years addressing the problems that we all have been experiencing. During these 2 years President Steinke nor any of her representatives have attended any of our meetings. The staff/faculty members that have showed up are the same staff/faculty members that are still showing up and helping to create the space and conversation along side us. During these two years we have come to the conclusion that President Steinke does not care about our experience in this institution. Within the last year racism has elevated to an all time high, the passive-aggressive racism within the faculty, staff & students have become way too familiar.

From our perspective, their injustices go unanswered and unpunished while any black/African American staff that gets hired lasts less than 6 months because of their failure to “do their job”. Talking has been the theme since we began attending in this institution. It has been occurring for decades before we got here. We talk & talk until we graduate and move on and nothing really gets fixed. We decided not to attend this meeting because we are tired of listening to empty promises, words without meaning and with no intent of action. We do not want to talk if it will not be followed by action. We do not want to hear you say or promise change, we want you to show it & prove it; We are visual learners. In the meantime, we will continue to pray for God’s presence in this institution; That the spirit’s grace turns hateful hearts into loving ones, and that our creator provides courage to the ones in positions to make Luther Seminary a proper representation of Christ’s love knowing that our redeemer forgives those who trespasses against us. We will pray for God to give us the strength to persevere as the oppressed, as the chosen ones and as children of God. May Justice prevail.

Sincerely,

ReCharge & DR:BC

Joseph – A sermon for Trans Day of Remembrance 2017

By Asher O’Callaghan

Grace, peace, and mercy are yours in the Triune God. Amen.

It is an honor and a joy to be joining you all here today. Three years ago during this fall semester I wrapped up my time here at Luther as a Master’s of Divinity student. So it’s fun to get to visit my alma mater here and form relationships with the next wave of public Christian leaders who will be transforming the church. It filled me with hope for the church to spend time with the students here throughout the day yesterday, especially a few of your classmates who are gender diverse and do not identify as female or male. In my work with seminarians on this campus and throughout the church, it is clear to me that the reformation movement is alive and well in Christ’s Body.

It is also an honor and a joy to be speaking with you today as a transgender Lutheran pastor. You see, when I was born I was named Mary Christine and raised as a girl. My parents dressed me up in pretty dresses and took me to modeling auditions. At Church, I learned about Hell and homosexuality, and what it meant that I was a woman. I learned that women were to be silent at church and that God made women as the weaker vessel to be men’s helpers. And I was taught that was what the Bible said so it had to be that way. Funny enough, that was actually the one reason I was grateful to be a woman – I thanked God that I would never have to lead worship, it was so dreadfully boring. I think God’s still laughing.

When I was about 5 years old I began hurting myself on purpose. I would do things like scrape my knees and elbows on purpose. No one ever suspected anything because I as a tomboy I was always skating and climbing trees and doing all sorts of things that could result in scrapes and bruises. Eventually I was cutting and burning myself.

It became a pesky habit that I didn’t know how to quit. Truth be told, I didn’t want to quit so it continued through my teenage years and into college. There was something about the blood, the pain, the open wounds that was comforting to me. It’s uniquely comforting to take the pain that you’re feeling internally and make it tangible and visible, even if only for yourself.

I knew that something was deeply inexplicably wrong. But there was nothing in my life to affirm that. Everything was supposed to be fine. Everything was fine. Except for me. So I looked around for something that might help me understand why what I felt on the inside didn’t match what was going on the outside. Church didn’t help with all the smiling faces.

I had never heard the word transgender and I had no language for what was going on inside of me. What I couldn’t do with language, I did with my body. All those feelings of pain, and shame, and self-hatred had to go somewhere, but when I looked around I found nothing on the surface of my life to show or express them. My body was the only thing I had to help me make sense of things. The physical pain was the only means I knew to affirm the inner pain I couldn’t name or explain. Others might not see it or understand it. I may not understand it. But my body was doing what it could to show me that my pain was no less real than my wounds.

And then later on as I kept trying to understand myself, I started thinking that I must be crazy. When everyone treats you like someone you’re not, you eventually start to feel crazy. So I went to go see a therapist to help make me more normal, more straight. She tried to convince me that I was a beautiful daughter of God. And I tried to believe her. I was suicidal, I nearly dropped out of college, I overdosed on sleeping pills, I stayed with a man who yelled at me and hit me because I figured no one else would ever be attracted to me.

Now I am a wildly privileged white person. I grew up with access to quality education, affordable healthcare, and access to safe housing. So I don’t say any of that to make you feel sorry for me. But just imagine. If as a privileged white person I have encountered all of this, can you imagine what it must be like for transgender and gender non-conforming people of color who don’t have easy access to the resources that I did? You can begin to see how people might become sex workers, or become addicted, or stay in abusive relationships, or end their own lives.

The vast majority of names on the list we talked about earlier of the 325 of our transgender siblings killed during this past year both within the U.S. and around the world belong to transgender or gender non-conforming people of color, particularly ones outside of the United States. And so that is part of why I chose the reading about Joseph from Genesis.

You’ve all probably heard of Joseph’s “Technicolor Dream Coat” from Genesis. The word there used for the robe or the garment that Joseph wore is also the word used for the garment that Tamar wore in 2 Samuel. So it could be translated coat of many colors. It could be translated robe. It could be translated princess dress. Who knows?

So I heard this slam poem written by a queer person of color named J. Mace III. And I’d like you to listen to it.

“Josephine”

She asks if she can talk to me about Jesus at 3 a.m. on the C train
because something about my queer face means
clearly I’m on a path straight to Hell
I’ve come to expect this type of reaction
from strangers
at least once a week
since the first time I was exorcised at 16
But today
I’ve grown tired
and I’ve decided it is my turn to proselytize
So before you do any of that
I want to know from you
Have you heard the good word about
Joseph of Genesis?
See
Joseph
Josephine
Jo of Genesis
favorite child of Jacob
Aka Israel
when asked
what you wanted
you desired one thing:
a kethoneth passim
Pastor called this a royal coat
And
Jo
I had never read the Bible before
found you and kept reading
Josephine
I got to 2nd Samuel
and realized your coat of many colors
was a princess dress
Joseph
your father must have really loved you
Because he got it for you
and you wore it with pride
Jo
when your brothers saw you
in your flowing dress
in your glory
they became enraged
I am sorry for the beating you received
Sorry they destroyed your dress
and smeared it with the red paint of your swollen veins
Josephine
did you know they told your father you were dead
so he’d never come looking for you
Never knew your brothers
sold you as a slave into Egypt
and once you were stolen from your home fields
the earth dried up
Jo
the very ground on which you walked
mourned the loss of its genderqueer child
and all the plants died
and the animals no longer had the will to live
Josephine
your family nearly starved
Saw the formation of ribs
where once grew flesh
and belly fat
And they
hungry and desperate
traveled into Egypt
And what must they have seen, Jo?
See, in Egypt people discovered you
not as fag
not as tranny
They saw you in totality
You went from slave
to leader over lands
there you were Josephine
You looked magnificent
As you
Your family couldn’t even recognize you through the glare of divinity
But you saw them shivering in fear
waiting to hear what this regal leader might say
Wondering if your spirit might see fit
to grant them the grain needed to survive
and Joseph
love broke through
the darkness of resentment
And for the first time
your family saw you
as you
as Magnificent
for it was your word
that saved them from starvation
Dear Joseph of Genesis
aka Josephine
aka Jo
I am claiming your story
for every queer kid told
they are unholy
for every queer told
in order to love
we must let our faith die
I am going to put it in a pocket
over my heart
next to Ruth & Naomi
next to David & Jonathan
next to Hegai & Deborah
and seat them at the last Passover
with Jesus and Lazarus
Yes
I am taking Jesus with me too
Dear pastor
To you who claim your words are from God
but whose book is pledged to King James
know what allegiances you keep
You’ve been lying about my people for too long

Beautiful. Isn’t it? It can be beautiful when we see history in a different light. And these stories of reconiciling. These stories around the world not only of transgender people who have been murdered but of transgender people who are living and thriving, these are stories that need to be raised up. Because ultimately we’re in a church that needs reconciliation. A church that doesn’t want to talk about difference, doesn’t really want to talk about diversity.

Christ ultimately will not be bound by any person’s conscience, nor by the pages of history. Christ will not be bound by bathroom laws. And the Body of Christ will not be divided against itself. We learned from Jesus that a house divided against itself cannot stand. And we learned from Paul that as parts of the Body of Christ we are members of one another. We don’t always understand one another. We certainly do not look like one another. We all bring different gifts and function differently. And in spite of what the world tells us, the Holy Spirit has taught us that as members of one another, our differences are gifts. We need one another.

Christ’s Body is wounded when we pretend that other parts of the body are not there. Christ’s Body is wounded when we can’t name the other parts of the body because we’re embarrassed.

But here’s the good news: Creation didn’t stop in Genesis, it kept going. Whether Joseph was queer or not, God is still re-creating and reforming us. When we do see one another, when we affirm one another, when we name one another in all our glorious differences, the Word becomes flesh once again. In our flesh, we behold the glory of God, when we name one another and our differences as gifts for our work together.

This is our witness of healing, of reconciliation, and of wholeness. God’s creation did not stop in the Garden of Eden in creating Adam and Eve. In Jesus Christ, God has made a new Body, a new creation even more glorious than the first. And in this Body, we have the most precious grace of becoming ourselves. Amen.

 

Great Thanksgiving

God is with you. And also with you.

Lift up your hearts. We lift them to God.

Let us give thanks to God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.

 

It is indeed right our duty and our joy

that we should at all times and in all places

give thanks and praise to you,

Life-giving God.

 

We thank you, divine Seamstress

for you never stop creating.

From the dawn of time, to our mother’s womb, even in the age to come,

your creativity is as endless as eternity.

Today you are knitting us your people

into a garment of many colors.

 

We thank you, Holy Spirit,

for you do not allow us to grow complacent.

You stir up dreams and visions within us

making us restless for a new Heaven and a new Earth.

You clothe us with power to bring these dreams to life.

In you, we are beginning to see all things anew.

 

We thank you, Christ our Savior,

for your wondrous transformation,

Word made into flesh.

You challenge us with foreign experiences

teaching us that those we thought were strange and cut off

are members in your holy body.

And so with all your people of every time and place,

the church on earth and the hosts of heaven,

we sing your praise and join the unending hymn:

 

“Holy, holy, holy”

Trans Day of Remembrance 2017 – A Reflection

By Reed Fowler

Planning worship this year was different.

We had to add new names to the list of those siblings lost too soon while planning.

For a total of twenty-five.

Not counting those unknown to us, erased in death, who died alone, due to addiction, mental illness, poverty, more cycles of transphobia and violence.

 

I want to wrap my body around the cross.

Clinging with all my strength.

When I press my cheek to the wood it feels like blood and tears.

I cling harder and the woodgrain imprints on my body. Or my body carves into it.

This space of lament and fear reaches deeper —

Like a caretaker or lover holding my heart.

Risking splinters is the only way I feel safe.

 

I’m angry and sad and exhausted at how often I feel those things.

 

My heart sings when it hears about shifting language

(from he to she to zhe)

(remembrance to resistance)

(but I can’t rest in that)

 

I want my tears to sprout buds on the cross

I want my siblings’ blood to sprout buds.

And let our cracking ribs

Breathe in the scent of flowers.

And rebirth.

 

Until then,

I will interlace my veins with yours.

And cling harder to the splintered cross.

I Am Not Broken

This post was written by the Rev. John Longworth for ACE/ARO (Asexual/Aromantic) Awareness Week

When the well-meaning 7th grade classmate turned to me and said “do you think I’m cute?” and I honestly said “no’, and thus provoked she asked me , “well, do you think Nate is cute?” and I honestly said “no”, I was not broken.

When I was bullied and gay-baited as a youth, and my own denials left me more confused and alone, I was not broken.

When I talked and played cards with my date on prom night, I was not broken.

When I had my first crush on a guy, then on a girl, and mostly on no one at all, I was not broken.

When I got dumped after a few dates more than once because it wasn’t “going anywhere”, I was not broken.

When I survived a bad relationship with terrible boundaries, I was hurt, but I was not broken.

When I cherished consent so much that I asked my current partner to hold her hand on our second date, I was not broken.

When I married my best friend who is phenomenal at boundaries and consent, I was not broken.

When I finally discovered the community that used language that described my life with startling accuracy, I was not broken, I was whole.

Even so, my church has not always been so sure. From the candidacy committee member who was worried that my multiple piercings would mean that we needed to have “the talk”, to the countless church members in my first call who wondered when a baby would be on the way, to thousand insinuations that only married adults with children properly constitute a family. Something seems to give away that my experience and my being are not typical, and yet since my experience isn’t easy to name, the uncertainty turns into erasure.

Roughly 1% of the population identifies as asexual, sometime represented by the shorthand term “Ace”. I do not and cannot purport to speak for the whole spectrum of people who lay claim to this identity, which includes people who experience sexual attraction only with intense emotional bonds (demi-sexual), or only rarely (graysexual), or not at all. This is different from celibacy, which is a behavior choice. It’s the difference between not getting anything out of drinking coffee, and choosing not to drink it to cut down on caffeine even though you might like coffee.

Aces can have varying attitudes on sex itself, from sex-repulsion to sex neutrality to sex positivity. Some engage in sexual activity with a partner to care for that person, others do not. Not experiencing or rarely experiencing sexual attraction might make it harder for an Ace to understand the way sex works in sexual people’s relationships, but this doesn’t mean we can’t be strong proponents of consent and healthy sexual expression for others.

Aces describe a variety of romantic sensibilities. Some long for close, loving and affectionate (though not sexual) relationships with people of the same gender (homoromantic), a different gender (heteroromantic), more than one gender (biromantic) or irrespective of gender (panromantic). I would imagine that a pansexual person would quickly correct the assumption that they are sexually attracted to literally everyone, and as a panromantic I would echo that basic sentiment. Being able to form romantic attachment to people regardless of gender doesn’t mean falling for everyone.

In addition, there are a people who experience themselves as Aromantic or Aro for short. They don’t experience the longing I have described here. At the same time, some Aro folks derive great joy from closely bonded platonic friendships.

How can the church honor and welcome Ace and Aro people? First and foremost, trust that they are children of God and that they aren’t broken. Celebrate Asexual Awareness week which is October 22-28 in 2017 and usually falls in the second half of October each year.

Don’t assume that everyone is dating or married to someone or that it is tragic if they aren’t. Don’t assume that all couples, including romantically bonded couples are sexual or will have children. Never again use the term “only friends” as a pejorative for a relationship. Find ways to celebrate and honor singleness as a valid relational calling. Find ways to lift up long term friends and platonic couples to honor their loving care for each other. Practice healthy boundaries and consent with all people.

John Michael Longworth is an ELCA Pastor, Brother in the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans, dog-walker, earth mystic and poet residing in Vermont. He tries to decolonize his mind through Holy Listening.

 To learn more vocabulary and participate in the world’s largest online forum for the Aro/Ace community visit AVEN (Asexuality Visibility and Education Network) at asexuality.org

Defining Identity

By: Rev. Tuhina Rasche (San Carlos, CA)
Rev. Tuhina Rasche walking along the separation/security wall in Bethlehem, Palestine.

As a second generation Indian-American woman, I often times struggle with my identity in multiple spaces and how my story is told into these spaces. This is both tragic and comical, as much of my work and ministry deals with the perception of identities within church settings. But identity is extremely complicated; what are the labels with which we use to self-identify, but also, what are the labels that are then placed upon us by outside forces? Who gets to tell our story? As a person who longs for a sense of place in the world, how a story is told and who tells a story matters a great deal to me.

But what happens when your identity is controlled by outside forces that strip away your humanity on a multitude of levels? What happens when the words that define your flesh are taken away from you? When your sense of place becomes literally dislocated and your own home becomes a place of wilderness? What happens when your narrative, the ability to tell your story, is taken away from you?

My first exposure to this came, of all places, on the shuttle from Tel Aviv to the West Bank. I told the driver of the shuttle that I needed to get to the Lutheran guesthouse at Augusta Victoria Hospital on Mt. Scopus near Hebrew University. In my naïveté, I asked one of the trip leaders for the address to the guesthouse so I could give it to the shuttle driver. The response?

“LOL address. There aren’t addresses in the West Bank.”

The first time I was in the Holy Land back in 1996, I was in places that had addresses. During my stays in Arad, Netanya, and Tel Aviv, I had a physical sense of location. I had a place with a street, a street name, and a postal code where I could tell friends and family my location. But this trip was to the West Bank; everything was now different. With my previous trip to the Holy Land and my experiences with having a physical address in the United States that I call home, I was entering into a new narrative.

This is how you start to strip away a population’s identity. Take away what names you, take away parts of the world that help tell your story. Then tell a singular story of who has access to land, thereby silencing a cacophony of voices desiring to be heard and recognizing the complexity of histories. Control the narrative. Control how information is used and distributed. If you take away the physical identifier of location, could a person, a community, a population reside there if their very existence and claim to the land is in question? What happens when the place you call home… is not deemed or deeded to be your home? What happens when you start to believe the stories placed upon your identity, being fed words, thoughts, and ideas that are no longer your own? Elias Chacour, former archbishop of the Melkite Church, a person passionate about reconciliation between Palestinians and Jews, and a Palestinian dislocated from his home in 1948, asks, “What was the true story of Palestine?” In addition to that question, I wonder, who gets to tell the story that is heard by the masses?

There is not one single way to tell stories. If you have to fight for your story to be shared with the world, sometimes storytelling has to happen in a subversive and surprising way. I experienced identity and narrative in a way I wasn’t anticipating while in the Holy Land; yet they felt oddly familiar to me as a former parish pastor in Oakland, California. I saw narratives written and drawn on the walls of the West Bank, telling so many stories of resilience, of lamentation, and of existence. These narratives, while not verbal, represented a cacophony of stories wanting to be acknowledged by the greater world. The ultimate cacophony of these narratives, these stories, came at the security wall in Bethlehem. Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, where on Christmas Eve so many sing, “Oh little town… how still we see thee lie” is not still, but stifled. The town is located in the West Bank and it is almost entirely encircled by a concrete security wall and caught between two bypass roads giving Jewish settlers easier access to Israel. While one side of the wall was pristine, the other side was filled with stories. These narratives had a physical location where they could exist, an actual mark on the land that made a claim that the storyteller existed in this space at this time.

This was the proof of being, the proof of “I AM,” the proof that there are multiple stories in a land where there is an immense danger in telling one sole story.

This post originally appeared on Rev. Tuhina Rasche’s website as Defining Identity and is shared here with her permission.