Candace Chellew-Hodge provided the message part of Holy C.O.W., and Jason & deMarco provided the music part.
This morning I attended a workshop at my church
by the Rev. Candace Chellew
(the first part of whose last name rhymes with “shoe,” not “chew”), author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians
. Frankly I’d been a bit reluctant to go. I’m quite secure in my faith and don’t need what I thought Chellew-Hodge would have to offer, but because I chair my church’s Justice & Witness
ministry, whose Equality Cross Creek team arranged the big Holy C.O.W. (Celebrate Our Welcome) Weekend of which this workshop was a part, I felt obligated to go. However, having gone, I can say that I did enjoy hearing Chellew-Hodge speak (if she ever wanted to give up preaching, she could take up a career in stand up comedy) and learned a thing or two.
What I’d thought Chellew-Hodge would have to offer (and my thinking this probably shows that I did not read her book) was a bunch of refutations to the various Bible verses so often trotted out by people who believe homosexuality is a sin, but that’s not what Chellew-Hodge’s talk was mainly about. She did offer one fun refutation, however. If someone cites Romans chapter 1 to show that God disapproves of homosexuality, you can ask whether that person has read Romans chapter 2, which talks about no one’s having any excuse to pass judgement on anyone else.
Yet proof text fighting, countering one Bible verse with another, was not the point of Chellew-Hodge’s talk. Instead, her main idea is that people who use the Bible or other arguments to condemn homosexuality are trying to offer a gift and just because one is offered a gift does not mean that one has to accept it. In other words, for those of us who are secure in our faith, for those of us who have come to an understanding that we too are made in God’s image, for those of us who find value in trying to live as Jesus taught and are comfortable doing so without having to try to change our sexual identities, (and, I imagine, also for those who are comfortable not being Christian) there shouldn’t be anything anyone can say that will bother us. I pretty much knew that already because the example she gave was already true for me — if someone tells me I’m going to hell, it doesn’t bother me. I know, for a lot of reasons, that I’m not going to hell. What I also know, but more often need to put into practice, is that I can’t change the minds of most people who do think I’m going to hell and thus usually shouldn’t bother to try to do so.
Chellew-Hodge also pointed out that if we are bothered by something that someone else says about our faith, that we are bothered is not about the person who said something but rather is about ourselves and is something we need to work on for ourselves. She told us about having been motivated to go to seminary in order to learn how to refute the various things fundamentalist Christians say about homosexuality, to be able to change their minds and convince them they were wrong, but she finished her studies, having gotten weapons that might come in handy for proof text battles, with the conclusion that she didn’t need to engage in battles to defend her faith, in part because such battles usually cannot be won but also because there are better things she can be doing with her time, better ways she can serve God.
Thus, often, Chellew-Hodge said, when she gets hate mail explaining she’s going to hell for her “lifestyle,” she just uses the DELETE button. Sometimes she uses gentle humor—tell her she’s going to hell, and she’ll tell you she’ll save you a seat.
Chellew Hodge also realizes that, just as our being bothered by something someone else says is more about us than it is about them, so too is what someone else says more about them than it is about us. So sometimes when she’s challenged by someone about homosexuality, she really disarms her opponent by using Dale Carnegie’s magic phrase and saying, “I don’t blame you one iota for feeling as you do. If I were you I would undoubtedly feel just as you do.” People who feel compelled to speak out against homosexuality often are looking to do spiritual battle and are surprised when instead their words are simply acknowledged as having been heard.
That’s not to say that Chellew-Hodge never engages in debates with those who disagree with her theology. She warns against doing so in anger and with the intention of coming away right because that leads to frustration and unhappiness. A debate is less about changing one’s opponent’s mind than about quietly influencing bystanders, some of whom might also think as one’s opponent does and others of whom might be, for example, closeted young queers. Gentle and respectful disagreement can open minds.
An example Chellew-Hodge gave is one I too recently found myself using, though perhaps not as gently and respectfully as she. In 2006 Chellew-Hodge spoke on panels in South Carolina against the proposed state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. Once an African American man spoke up to urge that gay men and lesbians wait until public opinion had changed in our favor before pressing for our rights. Chellew-Hodge told him that after the 1967 Supreme Court decision striking down bans on interracial marriage, polls still showed over 70% of Americans disapproving of such marriages; she pointed out that civil rights shouldn’t be subject to the will of the majority. As Chellew-Hodge pointed out to us at Cross Creek this morning, one can still refute nonsense but should do so gently and respectfully.
Another thing Chellew-Hodge said that stuck with me was that people shouldn’t have to say, “I’m a Christian.” If you have to say it, you might not be acting in the most Christ-like manner. I think that this goes along with the rest of her message, that by striving to live one’s beliefs one can change more minds than by talking about one’s beliefs. It goes along with the best way to get people to be in favor of equal rights for all people including queers—the more queers non-gay people see going out our lives gently, respectfully, trying to work for justice, the less a big deal equal rights for queers will be. It’s probably also the only way to convince people that one can be gay and Christian.