Monday, December 31, 2007

Another Year, Another Chapter

That's definitely how I feel about this past year.  At the end of 2006, I started one major chapter in my life:  coming out.  2007 definitely presented new challenges and new opportunities that allowed me advance myself and my life.

This past year during the 2007 Soulforce Equality Ride, I experienced being called anti-gay epithets, spending the night in jail for over 26 hours for writing messages of inclusion, being ran out-of-town by police, being confronted with anti-gay protesters at Bob Jones University and so many other experiences.

I came out as an ex-gay survivor and attended the Beyond Ex-Gay Survivors' Conference in Irvine, CA.  I shared my ex-gay experiences on the HDNet World Report segment of "Beyond
 Belief: The Changing Face of Religion."  Since then I've been able to actively share about the experiences with the ex-gay movement and to openly share my testimony through different avenues.

I was able to reclaim and live out my faith to its entirety.  Having had beliefs so jumbled after coming out and being kicked out
of Azusa Pacific University; I was able to finally return to a place of spiritual healthiness.  Through lots of prayer and time in the Bible, I've been able to reclaim my Christianity and feel confident in my relationship with Christ again.

I reclaimed my education finally.  It felt so good to take control of my academic life again, after being displaced a year ago.  I found a new field of study that totally interests me now: Religious Studies.  I would have never thought that I would be studying religion this in depth and enjoying it.

I met some amazing people.  Made some new friends and life long companions.
This year was amazing for me.  I know that 2008 will only bring me more excitement and new roads to cross.  God has blessed me this year and I am thankful for what I've been given and experienced this past year.  

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Marriage and the Bible

With marriage being such a hot topic in the Church, I've decided to share some of my own understandings of what the Bible says and doesn't say about marriage. Lately, there had been an increase in the amount of emails I get from people wanting know how I interpret the Bible when it comes to marriage (specifically same-gender marriage). I uploaded a brief video blog on the subject on my YouTube profile, but I also prefer to share my understanding in writing.

There are over 500 references to "marriage," "married," "husband," and "wife" in the Bible. Therefore it doesn't make it easy when someone is trying to find a quick simple explanation of God's intentions for marriages and relationships. The Bible does however, provide some helpful passages to help us understand a little more though.

Genesis 2:18, 21-24
The Lord God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him'...and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh.

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man.' For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

The story of Adam and Eve is very often used when discussing marriage. Why shouldn't it be? They are the first married couple ever, aren't they? (Well unless you believe the Story of Lilith). Here we see the first wedding. We can conclude from this account in Genesis that marriage is God's idea, designed and instituted by the Creator. In these verses we also discover that at the heart of God's design for marriage is companionship and intimacy.

God conceivably could have created the first humans with any sexual orientation. But as we see it is recorded in Genesis that God created one male and one female with a heterosexual orientation. By doing so, God simultaneously satisfied two main goals: 1. He made it possible for the first couple to be fruitful and multiply. God used Adam and Eve to start the human race. 2. He satisfied the needs of Adam and Eve for companionship and made it possible for them to be involved in a loving partnership.

According to Genesis 2:18, God said, "It is not good that the man be alone, I will make a helper suitable for him..." This applied to only one man though, Adam. However, we might infer that it is a general understanding that most people should not go through life alone. Since gays and lesbians have the same capacity and need to love, one could conclude from this verse that homosexuals should also form loving relationships.

Genesis 2:24 describes one of the many possible models of marriage. The story of Adam and Eve is a description of one relationship, but not a prescription for all humankind.

Hebrews 13:4
Let marriage be held in honor by all. This verse teaches us about community recognition and respect for matrimony.

Matthew 19:4-5
Jesus only addressed marriage in terms of divorce, commitment, adultery, respect, which is in line with the idea that treatment is the basis for morality. It is important to consider the social and legal evolution of marriage: power dynamics, family politics, economic status, tribal/foreign relations, patriarchy. Marriage has been dictated by social standards, not by God's created intent.

8 Types of Marriage in the Bible:
  • Nuclear, traditional model - one man and one woman
  • Polygamy - extremely common, Abraham to Solomon
  • Levirate marriage - law to ensure male progeny, "widow marriage"
  • Bond marriage - made female slaves of the primary wife a wives as well
  • Concubine tenure - matirmony minus the designation and certain privileges
  • Forced servitude, war conquests - conditional on sexual status of victim, virgins only
  • Slavery - patriarchal society, women were property, and so on
  • Rape - perpertrators had to pay a a dowry to avoid penalty (Deuteronomy 22:28-29; 50 shekels dowry)
These various types of marriage were not condemned in the Bible, in fact God showed his support for levirate marriage when he killed Onan for trying to avoid procreation. Most of these models bear potential for sexual abuse and yet they are never condemned in the Bible. Same-gender marriage does no harm to either person, a loving same-gender couple would really similar to the nuclear model (much like my husband and myself)

Same-gender marriage is never discussed in the Bible because the writers had no understanding or grasp of sexual orientation. There was no concept of sexual orientation because of the patriarchal society that dictated the lives and relationships of many. But the Bible has given evidence to loving same-gender relationships that include Ruth, Daniel, and David.

Ultimately, there is no definitely one truth out there for us to look up and say, "Yes! That's the answer!" We all need to spend time in our hearts and in prayer for God to reveal his plans for marriage.

Response to FaithFreaks.com

After much prayer and deep-thinking, I have come to the decision to write a response to the FaithFreaks.com community and administration for the unreasonable disabling of my profile. Here is the letter that I sent to the administration:
Dear FaithFreaks.com,

On December 23, 2007 my profile (FaithFreaks.com/Queer) was disabled a result of my headline message: “Yes! It is okay be gay and be a Christian!” I then received the following the message from the administration:

“I am sorry if you think it is ok to be gay and be a Christian but it is not ok. It says in the Bible that Homosexuality is an abomination to Christ. Please Change your headline and do not promote being gay on the site. We will be praying for you. God Bless”

As a Christian motivated by the Holy Spirit, I do wish to respond to this action. Joining FaithFreaks.com it was my understanding that the purpose of FaithFreaks.com is “to glorify God by providing an alternative social network that is safe, clean, friendly, and Christ-centered.” With the “Terms of Conditions” not outlining what sexual orientations are acceptable by this site, my profile was disabled out of malice and discrimination. Such that the administration of FaithsFreaks.com has misused religion and the word of God to condemn and discriminate against others: this would be defined as religious-sanctioned discrimination and spiritual violence

As a Christian, I joined the FaithFreaks.com community with good intentions and a heart filled with the spirit of our living God. My profile displayed nothing harmful, untrue, or against Christianity. In Matthew 7:16-20, Christ teaches us that we will know a good tree from a bad tree by the fruits the tree bears, because a good tree cannot bear bad fruits. Sharing a message of truth, love, and inclusion does not deliver anything but good fruits. And for which against such things, there is no law or rule (Galatians 5:22-23).

Christ taught us to love one another without reservation; a true meaning of unconditional love would not exclude a brother or sister from fellowship and communion with all people in the name of Christ. As a disclaimer, Christ taught nothing of homosexuality, but did teach us to love one another and to offer liberation for those who are oppressed and marginalized.

I will respectfully not rejoin the FaithFreaks.com community, but will actively pray for the Spirit of God to speak to the hearts of those at FaithFreaks.com to offer them truth and understanding of what it really means to Christ-centered in your lives and in the way show love unto one another.

In His Purpose

Vincent Cervantes
vdcervantes@gmail.com
I gave a lot of thought to whether it would be worth re-joining the FaithFreaks.com social network. I had to ask myself: What would I gain from it? Honestly, nothing short of exhaustion. I would exhaust myself with answering the same type of questions repeatedly. I know that God would rather I use my energy and strength in other areas (like getting to know the LDS Church). My heart goes out to the FaithFreaks.com community though. May God really speak to them.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

I know that many of you get those random knocks at the door and when you open the door to greet the person knocking, you hear, "Good Afternoon, my name is Elder [Insert Name Here] and this is Elder [Insert Name Here] and we are with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints..." sometimes you listen to be polite, sometimes you tell them to go away, and other times you might even just shut the door on them.

I have finally taken it upon myself to bring myself closer to the LDS church. As an Evangelical Catholic, I was raised with the understanding that Mormons were not Christians and that they were essentially a cult. Lately, I have felt the urge to want to know more about the Mormon denomination. They are so oppressed by mainstream Christianity that I almost feel this kindred spirit between us--even though, they don't support homosexuality either. As a queer activist I am often so caught up in the oppression within the LGBTQ community, that I forget about the oppression of other groups.

So I decided to take on the challenge of Matthew 7:16-20 and to judge the "fruits" of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Alas, we were visited by two Mormon missionaries yesterday (at our request) to discuss the LDS faith and we also some copies of the Book of Mormon to help us expand our understanding. We began our conversation in prayer and began a great dialog about their faith. Vince and I didn't share our sexual orientation with them because we felt it wasn't necessary at this time. As this was to be a learning experience for us and for God to allow the Spirit to teach.

I had a great experience in talking with these gentlemen. By their "fruits" thus far, I don't see any "false prophets," but I am enthused to continue my education on the LDS faith. I began a nightly routine (as of last night night) of having a study session with Vince on the Book of Mormon. I have come across this so far and it will be guide to this journey I am about to embark.
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you." Moroni 10:4
I go into this experience with no intentions, except one, to allow God to teach me new things. I plan on attending a meeting next Sunday. Keep me in your prayers as I journey through this.

As a disclaimer (to prevent those from asking) I am not considering converting my denomination. Although I am looking more into the United Methodist Church.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

FaithFreaks.com

FaithFreaks.com is a Christian alternative to Myspace. It's almost disturbing to see how conservative Christians are trying to isolate themselves from the rest of the world. But, I decided to create a profile, just so that I could share my experience and my testimony with others. Within 10 minutes of having created my profile, I got many, many messages with people asking how it is possible to be gay and be a Christian. It was both overwhelming and encouraging to have that much dialog.

My headline to my profile says, "Yes! It is okay to be gay and be a Christian!" Seemed to have caught the attention of many people. However, my FaithFreaks.com profile was shut down by their administration within 24 hours. This morning I got an email from the administration of FaithFreaks.com:
I am sorry if you think it is ok to be gay and be a Christian but it is not ok. It says in the Bible that Homosexuality is an abomination to Christ. Please Change your headline and do not promote being gay on the site. We will be praying for you. God Bless
I am debating over whether it is worth responding to. I've been shut out of many Christian colleges and universities, but never banned from a website in such a rude manner. I'm a Christian, so I feel I deserve every right to be on that site as anyone else. There terms of agreement do not forbid gay users, nor do they say you can't advocate for loving all people.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Be The Change

Although I've had this in my possession for a bit of time, I am not sure why I haven't posted it yet. But here it is!

"Be The Change" is produced and recorded by Marina Catala and Katie Covell. It takes a look at the 2007 Soulforce Equality Ride--specifically the East Route. As many of you know, I was a Rider on the Equality Ride this past Spring--on the East Route--so seeing this video definitely brings back a lot of the emotions I had on the Equality Ride.

In the video you will see a clip from our visit to Baylor University. I was arrested at Baylor after I wrote, "God Loves All!" in sidewalk chalk on the sidewalk. Soon after I spent over 26 hours in jail under unreasonable and harsh conditions with a $2000 bail. All for affirming that our God is loving God of all people.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Epiphany? Maybe?

It is nice to be able to post on here again since Sunday. With all my finals done for the Fall semester, it is going to be nice to work on some other things (like the Diocese of San Joaquin, my new shows, etc).

Let me say though, before I go more into this blog, how good it feels to finally reclaim my education. After being out of school for a year, after being pushed out of Azusa Pacific University, it feels really good to see that I am reclaiming my life, which was derailed so hard that I wasn't even sure what to do with the pieces. Unfortunately, I am facing the reality of the fact that I left APU when I was so early in my undergraduate education, which means I am at a junior college right now trying to finish all my general education so that I can be eligible for upper-division transfer to a 4-year university. Nonetheless though, it feels good. I'm transferring in the Fall (2008) to a California State University or one of the campuses of the University of California as a Religious Studies major, life is good and God makes it happen.

With this week having been finals week, I had to do a final performance in my Actor's Workshop. It was pretty much free range in terms of what we could do for a performance. So, as a theatrical performance activist in his reproduction stage, I decided that I would share with them a little bit of Peterson Toscano. I performed a small piece of "Doin' Time in the Homo No Mo HalfWay House: How I Survived the Ex-Gay Movement." Besides the other Vince and myself, everyone in the course is heterosexual and was raised in conservative Merced, CA; but they received the performance very, very well. I was relieved and felt so empowered. For one, I cannot thank Peterson enough for allowing me to share this brilliant performance piece with everyone. And also, I am ready to start transforming the California Central Valley from fundamental conservative old men to educated and informed people.

Which totally reminds me, I have found the undiscovered tap of transgender individuals in Merced (primarily transmen). It is amazing and beautiful and I get excited when I think about how much I can offer this area with my experience and my love for people and my desire to want to make progressive healthy changes. I feel like God is pointing out to me all that I can do and the communities I can start working with to make a difference.

You too can help me make a difference by signing the petition to the Diocese of San Joaquin, by going here (http://www.petitiononline.com/diosj/petition.html). Read the previous blog to find out more about what that is all about.

I sort of feel like Joshua right now. Merced is Jericho. God has just told me to take up my sword and to lead. Like Joshua, I will listen, not really knowing what God is gonna present me with. But I'm ready to listen and to obey. I will non-violently fight the Battle of Jericho here in Merced.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Separation of Church...and Church?

Today, the Diocese of San Joaquin (the local diocese for the Central Valley of California, which includes where I live) for the Episcopal church, made a historical vote ( 173 to 22), at their annual convention, to separate themselves from the National Episcopal church. Their choice to separate was based on their differences with national Episcopal church on homosexuality, the blessing of same-gender unions, and the ordination of female clergy. The Diocese of San Joaquin will follow in the steps of many South American Episcopal churches that maintain a conservative, fundamental, "traditional" view of the scriptures.

I am in complete utter shock and disappointment in the Diocese of San Joaquin. But I am also reminded that they are victims of misinformation. This is also more disappointing because I was considering attending the Episcopal church here in Merced in hopes that they were more loving and tolerant (as opposed to my Catholic perish). "Forgive them Lord, for they not know what they do."

I am not discouraged though, I am inspired now to do some work and to get some education and dialogue out there. I am making it my personal duty to speak out and to reach out to the Diocese. To sit still would be a sin .

Luckily, I'm working on a show called, "Bursting the Bubble," which will focus on stepping outside of the Christian "bubble" to see real issues that are happening in the world, that many Christians are often blind to because they are often to absorbed in the "Evangelical scene."

I think my next step is to start contacting some clergy. Which I think we will discuss their vision statement: "Bringing all to an ever-expanding knowledge and joy of the Lord Jesus Christ." The word "all" is usually inclusive and their recent actions are rather exclusive.

Family Matters

No, not the family sitcom from the 90s, but I am dealing with some family matters and I am also learning that family does matter. So there is a lot cooking in my mental pot right now.

When I was in counseling (conversion therapy), my counselor and I examined my family very closely. Apparently there is criteria for how a family is supposed to be and how the children are supposed to be raised, but my family didn't meet that criteria. So our examination of my family served to show me how dysfunctional my family was. I was convinced that it was my parents' fault that I was struggling with homosexuality (especially my father) because of their lack of "ideal" parenting. I built up resentment towards my parents as a result of feeling that they screwed my life up and set me up for spiritual failure.

One thing that I really came face to face with during ex-gay counseling was the "dysfunctional" behavior of my family. I became aware of issues that were always there, but never really looked at. My parents' relationship with each other was violent (tongue and heart, never physical) and unhealthy and it often affected the children. There was a huge lack of communication--well the only communication was yelling and never-ending arguments. Lack of "loving discipline." And there were several others.

Although we brought these issues up and I was now face-to-face with them, I was never taught how to cope with them. I didn't learn how to create a loving and safe environment for myself within my family. Primarily because I think the goal was just to find blame for my homosexuality: my family's detrimental behavior and lifestyles.

It's been a struggle for me, after starting my detoxing from ex-gay therapy, to, 1. find forgiveness for my parents, for their lack of control and discipline; 2. to reconcile that I am very different from my family and I always have been (I'm non-violent, I live with a sense of purpose, and I'm a Christian); and 3. to want them as my family. I've grown and have worked on these things a lot within myself, and I make every attempt to try to work with my family on this (although they don't want to hear it, nor do they really care).

Presently, my family is at a point where I have never seen myself so disconnected. I don't mean to share their personal issues, but their personal issues have affected me greatly and ex-gay therapy has amplified it. My parents are now (as of this week) going through a divorce. My parents are both also going through their "mid-life crises." My sisters are over actively exploring their sexuality and individualism. And I don't know how to deal with all of this.

I am married, so I technically don't have to be preoccupied with their problems anymore, but I can't help to feel helpless and weak when I look at my family. Part of my still holds resentment, anger, and frustration; although I know I shouldn't--it's really hard to fully bring myself to complete forgiveness and reconciliation with them. I know that I need to love them through their difficult times (and I do), but I feel like it is my duty to do something more (maybe because I still feel like they are responsible for making me a certain way, I don't know).

How do I bring myself to forgivness? How do I relax and be healthy and deal with my frustration? Right now, I feel like such a stranger around them, but I don't know if that's my doing or if I am really that much different.

What to do, what to do.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Where's My Masculinity?

With finals beginning next week, I have had little time to get online to do anything that wasn't homework or study related. I need a break from the books though, so I am here to share something that has really been on my mind.

I think it has finally hit me how feminine I am. Like I'm really "fag-ish" by stereotypical definition. I think it is more so my voice that really shows my feminine side. I've known since, well since most of life, that I have a high-pitched feminine sounding voice. Throughout high school I would intentionally deepen my voice so that I wouldn't be called gay (it didn't work though). But I have been told by vocal trainers for singing that I don't speak correctly (in terms of technique).

Recently I've been making phone calls for various reasons and I am often called, "Ma'am" or asked if I'm my wife (Vince Cervantes' wife). In high school, I would take deep offense to that and I would correct them with the right title, but then there was just that awkward apology from the other party.

I'm not really bothered by being called, "Ma'am" anymore, in fact, I chuckle and just go with it. But what I really started thinking about is why it used to bother me so much that I would have "fem" moments. Why did it bother me when some would say that my "man points" were declining? Or even why I would get offended when people said I was effeminate?

I used to believe the misconception that gender expression was often associated with sexual orientation. So since I wasn't butch, then people would see that I was gay. I obviously didn't want them to think that because at the time I was still convinced that homosexuality was sinful. So I did my best to make myself as non-fem as possible. I played sports (although I did enjoy swimming) and I would deepen voice as much as sounded natural (which was hard for a first tenor singer).

While I going through conversion therapy we examined the fact that I was not masculine. I was told that I need to understand the masculinity of the holy spirit; therefore, I need to surround myself with strong men of God. However, I was matched up with older married men from the Men's Ministry group--I guess so that I wouldn't develop attractions for the guys my age. What I learned about masculinity from them though was how to subjugate women. Apparently making women inferior validates a man's masculinity.

As I am beginning to study gender more and more I am fascinated by what society has made of gender and what religion has made of gender. Why is my gender expression so often connected with my sexual orientation? Why can't we seem to believe a "feminine" acting man when he says he's straight? Recently I've began to call myself gender queer. I am hesitant at times to identify as gender queer because I am not fully sure what that means for me. But so far, I feel that because I cannot fit into the mold society has created for what it is masculine, then I don't want to conform to make myself pass. I call myself a man because I am one. But I am through with letting society try to define that for me. I'm masculine in my own ways!

In the words of Angel from Rent: "I'm more of man than you'll ever be and more of woman than you'll ever get!"