Saturday, February 25, 2006

"Here I Stand, So Help Me God" or Why I Stand Here

I received a very interesting question from Little Izzie of the Lutheran Liberators (See her new blog at, who asks to know about my journey as a Lutheran lesbian. This is worthy of a response.

My parents were not very religious. I actually had to "play church" most of the time, when I was a little girl, if I wanted to have any sort of Sunday worship experience at all. And I remember doing this frequently. I don't know why, but I have always had a strong and pretty insistent spiritual bent.

We went to church either at Easter or whenever Grandma Heine came to visit. As Grandma was a Norwegian who had married a German, of course the church we went to, on these rare occasions, was Lutheran. (On an earlier post, I mention the heartwarming but rather bizarre experience I had when I revisited this little congregation this New Year's Day.) I think my folks sort of hoped that Grandma would come some year for Easter -- so they could kill two birds with one stone and only have to go to church one Sunday -- but I don't remember whether she ever visited at Easter or not.

When I was a teenager, just because they felt it was the sort of thing parents ought to do for their kids, I was sent to catechism class at -- you guessed it -- the Lutheran church where we took Grandma and celebrated Easter. It opened up a whole new world of thought for me, and I was one of those students who asked a zillion questions and read every book the pastor mentioned. I also asked Pastor Overland some very deep questions about other books I happened to be reading. I particularly recall a book of ghost stories that left me puzzled as to how theology explained the paranormal. The pastor was very kind, and took the time to answer all my questions in a way that made sense of them.

At my confirmation, however, my parents assured me that I need never go to church again if I didn't want to. For quite a while, I took them up on that offer. When I became interested in attending church again, years later, I sometimes persuaded my mother to go with me -- though my dad never wanted any part of it. And when I decided to transfer from Arizona State University to Grand Canyon College (a Southern Baptist school), my dad thought I had lost my mind. "Do you really want to go to school with THOSE PEOPLE?" he asked ("those people" being his standard, derogatory name for religious people, few of whom he could stand). When I assured him that I did -- that I actually wanted a Christian education, because I felt called to a writing ministry of some sort -- he gritted his teeth and let me off with a stern warning not to imbibe too freely in "those nutty ideas."

Now, this was light years before I was ready to deal with my sexual orientation. I went to Grand Canyon (now University), got my B.A. in English with a minor in history, and went to work full-time. I dated men, and got engaged (three times in all), eventually chickening out on all three of them. Life sort of took over, and seemed to keep me distracted from writing. For a long time, I let it.

While renting a house in the colorful Sunnyslope area of North Phoenix, I started attending masses at a Catholic church just down the street. I'd also gone there a few times as a teenager, with some of my friends, who belonged to that parish. I liked the people in the parish, felt comfortable with the theology -- which was very similar to that of the Lutheran faith -- and, perhaps most of all, the idea of my becoming a Catholic made my father insane. So of course that was exactly what I did. That lasted until I was ready to deal with my sexual orientation and, at last, came out as a lesbian.

I realized that I wanted to get married and settle down, AND that I wanted to marry for love. My sister got to marry for love, and she and her husband have been together almost thirty years, now. They have one of the happiest marriages I know of. I knew I wanted that, too, and finally recognized that I would never find that sort of happiness with a man. The only way I ever could form a deep and lasting romantic and sexual attachment to another human being -- as I had learned by my mid-thirties -- was with another woman.

I didn't come out so I could cruise the bars for one-night stands, I didn't come out so I could attend wild orgies featuring swimming-pools full of nude women, I didn't come out so I could trade partners every other month -- I came out so I could do the same thing so many heterosexual women want. Those, that is, who are of good moral character and upright intention. I came out to marry for love. Even sex was only a secondary consideration. Those who suggest I came out as a lesbian because I am some sort of a pervert are demonstrating nothing but their own perverted thinking and twisted souls.

I never asked to be homosexual. I fought it valiantly for almost thirty-five years. Then I realized that all those gay and lesbian folks who say they didn't choose to be gay were absolutely right. It is not a choice. All I want is not to grow old all alone. That so many people hate me simply because of this is their problem, and they have no right to try and make it mine.

Why did I decide to come out at thirty-four and three-quarters? Because I finally discovered that there WERE, indeed, gay and lesbian Christians. That there were Christian churches that accepted us, and that we didn't have to give up our faith -- or even compromise it -- in order to live lives of honesty and integrity. For most of my life, I had lived a lie. I simply came to trust enough that God is real to believe that the God of reality is also the God of honesty.

For the better part of a decade, a searched around my home city for a welcoming church that would not water-down Christian teachings. The few I found were too fundamentalist to provide a good fit. I am still, in my heart-of-hearts, a Lutheran. I need the balance between Catholicism and evangelicalism that the Lutheran faith maintains. One day I found Faith Lutheran, which advertises in a local GLBT magazine, and I decided to take a chance one more time.

I happened to show up on the first week of new member's class. The pastor is a woman (as well as one of the finest pastors I have ever known), the service feels like home, and of course there was that new member's class to try out. It was for returning Lutherans, as well as new ones. I don't think it was any coincidence that I happened to try out Faith Lutheran on the very Sunday their new member's class began. Nor do I find it odd that many other pastors, on their Sundays off (including now-retired Pastor Overland) like to attend our church.

It has been over a year, now, since I joined the congregation. And it has been one of the most healing experiences of my life. I came, that first Sunday, feeling angry, frustrated and alienated from most of the rest of the Body of Christ. I thought that heterosexual Christians couldn't be trusted. I resented being expected to jettison all traditional Christian beliefs in order to feel accepted at a church that would accept me.

Now, I have been fully restored to the Body of Christ and reintegrated into the very heart of it. I had taught adult catechism for seven years as a Catholic, but came to realize I had to teach things I no longer believed. I am once again involved in adult education, and now when I stand before a class, I have the confidence of knowing I believe every word I say.

Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther brought new life and liberation to the Christian faith. Today, the Lutheran Church struggles with the issue of homosexuality -- just as do so many others. But the Lutheran Church has, at the very bedrock of its heritage, a tradition of trusting God enough to search for truth even when it makes the Pharisees uncomfortable. My branch of the church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, is going to be one of the first denominations to get this issue right. I know it will; I can feel it in my bones.

Martin Luther is one of my heroes. For all his faults (and he had many, but then again, so do I), he was a fighter. Feisty, earthy, compassionate and absolutely fearless in the face of oppression, Luther is the model I hope to follow in my own ministry -- however much more humble it might be. Just as the Gutenberg press appeared at just the right time for his Reformation, so, too, has the Internet appeared today. We need a new Reformation in the Church today, and I feel that God has called me to be a part of it.

There, Little Izzie, is the answer to your question. I am excited about the future of my ministry. And I wish you -- and all who have been called to serve -- the very best in yours.


At 5:55 PM, Blogger suburbanstories said...

Lori: Thanks for that frank and revealing account. The body of Christ has clearly had an issue with loving those of the "L" word persuasion and by this I mean of course, Lutherans.

I pray that God continues to draw you and I to himself and that he continues to open our eyes.


Post a Comment

<< Home