Stop and take this in. On Dec. 12, pro-life, pro-LGBT equality Democrat Doug Jones defeated Bible-thumping former Judge Roy Moore, the Republican backed by President Donald Trump and white nationalist Steve Bannon, in a special election to replace former Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, now U.S. Attorney General—in rock red Republican Alabama.
For African Americans, women, and millennials, Moore’s alleged history of sexually harassing teenage girls, longing for the old days when slavery wasn’t so bad and homosexuality was criminal, and a penchant for theocracy over civil law was just a bridge too far. Flaunting biblical verses did not compensate for an immoral character.
But for the state that has lived under the pall of proud segregationist George Wallace, there was an even more pronounced victory. Jones relentlessly prosecuted two members of the KKK for the 1963 bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four black girls in Sunday school. He is filling the Senate seat of a man named for Confederate heroes and treasures that flag. “It is not appropriate for us to erase history and who we are and our ancestors,” Sessions said last January, in the aftermath of white racist Dylann Roof shooting black worshippers praying in a Charleston church.
Institutionalized racism got a shocking political comeuppance with Jones’ victory and Trump/Bannon/Moore’s defeat.
Evangelical Christianity took a hit, too. While white evangelicals still turned out for Moore by 80%, their numbers were actually down 3%. And 18% of white born-again Christians voted for Jones, according to a Washington Post exit poll, having had enough of naked political ambition disguised as Christian morality.
The Christian faith “lost” in this election, Mark Galli wrote in Christianity Today. “When it comes to either matters of life and death or personal commitments of the human heart, no one will believe a word we say, perhaps for a generation. Christianity’s integrity is severely tarnished.”
Perhaps no person of faith was more moving than peanut farmer Nathan Mathis whose gut-wrenching protest outside a Moore rally in Midland City went viral. Struggling to not break down, Mathis told reporters that his lesbian daughter Patti Sue committed suicide at 23.
“Daddy, I don’t want to be gay,” Mathis said she told him. They took her to doctors, who said there was nothing they could do. He discovered her body.
“I was anti-gay myself. I said bad things to my daughter myself, which I regret. But I can’t take back what happened to my daughter. But stuff like saying my daughter’s a pervert — sure, I’m sure that bothered her,” Mathis said. “Judge Moore didn’t just say my daughter — he didn’t call my daughter by name — he called all gay people are perverts. Abominations. That’s not true! We don’t need a person like that representing us in Washington.”
It’s precisely to prevent that kind of religious-based harm that Erin Green fights bad theology at the source—the universities and seminaries that teach such dangerous interpretations of the Bible. It’s personal.
Green grew up in a very Christian household in the Santa Clarita Valley. By age nine she knew something was “wrong” because the feelings she had were not in line with church standards. By 16, she realized “this is going to become a problem” when she didn’t have the same feelings for boys as she did towards her girlfriends. At 19, she had her first secret relationship with a woman.
Green’s mother confronted her. Filled with “a deep sense of conflict and turmoil,” and no one to talk to, she emotionally cut off the relationship. But Green was still curious and drove from Santa Clarita to West Hollywood to go to gay bars. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing,” she told the Los Angeles Blade. “But I knew this community was safe for LGBTQ folks.”
The internal conflict intensified and she started drinking. “You cannot merge Christianity with sexuality at all,” she thought. West Hollywood offered an open, affirming community. And alcohol provided “a great way to numb and suppress the deep inner turmoil I was going through.”
She often drove home drunk. “I just didn’t care,” she said. But the drinking didn’t work. “I woke up with shame and guilt.”
The inner turmoil was hell. The church told her that her same sex attractions violated her relationship with God. “But I never fully believed that. There was something wrong with that message. I realized that the church’s evangelical conservative fundamentalist teaching is wrong. It is deeply, inherently wrong. And that was the only thing that kept me alive,” she said.
Green credits two DUIs with saving her life at 25. “I should be dead,” she said. The court-ordered programs made her feel “like the scum of the earth,” so “naked and vulnerable, so empty” as she “crawled back out to life again.”
Green became successful in the fashion industry. “I found dignity through work,” she said. But at 27, she was also extremely depressed. She sought help with an affirming therapist who helped her understand God would not condemn her for being gay.
“I realized this was the root cause of much of my depression and anxiety. It just goes to show how deeply affected people can become from the church in a very negative way,” she said. “I felt I had one foot in the grave. I just felt dead inside with no hope.”
Eventually Green was burned out by work and walked away. She decided to go back to school to pursue her love of Scripture. It was in one junior college class that Dr. Tom Elson, a minister in the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), introduced her to stories she never heard from a pulpit. Women weren’t submissive to men—they had been leaders in the church in the first century in the New Testament.
Green was shocked—but even more so when the professor was affirming about homosexuality. She came out to him and he told her about scholars who had revised their thinking about homosexuality: Mathews Vine “God and The Gay Christian” and “The Bible’s Yes to Same Sex Marriage: An Evangelical’s Change of Heart” by Mark Achtemeier.
Achtemeier persecuted pro-LGBT congregations. “Then he realized something was wrong and he reevaluated everything,” Green said. “That book changed my life. I thought, ‘Oh, my God—this is me.”
Green gave the book to her mother who realized the pain the church had caused her daughter, left the evangelical church and joined PCUSA, too.
Green applied to Biola University to further her biblical studies because they had an LGBT community on campus. It turned out, however, that the group was underground. She was unexpectedly asked to take over and boldly invited Mark Achtemeier to speak on campus.
But Green quickly encountered issues with professors teaching ugly homophobic lessons and disregarding her corrections.
“I was the black sheep on campus,” Green said. When she started to feel unsafe, she transferred to Azusa Pacific University, but stayed on as leader of the Biola LGBT group. Since then Green, now 36, has been working with the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which recently merged with Faith in America, and Equality California to ensure private religious universities do not discriminate against LGBT people.
Green continues to hold demonstrations protesting Biola University’s permission to have an anti-LGBT ‘conversion therapy’ speaker on campus.
“As a Christian and mother of a college student who died by suicide after being cyberbullied on campus because of his sexual orientation, I am hoping that Biola University will follow Christ’s commandment to love their neighbor as themselves,” said Jane Clementi, co-founder of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, at a Dec. 4 demonstration at Biola. “Biola University cannot simultaneously abide by the Christ-like compassion of the Golden Rule, while also supporting policies, speakers, and laws that harm our children.”
The academic piece of Scripture in the Bible is so critical,” Green said, noting she wants to become both ordained and a professor. “The more opportunity we have to get Christian leaders and LGBTQ leaders and people of color in these academic settings where we’re teaching seminarians or teaching people who want to be in biblical studies—that’s the way we can start to make systematic changes within the church.”
Having the evangelical church change its mind on homosexuality seems a doomed goal. But then—Alabama just elected a pro-life, pro-LGBT Democrat over Bible-thumping Roy Moore. Miracles do happen, with work, heart and smart thinking.