RD10Q: Spiritual Survival for LGBT Christians

Ten questions for Candace Chellew-Hodge on Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians.

What inspired you to write Bulletproof Faith? What sparked your interest?

I was inspired to write Bulletproof Faith by the readers of Whosoever, the online magazine for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians that I founded in 1996. As soon as I put Whosoever on the Web, the hate mail began to pour in. People were offended that there was a magazine out there telling LGBT people not just that God loved them, but that God loved them just as they are—as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people because God had created them that way.

I heard from so many LGBT readers that they didn’t know how to respond to people who told them they couldn’t be both LGBT and Christian. I wanted to find a way to help them respond without becoming angry or becoming depressed by all the opposition around them. The idea for the book came in 1998 when I took a class in the martial art of Aikido. There are no offensive moves in Aikido—no kicks or punches. There are only defensive moves—using the momentum of your attacker to disable them. I thought it served as an excellent metaphor for “spiritual self-defense” for LGBT Christians. I also came across the Bible verse that became central to the book, 1 Peter 3:15-16: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” Not returning hatred for hatred is the key to being bulletproof. I developed a workshop around these ideas and it morphed, some ten years later, into a full-fledged book.

What’s the most important take-home message for readers?

I want readers to understand that those we perceive as our “enemies” are really a gift to us. Those who challenge our beliefs or push our emotional buttons are in our lives to teach us how to go deeper into ourselves and defuse our emotional hot buttons. Opposition is a gift to LGBT believers because it forces us to consider our beliefs and why we believe them. We can’t complacently or blithely give our assent to beliefs like heterosexual Christians can. We have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. In doing so, we build a stronger faith and learn how to live authentically as the people God created us to be.

Is there anything you had to leave out?

Content-wise, I didn’t leave anything out. What got left out, honestly, is a large audience that may pass the book by because they don’t think it’s for them. The book holds valuable advice, not just for LGBT people, but for anyone who finds themselves in a minority position. A psychologist friend of mine who is straight and Jewish read the book and though she admitted she “didn’t get the New Testament parts,” she said the book, from a psychological point of view would be helpful to anyone trying to maintain their integrity in the face of opposition. I’m hoping that segment will give the book a chance, even if some parts may not apply.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about your topic?

The biggest misconception is the media driven meme that there are no LGBT Christians. Most media stories turn on the idea of “gays vs. God” and pit the LGBT community against the religious community. There are many people of faith who are also gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and this book is an attempt to change this perception and give LGBT believers a ways to reclaim their voice and become part of the larger conversation.

Did you have a specific audience in mind when writing?

My specific audience is the LGBT community as well as their straight allies who are hoping to understand the hatred and vitriol that their LGBT friends and family face on a daily basis from anti-gay people of faith. Again, the scope of material in the book can be applicable to people who are not gay or not religious. Anyone who finds their position challenged can find valuable tools on how to respond to opponents while maintaining their own integrity.

Are you hoping to just inform readers? Give them pleasure? Piss them off?

My aim is twofold. I hope to arm readers with the information and tools they need to neutralize attacks on their faith. At the same time, I’m hoping to help readers move out of the usual “what the Bible says about homosexuality” arguments to find more and more areas of common ground with those who have historically been our “enemies.” I’m hoping that when LGBT believers are empowered to live authentically as the people God has created them to be, then they can confidently begin to dialogue with those who oppose acceptance of LGBT people within both church and society. Only after we’ve settled the argument within our own hearts and minds can we hope to reach out to our opponents and help them change their hearts and minds about LGBT people.

What alternative title would you give the book?

The original title was the same as the workshop it was based on—Spiritual Self-Defense for Gay and Lesbian Christians. But, I wanted a title that was a bit snappier and would grab people’s attention when they spotted it on the bookshelf. The idea of being bulletproof in the face of vicious attacks appealed to me. The publisher thought the title was too violent, but they couldn’t come up with a better one, so Bulletproof Faith stuck.

How do you feel about the cover?

When the first draft of the cover arrived, I had no idea what to do. It was horrible. After the publisher had complained about the violence of the book’s title, they presented me with the most violent cover I could imagine. The background was a drab gray steel with pockmarks in it where “bullets” were apparently stopped. In the title, the word “Bulletproof” was emphasized in capitals with “Faith” in smaller type. Then, just to put too fine a point on it, there were two bullets in the lower right hand corner of the cover.

Being a first-time author, I wasn’t sure what my role was in the cover design or how I was supposed to react. I contacted my agent who told me that was the number one complaint of new authors—they had very little say in what the cover looked like. I sent the cover to my partner who said, “It looks like a mystery novel.” Finally, I called my editor and meekly voiced my displeasure. She was quick to make suggestions on how to improve it. She agreed to consult with the designer and send me another cover.

That cover was even worse. I lovingly call it “the porn cover.” It was the naked torso of a man with his hands folded over his chest and another pair of hands holding his. I freaked. I called my editor in a panic and told her there’s no way I could promote a book that made me so uncomfortable just to look at it. I told her it looked like gay erotica. She disagreed, saying she thought it was a warm and inviting cover.

“But, see, you live in San Francisco,” I told her. “I live in South Carolina. In San Fran that may be warm and inviting, here, that’s called porn.”

The only good thing was that the font had changed to what it presently is on the book, making it look a bit more like a book about faith and not a whodunit. She agreed, grudgingly, to once again go back to the drawing board. The next pass was the steel gray background once again—minus the pockmarks—and the current font. I settled for that because I feared what might come afterward if I protested again.

Several weeks later, the editor sent me a note saying she had rethought the cover and gave me a choice of an orange background and blue cross “t” in “faith” or a blue cover and orange cross “t” in “faith.” I chose the orange, because it stands out on a bookshelf.

I look forward to the day when I’m famous enough to have a say on the cover from start to finish.

Is there a book out there you wish you had written?

I’m not much of a fiction reader, but I wish I had written Yan Martel’s The Life of Pi. I only like fiction if it takes me by the throat, won’t let me go, and completely surprises me in the end. Too much fiction is so predictable. I have it figured out by the first couple of chapters. Martel’s story is masterful and weaves in such profound commentary on religion. He had me from the first page. I never saw the ending coming and it thrilled me. That’s the kind of writer I want to be, but fear I’ll never become.

What’s your new book?

My next book urges us all to become fundamentalists. But, not the 1920s “five fundamentals” that has led to the rigidity and bigotry of today’s Christianity. Instead, I’m proposing five new fundamentals that result in a more gracious, loving, and welcoming Christianity. As a friend of mine in church once said, “We’re all fundamentalists about something. It just depends on your fundamentals.” For too long, the fundamentals emphasized by Christian leaders have led to exclusion and division. It’s time for new fundamentals that unite us as one body in Christ.