Book Review: A Gracious Heresy by Connie Tuttle

Homosexuality. Mere mention of the word in some Christian circles elicits visceral responses of disgust and repulsion. The concept of a lesbian pastor to these same groups? Unthinkable. But it is possible, despite what some theological practices proclaim. From the book:

So you want to know who I am? Who all these homosexuals are, acting like they belong in and to the church? We are as unique and varied as the stars of the Milky Way. You are not asking the right question, I think. The question I put to you is the same one the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

And by extension, I would ask you, “What is to prevent me from being ordained?”

The implication inherent in both questions is, “Nothing.”

In her book, A Gracious Heresy, The Queer Calling of an Unlikely Prophet, Connie Tuttle tells her life story from childhood through confused teenager and young adult to ordained minister. It begins with an admission: I am not perfect. In today’s world of “best life now” and “blab and grab” theology, this is a refreshing change of pace. Conceived in an outhouse and raised as a wandering army brat, Connie illustrates how her encounters with other children around the globe taught that, at heart, there’s really not much differentiating us from one another. Color, status, orientation, identity, all are irrelevant when it comes to God’s love and grace.

Connie tells how in her spiritual journey she was misled, misused, and taken advantage of. But through it all she held God close and kept seeking him. Despite being told time and time again that she was unqualified, unworthy, and unrepentant, Connie followed her calling and persisted.

For the quality of the writing itself, I would strongly recommend this book. While it’s an autobiography, it certainly doesn’t read like one. The narration is not dry, the dialog doesn’t feel forced. It was deeply engaging and hard to put down.

I would encourage anyone who has at some point struggled with the idea of homosexual clergy (or even the relationship between Christianity and homosexuality in general) to read this book. Will it change your mind if you disagree? Probably not. But it will, however, give you a view through the eyes of someone who feels called by God, but is told by religious leaders that she’s not worthy, not clean, not able.

Highlighted excerpts:

We all, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews shared the same worship space. Friday evening, the rabbi’s assistant rolled out the Torah Ark and set the altar for the cantor and rabbi to lead the Shabbos service. Early mass was at eight a.m. Sunday morning. The Ark rolled back, the crucifix placed on the wall behind the altar and the fonts inside the door replenished with holy water.

After Sunday school, I hurried into the chapel to help our (Protestant) chaplain and his assistant take up the missals (the weekly service for mass) and put out the bulletins for our service. The assistant turned the crucified Christ on the cross toward the wall; an empty cross now faced the pews. We Protestants came from many traditions- Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Pentecostal—but we all worshiped together. The service took on the flavor of the chaplain du jour. We all knew where the Torah Ark was and that there were two sides to the cross. We shared spiritual space and it felt right, reinforcing the idea that we different and alike at the same time. It is still who I am—a person who believes all religions point to the same God.

Because they were my friends, I knew us to be beautiful in our differences. And because they were my friends, what is different isn’t foreign. Because they were my friends, and because I loved them, God was very large.

So you want to know who I am? Who all these homosexuals are, acting like they belong in and to the church? We are as unique and varied as the stars of the Milky Way. You are not asking the right question, I think. The question I put to you is the same one the Ethiopian eunuch asked Philip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

And by extension, I would ask you, “What is to prevent me from being ordained?”

The implication inherent in both questions is, “Nothing.”

Growing up rooted in the unfettered love of God didn’t prepare me for the evil I encountered early and often. Or maybe it did. I unfolded in a world of innocence. Of joy. Of mystery. I trusted God. So when I encountered evil I didn’t question God, I wondered how people could do such unspeakable things to one another.

The president of the United States shot and killed? Another certainty I didn’t even know was a certainty, shattered. If this was true, that someone would assassinate our president, what else was true? If the possibility of nuclear war was true, what else is true? If it is true that people can be discriminated against because of the color of their skin, what else is true? If Dachau is true, what else is true?

We are not separate from that which is perpetrated on others. We are injured either by our complicity or our compassion, whether conscious or not. It is those scars that make it impossible for me to remain silent on the behalf of others.

I had never questioned the goodness or authority of our government, so when Mr. Busbee asked if we thought the United Stated should be in Viet Nam I was taken aback. I got angry, cornered by the idea that we might be wrong, that we might be perpetrators of evil instead of doers of good. Who did he think he was? Being an army brat, his question socked a hard punch to the solar plexus of my psyche. Reluctantly, I began what became a life-long commitment to asking difficult questions. If my beliefs couldn’t stand up to questioning there was a problem. I scrutinized everything that I considered to be sacred even though my heart pounded in terror. I began the slow, clumsy rise to consciousness.

I shared passionately how my faith in Jesus was connected to all the things I care about in the world. They talked to me about the survival of my immortal soul. We couldn’t find common ground. We were all so busy being “right” that we couldn’t find each other. And never did. They had the power and there was no room for me if I didn’t move to their side. At least that’s how I saw it.

I didn’t understand how my parents, the same parents who told me I could be anything I wanted to be, do anything I wanted to do, were now saying that my place was to support David. “Things have changed,” they said

When I tucked Tanya into her bed at home that night, I said something I would repeat many times over the course of her growing up, “Tan, if anyone tells you they have “the answer” run in the opposite direction.”

I wanted to walk a pastoral walk, but I forgot how pissed off people get when they feel threatened. Especially when they are the ones in power. I really believed it would be different in this holy place.

“You can learn a lot from him and from this experience.” He leaned toward me and made eye contact. “Your life will be filled with people like him. You may not be able to trust him as the teacher you hoped he would be, but now that you know you can’t trust him, learn what you can about dealing with people who aren’t trustworthy.”

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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