Breast Milk, Homosexuality, and Being United MethodistWednesday, August 29th, 2012 10:08 am
Last week a certain US Senate candidate made waves by speaking of “legitimate rape.” This week political satire humorists spread a rumor that the candidate believes "female breast milk – when fed directly to an adult homosexual male daily for at least four weeks – has a 94% chance of permanently curing homosexual perversions." (NOTE: The candidate DID NOT state this. It's satire).
Thankfully this is just humor to bring light to Rep. Akin's scientific ignorance, but I wonder if he and other lawmakers would want to listen to the stories of those whose lives were fortified by good government programs, like those at womenshealth.gov or those that were strengthened by the passage of the Affordable Care Act. I wonder if he'd listen to my story about how breast feeding nourished not only my infant body, but my developing faith.
When I was born, my mother belonged to the Churches of Christ. If you know anything about this small, evangelical denomination, you probably know that they have beautiful a capella singing because they don’t have instrumental music in worship. This is mostly derived from their doctrine of “if it’s not in the bible (specifically the New Testament), don’t do it.”
Soon after I was born, my mother began taking me to Sunday morning worship (and Sunday and Wednesday evening bible study) with her. She would often take me to the nursery to do what you do in nurseries: nurse. After a few weeks the elders of the congregation paid a visit to our home and asked my mother if she would stop breastfeeding me in the nursery. In the nursery. It seems they were worried that one of the teenaged boys might walk in and see her breastfeeding me and begin to ask questions. The elders asked my mother to consider feeding me before coming to church or pumping and bringing a bottle. See, these elders were, like Rep. Akin, men who didn’t understand not only the science of maternity, but the time, organization, and in some cases, pain, caused by pumping.
The next week we started attending The United Methodist Church, and we were welcomed. No questions were asked about breastfeeding. My mother was gladly shown the nursery/Sunday school room where should could feed me if I got fussy. And it was there, in that small country church overlooking the banks of the Ohio River, that I learned that God’s welcome is greater than any moral code or theological doctrine. From Sunday school to Christmas pageants to Vacation Bible School, I learned what it meant to be caring and compassionate, kind and courteous.
When I first spoke the words, “I’m gay,” it was on the steps of the chapel at West Virginia Wesleyan College. Through tears and laughter, the grace, compassion, and welcome I felt then must have been the same that my mother felt when she walked into that United Methodist Church 18 years previously.
Breast milk – or even more importantly, scientific ignorance - cannot be allowed to become a symbol of theological and political demagoguery. Instead, let it be a sign of welcome – to children, to mothers, to those on the margins. This is the message we hear again and again in Scripture. May we be so bold to listen to that message and live it out as people of faith.
Breast milk didn’t affect my sexual orientation. But it did make me United Methodist.
Chett Pritchett is Development and Communications Associate for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and serves as Lay Leader at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.