I’m back at work this morning after a weekend I’ll remember for a very long time. Dan and Joe, whose story I’ve been chronicling here, were married on Saturday, and the whole event, from rehearsal to reception, was not only insanely fun, but also incredibly inspiring. To my gay friends who think monogamy and commitment are either undesirable or unattainable, believe me: you want the love and the life that Joe and Dan have with each other, and they would tell you with bright eyes and big smiles that it’s so very possible for you, and not to settle for something less because there’s nothing like hearing someone say they willingly forsake all others for you. I’m posting one of my favorite pictures from the weekend, and I hope you’ll spend some time staring at it. The two of them went through a lot to arrive at that moment, their first dance, and they would tell you how worth it the whole journey was, and they would wish the same for you.
Well, the big day is here. Joe and Dan take their vows at 2:00. If you want to follow along, I’ll be tweeting throughout the afternoon and evening with plenty of pics–as long as the little iPhone battery that could holds up. You can follow along on Twitter @MattZRogers.
In a recent post, I asked Dan and Joe why they think more gay people don’t seem to be seeking a lifelong relationship with just one person, be it called marriage or something else. There are plenty of folks who are, for sure, but even in states where gay marriage is now legal, the altars aren’t busy with gay couples taking their vows. Why? Joe and Dan seem so happy in their life together, that I wondered why, to the extent the stereotype is valid, do many gay guys settle for brief, sexual relationships that seem almost terminal from the start. And why are they terminal from the start, if that is the reality and not just a perception?
Joe and Dan both seemed rather passionate about the topic, so I asked them both to write out their thoughts on the matter. Last time we heard from Joe. Now, it’s Dan’s turn.
I think it’s less a stereotype and more a reality. But like I said before, you have to ask why this is so. It’s not enough to just write off gays as not wanting or being capable of maintaining long-term relationships. There are reasons, I think, that gays tend to struggle forming solid relationships.
I think many of us who are gay go through a “phase” when we come out and are new to the community where we hook up as much as possible to compensate for the years of “closet life” and not being able to share affection with another human being. Most gays in the past didn’t get to go through the experimentation and dating phase of the teenage years, and so they go through it later in life when they come out, sometimes in the 30s or even later. I went through my phase, just as Joe went through his, but some gays never leave theirs. They get stuck in it, which is why, at least in Atlanta, that we have so many forty- and fifty-somethings still wearing Abercrombie, going to bars, and expecting to meet “Mr. Right” every night. It’s the only thing they know, because they were never shown anything different. They’ve never had examples of anything else, and often they’ve been told they can’t have anything else.
We gays often are a community of skin-deep individuals, and relationships cannot be just skin deep in order for them to last forever. We learned from a young age to hide what we really feel and think, to bury the most intimate parts of ourselves because we were taught that it was bad to be gay, and many of us in the gay community have never unlearned that, so we stay very surface level in our relationships, even with other gays. We tend to define ourselves by what we have rather than who we are because, unfortunately, many of us don’t know who we are—the identity crisis Joe talked about—or we don’t like who we are because we’ve internalized all the rejection we’ve received in the past. So we focus on stuff we have instead. This can include having a good body, having a BMW or other flashy car; having more clothes and accessories than any man or woman will ever need, having lots of beautiful friends that can name-drop with the best of them … on and on. All of these things cause problems in straight relationships too, but I think they are a particular problem among the gay community, and they keep us having lots of sex but little depth or longevity in our relationships.
Mobile apps like Grindr have only made the problem worse. It’s so easy to meet someone right now, have sex right now, and then never see the person again. You can have fun and never have to get to know yourself or the other person. I have friends who do this, and I feel so bad for them because if it begins with sex, it isn’t likely to end in a “forever” relationship.
Having said this, I realize it’s especially tough in the gay community to meet other gay under healthier circumstances. Besides gay bars and parties, and mobile apps and websites like Grindr, where are gays to go and interact and get to know each other in a healthier way? I encourage my gay friends to check out accepting churches, outdoor clubs, etc., where the focus is less on meeting someone quickly and more on sharing a common purpose or goal with people you get to know over time.
I really don’t want anyone to think that I am putting down the gay community in any way. I embrace it, love it, and participate in it in ways that I deem appropriate. At one point in my life, before I met Joe about two years ago, I was the guy in the tiny bathing suit bar tending the annual Joining Hearts Pool Party at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, but for me, that was just fun; it was not a life. I knew that I was not going to continue doing those things the rest of my life. Now I’m preparing to get married in a Methodist church right around the corner from my old bar-tending spot, and I am completely okay with that situation!
I think as gay marriage spreads across the US, our community will slowly become more like the straight community, with lots of single people, divorced people, and married people. Just because we can get married in some states now doesn’t mean that all gays are going to suddenly run out and get married. There’s a lot of work we need to do to build healthier relationships first, but I do think that as more and more twenty- and thirty-somethings commit, become leaders in the community, and demonstrate healthy, loving, married relationships, the trend will spread. Hopefully, Joe and I are a part of that. Our wedding ceremony at the church will be open to anyone who wants to attend, whether they have received an invitation or not. We want people to see what is possible for them too.
In the last post, I asked Dan and Joe why they think more gay people don’t seem to be seeking a lifelong relationship with just one person, be it called marriage or something else. There are plenty of folks who are, for sure, but even in states where gay marriage is now legal, the altars aren’t busy with gay couples taking their vows. Why? Joe and Dan seem so happy in their life together, that I wondered why, to the extent the stereotype is valid, do many gay guys settle for brief, sexual relationships that seem almost terminal from the start. And why are they terminal from the start, if that is the reality and not just a perception?
Joe and Dan both seemed rather passionate about the topic, so I asked them both to write out their thoughts on the matter. In this post, we’ll hear from Joe. Next time, Dan will share his thoughts.
I think it takes a certain amount of self-confidence and forward thinking to seek a lifelong relationship. Ever since I was little, I was a dreamer and thought about what my life would look like down the road. That for me always included being married and having children. When I started to accept that I was gay, that dream was shaken a bit, which I think happens to many gay people. The fact that being married to someone of the same sex has been seen as wrong or taboo until very recently creates quite a roadblock to envisioning that as a viable future. I am lucky because my brother married his partner back in 2000. If we had more examples of successful, respectable relationships like that to inspire people, I think more gay people might be able to see themselves in that situation.
Also, I think many gay people go through an identity crisis whenever they get close to coming out. It’s right around the time you come to terms with being gay and decide that maybe it’s okay to admit it and embrace it. That in and of itself brings about a certain level of uncertainty as to who you are and what you hope to be. For many years, you tried to repress yourself and now trying to redefine yourself can be tricky. How can you possibly be in a relationship with someone else if you don’t have a good relationship with yourself, and a good sense of who you are? In my experience I think many gay people do seek relationships but that crisis of self prevents the relationship from being much more than what it is often: two people who are afraid of who and what they are. There’s a kindred spiritual connection there as they both understand what the other is going through. But just having that in common isn’t enough. Lifelong relationships are most successful when they have a lifelong purpose and goals that can grow as the couple grows. If the goal is only companionship, that tends to get routine quickly causing many people to seek something new and exciting. This can lead to infidelity or promiscuity. Dan’s and my “fairytale” relationship started with a few major common goals: raising children, the importance of family, spirituality, living a healthy lifestyle, and dedication to self and each other. As we approach this next phase of our relationship, we now seek new goals as a couple that stem from these and help us grow, building on the foundation that bonded us together from the start.
Dessert arrives—time is short, and I still have so many questions—coffee ice cream for me, and butter pecan for Joe. Dan, I’ve learned, is diabetic, and settles for a taste of each.
Why, I ask, do Joe and Dan think more gay people don’t seem to be seeking a lifelong relationship with just one person, be it called marriage or something else. There are plenty of folks who are, for sure, but even in states where gay marriage is now legal, the altars aren’t busy with gay couples taking their vows. Why? Joe and Dan seem so happy in their life together, that I wonder why, to the extent the stereotype is valid, do many gay guys settle for brief, sexual relationships that seem almost terminal from the start. And why are they terminal from the start, if that is the reality and not just a perception?
Joe suspects it’s a crisis of identity. “When you’ve been told all your life that what you are and what you want is not ok, or even very bad,” Joe says, “and then you see a lot of examples of the gay stereotype being lived out, and you suspect it isn’t love but instead some kind of physical substitution, it’s hard to imagine a healthy marriage for yourself. I’ve always been a total romantic and very traditional, so I’ve always dreamed of being married and having kids just like the rest of my family members. So that helped me truly believe one day I would. Also my brother married his husband back in 2000, so I had an example early on of what was possible for me. The ideas that being gay is not an affliction and that marriage is an option are very new concepts in our culture. I think as time goes on, you’ll see a lot more gay people wanting and believing in that one-person-for-life relationship, and making it happen.”
Dan agrees: “I think as gay marriage spreads across the US, our community will slowly begin to look more and more like the straight community, with plenty of single people, married people, and divorced people.”
Dan also says he thinks the stereotype of gays being overly sexual early on in relationships, and often promiscuous for years after coming out, is largely true. “I think it’s less a stereotype and more a reality.” But, Dan cautions, “You have to ask why that’s the case. It’s not as simple as saying, ‘See, gay people are immoral,’ or whatever. Many gay people don’t come out until they’re 25 or 30 or even later, so they never went through a normal pubescent teenage phase. They didn’t get to go through the bad relationships, the mistakes, and the random hookups that teenagers often go through. They’re doing that now at 25 or 30. Part of maturing is working through that stuff. Joe and I both had to go through our own maturing phase, and hopefully we’re a little wiser now. We’ve taken the physical side of our relationship very slowly. We talked early on about how we wanted to save some things for marriage. We want to be an example of that kind of maturity for our kids.”
“And maturity,” Joe adds, “requires a lot of honesty and transparency with your partner. That’s also hard for a lot of gay people. Think about it, when you’re coming out and acknowledging that you’re gay, that’s as vulnerable and transparent as you can get. If that level of honesty was met with shame, hatred, or disgust, you often shut down, stay surface-level in your relationships, and not risk being open like that again. I think that’s why a lot of gay relationships never go any further than the physical. Sex can remain surface level. Many gay people don’t know how to be and are often encouraged not to be really honest about their emotional selves, which prevents the kind of intimacy and depth necessary for a truly loving, lifelong relationship.”
Joe and Dan certainly seem honest with each other. I learn that they have a “no secrets” policy between them. When they find some other guy attractive, they say it. “It’s how we prevent temptation from getting a hold of us,” Dan says. “It’s unrealistic to think we’re never going to be attracted to anyone other than each other. That’s human nature. If you start hiding things like that, it gives intrigue and mystery a chance to build into something that could come between Joe and me. We don’t want that, and so we just say it if we think somebody else is attractive. Maybe that approach wouldn’t work for everyone, but it does for us. And most of the time, just admitting the attraction to whoever the other guy is takes the excitement out of it. It reminds us that what we have together is so incredible.”
Our checks arrive, and we have to wrap up the conversation. Joe and Dan both seem to have much to say about this topic, so I ask them to write out later their extended thoughts when they get home (which I’ll share with you soon).
We pay and then step outside into a warm, late-spring evening in Charlotte. I thank them for their time and perspective, and tell them how refreshing it is, and how much hope it gives me. I mutter something about how I become cynical about ever finding a guy who wants this kind of one-man-for-life, unbreakable commitment. That’s when Joe says something I’ll never forget: “You have to fight that! If you let yourself become cynical, you become part of the system. You become the problem.”
We hug, exchange goodbyes, and go separate ways, but that last line hangs with me all the way home. If I let myself become cynical, I become part of the system, and probably ensure I never find what Joe and Dan have.
Our meals arrive. Dan and Joe share their entrees with each other. We pour more wine and continue talking about their relationship.
I learn that before Joe met Dan, he was getting discouraged about ever finding his soul mate. “I got to the point where I would go on dates with guys I wasn’t even really attracted to at all, just to see if something would happen.” His message to single gay people now is, don’t give up. Keep looking. “And be willing to look anywhere, to go anywhere,” he says. “I once flew out to California just to go on a date!”
The searching ended for Joe when he met Dan on Facebook. After several dates and many hours of conversations that both Joe and Dan say were some of the happiest of their lives, Joe decided he wanted to make it official. “I did the whole middle school note thing. I wrote out, ‘Will you be my boyfriend?’ with boxes for ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘maybe.’”
“Of course, I checked yes,” Dan says.
Eight months later, they both knew they wanted to spend their lives with each other. “We knew pretty early on we wanted to be together,” Joe says, “and that we wanted an actual marriage more than just a partnership of some kind. I’ve always wanted a church wedding. So, we had talked about it—about who would propose and who wanted to be asked. I told Dan it would be nice to be surprised. And I eventually was. I had no idea the night he asked me.”
“I had kept the note from Joe asking me if I’d be his boyfriend, and I added a question to it. ‘Will you be my husband? Yes, no, or maybe.’”
Dan arranged to meet Joe for a nice dinner at one of their favorite restaurants. He arrived early with gifts: a red rose for Joe’s plate, a collage of pictures he had put together chronicling their relationship, and an envelope containing the note and a Sharpie. He set his iPhone to record the moment.
Joe arrived, unsuspecting. “It started to occur to me what might be happening when I saw the collage,” Joe says, “but I went into the evening without a clue.” When Joe read the note, his eyes instantly filled with tears. He looked up from the paper as Dan got down on one knee.
“We’d only been dating eight months,” Dan says, “so I told him that I knew it was early on, but that I had no doubts, and that he’d make me a very happy man if he’d marry me.”
“I wicked gay reacted,” Joe says, laughing. With tears running down, Joe took the Sharpie, checked the appropriate box on the note, looked at Dan, smiled, and said, “Yes!”
“We’re both healthy eaters,” Dan says, “but we had cake that night.” Dan knew that he wanted to ask Joe’s dad for permission to marry Joe, so that evening he called.
Joe says, “That sealed it for me! That’s the sign of a good ole fashioned gentleman.”
By now, I’m dying to know what Joe’s and Dan’s parents think about all this. From earlier in our conversation, I’d gleaned that Joe’s dad is Catholic and Dan’s is a Methodist minister.
“I have a gay brother who came out before me,” Joe says, “So my dad had been through it before. He gave Dan permission to marry me, and he’ll be at the weddingalong with the rest of the family.”
Dan’s family is another story. “My parents have never met Joe,” Dan says with a note of sadness. “I would love for them to, but that’s the choice they’ve made. They won’t be at the wedding, and that’s also by their choice. We still talk almost every week, but they’re just not okay with my being gay and in a relationship. Maybe in time.”
In fact, I learn, there is a broad spectrum of family response on both sides, ranging from full acceptance to just the opposite. Dan says he hopes people will see in this that his and Joe’s story is not a flawless fairytale. “I wouldn’t want anyone to think that our situation is perfect or that they can’t have what we have. Our relationship is born out of reality, and it has its challenges like anyone else’s will.”
So, besides the fact that gay marriage is a relatively new phenomenon in our culture, why aren’t more gay people seeking this fairytale, imperfect as it may be, and what advice do Joe and Dan have for gay people who are seeking to marry? That’s next …
(Note: Because I hate reading a story and not knowing who is who in the associated pics … in both images here, Joe is on the left, Dan on the right.)
My job affords me time (and permission) to check Facebook, and despite the frustrations of the social media site—all the political rants, privacy concerns, and coercions to “like” a picture in the next three seconds or you don’t love Jesus—I’ve met some wonderful people through Facebook whom I never otherwise would have known. Joe and Dan are two such people. While I see plenty of Facebook profile pictures featuring gay couples, something just felt different about these two. Flipping through their pictures, they seemed so comfortable together, so unconcerned with what the world might think. It all looked very natural, unforced, and as it was meant to be. I friended them, and we began chatting back and forth for a few months. Last weekend, I finally had the chance to meet and share dinner and a good bottle of wine with Joe and Dan.
Their story inspires me because they are examples of what I hope to have some day: a healthy, loving, monogamous, relationship with a man that leads to the altar. For so long, as I’ve recounted previously, I thought I could not have this and should not have this, that it was an impossible fantasy, and an immoral one at that. Now, things are different, and I see Joe and Dan’s relationship as something both good and attainable. But how did it happen? How did they meet, fall in love, and form a faithful relationship in a culture that often encourages immediate sex with as many people as you want at the expense of the slow, tough work of building an enduring life with just one person?
Joe says he was always a romantic at heart. “I’ve always had pretty traditional ideas about relationships, having grown up in the Catholic Church, so I knew I wanted a partner for life.”
Joe first saw Dan tagged in someone else’s picture on Facebook and wasted no time getting in touch. “I had a rule at the time that if I found a guy attractive, “ Joe says, “I would let him know. He deserved that rather than having me simply stalk him online. So, I messaged Dan.”
“And I responded pretty quickly!” Dan interjects, as they look at each other and smile. They have that same blissful glow about them that I as a pastor used to see in many of the engaged straight couples in my church.
After an exchange of messages and a long phone call one night, they decided to go on a date.
Joe says, “That was the easiest conversation I’ve ever had with anyone. It was just so natural talking to Dan that I couldn’t stop!”
“I had to tell him to breathe at one point,” Dan says with a laugh.
A first date led to a first kiss—a kiss that felt different than any before. “That was the first time I’d ever kissed a guy that having sex with him wasn’t the first thing that came to mind,” Dan says. “I mean, I did want that, of course, but I wanted so much more. I wanted to know this guy.”
Joe says the two of them wisely took their relationship slowly at first, mostly because they had to. “We were lucky in that I was traveling a lot for work at the time, so we weren’t able to move too quickly and fall into the three-dates-in-three-nights trap. Also, we lived about 40 minutes apart at the time, so that meant some nights we just texted or talked on the phone, and that allowed our relationship to develop at a more natural and healthy pace.”
But the strong connection they had was obvious to them both very early on. After only the second date, as though he knew already that this relationship was not the same as all the ones before, Dan said to Joe, “This is going to be fun.”
“And it was, and it is!” Joe says. “I started bringing home little souvenirs from business trips for Dan, something I’d never really done for anyone before. And he really listened intently to me when I would talk. He picked up on a detail in one of my many random stories about how I’d read that some celebrity demanded his driver pick him up from the airport with blue M&Ms only and a bottle of white wine in the vehicle. Next time Dan picked me up at the airport, he surprised me with a picnic that included blue M&Ms and white wine.”
Unbeknownst to Dan, little moments like that led Joe to begin keeping a journal of their growing relationship. “I had never been much of a writer before, but I just wanted to remember everything, every first. I didn’t want to forget any of it.”
One day, months into the relationship, Dan discovered that journal, and now the two update it together, chronicling their life as a couple. There aren’t quite as many things to write about these days. Joe and Dan have been together for two years, so there are fewer “firsts” to write down, but they seem no less in love for having run short of new things to do. And that’s one aspect of their relationship that so intrigues me, and inspires me. They get that it’s not always going to be like it was that first date, or even that first year.
Dan says, “It’s not always going to be hot and spicy. It’s not supposed to be. Some of that initial excitement comes from the mystery of it all, the unknown. But the longer you’re with someone, the better you know the person, and the less mystery—the less spice—there is. That doesn’t mean you’re not still in love. It just means you have to work at injecting spice into the relationship and realizing that sometimes it’ll be boring, but that boring doesn’t equal non-existent. It doesn’t mean something’s wrong.”
As Joe, Dan, and I continue sipping wine and waiting for our meals, a hundred questions run through my mind. When did they decide to marry? Who asked whom? Or was it just a mutual decision at the end of a conversation? What do their parents think about all of this (I already know that Joe’s dad is Catholic and Dan’s is a Methodist minister)? How do Joe and Dan approach the whole sex before marriage issue? What advice do they have for other gay guys and gals hoping for a life partner some day?
Stay tuned …
Recently, I posted a “Prelude to a Gay Wedding,” which reignited some people’s desire to argue about the morality of gay relationships. One person even suggested that perhaps I thought that whatever makes you happy is moral. No idea how he arrived at that idea since I’ve never suggested any such thing. For my thoughts on how one might determine what is moral, read the Gay Posts on this website. Or just read what Paul said:
“The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (Romans 13:9-10, emphasis mine).
If you’re not harming anyone, it’s likely fine. Love does no harm. Therefore, love. Seems pretty simple. Not sure why we keep making it more complicated than that.
Anyway, my point in the “Prelude” was not to restart a conversation we’ve already had here. It was simply to say, hey, here’s what I heard repeatedly in the church for years: gay relationships do not last because they cannot work, because they are the result of a broken, dysfunctional relationship with Mom and Dad. Every gay man is hopelessly seeking in another gay man what he never got from his parents, unaware that the other guy is just as devoid of that “thing” as he is. That was the theory.
And yet, once I stuck my head outside the conservative church door, I found gay relationships that seem to work fine. Some last, some don’t, same as with straight relationships. But the argument that they can’t work because of some inherent flaw or developmental failure seems itself flawed, and since many people in the circles I run in have never met a gay couple headed for the altar, I thought why not introduce folks to one, which I will do soon.
I did want to say, though, before I introduce you to this couple that I’m not interested in rehashing the discussions of last year about whether God is cool with gay relationships. I’m assuming here that he is, based on my understanding of the Bible (which, again, you can read in the Gay Posts on this site). You may disagree, and that’s fine; I disagreed with my current position for years. If you want to argue about it, that’s not fine. I’m kind of over it, as they say, and honestly, I just don’t have as much time as I once did to respond to comments. So, if you have an argument for or against gay marriage or just gay relationships in general that you’re dying to make, I’d love to introduce you to the guy who set up this blog for me. I’m sure he’ll be happy to help you start one as well. For a fee, of course.
The two guys I’m going to introduce you to are my friends. Please treat them as such. Think of my blog and Facebook page as you would my home. You would not expect to come into my home and treat my guests with disrespect. If you did, you’d be shown the door rather quickly. The same applies here. The same fella who wondered if I thought the morality of an act was determined by one’s enjoyment of it also suggested that maybe I delete selected comments because I “can’t handle” opposing views. But I’ve been handling them for years; I held them for years. It’s not that I can’t handle opposing views; it’s that I grew up and realized I don’t have to tolerate opposing views presented in an abusive way, and I certainly don’t have to allow them to be published on sites I control.
And now, meet Joe and Dan …
If you’ve spent any time in the conservative church world, you’ve probably heard the causation theories for male homosexuality (there are conservative church theories for female homosexuality’s cause, as well, but I’ll keep it simple here by focusing on the sex I know best: my own.). One theory says that gay men experienced shame as a child regarding their masculinity. Either Dad wasn’t there, or he was emotionally distant. Mom was overly involved and doting, and she smothered the child in the feminine so that the boy never gained a sense of being “other” than Mom, or different, separate. The boy, thus, didn’t feel like he was one of his peers, and upon reaching puberty, he sexualized the longing for his lost masculinity, always seeking it through sex with other men.
That’s the neo-Freudian “reparative” understanding of male homosexuality’s cause, and a great many churches subscribed to it unreservedly, beginning in the 1980s, so that if you attended a conservative congregation from that time forward, you likely heard this explanation, particularly if you were gay in the pew. Only recently have science and experience begun to chip away at this nearly ubiquitous late twentieth-century belief among evangelicals.
Of course, from that understanding of the origin of homosexuality flowed the conviction that homosexual relationships were inherently flawed and broken. I can’t tell you how many times I heard (and, I confess, repeated) that gay relationships do not last because they cannot last, because they are unhealthy at the core. Each gay man is trying to get from another what he never got from Dad. He begins hopeful, but soon he discovers his partner is devoid of it as well, and the relationship falls apart. On to the next guy until he also is found to be lacking that elusive sense of masculinity. On to the next until … you get the idea.
The “father wound” as it was (and often still is) called, that of never having emotionally bonded with Dad and detached from Mom, was seen as the main reason for the rampant promiscuity within the gay community. By joining with another man, each gay man is trying to “repair” his sexuality, a futile effort, always. We can certainly debate whether there really is more promiscuous sex happening among gay people than straight people. And we can debate whether the evangelical church has unintentionally encouraged the very problem it condemns by seeking to delegitimize any formal and legal sanctioning of stable monogamous gay relationships. I’m just telling you what I heard over and over in the church world of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
I once interviewed Joseph Nicolosi, the man who has championed and practiced so-called reparative therapy for the last 25 years. I was writing a book I later abandoned. I asked Nicolosi directly if he thought there were ever any gay relationships that make it, that last. He said, no. Maybe there was one out there somewhere–he couldn’t be sure–but the implication was that you’d have to scour the earth to find that one. Well, having been out for a while now, I can tell you I’ve met—without searching that hard for them—many an apparently happy gay couple. Soon, I’ll introduce you to one such couple, and they’re gettin’ hitched!
Stay tuned …
I can’t tell you how exhausted I am with this “issue” of homosexuality, particularly as it relates to Christian faith. Most days I feel like I simply cannot respond to yet another “Christian” assault on gay people. (I put Christian in quotation marks because I think most of these anti-gay statements come from a misunderstanding of what Christianity is and what Jesus wants for and of us.) But often I’m compelled to muster the energy anyway and say something because for many of us this is not an “issue;” it’s a significant part of our lives. It’s personal, and not to respond feels a bit like silently approving of statements that do not reflect the character or mind of Jesus, as far as I understand them and see them expressed in the Bible.
As the whole world surely knows by now, NBA player Jason Collins is gay, a revelation that prompted sports commentator Chris Broussard to say, among other things, this:
… If you’re openly living in unrepentant sin, whatever it may be, not just homosexuality—adultery, fornication, premarital sex between heterosexuals, whatever it may be—I believe that’s walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ. So I would not characterize that person as a Christian because I don’t think the Bible would characterize them as a Christian.
That prompted the executive director of the Gay Christian Network, Justin Lee, to write this. I’d encourage you to read the article. I thought it was spot on.
One of my Facebook friends did not. He said, among other things, this (I’ve highlighted points I want you to notice, particularly):
[Collins] had the perfect platform to explain how a Christian can be homosexual within the law of God. He did not do that. He had the perfect opportunity to claim to be a follower of Christ. He did not do that. He said he was raised with those values and basically chose which teachings of Christ that he follows. You can’t pick and choose your own Christ … I hope that he is a full follower of Christ, but if he is, he totally botched a perfect opportunity to share it, so bad in fact that it’s safe to say that he is not being led by the holy spirit.
I haven’t read the Collins article in Sports Illustrated, so I’ll limit my thoughts to that which I have read: the Bible. I’ve read it several times, and believe me, as a gay Christian, I know all the relevant passages regarding same-sex anything and everything. I know them by heart. And I know all the various views out there about how to interpret them. My Facebook friend seems either unaware of the varying views or utterly dismissive of them. If it’s the former, shame on him for wading into these waters ignorantly. If it’s the latter, shame on him for arrogance that neither acknowledges other views nor feels any need to explain his own before condemning a man.
I have so many questions for my friend. You really think it’s “safe to say” someone is not being led by God based on extremely limited knowledge of the person (his thoughts on one subject)? Do you have any idea how overly confident in your own spiritual fruit inspection abilities that sounds? And really, isn’t trying to determine who’s Spirit-led and not a little trickier than you’ve suggested? Jesus looked at the religious leaders of his day who were full of outward signs that they were following God, and he told them that whores and drunkards would get into heaven ahead of them. And what do you mean when you say Collins had “the perfect platform to explain how a Christian can be homosexual within the law of God”? What is the law of God for a follower of Jesus? Do you mean the Old Testament Law, because the Bible makes it pretty clear that “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18). That’s because Christ is “the end of the law” for those who believe in him (Romans 10:4). Have you read Hebrews? The whole thing is a plea for us to let go of the Old Testament Law because it has been set aside in favor of a new and better way of relating to God: Christ, who is the fulfillment of the Law. How can you expect Jason Collins to be led by the Spirit and expect him to explain how to live as a gay man under God’s Law? The Spirit and the Law do not go hand in hand. Collins can only do one or the other: He can be led by the Spirit, or he can be under the Law. He cannot do both.
Maybe, though, by “God’s law” you simply mean that Collins should explain how he can be gay and still obey the New Testament passages that reference homosexuality. As I’ve mentioned above, there are a number of ways Christians approach those passages, and depending on which way you go, you end up with very different conclusions, one of which results in a pro-gay theology. Since you would, at least at this point in your life, not agree with such a view, let’s assume that the Apostle Paul in the New Testament letters forbids homosexual relationships, period. How did Jesus, the founder and leader of our faith, handle the application of rules? We don’t have to guess. We have examples. Here’s one from Mark 2.
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”
25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”
27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath …”
Keep in mind, resting on the Sabbath was not just “a” rule. It was one of the big ten, inscribed in stone by the finger of God. Violating the Sabbath in Old Testament times could invoke the death penalty. It was much more serious than should I mow my lawn on Sunday. This was a hard and fast command. It was the law, period.
Or not. Jesus did not dispute the Pharisees’ claim that his disciples were violating the Sabbath. He didn’t say, “Oh come on, it’s just some heads of grain.” He said, “Have you never heard what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need?” Jesus is referencing an Old Testament account of David on the run to save his life. David didn’t have time to pack a picnic. He had to get out of town. When he found himself in need, he violated the law which said no one was to eat the bread in the temple. David did it anyway, and Jesus says that’s just fine because the law was made for man, not man for the law. In other words, the law was given for the benefit of human beings, not in order to wring from them every drop of hard obedience possible. When a law no longer benefits people, when it causes enslavement instead of freedom, Jesus seems to say it’s okay and even good to set it aside.
I don’t believe the Apostle Paul anywhere in the New Testament condemns healthy, loving, gay relationships, but even if he did, would it not be fair to subject such a rule to the same standard to which Jesus subjected his Father’s own Ten Commandments? It’s hard to argue that the church’s traditional stance forbidding gays and lesbians from ever partnering with a soul mate has had positive effects. Just the opposite. The pain of isolation and subjugation has had depressing and sometimes deadly (consider the suicides) consequences for gay people.
As far as I can tell, Jesus only gave one law to his people. Love.
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” (John 15:8)
The Apostle Paul took notice and echoed his Lord’s words in no fewer than three places (emphasis, mine):
“The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Galatians 5:14)
Paul says love fulfills the law, and love does no harm to a neighbor. I will ask it again: which church position has done more harm to our gay neighbors, the one which says a rule is a rule is a rule, or the one which says, you know, the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love?