Rarely do I make someone else’s blog post the point of my own, but the one I read this morning is worth it. For the record, I don’t know anything about the people who publish The Broken Telegraph. My posting praise for this one article does not consititue my endorsing anything else they have posted or will post. I simply liked this one article. I think it makes the point well that even those within the church who quietly go about the work of pushing anti-gay marriage legislation in the United States are doing damage to the church, even though they’re not out making loud, angry speeches against gays. My favorite quote from the article:
“Even those who respectfully stand against an issue that is at most a symbolic victory have contributed to the creation of unnecessary foes.”
There are many more wonderful quotes in this article. It’ll only take a few minutes to read the whole thing, and it’s worth your time, wherever you’ve landed on the isse of gay marriage.
You need to read TORN: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate. (For my fellow nerds, that’s TORN, not TRON.) Gay or straight, for or against gay relationships, you need to read it. If you feel like this issue matters to the church, you need to read it.Â While TORN doesn’t release until November, as I write this it’s available for pre-order at almost half-off the retail price at Amazon.com.
How do I know you need to read it? How do I know it’s the best book you’ll read this year? I’ve read the manuscript. Shhh. Don’t tell. It is hands down the best book I’ve read on homosexuality as it affects the Christian faith. You’d have to read thousands and thousands of pages in dozens of other books to get get what author Justin Lee has managed to condense into one 272-page book.
From the publisher …
TORN provides insightful, practical guidance for all committed Christians who wonder how to relate to gay friends or family members–or who struggle with their own sexuality. Convinced that “in a culture that sees gays and Christians as enemies, gay Christians are in a unique position to bring peace,” Lee demonstrates that people of faith on both sides of the debate can respect, learn from, and love one another.
And while I’m copying and pasting, here’s the “About the Author” section from Amazon.
Justin Lee is the founder and executive director of The Gay Christian Network (GCN), a nonprofit, interdenominational organization working to increase dialogue between gays and Christians and support people on both sides wrestling with related issues.
A passionate Christian from a conservative evangelical background, Justin thought he knew everything there was to know about the Christian approach to homosexuality-until unexpected events turned his world upside down and forced him to reconsider everything he believed. Today, his organization works with individuals, families, and churches to stop the debate from tearing people apart.
Justin’s work has garnered national attention and praise from gays and Christians from across the theological spectrum. He has been featured in numerous print, radio, and television venues includingÂ Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper 360, the Associated Press, and a front page article inÂ The New York Times. He is the director of the 2009 documentaryÂ Through My Eyes about the debate’s impact on young Christians, and the co-host of popular long-running podcastÂ GCN Radio. Justin lives in Raleigh, NC.
Hopefully, as we approach November, I’ll have an interview with Justin here on my blog.
Did I mention you need to read TORN?
By now you probably have heard that Obama has endorsed the idea of marriage for same-sex partners. And it will probably not surprise you that Franklin Graham did not like hearing this, given that he was one of the biggest proponents of North Carolina’s anti-gay marriage amendment that passed on Tuesday. Fine. He’s entitled to his opinion, one shared by many, many evangelicals. What bothers me is the way he expressed that view. In a written statement, Graham said,
In changing his position from that of Senator/candidate Obama, President Obama has, in my view, shaken his fist at the same God who created and defined marriage. It grieves me that our president would now affirm same-sex marriage, though I believe it grieves God even more.
Really? The president is shaking his fist at God? That implies Obama a) knows what God thinks about the matter, and b) has chosen to arrogantly, rebelliously give God the middle finger and support gay marriage anyway. Is that what Obama did? Here’s what the president said on Wednesday:
I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married … I hesitated on gay marriage in part because I thought civil unions would be sufficient … I was sensitive to the fact that for a lot of people, the word “marriage” evokes very powerful traditions, religious beliefs … [but] when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.
That is shaking your fist at God? Quoting Christ’s Golden Rule as your reason for endorsing gay marriage? Really? Does Mr. Graham really believe that the president is, notÂ just misguided or deceived, but actually standng in the face of God, flying him the bird?
When I think of stiff-necked, willful rebellion against God, I think of Pharaoh refusing to let God’s people go in the book of Exodus. Pharaoh time and again resisted the clear will of God, and he did so angrily and full of spite for God and his people. Finally, Pharaoh said in Exodus, chapter 10,
Get out of my sight! Make sure you do not appear before me again! The day you see my face you will die.
Folks, THAT is shaking your fist at God, and it’s nowhere near what President Obama did on Wednesday. In fact, I found Obama’s statement rather tepid, almost anemic. He “um”ed and “uh”ed his way through it, looking at the floor half the time. It was certainly notÂ an enthusiaticÂ final step in his evolution on the subject.Â I saw no fists or fingers flying.
Franklin Graham owesÂ the presidentÂ an apology, and he owes the church an apology too, for it is rhetoric likeÂ Mr. Graham’sÂ that soils the reputation and witness of Jesus in our culture today. It wasn’t enough for Franklin Graham to have his marriage amendment, reinforcing what was already law in the state of North Carolina andÂ further fueling the animosity between fundamentalist Christians and members of the gay community. He had to go a step further and impugn the motives of anyone who sees the issue differently, for one assumes he sees all of us in support of gay marriage rights as shaking our collective fist at God.
I know very conservative Christians who voted AGAINST Tuesday’s amendment because they don’t think it’s a matter for the state, but rather for the church, to decide. They feel that, whether they like it or not,Â theÂ US Constitution guarantees gays and lesbians the freedom to marry.Â Are they shaking a fist too? What about people like Justin Lee of the Gay Christian Network, who wrote a brilliant piece on Wednesday arguing for calm, rational, Christ-like responses in the wake ofÂ North Carolina’s vote, even though he favors gay marriage? Is he shaking a fist at God? Am I? I spentÂ two years reading thousands of pages ofÂ history and exegesis on the relevant passages of the Bible concerning homosexuality, and I came to a good-faith decision that homosexuality was not intrinsically disordered or evil. But even before that decision, I was on the side of same-sex marriages being legal because I simply believe that in America, unless I can demonstrateÂ that you are hurting someone–and vague, fearful accusations about harming the institution of marriageÂ are not a demonstration–then I don’t have the right to interfere with your pursuit of happiness. Does that mean I too am shaking a fist at the Creator?
Christians really do need to speak out against this kind of crazy talk. Sure, go about it in a healthy, Jesus-likeÂ manner, but say this is wrong! Say that Franklin Graham was out of line. We have to hold our own in the church accountable. How else will people know that this man speaks for himself alone, not for the church as a whole, unless we tell them? How else will we avoid complicity in this man’s behaviorÂ except to disavow it?
Franklin Graham ended his written statement this way: “This is a sad day for America. May God help us.”
With that, I totally agree.
So here we go. Tomorrow is finally the vote on North Carolina’s marriage amendment to the state constitution. What do I think will happen? My guess–and I hope I’m wrong–is that the amendment will pass, and probably by a comfortable margin. I’d like to think otherwise, but every single poll I’ve seen would have to be way off. Consistently, the polls have shown the same things: 1) roughly 55% favor the amendment, 2) a majority of peopleÂ don’t know what the amendment says, and 3) once they know, about 60% oppose it. Problem is, there simply isn’t enough time before tomorrow’s vote to educate people. I saw one poll that said close to 10% of people thought the bill legalized gay marriage. And most don’t realize it prohibits even civil unions, meaning gay couples would not even haveÂ say in health decisions affecting their partners. It’s just wrong. It’s awful. ButÂ it’s probably going to happen.
Another reason I suspect the amendment will pass is that there are an awful lot of churches in North Carolina like Berean Baptist of FayettevilleÂ that wield a strong influence over much of the state, particularly the eastern half. You might have seen Berean’s pastor, Sean Harris, on TV recently after his rant on homosexuality went viral. I’m going to quote him, but it’s much more powerful to watch him say the words, so take a moment to watch the video.
Pastor Harris says,
“So your little son starts to act a little girlish when he is four years old and instead of squashing that like a cockroach and saying, ‘Man up, son, get that dress off you and get outside and dig a ditch, because that is what boys do,’ you get out the camera and you start taking pictures of Johnny acting like a female and then you upload it to YouTube and everybody laughs about it and the next thing you know, this dude, this kid is acting out childhood fantasies that should have been squashed.
“Dads, the second you see your son dropping the limp wrist, you walk over there and crack that wrist. Man up. Give him a good punch. Ok? You are not going to act like that. You were made by God to be a male and you are going to be a male. And when your daughter starts acting too butch, you reign [sic] her in. And you say, ‘Oh, no, sweetheart. You can play sports. Play them to the glory of God. But sometimes you are going to act like a girl and walk like a girl and talk like a girl and smell like a girl and that means you are going to be beautiful. You are going to be attractive. You are going to dress yourself up.'”
I checked out Berean’s website. They are not, as you might expect, some rural, backwoods, backward church. They are a rather large church in the city of Fayetteville, North Carolina. A lot of people sit under that pastor’s teaching every Sunday. Just imagine yourself as a gay kid, maybe 12 or 13, hearing a sermon like that. And part of their mission statement, posted online, reads, “Create a Community of Believers Profoundly Impacted by God’s Love.” Not sure what all the capital letters are about, but whatever. What is a gay kid supposed to make of God’s love that involves punching kids and cracking wrists and applying unwanted makeup in an effort to cover up “butch” tendencies? (NOTE: The Bible that Harris is supposedly teaching expressly tells women NOT to do this. 1 Peter 3 says, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self …”)
If I’m not mistaken, Pastor Harris’ church strongly supports Amendment One, even though their website reads,
“From the beginning, Baptists have insisted upon the separation of the church and state. Baptists believe the authority of the State should never be used to force conversion, baptism, attendance, or compliance with church ordinances …”
So why the amendment to force compliance with a church’s particular view of marriage?
And so, I suspect the amendment will pass, due in no small part to the influence of leaders like Mr. Harris, and the result will be the further retreat of LGBT people from anything that smacks of Christianity. How sad. Yes, it’s unfair to lump all churches into the mold of Berean Baptist. Even in North Carolina, most churches are nothing like that. Nothing at all. Certainly the one I attend isn’t.Â But there are a signficant number of churches here that are, and after years of hearing such rants, many in the LGBT community have come to view all Christians as a collective “Church.” To many, the Church is a force, an entity, an agent of discrimination standing in the way of reason and liberty. No,Â this isÂ not reality, and it isn’t fair, but it is perception, and a powerful one at that. And this is the perception many of us who follow JesusÂ will be contending with for generations as we try to persuade people that Jesus is better than what they may have heard.Â Amendment OneÂ will simply tack on an extra generation or two ofÂ work for us.
And for what? No one believes the amendment will survive the next 20 years, not even the Republican leaders who put forth the measure. Either the next generation will nullify it when they come of voting age, or the United States Supreme Court will decide all such amendments are unconstitutional. So this too shall pass, and probably fairly soon. And all that will remain is the animosity such measures breed.
While I can’t respond to every email, Facebook message, etc., that I receive concerning The Gayâ„¢, there are a few messages I want to comment on because I suspect they represent the broadly held feelings of those on the other side of the issue. I have edited the messages to protect people’s identities because I’m just that kind of guy, and I’ll even use bad grammar in my response for the same reason. Some of you know what a sacrifice that will be for me.
Thank you for your blog. It has made me more firm in my beliefs than ever. You see, I already agreed that the [Old Testament] law isÂ not applicable to us so that was not a hurdle for me. What Â gives me confidence is that it is restated in the NewÂ Testament byÂ Paul. The theological gymnastics that you have to do to make it out to be anything else is veryÂ confirming to me.
I know that you think I am some ultra conservative. Actually, I am known for being very open-minded. I am not repulsed by the act ofÂ homosexuality itself. I don’t think we should banish homosexuals or imprison them or hate them or isolate them orÂ whatever else some people actually believe. I am considered very odd [by some people in my life] for believing that you can naturally have an attraction to the same sex. I get it. Matt, I believe what you are feeling. I believe it as much as I believe that [some people have] a tendency to gorge on food (a sin) or get very, very angry. I validate your feelings. They are real, but it doesn’t make them godly.
DoÂ you not trust God to provide for you? Is He not big enough to either give you a contentment to remain single or aÂ desire to enter into a Biblical marriage? Is He that small and incapable? I have a friend who has been married for 20+years to the same person despite having been a homosexual before salvation. Regardless of what you want to believe, they are happy. God didn’t make my friend sacrifice happiness onÂ an altar somewhere. Stop believing that you are responsible for your own happiness. Trust in the Lord with ALL yourÂ heart and lean not on your own understanding.
My friend has a problem with assumptions. First, they assume they know what I think about them. “I know that you think I am some ultra conservative.” Well, actually, no, this person does not know I think that because this friend and I haven’t had a conversation of depth in years. My friend also assumes that I must not believe their gay friend who’s heterosexually married is happy. Why would I doubt that? If they say they’re happy, then I assume they’re happy. I, too, have a friend who is married heterosexually despite being primarily homosexually attracted. My friend says he’s happy. Great! That doesn’t lead me to assume that every gay man or woman will have the same experience if they marry a person of the opposite sex. In fact, since moving to Charlotte, I’ve met gay guys who either married or were engaged to women (mostly for religious reasons), and it ended terribly for the reasons you’d expect.
My friend goes on to assume, as well, that they know why I have concluded The Gayâ„¢ may be ok. Clearly, I don’t trust God to provide for me. I see God as “that small and incapable.” Yes, here the shaming accusation is put in the form of a question only, but it’s obviously rhetorical, because in a follow up email, my friend states it imperatively:
Matt, I am sad over the fact that you think God is limited inÂ His ability to provide for you. Â He is love, and He loves you, Matt. Â He is infinitely far greater than we could imagine.
My former therapist (reparative therapist, no less) taught me a helpful skill whenever I am presented with a shaming accusation. He taught me to ask myself objective questions, to essentially question the shame to see whether it’s true. If it’s not true, the feeling of shame evaporates because it wasn’t based in reality. If it is true, then you move into compassion mode and ask yourself why is the shaming statement true. So let’s do it. Let’s take my friend’s accusation and put it to the test. Here is an example of how a therapy session might go. (My therapist’s name was Tim, so that’s the name I’ll use here.)
TIM: What is the shame-based self-statement?
MATT: I have decided that gay is ok because I have given up on God being able to provide for me, to either make me happy as a single man or to provide a wife for me. I see God as small and incapable. I see him as limited in his ability to provide for me. I’m trusting myself, not God.
TIM: Ok. Objectively, is that true?
TIM: Yeah, how do you know it isn’t true?
MATT: Well, for starters, I frequently pray that if I’m wrong in my conclusion about homosexuality, God will simply not provide a mate for me. That he’ll satisfy me with being single. And whenever I meet a guy I’m interested in, I pray every time, “God, if he’s not FROM you, he’s not FOR me, so show me whether he’s from you.” That’s not the attitude of a person who sees God as “small” or “limited.” Just the opposite! Last week I was talking with a friend, and I told him how being on this side of the issue takes as much or more faith than it took being on the other side, because now I have options, whereas before I had none. Now I have to trust God to send me not just any ol’ guy, but one who is compatible with my faith, and holding out for a gay man who still likes God or the church and is willing to wait on sex, AND that I find attractive–let’s just say, if I end up married, we’ll know it was God.
TIM: Yeah, yeah! What else?
MATT: If I had given up on God providing for me, and I were just out for my own happiness now, I’d be in a relationship right now. It’s not like I haven’t had offers. But I’m still single. I’m as single as I was before I thought God was ok with this. Nothing has changed except my view on the issue! I’m not out dating just anyone who will say yes. I’m not pining away until someone tells me, “I do.” I’m not sleeping with anyone. And believe me, if I wanted sex, I could be having it within minutes in this town. It’s that easy in a city. I know exactly where to go, and who to call, and what app I need on my iPhone. And I told a friend just last week that, while I’d like to be in a relationship, and while I think marriage ultimately would be more fulfilling for me than singleness, I’m ok either way. I’m genuinely happy with my life in Charlotte. I have a good job, good friends, a great home–God has provided for me just fine, and I’m happy.
The session could go on, but you get the point. By examining the shame, by interrogating it, looking at it in the light of the facts, one sees that it isn’t true, is released from the false guilt, and moves on with life, sad for their friend who somehow thinks they can divine, as though they were God, what is going on in the heart of a guy they haven’t talked to in years.
Why is it that my friend can’t simply believe that I came to a different conclusion on the issue through a process of honest investigation that was full of integrity, not through some theological gymnastics? Why must I have some ulterior motive? After all, I’ve had friends on the other side of the issue tell me they respect the way I went about arriving at my belief. They know, as much as anyone can know such a thing about another person, that I pursued the truth as best I could, not free from bias, of course, but not letting bias unduly influence me either. Again, why can’t this friend who emailed me believe the same? Maybe it’s because, for them, the issue is so clear, that the only path to a different opinion is one of insincerity.
So what would my friend say to a straight Christian who has come to believe The Gayâ„¢ is ok? I’m talking about a person who has no dog in the fight. Someone who isn’t gay and doesn’t have a close family member who is gay. I know a couple of pastors here in North Carolina who used to be on the anti-gay side, who grew up in a rural area with all its attendant anti-gay bias, and yet they studied the issue, read lots of books, and came to the belief that gay might just be ok. And these guys used to be hard core anti-gay. One of them said to me, “We used to beat up people like you.” So what changed their minds? Obviously, they don’t stand to gain personally from a pro-gay theology. If anything, they stand to lose, in the form of congregants and tithes. This is North Carolina, after all. Obviously, they can’t be accused of trusting themselves for happiness, either, as my friend accuses me, because what difference does it make to them whether it’s ok to be gay? They’re married to women!
For the record, I still trust God for my happiness, not perfectly, but certainly not as imperfectly as my friend who emailed me suggests. I haven’t closed any doors. If I remain single, so be it. If God sends me a woman that wows me as no woman ever has, so be it. If God sends me a man who rocks my world, yeehaw! Amen, and amen.
Another email when I have time …
A few years ago, my friend Kiera Cass wrote a book for young adult girls called The Siren, featuring a mostly lavender cover with fanciful script font and a pic of a woman in soft focus wearing a flowing white dress standing by some gentleÂ water. It was the very image of masculinity, so I bought a copy. No. I bought a copy because Kiera is my friend, and I wanted to support her. I even promised to read the book onÂ an upcoming tripÂ I was taking. Obviously, I could not be seen in public toting such a thing, so I manned it up with some camo duct tape.Â
And are those condescending thoughts I remember having?
Oh look, Kiera SELF-published a book. Not quite like getting a publisher (or two) to publish your book(s), but good for her!
That was 2009. Today, one of my books is already out of print, and Kiera Cass just became a New York Times Best-selling author. So there ya go. Her teen fiction novel, The Selection, published by Harper (yes, the one and only), debuted (!) in the top 10. Do you realize how few people ever accomplish that? It is an extraordinary achievement.
I wanted to know howÂ Kiera did itÂ and how sheÂ is dealing with it, so I exchanged messages with her the other night. She gave me permission to share her thoughts here.
MATT: First, how are you handling the madness around you?
KIERA: I guess I’m handling everything … ok? I don’t know! The funny thing is that even though it’s this huge deal and I’m super proud, nothing has changed. Tonight, I still had to run to my church small group, and my son Guyden is demanding milk and bananas, and there was laundry to fold. You know, same old same old. So it’s kind of funny.
MATT: Ok, so HOW did this madness happen? I mean, obviously, the book is good or people wouldn’t be buying it, but how did it get so big so fast? How did you get an agent, when almost no one does? How did you get a big publisher, when almost no one does? How did your book break through to the top of thousands, when almost no one’s does. I mean, this is incredible, and you did it without any major connections, right?
KIERA: I’m not 100% sure myself how it happened. My editor specifically warned me that the chances of this happening were SUPER slim. Not because the book is bad, but because there are a lot of other greatÂ young adultÂ books out there that probably wouldn’t budge. And I know my sales were good for an unknown debut, but when I called my agent to tell her the news, her first reaction was, “I didn’t even think we had enough books printed to make the list!” So, you know, my reaction was, “Are you punking me?”
I got my agent the old fashioned way, sending out queries. For The Siren, I sent out 80+ queries, had 10 agents read it, and no one wanted it. For The Selection, I sent out 13 queries, 2 agents wanted it, and I got to pick. Until I got her, though, I didn’t know my editor already had a few bestsellers on her hands. And she’s been promoted twice since I’ve been with her.Â
Some of this has to do with timing, I think. The SelectionÂ has been compared to The Hunger Games a lot, which is huge right now. But when I queried, The Hunger Games wasn’t The Hunger Games, ya know? My book just happened to come out at a time when people want something that gives them that same buzz, I guess?Â My bookÂ isn’t that much likeÂ The Hunger GamesÂ to me, but I know that the comparision has interested a few people, so that might be part of it, too.
So, honestly, it just kind of happened. I don’t think I could have made it happen this way if I tried. Crazy, yes?
And I can’t even dance around because I have edits due Monday on the next bookÂ that I am WAY behindÂ on. And I’m off to work on that now!Â
So, there ya have it folks, from Kiera herself. Oh, and did I mention CW is making a TV show out of her book? Yeah.
Congratulations, Kiera! You rock. Very, very excited for you. And when I write my teen girls fiction novel, I know who to go to for connections.