My friend Kenneth recently married the love of his life, Ashley. Ashley is a dude. So is Kenneth. That means they’re gay. That means their marriage a gay marriage. They live together in Mississippi, not exactly a gay-friendly state. (You may recall North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue’s little quip after Amendment One passed earlier this year, banning gay marriages and civil unions in North Carolina. She said, “We look like Mississippi!”)
Since gay marriage is the subject of so much debate in our culture right now, particularly among our churches, I thought it would be good to hear from a couple who have been through what many states (and soon the U.S. Supreme Court) are considering. Whether you agree with Kenneth’s thoughts on the matter, I hope that by hearing from him, we’ll all be moved to consider that gay marriage is about people, not just policy. The people involved are not simply a political issue. They are human beings, with real lives, real emotions, real daily struggles and joys. And often, they are people who have been very poorly treated by society and its institutions, including its churches. These are people who are worthy of better from their fellow human beings. My questions below are in bold type, followed by Kenneth’s answers.
Kenneth, thanks for your willingness to talk openly about your marriage. As I’m sure you know, some folks reading this find the very idea of a gay marriage absurd. Such a relationship is illegitimate in their understanding because it is not heterosexual, the only kind of marriage they would say God recognizes. To them you are doing little more than playing house, as children might. Your thoughts?
“I first want to point out that we are all sinners. I repented of my sins and asked Christ into my heart when I was in high school. I believe He died for mankind’s sin and that He arose on the third day.
“We Christians are good at many things: helping others, dressing up on Sunday, quoting scripture, potluck meals, taking care of church members, weddings, funerals, worship. That being said, we are also exceptional in misinterpreting the Bible and then running amuck in the world because of it.
“The Bible has been used to support, promote, and act upon some very un-Christian things: slavery, holocaust, segregation, subjugation of women, apartheid, domestic violence, all sorts of exploitation, and the list could go on and on. Oddly, the overall biblical theme includes love, grace and forgiveness. Not the oppression, belittlement, hatred, and marginalization committed by the Christian church, which is the result of trying to play God, pretending as if one group of people has complete knowledge of God’s will and is more blessed or chosen by God. Not surprisingly, the people who see the world this way are always exactly the people who also happen to belong in the group they believe to be the uber-blessed.
“Many Christians have ‘softened’ their approach, with the phrase ‘hate the sin, love the sinner,’ yet fail to recognize what they’re calling a ‘sin’ and the person they’re calling a ‘sinner’ are one and the same.
“A person whose sexual orientation is homosexual can’t separate themselves from their sexuality any more than a heterosexual person can. It is like saying ‘hate the toppings, love the pizza.’ It’s just not the pizza without the toppings. This simply isn’t ‘loving’ the person if you don’t love the whole person. As a matter of fact, the love/hate (emphasis on hate) relationship that the church continues to push on the LGBT community only serves to push them into closets and into even darker places, which sometimes leads to suicide. (Believe me, I’ve been there.) The church and its approach to this issue are at fault for most of the hurt, anguish, self-doubt, abuse, and death associated with being LGBT. Not very loving. Not very grace filled.
“Sadly, I’ve found that many Christians would much rather reinforce the things they want to believe than believe the sometimes difficult teachings of Jesus, who, on a side note, never said a word regarding homosexuality. I’ve had my relationship with God called into question by many people including family members and even complete strangers. It is very reckless to question a person’s relationship with God merely because of their sexual orientation. That is clearly passing judgment. Christ is my savior. He knows my heart. I am a Christian AND I’m gay.”
Along similar lines, the term “gay Christian” is oxymoronic to some. While they would not say BEING gay is a sin, certainly embracing that part of you and entering a relationship as you have IS sinful. The Bible is clear about this to them. I’m curious how you came to a different conclusion.
“These are the verses used to claim that homosexuality is an abomination. Leviticus is a holiness or purity code, which is a list of behaviors that people find offensive in their culture. Leviticus 18 had a very specific design, and that design was to help the people distinguish themselves from the other cultures and faiths around them. The text is interested in categories. Everyone and everything fits into an appropriate category. The categories do not mix. In Hebrew, ‘abomination’ (to’ebah) is behavior that people in a certain time and place consider tasteless or offensive. If you must insist on using Leviticus, then it seems only appropriate to look at other laws in Leviticus. What about people who eat shellfish? Both Leviticus 11:9-12 and Deuteronomy 14:9-10 state that eating shellfish is an abomination. What about people who eat animals with split hooves? The ancient Israelites were forbidden from eating pork; ham dinners are quite common for Easter these days. What about farmers who eat fruit that has fallen in the corners of their land, or who plant two crops in the same field? What about people who wear clothing from two different types of material (Leviticus 19:19)? There are over three million importers and exporters of mixed fabric in the United States. And this is an abomination to God? Leviticus says that if a person commits adultery, he shall be executed. Should this be followed still today? What about men who touch their wives within seven days of their monthly period? One hundred percent of married men have touched their wives within seven days of their monthly period. To pick and chose which laws to follow and which laws not to follow is absurd; at the very least we need to determine why we are saying, ‘We will follow this law but not that one.’ What Leviticus actually says is, ‘A man shall not lie with another man the lyings of a woman.’ In other words, a man shall not treat another man sexually as if that other man were female. Every woman in that time was the property of some man. A part of the way that you claimed and made this property your own was the consummation of the marriage, through intercourse. If you had sex with a virgin who wasn’t properly betrothed to you, you had damaged another man’s property. So all of this is really property law, and according to the understanding of this law code, a man cannot own another man like that. The holiness code has been, and continues to be, selectively used by people who want to turn the word of God from a window into a weapon. Why are the rest of the Leviticus ‘abominations’ cheerfully ignored by cherry-picking Christians?”
What have been your experiences with the church as you’ve come out, dated, and now married a man?
“I wish I could say that we’ve had a good experience, but unfortunately I can’t. Our experience with churches in the Bible belt has been anything but ‘Christian.’ Ashley and I were attending a large Baptist church in our area. This is the largest church in Mississippi. Many gays attend this church because it’s a place where you can just blend in. No one will really notice that you are gay because the church is so big. The pastor was even aware that there was a rather large number of gays in the congregation. I always respected him because he never really brought up the subject of homosexuality in his sermons—until about 2 years ago. A sermon on addiction was preached. While the pastor was comparing addictions, he stated, ‘Just like smoking, gambling, drugs, homosexuality—it’s all an addiction that you can quit.’ Needless to say, Ashley and I were livid. Our love towards each other is not an addiction.
“There is another church in the area that has a mostly gay congregation. The pastor is actually the one that performed our wedding ceremony. So though most churches in the area do not accept us, it’s good to know there is one.”
What would you most like someone who disagrees with gay relationships to know about you and Ashley?
“If there are two people who happen to be the same gender, and they love each other and want to come together in marriage before God, I believe Jesus would celebrate that. God says in Genesis that it is not good for people to be alone.
“I have known since the age of five that I was different. For the most part, I did not share common interests with what other little boys my age found appealing. Instead, I liked to play with Barbies with my girl cousins. I pretty much had no desire to do anything stereotypically ‘manly’: football, baseball, etc. Playing Barbie did not ‘turn me gay’ either. I simply was expressing who I was and what I enjoyed. It wasn’t until a few years later in life when I started school that I was told that those differences were wrong, which resulted in relentless name calling: sissy, faggot, queer.
“The next 15 years were an extremely dark time for me. I hated myself, mostly because select scriptures were hurled at me from a Pentecostal and Baptist pulpit telling me that gays burn in hell. That led me to believe I certainly couldn’t be a Christian if I were gay. Like so many, I was bullied constantly for being different, and the hateful things people said and did to me were very damaging. I spent my first three years of college desperately trying to change my attraction to guys: praying for God to take ‘it’ away, asking Him to make me ‘normal,’ dating girls, etc. I believed that if I just prayed more, God would change me. That never happened. After much prayer and studying scripture, I know in my heart that God loves me. He created me. I am not a mistake. I am not an abomination.”
Well, the day has come, folks, the day every author dreads, but one almost every author faces sooner or later. It’s the day you get the letter in the mail from your publisher announcing with regret that they have decided to let your book go …
::screams of disbelief and terror::
Yes, I got “the letter” the other day. It’s been four years since Losing God hit the market, and, as they inevitably do with almost any book, sales have slowed to a point that it no longer makes sense for the publisher to maintain a stock in their warehouse. They’ll sell off the rest of the copies, meaning you will soon find my precious baby going for like three dollars in the budget bin, right alongside my other baby, When Answers Aren’t Enough.
If this day had come, say, two years ago, I would have been depressed for weeks, maybe longer. But I read the news on Saturday with a remarkable (for me) sense of peace and acceptance. Everything has a life span. Nothing is forever. We helped a lot of desperate people in the last four years, and that really is the point.
I will be profoundly grateful for life that God let me fulfill a dream of publishing–not once, but twice. I got to write the books I wanted to write, working with two great publishing houses wth excellent teams of people. And now that both Losing God and When Answers Aren’t Enough are out of print (though Answers remains availabe in ebook and audio form), I feel freer than ever to pursue other interests and topics. And there really are some advantages to losing Losing God.
1. The rights for the book will likely revert to me, which means I can finally pursue a digital version of Losing God that has been held up for four years because I quoted some song lyrics in the text that InterVarsity Press did not have digital rights for. I can revise the book, editing out those lyrics, and finally have that version for Kindle, Nook, etc., that I’ve wanted for so long.
2. Revising means I can also expand, including an update that is badly needed, which will fix one of the primary weaknesses of the book. Though I talk extensively in Losing God about the benefits of seeking medical help for depression, I never actually took medication for my depression until after the story of Losing God ends. The book was off to the printer in the summer of 2008; I went on 40mg of citalopram (generic for Celexa) in the fall of 2008. Nothing about my entirely positive experience with antidepressants made it into the book. I can fix that now. I can also address questions regarding the possible effect my growing awareness I was gay may have had on my depression, since I wasn’t out and did not mention my being gay in the book. In truth, I don’t think homosexuality had much at all to do with why I was depressed, but the topic is worth exploring in a revision of the book.
3. In re-releasing Losing God as an ebook, I’ll be able to offer a less expensive and immediately obtainable resource for people who are hurting. If you have an e-reader, for a few bucks you’ll have instant access to the book. No ordering. No shipping. No waiting for the book to come in the mail. And I do believe ebooks are the eventual future of publishing. It’ll take a while for the industry to get there completely, but already I find myself avoiding books that aren’t available for Kindle, and I swore I’d never give up the delightful feel and smell of a new book. I suspect I am far from alone.
And then what? I really don’t know. People have asked if I’m working on anything new. Nothing definite. I do have an idea for a book that I’m excited about exploring. It would be very, very different than either of my existing books. In fact, it would be different from anything I’ve written, period. We’ll see. One thing I learned from publishing two books is that the real joy for me is not in the publishing part of it all. (I had a then-perplexing, almost total non-reaction when the first copies of both books arrived in the mail. I would have thought I’d have been ecstatic.) The fun for me is in the writing, in the communicating. It’s in simply laying out an idea and having someone read and engage that idea. Where that happens–in a book or just on my blog–is not so important to me. I don’t think I would handle fame well, so I’m not looking to have a bestseller (although, dang, the money would be nice.)
So, we’ll see. For now, stay tuned for updates on a possible ebook version of Losing God.
Yesterday, I talked about a comment I’d received that said those who do not repent of “practicing homosexuality” will “perish.” I assumed by perish he meant “go to hell,” and that seems to have been correct. But I was unclear what he meant by “practicing” homosexuality. Simply finding yourself attracted to the same sex? Perhaps enjoying said attraction? Holding hands with another dude? Kissing him? REALLY kissing him? Planning your day around Michael Phelps’ and Ryan Lochte’s televised swimming events? (Oops.) Or does practicing homoSEXuality begin with, well, sex? If you’re going to threaten people with the eternal death penalty, you need to be clear what invites it.
Last night I received, first, an apology from the commentor, which seemed clearly sincere and contrite. He acknowleded he’d been insensitive and asked forgiveness. He also acknowleged he had not read The Gay Posts on this website, and from what I could gather from his message, he does not really understand how I interpret or apply the Scriptures concerning the issue. I very much appreciated his message, and believe me, I understand being insensitive. That describes about the first five years of my Christian life, and I still, at age 35, have a tendency to state my thoughts too strongly or in an unkind manner. So, I get it, and I hold no ill feelings. Apology accepted, forgiveness granted.
Second, the commenter attempted to clarify what he meant by “practicing homosexuality.”
“As far as what does “practicing” mean in these verses it refers to unrepentant approval in an active or passive sense and clearly Paul is not saying all who struggle and have desires, inclinations, and temptations towards these will perish. We all would have no hope then.”
Sounds like we have very little hope, regardless. I’m not sure which verses he means, whether the relevant passage in Romans 1 or 1 Corinthians 6, but the key phrase here seems to be ”unrepentant approval in an active or passive sense.” I assume by “passive” he means people who simply approve of gay people doing gay things, and I assume by “active” he means people who are actually doing the gay things. Either one, in his mind, causes a person to perish (i.e., go to hell). This would include, if I’m understanding him correctly, straight allies of gay men and women, moms and dads who affirm their gay sons and daughters, your average joe sitting in the pew on Sunday who has never uttered a word in support of gay marriage but passively gives his consent by not opposing it because deep down he thinks it’s fine–and, it would include me. I’m not in a relationship currently, not doing any gay things (except watching every minute of men’s synchro diving that I can), but I believe and espouse that gay may just be ok. I came to this conclusion honestly, based on Scripture and what I understand of first century pagan culture, so there is no God-defying motive in what I believe, but, according to the commentor, I am guilty of practicing homosexuality in an unrepentant manner. So, that makes me fuel for the eternal fires, I guess.
This commentor, by the way, is no Bible hack. If I remember correctly, he has some seminary training. (And at this point I should state that he is not from Blacksburg and never worked for or attended my former church there, so please don’t send hate mail to any of my friends or former coleagues there. Thank you.) This commentor, at least to some degree, knows the Scriptures, but his belief that people like me go to hell unless we recant our beliefs is confounding to me, and disturbing. I have so many questions for him.
1. Where does Jesus figure into this? Does a person (me) saved by Christ 20 years ago this November forfeit eternity with God by believing homosexuality is not intrinsically a sin? Or does my believing this mean I never really was saved? If we could forfeit our life with God by something we do, doesn’t that also mean we are kept in his “grace” by what we do, and isn’t that what Paul opposed in Galatians, saying that anyone who would teach such a thing, let him be eternally damned (Galatians 1:6-9)?
2. Suppose I marry a man, and have lots of glorious gay sex, maybe even adopt a kid with my partner, because I came to the conclusion that it was ok to do so–if it turns out I was wrong, albeit sincerely, is this enough to cancel out Christ’s work on the cross on my behalf?
3. Really, the mom and dad who may deep down think homosexuality is wrong but choose to affirm their kid rather than see that kid commit suicide at their rejection–that mom and dad go to hell for “practicing homosexuality”?
4. Where in Scripture does the commentor see his understanding of “practicing homosexuality,” or, for that matter, the tenuous nature of salvation, expressed?
5. Has the commentor spent much time seriously thinking this stuff through, agonizing over it, considering the effect his words have on me and everyone reading them, especially the many God-loving gay people I know who want to follow (and who believe they are following) Jesus?
I promise I’m not sharing any of this to pick on the commentor. Again, he was very sincere, I believe, in his apology for sounding insensitive the first time around. I’m sharing this because I think he is far from alone. I think a large swath of the conservative Christian church today believes as he does, often for no real reason other than, well, they just do. They haven’t examined their beliefs because there are no consequences to them for believing as they do. All the consequences are to the gay people “out there.” Oh, they may know a gay person or two, but my guess is most of them have never walked closely with a gay person who’s trying to figure this stuff out.
And as many Christians as there are who believe as the commentor does, there are as many, I believe, who are horrified by what they see as this terrible abuse of the Bible. As I shared yesterday, one Christian told me how proud God must be of me, and another, in the same day, told me I was going to hell. Which is it? And this gets back to the problem I have with the church universal today, which I wrote about a couple entries back. The church is so fractured today, so confused on this issue, so incapable of agreement, that it sends utterly opposing messages. Gay people hear, from representatives of the same Jesus, that God affirms their gay relationship and that God will send them to hell for it. Christians, do you understand the psychological and spiritual toll this takes on those of us who find ourselves gay in the pew?
I don’t know what the solution to any of this is. Maybe if we all took time to read, think, and feel more than it sometimes seems we do, that’d be a start.
Well, now that some have had their fill of chicken, let’s talk consequences to the church, gay people, and the reputation of Jesus in the aftermath of the great chicken slaughter.
Yesterday on Facebook I shared Rachel Held Evans’ status:
“Disappointed by the images and taunts coming from Christians supporting Chick-fil-A today. Is this what mobilizes us now? Is this what following Jesus is all about? I wholly support freedom of speech, of course, but I am and frustrated on behalf of my LGBT friends who see these long lines and packed-out restaurants as yet another reminder that they are not welcome in the Church.”
Her status prompted this response from one person:
“It is called freedom of speech…we all have it and can use it. It (“tolerance”) doesn’t tilt only in one direction. People on both “sides” taunt and are embarrassing reps…we all know it.”
My first thought was, did this person even read the status to which he was responding? Rachel was clear, I thought, that she understands people’s feeling the need to exercise their freedom of speech. Her concern was the implicit message that that expression was sending to gay people who feel abused by the church already. My second thought was, we are ambassadors of Christ first, citizens of America second. We don’t get to express ourselves any ol’ way we want to. We have to bear in mind how our expression will be understood by those who are watching us. Having the right to say something is not the same as being right in saying it. As Christians, we are not called first to express ourselves but to love. Love God, love people: the two greatest commands. Nothing about freedom of speech in there. And there was nothing loving about what happened yesterday. Only SELF(ish)-expression. Embarrassing and sad.
Another comment I received:
“Matt, what will your commentary be on the ones that have been rumored to be planning to have a “same-sex kiss-in” or show up in drag at CFAs later this week?”
My concern is with the reputation and witness of the church, not with what someone else might do to strike back at the church. It seems that so many in the really hard core conservative element of the church rush to support a cause with little thought of how the very people they’re supposed to love will receive their actions. Of course you have the right to buy hetero chicken and support traditional values and so on. But that’s not the point. Neither is what some other group may do to retaliate, whether it’s same-sex kiss-ins or drag shows. The point is that the church’s main mission is not to align with some restaurant chain or to oppose gay marriage. And the classless, smug, self-righteous photos that were popping up in social media yesterday only serve to perpetuate the feeling most gay people have, that the church hates them with a deep, deep hatred. But some in the church don’t seem to care one hoot about that. They don’t seem to care about loving, or even being perceived as loving. They seem to care chiefly about making a point and winning a war. Imagine if Mike Huckabee had said, “Let’s have a ‘show your love to a gay person’ day.” How many of the people in Chick-fil-A yesterday would have stood in line to do whatever one might do to show love to a gay person? (And handing them a copy of “Leaving Homosexuality” doesn’t count.) I’m going to guess the line would have been–well, there wouldn’t have been one. That says something terribly sad about us, I think.
One person commeted yesterday:
“…The real issue is all about…. is homosexuality wrong? As a Christian, do you and the person who wrote this article agree with the practice of homosexual behavior? I don’t understand how a Christian who reads their Bible can deny the clear teaching that homosexuality is an abomination to the Lord and those who practice it without ever repenting of it will perish.
Now, this is the main issue which the Chick-fil-a thing and puts it front stage in the public arena. And as a Christian, (and I’m sure I can speak for many, many customers at the restaurant today) I desire to love and show compassion for homosexual people and all other people who practice sin without repenting. I love them enough to accept them just as they are but pray for them and desire to share with them the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save them and make them more like Christ.”
So many points to address here. I’ll hit just a few. First, what does it mean to “practice” homosexuality? If people are going to “perish” for it, we ought to at least know, specifically, what it means to practice it. At what point is a person practicing? When they see a cute member of the same sex and find that their body enjoys looking? Do they need to repent right then and everytime that happens? Or does practicing begin when you imagine undressing that person, or having sex with them? Or does practicing begin when you actually DO have sex with that person? And by sex do we mean anal, oral, or both? Is mutual masturbation okay as long no intercourse of any kind takes place? Or is a person “practicing homosexuality” by simply not seeing it as a sin? I’m not trying to be contentious. I’m being very serious here. If you are going to hold the threat of eternal damnation over someone’s head, you need to be very clear about what you mean by “practicing” the thing that’s inviting the damnation.
To answer the question, though, no I do not believe homosexuality is intrinsically evil, so I do not believe the “practice” of it, whatever we mean by that, is inherently sinful either. The commentor says he cannot understand how anyone who reads the Bible can deny the “clear” teaching of Scripture that homosexuality is an “abomination to God.” When I read this, it reminds me of the time in the Gospels when the religious leaders kept asking Jesus, “Are you the Messiah?” He said, “I’ve already told you but you did not listen.” I hear, ya, Jesus. I spent months laying out the reasons I no longer believe homosexuality is intrinsically evil. I did so under “The Gay Posts” on this site. They’re still on here. People can read them anytime they want. And yet still, I constantly get comments from people to the effect of, “But the Scriptures are clear!” It occurred to me this morning that not once since I wrote The Gay Posts has anyone who disagrees with me offered a serious response to the arguments I made. They simply tell me I’m wrong. They tell me I’m being deceived by the devil. They tell me I’m hanging around with too many liberals. They tell me I’m just believing what I want to because I’m gay. They appeal to strong emotions, but they never respond to the merits of what I wrote in The Gay Posts. I’ve repeatedly said that I might be wrong, and I acknowledge that real possiblity here again. But if I’m wrong, please explain how. If you are so clearly right, and I am so clearly deceived, bring forth your reasons. Tell me why I’m wrong in what I think about the Greek words “arsenokoitos” and “malakos.” Tell me why the idolatrous and pederastic practices of Rome could not have been what Paul was really opposing in Romans and 1 Corinthians. Show me, please. But if you can’t, then please stop telling me how clearly wrong I am. It’s insulting to the two years of study I did on the issue, and it’s insulting to the many terrific scholars and theologians I read in the process.
As for gays going to hell if they don’t repent … I shared my thoughts and feelings about that in the post immediately preceding this one, about a church confused and a gay Christian (me) frustrated. I’d suggest going back and reading that. Not only can the church not agree as to whether homosexuality is a sin; it cannot agree how serious a sin it might be. Can you imagine what it’s like to have all these people who all claim to follow the same God giving you such utterly different pictures of him? One Christian told me recently how proud God must be of me for putting my heart out here like this. Another told me I’ll be burning forever in hell if I don’t repent. Which is it? Can you imagine the psychological damage being done to me and all the other gay Christians out there who take the Bible seriously? I’m sure if I weren’t on medication and weren’t somewhat used to confronting all of this by now, I’d be a big ball of confusion and depression.
At the end of the last commentor’s statement, he says he wants to share the transformative gospel with gays that can save them and make them more like Christ. More like Christ? So, like the people who stood in line for hours at Chick-fil-A yesterday? Because I gotta tell ya, I can’t imagine that Jesus would have been anywhere near a Chick-fil-A yesterday. He never let politicians like Mike Huckabee talk him in to joining their agenda. Jesus SET the agenda. He never spoke about defending values or freedom of speech. He loved people. And since it’s pretty hard to argue how yesterday was a loving expression, I think it might be the church that most needs to experience the transformative gospel, so that IT may look more like Christ.
My bottom line on yesterday? I do hope all those little deep fried chicken sandwiches were yummy, because they sure have been costly, as once again some in the church have drawn lines between “us and them,” perpetuating the belief among gays that we really do just hate them. When that happens, everyone loses. Except Chick-fil-A, of course.