Before diving in today, especially if you’re new to this website and these posts, read this: “I’ll probably regret this.”
Done? Ok, here we go …
Since I brought up the subject of gay suicides yesterday, I figured I would share an anecdote from my life that illustrates just how quickly things devolve between some religious folks when someone even questions, let alone rejects, the traditional interpretation of Scripture regarding homosexuality, or any hot button issue. Had I been in a worse place at the time, I might have been one of those suicide headlines. Seriously.
Not so long ago, a friend invited me over for dinner. I put off the invitation as long as I could, knowing this friend to be quite conservative in most matters, especially theology. I figured at some point the gay issue would come up, and I was just tired of talking about it. I’d been reading non-stop about the matter for who knows how long at that point. A year and a half, probably. I’d been through thousands of pages, countless interpretations, and I was simply at my limit. When I could put off the invitation no longer, I sent a “fair warning” email. I said,
“I don’t know whether you’ve heard–can’t keep track of who knows and who doesn’t anymore–I’m gay. Hope that’s not too much of a surprise. Probably not, I suspect. Anyway, I’m working through the implications of that with God and mentors right now, and I’m usually exhausted from thinking about it by the end of the week. I’m really not interested in discussing it further at this point. I don’t mind talking about the personal side of it–how I’m doing, how it affects me, etc.–but I’d rather keep the theological aspect of it off limits for discussion for now … If that’s acceptable, then let’s do dinner.”
I won’t share the entire response I received—less is more, and the email goes on for a while—and my point here is not to embarrass or attack my friend. I’m being careful here not to give away the identity. I just think it’s important for us to see how swiftly things break down between friends in some churches over this topic:
“No, I wasn’t aware that you are now defining yourself as gay and yes that is surprising to me. I know that you don’t want to talk theology with me, but please at least be sure that you are taking your counsel from the Bible and not from the world. I don’t know about you, but I cannot go before a Holy, all powerful God and tell him what I believe. Rather, I need to devour His Word and be sure that He defines what I believe. If we are defining what we believe on any other basis than God’s Word then we are creating and worshipping a god of our own making …
“As far as dinner, I would still love to have you over. Whether I can have you over depends on where you are with this issue. (1) Do you see homosexuality as a sin that you, as a believer, are battling, or (2) are you, as a believer, embracing this sin and choosing immorality, or (3) are you unsure of your salvation? As much as I love you, I love the Lord more and His Word is clear. According to 1 Corinthians 5:9-13, if you are presenting yourself as a believer but are okay with living in immorailty we should not associate with you until you have repented. This is difficult to say, but I don’t want to stand before God one day to find that I created a god of my own making and did not depend on His Word for truth and life. It is easy to live for a god we create, but difficult decisions sometimes need to be made if we are to live our lives for the One True Living God. I hope you understand this. I hope you see that we would love to have you over, if you are either struggling with the Lord to overcome this sin or if you are an unbeliever. Biblically, if you are choosing to embrace this sin then we are not supposed to have you over.”
There is a part of me that respects my friend for doing what I know was hard, telling a friend, “I cannot welcome you into my home,” because of deeply held convictions. At least my friend is consistent and determined to follow what seems right to them. Then again, people flew planes into buildings once because they thought it was right, and I don’t say I respect that, so I’m not sure where I ought to draw the line. All I know is, had I been as depressed as I was in the days I wrote about in Losing God, I might well have “offed” myself. Even still, being in a relatively good place at the time, it took me a couple days to recover from the shock and shame of being rejected by someone who’d been a friend a long time.
We exchanged a few more emails. I explained to my friend that I didn’t see the relevance of 1 Corinthians 5 to my situation. In that letter from the apostle Paul, just before the verses my friend referenced, Paul discusses a church matter that directly leads to his writing the verses my friend used as the reason I might not be welcome for dinner. Paul says, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate” (1 Cor. 5:1). Someone in the church is doing something that even the pagan culture, with all its varied sexual practices, apparently would find atrocious. Turns out, a man is sleeping with his father’s wife. Whether she is this man’s mother, we don’t know. Some Bible translations assume so by the paragraph heading, “A Case of Incest,” but the scripture doesn’t make this clear. What is clear is that the man is having a very public affair with his father’s wife, no doubt hurting his father very much and seriously damaging the reputation of the young church within the city. The man who has done this awful thing, quite far from feeling sorry, is apparently proud of his deed, and the church has done nothing to rebuke him. Paul says to cast out the immoral brother with the hope that he’ll repent and be restored to fellowship within the church, and then he goes on to tell the church to avoid people who call themselves followers of Christ but do not live accordingly.
What had I done that warranted having this scripture passage used against me? I wasn’t in a relationship with anyone. I wasn’t having sex with anyone, let alone with my mom (!) or my “father’s wife.” I was simply questioning a position on an issue. That’s it. That’s all. And whereas in 1 Corinthians the culture seemingly would have been unified in its disapproval of the man’s behavior (remember, he said even the pagans wouldn’t tolerate such sexual behavior), neither the culture nor the church as a whole today is unified in its view of homosexuality, so isn’t it inevitable and good to question our assertions on the matter? How else do we determine what we believe? Yes, the apostle Paul is clear, do not associate with those who call themselves brothers and sisters but live immorally, but that was the whole point of my question: Is homosexuality immoral?
My friend continued in a later email,
“Matt, I love you dearly, but I believe that you are being deceived by a very crafty enemy. I think it is why you are stressing over it and I think it could be the very core of your depression. When we let go and trust the Lord fully, knowing that His plan is best, we can move forward in confidence. When we are in opposition to the Word, it will effect our relationship with the Lord and consequently will cause doubt and depression.”
You can probably guess by this point that dinner never happened.
I’d been in a few churches that took this approach: when someone begins to question deeply held convictions, be afraid. Rather than honor the person and their question as a sign of their really caring to make sure they are correct in what they’re believing and asking others to believe, just fear for their soul and assume the devil is doing his thing, deceiving the questioning believer. This friend, who incidentally had not had a conversation with me in years, felt competent after a few emails to diagnose my depression, identify its probable cause (not trusting God’s way as best), and prescribe a remedy (stop asking questions and trust God’s way as best). But I wasn’t doubting whether God’s way was best. I was doubting whether we were correct in understanding what God’s way was. I wasn’t “in opposition to the Word.” I was trying to understand it. And anyway, my depression was much more a problem in the years before I came out, in the years before I was asking questions.
The terrible irony for my friend is that in not questioning old assumptions and not welcoming a chance to look at things anew, just to see if we might be wrong, might not this friend of mine be the one in actual “opposition to the Word”? That is, after all, one way in which the religious elite of Jesus’ day got off track, but that’s a blog for another day. For now, I’d just like us to consider the damage we sometimes do by overreaching and overreacting when someone questions our most cherished paradigms. Why do we do that? Why do I do that? Why are we so afraid of questions? (These are rhetorical musings meant for private reflection. Please don’t flood my inbox with “answers.” Thank ye.)