• Cast out the immoral brother

    January 19, 2012

    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.)

    Posted in: The Gay Posts

Recent Comments

  • Sara B said...

    1

    If you’re ever in Syracuse, I will make you dinner. I’ve gotten pretty darn good at making my own pasta. What goes good with a hearty red sauce? That’s right. Red wine.

    Thanks for writing these posts. These are lots of musings I’ve had and I value your opinions and thoughts. I shall now ponder the rhetorical musings meant for private reflection.

    01/19/12 12:20 PM | Comment Link

  • Matt said...

    2

    That sounds heavenly, Sara. I’m booking my flight now. :)

    01/19/12 12:36 PM | Comment Link

  • Jordan C. said...

    3

    Hey Matt. I really appreciate you writing about this issue. Reflecting back, I could definitely have been described as a real “hard line” Christian meaning that what I was told about God and the Church were automatically the truth with virtually no searching on my own. That changed when I went to Tech and met the folks at NLCF who challenged me to make my faith my own. Your courage to come out and tackle this so bluntly actually shocked me a couple years ago, but as I have continued to grow I really can appreciate how you feel and the difficulty of the situation. It challenges me to take the questions in my own faith and face them rather than sweep them under the rug. We will always keep you in our prayers as you continue to navigate this road. Thanks for all the encouragement you provided me in the past and like Sara, if you are ever driving up past Winchester on 81 we would love to have you over for dinner.
    -Jordan

    01/19/12 1:53 PM | Comment Link

  • Matt said...

    4

    Thanks, Jordan! I appreciate the encouragement (and the offer of dinner!). I’ll let you know if I’m up your way. Hope you’re well.

    01/19/12 1:57 PM | Comment Link

  • Jim Upchurch said...

    5

    Matt,

    Thanks again for sharing with such openness about your own experiences along your journey. I suspect that conservative Christians like me need to rethink what it means to love, especially on issues like this that are so contentious.

    Having said that I take exception to this post. You said, “I was simply questioning a position on an issue. That’s it. That’s all.”

    That doesn’t actually seem to be the case from your email to your friend. You started that email with, “I’m gay.” And then said you’re “working through the implications of that.” That’s not the same as “simply questioning a position on an issue.”

    It appears to me tat you arrived at a conclusion about the issue first, and then decided to ask what the implications were of that conclusion.

    01/19/12 2:23 PM | Comment Link

  • Matt said...

    6

    I think you might be conflating two things, Jim. 1) I am gay. I am attracted to men. Whatever I think about the implications of that, I am gay. Nothing changes that. 2) What I think the Bible actually says to me concerning my being gay were the “implications” I was working through. No, I had not decided at that point what I definitely thought the Bible said on the matter, though I had done plenty of reading by that point and had a pretty good idea of where I was going to land. But it was still was up in the air. Really, though, is any of that the point? I hadn’t done anything remotely close to what 1 Corinthians 5 was addressing.

    01/19/12 2:33 PM | Comment Link

  • Ruth C. said...

    7

    Matt-
    Thank you for sharing. While my questions are not the same as yours, I have to tell you that my heart broke at your friend’s reaction to your questioning. I know what asking the questions that shake faith does to your insides. Recently, I was there, and I got so turned around I didn’t even know if I knew how to find God, or if I wanted to find Him. Thankfully God knows how to find me and this idea is what saved me:
    —Seeking God faithfully is not trusting blindly or being dutiful in my relationship with Him. It is honestly asking the questions at the base of my biggest doubts and fears, over and over again, because the answers never change. I change—in my understanding, my faith, my beliefs—but the answers never change, because God doesn’t change. So I must ask them, over and over again. It is not doubt. It is faith.—
    I guess I felt compelled to share that.
    God Bless
    -Ruth

    01/19/12 7:30 PM | Comment Link

  • Jennifer said...

    8

    First of all…thank you for sharing your story. I have gay friends, family members, and co-workers and at times, have found myself researching what the Bible and God have to say about homosexuality and I have found nothing concrete. If someone asks me, as a heterosexual Christian, if I think homosexuality is a sin, my answer is that I don’t know. I can honestly say that I try to love everyone and to live as Christ did on earth. If it turns out homosexuality is a sin, I don’t believe that it is any worse in God’s eyes than my sins which I know I commit everyday.
    When reading about your friends email the only thing I could relate it to is going to a Christian counselor for depression and having her tell me I was sinning by being depressed and letting the devil get it my head. I had no control over what was going on in my head. I remember thinking “Do you think I would CHOOSE to be depressed? Do you think I WANT to be like this?”. Is was a very painful experience and like you, if I had been in a different head space at that time, Lord only knows what I would have done to myself.
    I have read both your books, have recommended them to counselors who have passed them on to their other patients. Yours were the only books I read on depression where I thought “wow, someone gets me”. I thank God for them and pray you get all he answers you seek. Like the others, you are more than welcome to dinner at my home when I move to the Charlotte area(Cornelius)this spring. It would be an honor as a fellow child of God and depression survivor.

    01/19/12 8:42 PM | Comment Link

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