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?
Today I’m participating in a synchroblog calling for sanity among Christians in the discussion of faith and homosexuality. This called-for sanity would cover all aspects of the topic: Is homosexuality sin? If so, why? If not, why? Should gay marriage be legal? Should churches ordain gay ministers?
And any other question you can think of. Click here to read some of the other entries in the synchroblog.
There must be a way for Christians of varying viewpoints to discuss this stuff without getting all cray-cray. Let me suggest one simple but often painful thing we could all do.
Begin with the humble acknowledgement, “I could be wrong.”
It’s hard to be too defensive, angry, nasty, and generally unloving when you’ve already said to yourself and others, “Hey, obviously I think my view is sound or I wouldn’t hold it, but I’m human, and therefore flawed, and therefore potentially wrong.” Several days ago, I got into a back-and-forth on Facebook (not a good place to discuss anything) with a guy who felt the redefinition of marriage was undermining the family. When it was clear neither of us were buying the other’s points on the matter, I suggested we agree to disagree and move on. The other fella agreed, but not before adding this little postscript:
“Last statement…to state my case. Homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says it is … Please don’t use the Bible as a reference allowing homosexuality…it doesn’t.”
Instantly, I wanted to throw rocks at the guy, and every other Christian who says stuff like that. (I know, I know: not a sane approach.) Statements like the one above are the death of any meaningful discussion. When you say something like that, all the other person hears is what I heard: “I’m right. You’re wrong. Period. Regardless of the fact that I’ve done little or no research on the historical context of the passages in question, and regardless of the fact that many Bible scholars who have done such research have come to a conclusion different than mine, I’m right, and you’re wrong. And all of those scholars are too. Just because. The Bible doesn’t say what you say it says. If you try to suggest that it does, you’re ‘using’ the Bible.”
What arrogance. There’s no way I’m wrong. There’s no way you’re right. So just stop talking. If we go at this issue that way, people will rightly tune us out. That’s not a sane approach to discussing one of the most contentious moral issues of our day. Sanity says, “Hey, I could be wrong, so let’s talk.” Cray-cray says, “I’m right, and you’re not, just because, so what is there to discuss?”
Speaking of sane approaches, I’d like to plead with you that you buy a copy of “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate” by Justin Lee. It’s the most reasonable approach to the whole issue that I’ve ever read, and it’s in stores and available online today in hardcover and ebook formats. It won’t take you long to read it, and I think you’ll get something good from it, regardless where you fall on the issue of faith and homosexuality. Please, please, please: read it.
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.”
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.
I’ve heard it said that the only thing that makes the good old days good is a bad memory. Maybe so, but today I’m longing for the good old (and early) days of the church, when things were just getting started, where there were clear lines of authority, and all you had to do if you had a question about proper doctrine was gather the apostles together in some city and talk it out until you knew what “seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15–read the whole thing). Today, the apostles are gone, and unless you believe the pope is their replacement (I don’t), it’s hard to know who, if anyone, is the authority on heresy. Remember the hullabuhloo over Rob Bell’s vision of hell? Lots of opinions, but no one with the authority to decide anything, so the church just retreated to its own little splintered camps and either praised or villified Bell.
We have so many denominations and non-demontional denominations today, I couldn’t begin to name them all. That’s not all bad. Variety is the spice of life. But can’t we all get together over doctrine, at least the important matters? And how does any group who can’t decide what it believes go forward proclaiming truth?
This is a long intro into my latest frustration over the Church’s homosexual confusion. So many viewpoints, and no one to say who’s right. Every group, of course, thinks it’s right. Most groups claim the Bible as proof that they’re right. But they can’t all be right. Consider the mixed messages the church universal sends gay people, Christian and otherwise. (These are GROSS generalizations, I admit, but for the sake of discussion …)
The Southern Baptists: Homosexuality is a sin. Gay marriage is wrong. Gay ministers are not allowed. The Bible is the authority.
The Episcopal Church: Homosexuality is NOT a sin. Gay unions may be blessed. Openly and happily gay ministers may serve in the church. The Bible is revered and quoted verbatim in each service.
The Presbyterian Church, U.S.A: They’re not sure. They’ll leave it up to the churches, an approach that sounds more Baptist than the Baptists’.
I hope I have fairly accurately represented these positions. If anyone from one of these denominations feels I misrepresented the general position of their sect, let me know. I’m not an expert in these matters. This is simply what I gather watching the news coming out of these denominations’ conventions.
If all of these people could at least agree that homosexuality is not so grievous as to send a person careening toward hell, I might be a bit less frustrated. But even that seems beyond us, at least for now. Take the recent NPR story on evangelicals’ split over reparative therapy to cure homosexuality. People who should be on the same side apparently are no longer. Alan Chambers, who leads Exodus, the world’s largest so-called ex-gay ministry, has altered his view somewhat in the last year. After years of preaching the possibility of change through conversion therapy, Chambers now admits that “99.9 percent” of people have not been straightened out, so to speak. He now argues for celebacy, believing that acting on homosexual desires would be sinful, though he also seems to believe that entering a gay relationship is not going to render void a person’s relationship with Christ. In the article, Chambers says, referring to salvation,
“I believe that once someone knows Christ that they have an irrevocable relationship, that if someone has a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, that God’s bigger than removing something at the first sign of trouble.”
But New Testament professor Robert Gagnon of Pittsburg Theological Seminary calls the new Exodus position “extreme,” arguing that therapy “will work for some people” (though who these gays-made-straight are, and why the largest ex-gay organization in the world can’t find them, remains a mystery) and that homosexual behavior could have eternally negative consequences. Gagnon, a man with a most unfortunate name, says,
“The problem is, you can’t assure people that are engaged in serial, unrepentant sin of an egregious sort that they’re going to be in heaven.”
It really is enough to make a guy bipolar. Two leaders in the church who ought to be fast allies can’t even agree on whether something sends a person to hell. Imagine what that does to the psyche of gay Christians within the church, especially adolescents. This is a recipe for depression, self-hatred, and chronic fear. Who can blame the gays who run out the door and never come back? Not only can we not agree on whether homosexuality is a sin–churches are all over the place on this–we can’t decide how serious a sin it might be. I’ve had pastors on both sides of the sin debate assure me Gagnon is wrong on the salvation point. After all, if you can be damned by sin you didn’t realize was sin because the church couldn’t decide if it was sin, then isn’t that the inverse of saying you can be saved by sin avoidance? And isn’t that really salvation by your own righteousness, not Christ’s? And wouldn’t that make Christ of no value (Galatians 5:2), putting you at odds with the very gospel Gagnon espouses?
Nevertheless, it’s hard to move forward with confidence when you see good points on both sides of the argument, and when the consequences for a wrong decision, depending on who you listen to, are so dire. I see more wisdom, more truth, more scripture, more love, and more reason on the side of accepting gay relationships, but I could simply be wrong. What then?
This is a blog post without a resolution because the church has no resolution, not yet anyway. Maybe in 50 or 100 years, we’ll all get together on this one, but by then, will anyone even still be listening to us?
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. 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 including Dr. Phil, Anderson Cooper 360, the Associated Press, and a front page article in The New York Times. He is the director of the 2009 documentary Through My Eyes about the debate’s impact on young Christians, and the co-host of popular long-running podcast 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?