Tim Keller, a popular Christian pastor and author, has weighed in on the gay debate raging through Christendom. His stated position was not unexpected—he is opposed to gay relationships because he believes the Bible is clearly opposed. What was surprising was the manner in which he chose to state his opinion: a relatively brief blog post reviewing Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian. This issue demands more than a quick blog post, particularly from someone with Keller’s reputation as a thoughtful, scholarly elder. And the choice of Matthew Vines’ book, simply because it is popular and widely read, seems odd as well. Why not, if you’re a scholar, review a scholarly work, such as James Brownson’s Bible, Gender, Sexuality? Vines’ book serves as a primer on the issue; it’s not a thorough treatment of all the questions at issue on this topic. Keller has to know that. Regardless, Keller has written what he has written, which you can read by clicking here, so I will offer a few thoughts on what he has said.
I had the privilege a couple weeks ago of hearing Dr. James Brownson, professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary, speak in Washington, DC, on the topic of the Bible as it pertains to homosexuality in particular, how the Bible might inform our thoughts on the relatively new phenomenon of gay covenanted (married) relationships. I was so impressed with Brownson’s careful, thorough approach, combined with a calm demeanor that eschewed the often pitched emotionalism surrounding this issue, that I decided to read his book, Bible, Gender, Sexuality.
I have to say it’s one of a very few books I’ve read in the last couple of years that I thought added anything new and meaningful to the discussion, and it rightly earned its starred review from Booklist. Brownson spends roughly 300 pages asking not just what the Bible says regarding gender and sexuality, but why. What is the moral logic behind what the biblical authors say, because only in rightly understanding that will we know how to apply scriptural teaching to our own cultural context today.
Along the way, Dr. Brownson offers gentle but strong critiques of previous works on the topic from both sides of the debate. Herein lies one of the strengths of the book: Brownson seems to have read everything out there on the topic prior to his own book. I can’t think of a single argument on either side that he leaves unaddressed. True to his non-combative style, Brownson classifies the various positions of previous authors, not as “pro-gay” and “anti-gay” terms that incite more than they describe but as “traditionalist” and “revisionist.” And he is balanced in calling into question some approaches from both camps. (Particularly devastating is his analysis of traditionalist Robert Gagnon’s focus on the gender noncomplementarity of gay relationships. I mean, there is just nothing left of Gagnon’s argument when Brownson is finished, and it all unfolds in the most scholarly, respectful manner.)
What I think I appreciated most about the book is what Brownson doesn’t say. He doesn’t conclude by telling churches what they must believe. He ends by explaining why churches must wrestle. Yes, Brownson is now affirming of covenanted (married) gay relationships (a change from his previous position), but you never get the sense that he’s insisting that you must be. And so the book wraps with an exhortation to think about these things in new ways, always asking not just what the Bible says, but why. This is a book for anyone who wants to delve into the thick of the church’s most urgent moral discussion. And it’s a book that every church leader, regardless of his or her position on the matter, should rush to read.
Dr. David Gushee has been for many years the leading conservative Christian ethicist, a friend to Evangelicals, with some twenty books to his name and another releasing next year. But now he’s gone and done it, announcing recently that he has switched his view of gay covenantal (marriage) relationships. Gushee now says the church should embrace gay marriages as fully as heterosexual marriages, and LGBT Christians as full members of the church.
Not surprisingly, that has earned Gushee more than a few friends-turned-enemies. In his latest book, Changing Our Mind, Gushee gives a brief explanation of himself, how his mind changed and why he thinks the church universal needs to do some serious rethinking (and repenting) vis-a-vis the gay issue. I won’t retell his story here; I’ll leave it to you to read the book. But here are a few things I think commend this book to a broad audience.
1) It’s short, only about 125 pages, so anybody can get through it.
2) The style is accessible, not academic as with many of his other works. It reads more like a journal than a scholarly tome, so you won’t be wondering what in the heck he’s talking about.
3) Gushee is a sage among straight, conservative Christians, so he can’t be easily dismissed. Some Evangelicals have objected to similar works by gay Christian authors such as Justin Lee and Matthew Vines because, well, the authors are gay and, therefore, naturally prone to having a gay-affirming position, but also because they’re young and not credentialed. This has always seemed unfair and snobbish to me, but it has been a problem. Gushee is straight, seasoned, and credentialed. He’s tough to ignore.
4) Changing Our Mind offers exhortation to folks on both sides of the debate. Gushee cautions gay-affirming Christians not to charge all those opposed with hate or fear. Many traditionalists are motivated simply by a desire to be faithful to the biblical texts, which they read as critical of gay relationships. Disdain and homophobia are far from their minds. But Gushee also admonishes his critics for, at times, behaving more like Pharisees than the Savior, seeking to enforce rules without any concern for how those rules affect real people.
5) The whole book just feels balanced. Gushee writes, “If what we are talking about is blessing an anything-goes ethic in a morally libertine culture, I stand utterly opposed, as I have throughout my career. But if what we are talking about is carving out space for serious committed Christians who happen to be gay or lesbian, to participate in society as equals, in church as kin, and in the blessings and demands of covenant on the same terms as everyone else, I now think that has nothing to do with cultural, ecclesial and moral decline, and everything to do with treating people the way Christ did” (p. 117).
6) Gushee is humble. He repents, and when he does, you sense his grief. He makes a point of “apologizing to those who have been hurt by my prior teaching and writing on the LGBT issue. Where I have the chance to amend my written work I will do so. I ask your forgiveness. I apologize that it has taken me so long to get here. I look forward to continuing the journey together in your company, if you will have me” (p. 126).
The book is too short to satisfy all of the objections of its author’s critics, but I suspect Gushee is not trying to convince anyone. I think, as his apology suggests, he’s simply clearing his conscious. And maybe he’s asking his adversaries to consider, just to consider, “What if I’m wrong? What then?”
Click here to read a transcript of a recent speech Gushee delivered at a conference of The Reformation Project in Washington, DC.
I don’t post as much as I used to. I simply ran out of things I wanted to say. And I still get questions that I answered at length in my posts here, so I have some doubt as to how useful my blogging is. But for some reason, I felt the desire to write this morning.
I try to maintain friendships I made before I held a pro-gay relational theology. Some of my newer, more gay-affirming friends have wondered about this, and all I can say is that I don’t think you have to agree with people to like them. Certainly, I hope, you don’t have to hate people just because you disagree with them.
My less gay-affirming friends have, by contrast, wondered about some of my newer friends, particularly my gay Christian friends who tend to rant about the conservative Christian churches they came out of. Why are they so angry all the time? Everything they post on Facebook is so angry. We were so nice to so-and-so, and now it feels like he hates us.
No doubt many of us on both sides of this debate, after the cultural storm has passed, will look back with some regret on things we said and wrote. But the anger my fellow gay Christians feel makes sense to me.
Consider a slave and his master just before Emancipation. The master is a kind man. He provides for his slave. He feeds and clothes him, doesn’t overwork or abuse him. He may even offer education to the slave’s children.
Emancipation comes, and the slave starts to consider what it all means. As he breathes in fully his new status, he is at first elated to know he is free. But that is followed soon after by an almost unbridled anger toward his former master. The slave considers that there never was any real difference between the two of them, and that even though his owner was a “nice” man, the very position of master-to-slave kept that slave in bondage all his life up till now. The slave’s anger is real, and it is fair, no matter how kind the master may have been.
I get that this is no perfect analogy, that race and sexuality are different, but the similarity is enough that the analogy works, I think. When a gay Christian begins to believe that the Bible (and, therefore, God) may not be as relationally anti-gay as a particular pastor or church may have suggested, there is at first elation, and then, not long after, anger that borders on fury. (I’ve been through those stages myself.) As nice as the pastor and his church may have been, their very position on the gay issue kept that gay Christian in bondage all his life up till now.
If you’re the pastor or member of that church that the gay Christian is now attacking on Facebook, you need to know that you may be the kindest, most well intentioned person on earth, but the very fact that you held the position you held, and that you possibly communicated it as Truth with a capital “T” rather than as simply your understanding of the Bible, has profoundly affected the way the gay Christian views himself and his deepest longings. You communicated that something was very wrong with this other person, which the gay Christian fully believed. Until now. The anger is real, and I think it is fair. Maybe there are better ways to express the anger than what the gay Christian has found, but right now that is beside the point. The anger needs to come out. It needs expression, and you as the former master don’t get a say in what that expression looks or sounds like.
I’m back at work this morning after a weekend I’ll remember for a very long time. Dan and Joe, whose story I’ve been chronicling here, were married on Saturday, and the whole event, from rehearsal to reception, was not only insanely fun, but also incredibly inspiring. To my gay friends who think monogamy and commitment are either undesirable or unattainable, believe me: you want the love and the life that Joe and Dan have with each other, and they would tell you with bright eyes and big smiles that it’s so very possible for you, and not to settle for something less because there’s nothing like hearing someone say they willingly forsake all others for you. I’m posting one of my favorite pictures from the weekend, and I hope you’ll spend some time staring at it. The two of them went through a lot to arrive at that moment, their first dance, and they would tell you how worth it the whole journey was, and they would wish the same for you.
Well, the big day is here. Joe and Dan take their vows at 2:00. If you want to follow along, I’ll be tweeting throughout the afternoon and evening with plenty of pics–as long as the little iPhone battery that could holds up. You can follow along on Twitter @MattZRogers.
In a recent post, I asked Dan and Joe why they think more gay people don’t seem to be seeking a lifelong relationship with just one person, be it called marriage or something else. There are plenty of folks who are, for sure, but even in states where gay marriage is now legal, the altars aren’t busy with gay couples taking their vows. Why? Joe and Dan seem so happy in their life together, that I wondered why, to the extent the stereotype is valid, do many gay guys settle for brief, sexual relationships that seem almost terminal from the start. And why are they terminal from the start, if that is the reality and not just a perception?
Joe and Dan both seemed rather passionate about the topic, so I asked them both to write out their thoughts on the matter. Last time we heard from Joe. Now, it’s Dan’s turn.
I think it’s less a stereotype and more a reality. But like I said before, you have to ask why this is so. It’s not enough to just write off gays as not wanting or being capable of maintaining long-term relationships. There are reasons, I think, that gays tend to struggle forming solid relationships.
I think many of us who are gay go through a “phase” when we come out and are new to the community where we hook up as much as possible to compensate for the years of “closet life” and not being able to share affection with another human being. Most gays in the past didn’t get to go through the experimentation and dating phase of the teenage years, and so they go through it later in life when they come out, sometimes in the 30s or even later. I went through my phase, just as Joe went through his, but some gays never leave theirs. They get stuck in it, which is why, at least in Atlanta, that we have so many forty- and fifty-somethings still wearing Abercrombie, going to bars, and expecting to meet “Mr. Right” every night. It’s the only thing they know, because they were never shown anything different. They’ve never had examples of anything else, and often they’ve been told they can’t have anything else.
We gays often are a community of skin-deep individuals, and relationships cannot be just skin deep in order for them to last forever. We learned from a young age to hide what we really feel and think, to bury the most intimate parts of ourselves because we were taught that it was bad to be gay, and many of us in the gay community have never unlearned that, so we stay very surface level in our relationships, even with other gays. We tend to define ourselves by what we have rather than who we are because, unfortunately, many of us don’t know who we are “the identity crisis Joe talked about”or we don’t like who we are because we’ve internalized all the rejection we’ve received in the past. So we focus on stuff we have instead. This can include having a good body, having a BMW or other flashy car; having more clothes and accessories than any man or woman will ever need, having lots of beautiful friends that can name-drop with the best of them, on and on. All of these things cause problems in straight relationships too, but I think they are a particular problem among the gay community, and they keep us having lots of sex but little depth or longevity in our relationships.
Mobile apps like Grindr have only made the problem worse. It’s so easy to meet someone right now, have sex right now, and then never see the person again. You can have fun and never have to get to know yourself or the other person. I have friends who do this, and I feel so bad for them because if it begins with sex, it isn’t likely to end in a “forever” relationship.
Having said this, I realize it’s especially tough in the gay community to meet other gay under healthier circumstances. Besides gay bars and parties, and mobile apps and websites like Grindr, where are gays to go and interact and get to know each other in a healthier way? I encourage my gay friends to check out accepting churches, outdoor clubs, etc., where the focus is less on meeting someone quickly and more on sharing a common purpose or goal with people you get to know over time.
I really don’t want anyone to think that I am putting down the gay community in any way. I embrace it, love it, and participate in it in ways that I deem appropriate. At one point in my life, before I met Joe about two years ago, I was the guy in the tiny bathing suit bar tending the annual Joining Hearts Pool Party at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, but for me, that was just fun; it was not a life. I knew that I was not going to continue doing those things the rest of my life. Now I’m preparing to get married in a Methodist church right around the corner from my old bar-tending spot, and I am completely okay with that situation!
I think as gay marriage spreads across the US, our community will slowly become more like the straight community, with lots of single people, divorced people, and married people. Just because we can get married in some states now doesn’t mean that all gays are going to suddenly run out and get married. There’s a lot of work we need to do to build healthier relationships first, but I do think that as more and more twenty- and thirty-somethings commit, become leaders in the community, and demonstrate healthy, loving, married relationships, the trend will spread. Hopefully, Joe and I are a part of that. Our wedding ceremony at the church will be open to anyone who wants to attend, whether they have received an invitation or not. We want people to see what is possible for them too.
In the last post, I asked Dan and Joe why they think more gay people don’t seem to be seeking a lifelong relationship with just one person, be it called marriage or something else. There are plenty of folks who are, for sure, but even in states where gay marriage is now legal, the altars aren’t busy with gay couples taking their vows. Why? Joe and Dan seem so happy in their life together, that I wondered why, to the extent the stereotype is valid, do many gay guys settle for brief, sexual relationships that seem almost terminal from the start. And why are they terminal from the start, if that is the reality and not just a perception?
Joe and Dan both seemed rather passionate about the topic, so I asked them both to write out their thoughts on the matter. In this post, we’ll hear from Joe. Next time, Dan will share his thoughts.
I think it takes a certain amount of self-confidence and forward thinking to seek a lifelong relationship. Ever since I was little, I was a dreamer and thought about what my life would look like down the road. That for me always included being married and having children. When I started to accept that I was gay, that dream was shaken a bit, which I think happens to many gay people. The fact that being married to someone of the same sex has been seen as wrong or taboo until very recently creates quite a roadblock to envisioning that as a viable future. I am lucky because my brother married his partner back in 2000. If we had more examples of successful, respectable relationships like that to inspire people, I think more gay people might be able to see themselves in that situation.
Also, I think many gay people go through an identity crisis whenever they get close to coming out. It’s right around the time you come to terms with being gay and decide that maybe it’s okay to admit it and embrace it. That in and of itself brings about a certain level of uncertainty as to who you are and what you hope to be. For many years, you tried to repress yourself and now trying to redefine yourself can be tricky. How can you possibly be in a relationship with someone else if you don’t have a good relationship with yourself, and a good sense of who you are? In my experience I think many gay people do seek relationships but that crisis of self prevents the relationship from being much more than what it is often: two people who are afraid of who and what they are. There’s a kindred spiritual connection there as they both understand what the other is going through. But just having that in common isn’t enough. Lifelong relationships are most successful when they have a lifelong purpose and goals that can grow as the couple grows. If the goal is only companionship, that tends to get routine quickly causing many people to seek something new and exciting. This can lead to infidelity or promiscuity. Dan’s and my “fairytale” relationship started with a few major common goals: raising children, the importance of family, spirituality, living a healthy lifestyle, and dedication to self and each other. As we approach this next phase of our relationship, we now seek new goals as a couple that stem from these and help us grow, building on the foundation that bonded us together from the start.
Dessert arrives “time is short, and I still have so many questions”coffee ice cream for me, and butter pecan for Joe. Dan, I’ve learned, is diabetic, and settles for a taste of each.
Why, I ask, do Joe and Dan think more gay people don’t seem to be seeking a lifelong relationship with just one person, be it called marriage or something else. There are plenty of folks who are, for sure, but even in states where gay marriage is now legal, the altars aren’t busy with gay couples taking their vows. Why? Joe and Dan seem so happy in their life together, that I wonder why, to the extent the stereotype is valid, do many gay guys settle for brief, sexual relationships that seem almost terminal from the start. And why are they terminal from the start, if that is the reality and not just a perception?
Joe suspects it’s a crisis of identity. “When you’ve been told all your life that what you are and what you want is not ok, or even very bad”, Joe says, “and then you see a lot of examples of the gay stereotype being lived out, and you suspect it isn’t love but instead some kind of physical substitution, it’s hard to imagine a healthy marriage for yourself. I’ve always been a total romantic and very traditional, so I’ve always dreamed of being married and having kids just like the rest of my family members. So that helped me truly believe one day I would. Also my brother married his husband back in 2000, so I had an example early on of what was possible for me. The ideas that being gay is not an affliction and that marriage is an option are very new concepts in our culture. I think as time goes on, you’ll see a lot more gay people wanting and believing in that one-person-for-life relationship, and making it happen.
Dan agrees: “I think as gay marriage spreads across the US, our community will slowly begin to look more and more like the straight community, with plenty of single people, married people, and divorced people.”
Dan also says he thinks the stereotype of gays being overly sexual early on in relationships, and often promiscuous for years after coming out, is largely true. “I think it’s less a stereotype and more a reality” But, Dan cautions, “You have to ask why that’s the case. It’s not as simple as saying, ‘See, gay people are immoral,’ or whatever. Many gay people don’t come out until they’re 25 or 30 or even later, so they never went through a normal pubescent teenage phase. They didn’t get to go through the bad relationships, the mistakes, and the random hookups that teenagers often go through. They’re doing that now at 25 or 30. Part of maturing is working through that stuff. Joe and I both had to go through our own maturing phase, and hopefully we’re a little wiser now. We’ve taken the physical side of our relationship very slowly. We talked early on about how we wanted to save some things for marriage. We want to be an example of that kind of maturity for our kids.”
“And maturity,” Joe adds, “requires a lot of honesty and transparency with your partner. That’s also hard for a lot of gay people. Think about it, when you’re coming out and acknowledging that you’re gay, that’s as vulnerable and transparent as you can get. If that level of honesty was met with shame, hatred, or disgust, you often shut down, stay surface-level in your relationships, and not risk being open like that again. I think that’s why a lot of gay relationships never go any further than the physical. Sex can remain surface level. Many gay people don’t know how to be and are often encouraged not to be really honest about their emotional selves, which prevents the kind of intimacy and depth necessary for a truly loving, lifelong relationship.”
Joe and Dan certainly seem honest with each other. I learn that they have a “no secrets” policy between them. When they find some other guy attractive, they say it. “It’s how we prevent temptation from getting a hold of us,” Dan says. “It’s unrealistic to think we’re never going to be attracted to anyone other than each other. That’s human nature. If you start hiding things like that, it gives intrigue and mystery a chance to build into something that could come between Joe and me. We don’t want that, and so we just say it if we think somebody else is attractive. Maybe that approach wouldn’t work for everyone, but it does for us. And most of the time, just admitting the attraction to whoever the other guy is takes the excitement out of it. It reminds us that what we have together is so incredible.”
Our checks arrive, and we have to wrap up the conversation. Joe and Dan both seem to have much to say about this topic, so I ask them to write out later their extended thoughts when they get home (which I’ll share with you soon).
We pay and then step outside into a warm, late-spring evening in Charlotte. I thank them for their time and perspective, and tell them how refreshing it is, and how much hope it gives me. I mutter something about how I become cynical about ever finding a guy who wants this kind of one-man-for-life, unbreakable commitment. That’s when Joe says something I’ll never forget: “You have to fight that! If you let yourself become cynical, you become part of the system. You become the problem.”
We hug, exchange goodbyes, and go separate ways, but that last line hangs with me all the way home. If I let myself become cynical, I become part of the system, and probably ensure I never find what Joe and Dan have.
Our meals arrive. Dan and Joe share their entrees with each other. We pour more wine and continue talking about their relationship.
I learn that before Joe met Dan, he was getting discouraged about ever finding his soul mate. “I got to the point where I would go on dates with guys I wasn’t even really attracted to at all, just to see if something would happen.” His message to single gay people now is, don’t give up. Keep looking. “And be willing to look anywhere, to go anywhere,” he says. “I once flew out to California just to go on a date!”
The searching ended for Joe when he met Dan on Facebook. After several dates and many hours of conversations that both Joe and Dan say were some of the happiest of their lives, Joe decided he wanted to make it official.Â “I did the whole middle school note thing. I wrote out, “Will you be my boyfriend?’ with boxes for “yes,’ “no,’ and “maybe.”
“Of course, I checked yes,” Dan says.
Eight months later, they both knew they wanted to spend their lives with each other. “We knew pretty early on we wanted to be together,” Joe says, “and that we wanted an actual marriage more than just a partnership of some kind. I’ve always wanted a church wedding. So, we had talked about itâ€”about who would propose and who wanted to be asked. I told Dan it would be nice to be surprised. And I eventually was. I had no idea the night he asked me.”
“I had kept the note from Joe asking me if I’d be his boyfriend, and I added a question to it. “Will you be my husband? Yes, no, or maybe.”
Dan arranged to meet Joe for a nice dinner at one of their favorite restaurants. He arrived early with gifts: a red rose for Joe’s plate, a collage of pictures he had put together chronicling their relationship, and an envelope containing the note and a Sharpie. He set his iPhone to record the moment.
Joe arrived, unsuspecting. “It started to occur to me what might be happening when I saw the collage,” Joe says, “but I went into the evening without a clue.” When Joe read the note, his eyes instantly filled with tears. He looked up from the paper as Dan got down on one knee.
“We’d only been dating eight months,” Dan says, “so I told him that I knew it was early on, but that I had no doubts, and that he’d make me a very happy man if he’d marry me.”
“I wicked gay reacted,” Joe says, laughing. With tears running down, Joe took the Sharpie, checked the appropriate box on the note, looked at Dan, smiled, and said, “Yes!”
“We’re both healthy eaters,” Dan says, “but we had cake that night.” Dan knew that he wanted to ask Joe’s dad for permission to marry Joe, so that evening he called.
Joe says, “That sealed it for me! That’s the sign of a good ole fashioned gentleman.”
By now, I’m dying to know what Joe’s and Dan’s parents think about all this. From earlier in our conversation, I’d gleaned that Joe’s dad is Catholic and Dan’s is a Methodist minister.
“I have a gay brother who came out before me,” Joe says, “So my dad had been through it before. He gave Dan permission to marry me, and he’ll be at the weddingalong with the rest of the family.”
Dan’s family is another story. “My parents have never met Joe,” Dan says with a note of sadness. “I would love for them to, but that’s the choice they’ve made. They won’t be at the wedding, and that’s also by their choice. We still talk almost every week, but they’re just not okay with my being gay and in a relationship. Maybe in time.”
In fact, I learn, there is a broad spectrum of family response on both sides, ranging from full acceptance to just the opposite. Dan says he hopes people will see in this that his and Joe’s story is not a flawless fairytale. “I wouldn’t want anyone to think that our situation is perfect or that they can’t have what we have. Our relationship is born out of reality, and it has its challenges like anyone else’s will.”
So, besides the fact that gay marriage is a relatively new phenomenon in our culture, why aren’t more gay people seeking this fairytale, imperfect as it may be, and what advice do Joe and Dan have for gay people who are seeking to marry? That’s next.