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.”