Not to Christians, plural. Just one in particular.
Back a year ago, I was following a series of blog links that took me to Christian Cryder's See Life Differently. He's a minister, a church planter, a husband, and a writer. On one of his posts, he'd posted a question about what a church should do with a talented organist and musician who happened to be both gay and non-Christian who was part of the worship-leader team. I put in my comments, which included more than a bit about being gay in the church. He responded with this comment:
What I'd like to learn more about is your struggle with homosexuality. So please bear with me if these are are stupid questions - I really want to understand how you see the world, and you have a lot to offer me here.
I need to share that Christian Cryder appears to be one of the more sensitive, willing-to-listen Christian men I've met in the blogosphere. So I took his questions at face value, and I'm glad to talk about them. I'm sure that I've addressed pieces of his questions scattered all over this blog, but I'm going to address them here (recognizing that this little epistle may well end up being closer to Romans in length than 1st Timothy...).
So here are his questions, in bold:
a) what's your view on the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality?
I don't see homosexuality as wrong. I see it as different, like left-handedness. I certainly don't think it is incompatible with Christian teaching (to quote my United Methodist brothers), because I spent ten years seeking a ministry career while hiding as a deeply closeted gay man. I don't think if you went back and read any of my devotions, any of my sermons, any of my theological musings over here at Ragamuffin Ramblings, that you'd look and say, "Yeah, he's gay."
(Well...ok, maybe this one....)
But 99 times out of a hundred, the faith is the same; just the outward orientation has changed.
Part of the question of "is it wrong,"I think, is conditioned by the idea that this was a choice I made. If I "chose wrong," I could make another choice, eh? But for me, and many others, it's just not a choice. As actor Jason Stuart said in the DVD God and Gays: Bridging the Gap, "How could I possibly convince someone to be gay? What would I say? 'Ach - we have no rights, everyone hates us - come along and join us! Live in my personal hell - with Madonna!' "
Homosexuality is not "how I feel." This is "who I am." In fact, in my very first coming out post, I asked myself, "How can I both be 'abomination' and 'fearfully and wonderfully made'?" The simple answer for me is, I can't.
I'm also going to introduce some unfamiliar shortcut terms for groups that you're already familiar with: Side A, Side B, Side X. Each group has their own view on "right" and "wrong:"
"Side A" gay Christians believe that God can and does affirm homosexual beings (those with unchangeable same-sex orientation), and can and does affirm committed same-sex relationships.It's just easier to talk about Side A, B and X rather than explaining forever what we think we mean...
"Side B" gay Christians believe that God affirms homosexual beings, but does not affirm homosexual activity. Their call is to being openly gay, and openly celibate for life.
"Side X" - an inclusive term for gay and straight Christians - believe that homosexuality is "intrinsically disordered," "incompatible with Christian teaching," and believe that the only alternative for GLBT persons is transformation/conversion to a heterosexual orientation and lifestyle.
b) how do you understand Scripture to speak about homosexuality? Does it say that it's wrong (and if so is it correct), or are we misunderstanding Scripture? or do you even care?
I'd almost take offense at that last part of that question, br'er Cryder - except that I know it was asked honestly, with a desire to understand, so I'll let it slide.
But you have to understand something. I'm a Christian.
I mean, really. Honestly. I mean, saved. Washed in the blood. Once lost, now found. A kneeling, praying, Jesus-loving Christian. A Romans 5:8 Christian. A Romans 8:38-39, John 3:16-17 Christian. And I find incredible power in Scripture as the guide of my life. Do I always follow it? Hell, no. I have managed to sin badly, and then sin boldly. But I know what's right.
So yes, I do care. I cared enough to come this close to ending my life, more than a couple of times, over it.
In this post, I wrote more about my feelings on the text - along with a great resource on the topic (Many Members, One Body by Craig Nessan). Forgive me quoting myself here, to pull out the heart of the topic:
Nessan suggests that the Old Testament writers had no knowledge of sexual orientation, versus sexual preference - any more than they understood astrophysics when they wrote that the earth was the center of the universe. So the concept of a created, inborn desire for the same sex was impossible for Biblical writers to understand. And the concept of committed same-sex relationships was an impossibility in a world where property and the social order depended on siring male heirs.
You see, I will agree with Levitical writers and with Paul - from a "survival of the people of God" standpoint, hetero men jumping the tracks and having sex with men, back then, was a bad idea - for the same reason that risking eating improperly cooked pork was a bad idea. The "people of God" weren't gonna last long in the desert that way.
But what many hetero Christians cannot understand (in fact, cannot even conceive) is the fact that for a number of men and women, they have not "exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones" (Romans 1:26) because they never had those "natural" desires to begin with. Those men and women never "abandoned natural relations" with the opposite sex - for them, those desires were simply absent, from the beginning.
They not only did not choose homosexuality, they actively fought it. One man I know, Peterson Toscano, spent $30,000 and ten years trying to be straight - shock therapy, two exorcisms, plenty of life in the ex-gay movement. And in the end, he (and almost everyone I have met) ended up either (a) asexual - dead to any kind of sexual feelings (the reaction most people from folks who have left ex-gay ministries) or (b) surrendering to the fact that this is how we were made - gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered.
Trying to enforce those rules on homosexuals today makes no more sense than having church officials persecuting NASA employees for saying the earth revolves around the sun. We simply know better, now. And the conditions that threatened the survival of the nomadic tribes of Israel simply no longer apply.
The trouble, Nessan says, is that both sides of the debate are appealing to different parts of the Bible, and both hold the Bible in esteem (though certainly to different standards). What you end up with is two mutually-exclusive hermaneutics - two seemingly irreconcilable ways of understanding the Bible, and "those passages" in particular. And so both sides stand on either side of the Biblical chasm, shouting at the other side, with a large portion of each side caring less about what's being said on the other side.
We talk about "the six (or seven) texts," which the gay Christian community often refer to as the "clobber passages" (because so many have been clobbered with them from time to time). I find that those are indeed accurate in their cultural context - but again, completely out of place in light of committed same-sex attraction.
I'd also like to point you to this post, which discusses homosexuality in the context of Acts 10. It is a alternate hermeneutic that most folks are not willing to even consider. But I am grateful to Jeffrey Siker, because as a result of reading his essay, I have come to see myself (with apologies to Brian McLaren) as a new kind of Gentile.
It's funny - and a little snarky - but I guess if folks are going to get literal about Biblical passages, then they need to address the questions in this post, too. Or the passages about slaves obeying their masters, and how many white men used that to argue that slavery was Biblical, and therefore as right in the 1850's as it was in Biblical times. Or this loving passage about how to treat one's rebellious son.
As an aside - One of the things that has always annoyed me about Christian wedding ceremonies is how often they use the story of Ruth and Naomi in them...completely ignoring the fact that the language of Ruth mirrors the language of Genesis 2 about cleaving to one another. The love between two women (and it is love, not "deep friendship," if you're willing to read it as literally as we read other passages) is held up as an example for Christian "traditional" marriage. But no one ever questions that. I've just never understood how the love between two women can be an loving, faithful example for straight marriage, but somehow not applicable for a loving, faithful gay marriage...
There are other passages that many GLBT folks cling to, like the acceptance of the eunuch (a group despised in most scripture) in Isaiah 56. Or the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Or the Gentiles in Acts 10. All despised. All ritually unclean. Sinful even to talk to, according to the "established church" at the time.
But welcomed by Christians.
I posed my favorite question about the Bible to the straight church over here, three years ago this month. Funny how no one's been willing to address that one in all the ink spilled on how Christians should act...
I guess I'd just like the Christian church to be as literal and as faithful to the rest of the Bible as they would like to be to those "clobber passages."
c) do you make a distinction between homosexual practice and homosexual desire?
Absolutely. In fact, I get particularly annoyed with those who don't. I have not "lain with a man" since 1983 - and have been completely celibate (no contact, male or female) since 1994. So I get more than a little peeved when people understand that I am gay, and start telling me to "repent of my sin," or to "forsake the sins of the flesh," when they see how I am as the sin, and not what I do (or am not doing). My initial reaction always is, "WTF do you know about my sins? Maybe I should go out and rent myself a boyfriend for a weekend (nah, a month...), just so I have something to repent of!"
d) do you think there's a distinction between your homosexual lusts for men, and my heterosexual lusts for women?
Let's compare, shall we?
Think of your best-looking male friend. One that the ladies all find attractive. A handsome, attractive man. Then ask yourself - do you have any physical desire for him? Any sexual attraction to him?
(I'm willing to bet not.)
That's exactly how I feel about desire for women. I recognize their beauty, even as you might recognize that a male friend or co-worker is good-looking. But there is absolutely no desire, no attraction. I won't go into details, but while I can and do notice a rather voluptuous lady, and admire her physical perfection, there is no sexual desire whatsoever.
There is a local cafe' in Toledo - the Star Diner. Their specialty is great breakfast - but their attraction is the stunningly attractive, and rather briefly-clad, group of young ladies they hire as their waitresses. (Folks around Toledo have nicknamed the place "Legs & Eggs.") I notice the beauties - and the effects they have on my straight friends. But when an attractive man walks in, he always catches my eye. Every time.
I trust that if you and I were to watch Baywatch, for instance, I would find the male stars as physically attractive as you might find the female ones. I find the mostly-naked male leads as desirous and stimulating as you might find the females. And while I don't think I am any more likely to bed any of the male stars than you are to have a night of rapture with Pamela Anderson, I'm sure we would have reactions that would be similar in scope - if opposite in polarity. I believe it's exactly the same, in short.
I recently recalled something I'd forgotten for years - a conversation my former wife had with her out gay cousin before a family wedding. They were comparing attractive men - some well-known, some just mutual acquaintances. I remember sitting there, having my own opinions on the subject, but unable to respond or participate because a straight man wasn't supposed to have those thoughts. And I really, really wanted to not think those thoughts. I was married, for God's sake - and despite everything else, I wanted to stay that way. So I lied, and died a little more, that day.
There's another thing - a corollary that most straight people don't understand. Think of a teenaged girl you know - a reasonably pretty one. Do you, as a reasonably young man, find any sexual desire for her? Does she leap to mind as a potential sexual partner? (Again, I'd bet not.) While there are always a few people who might do so, the vast majority of straight men would not seek out teenagers as sexual partners. They might fantasize about them - they might even envy the young bucks who actually do end up bedding "the pretty young thangs." But very few straight men would seek out under-aged female partners.
For a similarly vast majority of gay men, the exact same situation exists in reverse. Which is why having gay Christians men in church is no more dangerous to boys than having straight men in church is dangerous to young girls. Even in the Catholic church, there are thousands of faithfully celibate gay priests, without which the church would simply collapse. The number of offending priests, compared with the size of the Catholic church, is no worse off than the rest of culture - gay or straight.
e) when you mentioned that you never abandoned natural desires, because you never had them, how do you see Romans 1? - was that culturally conditioned? or was Paul simply wrong? (I'm really seeking to understand your hermeneutic for approaching Scripture here).
I already addressed that up above. (Beat it to death, more like...)
f) like you, I've heard many homosexuals say that they simply can't change because that's the way they are. At the same time, there is a small but real minority of ex-homosexuals out there that would beg to differ. What do you think of their perspective? Have you actually talked with any people like them?
I have talked with several people from the ex-gay movement who believe they have changed. And I'm grateful for them, and their success. Because, while I am growing more comfortable with my role as an "out" gay man, the simple fact is, I could have been re-married at least twice, and lived a much more comfortable life, if I could have done that. But as much as I tried desperately to manufacture desire for these women - and mutual friends encouraged me to marry them - I couldn't do it. I couldn't do that again. That would be more sinful by far than the very few same-sex acts I've engaged in.
My perspective on ex-gay recovery almost exactly parallels my perspective on faith healing. I know of a couple of people who have experienced spontaneous, miraculous healing from debilitating illness. I also know a whole bunch of people - including my faith mentor - who were devoted, prayer-warrior, servant-hearted, 100-percent sold-out-for-Jesus Christians, who nonetheless found absolutely no healing from ultimately fatal health conditions. You could try to tell me it was because of their weak faith, or their failure to pray just so or any one of a hundred other excuses.
And then I'd have to hurt you...bad.
I'd have to hurt you, of course, because it just wasn't so. Their faith was mountainous; their prayers were mighty; their lives were as righteous as anyone this side of Heaven can be. Prayer services, faith healing services, anointings with oil, you name it - accompanied by the fervent prayers of thousands of people across the country. Yet they still sickened, and they still died.
At some point, each of these mighty faith warriors had to admit that the answers to their prayers for healing were something along the lines of "no" or "not in the way you want it, no." My mentor Pastor Tom lost his mighty preaching voice, then his ministry, then his mobility and ultimately his life to Parkinson's disease - even as in Lindsborg, Kansas, another ELCA minister with Parkinson's experienced an amazing remission in his disease.
At some point, Pastor Tom recognized that he was not going to be one of the ones who were spontaneously healed. So he accepted what and how he was, and made the very best of the rest of his life. And he was a voice for faith, and for Parkinson's sufferers, for the rest of his life.
That's what I'm doing. I'm glad for the few special ones who are transformed. But for the vast number of the rest of us, acceptance seems to be the answer - even if we don't like the damn answer, for a while. I believe that my "healing" is the gift of coming to accept that I am "the way I was made," and to perhaps build bridges across the divide between gay and straight Christians.
g) Which do you want more - to no longer struggle with homosexual desires? Or to have the church accept your homosexual desires as normal and ok? Or something else?
Christian, I am done "struggling with homosexual desire." As I've written elsewhere, as best I can recollect, I started recognizing boys as desirable when I was 14 or 15 - and started shutting down emotionally and sexually then. I have loved several women - but it was always agape/filios, never eros. I tried desperately to love the woman I married, and instead ended up lying to her - first about sex, then about everything else. My life became one long lie that ended up in destruction of the marriage, our finances, everything.
My one and only male lover shot himself, rather than deal with the wreckage of his addictions, his finances, and his fears about sexuality. Two nights ago, I sat in my car after an AA meeting and listened as a 28-year old man haltingly admitted that he, too, might be gay - and he was more than ready to go steal a gun and blow his brains out rather than face his parents. He's a strong, sensitive, caring, God-seeking young man - ready to end his life because of who he's attracted to.
I am a faithful Christian gay man, looking for a David-and-Jonathan, Naomi-and-Ruth, committed, where-you-go-I'll-go loving relationship with another man. As such, my prayer is that people of faith would at least ask the questions:
- Is it possible? Can someone be gay, Christian, and in a committed relationship?
- Is it possible that, like slavery, like women in ministry, like so many things, we need to examine how the church sees homosexuality?
- Does the Church have the courage to set aside the monster/abomination syndrome, and see GLBT as human - loving, caring, broken human beings? Perhaps even people of faith?
I am really looking forward to your answers here - if any of this rubs you the wrong way, please let me know so that I try to find a less offensive way of asking.
I am grateful, br'er Cryder, both for your asking the questions, and for doing so in a calm, open and reasonable way. I'm not sure that I've responded entirely in kind - obviously, the topic generates much emotion for me. I will make the same pledge - if I have offended, please let me know as well.
And I'm not sure I've done the best job of explaining everything. There have been hundreds of thousands of pages written affirming gay Christians. No one person can do it all, I think - certainly not in one blog post. But perhaps this epistle will open the discussion up a bit - and give us some common ground on which to share.
I think this conversation about God, gays, and faith is one that will last a lifetime. And I have to admit that the more I am "out" about this, the more I am at risk of suffering casualties for these words. But I am reminded of the passage which was the of my former seminary class: Be strong and courageous, and do the work. Don’t be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you. He will not fail you or forsake you. (1st Chronicles 28:20, NLT)