Thursday, September 16, 2004

Gay Christians and the Bible

(Note: This is a long post because it deals with a complex, personal issue (that sounds so 1990s). I don't intend for my average posts to require extra server space, but it was almost necessary in this case. It actually isn't quite that long, but it could frustrate those who are theologically or Troy-biography disinclined.)

As I wrote the Ex-gay piece I came across an accusation from Bob Davies while he was working for Exodus International regarding Christian ex-ex gays (I know, it can get confusing).

"All these so-called ex-ex-gay stories sound the same," said Bob Davies, North American director of Exodus International. "In virtually every case, men and women abandon their previously-held view that homosexual behavior is sin. Ultimately, they go with their feelings, rather than submit to the authority of the Scriptures.

"The Bible offers all of us a clear choice, whether we're gay or straight: Obey the Spirit or yield to the flesh," Davies said. "Jesus commands us to take up our cross daily and follow Him. It's not easy, but that's the basic message of Christianity, and it will never change."

His homogenization of every ex-ex gay story aside, I think Mr. Davies brings up a valid question. How do Christians manage to embrace their same-sex attraction and the Bible simultaneously? I can speak for only one of the ex-ex gays, me.

Something snapped for me back in 1999. I was 32 and wrapping up another not bad but not great dating relationship with a really wonderful woman from my church. She broke up with me, but it was for the best. I had come to the point that I was feeling like I was living a lie that I would never be able to carry off 'til death do us part, and that is what I had in mind for a primary relationship. As I contemplated this, I also began to realize that I'd never lived as an open and honest gay person. I'd either lived as a closeted gay person or an ex-gay person.

I began to look at all of the Biblical references to homosexuality again. As I read them for the umpteenth time, I began to notice that I really didn't fit any of the descriptions of the people these verses described even when I was closeted (rapists, liars, greedy people, thieves, adulterers--all of which involve evil directed toward another person). With some exceptions (which I'm sure I'll hear about later) I'd been a compassionate, God-seeking, loving friend, son and brother (okay, I predict my sister will definitely say I'm gilding the lily with that last part). Sinless? No way, but I would put myself into the "being sanctified" category. I also realized that I had never made an effort to develop relationships with gay people who weren't ex-gay or in the closet.

So I began what I geekily referred to as a "research phase" of my sexual identity (not that kind of research, at least not at that point). I had more questions than answers. And thanks in large part to my time in an ex-gay ministry I had come to know God as a patient parent who was not afraid for a child to question and who would protect them from falling of the face of the earth if they were going in the wrong direction.

In an effort to be honest and to share an important decision during what was a scary time for me, I told my best friend at church, the associate pastor, Jim, about my decision. He was loving, but as I expected would not support my endeavor. Don't misread what I just wrote. He was really sweet about the whole thing (some people in his position wouldn't have been). He did tell me I could no longer teach Sunday School or actively participate in any other ministry. I joked with him, "I can't even pass out bulletins?" (the answer was no). Not having ever been a sit in the pew only Christian, this encouraged me to find another church where I could serve.

I ended up at what is referred to as an "open and affirming" Methodist church. This basically means they welcome and affirm gay and other non-heterosexual people. I was happy to discover that it did not mean that they ignored scripture or the Christian faith. In addition to the hetero people who attended, I began to meet other gay Christians--couples with kids, couples who had been with each other for 20 years or more, a single dad with six adopted children, and other single people.

Not long after I'd been attending I had lunch with Jim and his wife, Janna. They asked me a question similar to the one Mr. Davies asks above--"How do you reconcile where you are now with scripture?" They wanted to understand where I was coming from. Even at this point I couldn't give them a complete answer. All I could tell them was that I could not understand gay Christians until I ended up in close relationship with them. To do otherwise, kept things too abstract. I'd spent a lot of years judging gay Christians from afar or not thinking of them at all. I had figured out that there was more to this picture than I formerly believed and I intended to learn more.

So I served alongside all kinds of people in the church--loving the down-trodden and the not so down-trodden, feeding the hungry, and preaching the Good News of Christ, and goofing around. No lightening bolts, no floods, earthquakes or plagues. And this is what was really strange. For the first time I forgot that I was gay in church. It just didn't really seem to matter.

I went to Washington, DC and stayed with a friend who also knew Jim. And like Jim, he also was a young pastor. He commented that in the entire history of the church, homosexuality had never been accepted. What made me think it was okay now? I thought about it, and said that civil rights for women and racial minorities were not always accepted either. In fact, slavery was accepted Biblically for thousands of years, but we as Christians in the U.S. chose to reject it as acceptable in the 1860s. It didn't seem to me that humans could be expected not to learn new ways to act lovingly, even in the 20th century (it was 1999 at the time). I was kind of surprised to hear a young pastor use the "we've always done it that way before" line that is usually the prime roadblock for progress in any church. I don't want to be too hard on this guy either. He was trying to help and had a mental veracity that really wanted to understand my thinking on the subject. As you can see, at this point I was following my intuition and critical thoughts on the matter. The scripture thing was still looming. Even then I hadn't figured that out.

And I never did, as long as I kept reading the standard "homosexuality is wrong" verses in isolation, away from all of the other versus in the Bible. What finally helped me move from just a gut suspicion (now I suspect it was the Holy Spirit) to a more firm Biblical position was my encounter with two primary resources. One was a Bible study my church offered called "Claiming the Promise". Aside from the cheesy cover of the workbook, the content was pretty thought-provoking. The other document, perhaps more profound in its impact on me was Walter Wink's essay (the version I saw actually was written in 1979) called "Homosexuality and the Bible". Don't expect a quick read from either. Only simple explanations on either side of this controversial issue are short, and I suspect neither group benefits from their existence. And there are other verses, authors, books and experiences I've encountered, but it has not been any one these that has changed my perspective, but a combination of all of them.

In the end, I think I would have to agree with Ex-gay ministries that all of this life, for Christians at least, is about strengthening our relationship with Christ while better serving God and others--that and having parties (my current pastor, Mike, loves parties). Those who find a productive long-term place in ex-gay ministries should be supported to grow towards God in the path they have chosen. That is why I do not believe in bashing ex-gays. They are my brothers and sisters. We agree on some things. Disagree on others. I also will strive for the rights of other people, who are living out their lives (Christian or otherwise) with a different perspective to do the same.

Sadly I have to admit that this last part didn't matter so much to me personally until John came into my life. We met in Sunday School at my new church. He was quiet and smiled all the time. When he did speak I was suddenly very aware that I was not the kindest and most intelligent person in the room (I doubt I was even before he entered it, but it was painfully obvious when John opened his mouth). He is the most Christlike person I've ever met--just the right mix of passion, intelligence, and moral righteousness. And he's cute, too! Don't ask me what he's doing with me. I sure didn't do much to deserve him. He patiently chose to stick by me as I hashed my way through all of the theological and emotional stuff he'd already dealt with.

Four years together and I've found I can't live without him. We celebrated our commitment with a ceremony at our home, which we built together, on May 9, 2003. We exchanged vows and had communion with our families and some close friends who helped us pull it all together. The next day we had a reception with as many of our friends and family as we could cram into our little house and yard. Having been in many weddings, I always chalked the "happiest day of my life" comments into the hyperbole column. But I stand corrected. We had so much fun I can hardly write about it without choking up. Happily, my friends Jim and Janna came to celebrate with us. I don't know where they stood on the "issue" at that point, and it didn't really matter to me. I was just glad to have them there.

Now John and I "work out our salvation" and sanctification as one, with all of the same challenges that any married couple has, and thanks to the current legal state of affairs over a thousand more (sorry, had to put that in). But there is a lot of joy to go around, too. Thankfully we have our faith, church, family and friends behind us. I don't know how couples without those supports manage, but we know several that do.

So, Mr. Davies, there you have it. I don't know if this is what you had in mind when you asked what these ex-ex gays are thinking when they decide they no longer consider living as a gay person a sin, but that is my story. I wouldn't say that I don't have crosses to bear, but being gay isn't one of them. Thankfully, not carrying that cross has made it possible to focus on the ones that relate to my actual callings.


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