As a quick introduction, here's a letter I sent recently to several close friends:
It’s only been sixteen months since this leg of my journey began, though it feels more like sixteen years. It’s been a wild ride so far, and it’s taken me in directions I never would have imagined. But I have learned a few things along the way:
-I’ve learned that God’s love for me really is unconditional, and that I don’t have to develop heterosexual attractions before He’ll accept me. Which is a good thing, since I’ve also learned just how rare orientation change actually is.
-I’ve learned how to engage with God on the deepest levels of my soul by telling Him exactly how I feel, no matter how ugly those feelings are. It’s not as if He doesn’t already know every last one of my emotions even better than I do. As strange as it may sound, it’s at those times when I’m shouting at Him and hurling all of my anger and pain at Him that He’s closest to me. He values my honesty more than my ability to say the right words.
-I’ve learned that much of what Christians think they know about homosexuals is based on discredited studies, statistics taken out of context, unfounded assumptions or outright fabrication. It’s to our eternal shame that Christian organizations that supposedly stand for the truth continue to repeat these falsehoods as if they were fact.
-I’ve learned that conservative and liberal theologians are equally guilty of reading their personal biases and assumptions into the biblical text. Having studied the theological debate over homosexuality in some depth I’ve come away finding both sides wanting.
-I’ve learned that Exodus International is, first and foremost, a political organization and only secondarily a ministry. The current leadership of Exodus is more interested in ideology than it is in truth, and as a result is no more trustworthy than any other political lobbying organization. If not for my experience at [a local ministry] I’d be forced to write off the entire ex-gay movement as a sham. In fact, I’d sooner accept ‘gay’ as a label than identify as ‘ex-gay’; ideological baggage aside, it would be less dishonest.
-I’ve learned that God is actively at work in the lives of people on both sides of the divide. As I’ve gotten to know a number of openly gay Christians, I’ve observed in many of them a spiritual life that is very much alive and sensitive to God’s promptings. I have no good explanation for this, and quite frankly neither do any of the conservative theologians who have already condemned them all to hell.
So where does that leave me, except in a state of perpetual uncertainty? Since God has not seen fit to give me a straight (no pun intended) up-or-down answer, all I can do is go back to Him on a daily basis for guidance. And perhaps that’s how He wants it to be; it’s easy to become spiritually and intellectually lazy when we think we know all the answers. Will the answers He gives me over time match the expectations of those around me? I don’t know. I keep discovering over and over that God doesn’t fit neatly into the theological boxes we perpetually try to stuff Him into.
But I do know this: God wants to do something big in the gay community. I’m not the only one who senses that, though I don’t know of anyone who has a clear picture of what it’s actually going to look like. The church, both liberal and conservative, does more to hinder than to help, but the stubbornness of God’s people won’t hold back His plans forever. His Spirit is already moving, in ways that aren’t necessarily going to please people on either side of the divide. And something new is clearly needed. Exodus isn’t the answer. Soulforce isn’t the answer. Focus on the Family is, unfortunately, part of the problem.
I’m sure that all sounds very vague and pretentious, and I could be wrong about any or all of what I’m predicting. But God has not abandoned the millions of people who experience same-sex attractions, even if many in His church wish we’d all just go away (we’ve tried; we can’t). On that much I’ll stake everything.
By now I’m sure most of you have a lecture, or at least a solemn admonition, for me. As edifying as I’m sure that will be, let’s skip past that for a moment while I ask you a couple of questions:
1. Like it or not, the church’s abominable treatment of gays has been and continues to be as large a part of the problem as anything the gay community has ever done. What are you willing to do to be part of the solution?
2. What does your church have to offer to a guy that it’s commanding to separate from a man he loves deeply (it’s not just about sex!) and to permanently forgo that level of intimacy for the rest of his life? Marriage to a woman is extremely unlikely, now or at any point in the future. Your grade goes down if you fall back on spiritual clichés or on any of Exodus’ or Love Won Out’s snappy-sounding talking points. What tangible, practical ways is your congregation willing to minister to him on a long-term basis? What good is the church if it can’t provide a community at least as supportive and loving as the one available to those who enter the so-called ‘gay lifestyle’?
Anyway, I just wanted to send this out before I see some of you next month so that you’d all have plenty of time to plan an exorcism or a burning at the stake or some other good old-fashioned fun. Until then...
I’m glad I delayed sending this. Over the weekend I came across the following quote in Brian McLaren’s most recent book (The Last Word and the Word After That), which tracks pretty closely with how I feel about the entire issue. Since he’s speaking through the protagonist of his book these aren’t McLaren’s words per se, but I get the impression that this more or less sums up his position as well:
"Regarding homosexuality, I wish I had a clear opinion. As it is, any position I imagine taking, including the conservative position I have held all my life, has so many downsides and problems associated with it that my most honest answer is, "I don't know." I do know that we need to treat homosexuals with respect; as we treat "the least of these," so we treat Christ. Until recently, I never knew a homosexual personally, much less a confessing Christian who is homosexual. Recently I began getting to know an intersexual person living as a lesbian. I can never speak of homosexuality in the abstract again. I have to keep my new friend's face in mind and seek to treat this person as I would treat our Lord, in the guise of "the least of these." I do not believe that homosexuality is among the most pressing moral issues of our time; for example, I believe that heterosexual marital infidelity is a far more serious and pervasive problem. Similarly, I believe that the stresses put on people sexually by advertising and entertainment interests are also more serious and pervasive than the effects of homosexuality, suggesting that the love of money, not sex, is at the root of our problems, as Paul said in 1 Timothy."
Post-Postscript: Not all of the people I sent this to gave me a response, but all of them still seem to be speaking to me. No attempted exorcisms yet, either; guess I bought all those cans of pea soup for nothing...