Monday, October 31, 2005

Conditional Love

One more quote from Blue Like Jazz that I identified with:

Until this point, the majority of my friends had been Christians. In fact, nearly all of them had been Christians. I was amazed to find, outside the church, genuine affection being shared, affection that seemed, well, authentic in comparison to the sort of love I had known within the church. I was even more amazed when I realized I preferred, in fact, the company of the hippies to the company of Christians. It isn't that I didn't love my Christian friends or that they didn't love me, it was just that there was something different about my hippie friends; something, I don't know, more real, more true. I realize that is a provocative statement, but I only felt I could be myself around them, and I could not be myself with my Christian friends. My Christian communities had always had little unwritten social ethics like don't cuss and don't support Democrats and don't ask tough questions about the Bible.

Place "evangelical" in front of "Christian" and "church" and substitute "gay Christians" for "hippies," and this tracks pretty closely with my own experience. On the whole my gay Christian (and non-Christian) friends are considerably more open than my other Christian friends to listening to my doubts and questions without presuming which conclusions I'll reach if I'm truly saved.

To be fair I have several ex-gay and non-gay friends who are willing to love and support me as a person whether or not we agree on everything, but by and large I've learned that I still have to be very selective about who I open up to.

So when did it become okay for the church to be such an unsafe place? When did we become more concerned with rules and outward conformity than with loving people? I mean really loving them, not throwing scripture verses in their face and calling it "speaking the truth in love." When did driving people away from God become proof that we were following His will (since God's truth is a stumbling block and all that)?

I've heard it said that, by showing any acceptance for homosexuality, the Church would be losing its distinctiveness and becoming just like "the world." But if that's the only thing (or even the main thing) that separates us from "the world," then our faith must have been pretty shallow and indistinct to begin with.

The early church creeds give us a pretty good idea of what the essential beliefs of the Christian faith are. Not once is any mention made of sexual ethics. Does it matter what we do with our bodies? Absolutely. But to say that condemnation of all homosexual behavior is an essential Christian doctrine is to adopt a questionable set of priorities.

If one were to rank sins based on the emphasis placed on them in the Bible, idolatry, pride and economic injustice (among others) would come out well ahead of homosexuality. Yet the actions of many evangelicals suggest that battling the so-called "gay agenda" is more important than caring for the widows and orphans in their own neighborhoods.

And yes, all sin is sin in God's eyes. But that only exposes the hypocrisy that we engage in when we create our own little systems to rank which sinners are the worst. Perhaps if we focused more attention on our own sins, we'd find that we're better able to extend God's love to others and transform the church into the safe haven that it was meant to be.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Marriage Yet Again

Hot on the heels of my comments on marriage yesterday, Jason Kuznicki at Positive Liberty has just posted what is probably the most compelling argument I've read to date in favor of same-sex marriage.

My own reservations on this issue stem from the understanding that, if God does indeed disapprove of all gay relationships, it means that there would be negative societal consequences stemming from their normalization. I'll be interested to see if conservatives come up with any good counterarguments to Jason's points.

In the meantime I'll just reiterate the point that "God said so" is just as bad a justification for public policy decisions as it was during the Inquisition...

Addendum: Jason has reiterated in subsequent posts that he is merely trying to reframe the marriage debate without advocating for or against same-sex marriages, so I add that disclaimer here. All the same, in my opinion defining marriage by its nurturing/caretaking aspects (as opposed to the procreative and romantic angles usually emphasized) automatically strengthens the case of gay marriage advocates.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Marriage Again

Earlier this month The Volokh Conspiracy hosted a debate on same-sex marriage, with Maggie Gallager arguing against it. She gave all the standard arguments, some of which are stronger than others, but then she made this rather bizarre analogy:

"Imagine you stand in the middle of vast, hostile desert. A camel is your only means of transversing it, your lifeline to the future. The camel is burdened-- stumbling, loaded down, tired; enfeebled-- the conditions of the modern life are clearly not favorable to it. But still it’s your only hope, because to get across that desert you need a camel.

"Now, chop off its legs and order it to carry you to safety.

"That’s what SSM looks like, to me."


Huh?!???!!???

How on earth is chopping the legs off of a camel analogous to expanding the definition of marriage? That analogy would actually work reasonably well as an illustration about the effects that no-fault divorce (which Gallagher references earlier in her post) has had on the institution of marriage, and she might - might be able to argue that expanding the definition would add to the camel's burden, but as written her metaphor is simply nonsensical. Talk about chopping the legs off of your own argument!

For the record, I'm still undecided on this question. It's definitely time that we extended certain legal protections to same-sex couples, just as we already do for common law marriages, but whether that requires redefining an existing institution is another question entirely. In my opinion, at least.

On the other hand, even when I was still fully invested in the ex-gay mindset I recognized what an abomination the federal marriage amendment is. With a single stroke it would permanently redefine the separation of powers codified in our constitution and unravel our federal system of government every bit as much as proponents of the amendment claim that same-sex marriage would damage the institution of marriage. And to think conservatives used to stand for upholding the constitution.

Anyway, back to Maggie Gallagher's analogy: Good Lord, no wonder Christians aren't taken more seriously in the marketplace of ideas.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The Great Adventure

I love The Amazing Race. I love the theme music, I love Phil's voiceovers, I love watching all the teams race through exotic locales. I cheer when the nice team comes in first, and I get teary-eyed when someone I like gets eliminated. I boo the jerks (there's always one or two thoroughly unlikable teams) and cheer when they get eliminated.

I'd love to compete in The Amazing Race. It'll never happen in a million years because I'm Mr. Anti-TV Personality with a face made for radio, but I'd kill small rodents for the opportunity all the same. My teammate and I would zip through roadblocks and conquer detours. We'd never need to use the fast forward because we'd always find the fastest route to the mat.

In short, I want adventure. I want a life that's more than punching a timeclock every day and going to church on Sundays. And I want someone to share that adventure with. I'm not even talking about marriage now - just give me a best friend (or two) to face the world with, and there'll be no limit to what we can do.

To be sure, I've already had more than my share of incredible friends, some of whom I've known since college (or longer). I'm even out to most of them. But all of them have busy lives, and most of them have families to look after. None of them are available for adventuring, except maybe around the game table. And while killing monsters with the roll of a die is fun in its own way, it's not real. At the end of the evening the only world that's been saved gets packed up into a notebook and stored on a shelf until the following week.

I have no idea what the adventure looks like, but I know it's out there, just waiting for me. I don't care if I'm Frodo or Sam, or even Gimli, as long as we get to set out for Mount Doom.

But what if the adventure doesn't await? What if my only Comrades In Arms are a TV Guide and an internet connection? What if God's wonderful plan for my life involves sitting at a desk for the next 40 years? Sounds depressing, quite frankly. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to face that possibility just yet. Good thing the Amazing Race is on every Tuesday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Marriage

I guess what I was originally going to write about today is going to have to wait, so I can get this on paper - er, screen - while it's fresh in my mind. I came across the following bit of dialogue in the book I'm currently reading (Blue Like Jazz), and it speaks volumes:

"[Marriage is] much more than I ever thought it would be. One of the ways God shows me He loves me is through Danielle, and one of the ways God shows Danielle He loves her is through me. And because she loves me, and teaches me that I am lovable, I can better interact with God."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that to be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously. And a person who thinks himself unlovable cannot be in a relationship with God because he can't accept who God is; a Being that is love. We learn that we are lovable or unlovable from other people. That is why God tells us so many times to love each other."


And it's true - it is very difficult for me to accept God's love, even after the extraordinary lengths He's gone to in an effort to make it as clear as possible. I've experienced love through friends and family members, to be sure, but nothing that contains all the dimensions described in the above dialogue.

All of us were designed for the deep companionship that's ideally found in marriage, and yet the Church (and possibly God too) would tell me that I can never have that, so tough luck. It's about so much more than just the sex, though that's certainly part of the equation. It's even about more than having someone to face life's trials together with. It's about experiencing God in a way that I, as a single person, never can. For that I'd be quite willing to set the sexual aspect aside and consider the possibility of a celibate partnership, if I thought I would be taken seriously by more than a small handful of people.

So why would it be sin for me to seek to fulfill God's design for my life through a relationship with someone I'm naturally capable of bonding with? Because God destroyed Sodom following an attempted rape? (Honestly, I can't believe anyone tries to apply Sodom to this debate with a straight face.) Because of other, conflicting aspects of our design? I've already demonstrated how selective the Church is when it comes to the design argument. I've also heard it argued that same-sex relationships simply don't work, but that's so obviously mistaken that it's hardly worth dignifying with the space it takes up on this page.

Oh, and to those who would point out that nothing's stopping me from going out and marrying a woman: Yeah, because that would really be fair to her. I already know that my feelings are less than nothing to anyone who would make that argument, but you could at least think about the other person who would have to suffer the consequences of my self-deception.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Reason

JJ blogged recently about the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, a tool which many Christians have used for centuries to help discern right from wrong. In short, any sound doctrinal position rests on four pillars: Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Personal Experience. Any one (or two) of these alone can lead to serious error: scripture can be twisted to suit any conceivable end, tradition can lead to oppression, reason is subject to human error and personal experience is thoroughly subjective.

On the issue of homosexuality, tradition is the primary bulwark against the acceptance of same-sex unions by most churches. Nobody on either side of the debate disputes the fact that the Church has, throughout its history, condemned all homosexual acts. It's possible that there were a few rare exceptions here and there, but prior to the last 40 or so years those appear to have been anomalies.

Scripture has been claimed by both sides in the debate, and current scholarship has demonstrated that the 'clobber passages,' when properly examined in their original contexts, form at best a weak case against monogamous same-sex unions. There's a stronger case to be made from the way the male-female paradigm is repeatedly emphasized in both the Old and New Testaments, particularly as it's employed to illustrate Christ's relationship with the Church. Yet even that begs the question of whether such illustrations should be used as proof that only heterosexual unions can ever be legitimate. After all, a teacher can best drive home his (or her) point by using illustrations that all (or at least most) of his students can directly relate to. The illustrations themselves are not necessarily meant to be interpreted by the class as imposing an additional set of laws.

As for personal experience, everyone has a different story. My experience yanked me out of the comfort of my little ex-gay world and dragged me kicking and screaming to the crossroads I find myself at now, only to traipse off without another word and leave me there. Whatever that really means, it's clear that I'm exactly where God wants me to be.

Which leaves reason. With each passing year it seems to become more clear that reason favors the normalization of gay relationships. And reason's voice cannot be shoved into a closet and locked away. Even most conservative Christians agree that if God declares that something is sin, He has a reason for doing so. Sin is harmful, either to the perpetrator or the victim (or both), and its effects can ultimately be measured in the real world. If the evidence suggests that an action does more good than harm in the majority of cases, we have good reason to question whether it is in fact a sin. It may still be a sin in some cases, or it may be that we misunderstood altogether.

It's because of this that so many Christian advocacy groups continue to recite Paul Cameron's 'statistics' (among other myths and discredited studies) years after his research was thoroughly debunked and laid to rest. They realize that they will lose in the marketplace of ideas if they can't find a way to get reason back in their corner, even if they manage to win the debate in the scriptural arena, and so they have become willing to adopt decidedly un-Christian tactics in the hopes of scaring people into their camp. Quite frankly their willingness to lie in the name of upholding the truth doesn't instill me with much confidence.

So what do I do with the fact that reason stands in direct opposition to tradition (and possibly scripture) on this issue? My mind is largely convinced by the facts but something in my gut holds me back from embracing what reason says to me. Whether that instinct is the work of the Holy Spirit (who brought me out of my former way of thinking to begin with) or the residual effect of a lifetime of legalistic programming remains to be seen.

I don't need to be psychic to know that everyone who's already chosen a side has their own opinion about which of those two possibilities is correct. But I'm not ready to choose my side just yet - or even to say that it would be appropriate for me to choose a side.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

More Than the Sun

A book I recently read asked the question: do you ever take time to just let God love you?

In the midst of my busy days I probably don't do it nearly enough; when I do remember to turn to God it's usually either to ask for something or to complain or to apologize for being too self-absorbed. But when I have taken the time to do it, it's been more healing than anything I've done to address my "father wounds" or any other issue in my life.

Music is a particularly effective way of hearing from God; the right song at the right time can leave me curled in a ball and crying my eyes out until my pillow is soggy and it's sunk in just a little bit deeper that I'm not a worthless pile of crap in God's eyes for being gay and for being unable to do anything to change that fact.

A few songs in particular have played a significant role in that healing process, in particular "More" by Matthew West:

Take a look at the mountains
Stretching a mile high
Take a look at the ocean
Far as your eye can see
And think of Me

Take a look at the desert
Do you feel like a grain of sand?
I am with you wherever
Where you go is where I am

And I'm always thinking of you
Take a look around you
I'm spelling it out one by one

I love you more than the sun
And the stars that I taught how to shine
You are mine, and you shine for me too
I love you yesterday and today
And tomorrow, I'll say it again and again
I love you more

Just a face in the city
Just a tear on a crowded street
But you are one in a million
And you belong to Me

And I want you to know
That I'm not letting go
Even when you come undone

I love you more than the sun
And the stars that I taught how to shine
You are mine, and you shine for me too
I love you yesterday and today
And tomorrow, I'll say it again and again
I love you more
I love you more

Shine for Me
Shine for Me
Shine on, shine on
You shine for Me

I love you more than the sun
And the stars that I taught how to shine
You are mine, and you shine for me too
I love you yesterday and today
And tomorrow, I'll say it again and again

I love you more than the sun
And the stars that I taught how to shine
You are mine, and you shine for me too
I love you yesterday and today
Through the joy and the pain
I'll say it again and again
I love you more
I love you more

And I see you
And I made you
And I love you more than you can imagine
More than you can fathom
I love you more than the sun
And you shine for Me

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

On a lighter note

Here's the dialogue from a Dilbert cartoon that came up on my calendar the other day...

Pointy-haired boss: "If we can put a man on the moon, we can build a computer made entirely of recycled paper."

Dilbert: "Your flawed analogy only shows that other people can do things."

Boss: "Maybe you should call other people and ask how they do it."

Dilbert: "Maybe they use good analogies."


Yes, there is a relevant point in there, but I won't belabor it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Gift Giving

Perhaps this is more of a commentary on me than it is on the topic at hand, but it drives me crazy when people talk about homosexuality being wrong because it misuses "God's gift of sexuality." I suppose in theory it's simple enough: all I have to do to make use of this great gift is marry a woman.

So does it matter that I've never been attracted to a member of the female gender? Or should I take the plunge anyway and marry someone I'm not really interested in having sex with? If that's the case, it sounds like sex is something more akin to a chore than a gift. ("Happy birthday, honey, I bought you a new ironing board!" Moments later, the clang of a frying pan connecting with a human skull can be heard...)

And if I'm called to celibacy even though that's not one of my spiritual gifts, is my sex drive really a blessing or just another burden to be endured as I travel the road to my eternal reward? Yeah, yeah, I have the 'privilege' of learning how to sublimate my sex drive by channeling it into other pursuits. God save us all from such 'privileges.'

It's kind of like a father buying his son a shiny new Jeep and then telling him it can never leave the driveway. I know that's not a perfect analogy, but it's the closest I can come to conveying what an enormous slap in the face it is to call sexuality a gift when there's no realistic possibility that I can ever legitimately use it.

The analogy breaks down, of course, because the father (unless he's the world's biggest sadist) is probably only putting a temporary restriction on the Jeep until his son's driving skills improve. Ah, some would point out, but God doesn't condone heterosexuals having sex outside of marriage, either. True, but there's an ocean of difference between having to refrain for now because you haven't found a spouse yet and having to refrain permanently because your spouse of choice would be the wrong gender.

"Ah," that same group of 'some' would counter again, "but you shouldn't give up on change so quickly. It's a lifelong process, after all." Great, so when I'm 95 and peeing through a catheter, I might be ready for marriage. Woohoo, I can't wait.

That last statement probably sounded dreadfully bitter, so let me clarify that I believe God is a good Father who only gives good gifts. Thus, I'm led to one of the following conclusions:

A) God intends heterosexuality for me and Exodus is simply too clueless to help me get there.
B) There is, in fact, a legitimate context within which I may engage sexually with someone I'm attracted to (i.e. another man).
C) Sexuality should not be viewed as a gift.

I'm leaning toward either B or C here, though I guess I shouldn't rule out any of them just yet.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Incubation

Having grown up like I did in conservative Christian circles, I had virtually no exposure to the gay subculture until fairly recently - and would have run away from it in any case. Now that I'm taking the opportunity to get to know some openly gay individuals, I know that it's not all base degeneracy as I was led to believe.

Like any subculture it has its good and bad points, its strengths and its blind spots, and instead of praying that God would rescue everyone from its evil and thereby eradicate it, I can appreciate the good in it and begin considering what God might be wanting to do to work through it.

Most interesting of all, however, is that, having sat in on a number of conversations about gay culture and entertainment, it's striking how many parallels exist to the evangelical Christian subculture. And now it's probably time for me to pack my bags and enter the witness relocation program before offended readers from both sides of the aisle join up and come after me with tar and feathers, but think about it for a moment.

Each group came together, not just through common experience but as a defensive measure to create a haven in the midst of a broader culture that was perceived to be largely hostile to its members. Both groups have in turn created their own self-contained cultures, producing everything from books, movies and music down to T-shirts, jewelry and message-bearing candy. Both have their own clubs, community centers, magazines, news programs and even schools, and both have their own set of catch phrases and buzzwords that members of the 'in' crowd toss around in casual conversation. Both are quick to welcome new members with open arms, and quick to ostracize those considered traitors to the cause.

In both groups, there are some who uncritically embrace any entertainment produced within their subculture and others who look down on any such product as substandard. Quality control often takes a back seat to "the message." I've observed this firsthand as a long-time consumer of the Christian music industry, which has produced a few outstanding artists along with a whole lot of mediocre fluff that deservedly gets ignored by the mainstream.

All of the above could most likely be said about the many ethnic subcultures that exist in this country, for largely the same reasons. And subcultures are not inherently bad; they do provide a place where people can find others who understand where they're coming from. In short, they serve as incubators. For the new believer who just accepted Christ, or the individual who just came out of the closet, the subculture can be a lifeline that gets them through that difficult period of adjustment.

But we can't stay in the incubator forever if we ever want to grow. Hiding away within our safe subculture leads to insularity and a distorted view of the larger world outside, and helps to perpetuate an "us versus them" mentality.

And people seem to be realizing that. I've been reading recently about the growing movement among gays toward integrating into "straight" neighborhoods and away from forming separate enclaves. And younger, more postmodern Christians are far less interested in hiding within their churches and more interested in building community with their non-Christian friends and neighbors. From where I sit, that can only be a good thing.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Coercion and Morality

And now for something completely different...

I've been reading "The Jesus I Never Knew" by Philip Yancey, and felt the following passage was worth repeating:

Seventy-four years of communism had proved beyond all doubt that goodness could not be legislated from the Kremlin and enforced at the point of a gun. In a heavy irony, attempts to compel morality tend to produce defiant subjects and tyrannical rulers who lose their moral core. I came away from Russia with the strong sense that we Christians would do well to relearn the basic lesson of the Temptation. Goodness cannot be imposed externally, from the top down; it must grow internally, from the bottom up.

The Temptation in the desert reveals a profound difference between God’s power and Satan’s power. Satan has the power to coerce, to dazzle, to force obedience, to destroy. Humans have learned much from that power, and governments draw deeply from its reservoir. With a bullwhip or a billy club or an AK-47, human beings can force other human beings to do just about anything they want. Satan’s power is external and coercive.

God’s power, in contrast, is internal and noncoercive. “You would not enslave man by a miracle, and craved faith given freely, not based on miracle,” said the Inquisitor to Jesus in Dostoevsky’s novel. Such power may seem at times like weakness. In its commitment to transform gently from the inside out and in its relentless dependence on human choice, God’s power may resemble a kind of abdication. As every parent and every lover knows, love can be rendered powerless if the beloved chooses to spurn it.

“God is not a Nazi,” said Thomas Merton. Indeed God is not. The Master of the universe would become its victim, powerless before a squad of soldiers in a garden. God made himself weak for one purpose: to let human beings choose freely for themselves what to do with him.


If not for space concerns I'd quote the entire chapter as a demonstration of why I'm more convinced than ever that organizations like Exodus and Focus on the Family have committed a dangerous error by intertwining their primary missions with political causes. I fully understand the temptation to use the political process to battle and suppress the sin we see all around us, but I also see how giving into this impulse to use Satan's tools of coercion and force comes at the cost of surrendering the church's true power, and how the religious right has sown the seeds for a political backlash that will ultimately undo everything it's been fighting for and leave the world in an even worse state than it was before. For all the time we spend worrying about a future era of persecution, we have become blind to everything we are doing to bring it about.

So am I saying that individual Christians should withdraw from political matters altogether? Not by any means. Government has a legitimate role to play in protecting the individual from the predations of others. But the instant it begins wielding powers outside of that basic mandate, it becomes part of the problem. As soon as we move beyond protecting the innocent and begin imposing our vision for a better world through political force - whether that take the form of Prohibition, the welfare state, anti-'sodomy' laws, invading 'rogue' nations or passing constitutional amendments that would trump local autonomy over moral matters - we become the very tyrants we claim to be fighting. It's a very fine line to walk and error is almost inevitable, but when every misstep has negative consequences we can't afford to proceed without utmost caution.

In practice, this means defending the autonomy of those who would hurt themselves by abusing their freedom. As difficult as that may be to sit back and watch, it is the ultimate in hubris for us to claim the right to take away the freedom that God Himself has granted to those individuals (and to each of us). That freedom does have its limits, naturally, but by taking it upon ourselves to force others to conform to our vision for their lives we are, in fact, placing ourselves above God, just as Lucifer did when he led a third of the angels in a rebellion against the One who created him. By appointing ourselves as enforcers of the will of God, we become violators of that same will.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Pride and Prejudice

One thing I’ve observed through my involvement with ex-gay groups is a very subtle, but very real, feeling of pride among participants – a pride that says “we know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and so we pity those who are too foolish and/or rebellious to defer to what we know.”

It’s not a conscious sentiment, to be sure; most of the ex-gays I know would be the first to acknowledge that they’re not in any way superior to anyone else, gay or otherwise. But it’s there all the same, in that knowing laugh that runs through the audience when a speaker skewers a pro-gay argument, or in the edge that slips into the tone of their voice as they talk about an openly gay friend.

To be fair, I’ve heard that same tone when gays talk about ex-gays. And to be completely fair, when I take a moment to pause I can detect it weaving its way into my own thoughts as I sit here pointing out everybody else’s pride.

Pride is ubiquitous. It subtly permeates our entire worldview, whispering into our ears that we can know everything there is to know about God and His ways, or at least the important parts. It leads us to believe that, if we just study enough systematic theology, we’ll be able to predict how God will act in any given situation and thereby control Him (though we would never consciously admit the latter).

Just in case there’s anybody out there screaming “relativism!” by this point, I’ll take a moment to clarify that I do believe in absolute truth. What I don’t believe is the notion that we understand that truth as fully as we claim to. The Bible itself tells us more than once that we only know part of the story.

And yet we have no problem proclaiming a broad absolute based on several verses whose meanings are considerably less straightforward than they appear in our English translations. The conservative side can fall back on the design argument as proof that what we call the “clobber passages” must mean what we have traditionally assumed them to mean, but it’s questionable whether the design argument would have ever been applied to this debate in the first place if it weren’t for our interpretations of the “clobber passages.” And so we find ourselves trapped in a circle that perpetually feeds upon itself.

That having been said, I still acknowledge that conservative Christians could be right, at least to the extent of saying that God may, in fact, disapprove of all same-sex unions. But even if that is the case, a little more humility wouldn’t hurt us at all. Or do we really think that sexual sin is somehow worse than pride? It was pride that brought about Lucifer’s downfall. Pride damages and hinders every one of our relationships and distorts our thinking in more ways than we can ever uncover.

And the fact is that we don’t know as much as we think we know. If everything was really as simple and clear-cut as we try to make it, would the Church be continually splintering over an endless array of theological disputes?

It all comes back to pride.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

The Not-So Great Divorce

I've noticed that Christians who resort to the design argument seldom seem to understand the full implications of their position. Focused as they are on the finger they're busy pointing at the "unnatural" actions of gays and lesbians, they're completely blind to the fact that the rest of their fingers are pointing back at them.

God's design, as revealed in Genesis 1-2, cuts both ways.

On the most superficial level, the "anatomy" argument states the obvious fact that male and female sexual organs were designed to fit together, and concludes from this observation that a man and a woman are required in order to use them properly. The logical implication of this conclusion, however, is that all other forms of sexual activity (oral, anal, mutual masturbation and whatever else is possible) are sin, even if done by a married heterosexual couple. The parts just weren't designed to fit together that way, after all.

Even more serious than that, however, is the issue of divorce, which attempts to sunder the sacred bond of marriage. Divorce is allowed by the Bible under certain circumstances (infidelity, abandonment and arguably certain forms of abuse), but remarriage by a divorced individual is unconditionally condemned by no less an authority than Jesus himself.

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Luke 16:18, NIV)

That alone should be enough to settle the matter. Remarriage, after all, violates God's original design (one man plus one woman for life) by introducing a third person into the mix. The first spouse may not be physically present, but as the Apostle Paul points out, the spiritual bond formed through sexual union is broken only by death.

Nevertheless, few churches today treat remarriage as anything worse than two people making the best of an unfortunate situation. You never see Christian activists lobbying for bans or even restrictions on second (or third, fourth, fifth, etc.) marriages; for the most part, they've even largely given up on rolling back "no fault" divorce laws.

And the reason is obvious: remarried couples make up a significant percentage of the average congregation; ostracizing them would empty out the pews of many churches, large and small. Gays, on the other hand, are a small enough minority that their absence is barely noticed at all, and thus the blatant hypocrisy of condemning one group of 'sinners' but not the other becomes a matter of expediency.

So what, if any, justification is there for condoning remarriage following divorce in the face of Jesus' own words against it? Just one: the active presence of the Holy Spirit in the lives of many remarried Christians. Having seen firsthand how God works through and blesses the second marriages of individuals that the letter of the law calls 'adulterers,' I cannot state with any certainty that a divorced person's only legitimate options are reconciliation or lifelong celibacy. Some second marriages probably are blatantly adulterous, but I, for one, am not wise enough to determine where the line should be drawn.

In light of this, what are we to do with gay Christians whose lives and relationships demonstrate that the Holy Spirit is actively at work within them? Even if 1 Cor. 6:9 is referring to all homosexuals (which is far from certain), the fact that some 'adulterers' apparently can inherit the kingdom of God suggests that we may have misinterpreted Paul's intent in that passage.

The letter of the law leads to death. What does it really look like to choose life?

Monday, October 10, 2005

Design

First of all, thanks to everyone who's stopped by so far and given me encouragement (online or off), and thanks to those who have linked my blog to theirs. It's gratifying to learn that I'm not completely insane to ask the questions I've been asking, and to be unsatisfied with the answers that I've found so far.

Partly insane, probably, but sanity is highly overrated anyway.

Anyway, getting to the point of this post, my thoughts keep coming back to the issue of design, seeing how it's one of the central arguments that Christians use when stating that all homosexual behavior is sin. This will most likely end up as a multi-part series, as there's a lot more to consider on this point than most people seem to realize.

I don't doubt that God originally designed us to function heterosexually (that's how procreation occurs, after all), but then again He also didn't design us to be blind, deaf, paraplegic, diabetic, etc. - and yet we wouldn't argue that it's sin to use Braille or hearing aids or wheelchairs or insulin injections. And no, I'm not saying that being gay is equivalent to being handicapped or ill, just making a point about the shortcomings of arguing from design.

In any case, the design argument also needs to take into account the fact that we were designed for companionship, and for intimacy that goes beyond friendship. Which leads me to conclude that one of the following statements must be true:

1) Romantic love is irrelevant to marriage, and physical attraction is not an important factor in the choosing of a spouse.
2) Sexual purity is the highest ideal of all, and therefore lifelong celibacy, though described by the Bible as a voluntary state, can be justly forced on people against their will.
3) Orientation change really is possible for the majority, and Exodus and NARTH are simply so ignorant of how the change process actually works that they have harmed more people than they've helped.
4) God's original design, though it represents an ideal, does not carry the force of law.

Given how heavily the entire design argument rests on the early chapters of Genesis (a narrative, and therefore not necessarily meant to bear the weight of all the law we've built upon it), I'm increasingly inclined to at least consider the validity of #4.

Yes, Jesus and Paul both appeal back to the creation account in reference to sexual matters, but Jesus was primarily concerned with hammering home the point that the Pharisees were not as righteous as they thought they were, and Paul later uses the creation account in his argument that women should keep their hair long (and that men shouldn't). So while conservative theologians have a good basis for making the arguments that they do, they don't have an airtight case.

Ultimately it all seems to come back to what assumptions a person chooses to make. For many, telling them that "God designed you to be heterosexual" is enough for them to conclude that it's wrong to be gay, without ever asking the questions that necessarily follow from the original statement. Did He really specifically make each of us that way, or was that just the original template? Were the opening chapters of Genesis really meant to be treated as law? Is it necessarily immoral to use something for a task other than the one it was primarily designed for? If God is that concerned with every detail of how we use His physical creation, how do we justify the many questionable things we do on a daily basis to this planet and the living things that populate it in the name of progress?

There's a lot more to explore here (and probably a lot more I could do to strengthen what I've already written), but in the interest of actually getting this posted sometime before Christmas I'll leave the rest of that to simmer for now.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Drifting

Bebo Norman - what's not to like? Just thought I'd share this song of his, since it tells the story of the healing process God brought me through last year as He was preparing me for the journey I now find myself on...

Sometimes when I'm all alone
I don't know if I can
Take another breath
Some say home is where the heart is
Tell me where my home is
'Cause I am scared to death

Falling from the rooftop
Crashing like a raindrop
Can you make my heart stop
Shaking like a leaf?
Standing at the floodgate
Steady as an earthquake
Can you hear my heart break
Tearing at the seams?

I am drifting in the deep end
Holding onto your hand
Is all that saves me now
Life can treat you like a beggar
You hold me together
But I don't know how

Falling from the rooftop
Crashing like a raindrop
Can you make my heart stop
Shaking like a leaf?
Standing at the floodgate
Steady as an earthquake
Can you hear my heart break
Tearing at the seams?

Some say home is where the heart is
And my heart is in your hands
You are all I need

Rising from the ashes
Lifted from the madness
Now you see my heart is
Deep enough to dream
Heal me from the deathblow
Lead and I will follow
Now you feel my heart glow
Mending at the seams

Friday, October 07, 2005

Perceptions

One thing I've noticed as I have begun studying the issue of homosexuality and Christianity in greater depth is that everyone who's taken a side seems to have, at some point, made an assumption of some sort - a leap of faith, if you prefer. My own examination of the relevant issues and my times of study, prayer, contemplation and dialogue keep leading me back to the same impasse. Both sides have very good points to make, and both have glaring weaknesses. Both sides have their share of sincere, godly people with stories of their encounters with God - which leads me to wonder if we're not asking the wrong question altogether. But that's a topic for another day.

Most of the theologians I've read on this subject, both liberal and conservative, seem to have reached their conclusions before they even got as far as the Table of Contents in their Bible. All of the evidence they present for their respective cases has already been filtered through the lens of their personal bias. The exceptions I've found to that rule tend to be people who are themselves same-sex attracted, and even they look at the exact same evidence and end up at diametrically opposed conclusions. Why? At some point they took a leap of faith.

I think of two individuals in my life, both people I love and respect, who took their own leaps of faith that landed them on opposite sides of this question. The first spent years in various Exodus programs trying to change his orientation, until he came to understand how unlikely it was that he'd ever develop heterosexual attractions. After a considerable amount of soul searching he came to the conclusion that God wouldn't equip him with such powerful drives - not only for sex, but for deep emotional connection - only to tell him that he could never act on them under any circumstances.

The second, the mother of a gay man, came away from her examination of the issue frustrated by how vague the scriptures really are in relation to this issue. Her turning point came when she came to the realization that if the relevant verses (the "clobber passages") didn't speak to the issue of gay relationships as we understand them today, then the Bible was silent on the issue. Finding that to be unacceptable, she concluded that homosexual behavior must be wrong under any circumstances.

While I deeply respect both of these friends and the journeys they have been on, I can't reconcile myself to embracing either of the assumptions that they made. With regard to the former I would simply point out that God doesn't promise us happiness in this lifetime, apart from the joy that comes directly from Him and that transcends our cirumstances. The only fulfillment we are guaranteed comes from Him and not from other people.

To the latter I would say, since when are we supposed to treat the Bible like an encyclopedia? The Bible gives us important principles that we can use to discern right from wrong, but its books were written thousands of years ago to people who lived in vastly different cultures. There are many pressing contemporary issues that it does not directly address: abortion, contraceptives, democratic elections, Christian participation in wars, euthanasia, artificial insemination, bioengineering, deforestation, etc.

We can extrapolate answers to these questions from what God said to our spiritual predecessors, but good Christians still end up disagreeing on all of these issues in a myriad of ways, and I believe that God gave us the freedom to do so. Ultimately I believe He is more concerned with the condition of our hearts than He is with whether we advocate the 'right' answers to any of these questions.

So why can't I make my own leap of faith and choose my side? Maybe I already have...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Journey So Far

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 clich├ęs 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...

POSTSCRIPT
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...

Um, hi

Resistance is futile. My distinctiveness has been added to the collective. I am now a blogger. Why? Must be my latent masochistic tendencies rising to the surface.

As for what my blog will be about, my primary life issue, at least in this century, is finding the reconciliation point between my faith and my sexual orientation. I used to unquestioningly accept what I'd been told growing up, namely that gays were hellbound sinners who had to become straight so they could be saved. Now that I'm finally examining these issue for myself I see that this issue isn't nearly as black and white as everyone wants it to be.

That said, I'm easily distracted so I may post on completely unrelated matters from time to time. And if I go a week or two without posting anything, well, don't take it personally.