Friday, December 30, 2005


An impressive amount of research has been done by Faris Malik and others into the term eunuch and the various ways it was used in ancient cultures. Malik makes a compelling case for the argument that eunuch (and particularly born eunuch) was commonly used as a euphemism for homosexual in biblical times.

This understanding sheds new light on Matthew 19:21, in which Jesus identifies three types of eunuch (including those "who have been so from birth") who are exempted from the institution of marriage. Some in turn use this to argue that Jesus was endorsing gay relationships, when in fact Jesus' statements don't go nearly that far; the most that can be reasonably drawn from this passage is the conclusion that gay men (and women) should not enter into heterosexual marriages.

And real world experience tends to support this conclusion. Can a marriage work when one partner is exclusively same-sex attracted? Sure, at least in some cases. The most common products of such unions, however, seem to be heartache and divorce. The homosexual spouse's inability to truly desire his or her partner creates difficulties even when both are determined to make the relationship work.

At the same time, however, the Bible presents us with another truth that doesn't quite mesh with this one. As God Himself says in Genesis 2:18, it's not good for a man to be alone. Paul further reinforces this point with his curious statement in 1 Corinthians 7:9: "it is better to marry than to burn." And it is rather curious, given the New Testament's emphasis on self-control and reining in one's passions. Surely, if "all things are possible" with God, then Paul could simply counsel those who lack self-control to ask God to provide them with enough for them to live celibately. But he doesn't. And so we see that, when two truths collide, they resolve in different ways for different individuals.

So where, then, does that leave the homosexual who has been counseled not to marry heterosexually but cannot bear the thought of remaining alone? If celibacy is too great a burden for some heterosexuals to bear, then it's incredibly presumptuous to assume that all homosexuals should endure it without question. And it's no less presumptuous to proclaim that any homosexual who isn't cut out for celibacy should marry an opposite-sex partner.

Most conservatives would argue that there is no third alternative, since the Bible "clearly" indicates that all homosexual relationships are unconditionally evil. That conclusion, however, is based primarily on a handful of verses that speak of acts of idolatry, rape, prostitution and selfish exploitation. Ultimately one can only justify universalizing those statements by placing them in the broader context of the Bible's endorsement of heterosexual marriage, and even then it requires making the assumption that the parameters of God's original template carry the force of law in all situations (which in turn leads to other problems that I've examined in previous posts).

If we assume, for the sake of argument, that the church's traditional position (all same-sex relationships are wrong) is correct, that leaves us with three truths that conflict with each other: homosexuals are forbidden from entering same-sex relationships, and it's not good for them to enter opposite-sex relationships, yet it's not good for them to remain alone. Within the two-dimensional plane that Christian ethics are usually consigned to, there's no way to reconcile these three truths without reducing one to a subordinate position. And that's precisely what has happened:

For those who believe that same-sex relationships are morally acceptable, there is no conflict. Everyone is free to search for and marry a partner that they're sexually attracted to, regardless of gender.

The Catholic position (which is also held by some in other denominations) states that all homosexuals are called to celibacy, without exception. Individuals in this group would advocate that it is in fact better to burn than to marry where homosexuals are concerned.

The Exodus position takes a different stance by acknowledging that celibacy is not an equally healthy state for everyone. Exodus' conclusion, however, is that heterosexual marriage is feasible for anyone who is unhappy being single. To accommodate this view, proponents define homosexuality as an illusion that can be dispelled through a program of inner healing and gender-normal activities, and rip verses like 1 Corinthians 6:11 out of context to prove that God will transform the orientation of anyone who repents of their same-sex attractions. If an individual's 'natural heterosexuality' fails to manifest itself, then he (or she) obviously did something wrong and is completely to blame for failing to achieve orientation change.

In truth, orientation change is extremely rare except among those who had some degree of bisexual tendencies to begin with. Those that rate as a 6 (exclusively same-sex attracted) on the Kinsey scale may manage to change their behavior to the point of ceasing all sexual activity, but they almost never develop even the slightest degree of heterosexual attraction. Most ex-gay leaders acknowledge this fact nowadays (at least in private), and so they counsel individuals in their programs either to live celibately or to enter heterosexual marriage anyway.

But can we really say that one of those two options will always be healthy for every same-sex-attracted individual? Many celibate individuals fail to find the joy and contentment that ought to follow committing one's life to God, and many married homosexuals find themselves stuck in miserable marriages (or enduring the pain of divorce). Are we really in a position to say that their unhappiness is their own fault, and if they'd just tried a little harder or prayed a little more everything would work out well for them? Undoubtedly that's true in some cases, but are we sufficiently godlike in our knowledge to be able to state what God's will is for every person's life? What if neither celibacy nor heterosexual marriage are healthy states for some individuals?

Just what do we do when two (or more) biblically-supported truths come into apparent conflict? Do we relativize God's truth by inventing a hierarchy that reconciles the conflict by declaring that some truths are more important than others? Or do we allow God, in His superior wisdom, to reconcile those truths within each individual according to the innumerable factors that make each of us unique?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Living in Technicolor

I like Chuck. I like him a lot. Chuck, in this case, is Chuck Smith Jr., the pastor of Capo Beach Calvary in Southern California.

Chuck recently wrote a book (along with Matt Whitlock) entitled Frequently Avoided Questions. What initially drew me in was one of the questions on the back cover: Can a person be both Gay and Christian? I quickly (and discreetly) opened the book to the chapter that addresses that question and read it.

What really stood out to me (and what will undoubtedly horrify some) is that the authors never directly answer the question. Rather than give an absolute yes or no followed by some densely written apologetic to beat opponents over the head with, they thoughtfully frame the issue, summarize the different conclusions Christians have reached, and then spend the rest of the chapter instructing readers how to engage in productive dialogue with those who disagree with them.

Something tells me these guys won't be getting the James Dobson Seal of Approval.

Here's how Chuck Jr. sums it up:

Though these points of view are diverse, there is something they all have in common. Advocates, who believe they have found the one right answer, have formulated them. Therefore much of the debate has been between people with differing beliefs on the subject who are trying to get others to recognize that their answer is the only correct one. This then is the old-school thinking and position: there must be and could only be one right answer to the question, Are there gay Christians? The liberals had their right answer and the conservatives had theirs, but each considered the other’s response to homosexuality to be wrong. Some people are still thinking there can only be one right answer to an issue that is as complex and diverse as the myriad personalities that find themselves confronted by this challenge.

Lest that sound like a wishy-washy, all-is-relative non-position, here's a quote from the introduction (from Matt) that encapsulates the approach they take throughout the book:

My early Christian experience was formed in a context that encouraged me to categorize every thought, action, object, and person in terms of right and wrong, black and white. I have learned since that time, however, that life is much more complex than I was led to believe. Some Christian leaders I have followed assume that the alternative to black-and-white thinking is a compromised shade of gray, but I have been learning the importance of seeing the world in color.

The world of the Bible is certainly colorful. Take grace and mercy, for example. God forgives the guilty, embraces the rebellious child, and gives his unfaithful people a second chance. Even holiness and righteousness – two very important biblical themes – are colorful, and if interpreted as black and white, they degenerate necessarily into rigid forms of legalism. When I was a new believer, I appreciated the security of living in a black-and-white world under the authority of my pastor. But more recently my growth in faith and various encounters around the world have taught me that asking questions is sometimes as important as having the answers, sometimes more important, because answers tend to signal the end of our journey, whereas questions signal its beginning.

Makes sense to me. While it may be more comfortable to live life in black and white, I have to say that the world looks a lot better in color.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Enter Stage Four

So, having reached a place in life where things no longer fit neatly into nice, simple black-and-white categories, where does that leave a person? Being pushed out of the comfortable insularity of Stage Three faith can be so disquieting that some people choose to take a step backward and forgo further growth in favor of holding onto the security of clearly-defined boundaries and allowing those in authority to provide the answers to life's difficult questions.

But is that really a life worth living? Moving on into Stage Four may be optional for most, but the consequence of rejecting growth is a life of wasted potential. God will work with us wherever we're at; if we cannot function without being told exactly what to do with no room for ambiguity, he'll oblige us, just as a parent will give a five-year-old a different set of instructions than she'd give to a twelve-year-old. But the twelve-year-old will get opportunities to experience life and interact with the world that the five-year-old could never conceive of.

Not that an individual in Stage Four really has any basis for feeling superior to those still in Stage Three. We're all still children in our own way, and just as prone to error; we simply have a different set of pitfalls to work our way around. Stage Four can be a wilderness of uncertainty and doubt. God can seem very distant and unattainable at times, and the promises that once comforted us can seem cold and empty.

The process of establishing one's identity separate from the groups that used to define it can lead to further estrangement as others still in those groups react with fear and hostility. Stage Four brings with it a desire for authenticity and independent decision-making, and a drive to integrate the different faces that one used to put forward in different settings. Such a push for autonomy and nonconformity tends to go over poorly in most groups, and so Stage Four individuals often find themselves largely (if not completely) on their own.

I feel very fortunate to have friends that I can express my questions and doubts to as I've begun the process of coming out of the closet and questioning the church's stance on homosexuality (among other things). Even so, there's coming a point where I will probably have to let go of certain relationships, including some that have been a part of my life for a very long time. I have no idea what my life will look like when I emerge from this season of redefinition, and that quite frankly scares me.

All the same, I can no more go back to what I was (has it really only been a year and a half?) than a butterfly can crawl back into its cocoon. All I can do is continue putting one foot in front of the other until I find out what lies further down the road.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Play Acting

The comics section is the one part of the newspaper I read on a daily basis; everything else is just bonus material. Yesterday's One Big Happy made me chuckle, and got me thinking too. (I'd link to the strip, but A) it's not available online yet, and B) it would get relegated to a subscription-only archive after a couple of weeks anyway.)

To summarize, the kids are playing "courtroom." Ruthie and her brother, playing the judge and prosecutor, are speaking (or at least pretending to speak) in legalese ("I up-check, yonner!" "Up-checktion over-rude!" "May I reproach the bench, yonner?" "Up-stained! I will make an ocean to search and seashore your whatever."). Finally their cousin (who's playing the defendant) admits, "I ain't gettin' none of this." To which he's told, "You just don't understand court talk, James."

What struck me about this is how a group of six-year-olds attempting to reenact a legal proceeding is quite a bit like our efforts to describe and understand God. We've gleaned a certain rudimentary understanding of who God is by studying the Bible, observing the universe and comparing notes over the course of millennia, but for all of that we still only barely know what we're talking about.

God, being far, far larger than anything we could ever begin to imagine, has to speak to us in much the same way that an adult would speak to a small child. The child simply doesn't have the knowledge or points of reference to fully understand the nuances of adult conversation. This is acknowledged at least to some extent by most Christians, who recognize that a being capable of speaking the entire universe into being is necessarily larger than we are.

So why, then, do we become so arrogant about what we do know? From the few things God has told us, we presume that we can know His will for everyone and understand all of His plans and intentions. In this we are just like the kindergartner who decides he should be boss of the playground because he's smarter than the rest of his classmates (he was the first to learn his ABC's, don't you know).

And no, I'm not advocating that all paths to God are equally valid; that seems as presumptuous as claiming that we couldn't be wrong about anything important. And I'm not suggesting that truth is completely unknowable - just that it's more than a short list of simplistic yes-or-no propositions. No matter how right we think we are, the best way to approach any disagreement is with an attitude of humility, acknowledging that the other person, whether or not they're ultimately right, may know something that we don't.

There is so much to be learned from those who disagree with us, yet so many times we as Christians proceed with the assumption that all non-Christians are wrong about everything and that anything we disagree with must be stamped out and eradicated from the face of the earth (by force, if necessary). Some Christians even hold this attitude toward members of other denominations that they only disagree with over minor points of doctrine.

And yet the same Bible that we use to pummel our opponents tells us just how limited our knowledge is. "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known." (I Cor. 13:12)

Just as a parent tells a small child what she needs to know to learn and grow, so God shows us what we need to know, through the Bible, through the people around us, and through those moments when he speaks directly to us. What he doesn't tell us is how to run everyone else's lives; we may be able to speak into their lives at particular points in time, but ultimately we can never know them intimately enough to understand God's will for their lives.

And how do we speak into another person's life? In a variety of ways, but rarely if ever through ultimatums and one-size-fits-all ten-step solutions. And seldom when we expect.

In the end, actions speak far louder and more authoritatively than words ever could. It's time to drop the superiority complex and prove that we've got something special. Do you really care about the gay couple you're "speaking the truth in love" to? Then put a lid on the rhetoric and show them your love. Whatever God may want to do in their lives, it's a lot less likely to happen if you're standing in His place and dictating to them what you think He wants.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Exit Stage Three

Earlier this year a friend of mine introduced me to James Fowler's theory about the different stages of faith. Fowler views faith as a dynamic process that takes on different forms as we enter different life stages. My friend's summary of Fowler's work can be downloaded in Word format here. It's been very helpful to me as I've sought to understand why I no longer fit in with the majority of Christians (in general, not just in terms of my personal life issues).

In a nutshell, Fowler lays out six developmental stages that people (regardless of their specific belief system) move through over the course of their life. Few ever reach Stage Six, and many never progress beyond Stage Three.

Stages One and Two are reached early in life as a child learns how to interact with the world around him (or her). Although a few individuals go through life stuck in Stage Two, the vast majority eventually move on into Stage Three.

In Stage Three, individuals develop their own worldviews, but those beliefs are still heavily dependent on the values and expectations of those around them, and tend to go largely unexamined. These beliefs are nonetheless very strongly adhered to, and people in Stage Three tend to be very loyal to the organizations they affiliate with.

Some additional features of Stage Three faith:
-The world is viewed largely in black-and-white, either/or terms.
-Individuals are primarily concerned with living up to the expectations of God and other authority figures, and with conforming to the norms of the groups they are associated with.
-One's identity is derived from one's affiliations and can't be fully conceptualized apart from those ties.
-Conflict and disagreement are seen as threatening and dangerous.

Having moved into Stage Four in my own life (more on that in another post), I find it very frustrating to try to communicate with Stage Three individuals. It's very helpful to realize that this is simply where they are in life, and that it's neither bad nor good - it just is. Unfortunately that understanding is almost never reciprocated, since few people in Stage Three can conceive of the need for a Stage Four, much less view it as valid or as anything less than a direct attack on everything that's good and proper. The best I can do is maintain relationships where I can and pray that they eventually move on to Stage Four in their own lives (and that they don't go off the deep end when they do).

For the same reason, I can barely stand to set foot in most churches anymore, since all but a few cater to the Stage Three majority and have very little tolerance for questions that can't be satisfied by the simple, pat answers they provide to their congregations. I've been fortunate to be situated in contexts where I can question and challenge without being branded a heretic, but far too few people in Stage Four have that luxury. Most leave the church altogether, and I really can't say that I blame them.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Lately I've been reading a number of books by emergent (i.e. "postmodern") Christian authors, which may not come as a surprise to anyone who's been following my blog. These books resonate with me in a way that few Christian authors and speakers ever have. They provide little in the way of concrete answers and sometimes raise more questions than they answer, yet there's an authenticity that most conservative evangelical theology seems to lack.

One idea I've gleaned from emergent theology that intrigues me is the assertion that truth is ultimately apprehended through community. You can spend your entire life listening to sermons and reading books, but if you never engage in authentic community it's worth next to nothing. No wonder so many liberal churches are stagnant, and so many conservative churches are nasty and judgmental. No wonder so many people are leaving the church, most never to return.

And no wonder the issue of homosexuality is tearing apart entire denominations. We've placed ideas ahead of people and isolated ourselves from anyone who disagrees with us. Our faith has become so heavily defined by what we believe God is against that we've lost sight of the things God is for.

We can dissect Greek verbs and cross-reference ancient texts until the Second Coming, but we can never truly know what is right until we've lived out our doctrines in the context of Christian community. We can condemn same-sex relationships until our dying breath, but what good have we really accomplished if all we succeed in doing is driving away every gay individual who refuses to conform to the exacting demands (and elusive rewards) of ex-gay ideology?

So what does that mean in practical terms? Is it possible for us to live in community with individuals we disagree with over major (or even minor) doctrinal issues? I certainly hope so, because I may never find the answers I seek any other way.

It should probably be noted that when I speak of Christian community, I'm not just talking about meeting for church and Bible study and maybe the occasional potluck. I'm talking about being actively involved in the lives of a group of people and staying committed to that group through hardship and conflict.

Having said that, the question becomes whether I'm willing to help make such a community work. Am I willing to live and work side by side with those who don't always agree with me? For that matter, am I willing to make the investment of my time, resources, energy and emotions that's necessary to build that kind of community? I'd like to say that I am, but in reality I don't know.

Of course, even if I resolve to bite the bullet and move beyond armchair Christianity, there's still the question of finding such a community. Nearly all conservative churches are out, since it's an unpardonable sin in such settings to even think about whether it might possibly be valid to consider questioning church tradition where homosexuality is concerned - and yet that's the environment I'm most familiar with. I also lean against joining an all-gay congregation, for the simple reason that I don't want to run the risk of isolating myself within any one particular subculture.

I know there are other possibilities out there; it's just a matter of finding them.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Sitting On the Fence

Doubt is a difficult feeling to live with. By nature we want definite answers to our questions, and would rather settle for questionable certainties than accept the existence of gray areas. Hence the popularity of fundamentalistic religions with their confident, unyielding answers to all of life's questions. However much it may require closing one's eyes to the countless nuances of real life that contradict those "straight answers," it's simply easier to maintain faith in a deity that tells you exactly what to think and do in any given situation. If those one-size-fits-all "biblical solutions" don't work, it's obviously the individual's fault - perhaps they didn't have enough faith, or didn't really want to be healed, or just plain did something wrong.

Or maybe life really is more complicated than we're comfortable admitting. Maybe God deals with each of us as individuals and not with a cookie cutter approach. Maybe one of the reasons the church seems to have so little power nowadays is because we're trying to prescribe simple, pat answers to complex issues. Maybe, as Brian McLaren might suggest, we're so busy fighting the battle of A vs. B that we've failed to notice that God is up above the battlefield entirely and not particularly interested in taking sides in our squabble.

And maybe all of those above statements apply to the debate over homosexuality. What if there's not a single, all-encompassing answer to the question of whether it's right or wrong? What if God says yes to some and no to others, based on His intimate knowledge of each of us and the millions of factors that make every person a unique individual? Are we willing to live in a place of less-than-absolute certainty? Can we accept a God who doesn't cater to our demands for absolutes that are small enough for us to fully grasp?

Does doubt really represent a lack of faith, or is a willingness to live with doubt the true act of faith? It's not so easy to trust a God whose answers sometimes raise more questions than they resolve.

I suppose this is one issue I'll eventually have to take a side on, at least in terms of how I choose to live the rest of my life. For now, though, I'll settle for uncertainty. What else can I do when I see God so clearly present on both sides of the fence? Both sides make statements that ring true to me, but both have their blind spots as well. From where I sit, to choose one and reject the other would be to cut myself off from an area where God is actively at work.

Perhaps it's time to tear down the fence altogether.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Fulfillment and Idolatry

It is not good for man to be alone. So said God shortly after He created Adam - and, since Genesis 1-3 was written not as a narrative to explain where we came from, but as a prescription to tell us exactly what everyone's life must look like (or so some theologians would tell us), far be it from me to say anything positive about singleness or any other state of being other than heterosexual marriage. [/sarcasm]

Not that most of us need a biblical command to drive us to seek out our fellow human beings. Our need for companionship is hard wired into the deepest part of our being; even those who genuinely have no desire to get married still have a need for human interaction, to be known, understood and affirmed.

For the rest of us, that need takes the form of longing to find that one person that we can share our lives with - our soulmate, a companion who will be with us through the good and the bad from now until death. Which creates the ultimate catch-22 for those of us unlucky enough to only be attracted to members of our own gender. We possess this God-given drive to seek out a life companion, only to be told by the church that we can never, ever have one (at least not with someone we're actually drawn to beyond the friendship level).

And who knows, maybe it really is for the best. After all, true fulfillment ultimately comes only from God and not from other human beings. Randy Thomas shares, as part of his testimony, a vision God showed him in which Jesus was weeping over the fact that he (Randy) was seeking fulfillment in the arms of another man. I see no reason to question the veracity of his experience, given how limited human relationships are in their ability to meet our needs.

What I do question, however, is the unspoken implication that Randy could have found the level of fulfillment he was seeking in a heterosexual marriage. As any of my married friends would be quite happy to remind me, it's impossible for any one person to meet all of another person's emotional needs. However inappropriate it may be to seek sexual fulfillment outside of one's marriage, it's entirely appropriate (and important) to have other relationships that are intimate in nonsexual ways.

And yet many in the church, both single and married, have an idolatrous view of marriage as the ultimate state of being, without which one can never be a truly whole individual (which is the logical conclusion of viewing Genesis 1-3 as prescriptive rather than descriptive). Is it any wonder, then, that we have a 50% divorce rate within the church when people enter marriage focused on how it will meet their needs instead of on how God wants to use them through that relationship?

So where does that leave those of us that are same-sex attracted? Most ex-gay groups are so caught up in worshiping at the altar of heterosexual marriage that they offer little beyond false hopes of orientation change, and most churches are too prostrate before that same altar to notice what's wrong with that approach. I'd really like to be married, yes (and I say that without any illusions about marriage being some idyllic state), but I don't want to live a lie - and that's exactly what I'd be doing if I bought into the ex-gay notion that I can grow into my natural heterosexuality and tried to marry a woman. So where does that leave us?

Assuming that all gay unions are unconditionally wrong (and that is an assumption, not a given), the real question becomes whether our churches are willing to be the communities they were intended to be and play caretaker to the millions who are being forced to go through life without ever marrying and building a family that could take care of them in their old age. Of course, that would require a lot of Christians to leave their comfort zones by confronting the reality that we really are here and won't be going away anytime soon, which would in turn require them to open their eyes to a world that doesn't fit neatly into prepackaged little black-and-white boxes, which would forever burst their happy little suburban bubbles -- oops, I guess I need to close that sarcasm tag again...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


It's practically trite to post about the things one is thankful for at Thanksgiving, to the point that it's probably more cool to not do so. Of course, if that's true it means that the majority will do the 'cool' thing of not posting about Thanksgiving, which in turn makes it nonconformist (and therefore cutting edge) to post about Thanksgiving. So I guess I'm safe.

For all the complaining that I've done in the month and a half or so that I've been blogging, I do have a lot to be thankful for.

-A job that pays the bills and even leaves me a little free time to feed my blogging habit.
-A warm, quiet, (relatively) clean apartment with running water, working appliances, cable television and a high-speed internet connection.
-A car that runs well and gets me where I'm going.
-An incredible mom that I can always count on to be there for me, and a family that's generally supportive even when they don't always understand me.
-A surprisingly large circle of close friends that I seriously don't deserve.
-A church that I can feel comfortable attending even on days when I'm questioning whether "Christian" and "Evangelical" are really compatible terms.
-A country in which, despite its flaws, I enjoy more freedom than 95% of the people who have ever lived.
-A general abundance of everything I need (and quite a few things I don't genuinely need).
-A God who loves me exactly the way I am, no matter what his self-appointed spokespeople may say to the contrary.

So thanks, God. I know I don't say it nearly enough.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Parable

I only wish I could take credit for this; it's beautifully written and drives its point home in a way the comments I made last week about legalism can't.

A Parable

I have hope that the emerging church will continue to develop without becoming shackled by the legalistic systems that are quietly strangling modern evangelicalism. While there are positive elements to be salvaged from that older system (which still appears to be at the peak of its power), there's a lot of old baggage that needs to be left behind if the church is to continue to prosper.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Flying Fish

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to watch Fish Can't Fly, a documentary that presents the stories of several ex-ex-gays and their experiences in Exodus-affiliated programs. I could definitely relate to much of what the speakers shared - the false expectations about "change", the shame, the denial, and the ultimate realization that the real lie is the pretense that we're all just repressed heterosexuals who haven't properly affirmed our masculinity (or femininity, as the case may be).

Peterson Toscano summed it up best with an analogy that his father came up with (and I paraphrase): you can throw a fish across the room and make it think that it's flying, at least until it smashes against the far wall. Hence the name of the documentary.

For a number of years I psyched myself into believing that I was "growing into" heterosexuality and developing an attraction toward women. I even tried the dating scene. Ultimately, though, while I could certainly enjoy the company of women as friends, there was never any spark there, nothing that could compare to the tumultuous feelings that I continued to experience around certain male friends and acquaintances (and that I desperately fought to shove down as far as possible).

And I'm not just talking about lust, though I certainly struggle with lust as much as anyone. My feelings for other men run far deeper than the physical; in fact, the handful of times that I've really fallen in love it had little or nothing to do with the other guy's looks. In short, it's every emotional dimension that I'm supposed to experience (the key words here being "supposed to") in a heterosexual relationship.

Granted, Fish Can't Fly only presents one side of the story. There are individuals who have positive experiences in ex-gay programs and stick with it for the long haul, and their stories need to be acknowledged too (as Exodus would be quick to point out). But good luck getting Exodus to acknowledge that there are people who come out of their programs with legitimate grievances.

In fact, good luck getting Exodus to acknowledge anything that doesn't advance their agenda. I can understand why Exodus spokespersons avoid admitting the fact that they (and/or many of their affiliates) have perpetuated false stereotypes about gays, promoted obsolete psychological theories, employed questionable counseling methods and even engaged directly in what could be considered spiritual abuse. After all, in the political arena you simply don't ever admit when you're wrong; such a display of weakness would be a field day for your enemies.

But Exodus is also supposed to be a Christian ministry and, by extension, an arm of the church. Last time I checked, honesty and humility were still regarded as Christian virtues - and it's in those "weak" virtues that the church's true power lies. By engaging with the world as a political entity, Exodus has lost its true power and become just another special interest group swimming in the Washington, DC cesspool.

Exodus could once again become relevant to the people it was created to help, if its leaders were willing to humble themselves, admit the mistakes they've made and apologize to those that they've hurt along the way. Such a move would most likely crush their political ambitions (and they'd quickly find out which of their religious right "allies" were merely fair-weather friends), but ultimately they would gain far more than they lost.

Will it ever happen? Certainly not under Exodus' current administration. And so those of us who seek real answers to life's difficult questions will continue to look elsewhere.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Defending 'Truth' By Telling Lies, Part 2

It's very telling how the rallying of evangelical Christians into a voting bloc has, over time, led to a willingness to play fast and loose with the truth when doing so is perceived to be in the best interests of advancing God's kingdom. Why religious right spokespeople seem to think that God won't mind if His kingdom gets built on a foundation of lies is a question we're apparently not supposed to ask, but all the same it's a question that needs to be asked.

Perhaps the most egregious example of this dishonesty is in the relentless campaign to equate homosexuals with pedophiles. Christian activists repeatedly proclaim that one third of all child molestations are committed by homosexuals.

And on the surface it's easy to see how they get away with making this claim. It is true that approximately a third of sexually abused children are boys who were molested by men. But are all of those men gay? Even without concrete evidence to the contrary, that would seem to be a questionable assertion. A few salient points to consider:

-The majority of men who abuse boys are in heterosexual relationships at the time. While that doesn't prove that they're straight, it at the very least means that they aren't going to be counted on any survey among the 3% that self-identify as gay.
-Many of the above men report being attracted to the 'feminine' attributes of prepubescent boys. By definition gay men are attracted by masculinity, not femininity.
-Rape is often more about domination and violence than it is about sex (just ask a prison inmate who's been on the receiving end). A man who lashes out in that way isn't necessarily going to be picky about the gender of his victim.
-Many pedophiles are exclusively attracted to children. A person who has no interest in adult men or women cannot meaningfully be categorized as either heterosexual or homosexual.

As for what the numbers actually say, Jim Burroway has done an excellent job of compiling the available studies to demonstrate that gay men are in fact no more likely than heterosexual men to abuse children.

All of this information is publicly available, yet apparently conservative Christian groups find it too inconvenient to investigate the truth for themselves. Then again, if they were to stick to the facts, they'd be forced to admit that the only basis they have for opposing gay rights is their interpretation of the Bible; the sociological data does nothing to support their case. Unless, of course, they do have evidence that they simply haven't shared with anyone else - but it would make little sense for them to withhold such information.

So how do we get back to valuing truth above our personal agendas?

Monday, November 14, 2005

Closeted Away

I watched the proverbial sunrise
Coming up over the Pacific and
You might think I'm losing my mind,
But I will shy away from the specifics.

'Cause I don't want you to know where I am
'Cause then you'll see my heart
In the saddest state it's ever been.

This is no place to try and live my life.

Stop right there - that's exactly where I lost it.
See that line - well, I never should have crossed it.
Stop right there - well, I never should have said
That it's the very moment that
I wish that I could take back.

I'm sorry for the person I became.
I'm sorry that it took so long for me to change.
I'm ready to try and never become that way again
'Cause who I am hates who I've been.
Who I am hates who I've been.

I talk to absolutely no one.
Couldn't keep to myself enough.
And the things bottled inside have finally begun
To create so much pressure that I’ll soon blow up.

I heard the reverberating footsteps
Syncing up to the beating of my heart,
And I was positive that unless I got myself together,
I would watch me fall apart.

And I can’t let that happen again
‘Cause then you’ll see my heart
In the saddest state it’s ever been.

This is no place to try and live my life.

-Relient K, "Who I Am Hates Who I've Been"

I know Relient K probably didn't have gay and lesbian individuals in mind when they wrote this song, but it works pretty well as a theme song for anyone coming out of the closet. There's simply nothing healthy about spending your time and energy putting on a false front in order to protect yourself from a hostile world - and yet that's exactly what the church requires of many of us, lest we come under the condemnation of our "brothers and sisters in Christ."

Why? Because we've allowed our faith to become straitjacketed by a rules-based system. Our churches have become so focused on codes of conduct that grace is more a Christianese buzzword than it is a reality in our day to day lives, and the real rule that most people live by is "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Bury your problems as deep as possible, learn how to say the right things at church and otherwise give the appearance that everything in your life is perfect because you've got Jesus, or else.

That's slowly changing in some churches as more people begin to openly address such widespread problems as pornography addiction and substance abuse, but even so there's still a heavy focus on external behavior and conformity. And really, that's the best that a legalistic system can hope to offer.

The New Testament repeatedly emphasizes that we are no longer under the oppression of the Law, and that all of its requirements can be summed up in two simple commands: Love God and love others. A lot of lip service gets paid to this idea, but it never lasts long. "Ah yes," our leaders say, "but you mustn't overlook all of the commands the New Testament gives us to illustrate what loving God and others looks like." And from that otherwise valid point they proceed to rebuild that lengthy list of rules and regulations and place us right back under a system of legalism.

Why? Because it's dangerous to allow individual believers to live their lives guided by the Spirit without a detailed set of regulations to govern their every step. Church isn't quite as tidy when people are allowed to freely disagree. It's messy and scary. Kind of like real life.

But returning to legalism always leads us back into the "don't ask, don't tell" trap. Being human, we will inevitably fall no matter how hard the church tries to micromanage our behavior. The real question is, who will be there to pick up the pieces afterward?

Legalism brings with it a feeling of safety. But ultimately it's a false security; however comfortable the closet may feel now, it eventually suffocates you. True security flows out of the knowledge that you're loved unconditionally, no matter how many times you fail, no matter what you disagree on, no matter how poorly you conform to the majority.

Legalism is rooted in fear: fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of losing your salvation. Perfect love casts out fear.

Imagine how a church that truly loved could turn the world upside down...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Friday Humor

This gave me a good chuckle, so I thought I'd pass it along:

10 reasons why gay marriage should be illegal

Whatever side of the debate you fall on, you've at least got to laugh at #5. Well, okay, you don't have to, but honestly...

Thursday, November 10, 2005


This seems to be the theme of the day within my little blog network, so now that it's on my mind too, I'll go ahead and continue the trend.

Outside of my involvement with ex-gay ministries, I've never had a place in any of my Christian circles where I could talk honestly about my attractions. And even within ex-gay contexts, you only talk about your attractions so that you can psychoanalyze them and uncover your underlying brokenness (apparently homosexuals are nothing more than walking bundles of pathological dysfunction). Any feelings I experience for another guy, according to the literature, are all rooted in either envy or narcissism, and can never amount to anything deeper than base lust.

It was quite a surprise then, as I began honestly examining myself, to discover that my attractions ran far deeper than mere surface impressions, and that ultimately I was drawn to the whole person and not just to his looks or to particular traits that I envied.

One of the common ex-gay myths is that once you start to get to know a guy, any physical attraction you feel for him will fade away. Sure, it works sometimes, just as a heterosexual guy will sometimes find that there's no spark beneath the initial 'zing' that he felt for that pretty girl at the other end of the bar. Other times, though, getting to know a guy only intensifies my feelings for him. Looking back over my life I can think of several instances where getting to know an attractive guy only made me fall in love with him all the more. And I can think of several other times where I developed an attraction to a friend I hadn't initially thought of in that way.

Not that I would have ever in a million years told them, of course. Even with my straight friends that I'm not attracted to, talking about those feelings in more than the broadest and vaguest terms is simply out of the question.

At work there's a guy who can turn me into a puddle with a single glance. Our offices are far enough apart that we don't cross paths very often (a fact that leaves me with very mixed feelings), but I thought he was incredibly cute even before I found out what a nice guy he is. Whenever we do cross paths he's always friendly, and when he smiles at me my heart practically bursts from wanting to tell him just how beautiful I think he is.

Of course, even if there were a reasonable chance that he would take that revelation well, there are some things you simply don't say in the workplace regardless of your orientation. Out of respect for him I never let my thoughts about him turn to fantasy of any sort, but all the same I find myself putting off errands that would take me too close to his office.

I suppose it's asking too much to expect that most churches will ever become safe havens where people can talk honestly about such unspeakable things. But hope springs eternal all the same...

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Defending 'Truth' By Telling Lies, Part 1

For more years than I care to remember, I was blindly loyal to the Exodus party line. I'm not just talking about their simplistic "Change is possible" slogan - which is technically true (change is an inevitable part of life) yet thoroughly dishonest (they know their audience assumes that they specifically mean orientation change, and one has to dig deeply to find the fine print that clarifies that they really mean change in behavior). I'm talking about nearly everything that Christian political groups say about gays.

At the lay level this is primarily an issue of misplaced trust. For my own part I have to take responsibility for all the years I unquestioningly accepted everything I was told about how irredeemably horrible the "gay lifestyle" was, without investigating any of those claims for myself.

At the leadership level, however, it's long past time for Christians to begin taking responsibility for the myths, half-truths and outright fabrications that they've spread (and continue to spread) about gays throughout the evangelical community and beyond. Individuals in positions of authority, especially those with a national audience, have a greater degree of responsibility to investigate the claims they're repeating. As such, it's no stretch at all to refer to such people as liars when they insist on regurgitating information that is widely known to be false.

Take, for example, the 'research' of Paul Cameron. Cameron's work (which paints a very dismal picture of the gay community) has been thoroughly debunked by the scientific community, to the point that even many evangelical leaders have publicly backed away from him. And yet his statistics still show up all the time in Christian articles, books, speeches and websites. Even supposedly scholarly theologians like Robert Gagnon uncritically parrot his statistics, either directly or by citing secondary works that quote Cameron without qualification.

An in-depth analysis of Cameron's claims can be found here. Another good expose was published recently by The Boston Globe (note: registration is required to view the full article).

(For his part, Cameron seems to sincerely believe that his research is credible. I'll leave that between him and God.)

As an example of the quality of Cameron's work, consider his most famous statistic, the life expectancy myth. In coming up with his claim that gay men have an average life expecancy in the early to mid 40s, he examined the obituary pages of a number of gay newspapers and compared the ages he found there to numbers for the general population. It doesn't take a trained researcher to understand what's wrong with his methodology. Many deaths never get reported in any newspaper, and many gay men and lesbians aren't active enough in the gay community to get a mention in the local gay newspaper.

In short, nothing meaningful can be concluded from a survey like this. The flaws in Cameron's methodology are no secret. And yet Christian activists still repeat his life expectancy estimate as though it were a scientifically verified fact.

So to those leaders I pose this simple question: If the truth is on your side, why do you feel the need to tell lies?

Monday, November 07, 2005

If Only They'd Had a Holiday Inn

If there's one thing I'm certain of in all of this, it's that the Sodom story has been misapplied as a weapon in the debate over homosexuality. A careful reading of the passages in question (Genesis 18-19 and a number of other verses throughout the Bible) reveals nothing that can be used to condemn same-sex relationships. If anything, the term 'Sodomite' seems to be more applicable to Christians who ostracize 'sinners' and drive them away from the church.

To help support that conclusion, here's an analysis I wrote a while back.

Genesis 19 - the Sodom story

The story is very familiar. God pronounces judgment on Sodom and then sends two angels to see if there are any righteous men in the city. Lot takes the visitors into his home, the men of Sodom surround the house and demand to rape Lot’s guests, and the city is destroyed the next day.

But was Sodom’s sin homosexuality? The other biblical authors didn’t seem to think so. With the possible (but unlikely) exception of Jude 7, no reference to Sodom in the Bible says or implies anything about homosexuality. Consider the following major passages: Jer. 23:13-14, Ezek. 16:48-50, Matt. 10:11-15. Wisdom 19:15-17 (from the apocrypha) even more clearly links the sin of Sodom with inhospitality.

Inhospitality? Doesn’t sound like much of a sin, does it? But consider: in the ancient world (and even into more recent times) travelers depended heavily on the hospitality of the homes they came across; finding a safe place to sleep for the night often meant the difference between life and death. The ancient world regarded hospitality as one of the highest virtues, and Jewish and early Christian tradition elevated it above all other spiritual disciplines. If a stranger showed up on your doorstep, you were morally obligated, without exception, to take him in and place his needs above your own.

And what did the people of Sodom try to do? This was no mere proposition; they clearly intended to rape and most likely kill Lot’s guests. Rape is, in general, more about domination and humiliation than it is about sex. In ancient times it wasn't uncommon for warriors to humiliate their conquered (male) opponents by publicly raping them. Such behavior has nothing to do with sexual orientation or, indeed, with sex, period. Such violent mistreatment of strangers would have been regarded as the ultimate violation of the code of hospitality.

Furthermore, if an instance of attempted homosexual rape can be used to condemn all homosexual relationships, then the heterosexual rape recorded in Judges 19 (see below) can, by the same logic, be used to condemn all heterosexual relationships.

And yes, it was the "people" of Sodom, not necessarily just the men. The word enowsh found in Gen. 19:4 most commonly refers to people in general, regardless of gender, as in Exodus 10:7 and numerous other Old Testament passages. In other words, everyone in Sodom – men, women and possibly even children – turned out to assault Lot’s visitors.

Additionally, if Sodom was plagued by roving bands of sex fiends, how did Lot and his wife and daughters escape being raped all the time they were there? Why would Lot locate his home inside the city if he was placing himself or his family in direct danger?

Jewish folklore includes stories of how the people of Sodom brutally mistreated the vulnerable (widows, beggars and travelers). In Genesis 18:20 God speaks of the "outcry" against Sodom. The term used here for "outcry" generally refers to the cry of the oppressed, not to moral outrage over sexual sin. Sodom’s fate was sealed well before God sent the angels to investigate. And Lot escaped that fate because he, by extending hospitality to these visitors and doing everything in his power to protect them, demonstrated that he was the one righteous man in Sodom.

A parallel story can be found in Judges 19. In this instance, the inhabitants of Gibeah threaten a visiting Levite in the same fashion that the men of Sodom threatened the angels. But in this case, the Levite’s concubine is offered to the crowd as a concession. The crowd accepts, raping the woman repeatedly so that she dies the following morning. Hardly the reaction one would expect from a 'gay' mob. Indeed, the theme of inhospitality is just as strong as it is in Genesis 19.

Judges 20:5 sheds further light on the true intentions of the mob, as the Levite reports, "During the night the men of Gibeah came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me." In other words, this mob wasn’t out looking for a good time - they were violent men and murderers, plain and simple.

Addendum: It's been brought to my attention that I never went back and explained why Jude 7 is an "unlikely" support for the anti-gay interpretation of the Sodom story. Here's my reasoning behind that statement:

Jude’s passing comment about the people of Sodom going after “strange flesh” is used as proof that their sin was that of homosexuality, even though it is the only biblical reference to Sodom (outside of Genesis 19) that could possibly support such an assertion. And the term "strange flesh" would be a very odd way of referring to homosexual lust. The word used here for "strange" is heteros (literally "different" – i.e. heterosexual). Placed in the context of verses 6, 8 and 9, all of which make reference to angels, Jude is apparently referring to the fact that the people of Sodom tried to rape angels.

This verse could also be a reference to Jewish legend, which states that the people of Sodom had a fetish for angels. This would make sense, since verses 6 and 9 are also taken from Jewish folklore, and Sodom is sometimes associated in Jewish writings with the Watchers (the angels who, according to the Book of Enoch, impregnated women in the pre-Flood era).

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The Debate Rolls Along

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy the gay marriage debate has continued, this time with Dale Carpenter arguing in favor. He's made a number of posts over the course of the week, so here is a link to his first entry.

I like how he gets away from the "end-of-civilization vs. civil-rights-for-all rhetoric" (as he puts it) and frames gay marriage as a conservative cause. I haven't taken the time to read through the feedback comments (which number well into the hundreds), but it's been a very lively and interesting debate. Well worth a glance no matter which way you lean on the matter.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Implications of Design

I recently heard Joe Dallas speak at a seminar. He's a good speaker, though like so many evangelicals he seems to have reached his conclusions before even beginning to interact with the data.

He did use an analogy that I thought worked pretty well, when he compared sexual promiscuity to fast food. Fast food, though filling, lacks many of the nutrients that a body needs to function healthily; likewise, promiscuous behavior satiates the sex drive for a time but ultimately leaves unmet a person's need for genuine intimacy. Of course Joe would lump all gay relationships in with heterosexual promiscuity, which seems to have more to do with his pre-drawn conclusions than it does with any actual evidence, but in terms of promiscuity (on either side of the aisle) his analogy works well enough.

Of course, it also works pretty well as a case for categorizing the consumption of fast food as sin. After all, God designed our bodies to work a certain way, and that design extends well beyond the sexual aspects of our being. Sexual sin may get considerably more attention in the Bible, but then again how much attention can we expect people to pay to nutrition in an era when most people lived at (or just slightly above) subsistence level? When the New Testament authors declared that all food was 'clean,' they were commenting on the Old Testament's purity laws, not on whether all foods were equally beneficial to one's physical health.

Our bodies, after all, are temples of the Holy Spirit, and as such we have a moral duty to treat them properly and with respect; to do otherwise can only be sin. And what are some of the ways in which we sin on a habitual basis?

-We routinely consume 'junk' foods (chips, burgers & fries, soda pop, candy bars, etc.) in large quantities, even though these substances are largely or entirely devoid of nutritional value and are a major source of many of the health problems our society faces today (heart disease, obesity, diabetes and a host of other illnesses).

-We spend our days sitting at desks, driving cars, watching TV and otherwise being largely inactive for hours or days at a time. Our bodies need the daily workout that comes from frequent walking and physical labor, and few of us adequately make up for it through our leisure activities.

-We fly around the globe on a regular basis, traveling distances in hours that used to take weeks or months to cover. As miraculous as this ability is, the sudden change in time zones is disruptive to our bodies’ internal clocks and deleterious to our health. We can bounce back quickly enough from the occasional long-distance flight, but those who travel those distances on a routine basis risk damaging their health in a very real way.

-We deprive our bodies of sleep, getting to bed late and then forcing ourselves to get up before we’re fully rested, and then we make up for that deficit by jolting our bodies awake with caffeine. Even if we sleep in on the weekend we never fully make up for that lost time.

-We fill our minds with an overload of information on a daily basis through television, radio, newspapers and magazines, and now the internet. As a result we seldom take the time we really need to pause and reflect on all of this new data.

-We treat every ailment by reaching for the latest pharmaceutical drug, going for the 'quick fix' instead of giving our bodies what they need to heal themselves. What we gain in short-term relief we more than pay for in long-term side effects.

-Our environment is filled with toxins: air pollution, pesticides, heavy metals, preservatives, artificial sweeteners, synthetic hormones and many other unnatural substances. Over time these things build up in our bodies and cause (or compound) a host of health problems.

Our bodies are wondrously designed to tolerate and compensate for such things, within limits, but when they become part of our regular lifestyle, we eventually overwhelm the body's ability to protect itself.

One can argue that the above activities are not specifically prohibited by the Bible while same-sex relationships (allegedly) are, but all the same we are polluting God’s temples with each one of them. The damage we do to our physical bodies spills over into our mental and emotional states and ultimately limits our effectiveness for God’s work. How can we not categorize such neglect as sin?

The design argument cuts both ways. If God's standards hold us to acting only within the strict parameters of His original, ideal design for our bodies, how can we say that this standard doesn't apply across the board? What makes us think we can compartmentalize activities whose effects spill out into every aspect of our lives? What makes us think that a God of absolute purity wouldn't care about all the ways we pollute our physical bodies?

Of course, such a call for holiness wouldn't go over very well in most churches...

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."


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


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


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


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?