Thursday, April 27, 2006


Ack, all of a sudden I have half a dozen different lines of thought running amok through my head. Better try to get some of them written down before they vanish.

I’ve heard it asserted that “the Bible says what it says” and that personal experience cannot be allowed to get in the way of that interpretation. And yet personal experience is an inextricable part of how we approach and interpret the Bible, regardless of how many hermeneutical principles we apply and how much time we spend considering grammar and comparative literature and cultural context. There’s simply no way to filter completely for personal bias, even when consensus is sought within a group context.

In addition, if the Bible is supposed to speak identically to all people in all situations in all times and places, then it ends up speaking to nobody, since we are all unique individuals in a constant state of growth (or at least change), and none of us can be reduced (except in the broadest, shallowest terms) to some universal “everyman.”

The beauty of being able to sum up all of the Law in two simple commands (love God and love others) is that it frees us to evaluate every action on an individual basis, taking into account the people involved and the facts of the situation; no list of dos and don’ts, no matter how detailed, can ever anticipate what the correct response would be for every possible situation. Such lists can be very useful, but as soon as they become straitjackets they become part of the problem.

This basic reality of life is one of the major reasons for the existence of our jury system. Any competent judge can rule on the facts of a case, in all but the murkiest of situations, but even if the letter of the law has been violated, our legal system recognizes that a crime hasn’t necessarily been committed. The letter of the law can, in fact, be an enemy of the greater good in some situations. By impaneling a group of twelve ordinary citizens with no direct interest in the case, no political power base to protect and every interest in making their community a safer yet freer place to live, a defendant can be acquitted, regardless of the evidence against him, if the average member of the community would agree that the defendant’s actions aren’t deserving of punishment.

Granted, even the jury system is prone to error and sometimes produces unjust verdicts, but a better human system has yet to be devised. And given that even theologians of similar ideological bent can (and do) disagree about exactly what constitutes the letter of God’s law, how could we ever hope to thrive by treating every situation we face as though it were identical to one written about thousands of years ago by people whose lives, cultures and languages were radically different from ours?

That’s not to say that the Law is without value. It shows us how God spoke to his people in times past, and how they responded, for better or for worse, to the situations they found themselves in. But to assume that we can directly apply those commands and actions to our own lives as if they were written in English for an American audience is quite frankly sloppy, lazy and potentially even more dangerous than it would be to discard the Law entirely.

The letter of the law kills. It’s worth repeating that as many times as necessary.

Monday, April 24, 2006

New Word

In a recent conversation with a friend, I came up with a word that, to my knowledge, hasn't been discovered before. At the very least, a Google search came up empty (and if Google can't find it, it must not exist)**. So here it is, for inclusion in Webster's next edition:

Evangetroll (i-'van-j&-'trOl) - An individual who posts on blogs or discussion boards for the sole purpose of notifying others that they're going to hell. Message content includes citation of scripture verses, heavy use of Christianese terminology and a call for repentance. Although some evangetrolls will return to carry on an argument with those who refuse to repent, none have any interest in actual dialogue. Evangetrolls are undoubtedly sincere in their intentions, yet utterly oblivious to the fact that their heavy-handed approach invariably destroys any chance they might have had of winning over their conversion targets.

An example of the type of message typically left by an evangetroll:

"I was deeply saddened to come across your blog/website/message board and see that you've chosen to lead a sinful gay lifestyle. Please go read Romans 1:26-27, Leviticus 18:22, Genesis 1-2, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Genesis 19, since you're obviously completely unaware of their existence given that you'd immediately fall to your knees and repent the instant you saw what they apparently seem to say about your wicked ways (on which I am an expert, even though I don't actually know any gay people). I say this because I love you and care about your eternal soul, even though I don't actually know anything about you, don't want to get to know you and haven't read any of your blog/website/message board beyond the fact that it contains the word 'gay' in a context that's not completely negative and derogatory as any good Christian site would."

Well, okay, that's not how they'd actually word it, but that is how it comes across. So remember, kids: Just say 'No' to evangetrolling.

**Incidentally, came up empty too, though it did helpfully suggest, "Did you mean sphincteral?"

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Some time back I came across this article in Southern Voice about a screening of an ex-gay video in Atlanta. For the most part such gatherings (and the articles about them) are nothing out of the ordinary, but the writer made one comment that really stood out to me:

Still, showing "I Do Exist" to the eight hopeful homosexuals who attended the movie with me was false advertising. I asked another ex-gay ministry leader in attendance if this really works.

He smiled and said it is important for all people to know that they can run the race, and if even one makes the finish line, it is a great victory for God.

I don't know about him, but I care about the people who can't finish this race.

That last statement really resonated with me, because I've often wondered the same thing. What about all of those who drop out of ex-gay ministries, for whatever reason? Why does Exodus (and the church at large) care so little about them that it treats them as enemies?

I don't want to paint all ex-gay ministries with a broad brush, but even knowing that some leaders (at least at the local level) do genuinely care doesn't change the fact that those who choose not to devote their entire lives to the ex-gay path are treated by most conservative Christians as pariahs and never given another positive thought.

Getting back to the quote from the article, it reminds me of Jesus' parable about the shepherd who left his 99 sheep on the hillside to search for the one that was missing (Matt. 18:12-14). What do you suppose that shepherd would do if 99 had wandered off and only one was left in his custody? And yet the church seems to be content to parade the one around like a trophy while writing off the rest of the flock.

Of course, many conservatives would claim that they are trying to reach out to gays by throwing scripture verses in their faces and telling them how evil they are. But empty rhetoric aside, there's no real love in such an approach, and certainly nothing resembling compassion or respect for the fact that they're addressing fellow human beings. Conservatives hide behind the notion of "tough love" to justify such actions, but to call it a biblical approach takes more than a little creative interpreting.

But then, the conservative church is far more selective than it would ever admit about which biblical commands it takes seriously. And that, in turn, makes it more than a little difficult to take the conservative church seriously. Why would I accept someone as a biblical authority whose actions and lifestyle don't reflect the priorities of the One they claim to speak for?

For my part it's not the Bible I question, but those who insist that their interpretation of its contents is infallible. As I get older I find myself less and less impressed by those who can devise elaborate theological systems based on their ability to conjugate Greek verbs and cross-reference historical documents and far more interested in those whose lives and actions genuinely reflect the priorities that Christ modeled during his time on this earth, whether or not their doctrine is entirely "pure".

Talk is cheap; show me your love and your compassion through your actions, and then maybe I'll listen to what you have to say.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Eventually Stage Five

Back in December I discussed the transition I'd made in my faith from Stage Three to Stage Four (speaking in terms of James Fowler's Stages of Faith). But Stage Four isn't the end of the journey. Many who grow to this point will settle here without moving on to Stage Five (just as many never move past Stage Three), and there's nothing bad about that, per se. But there is more growth to be had.

In Stage Five individuals take an apparent step back as they reintroduce a sense of awe and wonderment into their beliefs. This time, however, that humble stance is the result of a greater understanding of just how large and complex the universe (and the God who created it) really is. Black and white still exist, but they can't be reduced to the simple, two-dimensional propositions that those in earlier stages embrace so readily. Instead, truth must be viewed from two or more different angles at the same time in order to come to a more complete understanding.

As a caveat, let me reiterate that these are developmental stages, and as such not necessarily indicative of the quality of an individual's relationship with God. They apply generally to adherents of any belief system (religious or otherwise) and refer to how individuals perceive and interact with the world around them.

In some ways I can already identify with Stage Five, though I think I'm still thoroughly Stage Four in other ways. I recognize the complex and often paradoxical nature of truth, and as such have little patience for the reductionistic either/or propositions that most Christians seem content to settle for.

By reducing God to something that they can fully define and understand, their faith becomes a lifeless husk. The teachings of the Bible become the last word in the conversation rather than the first, the end of our journey instead of our starting point, a shell that smothers and constricts rather than a skeleton that facilitates movement and growth.

Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly — mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? (I Cor. 3:1-3)

Few people in our churches show any signs of moving beyond spiritual infancy. I can understand why - it's difficult and more than a little scary to truly wrestle with one's faith and learn how to think for oneself, especially when we can settle for being spoonfed a list of dos and don'ts every Sunday. But how much are we missing out on because we refuse to grow up?

Like the Daleks from Dr. Who, so many people - Christian or otherwise - devote their lives to taking orders and trying to exterminate that which is different from them that they never learn how much more there is to this life, and to what God is waiting to show them just as soon as they grow beyond simple conformity. And to even attempt to explain such a notion to them is to become a target for their extermination (i.e. "conversion" or "repentance") efforts.

It's not easy to leave that comfort zone. But what adult would seriously want to go back to being wrapped up in diapers and confined to a crib and fed from a bottle, however appealing it may sound in difficult moments? Growing up may not be easy, but the rewards are far greater than any to be found in the nursery.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


JJ has commented on more than one occasion that something I wrote accurately expressed her own feelings on a topic, but this time I get to return the compliment.

In this post and this one she drives home the point that our sexuality, far from being mere feelings of lust and physical gratification, permeates our entire being in ways that we can only begin to unravel, and affects nearly everything that we do. As a result, we cannot suppress and deny that facet of our identity without also shutting down large segments of our personality and talents and becoming a mere shadow of what we could be.

Perhaps my primary impetus for seeking more help when I began attending the local Exodus-affiliated ministry two years ago was the realization that I was slowly dying inside as I continued to shut off more and larger chunks of myself in an attempt to kill my same-sex attractions. Of course, my journey since then has taken me in directions I never could have imagined, but the point is that it wasn't until I began to acknowledge and accept that part of myself - and in the process came to the realization that God loves me exactly the way I am - that I was able to find healing and reconnect with the rest of the world.

Granted, the healing and growth that accompany the whole "coming out" process don't, by themselves, automatically imply that God would approve of my having a sexual relationship with another man, but they do directly contradict the ex-gay notion that I need to adopt the facade of a "heterosexual identity" while actively working to eradicate my same-sex attractions.

I wonder how much of the sexual addiction that so many individuals in ex-gay circles struggle with is the result of being led to believe (however indirectly) that we're unacceptable to God as we currently are. For my part, I (like JJ) have found that I'm significantly less obsessed with sex than I was before I began coming to terms with who and what I am. Life is still far from perfect, of course, and I still need to be just as careful about what situations I put myself in, but I'm nonetheless far freer than I used to be.

Even the appeal of pornography has gradually diminished, as I increasingly find myself thinking of the people involved as living, feeling three-dimensional human beings, which in turn sabotages my efforts to use them as tools for self-gratification.

Perhaps someday the evangelical church will start viewing gay people as living, feeling three-dimensional human beings, and in the process rediscover the depth and breadth of its own humanity.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


So how does a person become homosexual? As the existence of intersexed people demonstrates, God's original template for humanity may have been male and female, but since then he's allowed genetic variance to create exceptions to that norm. And sexual identity has proven to be an even more complex issue, as there's no simple "gay gene" to answer the question for us. Recent research does increasingly suggest that genetics plays some role in the development of sexual orientation, but nothing has been found that definitively settles the matter.

On the other end of the spectrum, conservative Christians (at least the ones educated enough to understand that it's not a matter of choice) still generally hold to the idea that same-sex attractions are entirely psychological, most commonly through Elizabeth Moberly's theory of the "defensive detachment."

For my part I can fit my early life experiences into Moberly's model (poor relationship with same-sex parent) well enough that I accepted it without question when I first read it. But even aside from the fact that there are millions of people who don't conform to that stereotype - both gay individuals who had good relationships with their same-sex parent as children and straight people who didn't - there are things that no psychological theory can adequately account for.

Of course, the stock response to such criticism is that it's all in the child's perceptions, and that therefore a boy who's beaten daily by his father can still turn out straight, while one who's deeply loved and affirmed by his dad can still turn out gay, all because of some subconscious misunderstanding on the child's part. Which, of course, can conveniently never be disproven since it's pure speculation and completely untestable.

This utter disregard for the scientific method is one of the reasons that the APA and its sister organizations pay little attention to Moberly's theory and its variants, Exodus and NARTH's cries of "politics" notwithstanding. ("Hello, kettle? This is the pot. You're black.")

It is plausible that same-sex attractions are purely psychological for some individuals. Reparative therapy does reportedly work for a subset of those that have sexual abuse in their backgrounds. For the rest of us? Not so much. And if Moberly's theory was true for everybody (or even the majority), one would expect her solution to work for more than a tiny number of people.

But that still leaves questions unanswered. If I'm gay because I patterned myself after my mother instead of my father, why didn't I develop more effeminate mannerisms? Why have I never had the slightest desire to dress like (much less to actually be) a woman, if I wanted to be just like mom? And could that patterning really be adequate to explain why I've been largely non-aggressive from birth?

Interestingly enough, NARTH has provided an answer to these questions, though not all of its members would endorse my application of their own evidence. In the article Gender Differences Are Real by Frank York, Dr. York refutes the notion promoted by some radical feminists that the differences between male and female are purely societal constructs by arguing first from genetics (the most obvious difference) and then from hormonal differences. He demonstrates how gender-specific behaviors are determined by hormones – testosterone and other androgens in males, estrogen in females – as illustrated by the following example:

At the University of Wisconsin, researchers injected testosterone into unborn female monkeys. Monkeys engage in very sex-stereotyped behavior, according to Stossel; the males are aggressive and fight, while the female monkeys typically groom and nurture the young. When the testosterone-injected females were born, they didn't groom or nurture their children. They fought and behaved like males.

Although the article pays only passing lip service to the ramifications of this point, the conclusion is clear: if gender-normal behavior is dictated by prenatal hormone levels, then gender-abnormal behavior (effeminacy and lack of aggression in males, tomboyish behavior in females) logically has its roots in the same source.

It's a complicated line of study that scientists will no doubt need years to investigate fully, but it shows promise. Most perplexing, perhaps, is the fact that, while hormones have a direct impact on physical development as well as mental (as evidenced by the effects of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome), most homosexuals are largely indistinguishable from their heterosexual counterparts in physical terms (with the possible exception of brain development).

Some ex-gay proponents have begun to acknowledge the likely role of hormones in the development of sexual orientation, though they would still argue that hormonal (and/or genetic) influences create, at most, an increased propensity toward homosexuality that is still fully dependent on a psychological element (and therefore curable). Whether or not they can come up with a testable theory that's worthy of mainstream consideration remains to be seen.

Ultimately, of course, the question of how people become homosexually oriented is a peripheral issue (albeit a very interesting one). Conservative Christians would continue to regard all gay relationships as unconditionally wrong even if a purely 'natural' (i.e. genetic) cause was found, just as you wouldn't see gay couples splitting up in droves to pursue celibate lifestyles if their attractions were proven to be purely psychological. And both sides would have a valid argument for maintaining their respective positions. In the end, the morality of acting on one's attractions is not dependent on how one came to have those attractions.

Despite that, the question of origin remains a muddy one. It's simple human nature to reach one's conclusions first and then work backwards to tailor the evidence to fit those conclusions, and people on both sides of the aisle are equally likely to do so. Christians, of course, are inclined to defend their bias by arguing that they're working backwards from God's conclusions, but in the end it's just the same old eisegesis in fancier packaging.

Someday, maybe, the picture will become clearer...

Monday, April 03, 2006

Six Months

Hard to believe it's been half a year since I started this whole blogging thing. When I first started out, I figured I'd run out of things to say within a couple of months at best. Who knew I'd find so much to ramble on about?

Of course, in another sense it feels like this is something I've always done, and that it couldn't have only been six months since my very first post. Blogging has become such an integral part of my life that I could hardly imagine not doing it - though I still worry about running out of things to write about.

I also find it somewhat amazing that I have an actual audience. Not a huge one by any standards, but just the fact that anyone outside of my immediate family is interested enough in what I have to say to keep coming back here feels like an accomplishment of sorts.

So thanks for reading. With any luck, I'll still be typing away (and a few people will still care) when it comes time to celebrate my one-year anniversary in the fall. Given how far God has brought me since last October, I can only imagine what my life will look like six months from now...