Thursday, June 28, 2007

Conference Bound

I'm off in the morning (way too early - *thunk*) to fly to California for the Ex-Gay Survivors' Conference. It's also an opportunity for me to catch up with a number of friends, some that I've met before and some that I haven't. If you belong to that group, I look forward to seeing you.

The term 'survivor' makes me feel a little out of place, since my last experience with an ex-gay ministry was largely positive, and since three of my closest friends are individuals that I met there. At the same time, I do understand the anger and frustration of feeling lied to - not by that ministry but by many other Christian organizations and speakers who convinced me that I was unacceptable to God unless I developed heterosexual attractions, who told me that homosexuality was an addiction that inevitably led to a life of utter depravity.

I could go on, but after 150+ posts and nearly two years I'd just be repeating myself. And right now I need to finish packing so I can get to bed early. Morning will be coming sooner than usual, and I've got a busy weekend ahead of me.

If I don't see you there, I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Gifts Differing

I've always struggled with the question of exactly where I fit into the larger picture of church life. In retrospect I'm sure a lot of the problem revolved around the fact that I was investing so much of my energy into repressing a large part of who and what I am (and unpacking all of those knotted areas is turning out to be a lifelong process), but whatever the reasons I've never been certain of my spiritual gifts.

I'd take spiritual gift inventories whenever the opportunity presented itself, and invariably I'd score low across the board and end up picking among whichever scores weren't quite as low as the others - usually gifts like service and giving that you can score points in without feeling any particular inclination for or against.

As a result of that a lot of my involvement in church has centered around tasks such as helping with set up and tear down before and after services. I don't want to denigrate such jobs by any means; I didn't mind doing them and in some cases even enjoyed the work, and there's certainly no dishonor in working quietly behind the scenes, but it's always felt like there was something else I was meant to do - something I couldn't quite put my finger on.

It makes me wonder if part of the problem isn't our rules-based approach to our faith, in which all of the Bible's narratives and conversations and poems exist solely to be broken apart into lists and formulas with which we can regiment every aspect of our earthly existence. The spiritual gifts that Paul mentions in his letters always seemed more like examples than like a complete list - especially since we have to piece that list together from multiple places, and since it's less than clear what some of those gifts actually are.

Not that our legalistic approach to the question is necessarily intentional; it's only natural that we would gravitate toward what we can positively identify in the process of trying to figure out what tasks each of us is gifted to perform.

But what if Paul's examples only tell part of the story? What if, by assuming that every Christian's calling can be defined by one or two of the roles on our short list, we're limiting and even hampering the work that God wants to do through the church? Just as the physical body seemed a much simpler thing back when science only knew to define it in terms of those organs and functions observable by the naked eye, so, perhaps, a spiritual body composed of millions of unique individuals might be more complex than the early church, with a total membership in the thousands, could have imagined.

That possibility raises questions for which there are no simple answers, but then again, that just makes it consistent with the rest of life. As with so many things we see that the Bible works best when we regard it as our foundation instead of as the entire building.

Instead of focusing on which box a person fits in, what if we were to help them identify what they're passionate about and what they can do about it? Instead of worrying about what job title to give them up front, why not help them custom design the job according to their abilities and the needs they're in a position to meet, and then consider afterward whether or not the result fits into our predefined categories? And while we're at it, let's not assume that any labels we can apply to them now will continue to fit indefinitely.

That's all theoretical, of course, and it's also possible that I'm having delusions of grandeur where my own gifts are concerned. It's probably stretching a bit too far to hope that blogging counts as a spiritual gift. I certainly enjoy blogging and feel like I need the creative outlet, and someday I hope to look back and see how God used all of this in some positive way, but it could never serve as a substitute for being involved in a local community.

And so the journey goes on, as it always does.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Allure of Power

I've written numerous times about the dangers inherent in any attempt by the church to wield political power as a means of accomplishing its mandates (a click on the Politics label will take you to all of them). In those posts I've focused primarily on the religious right, due to its current ascendance in the American political scene, but all of those warnings apply equally to the religious left.

Andrew Sullivan sums it up nicely:

The problem with Christianity for those who seek earthly power is that Jesus explicitly renounced such power. Socialism and left-liberalism and "compassionate conservative" are really devices with which the state assumes the moral obligations of the individual - and increasingly robs the individual of the resources to be charitable herself. Christianism - of both left and right - is not just a variation of Christianity. It's an attempt to coopt Christianity to empower the political leader. That's why the politicians like it: it gives them the moral highground, and more money, and eventually more power. All of which leads to less freedom and less genuine faith.

Every moral crusade begins with the purest of motives and with a genuine desire to improve everyone's quality of life. Unfortunately the cost of bending the full force of governmental power to achieve those ends comes with a very high price tag - one nobody would willingly pay if the cost were made apparent up front. Coerced virtue is no virtue at all, and the damage that coercion does to the human spirit affects the one doing the coercing as surely as it does the one being coerced.

Power corrupts. Use sparingly.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

A Moment of Beauty

This dance (the Thousand Hand Guanyin) is even more amazing when one realizes that all of the performers are deaf...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dream On

Every time I read about another kid whose parents have kicked him or her out of the house for being gay, I think about how nice it would be to be in a position to take some of these kids in.

Right now it's out of the question since my place is too small to accommodate another person, and I could only afford a larger home if I had a roommate who could help defray the cost. It also seems like the sort of thing a couple would be better suited for. Not that a single person couldn't help kids in that situation, but temperamentally I'm not sure that I'd be well suited to the task by myself.

Still, God's done far bigger things with people who were even more inadequate to the task at hand than I would be, so who knows what may happen a couple years down the road. Dreams that God is behind have a way of becoming reality no matter how formidable the obstacles standing in the way.

So I guess I won't write off that particular notion just yet.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Slowly but surely, evangelicals are shedding the fundamentalistic baggage that has so heavily colored (and poisoned) American Christianity for the better part of the last century. The most recent signs of that progress:

1. Jim Wallis. I may not always agree with his political views, but I respect what he has to say. Key quote:

But I've not found that. My gay friends are also friends with my family. And they're glad that we have a healthy heterosexual relationship and a healthy relationship with our kids. But they want to be respected too — their rights, their relationships — and not be scapegoated for things that have nothing to do with them.

I had this conversation with Focus on the Family, and I said I agree with you that family breakdown is a huge crisis, a serious crisis. And I don't think the Left talks about that enough. My neighborhood is eighty percent single parent families. You can't overcome poverty with that, with eighty percent single parent families. But how do we reweave the bonds of marriage, family, extended family, and community, to put our arms around the kids? And it's not just in poor neighborhoods. Kids are falling through the cracks of fractured family in all classes and neighborhoods. So I said to them, I want to rebuild family life and relationships, but explain to me how gay and lesbian people are the ones responsible for all that? which is what their fund-raising strategy suggests. And after about an hour and a half they conceded the point. They said, Okay Jim, we concede that family breakdown is caused much more by heterosexual dysfunction than by homosexuals. But then they said, We can't vouch for our fundraising department, which says a lot, I think.

Not that it tells us anything we didn't already know about Focus on the Family, but it's nice to have someone with evangelical credentials finally point it out.

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

2. David Scholer. I'd never heard of him before reading this article, which appears to be my loss. He sounds like somebody who could be a positive influence on those (at Focus on the Family and elsewhere) for whom "compassion" means wrapping their condescension in a layer of velvet. Key quote:

Students will often hear him say that a sign of maturity is to be able to "live with ambiguity."

As he describes it, he tells each class something like this:

"People who think they have all the answers to all of life's questions are fake. You have no right to oppose women in ministry until you have made a friend who is called to ministry and you've listened to her story. You have no right to make a statement about homosexuality until you have made friends with a Christian homosexual person. The conclusion you draw is another issue."

Hat tip: Of Course, I Could Be Wrong

Neither article actually states what either of these men believe about gay relationships from a theological standpoint, but that's secondary to the impression I get that both of them would treat me with respect - an impression I've rarely gotten from anyone at Exodus or Focus on the Family, much less from any of their political allies.

A healthy friendship can thrive without conformity of opinion, but it can't last long without mutual respect - and unfortunately too many evangelicals have been taught that those who disagree with them on those issues deemed important by their churches are not worthy of their respect.

That's beginning to change, but it's an agonizingly slow process at times.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Perfect Love

Cross-posted from Ex-Gay Watch

Every time I recount the story of how I transitioned from a place of unquestioning acceptance of ex-gay ideology into the journey that I find myself on today, it comes out a bit differently as I focus on different aspects of what was, at the time, a far more complex process than a few pages of text could ever fully capture. But if there's one pivotal event that I hope I adequately account for in every retelling, it's how I came to truly understand, for the first time, that God loves me exactly the way I am, and that I don't have to change who or what I am to earn his acceptance.

It’s equally important to understand that God brought me to this point before I began questioning everything I’d been taught by the church about my “condition,” and not the other way around. I certainly didn’t interpret God’s unconditional acceptance as a license to do whatever my whims might happen to dicate, and I still don’t.

Words cannot fully convey just how revolutionary it was to come to the realization that not only did I not have to become somebody else in order to appease God, but he didn’t want me to be somebody else. Yet somebody else was precisely what I was trying to become through my efforts to “reclaim my natural heterosexuality.”

For better or for worse, whether because of genetics, hormones, psychological influences or some combination of the three, my homosexuality is a permanent, integral part of who I am, and God made it clear to me that he wasn’t interested in fundamentally altering the personality of somebody he had already fallen in love with, as even a partial shift in orientation would have entailed for me. Maybe it’s different for someone whose attractions were more fluid to begin with, but I wouldn’t know.

Again, the enormity of that revelation can only be appreciated if it’s understood that I was still fully committed at the time to the idea that my only alternative to heterosexual marriage was lifelong celibacy. Sure, the breadth and depth of God’s love was taught in the churches and programs I’d attended over the years, but there were always qualifications and stipulations and all sorts of implied exceptions.

Although it was generally understood that my orientation was not sinful in and of itself, virtually every Christian book, radio program, lecture and sermon I was exposed to over the course of my life made it abundantly clear that homosexuality was a tremendous evil on par with the very worst atrocities recorded in our history books. The very clear implication of all of that was that any good Christian in my position should strive to eradicate even the temptation to commit such a horrendous sin lest God’s wrath immediately descend upon me.

It might seem odd to an outside observer, but it’s internally consistent given that most strains of conservative Christian theology emphasize, to one degree or another, that every last one of us is pond scum, completely incapable of doing anything good on our own and valuable only because God chose to value us despite our inherent worthlessness. In theory, Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf empowers us to love him in return and to do good deeds.

In practice, the lessons drummed into me in church every Sunday led me to a life of fear - fear of what God would do to my worthless self if I didn’t say and do all the right things, fear of what God will do to those I love if I can’t persuade them to adopt my beliefs and standards, and fear of the terrible judgment God will pour out on our nation if his followers can’t bring enough of our neighbors to repentance.

I know I’m not the only one who has lived in that fear. It may not be openly acknowledged, but it’s a silent presence in more than a few churches. It lurks just behind the semi-permanent smile of the person who inserts “Hallelujah” or “praise God” into every other sentence just as surely as it drives the crusader who’s constantly badgering nonbelievers and “heretics” about their eternal destiny. And then there are those who just keep their mouths shut and their heads down and follow along without making too many waves, as I did.

But if “perfect love drives out fear,” as we’re told in 1 John 4:18, then something must be amiss in our churches. If fear is ever our motivation for doing anything, then perhaps it’s time for us to stop and reexamine what we really believe, underneath what we claim to believe.

All of that isn’t to say that I was never motivated by love for God, but even that love was tainted by fear - not the reverential ‘fear’ that the righteous have for God, according to the Bible, but the kind of love mixed with fear that a child might have for an abusive parent.

In truth, God was never an abusive parent. But deep down inside, beneath all of the theology I’d been taught, I didn’t really believe that he loved me. He tolerated me, if only because he couldn’t get around his own promises, but only as long as I stayed off the furniture and didn’t cause any trouble. It took a lot for God to finally break through all of the noise from the condemning voices running through my head, and those old tapes still rear up to haunt me from time to time.

Nothing has ever been as liberating and empowering as understanding - truly understanding - that I am loved, without reservation or qualification of any kind. I’ve heard so many times how freedom is supposed to come from obeying God’s laws. Obedience to God’s voice is certainly an important part of the Christian life, but it’s not the true source of our power.

If rules and regulations could liberate us, then totalitarian governments would be the greatest source of freedom known to mankind. God frees us, not by placing us back under the Law, but by giving us the one thing we desire and need more than any other: unconditional acceptance. Such unqualified love enables us to do the right thing in a way no set of rules could ever accomplish. Not because we’re “supposed to,” or because we fear being slapped down for our missteps, but because we know that we are valuable, and that those around us are valuable, and that nothing in the entire universe can strip any of us of our incalculable value.

For those that choose the ex-gay path in response to a genuine understanding of God’s unconditional love, I wish them the best on their journey. For those that choose it as a result of fear, obligation, misinformation or some combination of the three, I pray that one day they too will come to experience the freedom that no legalistic system can ever deliver.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Nope, Still Gay

Tonight, while I was at dinner with some friends, we got to watch a belly dancer perform. She was a beautiful woman and a very talented dancer, and it was fascinating watching her different moves. It was a purely academic fascination, though; even when she danced right up next to me, there wasn't even the slightest spark.

Not that I was really questioning my orientation, but it did remind me of the little mind games I used to play back when I was trying to become straight. Maybe the guy in this video can relate.

And yes, I know, you've probably all seen this by now, but hey, he's cute.