Love Won Out Indianapolis: General Impressions

December 3, 2007

Love Won Out came to Indianapolis, which is within borderline daytrip driving distance from me, and I’d never seen it before, so I decided to go. 

I expected that it would make me really angry.  While I had never been to a major conference before, I had occasionally gone to hear those sorts of speakers when they came to churches, Christian music festivals, etc., and nearly every time I burned with anger inside.  (John Paulk made me the maddest–FYI, if you ever want to get me to see red, just talk about antigay bullying dismissively. I think the psych term here is “trigger.” )    Well, this conference was not just going to be one talk and one speaker, but a whole Family Values Extravaganza! 

So I decided I had to sucker Mr. DM into coming with me.  He’s a calm and gentle person, “very Zen” as my mom puts it, maybe not unflappable but very difficult to flap.  And it’s contagious–he tends to have a calming and comforting effect on me as well when we’re together.  With him by my side, no matter how bad it got, I would have a refuge, a little isle of sanity in the midst of it all.  Without him, I suspected I would do something before the day was half over that would get me kicked out.

He complained when I first suggested it. “You can’t stand Focus on the Family!  This is just going to make you ornery all weekend, and if the Patriots lose on Sunday on top of this, you’re going to be impossible to live with!”  But I sweet-talked my little lips off, assuring him I would make it worth his while, and eventually he agreed to accompany me.  (It’s not true, by the way, that I can’t stand Focus on the Family.  I have come to acknowledge that they have done some pastorally valuable things for heterosexual couples and families.  I just don’t appreciate what they’ve done in the culture war, and particularly what they’ve done on the subject of homosexuality.) 

As it turns out, I didn’t get angry, for the most part.  But we’ll talk about that later on.

There’s not much I can say about LWO that hasn’t already been said better elsewhere, so I’m just going to use these posts for my own scattered personal observations and reflections.  If you want a basic introduction to LWO, you can look at their website.  For excellent reviews which I am probably 90+% in agreement with, check out Eve Tushnet here (scroll down to June 15, there’s a whole passel of posts) for a chaste queer perspective or Jim Burroway here for a not-so-chaste queer perspective.  Jim also has podcasts and YouTube video presenting his take on the conference–I recommend the podcasts but in my humble opinion the videos are too short and soundbitey to be informative.  So I’m going to assume that you know what the game is and who the players are.  The truth is I don’t feel like explaining LWO, especially since it would be like reinventing the wheel, and crappily at that.  But for whoever wants my random thoughts and personal impressions, here they are.  This post will be general stuff…then I’ll do specific posts for specific speakers/talks.

One caveat:  As I think everyone knows, I did not go into this conference with a clean slate.  I tried to see and hear accurately, and tried to avoid imposing my preconceptions on what people said.  But I’m not sure I succeeded, simply because of the sheer amount of baggage involved for me.  I invite correction on any points where people think I got LWO wrong.  I will be the first to admit that I don’t understand the exgay mainstream or the family values conservative crowd very well.   

The Event

Driving in, we saw a small cluster of protesters in the dark (Indianapolis at 7:45 am on the day before the end of Daylight Savings is pitch black!), no more than 15 I’d say.  The only sign I could make out then was “PFLAG.”  There were no protesters when we went out for lunch.  We counted 12 on our drive out at the end of the day–I tried to make eye contact and smile and give a friendly nod to each as we drove slowly by, but mostly got blank stares from dour faces.  One guy finally did grin back at us and wave; we waved back of course.  I was shocked at how somber they all seemed–they wore the same vaguely constipated looks of solemn judgment that the quiet brand of antigay protesters wear.  I understand they must have been saddened by the goings-on inside the church, but to me it seems like a poor way to change hearts and minds.  It wasn’t very seductive. 

As far as audience make-up goes…parents (with and without teenaged offspring in tow) were definitely a majority of attendees, but maybe not much more than that, by my very rough guesstimates.  There was a HUGE “concerned citizen” contingent.   (Seemed like 30+% to me by the show of hands.) I was pleasantly surprised by the number of homo-attracted people I saw, assuming my gaydar is still worth anything.  Although they were by far the smallest group, the numbers weren’t negligible at all.  A lot of people crammed into the room for the one talk which was ostensibly devoted to strugglers’ issues. 

I think (though I am not sure) that this conference didn’t beat up parents as much as earlier ones had.  (Not having Nicolosi around probably helped out with that!)  I didn’t have the chance to pursue deep conversations with those around me, but eavesdropping and observing suggested that while they were concerned, they weren’t as devastated as I’ve heard parents can be.  But I could have just attended the wrong breakout sessions. 

The speaker lineup included Joe Dallas, Mike Haley, Melissa Fryrear, Dick Carpenter, Nancy Heche, Jeff Johnston, Bill Maier, and Scott Davis.  Alan Chambers was supposed to speak but was unable to be there at the last minute, due to what Mike Haley described as “a family crisis.”  I managed to hear a little something from everyone except Maier and Davis–Davis only spoke to youth, and somehow I just didn’t manage to squeeze Maier in.   (Mr. DM and I both lived in the Boston area in the wake of Goodridge, so we have heard more than a lifetime’s worth of rhetoric on the apocalyptic consequences of gay marriage, which is what Maier’s talk was about.  When I invited him to make suggestions for which breakout sessions we should attend, he said “Well definitely NOT that one!”)

Messages

The Conference Packet contained a statement on “Heterosexuality and Homosexuality,” which was intended to sum up FOTF’s view of the subject.  In some parts they wanted to have their cake and eat it too, I thought.  They proclaimed that Focus “stands against” any efforts to deny gay people rights or “deprive them of employment or housing or harass them in any way.”  At the same time, they “take strong exception to the activist movement that seeks to gain special privileges and protected minority status for the homosexual community.”  In other words, they don’t think gay people should be discriminated against in employment or housing, but they don’t think they should be protected against such discrimination either.  Which…I dunno.  I’m not clever enough to wrap my mind around the sophistication of that view. 

I was surprised by the sobriety of the closing sentences of the statement: 

Focus on the Family has seen that by God’s grace and through compassionate counseling and support, it is sometimes possible–although difficult–for a person to move from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation.

Having waited a long time for that “sometimes” to fall from exgay lips, I was stunned and pleased to see it here.  Unfortunately, I would not see it echoed much throughout the conference.  The phrase “from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation” strikes me as a bad idea, since it seems to me that most of us who experience attraction change attain a bisexually-attracted state rather than a heterosexual one.  Still, I was impressed to see them openly acknowledging the possibility that often attraction change does not occur.

The follow-up thought to that was slightly less satisfying:

“When the change appears impossible in an individual case, such a person is in the same position as the heterosexual single who has no prospects of marriage.”

Well, yes and no.    It is helpful to remember that you aren’t the only person in the world who wants to be in love and get laid, that it isn’t some grand cosmic injustice that God has not provided a legitimate means for you to get off.  (I’m poking fun at my own old attitudes here.)  But I wouldn’t say the situations are the same.  For one thing, few heterosexuals feel they have no prospects of marriage until they’re well into their thirties (if they’re female) and can probably even keep hoping into their late forties or early fifties if they’re male.  But for homo-attracted folk who believe that God doesn’t want them pursuing homosexual relationships, they can often see the handwriting on the wall in their early 20’s, or even in their teens.  To face the likelihood of lifelong abstinence and singleness in the flush of youth is a very different thing–perhaps easier in some ways, but surely harder in others. 

“They are both called by Scripture to a life of sexual abstinence.  These are difficult words, yet no one has the authority to change the biblical proscription on sexuality outside of marriage.”

Difficult words?  No, that’s the funny thing.  The words themselves are quite easy.  It’s the living of the thing that is hard for many, and unfortunately I don’t see how it would be made easier for anyone by what Focus had to teach and offer that day.  That was the biggest gaping hole in the conference, I thought, at least in what I saw.  There was virtually no practical content on how to live in a godly way with homosexual desire, and there was no counsel on how to support someone else (like your child! hello parents!) in doing so.  Everything was directed towards “healing,” towards attraction change, towards making it all go away.  

Developmental theories about the origin of homosexuality were the star of the show, the focal point of the conference by far, treated as a foundation for all that came after.

I found this baffling.  Setting aside whether or not the developmental theories are generally true, and whether if true they are useful to strugglers (I am skeptical on both counts), I still don’t understand why family and friends “reaching out” to gay people need so desperately to be informed of these theories.  If you’re a parent, and your child is old enough to have come out already, it’s not like you can turn back the clock and fix it all.  And if you’re just a friend, or trying to be a friend, why should you even care what causes homosexuality?  Is this really the most important information that straight laymen need to have about gay people?  I can see how it might be relevant to strugglers seeking change who think this stuff works, or to counselors or others seeking to help them.  I cannot fathom how it is deserving of so much attention from family members or friends.  The last thing a gay or exgay person needs is to have everybody in his/her life playing the shrink! 

It was astonishing.  So much time–virtually the whole morning, in fact–and attention were devoted to how Mommy’s and Daddy’s mistakes (real or perceived)  made little Johnny and Susie into homosexuals.   The practical stuff of how to love and help and support your kids got one breakout session, I think, and the practical nitty-gritty of how to live a faithful, chaste life got almost no attention at all.  Even the exgays’ testimonies dwelt at length on the horrors of childhood and the dysfunctions of their old lives, while saying remarkably little about the details of the struggle and the day-to-day reality of their current lives.  Was this really the best use of the limited time they/we had that day?  Did this information really meet the needs of the audience?  I am skeptical.

There was an atmosphere of love at the conference, but it seemed to me to be a carefully controlled and channelled love, and to some extent a misguided love, on which more below.  In many of the talks it seemed to me to be directed into a sort of patronizing pity.  Gay people were to be loved in some sense, but in no circumstances were they to be listened to or respected.  (Otherwise, what’s the need for LWO?  Why would you need straight and exgay “experts” to tell you what it’s like to be gay if you could just ask real live gay people?)  At least that’s the impression I got.   I also got the feeling that LWO was trying to manage parents’ love for their children (and also to a lesser degree the love that other straight folks present had for the gay people in their lives, if any).  Most parents, fundamentally, want their children to be happy, and I got the sense that LWO was on a mission to convince them that their children could never be truly happy being gay but could be truly happy as gloriously transformed, healed, and married heterosexuals with children.  It seemed to me that LWO was carefully designed to keep the love that decent straight folk can’t help feeling for the gay people in their lives from turning into support for gay rights or a moral/theological perspective more permissive of homosexual relationships. 

To some extent, of course, I am sympathetic to this.  I do believe that homosexual sex and homosexual relationships are sinful, and I don’t think that Christians ought to allow their emotions and fears to cloud their thinking on this subject.  So I consider it a completely valid aim to try to show people that they can love and respect their loved ones without throwing out their convictions.  I consider it legitimate to reason with people, but I do not consider it legitimate to mislead them, to misrepresent the facts of gay and exgay life in order to prevent them from adopting views I don’t want them to.   I have said before that my exgay journey wasn’t about life enhancement for me.  I would say more generally that I don’t think it’s an effective path to life enhancement for most people.  This is not to say that every person who opts for a gay-affirming path has a ball, or that every person who opts for an exgay/celibate path has a really rough time of it.  But on average, from a thisworldly perspective, I’d say the exgay has the tougher row to hoe.  That conclusion is no doubt inconvenient for FotF’s purposes, but to me it seems inescapable.  Like Jay, I believe there is only one reason to do this

I felt that the conference speakers sent out a lot of mixed messages, in a way that was very whiplashy and confusing.  So, for example, we started out with Joe Dallas saying that whether homosexuality is developmental or genetic or whatever shouldn’t really matter much to us as Christians, yet in his first talk and throughout the day the developmental ideology was relentlessly hammered into conferencegoers’ heads.  Example #2:  Melissa Fryrear couldn’t seem to make up her mind whether pantyhose and makeup really mattered or not–at one point she explicitly said that they didn’t, yet she emphasized them so much and pointed to them so often as signs of her own healing, it was hard to take her disclaimer seriously.  Another example:  The constant message of the talks overall and the testimonies in particular was that gay people can become straight with Jesus’s help and a little patience–which sharply contrasted with the somewhat more honest admissions in the statement in the conference packet and in the one breakout session specifically for SSA folk.  And yet one more example:  The speakers assured parents that they were not to blame, but I don’t see how you can understand the developmental theories to be saying anything other than “Things you did, whether correctly perceived or misinterpreted by your child, probably sent your child down this path.”  All this was frustrating for me, because I felt like a lot of good things were being said, and I wanted to give LWO credit for saying them, but they often seemed to be explicitly contradicted and taken back by other things that were said throughout the day. 

The weirdest mixed message was this:  The statements which got the most applause, amens, and other positive support were those which emphasized that homosexuality is just one sin among many, no worse than others, that the church should be coming down harder on the gossips, liars, greedy, etc.  It surprised me how enthusiastic the response was here, in part because I didn’t know that this was still news to anyone, but also in part because the existence of the conference itself seemed to contradict that view.  Everything about LWO seemed to me to say that Homosexuality Is Special.  Were these parents going to conferences on other sins that their other children were committing, wringing their hands over them?  Were these “concerned citizens” as eager to stand up against every other sort of sin and injustice?  Were the strugglers as concerned about the other temptations they face, seeking guidance and therapy and healing for their pride or greed or whatever?

Overall reaction:

I don’t know whether it was Mr. DM’s presence or the New Me or the mere fact of having woken up at 4:45 on a Saturday morning, but for the most part I didn’t get angry.  I mostly just felt tired and vaguely sad and frustrated.

“Wait!  How can you be sad and frustrated?  Aren’t you one of Them?”  Well, yeah, I guess.  At least I’m their woefully misbegotten offspring in some sense.  We agree about some big stuff.  We agree about the sinfulness of homosexual sex.  We agree about the possibility for some of some sort of attraction change.  We agree that a particular sort of gay identity can be problematic in some people’s spiritual lives, although they would of course go much further than that.   But…it’s just not my scene.  At all.  I’m not comfortable with the constant advocacy of unproven developmental theories.  (If you feel they worked for you, I’m genuinely happy. But it doesn’t really prove much.)  I’m not comfortable with the condescending discussion of gay people as being broken and hurting, poor little dears.  I’m not comfortable with the culture war, with getting people all worked up about what The Gays are going to do next, in a way that makes them completely unable to see the reality of gay people’s lives.  If you boil it down that’s probably what was at the heart of my frustration with LWO:  the ways in which I felt it obscured reality as it “educated”, the ways in which it blinded its audience, the ways in which I felt it made it harder rather than easier for the audience to love, serve, and respect their gay loved ones and neighbors. 

Real compassion, real suffering-with, requires an awareness of the reality of another person’s heart and life.  You cannot have that with a exgay person if you do not have a realistic view of the prospects of change and if you do not appreciate that exgay (celibate SSA, whatever) people can live happy, healthy lives of rich spiritual growth which are pleasing to God even without attraction change.  And you cannot have that with a gay person if you insist on cramming them into your little dogmatic box of what sorts of childhood experiences they must have had and what their state of emotional/mental health is like and what their lives are like.  Love Won Out, as far as I could see, got straight people all mushy and sobby about illusory problems that many gay/exgay people don’t actually face, while hardening their hearts and closing their eyes to the real difficulties that have confronted and in many cases still confront gay/exgay people.  That’s what bothered me most, I think. 

I wasn’t horrified by what I saw.  My expectations when I went in were quite low, and the conference was actually better in most respects than I had thought it would be.  I genuinely liked and was impressed by Joe Dallas (though I did not agree with everything he had to say), and even with the speakers I didn’t click with, I found things to appreciate and nod along with.  As I go into my responses to particular talks, I suspect some readers will feel I’m nitpicking, especially once I get into specific points of disagreement which may seem small in the whole realm of things.  I suspect some will feel I should just keep my mouth shut and be glad to have the LWO team standing up for the Biblical truth about homosexuality.  But you have to understand that I feel very passionately about these points, these little nits, because in many cases they caused me a lot of pain and trouble personally.

That’s something that set in after we drove home and I went on with my week.  I found myself haunted in the days following the conference by stirred-up memories of the years when I was deeply involved in exgay stuff.  See, in the past several years, I haven’t really done any of that.  I hadn’t really heard any of those messages of brokenness and childhood roots and healing and change for a very long time–sure I occasionally read a smidgen of something online, but that’s way different from being bombarded with a day’s worth of lectures.  After the conference it all came painfully flooding back…how I agonized about this stuff, how I blamed myself and everyone in my family, how pathetic and small and less-than I felt relative to “healthy heterosexuals,” how tired and hopeless I felt after pursuing change (albeit somewhat half-assedly at times) didn’t really get me anywhere, how I obsessed about my “healing” and ignored discipleship and Christian growth, how stupid and voiceless I felt relative to the “successful” “healed” exgay superstars whose testimonies always seemed to get held up as What Is Supposed to Happen–if I disagreed with them, it was only my “brokenness” talking, and I would come to know better someday if I opened my heart to Jesus and let Him really transform me.  That old mindset came drifting back into my head and it made me even more nauseous than has been usual for me as of late.

In order to be fair but honest I must say this:  While I am immeasurably grateful for the concern various exgays showed me, for the friendship and fellowship they offered me, I believe that many of the exgay teachings did not do me or my walk with God any favors.  I am extremely glad to have put all that behind me.   And no, I don’t really give those teachings much credit for my love for Mr. DM.  That happened around two years after I decided I’d had enough of those theories and finally once-and-for-all washed my hands of them.  Maybe it’s just a delayed reaction to the healing power of the Moberly/Nicolosi insights, but for a variety of reasons (which we can get into if you like)  I consider it likely that whatever attraction change I have experienced is mostly unrelated to my earlier devotion to exgay ideas and practices.


WIFGI 4.2: Why Hating the Church Was a Bad Thing

May 30, 2007

(continued from 4.1

(Quick note:  I’m mostly concerned with only one facet of the church in this post–the church as our spiritual family, as the local fellowship of believers who we shouldn’t forsake meeting with, the Hebrews 10:25 sort of thing.  I’m dwelling on the affection/camaraderie/fellowship aspect of the church here because that’s what I had trouble with.  I wasn’t turned off by the sacraments, or by the Word preached, or by the other aspects of corporate worship offered to God–I was turned off by the people, by my brothers and sisters.  Similarly, I’m dwelling on the local (i.e., late 20th and early 21st century American evangelical) aspect of my church experience because that’s what I had trouble with.  I didn’t have issues with the church in all the richness of her global, historical, and cultural diversity–I had issues with the people sitting on my right and on my left .    All that’s just to say, yes I know the church is bigger than the ragtag bunch of evangelicals who happened to be in my immediate vicinity, and yes I know that church is about more than just family and fellowship.  I’m just talking about what’s relevant here.)

I’m not sure when exactly I realized that the situation I describe in the previous post was a problem that was going to have to be dealt with.  I mean, I knew from the beginning that I was supposed to see Christians as my spiritual family and love them as such, and while I still could and should be friends with gay non-Christians, that I was supposed to be somehow different now, not quite as much one of them as I used to be, a little bit alienated even.  But that was just a bullet point in a long list of dogmas that I theoretically accepted but had no idea how to make real in my life.   Gradually, some little annoying problems in my Christian life grew bigger and bigger, until I was pushed to confront them.

1.  Alienation from and hatred of the church left me vulnerable to attacks on my faith.

My alienation from the church and my dislike of straight believers was a vulnerability that Satan (and my sinful heart, for that matter) exploited time and time again.  I heard lots of little whispers in my soul asking what I was doing with those stupid Christians and their Christ anyway.   “Look how shallow they are!  Look how naive and innocent they are, so out of touch with the real world!   That one actually believes the universe is less than ten thousand years old!  Look how lame they are, all the things they don’t do, all the words they can’t use, all the movies they won’t watch!  Some of them don’t even kiss their boyfriends/girlfriends!  Look at what passes for music and art in their sight!  You don’t belong with these people.  This certainly isn’t the God or the religion for you–could these pathetic people have any handle on divine truth?”

Satan never got me to flat-out doubt my faith this way, but he sure got me to waver.  He got me to lose my fire and passion for God. He got me to grow lax in my spiritual disciplines, which gave him countless more opportunities to assault and weaken me.  He got me to skip Sunday services and Bible studies and fellowship gatherings.  If he can’t make you doubt, he will settle for making you ashamed, and I found that being ashamed of my brothers and sisters quickly spilled over into being ashamed of my Father and His Son, the firstborn among many brethren. 

I just couldn’t separate Jesus from His Christians so neatly, loving Him and loathing them.   After all, He is the one who is supposedly working in their lives, so whatever I think about them and their lives reflects in some way on Him. The church is what the Holy Spirit has to show for Himself.  Worst of all, Christ has fixed his love on these fools and delights in them, and is commanding me to do the same!  If my heart is to be conformed to His, then I must love what He loves.  So hating the imperfect church and loving the perfect Jesus, while so very appealing at first glance, was not a tenable long-term policy.  Either the hatred of the one breeds a hatred for the other, or the love of the one breeds a love for the other. 

By love of the church, I don’t mean that I ought to pretend she’s better than she is, to ignore her faults and go on vapidly cheerleading no matter what.  But I mean that I ought to look at her sin maybe a little bit like how God looks at my sin–with compassion rather than disgust, with sorrow rather than schadenfreude, with a desire to see repentance and redemption rather than final judgment.  I serve a God who does not delight in the death of the wicked.  And most importantly (and here the analogy to how God looks at my sin goes right out the window), I must look at her sin as my sin.  There is no major sin in the straight church that doesn’t have a home in my own heart.  (And yes, the reverse is true as well–but the refusal of the straight church to realize that and come to terms with it doesn’t relieve me from my obligation to stand with her in humility.) 

2.  I needed TO love in order to obey God and in order to grow.

The exgay literature told me that I needed the love of Christians, that I needed to be loved by them.  I never found that very motivating.    Let’s face it, the church wasn’t overtly gushing with love for me, so if I urgently needed love right then, the most efficient way to get it wouldn’t have involved her.   I’d be better off getting my love elsewhere, or just sucking it up and doing without.  The church at least initially was far more likely to provide me with relational frustration and disappointment than anything else!

What worried me more was realizing that I needed Christians in order to love THEM.  You can see this even in the quote from my residential program application at the beginning of the last post.  The Bible’s clear message that we ought to love and serve and bless our fellow believers was starting to weigh on me and keep me up at night.   Jesus’ statement about who His brother and sister and mother are.  Paul on doing good especially to those who are of the household of the faith.  1 John’s constant emphasis on the importance of loving our brothers.  The very metaphor of family and household itself stresses the importance of this relationship.     The Bible of course doesn’t suggest that we should love only believers…but it does give them a huge place of priority.    “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”  Of no other behavior or action does Jesus say this, to my knowledge.  He doesn’t say “People will know you are Mine by how you care for the poor, or by how boldly you proclaim the gospel, or by how chastely you control your sexuality.”  He says that the sign of His disciple is his love for the other disciples.   (I can’t remember who brought this to my attention first, but I suspect they got it from Francis Schaeffer.) What good was it doing me to fret over my struggle for sexual obedience if I was going to blatantly ignore the love of my fellow believer that mattered so much to Christ? 

Not only that, but I also needed the church to help me fulfill the general command to love those outside the church, to love my neighbor (as opposed to my brother) as myself.  I believe God intends for us to minister to the world corporately, not primarily as lone-ranging do-gooders.  Mt. 25:35-36 is completely overwhelming and discouraging if it’s your personal, individual to-do list, as is Mt. 28:19-20.  But to get involved with the church in doing those things, while they’re still a lot of hard work, can be somehow encouraging and even energizing.  You’re a part of the Body of Christ, alive and active, advancing the Kingdom–not a severed pinky toe flopping around trying to make the world a better place.

One of the staff in the residential program would always say to me “A step of obedience, a step of healing.”  She meant that the two were the same thing, that it was a mistake to split them as we often do.  We think (or at least I thought):  “I need to get healed and grow in the faith so I can then go obey and serve and glorify God.”  But really, it’s through obeying that I grow.  And this was no less true in this matter of loving the church and serving with her than in anything else. 

Working with the church (and I include para-church ministies here), either by ministering to those within or serving those without, did two awesome things for me.  First, it forced me to stand in identification with the church.  Doing service or “outreach” in partnership with the church to those outside, when people saw me they saw me as the church.  At first, on the inside I felt like I didn’t belong, that I was nothing like the other Christians I was working alongside, that I would stick out like a sore thumb, an obvious impostor, but in my experience the unbelievers never noticed the difference!  However I felt about myself, they identified me as one of the Christians, as one of the church people.  Not only that, but when I got involved in ministry to other believers, they also saw me as the church blessing them.  And how others saw me powerfully influenced how I saw myself.  Furthermore, serving with the church crippled my ability to indulge myself in my old ultra-alienated stance.  She was my church now, not just a group I peripherally hung out with or a building I sat in.  With work came a sense of responsibility, and with a sense of responsibility came identification. 

Second, it forced me into a daily realization of my emptiness and need for Christ.  Nothing pressed me to seek more holiness and more of God than the sense of inadequacy that washed over me when I tried to serve others as a part of the Body of Christ.  The realization that these people, whether they were neighbor or sibling, needed me to show Christ to them, to channel the love of God to them in some way, smacked me upside the head with the awareness of how feebly I reflected Christ, how little of the love God had showered upon me got passed on to anyone else.  (Uh, this is all still an ongoing thing for me, FYI.)  If you want to be spurred to grow in the faith, just try serving others with what little faith you have!  And the natural, God-ordained place to do this is in/with the church. 

3.  I needed allies who shared my faith and convictions.

For me The Fellowship of the Ring breathed new life into the word “fellowship.”  It’s not about coffee hour and chit-chat after the service.  It’s about comrades on a dangerous and difficult shared quest.  If I wanted to take the quest seriously, I had to take my comrades and my need for them seriously as well.  

I have always had close non-Christian friends.  Truly awesome people, in whom God’s common grace shines brilliantly.   Friends of whom I most definitely have not been worthy.  I get pissed off when lifelong Christians who have always been cozily ensconced in the church declare that unbelievers are basically crappy people not worth getting to know. (Until you’ve saved them, of course!)  This is just ridiculous.  I don’t want to deny the power of the Holy Spirit and the work of God’s special grace in the lives of believers, but at the same time I refuse to deny the love and the goodness in the unbelievers I have known.  If you like having me around, sure you can thank Jesus, but you’d also better thank my heathen friends for saving my sorry ass on more occasions than I care to count. 

And unbelieving friends are a special blessing on this path because they can give you a sort of “reality” check.   So, for example, when I started dating Mr. DM, I was really anxious.  It sure felt like love to me…perhaps with a slightly different tint or flavor than love as I’d known it before…but powerful nonetheless.  But how could I know?  Maybe my mind had finally cracked, maybe I had fallen to desperate self-deception and denial.  It seemed unlikely, as the months and years immediately preceding had been ones of increasing peace and contentment in celibacy, but the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, so who knew?  My Christian friends were so excited for me and were sure it was the real thing, but they were hardly unbiased.

Then I got together with an old friend (like, since-my-pre-conversion-days old friend) who knew me incredibly well, but who had been out of town for a while and didn’t know the whole Mr. DM thing, which had happened so fast.  Over lunch, as she inquired what was new with me, I said, “Well, I kind of met somebody.”  “Girl or boy?”  “Uh, boy.”  As I stammered out a brief description of him and what he was like, she scrutinized my face, my mouth, my eyes.  And all of a sudden she squealed and interrupted me, “Oh my God, look at you!!! You’re IN LOVE!!!!!” 

The point is, her random exclamation did more to reassure me than anything a fellow Christian could say.  In general, when I’m doing crazy things related to my faith, I like having one of the heathen to process it with.  A second opinion, an outside perspective, etc.  Even if they think I’ve completely lost my mind.  (Which I suspect they mostly do, although they’re very nice about it.)  So yeah, hip-hip-hooray for the unwashed!

But…when unbelievers were pretty much the only friends I had, it was too easy to escape from the pressure of my convictions.  I could take off my “Christian hat” around them, and they wouldn’t care.  In fact, I was eager to set my faith aside, so I could feel closer to them, just like we used to be–I hated having that sliver of difference between us.  I only needed to put on my “Christian hat” for church and the exgay group and possibly for campus fellowship meetings when I bothered to go.  Those scant hours of superficially playing the Christian could not compete with all the rest of my time spent engaging energetically and authentically with unbelievers.  The company I kept influenced me.  They weren’t trying to, but it was sort of inevitable.  I wasn’t growing much in the faith, I wasn’t becoming much of a Christian.  It was sort of like trying to diet by eating salads for lunch and junk food the rest of the day.

As someone who felt convicted that homosex is sin, and trying to live that out in obedience to God, I needed friendship, community, and fellowship that made me stronger in living the life I felt called to, not weaker.   I don’t merely mean the specific and intentional things Christians could do to help me:  pray for me, offer spiritual counsel, talk about the Scriptures, etc.  All they really had to do was to just be with me to have an effect, just as my non-Christian friends just had to be in order to influence me the other way.  Being the sort of relational chameleon that I am, just hanging out with Christians helped enormously to strengthen my faith.   It encouraged me to wear my “Christian hat” more of the time.  And specifically regarding this struggle, it was great to have people who were on “my side.”  I didn’t need them to be experts on homosexuality or anything.  But it was a relief just to be able to look at the faces around me on certain occasions and know that each one thought I was doing the right thing.  Maybe that means I’m too much of a people-pleaser, but I don’t think so.  It’s just that when you’re constantly under a barrage of opinion that tells you you are making the biggest mistake of your life, it’s reassuring to know that some people think that what you are doing is sensible and right.  It took the edge off the isolated lunatic feeling that haunted me.  Sometimes we might have to go it alone in life, take on the world as a minority of one, but why put ourselves in that position when there are allies to be had?

And I needed to be in touch with believers who were having their own struggles, both similar to and different from my own.  I needed to be reminded that I wasn’t the only one fighting a spiritual battle, the only one trying to swim upstream against a ferociously swift current.  Sometimes it helped me to think of us as taking on sin as a team.  I was more encouraged to make holy choices in my own life if I knew that my brother D was fighting hard in his struggle against pornography and my sister K was confronting her spiritual apathy and laziness and my brother T was making war on his own greedy lust for Stuff.  Satan would have to fight us on many fronts!  More importantly, I needed the constant reminder that other believers struggle to avoid sinking into a morass of self-pity, the kind that says:  My own struggle is special, unlike anything recorded heretofore in the annals of Christian experience.  Resistance is impossible.  A cruel God has put me in this situation in order to laugh at me and finally doom me. Might as well give up now and go back to sinning, so I can at least have some fun on my way to hell.    What I realized from fellowship is that other people with other struggles could often see my situation more realistically and more hopefully than I could see it myself.  Similarly when I observed them overreacting and overdramatizing their own difficulties and struggles, it helped me realize that my own dark take on my struggle was distorted by despair, not an accurate perception.

4.  What mattered most to me?

I didn’t just come to worry about my gay identity and the inability to connect with Christian community that it caused for these practical reasons.  It also bothered me in principle.  What did it say about me and what mattered to me, that I found shared sexuality such a more powerful common ground and source of connection with other people than shared faith? 

I used to pay lip service to the doctrine that other Christians were my brothers and sisters.  But I didn’t feel it, and I sure didn’t live it.  On the other hand, while I accepted theoretically that gay people were no longer my tribe, my family, it still felt like they were, and I still lived like they were.  .  Homosexuality was far more important to me than Christianity in determining who counted as “kin,” who I enjoyed socializing with, what I liked chatting about.  I began to worry that this was an accurate barometer of where my heart was at, of what mattered to me.  (Isn’t that true in general?  What kind of Patriots fan would I be if all I wanted to do was hang out with Colts fans and rhapsodize about Peyton Manning’s brains and arm???)

There was a flash of recognition and excitement when I met a gay person, but nothing comparable when I met a Christian. I was generally unimpressed by those who shared my faith, especially if they weren’t gay or exgay.  It didn’t strike me as very interesting or significant that we believed the same things or worshipped the same God.   I remember complaining once that I couldn’t be expected to hang out with Christians when all I had in common with them was Jesus, as if He were somehow trivial, unfit to serve as a basis for conversation, connection, family. 

I’m not trying to repackage the exgay claim that people need to “grow into healthy relationships” with the hetero-attracted.  I’m just saying, if someone’s sexuality is always more important when it comes to determining how close you feel to them than their faith, I think it may say something about what matters to you; namely, that your sexuality matters more to you than your faith.  I understand that many people have mitigating and complicating factors—some have been abused and rejected by straight Christians, which would obviously make Christian fellowship harder for them, even if Jesus is way more important to them than their queerness.  But I know for myself it was a worthwhile question to ask.  I know for myself that as Christ and living a Christian life became more important to me, that my appreciation of the fellowship of believers (regardless of their sexuality) increased commensurately. 

If you had asked me seven years ago (i.e., a couple years after my conversion) whether I would rather be stranded on a desert island with 20 random gay non-Christians, or with 20 random straight Christians, I would have chosen the gays in a heartbeat, without any qualms.  If you asked me the question today, and if I were choosing purely based on comfort, I would ultimately choose the Christians, though probably not in a heartbeat.  It’s not that the gays are less appealing to me–heaven knows they aren’t!  But it’s just that the thought of living without Christians nowadays seems awful to me.  No one to pray with?  No one to study Scripture with, or to ask “Hey, what do you think this means?”  No one to sing hymns with?   No one to talk about God with, or the same God anyway?  No one to share my spiritual struggles with?  I’m not saying this should be a universal law or litmus test, but in my own life I think it was importantly revealing. 

I think early on my attitude was, “Hey, who cares how much I grow or how great a Christian life I end up living?  I’m saved by grace, aren’t I?  And sanctification is a lifelong process anyway, so what’s the rush?  I’ll live my Christian life as half-heartedly and half-assedly as I please!” But the problem I found is that the Christian life, lived half-heartedly, just plain sucks.  It’s the worst of both worlds–you end up losing the pleasures of the flesh (oh you can try to taste them again, and yeah there’s some fun there, but they just aren’t the same anymore), and you don’t get the joys of the Spirit that only come with a relatively pure and earnest devotion to Christ either.  I slowly learned the hard way that the world with its enticements had been ruined for me by my conversion, so if I was going to ever truly delight in life again, I was going to have to try the Christian way more seriously.  My life as I knew it had been lost, more or less; my only hope was that perhaps by losing it completely, Christ’s promise that I would find it again might be borne out.   Once I realized this, and consequently started to care more about my walk with God, I found myself naturally looking for spiritual brothers and sisters to grow with and learn from. 


WIFGI 4.1: How I Came to Hate the Church

May 30, 2007

Previous Installments:  (Part 1, Part 2Part 3).   

 Another character quality I would like to change is my fearfulness of and lack of love towards my brothers and sisters in Christ in general.  I don’t mean that I’m generally especially unkind or cruel or uncaring towards other Christians, or that I don’t cherish my few Christian friends.  But I have a tendency to be “pathologically shy”  (as one of my friends put it) around straight Christians…This fear keeps me from getting connected to the body of Christ, which I think is essential to my healing and growth, not to mention being essential to my obeying God’s commands to show love and kindness to my fellow believers. My hope would be that in a safe and loving community environment where I wouldn’t be terrified of judgment all the time, I could begin to overcome this.

 –from DM’s application to the residential program
(April 2001)

 

Reason #2:  My gay identity got in the way of my loving the church, and my identification with my brothers and sisters in Christ. 

(Okay, the length of this discussion got too unwieldy even for me, so I’m splitting it in half.  This post is about how my gay identity, my particular understanding of and attitude toward my sexuality, kept me from loving and identifying with the church.  The next post (WIFGI 4.2) will be about how I came to realize that this was a mistake.)

 Pre-emptive clarification:   I’m NOT saying we should abandon solidarity and empathy with gay people.

I believe that God has mercifully left us a blessing of common grace, in that we naturally feel a bond of empathy and connection with those who have life experiences and characteristics similar to our own.  It’s almost as though our fallen selfishness is tricked and cheated into loving and caring about others when we recognize something of ourselves and our experience in their lives.  I think it is a mistake to ignore or devalue the bond of common experience that we feel with other people who have homosexual attractions, and the fact that this will make us feel closer to them, and help us to more easily develop a comfortable rapport with them.  Am I so wonderful at loving others that I should forgo this instinctive, natural help?

So I find heinous the suggestion that homo-attracted people seeking to live chastely should cut off all feelings of empathy and solidarity with unrepentant gays.  Sometimes it sounds like conservatives would consider it ideal if we felt nothing towards gay people, if we just kind of looked past them with a glassy stare of non-recognition.  Or, worse, ideal if we primly cringed with disgust whenever we encountered someone or something gay, just like “normal” Christians would.  The thoroughly repentant homosexual, on this account, would react toward gay people and gay culture exactly like a straight person from the heartland who has never encountered either before in his life and is completely freaked out by both.

I have tried to be adamant here on this blog about the importance of not denying reality—the reality of our past, present, and likely future.  Based on the experiences that we have had, are having now, and are likely to have more of in the future, as human beings we are going to feel intuitive empathies towards some people more than others.  I don’t see the point in trying to destroy those, and moreover I believe it would be downright evil to do so.  If I have been blessed with insights into certain aspects of what it’s like to be human in this crazy fallen world, I shouldn’t try to blind myself to them in order to “normalize” myself.

So, when I loved gays more than my Christian brothers and sisters (yeah I know there’s overlap, but I’m talking about groups here!), my problem was not that I loved gays too much, but that I didn’t love Christians enough.   Picture me jumping up and down and waving my arms over this point:  This post is not about loving gays less or cutting oneself off from them, this is about me removing barriers in my heart that kept me from loving hetero Christians, from embracing my Christian family and my identity within the covenant people of God, within the church.

Background–my feelings about the church, and how they got there

I hardly knew anything about evangelicals when I became one. 

I had grown up occasionally seeing them on TV and reading about them in the news, usually with a bug up their rear ends about “homosexuals and lesbians.” They had their own funny way of saying it which I can’t really imitate, where they packed the words with maximum disgust, sounding meaner than the worst antigay slur, and yet at the same time they savored the words, like they were rolling them around in their mouths and finding them delicious. I thus had rather strong impressions of them as this frighteningly vast but largely invisible population of stupid fanatics, perversely and creepily fascinated by gay sex, who had declared themselves My Enemy.  I had literally no idea what they believed about Jesus Christ, except that it seemed that being “born-again,” whatever that meant, was very important.  (But not, apparently, as important as not being gay!)

I never met any evangelicals personally until college.  And even then, as you can probably imagine, I didn’t really move in the same circles as they did.  With the exception of a small number of ssa (affirmingly gay, celibately gay, and exgay) believers I met on campus and online–the people who actually led me to Christ–most of what I knew about evangelicals came from horror stories told by gays.  So my conversion meant joining a group that scared the !@#% out of me.  Despite the sameness of our faith, I was always conscious that I wasn’t one of them, that I was Other, a stranger in a strange land.  I felt doubly alienated, piling exile upon exile, not like a long-lost child who had found her way home. 

Was some of this straight evangelicals’ fault, their failure to sufficiently welcome me, include me, reassure me, and respect me?  Perhaps.  I will say that the reception I got walking into gay campus activities for the first time as a freshman was far warmer than the one I got walking into Christian campus activities for the first time (or the second, third, fourth, or fifth times) as a junior.  There’s no getting around that. 

But in hindsight I’ve come to see that a sizable chunk of this alienation was self-inflicted.  My gay identity hardened and thickened from social exposure to straight evangelicals.  I became extra-mindful of my differentness in their presence.  Hanging out with them provided me with endless opportunities to feel misunderstood, to get offended, to bristle with indignation on account of my gayness, and I rarely passed up any of those.  If they misstepped in their interactions with me and offended me, they were to blame for being such dumb bigots; if I misstepped in my interactions with them and offended them, they were to blame for being so incomprehensibly weird and oversensitive.  Heads I won, tails they lost.

I got into a feedback loop of refusing to give straight Christians a chance.  It went something like this.

  1. I’d start out with a suspicion/dislike of heteros.
  2. As a result of (1), at predominantly hetero Christian activities, I’d be closed off and aloof, maybe even disdainful.  But with queer people, I’d be warm and friendly, feeling at ease.  (Well, relatively speaking at least.  I’m socially awkward whoever I’m with!)
  3. As a result of (2), I’d get to know the gay people much better than the straights.  I’d know about their troubles and burdens and joys and complexities of life.  In contrast, I wouldn’t know much about the heteros, because of the distance I’d helped to put between myself and them.
  4. As a result of (3), I’d conclude that gay people had rich inner lives, and were authentic and friendly, while hetero Christians were simple, shallow, fake, and probably homophobic, reinforcing (1), which would start the loop again. 

Many ssa Christians have painful stories of rejection by the straight church.  I have no such story, because I never gave them a chance to reject me, but I didn’t hesitate to assume that they would if they could.  I was constantly judging the Christian community like this, comparing them to the superior instances of gay community I had known.  Of course, all that did was make me miserable about being condemned by my conversion to spend the rest of this life and all of eternity (!!!) with these people

I couldn’t let go of seeing them as The Enemy–wasn’t that my birthright as a dyke?  I couldn’t let go of being an outsider looking in (and down!) on them–wasn’t that another birthright, another privilege of my kind?  I groaned at the thought of having to trade my sexy queer alienation for lame-o Christian alienation–not being of the world, being hated by the world, having my citizenship in heaven.   Going from dyke to Christian (and the tackiest kind of Christian to boot!) was taking a huge step down in the eyes of those whose opinions mattered to me. 

You might think that connecting with the homo-attracted believers who had led me to faith in Jesus would have gradually warmed me up to the broader church, so I could make the transition to general Christian fellowship.  But you’d be wrong.   In fact, the same-sex attracted Christians, in my experience, were almost always communally seething about the foibles and failures of the straight church, which actually made me more rather than less scornful and distrustful.  Not having any fondness for straights or Christians in general to begin with, I joined right in their seething with them.

To hear us talk, you would’ve thought we were all the older brother, the “good son” in the parable, the less-enlightened heteros all prodigal sons.  Look at how those straight Christians screw it all up.  Look at what hypocrites they are.  Look at the rampant rates of divorce and adultery among them.  Look at how greedy and materialistic and selfish they are.   Look how they fail to love as Christ loved.  Look at their ignorance and bigotry.

This is, of course, eminently understandable.  Many homo-attracted folks have been hurt and overzealously scrutinized and judged by straight Christians, and the latter surely do fall short in the above and many other ways.  This makes the delicious revenge of judging them as harshly and condescendingly as they have judged us incredibly tempting.  But by obsessing about the sins and the unworthiness of straight Christians–particularly those I didn’t know at all except as stereotyped bogeymen– I was making the same pharisaical mistake they do when they obsess about other people’s homosexual sin.  I was succumbing to the same weakness that devoured them, that of finding another man’s sin problem more urgent and more fascinating than my own. Perhaps turnabout is fair play, but at least in my more level-headed moments, I’d rather have the gospel than turnabout. 

This attitude of judging the straight Christians and dwelling on their shortcomings (while ignoring the extent to which I shared their shortcomings) was of course antagonistic to real fellowship, to my ever feeling part of the larger church.  I was, after all, attempting to focus on how they were different from me, how they were worse than I was.  This made identification with them as my brothers and sisters pretty much impossible.

There’s a saying I heard, adored, and often repeated to myself during this time: “The church is like Noah’s ark:  if it wasn’t for the storm outside, there’s no way we could stand the stink inside.”  I dwelt on the stink, on everything I didn’t like about my “normal” fellow evangelical Christians and their culture and their quirks, all the while patting myself on the back for being so humbly and graciously willing to share a church, a faith, and a Lord with them.  It never occurred to me there was a problem with this attitude–in fact I genuinely thought it rather devout–until I wondered one day what it would be like if the shoe were on the other foot.  What if we imagine an extremely conservative hetero, homophobically uncomfortable with the repentant exgays in her church?  How would I feel if she repeated that saying to herself, thinking of me?  “Well, I’d get away from this nasty dyke if I could (this many years after her supposed “conversion” and she still can’t be bothered to wear makeup or proper shoes or carry a purse?!) but unfortunately, I really need the grace I can find only in Christ Jesus, so I guess I’ll just have to suffer her presence in the pew.  Lord, give me strength.”

While I don’t think that sort of attitude is good for any Christian, it had an especially devastating effect on me as a new convert.  See, most of these homo-attracted Christians I was hanging out with, especially the loudly griping ones, had been raised in the church.  So they spoke about it as angrily as they did in part because their frustration was built on a foundation of love of the church, or if not love of it, at least identification with it.  It was a conflicted relational squabble—something like a lovers’ quarrel, or perhaps a teenager’s frustration with his parents’ evident stupidity, unfairness, and uncoolness.  A lot of anger and ugly emotion, but ultimately built on a sense of identification and relationship, a family fight.  But for me, babe in the faith that I was, I had no context in which to put their anger and frustration in which I joined so enthusiastically.  There was no foundation of love, no background of identification, no sense of family.  My attitude toward the church wasn’t conflicted.  It was one of frightfully pure disgust and hate, and nursing my gay grudge against the straight church only fueled that hate.  Sure, I would make occasional exceptions to the rule, deeming decent those few hetero believers who bent over backwards to love me and bless me despite my frosty and prickly initial response to them.  But nothing they could do changed my attitude toward “the church” one bit.

(Incidentally, this is precisely how bigotry and prejudice work.  Every time you meet up with a counter-example to a generalization about a particular group, you ignore it or explain it away as an exception that doesn’t really count, rather than rethinking your generalizations.  For years it never occurred to me that maybe I was slightly wrong about straight Christians, despite encountering some flamingly obvious examples of awesome ones, and despite almost never having been personally mistreated by any.) 

So that was how I felt about my new Christian family, thanks to my gay identity.  I’m not saying that other kinds of identities can’t have a similar effect, or that gay identity would do the same thing to everyone.  But this being my story, that’s how it went.

Note:  I am very much aware that much of the straight church (individually and corporately) HAS treated ssa/gay people awfully.  I don’t want any of what I say above to be taken as a diminishment of that.  So, please…I’m not trying to minimize or divert attention from the very real and terrible wrongs that lie behind gay anger, frustration, and bitterness with the church.  That’s not what this is about.  All I’m saying is that given my particular experience, the emotional atmosphere of gay/ssa Christian circles in this regard was toxic as all get-out for me.  And that this is a problem.  However screwed up the (predominantly straight) church is, if Jesus is our Lord, then she is our family, and somehow we’ve got to work it out. 

(go onto part 4.2)


sorry for the silence (plus randomness on ssa-folk and the church)

May 8, 2007

Hey…sorry for being so quiet over here.  There’s kind of a gridlock of thoughts and emotions in my head, making it hard to get any of them out.

 I’ve run into a problem with the next installment in the identity series.  See, it’s supposed to be about how my gay identity got in the way of my embracing and integrating myself into the church, the Christian community.  I spent years feeling super-isolated, like a stranger in a strange land, a dyke among fundies, and it was mostly my fault.  I was always judging them, looking down on them, assuming they were bigots even when they weren’t, interpreting every little thing they said or did as uncharitably as possible–because I couldn’t/wouldn’t stop thinking about my gayness vs. their straightness.  And my Christian walk became so much richer when I started seeing myself as one of them, and started seeing them as my brothers and sisters, embracing them, opening up to them, trusting them, loving them, etc.  Realizing that straight conservative evangelicals are not the devil changed my life.

So I was writing about that.  But Ron helped me realize there’s a huge problem here.  I am confident that what I describe above is an accurate analysis of my own situation.  But the fact is that a lot of gay/ssa people DO get thoroughly burned by the straight church, and it ISN’T their fault.  Rejection, ignorance, hatred, fear, etc.  So there are plenty of people out there who would be entirely within their rights to think me a Pollyanna, or an insensitive jerk, or both, if I just said “I think we all need to open up to the straight church and love them.”  Sure it might have panned out well for me, but it backfires, a lot! 

I feel I shouldn’t worry about it too much, because I’m clearly just telling my own story here.  But at the same time, I’m no solipsist.  If I say something here on this blog, it’s because I think it might meaningfully connect with someone else’s situation, however indirectly. 

What makes it harder is that I don’t know the relative numbers of different kinds of churches.  How unusual is my positive experience of the church?  How common is the negative experience?  How many ssa Christians are getting burned by trusting the straight church, and how many are hardening their hearts and closing themselves off from the church unnecessarily because of an assumption that the people around them are evil homophobes even when they’re not? 

People sometimes tell me “Well you just got lucky in finding a good church.” Okay, except I’ve attended four churches since becoming a believer (because of moving, not because of church-hopping), so I’ve gotten lucky four times in a row.   Granted, three of those churches were in the Northeast:  New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire.  But I live in the Midwest now, so you can’t use the “enlightened liberal northeastern folk” excuse anymore.  So you have to understand that from my perspective, I feel like I’ve been selling the straight church short all these years.  Every time a Christian was nice to me, I was always like, “Oh, I guess they’re just an exception to the rule.”  But here I am, almost nine years into my Christian life, and I have never been homophobically mistreated in real life by an evangelical Christian.  (Of course on the internet all bets are off!)  I have encountered some ignorance in the church, to be sure, but it wasn’t ill-intentioned, and when I took the ignorant ones aside and explained things to them, they responded fairly well.  And I have never heard a homophobic sermon in an evangelical church that I attended.  I have heard one sermon on homosexuality–in Massachusetts in the midst of the furor over impending gay marriage–but it was astonishingly irenic, and the pastor spoke powerfully about the importance of supporting/defending gay people’s ability to provide for and protect their families.

(In the interest of being fully honest about my church experience, I should note that I heard several homophobic sermons in the Catholic Church growing up.  In my teens, even though I was an avowed atheist, I often went to Sunday Mass with my mom, to keep her company and also to tease her about the superstitious folly of religion and the backwardness of the church.   And wow, this one priest did NOT like gays.  His fiercest vitriol was saved for Sundays before St. Patrick’s Day, to accompany the annual kerfuffle over gay groups wanting to be part of the parade.  Once he went off on the “sodomites” and “perverts” with such venom that my mom (who was no PFLAGer!) whispered to me, “Do you think we should get up and walk out?”  I said no, even though I was touched that she was willing to sin mortally and defiantly to defend my honor, because it was so amusing to watch that sorry little man foaming at the mouth over my existence.  It made me feel powerful.)

Anyhow, that’s the conundrum.  How do I talk about my own experience in a way that doesn’t insult others?   And what can I say to other homo-attracted Christians about embracing and loving the church (which I believe we are called to do!)  that would be helpful and not likely to blow up in their faces?  And what are they supposed to do if the straight church screws them over and treats them like dirt?  What does brotherly love (on our part) look like then? 


Haggard’s Cure

February 12, 2007

Addendum/Correction: 

When I wrote this post, I assumed that the person who informed the press that Haggard was “completely heterosexual,” someone who was acting in an overseer’s capacity over Haggard in some respect, would accurately relate Haggard’s own view of his progress.   At the time that seemed like an obvious assumption–what motive could his church have for exaggerating or misrepresenting his healing?  Why would they risk getting egg on their face and looking like dupes again, by making some over-optimistic claim that Haggard wouldn’t even make for himself?  Wouldn’t they be more likely, as those overseeing and counseling him, having been burned by his deception in the past, to encourage him to be more humble, more cautious, more moderate in his views of himself?   I sort of imagined it in my head as Haggard arguing with them, “Guys, I swear!  It’s for real this time! I’m completely heterosexual!”, and the committee only grudgingly, gradually relenting and agreeing to convey this news to the press.  I was angry at them for agreeing to go along with this lunacy.  (Unless it was a miraculous transformation.  Even then, I think a little caution in declaring this miracle authentic would be wise.) 

But the more that I think about it (Eve Tushnet planted the seed of doubt in the comment thread below), the assumption that the overseers would necessarily accurately convey Haggard’s view of his sexuality seems slightly less obvious.  It has occurred to my inner cynic that perhaps the overseers in the church (and the special team of people who agreed to oversee his counseling/healing process) just might want to make this whole thing disappear, get it over with, rather than deal with the messy long term reality of the struggle.  Let’s just say he’s fine, and ship him off to the Midwest!  I’d hate to think that they would do this, but it’s possible. 

I see that the email  that Haggard sent to some members of the church–two days before the “completely heterosexual” statement hit the presses–seems extraordinarily restrained in its claims about healing, and the word “heterosexual,” not to mention the phrase “completely heterosexual,” does not appear.  He says, rather, “As part of New Life’s efforts to help me, they sent Gayle and me to Phoenix for a three-week psychological intensive that gave us three years worth of analysis and treatment. We all wanted to know why I developed such incongruity in my life. Thankfully, with the tools we gained there, along with the powerful way God has been illuminating His Word and the Holy Spirit has been convicting and healing me, we now have growing understanding which is giving me some hope for a future.” 

So, if Haggard doesn’t think he’s completely heterosexual, or healed, or whatever, much of what I have to say below may not apply to him.  If it is his church overseers who decided themselves to declare him completely heterosexual, I am doubly (or more like octuply!) horrified at them for making a statement that I believe is likely to bear destructive fruit.

Anyway, I’ve edited this post in order to correct it accordingly–making explicit my assumptions in some places, and getting rid of them in others. 

***********************************

 The “same new reader” has requested a post on Ted Haggard’s cure.

Well, I don’t think it’s likely that he’s completely heterosexual, if that’s what you’re asking.  Of course, we have to remember that “completely heterosexual” can mean almost anything in certain exgay or evangelical circles, depending on whom you talk to.  But let’s assume that it means that his sexual attractions are solely directed towards women, that he has no sexual interest in men whatsoever.  And, let’s assume for this discussion that “completely heterosexual” is how Haggard would describe himself, something which is not clear, as the assertion of his complete heterosexuality was made by a church overseer and not by himself.

The way I see it, there are three possibilities at this point:

1.  He was instantaneous, miraculously changed.

I’ll admit, I don’t understand why God would change Haggard instead of the many other people I know and love who would be delighted to experience such a transformation.  But, then again, I’m not God, and there are a lot of things that God does that I don’t quite understand. 

2.  He’s flat-out lying, intentionally b.s.-ing everyone.

I know it’s not nice to suggest this.  I’d point out, though, that after the scandal broke, he was stunningly deceptive and slippery in his statements, always denying everything until denial is totally futile, and then admitting to as little as possible.  More like a politician than a shepherd of souls, if you ask me.  I would put more stock in his honesty if he had been forthright from the beginning. 

3.  He genuinely feels and believes that he is fixed.

There’s two ways this could be brought about.  I don’t know what took place in his intensive therapy, but perhaps it was some sort of Clockwork Orange thing.  I think it’s entirely possible that at least in the short run, a man could be made to believe that he is completely heterosexual through aversion therapy or programming or the like.  I’m inclined to think that in the short run, any sort of belief or behavior can be produced in a human being. 

Or perhaps (this is the second way) it’s not a matter of therapy at all, but simply the good old time-honored techniques of self-deception and wishful thinking.  In the short run, when we want to badly enough, we can believe almost anything about ourselves–even without a professional’s aid.  It is very easy to take a temporary fluctuation or easing up in our attractions as proof of a “cure”.  It is easy to reinterpret our feelings, in the short run at least, treating them as something other than they are. 

This sort of thing is fairly common among people who desire attraction change.  If I had a nickel for every person who ecstatically shared with me how much their attractions were changing, how much they were experiencing God’s healing touch, and then months or years later told me it was all a crock (usually on their way back to embracing homosexual relationships), well, I might not be rich but I would definitely have a lot of nickels. 

There can be a lot of fluctuations in our experience of our sexuality (over days or weeks or months) that don’t necessarily mean much.  So, for example, as I’ve discussed before, my sexual attractions evaporated almost completely in the residential program.  And there were times outside of that when I discovered that wasn’t attracted to a particular woman, or that I took a certain sort of interest in a man, and made it out to be something much bigger than it was.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying seasons of lessened attraction to the same sex or increased interest in the opposite sex.  But I think we set ourselves up for serious disappointment if we take any of these things as conclusive proof of permanent healing.  You can very easily find yourself a week or a month later right back where you were. 

This is not to say, however, that attraction change is impossible, that all experiences of fluidity are but fleeting and deceptive. I do not think we have evidence for saying as much, and my own story suggests otherwise, at least to me.  I know other people who have gone through exgay ministries and/or therapy who tell me they have experienced attraction change that is meaningful to them, even if it isn’t “complete heterosexuality,” and in many cases I believe them.  (I’m baffled by the tendency of some to take all exexgay/antiexgay testimonies at face value, and to dismiss all exgay testimonies.  It seems to me that both groups in general could have motives and reasons for seeing things through somewhat distorted lenses.)  Furthermore, while I don’t know any of them personally, I have heard of several instances of perfectly ordinary gay people (both male and female), thoroughly embracing their homosexuality, who one day find themselves falling in love with and sexually drawn to a person of the opposite sex.  My understanding is that most gay people would acknowledge such examples of random fluidity, although they might dismiss it as bisexuality.  (“REAL gay people could never fall in love with someone of the opposite sex.”)  I’m not opposed to calling it bisexuality, as long as it is acknowledged that it is a stealthy, surprising sort of bisexuality, with which you can have attractions and experiences identical to that of a thoroughly homosexual person for many years, and then suddenly start feeling something else out of the blue.  None of us, no matter how gay, can know for sure that we aren’t that sort of “sleeper” bisexual.     

I don’t think we can always neatly sort the fleeting from the non-fleeting, or the deceptive from the real.  As I’ve shared before, I put off Mr. DM’s talk about marriage for a while, not sure whether I could trust my feelings toward him or not.  And while we ought not be permanently paralyzed by the uncertainty of the future, as I eventually decided in connection with Mr. DM, I do think that we ought to be cautious, circumspect within reasonable limits.   This proclamation of complete heterosexuality, to me, indicates an unfortunate lack of caution. It’s a little hasty, to say the least.  And to talk about “complete” anything, this side of heaven, sounds awfully sketchy to my ears. 

Regardless of what the correct explanation is for the announcement, I suspect it will turn out to have bad results.  The way I see it, either people won’t believe that Haggard is completely hetero, or they will.  If they don’t believe it, and find those claims preposterous, they may be inclined to tar all of us who profess to have experienced some sort of change and/or who are simply seeking to honor God through celibacy with the same brush.  I fear that Haggard’s example will be brought up to mock and discourage those who are pursuing celibate or exgay paths, in a way that might be hurtful to them.  And if people do believe that Haggard is now completely hetero, as I fear some evangelicals might, this will make things even worse for the homo-attracted believers.  For without any qualification, the announcement suggests that change isn’t all that hard, that anyone can do it, in three weeks even!  What’s wrong with you, O homo-attracted Christian?  Why aren’t you straight yet?  Perhaps you don’t have enough faith?  Or perhaps you don’t really want to be healed?  C’mon, we’re getting impatient!

A church of New Life’s size must have dealt with some “strugglers,” must be aware of the complexities surrounding these matters of faith, homosexuality, and change.  I wish for the sake of the homo-attracted in their own congregation, as well as the church at large, they had been more careful to make a nuanced statement which acknowledges the realities of life for the majority of homo-attracted people, if not Haggard himself.


Reflections on Tushnet’s Thoughts about Exgay Ministries

July 12, 2006

As I said a couple of posts ago, I thoroughly enjoyed Eve Tushnet’s blog posts about her visit to a Love Won Out conference and her thoughts on the ex-gay movement. Now that I finally have a little spare time, I’m going to use her thoughts as a springboard for some thinking aloud of my own. (Note: I’m not discussing what I thought was the most interesting part of her posts–her thoughts on same-sex attraction, alienation, and beauty. I tried, but I’m simply unequal to the task–it’s too lofty and intimidating a subject for me right now. So I devote myself to these humbler and more trivial matters instead: eschaton immanentization, salvation-through-pantyhose, parental reactions to their child’s homosexuality, why the ex-gay movement is a Protestant thing, and putting homosexuality on the back burner.)

1. Eschaton immanentization

Yeah it’s a problem. I wouldn’t say that those exgays try to “yank Heaven down” by force. It’s more that they genuinely believe that this is what God is doing now, that these really are special and awesome times, and you can either get with the program or miss out on the blessing. It’s not that you can “make” God “fix” you, it’s that God really really wants to “fix” you, if only you’d cooperate in faith. (Look at all the other people He’s fixing! Why not you?!) Now, maybe they’re subconsciously “yanking Heaven down” in leaning toward the interpretations that they do. But I don’t think they consciously see themselves as manipulating God.

Still, the perspective is problematic because (in my humble opinion) it sets an unrealistic goal for many of us, and it blames our failure to achieve it on our spiritual state. This is partly why exgay “failure” to change can be a really painful thing, I think. The implication is often that change would happen if you really had true faith, if you really trusted God, if you really desired to please Him, if you were really obedient in stewarding your sexual desires, if you were really earnest in pursuing holiness–in other words, if you were really His child, if you were really saved. I know ex-gay ministries don’t explicitly say or believe this, but isn’t it a logical conclusion to draw from things they do say, about change being possible for everyone, about change being something God wants to work in the life of every same-sex attracted believer, about change being a product of intimacy with Christ?

I suspect that there are at least four factors contributing to this problem: (1) the influence of Charismatic/Pentecostal beliefs to the effect that healing and miracles are available to all with sufficient faith; (2) a bad exegesis of 1 Cor. 6:11 where “And such were some of you” is read by many exgays, in defiance of all logic and reason, as talking about a change in sexual attraction rather than a change in sexual behavior; (3) a split-mindedness within the exgay movement over whether homosexual attraction is a spiritual issue or merely a psychological one (and therefore capable of being psychologically “cured”); and (4) a sense of entitlement and conviction that God wants His people to be happy and successful. I think there’s an implicit view sometimes that being a good witness means having a life that is attractive in the world’s eyes, so that they’ll want to be just like you. (I personally was more drawn to the faith by those total losers who gave up everything for Jesus, but what do I know?)

In any case, I dissent from that view. I do not believe that God has promised everyone attraction change. I feel kind of Scrooge-like saying this, after having been blessed as I have, but the evidence seems compelling to me. I simply know too many men and women who tried too hard, men and women who followed the exgay teaching far more assiduously and wholeheartedly than I. I will not dishonor them by claiming that they just didn’t have enough faith, or pray the right prayer, or try hard enough.

2. “Salvation-through-pantyhose”

From what I’ve seen, there is considerable disagreement among exgays on this issue. I am officially on the “anti-pantyhose” side. I think the emphasis on gender stereotypes is misguided even by mainstream exgay theology’s own lights. After all, they believe that a key cause of same-sex attraction is feeling insecure in one’s gender as a child. Well, what better way to make kids (or adults) feel insecure and inadequate in their gender than to set forth a very rigid notion of what it means to be a woman or a man, which will likely be hard for them to live up to or feel comfortable with?

Nonetheless, I think there’s a kernel of truth in the pro-pantyhose position for some women, probably including Ms. Fryrear. I know there are many women who are cool with themselves as women but just don’t like the girly stuff, and that’s great. But I also know that there are some other women who don’t like the girly stuff because they are uncomfortable with themselves as women. For these women, I think their discomfort with pantyhose (or whatever) might be a dragon that needs slaying, as part of embracing and accepting themselves as women, as God created them. Of course, I wouldn’t put any pressure on anyone. God showed me what I needed to do when I needed to do it, in no uncertain terms.

3. Parental reactions to a child’s homosexuality.

Like Tushnet, my intuitive sympathies are with the kid, for obvious reasons. I get pretty agitated by parents who are devastated by and mourn and grieve over their child’s gaiety. I want to grab them by the neck and yell all kinds of stuff at them, like about how being a queer kid is plenty stressful enough without having to worry about dealing with your parents while they’re self-indulgently bewailing the demise of their bourgeois fantasies of normalcy and grandparenthood….GRRRRRRR.

<deep, cleansing breaths>

But, all that being said, the fact is that parents do have those kinds of ridiculously overblown feelings and reactions. I don’t fully understand why they do, and I sure wish they didn’t, but there it is. And if I’ve learned anything from observing the homo-struggle, surely it’s that Beating Up On People For Feeling What They Shouldn’t Feel isn’t terribly productive. Sure, if she really had it together as she ought to, the mother of a gay son wouldn’t feel that his being gay was tantamount to his being dead. And if I really had it together as I ought to, Zhang Ziyi wouldn’t do that thing she does to my insides. So I need to restrain my killer instincts, and cut unto others the slack I would have them cut unto me.

Tushnet’s take seems to be “well, the kid will be able to tell how you feel anyway, so why bother telling them?” My take is more “well, since the kid is probably going to be able to tell how you feel anyway, don’t b.s. them about how you’re taking it.” To illustrate, I offer a not-so-hypothetical tale of two parents.

When I came out to my mom, she appeared to take it just fine. Sure, she looked a little stunned, but her voice was composed and moderate as she shared her extraordinarily low opinions of the female genitalia and cunnilingus, and informed me that I needed go out and get some sexual experience with boys before coming to any conclusions. I breathed a huge sigh of relief over how well she handled it. But she then proceeded to spend the next three years passive-aggressively snarking at me over the subject at every opportunity, all the while insisting that she “didn’t have a problem with it,” until one day she just snapped and her sorrow, fear, frustration, and horror exploded all over me like a slime-filled balloon. (If anyone’s trying to piece together a chronology, this was about a year before before she asked God to kill me on account of my queerness.)

In contrast, when I came out to my father, I (and the rest of my family) expected him to react angrily, kick me out of the house, and disown me. Well, that didn’t happen, but what did happen was even more horrifying to me at the time. He cried. I don’t mean a wistful solitary tear streaking down his rugged, stoic, masculine cheek. I mean he bawled hysterically and incoherently like a little girl. For a loooong time. I had never seen anything like that from him in my entire life, and I hope never to again. But all the same, his pain and anguish and sense of unfathomable loss were palpably real. Trying to cover them up would have been both futile and insulting.

Anyway, I guess my point is simply that I preferred my father’s handling of the news to my mother’s. So yeah it would be fantastic if parents could be level-headed and control themselves, if they could successfully protect their kids from their emotions. But I worry that expecting that of parents in general would be a little bit like, well, immanentizing the eschaton.

4. Why the Ex-Gay Movement is a Protestant Phenomenon

So some guy named John wrote to Tushnet wondering about why the ex-gay movement is overwhelmingly a Protestant thing. (But let’s not forget Joseph Nicolosi! And that lovely jewel of a statement from the Vatican a while back–as far as I’m concerned, once you’ve declared that homosexual attractions are necessarily a manifestation of spiritual and emotional immaturity, you’re nine-tenths of the way to the very worst kind of ex-gay viewpoint.)

He was specifically wondering whether it had something to do with a Reformation view that homosexual desire itself was sin. So, the thinking might run: because the desire is sin, the desire must be got rid of, which brings us to ex-gay ministries.

I am pretty certain this is not the case. For a few different reasons, but I’ll just give the simplest one: The explicit view of every exgay leader I have ever heard is that homosexual desire is not sin. They are quite emphatic and unequivocal about that.

Do I have an alternative answer? I don’t claim to know the exact whys and wherefores, but in my humble opinion the biggest reason by far is this:

Protestants have no meaningfully fleshed-out concept of intentional, joyful celibacy to work with. Period.

Thus, we have to change homosexuals’ orientations and marry them off, because we don’t have any real alternatives for them.

The Reformers and their heirs were so eager to uphold and exalt the holiness and sanctity and spiritual excellences of marriage that celibacy got buried and was largely forgotten. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe with all my heart that the Reformers were wonderfully and profoundly right about emphasizing the highness of the calling of marriage and the spiritual importance of “ordinary” secular life. But, there’s a problem lurking in the neighborhood.

Traditionally, Protestants have held that the solution to sexual temptation is sex in marriage. This was a claim Luther and Calvin made, and it is repeated over and over again throughout our history. If you are sexually struggling and you are unmarried, then you need to get married. If you are sexually struggling and you are married, then you and your spouse need to be having more and/or better sex. (The Reformers and Puritans were very insistent upon the value of sexual pleasure and the importance of mutual satisfaction in the marriage bed.) The general feeling one gets from reading them is that sexual desire cannot be tamed or subdued at all, but only corralled in marriage.
The problem of course is that this approach has nothing to offer those who don’t see hetero marriage as a viable option, but who still find themselves excruciatingly sexually tempted–i.e., the exclusively homosexually attracted. Unless it can make heteros out of them.

I would love to be proven wrong on this–I’d love for someone to point me to secret treasure troves of Reformed teaching on the subject of celibacy. But this is my impression as someone who spent several years earnestly trying to find support and resources for celibacy from the evangelical Protestant traditions and coming up empty-handed. There is simply not much of a place in the evangelical church for someone who isn’t trying to get married. Our great celibate role-models (Amy Carmichael, John Stott, etc.) were all accidental celibates who were earnestly hoping to get married until it was simply too late.

Evangelicals do acknowledge that a tiny handful of people are called to lifelong “singleness”, but we generally seem to think that those people will have such special grace and revelation from the Lord (in accordance with their exceedingly rare and special calling) that they will know what to do and how to handle it themselves without any advice from mere mortals. So it’s treated like a mysterious superpower, and not spoken about much. If you’re struggling sexually, you weren’t meant to be celibate. A suitable spouse will be coming along shortly, have no fear.

Given all this, I think it’s not hard to see why the ex-gay movement is the primary evangelical method of helping homosexually-attracted believers. It’s also not hard to see why this is a difficult context for homosexually attracted people to try to exist in. This is another reason why I think ex-gay “failure” (or lack of “success”) can be so painful: the Church doesn’t know what to do with you!

On top of this, exgays are sometimes told that their “healing” will not be complete if they don’t go onto heterosexual attraction and marriage. (See this Exodus article and this one as well.) That they are cowards for not desiring or pursuing hetero marriage, afraid to step out of their same-sex attracted comfort zone. So sometimes I wonder if the exgay movement seems reluctant to offer “too much” support for celibate chastity, lest exgays become too comfortable in that place without pursuing further change. In any case, I blame the historic Protestant discomfort with celibacy for the whole darn mess. And I do think it is a mess, a mess that needs to be cleaned up if we’re going to effectively minister to gay people.

5. Putting homosexuality on the back burner

“She also said–to much applause–that the Christian who made the biggest impression on her when she was still a lesbian “put homosexuality on the back burner,” presenting Christ as her Savior first rather than talking about her sexuality. It is not my impression that the ex-gay movement, in general, actually takes this approach.”

For what it’s worth, my own experience is that the ex-gay movement, in general, actually does take that approach. I spent a lot of time before becoming a Christian conversing online with many exgays and exgay leaders. Without exception, they all put Christ front-and-center and never brought up my sexuality issues.

It is certainly true that plenty of other Christians fail to put Christ ahead of a person’s homosexuality in talking to them. But I have never seen that in the ex-gay movement. Which makes me very glad. Because really, it’s stupid. As a pastor involved in exgay ministry said affectionately to me shortly after my conversion “Jesus has to catch the fish before He can clean them.” And as I’ve said before:

The way to lead gays to Christ is not through arguing with them about homosexuality. If I know you have one deaf ear, I won’t speak in it if I’m trying to get you to hear me. If I know you have a blind spot, I won’t display something in front of it if I’m trying to get you to see. “But they must be convinced of their sin before they will see their need for a Savior!” True enough. But it’s not as though homosexual sex is the only sin that gay people commit. On the contrary, like everybody else, most of them struggle with many things that they themselves wouldn’t hesitate to call wrong. So why not address those matters instead?

Speaking personally, when I first keenly felt my need for a Savior, I felt it because of my pride, because of my greed, because of my hatred, because of my lack of self-control, because of my selfishness, because of my unrighteous anger, because of my impatience, because of how I had hardened my heart against the Lord of the Universe and blasphemed His name. These things condemned me. I did not yet see the sinfulness of homosexuality, or any [consensual] sexual sin for that matter. It was not until after I became a Christian by God’s grace that my eyes were more fully opened and I could see the truth in the Scriptures and in the witness of the Holy Spirit within my heart.


A Problem with McLaren’s Approach to Homosexuality: Not Everyone Can Wait

March 16, 2006

In late January, Brian McLaren had a post on Leadership Journal’s Out of Ur blog on the subject of homosexuality and the church. Like everything else that McLaren writes, it received both enthusiastic praise and scathing criticism. Some see McLaren as compassionate, others see him as just plain wishy-washy. I tend to think there’s merit to both allegations.

I don’t want to discuss his post in its entirety, just one paragraph of it. So much as been said about this, there’s not much to add. But there’s one thing that I haven’t heard said yet, that I think needs saying. Here’s the relevant McLaren paragraph.

Perhaps we need a five-year moratorium on making pronouncements. In the meantime, we’ll practice prayerful Christian dialogue, listening respectfully, disagreeing agreeably. When decisions need to be made, they’ll be admittedly provisional. We’ll keep our ears attuned to scholars in biblical studies, theology, ethics, psychology, genetics, sociology, and related fields. Then in five years, if we have clarity, we’ll speak; if not, we’ll set another five years for ongoing reflection. After all, many important issues in church history took centuries to figure out. Maybe this moratorium would help us resist the “winds of doctrine” blowing furiously from the left and right, so we can patiently wait for the wind of the Spirit to set our course.

Many question whether a church of full of McLarens could ever come to clarity on this or any other issue, and ask what reason there is to think that his epistemological situation will be much improved five, ten, or fifteen years down the road. I think they might be onto something, but in the interest of charity I’ll assume that five, ten, fifteen, or perhaps twenty years might do it, that it’s possible that McLaren’s moratorium could bear fruit.

My concern with McLaren’s approach is that he treats this issue as if were merely a matter of church policy…like specific bylaws or how often we do communion or what sort of music we sing in worship. For many believers, that’s all it is. It has no real bearing on their lives. There’s no problem with them taking any number of years to mull things over noncommittally. Best to take things slow and not get dogmatic, lest we turn anyone off unnecessarily. McLaren’s approach might actually make a little sense for the straight Christians who are worrying too much about this issue as it is.

But the problem is that it makes absolutely no sense for those Christians who are same-sex attracted. It seems that these are the people who fall out of McLaren’s calculation about the correct approach to take. He’s worried about straight Christians obsessing about something that doesn’t really concern them. He’s worried about offending the straight couple in his church who want to make sure their gay fathers will be welcome. Judging by other things he’s written, he’s worried about gay people outside the church who might be alienated from it. But for all his concern with being not just honest but “pastoral”, a pastoral concern for those to whom this issue matters most–Christians who are experiencing same-sex attraction–is strikingly absent from his discussion. (I’m not saying that he doesn’t have such concern, I’m saying that it doesn’t enter into this article, as far as I can see.)

These Christians can’t wait ten years, or five years, or one year, to make a decision about what to do regarding homosexuality. Even if they don’t have a conviction of absolute certainty, costly and difficult choices must be made about which path they will take. Does McLaren have a word for them, beyond “Check in with me in five years, and maybe I’ll be able to help?” If he’s not sure that it isn’t a sin, he undoubtedly realizes that there’s a great deal at stake here.

For straight postmodern Christians, homosexuality can be a fun topic of indefinite “conversations”. They can muse about it and dialogue about it and trade non-judgmental stories about it forever. It’s just another theological controversy of the sort that they love to play with open-endedly. They can wallow in the multiplied layers of confusion and murky complexity. But their same-sex attracted siblings cannot approach the matter in the same way. I would have appreciated some recognition of that fact from McLaren.

(Of course, I have my opinions about what McLaren should say, even if he’s unsure or unclear about what the Bible teaches. But for now I’ll just leave it at this.)