homosexuality


One of the things I love about my experience of church at the moment is the questions. Most of the questions, for me, are of the contrast of what I once experienced as church, and what I experience now as church.

Mardi Gras 2012: Proud to be gay and Christian.

Mardi Gras 2012: Proud to be gay and Christian.

This Saturday is the 35th anniversary of the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade, which started in 1978 as a political march for gay rights. Back then, homosexual sexual behaviour was illegal in New South Wales, and Mardi Gras began as a call to end discrimination against people of diverse sexualities and genders. I vaguely remember hearing about it on the news, and my father reacting to it. I don’t remember what he did or said, except that it was negative. Maybe he turned the television off. Maybe he said something about “what is the world coming to.” Whatever it was, I knew it was inappropriate as a 12 year old Christian boy for me to be curious about whatever that news story was about. As the years went by, and Mardi Gras eventually became an annual event, my curiosity piqued: I wanted to see the scantily clad men marching in this parade. I wanted to understand what this was about. I wanted to figure out why i was so drawn to this event, and so scared of it too. I dared not appear interested, however. I was a Christian, in love with God. I wanted most of all to please God and He certainly did not approve of this social change that was taking place. And He certainly wouldn’t approve of the wanton displays of sexual energy that were appearing on the television screen in our home.

Fast forward 30 years.

I now attend a church that each February holds a service called “Blessing of Mardi Gras”.

The best way to celebrate Fat Tuesday: pancakes with Canadian bacon and real maple syrup.

The best way to celebrate Fat Tuesday: pancakes with Canadian bacon and real maple syrup.

“Mardi Gras” literally means “Fat Tuesday,” referring to Shrove Tuesday – or pancake day, as I learnt to call it while living in Canada. This year’s “Blessing of Mardi Gras” fell on the Sunday after Shrove Tuesday, the first Sunday of Lent in the Christian calendar. Lent, of course, is the time of “giving up” or fasting that takes place after the celebrations of Advent and Epiphany (Christmas). Shrove Tuesday was the day to end the time of celebration by using up all the fatty foods you might have around, hence the tradition of Pancake Tuesday.

So here we are at the time in the Christian calendar when we are called to be reflective, to sombrely look forward to the Cross, towards Good Friday and the crucifixion. Yet as a church composed largely of LGBTI people, we are more intent on looking forward to the Sydney Mardi Gras Parade. A time for us to celebrate who we are, to say to the world that God loves gay people too. To say to the gay community that God really does love us and have a place for us.

As we reflect on the overlap of Mardi Gras with Lent, I am filled with awe at my God. Isn’t this what Jesus came to do? To turn our mourning into dancing? Jesus gently rebukes those who would throw stones, refusing to let us listen to those who would say we have no right nor reason to celebrate. I hear my earthly father’s voice of disgust when he sees those early Mardi Gras parades on the late Saturday night news. And I hear the voice of Christ, gently questioning those who would throw stones, and giving power to the weak. I somehow believe that were my dad still alive, he would be find in his heart to be the follower of Christ he always strove to be. He would find a way to graciously accept and to somehow be proud of me. He would find a way to put aside his prejudice, his theology and his hermeneutic, and celebrate that his son and his granddaughter are going to march together in Sydney’s Mardi Gras. I would like to think that he would have begun to see that this celebration is one of freedom: the same freedom proclaimed by John the Baptist, the same freedom Christ came to offer. Freedom to be ourselves.

For the Blessing of Mardi Gras, we sing together the words written by Lee to TobyMac’s City on Our Knees:

As a family we are gathered here

Celebrating Mardi Gras right now

Mardi Gras 2012: God makes no mistakes.

Mardi Gras 2012: God makes no mistakes.

With the blessing take this time right here

To commit to make a change somehow

From a single action love builds

Fill the churches fill the world

Love of Jesus comes to save us all

Tonight’s the night for the sinners and the saints

Two worlds collide in beautiful display

It’s all love tonight, when you step across the line

We can sail across the void to a place where Jesus is

As we fall upon our knees

Mardi Gras 2012: The Garden of Eden

Mardi Gras 2012: The Garden of Eden

Highly Recommended

 

Superheroes, Saviors, and Sinners Without Secrets by D.S. Reade

 

This book was loaned to me by one of the leaders of New Direction in Toronto. Just by reading the back cover I knew I would enjoy this book. The title itself was one I could identify strongly – I too want to be known as a “sinner without secrets.”

 

Dave Reade is a gifted story-teller. His prose is in the style of Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. Professionally, Reade is a counsellor, and, even though he does not really talk about his work, I can see him as a master of Narrative Therapy. I am sure that writing this book was a therapeutic exercise by which he retold the story of his life.

 

Reade has been through places I can identify with. His journey with faith and homosexuality has taken many turns. He talks about the sexual abuse he experienced as a boy, and his reluctance to recognize it as such. He talks about riding a bicycle across America. He tells us about his difficulty fitting in with his straight male friends, in spite of his deep desire to be in honest relationship with them. He tells about God giving him a new name. He tries to explain why he has hope, even when he’s not really sure why. In fact, his chapter about hope reminded me of this recent post from College Jay.

 

Reade is definitely made a Side B decision for himself, but honestly talks about his desire to be in a monogamous relationship with another man. He also talks about his struggle as he seeks to live the celibate life that he believes that God has called him to.

 

I found this book challenging, uplifting, encouraging, honest, real. I recommend it to any gay Christians out there who, like me, haven’t quite figured out if they take “Side A” or “Side B”. Somehow reading this book assured me, once again, that being in this storm of sexual identity is quite okay, and that I don’t have to have all the answers right now.

 

I think this book would be particularly helpful for straight Christians who don’t quite “get” homosexuality. It’s not that he explains it. He is simply honest in describing his journey, the emotions he goes through, and how his desires continue in spite of the choice he has made to be celibate.

 

Thanks, Dave Reade, for sharing your story with us. Thanks for telling us your secrets.

 

 

While I have, of course, “struggled” with my sexuality for about 25 years, it has really only been in the last year that I have felt compelled to truly embrace who I am. When I started blogging about this in March of this year, I initially titled my blog “through the storm,” realizing that, whatever the outcome of this journey, it certainly felt like living through a storm. As a man of faith, I imagine myself in the disciples’ boat, with Jesus sleeping in the bow as a mighty storm whips up the waves in the sea.

 

I remain in this storm… but it seems to have taken on a different nature. I no longer feel so alone. I no longer feel I need to be silent. Jesus still sleeps, but the presence of God is yet a common feeling and powerful reality for me. I know that He is in control, even when the questions keep coming, the anger in me rises repeatedly, and the doubts loom larger than my faith.

 

I have lots of questions.

 

How can I be real? How can I be truly honest? I am being honest with myself. But I still have fear that if I am totally honest with my wife that that would be like giving in, and saying goodbye to my marriage and my family, which I truly value. I admire Casey for the honesty with which he is proceeding.

 

Reflecting on my previous post, I wonder why I was so taken by Jim Lyon’s sermon? There really was nothing new there – nothing that I hadn’t considered before. I still have questions about why we Christians want to take the whole Bible so seriously, when the truth is we all pick and choose which parts of it we want to follow.

My big question is about this scripture: But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust. (I Corinthians 7:9). First of all, I don’t really believe Paul had an understanding of homosexuality as we do today. He saw it as unnatural – Romans 1 proves this. In a sense I see it as unnatural too, in that it was not part of God’s original design. But then, nor do I believe that physical blindness or paralysis or arthritis were part of His original design. Just as diseases and physical imperfections were part of the fall, so is homosexuality. We have learned that homosexuality can no more be “cured”, than can blindness. Sure, there are some cases where miracles or medicine or both have cured blindness, and I believe that in some cases miracles or psychotherapy have changed homosexuals to heterosexuals. But for most of us – as for most blind persons – our sexual orientation seems to be immutable. So, lets assume Paul gained an understanding of homosexuality as we understand it today – as a fixed orientation that is both unchosen and immutable. What would he say to homosexuals in a similar predicament to the heterosexuals mentioned in 1 Corinthians? Would he not give them similar advice? What would Paul say to gay men and women today? I find it hard to believe that he would have been as judgmental as he comes across in the scriptures.

I guess one big question per post is enough…

Last Sunday my daughter had the privilege of attending Madison Park Church of God in Anderson, Indiana, where she heard this sermon on “The Bible, Homosexuality, and the Church”, preached by Pastor Jim Lyon.

Jim is probably the most articulate and persuasive preacher I know, having heard him numerous times both live and via recordings over the last 15 years or so. This sermon is no exception. I find his arguments most convincing… which again has me questioning many of the conclusions I have come to over the last twelve months. (Of course, there are a few points I would argue with, particularly his use of Leviticus.)

I am not saying that I am ready to start condemning LGBT folk to hell, as Jim comes close to doing. I still believe in God, whose mercy triumphs over judgment, whose grace is unlimited and truly amazing. I guess what I am saying is that this sermon has once again has me questioning what God really expects of as same-gender attracted individuals. Once again I am faced with questions and doubts than I have answers for.

I attended a Lutheran church this morning, and was reminded of what I still believe:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. AMEN.

My “letter to a church” was published this month, somewhat to my surprise. It seems to me from the search data wordpress gives me that some people have been googling the letter and have located my blog. I have kind of tried to keep this blog anonymous, but I realize that I have included enough personal information that anyone who knows me can figure out that this is me!

So, for those of you who have read my article and figured out who wrote it, welcome! I would appreciate it if you would identify yourself in some way – send me an email at my hotmail address if you have it, or respond to a post including your email as an identifier (I am the only one who can access the email information). I don’t want to hide – I am waiting the appropriate time to be out to my children and in-laws… maybe having this letter published will spark a conversation that lets me come out to them. I really would like to start some more conversations with others who know me well.

By the way, sorry for the absence over the last couple of weeks… things are slowing down for the summer and I hope to blog more soon.

I have written the following lengthy comments in response to Jay’s latest post, and thought it would be useful to post if here as well.

Jay,

When I started work on my MA in psychology, the first paper I wrote was on the etiology (causes and development) of homosexuality. I think doing this research was one of the things that eventually led me to give up on my quest to become straight.

No one really has any idea what causes homosexuality. As with most psychological phenomena, research shows that BOTH environmental factors (nurture) AND biological factors (nature) influence the development of homosexuality. Most research also suggests that it is fixed in early childhood, and that it is more or less immutable (cannot be changed).

For me, the most interesting research into whether it is environmental or biological has been work with twins. A well-known longitudinal twin study looked at twins separated at birth. If one twin was gay, there was a 52% chance that the other twin was gay. Since in the general population, most research suggests that less than 5% of men are gay, the chances then of both twins becoming gay because of environmental factors should be 5% of 5% – or 1 in 400. Therefore, this was pretty strong evidence for biological factors causing homosexuality. Of course, the question of the other 48% of twins where one is gay and one is straight is still an important question. Obviously there is something going in the environment as well as in biology. Because of this, many people have compared homosexuality to alcoholism. Alcoholism runs in families, and has been shown to be influenced by genetics. However, some people with the gene that would make them likely to become alcoholics do not become alcoholics: there have been environmental (familial, societal, or religious) influences that stop them from becoming alcoholics. A similar thing is probably going in with homosexuality. I say this guardedly, for a couple of reasons: (1) There really is no substantial evidence of a “gay gene,” so the comparison to alcoholism breaks down right there. Most current researchers claiming a biological cause for homosexuality in humans believe it will be found in a hormonal process that takes place in the womb. (2) Psychological research has repeatedly run into dead ends when trying to identify the environmental factors that contribute to homosexuality. It is popular among ex-gay Christian ministries to talk about an absent father and domineering mother (for gay men), or an inadequate relationship with the same-sex parent, or childhood sexual abuse (all seen as types of emotional trauma) as causes of homosexuality. However, empirical research in these areas has proved inconclusive.

Of course, there have been many Christians who claim to have been healed of homosexuality. Their journeys have been long and difficult, even though they say it has been worth it. But their motivating factors have been fear of displeasing God, fear of displeasing their families, and possibly even fear of going to hell. (I guess I could put this in more positive terms: their motivating factors have been a desire to please God and their families, and their goal of going to heaven.) I understand it in terms of repentance – repentance meaning, literally, “changing your mind.” So, when you change your mind about your sexuality, you become straight. This seems to be another way of saying “fake it ‘til you make it.” I tried to do this until it became untenable to fake it anymore. As much as I believed God wanted me to be straight, I couldn’t make myself think that I was when my desires towards men were so powerful. However, from stories I have heard, some individuals have been able to convince themselves that their homosexual desires are evil, and that thinking that they are gay is a lie from the devil, and that the truth is that God made us all straight. They have repented, or “changed their minds.” And every time they inadvertently find themselves attracted sexually to someone of their own gender, they remind themselves of God’s decree against homosexual behaviour, and of the “truth” that they are straight, and somehow succeed in ignoring or having victory over the attraction/temptation. To me, this is simply being dishonest with one’s self, and I have decided I cannot live like this any more.

Sorry for how academic this comment is sounding, but your post struck a chord with me and I feel I need to be detailed about how empirical (scientific) research has helped me work through these questions.

The other issue for me was that none of the environmental factors really applied. While my father was not perfect, we had a good relationship most of my life. I never experienced abuse of any kind. My mother was/is strong emotionally, but I could never describe her as domineering. The model just didn’t fit for me.

Jay, I have been where you are at. You want to be a faithful, loving husband and father. You want to experience the full pleasure of heterosex. You want it to be satisfying for you, because that would make your life and the decisions you face so much easier. I feel the same way. If you want it “bad enough”, you might be able to do it. But there are many stories out there of many who have tried (for example, Peterson Toscano, Anthony Venn-Brown, Mel White) and eventually gave up in order to keep their sanity and self-respect.

That being said, I also want to say that you are in a good place. You are being honest, you are being true to your marriage vows. You are choosing to live in a way that seems right to you, in spite of your sexual desires. These are important and honourable decisions you have made – I have made similar ones, for similar reasons. But I find that the longer I live accepting myself as a gay man, the more I come to realize that my current situation must change. And ultimately I get to decide how to change it. Of course, our wives could make some decisions that force us to make some changes sooner than we might wish; we will still have choices to make if and when that happens.

Keep living each day with integrity, brother, and one day you will know what you need to do, whether it’s seeking to change your orientation or to embrace it.

This has been a rather melancholy week for me. I’ve been challenged in my thinking by a number of people. The sad part is, these challenges seem to have led me further towards doubt and away from faith. In this post I list some of the real people dealing with real issues of sexuality, and how their journeys are touching mine.

 

I read the saga of Jay and Anginae and Nate and Ace… I admire Jay for his faithfulness, Anginae for her honesty and acceptance of her dilemma. I feel for Nate as he deals with his desire to be unfaithful, and wrestles with the occasional feeling of nostalgia for his former wife. I feel for Ace as he struggles with his own jealousy, and wonder how anyone can expect him to let Nate work through his own journey. I pray for you guys. May you all know God’s peace, live with His mercy, and grow in His love.

 

I read Joe moderates journey through numerous years in the ex-gay movement to this month when he will marry his groom. I want to celebrate with him. I see the pain of his journey, but wonder why mine couldn’t have been easier than it has been.

 

I think of the guys who I chat with… Manuel in Korea, who seems trapped by his commitment to his work and his church, and cannot even consider peeking out of his closet;  Tom in Ontario, who has his own struggle of self-acceptance and fear.

 

I think of younger guys like Brandon, so committed to the faith of their fathers, to the inerrancy of scripture. I envy their enthusiasm for their Lord. I remember the days when I was there. Was it sin that hardened my heart against seeing the truth of my condition? Or was it the truth of my condition, of my sexuality, that led to a more rational and functional acceptance of who I am and who He is?

 

I think of Eric, taking another step out of his closet towards self-acceptance and personal fulfilment. I want to celebrate with him, to cheer him on, to say, “you go, guy!”

 

I celebrate as Tarald begins to return to the Bible to find the true story contained therein of mercy triumphing over judgment.

 

I share the pain as Quinacridone considers what he is missing by staying married…

 

Yesterday I found myself reading a very insightful piece on davidinman.net, where he talks about the so-called inerrancy of the Bible. He discusses the contradictions in the New Testament, beginning with places where the synoptic gospels contradict each other (i.e. the details of what the disciples were to take with them on their journey). He then points out a contradiction in morality – namely, the appropriateness of eating meat sacrificed to idols (this practice was initially condemned in Acts by the apostles, until Paul takes it upon himself to set them straight). Why does God allow such errors, of the Bible is truly His word and not “man’s word”? Why would he tolerate the moral ambiguities contained in this book? So, the ambiguities in scripture about sexual morality become more pronounced for me… 

 

I see all this stuff happening in cyberspace, on the blogosphere: I see doubt, and heartache, and despair, questioning God, questioning the Bible, I see spiritual fervour, I see men and women seeking authenticity and seeking purity. I see some wondering what purity is. I see fear of change, fear of self-acceptance, fear of coming-out, fear of tempting God. I see loneliness and yearning for human companionship and sexual fulfilment. I see judgment. I see mercy. I see courage and compassion and boldness and humility. 

 

I see all the heartache of this journey in lives around me: in families where there is a gay son or a transgendered father. I see some convinced their same-gender attracted family member is just giving in to temptation. I see some being pushed back into the closet. But I see men and women boldly seeking to be who they are. I find it hard to believe that this is not a move of God. Just as it was a move of God to bring the church to the point of valuing equality of race and of gender, is it a move of God to bring us LGBT folks to a place of self-acceptance and away from shame?

 

But in order to see this as a move of God, I have to come to a different view of scripture, a different view of church and salvation. I have had to re-evaluate my faith. I wonder, is it possible to have any degree of certainty about these things? I really want to believe in the Jesus who came to earth to die to save people from hell and from their sins. But I find it more and more difficult to believe in a God who creates people like me, who then allows us to struggle with particular so-called sins like homosexuality, and then condemns us to hell when the struggle becomes too much to bear. The God I believe in is the Father of the prodigal, ever hoping for His child to return to him, without judgment. The God I believe in is the One Who was more willing to condemn the religious leaders of His day, the money-changers in the temple, and the rich, than He was to condemn an adulterous woman. The Jesus of the gospels is a Jesus I can follow. The God of Paul I am not so sure about.

Last weekend I spoke to a waiter who was serving coffee for a Pentecostal group having an “impartation luncheon” at a local hotel. When he went into the room, there were bodies all over the floor, and he was approached and asked whether he was going to heaven or hell. He said, “I’m just here to pour coffee!” I later mentioned his experience in a discussion with my wife. The comment she made to me during a later discussion really opened my eyes to the road I am on. She was lamenting the lack of response to her ministry, the lack of interest of “the lost” in finding salvation. She was lamenting the spiritual apathy of the waiter for whom pouring coffee is more important than his soul. There was a time when I too would have shared her concern. And in a way I still do. But I trust God. I trust him to bring about justice. And to demonstrate mercy. I trust Him to respect and honour each of His children. And justice and mercy has a lot more to do with the way we treat each other than with whether or not our private sins are going to send us to hell. Jesus came to bring a kingdom of peace and justice, to bring God’s will to earth as it is in heaven, to offer bread and forgiveness, to deliver us from evil. He didn’t go around asking if people were going to heaven or hell. He went around offering mercy and forgiveness and healing and freedom, and proclaiming an end to religious zealotry and legalism.

 

One of the things that I find challenging in David Inman’s blogging is his appeal to honesty. I am finding it hard to be honest. I can articulate on this blog where I am inside, but I cannot bring myself to tell my wife where I am. I cannot bring myself to tell her about this blog where I share my journey with the world. I have close friends who I haven’t talked to for months, afraid that they will stop me from travelling the road I am on. What am I afraid of? Is it the fear that James Alison talks about in this article ? Is it fear of judgment, or fear of being convinced I am wrong? What could be wrong with that? Am I just intent on justifying pursuing my sinful desires, or am I really seeking the truth? I believe the latter. But if I really believe the latter, then I would not fear telling others of this journey. Somewhere along this journey to me is the journey towards transperancy…

 

As I search the internet, I am finding grace and truth in places like exgaywatch, Sojourners, the gay Christian network, and liberal churches like the Disciples of Christ, the Anglicans, and the so-called emerging church. This is in many ways a surprise for me, but it also explains where I am on the journey.

 

Thank you to all of you who have chosen to journey with me.

 

 

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