[Disclaimer: I’m a white gay Christian]
Where I live its common for white people of a certain generation, when no black people are around, to speak in a certain way. To assume, in fact, that black people don’t exist, or at least that their experience of life as black people doesn’t matter; that their white experience is universal, and at its worst, to speak rather negatively of black people - to be, in a word, racist.
In the same way it is common among the Christians that I interact with (in general) to speak of non-Christians in a certain way. As if all non-Christians are morally inferior to them - all kind of like sex-crazed-drug-induced-murderers. As if they - and society in general (which is always a cesspool of illogical and evil ideas in their eyes) - are just hell-bent on destroying Christianity. The sad reality is that I often find my non-Christian friends to be morally more upright that my Christian ones; to be kinder, gentler, more loving people; people who often have very clear, well-thought-through ideas about how they live and why they do things; and to top it all off, people who hardly know that Christianity is still going at all (in anything other than as some quaint idea from their childhood), let alone trying to destroy it.
Also, similar too, most straight people I know assume that the whole world is straight. They assume that everyone thinks about relationships like they do. They think that everyone is going to get married, wants to get married, and wants to, or at least will, have kids.
I’m tired of all these generalizations. And I’m tired of all these assumptions. I’m going to endeavour not to make any generalizations or assumptions about groups any more. Some of you will think, ha! what a hypocrite, he’d just done that with whites, Christians, and straights, and I have a bit, but I hope you’ll see that I’ve also said “common”, “in general”, and “most”. Thankfully I have friends in all of those groups who are wonderful exceptions to the rule (of my experience) - and I’m blessed to know them, and I hope that I can be more like them - in fact I hope we all can.
Is there a place for me in the Church?
Generally speaking, my theological positions on most topics is fairly orthodox. I can say most of historical Christianity’s creeds with a clear conscience. And yet, I differ from the orthodox position in one main area - which for most conservative Christians is a major issue - a deal breaker about the rest of my beliefs.
So what am I to do? Can I still find a home in churches where in all other respects I’m on the same page? And perhaps let this secondary issue (and let’s be under no illusions, it is a secondary issue) be something that we respectfully disagree on?
I used to think so. Lately, however, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to find meaningful fellowship with people who would not be happy for me if I happened to get married. And its difficult sharing one’s life with people who for all intents and purposes don’t acknowledge your very existence - and who demonstrate this by their careless words and actions, speaking in heterosexual generalities; of the “gays” who are always out there, and never within the Church; speaking of all men and women as if they’re all going to get married or have children; as if everyone in earshot is straight.
Who knows what the future will hold, but for now, I’m left wondering where in the Church - if at all - I fit in.
There are three main responses to thinking about homosexuality among Christians. Broadly (and somewhat simplistically outlined) they are:
Side X: the belief that orientation and acts are sinful and therefore need repentance/healing/change.
Side A: the belief that neither orientation nor acts are sinful and therefore the homosexual Christian need only express his or her sexuality in acceptably ‘biblical’ terms (monogamous, faithful commitment etc.).
Side B: the belief that orientation is not sinful, but that acts are. Therefore, to remain faithful to the ‘biblical’ mandate of sexual expression, the gay Christian should remain chaste and celibate.
I’d be very curious to hear what Side B Christians think about the following excerpt from William Loader in his response to their position:
[If one embraced a Side B position]:
"One would nevertheless still require celibacy on the basis that same-sex acts are forbidden … Some like Gagnon argue that this is Paul’s option, but that is based on false assumptions and a denial of Paul’s focus which is not just on acts but on orientation. A variation of this view which lies halfway between [Side X] and [Side B] is not to embrace Paul’s view on sexual orientation but also not to acknowledge that some people are genuinely same-sex in orientation, but see such orientation as a pathology. The same consequences follow in relation to gay marriage and leadership. This approach avoids the serious ethical problem which arises from the option which accepts same-sex orientation as natural for some but then demands it never find expression – ultimately a cruel and potentially dangerous option.
The serious ethical problem about an approach which concedes that a same-sex orientation may be God-given or at least natural and not evil in itself is that it leaves itself without any viable defence against the charge of injustice when it blocks people from bringing to expression what it agrees are legitimate feelings. Unlike the stance which sees same-sex acts as arising from pathology or person and therefore follows the prohibitions in opposing them, it is hard to see why those recognising same-sex orientation and desires as legitimate oppose their expression in responsible and loving acts of intercourse. With all the biblical and other grounds for seeing them as such surrendered to modern insight in agreeing to the legitimacy of the desires such an approach paints itself into a corner and really has no plausible answer to why the acts must not be allowed. It amounts to upholding the biblical prohibition while rejecting its biblical rationale. This then becomes an ethical issue which people advocating it must face. To impose biblical commands while rejecting biblical rationales is to act in a way that seems ethically irresponsible, but it happens where people find themselves unable to engage the biblical record critically. The approach which upholds the prohibitions on the basis of arguing from pathology or as Paul from perversion are not as vulnerable to the charge of lacking ethical integrity.”
[You can find the full paper here (opens pdf) - disclaimer, there is much in the paper that I disagree with, some that I do agree with - surprise, surprise; and also worth stating for the record, although I have numerous times on this tumblr, I am somewhere between Side A and Side B, leaning more to the Side A side of things].
OK, phew, too much personal confession on my Tumblr tonight. Back to looking at internet memes.
It’s strange the contradictions that we continue to live our lives with. One for me, which I’ve been thinking about a lot recently, is my own shame at being gay. Why it is strange is that I LOVE gays and lesbians. I really do. I support marriage equality. LGBTQ issues are some of the closest things to my heart, and yet when I actually pluck up the courage to admit to myself that I, personally, am gay, if the total truth is told, I am ashamed of myself. I think to myself – wrongly I might add – that I have failed a test. That I am unlovable, and worse still unable to give love. Now I know if you sit me down and ask me, do I really think that, rationally and with every intellectual fibre in my being, I could truthfully say no. I don’t believe that, or think that to be true. But my brain isn’t the only thing that comes into play, when my heart jumps in, and you ask me emotionally and experientially, I’d have to admit it, yes, I’m ashamed. Some people have called it “self-hate”; and I think that’s mostly true, but often that way that its said is kind of accusatory, as if I must just snap out of it. Believe me, I have tried to. And slowly and surely I think I am moving forward. I’m learning to trust my love of others, and deem myself worthy to receive it. But it’s a slow process.
Two of the “resources” over the past few years that I’ve found quite helpful, not in the least because they seem to be sincerely working through some of these issues themselves, instead of just pushing the “triumphalist” gay approach that you see so often in the media, are the musical artist Perfume Genius and the American writer Ryan van Meter in his collection of memoir-essays If You Knew Then What I Know Now. So if you are struggling, like me, to reconcile your intellectual beliefs about being gay with your feelings, or if you’re straight and want to get a small window into the world of what it is like to be gay, take a listen, or have a read. They stand up as pieces of art in their own rights – not merely as “gay” art – whatever that might be.
As I was driving home tonight, the song “Up on a mountain” by The Welcome Wagon came up on the random mix of music that I have made for my car [If you don’t know The Welcome Wagon, they’re a “Gospel/indie pop band from Williamsburg” – at least that’s how their Wikipedia entry begins]. As I listened to the lyrics I began to cry.
Up on a mountain our Lord is alone
Without a family, friends or a home
He cries ooh, ooh, ooh, will you stay with me?
He cries oh, oh, oh, will you wait with me?
I cried because, like Jesus, I am alone. And like Jesus, I have asked people to “wait with me”, but for, no doubt, a whole range of reasons - some justifiable, others not – they haven’t. It doesn’t matter though, whatever the reasons or cause for my aloneness, the end is still the same. When it matters, when it counts, when I need someone to physically be here for me, there is no one.
The lyrics go on to say,
Up in the heavens our Lord prays for you
He sent his spirit to carry us through
So it’s true that you’re not alone
Do you know He came all the way down?
Theologically I know this to be true. I know that I am “in Christ”. I know that He is in Heaven interceding with the Father on my behalf. I know that He has sent his Holy Spirit to be with me as a seal of my salvation. But, when I am alone and hurting, and desperately in need of physical help, though, that doesn’t seem to be quite enough.
Now I know my faith is weak and small, and that I would give Thomas a run for his money in the doubting department, and I know I’m not lined up for sainthood anytime soon – in fact I’m pretty sure that my tail feathers are going to be on fire when I get into Heaven – but my faith is still there. So why doesn’t it seem like enough?
Some would say it’s not my faith but that it’s because my brothers and sisters in the Church have failed sexual minorities like me, in fact failed most people who don’t fit the straight-married-with-kids-white-picket-fence-model of Christianity, and they’d be right. But that can’t be the whole explanation, can it?
Some, more sympathetic and perceptive, would also look to other factors, sexual minorities face many trials and tribulations in this world, not only in the Church, and so contending on both fronts compounds our issues; not only are we dealing with problems within our own faith communities, but we’re also dealing with problems without. Or they’d look to my mental history and see that I have suffered – and continue to – with depression. That I’ve been to therapy and been on meds, but that it hasn’t helped. Depression is partly genetic and in many ways just a part of some of us, of who we are, our characteristics or personality – that’s true in my case, my grandmother suffered with depression so severe at one point in her life that she was unable to drive a car.
No matter how closely I analyse my though patterns, and my feelings, or even the external forces around me that all contribute to my situation, it doesn’t seem to get any better though. Not in the here and now at least.
I have no hopeful message to tack onto the end of this reflection, nothing that’s going to make my pain or your pain any less sore. Maybe though, just the act of reading this will distract you, dear reader, long enough from your own pain that you will be able to carry on for another day, or even just a few hours, in the same way that writing this piece has distracted me from my own pain this evening.
"The fact is that works of classical culture have always been more than "a nice idea", and for gay men of a certain period, class and education they had a particular significance. They provided guidance and comfort in an essentially hostile world, and this book is a testament to that. It is, in its way, a historical gay document. Writing within an intellectual and emotional landscape, the details of which are now fading, Renault wrote a powerful memorial to those gay men for whom the study of classical literature was an essential means to an examined and happy life."
"Oh, the comfort — the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person — having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all right out, just as they are, chaff and grain together; certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and then with the breath of kindness blow the rest away."
Dinah Maria Mulock Craik, A Life for a Life
I’d need to be convinced that the Bible has homosexuality in view before I could be convinced that it condemns it.
"But there’s also a side of me that acknowledges many of us simply don’t have the time or energy required to become well informed on a number of different topics, including sexuality, and in those cases, we tend to trust the influence of significant figures in our lives. We don’t all get to spend three years in seminary! For that reason, I would say that if you do happen to be a minister who’s in a position to influence people’s attitudes about sexuality and gay people, you have a dire responsibility to be as informed as possible and to do the hard work of thinking critically about this stuff. If you’re influencing people about anything—in this case, about sexuality—you don’t have the luxury of relying on simple assumptions. So, if you aren’t going to do the hard work of thinking critically, find someone who has done that work and who can speak to your context."
There are some paradigms for thinking about what my responses should be to thinking about sexuality and faith that I would really like to be true. There are hopes that I have for how the church will one day be, how it will treat sexual minorities, how it will speak about sexuality and faith. There are things that I’d love to believe are true about community and its potential for comfort.
But unfortunately I am also plagued with doubt. Doubt, that what I hope for will ever be true - or at least realized within my own lifetime. As much as I would like to be so sure, history and experience tells me otherwise.