Thursday, August 31, 2006


As you can see, I'm slowly building my permanent links list on the sidebar, probably being overly cautious and overly picky as I do. I hope you'll check them out. In particular, be sure to check out Eugene's writings at Paradoxy. His recent posts are, as always, very good.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

An insecure faith

If the second greatest commandment taught by Jesus is to “love your neighbor,” why do Christians treat homosexuals in a way that seems so much to the contrary? A friend recently commented to me that the Christians he once knew treated him like an “abstract person” when he came out to them and he eventually had to leave his church. I thought this was aptly put. He became a theological problem that needed to be explained away instead of a real person who needed to be heard and understood.

Legalism and moralism in the church has a lot to do with it, but I think we’ve all heard that explanation before. I believe there is another contributing factor that I’ve never before heard mentioned. It is what the clergy refer to as “lacking assurance” or what a layperson might call “doubting his/her salvation.” Many, many Christians struggle to believe in all the things they are told to believe in. They have doubts about whether their faith is genuine or strong or lasting. They have doubts about whether they are true Christians, and about whether they can make it to heaven.

Conservative churches emphasize the importance of orthodoxy. You must align yourself with the teachings of the Bible for your faith to be considered genuine. But these teachings are not things that are easily grasped, believed or understood. That God became a man, born into this world as an infant child. That Jesus bore human sin in his own body on the cross, then rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. That faith in Jesus Christ, not personal righteousness, is what justifies sinners. That there will come a day of reckoning when the works of every human being who ever lived will be revealed and judged.

Rather than try to grapple with such deep and seemingly fantastic teachings, it is easier to reduce one’s faith to zealous moral living, which is where so much legalism in the church comes from. But even then no one can be satisfactorily moral. The end result is that many Christians struggle to believe, struggle to be moral, and most of all struggle to appear like they’ve got things under control when in fact they feel very much at sea. There is a lot at stake here, because loss of faith means eternal damnation, so you can bet there is a great deal of pent up anxiety involved. Churches ought to be helping people with their honest doubts, but the tendency instead is for church leaders to demand instant allegiance to orthodoxy rather than giving people the space to grow into their faith over time.

Now the stage is set for some unsuspecting homosexual to come out of the closet and get hit by a Mack truck. Particularly if he is a part of the church. The Bible teaches that homosexuality is sinful, but here is this person who claims to be a Christian who is saying that he or she cannot change. How can this be? Why would the Bible teach something is a sin if a person is unable to do anything about it? It is bad enough that non-Christians claim this, but we can condemn them as depraved, abominable and perverse to show just how much moral distance there is between ourselves and them. But it is horribly troubling when Christians make this claim, for it would imply that moral living is not within reach for a Christian even at the most basic level. And that simply cannot be because moral living is all any of us have left to show that we’re true Christians, since we’ve already given up trying to believe in all those strange Bible doctrines.

Therefore the conundrum that this homosexual person presents by his or her very existence must be explained, because if it is not, everyone’s already fragile faith might collapse and topple them over into the pit of hell. It is out of this insecurity and this inner panic that the unloving accusations and cold theological arguments spew forth: You must not be trying hard enough to get rid of your homosexuality. You can’t be a true Christian if you’re saying you have a fixed orientation. A Christian can’t accept being homosexual any more than he can accept being a murderer, or a pedophile, or having sex with cows!

When Jesus commands us to love, he assumes his hearers have a foundation of faith that is solid and secure. Because to love means being confident enough to let go of self-interest, personal agendas, and the need to always be right in order to go out to another person, even if that person might pose a threat to you in some of those areas. A Christian cannot love out of an insecure faith because he or she will lack such confidence. Our churches are full of people who suffer from this malady, and the symptoms are evident in the way we have treated gays and lesbians as “abstract people” instead of flesh and blood human beings.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Choice of words

In a previous post I wrote: “More recently, ex-gays have tried to respond to the criticism that their definition of ‘gay’ is quickly being relegated to the Stone Age Edition of the Webster’s Dictionary. So quite often you see testimonies of people who make it very clear they never chose to be homosexual.”

One reader has commented that this sounds confusing. When ex-gays are willing to concede that they didn’t choose to be homosexual, it sounds like they are acknowledging that they have a fixed homosexual orientation, but then why do they also claim that they can change their sexual orientation (or make perpetual progress toward that goal)? When they say homosexuality is “not a choice,” are they equivocating on the word "choice"?

I’d say so. Maybe I should add "not a choice" to my ex-gay glossary of terms. When people who give ex-gay testimonies say they “didn’t choose to be homosexual,” what they really mean is that at a young age they involuntarily acquired a behavioral disorder that they believe to be reversible through reparative therapy. The phrase “not a choice” no longer means, “I believe my homosexuality to be a part of my fundamental, constitutional make-up as a person” like it used to in the old days. Now ex-gays want to redefine that phrase to mean, “I went astray from my true heterosexual nature through various screwed-up influences during my impressionable years, but I believe it is fixable if I expose myself to the right, healthy influences now.” That’s why in a debate with Christians if you were to say, “But it isn’t a choice,” you will sometimes get the retort, “Maybe it wasn’t a choice then, but you can still make the right choice now.”

For this reason I find myself using the term “choice” less and less. With all the equivocation going on, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the right vocabulary to explain to people what I mean by “homosexual sexual orientation.” I sometimes use the word “constitutional,” even though that word sometimes conjures up a comparison with alcoholism. I’ve been known to accept that comparison when talking with a group of people who are at a particularly basic level of understanding. I mean, if I am struggling just to convince people that homosexuality is not the same as having sex with goats, and someone suddenly grabs onto the idea that maybe it’s as involuntary as having a lifetime problem with alcoholism, I’ll take it. But I don’t think the analogy is completely accurate. More and more I find myself saying that someone who is homosexual has about as much a chance of becoming heterosexual as someone who is heterosexual has of becoming homosexual. It’s a mouthful, but I don’t know how else to get my point across without using terms that could be misunderstood.

Friday, August 25, 2006

AIDS in black America

I just saw an alarming news story by Terry Moran of ABC News called “Out of Control: AIDS in Black America” last night. According to this report, even though African Americans make up only 13% of the U.S. population, they make up 50% of all new cases of HIV infections. Black women are 23 times more likely to be infected than white women, mainly through heterosexual sexual contact. Yet most discussion about the current AIDS problem ignores these facts. Whenever I’ve heard AIDS being discussed, I hear either that the number of new infections has stabilized at 40,000 a year, suggesting that we have the epidemic much more under control these days, or that the really big problem is in Africa. Africa certainly is a major disaster. But the fact that the epidemic taking place right here at home among black Americans isn’t more widely discussed is just amazing to me. I thought I was current on the AIDS issue, and yet I was totally clueless about the seriousness of this particular problem until last night.

How it began

Basically this is how things got started. AIDS first entered the black community largely through needle sharing among drug addicts. In the 1990’s Dr. Anthony Fauci of NIH saw the handwriting on the wall for the spread of AIDS among African Americans. He said he could see from the very beginning that all the factors that contribute to the spread of infection in a community were present in the black community. He was one of the main guys who pushed the Clinton Administration to implement a needle exchange program, which would allow addicts to exchange dirty needles for clean ones free of charge. The program had been statistically proven to be successful in other countries and was being implemented in Baltimore, MD, but it needed federal funding to spread to other parts of the country. President Clinton was very seriously considering it, but the Monica Lewinsky scandal distracted his energies from it and it fell by the wayside. You could see how crestfallen Dr. Fauci was when he recalled this turn of events during his interview. Then the Republicans came into power. They have consistently opposed the needle exchange program because they think providing clean needles to drug addicts will only encourage their addiction.

How it spreads

Meanwhile, because the U.S. government had declared a “war on drugs,” HIV infected addicts were being thrown into prison where 40% (if I recall correctly) of male inmates have sexual contact with other male inmates, thus spreading the disease. Prisons are a breeding ground for the HIV virus, and infection is five times greater there than outside prison walls. This is the worst aspect of the problem for the African American community because there are currently more college-age black American males in prison than in college. (Another statistic says that "almost one in three black men in their twenties is in prison, jail, on parole, or under some other form of correctional supervision," which gives you an idea of how many people are in or have gone through the prison system.) They come in HIV negative and leave HIV positive. To make things worse, these prisons refuse to distribute condoms to protect people from disease transmission. Why? Because that would be an admission that sex takes place in prison. Gosh, wouldn’t want to let that big secret out of the bag now, would we? Furthermore, there is no mandatory testing for HIV infection before prisoners are released back into society, so many men leave without knowing they are HIV positive.

How women are infected

Once HIV infected black men are released from prison, ignorant of their condition, they of course infect black women. Some factors contribute to the promiscuity that allows the infection to spread to black women at alarming rates. First of all, there are about 85 black men to every 100 black women, because the mortality rate among male black youth is so much higher. This disproportion means multiple women are fighting for one man, which gives more opportunities for black men to have (and infect) multiple partners. Secondly, the hip-hop culture which has become so big in the black community glamorizes sex and promiscuity. Thirdly, the vast majority of gay black men are closeted (or what they call “down low” or “DL”) due to the intense shame and stigma in the black community regarding homosexuality. They live as straights publicly but they have male sex partners in secret, which means they won’t disclose to their wives or girlfriends that they might potentially be infected with HIV.

Why are black leaders silent?

Why haven’t black leaders addressed this issue? Black leadership comes mainly from black churches, which have always been the center of political activism and spiritual strength for the African American community. But the church is partly where the stigma and shame over homosexuality and AIDS comes from. Only a handful of black pastors have been willing to address the problem of AIDS from the pulpit.

What about the Rev. Jesse Jackson? He would take on a growing crisis in his own community, wouldn’t he? But Terry Moran’s interview with Jackson showed that he was only interested in making excuses and blaming it on the President and Congress. Moran kept pressing Rev. Jackson on why he himself has kept silent about this, and how could this happen to his community under his watch? But Jackson kept skirting the issue. It was the worst, most disturbing interview I’ve seen since I saw our local news station question Cardinal Roger Mahoney on why he knowingly reassigned pedophile priests to other parishes instead of barring them from the priesthood. You came away from the interview thinking there must be something really, really wrong with this guy.

Simple ways to curb infection rates

I concluded from Moran's story that there appear to be some simple and inexpensive policies that could be put into place that would really help the situation. One is a federally funded needle exchange program. Another is the distribution of condoms in prisons. A third is mandatory testing for HIV before prisoners are released back into society. The gay community has made a big contribution toward AIDS activism the past two decades. I wonder, is anything being done in these areas on behalf of the African American community? If anyone could tell me, I’d be interested to know.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The "definition of marriage"

“Our society doesn’t deprive homosexuals of the right to marry. They are perfectly free to marry someone of the opposite sex, aren’t they?” Ever hear people use this argument before? Funny how these same folks will add that a major reason why they oppose civil same-sex marriage is that it would “change the definition” of traditional marriage. But if you are gay and married to an opposite-sex partner, your marriage is about as radical a departure from the definition of traditional marriage as any. Because you are calling what you have a “marriage” even though it fails to accomplish the most fundamental purpose of why the institution of marriage exists in the first place, which is to curb promiscuity by providing a legitimate, socially respectable outlet for the human sex drive. “It is better to marry than to burn with passion” the apostle Paul once wrote long ago.

Same-sex civil marriages would accomplish this fundamental purpose, whereas gays with opposite-sex partners will more often than not continue to burn with the passion of a repressed and frustrated sex drive, so that the very problem that marriage is supposed to alleviate is in fact exacerbated. So which marriage is the more radical departure from the traditional “definition of marriage”? I’d say that while both are departures, same-sex civil marriages are closer to our society's traditional definition because sexual satisfaction, emotional bonding and romantic love are truly within reach, whereas the other arrangement can’t help but result in an unhappiness and dissatisfaction that strikes at the very heart of what is supposed to bind a married couple together in a lifelong relationship.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Deed and truth

In November 2000 I posted an essay called “A Conservative Christian Case for Civil Same-Sex Marriage” on my Musings On site, in which I argue for the legalization of civil same-sex marriage in society, even though I oppose same-sex marriage in the church. In the article I try to demonstrate how someone with religious convictions and a degree of sympathy with social conservatism could take this position for reasons that are still consistent with his or her values.

Gay and lesbian readers have responded favorably to the article for obvious reasons. But fellow Christians have often been more intent on knowing what my motivations were for writing it. Some people think I have a secret agenda to introduce gay marriage into the church. Others think I just like to stir up controversy. A few have even hinted that maybe I have personal issues, like maybe I’m a closet lesbian. As one might expect, most of these speculations have come from people who have never met me.

For the record, my main motivation for writing the article was to defend the Christian faith. Before I wrote the piece, I was disturbed by the general sentiment among gay and lesbian people that believing in the Bible, embracing faith in Jesus Christ, and being involved in the Christian church somehow transforms you into an unloving, unthinking, narrow-minded jerk. I wanted to know why gay people felt that way, and as I tried to listen to their reasons on various Internet discussion boards, I began to take a closer look at myself. I wasn’t ready to claim that I was completely innocent of the charges. However, I did know for certain that no follower of Jesus Christ should ever come off as hostile and uncompassionate, and the fact that many of us apparently were gave me pause.

My first instinct was to try and reassure gay people that I really and truly did love them with the love of Christ. That ought to dispel their ill-feelings toward Christianity. But then I saw that most Christians were already using these words to no avail, mainly because the catch phrase “hate the sin but love the sinner” was coming off as double-talk. Thanks to that unfortunate cliché, all talk of Christian love was being rendered completely meaningless in the ears of gay and lesbian hearers. I realized how completely empty and unconvincing words can be, as the apostle John tried to tell us long ago: “Little children, let us not love with word or tongue, but in deed and truth.”

You can’t just use words, you have to speak with your actions. Got it. Taking action, I started to read more about the social issues gay and lesbian people were concerned about, and I became convinced through reading Andrew Sullivan’s Virtually Normal that I ought to support the legalization of gay marriage in society. I wasn’t easily convinced. It took writing to Andrew two long emails hashing out my thoughts before I came to the conclusion I did. Then after that exhausting ordeal was over, I realized something else. This was one of those “deed and truth” moments. If I cared about gay and lesbian people, the thing to do was not merely to talk about love, but to act upon it, right? So being the Bible-believing Christian that I was, I wrote and posted the article. Because if you care about someone you ought to throw in your lot with them, especially for a cause that would greatly improve their lives in society. But closer to my heart, I wrote it because I wanted people to really know and truly feel the love of Jesus Christ through me, like the apostle John said.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A glossary of ex-gay terminology

Spending the last few days perusing the NARTH and Exodus International websites has sure made me dizzy with their bizarre use of the English language. I learned that as long as you keep in mind that their definition of certain terms and phrases don’t necessarily line up with the way the rest of the human population uses them, you have a better chance of understanding what they’re trying to say. Here’s a short glossary I’ve come up with so far:


“Gay” by their definition is usually someone who lives a lifestyle of having same-sex sexual partners, quite often through anonymous sexual encounters and one-night stands, risking disease and living in guilt and fear. This definition is really a capitulation to a certain population of straight people who still think the claim that “homosexuality isn’t a choice” is just a lie being promoted by the liberal media to justify sin. Therefore, “ex-gay” doesn’t refer to someone who is constitutionally homosexual who has now become constitutionally heterosexual in their sexual orientation. Rather “ex-gay” means you have chosen to reject a rebellious, promiscuous lifestyle and are now seeking to live according to clean, wholesome family values.

More recently, ex-gays have tried to respond to the criticism that their definition of “gay” is quickly being relegated to the Stone Age Edition of the Webster’s Dictionary. So quite often you see testimonies of people who try to make it clear they never chose to be homosexual, or sometimes from people who haven’t had actual homosexual sexual encounters, but have only gone as far as indulging in gay porn, mingling in gay society, or exploring the idea of accepting their homosexuality as a part of themselves. But even then they embrace the term “ex-gay” because they have chosen to reject going down a path that might eventually lead to the “gay lifestyle” (i.e., having sex). Hence, ex-gays have accommodated the idea that being “gay” doesn’t necessarily mean that you have taken the plunge into all kinds of gay sex, but they still want to justify holding on to the “ex” part by saying that they are still making a choice to reject their homosexuality. Keeping the words “ex” and “choice” in place seems to be the most essential part of the whole deal, probably because those are the elements that many straights find most reassuring.

“Homosexuals can change”

Here’s the best way I can explain it. It’s kind of like when President Bush (and yes, I did vote for him in 2004 in case you’re wondering) goes around saying, “We do not torture.” The context in which he makes this statement is whether the abuses at Abu Graib were an anomaly or whether this is our government’s policy toward suspected Islamic terrorists--which is why his assertion initially sounded so reassuring. But once evidence began to surface that the U.S. government does sanction the use of torture, you realize that not only is there a big “dot-dot-dot” after the President’s statement (“We do not torture . . . if you define ‘torture’ in the narrowest possible terms”), but he uses the context in which he makes this assertion to make it sound like he means one thing, when he really means another.

So here. When NARTH or Exodus International makes the assertion that “homosexuals can change” it is done in a certain context. NARTH’s motto is “Helping clients bring their desires and behaviors into harmony with their values.” The word “values” implies “family values” of course. People's desire for marriage, kids . . . heterosexuality. Exodus International’s motto is “Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.” If Jesus has the power to free you from homosexuality as he freed blind men from their blindness and lepers from their leprosy, what does that mean except that he can make you well again, “normal” again? That he can make you heterosexual?

If you’re like most people who surf onto these websites, whether gay or straight, you won’t bother to look more deeply and read more critically because you are so desperately searching for a quick-fix answer either for yourself or for a loved one. You will not investigate carefully whether the testimonies that appear on the site claim that people have actually become heterosexuals. As with Bush’s torture statement, the claim that “homosexuals can change” cuts off at the verb, stopping short of further explanation in a "dot-dot-dot" so that the statement can be both truthful in isolation yet misleading in its context. “Homosexuals can change . . . their behavior, their choices, and the labels they use to define themselves.” But they never said homosexuals can change into heterosexuals.


Saying you are now “married” is basically a short-hand way of saying “heterosexuality has been achieved,” without having to actually say that heterosexuality has been achieved because it probably hasn’t. All that has been achieved is a heterosexual lifestyle. And why not? If being ex-gay simply means leaving behind the gay lifestyle, for all practical purposes you are straight if you’ve embraced the straight lifestyle. Marriage is the ultimate badge of straightness, and as long as you are getting with the program of the wedding bells, the three beautiful kids, and the four-bedroom house in the suburbs, nobody cares about ongoing issues of sexual orientation, if such an issue can even be acknowledged.


This term was a new one for me, used by Joseph Nicolosi in the Gordon Opp interview. Apparently it is a term Nicolosi encourages ex-gays to use to refer to heterosexuals who have never struggled with homosexual inclinations. See, you don’t want to refer to them as “straights,” because ex-gays are supposed to be straight too, or at least perpetually on their way to straightdom, and so to call those guys “straights” would make it sound like you’re not straight, and you wouldn’t want to imply that you’re not straight, even though you couldn’t truthfully call yourself straight, but you could call yourself ex-gay which is close to implying that you are straight without having to actually say that you are. So you call them “ever-straights” because that’s a way of saying you’re kinda straight too (you’re on the way). It’s just that relative to their “ever-straightness” you’re just someone who “hasn’t-always-been-straight.” I hope that clears that up.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Interview of an ex-gay man by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi

I just read an interview on the NARTH website called “An Ex-Gay Man Describes the Change Process: Gordon Opp.” The interview is done by NARTH executive director Dr. Joseph Nicolosi of an ex-gay man named Gordon Opp, and its purpose is to allow Opp to explain the process he has gone through to diminish his homosexual desires. Opp describes how he analyzes the motivations behind his homosexual impulses and then combats them through engaging in healthy behaviors rather than acting upon them sexually.

Now as I have said before, if someone really wants to pursue the reparation therapy path, I’m not going to stand in their way because as a Christian I can understand the religious motivations behind someone wanting to be rid of their homosexuality. But when I read a transcript like this it’s awfully hard for me not to be skeptical about NARTH’s interpretation of what they think they are achieving with their therapy. Nicolosi and Opp view male homosexuality as a person’s need for the affirmation of other males to bolster his sense of personal masculinity, except the pursuit of that affirmation somehow became sexualized. The theory is if you can get those needs met in healthy, legitimate ways other than by acting out sexually, you can overcome your homosexuality.

Here are two excerpts where Opp comments on this:

In fact it's interesting, even now, the remaining homosexual desires that I have, I realize have so little to do with sex. It's like I look at a guy, and if I go so far as thinking what he would look like without clothes on--at this time in my life, such a thought would be disgusting to me. But it's something else I'm feeling... I wish he would come over and shake my hand and talk to me and give me some kind of attention.

I have found that when I have a close friendship with a straight man who I find attractive, I can get those needs de-sexualized. I can get them met in a satisfying way.

This is what it means to be “ex-gay”?

Before we get into the theory Opp is working from, I’m sure you’ve noticed as I did that Opp openly admits that he still sometimes imagines other guys without their clothes on—though it disgusts him—and he still singles out certain guys as being attractive. I know that he’s just being honest and he would say that these residual thoughts and feelings normally linger when a guy is trying to detox from homosexuality. I appreciate his honesty and am not interested in bagging on a guy for opening himself up in that way. But I have to say from the get-go that because of these admissions I already have a hard time getting on board with his interpretation of what’s going on in his life. It seems to me that a person who is having those thoughts and feelings and is continually struggling with them and trying to put them away is what I would call a homosexual who is struggling with his thoughts and feelings and trying to put them away. I wouldn’t choose to label such a person “ex-gay.” Especially since he repeatedly describes his homosexual feelings with words like “excitement,” “fantasy” and “zing,” in contrast with the reserve with which he speaks of even the high points about his marriage to his wife

If a straight guy who used to live a life of fornication decided to clean up his life, join the Catholic Church, and become a priest, he too would have a live a life of continually struggling with thoughts of imagining women with their clothes off or noticing the ones in a crowd that are attractive. I would not call him “ex-straight” for embarking on that struggle. Nor would I interpret diminishing thoughts and feelings in that area as signs that he is overcoming his heterosexuality. I would just view him as a straight guy who has done really well in managing and controlling his sexual impulses.

Where are the differences?

Now moving on to Opp’s theory about his homosexuality, I also have a hard time getting on board with his claim that the dysfunctional way he has sought to have his emotional and psychological needs met by other men has anything to do with homosexuality in itself. Millions of straight guys seek relationships with girls for the exact same dysfunctional reasons Opp describes. Opp cites his “needs for acceptance...feeling like one of the guys...for compassion and understanding from men.” Straight guys also pursue sex with women as a way of feeling more manly about themselves and as a substitute for having healthy emotional relationships with others. Opp says his sexual pursuits were like seeking a “quick fix” drug, infused by an overblown fascination with good-looking men that left him feeling inadequate. He knows the trick is to de-mystify them by getting to know them as regular people.
Then there are the few that are particularly attractive, and with those guys, I kind of force myself to get to know them well enough so that they don't intimidate me and give me that feeling of weakness, of being "less than" them, which could trigger an unwanted attraction on my part . . .

So instead I try to get to know them, maybe even touch them with a pat on the back, or a healthy handshake or something, and get under their skin just a little, and then all of a sudden I see their weaknesses--this is just a guy, and the mystique is broken.

This resembles the typical story I hear from so many girlfriends about how a guy came along and swept them off their feet, talking about love and marriage after two weeks of dating. Then by the three-month mark when he realizes she is just a flawed human being and the mystique has worn off, he dumps her. The difference of course is that Opp is trying to de-mystify other men as opposed to running up against their ordinariness after three months of dating. The end result is the same: loss of “zing.” Apparently dysfunctional homosexuality is a lot like dysfunctional heterosexuality. It’s no secret many straight guys also seek relationships with women as a “quick fix,” and their need for self-affirmation combined with real sexual drive plus the mystique of a beautiful woman often combines to create unhealthy obsessions with sex and a skewed view of women. You hear the obsessions of straight guys about women blared in the lyrics of love songs on the radio all the time. “Every fool’s heart aches with every step you take” and stuff like that.

I have to wonder how the existence of these dysfunctional dynamics could be blamed on homosexuality itself if it has so much in common with the heterosexual male experience. From a Christian perspective I don’t think it is healthy or good, but because it is so common to young, straight males our society does tend to view it as a regular part of what many young men have to go through before they learn to “settle down with a nice girl” (i.e., get the mystique out of the way, get real, and have a healthy and balanced relationship). In view of all this, it seems to me that this interview with Gordon Opp hasn’t really accomplished anything except reveal to me just how many parallels there are between homosexuality and heterosexuality, instead of something to the contrary.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Gay conservative Christians

I’m critical of the leaders of ex-gay ministries, but not so much of the regular folks who seek them out for help. Let me explain why. There are a lot of gay and lesbian Christians out there who cannot accept their own homosexuality as “okay” in God’s sight. For these people this is a very personal decision. It is born out of a faith that informs their conscience. They cannot act upon their sexual orientation without feeling like they have committed a sin, thus causing serious injury to themselves. If you are not a religious person this may be a hard thing to understand, but I understand it very well. I imagine that I would probably feel the exact same way if I were gay.

The problem is where do these people go? As far as the visible gay and lesbian Christian community goes, they appear to be in the minority. Churches that are gay-friendly would tell them that they are self-haters and condescendingly try to encourage them to just get over it. Regular conservative churches would agree with them about the sinfulness of acting upon their homosexuality, yet they would also run them out of town. The logical place to turn to is an ex-gay ministry. It is the one place where gay people who hold to conservative Christian beliefs about their homosexuality can get together without fearing persecution from either straight conservative fundamentalists or gay liberal fundamentalists. Gay conservative Christians need a safe haven too.

What disgusts me most about the public face of ex-gay ministries is how they allow themselves to be used by Family Research Counsel and other Christian organizations to promote false ideas about what homosexuality really is. But when you dig down to the actual individuals who join up with ex-gay ministries, I get the impression that it is quite a mixed bag. Some people buy into the idea of trying to change their orientation, but others are more realistic and just want support for living celibate. There is love and spiritual support to be found in such groups, and many of these people desperately need it. It is hard enough being gay. It is harder still being gay and Christian. But when you are gay, Christian and conservative I think you have it the toughest of all.

I’ve been watching grenades being lobbed between the camps of affirming gays and ex-gays for some time now. I agree with the criticism of affirming gays about ex-gay ministries. But I also have a suggestion to offer. In my opinion if affirming gay Christians were to be more respectful toward gay Christians who have more conservative leanings, and not try so hard to push them into accepting their gayness, they wouldn’t drive so many of them into the arms of groups like Exodus and NARTH. It is partly this hostility that ensures ex-gay ministries will always have people flocking to them. It is only the opinion of an outsider, but that is what I see from my vantage point. Of course the real problem is that the regular old conservative churches and institutions are the ones that should be supporting their own conservative gay and lesbian members instead of kicking them out in the cold. But don’t even get me started on that one.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Call for testimonies

I’m still waiting for someone to send me an ex-gay testimony like the one I described in my post last Friday. If you know of a credible testimony by someone, preferably a guy, who had once been truly homosexual, who had an orientation change and became convincingly heterosexual (and please read my previous post so you know what I mean by “convincingly”), please send it to me. Because quite honestly, I’m beginning to doubt if such a testimony even exists. The leaders in ex-gay ministries sure know how to talk it up as if it does exist. You can go to the NARTH website and hear them talk about “orientation change” and read the testimony of Exodus president Alan Chambers who says, “I used to be homosexual and today I am not.” Yet specific, detailed testimony of people being transformed into true blue heterosexuals is always missing from these claims.

So what am I to make of this? Maybe the really convincing testimonies do exist, but they are being withheld from the general public. Is that it? You almost get the impression that maybe they were excavated some decades ago from a set of clay jars in the caves of the Dead Sea and now sit someplace in Germany pressed between two sheets of acid-free glass to be examined only by an elite team of six scholars, but the rest of us hoi polloi are forbidden to lay our uneducated eyes on them and have to just take the experts’ word about what they say. Is that what’s going on here?

I say to ex-gay ministries, Don’t hold back any longer. Take out full-page ads in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, run your best slam-dunk testimonies for a whole week and put an end to this debate once and for all. If you convince me, there would be no need for me to "muse" any longer. I can take down my website and this blog and use the money I normally pay to the web-hosting company as a donation to your cause. What do you say?

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

What I believe about homosexuality

When I consider posting thoughts on how I think the teaching of the Bible bears on the question of homosexuality, I think of what a pain it will be to have to explain every single time what I mean when I say that I believe homosexuality to be a “fallen” and “sinful” condition. Then by the time I am done with all that repetition, it will end up sounding like I believe homosexuality to be so much more fallen and sinful a condition than all the millions of other fallen and sinful conditions that plague humanity, it will leave entirely the wrong impression. So how about if I get the explanation over with right now; that way I can simply refer people to this post in the future, if I still like what I wrote.

As a Christian I use the terms “fallen” and “sinful” to refer to aspects of our human existence that do not measure up to the absolute perfection of the newly-created world described by Genesis 1-2 prior to the fall. To be “sinful” is to be anywhere short of morally perfect. It is failing to have perfect love, patience, contentment, wisdom, purity, honesty, selflessness, etc., which is to say that sometimes what the Bible calls “sinful” is what most people would call being “merely human.” As for being in a “fallen” condition, according to my understanding, that refers to our propensity to get sick, get tired, dread going to work, need an epidural when giving birth, sprout gray hairs and eventually kick the bucket. Because of the fall humanity lives in a broken existence, like a watch whose delicate internal mechanisms have been thrown awry.

In my judgment, homosexuality belongs more in the category of fallenness because it is one of those can’t-be-helped states of human existence that has befallen a certain portion of the population. However, since one’s sexuality inevitably affects one’s relationship to other human beings, being homosexual isn’t completely separate from moral categories either. If it bears upon the thoughts, feelings, conduct and actions of one human being toward another, it is a moral issue, and to the extent that it falls short of the ideal it is sinful. The big problem I have with the term “sinful” is that it makes it sound like a person’s homosexual orientation is a willful choice, which is not what I believe. If there were a term that lay somewhere in between “fallenness” and “sinfulness,” that would probably best describe my view of homosexuality.

So if homosexuality is about fallenness and fallenness is brokenness, then how broken are we talking about? Here’s an analogy I just thought of. Suppose I have a watch that reads “8 p.m.” when it is really “8 a.m.” and vice versa. It doesn’t give the correct time, yet I keep wearing it because aside from that particular problem, I can still tell the time just fine. Now if someone were to try to badger me into believing that “p.m.” is exactly the same as “a.m.” and there is no difference between the two, I would have to dig my heels in and insist that is not the case. But otherwise I can live with the brokenness of the watch, because although it is incorrect, it is also correct in all the ways that matter most to me.

Maybe in my view gays and lesbians do not love people of the “correct” sex; however they really and truly do love. They are capable of loving in the same way heterosexual couples love each other. For having a different orientation does not devalue their love, does not make them less in the image of God, does not make them less valuable, less beautiful, or less worthy as human beings. God loves gay and lesbian people. They are “fearfully and wonderfully made” as the Psalm says. He delights in their existence, sets forth good purposes for their lives, and graces each one with all the good gifts that make every individual unique. These are the things that matter most to me.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


A word about the link I posted yesterday. No, I don't endorse the title of the article; that's why I called it "inflammatory." As I said in my post I think the article is actually more measured and rational in tone than what the title suggests. I hope everyone who sees the link will look past the title and consider carefully what this author has to say. However, I can understand that calling a ministry "of the devil" sounds over the top, which is why I've changed the title of my Monday post.

Secondly, no, I am not in favor of abortion as this author is, but the article is not about abortion. That issue is only mentioned in passing, and people on both sides of the abortion issue can certainly agree with what this author is saying about the destructiveness of legalism. That's the main point, and I've rarely heard it made so well.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Faith-destroying legalism

Whenever I do a google search for “Focus on the Family” I come across an interesting article called “Why Focus on the Family is of the Devil”. I’ve read it many times and have yet to find anything that I fundamentally disagree with. In spite of the inflammatory title, the author makes a rational and compelling case for why ministries like Focus on the Family often destroy rather than build up people’s Christian faith (which is exactly what the devil would want . . . if you believe in the devil, as I do). I know from personal experience that the author has really hit on something here. His insights do not just apply to Focus on the Family. I’ve known many, many other Christian ministries that have followed in the exact same faith-destroying pattern. Unfortunately the Christians that are most harmed by them are the honest and humble people, the ones who are most keenly aware of their sinfulness, or who struggle mightily with problems that cannot be resolved in this life. Perhaps that is why the author, who is straight, is particularly sympathetic toward gay and lesbian people, as you can see from other articles on his site.

Just one thing before you click on the link above. If you are someone who is easily offended by criticisms of anything Christian--from the Holy Scriptures to your favorite Christian talk show host to “Jesus Loves You” ball-point pens--then you probably shouldn’t read this article. In fact, I recommend that you don’t. Now if you go ahead and read it anyway and it makes you upset, I recommend that you deal with it in some other way than firing off hate mail to the guy who wrote it. When the author of this article first posted his piece, he was a Christian who was just trying to think outside the box. But thanks to all the hate mail and even death threats that he got from fellow Christians as a result, he has given up his faith. If you feel absolutely compelled to send hate mail to someone, send it to me. But leave that guy alone and don’t make things worse. ‘Kay?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Those ex-gay testimonies

I read a couple of ex-gay testimonies yesterday, recommended by a very nice reader as illustrations of how “gays can change.” You know, every time I point and click on a link to an ex-gay testimony someone sends me, I think, “This will be the story that proves all my skepticism about ex-gays wrong. After reading this I will have to change my tune and become a true believer.” Then I read it and end up disappointed once again.

Now, I’m not interested in getting down on anyone who wants to join up with an ex-gay ministry. If you insist on giving it a whirl, then far be it from me to discourage you. My main problem is with these ex-gay, poster-boy testimonies touted by such ministries as proof that homosexuality can be cured. Because every single ex-gay testimony that I have read goes like this:

He grows up in a certain kind of dysfunctional family situation, experiences homosexual inclinations at such-and-such an age, and eventually indulges in the gay lifestyle. Then comes the desire to change, the joining of an ex-gay ministry, and the resolve to struggle against temptation. So far so good. But then the story gets sketchy and he suddenly does this quantum leap into claiming he is now cured of homosexuality. He may point to the fact that he hasn’t had gay sex in x-number of years. He may point to the fact that his thoughts about gay sex have greatly diminished over the years. He may even point to the fact that he is now married to an opposite-sex partner. Out comes the photograph of his lovely wife and five beautiful kids. Proof that a bonafide heterosexual lifestyle has been achieved.

At this point I feel like saying, Dude, I’m happy for you and all, but you know the old saying about how being in a church doesn't make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. Well, being in a marriage with a wife and producing a bunch of kids isn't what makes you a heterosexual. I should know because I am one, I'm married to one, and you can’t fool me. The part of your testimony that’s missing is where you say something like this:

“I knew I had been cured of my homosexuality when one night I made love to my wife and found it to be the most exhilarating, joyous and deeply satisfying sex I’d had in a long time. After that I began experiencing the wondrous journey of discovering how attractive, alluring, sensuous and seductive a woman’s body can be on a purely physical level. And, oh man, once my true heterosexual nature started kicking in, things really went into overdrive and I even had a major problem with indulging in Internet girlie porn for awhile. Don’t worry, I’ve got that under control now, but in truth it was such a relief to have that problem instead of the other one. In fact, as the years go by, I have a harder and harder time remembering why I used to like guys so much, especially when I compare it to the tremendous excitement and deep satisfaction I get out of having sex with my wife. Woo hoo! Yeah, baby!”

See what I'm driving at? I’m still looking for a story like that. I’ve never seen one and I’ve only been searching for the past six years. But if it exists, send it along. I’ll provide the link to it on this blog.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Betrayed by whom?

Explain this to me, please.

I’ve seen or heard of several cases like this. A couple in the church has been married for 20+ years, when the husband comes out and admits he is gay. The wife is, of course, devastated. Family and church members rally around her. Obviously she is hurt, she is distressed, she is angry—who wouldn’t be? Her whole life has been turned upside down. Her whole marriage has been revealed to be, essentially, a sham, or at least not what she thought it was. Then she and all her supporters turn on the gay husband and accuse him of “lying to” and “betraying” her.

Strictly speaking, they are right about the lying. It is true that the husband was not honest with her, his family and his church about his homosexuality all those years. He may not have even been honest with himself. So I guess that means everyone would have much preferred that he had come out with the truth about his struggles with homosexual feelings from the very start, right? Gosh, why do you suppose he might not have had much incentive to do that? It couldn’t be all the sermons he’d heard over the years from the pulpit condemning homosexuals as perverted, depraved, abominable, sick, pedophilic, sexual predators, now, could it? Or maybe he should have been encouraged to greater honesty by the way he saw fellow Christians squirm, scowl, sneer and jeer every time the subject of homosexuality came up in casual conversation. Sure, I’d want to spill my guts about my struggles too in the midst of company like that.

And what’s the deal with this “betrayal” he is supposedly guilty of? Everyone who is a part of the conservative church knows that the standard counsel given to those who struggle with homosexual inclinations is that they are encouraged to mortify their flesh and kick-start their true heterosexual nature by getting married and continuing to have sex with their opposite-sex partner until something magically clicks. So how did the husband “betray” his wife, his family and his fellow Christians by taking the church’s advice so completely to heart? He was doing exactly what he was being told to do. And now that this advice has been proven wrong twenty years later, is that all his fault?

Now that the guy is at the end of his rope, his homosexuality having never gone away, his marriage falling apart, he and his family suffering public humiliation, somehow I don’t see his pastor and elders coming up to him and taking responsibility for what happened. I don’t see them approaching him humbly, slapping their foreheads and saying, “Jimmy John, we are so, so sorry! That advice we’ve been dishing out all these years about using marriage to try to change people's homosexual desires is so obviously wrong! Could you and your wife ever forgive us for the part we played in ruining your lives with that completely asinine counsel? And would you be so gracious as to join a committee we are setting up to rewrite our church’s policy on how to pastor and counsel homosexual members in our church?”

But no. Instead what I’ve seen is that the gay husband is somehow to blame for everything. For following the godly advice of his spiritual leaders. For trying to live up to his “true” heterosexual nature. For demonstrating at tremendous cost to himself, his wife and his kids that the church is entirely mistaken about the nature of homosexuality. It’s a good thing he’s gay and everyone hates him already, because it makes it all the easier to cover the church’s rear-end by scapegoating him.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Evangelical passions

I guess it pays not to jump into every crazy evangelical fad that blows through the church every six months. When The Passion came out two years ago, I felt like I was the only Christian in the country who didn’t see it. No great reason, I just didn’t care for the goriness. But when you’re a part of the evangelical church, you’re not supposed to have blah reasons for failing to support the-chosen-means-by-which-God-is-going-to-evangelize-the-world. You’re supposed to have these super amped-up moral reasons for everything you do, certain that you have divined the secret purposes of the Almighty. It’s not supposed to occur to you that a movie is just a movie and a director is just a human being who might embarrass you someday.

God seems to elude the grasp of evangelicals just when they think they’ve captured him in their box. After riding the crest of The Passion's smashing success, many pro-Israel dispensationalists are now faced with the reality of Mel Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic tirade. It has been a similar irony that after two and a half decades of campaigning for lasting marriages and family values, the evangelical right is finding that at long last their message is being embraced . . . by the gay and lesbian community.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

No girlie-men here

I have a lot of gay male friends, and it is always annoying when I sense that my straight friends who have never met any of them usually imagine them as womanish guys. As if for me it's no different than having girlfriends and all we do is talk about hair spray. But nothing could be further from the truth. With the gay men I know, I've found it to be just the opposite, that in many ways they are more guyish than straight guys.

There's a reason for that. Straight guys have to mingle with women. They have to adjust their behavior to get along with women because after all they are either married to one or might get married to one someday. In other words their heterosexual sex drive makes accommodating the female species a necessary survival skill. Gay men on the other hand do not have as pressing a need to associate with women. Many of them can and do exist in an all-male world. Of course it's not good to make too many generalizations, and many gay men do have female friends Will & Grace style. But the fact remains, women aren't as necessary a part of a gay man's world as they are a straight man's world.

The kind of friend every woman should have

With my first gay male friend, the first thing I noticed in our email exchanges was just how--I don't know how else to put it--strictly male he was in the way he answered my questions about homosexuality. There was none of this kindly condescension I'd get from straight guys, as if they think it's kind of cute to hear a girl talking all intellectual--and whatever you do don't hurt her feelings! Not so with Bob. He was very respectful but strictly business. I'd throw out one idea and he'd simply say, "Yeah, I think you're onto something." Or, "No, that's not how it is." No big cheering section for thinking profound thoughts, and no holding back if I'm a little off-base.

Talking with Bob was refreshing and intimidating. I'd hadn't realized until then how much I had subconsciously relied on straight guys having lower intellectual standards for me (something that is probably subconscious on their part too). However, I discovered when the guy is gay, you're more likely to get the straight scoop (so to speak). For the first time in my experience talking with a guy, it felt simply like one human being talking to another. Now, whenever I seek the opinion of some of my gay male friends I have to be ready to hear the truth. And if they approve I feel more satisfaction, and take away a greater sense of self-confidence.