Thursday, December 28, 2006

Dialogue between camps

A gay reader writes in response to my Reformed reader:

I take hope from postings like your letter from a reformed reader. Sometimes it's easy to fall into a mindset that says that people of faith are all just a bunch of intolerant folks who are out to get us. It's gratifying that there are folks out there who are finding ways to do genuine soul searching and to ask the difficult questions without abandoning their faith. Unfortunately, people on my side of the argument often respond to questions that are raised by asking these folks to do just that. I'm including an expectation that these folks adopt a much more liberal interpretation of scripture as one form of abandoning their faith. I'm truly grateful for the hard work that you have been doing trying to find a way though these questions.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The hard questions

We have a problem in the church where as soon as you start contemplating questions out loud that spring more from honest struggle than orthodox thought, you get cluck-clucked into silence. Yet I’ve known lots of people who wonder, for instance, if God is evil, or if he’s just up there toying with us, or if he’s playing some kind of cruel joke. I’ve heard lots of gay Christian people ask why God has allowed them to be homosexual, thus consigning them to the hardships and ostracization that come along with that. (Even if you believe, as many do, that God created you gay, it only pushes the question back a step to why God would knowingly create someone to be a part of such a persecuted minority.) But you don’t have to be homosexual to be able to relate to having such questions. I think everyone who walks by faith has to deal with them at some level or other.

I’m still recovering from an emotionally draining study on Job I did for a women’s retreat last October. But I also came away inspired by Job’s gutsy confrontation of hard questions, where he pretty much accuses God of wronging him, of trashing his life for no good reason. See, normally when we study Job at church, we hear about the first part of the book, how God took everything away from Job, and how Job responded submissively and did not abandon his faith. But then the whole middle section, where Job’s three friends argue with him and Job starts asking tough questions, gets glossed over really quickly. Instead we skip to the end, where God appears to Job in the whirlwind, Job puts his hand over his mouth, God restores Job’s family life and wealth, and Job rides off into the sunset.

The reason the middle section gets glossed over is that it’s too gnarly to deal with. Job accuses God of being unjust, perverse, sadistic, you name it. Plus, it is dissatisfying because God doesn’t answer Job point by point. In the end it is faith that buoys Job, for in the midst of these accusations he brings, he is also clinging to the hope that God will give him answers. Yet when God does finally answer Job, God points merely to himself. And not mainly to his acts of moral goodness, as you would expect, but to the evidence of his greatness, wisdom and power. So Job is left to decide. Are his questions and his anger and his perplexity so great that they ought to outweigh his faith in the God who created all these wonders?

I think this is what it’s like for us too. I don’t think it does us any good to run from the hard questions. Job didn’t. I think we have to bravely ask them and determine what we really think. Do we really think God is evil? Cruel? Sadistic? In my own ponderings I’ve decided that I won’t answer those questions based on someone else’s relationship with God. You can always ask why God allows people to starve or get tortured or become orphaned or whatever. But that’s how God is dealing with another person’s life, not mine, and besides you will always meet people who’ve been through really bad stuff who can tell you with all honesty that God has been good to them. How God works in other people’s lives will always remain a mystery to those of us who aren’t them. As Aslan says in the Chronicles of Narnia: “That’s his/her story. That’s not your story.”

When I look at my own "story" I see that God has been good to me. Overwhelmingly good, far beyond what I deserve. The times I question his goodness are when I’ve asked him for something that I thought was good and I felt I got something evil in return. To borrow from Jesus’ words, I asked for bread and feel like I got a snake back. Likewise, I’ve known plenty of people who have prayed for years for God to take away their homosexuality, God didn’t do it, and they had to deal with all the consequences of that. I’ve known gay people who entered into opposite sex marriages, thinking they were submitting to God’s creation design, only to have it blow up in their faces years down the road. They too feel like they got a snake in return for their sincere, godly prayers.

Again, I don’t know why these things happen in other people’s lives. But there is one thing I’ve learned in my own life from walking by faith these twenty years, namely, that I can’t tell at any given moment how things will turn out, or whether there is a greater purpose for this apparent evil that’s befallen me. Faith pushes forward, seeking to know the good that will come out of it. My faith, for reasons that are often a mystery to me, cannot rest satisfied with the conclusion that God hates me and is out there screwing up my life. Even during the times I think that, I know deep down that I don’t really believe it, and I find myself waiting around for further developments. And I find that the things I do know about God, his great love for me, how he gave his Son to die for my sins, how the wonders he displays in his creation point to the far greater wonders of heaven, all these certainties draw my faith forward, and make me unwilling to wallow permanently in the apparent despair of passing circumstances.

So I weigh my certainty in the goodness of God against the doubts I have which are tentative, and I can only conclude that I ought to wait and hope. While it is not the answer, from the perspective of faith it is answer enough, enough to keep me seeking what the next chapter in my story might hold.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

From a Reformed reader

For those of you who viewed the controversy documents I mentioned in my 12/8/06 post, you should know there are also some Reformed Christians out there who are trying to approach the issue of homosexuality with thoughtfulness and humility. This reader writes:

I just want to thank you for all the work you've done through your website and blog. In many ways I agree this is some of the most important questions and considerations for evangelicals and Reformed folk today. Reading your thoughts over the past few years has affected me positively in so many ways; in how to interact with and love homosexuals as our neighbors and friends with biblical compassion and understanding, how to better comprehend the nature of sin, temptation, and the complexities of sexual orientation, and so forth . . .

I hope it is encouraging to know that there are Reformed individuals who are trying to follow your lead on this matter . . . It is a quest, I'm slow to give definitive answers on many things, but I do know the status quo attitude is depressing. And it's more depressing coming to grips with my own participation in that status quo. It really is so much easier to abstract homosexuality in a way that ends up subtly dehumanizing individual gays. I suppose it's something along the lines of a hetero-self-righteousness. With this sin [of self-righteousness] being so ingrained in our culture and conservative communities, there is the accompanying temptation of fearing man above God.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Gay and evangelical

For six years people have been writing to tell me about their struggles with being both gay and evangelical, and now at last there's a whole New York Times article about it:
But even when they accept themselves, gay evangelicals often have difficulty finding a community. They are too Christian for many gay people, with the evangelical rock they listen to and their talk of loving God . . .

Gay evangelicals seldom find churches that fit. Congregations and denominations that are open to gay people are often too liberal theologically for evangelicals. Yet those congregations whose preaching is familiar do not welcome gay members, those evangelicals said.

By the way Justin Lee, whom the NY Times interviewed for this article, has written one of the best testimonies I've ever read explaining to an evangelical audience what it means to be gay. It is the one I pass along to my Christian friends whenever they start asking me about homosexuality, and it is almost always well received by them. I highly recommend it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

More arguments for civil same-sex marriage

Should Christians oppose civil same-sex marriage because the Bible says homosexual relationships are sinful? Bill Baldwin points out that according to Jesus, God permitted and regulated the sin of divorce for Old Testament Israel, even though divorce was a violation of the moral standard for marriage that was established at creation.

But as Jesus points out, [divorce] is not the creational norm for marriage. As God created marriage, he intended it to be a permanent bond between a man and a woman. How dare a civil magistrate lower that standard? Well, when the civil magistrate is God, I guess we have to let things slide. Not only did the sin of divorce go unpunished under his theocratic rule, the sin was permitted and regulated without comment.


Even in the theocracy, God watered down the institution of marriage in the interests of civil order. We’re talking Israel, a holy people set apart to God. Even there God permitted and regulated divorce.

Do you see where this is going?

Is it perhaps possible that, given the current political and social situation in the US, it would be better to permit and regulate gay marriage than to ignore it?

Read the complete argument here, which is addressed to a largely Reformed audience that believes the State should impose laws and sanctions upon society according to biblical morality.

And if you’re confused about his references to “Misty’s controversy,” you can learn more about that here.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Defining homosexuality

I was having dinner with Christian friends last week when they asked me about the topic that I’ve become so famous for among people who know me. So I began to explain to them about the experiences of gay people I’ve met who are dealing with their sexual orientation. But before I could get very far, one of these friends was quick to point out how prone the human heart is to sinful self-deception, and basically took a guilty-until-proven-innocent attitude toward those who say they can’t help being gay. I tend to avoid arguing with people who are set in their ideas. Yet I can’t help but think that if Christians insist on being quick to cast doubt upon the experiences of homosexual people, we have no right to insist that they listen to our testimonies about how we “came to Christ” with any less hostility and skepticism. Shouldn’t I try to be receptive to other people’s testimonies and personal experiences if I want them to be receptive to mine?

My second friend, however, tried to take a more compassionate approach and has latched onto the idea that homosexuality is parallel to alcoholism. Just as you hear people say “I am an alcoholic,” in the present and not the past tense, so you have to accept that someone who is homosexual will always be homosexual. The problem with his view is that he sees homosexuality as an addiction, just as alcoholism is an addiction. Now, when I meet an evangelical Christian who takes this position, as much as I disagree with it, I have a hard time getting too down on that person. Because if a Christian is treating someone who is homosexual with the same care and sensitivity that he would an alcoholic friend, at least it means he won’t be acting like a jerk. I told this friend that even though not all gay people would agree that their homosexuality is comparable to alcoholism (I said “not all” because his experience is largely with ex-gays, many of whom have used that analogy with him), I let him know that I appreciated his willingness to acknowledge that this is something people are going to be dealing with the rest of their lives. It is better than threatening to kick people out of the church unless they “overcome their sin” and transform into heterosexuals.

That said, I am still unhappy with the analogy of alcoholism because it doesn’t comport with the experiences of gay and lesbian people I talk to, nor does it comport with what I see in their lives. A sex addiction doesn’t leave room for love in a relationship, yet I see genuine love in gay relationships all the time. The reason homosexual love exists is because homosexuality, in itself, is not a sex addiction. It is about people who are no different from regular old heterosexuals in terms of their sexual needs and drives, but who are oriented toward people of the same sex.

When people use the term “homosexual” some think of a chosen lifestyle, some a personality type, some a sex addiction, some a psychosis, and some simply a sexual orientation. The best definition I’ve come across is from L. R. Holben’s excellent book What Christians Think about Homosexuality, Six Representative Viewpoints. Using Holben's definition on page xvii of his Introduction, this is what I mean whenever I speak of someone who is “homosexual”:

In what follows, when referring to gay people, gays and lesbians or homosexuals, I will not be talking about an individual who might have had several sexual experiences with someone of the same sex. Neither will I mean to indicate a person who, at one point or another, has had strong, even passionate, feelings about a same-sex friend. Nor will I be referring to someone who doesn't happen to fit current cultural stereotypes as to appropriate male or female interests, activities, skills or appearance.

Most importantly, in referring to the gay, lesbian or homosexual person, I will not have in mind mere erotic itch, what 'turns one on' physically and nothing more. Rather, I will be speaking of a person in whom not only the sexual drives but also the deepest emotional and psychological urges for self-revelation, intimacy, connectedness, bonding, closeness and commitment--all that we call romantic/erotic love--find their internal, spontaneous fulfillment not in the opposite sex but in the same sex.