Thursday, March 22, 2007

Rev. Albert Mohler's article

I can't tell whether the uproar over Rev. Albert Mohler's blog post has more to do with how he upset fundamentalist Christians or how he upset the gay community. I guess it is a little of both.

Here's what upset the Christians:

We sin against homosexuals by insisting that sexual temptation and attraction are predominately chosen. We do not always (or even generally) choose our temptations. Nevertheless, we are absolutely responsible for what we do with sinful temptations, whatever our so-called sexual orientation.

Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a biological basis for sexual orientation. We can and must insist that no scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior. The general trend of the research points to at least some biological factors behind sexual attraction, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This does not alter God's moral verdict on homosexual sin (or heterosexual sin, for that matter), but it does hold some promise that a deeper knowledge of homosexuality and its cause will allow for more effective ministries to those who struggle with this particular pattern of temptation. If such knowledge should ever be discovered, we should embrace it and use it for the greater good of humanity and for the greater glory of God.

Here's what upset gays:
If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.

If you read the entire article, I think Mohler's overall position represents a notable triumph of reason over past fundamentalist irrationality, and I wish the gay community would pause for a moment and realize that. For a prominent Southern Baptist leader to exhort evangelicals to open up their minds to the possibility of a gay gene, and draw direct implications to 1) the ways Christians have sinned against gays and 2) how Christians can better minister to gays in the future, is huge. Huge. The social implications. The political implications. The ministry implications. All these would be profoundly affected if Christians would just realize that the possiblity that homosexuality isn't chosen does not undermine the teachings of the Bible.

Do I know for sure whether there is a genetic origin? No, I don't. But I have found, interestingly, that when I view and treat people "as if" their homosexuality were genetic, it ends up making the most sense out of their feelings and actions and choices. It is just an interesting observation I have noted as I await further developments from the scientific community.

Now what about Mohler's other, rather off-handed comment that if sexual orientation could be reversed in utero, Christians should "unapologetically" support such treatment. I would say that two things come to mind. First, his comment was brief and somewhat out of the blue, so he would need to explain what he means by "support." But given that not everyone in society agrees that homosexuality is a sinful/fallen condition, Christians should definitely not be out there rallying in favor of such treatment in our usual loud-mouthed way, because we would come off as if we were advocating the eradication of gay and lesbian people from society. This message is not merely offensive. It is personally threatening to gay people in a way that the rest of us can't imagine or appreciate.

Plenty of gay and lesbian people think their gayness is a perfectly natural part of who they are. Plenty of gay and lesbian people who are Christian think that God created them to be gay. I disagree with them. But there is a chance I may be wrong. And because I may be wrong I am not going to go around advocating a means to achieve their non-existence. Even if I was completely convinced I was "right" I wouldn't do it, because it is not my place to try and implement an orientation make-over on the human race.

That said, my second reaction to Mohler's comment yanks me back in the opposite direction when I consider this question privately as a parent. What if the decision about my own child's sexual orientation rested upon me alone, and this decision had to be made while the child was in utero? What would I do?

I should say first off that as a parent I am prepared to handle a situation where any one of my children might turn out gay. I am not upset, distressed or panicky over the thought. I have given it quite a lot of consideration. So my concern in this hypothetical scenario would not be for myself, but for my child.

Now suppose I were to decide that I can fully accept a gay child and I let things take their natural course. But suppose that child grows up and is not able to love and accept him- or herself as I do. My love and acceptance is simply not enough to counteract the hostility and rejection they feel from the church and society around them. Then they find out that I could have had them turn out straight, but I chose not to, and they tell me, "Why did you let this happen? You've screwed up my life." I'm telling you, if my kid were to say that to me, I think the sadness and guilt would kill me.

I am not interested in exterminating gay and lesbian people from the human population. They have enriched my life. Yet if a decision regarding my own child were placed solely in my hands as a parent, then I would be forced to guess about what my child would want me to do, and I would feel safer guessing that they would want to be straight rather than gay.

I know a lot of the readers of this blog are gay. What would you have wanted your parents to do for you in that situation? Would you resent them if they could have changed your orientation but didn't? What if you had to make a decision regarding your own child? As a parent I'd be interested to know.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"Immoral" and "faggot"

I once heard a pastor speak at a gay evangelical Bible study where the members affirm same-sex relationships for Christians. I am friends with the leaders of the Bible study, and for years they have graciously allowed me to attend even though I hold to more conservative views on homosexuality than the group.

The pastor, who was gay, had been invited to speak on the subject of relationships. It is a sensitive topic because any gay Christian seeking a committed, monogamous relationship is really looking for a needle in a haystack of sexual temptation, having to deal with a community that is hostile to their Christian values. So the study was fairly well-attended.

Yet what surprised me was the very first thing this pastor said as we opened up our Bibles at the beginning of the study. He told us that even though he himself was seeking a relationship, he believed that God’s original plan in Genesis was for a marriage relationship to be between a man and a woman. He did not believe God had homosexual relationships in view as the ideal when he first created the world. This is my own view, which I had always kept politely under wraps during past group discussions. So I was all ears after that. The pastor then went on to share about his own personal struggles in trying to find a partner. It went, to the best of my memory, something like this:

I used to be married to a woman, but after ten years our marriage fell apart as I realized I was gay and that that wasn’t going to change. I was pastoring at that time. Today I’m still pastoring, except now at a gay and lesbian congregation, because I’ve always felt called by God to serve in that capacity.

Like many of you I’m hoping to find someone I can share my life with. But it’s hard and it’s lonely. I know you can relate. I come home after work as late as I can into the evening, and then I stay up watching TV until eleven, twelve o’clock at night. You guys know what I’m talking about, right? I sit there in front of the television because I hate having to face an empty bed. I stay up and stay up until I’m so tired I know I’ll be out as soon as my head hits the pillow. That way I won’t have to lie there, awake and alone.

Sometimes I ask God about it. I say, ‘Lord, all my life I’ve served you. I’ve always pastored as you’ve called me to do. I got married because I was trying to do the right thing. I stayed with my wife for ten years, even though it felt like I was having sex with my sister. It felt so unnatural. And now after the divorce I’m still serving you in the ministry, and yet I have to come home every night to an empty apartment. Why, Lord? Haven’t I tried to do what was right? Haven’t I always sought to please you? After everything I’ve tried to do for you, why am I left with this loneliness, with nothing but an empty bed to come back to?’

The next day I told my husband what this pastor had shared. He shook his head and said, “Whenever Christians talk about ‘homosexuals’ we have all these ideas about what big sinners they are. But we have no idea what it's really all about. We just have no clue.”

It’s been a year and a half and I still tear up whenever I think about that pastor, how incredibly difficult it must be for him. I just hope that brother in Christ has found the strength each day to soldier on.

And so if you really want to know what I think about these recent events that have hit the news cycle . . .

No, I don’t think Ann Coulter should be calling anyone a “faggot.” No decent person does who cares about the feelings and lives and struggles of other human beings.

As for General Pace’s views on the immorality of homosexuality, I suppose the obvious question is whether his personal moral views should have any bearing on military policy at all. Yet the deeper question is whether General Pace has any idea what he’s talking about when he places the label “immoral” on all openly gay and lesbian people without qualification. Sure, we have a right to our personal and religious viewpoints. But isn’t it better to have some insight into what you’re talking about before you use words that make sweeping, simplistic judgments on other people’s lives?

I remember sitting under theological scrutiny in session meetings in my former denomination, having to affirm the statement that “homosexual acts are immoral” without any breathing room for nuance or explanation. I remember how a respected leader in this same denomination once lamented that our society no longer tolerated the word “faggot,” how he went on as if this were some great loss to our modern culture. I think about these words we throw around, carelessly and even jokingly, and then I think about that gay pastor. Do “immoral” and “faggot” sum up the essence of who he is? Do these words properly characterize what his life is all about?

You can always justify putting offensive labels on entire groups of people by appealing to "free speech" and "the right to your own opinion." Fine, go right ahead. But don't expect that decent people who make it a practice to stay in touch with real life issues pertaining to the human race are going to find much pleasure in your company, or have much regard for your point of view.

Monday, March 12, 2007

"Normalizing" gay relationships

A Christian reader writes in:

This weekend I spent time with a lesbian couple that I just loved. It was hard to reconcile how loving, supportive, and wonderful they were to each other with the idea that they're these horrible people that the church often claims they are . . .

I honestly had never been an up close witness to a lesbian relationship, and I guess it was a little surprising if I'm being totally honest. It was just so...normal I guess is the word. They weren't trying to prove anything; they weren't defensive or aggressive about their sexuality. It amazed me the stereotypes I held once I was confronted with the reality, and I have been praying to be free of those now that I'm so aware of them.

Yep. I also remember the shock when I was first confronted with the contrast between the image of homosexual people I was presented with in my church culture, versus the real people I actually met for myself.

One of the big complaints that leaders in my former denomination had against my writings was that I was seeking to "normalize" homosexual relationships. This accusation has troubled me and I believe I finally understand why. It's not so much that I'm seeking to normalize homosexual relationships. It's that I view homosexual people themselves as normal people. I think they are no different than anyone else except, for whatever reason, they have found themselves to be homosexual and are dealing with that reality in the best way they know how.

But problems apparently arise when such people seek out relationships and their normalcy spills over so that now their relationships become normalized too. In the minds of some Christian leaders this simply cannot be, and they expect me to answer for this outrage.

I don't know about how "normal" gay relationships are "supposed" to be. But frankly, when I picture a gay couple living together in a committed relationship, I do think their life is probably not much different from any other marriage. Sitting at the breakfast table reading the newspaper over coffee. Taking turns walking the dog. Griping when the other person hogs the computer. Asking about the long distance call that showed up on the phone bill. Gelling on the couch together watching the eleven o'clock news, until someone finally gets up and mumbles something about having to wake up early the next day.

I'm afraid I really don't know how to answer for such normalcy. But I do think it would be helpful if, in the church, we acknowledged that this is probably how things really are. That way we could at least avoid discrediting ourselves when people discover the vast difference between the sterotypes we set up about gay relationships and the ones they encounter in the real world.

Monday, March 05, 2007

There's another conservative Christian out there who has come to the same conclusion I have, that attempting to legislate morality in this country is a completely inadequate political strategy that does not serve the interest of Christian citizens or comport with Christian morality.

With regard to homosexual issues he writes:
I feel that it is immoral for our government to deny equal rights to homosexuals. There is simply neither a solid Biblical or legal precedent for denying rights based upon sexual orientation. Besides, a central idea of legal tolerance is that preventing behavior (which we know isn't even accomplished by legislation against homosexuals) doesn't change the heart. But even if anti-gay legislation curbed homosexual behavior, we know that it would not make anyone "less gay". So, when we remove sexual orientation from the mix, we're simply denying rights to a specific group of people. (Hint: That's wrong.)

In yesterday's post Legal Tolerance addresses the civil same-sex marriage debate. He advises Christians not to fret about how the government chooses to define a God-given institution. Since we already understand how God defines marriage in the Bible, that's all we need. Why should we care what the government thinks? He further proposes that government get out of the marriage business altogether and have legal benefits granted to any household group that wishes to be considered a unit in the eyes of the state, not just to married couples. It's a radical proposal. But at least someone in the conservative Christian camp is trying to think outside the box.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Don't ask, don't tell

Readers of The Daily Dish debate whether gay soldiers such as Eric Alva (who lost a leg and a finger while serving in Iraq) threaten military cohesiveness if they refuse to abide by the "Don't ask, don't tell" policy.

One reader says this.

Another responds with this.

I believe the times are a-changing.