Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Competing agendas

Here's a conversation I've had many times over. A fellow straight Christian who takes a conservative position on same-sex relationships wants to know whether celibacy is "the answer" for gay Christians. I respond that it might be a solution for some people who think they can handle it. But there's always the problem of what to do about the people who don't think they can handle it. I bring up depression. I point out how the depression caused by the strain of trying to avoid this one sin can lead to worse problems. It might lead to acting out, for instance. It might lead to abandoning faith. It might even lead to contemplating suicide.

And the fellow Christian I'm talking to says, "Uh-huh . . . uh-huh . . . okay, but--"

Okay, but?

At this point I'm wondering, "What's so 'okay but' about suicide?" We're talking suicide. SOO-IH-SIDE. Why do alarm bells not go off in this person's head when they hear that word?

But now I've come to realize something. To me this conversation is about real people, friends I care about. It's about hearing someone on the other end of the phone going off about how they feel like God hates them and they can't do this and there are no answers and nowhere to turn and what hope can I give them that would make their life worth living, huh??

But to this straight Christian I'm talking to, this conversation is largely a theological exercise. Nothing real is at stake. It's about coming to the right answer while staying within the bounds of orthodoxy.

In other words, when one person is talking about love and the other is talking about protecting certain doctrines, how can the two sides be having the same conversation?

I see this problem on a larger scale too. We evangelicals tend to get starry eyed when it comes to rubbing shoulders with our favorite evangelical celebs. Someone tells of shaking the hand of Pastor of a Certain Megachurch, or studying under Professor at a Respected Theological Seminary or having their Facebook friend request accepted by Author of a Popular Christian Book. But when it comes to, say, a mother seeking out advice for her gay son or daughter, can she entrust her loved one into the hands of these "experts"? Is that megachurch pastor going to advise her out of love for her gay son, or is he going to be thinking about what the board of elders would say if they found out "a homosexual" was in their midst? Is that popular author going to love her gay daughter as much as she does, or will he be thinking about protecting the book deal he's trying to close with IVP?

It's a problem, isn't it?

When people ask me what respected Christian leaders or theologians I've consulted to guide me on my views, I have to admit that I haven't done that much consulting. I have no idea what other people's agendas are. Can these strangers love my friends the way I do? Can they feel the weight of the responsibility of it? Or are they just concerned about what a publisher or a committee or the powers-that-be want them to say?

I think the responsibility of love falls on the individual alone. You can't fully entrust it to others. The path love carves out is too uncertain, with too many twists and turns to be able to write it up in a brochure and submit to a board for approval. It's not something you vote on, it's a journey you take alone. I don't scoff at love like I used to, as something that's liberal and mushy and unprincipled. Loving others the way Jesus commanded is by far the most frightening thing I've ever had to do.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

What change?

Friends will sometimes send me links to articles that quote from the latest evangelical leader--a seminary prof, a radio show host, some megachurch pastor--who demonstrates an ability to speak about homosexuality in calm, moderate tones while even daring to suggest that we should work toward peace and understanding in the church. Nothing earth-shattering enough to post on this blog, but I see bits of progress here and there that tell me a quiet trend of questioning and self-examination is afoot in some pockets of the evangelical church. I expect that it will grow over time. In the meantime it's interesting to check out what people have to say, and observe how the gears are turning in people's minds as these more moderate evangelicals contemplate the issue of homosexuality.

But I've noticed one little catch phrase that keeps popping up. You know how evangelicals love using catch phrases, and once the usage of a certain phrase reaches a critical mass you hear everyone saying it left and right? Here is the one I keep hearing:
"While we know that change is possible for some [gay and lesbian] people, we need to consider that maybe it isn't possible for everyone."

Then the evangelical leader goes on to plead for Christian compassion and understanding for these leftover gay people, these stragglers who evidently couldn't get their act together enough to make the full conversion from gay to straight like all the other success stories out there.

My question is, What are all these success stories of "change" that they're talking about? Who has ever successfully and completely changed from gay to straight? Anyone I know? Anyone you know? I'm not saying that such change doesn't exist on the face of the earth, but I am saying that I have never encountered any of these changed people, and I've been researching and writing on the topic of homosexuality for the last ten years.

I realize that this catch phrase is thrown out there as a way to reach those evangelicals who cling with white-knuckled fervor to the idea that gays are an ultra-depraved sub-species of the human race who don't deserve anyone's compassion--not even Jesus's. The word to them is, "Oh, but they do deserve compassion, if you would just realize that while some people can change [satisfying the evangelical belief that most gays do choose to be homosexual at some subconscious level], you also have to understand that not all people can succeed at changing, you see."

These days I find myself categorized within this small crowd of straight evangelicals who are trying to talk to other straight evangelicals about being more understanding toward the gay community. I'm thankful that the category even exists, and I'm thankful the talk is happening. But am I supposed to go out there and say, "While we know that some people can change, blah blah blah . . ." even though I have never--in all my hundreds of contacts via email exchanges and coffee dates and phone calls and dinners and conferences and small groups--crossed paths with anyone who has told me a credible story of converting from being completely homosexual to being completely heterosexual? It is a problem of honesty.

I know you should "never say never," which is why I continue to be open to the possibility that somewhere out there, someone has successfully made the gay-to-straight conversion. But the silence is strange to me, because most people who have had a positive, unique, life-changing experience that might possibly help millions of other people tend to go public about it and make their fortune publishing how-to books and traveling the country holding conferences and seminars. I know the ex-gay movement is trying to pretend that that's what they're all about--but I'm talking about the real thing, and I'm still waiting.

In the meantime I can't bring myself to feed my Christian friends the line about all the supposed change that's going on out there, regardless of what they may want to hear. Instead I say, "It's possible someone has really gone through a genuine orientation change and I just haven't heard about it yet. So if you know of anybody, please tell that person to contact me. I'd love to meet them and ask how they did it."

Monday, March 01, 2010

What would Jesus do about gay weddings?

A Christian has the fear of God put in him and hastens to attend his gay friends' weddings:

I think I better go to the weddings of my gay friends. I'm almost scared not to. In some of his parables Jesus wasn't exactly fortune-cookie clear, but he didn't even almost waffle about his "Love your neighbor as yourself." He very explicitly declared that the "first and greatest commandment."

If there's any wiggle room there, I just don't see it.