Monday, November 26, 2012

Review of Justin Lee's Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate

For someone who keeps up a blog on the subject, I don't do as much reading on "Christianity, homosexuality and the Bible" as you might think. Frankly, it's hard to sustain interest when I see the same arguments rehashed on both the traditional and progressive sides of the debate. This presents a problem when I'm looking for something to give my straight evangelical friends. I'd like to give them a book that advances the discussion, but does so by connecting with them, not preaching at them. It doesn't help to belittle people, or tell them that believing the Bible is homophobic or the equivalent of supporting slavery. Most of my Christian friends are smart, sensible, compassionate people who would greatly benefit from someone who can speak to them in their language, who doesn't agree with them on every point but challenges them biblically to stretch their thinking.

Justin Lee is a gay Christian writer and speaker who has done just that. His new book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate is honest, engaging, clear-thinking, reasonable, and very evangelical. He uses the narrative thread of his own life experience to explain what it's like to be gay and Christian in the church, and to be torn between two sides that are at each other's throats in a culture war.

I had trouble putting it down. The pages go fast because you feel like he's just telling you his story. But in doing so Justin also interweaves reflections about what it's like to be gay and Christian that are instructive for the rest of us. As you learn how he struggled to admit to himself that he was gay, how he came out to his parents and pastor, why he couldn't join the ex-gay movement, why he felt misunderstood by straight Christian friends, and how he wrestled through the key Bible passages on homosexuality, your eyes are opened not just to one man's struggle but to the much bigger problem of how the culture war is tearing the church apart and ruining her witness.

Somehow Justin is able to explain all this without being preachy or abrasive. His writing is personal and his tone is gracious. I mean genuinely gracious, not a graciousness that smacks of condescension. As an evangelical I appreciated how well he was able to speak to me in my language. He always seemed sane and sure-footed as he laid out the processes through which he came to his conclusions, even the controversial ones.

For me the real test came when I got to the chapter where he dealt with the Scripture passages. I must confess I was tempted to skip it. I have read so many boring, shrill or unconvincing exegeses of Genesis 19, Leviticus 18, Romans 1, and 1 Corinthians 6 that I rarely even bother to drag my eyes through it anymore. It says a lot that Justin actually kept my interest, due entirely to his humble, honest and respectful handling of God's word. He never treated the Bible with a cavalier attitude, never dismissed the tough passages with simplistic, one-sided answers. The one criticism I do have about this chapter is that he did not deal with Genesis 1-2, which I consider a key passage. But overall, I can say that I was surprised at how wholeheartedly I agreed with his conclusions. I'll let you find out for yourself what those conclusions are.

This is not to say that the evangelical world will embrace this book enthusiastically. In fact, I anticipate Torn will ruffle plenty of feathers, maybe because Justin has the ability to connect so well with evangelicals. What's more, he is not coming to the church and saying, "This is my story. Please be nice and accept me." Rather, he is challenging the church to rise above the culture war, heed her true calling, and embody the gospel that we claim to believe.

The fact that he does so as a gay Christian will no doubt be irksome to some. They will claim that there is no such thing as a gay Christian, and they will try to dismiss him on that basis alone. But I ask everyone who reads this book to judge for yourself whether you can say that Justin is an unbeliever, that his faith is false, that his submission to the Bible is a sham, and that his "agenda" is anything but a sincere Christian concern for the church he loves. If you've ever had doubts whether gay Christians exist, look here. I can say from my own experience that people like Justin are not rare. The rest of us in the church would be far wiser if we listened to them, and far richer if we embraced them as fellow citizens of the heavenly kingdom.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Eleven new followers!

The Colorful One
Aaron A.
Edgar Figueroa
Mark Wells
Clyde Jones
Thomas Daus

Thanks for reading the blog!

Monday, October 01, 2012

Transgender musings

I've been mulling over a recent interview that Rachel Held Evans did with transgender Christian Lisa Salazar, whom I had the privilege of meeting this past January at the Gay Christian Network Conference. Over the years I've given some thought to transgender issues. For a period of time I exchanged emails with a male-to-female transgender friend who was the process of transitioning. She sent me articles from medical journals (most of which went over my head) and shared with me the human and spiritual side of trying to manage her life as a woman who faces all the challenges of presenting herself as female to the outside world. I'm grateful to her for opening up her life to me.

That doesn't mean I feel qualified to comment in any depth on transgender issues, which is why I avoid the term "LGBT" on this blog. There is, however, one basic issue that has always been clear to me as a non-transgender person. Namely, I have never understood myself to be female simply because of my biological make-up. I'm pretty sure that, for me, identifying as female is something that has been a part of me even before I knew the differences between male and female biology. Maybe I'm talking about having a "female soul," or maybe the scientists would call it a "female brain." But whatever you want to call it, it wasn't like I looked at my biological self one day when I was four years old and said, "Hey, I must be a girl because I have a girl body." Not really. I knew that my mom and my dad were different, both in their emotional make-up and in the way they related to me. And even though I was a classic tomboy who loved rough play and disliked hugs, I understood that at a baseline level I belonged to the girl-Mom camp more than the boy-Dad camp. I may have been a more boyish girl, to be sure, but I was a girl nevertheless. My experience was growing up and taking for granted that of course I look like a girl because I am a girl, and why wouldn't you look like a girl if you are one?

I share these thoughts because Lisa Salazar's experience was so different from mine:

Ever since I can remember, I experienced a disconnection with my body. This sense of disconnection at times bordered on revulsion on one hand, and sadness on the other. From my earliest memory, I felt something was amiss. I did not like to see my private parts and avoided looking down when I was naked. I distinctly remember sitting in the bathtub in three inches of water and carefully laying a washcloth over my genitals to hide them from my eyes as I played with my bath toys. I surmise I could not have been more that three years old at the time.  
This feeling that something was not right was not based on me having seen a girl's body and deciding I had extra parts. I was probably ten years old before I ever saw an image in a textbook of what a girl's body looked like. By the time I understood what some of the anatomical differences were, I was already estranged from my body. So where did this disconnection come from and what did it mean? 

Her experience interests me because I can relate to understanding my femaleness as an innate inner conviction, a fundamental starting point for my subjective identity. I know it wasn't the case that I simply looked down in the tub when I was three and chose to accept my anatomy, whereas Lisa didn't. What Lisa is describing is probably closer to imagining myself, as I am now, being transplanted into a male body and seeing how much I'd like it. I don't think I'd like it at all. "Disconnection," "revulsion," "sadness," feeling like something is "amiss"? Yes, yes, yes, and yes, that sounds about how I would feel. Except that for many people this confusion happens at a very young age and permanently impacts their psyche, their sense of security and self-worth. Those of us who have always taken for granted that we can look at our physical selves and literally feel comfortable in our own skins now realize that we have reason to be grateful for this happy circumstance. It is apparently not the case with everyone.

I often wonder why Christians aren't more accepting of the transgender experience. We are in constant battle against the evolutionists and atheists, who deny the existence of the soul and say human beings can be defined as simply a biological mass of highly complex cells. Why, then, when it comes to transgender people do Christians suddenly insist that the physical body is the be-all and end-all of male and female identity? Aren't we the ones who are always insisting that human beings are more than just erect-walking creatures of evolved ape-flesh? We teach that human beings have a soul, and that sets us apart from the animals. Why not realize that some people may have a soul that doesn't match their body? Perhaps a female soul got paired with a male body or vice versa. And while God did create us perfectly male and female in the beginning, after the fall many strange and tragic things now happen in the world. The secular transgender world may not agree with that conception of their experience, but as Christians we at least have theological categories that can help us understand the transgender experience in a way that would make sense to us.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Post-Chick-fil-A reflections

Now that everyone's done eating their Chick-fil-A sandwiches . . .

I remember election day in November 1994. All of us Republicans were convinced that Bill and Hillary Clinton had been driving our country into the moral sewer for the last two years, so we showed up at the voting booths in droves. I came home from work, grabbed my coat and went out in the rain to the local polling place where I blindly punched every chad next to every Republican name I saw. The result was that Republicans won control of both houses of Congress that year. At the time it felt good, it felt empowering, like we had a voice and made ourselves heard. So there!

At the moment it also felt very "Christian," as if I and others were standing up for God's righteousness against the Clintons' liberal agenda. But now, in retrospect, I don't view that moment as being a proud highlight of my Christian life at all. I didn't grow from it, I didn't become more Christ-like from it, I didn't benefit spiritually from it. Rather I look back and wonder at my anger and impulsiveness, that I would rush out and vote for candidates about whom I knew absolutely nothing. And what was the long-term outcome of our collective impulsive action in 1994? Newt Gingrich.

Ten, twenty years from now, many of the people who stood in line at their local Chick-fil-A restaurant last Wednesday will feel a similar emptiness about it. It will be a forgotten or forgettable moment.

Why? Because there is nothing particularly Christian about turning out in droves to make a statement of self-interest about a piece of civil legislation. Any group can do it, and just about every group does. Sure, you can argue that these sorts of demonstrations aren't necessarily wrong in themselves. But in the case of Chick-fil-A--even if we could convince ourselves that the whole circus wasn't hurtful to the gay and lesbian community, damaging to the gospel message, and embarrassing for Christians in general--neither was there anything wonderfully Christ-like about it either. There was no revelation of the Jesus who ate with tax collectors and sinners, who stood next to the adulterous woman and dared anyone to cast the first stone, who hung parched and suffocating on a cross while praying for God to forgive his enemies.

But, you say, we are perfectly justified in opposing the gay agenda. They're the ones who are always organizing and protesting. They're the ones pushing for their legislation and their rights. And what about those liberal politicians trying to ban Chick-fil-A restaurants from their cities?

The call to follow Christ is not about meeting the status quo with the status quo: "They're pushing their agenda so we're pushing ours." "I have a right to support my cause." "When Christians speak up we always get slapped down. Well, I've had enough!" This is exactly the sort of mediocre thinking that ensures there will always be so many Christians who make so little difference.

The apostle Paul asks, "Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?" Jesus says, "If you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers to the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?" Peter says, "When [Jesus] was reviled he did not revile in return, when he suffered he did not threaten but committed himself to him who judges righteously." John says, "By this we know love, because he laid down his life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren."

Our sins have been wiped away. Glory will someday be ours. We have riches beyond measure in the heavenly places. We are heirs of the world to come. God is our Father, Christ is our brother, the Holy Spirit is our Comforter. Surely we can afford to let go of some of our rights and privileges in this passing world. Surely we can afford to let some of the love and grace we have received overflow in our lives to others. Surely we can afford to be more generous and less petty, more confident and less victimized, more humble and less resentful.

Talk to someone who's gay. They were right outside the restaurant picketing while you were standing in line at Chick-fil-A. You could have skipped the chicken sandwich and taken someone to lunch on neutral ground at Burger King. But don't just talk, listen and learn. Because when it comes down to it being gay is not a political agenda or a religious doctrine, it is a human experience. And once you find the courage to connect with another human being on that basic level, you will know that God loves them, because you will feel his love for them in your own heart.

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Social Science Research, the journal that published Mark Regnerus's study, is being challenged by 200 science professionals, most of whom hold PhDs or MDs.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A closer look at Mark Regnerus's "Children of Gay Parents" study

If you're a straight Christian, you may soon be hearing about an exciting new study conducted by the New Family Structures Study (NFSS), headed up by someone named Mark Regnerus. This study concludes that the children of gay parents turn out to have more problems in their adult life than children raised by heterosexual parents in stable, traditional households. These results supposedly fly in the face of many previous studies that have been done, which have concluded that children raised by gay couples turn out no differently than those raised by heterosexual parents. In a more accessible summary of the NFSS findings, Mark Regnerus reports the following:
On 25 of 40 different outcomes evaluated, the children of women who've had same-sex relationships fare quite differently than those in stable, biologically-intact mom-and-pop families . . . . Respondents were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male to female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life, among other things.
What makes this study seemingly more credible is that the NFSS conducted their research using a national probability sample population--which is the largest population sample that has ever been used for such a study--with the help of over three-quarters of a million dollars in funding, according to Box Turtle Bulletin.

Already Christian bloggers are tuning in. Finally, a credible study has been done using a large population sample to give us accurate results. Could this be the study that confirms our suspicions that the liberal world of psychology and sociology has been biased in their studies of children raised by gay or lesbian couples? That they've been cherry picking their samples to manipulate a favorable outcome for the gay and lesbian community?

The actual study is a daunting read, but if you're interested in getting to the bottom of this I strongly recommend Jim Burroway's excellent critique of this study on Box Turtle Bulletin. And yet I would say you don't even have to look as far as Burroway's critique to know there is something wrong with the NFSS study. You can pick up the trail just from reading Mark Regnerus's summary article about this study on Slate.

For instance, read this statement by Mark Regnerus on how he surveyed his population sample:
Instead of relying on small samples, or the challenges of discerning sexual orientation of household residents using census data, my colleagues and I randomly screened over 15,000 Americans aged 18-39 and asked them if their biological mother or father ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex. I realize that one same-sex relationship does not a lesbian make, necessarily. But our research team was less concerned with the complicated politics of sexual identity than with same-sex behavior. (My italics.)
Wait. I thought this study was about comparing children who were raised in a same-sex-couple household with children who were raised by heterosexual parents. Because that's what all those other studies were about, right? And it is those studies that Regnerus claims to be challenging. But notice that the NFSS interviewed children whose parents "ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex." That is quite different from interviewing children who were raised from a very young age by a same-sex couple in a stable family situation.

By asking this question, the NFSS sample is necessarily going to include many, many children of parents in mixed-orientation marriages. Let me explain what that is. A mixed-orientation marriage is when one of the parents is straight and the other is gay, but the gay partner chose to marry their opposite-sex partner in order to appear straight or fulfill social expectations. Quite often the straight partner didn't even know he or she was marrying someone who was gay. Mixed-orientation marriages are quite common today, but were even more common in a previous generation, that is, the generation who raised the now-grown children that the NFSS interviewed.

To explain further: according to the NFSS study, these grown children they interviewed whose parents "ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex" were born between 1972 and 1993, a time when gay marriage wasn't available to their parents' generation, or was even on the radar screen of society. If you were a gay or lesbian adult in the 1970's, '80's or '90's, marrying an opposite-sex partner was the only option available to you aside from lifelong singleness. It probably never even occurred to any gay or lesbian person of that time that they might someday be able to legally marry a same-sex partner. So they entered into regular marriages, became unhappy, struggled with temptation, and quite often reached a breaking point when, out of desperation, they either had a gay affair or ended the marriage so they could be free to pursue a gay relationship.

So . . . if you were to take a random sample from a large section of the population born between 1972 and 1993, and ask if any of them had parents who "ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same sex," chances are the vast majority of those who were aware of having a gay parent during their growing up years became aware of that fact because Mom or Dad had a homosexual affair, or it came out after a divorce that Mom or Dad was gay. The odds are very much against stumbling upon children who were raised by a gay couple, who were able to live like a married couple at a time when gay marriage was unheard of, and who somehow got legal custody of the children so that they were able to raise them for many years in a stable household situation. In other words, the odds are very much against the study coming across children of that generation who were raised in the very situation that interests us most.

Instead we are going to end up with a sample of children who grew under much more stressful circumstances than normal. Because for the majority of them the gay or lesbian parent in question had started out in a mixed-orientation marriage (probably unbeknownst to their straight partner), had at some point acted upon their homosexuality, or divorced before they could act out, and disrupted their family life as a result. The gay relationship in question may have lasted two months, two years, or two decades--who knows? The study doesn't say. We don't know if some parents' marriages survived, but there is a good chance that many of them ended in divorce. Divorce is already traumatic enough, but if the split came because one person was found out to be gay or lesbian, the feelings of hurt, shame, betrayal and anger would be that much more intensified.

Is it any wonder that children who grew up under such circumstances are more prone to being characterized as "unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male to female sex partners, more sexual victimization, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life"? Oddly, these children sound very similar to those who grew up in broken homes, or with step-parents, or with single parents. Oh wait . . . maybe it's because NFSS's "Has your biological mother or father ever had a romantic relationship with a member of the same-sex?" survey question naturally singles out children who grew up under those exact types of circumstances.

The study isn't so much about what happens when children are raised by gay parents as it is about children who grew up under traumatic circumstances. That is very different from a situation where children are raised from a very young age by two mothers or two fathers, who have always known the love and security that comes from a stable two-parent home--except that their parents both happen to be of the same sex.

Yet Mark Regnerus wants to pretend that his study is somehow relevant to the previous studies that centered around the stable-gay-couple parenting situation. In Regnerus's summary of his study published by Slate, he claims he can't figure out why his study came to such different conclusions.
Why such dramatic differences? I can only speculate, since the data are not poised to pinpoint causes. One notable theme among the adult children of same-sex parents, however, is household instability, and plenty of it.
"Household instability." I wonder how on earth that element came to factor so strongly into this equation? Could it be, perhaps, that Regnerus and the NFSS surveyed their population sample in a way that singled out children who were raised in unstable household situations?

And yet in the Slate article Regnerus goes on to suggest that it's really the previous studies that are guilty of bias:
So why did this study come up with such different results than previous work in the field? And why should one study alter so much previous sentiment? Basically, better methods. When it comes to assessing how children of gay parents are faring, the careful methods and random sampling approach found in demography has not often been employed by scholars studying this issue, due in part—to be sure—to the challenges in locating and surveying small minorities randomly. In its place, the scholarly community has often been treated to small, nonrandom “convenience” studies of mostly white, well-educated lesbian parents, including plenty of data-collection efforts in which participants knew that they were contributing to important studies with potentially substantial political consequences, elevating the probability of something akin to the “Hawthorne Effect.” This is hardly an optimal environment for collecting unbiased data (and to their credit, many of the researchers admitted these challenges). 
Hmm, yes, we need better methods, don't we? Better methods that produce "unbiased data." Especially if participants know they are "contributing to important studies with potentially substantial political consequences." Apparently, Mark Regnerus well understands these political consequences, as he writes in Slate:
This study arrives in the middle of a season that’s already exhibited plenty of high drama over same-sex marriage, whether it’s DOMA, the president’s evolving perspective, Prop 8 pinball, or finished and future state ballot initiatives. The political take-home message of the NFSS study is unclear, however. On the one hand, the instability detected in the NFSS could translate into a call for extending the relative security afforded by marriage to gay and lesbian couples. On the other hand, it may suggest that the household instability that the NFSS reveals is just too common among same-sex couples to take the social gamble of spending significant political and economic capital to esteem and support this new (but tiny) family form while Americans continue to flee the stable, two-parent biological married model, the far more common and accomplished workhorse of the American household, and still—according to the data, at least—the safest place for a kid.
Regnerus is surprisingly articulate about the "social gamble" of supporting same-sex marriage against the "safest" and "more common and accomplished" traditional parenting situation, considering that he claims his study is "unclear" about the political implications for same-sex marriage. Somehow, I don't believe that he is unaware of the political implications of his study at all.

On the other hand, Regnerus's offhand remark that the NFSS study "could translate into a call for extending the relative security afforded by marriage to gay and lesbian couples" is very much on the mark. Making same-sex marriage legally available gives gays and lesbians an option other than a mixed-orientation marriage which, years down the line, often results in the type of strained and broken family situation that traumatizes children in ways that the NFSS research has brought to light. Studying how children fared who grew up in such situations in the '70's, '80's and '90's only confirms that we need to get away from the old way of relegating gays and lesbians to the closet, and seek out new solutions such as legalizing same-sex marriage more widely in this country, for the health, security and safety of children.

Monday, June 04, 2012

The growing crisis at Christian colleges

This latest news about the existence of the "Biola Queer Underground" falls in line with other stories I've heard about recently. Faculty and administration of Christian colleges all over the country are learning that LGBT students exist on campus, and it is getting increasingly difficult to ignore these students or expect them to stay silent and invisible. The students of BQU are not demanding that Biola University change its policy against same-sex sexual intimacy. They are asking to be open about their identities without fear of repercussions. They want to talk about homosexuality beyond the let-me-show-you-how-it's-a-sin routine. And they want the school to invite speakers who can present different perspectives on homosexuality than what Biola's policy statement represents. It is an academic institution, after all.

Last year One Wheaton, a group of LGBT Wheaton students and graduates, expressed similar concerns about Wheaton College, about the fear and hiding and hurt they've experienced as students there. This year GCN (Gay Christian Network) executive director Justin Lee has been travelling and speaking at Christian colleges around the country in an effort to open up friendly and thoughtful dialogue over these topics. It is certainly needed.

What's happening at Christian colleges shouldn't come as a surprise. Over the last ten years I've noticed an interesting trend. An increasing number of high school students were tuning into gay issues not primarily because of the rhetoric they heard at church, nor because of the so-called "liberal media," but because they themselves had close friends who were gay or lesbian. Conversations were taking place, feelings were being shared, support was being given, and barriers were falling, quite often within the safety of a public school environment where anti-bullying policies were enforced or a Gay-Straight Alliance Club was present on campus.

The public charter high school my daughter attends is a good example. If anti-gay slurs or bullying takes place among the students, the administration is on it, fast. When students participated in the annual Day of Silence in protest of anti-LGBT behavior, some of the teachers took the initiative to explain the meaning of the day to their classes. There is a feeling of safety, openness, acceptance, and faculty and administration support on campus. These high school kids then graduate, expecting to move on to bigger and better things.

Enter the Christian college. Suppose my daughter were to make the transition from her present high school to one of the more typical conservative Christian colleges. She would be going from an atmosphere where the presence of gay students was accepted to a place where they were invisible and largely in hiding. She would be going from a secular campus where teachers and administrators understood sexual orientation issues and advocated for the dignity of every student, to a supposedly "Christian" campus where she would largely hear homosexuality talked about as sin, sin, and more sin. And by the way, in case you didn't know, it's sin. In short, she would feel like she had gone backward, not forward.

Wait, isn't this supposed to be a Christian college and therefore a place of greater love, understanding and grace than anything the secular world has to offer? At the very least, it's supposed to be a college, that is, an academic environment that is more intellectually sophisticated than high school, where advanced knowledge is explored and ideas are exchanged and debated.

Hence, the current crisis.

Christian colleges are also supposed to be a place where the future leadership of the church is trained up. In another ten years these college kids are going to be our pastors, elders, deacons, missionaries, counselors, and Sunday school teachers. They are the generation that is going to have to deal most seriously with the question, "Is same-sex sexual intimacy a sin?" because nothing short of their own cherished relationships with gay and lesbian family, friends, and fellow church members will be at stake.

It might be a good idea for Christian colleges to set up debate panels and invite speakers from the opposing side so that students can hear all the arguments. It might be a good idea to get your Ph.D.-laden faculty out there to model for students how to engage the opposing side with intelligence, fair-mindedness, and a spirit of brotherly affection. It might not be a good idea to hide behind a policy statement and trot out the same, tired, unchallenged rhetoric every time the subject comes up.

Because that doesn't fly when you find yourself confronted with actual arguments from actual Bible texts from actual Christians who think differently than you. And one day these college students most certainly will be confronted, except as leaders of the church when so much more is at stake. As they reflect upon these issues, someday, when they aren't forced to go to chapel or write that twenty-page paper, when their concerns revolve more around people and relationships and lives, they will probably gravitate toward the side that showed itself to be the most credible, most informed, most sound, and most loving.

I think we have our work cut out for us.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It's that time again . . .

Welcome, new followers!

Chad D.
Michael Olan Webb

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Obama 2012

I was already going to vote for him, but this certainly helps.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The local gay Christian Bible study

When I mention to my straight friends that I attend a gay Christian Bible study, I sometimes get the feeling that they think I went to someone's house where half the guys were fornicating in the upstairs bedrooms while the other half sat around shirtless, leering at one another. Doesn't matter that I said "Christian" or even "Bible study." The only word some people hear is "gay," and that will often send their minds off in a certain misguided direction.

It's possible that I've presumed too much on what people know about gay Christians. So first off, yes, gay Christians do exist. And also, being Christians, they are interested in studying the Bible. Why do they have "gay Christian" Bible studies? you might ask. Because most evangelical churches don't welcome gay people--at least the ones that they know about--so if gay Christians want to be part of a Bible study quite often they have to form their own. It's admirable when you think about it. If you were told you were no longer welcome at your church, would you be so committed to studying the Bible that you'd go out of your way to form your own group to do so?

What's it like going to a gay Christian Bible study? Well, it's usually at someone's home or apartment. You need to get there early because sometimes the place is packed and you will be forced to sit on the floor. At one study I attended I walked in late, having fought through traffic in the rain. I found myself crowding into a small living room with about fifteen other people, and someone was nice enough to offer his chair to me. Copies of song lyrics were distributed, and we started off with a praise and worship time. I noticed a couple of open laptops on the coffee table. People who couldn't make the drive were Skyping in.

They were studying through the Gospel of John verse by verse. We took turns reading out loud from chapter 6, and the leader guided the discussion by asking questions. One of the verses seemed to support a Calvinist view of election and there was lively debate over that. We noticed that different Bible translations put the verse in slightly different lights. Which translation do you have? the leader asked someone. ESV, came the answer. Any others? People called out KJV, NIV, NAS. What about The Message? Anyone here use The Message? There was a friendly sort of tension in the room. Everyone knew who it was that didn't approve of dynamic equivalence Bible translations. If you guys are okay with it, I'll go ahead and read what it says in The Message, the leader said, taking one last cautious look around. Apparently, the coast was clear for a brief lapse into liberalism.

We wrapped up our time by sharing requests and praying together as a group. The fellowship time was a bit cramped, trying to make it through the crowd to the kitchen for soda and store-bought cookies. Then someone broke out a birthday cake and we all sang in honor of the recipient, who was obviously surprised. Aren't you glad you came tonight? people called to him. We were afraid you weren't going to be here.

People hung around until close to 10 pm. The Bible study leader gave me a lift to my car since I was parked two blocks away. He was in the Army Reserves, grew up Southern Baptist, and had recently returned from his second deployment to Iraq. He mentioned that some of his Christian friends had been unfriending him on Facebook for being gay. All I could think was that if my son grew up to be like this guy, I'd be very proud.

So that is what a gay Christian Bible study is like. A bunch of Christians, who are gay, get together to study the Bible. They ask questions, debate a little, and try to keep the peace between the traditionalists and progressives within the group. But in the end, they support and care for one another. In other words, it's not a whole lot different from any other Bible study. Just like, I suppose, being a gay Christian isn't a whole lot different from being any other Christian.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Poem of the day


I had grasped God's garment in the void
But my hand slipped
On the rich silk of it.
The 'everlasting arms' my sister loved to remember
Must have upheld my leaden weight
From falling, even so,
For though I claw at empty air and feel
Nothing, no embrace,
I have not plummeted.

--Denise Levertov

Monday, March 12, 2012

A fence around the cross

The only way I know how to be a Christian without getting caught up in some of the disturbing trends of evangelicalism today is by not listening to Christian radio or watching Christian television, not becoming too avid a follower of any one Christian blog, and being careful about any book I read from an evangelical publisher. It's sad to say, but I find it's hard enough to hear the voice of God in the Scriptures and discern the leading of his Holy Spirit without also receiving a lot of noise and interference from these other outside sources.

Having been on that fast for so long, maybe I was unprepared to hear what I did when I tuned into Dr. Albert Mohler's spiel about the recent Rush Limbaugh controversy. After claiming that Limbaugh has made some points that many people can support and agree with, Mohler admonishes Christians to "think very carefully" about this matter, especially regarding the words we use. "Words represent character," he says, and "we are judged not only by our arguments, but by the very words and phrases . . . we deploy in making those arguments."

Seriously? Why should Christians have to "think very carefully" about Mr. Limbaugh's rant at all? So that we can pick nicer, more godly words by which to villainize Sandra Fluke? And after we've lovingly condemned her for her presumably immoral sexual lifestyle--which we really know nothing about--we can now feel much better about making the argument that people like her deserve not a dime of our hard-earned taxpayer money. Amen.

The marriage of Christian morality and right-wing politics has been all about defining the Us vs. Them dividing line. Politics already demands that you side with one social issue over against another, which puts you in some tension with your fellow citizens who are on the opposing side. Add religious conviction to it and you've boosted your political argument to the level of divine absolutes--why you should absolutely disagree with and even self-righteously condemn those who are on the liberal, God-hating opposing side.

Which means that the greatest damage done by this unholy union between religion and politics is to the gospel itself. The gospel calls all sinners to come to Jesus for forgiveness and hope. But in the minds of many Christians that unconsciously translates into, "Jesus calls all of us who have been raised in godly, Christian, Republican homes to realize that we, too, are sinners in need of forgiveness." In today's conservative political environment, few realize that it also means Jesus calls the college student who is sleeping around, the woman who has had ten abortions, and the gay rights activist who spews bitterness against the church, to come to him for salvation.

Well, now that I've put it that way, no Christian who reads what I just wrote would deny that this is true. Of course we want sinners to come to Jesus--even those sinners! But our appetite for politics reveals the truth of how thoroughly we have abandoned the gospel. Because if you tolerate a preacher using your church's pulpit to condemn Roe v. Wade, for example, how can you expect the woman sitting in the pew, who is weighed down with guilt about her recent abortion, to hear Christ calling her to a heavenly hope? That preacher can go on to talk about the forgiveness and grace of Christ until the sun goes down, but because he brought politics to the pulpit all that woman will ever hear is that everyone, except those who have had abortions, may be forgiven.

And don't even get me started on preachers who use the pulpit to rail against gay rights.

But back to abortion, it recently occurred to me that in all the years I've spent talking to the many, many Christian women who have opened up and confided their secrets to me, not one person has ever confided to me that they have had an abortion. No one. As much as I would like to believe that I've simply never known anyone who has had that in her past, I know it can't be true. Given our intense political vitriol against all things Planned Parenthood, why would a Christian woman in the church ever confide such a thing, or even more frightening, dare to believe that she could be forgiven for it? If that's the case, how much more thoroughly are we driving away non-Christian women who have had abortions from ever setting foot in our sanctuaries?

It makes you wonder about the many other groups we are driving away from Calvary's cross by our all-consuming investment in worldly things that will soon pass away. My guess is that these groups might possibly be defined as the modern-day equivalent to the lepers, tax-collectors, harlots, adulterers and Samaritans of Jesus' day. Whose lifestyles, we are reminded, shouldn't be supported by our tax dollars. And if we won't give them our money, then why should they believe we would give them our love?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

17 new followers!

I'd better post this before things get out of hand. Thank you to the BIGGEST group of followers that has joined this blog yet. Welcome aboard, everyone!

Justin Johns
Matthew Oliver
Dan L. Lewis
Steph Garee
Sam Lufi
James Armstrong
Stymes, Mattster, Shaggy, etc...
Takeshi Takahashi
Kristine Allphin
Kelly Anderson

Monday, February 06, 2012

"99.9% of them have not experienced a change in their orientation" -- Alan Chambers

Oh, and in case you missed all the hoopla, as an unofficial side event at the GCN Conference Alan Chambers was interviewed by Justin Lee as a part of a panel discussion on ex-gay ministries. Chambers is the president of Exodus International, the largest ex-gay organization in the United States. The video of the discussion is long (I was there to hear most of it in person), but the most significant statement Chambers made that evening was this:

The majority of people that I have met--and I would say "the majority" meaning 99.9% of them--have not experienced a change in their orientation, or have gotten to a place where they could say they could never be tempted, or are not tempted in some way, or experience some level of same sex attraction.

Quoth the President of the Largest Ex-gay Ministry in America. If you're worried I ripped it out of context, go to 1:09:44-1:10:09 and hear it for yourself. Then go tell your friends.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

What I've been looking for

When I was in college I went on a short-term missions trip to Japan, where I taught English for six weeks at a small village church in Hanakawa. The congregation at Hanakawa was small, barely thirty people on an average Sunday, because Japanese Christians are a persecuted bunch. They don't pay homage to their dead ancestors at the Buddhist temple, nor do they offer prayers at the Shinto shrines imploring the spirits for good health or success. Their families are ashamed to own them. Wives risk the wrath of their husbands for going to church; children risk being disowned by parents. But when they come together for worship at church, that little group of thirty could sing. They worshipped with full hearts every Sunday out of joy and sorrow and gratitude. Twenty-five years later I can still hear the sound of their voices, accompanied by the whine of that cheap church organ, singing "Jesus Paid It All" in Japanese.

Three weekends ago gay Christians arrived from all over the country, and even other parts of the world for the Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference to worship, learn, fellowship and break bread. And when they sang, the outpouring of their hearts carried me back to those days on the missions field. These were Christians rejected by their families and friends, whose very existence is considered a shame to society--and in this case, their churches. They were gathering to take a brief, collective breath of heavenly air before having to return to the grind of an oppressive existence. Even those who had churches to go back to said that they couldn't worship there with nearly the same freedom as they found at the safe haven of the conference. "Soon as we get back home, we'll start counting pennies to save up for next year's GCN Conference," someone told me.

I have to admit I've spent a lot of years hankering after the spiritual giants of the Christian world. I wanted to witness true faith, which I associated with passion and zeal. Maybe I wanted some of that faith to rub off on me. I would hang out with missionaries, thinking these people who gave up a comfortable life in the States to preach Christ in a foreign country had to be the real deal. I looked up to my brilliant seminary profs, feeling that anyone who spent a lifetime studying the Bible or theology must have a deep love for Christ. I've tried to grab hold of that genuine Christianity for myself. I've joined movements, studied and read, evangelized and prayed, and sold myself out for Christ numerous times. Many disappointments later I learned that outward spiritual impressiveness isn't always what it's cracked up to be, and I can't rely on other people's faith to carry my own.

And just as I'm learning to let go of all that, I come to the GCN Conference and realize that it's here where I least expected it, that authenticity I've been looking for. There was such a spirit of unguardedness among everyone that conversation and fellowship flowed easily. The name of Jesus was precious in the mouths of those who spoke of him. I could talk about suffering and sin and get quiet, understanding nods in return.

But it wasn't flashy or outwardly attractive; the faith of these people was born out of pain and doubt, of wandering and loneliness. It was almost as if the secret to faith was having a messy life, not a together one. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted, some wise person in the Bible once said. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

This Sunday

In case anyone's interested, I'm going to be speaking this Sunday at the 10 a.m. service of Open Door Ministries in Long Beach. The church website provides directions to the William F. Prisk Elementary School where they meet. If you already went to the GCN Conference then you're not missing anything. I'll be telling pretty much the same story as I did on January 7. Not a sermon, but a testimony. Thanks to Pastor Dan Burchett for inviting me.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Welcome, GCN visitors!

I'm still enjoying the afterglow of the Gay Christian Network (GCN) Conference this past weekend. The best part was meeting many of you in person. I can see why people count pennies all year so they can afford the plane fare to this annual event. The fellowship in Christ across denominational lines, because of the suffering everyone has experienced in being marginalized by the institutional church, is incredibly moving.

I know some of you are visiting this blog for the first time because you heard me speak on Saturday. Welcome! No doubt I'll have more to say about the GCN Conference as I let my thoughts percolate over the next few weeks. But in the meantime, for those of you who had further questions about my talk, here are some links that will take you into greater depth:

* A more complete story about my gay neighbors: "Gregg and Joel"

* Walter Olson's article on theonomy: "An Invitation to a Stoning"

* The article that started the controversy: "A Conservative Christian Case for Civil Same-Sex Marriage"

* Chronology of the OPC controversy

* A brief article on sovereign (or more specifically, irresistible) grace.