Friday, December 20, 2013

Some brief remarks about "Duck Dynasty"

I don't watch "Duck Dynasty" but I get an idea of what the show is about from what I've heard. There are three reasons I think A&E's move to suspend Phil Robertson from the series is highly unfortunate.

First, the whole point of the show, as I understand it, is to showcase what redneck Christian fundamentalists are really like. A&E profits from people's fascination with (and perhaps identification with) the Robertson family. If Phil Robertson makes offensive and ignorant remarks about homosexuality, is this shocking news? What else is a reality TV show for except to give us glimpses of what real people are like? Now A&E is punishing the guy for being exactly the type of person that they are exploiting for profit. Why did they even air the show in the first place?

Second, why not trust the public to decide how they want to take Phil Robertson's remarks? Let the viewers decide if they want to send in fan mail or hate mail, or whether they want to support or pity or have mixed feelings about a guy who compares same-sex relationships with bestiality. I think the general public would not have supported what Phil Robertson said in GQ, and he would have effectively hung himself. But now that the man is being shut down, it creates instant sympathy for him. Even I'm feeling sympathy for him, even though I found his remarks to be offensive and troubling.

Third, GLAAD's successful crusade against the show only plays into the hands of conservative Christians who have been claiming for years that the "homosexual agenda" is all about taking away freedom of speech from people who uphold the belief that homosexual practice is sinful. I, for one, am tired of hearing from Christians who are practically begging to be persecuted by gays and lesbians so that they can justify being even more morally outraged against homosexuality than they already are. Score one for them thanks to this fiasco. As a straight ally who is trying to help my fellow Christians understand gay issues better from within the conservative church, this sure doesn't make my life any easier.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Where does the difference lie?

Recently our family had an opportunity to do some emergency hospitality. A teenage girl needed a place to stay for about a week. She was pregnant and homeless and living on the streets. I found out about the need from my pastor, who found out from another pastor out of state, who found out from one of his congregation members.

For a long time we had been prepared to take someone into our home in an emergency. There were a couple of years when I was regularly corresponding with a gay friend whom I felt certain was going to end up on the street because of a volatile home situation. I always imagined the living room couch and extra bathroom stood ready for the day of his phone call. But this situation of a pregnant teenager was not at all what I had in mind.

To protect the privacy of everyone involved, I'm reluctant to say much more about it except that it turned out to be a tremendous blessing for two reasons. One, our young guest felt like a part of our family and became like a daughter to me. Two, I saw Christians come together to help her in ways that I didn't know was possible. Nobody judged, everyone lent a hand and gave a word of encouragement. The out-of-state congregation member kept in touch with us every day. Someone else was securing a job for the girl and a more permanent living arrangement somewhere across the country. Another person was buying the plane tickets to get her there.

I was on the phone with two doctors' offices and three crisis pregnancy centers, trying to secure an ultrasound appointment. Some of these places, I could tell, were Christian-run organizations. I didn't want the girl to be subjected to high-pressure tactics about what decision she should be making. She was a professing Christian, and I felt she had a better chance of making the right decision if she were given safety, space and the right encouragement. These pregnancy counselors understood that. There were no threats or condemning pronouncements, only helpful medical information, a chance to see the tiny beating heart on the ultrasound screen, and some free gifts like a baby blanket and tiny knit hat that she could take home with her. Nobody told her they were loving her in spite of her sin. Nobody told her that if she made the wrong decision she wasn't a Christian. Nobody told her that if she had an abortion she would be going to hell.

Apparently the Spirit of Jesus Christ still lives in the church. I was--I freely admit--shocked by the graciousness, the generosity, the compassion and the hospitality I saw in the random Christian strangers I came into contact with during those seven days. After years of being immersed in stories of the cruel, heartless, inhumane treatment of gay and lesbian people by their churches, I guess I'd been starving to see the gospel in action. For one week of my life I felt like I was a part of something great, the church of Jesus Christ working together as the hands and feet of a vast spiritual body to serve someone in need.

Now, in the aftermath, I am left wondering when can we transfer that generous, open-hearted love to the gay and lesbian people in our churches? I wonder when can I stop crying myself to sleep over another gay friend who tells me he would rather be dead than face a Christian father's hatred? I wonder when I won't have to go through weeks of torture because I hadn't heard back from a depressed gay friend who has been all but spit upon by his church, and can only imagine that he's lying alone in his apartment with a bullet through his brain?

Would it help Christians to imagine that a lesbian daughter who is contemplating a same-sex relationship is not much different than a pregnant teenage daughter who is contemplating an abortion? As a Christian parent, if your teenage daughter got pregnant, would you kick her out of the house? If you found out she had an abortion, would you tell her she is an abomination and is going to hell? The angry part of you might want to, but the sane part of you knows that she is a sinner, and desperate sinners commit desperate sins and this is why Jesus had to die for us. This is the situation where you most need to preach gospel hope, not drive a stake through her heart and walk away. And as tempting as it may be to point out the differences between the two situations ("My lesbian daughter defends her relationship! She wouldn't defend an abortion!"), isn't the real difference in our own heart attitude? Why is there such a difference? Why does there have to be?

Monday, September 02, 2013

Hymn of the month

My favorite hymn is "O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go" because every time I sing it, I think about the story behind it. It was written by a forty-year-old preacher named George Matheson. Matheson was born in 1842 in Glasgow, Scotland, the eldest of eight children and the only one with poor eyesight. He needed powerful glasses to help him see, yet he was a brilliant student with aspirations to become a minister. His very supportive sisters rallied around him and learned Greek, Hebrew and Latin so they could help him in his studies. By age twenty he was almost completely blind, and the woman he hoped to marry rejected him because she didn't think she could be married to a blind man. Yet his eldest sister was always at his side as he entered the ministry, assisting him at home and with his sermons. Soon Matheson became quite famous as a preacher, and many people didn't know he was blind because he could recite his sermons and huge portions of Scripture from memory.

Then came the day for his sister, the one he relied upon so much for help and companionship, to get married. The night of her wedding, while the rest of his family was staying elsewhere, Matheson was alone at the manse and experiencing "severe mental suffering." Some speculate that it was not just his sister's marriage, but the reminder of his own rejection from marriage years ago that caused him so much pain. In that moment he wrote this hymn, which he said took about five minutes. It turned out to be his most lasting legacy. Matheson died at age 64, having never married.

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Light that follow'st all my way,
I yield my flick'ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine's blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life's glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

On having gay friends

Remember how it was when you were a kid and your mom talked about you in the third person to someone else while you were standing right there? Annoying, yes? Well, I'm about to do a similarly annoying thing--which is one of the difficult things about having a blog that is read by people on both sides of a divide. I would like to talk to straights about what it means to have a gay friend, which obligates me to talk about my friendships with some of you guys who read this site in that annoyingly objectifying third-person way. Sorry, I hope this is not too off-putting. Most of all, I hope the day comes when it will no longer be necessary to have to write a post like this.

But it is necessary to write this post. Because quite often when I talk about having gay friends to straights, I get the odd feeling that I wasn't supposed to bring that up, like talking about some unmentionable tattoo you got in your wild days. Or occasionally I'll be congratulated on my great condescension to befriend people who are "so different" and yet who are, of course, "sinners like ourselves"--a humbling lesson for us all as we go about being light and salt in a dark world.

In the former situation, I never manage to feel as embarrassed as everyone expects. In the latter situation I am embarrassed, because I just stand there taking undeserved credit while some well-meaning person goes on and on praising my supposed piety.

So allow me to clear the air and talk about what it means when I say I am friends with someone who is gay or lesbian.

For me, the first rule of friendship is that I have to like this person. I don't make friends with people I don't like (and neither should you, by the way). Fortunately, it's not difficult for me to find things I like about people who are thoughtful, honest, introspective, compassionate and courageous, which fits the profile of many gay and lesbian people I know simply because of kind of hardships they've been through. I also like people who think outside the box, have a sense of humor, and understand that life can be disappointing so that they appreciate how things like a good meal, good conversation or a decent movie can get you through the day. Now, you may not care for the crowd I hang with, and that's fine. My point is, being friends with someone who is gay should have nothing to do with heroism, condescension or even tolerance. When you're friends with someone, gay or otherwise, you should enjoy hanging with them.

You might object that loving people is more important than liking them, so shouldn't I be emphasizing that instead? I know that love is supposed to be biblical and all, yet I've become somewhat suspicious of that approach. I've noticed that we tend to justify committing all sorts of abuses and cruelties against people in the name of love (at least our idea of love), particularly against our gay friends and family members. Don't ask me why. All I know is that if you work on how you're going to "be loving" toward someone who is gay, you're liable to say or do something very un-Christian. But if you work on liking someone, you'll have a much better chance of being like Christ to them.

Second, I am friends with people I have stuff in common with. I'm a Christian so I have gay Christian friends. I'm conservative in my theology and many of my political beliefs, so I tend to have gay friends who are theologically and/or politically conservative. I'm a seminary grad, a former pastor's wife and currently an elder's wife, so I have gay friends who are involved in the ministry. You get the idea.

I bring up this obvious point because I have a feeling that some people, when they hear me talk about having gay friends, wonder how I manage to befriend that guy marching in the pride parade with only his army boots and a leather thong. Truth is, I probably don't have much in common with that guy so I don't end up befriending him. See how simple that is? Now, I did have a good friend (now deceased) who was an atheist and a frequenter of leather bars. But we shared similar political views, a dry sense of humor, a passion for writing, and various nerdy intellectual interests. We talked about those things, and once in a while we'd discuss atheism and religious belief, but we didn't talk about leather bars, which I knew next to nothing about anyhow.

Third, friendship is a two-way street. My friends are people who are helpful to me as I am to them, who encourage me as I encourage them, and who understand me as I seek to understand them. And unless they are atheist, we will even pray for one another. This brings us back to the problem with "love" because here is where I think Christians get tripped up. Sometimes when you determine that you are going to "love" another person, you subtly start viewing that person as someone who needs you, not as someone whom you need just as much. And since this person who is the object of your great loving affection needs you, your approval and your advice so much, that gives you the right to be stern, instructive and somewhat overbearing, particularly when you believe you know what is best for them.

On the other hand, if someone is truly your friend, then you ought to have the humility to recognize that you can't just say whatever the heck you want, because if you drive them away you are hurting yourself too. You will be more gentle, more respectful, and make a genuine effort to be winsome and helpful. If you hurt that person and they walk away, you won't smugly tell yourself that "that's just the collateral damage of speaking the truth in love." You would feel quite devastated, and you wouldn't rest until you made things right.

Now you might be saying, "This is all fine and good, but where am I going to find gay or lesbian friends whom I like, with whom I have stuff in common, and whom I genuinely value having in my life?" The answer is, you probably already have them in your life, they just haven't come out to you yet. So I suppose for most of you who are reading this, the best way to go about having gay friends is this: don't reject the friends you already have when they do come out to you. Stay the course. Remember that you like this person, you like hanging with them, and that's why you're friends. And if this friend has trusted you so much that he or she is willing to come out to you, your friendship with them should deepen, not grow more distant.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Where we're at with ex-gay ministries

Conservative evangelicals may want to believe that Alan Chambers' recent apology and the unanimous decision by Exodus International's Board of Directors to shut the organization down are all about caving in to the pressures of the "homosexual agenda." But for those of us who've been following the ex-gay movement over the years, it's just the last bastion to fall amidst an avalanche of evidence and testimony that ex-gay ministries don't work.

Back in June 30, 2007 I attended the first Ex-Gay Survivor Conference in Irvine, CA where I was with a gathering of people who testified not only to the failure of ex-gay ministries but the spiritual and psychological devastation such ministries cause. I had already been aware of the non-success of reparative therapy, that was nothing new. But being at this conference showed me that ministries like Exodus International were simply churning out a growing army of credible witnesses against its claims of orientation change. It would only be a matter of time before that number would reach a critical mass. Something was going to give, and with Alan Chambers' recent announcement about the closing down of Exodus International, it looks like that moment has arrived.

To be clear, this is not a case of ex-gay ministries producing both the success stories and the not-so-successful stories, with the not-so-successful ones grabbing more media attention. I'm in my thirteenth year of knowing gay and lesbian Christians and talking to them about their experiences, and I've never met a single person who credibly testified to having a successful orientation change. What's more, I've never even met someone who knew someone who had such a testimony.

I'm not talking about ex-gay poster boys and girls who are willing to testify to some type of "change" loosely defined. There are plenty of people around who talk glowingly of their "diminishing desires," opposite-sex marriages, and of leaving behind "the lifestyle." What I'm talking about is a credible orientation change from homosexual to heterosexual.

Shall I be more specific? A credible example of orientation change would be a man, who once could only get physically aroused by looking at naked men, who has changed so that he can now only get physically aroused by looking at naked women. Not only is the girlie porn giving him a physical response, but it has become a temptation. He may even be sneaking onto the Internet at night to look at it. Now if this accurately describes our transformed guy's behavior, then I would be willing to knight him a bonafide heterosexual male. Anything short of that is just a big pile of so-what.

When you hang out with a lot of gay Christians and hear them talking amongst themselves, you discover that going through an ex-gay phase in life is like a running joke with them. Been There, meet Done That. It's like being at a reunion of war veterans. How many years were you in it? How badly were you traumatized? How are you doing now? There are some who try to defend ex-gay therapy a little, saying they weren't too traumatized and they did grow spiritually from it. Then there are others who were so hurt they won't even discuss it. The one conversation you never hear is people reminiscing about their amazing experience of finding out what real heterosexual feelings are like.

You can say that I'm hanging out with the wrong crowd, and to be fair there are still plenty of ex-gay Christians out there who are true believers in the miracle that awaits them. But for these ex-gay loyalists, I find that the story is always about being on a journey toward a great hope. Maybe orientation change hasn't happened for them yet, but they have faith that they are well on their way, and what right do you have to take that hope away from them?

A conversation between ex-gays and ex-gay survivors reminds me of the sticky interaction between teenagers and their parents. A teenager who is just starting out on the journey of life has hopes and aspirations. He or she feels a bit touchy about having his or her decision to become, say, an art major criticized. He or she doesn't want to hear a lecture about "when I was your age" or "someday when you're older you'll understand." The parents, on the other hand, have been down that road already. They remember what it's like to have rosy ideals and remember also the disappointment of shattered dreams. They don't want to rain on their teen's party, but they don't want to have to say "I told you so" years down the line either. What can you do about a person with such aspirations except to let them continue on the journey and find out for themselves where it leads? The problem with this analogy is that it does break down at one point, which is that it isn't too hard to find successful art majors who have proven their parents wrong.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

People joined, though I did nothing

Nine new followers joined while I was on hiatus. Thanks, guys. I'm glad this blog can still be a resource and help to many of you even when I'm on break.

Jonathan Hugus
Ronald S. Batson
Lisa S.
Tristan Fugatt
Leigh Miller
Random Christian
Gay Christian

Thanks, also, to those of you who were praying for me. Some of the worst stress is over, and I'm hoping the rest of 2013 will be smoother sailing.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Ordinary people

The culture war is getting kind of lop-sided these days. President Obama has announced he is in favor of civil same-sex marriage. The military has dropped Don't Ask Don't Tell. A conservative lawyer has led the challenge against California's Proposition 8. Alan Chambers has backed away from Exodus's former claims that gay people can "change." And a veteran NBA player has come out as gay. All this may be an indication that saner minds are finally starting to prevail on this issue. Or it could mean that Satan is implementing a grand plan to blind weak and faithless minds through cultural influence and the secular media.

For a conservative Christian like myself who supports the more open stance society is taking toward gay and lesbian people, the issue is not about whether I believe or disbelieve the secular media, or whether I am choosing to go with or against the flow of our cultural times. I was in favor of civil same-sex marriage, critical of ex-gay therapy, and wanted the abolition of DADT all the way back in 2000, before our society and secular media were entirely comfortable with those ideas. So it wasn't that I capitulated to culture, society and media, but rather it feels like those entities, over time, became weirdly in sync with where I'm at on those particular issues.

Basically, what I believe has happened is that most of the younger generation (and many in the older generation) have become persuaded by the same observations and understanding that persuaded me some thirteen years ago: that being gay isn't a lifestyle choice, political ideology, or consequence of rejecting God. Being gay is something that people find themselves to be--and as a result some gay or lesbian people may have to make choices about their politics, religion or lifestyle that may or may not be in step with those who have never wrestled with having a minority sexual orientation.

My view used to be that perverts are gay, the immoral are gay, the rebellious are gay. The difference now is that I think people are gay. By "people" I mean the "people in your life" people. People that life insurance ads appeal to. People who buy Coke instead of Pepsi, or vice versa. The people we mean when we say, "people like convenience" or "people want a president who cares." Once you see that people are gay, that changes everything.

But the fact is, you can't see gay people as people unless you come to realize it for yourself. This is not something you are convinced of by simply reading a blog post. For instance, back when I still had the idea that only rebellious, perverted child molesters were gay, I would "push back" in my mind against anything I encountered that seemed to contradict my view. In early 2000 when my thinking was still in transition, I once saw a story about a high school kid, the quarterback and team captain of the school football team, who came out to his teammates as gay and was well received. I was annoyed that the secular media didn't highlight the moral issue of being gay and simply presented it as a touchy-feely, triumph-of-the-human-spirit thing. I pushed back at the story with my mind because it wasn't a Christian presentation, and I ended up rejecting the whole thing.

But upon later reflection, I realized that I missed the whole point of the story. Sure, there are moral issues about being gay when you approach it from a Christian perspective. But the more foundational question is, who is this person to begin with? Your standard issue pervert? Or just a high-school kid, feeling like he needed to be honest with his teammates, so scared he was shaking when he stood in front of them in the locker room and came out, finding relief once the truth was out and his family and friends accepted him.

Whatever moral journey that high school kid might take from that point on in his life, you have to recognize that it is a person who is going to make that journey. You have to ask yourself, what you would do if you were in his shoes? It is a question you only ask when you recognize that he is someone just like yourself.

And that circles us back to approaching this boy's story, and everyone's story, from a Christian moral perspective. When Jesus says "love your neighbor as yourself," he is saying that in order to fulfill our primary moral obligation to another person, we must first put ourselves in his or her shoes, so that we would know how to love them. We must first treat them like people. Because even Jesus recognized that neighbors are people.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Be back soon

Sorry for my recent absence on this blog, guys, but I have a couple of major ongoing stresses I'm dealing with. Over the past weeks I tried getting started on at least three blog posts, yet I wasn't able to finish. I haven't forgotten about all of you.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Surprising twist in the Chick-fil-A saga

Some of you might remember how I wrote in my "Post-Chick-fil-A Reflections":
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.
Who knew that Chick-fil-A president and COO Dan Cathy had already begun to do exactly that with LGBT activist Shane Windmeyer? Windmeyer "comes out" with the story in Huffpost this week:
For nearly a decade now, my organization, Campus Pride, has been on the ground with student leaders protesting Chick-fil-A at campuses across the country. I had researched Chick-fil-A's nearly $5 million in funding, given since 2003, to anti-LGBT groups. And the whole nation was aware that Dan was "guilty as charged" in his support of a "biblical definition" of marriage. What more was there to know?
On Aug. 10, 2012, in the heat of the controversy, I got a surprise call from Dan Cathy. He had gotten my cell phone number from a mutual business contact serving campus groups. I took the call with great caution. He was going to tear me apart, right? Give me a piece of his mind? Turn his lawyers on me?
The first call lasted over an hour, and the private conversation led to more calls the next week and the week after. Dan Cathy knew how to text, and he would reach out to me as new questions came to his mind. This was not going to be a typical turn of events . . .
Read the whole story here and find out the surprisingly encouraging outcome.