“male beauty as a threat”

As the conversations continue at my church, I remembered a blog post that touches on one of the more controversial aspects of my homosexuality: the moral nature of the attractions themselves. It was written by a pastor from the UK who is same-sex attracted (hence the -re’s and the lack of z’s).

Are my attractions inherently sinful, or do they become sinful if unchecked and indulged, left to ferment in my mind rather than pointing me to the God of beauty and grace? Is my sexuality only capable of producing sinful, broken, desires? Or can I cling to some kind of redemption even as I find myself inexorably drawn to male beauty?

How these questions are answered, I have found, has more serious theological/ethical implications than I had previously anticipated.

Edit: Apparently the post is protected, so I’ll cite the parts I find most helpful.

“[Seeing male beauty as a threat, as a loaded gun pointed at me,] makes my life difficult. There are many beautiful men on TV, in magazines and, every so often, they step into real life too. And so I have sat at church feeling like a sitting target because of the ‘comely’ man sitting straight ahead of me. My instinctive sexual attraction to his beauty produces such horrific guilt and shame that it even begins to feel as if the gun has gone off. And next week we will both be back on the firing range – how am I to avoid being shot at again and again?

I somehow need to stop living with this fear. I need to stop seeing male beauty as a loaded pistol aimed destructively at me and instead as something that points me positively elsewhere. I need to respond to it better and to do that I think I need to understand how beauty works a little better…

Part of this is, I think, a growing realisation that my response to male beauty is, at one level, very natural. In desiring a beautiful man, in wanting to become one with him, I am responding to real beauty as all human beings tend to whenever, wherever, they discover it in any overwhelming form…

But how do I avoid crossing that line [from acknowledging beauty to trying to consume it]? For, at the moment, the one nearly always leads to the other; despite the accompanying guilt and shame, any beautiful man will almost invariably soon feature in some imagined sexual act producing even more guilt and shame (does my fear make any more sense now?).

Where can I positively take my appreciation of a man’s beauty? Well, where does it point me to? Just to my sin, or my mucked-up sexuality? If so, every attractive man will continue to be ‘a loaded pistol’ pointed at my soul – I’ll continue to live in fear of the guilt and shame beautiful men bring.

But what if, next time I see one, I paused and prayed, remembering that all true beauty should point me to the beauty of my King? To the Lord Jesus in his perfection, whose beauty far outstrips any other man I’ll ever meet. And recall that my powerful desire for beauty reminds me of how my right desire for true beauty will only ever be properly satisfied in him. For his Word tells me that one day soon I will live with him forever, passing onto his beautiful new world, be beautiful myself, bathe in his beauty, become part of the divine beauty that is at the centre of the universe.

Would that not wonderfully begin to end the guilt and shame?”

Brief update: I’ve met with two staff members so far, one meeting harder than the other, though both ending at a kind of impasse. The second chat, however, was defined by a mutual encouragement and gave me hope for future conversations on the subject even in the midst of disagreement. I remain very hopeful, and feel, I don’t know, strong. Is that weird? God is strengthening me, I can sense it. Not just to “win” the argument, but to respond in love, to reject any flickering of bitterness or anger, to humbly and intentionally dwell on the qualities of these men that I respect, to ultimately submit myself to their authority while I am here, to seek the flourishing of the church, and to trust that the Gospel is being proclaimed throughout the entire process of discerning truth. It’s an oddly quieting sensation.

Jordan

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fit for service

At the risk of becoming a prayer lecher, taking advantage of unsuspecting, innocent blog readers, I do have some things happening in the future for which I would appreciate some intercession.

A week ago on Tuesday I met with the pastoral staff of my church in which I am interning to give my full testimony (which the head pastor has known for a year) and open myself up for questions and wisdom. They were kind and receptive and I was encouraged by the meeting. However, I found out on Saturday that many of them actually had some pressing concerns that needed to be addressed before I did too much more in leadership.

More specifically, I wouldn’t be allowed to lead a co-ed high school Bible study session alone, and I probably wouldn’t get to preach as I was scheduled to do (and the congregation breathes a sigh of relief).

The underlying fears here are that my attractions are inherently sinful, that I’m not doing enough to change them, and that I might be at a greater risk of becoming a sexual predator. So this is all kind of a bummer, and something I was hoping wouldn’t happen. I love this church and have felt very known and loved during this past month.

Strangely enough, I’m not too upset about this development for a few reasons. The first is that these “decisions” are not final, at all. They are the initial reaction to encountering something that has not been publicly dealt with inside of this church, something that is fraught with confusion, misunderstanding, and tension. I am going to be meeting individually with each person, starting today, and working through the questions, hoping it will become clear that I’m not unfit for such kinds of service.

The second reason is that, well, I love these guys. They’ve known me for over a decade and have been a serious part of my Christian development. I’m sad, but not resentful, and I can see that they’re simply trying to be faithful to what they perceive Scripture teaches and  protect the kids. Yea, I’m not so happy that I could ever be seen as a threat to children’s ministry (see Welcome to the Family pt. 2), but, I don’t know… if this were happening to someone else at some other church, I’d be angry. But praise God, I think my relationship with these people is preventing feelings that would blast me off the path of humble grace and charity. This doesn’t mean I’m not going to do everything I can to show them how the witness of the Gospel is damaged by reactions like this, but the witness of the Gospel would also be damaged if I responded in anything less than a kind (but firm!) openness and vulnerability.

And lastly, if everything gets shot to heck, I’m only here for another month before I head off to spend the next eight months abroad (i.e. living in Africa, not in drag) and then move to another city.

I’m fairly positive, almost recklessly optimistic, that everything will turn out totally fine. The head pastor has been going to bat for me and has a good, though recently developed, grasp on the nature of things and was also saddened by the news of the staff’s response. And these aren’t unreasonable, hate-filled people. Not. At. All. I have been in awe this summer at the quality of their faith. I truly believe these conversations will prove helpful for all of us and that I’ll be allowed to do all the things about which they have apprehensions.

That’s all. I’ll let y’all know how it turns out.

Peace,

Jordan

day of silence

On Friday, April 20th, 2012, I did something I never dreamed I would do: I wore a Day of Silence t-shirt.

The Day of Silence raises awareness about LGBT bullying and harassment. It is an absolute fact that LGBT people get harassed because they are LGBT. Perhaps this is why gay youth are four times more likely to commit suicide. This is serious, and lives are at stake. Everyone needs to realize that the way we interact with LGBT people is a social justice issue.

One of my friends has a close gay friend. This spring, that friend was walking about a mile from his campus when he was suddenly kidnapped, stripped naked, beaten, had a gun waved in his face, and threatened with death. And this was all because he was gay. As tragic, disgusting, and unbelievable as this is, it is true.

But LGBT harassment does not just encompass extreme examples like this. It includes the casual “faggot” dropped in conversation. It includes the jokes about “no homo.” It includes the apprehensiveness towards gay people. It includes the way gay people feel silenced, unable to talk about their experiences because of the fear  of how people will respond. It includes the way that I have felt silenced– the frustration of having to lie that I’m “just tired” because I don’t know if someone is safe.

This needs to stop.

Now I know that some people don’t support the Day of Silence. Largely, this is because they are afraid that they’re endorsing something they don’t agree with. Hopefully (hopefully), it isn’t the anti-harassment message but rather the fear of supporting gay marriage or the apprehension that this encourages someone to embrace a life that isn’t best for him. Or maybe it’s just that some people are really confused what to think and just sit it out because of that confusion.

Before participating, I too was concerned that maybe I was supporting something that I didn’t really support. I read up on the event. I talked to people about it. I was still skeptical. I think largely because I had never before taken part in a gay advocacy event, so I was waiting for marriage equality signs to start popping up (at the time I was undecided about my stance on this issue, which I will post about my stance on this in the future). Then I saw the shirts, and my fear dissipated. The whole point of the day just clicked.

Here’s what the shirts said: “Day of Silence” on the front, and then on the back: “LGBT? SSA? Questioning? Ally? I’m here to listen.”

There was absolutely no stance being taken, no message about the morality of anything, no provocative statement. In fact, the shirt was even inclusive of identification by including same-sex attraction.

“I’m here to listen.”

That’s it. That’s the whole point of the Day of Silence. This is the first step to ending bullying, to making people feel valued as human beings, to respect the dignity of individuals. It’s to listen to them.

Four simple words that communicated to people that you’re a safe person, that they can express what they’re experiencing, that they can wrestle through the tough questions of their sexuality with you. I wish that when I was a freshman there had been a Day of Silence — that I would have seen there were people who I could finally divulge the most distressing part of my life to — that the silence that suffocated me would have finally begun to be broken.

I hope that day changed someone’s life.

And now looking back on it, I see no reason not to support the Day of Silence. The Church must realize that regardless of any moral disagreements, creating safe places for people to be heard should be a priority. Not only is it simply the right thing to do, but if gay people (or anyone for that matter) can’t feel safe to be listened to by the Church, then who else is going to listen to them? Who else are they going to turn to? Non-Christians? Do we want non-Christians to be the only resource for LGBT people?

I have sensed hesitation from administrators and church leaders who think that allowing dialogue about homosexuality and making it safe for gay people to be open will ultimately result in gay marriage being okay. This is not the case. In fact, I believe that suppressing and silencing the “gay” conversation and gay individuals actually kindles support  for gay marriage. If gay people can’t have full community with a church that isn’t affirming of gay relationships because they must be silent about an aspect of their life, then they will by all means turn to churches that are “affirming” of gay relationships or turn away from the faith completely. And it’s not just gay people that feel this way. Some non-gay Christians do as well because they see their gay brothers and sisters in distress in churches and institutions that silence them. I know of some straight Christians that have almost left the faith because they cannot reconcile the mistreatment of gay people by the Church.

So my admonition to everyone is regardless of your moral stance on gay relationships, work to be a safe person and work to fight against the injustice of how gay people are mistreated. Affirming the dignity of someone is not the same as affirming gay relationships. And that’s why I participated in the Day of Silence.

-Tony

patience

Many of my friends are going through some extraordinarily difficult trials at the moment; the kind of situations that reduce articulate prayers to urgent, wordless begging. I feel particularly useless on the other end of our satellite-mediated conversations. These are the kind of blessed people who don’t need to be regaled with a litany of pseudo-spiritual platitudes about trusting God more, or letting go of pride, or learning to look on the bright side of things; they just need to talk, to know they aren’t alone.

When I was in the midst of my own little bout with the acidic fog of depression and loneliness, my mentor weekly exhorted me to two things: to claim the promises of God regardless of whether or not I felt like they could possibly be true, and to be patient. It was good advice, albeit incredibly frustrating at times. Often when he would remind me of those two things I would whine, “But I’ve been patient for weeks! What more does God want from me!” Apparently one does not master the divine art of patience in a month. Go figure.

I’ve been reflecting a bit on the character of patience, especially now that I have more clarity about what God was doing in those three years of struggle. It isn’t much, but I thought I’d share with you the image that has come to define my perception of a patient endurance of suffering:

Keeping my eyes open in the dark. In those moments where it seems as if there is no light at all, when the repeated assurances of the existence of light seem absurd or unhelpful, I have to keep my eyes open. I have to keep looking for that foreign glimmer, fighting against the constant temptation to succumb to weariness, to close my eyes. After all, I sometimes find myself thinking, there doesn’t seem to be any noticeable difference if they’re open or not; the world is still shrouded in an impenetrable night. It’s hard enough to deal with the pain of suffering without having to daily experience the sting of unfulfilled hope.

It’s relentlessly tiring to stay focused, to refuse the urge to sleep, to deny that the darkness could be the totality of things, to believe the light will appear as weeks, months, and years pass without that glorious inbreaking of the sun.

But if I close my eyes, how will I ever see the light when it comes?

To strive for patience is one of the least passive ways to fight against the darkness. Patience is not just a neutral state of inaction as I wait for something to change – that’s apathy. Patience is a fiery rejection of suffering’s power to limit reality. It is a stark and magnificent witness to the hope uniquely found in Christ and his work in history.

My friends are fighting to own that truth, to live in bold expectation that God will make his redemptive power known even as the overwhelming pain demands they forsake that hope and give in to despair. The quality of their convictions and faith is beautiful and challenging to behold. Their decision to be patient, to trust in the midst of suffering, is a profound proclamation of the gospel and a sign that, even now, redemption is real.

Jordan

exodus

Hey guys,

I posted this article on Twitter/FB, but I figured I’d throw it on here, too. My mentor sent this to me and asked for my thoughts. I’ve never been too keen on Exodus, but it seems like they’re trying to change their modus operandi, at least in public relations. Anyway, I’m still not totally sure what to think. Give your opinions, I’m interested how people feel about Exodus, especially if you’ve actually been involved with them. I’ve heard good and bad things.

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2012/06/sexual-healing-evangelicals-update-their-message-to-gays/258713/#.T-OVXhT6xeU.email

Jordan

walls

To follow up Tony’s post on interacting with Christians who are “affirming,” I thought I’d offer a reflection on my own journey of moving past the simple stereotypes and pervasive fear than can cripple church unity. I hope it is helpful and encouraging to you in your walk.

                                                                    ***

“So, before we leave can we just maybe go around the table and see where everyone is at with, you know, understanding their sexuality? Like, how you’re planning on living and stuff in the future?”

The girl who asked the question, Lea, was sitting to my left and volunteered the first response. Like good Americans we went clockwise around our little five-person group, each taking the time to explain if he or she planned on, or was open to, marrying someone of the same sex after graduating. I was in the unenviable position of going last, and grew increasingly anxious as each member talked happily about the possibilities of marriage that awaited them, or how they hoped to find churches that were affirming but not flaming (except with the presence of the Holy Spirit, of course). The whole time they were talking I felt a foreign twinge of…something, and it only got worse as the meeting went on.

By the time it was my turn, I realized I was going to be quite the black sheep. “What should I do? Will I offend them if I say I don’t think having a boyfriend is theologically permissible? Will I damage our new friendships if I talk about my convictions? Will they think I look down on them? Pity them? Fear them? Will they feel condemned?”

I stammered out some rushed sentences accompanied by my own nervous laughter and diverted eyes, “Well, uh, I’m still totally a conservative evangelical so no sex for me! Haha ha aha…” Not the most auspicious beginning, and it only got worse from there. I peddled meaningless clichés and abruptly concluded my ill-fated response mid-sentence, hands waving as if I had actually said something of consequence. I felt like there was a chasm in between me and them, and I didn’t know what to do.

I barely noticed the beautiful spring weather as I marched back to my apartment. “What was that? What is wrong with me?! Am I ashamed? Afraid?….. Jealous? Dang it, why does my chest hurt so bad? Crap. Crap! Not now. I’m stronger than this. Not now! I promised God I’d never feel this way. God please don’t let me feel this way! God, make me stronger, make me stronger, make me stronger…”

I made it home, numbly mumbled at a roommate, shut my door, fell into my chair, and started journaling. My painfully etched words helped bring focus to my frantic imagination as thoughts, laced with profanity and madness, began to coalesce into something solid. One of my fears was becoming reality. For the first time in my life my convictions seemed inadequate to sustain me. They were like a bitter vapor before me, and I resented them. I felt that if I tried hard enough I really could convince myself they weren’t true. I started to cry.

Up until that point I had never questioned if God really did require me to remain single and abstain from same-sex romance. Of course he did! If I wanted to live otherwise I would have to throw Scripture and salvation out the window, right? My counselor always praised the strength of my convictions; they were seemingly unshakeable. No matter the pain, the heartache, or the loneliness, I never wavered. But now…

I felt so exposed. Something had shifted in my half-manic mind. Something was different. And then I saw it.

I moved to my laptop, still in tears, and quickly wrote to a friend, “Today’s meeting was hard for me. This group is the first time I’ve ever talked with other gay people my age, and it’s also the first time I’ve ever talked about homosexuality with people who don’t hold the same convictions I do. This is a very good experience for me, but at this particular time in my walk hearing people talk about homosexuality without language of celibacy and with hope for future same-sex relationships…well…it’s really hard. I’m in a lot of pain right now, and I think it’s just because I’m being forced, and rightly so, to move past my flimsy shield of rhetoric that gay Christians who ascribe to non-celibacy are weak and disingenuous. This shield has to come down for me to grow in love and compassion, but it’s leaving me vulnerable in a way I was unprepared to deal with. My convictions are fine, I think, but life just became more complicated. A good, painful kind of complicated.”

What I had realized was that the strength that had sustained my convictions for so long, that was such a reliable stabilizer, was not so much drawn from a passionate, consuming love for God and my neighbors as it was from a self-righteous stigma and fear. My focus had shifted imperceptibly from being like Christ to not being like those weak, disingenuous Christians who caved and bought wholesale the shallow, faux-theology of the “affirming” camp.

Those people in that small group, those beautiful, hilarious, genuine, loving, passionate, Christian people, exposed the untenable basis for my convictions simply by being. Their hollow-point presence ripped through my previously bullet-proof pretensions and sent me reeling. Praise God for them. I never would have realized my sin unless they had befriended me.

From the chaotic haze, the truth that I had deprived these people of the love I owed them as brothers and sisters in Christ slowly emerged. The barriers I had erected were not so much protecting me from struggles as they were preventing me from loving others fully. The walls had to come down. I felt clearly that God was telling me, “Have your convictions, but if they are grounded in anything but the radical power of my Gospel and the desire to love as I love then they will never be holy. This will hurt, at least for a while, but know that I love you too much to let you love others so poorly.”

This was how I would move forward. The desperate cries of “Make me stronger, let me know that I’m right!” turned into a whispered plea, “God, teach me to love as you are love.”

I decided to stay in the group and to learn from the others in it, to patiently work through the rigor mortis of dying sins and live into the new flesh that was offered to me by the man who loved at the greatest cost to himself. I felt weak, I felt exposed, I felt inadequate, and I felt so, so free.

I quickly typed the final lines of the email, hit send, closed my laptop, placed my head in my hands, and wept harder than I ever had before.

Jordan

when Christians disagree

Wednesday I had a joyful breakfast with a friend of mine. He and I have a unique connection because he changed my life. This blog wouldn’t exist if he didn’t exist. I always tell him how much I appreciate him, how much he has blessed my life, how grateful I am that he invested in me. He’s one of those people in life to whom you can’t express your gratification for them enough — I feel almost annoying for telling him these things all the time.

He also thinks gay relationships are morally okay.

Let me provide a bit of background to our relationship. If you’ve read “some of Tony’s story,” he’s the guy who, during my freshman year, published an article called “Gay at Wheaton,” which put my life on a new path because it gave me the courage to be open about my sexuality. We emailed back and forth, and then finally got together my sophomore year, about 7 months after he published the article. What he thought would just be a meal together turned into a meet weekly mentoring relationship. There were tears shed, many prayers, and a lot of truth spoken. The Holy Spirit did a lot of work through our relationship, and I became a different person.

That summer, through another friend, I found out that he had decided that gay romantic relationships were okay.

I was crushed. I was angry. As soon as I found this out, I went walking on a trail near my house and uttered a lot of choice words that I won’t share on here. I also called him and left a voicemail; I don’t really remember what I said, I think I exercised a lot of self-control, though.

I felt like my entire worldview had been shattered. Pretty much most of what I had come to believe about homosexuality was what this guy had believed. And yet I didn’t want to think gay relationships were okay, so for this guy to come to this conclusion threw me into a tailspin. I wondered if everything I believed was wrong and if I would end up with a similar conclusion as him. It also meant that our mentoring relationship was over. It’s not that there can’t be mentoring relationships with people who disagree about something, but just given the dynamics of our relationship this was too important of an issue for me to still think of him as a mentor.

It just felt like the person I looked up to the most had let me down. While he probably could have talked to me sooner about everything, he didn’t let me down. It was his right to come to this decision. And it turned out that he was wrestling with this the entire time he was mentoring me, but he intentionally (and wisely) kept it from me. If he had been more open about his doubts, I don’t think  I would have let him help me in other areas of my life.

After I got back from the trail, I called up one of my friends and bawled to her for maybe 20 minutes on the phone. Then I crawled into my bed, prayed to Jesus to help me, and fell asleep for maybe 45 minutes.

When I woke up, I felt much better. (By the way, I process things very fast). And the first thought that came to my mind was, “Tony, it’s time for you to own up on your beliefs. No longer can you believe simply what your mentor believes. You have to believe what you believe.” This was the first time I felt like my beliefs about homosexuality were my own.

Now two(ish) years later, I got to enjoy fellowship with my Christian brother. Yes, I said Christian brother. I know people that would have problems with that. I know people that think if you’re a Christian, you can’t think gay relationships are okay much less be in one yourself!

But I just simply can’t believe this. I have to believe that these people are still Christians – they profess Christ and believe that He died and rose for them.

How can I think these people aren’t Christians when I see the fruit of the spirit in their lives? When I see their visible love for Jesus?  When I feel supported and loved as a fellow a Christian?

I will believe they are still Christians, and I think it is dangerous and asking for judgment on me to reflexively think otherwise. Even though I do think their biblical interpretation and theology of homosexuality are incorrect, don’t we all have beliefs and ways we live our lives that are incorrect? Aren’t I asking judgment of my own salvation if I judge the salvation of someone else because we disagree on the morality of something?

Also, how can I claim that I 100% know that I’m right? What if my biblical interpretation is wrong? I don’t think it is but what if?

Some people will say, “But Christians in gay relationships have unrepentant sin, so they must not be a Christian.” I don’t really understand this. Even if they do have unrepentant sin for being in a gay relationship, don’t we all have unrepentant sin in our lives? Wouldn’t it be fairly arrogant of me to claim that I am repentant of all my sin so I’m a Christian, but so-and-so in a gay relationship clearly aren’t so they aren’t Christians?

I think God’s grace is bigger than we can ever imagine. I do think it only comes through Jesus Christ and His death on the Cross, but I think when we start building boundaries about to whom His grace applies, we are stepping into the territory of God’s authority.

I’m not saying that I think all churches should ordain gay relationships; I think, just like so many issues, we can have disagreement. And I haven’t clearly worked out whether or not a church that doesn’t endorse gay romantic relationsihps should bar or remove someone from membership who is in one. There’s a lot of ecclesiology issues related to homosexuality that need to be worked out.

But I do know, that as my former mentor was saying on Wednesday, that Christ has called His Church to unity. And I think that, even when it comes to difference of opinion concerning gay relationships, we can still have unity and still call each other brother and sister. Sure, I will still express my opinion, I will still argue my position, but I will never question someone’s salvation because of their beliefs about homosexuality. I know this is controversial, I’m just saying what I currently believe to be true. From knowing them, I just can’t think that these people I know, who affirm or are in gay relationships, aren’t Christians.

-Tony