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

as holy as thou

It seems almost stupidly brash to say that my attraction to men is no barrier to holiness. But, as I mentioned in my last post about reorientation therapy, I think the above statement to be true, though perhaps I should nuance it a bit.

I believe my attraction to men is not intrinsically a barrier to holiness.

Sexuality is a gift, a startling, bewildering blessing given to us by God for the nourishment and flourishing of all creation. As it is with many aspects of life, the journey to understand my sexuality begins with a divine question rather than an intractable declaration. That question is simply, “So what are you going to do with this?” Everybody, regardless of their orientation, must face that question.

Sexuality is an invitation to disciplined, life-giving stewardship for God’s glory and the good of others. The fact that, for whatever reason, I just so happen to think some guys are attractive does not instantly derail everything. It does limit my opportunities for romance, which is painful, but it does not limit me or my pursuit of holiness. It does not limit what God can do to draw me to himself.

It has taken me a while to believe this. I’ve had some pretty dark moments, thinking, How could God love me if my sexuality is repulsive to him? I’m so pathetic! No wonder he avoids me. Even I don’t want to spend time with myself. I’m going to be lonely and isolated my whole life, and I guess I deserve it. 

I never thought God actually hated me, but sometimes it felt as if he had an awfully unloving way of showing affection. This was all happening at the same time I was feeling socially isolated and neglected by my friends, which is, you know, super unsurprising. (Side note: my friends are awesome).

One of the oppressive, looming questions gay Christians (or non-Christians, sometimes) face is this, “Is my entire existence before God a sin because I am attracted to the same sex?” My sexual attractions feel so natural and are such a daily presence that when I begin to beat myself up about my homosexuality or doubt God’s loving nearness it’s hard not to let every part of my life get sucked into the vicious whirlpool of “divine” disapproval.

Thus I consider it a miracle that I am now so convinced that my orientation can actually contribute positively to my desire for holiness. If being same-sex attracted is not intrinsically sinful, then I am also certain my attractions do not automatically make my sexuality less holy than a straight person’s. All sexuality is prone to error and excess – it’s just a bit more obvious what errors and excesses threaten me.

But let’s be honest, we’ve all objectified someone, turned them into a thing to be consumed by our hungry imaginations. We’ve all sinned, forsaken the good purposes of our sexuality. My sexuality poses a constant challenge to me – I’m reminded of it every time I see a guy I’m attracted to, or not attracted to, or maybe attracted to, or hear about anything relating to sex or romance or love or marriage or a million other things that bombard me every day. But everybody’s sexuality is a challenge. I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you of that. Being gay is a unique experience with its own burdens and hurdles,[1] but one of those hurdles is not an intrinsic unholiness that renders me especially distant from God.

Am I making sense? I’m not totally sure. It’s still something new to me, something profoundly different than what I used to think. I’m stammering here, grasping for words that aren’t wholly solid.

All I mean to say is that although my attractions make some normal human behavior unhelpful/sinful/unavailable for me, they do not inexorably compel me to unholiness. I can use my sexuality, just like anyone, to bring God joy and glory by using it chastely to serve him and my neighbors.

The frustration of unmet desire can turn me to a God who satisfies; the longing for intimate touch reminds me I am always being held; the fear of rejection points me to the open arms of Christ who has already accepted me and calls me to embrace others; the overwhelming awareness of the brokenness of things moves me to be a source of healing for those around me. And in all of this I know God rejoices over me as he empowers me to falter forward on this beautiful path of sanctification (can I call it “running?” It seems so unlike it[2]).

I hope that lends some clarity to my previous statement. Feel free to ask questions in the comment section, I’ll try my best to answer them well.

Peace,

Jordan


[1] I can’t read this without switching it to “burdles and hurdens.” Enjoy!

[2] If it is, it’s little more than this.