nuance

A few thoughts have been rattling around my skull for a bit, so in this post I’m going to try my hand at identifying a serious problem in the church today. Here I go:

1)    It’s not lupus. ( Anyone? Anyone?!)

2)    We have done a poor job of distinguishing the social significance of homosexuality from its intrinsic theological significance. In other words, we have conflated two things that should, I think, remain separate.

Any cursory glance at a major news source will quickly reward you with at least one LGBTQ article (or 17 of them if you read HuffPost…which I do). In fact, media references to LGBTQ rights/struggles/triumphs are so common (Chich-Fil-A, anyone?) that 35% of Americans think that 25% of Americans are gay, when the actual number is probably somewhere between 2-4%. (And seriously, America?! 25%? That means the average family of four has at least one gay person in it. Holy crap, my family has four people in it! That means someone in my family is — ohhh wait.)

All this to say: society believes that the growing presence of LGTBQ people is one of the most important social developments of the 21st century, and I am inclined to agree (until the alien overlords arrive, at least).

I think the evangelical church looks at that (and the “war” on the traditional family), sees the potential challenge such a development could pose to its teachings, and becomes immensely sensitive (in the not-so-great way) and skeptical toward all things “gay.” This, unfortunately, has at times included me.

As I’ve said before, I really don’t think the fact that I just so happen to be attracted to men is of any great theological import. It isn’t entirely inconsequential, but, theologically, I wouldn’t categorize myself differently than any other single Christian. My attractions aren’t the result of some unaddressed sin, nor do they mark me as especially incapable of faithfully living the Christian life. Truly, before God, they aren’t that big of a deal. (See this post or this post for more on that.)

And yet in the current political/cultural climate I can understand why that would be so hard for certain church leaders to believe. From almost every direction they are being told that sexual orientation is a huge deal, and so it’s not terribly surprising that the nuanced distinction between the theological and social significance of homosexuality is overwhelmed by the static roar of a divisive, so-called “culture war.”

This is one of those wonderful areas of tension within the Christian life, and I’m not entirely sure how to best move forward in it. How can the church do justice to the very real social weight of homosexuality (abstractly and concretely) without burdening our church communities with a theology that wrongly inhibits chaste, same-sex attracted men and women from serving and living like other members (or wrongly promotes stigma against non-chaste men and women)?

Wow, this is harder to articulate than I expected, my apologies. While acknowledging that the church needs to put forth a very concerted effort to reach out and minister to those in the LGBTQ community, I also don’t want things to be blown out of proportion. Because certain leaders at my church are so aware of the current controversies surrounding sexuality, I became controversial myself despite living faithfully. To them, and many others, the fact that I am attracted to men can’t be anything but a glaring theological problem that affects how I serve the church. Because the public discourse is so fraught with language of a polarized morality, it is difficult for people to imagine that my attractions could possibly be morally neutral.

Does any of that make sense? I’ll stop there and maybe let this play out in the comments, if y’all have any. If I kept writing it would just be like subjecting you guys to watching me bowl – i.e. it would only confuse and frustrate you, and invite the wrath of God upon me. It’s…not a pretty thing.

Peace,

Jordan

listening

Like every card-carrying evangelical, I am a proud believer in the Wesleyan quadrilateral – that the order of Christian authority descends from Scripture to Tradition to Reason, and finally, to Human Experience. It really is a fantastic system. The problem, however, is that it is employed by less than fantastic people like myself. The subordinate position of Experience was meant to check the volatile tempest of “feeling” against the more stable revelation of Scripture and the teachings of the Church throughout history. So, for instance, all those days when it felt as if God was some distant sadist are challenged by the testimony of the Bible and history that tell of a passionate, loving God who is near. If my experiences dictated my perception of God, I would probably be one of those crazy angry people who only believe in God so they can ridicule him. I certainly wouldn’t have made it very far at all.

And yet out of fear or uncertainty about the role experience plays in the Christian life, evangelicals all too often disregard the profound reality of, well, reality. We are too eager to judge the nature of someone without ever listening to his or her story. This is because stories are powerful things. You can’t disagree with someone’s life story (well, you could try, but you’d look dumb); it simply is. It doesn’t matter how flawlessly I can articulate orthodox doctrine about the problem of evil, the moment I am confronted by a woman who watched her child die of cancer as she prayed and prayed and prayed to a God she had always thought was on her side… well, my super awesome arguments seem woefully inadequate to address her suffering.

This is because they are inadequate. And so the evangelical church, with its love of easy answers and apologetics, tends to shy away from the painful histories of those around them if those histories pose a “threat” to standard evangelical beliefs. So here’s my mantra (as of three seconds ago):

Stop trying to find the quick way out of the tension. Sit in it. Live in it. Learn to love in it.

Tension sucks. We don’t like it. I don’t like it. It complicates everything. As some dead philosopher (the best kind!) once said, “Certainty is to the mind as rest is to the body.” I think this is true. But haven’t we always likened Christianity to running a race? Rest, in the sense of freedom from effort and struggle, is strikingly foreign to our faith. Christ rarely gave straightforward answers – he always liked to catch the listener off guard and set her mind reeling. You comment on some nice architecture, he responds with an apocalyptic prophecy. Stuff like that.

All this to say, the Church needs to repent of its sinful addiction to easy answers and a tension free existence. We live in a society where churches have split because they couldn’t handle different opinions about what color of taupe the sanctuary carpet should be (the correct answer is, of course, neither, because taupe is a result of the fall and should never be used ever). This is a huge barrier to constructive, gracious dialogue of any kind.

Sexuality defies easy answers, especially today. I used to think I had it all figured out; “I may have given up pursuing romantic relationships, but at least,” I thought, “I wasn’t a nominal, uncommitted Christian like all those other gay people pursuing romantic relationships.” Then I met some. It’s funny how easy it is to “know” people until you actually meet them. I’ll save the story of how these particular men and women changed me for later, but I want to put forth just one thing God taught me through our friendships that I think is necessary to begin building bridges of grace and humility:

Any belief, no matter how seemingly orthodox, is sinful if it is founded in anything but passionate love of God and neighbor.

It is not wrong for me to think I am living in accordance with the truth of Scripture and God’s desires for human flourishing. It is not wrong to have convictions that exclude other convictions.  It is not wrong to call sin “sin.” But it is wrong, absolutely evil, to base these convictions on a fear or alienation of another. It is wrong to turn a person into an “issue” so that his story can be more readily categorized and disregarded. It is wrong to use theology as a weapon that tears apart the humanity of someone God would have me meet in love.

It seems the evangelical church’s stance on homosexuality is not so much based in the goodness and love of God as it is in some bizarre, righteous xenophobia. We have to move past that. For me, this has meant shutting up and listening. It has meant countless coffee dates and walks around town. It has meant bawling at my computer as I vividly imagined the abuse suffered by one of my new friends at the hands of the church, hands that should heal, not wound. It has meant becoming vulnerable, open to ideas and experiences that hurt me and complicate the categories to which I have grown accustomed. It has meant asking for grace and forgiveness for all the times I contributed to the stigma and pain.

Everyone has to come to the table ready to ask forgiveness and grant pardon. This is true for every area of life, and if we want to have any chance at moving forward, I simply ask that we never forget that we are dealing with people, each one seen and loved by God. I know I want people to take the time to actually get to know me before they start slinging judgments my way. Didn’t Jesus say something about this?

Be bold, be passionate, be convicted, but always start by listening.

-Jordan



understanding this blog

Who is my audience?

My audience is everyone except those on the far right with more fundamentalist views about homosexuality. Here’s why:

Those with that position assume that same-sex attraction is strictly choice and are unwilling to change their view on this position. It’s not a choice. There is a plethora of substantial research to document this. It is also bad theology to believe this and is a Gnostic position (I will explain this in a post). When someone holds that it is a choice, this makes my entire blog irrelevant because as you’ll see, it hinges on the position of it not being a choice. Plus, someone who thinks it is a choice would think this entire discussion is pointless because they could just say one should simply stop being gay — problem solved.

As a side note, I also think it is absurd to hold to this position if one has actually critically thought through the implications of it. If being gay were a choice, almost no one would be gay because no one would want to endure the alienation and persecution that comes with being gay in our society. This comes back to basic behavioral principles — if someone has a great enough punishment, people will tend to avoid it. Being gay comes with a large intensity of punishment — just ask any gay person to tell their life story. It is not a choice that people would make.

For those who do not believe that Jesus Christ resurrected from the dead and saved us from our sins and death, you may also have difficulty understanding my position, but once you understand my worldview, I think we can have meaningful discussions.

What terms I use + how I define them:

Same-sex attracted: Attracted to one’s own gender, either slightly or strongly.

Gay: Strongly attracted to one’s own gender. Male or female. This is all I mean by gay.

Gay sexual behavior: Partaking in gay sexual acts.

I do not like the term gay lifestyle because I think it attaches stereotypes to people that are likely untrue, especially for those who identify as Christian.

I will not use the term homosexual as a way to describe people. This is because the term is offensive to many who are LGBTQ because of how it has been used as a slur against them. I also expect it not to be used in the comments, but I will not take the time to censor this.

What is my view?

From a Christian worldview, I believe gay sexual behavior is morally wrong but that being gay (having strong same-sex attractions) is not.

If I were not a Christian, I would 100% be in a gay relationship. From a secular worldview, it makes perfect sense to actualize one’s homosexuality. And at times, I wish I was not a Christian because I want to be in a gay relationship. (I do know that there are Christians who believe in a Biblical case for gay relationships, but I disagree with these conclusions).

But….

Life is not about what I want. It is about submitting my life to Christ. This is what Christ did when He died on the Cross for us —- He chose to give up His life for the redemption of the world and our salvation. So if Christ can do this with His life, then I can do this with being gay. I don’t have to have a gay relationship. And I also don’t think this will provide me with a less satisfying life. The Church should help gay people find a satisfying life without a gay relationship, but all too often I feel that the Church obstructs rather than facilitates this.

And as a disclaimer, I do not question the salvation of those Christians who affirm gay relationships or are in a gay relationship. While I disagree with them, I will believe these people are still Christians.

Why write this stuff?

Some may disagree, but I don’t think the views that I represent get adequately represented.

I get frustrated by the dialogue on both sides, and I feel that we need much more subtlety in our discussions than we currently have. I get frustrated by those with more conservative positions because their language and actions often hurt those who are gay, even those who are gay and agree with their view on traditional marriage. I believe it is tenable to hold to traditional marriage but still treat gay people in a loving, respectful, and empowering way — yet the Church has done this very poorly. I think this is because of inaccurate gay stereotypes and presumptions that linger around but also because Christian heterosexuals have largely not attempted to understand what it would mean to be gay, especially gay and Christian. If the Church is going to have credibility in defending traditional marriage, it must find a feasible and loving way to incorporate gay people into its community, and this requires a lot of subtlety, which I hope to unpack in this blog.

I also get frustrated by those Christians with more liberal positions — especially the claim that “God made gays that way, so why would He not want them to be who they are?.” This statement said alone is very, very bad theology, which I will explain in a later post, and it really frustrates me. Quite honestly, some of the worst Christian theology I’ve seen has come from those advocating for gay marriage. It would be one thing if this poor theology was consistent throughout a person’s worldview, but all too often the poor theology about homosexuality is in tandem with good theology about everything else. And I am convinced this is why conservative Christians are very suspicious and distrusting of those advocating for gay marriage and partly why the conversation becomes stuck on theological arguments about homosexuality while those who are gay are silently wasting away around us.

So I am writing this blog because I am tired of the same old theological gridlock between the conservative and liberal positions. We need to develop and articulate a sophisticated theology to understand this topic. I am also tired of the lack of intentional care and awareness that the conservative side has towards gay people, even its own gay members. I don’t know if those with a conservative position realize just how damaging this is to the Church’s reputation.

Who am I?

I am a male who is sexually attracted to other males. I have never recalled having a significant sexual attraction towards a woman.

While I would like to be publicly open, I am not choosing to reveal my identity yet. But there is a good chance that I will tell you if you contact me. What you should know is that I am a Wheaton College (IL) alumnus, which is a conservative Evangelical (but not fundamentalist) and academically rigorous institution. I was heavily involved on Wheaton’s campus, which included building relationships with Wheaton administrators. I volitionally shared my gay orientation with some key administrators and faculty and received very caring, supportive responses. Since Christian college and their stances on homosexuality have recently come in the spotlight and are under attack, I will incorporate my experiences at Wheaton in this blog. Largely, I think conservative Christian colleges are handling homosexuality wrongly, and there is good reason for them to be under pressure for this. But I also think there are some things that some of these institutions are getting right, including Wheaton.