framed, pt. 3 (exclusively inclusive)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before (it’s funny because you can’t; such power!):

“Jesus lived out his earthly ministry among the marginalized and outcast, preaching a gospel of radical inclusion that upended the sinful exclusivism of the hypocritical religious elite. Today, many religious leaders are denying full acceptance to gay men and women in local congregations due to disagreements about the moral status of same-sex unions. Jesus, who embraced the stigmatized, would side with those being denied total inclusion by the judgmental majority. To be Christians, then, requires that we cast off arbitrary requirements for acceptance that were made by power-seeking Pharisees and realize that those in monogamous, faithful, loving, same-sex unions (and the LGBTQ community in general) are the new Gentiles to our self-righteous 1st century Judaism; Jesus’s table is set, and all are welcome. Refusing full inclusion to affirming gay men and women goes against the very nature of Jesus’s embodied ethic of acceptance.”

There are some good biblical/theological arguments to be made in support of sanctioning SSU’s (same-sex unions). This is not one of them. It’s not even close. If arguments were colors, this would be taupe: the world would be better off without it, and I become depressed and angry whenever it is used.

Unfortunately, it’s everywhere, and not just in fringe blogs or rash YouTube videos. Authors I deeply respect have, at times, gone on in a similar vein. In fact, the prevalence of this argument across various media makes me wonder if I’ve simply misunderstood the logical sequence and dealt only with a straw-person; it’s certainly a possibility, so please correct me if I misrepresent this particular position. However, if I’m right (fingers crossed, everybody!), then such a polemic must be put to rest in order to move forward in constructive dialogue as it avoids the central questions, cheapens the Gospel, and displaces the centrality of the biblical text in favor of foreign standards of morality.

That large paraphrase up there? I actually agree with most of it. Jesus really did align himself with the poor and marginalized, really did devote himself to the scandalous inclusion of “the other,” really did excoriate the religiously hypocritical for their wretched xenophobia. And make no mistake, such actions were not peripheral events in the grand narrative of his life – they were central to his Gospel, and are therefore central to us. I think feminist/liberation/subaltern theologians have it right: if we proclaim the Gospel without simultaneously declaring that this good news is for everyone, no exceptions, then we’ve missed it.

We Christians (especially those in positions of cultural power) don’t get to choose who is invited to the feast table. We are not the gatekeepers. We are the messengers joyfully telling everyone that the Lord wants them to come and experience the abundance of his love. To do anything less is to play the role of deluded Pharisee, and the world is right to condemn us. We must be throwing ourselves to the aid of the sinfully stigmatized, showing love to those who receive undeserved hatred, and telling them of Christ. This definitely includes the LGBTQ community in all its multiformity.

That being said, and this is the crux for me, the Gospel is not just an invitation, it’s a new way of existing. And praise God for that! He doesn’t just leave us as we were, draped in tattered rags and caked in filth. He bathes us, clothes us, and sets before us a path of obedient faithfulness, promising to walk with us every step of the way. And, as we walk, we are changed, we are challenged, and we are daily having to cast aside old behaviors and patterns of thinking.

After Jesus came to the rescue of the woman in John 8, saving her life and exposing the sins of those judging her, he didn’t walk away and yell over his shoulder, “Cool, welcome to the kingdom of God, have fun sleeping around! I love you!” He told her to “sin no more.” The rest of the New Testament is univocal in expounding on that call: if you have accepted Christ’s universally offered invitation, then you must also live as he prescribes. If you truly love him, you will obey his commands.

This is Christian discipleship at it’s most basic, which is why it is so bewildering that the aforementioned argument, in all its popularity, fails to display even a rudimentary understanding of the concept. We come to the table as we are, but by the grace of God we cannot stay as we were. There are, believe it or not, rules. There are demands, prohibitions, standards, and consequences woven into the Christian faith. The Church is not an inchoate mass of autonomous individuals that answer to no one but their own consciences.

This argument seems preoccupied with conjoining the figure of Jesus to a secular manifestation of inclusion that demands nothing from anyone except self-identification and a laissez-faire approach to community.

In contrast, the Jesus testified to in the New Testament demands everything from those who would aspire to follow him to everlasting life. When he says “sin no more,” the question becomes, “How then shall we live?” And, there you have it, we are driven back to exegesis, to mining the text to understand what Jesus requires of us, what it means to be a Christian. In this context (for me as an Evangelical), it means scouring the biblical canon to determine what it is saying about homosexuality, how that applies to the church today, and then, whether I like it or not, obeying.

Jesus is not simply the best example of inclusion in abstracto, he is the true expression of what it means to be inclusive – he is the form and character of the thing. And the inclusion he embodies is not simply blind acceptance that costs nothing, it is a lightning, wide-eyed gaze that sees us all as we are, and shakes us to our core with the good news that the God of the universe loves us and has not left us to our own bitter devices, and that the daunting sacrifice of obedience, though it require everything, leads to unfathomable abundance, namely a relationship with God and his Church. It is a free gift that still costs all that we have.

The contended argument gets it half right, but, unfortunately, “half right” is still totally wrong. When I read it, I cannot help but think that the author has given up wrestling with scripture for fear of coming away with a dislocated hip. But we must keep wrestling, lest we forfeit divine blessing. The Church is a community of those who limp, yet we walk proudly, bearing with grace the mark that we have been touched by God. We simply cannot have it any other way.

I hope we can move past the kind of shallow arguments I’ve briefly described in the past few posts and begin to, with great humility and love, press into the heart of the disagreements for the sake of truth and unity. On that point, at least, we should all be in agreement.

Jordan

/rant

Ok, I was halfway through a much more informative post on a different subject when I randomly switched topics and wrote an entirely separate entry. So, this is a detour post. It’s kind of like that time I was trying to get home but my GPS brought me to a dark, creepy wheat field in the middle of nowhere instead… except there’s a much lower risk of being eaten by a vivified Scarecrow this time around (though I’m not saying there is no risk, mind you).

What do Santa Claus, Bigfoot, appealing shades of taupe, leprechauns, and life-long chastity as a single, gay person have in common? They don’t really exist, apparently. (Please don’t argue with me about Santa, just accept it and move on). Obviously I’m being dramatic; with the exceptions of Santa and non-ugly taupe I’m actually open to suspending my disbelief.

Ill-crafted joking aside, I’m a bit discouraged at the moment. The source of this slight melancholy was hinted at above: it doesn’t seem like anyone around here actually believes I can live my whole life without having sex of one kind or another. Our culture is simply too sexual, our biology too compelling, to remain chastely single as a gay Christian.

Recently, it feels as if my life has become the unfortunate playground for the unfounded fears of many dear and wonderful people. Being honest, it’s a wearying thing to know that respectable men and women think of me as an exceptionally weak, sin-prone, sexually perverse man. They wouldn’t say it in that language, so I’m probably being unfair. Anyway, that’s how it feels.

It’s frustrating that so few people seem to have faith that I’ll remain chaste for any amount of time. If I were straight and single, even though I’m sure they would want me to get married, they would expect me to remain chaste until that day and would encourage me that such a life is possible and totally within the reach of my Christ-empowered, regenerate self. That is not the message I am receiving. And that, more than anything, has made these past weeks difficult. I hate being on the crappy end of a double standard (to which the rest of the whole world – after observing my upper-class, white, male self – says, “HA!”). This reaction bewilders me. I get that people are just trying to look out for my future, but I don’t think they realize they are literally sabotaging the holy path to flourishing.

Western culture at large already relentlessly smashes me in the face with ads, movies, shows, and music that tell me there is absolutely no way I can possibly control my sex-drive, that I’m some kind of deluded, Amish/Victorian/Alien freak-show for thinking, just maybe, I can go my whole life without sex and avoid shriveling up and evaporating from a severe case of being prudish and ultra-lame (little do they know I suffered from that in middle-school and have developed ample antibodies). But when I turn to the church and I hear basically the same message, it stings a lot, and I start to wonder if I really am crazy.

Over and over it’s implied that the best possible outcome is that I would get married to a woman some day (as soon as possible) because it is simply too hard to live in this culture without having sexual release in marriage. I hear things like, “Man, I wouldn’t be able to do that” or “You’re setting yourself up for a huge fall by the time you’re forty” or “I’m just praying that God will provide you with a wife because it’s so difficult to be single.”

Has the Gospel become less compelling than sex? Really?! We proclaim the same miserable message as “the world” if we cannot trust that chaste singleness is not only possible, but wonderfully blessed. Maybe instead of trying to be a glorified Christian Mingle the church should focus on being a stunning community of brothers and sisters so dedicated to the all-consuming power of God that the single members know without a doubt that they are living a beautiful and full life that is not any less profound because they haven’t taken someone to bed. Maybe we should be spending less time telling single people how tragically unlikely it is that they will be able to resist the siren song of sex and more time exhorting them to passionately model the inclusive and healing life of Christ, assuring them that, with God’s help, they are truly able to live chastely without being married and then coming along side of them every day to support them on that road.

I have nothing against marriage or the possibility of being married (I wrote a post about it), but it is no more “good” than being single. Maybe it’s just my context and I am over-reacting, but for this whole year I had been increasingly excited about being single in the church until that church started telling me singleness was going to effectively drag me to hell.

So go find a single person and give them a huge freaking hug and let them know, by the grace of God, they can make it! That their lives are wonderful beacons of hope in a culture drifting anchorless in a roiling sea of sexual obsession. And if you are single, find a mirror and tell yourself that God loves you, that he is with you, that chastity is not beyond you as you dive deep into the still waters of his grace, that you have astounding and unique gifts to be used for his glory through edification of the Church and service of the marginalized, and that one day Christ will look at you, whether you ever get married or not, with overwhelming joy in his eyes and welcome you into his eternal rest. Because God knows somebody needs to say it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go listen to Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger on repeat until my ears bleed and my parents take a shotgun to my speakers.

Sorry for the rant. Has this been the case for anyone else? I’m really interested in knowing how other church communities have responded.

EDIT: I felt the need to add that even if a person falls and gives in to the temptation to have sex outside of marriage, it’s not like they instantly become the most abhorrent of sinners. Sexual sin is a big deal, but it’s not any bigger than the power of God to forgive and not any dirtier than what he can make clean. Everyone screws up in some way, and I hope the church can be there to help pick them off the floor and point them back to Christ and walk with them along the way. Am I being naïve? I’d just like to think this is what the Gospel can do…

Jordan

P.S. And I know it doesn’t seem like it from this post, but I’m doing well. Still optimistic about my church’s progress in understanding where I am coming from and really becoming a community of safety for men and women like me. I am confident God will work in mighty ways here (and I swear it really is a wonderful church). I’ve had some good conversations with my family and some friends recently, and can definitely attest to the faithfulness of God in my life this summer. He deserves some serious praise, lemme tell ya. Peace.

what’s in a word pt. 1

We’ve had a few people ask us why we would use the label “gay Christian” when it is so charged and controversial, and I thought I would give a brief explanation of why I personally have used that phrase:

I’m lazy.

That’s a big part of it, really. Out of all the possible labels, “gay” is the most convenient, and I can hardly muster the energy to type all the extra words every time to provide the proper nuance. (It should come as no surprise that I failed miserably at Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing.) Saying “I’m gay” is immediate and effective. Aside from the two or three Shakespeare majors who will think I’m just having a good day, everyone understands what I’m trying to communicate: that I’m attracted to men. We can hash out all the little details throughout the conversation.

I do need to say that “gay” is not the only charged label. Saying that “I’m a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction” is often perceived as code for “I really don’t want to be gay. I might try therapy. I probably have depressive tendencies. I find rainbows terrifying and plan to move to New Mexico to avoid them.” (Too dramatic?)

“I have SSA” (same-sex attraction) is a common shortcut that usually betrays a conservative ethic. But a lot of people have no clue what SSA stands for, and I usually just end up saying, “It means I’m gay.”

“I’m a Christian who is exclusively attracted to men” is clunky, but I have used it to initiate conversations when I wanted to avoid any possible political overtone. It’s the least charged of the options, but it’s about as convenient and time-efficient as a trip to the DMV.

I’m actually more or less comfortable with any of those. But be careful, there are some people who refuse to identify as gay (I used to be like that), and there are others who will be offended if a “less charged” term than “gay” is offered. Listen to how people talk about themselves. Let them guide your vocabulary. Be flexible, and slow to judge.

Now, there’s another massive question attached to all of this. Should we even call ourselves “gay Christians?” Why identify ourselves by our struggles? Doesn’t this take the focus away from what Christ is doing in our lives?

I will hopefully write more about this later, but being gay does not just raise moral questions;  being gay is a social reality. I don’t think there is any weighty, theological equivalence between sexual orientation and skin color, but there is definitely a social equivalence whether the church wants to acknowledge it or not. Though I do not align myself with the LGBTQ community per se, we share some common life experiences. A group of Christians who are all attracted to the same sex is not the same as a group of Christians who struggle with anger issues because the “angry Christians” haven’t been wrongly marginalized or abused for struggling with anger like gay Christians have been for their sexuality.

This is absurdly over-simplified, but I hope it’s making some sense. I am willing to, at times, say that I’m a “gay Christian” because it conveys a social existence that would not be effectively communicated otherwise.

It’s not like I wear this as a title that I always use to qualify my Christianity. Not at all. It is Christ and only Christ who defines my identity. I am being renewed and conformed into his image and by his overwhelming grace alone have I been labeled a son of God. That is my only essential identity. But, we live in a world where it is very helpful to have other identifiers, and I do not feel like I am cheapening Christ’s work in me at all by sometimes using those three letters.

I only say “gay Christian” when I am specifically talking about my experiences as a gay man or about the topic of homosexuality as a whole. It’s not like I see “gay” as its own denomination (but if it were we would never have taupe carpet, ever!).

I had a hard time writing this because I’m not sure it makes sense unless you’ve personally experienced being gay in Christian circles… but hopefully this helps somehow. I want to do justice to the very real social difference of being gay without making it essential to who I am in Christ. This usually means evaluating conversations moment-by-moment and trying to figure out the best way to express myself to whomever I am talking. It’s a tricky thing to navigate.

So most importantly I just ask that there would be a willingness to listen and not force meanings onto labels people use until they define them. The church, and society, have been unilaterally forcing meaning and stigma onto gay people for a tragically long time, and it’s always nice to have a little freedom from that pressure. See my previous post on listening for more about that.

It is difficult for me to speak in that tension between wanting to humbly accommodate the perspective of whoever I’m talking with, making sure they are understanding what I’m saying and feeling welcomed in the conversation, and wanting to be consistent in my own self-referential vocabulary. It’s hard, and can be really frustrating when people refuse to believe I can call myself a “gay Christian” without sinning, but I’ve found it is most important to communicate the astounding goodness of God and how my life, my identity, is fully caught up in his transforming work. I hope, at least, that I have accomplished that much.

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