Struggling with Homosexuality

October 1, 2004

This started with a posting in the “Christian Citizen” forum at my church’s old website, in the midst of a discussion on same-sex unions. The writer, whose tag was Isaiah56, was criticizing those of us who had been discussing the issue for revealing an ignorance about (amounting to hostility towards) queerness:

….there are people steeped in conservative Christian culture who are willing to acquaint themselves with both these Biblical issues and “gay/lesbian issues,” and your church should do the same. (Until you do, you should clearly state every week in your church bulletin that you do not accept gays and lesbians as members, so that gay Christians and those who respect and support them can be warned to go elsewhere.) [Isaiah56]

Of course, I had to noodle on that one for a while. In my response, I started with the following story:

My wife and I had an argument after she visited Redeemer with me for the first time. She saw an item in the bulletin about a recovery group for men “struggling with homosexuality.” In the way that only your life partner can do, she put her finger on the most vulnerable point in my relationship with Redeemer, without hesitation. She perceived that bulletin item as a clear warning sign to gay men that they were not welcome at Redeemer – unless they were prepared to “struggle” with their homosexuality. I’d attended Redeemer enough times to know that a position as unorthodox as one affirming any possibility of same-sex sex within a sanctified life was not hiding up Dr. Keller’s sleeve. I could have complained that she was making a harsh judgment based on little evidence, but that would have been disingenous.

“Look,” I said weakly, “thousands of people attend Redeemer. The elders are not screening everyone to make sure no one’s having sex with the wrong kind of person. Dr. Keller is not calling down hellfire on gay people from the pulpit every week.”

“Doesn’t the existence of this group,” she asked, “mean that the church sees homosexuality as a disease? Something you have to recover from?”

“The group means that there are men in the church who don’t think they can be gay and Christian. The group is there because they want it – no one is making them go.”

“Are you seriously saying that Jeremy, or Julie, or Matt, if they went to Redeemer, could be out of the closet and no one would bother them?”

I said nothing.

“I don’t get it, Andrew. Would you support laws that made it a crime to be gay? Should gay men be excluded from certain professions, or denied any civil rights?”

“No, of course not.”

“And I thought you were trying to go to church because you needed a real community. Not just a place to go and hear some good sermons and sing some hymns. I thought you were looking to become part of an extended family.”

“I am.”

“Then I don’t get it. I don’t understand how you could want to be part of a community that would say that. That would do that.”

I didn’t want to be part of any such community, it was true. I’d known for years that this was going to be a point of tension for me, trying to follow God in Christ. I knew what the Bible said: I just didn’t agree with it. I couldn’t do anything about what the Bible said, and I couldn’t do anything about my convictions – including my conviction that the God of the Bible had called me to follow him. The most I had hoped for was a church that didn’t constantly rub my face in the fact that I was part of an institution that perpetuated the stigmatization of anyone who wasn’t straight and didn’t want to be straight.

It wasn’t too much to hope for, as Redeemer showed.

The problem was, it was too little to hope for. It hadn’t really sunk in, what it meant to be part of the body of Christ. How was that unity in Christ going to be everything God wanted it to be, if close to my heart I harbored a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy? If I was, deep down, believing in the limitations of the situation more than I believed in the sovereign Lordship of God? I was smart enough to know I had a problem on my hands that was too big for me to solve, but too dumb to recognize that this was exactly the kind of thing Jesus tells me to lay down before the throne.

I still have no solution, only stories.

When I was in college, in two successive weeks, I had two formative experiences. The first was a workshop, sponsored by the university, to foster tolerance of sexual difference. It was the first time in my life that someone said to my face, “I am gay,” and went on to explain what that meant to them: that they didn’t consider being gay a sin, a sickness, a whim, or any other attenuated form of living, that their sexuality was as much a part of their identity as my own was of mine. The next week, there was a panel discussion, sponsored by my InterVarsity fellowship, with people from an “ex-gay” ministry. These were Christians who didn’t believe their desires for people of the same sex were in harmony with their desire to follow Christ, and were undergoing counseling to learn how to replace gay desires with heterosexual desires.

The workshop leaders who had come to identify themselves as gay – willingly – would probably have seen the “ex-gays” as deluded and misled. The latter would probably have seen the former as living deep in error because of their lack of love for God. I could not choose one of those perspectives over the other.

My gay classmates were asking for understanding and acceptance – asking, in other words, not to be dismissed as mentally ill, or as victims of sexual abuse, or as perverse rebels against the natural order, unfit to be teachers, unfit to be partners, unfit to be parents, etc. I thought they were right to ask that. I still think so. On the other hand, the men (they were all men) from the ex-gay ministry were also asking for understanding and acceptance – they didn’t want to be told by other Christians that their particular sin was worse or somehow made them ‘untouchable.’ They also didn’t want to be pitied by other gay men, or told that they were fools for not simply jettisoning their faith in favor of sexual liberation. They didn’t want to be lectured to about how they didn’t really understand what the Bible said about sex and should get over their arbitrary ambivalence about being gay. Of course, I think they were right to ask for that acceptance as well.

The man I didn’t meet, who does not belong to either group, is Christian and doesn’t feel the need to tailor the religion so that it conforms to him in every detail. At the same time, he is gay and doesn’t feel the need to tailor his sexuality to conform to his church community. It’s possible that no such man exists – but I doubt it. One of these days, he may walk through the doors of our church. On that day, there are two errors I hope to avoid. The first to condescend to him by assuming he can’t take the heat, that he walked in unwilling to “bear with the failings of the weak.” The other error is to forget that there is violence implicit in telling that man that he can be “gay but celibate” or “gay but moving beyond it,” but if he acts as if he likes being gay and loves his boyfriend, he is an unrepentant sinner and subject to sanction.

The Christian who believes that Jesus wants him, boyfriend and all, will be able to show some tolerance for our intolerance. I’m not worried about him. I’m worried about the rest of us… because no matter how much patience Christ has given him to deal with our shit, he’d be a fool to come to a church where he knows that his relationship with his lover won’t be tolerated. After all, if Paul told the Corinthians to expel the guy who “had his father’s wife,” we couldn’t blame him for expecting the community to kick his [monogamous] ass to the curb.

So, likelihood is, he doesn’t come in the first place. Are we going to say, “good riddance,” or are we going to consider this a problem?

So in response to Isaiah56, I would say: I think you’re right, that a church in Park Slope has a lot of hard praying, reading and thinking to do about sexuality. However, your stance has a faint echo of “If you’re not with us, you have to be against us.” It’s the glory of Christians, when we are faithful to the Lord, to be defined by his grace, and so not have to define ourselves in opposition to everyone else. Here’s a dream for you: I’m foolish enough to hope that more gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender folks, etc. come to our church – and that more of their supporters come as well – in the same simple way I just hope more people come to our church, period, because God is calling them to his service. I can’t imagine how we’re ever going to find unity in Christ while “struggling with homosexuality” in this way, and that’s great – because there is another who can imagine it, and will do more than we could ever ask or imagine.

One last word.

It’s no coincidence that this discussion started in a forum on same-sex unions. If we knew for certain that there could be no such thing as “gay marriage,” we could declare the so-called controversy about homosexuality over and done with. Oddly enough, when you start asking Christians, why couldn’t there be such a thing as gay marriage? they usually start by saying, well, because the Bible prohibits gay sex. Hmmm. That seems to be putting the cart before the horse.

The Bible clearly teaches me that to talk about sexuality apart from the context of marriage – of lifelong covenant partnerships made in the sight of God – is to talk about something other than sex as God intended it to be. And the funny thing is, that’s what we hear from part of the gay community as well. They’re not saying, “We want society to affirm our homosexuality as a prop for our shaky self-esteem.” They’re saying, “I’ve been living with my boyfriend for fifteen years. As far as I’m concerned, he’s my husband, and I’d like him to be legally and liturgically recognized as such.” Or they’re saying, “If this is only about having sex, why on earth did my partner and I adopt children? We used to get a lot more nookie when we weren’t raising a baby and a toddler.” They’re saying, in other words, that they themselves don’t consider what they do in bed to be the axis around which their identity revolves. Sex is important to them, but only in the context of the rest of life – their network of commitments, their religious community, their family.

And society isn’t helping them on that score. It’s society, not the church, that puts such a high premium on sexual fulfillment at all costs. It’s society, not the church, that eroticizes everything from consuming automobiles to clothing for pre-teens to media violence. Like any other religious people, they need their larger religious community to resist the distorted values of the world.

And what is the larger religious community doing? Some of them are throwing their support into legislation like the Federal Marriage Amendment. To me, this is the height of perversity – because many of these people – politicians, advocates, lobbyists, clergy – would prefer that NEITHER the larger society NOR the church support same-sex couples in their fight for full recognition.


3 Responses to “Struggling with Homosexuality”

  1. jenjele Says:

    Has anyone from your church ever read your blog? Do they know about it? Do they interact with you on this subject? They should.

    • apdraper2000 Says:

      Maybe they so – but most of the people who know this is here – I’ve had conversations to this effect before.

      The post was more of a dry run for starting a dialogue. I wasn’t prepared to start a dialogue at that time. It’s also worth saying that there were some comments on this post on LiveJournal, the former platform for this blog…

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