UPDATE, 9/6/19: A story very recently in the news reminded me to come back to review
Band-aids for boo-boos, my most definitive thoughts on homosexuality and Christian faith. In the process I discovered that I had also written what follows.
I add this update for the sole purpose of saying that what follows is embarrasingly rambling. If you stumble upon it at this late date, you might just want to skip to the embedded video near the end, which I viewed again and still heartily endorse. If you choose to wade through the rest to get there, thank you in advance for your patience at my stammering efforts to describe what was going on in my head 13 months ago.
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It was more recent than I recalled that I, inspired by a minor epiphany, felt competent at last to write something about homosexuality beyond that same-sex attraction is a spiritual affliction and that acting on it is sin.
I stand by the substance, with a couple of expansions and one update.
First, the locution “same-sex attraction” was probably coming into disfavor when I wrote. Now, it is derided (among those whose testimonies I trust) as “Christianese,” opaque to the world, and to be shunned in favor of “being gay.” I’m still digesting that argument and unready to change just yet, but neither is it a hill I’m willing to die on.
Second, I would double-down on my skepticism about orientation change, if only because I’ve learned that there are a lot of people still selling and buying that snake oil. I wouldn’t bet my life against orientation change, but I’d bet a lot.
I now think that some of the “ex-gay” gurus are conscious frauds — fraudulent in the same way that guys like Benny Hinn are fraudulent. (Others may be letting others’ expectations of holiness determine what they’ll profess to have attained. And there are many other possibilities from this crooked timber of humanity, from which so few straight things are made.)
Third, I feel a need to say that almost everything positive I write about gay Christians is about those committed to celibacy — “Side B” in the argot of these Christians themselves. I have never encountered anything I thought a credible argument for the Christian licitness of gay sex (and if I did, it would have a well-nigh insurmountable hill to climb — 2000 years of Christian teaching — to convince me.
Finally, the update. Back then I wrote:
I’m not sure why they might feel a need to be publicly open and transparent about the sexual particulars of their sickness (versus open with a select few for purposes of support); I feel no need to be publicly open and transparent about the temptations I’m not going to name here.
That was literally true when written: I wasn’t sure. But I actually meant “when they talk about it so much, it starts creeping me out.”
I now have a better idea why they may need to talk about it so much, and why I need to listen (yes, and maybe push back some times) more patiently than I was ready for a few years ago. (I’m not going to try putting the reasons in words because I have something better than that. Stay tuned.)
But I’ve also had some other little epiphanies, converging, whence this current offering.
For one thing, I’ve always sensed the force of this apocryphal Martin Luther quote:
If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him.
It is clear to me that the world and the devil at this moment (and for the last 50 years or so of accumulated moments) are attacking in the area of sexuality:
Conservative Christians are fond of using this [Luther] quote to insist that we must stand up for the truth of the historic Christian sexual ethic even as it is being attacked in contemporary Western cultures, and that to fail to do so is to fail to be orthodox, faithful, biblical. And, in a mainline Protestant church like the one I belong to, I feel the force of this. These days it can seem easy to preach Christ in every way but the way that He challenges progressive sexual mores.
(Wesley Hill) That is a partial answer to why I have read a lot, thought a lot and written a lot about these issues, and naming that motivation was an epiphany of sorts, though a very minor one. Before that, I had been reflexively “trimming.”
A bigger epiphany is expressed, but not exhausted, by a continuation of Wesley Hill’s comment on the Luther quote:
And yet “the world” that “Luther” mentions in that quote is not always the world of progressive secularism/liberalism. Sometimes “the world” attacks the truth of Christ on the second point that Fr. White mentions — by tempting Christians to demean, disdain, ignore, overburden, or otherwise harm LGBTQ people. “The world” and “the devil” can manifest themselves in so-called “progressivism,” yes—and they can manifest themselves just as easily whenever a Christian heaps shame on LGBTQ people (“There’s something more askew in your life than there is in that of heterosexuals,” is what a pastor once told me), or offers a quick solution to their complex dilemmas (“Just get married!” is literally the advice I saw from a conservative Christian last week, as if I haven’t ever considered that possibility), or caricatures their sex lives (“Gay culture is inherently promiscuous”), or damages their faith (“If you want healing from same-sex attraction, it is available, and you have only to say yes,” I have been promised by Christians numerous times), or in any number of other ways attacks their dignity. If you are in a so-called conservative church and you are loudly proclaiming the truth about homosexuality at every point but at the point where that truth insists on the worth and lovability of LGBTQ people — if you are binding up heavy burdens on them and not lifting a finger to help (cf. Matthew 23:4) — then you are not proclaiming Christian truth, no matter how much you may seize the high ground and claim otherwise.
Several converging articles, podcasts, YouTubes and such drove that home to me as never before, and several of them centered on the recently-completed Revoice18 conference, a gathering of celibate gay Christians under the umbrella of SpiritualFriendship, in a conservative Calvinist (PCA) Church in St. Louis.
Some of what I read, heard or saw critiqued or defended the whole idea of celibate gay Christians, with the criticisms tending to niggle over the adjective “gay.” It came from self-styled Calvinists (“Reformed”) and certifiable Southern Baptists. Their critiques were well familiar to the conferees, to the point of murmurs of approval at refutations. I’ll not try to summarize it because although I was in that critics’ general camp by instinct a few years ago, I’m moving away from it now by conviction.
Another epiphany was confirmation that my intuition, which I had barely dared to utter aloud, was true: a lot of people who think themselves “transgender” are dealing with unresolved conflict over homosexual urges. I no longer need to intuit about that, or worry that I’m naïvely grabbing a third rail that will kill me. Many teenagers who think they’re trangender ultimately desist from that, but they’re generally homosexual at that point. Others who went far into “transitioning” and then de-transitioned report the same drive.
Apparently, life as a homosexual person can be so humiliating and frightening that a non-trivial number of people respond by attempting to become the sex appropriate to their erotic urges. I guess I’ve led too sheltered a life. (I’m resisting a temptation to digress here; let me just summarize that I’m still not sure that public accommodations laws are efficiacious at relieving unaffected humiliation and fright.)
It’s even bad in the Church (bracketing the question of whether it’s even worse):
- “It was easier for me, as a convert from atheism, to trust that God loved me, than for a gay kid who grew up in the church. Shouldn’t that shock us?” (Eve Tushnet).
- For many celibate gay Christians, there’s a feeling of being “harassed by our Churches, and seen as utter fools by the world,” to paraphrase Johanna Finegan.
- Part of that harassment is a pernicious persistence of belief in reparative therapy, converting gay Christians into straight Christians, consonant with the metanarrative that gays are broken heterosexuals.
- If the Church harasses, beats up, distrusts and otherwise abuses someone, it can break them, and they may not find their way home again.
Don’t we need at least to think harder about what to do to make it less humiliating and frightening in the Church which, after all, is chock full of sundry sinners with manifold temptations?
Yet another epiphany that still boggles my mind (though that epiphany has been around a while; it’s not new) is that these pictures are not “gay.” They depict an easy and un-selfconscious friendship that we’ve lost in the U.S., perhaps throughout the West.
That says more about us than about these guys. There is so much more that could be said, but someone else will need to do it or you’ll have to wait until I’m ready. As they say, “I. Just. Can’t. Even.”
The folks at the Revoice conference are trying to recover something like such friendships, while their critics are echoing Sigmund Freud in sexualizing the very idea. “Flee! Run as far and fast as you can!” is the gist of it, and what comes across is “learn to live life without any emotional intimacy, because the opposite sex doesn’t have time for you and you might get a rise in your Levis if you attempt same-sex friendship.”
Excuse me as I have a little reverie about our Lord’s excoriation those who lay on burdens heavy to bear.
Call all that an epic (or at least self-indulgent) introduction.
I had imagined writing a blog that went into some detail about what I’ve learned. But I don’t think anything I could write would top the 43 minute, 17 second pre-conference Revoice18 talk of Johanna Finegan.
A man at her church, concerned about her upcoming attendance and presentation at Revoice18 said “It sounds like these people think it’s okay to be gay as long as you don’t act on it.” She responded “Well, yes. What’s the alternative? Not getting out of bed in the morning?”
There’s some refinement needed about what it means to “not act on it,” but I’ll step aside now:
This in particular (38:15) challenges me:
“Maybe we can see it as a gift to the world — a beautiful, confounding witness … We declare that something is more valuable than the sex and the romantic love we naturally long for. We declare that genuine Christianity changes and shapes your whole life … We declare that Jesus Christ is sublimely and absolutely worthy and worth it. And maybe we can see it as a gift to the Church. Our lives could be illustrations of what it looks like to faithfully follow Jesus that can help our straight brothers and sisters. Our lives can depict what it’s like to follow God, we know not where ….
Some of what the Spiritual Friendship/Revoice18 people are saying, and what I’m now inclined to believe, probably has a “sell-by date.” Remember that I’m a “trimmer.” Maybe — heck, almost certainly — we risk overcorrection, but correct we must, in what another blogger calls “the present cultural moment.”
So it seems to me.
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Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.
(David Foster Wallace via Jason Segedy, Why I’m Leaving Twitter Behind.)
By modernity, I mean the project to create social orders that would make it possible for each person living in such orders “to have no story except the story they choose when they have no story.”
Stanley Hauerwas, Wilderness Wanderings