Note: This is part 2 in a series on Steps to Reconciliation. Read part 1 here.
Gay Christians exist. Only a few years ago, this opening sentence would have been met with complete ridicule and abject rejection. Not so much today. However, plenty of reconciliation skeptics still question the concept, and wonder where they fit in the overall grand scheme of things.
Still, it’s a great bit of progress — going from complete pariahs to asking the all-important questions of where LGBT Christians can fit in to the church as a whole. I could go with the snarky obvious and say, “well, who do you think has been leading your choirs all this time?” But that wouldn’t necessarily be productive. The question remains, though.
Even still, barriers to complete integration remain. These barriers are hindrances not only to how we relate to LGBT Christians, but in how we view them as well. I’ve had at least a couple of local pastors ask me recently, “How can we minister to the gay people better?”
My response was immediate: “First, stop expecting them to change into straight people.”
This is the one thing that I can’t stress enough. There can be no integration without this basic, genuine understanding. Gay people are gay. Lesbians are lesbians. Transgenders are transgendered. It’s part of who we are. Even with all of these “ex-gay” ministries that dot the landscape, there’s not a single shred of evidence that a person can truly change their sexual orientation.
Back in January of this year, Alan Chambers, who is the president of Exodus International, admitted to a group of gay Christians that “99.9% of people cannot change their sexual orientation.” It’s quite clear that the .1% of people that say they did change their orientation — lied. They’re still attracted to members of the same sex.
I could regale my readers with all of the stories of “ex-gay” failures, including some prominent former leaders within that culture. Time and time again, they’ve all come to a place where they reconciled their faith and sexuality completely, compelling them to leave their “ministries” and recognize it as the fraud that it is. Read more about these “ministries” here.
Another major key to fully reconciling LGBT people to the Church is to understand the power of words. My own pastor, Charles Martin, asked me if I would be offended if he “mentioned homosexuality” when discussing several different types of sin.
I smiled. This, too, is a question that’s difficult to get around when discussing how people minister to gays. “Well,” I replied. “What do you mean when you say ‘homosexuality?’” He thought about it for a minute.
I continued. “When you say, ‘homosexuality,’ are you talking about the state of being as a gay person, or when someone engages in sex outside of a committed relationship?” I explained that these words have power. When a struggling gay person hears that “homosexuality” is a sin from the pulpit, that word can mean nothing — or everything.
If that gay teen hears “homosexuality,” does he instantly think that every thought that enters his mind is a sin? That he himself is a sin? Because when we don’t use specific words to describe specific situations, the broad stroke can be much more damning.
My conversation with Charles was extremely positive, and we built a stronger friendship as a result.
I completely agree that sexual promiscuity is sinful — as it is risky, dangerous, and flat-out stupid. We should never compromise on that. When we build our lives around sex, then we build it on false hopes, shallow dreams, and fleeting moments.
In an age where many of our teens view oral sex or mutual masturbation as just a way to keep from “officially having sex,” it’s more important than ever for us to be crystal clear when we discuss sexual sin. We don’t talk about “heterosexuality” in broad strokes, so why then should we do the same with “homosexuality?”
Quite simply, our sexual identities aren’t defined by sex acts. They are defined by our attractions — our orientation. I don’t call myself gay because of my sex life. I identify as gay because my sexual orientation is toward other men. Sorry, ladies. You just don’t do it for me.
It’s because of this that talking about “homosexuality” as a sin in and of itself — can be more damning than most realize. Without speaking directly to promiscuity or high-risk sexual behavior, you’re unwittingly attacking the very nature of a person and how they see themselves. And when struggling teens believe that others view them as abominations, it only adds to the dispair that sometimes leads to suicide attempts.
UPDATE: Justin Lee posted on his blog today with this very same topic. I think God’s up to something.
We don’t have to compromise our beliefs to be able to bring about true reconciliation. Among the gay Christian community, there are two major points of view regarding same-sex relationships. Both viewpoints are illustrated very clearly by my friends at GayChristian.net as “Side A” and “Side B.” They call it “The Great Debate.”
Side A is a belief that God honors and embraces loving monogamous same-sex relationships. Justin Lee’s excellent essay summarizes it thusly:
If same-sex relationships were sinful, we wouldn’t need theological debates to tell us that; it would be readily apparent from the fruit of those relationships. Indeed, the fruit of many same-sex relationships through history has been bad. Just take a look at how Paul describes the fruit of the Romans’ actions in Romans 1! The same can be said for the secular gay community today; a promiscuous, bar-hopping lifestyle filled with drugs, alcohol, and short-lived relationships bears the fruit of emptiness and despair. After all, modern-day gay culture is famous for its “drama,” isn’t it?
But if you’re fortunate enough to know a Christ-centered gay couple, you’ll notice something remarkably different. These relationships are actually bearing good fruit. The fruit of the Spirit are in abundance in such relationships – love, joy, peace, patience, and all the rest. You can argue all you want about the meaning of this passage or that passage; the fact remains that I know monogamous, Christ-centered gay couples whose relationships are living proof of God’s blessing on them. Bad trees don’t bear good fruit.
Side B, on the other hand, is a view that God calls gay Christians to celibacy. They, too, believe that gays can indeed be Christian, but that any form of gay sex is sinful.
The Old Testament’s prohibition on homosexual activity was not the cruel imposition of a dictator, but the wise provision of a loving God who desired to see His chosen people grow in love. Perhaps (though there is no explicit evidence for this in the text) at some point the intensity of David and Jonathan’s affection for each other might have spilled over into sexual temptations. If so, the “delight in the law of the Lord” which moved David to song protected them from sin and kept their souls knit together in a pure and spiritual love.
In the same way, by declaring the “truth of God” that homosexual acts are sinful, the New Testament helps those of us who struggle with same-sex attractions to discover what it means to “worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”
This is why, after dealing at great length with the problems (sexual and otherwise) in the Corinthian Church, the Apostle Paul suddenly changes gears: “And I will show you a still more excellent way” (I Corinthians 12:31):
Both essays are quite lengthy, and have strong backing. For the record, I’m squarely in the Side A corner.
It’s absolutely critical that we get beyond the question of whether or not gays can be Christian, and understand that we are. A lot of us are wounded, though, and we’re wounded by the very people who are called to love us the most.
Christian leaders must recognize their own sins in how the LGBT community has been treated by the Church, and come to terms with the fact that there’s much for which they must answer. For lives to be healed, the wounds must be recognized, and the weapons that caused those wounds must be removed.
As we build this Rainbow Kingdom together, the full body of Christ must move forward, to tend to the wounds, and to bring healing to each other.
Next time, I’ll talk about the responsibilities of those of us who are gay, and what we need to do to bring this reconciliation. Yes, beloved, we have a part to play as well.