April 23, 2017

What do Gays and Lesbians Hear? (repost)

overheard.jpgBefore getting into the substance of this essay, I want to mention how little I care for much of the terminology I’m going to use.

As a Christian humanist, there are two sources for my view of human beings: The image of God in creation, and the image of humanity in the incarnation/resurrection of Jesus. I am resistant and reluctant to speak of human beings through other identifiers, such as race or sexual preference. For example, I don’t believe terms such as “black” or “gay” accurately communicate what is most important about a human being.

A person who is sexually attracted to the same gender or has participated in sexual activities with the same gender is exactly what such sentences imply. It is wrong to use terms that imply those labeled are defined by their actions or feelings. It is a particularly postmodern twist to assert that someone’s identity should come from a label assigned by a group.

We are persons made in God’s image; persons for whom Jesus was incarnated, sacrificed and raised. These identities should dominate in all our understandings of human beings. To use other labels runs a serious risk of dehumanizing those we should be treating with the same respect as Jesus himself demonstrated and embodied.

I know some of my readers are going to have a volatile reaction to this essay. Be certain that I will not tolerate any derogatory or hateful expressions in the comments.

What do gays and lesbians hear when they listen to evangelicals?

1. They aren’t there.

Many evangelicals speak about gays and lesbians as if they are not present in church or ministry gatherings.

The number of persons in society who would be reasonably classified as homosexuals is a controversial discussion. Numbers range from 15% to 2%. While there is reason to doubt the research that provided the much-quoted Kinsey number of 10%, my experience tells me that the real number may be closer to the number of people who, at one time or another, define themselves as primarily sexually oriented to the same gender. In my work with young people, I’ve been continually convinced that the number is perhaps 3-5%, and in my culture, I’d defend that as accurate. In other geographic and cultural settings, such as urban or university areas, I would be more inclined to the 10% number.

The important fact is this: There are no places in evangelicalism–whether over coffee in a university setting or in church in a small southern town–where we can afford to act or speak as if homosexuals are not present. They are, and most of us know this.

Recently, a student who had been at our ministry for six years came out while at college. I was not surprised, but I had not suspected. I was reminded that sexual identities are in flux during some phases of life. Other people are in a struggle regarding sexual identity that they cannot acknowledge. Seldom do any of us correctly predict the person, like my former student, who “makes a decision” after he of she is safely out of range of evangelical influence.

So we cannot speak and act as if homosexuals aren’t there.

2. Their sexual orientation is entirely chosen.

Despite the fact that no intelligent person would make the case that heterosexuality is entirely chosen, it is common to say this about homosexuality. The fact is that human sexual attraction is a highly complex mixture of factors and no one, most certainly not a preacher, is going to make authoritative pronouncements on why someone is attracted to the same gender in any situation.

The likelihood that sexual attraction contains unchosen factors such as genetic predisposition and early psychological orientation is high. While social and experiential factors are also influential, we can’t assume that every person experiencing homosexual attraction is able to follow a prescription of change with equal success. Like so many other human behaviors, a person convinced it is wrong to be sexually attracted to a person of the same gender needs a network of support, encouragement and acceptance. This kind of support begins with a compassionate understanding that some aspects of sexuality just “are,” and won’t be explained away, prayed away or cast out in an exorcism. They will be lived with.

3. Gays and lesbians are the political enemies of Christians.

The development of political activism among Christians is a two-edged sword. One of the negative edges is the tendency to see persons and groups through the lens of political preferences first, in terms of politics secondarily or not at all.

Gays and lesbians who find themselves in the midst of evangelical Christians will hear about the “homosexual agenda” being put forward as a genuine threat to the well-being of families and children, and a special threat to Christians. What are the chances that gays and lesbians hearing this threat announced are involved in the political actions described or even are sympathetic to them in any way at all? Very small, especially in most places.

The politicization of homosexuality is a real phenomenon that most homosexual activists would like us to understand and appreciate. But the church preaches the Gospel, and it is unwise to politically demonize those who need to hear the message because some members of that community are politically assertive.

4. Gays and lesbians must change (and want to change) their sexual orientation, not just pursue chastity.

A few months before he died, Christian writer Henri Nouwen stated that he was homosexual in orientation, but had always lived in chastity. This honest admission certainly caused some Christians to take a moment and think carefully about what they actually believed. Isn’t it necessary for homosexuals to change their orientation, become heterosexuals and be attracted to the opposite gender before they can be Christians?

The answer, of course, is no. Like every other sinner, sexual sinners of every kind are invited to repent and believe in the Good News. No specific results of that repentance can be assigned to a schedule or scorecard. Repentance is an imperfect struggle for all of us, especially those of us who struggle with sinful addictions and life-dominating sins.

The church must be a place where sinners are forgiven, not given a list of demanded changes. Christ himself is the Lord of sanctification. The goal of purity and chastity is hardly achieved by any of us, and it is unfair and unbiblical to assign special conditions to the repentant homosexual.

5. Gays and lesbians do not consider themselves to be Christians, and those that do are not really Christians.

Many evangelicals, apparently operating on the stereotype that all gays and lesbians are hostile to Christianity, consistently say that gays and lesbians cannot be Christians.

Certainly one of the dilemmas that I feel most personally in presenting Christianity is the responsibility to invite all persons to repent and believe the Good News. At the same time, I would not say less than scripture says about the Kingdom of God and sexual sin.

Unrepentant gays and lesbians who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior present a dilemma for evangelicals. Most evangelicals, like myself, believe the teaching of scripture is clear in regard to the subjects of marriage and sexuality. Most of us do not believe these teachings are culturally conditioned, but reflect basic Trinitarian sacredness in the entire area of sexual relationships.

On the other hand, evangelicals like myself also understand that many gay and lesbian Christians read the scriptures differently than we do, and have a serious and sincere personal faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is nothing less than heart-breaking and painful when these values come into conflict in regard to our relationships with individuals for whom we have personal respect and affection.

I would not be a member of a church or a denomination that compromised in any way on Hebrews 13:4 or the sacredness of sexuality as a reflection of the Trinity. Nor would I want to be associated with those who rejected the professions of faith of genuine fellow Christians. It is a painful and presumptuous thing to refuse to recognize a fellow sinner as a Christian. We should be extremely reluctant to do so, even if we find ourselves being accused of being too gracious by some and too narrow by others.

Like many other evangelicals, I have no resolution to this issue. I will be offensive to gays and lesbians when I interpret what I believe scripture teaches. I will be offensive to many evangelicals when I consider gay and lesbian Christians my brothers and sisters.

Speaking only for myself, gays and lesbians–like all of us who are accountable to God for the gift of sexuality–will hear both sides of the Biblical message.

6. The reporting of sexual scandals involving gays and lesbians is done with an unmistakable agenda.

One of the inevitable results of the information age is that anyone who wants to know the worst behavior of any group can gather that information easily. If one chooses not to be judicious and cautious with such information, it is possible to make every member of a group guilty by association.

The kinds of associations made in the minds of already biased persons regarding the likelihood of homosexual persons molesting children, for example, are often irresponsible and slanderously unfair (especially in comparison to the behavior of upstanding, churchgoing heterosexuals.) It is wrong to make these associations.

For example, saying that some gays somewhere have hundreds of sexual partners has little to do with the behavior of gays that I might know. As a statement of statistical truth, it cannot be applied in a determinative way to any individual. The average preacher is well aware of the extremes of sexual sin that probably occur among heterosexuals, but few would find it as easy to speak about internet porn addiction as promiscuity in the gay community.

What this says to the gay community is simple: evangelicals aren’t interested in the truth as much as they are interested in an emotional response. There is an agenda to how we process such facts and stories into communication. I have pointed out a similar agenda in the reporting of the priest sexual abuse scandals in comparison to heterosexual sexual abuse among evangelical youth ministers and and clergy.

7. We don’t get how hard it is to be gay among evangelicals.

I really can’t add anything to that. It’s been a long journey for many of us to get past what our evangelical/fundamentalist environment gave us permission to say and think about other human beings as long as we could attach “homo” or “queer” to the sentence. It was shameful, and I’m grateful for those who have helped me get past that kind of sin to repentance and a love for those Jesus loves.

My words and the words of many other evangelicals have made it more difficult for some gays to hear the Gospel. I hope I can repent of that error better in the future. Just in inappropriate humor alone, I’ve got plenty to answer for.

8. The culture war more than the Gospel.

Undeniable. And many evangelicals like it that way and are ready to redefine evangelicalism into a culture war movement to remake moral life. The “protection” of children from the aspects of the culture they despise, oppose and fear is becoming the main business of many evangelicals, complete with accompanying rhetoric of revival, end times conflicts and spiritual warfare waged against, among others, gays and their supporters.

If you believe in a Jesus-shaped spirituality and the Grace Story more than the “I’m Good” Story, the choice of the culture war over the Gospel is a disastrous development.

One last note that is very important.

Many evangelical young people no longer share the attitudes of their parents and grandparents toward this issue. If you don’t know that, you aren’t paying attention. I am not talking about the all evangelical young people or the most conservative of them. I am talking about a significant shift in attitude that has come about, like it or not, by a lifetime of exposure to a far more visible, vocal and self-defining gay community.

These attitude changes may not go so far as to include reinterpretation of the Biblical teachings on sexuality and marriage, but they will have tremendous effects on the attitudes of younger Christians, new churches, political involvement and the overall view of how we deal with the issue of sexuality. I cannot see the concern, for example, for changing orientation as a requirement of repentance continuing into future generations with anything close to the same support.

Comments

  1. Rod (the first one) says:

    MOD: This is intended to respond to Brian Pendall above

    Thank you for completely ignoring the part of my post where i clearly said i’d tried…prayer, supplication, fasting etc. in dealing with my homosexuality. Engaging in all of these and hoping for an answer, a deliverance, a way out or up… necessarily required my obedience and mandated my surrender to Him, daily through most of my life.
    Thank you, but God/Jesus is my Friend (and over 265 other names/qualifiers, etc.) to me.
    Thank you for demeaning my expression of frustration by smacking me with ‘are you and God peers’?
    Yes, thank you, I am so ignorant as to think God and I are peers.
    Yes, thank you also for pointing out that only I could be wrong…I’ve lived a Christian life as long as I have doubting the divinity, perfection and grace of God and lifting myself above Him.
    Yes, thank you for also understanding that throughout my entire life when I was wrong or became acutely aware of my ‘clay-ness’, that I was always able to count on God, to find Him and to hear clearly of Him about whatever tiny flaw or obstacle I’d found…then suddenly THIS.
    Ideas, feelings, drives, emotioins… that seem so a part of me, not an act or an idea thrust upon me from somewhere else, not a ‘sin’ that shamed me, but an innerworking the likes I’d not encountered before….seemingly so deeply rooted..as to come from before I had memories..how could this possibly be the Enemy? I’m blood-washed, Spirit-filled…? how can this be?!!

    You can not possibly know…and I hope you never do. The things that a homosexual Christian goes through in their mind and heart, trying to reconcile…. would cause many good men to falter, throw down not only their sword, but their very lives and turn, running.

    And in the spirit of the original essay…thank you for your muted undertones, they speak so much more loudly than your words.

    (I was so glad to have read this essay..thank you so much, I had hope anew for one more day. I’d told literally nearly 100 persons about this link/essay, and to each one I’d encouraged them to read the essay and skip what would most likely be intolerant, unknowing commentary, but many of them insisted I take further comfort in reading how people were responding…i wished i had not.) I will not return. Thank you and good day.

  2. Brian Pendell says:

    “You can not possibly know…and I hope you never do. The things that a homosexual Christian goes through in their mind and heart, trying to reconcile…. would cause many good men to falter, throw down not only their sword, but their very lives and turn, running.”

    How can I say this …

    how do you know what I do and do not understand? How do you know what sexual experiences I have and have not undergone?

    It may be I know a hell of a lot more about this sort of thing than you give me credit for.

    I am sorry that I am not currently in a position to discuss my sexual struggles publicly.

    I will say this. Such victory as I have gained has been gained by refusing to rationalize them as ‘good’ or ‘wholesome’ or acceptable. I’m not going to claim to be victorious. Every day is a battle. But it can be done. It must be done.

    May God go with you wherever you go.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  3. Brian Pendell says:

    4 things I should add:

    1) I’m sorry I ticked you off.

    2) I just don’t get the whole “I agree to disagree with God” thing. How does that work? I mean, that’s something I can do with another human being easily, but I just don’t see how it works with an omniscient God. It’s a father-son relationship. And when the father and the son don’t see eye to eye, It’s the Son’s job (as exemplified in the Garden) to say ‘your will be done and not mine’).

    3) To the mod. It’s Brian Pendell with an “e”. Not Pendall.

    4) Again, I’m sorry for provoking you to anger. I just don’t understand how to easily talk about these things or question a position that doesn’t make sense without making you angry. I’m trying to attack your *reasoning*, not *you*. I am sorry I did not make that plain.

    Respectfully,

    Brian P.

  4. Rod (the second one) says:

    Gosh, Rod, it is nice to meet myself. You’re quite good-looking, if I say so myself. : )

    I too am gay and am active in my church and in a committed relationship. And while I am in a Baptist church, no one blinks an eye. Of course, we don’t keep slaves either or make women cover their hair and I am told many people love to eat shellfish, so we are raving heretics. Oh, and the women deacons. There’s no question where this handbasket is going.

    And that’s the answer to what it is GLBT people hear.

    I’m still waiting on that explanation that strange idea about sexuality and the Trinity.

  5. Brian,

    At the risk of stirring things up, my relationship with God is one of friendship, too.

    At times.

    At times, I experience God as an implacable, imponderable force of nature. At times as a parent, at times as a shepherd. God is certainly not limited by my experience, and it has never occurred to me to try to define Him or limit the ways that He is allowed to interact with me.

    And, while I agree with you in principle that when I disagree with God, it is me that is wrong. But there have been more than a few times when what I was wrong about wasn’t my opinion, but God’s. There have certainly been times (lots!) when I had to change my behaviors. But there have been many others when God’s call to me was to look deeper into my understanding of His will. Sometimes my stubbornness was something to overcome, but other times, it has been a signal to better understand something more true than I understood.

    I would not phrase those times as “agreeing to disagree” with God, but I would say that there are times, and issues where I am content not to be clear on everything yet and the the Spirit continue to teach me.

    It seems to me that refusing to ever change my view of God’s will has as little to do with genuine submission as refusing to ever change my behavior would.

  6. 2United says:

    I’m sorry to see Rod go.
    It took my wife one time reading Brian’s response for her to say that she was dismayed in the presumption, the divisiveness and the hurtfulness. It took me three times reading it.
    Proof perhaps that it is the author’s responsibility to ‘see’ what the reader will see?
    We are youth pastors in South Florida. We have youngsters who claim to be gay and we both have siblings who are gay. I say the youngsters ‘claim’ to be as I don’t think at 15 or so, even I knew which end was up in the world.
    Brian, I’d encourage you to re-read your post.
    What we got from it and from what I see that Rod saw first was an attack on his relationship with God. None of us are called to that. Question perhaps, but not attack. And even then, such exchanges must be made with a Christ-like mind. We, none of us, have any idea the true nature of one another’s relationship with God and he specifically admonishes us not to consider things that are beyond our knowledge and judgment, wherein only He can render decisions. Even when the disciples pointed out others working ‘in His name’, He directed them to let them be. We are called to judge the spirits for ourselves….FOR OURSELVES.
    But to be frank, it was the presumptuousness that hurt my soul to read. Again and again, you presumed to attack his relationship that you ‘did not undertand’, then you presumed to attack him because he can not know what you do or do not understand.
    I’ve re-read Rod’s original post at least 10 times, but in your response you talk about ‘rationalizing as good, wholesome or acceptable’. I see none of that in his post. Once again you presume and put words into it that simply aren’t there.
    Also, you presume that he’s angry! Angry? does it make you feel better to think that he’s angry and not hurt? Neither of us heard anger in the response, but a tersely worded, controlled response without judgment or name-calling…he never once questioned your relationship with God. But, yet you continued and even admit to ‘attacking’…Christians don’t “attack” reasoning.? where did that come from.?
    And I suppose last and most importantly, in your response you quickly cite how Rod could not possibly know your relationship, what you’ve been through, etc., and you are essentially asking him to consider those things, but you gave him no such courtesy.
    Last, and I realize we’ve rambled, but i’d suggest that perhaps the ‘agree to disagree’ is something I’ve experienced in my life as God allowing me some time and space to come to sincere knowledge of His opinion/Word on a particular subject. I mean, in my past, God has given me a short leash with very direct consequences and very quickly, and other times He has not pressured me, but allowed me to wander His pasture and find the boundaries of His love and concern on my own.

  7. Oh…my…

    Okay! I participated in a long discussion of this posting at christianresearchnetwork.info (as opposed to the other scary dark .com place) and it didn’t cross my mind that a much larger discussion was going on here.

    one: I, too, appreciate the original post and those commenters who are willing to discuss, with a sense of nuance, this extremely divisive issue. People are trying, it seems. Okay, so…

    dos: I’m a young(ish) gay guy who has been on a LONG spiritual journey, starting with (and I’m using really general terms here) mainstream Christianity, fundamentalism, Calvinism, etc. Then I came out (kind of like an appendix rupturing, honestly), left the church, and honestly hated the church for a really long time. It’s only been recently that I’ve started to even consider the church again, and mostly because a formerly non-Christian friend became involved in Christianity of her own volition. In the meantime, though, I’ve done a lot of searching, a lot of research, a lot of praying, a lot of yelling at God. (Yes, to the one taking issue with the “agree to disagree” thing, I’m not shy about saying that He and I have gotten into kerfuffles before. I mean, He’s gonna win, ’cause, like, He’s GOD, but if the Old Testament teaches us anything, He likes to fight.) What’s funny is that my most intimate contact with God has come AFTER accepting myself, imperfections and talents, wisdom and foolishness, and yes, my sexuality, which I do believe is God-given. I ask God to point me in the right direction, and He does. I ask God to speak to me, and He finds a way.

    trois: Add me to the group of “Every gay person raised in the American Church unless they were very, very lucky,” in that I have been severely abused by Christianity. I still hold out a complete disdain for certain members of the faith, activists and civilians, who either knowingly or unknowingly spread disinformation and bigotry to the general populace, all under the guise of a “yoo can chaaaaange!” version of love. Well, guess what? The head of Love In Action just resigned under suspicious circumstances, and if it’s shown that he was caught “acting out,” the gay community will just shrug and say “there goes another one.” This is why groups like Exodus, Love in Action, et al., aren’t very forthcoming with their statistics. That being said, though…

    Fore!: God has been calling me back into dialogue with Christians lately, both in real life and on these here interwebs, and He’s been showing me where I need to have more grace, and learn to forgive; also, in weird, kinda specific ways, He seems to be introducing me pastors of churches who welcome gay people without reservation as equal members of the flock, without judgment, etc. Which is weird, since I’m in sales, but they’re coming up as my customers…

    So, hm.

    I’m just glad the discussion is taking place.

    My beliefs are ever evolving, and I would add that I’m decidedly not a Biblical literalist, and I think the jury is still out on the canonization of the Bible.

    Yet I follow Christ, where He leads me.

    Anyway.

    Carry on, interwebs people, carry on…

  8. Nikki Hatch says:

    boo

  9. Nikki Hatch says:

    Personally, I think a literal interpretation of the Scriptures makes absolutely no sense. In the end, I think that a reliance upon a fundamentalist/ literal interpretation would be the ultimate destruction of the Church. The Scriptures become nothing more than a fairy tale if you expect people to view them in literal terms.
    There are at least two different creation stories, there are differences in the Gospels about the same events such as the Sermon on the Mount. The story about Joshua ordering the sun to stand still is another example. We now know the sun doesn’t move, the earth rotates and if it was to stop the gravitational effects would destroy the planet.
    I could go on and on but you get my point.
    As Fr. John McNeil writes in “ Rescuing the Bible From Fundamentalism”, “Unless theological truth can be separated from pre-scientific understandings of reality, the Christian faith will be reduced to one or more ancient mythology that will take place along side the religions of Mount Olympus.”
    “The Bible relates to us the way our ancient forebearers understood and interpreted their world, made sense out of life, and thought about God. Our task is the same as theirs. We must interpret our world in light of our knowledge and suppositions”.
    The point that I’m trying to make is that for many people; and especially GLBT persons, the Church has simply become irrelevant to their life and experience. Too many Christians have a theology that would fit a third grader but not an educated adult. There are many issues such as sexuality, birth control, euthanasia, stem cell research etc. that require complex answers and not simplistic platitudes with a Bible verse hurled at them.

  10. @Nikki:

    well, i had to say, in another Christian forum, something about how a lot of Christians don’t understand the utter banality, from a gay person’s perspective, of having the same four verses from the same HUGE book regurgitated at them over and over again.

    it’s like “say something different!”

    and yeah, you hit on a lot of the reasons i reject a literal reading of the Bible. add to it the fact that many of the Old Testament myths are found in other forms in lots of other ancient belief systems.

    they had to come up with some way to understand/rationalize big scaries they couldn’t interpret. so stories develop, myths arise, legends grow. it doesn’t mean the texts are irrelevant, but a literal interpretation just…you miss the poetry. you miss what’s going on between the lines.

  11. I checked out this blog upon recommendation from another site…

    MS’s original post I found to be refreshing, though I read some of his comments with great trepidation…

    For me, the tone of the subsequent comments can only be described as incredibly depressing… truly depressing…

    I am a 52 year old gay man. I came to Christian faith when I was 17 years old after being raised in a non-religious home. I have built a life with the man I love for the 19 years we have been together. I came to Christian faith among Evangelical Protestants; my journey has since taken me elsewhere. I am a member of a large Christian communion not generally perceived as welcoming to gay and lesbian Christians, though my own parish home is a blessed exception.

    I really shouldn’t read such things… they only serve to remind me what an incredible gulf still persists between the experience of gay and lesbian people and the understanding of such large numbers of professing Christians…