gayvangelical

Musings of a Gay Evangelical Minister

When My Tears Break Through: Reflections on Our Wedding

Say yes like you know the clouds have left too many people cold and broken.
– Andrea Gibson (“Say Yes”)

I don’t cry when the dam breaks down
River wash away this whole damn town 
But you offer me a hand that I can hold on to 
And that’s when my tears break through
– Greg Trooper (“When My Tears Break Through”)

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Today, on the first anniversary of our marriage, I remember how I wept at my wedding. I’m not talking about tearing up or choking up. I’m talking about a guttural sob that started in my Adam’s apple, shook my body, and rang out through the church sanctuary. I ugly cried, and it started with the words above from Andrea Gibson.

Foolishly, I had thought that I could maintain composure during our wedding. After all, it’s my job. As a hospital chaplain, I have maintained my composure and compassion when standing with a grandmother in the morgue as she said goodbye to the second adult grandchild she had had to bury in a month. As a crisis counselor, I have remained calm while stalling an intoxicated suicidal individual who was holding a gun and wanting to end her life. Surely, I could hold it together long enough to break down crying after the ceremony. Like I was saying, I was naïve.

I teared up at the gathered community of friends and family who chose to stand with John and me in bearing witness to and supporting us in our relationship. I teared up knowing the journey that my parents had taken in coming to stand at our side with the love, pride, support, and radical hospitality that has shaped their lives.

I held back tears of fury as I considered those whose faith prevented them from standing with us at our wedding. Both my husband and I had dear friends whose faith commitments kept them from attending our wedding. My husband, in particular, was wounded as his closest friends from college rejected not only his request to stand with him in his wedding party but also refused to even bear witness to this event for fear that supporting him as an individual would somehow compromise their values (because a wedding is clearly about the guests’ beliefs).

My heart swelled with gratitude for the gathered community who chose to stand with us as we took the crazy risk of committing to live and love for each other that is marriage. The joy and commitment of our extended community of family and friends who were willing to share in this journey with us, even when their theology might question the wisdom of our commitment to each other, continues to move me. Knowing that the “moral purity” of my husband’s friends and immediate family had led them to avoid him and allow him to live on the streets rather than risk stretching their faith in support of a fellow human being, our chosen family’s hospitality and support gives us strength and hope.

It was thinking about my husband’s story that brought me to the point of uncontrollable sobbing. As my friend read the above words from Andrea Gibson, I remembered the story of my husband sleeping in the bitter cold of a Portland winter and waking up with his moustache frozen solid against his face. I wept that I had not found him sooner. I wept for a community that cherishes its beliefs above the lives of its people. I wept and prayed for the strength to stand with my husband through whatever life might bring as I committed myself to the promise that through better and worse I will offer everything I have for him in the trust that he would do the same.

As we shared communion together, I found hope, strength, commitment, and purpose in the promise that whatever life brings, from this point forth neither of us will face it alone.

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Made For Love (Our Marriage)

In the month leading up to our wedding, a conservative Christian family member who I had not spoken with in years sent me a note pointedly asking me about how my gay marriage was God’s plan for my life and how I planned to glorify God and “live in the light of God’s word” through our marriage.  Rather than responding with frustration that I was being asked on the brink of my marriage to justify my relationship, I chose to take the question seriously.    Here is my response:

 

Dear Fellow Believer in Christ,

I apologize for my delay in responding to your note.  I needed to give myself time to process your email, so that I could respond to it with compassion and understanding rather than defensiveness.  Surely, you must understand that this is a direct and rather personal question to ask out of the blue almost on the eve of my marriage.  At the same time, I think you are asking the right questions about how I (or anyone) can live out marriage faithfully and with integrity.   I just question starting the conversation with a challenge.   Nonetheless, I am confident that I am where I am by the grace and leading of the Spirit, and I am always prepared to give an answer for the hope that I have in Christ.

As a child of God, made in God’s image, my purpose in chorus with the rest of humanity is to glorify God and to focus others on God’s presence in our midst and in our lives.  As those made in God’s image we are living icons crafted to point others beyond ourselves to the presence and rule of Christ in the world.   With the rest of creation, we are invited into the worship of God already and always in progress, and when we are faithful we invite others to join us in this chorus.

I believe this calling to serve as reminders of God’s presence and to welcome others into God’s presence is what God meant in stating “let us make humanity in our image.”  I believe this is both the start and the end towards which humanity was made and is drawn. Further, I believe this understanding of “imaging God” is supported by the context in which scripture was written [1] and the context within the canon itself (in Colossians, Christ is referred to as the ikon of the invisible God because Christ does the work of God showing forth God’s purpose of reconciling the world to Godself).

I think it is a mistake, and a wandering off from the point of the text, to understand Genesis 1 as indicating or establishing a strict gender binary wherein God made each person to be either male or female but nothing in between.  This reading is problematic as it does not reflect God’s created reality due to the existence of intersex individuals who biologically have male and female sexual traits.  Even more so, it is problematic because it raises a question that seems to undermine the purpose of the passage.  It only makes sense to emphasize that God made humanity male OR female if one is trying to rule out the possibility of a third category in between.  This reading of the text inserts a dissonant note “but God did not make [individuals who are not 100% male or 100% female]” into a text that is focused on God making all.  For these reasons, I understand “male and female, God created them” as an inclusive statement rather than an exclusive or categorical statement.

Similarly, I think it is a mistake to read the blessing “be fruitful and multiply” as a vocational purpose for every human.  As a blessing, it is also given to the creatures of the sea and the birds of the air which seems to set it outside of ethical instruction.  It is also not an available option for a number of people, and, in particular, it seems to conflict with the gift of celibacy.  Lastly, if childbirth and childrearing was what it mean to participate in God’s image Jesus and Paul and other saints would not have fully lived into the image of God.

While there is far, far, far more to sexuality and my marriage than sex, I think it is also important to note here that childbirth is not the only purpose for sex in scripture.  Sex is a good gift from God that is frankly discussed and celebrated in scripture including in the unmarried relationship at the center of the Song of Songs which borrows a great deal from Ancient Near Eastern erotic literature (eg. Song of Songs 5:3-4, 14) and in the book of Proverbs that highlights the blessing of a woman’s breast (Proverbs 5:19) among other aspects of sexuality.

The notion within Evangelical purity culture that sex is a dirty thing that can only be redeemed through childbearing is unbiblical and it severs the practice of sex from our greater callings to worship and covenant.   This has led over the past millennia to distortions of ethics (such as the concept in the middle ages that it was a greater sin to masturbate than to rape a nun, because the nun’s rape could lead to childbirth) and oppression (with women and sexual minorities seen as inherently more sexual and consequently untrustworthy and deviant).  It also sets up false distinctions between sex, justice, procreativity, and the service of God.

When our lives and actions find their direction, purpose, and center in glorifying God, ethical actions like sex, marriage, childbearing, child rearing, service, practice, and the work of God’s people in the world find their place as practices through which we can direct others towards God and through which we can orient ourselves to God.  The mutual image of self-giving service in scripture’s description of marriage as like the relationship between Christ and the church informs my understanding of how this imaging of God from one to another works out in the context of marriage.   In Dante’s Paradiso, the last glimpse between Dante and Beatrice the woman who has been his muse and heart’s desire ends with her smiling at him, meeting his gaze, than turning their gaze towards the Eternal Fountain that is the source of her beauty and all beauty and light.  I think Bob Shore-Goss explains this in more concrete terms by stating “Justice-love begins with our partners, intersects with God in love-making, and extends to the world. In other words, when love-making is connected with justice-doing, our capacities to love expand beyond mutual pleasure into the pleasure of loving God in our neighbor and in the marginalized. Personally, I have found that I cannot be passionate for justice work without being a passionate lover, and vice versa.”

I understand Romans 1 as describing an abandonment of humanity’s purpose to worship God (not an abandonment of humanity’s practice of bearing children through sex).   In a polemic against Gentile idolatry leading into a polemic against Jewish trust in circumcision for salvation (i.e. a form of Jewish idolatry), Paul discusses male same sex activity and unnatural female sexual activity (which may also be same sex) either in the context of  temple prostitution [2] or in the context of excessive lust in a non-Christ centered relationship.  In either case, the heart of the problem is the rejection of God and the centering of these sex acts either in the control of God (as in temple prostitution where sex is a means of forcing God’s obedience or blessing) or in the delight of self (as in lust where one’s partner is a consumable good meant to bring pleasure not a fellow image bearer of God whose gaze I hope to redirect from myself to the God who made me).

This differs radically from a gay Christian relationship, like the one I am blessed to have with John.  Our relationship as a Christian couple has a different center and a different purpose and this affects our intent and our practice.  From the “small” daily spiritual practices of prayer, song, study and compassion to the larger submission of our lives to the Spirit’s direction and purpose we live our relationship out in the presence of God.  In the process, we encourage each other towards a closer relationship with God who holds us and draws us nearer together.   In practical terms this might look like either of us guiding the other towards a more loving and gracious relationship with our church community.  It might look like John redirecting my sinful tendencies towards flippancy and pride to thoughtfulness and humility.  It might look like me encouraging John towards delighting in the goodness of creation. In a heterosexist culture this often looks like us joining the example of Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’s arms in the desert, as we help each other cling to our faith in a barren religious landscape that long ago abandoned the gospel for the sake of political influence.

We live our faith out in the context of a covenanted relationship which gives us the strength to endure and hold on to our faith, the context for grace and forgiveness when we fail to live out our faith, and the primary arena in which our faith is practiced.  As much as we were made to worship, we were also made to reflect the relationality at the heart of the Triune God.  For this reason, the first problem of creation is the original human creature (not yet identified as male in Hebrew) being alone.  God responds to this problem by creating a strong ally whose strength, similarity (she is taken from the man’s side and is “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”) and ability to challenge or resist the man is highlighted.  This ally has the strength to come to the aid of the man [3] or to challenge him [4] and she is his blood. It cheapens the role of the helper and challenger to reduce this role to genital differences and the supposedly inherent (yet heavily influenced by culture) roles of masculinity and femininity.

This work of aiding and challenging is held together by the “one flesh” covenant in which the partners understand themselves united in blood, bone, and soul.  The “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” formula in Genesis 2:23 is a kinship formula that describes the unity of the kin group as sharing one body and one life. This unity points to a particular covenantal responsibility that each member of the kin group owes the rest, as one is expected to care for one’s kin as one’s own body and soul.  Notably, it is this covenantal responsibility that Jesus highlights in responding to in his discussion of divorce as he rebuked the religious leaders in Mark 10:8 and Matthew 19:5.  This way of understanding one’s relationship with, and responsibility towards, one’s kin is reflected in the New Testament’s description of the church as “the body.”  It is also akin to the modern idiom of calling individual (whether biologically related or not) “my blood.” Further,  It is demonstrably inaccurate within the bible to state that only one man and one woman can become “one flesh,” as appeals to the “one flesh” covenantal relationship are made by Laban to Jacob (Genesis 29:14) and the tribes of Israel to David (2 Samuel 5:1).

Returning to my relationship with John, it is our covenantal responsibility to each other that allows our relationship to endure our humanity. It is the choice to honor this commitment that enables me to dig deeper into my spirit to find compassion when John has had a stressful day and needs my support, even though I have already exhausted my normal supply of empathy in my work as a crisis line counselor.  It is John’s commitment to me that gives him the strength, patience, and compassion to hold me literally and emotionally when I come home a shaken and jagged bundle of nerves after a difficult call and struggle to pull myself back into my humanity.  It is that commitment that draws us out of our own selfishness into the service of each other and God when we are tired, grumpy, sick, scared, broken, puffed up, overbearing, arrogant, cruel, and all too human.  It is this covenant that gives us the strength to continue wrestling with God when so many spiritual communities have committed themselves to throwing us out of the ring.

Strengthened by this covenant in the service of God with the desire to glorify the Lord, we endeavor to live lives that bear the fruit of the Spirit as we continue our journey along the pathway to glory.  The practices of wisdom and the law guide us in finding, and keeping on, this path on our journey with God, enabling us to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with our God.

The law, as a covenant between God and God’s people, serves to establish, identify, and preserve our relationship with God.  Within the law, the purity code serves a particular purpose in preserving the distinctiveness of the Jewish people as a people constantly under threat of exile, assimilation and annihilation.  Practiced faithfully, it keeps the core relationship between God and God’s people primary and serves as a way of remembering and enacting that relationship.  It is a living enactment of the reality that this particular people are the people of a particular God, and as such it is an identity marker intended to set this unique people and this unique relationship apart from all other relationship and people groups.  The Levitical prohibition against male anal sex [5] served to preserve this distinctiveness from the surrounding culture.

At the core of the Hebrew scriptures is an ethical principle that stands in dynamic tension with the uniqueness of God’s relationship with Israel,  While God has a unique relationship with Israel as the people God called out and blessed, God is Creator and Ruler over all.  God’s unique relationship with the Jewish people does not preclude God from blessing and relating to the rest of humanity.  In fact, as the Abrahamic blessing makes clear God’s plan from the beginning was to use the Jewish people as the primary vessel through which God would bless the world (Genesis 12:2-3).  In order to enact this, God’s people were commanded to welcome the exile and stranger in their land, remembering that the God who rescued them from Egypt also provides for others (Deut 24:17-22).  The sin of Sodom is ultimately a failure to practice this welcoming of the stranger in the land which is inextricably bound to the Jewish salvation narrative.

Practice of the law becomes problematic when one loses sight of the central relationship between God and God’s people and God’s freedom to relate graciously and providentially to others.  Outside of this relational context, the practice of the law can become focused on division and boundaries rather than obedience and service to God. When this happens, there is a danger of seeking to determine just how far away from God one can get while remaining in the camp and trying to determine who is, and must be kept at all costs,  outside of the camp.

Jesus returns the focus of the law to the gracious and providential blessing of humanity by God.  In the process, he centers this relationship, highlighting that it is God and not merely obedience that purifies. The heart from which the law is practiced becomes the center of purity, as Jesus highlighted in saying “There is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man” (Matt. 7:15).  By re-centering the relationship with God as the fulcrum upon which spiritual practice rests, Jesus and his followers were able to reach out to others In order to welcome them into the purifying love of God and God’s purifying love in their lives became the marker by which we are known as disciples of Christ (John 13:35).

Paul further develops this central relationship with God as the arena in which faithfulness is enacted.  For Paul, the key concern is the question of redemption and community life in light of that redemption.  Paul’s distinction between life by the Spirit and life by the flesh does not place the dirty physical against the pure spirit in imitation of gnosticism.  Rather, it contrasts depending upon the self as particularly personified by the belief that circumcision as the mark of membership in the Jewish community as in itself sufficient) with dependence upon the Spirit who ordained and established the practice of circumcision and the reign of God (Galatians 6:12-16).

The vice and virtue lists Paul employs highlight the consequences of life by the Spirit (the fruit of the Spirit) and life by the flesh (the vice lists).  The prophetic challenge inherent in the contrast of these lists is to encourage the believing community to live lives that reflect the relationship we have with God rather than the lives one would expect from someone who has rejected God.  Returning us to where we started, our call is to live lives that point towards the God who is the source of our lives or to put in the terms of Genesis, to image God.

Much is made of translations placing homosexuals in the vice lists in 1 Corinthians 6:8-11 and 1 Timothy 1:10.  On a technical level, this is problematic not only because homosexual is a neologism that dates to mid-nineteenth century German sexuality studies [6] but also due to the lexical breadth of malakos [7]  and the lack of uses of arsenokoites [8] from which a certain meaning can be gathered. Responsible readers of the text ought to be humble enough to at least acknowledge that the meaning of these words in lists that do not provide context from which we can easily gather their meaning is debatable.  While I find the argument that Paul had pederastry in mind convincing, [9] I think it is highly inappropriate to base the rejection of an entire people group on such a debatable passage.

The contrasting fruit of the Spirit which serve as signposts that we are walking in step with the Spirit offer much greater clarity.  The fruit of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control quite simply are not the fruit of the closet. Basking in the shame, repentance, and self-hatred of fighting against one’s own body, one’s ability to love, and the God given gift of sexuality is antithetical to life lived in the grace and joy of God.

Speaking from my own experience, fighting against my sexuality made me more proud, more cynical, bitterer, and far angrier at God. Rejecting the idea that faithful obedience to God meant fighting against the person God made me to be brought me home to God and over the years has helped me re-open my soul to the love of God that flows in and through me. It freed me to love God with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my mind, and all of my strength rather than turning my efforts internally into fighting who I am with every breath.

 

[1] Archaeological evidence points to royal “images” [statues] that were set up in cities to remind citizens of the presence and rule of kings.

[2] I think this is more likely due to textual clues reflecting both the Wisdom of Solomon and appearing to allude to the cult of Cybele (see: Townsley, J. Paul, the Goddess Religions, and Queer Sects: Romans 1:23-28.  Journal of Biblical Literature 130(4) (2011): 707-728)

[3] ” עֵזֶר (ezer),” the word typically translated helper  (literally ”power” or “help”) refers to God coming to the aid or rescue of Israel 17 times and to military aid the other three times.  It is by no stretch of the imagination a diminutive term.

[4] “ כְּנֶגְדֹּֽו- k’negdo,” the word often translated suitable (literally “in front of him)”  can simply mean “corresponding to” as in the Tractate Pe’ah of the Mishnah which states that the study of Torah is k’neged all other commandments. Even if one takes the term as opposing him the root’s connection to speech and particularly prophetic speech suggests that this way in which she differs from the man is a difference in terms of resistance rather than type.

[5] For a lengthy discussion of how we can be confident  that “אִשָּׁה מִשְׁכְּבֵי (mishkreve ishha—lyings of a woman)/em>” refers  rather specifically to male anal sex as is clear in light of the much more common equivalent phrase  זָכָר “מִשְׁכַּב (mishkeve zaka—lyings of a man)” see Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition (Madison, WI:University of Wisconsin Press 2004)

[6] For more see Kathy Baldock, Walking The Bridgeless Canyon (Reno, NV: Canyonwalker Press.  2000, pp.27-52).

[7]  A gender slur best translated “sissy” that is widely applied to heterosexual activity and that notably is an insult hurled at the perceived indulgence of boys in pederastic relationships

[8] A Pauline neologism that may best be translated based on its proximity to malakos as referring to the pederast in a pederastic relationship and that is notably used to refer to non-sexual forms of abusive behavior in the Sibyline Oracle and the Acts of John.

[9] An abusive practice of sexual tutelage between an older man and a youth in Roman culture that received harsh criticism by stoic and rabbinic sources with which Paul would have been conversant.  See Robin Scroggs The New Testament and Homosexuality (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress.  1983)

Identities Matter

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Chapel talks and evangelical publications have repeatedly claimed that God calls us to find our identity in Christ alone and not our sexual orientation or gender identity. This serves to erase the voices of LGBTQ and Allied people by questioning the faith and motives of those who claim marginalized identities. In the process, these advocates of “Christian-only” identity fail to recognize the many roles and identities that we all carry and are called to live out in submission to Christ. This sort of thinking substitutes denial for honesty, and it ultimately denies the ability of Christ to work through, and rule over, the entirety of our lives.

The assumption that our identity in Christ erases all other identities is rooted in Paul’s use of the phrase “in Christ” in the discussion of the “New Creation” in 2 Corinthians 5:14-21 and the extended baptismal argument in Romans 5-6. In both, Paul emphasizes how Christians share in Christ’s death and having died to the flesh now live by the spirit. Identity erasure advocates, assuming that all non-heterosexual sexual intimacy is sinful, read Paul as saying that those who identify as non-heterosexuals are living the life of the flesh as opposed to the life of the spirit. A fair summary of this argument is “you’re not a sinner, you’re a Christian – stop sinning and stop calling yourself a sinner!” This approach ignores debates about whether scripture in actuality condemns all forms of same-sex intimacy. Rhetorically, this argument seeks to slam the door on those who would dare question the Evangelical party line by challenging the faith of anyone whose experience differs from the dominant heterosexual evangelical Christian experience.

The argument that our identity in Christ erases all other identities is a gross misreading of Paul’s “flesh/spirit” division that is more reflective of Puritanism’s (and Gnosticism’s) abhorrence of the body than of scripture. As it is used in the new testament, flesh (σάρξ) is not in itself evil, it is simply limited and mortal. As descendants of Adam and Abraham, we cannot find salvation apart from the gift of Christ which grants us life in the Spirit. In this way, life in the flesh contrasts with life by the Spirit which is actively shaped by God’s gift of grace. Even when the flesh is portrayed as having a life of its own (as in the fruit of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit), the flesh is what happens when we rely on ourselves rather than God. The real danger is not in having an earthly life but relying upon that earthly life for salvation and focusing on that earthly life to the point of selfishness and self-righteousness. (For more on “σάρξ” in the new testament, see Schweizer, Baumgartel, and Meyer’s entry in Kittel, G. & Frietsch, G. (1971) Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 7).

When Paul discusses earthly labels and divisions in Galatians 3:27-29 by proclaiming “in Christ there is “neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, or is there male and female,” he is not eliminating those labels but limiting their importance under our shared identity in Christ. The effect of this is not to take away these categories but to eliminate the hierarchical divisions that privilege one over the other and offer only one group access to the innermost part of God’s temple. Although it might be entertaining (and perhaps destabilize some oppressive power structures), we are not supposed to start answering “Christian” when asked our gender or ethnicity. We are simply expected to remember that our shared identity in Christ is more important than any earthly division. If we were to follow Paul’s teaching then, and decided to include “neither heterosexual nor homosexual” in Galatians, since these labels are of less importance than our identity in Christ, the faithful thing to do would be to eliminate the hierarchical divide that considers heterosexuality morally superior to homosexuality and assumes only heterosexuals can haven an identity “in Christ.”

Socially constructed identities cannot be escaped. Much as I did not choose to be labeled as disabled due to my visual impairment, I did not choose for society to call my sexual orientation gay. I can choose to ignore or reject this label, but that rejection will not make society view me as normal. In a culture that views non-heterosexual love and the physical expression of that love as aberrant, non-heterosexuals will always be marked off as an abnormal “other.” Our culture, by choosing to treat sexual diversity as remarkable, constructs separate categories of people based on their sexual orientation. By marking lesbian, bisexual, gay, trans*, and queer labels, as “abnormal,” society also creates the purportedly “normal” labels of straight and cisgender. The only reason cisgender heterosexuals can deny that they have a “straight” or “cisgender” identity is because people assume that their sexual identity and gender identity are “normal.” As H. Adam Ackley has argued, only the privileged can claim they do not have an identity.

Queer theorists have long responded to the poor fit of labels for all people (“straight” and “queer” alike) by deconstructing or “queering” labels like “lesbitransgay” and “straight,” in order to highlight how poorly they fit the embodied reality of a real human being who is more than her/zir/his sexuality and gender identity. This is reflective of the life-giving Spirit of God that “blows where it wills” and whose wisdom “none of the rulers of this age” understand. At our best, perhaps we can maintain some humility about all labels in society (including who is truly “born again”) knowing that God confounds, and cannot be controlled by, our expectations and cannot be neatly fit into a one-size-fits-all testimony.

Recognizing the limits of all labels does not, however, mean that we need to deny our experience of where the wind has blown and seems to be blowing. One of the weaknesses of queer theory (and by extension queer theology) has been its tendency to focus on taking apart poor fitting labels at the expense of celebrating and embodying the real lives it seeks to liberate. In the process, the diversity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities and cultures are lost in abstraction.

My sexuality, while not all of me, is a part of me. You cannot know me, if you are unwilling to know my journey, and you cannot know or understand my journey unless you are willing to understand the impact my sexuality has had on my life. Being gay in a world where differing from the “norm” of heterosexuality has cost me deeply and enriched my life deeply. I have lost friends and family over my sexuality, and I have gained love, family, and a far richer calling to ministry. It is through this journey that I have come to reencounter the love of God, and it is through this journey that I can proclaim the unfathomable depth and breadth of God’s love for all of God’s children. Denying my story in a misguided attempt to focus attention solely on my relationship with God denies God’s story as it intertwines with my own. I am a follower of Christ, and the terrain through which I have followed God on this life’s journey is the terrain that will eternally shape my experience and understanding of God’s grace.

Beyond my own journey with God, I am eternally mindful of those others who have travelled similar terrain. As a gay man who once was a gay child growing up in the town in which Focus on the Family was founded, I know the loneliness and pain of worshipping in a church where people like me were labeled the “enemies of God and the church,” and I know from personal experience how the pain of bullying and isolation targeted at that label can drive one to attempt suicide. As a gay man who survived the closet at Westmont College and Fuller Theological Seminary, I know the fear, isolation, and pain of sitting alone in silence as others debate the merits of my life and the possibility of my eternal salvation as abstract issue as if they are somehow equipped to know either. For me, it would be unconscionable to have experienced what I have experienced and to remain silent about it. By claiming my experience as a gay man who has followed Christ all of my life, I lend my name to those who come after me. As more and more lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning, and allied folk dare to break the silence and claim their own experience, it becomes harder for those who follow after us to believe that they are alone on this journey.

Simply by living my life in the open and naming my experience, I put a face to those labels like “gay,” “Evangelical,” and “disabled,” that society uses to mark and diminish me as “other.” In the process, I, as a flesh and blood person whose life and journey cannot be contained by stereotypes and labels, through my very existence deconstruct those labels. It becomes harder to stereotype, fear, and demonize the face of someone you know. By claiming my identity as a gay man, I proclaim “I am the face of your enemy. I am the human being behind your fear. If you must cast the next stone, you ought to start with me.”

Resources for Scripture & Non-Heteronormative Sexuality

It is not my intention in this forum to entertain debate about the proof texts that some Christians use (there are other sites where you can do this.  While I do not want to be dismissive of folks who wish to wrestle with real scriptural concerns, I do not have the time amongst my other life and ministry responsibilities to engage folks in debates that far too often lack compassion and empathy.)  Consequently, anti-LGBT comments will be deleted.  Nonetheless, I know how important biblical concerns about sexuality were in my own development as a gay Christian, and so I am providing my brief thoughts and a summarization  of several resources that might be helpful for people who are currently wrestling with what others say God has to say about this topic.

For those interested in reading my take on scripture and sexuality, the outlines from most recent teaching series on the biblical sexual ethics and homosexuality can be found at

http://www.scribd.com/doc/100792665/Made-for-Love-Week-1-Covenant

http://www.scribd.com/doc/100792671/Made-for-Love-Week-2-Image-of-God

http://www.scribd.com/doc/100792775/Made-for-Love-Week-3-Beyond-Self-Interest-in-Sex

http://www.scribd.com/doc/100792801/Made-for-Love-Week-4-Sex-and-Radical-Inclusion

Positive Scriptural Arguments that Might Otherwise Go Unmentioned:

Eunchs as the Sexual Minorities of Jesus’s Day

Perhaps the most important positive argument that can be made from the Gospels and Acts involves Jesus and the early church’s affirming relationship to eunuchs who were perceived as the sexual fringe/outcasts of their day. Jesus did not condemn them but seemed to hold them as a sort of ideal (Mt 19:11) and the first gentile convert was a eunuch (and structurally his conversion may be read as a gentile parallel and precedent for Paul’s)
Scripture passages with possible homoerotic undercurrents

One can also make the argument that the Centurion whose “boy” he prized/held as precious/held dearly (Mt 8:5-13, Lk 7:1-9) might have been the youth in a pederastic relationship with the centurion (that would be one translation of “pais” and could possibly explain why that term, rather than “doulos” [servant/slave] would be used…). If that’s the case, then Jesus actually does say something about homosexuality. Namely, “”I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all the land of Israel!” (Mt. 8:10, Lk. 7:9)

Ruth & Naomi (The Book of Ruth): Have you ever noticed how often Ruth 1:14 is used in hetero wedding vows?

Jonathan & David (1 SA 18-2 SA 1:28) Jonathan “loved David as he loved his own soul” (1 SA 20:17) “And they kissed one another; and they wept together, but David more so.” (1 SA 20:41). “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”

Summaries of Books that I have Found Helpful

L. William Countryman’s Dirt, Greed, & Sex (http://amzn.to/g6kLhs)
Countryman argues that, in order to understand sexual ethics in scripture, one must understand how concerns for purity and property play out in scripture. In the first half of the book, he argues for a movement from an understanding of purity as avoiding the unclean (so that Israel could stay distinct and separate) to Jesus’ understanding of purity of heart that is subordinate to the importance of the great commandment to love God/love neighbor and the need for table fellowship. The second third of the book emphasizes a shift from understanding women and children as the property of the male head of household to a leveling of hierarchy where all belong to God and each other. The final section of the book then argues that sex and gender should be interpreted through inclusivity (rather than purity that keeps a sect out), spirituality (finding its purpose in the love of God and neighbor), and empowerment (creating a deepening sense of the value of the lover that recognizes the standing and value of the other as ultimately belonging to and valued by God). In summary, he suggests that the church “needs to learn a new language: ‘sex is a good gift of God, provided that it is not despoiled by violence and lovelessness and rigid adherence to the social prerogatives of a dominant race, ethnic group, gender, or sexual orientation” (282).

John J. McNeill’s The Church and the Homosexual (http://amzn.to/fIDSpp)
McNeill is a former Jesuit priest whose classic text provides a great analysis of the problems with an argument from creation/natural law. In particular, he emphasizes the dualism of stoicism and how that influenced the anti-body/anti-sex writings of the Church Fathers (following Augustine’s belief that all sexual pleasure is the result of sin). Important counter-arguments here: sex has not been interpreted as being purely procreative (married hetero couples unable to have children were not condemned).  McNeill’s text remains the best book that I have found for wrestling with the natural law assumptions that underlie most anti-LGBT scriptural interpretation.

Robin Scroggs: The New Testament and Homosexuality (http://amzn.to/edQlUs)
Scroggs position is that the writers of the New Testament would likely only have had pederasty (an arrangement in Greco-Roman society, where an older man would have a teenage boy as an “inferior object of sexual gratification, that was criticized heavily for its exploitative, nonmutual, and dehumanizing nature) in mind when they wrote the passages that have been used against current lesbian, gay, and bisexual relationships. The concern of scripture then would be with mutuality and consent in love rather than the gender of one’s lover.  Given this cultural background, I would add that a Jewish rabbi like Paul would not have the cognitive framework to recognize consensual same sex relationships.  Just as Ahmadinejad is unable to recognize gays in Iran, I think a strong argument can be made that Paul would not have recognized gays and lesbians in his world.

Some Links that I Recommend

Resources from Dr. Michael L. Westmoreland-White (a theological blog from an Anabaptist, Social Gospel, and Liberation perspective) 

http://pilgrimpathways.wordpress.com/2011/01/20/glbt-persons-in-the-church-index/

Archbishop Rowan Williams on a positive theology of sexuality

http://www.igreens.org.uk/bodys_grace.htm

Soulforce’s Resources for Scriptural Interpretation

http://www.soulforce.org/article/homosexuality-bible-gay-christian

MCC’s Rsources for Scriptural Interpretation (authored by Old Testament Scholar Rev. Dr. Mona West) 

http://ufmcc.com/download/theology/homosexuality/BibleandHomosexuality.pdf

My Story

When I was fifteen, I attempted to hang myself in my bedroom closet.

As a partially sighted, fat, gay, kid, growing up in Arcadia, CA (the town where Focus on the Family was founded) I was an easy target for the bullies at my school. Verbal harassment was a part of my daily routine. Several students (ironically including one who would later become my brother-in-law following my brother’s marriage to his sister) had taken to physically harassing and intimidating me. I changed classes to try to get away from them, but it did not make things seem any better. So, I tightened around my neck, imagining the relief of choking to death and not having to deal with it all anymore. Thankfully, I misjudged my height. I managed to scare the [!] out of myself and bruise my neck/throat, but I didn’t die.

Rather than dying, I decided to bury myself in religion, devoting my energy to working as a leader in my church’s youth group. I tried to push my sexuality aside and devote myself to God. I convinced myself that my life was going to be too important for me to need a lover. I saw myself as a prophet charging headfirst into martyrdom, and I thought it would be unfair to bring anyone for the ride. i longed for celibacy, and I hated myself for continuing to have sexual urges. It was in this spirit that I buried myself deeply in the closet while a student at Westmont College. I was not trying to mislead anyone (not even myself). I wanted the passionate, purposeful, Christ centered life that Westmont promised. If that meant that I had to cut off my sexuality to do it, I was willing.

Several years later, after falling into stomach churning, heart stirring, undeniable love for  friend (an achingly attractive, tragically heterosexual boy whose identity I’d prefer not to reveal), I finally admitted to myself that I was gay, and that my sexuality was not going away. As a young minister, this revelation was devastating for me. The only thing I wanted was to serve God, and I was entrenched enough in my evangelical faith to believe that this was impossible. I learned to hate myself, to hate God, to hate the church, and to push my closest friends away from me. I became so disgusted with my own body that ANY physical contact was threatening to me (one of my close friends, a girl, enjoyed giving me a hard time by poking me and watching me back away from the touch). I was at war with myself and sinking further and further into depression and self-hatred.

Around this time, as I was asking my friends what I should do, believing as a feminist that I could not ethically enter into a marriage where I would be unable to meet the needs of my wife for sex and intimacy and fearing that I did not have the strength to continue in celibacy, my first mentor — the man who taught me songwriting, the epitome of the Christian artist that I wanted to be — came out to me as ex-gay. Over the course of the next several months, I let screw with my mind and heart, praying with me for guidance and urging me to continue to prioritize my faith over against my body.

I tried. I desperately tried. I prayed to God. I begged for relief from my sexual desire. When that failed, I begged for God to just kill me in my sleep. I wept. I talked with my psychiatrist and some of my friends about the possibility of physical or chemical castration. I wept some more. I physically beat myself (and not in ways that I considered pleasurable).

The turning point came one night during my first unit of training as a hospital chaplain. My mom, who has been ill most of my life, was going in for extensive back surgery at UCLA Medical Center the next morning. Considering her fragile immune system, I was too weak to be able to see her before she went in for surgery, but it was the holidays and I was unable to get anyone to cover my on call at the hospital. That night, I got called in to host a viewing for the large family of a 40 year old man who had died in an auto accident. His grandmother, who had been his primary caregiver through much of his life, had had two of her grandchildren die over the course of a month. As I tried to comfort her, she expressed the thought that God was punishing her because she had refused to die of an illness from which she had suffered when she was 18. Something about her story broke what remained of my dysfunctional faith. I finally admitted to myself that I hated God, and if I was giving up on God I figured that I might as well at least accept my sexuality and finally come out as a gay man.

Thankfully, God was not done with me yet. Several dear friends were able to help me process my grief about my mother’s ongoing health woes, my anger at God and the church, and my emerging understanding of my sexuality. Looking back, I consider it a miraculous grace of God that I happened to find myself in social circles that involved a number of dedicated Christian allies of LGBT folk. Through their acceptance and empathy, I was able to vent my anger and realize that I could be accepted and loved as the partially sighted, fat, gay boy that I am.

Through these friends, I was connected with a professor of mine at Fuller Seminary who had accompanied Mel White through his own coming out process at Fuller. Following her advice, I visited Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles, where I was able to find a space where I could be accepted not only as the partially sighted, fat, gay boy that I am, but even as a partially sighted gay Christian whose theology was still more or less Evangelical. I still find it difficult to put into words the release and empowerment I was able to feel as I stood alongside two hundred other lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Christians and singing “let every breath and ALL that I am, never cease to worship you.”

The idea that I could worship God with my sexuality, and that I could use those parts of my experience that mark me as different as tools to serve God, completely transformed my life. For the first time in my life, I did not feel alone in worship. For the first time in my life, I began to believe at the core of my being, in every fiber of my body, that the God who made me loves me. I was able to release the anger, the hurt, the fear, and the pain. I was able to believe in God, and to dwell in God’s love. Rather than dedicating all of my energy to fighting myself for getting in the way of my ability to serve God, I was freed to serve God with all of myself.

Along the way, I have been moved by the strength and courage of so many LGBTQ Christians whose faith has persisted despite more painful stories than my own. Increasingly, I have learned how lucky I was as a child, despite the difficulties I faced in integrating my sexuality and spirituality. While my parents have not always known how to reconcile their love for me with their religious beliefs, they did not reject me when I came out to them as gay. I also realize that I am incredibly fortunate for the many friends who have been able to accompany me, and embody God’s love and acceptance for me, along the way. I realize that many people have not been so lucky. I also am grateful that my brush with ex-gay teaching did not send me as far down the rabbit hole as it has for many of my friends. While the many nights of weeping and self-harm that I endured seemed almost unbearable, I managed to maintain my grades and life throughout that period, thanks largely to the patience and support of my family and friends.

To the core of my being, I believe that releasing the distorted belief that God hated me and required me to bury or discard my body and my deepest longings for intimacy and connection saved my life.