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Monday, June 05, 2006

Reader Response 2

And here's a comment from Steve over at A Rainbow Flag in Narnia, discussing his own struggles with homosexuality in response to my post on Gay Pagans Leading Worship.
What an interesting topic.

I did everything I could to resist being gay. From age 17 until 34, I tried living traditional life. I got married, and tried to act my way into heterosexuality. I remained faithful to my wife, but continued to experience same-sex attractions (even though I never acted on them). It drove me to alcoholism, and brought me to the brink of suicide. I was fired from my job, my wife divorced me, and at my bottom, I got sober. Shortly afterward, a friend invited me to church.

I told the pastor, and several of the 20-&-30-somethings there, that I'd been a drunk, a spendthrift, and a general waste of space on earth. They told me about this guy Jesus, who had a penchant for the outcast, the diseased, and who had a habit of transforming lives. Who wouldn't be attracted to that kind of offer?

But I also knew that alcoholism and financial irresponsibility was one thing, especially since I'd repented and left that life behind. However, homosexuality was quite another thing - how do you repent of what you are? So for 13 years, I took my place in the church, spent almost every day praying, crying out, waiting for God to cure me, transform me, to somehow just fix me. I served as worship leader, lay preacher, gave children's sermons, was a choir member, Stephen minister, council member.

I went forward to Billy Graham, at Promise Keepers conferences, and I've even been to seminary. I pledged my life to celibacy (which, before you ask, is where I've been for the last 12 years) in order to serve God. I am still a celibate; so I'm not doing any of the things that Levitical law would have me killed for.

Which prompts me to my first question: do you know for a fact that Bob is a "practicing, self-avowed homosexual"? Has anyone asked the question? Is he actually having sex with other men? Because even the strictest OT reading shows us that just being homosexual is not a sin. And having people gossip about "is he or isn't he?" surely isn't in the Christian standard, either.

Then ask yourself the question: if Bob was straight, and you believed that Bob was having extra-marital sex with a woman, would that disqualify him as well?

But I guess my two main questions about this whole thing would be in the realm of (a) fruits of the spirit and (b) being honest and open about your moral standards.

By your own words, the fruits of this man's contributions to your worship are "a very positive influence on singing and praise." Galatians 5 tells us that "when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control" (5:22-23, NIV).

It sounds like your "gay pagan" is exhibiting the fruit of Spirit-led service, whether he in fact professes to be a believer or not. Does anyone else see that this as a blessing, and not a problem?

I found the idea that worship of God is somehow tainted by the presence of unbelievers or sinners to be more than a little problematic. If sinners can't lead worship, and "there is no one who is righteous, not even one," then who will lead worship?

And I'm completely undone by the idea that unbelievers somehow stain or damage worship! Can no one worship unless they believe? How will unbelievers ever learn to believe unless they are surrounded by a community of welcoming believers? Certainly the people in my first church did the work of Christ - because took me, a pretty unregenerate, vulgar, angry man, and taught me.

They helped me buy my first Bible; they taught me that asking the embarrassing and tough questions about the Bible was OK. Did they do wrong, somehow? Should I have been seated out in the narthex during worship until I came to belief, and then allowed in? Is that what Jesus did with sinners, thieves, and lepers? Hmmm...it might have been, but that's not what the Bible says... Seems to me that the first person to whom Jesus spoke his lordship was the woman at the well. Would she have been welcome in your worship?

But more importantly, I truly believe that if your congregation feels strongly about homosexuality, then you owe it to yourself and to Bob to address it up front, and be honest with him. If you and your congregation feel that you are "accepting the unacceptable" simply in order to have an accompanist, then I'd say you have the wrong accompanist and he has the wrong church. Otherwise you're just using him - period.

Let's look at this another way, and take the "homo" portion out of this. If Bob was living with Susie, instead of David, would you be having this conversation? And if Bob would not repent of living with Susie, would your decision be the same?

For that matter, if your worship leader were straight, happily and faithfully married, wealthy and came to worship Sunday morning in a Lexus sedan, and yet gave nothing to help feed the hungry or care for the sick in town, would you reject HIM as a worship leader? After all, Matthew 25:31-46 tells us that what separates the sheep from the goats will not be who Bob's sleeping with...

I will suggest to you this is how most evangelical churches approach gays: "Well, friend, you see, God loves sinners - but your particular brand of sin is unacceptable to us. But we want you to know you're welcome here as long as you try to overcome that sin and become acceptable."

That approach doesn't work much. It particularly doesn't work well for guys like me, who fought the way I was made for thirty-five years. I have never "abandoned natural desires" (Romans 1) because I've never had them, to begin with. I've fought to manufacture them, for more than 3 decades - but in the end, I've failed miserably.

So your acceptance of me "until I am healed of my homosexuality" would hve to be a long-standing one...

If that's the message you're looking forward to sharing with Bob and his gay friends, do yourself a favor: don't bother. No matter what the sin, if your message is, "Come on, hang out here, even though we know you're basically not acceptable to us or God. We won't outwardly expect you to change, but inwardly, that's really what we're hoping for, and that's why we're putting up with your sinful nature to begin with...", then your efforts are pretty much doomed.

I'm going to urge you and your to find a copy of Stranger at the Gate, by Mel White. And then read it cover to cover. If you really want to understand about what goes on with gay Christians, it's a challenging (but accurate) description of a very common experience among us.

I am not looking to debate anyone; and I'm done with trying to be changed. But if you want to hear the story of an authentic gay believer, then look here, here and here.

Again, there's no need to spam me with comments about how I'm going to hell. Absent the saving power of Christ, that's absolutely right. Just offering you a chance to see things from the other side of the ledger.
Steve, I didn't respond immediately when I first saw your comments because I was right in the middle of a move, and I wanted to make sure that anything I said would be thoughtful (and that I'd be able to follow up on it, rather than leave you hanging should you respond to comment further). So apologies if it felt like you got ignored - hopefully you are still reading and we can take some time to dialog on this. Thanks for sharing, and I'll try and actually respond to this tomorrow...

5 Comments:

At 8:03 PM, June 12, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

Hi Steve, sorry to be so slow in responding. Things are just really busy as I am studying for ordination, and even now I don't more than a couple of minutes. So my answers are probably not going to be as full or as thoughtful as you deserve, but I do want to respond.

1. I really appreciate the fact that you a) read the blog and b) are actually willing to open up and share what's going on in your life. That takes a lot of courage and I appreciate. Please know that you are welcome here - I am always interested in what you think, even when we disagree (especially then).

2. I'm not going to comment much on the worship side of your discussion (it's probably been beaten to death already), but I will say that I actually agree w/ much of what you said here. Not everything. But much.

What I'd like to learn more about is your struggle with homosexuality. So please bear with me if these are are stupid questions - I really want to understand how you see the world, and you have a lot to offer me here.

At one point you asked a really good question: "Homosexuality was quite another thing - how do you repent of what you are?"

I'd like to know:

a) what's your view on the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality?

b) how do you understand Scripture to speak about homosexuality? does it say that it's wrong (and if so is it correct), or are we misunderstanding Scripture? or do you even care?

c) do you make a distinction between homosexual practice and homosexual desire?

d) do you think there's a distinction between your homosexual lusts for men, and my heterosexual lusts for women?

e) when you mentioned that you never abandoned natural desires, because you never had them, how do you see Romans 1? - was that culturally conditioned? or was Paul simply wrong? (I'm really seeking to understand your hermeneutic for approaching Scripture here).

f) like you, I've heard many homosexuals say that they simply can't change because that's the way they are. At the same time, there is a small but real minority of ex-homosexuals out there that would beg to differ. What do you think of their perspective? Have you actually talked with any people like them?

g) Which do you want more - to no longer struggle with homosexual desires? Or to have the church accept your homosexual desires as normal and ok? Or something else?

I am really looking forward to your answers here - if any of this rubs you the wrong way, please let me know so that I try to find a less offensive way of asking.

 
At 8:08 PM, June 12, 2006, Blogger Christian said...

PS - If there are any other homosexuals or ex-homosexuals out there reading this, please feel free to chime in. I really need all the input I can get on this...

 
At 7:44 PM, June 13, 2006, Blogger Tim said...

Hey, Steve,

Thanks for being so open and frank about your experiences as a gay Christian man. As did Christian, I'll also pass up addressing the worship leader issue in order to get to the other issues you brought up.

As I read through your post, I got the sense that the last many years have been a real struggle for you: one the one hand, trying to stifle same-sex attraction and live the acceptable, straight, Christian life that everyone expected of you. On the other hand, the attraction you experienced felt right. You'd never experienced anything else...

Steve, from my own experience (a 20-year struggle with homosexuality while in the Church, usually at the point of desperation and fear of God's wrath; occasionally at the point of suicide), I agree with you that you can't "fix" yourself. You can't manufacture attraction to women. I tried that for years. I'd pray for hours that God would change my desires, that he would take away my desire to sin, that he would miraculously intervene. But he never did. I sinned again and again, always feeling like a piece of crap--no, worse--like a piece of crap that was going to hell. If I had a dime for each time I "repented" and promised God I'd never do it again, I'd be a rich man right now. I never kept any of those promises. Sometimes, I'd turn around an hour later and engage in the exact same behavior all over again. I became deeply depressed over the course of time, and eventually came to the conclusion that at least one of the following three things was true: (1) God created me gay; (2) I wasn't really saved after all, and so God had just "given me over" to my lusts; or (3) there was no God at all, and so it made no difference what I did.

I came to those conclusions because I felt as though God had never answered any of my prayers. If he really was God, and if he expected me to live in repentance and obedience, why didn't he intervene? Wouldn't that bring him glory? And if he really was loving and showed mercy, why wasn't I feeling it?

But this seemed totally out of kilter with Scripture. God is a just and righteous and holy God who calls a people unto himself and purifies them, and is pleased to call them his own, because it is his gracious pleasure to do so.

It wasn't until about eight years ago that things began to come together for me. I began to realize that I wasn't "gay." That was an identity I chose for myself because nothing else seemed to fit for me. I wasn't straight enough to be "straight." At least if I were "gay," I'd find some friends, get some affection and some approval. I'd be worth something as a gay man as opposed to being worth nothing as a loser straight guy.

And here's what I mean by saying that I wasn't gay...I discovered that I was using my sexuality as a way to cope with life, as a way to try to make my life better in my own strength. I had no friends in the real world, but I could find some "friends" in the gay community. I felt I was worthless in the real world, but I had worth as a whore in the gay community. No one in the straight world understood me, but gay men could identify with me--specifically, with my sorrows, my hurts, and my inability to fit in in the straight world.

I was using my sexuality as a way to find for myself an identity. But it was more than that--it was idolatry, because even as a Christian for those 20 years, what I was saying was, "Life hurts too much. I am the only one who can make it better. God won't help. He's not taking away any of the things that cause me pain...so I'll do it myself." In other words, in my eyes, God wasn't doing his job. So I would do it for him.

Even though I'd only experienced same sex attraction until eight years ago, I wasn't "born" with it. My same-sex attraction, as with many, if not most, men who experience it, was rather born out of my experiences--and out of the systems that I developed to make sense of my own life. Over the course of time, I developed a worldview that was rooted in my own ability to control my circumstances, and to manipulate them in whatever way favored me most. That worldview was the product of a million difference decisions made over the course of years. Few of those decisions were sexual in nature. All of them were based in a desire for control, intimacy and comfort.

And so, it is appropriate to speak of homosexual behavior as "sin." Scripture never identifies it as anything else. But it is not a morally worse sin than any other type. It won't keep you out of the Kingdom, as you quite rightly stated, because of the saving power of Christ. Where would any of us be without his atonement?

But we were saved to become and be something vastly different form what we once were. Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:14ff that Christ died for all, "that those who live might no longer live for themselves, but for him who for their sake died and was raised..." because "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come..."

You and I were saved, Steve, to no longer use anything created (sex or anything else) as a coping mechanism for life. We were redeemed to no longer live according to what we can do to make our own lives worth something; but rather, to live in Christ and through Christ in all things, offering to sanctifying power of the Spirit all that we once reacted to with sin.

We were redeemed to walk in repentance in all things because we have experienced God's kindness through Christ (Rom. 2:4).

Steve, I apologize that I've gone on so long. I get fired up over stuff like this. But it is a very impersonal, casual way to discuss things that are inherently personal and precious. Forgive me if I've presumed too much about you.

I work for a ministry called Harvest USA, which works with men, women and young people in the Church wrestling with sexual sin and sexual brokenness. YOu can visit our website at www.harvestusa.org. You may email me directly at tim@harvestusa.org, if you'd like to respond personally, or if you'd like to talk about your experiences with someone who knows some of what you've gone through. My job is not to change you, but to listen and walk with you toward Jesus.

By the way, I have read Stranger At the Gate, more than once. Mel White was--and is--a very articulate man. But he is a man with a very small god. He continues to interepret life through his own eyes, and he continues to respond to life in his own strength. I grieve for him. He seems to be missing out on so much of the overwhelming mercy and acceptance of God because he's still trying to live life in his own strength. I don't know whether he has true saving faith or not, but even if he does, he's fallen into the same trap that so many of us do--functional atheism.

Take care, Steve. I pray you hear the love of Christ with which these words were written.

 
At 2:36 AM, June 17, 2006, Blogger Bruce said...

You should see what they are saying about gay christians here:
http://seedforthekinggdomofgod.blogspot.com/

 
At 9:23 AM, June 08, 2007, Blogger Steve F. said...

OK, Christian, well, I guess I win (lose) the award for "being slowest to respond." But if you're interested, I've got some responses.

And first of all, I appreciate your graciousness in asking to dialogue. I'm grateful for anyone who doesn't simply write me off as "beyond the pale."

I'm going to be working on a post (may end up a series of posts) responding to your questions. So you'll see responses soon.

 

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