Changing My Mind
This isn't about me, but since I'm writing this for both close friends and anyone who may stumble on it, I thought I'd try to answer two questions in brief:
- Why would I research and write something like this?
- What perspective is it coming from?
I was raised from birth in a good conservative evangelical Christian home and church (EFCA). There are many things to say, and value, about that. What is relevant for this topic is that I grew up assuming the following things:
- that the Protestant Bible we read in English (the NIV translation in particular) is our complete and self-sufficient rulebook for Christian faith,
- that it clearly and unchangingly gives us all the answers we need for life,
- and that it tells us all sex and desire outside of a heterosexual marriage is wrong.
For years I valued the Bible, but never read it for myself. Sure, I knew personal devotional reading was a general religious expectation, but I never was fully convinced that there was much value to the practice for me personally. I had pastors and teachers explaining it to me all my life, and every time I opened it up I thought "oh yeah, I know what that's about from Sunday School/etc".
It wasn't until I began attending a Bible study started by my pastor in 2008 (I was 28) that this began to very gradually change. In this class we started with Genesis 1, and began reading long passages (10-20 chapters per week). We would then be challenged to think about and discuss what we read – not what we remembered from past lessons. By the time we reached the New Testament two years later, I had started realizing that there was so much more depth and excitement in the text than I had every thought possible, and my love for Scripture was born.
Two years ago, in January of 2012, I had a pivotal conversation over email with a business colleague and friend. I had been working with him on various projects over the last few years and always enjoyed our relationship, though we have never met in person.
We were preparing to leave for Germany as missionaries, and he reached out to ask:
I had known this guy was gay, and had been with his partner in California for longer than I had been married, so this wasn't surprising. I reached out to him with the message I understood at the time, affirming his faith (after all, we're all sinners) and inherent value as created by God, but saying that I could not affirm his sexuality because the Bible was very clear on this.
He was gracious and kind in our series of responses, but it was quite clear we were on different sides of the issue. Initially I was quite proud of my half of the conversation. I felt that I had demonstrated an open and kind attitude to the topic, but that I had stood firmly for the truth.
Over the following year I could not shake this conversation. I thought about it every few weeks, and there was one thing that I began to be uncomfortable with. No matter how I rephrased the message, or thought about the implications, there was nothing I could say from the traditional position that would completely affirm my friend as a creation of God without asking him to change who he deeply believed himself to be while a fellow believer in Christ. My pride in how graciously and lovingly I handled this began to change into realizing that there was very little practical difference in the end for my friend between my message and that of Westboro Baptist Church.
I wasn't sure what to do with this idea. I couldn't throw out the Bible just to make my friend feel good, yet I also was troubled with the feeling that what I felt forced to say was unloving in some fundamental way.
I began to read more stories online of believers, growing up in conservative Christian homes and deeply devoted to God, who reached adolescence and found to their horror that they were attracted exclusively to the same sex. I read of how depressed and suicidal they became, knowing that their unasked-for feelings and every expression of love through a physical relationship that they could imagine were seen as corrupt and rejected completely by the God they loved.
After many months of reading and thinking, I realized that I was no longer as certain of the interpretation of the Bible that I had always heard on this topic. By the summer of 2014 I had decided I would no longer be able to tell my friend that he was wrong. As of only a few months ago (fall of 2014), after more conversations and research, I finally changed my mind completely. I am personally convinced that the truest expression of our faith, founded on the Bible, is seen in offering our brothers and sisters the opportunity to join together in consensual, monogamous, committed marriage regardless of gender.
While I had read a number of books on this topic, and hundreds of articles online, I had never done a study of the Scriptures for myself. A few months ago, when I told my family that we were joining the Episcopal church and that I was entering a discernment process for ordination, one family member reached out over email in concern over this particular issue.
During the course of our email dialog in the fall of 2014, I was asked to respond to the following (among similar related questions):
Initially, I planned to write an email in response with a brief summary of the arguments I had read. I can't even recall now how exactly this whole project actually started, but I found myself doing my own research for the first time. That little email has grown into what you seen here. I'm very grateful for the challenge to explore this topic on my own, and the love that was expressed for us in the concern from this beloved family member.
Wherever you are on this topic, or wherever you end up, I hope this article is helpful and illuminating for all those who are wondering why some Christians like myself do not think that affirming gay marriage requires throwing out the authority of Scripture.
One More Story – From a Gay Christian
I came across the following personal account in a comment on a blog post. Though it may be a little hard to follow as it was taken out of a multi-part conversation, I think it's worth reading to get a sense of how someone who identifies as a gay Christian thinks about this topic. Note that Benjamin has not had sex with any gender at this time, and is speaking from that perspective.
Benjamin Spurlock in reply to Daniel Devine
For context: Daniel is politely disagreeing with homosexuality being acceptable for Christians, but has used "homosexual" as a label which a few people have said can be offensive. Daniel asks why this is, and Benjamin responds:
"It's not a question of behavior. I'm a gay guy (or homosexual, to use the term), but my 'behavior' is that of a traditional ethic, that of chastity before marriage. So for me, speaking of 'behavior' is instantly alienating, because behavior isn't really the question, but rather innate biological condition and/or potential choices. Generally, 'orientation' is a better choice of words. Since, yes, technically I'm homosexual, even though I haven't had sexual relations with the same gender, or any gender for that matter.
Daniel responds with a question
"I am much more interested in hearing why you describe yourself as 'gay' when you have not performed a sexual act with the same gender.
"Because, to be clear, I would never tell someone that their inherent makeup is somehow a disgrace to God. That is blasphemy, since God clearly states that he formed each of us in the womb. Why would God create a disgrace? It's unthinkable. Who you are inherently is not a choice, but what aspects of yourself you choose to indulge in and amplify IS your choice. I know what my tendencies are in my personality, and I must willfully compensate against the negative, destructive, or morally restricted aspects and choose to exercise the good, helpful, useful aspects. This is a decision we must all make.
"For instance, I believe the natural tendency of every heterosexual man is to have a wandering eye for women other than his wife (assuming he's married). This natural 'attraction to other women' NEVER justifies acting on the attraction. In fact, the Bible clearly states that I (as a married man) must willfully and actively choose to avoid such desires and focus my sexual attraction where it belongs--with my one wife. We all have 'attractions' that must be restrained. Why are 'gay' attractions any different?"
Benjamin Replies to the Question of "Gay Identity"
"As for that question... because it's accurate. I'm a gay man. Whether I've acted upon it or not, it's part of who I am. To put it another way, would it not have been accurate to describe you as 'straight,' before you've been with a woman? There is an unfortunate tendency in Christian circles to think that sex is what defines a gay person, or that there's a 'promiscuous lifestyle' that goes along with it, or even (unfortunately) the clinging notion that somehow sex is what confirms or makes someone gay. So I use the term for myself, both because it's accurate and because it prompts questions like yours.
"As for the second question... that's a question I hear a lot, and there are several answers I could go with. I'll focus on two – that it's not a completely equivalent comparison, and that we should judge based on the fruit."
Temptation of Adultery is not the Same as Same-Sex Attraction
"1. It's not equivalent, comparing a straight man's temptation to lust (and I must say, I do find myself a little skeptical on that point. Every straight guy has a tendency to have a wandering eye for women that aren't his wife? Must be stressful, ah hah...) to a gay man's temptation to... well... everything. Adultery is clearly wrong – you made a promise to your wife and you're breaking it. Fornication is, arguably, as clearly wrong – you're joining yourself to another when you have no intention of making it permanent, thus betraying them in that sense. Fair enough. But for me... the idea is that everything, every attraction, every impulse, every longing for love and reciprocation, is damnable sin worthy of hellfire.
"EVERYTHING. And that's why I'd push back on your assertion that people like me aren't a disgrace to God. Be honest, like the Catholic church – we are 'fundamentally disordered.' We have no option for love in the sense that you do, under your idea. My sexual attractions don't 'belong' anywhere, unlike yours. It isn't a question of waiting, or being faithful, or even choosing to exercise or not exercise those attractions. It's not just fundamental sin, it is intrinsic, unmovable, and as long as this life endures, unabating. It doesn't matter if I wish to treat a partner the way you treat your wife, with love and respect, giving myself to them with agape love and begging God to bless it... It won't be. It never can be.
"So I'd turn the question around on you. Why are my attractions different? Why must I 'restrain' myself with the equivalent of emotional castration (remember, any acting upon it, or even lusting with it, is sin) when you get to enjoy the full expression of it? Why, if I may use a bit of hyperbole, is it that an abusive heterosexual relationship is a union blessed by God that suffers from a problem, whereas any possible relationship with myself is completely heinous, no matter the outcome or the intention?"
Look at the Outcome of the Teachings
"Which leads to part two... I'd argue that the strict argument of heterosexual marriage only is the harmful view, and leads to more pain. If you haven't, checked the 'beyond ex-gay' network. Listen to their stories. There are many, many people who tried to 'compensate' in the way that you suggest, and... it nearly killed some of them. It has killed a lot of people like me.
"...nearly killed me, to be honest. I was strongly non-affirming (that is, I believed as you did, in the 'traditional' Christian ethic,) a year or so back. It's part of the reason I'm still virginal, since for most of my life, I believed that people like me were to be celibate and dedicate ourselves to God. Not a 'burden,' per se, but a 'calling,' not unlike Paul's. And I muddled my way through for quite some time. Funnily enough, I even helped frame my church's edited constitutional amendment to define marriage as one man and one woman, and asked only that they show compassion in their wording. Condemning the behavior and not the orientation, that sort of thing.
"Eventually, the proverbial wheels came off. I started researching what this actually meant, what the implications of my 'condition' were, and just how bleak the future looked. Eternity is a long time, Daniel. Never to have children. Never to know love in the way that you do. To even wish for it is sin, to long for it is as great a sin, if you will, as cruising for whatever guy one can find. And, well... there was no change. Years and years of begging, pleading, struggling, restraining, and yes, a list of failures as long as my arm, and I didn't change. Not even a bit.
"Maybe other people can explain it better than I can, maybe I'm missing something, but if the process of sanctification doesn't budge such a deep-rooted sin, like a cancer in my very soul, then what meaningful sense can I derive from the idea at all? If the biggest, most overwhelming sin (again, using your framework here,) isn't being moved, then what confidence can I have that the more incidental or controllable sins are going to be moved upon?
"In the end, I was left in a crossroads. If I kept going the way I was – and please understand, I'm not saying this to be dramatic, I'm just reporting as it was and is – then my only choices were castration or suicide. That level of utter, soul-black despair is not livable for long, and I couldn't have endured it for – God willing – decades more. Castration, unfortunately, doesn't completely eliminate the desire, just the means of fulfilling it, so even that wasn't really a good solution. Had I not had a young niece in my life, whom I couldn't bear to be told 'your uncle died because of his faith,' and if I didn't have a brother who relied on me? I wouldn't be making this post right now.
"Option two was to abandon Christianity entirely. A very tempting idea, I admit, and the reason why the 'Gay Without God' movement has picked up a fair bit. Also why you'll see, if you check out the beyond ex-gay network, that a lot of people abandoned their faith. Not because they want to indulge their flesh, but because there's no use, at all, for a God who won't give at least some measure of relief for this kind of pain. It's practically impossible to believe in a God who loves you, but puts you through something like this. Or at least, if you do, it's hard to love him.
"Option three was the path I took, which I mentioned earlier during the series on Matthew Vines's book. Won't go into all the theology here, since this post is already much too long, but... suffice to say that it was the lifeline I grabbed onto just before I went under.
"The difference, ironically, has been exactly the opposite of what one might expect. I truly can praise my Maker now. I truly can (I won't, still got a lot of Southern Baptist in me, but I could!) dance for joy. It's still hard for me to bless God and believe that He loves me, but I'm getting there. Reading the Bible doesn't inspire the same levels of frustration and anger – and yes, envy, let's be honest – that it once did. Heck, even being celibate is a million times easier. What once was a daily struggle, bad enough to keep me awake at night, now just... isn't. In a real sense, I'm much like any other Christian single. If God grants me another to share my life with, then great. If not, then blessed be the name of the Lord. Either way, I'm content. Can it not be reasonably said, just by those fruits, that my former path was incorrect and the one I'm on now is more in keeping with how Christians ought to be?
"Which is, to wind down this incredibly long post (and kudos to you if you made it this long, seriously,) why I again have to ask the question. Why are my attractions any different from yours? Why must I suffer (if I must, again, under your system,) so intensely, and be forced into such a dire situation, when straight Christians aren't? Why does God answer them, and He doesn't answer people like me? Why – to echo the bitter questions of my heart during those dark days, and which thankfully I don't need to ask any longer – did He do this to me? Why are people like me singled out? Why can't I ever, as long as I live, find the happiness that He is well-pleased to give to you?
"Again... why are they any different?"
Let's Read the Bible Together