Latest Entries »

I came across this post today by blogger Matt Moore. Matt and I have found ourselves in similar situations. We both are Christians. We both love Jesus and seek to follow him in the ways that we live our lives and love those around us. We both experience what many label “Same-Sex Attraction.”

In Matt’s recent post, he uses the title: “I Love Jesus Too Much to Call Myself a Gay Christian.”

Reading a title like this triggered a whole bunch of shame-based responses in me and made me forget all the things that Matt and I do share in common. The tapes in my head started saying, “Look, another Christian who doesn’t think you love Jesus enough because if you did, you wouldn’t call yourself ‘gay’.”

Then, it sunk in. We do have a lot in common. This message of shame is coming from a Christian who experiences same-sex attraction and is choosing to live celibately.  Someone who should understand better than most everyone what it has been like to walk this journey. I do not believe that Matt was intending to shame his fellow gay Christians when he wrote his post, yet this is how it was perceived by myself and some of those closest to me. I realized that I could either let this message of shame fester inside of me and make me feel bitter for a while, or I could channel it into writing out my own thoughts and hopefully engage graciously in this conversation.

So, why is there such a disconnect between myself and another Christian with same-sex attraction who is pursuing celibacy?

It comes down to the idea that gay is a word that stands for a sinful condition we find ourselves in, rather than an adjective that cues people in to someone else’s experience.  Matt doesn’t believe that there is such a thing as a fixed sexual orientation: lesbian, gay, bi, or straight. To him, gay is all about the experiencing of temptation to commit acts that the Church has historically found to be sinful. 

What this view of the word gay does is boil down every LGBT person’s experiences to simple horniness. As if the only thing on the mind of a gay person is who, where, when, and how they can fool around with someone of the same sex. In Matt’s world, identifying as gay means that are emphasizing your desire to sin.

Spend any length of time in conversation with a member of the LGBT community and it becomes abundantly clear that the word gay does not speak to anything more than simply stating that they experience life as a sexual minority. To them, this short word means that the ways they view the world around them and relate to the people they meet are fundamentally altered by some part of their personality that they have found sets them apart from 95% of their peers. For LGBT folks, using the word gay says nothing of their theology, political ideology, relationship with God, or their sexual activity.

I choose to identify as a gay Christian. Here are a few reasons why.

1. It’s truthful.

I identify as a gay Christian because it is the most honest way I can describe my experiences. Being in the closet is a lonely place. When I began coming out to my closest friends and family, I quickly learned the value of having spaces where I was both fully known and fully loved. My favorite quote on this matter is by Tim Keller. I have quoted it before, and I will most certainly quote it again in the future.  

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”

The fact of the matter is, I reached a point where I could not live with this part of myself being a secret any longer. I had to be fully known so I could see that I was fully loved just as I was. And for myself, to say, “I struggle with same-sex attraction” is not being as truthful as saying, “I am a gay Christian.” This is simply because when I say that I am a gay Christian I am talking about far more than who I am tempted to lust after. I am talking about the ways I form friendships, the people I am most likely to fall in love with, and the lens through which I experience the world.

2. It acknowledges the sense of “otherness” I share with my gay friends.

As I was saying above, the word gay is most commonly used by LGBT folks to talk about their unique way of experiencing the world based upon how they relate to others. I have no problems using the word gay as an adjective to describe the ways I relate to the world around me. In no way would I ever say that the word gay has more meaning to me than my identity as a Christian, and everyone who knows me would agree that being a Christian influences how I see the world far more than being gay ever has. It’s just that most of the time I find myself around Christians who are straight and don’t understand my experience as a gay person, so I wear the gay label to have more honest and transparent relationships with others.

When I describe myself as a gay Christian, I am refusing to say that my experiences are exactly the same as everyone else’s. There’s a way in which gay folks experience the world that is different from their straight peers. There is a way that people of color experience the world that is different from the way that white people do. This is not to say that every person of color has the exact same experience, or that every gay person has the exact same experience, but there is solidarity in knowing that you’re not “the only one” who sees things differently. I call myself a gay Christian to cue to others that I see things differently. Maybe in some of the same ways they do.

3. It reminds me of how much Jesus loves me.

The message that “being gay is a sin” was imbedded in my formative years. As I grew up I was scared to death that being gay meant that I was going to hell. I was scared that if I told anyone at all, they would reject me. Yet, it was when I started to tell people that I experienced not only THEIR love of me, but also how much JESUS loves me. It was when I started being honest that I realized God was not going to reject me. It was after I was honest that I was able to sit in the presence of God and hear Him tell me that He loved me… unconditionally. Being set free from my fear of rejection and being shown that perfect love casts out fear have been the most beautiful expressions of Christ in my life. I can live without shame. I do need a Savior. Not because I am gay. But because I am human. And Jesus loves me enough that I can call myself a gay Christian. It’s His love that frees me to do so.

A Place at the Table

For gay Christians, there are a lot of forces that can keep us from feeling that we have a rightful place at the table of the Lord.  While I have always felt allowed to partake of the life of the community, there were times when I was certain it was only if I kept wearing my mask. My straight mask. The one that hid my story. And now that it’s been a few months since I’ve shared my story broadly, I wanted to reflect on what it is like to be in this position. To be a gay Christian who is choosing to live a celibate vocation.

It sometimes feels, in this conversation about what it means to be both gay and Christian, the space for stories like mine is being squeezed out from both sides.

And speaking of “sides” it may be helpful to define some terms as they are commonly used in this conversation. These terms have been around for quite a while, and have been brought into more widespread use through the Gay Christian Network and many bloggers and authors. If you’re already familiar, you can skip this aside. (rimshot!)

Side A
In this whole conversation typically people who hold a belief that says that God affirms committed gay sexual relationships are referred to as “Side A.” Side A is becoming much more apparent in American and European churches. Many more people will become familiar with this perspective from the book written by Matthew Vines, “God and the Gay Christian.” Side A Christians have been more commonly associated with mainline Protestantism or a more liberal view of Scripture. The trends lately are that more and more Evangelicals are re-examining their theology and becoming more affirming of gay marriage for Christians.

Side B
Those who believe gay Christians can reconcile their faith and sexuality through adhering to the more traditional sexual ethic are referred to as “Side B”. Side B gay Christians have typically accepted that their orientation is not likely to change, yet believe that sexual intimacy with someone of the same gender is outside of God’s will. Thus, they choose celibacy or maybe an opposite-sex marriage. For Side B gay Christians, openness and honesty are highly valued. Relational needs are to be met through healthy relationships and positive expressions of same-sex love. Community is another shared value among this group.

Side X
A view that LGB Christians should totally denounce their orientation and pray for/pursue a heterosexual marriage no matter what. Many in the conservative Christian world are familiar with the legacy of Exodus International and reparative therapy that spawned the phenomenon of “ex-gays”. That’s where the term “Side X” comes from. The danger in Side X comes when stories of “change” are held up by certain Christians as some sort of mold that we must follow in order to be “in line” with Jesus. They would question our walk if we happened to still identify with the adjective “gay” to describe our experience and orientation. Side X tends to commonly say that orientation is changeable and that we should not acknowledge our attractions or find any positive attributes from them.

In this conversation, Side B is positioned in a sort of middle ground or “no-mans-land” between the two polar opposites.  We’re not afraid to be honest about our orientation, and what it means for our lives. But we’re also holding to the historical and traditional teachings of the Church for the last 2000 years.

When the “Culture War” heats up because some guy in camouflage with a sweet beard made some ignorant statements in a rocknroll magazine… or a global relief organization lost childhood sponsorships because they were (briefly) willing to hire married gay people, that’s when we most acutely feel what it’s like to be squeezed from both sides.

These “battles” in the Culture War get a lot of press. A lot of blogs written about them. A lot of Tweets. A lot of impassioned Facebook posts.

But in everyday life as a celibate LGBT Christian, it feels like the fighting never really stops. It feels like we’re being squeezed out from all sides, even weeks after the dust has settled from the last kerfuffle.

Whenever a gay-affirming Christian pities the plight of the celibate, we are pushed from one side.

Pity takes several forms. Regularly, I’ve been told these things, and have watched my friends get told the same:

“By choosing celibacy, you’ve been brainwashed.”

“Stop repressing your sexuality.”

“You’re hurting the LGBT cause by telling your story.”

“Stop lying. You’re not happy. There’s no way you’re content in your choice.”

“You need to repent of your conservative beliefs. They’re harmful to you and others.”

And from the other side, I hear the following:

“Naming your orientation means you’ve internalized it.”

“You wouldn’t identify as a thieving Christian or an alcoholic Christian, so you really shouldn’t call yourself a gay Christian.”

“Once I let go, and surrendered it all to Jesus, the same-sex attractions really started to diminish.”

“You probably shouldn’t talk about this.”

“Stop being so negative all the time. We’re supposed to have joy in Jesus.”

“You are never going to be happy if you don’t get married.”

When these things are said, we are pushed from the other side. Our already tiny space is shrunk down even smaller. How are we to have a place at the table and fit into the church when even other gay Christians can say things like that?

And how does this impact the broader culture of the Church?

For straight bystanders and onlookers, it is not always easy to take a nuanced view of the whole conversation. Unless a straight Christian has direct experience with a close friend or family member who is gay, or they happen to have read many stories of gay Christians, it is not very likely that they understand the differences present here. For the average Christian, they see this is a two-sided conversation.

The pro-gay, affirming camp, and the ex-gay, pro-Jesus camp.

For most conservative Christians, they would love to buy into the Side X script that says gay folks turn “normal” when you just add Jesus. “Pray the gay away” is a widespread concept, and it is the simplest one for straight Christians to grasp onto when they have had limited real world experience with an LGBT person.

The flip side of this is that all of the gay folks that aren’t “ex-gay” can then be seen as the enemy. It’s “the gays” who are dismissing Scripture or destroying family values. When viewing the world through this lens, it becomes easy to view all gay people as “militantly pro-gay” or “gay rights advocates”.

It becomes clear then, how, all of a sudden, there is no room in their script for a Side B gay Christian. We have to fit the mold of either Side A or Side X. From straight Christians we can hear things like:

“Why would you identify as gay? Aren’t gay people the ones that are splitting ABC or XYZ denomination?”

“Every gay Christian I have read about is twisting Scripture to line up with their own desires.”

“If you’re not actively living the lifestyle, I don’t get why you would even call yourself gay.”

“You’re not gay gay.”

“My friend’s cousin used to be gay. There’s hope for you, too!”

“Hey, my natural orientation is to have sex with every beautiful women I see. We all have to deny ourselves. But I still don’t call myself a ‘lustful Christian.’”

“Homosexuality is a sin. It’s pretty cut and dry in the Bible.”

“You can’t be both a Christian and gay.”

“Sure, it’s not a sin to be tempted, but it seems like you’re proud of your temptations.”

“Are you still talking about this gay thing?”

As I’ve said earlier, it is difficult for us celibate gay Christians to thrive without healthy connections to the church community.

So, how do we create space for this middle ground to be widened and explored? How do we ever find the space to stop pushing back on the two sides that are squeezing us out? How could we ever possibly be able to take a rest and sit down when it feels like standing still is the same as losing ground?

We tell our stories.

We educate our friends. Our families. Our pastors. Our priests.

Not everyone is called to stand up on a stage and tell a few hundred people all at once, but I am a firm believer that our strongest tool is our stories. If our stories aren’t being told by us, then someone else is telling our stories for us.

Tell a friend. Lovingly correct the bad assumptions you hear people making. Define your terms for others. Don’t let them define them for you.  Seek community. Be vulnerable. Let the joys and sorrows of your life both be seen. This plight of ours is not a death sentence for intimacy.

So, tell your story. To someone. And then maybe someone else.

And all of a sudden, the Church will be better equipped to see the space for us where we fit into this diverse Body of Christ.

And the healthy church will protect this diversity. Maybe they’ll even scoot over to make us a little more space at the Lord’s table.

To give us some breathing room.

Isn’t that what we all want, anyways? A chance to breathe in the midst of the culture war?

This past weekend, I attended the Gay Christian Network Conference. In its 10th Annual Conference, held in Chicago this year, roughly 700 folks attended the 4-day event. I have a suspicion I’ll be processing my experience at the GCN Conference for quite some time to come.

Rachel and I

On Saturday morning of the Conference, Rachel Held Evans spoke in the morning session. Her talk, titled “What’s So Annoying About Grace?” was certainly something I needed to hear. Rachel challenged us all with remembering that God’s table is open to all who trust in Him. This was a message that so many of my fellow attenders needed to hear, but it carried a flip-side. The annoying part about grace is that it covers all of us who don’t deserve it. Not just those of us sitting in the conference room, but also those who may have hurt us deeply. Rachel mentioned a few names that have been more controversial in recent times: Phil Robertson and Mark Driscoll. These are certainly folks that have made me cringe a few times. They’re on my list of “People Who Give Christians a Bad Name.”

But grace covers them, too. It covers their ignorance and careless words the same as it covers my pride and gossip and self-promotion.

We Christians like to put things in the way of God’s grace, according to Rachel. We don’t want it to be as inclusive as it is. We try to build up things to put in the path of God’s grace. We seek to exclude because we think some people don’t deserve God’s grace.

The annoying (and amazing) part of God’s grace, Rachel shared, was the way it is lavished upon people that don’t deserve it. Like me. Like you. Like Phil Robertson.

I used to work in foster care. I drove all over West Michigan to visit my foster kids and attend court hearings. And after I left that job, I took a job that had a 45 minute commute on the way home every day. During this time, I started listening to Christian Talk Radio.During this point in Rachel’s talk, my mind drifted to a horrible habit I carried off and on for a couple of years.

At first it was just out of curiosity. What are they saying? What are they telling thousands and thousands of Christians every afternoon? What concerns them? What do they see as the issues? Some things didn’t surprise me. They cared about ending abortion. They cared about people coming to know Christ. They even had fun trivia games that I would play along with every now and then. But, there were things that got under my skin. Things like talking derogatorily about undocumented persons, the poor, and the LGBT community. The messages about gay people weren’t just focused on “defending traditional marriage.” I heard their hosts bemoaning anything that protected the rights or safety of their gay neighbors.

While many different hosts of American Family Radio’s programs were deeply offensive, the hardest to listen to was Bryan Fischer. He hosts “Focal Point” every weekday afternoon. You can Google him if you really want to know the garbage he has said. It’s not the intention of this post to drag out countless examples of how he’s perpetuated a hatred of LGBT folks for years.

I was disgusted with the things I heard him saying. They wounded me deeply. They made me feel that as a person who happened to have a gay sexual orientation, that I was ‘less than’ or ‘unworthy.’ But, in my disgust, I kept listening. I listened to keep myself angry at the vile things that certain Christians were saying. I knew he was wrong. I knew he was misrepresenting Jesus. But I kept listening. I was so upset with what he was doing that I listened to keep reminding myself of how horrible he could be. And guess what?

It hurt me. It hurt my relationship with God. My building up these reserves of disdain for this man didn’t hurt him one bit. I was the one affected by it. Duh.

I ultimately stopped listening because I realized it was destroying my soul. It was hardening me and taking away my tender-heart. Staying away from American Family Radio helped my mood. It helped my disposition. It helped my relationship with God. It felt like I had dealt with it. All better, right?

That’s where Rachel’s Saturday morning talk intersects with this story. I was still trying to withhold God’s grace from Bryan Fischer and the other conservative talk show hosts from American Family Radio. I still wanted to them OUT of the Kingdom of Heaven. I didn’t want them representing me or my friends as examples of Christians.

But I was challenged to give up the anger I was holding towards Mr. Fischer. I can’t be angry at God for being generous towards someone else because I don’t think they deserve it. Because guess what? I DON’T DESERVE IT EITHER.

And that’s what’s so annoying (and amazing) about grace.

Thank you, Rachel, for reminding me of this.

My Top Movies of 2013

I love the experience of heading to the movie theater, filling up a bucket of popcorn, and settling into the dark room with friends, family, or even by myself. 

2013 was a great year for movies, and I was more intentional this year about getting to as many great movies as I had the opportunity to see in the theater. 

Here’s a list of my favorites from this year.

American Hustle:  Just saw this one today. Phenomenal movie. Director David O. Russell sets the perfect tone that’s off-beat and hilarious. Also good performances from all the main cast. Amy Adams sure has come a long way from the “purse girl” on The Office.

Dallas Buyers Club:  A man in the mid-1980′s unexpectedly contracts HIV and desperately begins seeking the medical treatment that was so limited during the early years of the AIDS crisis. This film is Matthew McConaughey’s best work that I’ve ever seen. Jared Leto also gave an emotional performance. 

Mud:  Great coming of age tale set in the deep south that explores life along the river for two young teenage boys and a fugitive they meet by chance. Second-best McConaughey performance I saw this year.

Image

Fruitvale Station:  Michael B. Jordan is an actor to watch for the future. In this movie he plays a young Oscar Grant who was unjustly shot and killed by police in the bay area. Jordan does a wonderful job of crafting a complex man who who you learn to root for despite his flaws. This is a great movie to keep the conversation going about the way racism still plays a role in a post-Obama America. 

12 Years a Slave:  This movie tells the true and epic story of a free Northerner’s journey to get back to his family after being abducted and sold into slavery in the mid-1800′s. A lot of raw emotion in this one and great cinematography. 

Frozen:  Based on the marketing for this one prior to its release, I didn’t have high expectations for the latest Disney Animated Feature. However, a great soundtrack and unpredictable story saved this one from mediocrity. Not the most original or creative animation style (Tangled, anyone?). But it worked. And some of the songs are still stuck in my head

Prisoners:  This suspense thriller tells the disturbing story of how far a man may go to try and save his child. The villains in this movie are quite well done. The storyline kept me guessing and it haunted me after the fact. Good performances from Hugh Jackman, Melissa Leo, and Paul Dano. 

Image

The Way Way Back:  The second great coming-of-age story on my list. Written and directed by the very funny Nat Faxon and Jim Rash (Dean Pelton from Community), this movie struck a great chord as a laid back, summer story. For the first time, Steve Carell plays a truly unlikable character, and he pulls it off. Sam Rockwell and up-and-coming actor Liam James also are quite memorable in their roles.

Despicable Me 2:  I love animated movies. This sequel lived up to all my expectations I built up after the first. Hilariously funny, so much so that I saw it three times.  One of those times, I saw it with my friend Shawn… no kids. Don’t judge me. Plus, who doesn’t love the minions?

Gravity:  Most unique movie on this list. Sandra Bullock is a shoe-in to be nominated for Best Actress and she deserves it. Seeing this movie in Imax 3D was a movie-going experience that I’ll never forget. Alfonso Cuaron will also likely get the Best Director nomination on this one. 

Image

The Place Beyond the Pines:  This movie is a look at the complex ways fathers and sons relate to one another. In three acts this film tells the stories of Ryan Gosling’s and Bradley Cooper’s two very different characters. The two leads make choices that deeply impact the course of their lives and the lives of their families and cause their stories to intertwine. This movie kept me thinking long after I left the theater.

Star Trek Into Darkness: As far as summer blockbusters go, this one was excellent. I love me some JJ Abrams story-telling. Hoping the high quality of these new Star Trek films will translate well into the new Star Wars movies. 

Catching Fire:  It would have been hard to see them screw this one up. The source material for this second Hunger Games story is the best of the trilogy. Thankfully, the director did a great job of capturing the story well and keeping a tight pacing. 

 

Of course, the movie-going year isn’t quite over yet. I’m still looking forward to seeing: 
The Wolf of Wall Street, Inside Llewyn Davis, Nebraska, and Saving Mr. Banks.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been wrapping up my first semester of Grad School and am finally on my Winter Break. The weather has taken note of this fact and decided to send a snowstorm.  This newly found free time and the horrible conditions of the roads means that tonight is the perfect opportunity to sit down and hammer out answers to some of the questions I’ve been fielding since November.

1) How do you feel about the exaggeration of sexuality in our culture? Do you think it’s overemphasis plays a role in homosexual issues?

Great question.  I think it’s unfortunate how much the physical expression of our sexuality has been emphasized above and beyond all other forms of relational intimacy. Many people it seems, don’t know how to build emotionally intimate friendships outside of the context of physical sexual relationships.  This tragically affects men even more than women as I think women are given a script in society for how to have deep friendships with other people outside of sexual partners.  We are all sold lies that sex is the pinnacle of human experience and, more specifically, of all intimacy.

There are dozens of ways this negatively impacts our relationships.  Sex is brought into the equation when it’s not appropriate.  One or both partners may not be ready for it, but could be diving in under a belief that it will create better intimacy or fulfill their needs. Sex does not equate to happiness.  It is certainly pleasurable, but it does not automatically lead to relational bliss.  Our desires for physical sexual intimacy have led to the explosion of the porn industry.  With sex portrayed as the end-all, be-all the use of pornography, especially by pre-teens and teenagers, seriously damages the ways we build intimacy with others.

I think the overemphasis of physical sexual activity does negatively impact the conversation about other sexual orientations. When sexuality and relationships are discussed, we have a difficult time of separating feelings, emotions, and attractions from physical sexual behavior. This is especially true when the Church is asked to consider the plight of ‘sexual minorities’, those whose desires are not heterosexual. Our sexuality and orientation is so much more than genital behavior or arousal. It affects the ways we build connections and relationships, especially in the arena of emotional intimacy. Limiting the conversation regarding LGBT issues to the realm of physical sexuality is unfortunate.

Of course, gay pride parades don’t make it any easier to have this nuanced conversation. In the LGBT community, we are just as susceptible as anyone in our society to make sexuality all about the physical. But think of orientation in terms of the way you are wired in all aspects of your relationships. And don’t boil anyone’s sexuality down to “what happens in the bedroom.”

 

 

2) How do you feel about those who have the same attractions as you do, but find that they are able to re-interpret the Biblical text so that they can reconcile with their faith? How do you see their point of view, and how they interpret the text?

If someone loves Jesus, follows Jesus, and puts their faith in Him for their salvation, then they are my brother or sister in Christ. It’s hard to find anyone who is a carbon-copy of ourselves in how they interpret the Biblical text. I have met many fellow gay Christians who have interpreted Scripture differently than myself and also follow after Christ with great faith. It is not my place to say that they are “unsaved” or “unrepentant.” If anyone is curious as to how someone could follow after Christ yet interpret Scripture differently when it comes to gay sexual relationships, read this link from Justin Lee.  Basically, it is not my job to judge anyone’s heart.

How do I see their view? When someone like Justin, who loves Christ and respects the Bible as much as he does, espouses this interpretation that differs from mine, I respect him for it. I love him as my brother.

Personally, I have looked at the centuries of church tradition and historical interpretation of the Scriptures to affirm a more traditional view that same-sex sexual activity is outside of God’s will. I see God’s design in human sexuality to be for a man and a woman to reflect the unity/diversity of God within the marriage relationship.  I believe that there are other ways for us to reflect the glory of God outside of a marriage (serving one another, living sacrificially, creating and celebrating beauty, being agents of redemption, etc). Therefore, I don’t believe marriage is a more holy calling than a life of celibacy.

I will be honest. There are nuances to this conversation that I am always in the middle of processing. Normally that happens in the context of close friendships and is spurred on by the things I read all over the Internet with regards to being gay and following Christ.

 

 

3) How do you feel about a married pastor, or any Christian really, exemplifying celibacy/sacrifice on the part of folks who have the same attractions as you, but yet are married themselves? Do you see it as insensitive? Or hypocritical?

This question really burrows into the emotions that come with the territory of navigating this whole “celibate gay Christian” thing.  I am not particularly comfortable being held up as a “poster child” for talking about this issue just because I’ve chosen a life of celibacy.  I don’t think any individual gay Christian should be held up as the example for how everyone should live their life.

When a married pastor (or really any married straight Christian) preaches a message of celibacy for all gay Christians without acknowledging the needs that such a gay Christian would still need to have met, that’s a problem. I am appreciative when a straight friend can recognize and address the fact that being asked to commit to celibacy is ridiculously difficult.  I think any pastor worthy of the title should also go to great lengths to ensure that the body of Christ is fulfilling its role to those in my position.  I am blessed with a great community of friends around me.  But I know that not everyone is so fortunate.  Too many celibate folks (straight or gay) are suffering from crippling loneliness while a church community sits by, ignores them, and focuses on having “family time” or forming more “couples groups” or “young marrieds studies.”  This leads to singles of all stripes being horribly excluded and left feeling like second-class citizens within the church. That is unacceptable.

A healthy dose of compassion and empathy make all the difference when talking about celibacy for gay Christians. When I hear someone talking about “gay issues” without compassion and empathy, it is really hard not to cling to bitterness.  I need to show grace as much as I need to receive it, and this is an area where my limits are always being stretched.

 

 

4) Are you happy?

Yes. I do feel like my needs are being met. I also feel that I have a positive calling within the church to service and to friendship. Am I ever lonely? Of course. I don’t know anyone who’s exempt from loneliness. Are there times when even my solid community of friends is not enough? Yes. And when that happens, it hurts. A lot. I seek God, and seek out honest conversations with my closest friends about what I need. I have to communicate my experiences and cannot expect everyone to be mind readers. I have found that when I truly NEED a friend, they’re there when I reach out. It’s when I withdraw or tell myself lies about how much I don’t matter that I wind up feeling the worst.

 

 

As with everything I write, I want to reiterate that I would rather be understood than have assumptions made. If you would like something clarified or if something I wrote in this post sparks a follow-up question, e-mail me or put it in the comments.

Let’s keep the conversation going!

Kinship

kin·ship

noun \ˈkin-ˌship\

: the state of being related to the people in your family

: a feeling of being close or connected to other people

I have become drawn to this word since hearing Wesley Hill use it last month at Calvin College.

He was talking about the concept of “Spiritual Friendship” and the relationships that folks committed to celibacy can be pursuing.

These family-type bonds are built out of friendships to become something deeper, something that involves more of a commitment than we typically bring to the table in our relationships.

For me as a single gay Christian, I find these kinship relationships to be ideal to enter into the messy, beautiful, intimate, supportive parts of each other’s lives. I have experienced these sorts of relationships over the last few years. They take work to maintain, but they are so worth it. The beauty of these friendships is when I move from guest to family, from friend to brother, from “mister” to “uncle”.  It is in these transitions that the friendship becomes not about what fun we can have together, but how we can serve one another.

Here is an important distinction. I don’t crave these kinship relationships just because I may feel lonely from time to time. This is not just about getting MY needs met. In these family-style relationships with a strong commitment to one another, I can serve, too. I have more time, energy, and love to pour into these relationships. Wesley Hill frames his conversation about celibacy as a “positive call to love” rather than just a call away from sexual intimacy. In not having a spouse, I am freed up to dive in to committed friendships, be they with other single folks or with married people and their kids.

These friendships have given me space spaces to process what it has meant to wrestle with faith, doubt, and sexuality. They have also given me practice to love others better, to encourage, to listen, to serve. When done right, I feel my own relational longings met while also knowing I am giving back.

I hope that through this blog, and so many others that I have taken inspiration from, the Church as a whole can begin to see new and creative ways to care for one another. To form friendships far more committed than the kind we find on Facebook. To stick with one another through anything and everything. To support their mothers, fathers, children, divorced, unmarried, widowed, and celibate folks alike.

What would it take to encourage these deeper sorts of friendships? Do they require living in community? Should we do more to honor or recognize these relationships as part of our Church culture?

For more on these conversations, visit www.spiritualfriendship.org

Watch this video.  What do you think?  

The Gay Christian Network conducted this survey and it reveals some trends that are disturbing to me.  For instance, straight Christians who believe that gay sex is a sin answered the survey in the following ways:

Only 16% said that being gay was not a choice.

78% said that gays can become straight if they want to.

54% said that it’s a sin to be gay even if you never have sex.

 

When I first came across this video two weeks ago, I was both shocked and not shocked at once. Shocked because I was afraid this is what I’d encounter at Calvary Church (it wasn’t), and not shocked because I know there are a lot of people who haven’t had to examine their views on these questions critically, and their answers may reflect that.

Do you agree with the video’s conclusion that we need to define our terms better and listen to each other’s stories to bridge this gap?

Have any of you had to change the ways you would have answered these questions? What caused you to change your mind?

I know these conversations aren’t always done well, but please don’t feel afraid to put yourself out there in the Comment section. I promise to do what I can to keep this blog a safe place to dialogue, even if we disagree.

The response to my post from yesterday has been overwhelmingly positive, and I appreciate the great support that I’ve felt from everyone.

I wanted to take some time to solicit some questions from you all, as I know that many of you may have things you’re wondering.

In keeping with the spirit of my last post, I want to be clear that I’m open to dialoging about my experiences at any time. I often repeat this phrase, “I’d rather be understood than have assumptions made.”

So, if you have questions for me, leave them in a comment, message me on Facebook, or shoot me an email at ajasdell@gmail.com.

After a couple weeks, I’ll write up responses to the questions I receive. And I promise to keep your questions anonymous if you choose to submit them privately.

Telling My Story

I know I haven’t blogged in over three years. That is for several reasons. One was because I started working in social work field and two years of my time was doing foster care. Another reason is that most of what was on my mind was related to faith and sexuality and I wasn’t ready to process my thoughts publicly. However, this summer I began making preparations for talking about this openly.

This morning, at my home church in Muskegon, I shared a great deal about the journey I’ve been on the last several years. A copy of what I read this morning is below.

November 17, 2013

To my Calvary Family:

It’s good to be here this morning with friends and family. As we have been wading through what God has to say about our human sexuality, we’ve reached a topic of conversation that we as a community do not engage with very often: Homosexuality.

I have not often talked about this topic outside of close friendships, but when I heard that Calvary was spending time trying to better understand those who experience life as a “sexual minority” I felt that I needed to contribute.

I am one of you. I worship with you, serve with you, rejoice with you, celebrate with you, and weep with you. However, I am also gay.

I did not choose my sexual orientation. I did not choose to only be attracted to people of my same gender. However, this is the experience I found myself in as I entered into puberty and started growing into an adult.

As I fought through adolescence trying to ignore my growing attractions, I assumed this was something that would fall away as I grew into maturity. However, I was alone with my thoughts, feeling afraid that I could never be honest with anyone about this. The first time I came out to anyone was to my good friend Jeremy. When I finally said the words, that I was attracted to men and not to women, he showed me love and acceptance. He told me that he would always be there for me and that our friendship would not change because of this.

He helped me find the courage to talk about this with more friends and pastors. Despite great fear, I opened myself up to more believers that I trusted, and I found many loving people who accepted me and supported me. They gave me a great environment to keep processing my experience, and they stuck with me faithfully when I experienced the highs and lows of trying to figure out what it all meant.

As I stared into an unclear future I knew two things:
1) I was exclusively attracted to other men.
2) I desired to live a “normal” life with a wife and children.

Four years ago, I entered into professional counseling to talk about my conflicting desires, and hoping that maybe I could find the cause of them so I could deal with it and experience the “normal” life I wanted. A definitive “cause” never surfaced, and I don’t believe it ever will. I learned to let that part go. And, after much counseling, prayer, and reflection, I realized that my attractions were not changing. I also realized that I did not wish to bring a woman into what would surely be a complicated and difficult marriage.

I was faced with a choice of how I would live. I had grown up my entire life in the church. My convictions were strong. My faith was not simply a matter of the intellect, but was deeply rooted in my heart. Faith was not something I could simply “take off” or set aside. I continued to study Scripture and God affirmed the conviction I held that same-sex sexual relationships are not what God desires of us. In light of this, I found that the only decision I could make that would be consistent with my experiences and my faith would be one of celibacy.

Celibacy isn’t a word we use a whole lot these days. It is a ‘churchy’  word that means a person will not engage in any sexual intimacy for either a period of time or for one’s entire life. But I’ve also come to see that it’s a positive calling towards serving the Kingdom without the responsibility of a spouse. While a life of celibacy is what God has for all of us who are unmarried, it is not assumed that many believers will take on this burden for a lifetime. The assumption is that all will eventually get married and pursue a spiritually, emotionally, and physically intimate relationship with their spouse. But for me, I had to work on figuring out what it would look like to never pursue a sexual relationship with another. I had to face a future that would set me apart from my friends and peers:

I would never have that one person whom I cherished above all others.
I would not have that partner who walked with me through all of life’s good times and bad.

I was choosing a life where I would have few people to look to as my role model. I was choosing to spend many evenings alone. I was choosing to open myself up to a deep pain and loneliness that would be hard to combat no matter how strong my faith was. I still have times where it feels overwhelming to look ahead to my next 60 years. However, I have remained convinced that this is the life God has for me.

I will not lie to you. This is often a difficult road to walk, trying to be faithful to the Gospel’s demand on my life. We all are called to sacrifice much in order to best follow Christ. My sacrifice just happens to include sexual intimacy.

I have continued along this path as I have served among you and share life with so many of you. Several close friends have been there every step of the way. They’ve cried with me, encouraged me, welcomed me into their families, and allowed me to pour out onto them all the extra time and love I have to give.

Some of you may be wondering right now why I would feel the need to share so much of my story with everyone here today. Trust me when I say this was not a decision I came to lightly.

While I have several “safe spaces” where I can talk about the joys and sorrows of my life, the broader Church has been very much a “don’t ask, don’t tell” environment. I read a sermon this summer that explained this really well.

Pastor Dan Scott from Christ Church in Nashville preached on homosexuality back in June or July. Some of you may have read or listened to this same sermon as Pastor Bill and a few others shared it on Facebook. I appreciated the entire thing, but a couple of points really stuck with me. Allow me to highlight them:

“It would be far healthier for a church and its people if a homosexual person were able to appropriately reveal their struggle than to force him or her into a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation. When congregations quietly accept a person’s contribution to their church while suppressing the reality of their struggle, it corrupts the integrity and witness of that church. It also creates denial mechanisms that disillusion individuals who grow up in that church.”

“The bottom line then is that many people we love are attracted to members of their own sex. Just like the rest of us, they struggle to live godly lives. If they are not welcome among us, or if we must shame them into an unreasonable silence about the nature of their struggle, we simply don’t have much to offer the world except condemnation. For all these reasons, we must become more mature in the way we deal with our friends, family and brothers and sisters in Christ who experience same-sex attraction.”

It’s as if what we communicate by our silence is that I will remain a welcomed part of this community as long as I don’t talk about this aspect of my life. I would not say that this is intentional, but it is an unhealthy dynamic that exists within the church. I came to see that one of the only ways to help make the church a safer place was to step up and speak. That’s why I’m up here sharing this morning. That’s why I’m opening myself up to answer any questions you all may have. I don’t have all the answers, but I’ll gladly share my heart with you all and keep the conversation going.

I stumbled upon this quote from Tim Keller last month and found it to be profoundly relevant as to why I felt I needed to share this morning.

“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.”

Another great thing that I found was a blog post written by a man named Matt Jones. He recently came out publicly and wrote some beautiful articles about the reasons why he chose to begin talking openly. I found that I resonated with these reasons and wanted to share a few of them with you.

Matt says, “This isn’t just about me. There are still countless men and women whose knuckles turn white when the pastor mentions homosexuality because, suddenly, he’s talking about them, who feel like they are walking this path alone and are haunted by anxiety that someone may discover their secret. I know they are there because I’ve been one of them.”

He continues, “Living out of the closet as a celibate, gay Christian gives me the opportunity to speak to a world that has lost its mind when it comes to sex and relationships. The culture at large (including the Church) has drunk deep the lie that sexual activity is essential to being human and that true joy or flourishing are impossible to find outside of a romantic relationship.”

After all that, Matt says, “As I stand up and speak out, reminding the Church what it is called to and how it could love more fully those in and outside itself, the Church will do the same for me. I’m choosing to live openly because I love the Church too much to let it love LGBTQ people so poorly, and because I know that as I press into it I, too, will learn to love better.
“And so we will all become a little bit more like Christ, together.”

For ALL of these reasons, I felt it was important to help open up the dialogue at Calvary by sharing my story.

And to the Church family that has mentored me and encouraged me these last 12 years, thank you.

In Christ,
Andrew Asdell

PS: A word on causation. 40-50 years ago, a common psychological theory was that homosexuality is caused almost exclusively by very dysfunctional parenting. The popular theory attributed male same-sex attraction to a distant father and over-bearing mother. Social research has by and large disproven this theory. Many who experience same-sex attraction do not come from these dysfunctional homes, and conversely, many who have had traumatic or difficult childhoods have grown up to be straight. I want to clarify that I, in no way, believe that my upbringing created these desires within me. No unifying theory of causation has been determined. It is likely a very complex combination of factors, and knowing the exact cause of same-sex attraction does not make a difference in how we in the Church are to love others and treat those who are different from us.

“Abba, I Belong to You”

The title of this post is a prayer that Brennan Manning encourages folks to pray as a meditation.

Brennan Manning is the author of the books Ragamuffin Gospel and The Furious Longing of God among others.  His books tend to focus on God’s relentless love and pursuit of his creation.

From reading his books, I’ve gained a much deeper appreciation of God’s love and grace.  Even though I’ve been in church my entire life, I have found it to be very easy to focus on what we need to do to please God and lose sight of how much God’s grace covers.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t pursue sanctification in our lives.  We should be constantly growing and letting ourselves be molded into what Christ has for us.  What I am saying is that when we focus on all the ways we DON’T measure up to God’s standards of holiness, it’s easy to get weighed down to the point of inaction.  Soon, we’re subtly believing that God loves us more when we are acting in moral ways and less when we screw up.  We would never say that so bluntly, but that is the belief behind the guilt that so many Christians have to fight against, including me.

Manning’s books have played a huge role in helping me let go of those beliefs.  I still have to fight them off daily, but it’s when I’m free of those debilitating beliefs about God’s love being conditional that I can truly live for Him and be present in the moment for Kingdom living.

There are many other things in our life that may get in the way of truly believing that God loves us unconditionally.  Traumatic events, abuse of any kind, addictions, depression, etc can all make it difficult to accept God’s love in our lives.

Manning recommends to his readers to pray this prayer that he has used for years.  It is a prayer that can be repeated over and over again as you breathe in and out slowly.

Breathe in while saying “Abba,” Breathe out while saying “I belong to You.”

It helps us to meditate on God as our loving Father.  The word “Abba” is a close, intimate way of speaking of God as Father.  The closest English equivalent to “Abba” is often said to be “Daddy”.  It is a loving, endearing term for the one who protects us and provides for our needs.

No matter what we are facing, to have that close and intimate of a relationship with God is a special gift that can ground us and help us to remember that God is loving and is in control.  For me, praying this prayer and meditating on the truth of it has really helped me trust God in times when I am scrambling to keep all my plates spinning.

Paul speaks of this Father-child relationship that we have with God in Romans 8.

14For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

It can be difficult to give up our Spirit of slavery and fear, but what we gain is a Spirit of sonship.  That is a beautiful exchange, and one that I never want to lose sight of.

Lately, I have had a song stuck in my head by Jars of Clay. It’s called “Boys (Lesson One)” and the band has mentioned that it’s about the Father-son relationship.  While they meant it to be written from themselves to their sons, it obviously has a deeper connection to the relationship that we have with our Abba.

Here are the lyrics:

Lesson one – do not hide
Lesson two – there are right ways to fight
And if you have questions
We can talk through the night

So you know who you are
And you know what you want
I’ve been where you’re going
And it’s not that far
it’s too far to walk
But you don’t have to run
you’ll get there in time

Lesson three – you’re not alone
Not since I saw you start breathing on your own
You can leave, you can run,
this will still be your home

So you know who you are
And you know what you want
I’ve been where you’re going
And it’s not that far
it’s too far to walk
But you don’t have to run
you’ll get there in time
Get there in time

In time, to wonder where the days have gone
In time, to be old enough to
wish that you were young
When good things are unraveling,
bad things come undone
You weather love and lose your innocence

There will be liars and
thieves who take from you
Not to undermine the consequence
But you are not what you do
And when you need it most
I have a hundred reasons why I love you

If you weather love and lose your innocence
Just remember – lesson one

We have received a Spirit of Sonship, and because of that we can trust that God is a good, loving Father who knows where we’re going, and will be there no matter what we’ve done or how far we’ve run.

Abba, I belong to You.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 39 other followers