How to talk about homosexuality....
"I'm gay, OK?"
Well, no, not me. But those are words I hear; maybe because I'm a pastor, maybe because my ministry is urban, maybe because I work with young adults around the world. That opening line usually leads to ensuing conversations, hearing someone's story of their struggle with sexuality. Because of my position as a pastor though, the conversation isn't limited to sexual struggles; it's about sexuality and faith, and how the two are integrated, or whether they can be integrated.
Before you stone me, or label me as a heretic for even having this conversation, I hope you'll read a little further because I'm convinced that part of the reason this has become such an inflammatory issue is because the word "gay", or "homosexual" doesn't have an agreed upon definition. For example...
When I say, "I'm heterosexual" for example, you presume that to mean that I, a male, am sexually attracted to women, not men. Yes, that's right. However, you most likely don't make any other assumptions. You don't presume that I'm addicted to pornography, or have multiple partners, or sleep around. You don't presume that promiscuity is my favorite form of recreation. Your assumption is, rightly, limited to the reality that I'm attracted to members of the opposite sex.
However, when you hear someone say, "I'm homosexual", I'm guessing that some of you don't bring that same limited definition to the table. You presume the person to be sexually active, presume promiscuity, presume all kinds of destructive sexual practices, presume that the "gay pride" lifestyle (whatever you think that is) is the lifestyle of the person speaking to you, simply because they said, "I'm gay."
What if "I'm gay" were limited, by definition to this: "I'm attracted to members of the same sex"? If that were true, then one could be gay and celibate. One could be gay and agree entirely with the Bible's admonition that sexual activity isn't recreation, that promiscuity isn't an option.
Could one even be "gay", according to this limited definition, and know Christ?
The overwhelming testimony of the Bible is that God has called us to sexual fidelity, to limit our expressions of sexual intimacy to our partner, with whom we've made a life long commitment.
Who is reading this who hasn't, at the very least, been tempted to depart from this? Heterosexuals are tempted to infidelity, promiscuity, fornication. They get aroused by people other than their partner. But of course, Jesus has reminded us, more than a few times, that temptation is different than sin. The reality that Jesus was tempted in all things, yet sinless, reminds us of this.
So there you have it. Someone is attracted to men instead of women, or vice versa. He/she, finds someone attractive. They're tempted. It's not a state of being that should result in pre-emptive, wholesale condemnation, any more than you should judge a man who, on seeing a woman, is tempted to turn her into an object for his use. I mean, temptation is temptation, gay or straight. There she is. Short skirt. Heels. Attractive. I wonder? .... oops. Back to reality. It happened. He was tempted. Just like Jesus. Is he condemned for that? If so, Jesus too is guilty.
So, the next time someone says, "I'm gay", please try to limit your understanding to this: "I'm attracted to people of the same sex". Otherwise, I'll expect that, when you hear this from them and pre-emptively judge them to be promiscuous, that you'll judge me the same way.
I know there are questions and comments about the capacity to change one's gender orientation. I'll note that I know people who have changed (not in the sense that they don't still struggle with same sex attraction from time to time, but in the sense that they're now married, with children, happily so), and believe change to be possible. I'll also note that I know people who tried desperately to change, through therapy, counseling, exorcism of demons, fasting, and more. Their failure to change resulted in despondancy and even temptation to suicide, because when you're assured that you can 'change' and then nothing happens in spite of your prayers and efforts, you wonder if God hates you, wonder if life's worth living. So we can neither absolutize the possibility of change, nor entirely negate it. A better paradigm is this: "God is calling all of us to an ongoing journey of transformation, born out of intimacy with Christ." Of this we can be certain.
We had a discussion on Wednesday evening at our church, using the debate between Tony Campolo and his wife as a context for bringing the topic of homosexuality and faith "out of the closet" so to speak. I won't get into the content of the debate right here. I'll only say that, more important than the content of the debate between two pastors and two gay friends, was the spirit of the debate - a spirit of mutual respect, dialogue, listening to each other, even as we disagree over the issue of gay-covenant relationships. I hope it was a dialogue embodying grace and truth.
Such a dialogue, I believe, can only happen, when the words, "I'm gay, OK" aren't weighed down with a boatload of presuppositions about that person's behavior, resulting in pre-emptive condemnation. Maybe, if we can take the statement at face value, and begin diaolgue and relationships, then the kind of transforming work God wants to do in all of us can continue.
NOTE: Next week, I'll be posting some questions that arose from our Wednesday evening discussion. Feel free to post, but with this post, and the few ensuing ones regarding this subject, I'm going to ask that you NOT post annonymously. I'll sweep the site and remove annonymous posts because if we're going to speak the truth, we should also have the courage to walk in the light. Pray with me that such a dialogue, even online, will help us all better understand the heart of God.