Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Friday, July 24, 2009

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.


At 24/7/09 10:57, Blogger Kevin said...

Can I recommend that we go one step further and suggest that when we talk about orientation we don't automatically assume an orientation towards sin? The one true desire in all of human existence is to be reunited with the God from whom we have been estranged, and glimpses of that divine reunion are often experienced through human interaction, whether in or out of a covenant relationship. If it is not a sin for a heterosexual to find taste and see God's love through interaction with someone of the opposite sex, then could the same also be said for homosexuals? To be oriented towards another is not to be oriented towards sin but oriented towards a God who seems to speak most often through the freely given love of another. Perhaps to be homosexual and find love in another of the same sex--and even find it in the full--is just as holy an act as any other experience of love, heterosexual or otherwise.

At 24/7/09 11:16, Blogger ryan said...

I recently listened to a talk that Mike Healy gave at Wheaton College in 2002 on the subject of homosexuality. Most of talk was his life story, relationship with father, abuse, male prostitution, and then...him coming to work for Focus on the Family. Not what you would expect, right?

I wasn't sure what to think of the talk. Lisa mentioned on Wednesday that abuse wasn't a part of her story; I feel like I am around Christians who, when they hear a person is gay, think "Oh, they must have been abused." Not fair, not true.

So after hearing Healy's talk and contrasting it to the conversation we had at church on Wednesday, I'm not sure what to do. Healy wrapped it all up in a bow by talking about his marriage and coming back to hetersexuality; is there another "OK" ending?

I encourage listening to the talk

At 24/7/09 11:27, Anonymous Lisa said...

Thanks for posting the link. I want to hear that.
You raise a really good point about abuse. I mentioned it, even though we weren't talking about "causes" of homosexuality, because I knew people would wonder.
So now I'm wondering if some people who are abused experience sexual confusion, believe they are gay, and then later can change their orientation. While others (abused or not) simply are gay and are not able to change.
I'm really encouraged by the respectful dialog we're all engaging in despite any differences of opinion.

At 24/7/09 12:37, Blogger Kevin said...

I think that questions of causality will be impossible for any of us to answer in concrete terms. One piece that I picked up on, that Lisa also highlighted, was the fact that--all causality aside--her sexuality was derived from the revelation of the Holy Spirit. This gave me pause and some wonderful thoughts. Perhaps the reason that the question of homosexuality is such an issue in Western Christianity is not simply because it's an easily polarized issue, but because the very presence of homosexuality threatens any definition of human sexuality that is based solely on biological imperatives and negativistic systems. If my sexual identity is based primarily in what I am not, then any sexual identity that does not adhere to that rubric will call my own identity into question. If I am a heterosexual male precisely because I am attracted to women and not men, then how does my identity cope with those who experience an inversion of my desires (note: inversion and not perversion)? When I consider this I wonder if Western Christianity has built the house of its sexual identity on a foundation of sand; perhaps a sexual identity based on biology feels more solid and safe than the unpredictable and untameable nature of the Spirit; perhaps we need to seek the wisdom of the Spirit in forming our sexual identity, consider our own desires and where they are rooted before we criticize the desires of others...

At 24/7/09 15:24, Blogger Curtisimus Urquhartichus said...

I never thought about that before, Richard. The assumptions I make when a person says the one or the other.

I wholeheartedly believe that every person is a sinner and full of sin. In seeing myself I see huge areas that I'm always falling into sin, but there are others areas mentioned in the Bible where I am not. I don't steal (anymore), I'm not a drunkard (anymore). I have no struggles whatsoever in being attracted physically, sexually, etc., towards other men. Women, on the other hand....

I believe that a person can struggle with those feeling of attraction to the same sex and still be a Christian. As you said, temptations that are not acted upon. I think a person who struggles with this kind of attraction to the same sex can give in to this and still be a Christian - do we not all sin? However, when ANY sin becomes how we live our lives, when we try to justify doing it and when we try to make the Bible say that the sin we are living in is okay, then there's a huge problem. When the sin becomes our lifestyle then, no matter what it is, we have to ask ourselves, "Am I a Christian if this is the PATTERN of my life?" "Does what I'm doing as a way of life honor Christ?"

It is impossible to read the Word and come up with a justification for homosexuality, or any other sin, as there is so much said about it. Although I can't relate to the man who has an attraction to another man, I can DEFINITELY relate to being attracted to other women. I think both, if acted upon, are sin. The attraction is the temptation. We're both just as guilty before God.

Anyway, those are my two cents worth.

At 25/7/09 12:25, Anonymous Michael Red Antelope said...

i am so glad that a church is able to be Open to the discussions & present a clear picture of who we are in Christianity & with the love of Jesus we can still be open-minded.
Thanks so much !!

At 26/7/09 22:23, Blogger ptr nelson said...

Thanks for being courageous enough to even discuss this issue Pastor. This is one of those touchy issues that gets all us Christians roweled up.

I was raised in a very conservative Baptist home where this issue was easily dealt with:
"homosexuality is a sin...period."

That's just fine and dandy until, of course, you become friends with someone who you later find out is gay and/or, God FORBID, until you find out that one of your relatives happens to be attracted to a member of the same sex. Uh oh...look out! Major curveball to the fundamentalist worldview.

So how did my family respond when they found out that my dad's brother is gay? With all the love of Christ of course. Not quite. We just modified our previous postulate a bit to it give a bit more love:
"love the sinner, hate the sin."

That "loving" proposition translated into us never interacting with my uncle and into me not having a relationship with him to this day. Sure, we let him stay at our house once when HE reached out and came to visit, but the air of righteousness indignation was so thick in my house that he never returned. I don't blame him.

I have to admit that, as a heterosexual man who praises God for all of the glory that he has bestowed upon women, I don't understand how another man can be attracted to another man. But– surprise, surprise– my gay friends don't get the heterosexual thing either.

Some things I do know:
1) Scientist have found and documented homosexual tendencies among countless animal species beyond the homo sapien.

2) Homosexuality ain't nothing new. It has always been and always will be a part of human culture– historically this has unfortunately entailed homosexuals living a life of secrecy, guilt, shame, abuse, and on and on.

3) Sexuality is much more than a means towards reproduction or mutual gratification. Sexuality entails our entire being...our worldview, our self-image, our view of God, our relationships, etc. It is an innate quality that is NOT dependent on one's judgment. My attraction to women, for example, is as natural as breathing. I don't have to think about it, calculate it, choose it. It just is. My entire being, from the chemicals and cells in my brain to the blood flowing to...well, you get the picture...The point is, our entire being is wrapped around our sexual identity we do not choose.

I have so much more to say but fear putting more minds to sleep. When all is said and done, in situations such as these I think I would much rather err on the side of love and grace than judgment.

Love and mercy triumph over judgment

At 27/7/09 13:44, Blogger Susan said...

I'm glad you brought up the "love the sinner, hate the sin" line, Peter. In the past, I have been guilty of saying that, assuming it would be understood by the person I was talking with.

My beloved neighbor told me how hurtful that statement is, and I've thought about it a lot. How would I feel if someone told me, "Susan, I love you, but I hate your self sufficiency and pride that comes from you being Japanese." Just writing these words gives me a knot in my stomach.

I appreciate that this discussion is in the context of: 1) acknowledging that we ALL sin, that God has something more closely aligned to the characteristics of His Son in mind for me than I am living out and 2) relationships - knowing and being known, so that in the exploration and discussion of this topic it is a gift we can give and receive.

At 27/7/09 15:18, Anonymous Robin Magonegil said...

I so wish that I would of been able to attend this discussion. I am a gay Christian who struggled with my sexual orientation until my late 20's. I attended and graduated from an Assembly of God University and tried everything I could to somehow change. Because of my school and church's condemnation of homosexuality I ended up abandoning my faith entirely for almost 20 years. I felt my choices were that or to commit suicide. I am happy to say that God never gave up on me and just kept chipping away at my heart and my mind until I was able to understand that I, too, am part of His amazing creation and no less a part of His kingdom here on earth than anyone else. I love the Lord with all my heart and want nothing more than to serve Him. I have attended Bethany with good friends of mine and am happy to say that I found it a welcoming congregation and truly Christ centered.

At 27/7/09 17:54, Anonymous Sylvi said...

I feel blessed to have heard the discussion on Wednesday night.

I seethe when I hear of hateful demonstrations or crimes against homosexuals, especially those done in the name of Christ. I get distressed when people mock gays.

Still, I lean toward the belief that God intends marriage to be heterosexual, although I rate that quality second in importance to being centered around Him, loving, faithful, and monogamous.

Ephesians 5:22-33 likens human marriage to the relationship between Christ and the Church. The passage exhorts wives: "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (5:24), and also: "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church [...]" (5:25). Here, the marriage partners are depicted as one leader and one follower. In the "Christian marriage" portion of "Mere Christianity", C.S. Lewis states "The need for some head follows from the idea that marriage is permanent[...] when there is a real disagreement, what is to happen? [...] If marriage is permanent, one or other party must, in the last resort, have the power of deciding the family policy"(113). Based on personality characteristics, most (granted, not all) men seem carved out to be leaders- including in marriage. In a homosexual marriage, the leader figure doesn't seem as clear-cut as in a heterosexual marriage.

Thanks for this opportunity to converse

At 27/7/09 18:57, Blogger stephy said...

This is rad. Thanks for writing about this!

At 27/7/09 19:33, Blogger UWLS Vis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 27/7/09 19:37, Blogger bradley d. bowen said...


Thanks for raising the subject here, and so far I have really appreciated the well reasoned and personal comments on this post (particularly @Robin Magonegil, @Susan, and @Kevin). I had a few comments to make.

First, I would like to draw a distinction between "gender orientation" and "sexual orientation", because they seem to be a bit conflated in the post. Without diving too much into the discourse of gender and sexuality (and I'm sure there are a number of people who might disagree with me on this), sexual orientation tends to be used to denote to which sex an individual is attracted. "Gender", on the other hand, is a social construction about the behaviors, actions, and roles that a particular sex may/should conform to. For example, I could be biologically male, have a sexual orientation towards women (heterosexual), and have a feminine gender identity (self-identify as gender-female). I think it's an important distinction to make, especially if there will be debate about an individual's ability or desire to "change," their respective gender identity or sexual orientation.

Second, I've struggled to find a church that is full of love, compassion, and grace for everyone. At every church I have attended, I asked myself "can I invite all my friends here?" Can I invite my gay brothers and sisters to sit next to me in the pew and hope that we can find grace together? I feel welcome where my brothers and sisters are welcome. I simply could not attend a church whose theological focus was exclusion instead of inclusion. This is just one reason why I am proud to attend Bethany.

Third, I really appreciate what @Kevin said, it was beautiful. I believe that we must continue to explore, problematize, and question the traditional theological relationship between homosexuality and sin.

I really look forward to future postings on the topic as our church explores these issues.

At 27/7/09 19:59, Blogger stephy said...

For anyone who's interested, here's a post my friend Ryan (who is gay) wrote on how it feels as a gay person to be told by a Christian that they are praying for your gayness. This post is here.

At 30/7/09 10:21, Blogger j. said...

At 30/7/09 15:04, Anonymous Mark Zamen said...

This is a very good post; thoughtful, compassionate, reasonable, and well expressed. Clearly its writer is willing to engage in positive dialogue, and looks upon homosexuals as persons deserving of respect and consideration. It is a sad fact that a large segment of society is not so inclined, and in fact still regards gay men and women as second-class citizens - or worse. That is the salient point of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance (of himself and by others, including fellow Mormons). More information on the book is available at

Mark Zamen, author


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