opinion

GCN Conference 2017

Later this week I’ll be attending my first GCN conference – an annual meeting organized by the Gay Christian Network. As with any conference there’s a full slate of speakers and break out sessions, and I’m sure they will be good. But even more, I’m looking forward to meeting with other gay people who haven’t yet given up on organized religion. I honestly don’t know where my personal beliefs will land, only that I’ve thrown off so many layers of crap I’d been taught by the church that had been weighing me down through most of my life. Of course, excising bad doctrine isn’t an easy, straightforward thing. It’s not like the “bad” doctrine resides in its own little drawer, to be neatly removed and replaced with “good” doctrine. No – it’s all much more organic than that. Beliefs – good and bad, right and wrong – are mashed up with feelings, thoughts, and habits. The process of cutting out deeply ingrained beliefs is messy and painful. So part of the reason I’m looking forward to the conference is the chance to meet other Christians who have gone through and are going through some of the same things.

There will even be a sub-group of people who, just like me, are in mixed-orientation marriages. I’ve interacted with some of these people online, so it will be good to meet them face-to-face.

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Queer Bird

Queer Bird

Gay or straight. Homosexual. Same-sex attracted. Queer.

Language is powerful. Words are powerful. They shape our thoughts, our perceptions, our interactions with one another, and even our day to day decisions. Our choice of words reveals how we conceptualize the world and relate to everything in it. Through the words that we choose to describe ourselves, we disclose our allegiances and aspirations. Or maybe we reject labels, and thus confound other people’s attempts to categorize us.

But powerful as it is, language is also imperfect. Descriptors are approximations. Words carry baggage – denotations and connotations. Sometimes too much baggage, sometimes not enough. Language is an imperfect representation of reality, often close enough to get the job done, but sometimes just plain wrong.

Take an example: when I say the word “bird,” what do you think of? A small flying animal that has wings, lays eggs, and builds nests? A prototypical bird likely matches all of these descriptors, but lots of birds do not. Some birds aren’t small (emus, ostriches, condors); some don’t fly (penguins, kiwis, cassowaries); and some don’t lay eggs (male birds of any species!) Are penguins, condors, and male sparrows not birds? Of course they are, but just don’t expect any of them to fly into your tiny back-yard bird house and lay eggs.

Gay or straight. Homosexual. Same-sex attracted. Queer. Which label fits? Any of them? All of them? None of them? Does it matter who is applying the term, and to whom? I definitely don’t label myself “straight,” even though to an outsider, my life would seem to best match that script. I won’t use “homosexual,” as it strikes me as too clinical, as if describing an illness. I reject “same-sex attracted,” even though it literally applies. The denotation is right, but the connotation seems belittling, as if my attraction to men is analogous to a straight guy’s preferential attraction to blonds. It’s like describing humans as “food-oriented” because we’re attracted to eating food. That leaves “gay” and “queer.” I feel like either one or both of them apply.

I’m curious readers (all three of you), what term or terms do you use describe yourself? Is there one in particular that really seems to fit, while the others do not? Do you use more than one of them interchangeably? Or perhaps you use one term for certain situations and audiences, and another for others? I’m not really looking for definitions, which I can find all over the internet, but rather personal responses – how do you relate to these words or how do they relate to you?

Shallow Understanding

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It’s not his fault. I mean, at least he’s trying. I think. If you’ve read some of my earlier posts, you know that I’ve come out to several close friends. One of them in particular has been trying hard to understand. He’s more than willing to listen; he initiates often; and I know that in his own way, he cares about me. But sometimes his attempts at understanding are more painful than the plain-spoken hatred of homophobes.

My being gay is not analogous to your experiencing lust

I’m a little surprised how common this thinking is among evangelical Christians. Have they really not thought it through? “You know, I see women all the time that I think are sexy, but I choose not to act on it.” So, if straight guys occasionally have to curtail their sexual appetite, that’s somehow equivalent to gay people forsaking their sexuality altogether? It feels a bit like someone saying “Oh, you’re not allowed to eat food, ever? Well, I know just how you feel! One time I had to say ‘no’ to a second bowl of ice cream.”

There’s a huge difference between being told there should be some limits on your sexual expression somewhere, and being told that any expression of your sexual desire would be wrong, in every context. Matthias Roberts writes about this way of thinking in his post Stop Comparing Your Lust to My Sexual Orientation.

Your six months of studying can’t compare to my years of lived experience

This one was especially frustrating. My friend wants to discuss with me what the Bible has to say about gay sex. As far as I can tell, it’s not in a Bible-bashy kind of way – I think he’s genuinely curious about how my beliefs have evolved over time. I used to believe the standard evangelical line, and now I don’t.

The problem is that I’m not willing to engage the issue on a purely academic level. Don’t get me wrong – I’m more than capable of defending my beliefs. But for me it’s not ONLY academic. It’s personal! And if it’s personal for me, I want it to be personal for him. Get to know gay people. Listen to their stories. Hear firsthand the pain that Christians have caused, and continue to cause, to LGBT people.

In response he said that he was very invested, and that he had spent significant time praying about the issue and studying the scriptures. When I pressed for details, he elaborated that a few years ago, he and his wife thought that one of their children might be gay. So they had studied the Bible long and hard to find out what it had to say, and in the end weren’t convinced of anything other than the “traditional” view they had already held.

But where in that process did they get to know any gay people? What sources did they study? What experts did they consult? I’m with Kevin Garcia when he says I Don’t Need Another Straight Pastor to Tell My Story. If you want to engage in a conversation about gay people, make sure you START BY LISTENING TO GAY PEOPLE!

Imposed lifelong celibacy is an incredibly heavy burden

OK. I understand that in the end, not everyone will agree with me. People will reach their own conclusions. I hope that people will at least get to know gay people before deciding what they believe about the ethics of gay relationships, but even then, they still may reach different conclusions than I have. But whatever you choose to believe about the ethics of gay relationships, don’t minimize the weight of the burden of imposed celibacy. Speaking about the religious leaders of his day, Jesus said “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4). It’s one thing to reach the conclusion that gay sex is wrong, and that consequently gay people should choose celibacy. It’s quite another to pretend that for them to do so is not excruciatingly difficult. And then, as some Christians do, to add the implication that if a gay person chooses another path, it’s somehow indicative of a lack of self-control.

Don’t underestimate the damage done by attitudes like yours

It’s relatively easy to discount the bile spewed by obnoxious haters. It’s much harder to reconcile the emotional dissonance caused when someone who seems to love you nevertheless embraces beliefs that deny your basic personhood. And that’s what it feels like to me.

 

The Bible is Not…

The Bible

Susan Cottrell of Freed Hearts reposted a Facebook post by Jim Rigby, pastor at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Austin TX. From Jim’s post (emphasis mine):

I love the Bible and study it most days, but the Bible is not intended to be a substitute for a functioning human brain or heart.

I do not believe the sun rotates around the earth just because the Bible says that Joshua stopped the sun. I do not believe the mustard seed is the smallest seed even though Jesus said that it was.

The stories of the Bible can give communities a common vocabulary to talk about what it means a human being in the cosmos, but the Bible is not a reliable guide for science, or for history, or sometimes even for ethics.

The Bible says we are responsible for our own actions, which means we are also responsible for our own thinking. If the Bible can be wrong about astronomy and horticulture, it can also be wrong about slavery, evolution, women and homosexuality.

As the Bible itself warns, if anything (including our interpretation of the Bible) makes us loving, it is right; but if anything (including our interpretation of the Bible) makes us cruel, it is wrong.

See Susan’s post A Warning Label For The Bible.

I LOVE gay people! But…

I love gay people but

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism writes about how evangelicals are adjusting their rhetoric about LGBT people. What she writes rings so true to me – I’ve known many people who believe they are sincere when they say “I love gay people,” and yet their actions are not in the least loving.

Evangelicals like [O. Alan] Noble want everyone to believe that they don’t harbor any ill will toward gay people. More than that, they assure everyone that they love gay people! They simply believe that having gay sex is a sin. This rhetoric is still fairly new. Before society became more accepting of gay and lesbian individuals, evangelicals were not interested in assuring everyone that they don’t hate or harbor ill feelings toward gay people. No indeed. This is evangelicals’ last minute mad scramble to avoid the label “bigot.”

The trouble, of course, is that Noble himself describes same-sex marriages as “fundamentally sinful” in this same article. My mind is called to a lesbian couple I know, raising their son together.  They’ve been together for nearly two decades, supporting each other through painful family reactions, the death of a family member, and the challenges of raising a small child. Their love, their relationship, is beautiful. Noble would describe it as “fundamentally sinful,” and at the same time claim that he does not feel any contempt, disgust, or hatred for either of them.

I’m sorry, but no. It doesn’t work that way. You can’t call same-sex marriages “fundamentally sinful” and then act like this is somehow totally separate from the “contempt, disgust, and hatred” so many Americans still feel for gay and lesbian individuals. It’s not. You can’t call same-sex marriages “fundamentally sinful” and then insist that you love gay and lesbian individuals when the consequences of your belief is that they should be deprived of the love and support of a life partner or have their relationships treated as deviant and even evil.

– See more at “Some Responsibility”: Evangelicals’ Shifting LGBT Rhetoric

This totally reminds me of a great analogy I saw recently from Jason J at jasonjdotbiz. Jason was responding to those who say “Just because I am for traditional marriage doesn’t mean I am anti-gay.”

JasonJDotBiz

Deeply–Held Religious Bullsh!t

Deeply Held Relgious Bullshit

THE BEST THING I have read on this topic. April Kelsey is amazing. In a guest post at Unfundamentalist Christian entitled Your “Deeply Held Religious Belief” Isn’t Biblical, she dismembers the sloppy (or malicious) thinking behind fundevangelicals’ defense for violating the constitutionally-guaranteed civil rights of LGBT people. (Or forget about civil rights; how about just treating people in a civil manner?)

The deplorable fundie thinking goes something like this:

The Bible commands us not to approve of sin, and selling a pink cupcake to a gay man would be approving of his “lifestyle,” so in order to be true to my faith, I demand the freedom to refuse to serve him!”

Bullshit! I found it very worthwhile to read April Kelsey’s entire piece. But here are the basics.

The verse that nearly all of these Christians cite in support of their behavior is Romans 1:32, claiming that it says God not only judges people who sin, but also those who simply approve of sin.

First of all, there is absolutely nothing in the Bible that says selling someone a product in the course of legal business shows approval of the buyer’s lifestyle or behavior. Nothing.

Second, that’s not what the scripture even says… <see original for more details>

So Romans 1 is about hypocritical judgment, not “passive approval.”

From an irreligious, purely commonsense perspective, it seems absurd to claim that selling someone a pastry equates to “approving of their lifestyle.” Are these people really willing to say that they DO APPROVE of everything their other customers do? And from a Biblical perspective, it’s even worse. It is the exact opposite of what Jesus commands. Again, from Kelsey:

For those still inclined to argue, I point to Matthew 5, Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. This is the same passage wherein Christ mandates love for enemies. But it’s the preceding few verses that really demand attention:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”— Matthew 5:38-42 NIV (emphasis added)

So if giving someone something that they ask for shows approval for their sin, then Jesus just commanded his followers to approve of extortion, abuse and kidnapping.

Alleluia Amen! You go girl! (Hmmm, can I really pull that off? I’ve never actually said it in real life… but then again, I AM gay…)

When I started hearing of the county clerks who were refusing to issue marriage licenses because of the “deeply held religious beliefs,” my only thought was this: I have a deeply-held religious belief that people who don’t do the work they are hired to do should be fired.

Liberal Compliment

Liberal Word

Ronnie Righteous: “Gosh Lance, lately it seems that you’ve become such a LIBERAL.”

Lance Lefty: “Aww, thanks Ronnie!”

RR: “Wait, no… that wasn’t a compliment!”

LL: “It sure seemed like one.”

RR: “No, you see – I’m a CONSERVATIVE. You are a LIBERAL. Do you even know what these words mean?”

LL: “Well, let’s see. According to this dictionary, liberal means ‘unprejudiced, unbigoted, broad-minded, enlightened, progressive, advanced, modern, forward-looking, forward-thinking, broad-based…’ Which of these did you mean?”

RR: “Stupid liberal dictionary makers!”

Pick and Choose

A couple of great posts by Fred Clark about the mental gymnastics some people go through to live as they please, condemn who they want, and back it all up with the Bible. As one example, these people want to read certain passages from Leviticus and apply them to (or rather against) gay people, yet it would be inconvenient to have to abide by the adjoining passages. So they come up with an explanation: “Jesus abolished the ceremonial law of the Old Testament, but the moral law remains in full force.” BOOM! Take that gaybies! “The moral law against sex between two men or two women is constant and eternal. But we’re no longer bound by those silly ceremonial laws about not eating pork and the death penalty for adultery.”

Clark doesn’t buy it (and neither do I):

The problem is that this distinction between ceremonial and moral law in Leviticus isn’t actually a thing. It doesn’t come from Leviticus, but can only be retroactively imposed back onto it. And the text itself doesn’t welcome such an imposition.

The people who first wrote and compiled and read the Hebrew scriptures didn’t make such a distinction. Nor did first-century Jews, such as Jesus and Paul. The categories of “clean” and “unclean” in the Hebrew scriptures don’t really allow for this distinction either. It won’t let us treat those categories as merely “ceremonial” and somehow divorced from the matter of morality.

This problem becomes more acute when we actually try to apply this anachronistic distinction. The first step is, of course, to classify all the dietary stuff as “ceremonial” law and all the sex stuff as “moral” law. (Thus, shrimp is OK, but butt-secks is still bad.) But then it turns out we don’t want to keep all of the sex stuff, just some of it. So we have to sift through the sex bits, reclassifying the laws involving menstruation as “ceremonial” while still keeping many of the adjoining sex laws as moral.

Clark is writing in response to an earlier post by Tim Keller, who tries another tack: “Christ changed how we worship,” he writes, “but not how we live.” Clark responds:

That seems promising — until you start to look at the laws he consigns to the realm of worship rather than “how we live.” Eating shrimp? That’s worship. Menstruation? Worship. Promoting the welfare and prosperity of ethnic outsiders? Worship.

I love the tone of Clark’s piece, as well as the logical clarity with which he dismantles Keller. Read Clark’s entire piece at ‘Ceremonial law’ folklore is no substitute for an actual hermeneutic. His earlier post is also available at ‘God hates shrimp’: Picking and choosing among abominations.

B*got vs. F@ggot

Bigot v FaggotFor more on Catholic Vote’s obnoxious video, read this excellent post entitled B*got vs. F@ggot by Domenick Scudera. Much more thoughtful than my own emotional reaction, Scudera spells out exactly why Catholic Vote’s video is offensive. Among the reasons:

  • “You are not a victim. Appropriating the language of victimhood is not the same as being a victim…”
  • “Your claims of loving gay people are hollow. If you truly cared about your gay friends, you would never compare your fake oppression to their genuine suffering and persecution…”
  • “Your opinion is a choice. Being gay is innate. Your video is cleverly edited to make it appear as if you are ‘coming out.’ “ Not in the least analogous to the experience of a gay person coming out.

Read the rest at Huffington Post.

The limits of understanding

UnderstandingIt’s been  a while since I last posted. Before this unscheduled hiatus, it seemed like I was on a roll. So many thoughts rushing through my head, so much to process… the urgency felt a bit like giving birth: when the time arrives, there’s no holding back, you know it’s going to be painful, yet there’s some hope of getting through to the other side. So I feel like I went through the pains of labor, but where the hell is my baby?

I guess there are limits to the utility of “understanding.” I think sometimes I operate as if understanding will solve all of my problems. “If I can just find the right way to look at things; if I can adopt the right perspective – then everything will be OK.” But every time I approach some new perspective, hopeful that a new level of understanding will bring me some relief, instead I find that the mirage evaporates, and I’m alone again in the desert. (Geez, faux-poetic much?)

Don’t get me wrong – it’s all been very productive. Amazing progress, I’d say: I genuinely accept myself as a gay man. (Hmmm… well, at least I’ve come a long way in that direction). I have deeper insight into how I’ve been affected by the evangelical culture I grew up in. I have greater empathy for people all over the LGBTQ spectrum. I’m more willing to speak out on behalf of LGBTQ people. So sure, great progress. All very good. But…

  • I’m still lonely. I don’t feel like there’s any community I really belong to. I don’t quite fit in with my new-found gay friends, who find it strange that I remain in a mixed-orientation marriage. I’ve never quite fit into the dominant heteronormative culture, and especially not into the evangelical subculture I’ve now abandoned.
  • I’m still stuck. I love my wife and she loves me, but we haven’t been able to find a path for the future that we can both embrace. She places a high value on mongamy and faithfulness. I totally get that, and I think I feel the same way. But now that I finally accept myself as a gay man, the thought of remaining celibate for the rest of my life is depressing.
  • I still have authentic sexual needs. For most of my life I’ve denied it, because I refused to accept the legitimacy of those feelings. But as I said, I really have come to accept that I am gay. No more artificial walls to separate me from that basic truth. Maybe masturbation and fantasy can geninuely express my sexuality, but they can’t really fulfill the need for sexual intimacy.
  • I still have authentic emotional and relational needs. I need friendship and intimacy. I don’t doubt that my wife and my family love me. But I can’t get past the thought that they love me despite the fact that I’m gay. She doesn’t love me because I’m gay – everything would be so much easier if I weren’t. It feels somehow pathetic to be loved despite who I am. I desperately want to experience being loved because of who I am.
  • I’m still afraid. Afraid that all this understanding has come along too late to do me any good. Afraid that even if I had the freedom to look, that I’d never find a guy who would really love me for who I am. Afraid that I’m too old or too broken to be worth it.

Sorry everyone – just venting here, I suppose. I usually try to make these posts something that might benefit someone else, but for today, this is all I’ve got.