INTRODUCTION BY LAURA FERRIS; ARTICLE BY JON SEARLE
The title of this post is the title of an article that was submitted to this journal in spring 2010, and I’m pleased to make it available on the blog using my account.
Gay and Christian
I am gay and Christian. For many, these are seen as contradictory identities. I must admit that this essay is part of my “homosexual agenda” to normalize LGBT Christians to evangelicals. I’ll make my agenda, both for this essay and in life, explicit at the outset: I want to share my story as I’ve experienced and interpreted it; and I want other LGBT people who read this and have trouble reconciling their faith with their sexuality to be encouraged.These goals aren’t completely accomplishable in this essay or in my lifetime, but this essay is a good start.
I grew up in an evangelical family and church. My experience of evangelicalism growing up actually defies many of the stereotypes: we weren’t anti-science; we weren’t anti-intellectual; we were loving. I’ll admit that we were Republican, though, which is a stereotype. You’ll notice I keep saying “we” in my description of my upbringing. That’s because I’m still proud to identify with my past. My father and mother were great parents, and it’s clear that they loved me. As a child, every night before bed, I’d give mom and dad a hug and kiss goodnight. In high-school, they’d go to my cross-country meets, marching band games, showchoir competitions, etc. They made sure I did my homework, and did it well. We were very involved in church, and as a child, they’d even take me to vacation bible school every summer. I remember accepting Jesus into my heart several times in my childhood, just to make sure I was actually saved. In any case, I’ve had a relationship with Jesus and His Church from a young age.
Fast forward to junior year at an evangelical college. I had dated three girls by that time, and all of the relationships lacked the physical. By that I mean that I could barely bring myself to touch them romantically – holding hands, hugging, being touchy, kissing, etc. My first girlfriend broke up with me largely because I wasn’t being physical with her at all. My third girlfriend actually got mad at me one night in the car, after almost three months of dating, because we’d never kissed, and she thought I wasn’t attracted to her – I wasn’t, but that wasn’t her fault.
So back to junior year of college. It was then I discovered that I was strongly attracted to men. Yes, it took me that long! I decided the best way to deal with it was to shove it out of my brain, ignore it, keep going after girls, and hope it went away. I did my best to ignore it, but it just wouldn’t go away. How did I discover I was attracted to men? I discovered because one day I caught myself staring at a cute guy and having sexual feelings for him. I wasn’t purposely staring, either. It was just natural and subconscious to me. By the time graduate school rolled around, I was catching myself staring at guys far too often, and in a way that never happened with girls.
It was then that I decided it was time to admit to myself that I was at least bisexual. I figured since I’d dated girls, and talked/joked about them sexually with friends that I must like girls at least a little. Also, I really, really didn’t want to admit I was gay. I figured that if I was bisexual, I could marry a woman, not tell my parents or family, and not live a dreaded life of celibacy. So I started telling friends that I was bisexual. Little did I know, but self-identifying as bisexual is pretty common for gay people as they’re “coming out of the closet.”
Things changed. As I started thinking more deeply about my sexuality and my past, I realized that not only did I only ever catch myself checking out cute guys and not girls, but I’d been checking out guys since puberty. I’d even purposely pick a shower locker next to attractive guys in high-school, and I remembered always having to distract my mind in the gym showers. I recalled also that my physical relationships with my girlfriends were practically non-existent. It was becoming ever clearer that girls were not my main attraction: I was gay. But I desperately didn’t want to be celibate and lonely, which I thought the Bible required of all gay people.
So I started looking at the moral arguments against homosexuality, and then the biblical arguments from pro-gay and anti-gay biblical scholars and theologians. Sure, anal sex seems unnatural. The primary function of an anus is pooping, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to use it for secondary purposes, especially when there are good reasons for doing so, such as a desire to have sex with someone whom you love. And Protestants put themselves in a pickle with the “unnatural argument,” because the primary function of semen is reproduction, yet most Protestants think birth control, condoms, oral sex, and masturbation are natural and morally acceptable, even though they thwart the primary function of semen. If they condemn anal sex because it’s unnatural, then why not these other forms of non-procreative sexuality? Sure, marriage and sex are often about procreation, but we let sterile people, old people, and people who don’t want children get married, and most of the time that people have sex, it isn’t for procreative purposes. Besides, LGBT people can and do adopt children. I certainly plan to. Sure, marriage has always involved opposite sexes, but for most of history it was also polygamous and focused on property rights. Most of the biblical heroes were polygamists. Sure, lots of gay people have promiscuous sex lives, but so do lots of straight people, and promiscuity is a chosen behavior, not an orientation. To be honest, all of the non-biblical arguments against homosexuality are very weak. It’s very hard to see how homosexual behavior, in itself, is harmful to self or society.
I’ve found the historical, biblical evidence to be ambiguous. The idea of a homosexual orientation didn’t exist in ancient times. So, the word “homosexual” is never actually found in the original text. Actually, the ancient of ideas of sexuality considered most adult same-sex behavior to be a form of gluttony. They thought it was excessive passion, due to boredom with women. Furthermore, most of the same-sex behavior in Paul’s time was exploitative and pederastic (i.e. man on boy). Paul does call same-sex behavior unnatural in Romans 1, but for various reasons I’m convinced his ideas of what is natural are probably culturally relative. We see a clue of this in the text itself, since the only other place Paul talks about unnatural behavior is in reference to hair length on men and women in 1 Corinthians 11. It’s unclear whether Paul would’ve known about loving, monogamous, marriage-like, same-sex relationships, since there are so few examples in the ancient data. And if he was aware of these relationships, was he referencing them or just the predominantly pederastic form of same-sex behavior?My exegetical examination of the historical data, and take on the few passing references to same-sex behavior is obviously not meant to be detailed. For a more detailed look, I suggest: Sex and the Single Savior by Dale Martin, or Frequently Asked Questions about Sexuality, the Bible and the Church: Plain Talk about Tough Issues.
If we’re going to allow reason and experience to guide our interpretations on evolution, divorce, usury, evil, prayer, slavery, and women, then why not homosexuality? Many who use the Bible to condemn homosexual behavior are a lot like young-earth creationists. They refuse to allow reason and experience to guide their interpretation of the text. They force reality to fit their interpretation of the Bible, and then insist that LGBT people must be rejecting God, and living depressed, promiscuous, and empty lives.
I think Christian sexual morality should be defined covenantally rather than biologically. I think orientation, gay or straight, is irrelevant to sexual morality. As a gay Christian, I strive for the sexual ideals of monogamy, fidelity, covenant, marriage, self-sacrifice, love, and joy. I think the primary purpose of marriage is found in Genesis 2:18: “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”
I am gay and I am Christian. By and large, I live a happy and normal life. Part of my happiness and fulfillment in life is found in the relationship I have with my boyfriend, also a Christian. I admit that I’m a sinner, and I accept Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I accept the Nicene Creed. I try to love God and neighbor, and try to live life as Jesus would. I have an honest and credible disagreement about the historical context of the texts, and I have a credible disagreement about interpretive method. It’s often hard for me to love Christians who condemn my relationships, because sexuality and romantic relationships are such an integral and fundamental part of the human experience. Yet, Jesus calls us to love one another, especially when it’s hard. I pray that as this debate rages in the church, we all learn to recognize legitimate disagreement, and that we learn to genuinely love.If you’re an LGBT person who has left the faith because the church hurt you too much, why don’t you consider going back? Take a look at the Gay Christian Network. Find a Christian church that accepts you as an LGBT person. The Church hurt me, but it’s also the only place that can heal me properly. Healing often doesn’t come by rejecting the community and tradition you grew up in; it comes by working through it. As St. Augustine wisely said: The Church is a whore, but she’s your mother.