September 28, 2011

Coming out with God

[Editor's Note: I am incredibly excited to introduce you all to our second 2015 blogger, Jonathan! Please give him the same rousing welcome that you gave Kyle last week.]

So, lately I've noticed myself using the terms "before I was gay," and "after I was gay" to refer to before and after my senior year of high school, respectively. I'm still not entirely sure when or why I started doing this.

This seemed rather strange to me when I first noticed myself doing it, but upon some reflection I realized that there was a subtle truth in what I was saying.

Prior to my junior and senior years of high school (or thereabouts), I was heavily repressed. I knew that I sometimes thought about other boys, but I also knew that God would send me to hell if I thought too much about other boys. The concept of a gay person going to church was totally nonsensical to me. After all, why would they bother worshiping a God that hated them? Obviously, I never would have (or could have) considered myself gay (hence the "before I was gay" era). I couldn't be. After all, I was a good Christian boy, and God doesn't make you gay if you're Christian. Attraction to other boys is just something everyone has to deal with, they just never talk about it. Right?

Over the course of my junior and senior years in high school I began to reevaluate those statements. Through the help of a few good friends, a couple gay role models, and a handful of Christian theologians (Desmond Tutu and Gene Robinson especially), I gradually came to understand that the term "gay Christian" isn't such an oxymoron after all. For the first time in my life I was exposed to the possibilities that I could be both, and that I could be gay and not go to hell. What radical thoughts! My whole conception of myself and the world was blown apart. Suddenly, I could embrace that part of me I'd kept hidden my entire life. I didn't have to force myself to like girls anymore, and God would still love me? And thus began the long and difficult process of coming to terms with my sexuality and the beginning of the "after I was gay" era.

Sadly, I am well aware that I don't face this struggle alone. The struggle to choose between religion and sexuality is something all gay religious teens face. It would seem that the current religious climate in America simply doesn't allow someone to be both gay and Christian - you have to pick one. Many gay teens simply toss their religion aside, or worse, they do what I did, and repress their sexuality in order to keep God's love for them. It would seem there's something unfair, or rather, unnatural, about having to make that choice. As Dr Daniel Helminiak puts it, "To have to be afraid to feel sexual is to restrain that noblest of human possibilities, love. It is to short-circuit human spontaneity in a whole array of expressions - creativity, motivation, passion, commitment, heroic achievement. It is to be afraid of part of one's own deepest self.... So, in a profound and important way, for people to have to choose between religion and sexuality is to have to choose between religion and themselves. As we are coming to understand the matter today, it is to have to choose between God and human wholeness."

Choosing between God and human wholeness? Is that a choice God wants us to have to make? Is that really what the queer community has to spend their lives wrestling with? Is that the best God can do? Really?

No.

God is greater, better, and more nuanced than that.

Of course, this doesn't mean we're getting off easy. We're left with the massive responsibility of finding a way to make our religion and our sexuality work. Although God will be with us along the way, working in both our religion and our sexual identity, we still face the very difficult question: How can we find some middle ground between the two? One thing that I've learned in my own attempts is that no one can give us an easy means to reconcile our faith and our sexuality. For those of us struggling to reconcile them, there are plenty of gay religious role models that can help point us in the right directions, but ultimately, our individual middle ground is something we have to work out with God for ourselves.

No matter what stage you're at in this reconciliation - questioning, afraid to question, conflicted, or confident - rest assured, God does not want you to hide from any part of who you are. After all, God made you, and there's no part of you that God can't handle. In recent years (mostly over the past century or so) God has been the victim of the most vicious case of slander ever to occur in the course of human history at the hands of conservative religious groups. These groups and the falsehoods they spread cannot comprehend the breadth and the depth of our God. They cannot understand and they cannot withstand the Good News that our God's love is for all of us, all the time, in all places, people of all faiths, and people of no faith. It cannot and will not be confined to any group which tries to claim it and monopolize it for itself. As the Archbishop Desmond Tutu famously preached, "Jesus said, 'When I be lifted up I will draw all people to myself.' All. All, all, all, all, all! Black, white, rich, poor, beautiful, not-so-beautiful. It's one of the most radical things! All, all, all, all, all! Gay, bi, so-called straight, all of us are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All."

Don't be afraid to embrace part of who you are because you think God won't like it; God embraced that part of you a long time ago.

17 comments:

  1. Excellent, beautiful post, Jonathan! Welcome to the blog! It's great to see you talking about one of the issues with which it is so difficult for many of us to deal.

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  2. Hey Jonathan! Great post! This is a great message that people need to hear.

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  3. Great post! so glad you decided to tackle such a difficult issue for so many. In our community we often say LOVE=LOVE, but you have helped to point out that also GOD=LOVE. thank you for doing that.

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  4. Love this post and this message, we definitely need more people who are speaking out on behalf of LGBT christians!

    Welcome =)

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  5. Hey Jonathan! Welcome to the blog and thanks so much for writing this. As someone who was raised very religious, I also battled with this dilemma and ended up losing my religion, so to speak. After reading your post, I've now begun to rethink that decision I made to stop believing. There were other factors that led to that decision but my sexuality was one of the bigger ones. So, thanks. Maybe I'll be able to find my religion again.

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  6. Solid post, yo. Looking forward to hearing more from you!

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  7. Hey Jonathan,

    Really glad you wrote this. A lot of Christians--LGBT-identified and not--struggle with this issue a lot. As one unable to deny either my Catholicism or my homosexuality, I know I've struggled with this issue myself quite a lot, and come to my own conclusions. I think the sentence that resonated with me most is, "One thing that I've learned in my own attempts is that no one can give us an easy means to reconcile our faith and our sexuality...[U]ltimately, our individual middle ground is something we have to work out with God for ourselves." [Not that I'm espousing moral relativism or anything ;) ]

    I would love to see more dialogue on this issue throughout this LGBT community and the wider LGBT community.

    Looking forward to hearing more from you!

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  8. Jonathan, my friend! I am proud of you for both this post, your strength, and your intellect. You are destined for great things!

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  9. What do you think about the many Bible passages disparaging homosexuality? You just ignore them?

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  10. Odds are that anonymous poster won't ever see this response, but, on the off chance they do, and for the benefit of anyone reading this in the future, I will respond.

    First, I would like to say that I completely agree with you. I agree that we cannot simply ignore the parts of the Bible we don't like. That isn't how faith works, and if God doesn't challenge the way we see the world, then we have a Stepford Wife for a God. The bottom line is that the Bible does, in all of about seven places (not "many passages"), offer a view of homosexuality that seems condemnatory. The relevance of those passages to modern, monogamous, homosexual relationships is questionable, but at the end of the day, no amount of historical-analytical sleight of hand is going to change the way those verses make us feel when we read them. This is why homosexual teens struggle so greatly with religion - this was the point of my entire post. In the context of the larger message of the Bible, those verses make no sense. They stick out like seven sore thumbs, which is why I believe they get so much attention. We can't ever really know what these verses mean in the context of the larger Bible, and can't ever really know what those verses meant to their original authors or to their original audiences. I am still very much unsure of exactly where I stand on what God wants to me learn from these verses. To be perfectly honest, I don't know what they mean, and I don't think you do either, but what I do know is my relationship with the Living God - the God who makes all things new, the God who is about to do a new thing, the God who will draw all people to Himself. It is important that we leave room for the action of the Spirit to change the way we think about and see the world.

    Like I said, if I don't allow the Word of God in the Bible to challenge my perception of the world, and if you don't allow the Spirit of God in the world to challenge your perception of the world, we are both guilty of worshiping a Stepford God.

    And as for people ignoring Bible verses: "... God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean." ~Acts 10:28

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  11. Jonathan, your words are so rich. and I'm grateful for your courage man. I have never commented on this blog, let alone written-- something I wonder about it from time to time-- but I must say that your honesty is incredibly refreshing, and I believe that there is so much power in your words. As someone who is sharing more about my own faith/sexuality reconciliation, I am witnessing the power of my testimony-- there's something to owning ALL of who God has made you to be. It's incredibly powerful.

    Keep sharing and continue trusting in Jesus' amazing love and the fullness of who God is; you will NEVER be put to shame.

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  12. This is going to be a bit of a jumble because I have feelings saved up from the last few years but I never previously commented on this blog...
    Thank you for this post and for all of these comments. Echoing what Shane said, I think about this topic a lot because though I identify as heterosexual, I too have had to reconcile my faith with how I love others. I am saddened and frustrated at what some people in my faith community have done to the creations of God in the name of God.
    I regret now that I was not a more vocal ally during my undergrad days. After graduation, I spent a year in the inner city working at a Catholic HIV/AIDS drop-in center, where I encountered people who saw God working through each other and in themselves. It was probably one of the holiest places I've encountered in my life--true gospel living with love for God and love for each other, no matter what background. This has been complemented by my reading of this blog (dare I say I read it religiously?). It's taken me a lifetime to tease out what I think God wants and what some people in a particular church organization believe (and honestly, the "church" is made up of all its people, and I think the majority of people are being ignored on many issues--I believe change will come), and I concluded that God does not condone hatred of any of his beloved creations. In any case, we are to love each other despite imperfections (and we are all imperfect, especially when we judge others to be unworthy). I was once told that Christ "would have died for you alone" because he loves us so much, and I once proclaimed that God's spirit, his breath, is in each of us and around all of us. That means I (and others) believe that we are all beloved by God, and we need to recognize that and reflect that in our interactions with others.
    So, basically I wanted to say that I have seen people of all types reconciling these issues--it can be done and I've seen it happen. But more importantly, I wanted to say that this blog has been deeply meaningful to me the past few years. I have seen God in each person who has posted here, and you've all challenged me to be a better Christian/human being. That's partially why I'm getting my official ally training at my graduate school this month--I want to know concrete ways in which I can be more supportive, especially to those who feel neglected or even condemned by their church. Since "the church" is the people, I want to be the part of the church that does not contribute to neglect or hatred. And this time, I am going to be vocal about it. I want to help reclaim God's love for God's people, instead of having humans decide who is worthy of it or not.
    Please forgive me for not speaking up sooner and more often. Thank you for all for challenging me to do more to make the world a more loving place, and for giving me deeper, true examples of agape within your community.

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  13. (hopefully you do see this)
    What it sounds like to me is that you do not believe in the God of the Old Testament. You have some sort of religious feeling, you like the weird story of God sending his son who is also himself to save everyone from sins that God designed them to commit in the first place, and so you call yourself a Christian. Why such mystification of those seven phrases? I'm not sure why you call them a "sore thumb"--the Bible is full of cruel and disgusting passages just as unacceptable as the ones about homosexuality.

    My goal isn't to be a jerk or to be a superior atheist. The mysteriousness of consciousness and the universe is worth devoting your life to trying to understand. But what Christianity does is destroy that mystery with absurd, pre-modern "explanations" that no reasonable person should accept. And I wish that more Christian homosexuals would start on the path towards recognizing that when they come across the Bible's anti-homosexuality, rather than take the more comfortable path of accepting a slightly modified form of Christianity anyway. Sorry (really) if I'm being condescending. I used to be a Christian, too.

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  14. Okay, it's quite clear that you're no longer listening to me. I'm assuming you had a painful experience in the past with a "Christian" church, and it seems like you also have a particular distaste for the pseudo-Christian "I believe in the New Testament only" belief system that's become quite popular these days, but the vision I'm presenting here is neither of those.

    I know you aren't listening to me because, even though I began my last comment with, "First, I would like to say that I completely agree with you. I agree that we cannot simply ignore the parts of the Bible we don't like. That isn't how faith works..." you still began your response with, "What it sounds like to me is that you do not believe in the God of the Old Testament," which doesn't at all follow from anything that I've said. I love the Old Testament, and if you claim the God of the Old Testament is different from that of the New, than you aren't properly a "Christian" in the traditional sense of the word. Also, even if I didn't like the Old Testament, as I said, I don't think we can just throw it out because I don't like it.

    Also, although the Bible may have a handful of "disgusting and cruel passages," that is not the overarching message of the Gospel. A handful of stories which appear to be cruel or discriminatory to us, reading the Bible with a 21st century understanding of the world, does not change the overall theme of God's relentless pursuit of humankind. Also, I think you are seriously misreading the Bible. You cannot overlay a 21st century worldview on a 2000-3000 year old text, that's how things like a Biblical justification for slavery happen. You have to read the Bible in the historical context it was written in, you have to find what those "cruel and disgusting" (to 21st century readers) passages meant to their authors and their original audiences. When you begin to place "cruel and disgusting passages" in context, it becomes quite apparent that they are neither disgusting nor cruel, but full of hope and God's love for all people. Granted, there is a limit to the extent to which we can know what the original context might have been.

    But anyway, the purpose of this blog isn't to debate religion vs athiesm. I'd love to talk to you sometime, and you should feel free to email me, but I won't respond to anymore anonymous comments on this blog that don't relate to the point of the article. The point of my writing here is to provide hope and reassurance to people who identify as LGBTQ and are also struggling to reconcile that identity with the teachings of Christianity. I want people to know that the terms "Christian" and "gay" are not mutually exclusive, and there is no place for a debate over whether or not someone should be religious at all in that message. However, that debate is an important one, and you should email me so we can continue this conversation.

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  15. Ah, I figured my email address was up here somewhere. It's jonathan.york@duke.edu

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