Topic #1: Voices from the Gay Community (July 2015) »


Launch Date for Conversation: July 1, 2015

Conversation Partners:

            Eve Tushnet, Catholic Patheos Blogger

            Justin Lee, Executive Director, The Gay Christian Network

Leading Question: What are your beliefs about morally appropriate relationships between persons who experience same-sex attraction?

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Reader Comments (2)

Well, I guess I fall somewhere into the Side A group of gay folks.

My reasons for this are several.

My own experiences in faith community were intense lessons, for starters. First I had a good long lesson that involved being in the Closet, working like the dickens to appear straight, even though I and most other people around me knew pretty much I just did not line up with much that was typically 'male'. I clearly missed the marks, whether we are talking about our faith community in rural Kansas, or whether we are talking about faith communities in general, or whether we are talking about USA cultural norms for boys, for men.

Thus, my years of early childhood to adolescent pretense were a lesson in deceit at more than one level. We all not only silently conspired to pretend that I was straight, we all also pretty much conspired to pretend that I was being successful in play acting as straight.

Living lies turned out to be one strong lesson for me.

The second life lesson came to me, ever so slowly and ever so deeply and ever so painfully. I spent about 9 or 10 years involved in intense family-faith community so that God would shape and transform me into the guy everybody sincerely believed God intended me to be. In three ever more difficult chapters, this life lesson unfolded.

First, since somehow I spilled the beans about my attractions to other guys at school (probably to a youth pastor or youth evangelist who was 'just passing through'?), all agreed that I was just too young to really know what I was talking about. So, to generously give me space to grow out of my quite understandable 'confusion,' I was encouraged and supported to just be the very best young adolescent Christian boy I could possibly be or become. As the saying goes, every time the church doors were open, me and my extended family were there, anyway. I just had to be a bit more careful to really focus, really pay attention, really participate.

Of course, after two or two and a half years, this was not truly working all that well. My romantic and other sensual feelings about other boys were only clearer, stronger, more personalized, .... I just really wanted to give a dozen roses to too many different other boys as time unfolded. I guess, to that extent, my disavowed self-knowledge appeared more intransigent and much more terrifying, than not.

Again, I must have spilled the beans, probably to another youth pastor. (I think it says something about those times, insofar as I cannot really recall any of the specifics of how I told anybody and what I said. It is all just a blank or a blur. I only reliably infer I told somebody in family/church, because of the results that I do remember which followed.)

So, this time, everybody agreed I was starting to be old enough to know something of what I was saying. The church consensus was just that I needed to 'get serious with God.' After some praying through, it seemed that would mean all that I had been doing all along, plus focusing on fasting and prayer. I discovered that as a 14-15 year old boy, I could not go without eating for more than 3 days at a time. So I got into a more or less reluctantly accepted cycle where I fasted and prayed intensely for three days, then desperately had to eat something (almost anything at all, it seemed) on that fourth day. Yes, I felt wimpy and sheepish about my itty bitty fasts. Our church gold standard was something like 30 days fasts with oodles of all kinds of prayer. I was clearly wobbling in baby steps, though the underlying feedback had a tone that what I could still do was give God my best, whatever that was.

Fasting and prayer failed, too. I realized abruptly that nothing had changed at all inside, when I realized I had an intense and hot and tender feeling for the son of another church family with whom we were good friends. He was an incredibly attractive, great guy with a very good heart. Who wouldn't fall for him?

About that time my family was moving into pentecostal church circles. This time, my missing the transformational marks that God was chomping at the bit to inspire and fuel in me showed a darker side of faith discernment. A lot of pentecostal believers hold the view that same sex romantic feelings and such are so far out of the human regular Created realm, that only demonic forces or demon influences could be sparking things off in that vile direction in the first place. So we came to exorcisms. Small but dedicated groups of charismatic church leaders would gather around me in the pastor's home living room, and demons of homosexuality would be adjured to leave me through the good that was the power of Jesus. I had so many exorcisms, I lost count.

Every time a faith leader with mojo came through my local church networks, we ended up at the pastor's living room for an exorcism prayer session.

Honestly, between the repeat cycles of fasting and prayer, amplified by the exorcism prayer meetings, I felt like a cancer patient who is increasingly trying to bear up under the most intense but state of the art cancer treatment available. O the mighty yet arduous 'cures' for being gay!

I just put my head to the grindstone and tried my very, very best to do what was asked by God. Everybody liked to repeat lots of scripture, praying and talking about 'bearing your cross' and following Jesus even when it was far, far, far from easy.

After high school graduation, I came back home from out of state to my rural extended family. I mostly had stopped feeling much of anything by then, but still I knew, honestly, deep down inside me that I was just as gay as ever, if not more gay than ever. What kind of gay orientation is it, that survives fasting, prayer, worship, Bible study, tradition study, and even innumerable exorcisms?

All the faith people we knew stood rooted in the perspectives that had already been tried and failed. All fasting and prayer really did for me was leave me so thin, my grandmother worried I would get tuberculosis and die. (I would gladly have traded feeling and being gay, for tuberculosis at the time. Death? Gee, maybe a slam dunk exchange?)

Not eating did alter my teen guy hormones, enough that I pretty much stopped feeling and sensing anything that was not 'authorized' as okay. My body went into a kind of robustly blanked out state. Was God air-brushing me like a glamorously touched up Vogue cover model? I really did not feel all that sexual, or even sensual or even sense-wise alive; but did have one very embarrassing day at school when an impending exam deadline suddenly triggered my body into just the kind of eruption that I as a Christian so desperately enjoyed not having, before that odd, odd, odd moment. I had several layers of clothes on, so nothing showed, thank goodness. I kept it silent, secret, just some weird bit as I walked my weird path for God?

If all the big time faith work was not opening me up to God's wonderful influence, what to do? What to think? Had I committed the unforgive-able sin against the Holy Ghost?

Nobody really wanted that explanation to be true, but what else was left? What else was there?

All of a sudden, a new fangled type of Christian Counselor showed up in our church networks. What in the world? I was quickly referred and met with him, weekly.

We reviewed my previous week, sorting out any moment or any situation that seemed gay to us, or even seemed perhaps just tinged with pink? Then after we had recognized the offending and evil pink, we would join together in strong prayer, asking God to burn up all the awful pink stuff on the altars of heaven. This went on for a while, and even after I went off to start college, I saw the Christian Counselor for a summer in between first and second year.

By now any reader will guess the second lesson: No change. Looking back I can vaguely observe that, since the end of that time, the piety of song plus prayer plus worship plus teachings and traditions has been much burned and blackened. I did a summer hospital internship one year in grad school, but I got the shakes every time I walked past the burn ward on fourth floor. Later I understood how akin to many of those burn ward patients I was, invisibly, in utter silence.

So, terrified and reluctant, I began to Come Out. I had never to my knowledge, ever met another LGBTQ person in my entire life up to that point in my mid-20s. Learning to hang out in gay singles bars was overwhelming at first. But I found some real gay friends, made some straight allies, discovered the Episcopal Church through a series of mystical coincidences and experiences I won't detail here. I generally began to grow up into an ordinary young gay man in his later twenties. Dating other men was often a lot less romantic than I wished. I was and am a heart on sleeve, flower toting, sort of gay guy. if I like you, well, I like you.

I really cannot complain about my life after Coming Out. Yes, I lived through ups and through downs. People opened amazing doors to opportunities I never would have imagined I could have in a zillion years. I was sponsored for ordination from the Episcopal Diocese of Oklahoma, so you will not be surprised to hear that by my last year in seminary, the pathway to deaconhood just crumbled beneath my feet. I was not, it would seem, suitable nor called to be a priest.

I would have to say that my reasons for being Side A are a kind of service-able cable that has served as a surprise type of lifeline: three or more intertwined yet life-saving strands. My own lifeline has been woven of experiential life reality testing, interacting with lots of Bible study and tradition study, interacting with equally intense reading of the available human sciences and related empirical literature.

Mostly on an empirical basis, I view being gay as just a statistically minority variation in human nature, essentially still inside what we call 'average' or 'normal' limits. The longer faith people ignore or neglect to read and weigh the rather large empirical literature, the less I feel at home with them. For me, this discernment is like learning from Copernicus or Galileo. I am content with the simple notion that neither the Bible nor faith traditions are as such, science, or better yet, carefully good enough empirical hypothesis testing. I am working on the provisional ethical guidance involved in a notion that we ostracized, variant people can more or less follow through on what we would have expected to be able to do in life or work or sex and in relationships, as if we had discovered ourselves to be majority straight.

One thing I can say for sure: walking a provisional alternative pathway in an era of astounding empirical research, coincident with how the mis-understandings of LGBTQ folks have been changing for the better? ..... has been tons less damaging to me, inside and outside, than when I walked through the rural Kansas Valley of the Shadow of Death in my teenage, ex-gay/not gay years. So for me, being Side A fits. That's a working discernment in good faith, for me. Other people discern and feel able to walk, other paths, indeed. I have no need to put any others in jail or prison, deny them work or housing or civil 'space' to find and grow a decent daily life, and similar. Some days I can almost give thanks that fewer and fewer people - even people of self-acknowledged faith community - feel driven to do something punitive like that to me.

July 7, 2015 | Unregistered Commenterdrdanfee

I think it's important to recognize that "morally appropriate" is always context-sensitive. The "Side A" option can be morally appropriate outside a religious context in some societies and within some religious traditions. Within other traditions and societies "Side B" might not even be considered morally appropriate. I can see at the same time how in many Protestant church contexts a gay marriage could be accepted with theological faithfulness, but other churches could go no farther than blessing or merely recognizing the couple.

This is not a bad situation. There is not and cannot be one universally right answer for all time. We must patiently work through the problems that arise when different traditions and societies collide in a connected pluralistic world.

July 10, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGerry

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