Just the other night, I was having dinner with a few friends when I was reminded of what a precarious space LGBTQ Christians occupy in the current cultural, spiritual, and theological systems. It started out as a rather elementary discussion of how several of us had come out in the church and what our experiences of that had been, and through a retelling of our stories, I realized that in many ways, it's not uncommon for us to find ourselves between a rock and a hard place as LGBTQ Christians.
Sometimes you just reach a breaking point. It’s not that you don’t care anymore or even that it’s not important anymore, but sometimes you just grow weary of the constant tension, the constant sensation of being “always on.” Because why wouldn’t that be exhausting? That’s sort of how I feel right now when it comes to Christian LGBTQ things and LGBTQ things in general, the dialogues, the conversations, the controversies, the debates, the activism, all of it. I feel burned out if I’m being completely honest.
And it’s gotten pretty darn close to the point of cynicism when it comes to these things now. Maybe it’s because I’ve already had 4 years to think about and process all my own thoughts and conflicts. Maybe it’s because I’m already out to my friends, family, and whoever else might care to know. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had to deal with many of the harsher realities of what this life and what this identity means for some people recently. Maybe, like Taylor Swift, it’s been a case of overexposure over the course of the last few years, with all the writing, rambling, and rallying I’ve been a part of.
I feel burned out if I'm being completely honest.
But maybe it’s also just a natural part of the ups and downs and cyclical nature of life itself. Maybe feelings and sensations like this come and go in waves. Maybe in a few weeks, months, or a year I’ll be back on the activism train and maybe even working in a position that would require that. That seems logical to me. It’s burned into my heart and soul after all, and there’s no running away from this existence, from this life that I’ve been living and will continue to live until the Lord decides my time is up.
For now though, I just want to live. And maybe this is a pipe dream or a symptom of some sort of privilege I didn’t quite realize I had, but I just want to be able to live my life without having to continually defend my own existence, my own convictions, my own identity, my own choices. I just want to be able to live my life without endlessly needing to explain why I think a certain way or why I’ve reconciled my identity with my faith and the rest of my life. That’s all really. I just want to live. I just want to be, and I long for the day when people can look at me, another anomaly among many (read: LGBTQ Christians), and others like me and just accept it at face value, without needing a long, drawn-out explanation or a theological argument to satisfy their own inner nagging curiosities or bouncer-to-the-Kingdom mentality.
I just want to be able to live my life without having to continually defend my own existence.
I just want to live, to wake up in the morning and go to work, to go to dinner with my friends every once in a while, to love the people I love, to hold someone’s hand, to talk about the future, and to be able to go to bed at night not feeling like I stick out in the church pews with a neon sign above my head just by virtue of being here on this earth.
And maybe one of the ways to fulfill that longing to just be, to just live is take a step back and do it. Obviously, this is always going to be something kindling in the depths of my heart and spirit, but I think I’m also willing to go with the ebb and flow.
So, who knows? Maybe now that I’m starting to get settled at work and having a functional computer again (long, strange story…haha) I’ll be back to writing here semi-frequently, but maybe I’ll also just lie low for a while to try this whole “just being” and “just living” thing. I have no idea. That’s where I’m at, and I’m going with the flow.
Note: This post is the first in an ongoing series of posts entitled “Lessons from CWC” in which I reflect on some ideas taken out of Christianity & Western Culture, a gen ed class at Bethel that I TA’ed for during my time there. I think that there’s a lot to be learned from history and other thinkers before us, and I loved the class and being able to TA for it. These posts will have their own individual titles, but they’ll be organized under the category “Lessons from CWC” which can be accessed from the ‘Menu’ tab at the top right corner of any page of the blog. Happy reading. As a blogger and a writer, you could say that the way words flow together and the juxtaposition of their meanings really strikes a chord with me. Maybe that’s why I’m quick to remember quotes or phrases that I like or that are especially meaningful to me. Today, I was reminded of something that one of my professors said in class last semester that has stuck with me ever since. (In reality, I feel like maybe I had heard this saying before, but I’m going to attribute it to Dan Rotach anyway.)
While I was reflecting on a little back and forth that some of my friends and I had gotten into on Facebook, stemming from my last blog post, I thought back to this saying: The wisest people are also the quickest to say, “I don’t know.”
The wisest people are also the quickest to say, "I don't know."
At first, that statement seems to be counterintuitive. How can you be wise if you’re also going to be the first person to say that you don’t know or that you aren’t sure? Won’t people think that you don’t really know what you’re talking about or that you must be ill informed if you don’t always have an answer ready for them? Perhaps, but I think that being wise also involves an understanding that there’s always going to be more to learn and that the only person who has an answer for everything is God. And even then, we’re not always privy to those answers.
This is something that Socrates, an ancient Athenian philosopher, understood that I think a lot of us, myself included, often forget. Though he lived before the time of Christ and thus couldn’t be considered a Christian by most traditional benchmarks, I think that there’s still a lot that we can learn from his reflections on life. He was famous for saying things like this:
“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” - Socrates
Maybe that sounds radical, but I think that it’s true. After all, in almost every field that humans have studied, we have eventually reached a point where we must ask ourselves more questions, and sometimes the answer is “I don’t know” for a long time or even longer. Think about it. Some of the smartest people in the world are still trying to figure out how it so happened that life is sustainable on earth, how people and other living things can be made up of millions of cells but function as an entire unit, how emotions make sense from chemical processes in the brain, and so many other things. True, sometimes we can come up with baseline answers for these questions, but a lot of the time, we end up back at “I don’t know.”
Perhaps this is the same approach we should take to topics that we still aren’t completely versed in or that we might never be as well, such as human sexuality or theology. The former we still don’t entirely understand, and the latter deals with the study of God, an infinite being that we’ll never be able to fully comprehend. Yes, we should absolutely seek to learn as much about God and about theology as we can, but maybe that also means admitting that we don’t know sometimes. There are those outspoken for Calvinism and Arminianism, affirming and non-affirming theology, whether or not women can or cannot be leaders in the church, and many other things, but those things aren’t necessarily salvific. And if that’s the case, are they really worth tearing ourselves apart over?
I’ve heard Calvinists accuse others of not taking the sovereignty of God seriously. I’ve heard non-affirming leaders accuse others of destroying the sanctity of marriage. I’ve heard creationists attack the faith of evolutionists. I’ve seen a lot of strife in the church and between Christians centered around things that shouldn’t be tearing apart the body of Christ.
Yes, I think that it’s absolutely crucial that people figure out what they believe and why they believe it, but are we really so arrogant to believe that our own interpretation, our pastor, our church, our denomination, etc. has gotten it completely, 100% right? That’s an awfully pressure-packed position to stand in.
Every other Christian out there is trying to live out and figure out their faith one day at a time, just like we are.
Of course, I’m not arguing that people abandon those beliefs, but I do think that perhaps we could all use a small enough dose of humility to say that perhaps we’re wrong, not to put doubt into our own beliefs necessarily, but to have enough grace not to attack others or question the validity of their faith because we recognize that every other Christian out there is doing the exact same thing that we are: trying to live out and figure out their faith and what that means for his or her life one day at a time.
In light of that, my posture in almost every situation is to hold to something else that I’ve been told repeatedly in my life. In many difficult life situations, often involving loss, my dad has said something to this effect, “I’m not one to judge someone else’s faith, because you can’t know. That’s between them and God.”
"I'm not one to judge someone else's faith. That's between them and God."
While we might not necessarily agree with what someone else believes, I think that those words are true. We aren’t the bouncers to the Kingdom, so why do we so often insist on policing the beliefs and morality of others? I certainly don’t know for certain whether this or that contested belief on a particular topic is true. Maybe neither of them are. Maybe the reality is something that humans can’t even fathom. With that in mind, I think that I’ll stick to doing the one thing that I do know I’m supposed to do.
I’ll stick to loving and admitting that sometimes I don’t know what the right answer is and that sometimes I’ll get things wrong.
I think that most of us would agree and can relate to situations in which our well-meaning straight friends say something or point us to something, whether it's a book, online sermon, article, or anything else that unintentionally hurts us, sometimes a lot. Something like that happened to me earlier this week, which is what I want to share with you for this post. Now, I typically like to say that I don't get offended very easily, and I still hold to that as I'm writing, but what I experienced earlier this week was something that was a rather unique experience in a really uncomfortable way. I can't remember the last time (if ever), I've ever experienced anything like it before, but I'm sure that perhaps some of you have encountered something like this:
It all started while I was having a meeting with the team that I help lead a Bible study with. We have meetings weekly where we just talk about the highs and lows of the week, decompress, and look at our plan for what Bible study is. At this particular meeting, I was having a rough time, or really just having a rough week in general. I was wrestling with a lot of different things at the time, including still battling with exactly what I currently believe about homosexuality as it pertains to faith and life and things like that, among the other typical daily hassles of life.
As a little bit of a backdrop (and I spoke about this a little in my very first post on this blog), a lot of my perspectives on homosexuality, being a gay Christian, and how that all fits together have been changing in the past few months, and I think that this is a direct result of a lot of prayer, digging into the Word to see what it actually says versus what Christians think it says, and just spending a lot of time with the Lord during the first few weeks of 2015. All of this is actually really exciting, just because I've been feeling the presence of the Lord very strongly and He has been speaking pretty clearly to me in my opinion. Nevertheless, because some of my new views on this topic are not necessarily majority or popular views, I've also spent a lot of time continuing to look in the Word and commune with God, trying to make sure that what I was getting out of my time with Him was actually what I was supposed to be getting out of it, as opposed to just reading too much into what I wanted to hear. I mean, I do want to obey Him and follow Him, no matter what He says, even if that means living celibately my whole life, but I honestly feel like God has been tugging at my heart and telling me to reexamine some of my beliefs that I've held so tightly to for the past several years.
At any rate, the other members of my team asked me what was on my mind, and I told them about the things that I was thinking through and the decisions and things that I needed to make. (And yes, this group of people knows about me, and I'm super thankful that nothing crazy happened, like asking me to step down or anything...something that I feel like tends to happen a lot in Christian leadership circles.) So, one of the girls on my team told me that she had a sermon that was going to send me that she thought the Lord was putting on her heart to share with me. Okay. Cool. That sounds great. I thanked her and let her know I would take a look at it as soon as I had time.
Fast forward to just a day or two ago: I watched this online sermon and just hated it. It was honestly terrible, didn't help at all, and actually had me questioning what I believe even more than before I watched it. Awesome.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm really thankful for this girl on my team and the fact that she was willing to take a step out and share something with me, but it was honestly probably one of the most unhelpful things that anyone has ever shared with me related to this topic. And I still love this girl dearly. I'm sure without a shadow of a doubt that her heart was in the right place when she sent it to me, but I think that there are just some things that our straight brothers and sisters don't necessarily think about or consider when they share things like that with us. Here's why.
The sermon was an hour long and it was basically a pastor "debunking" all these "myths" about homosexuality and basically arguing that the growing acceptance of it in the church and in the world is a sign of the corruption of the world. He laid out all of his arguments about why he believed that homosexuality was still wrong and how he didn't believe that someone could claim to be both a Christian and practice homosexuality, and in all honesty, his arguments were pretty good. He gave a really good analogy about how people tend to rationalize their behavior when the going gets tough, and that really got me thinking. And then he also gave a lot of arguments and supported them with a lot of things that I have already heard, and I'm sure you have already heard.
So why was it such a big deal? It really wasn't. But it did remind me again that sometimes we need to take things like that with a grain of salt. Now, I'm not saying that we should just disregard any teaching on homosexuality just because we disagree with it, but I do think that it means we need to be critical and study the Bible for ourselves so that we can know what we believe for ourselves. Otherwise, it's too easy to have your beliefs and opinions tossed by the waves of the different opinions and perspectives that we hear from various church leaders.
Let me give you a very brief summary of what I believe concerning homosexuality (and I'll write a more in-depth post in the future about this as well) so that I can comment further on some things that I believe our straight brothers and sisters should keep in mind when trying to speak into our lives on this issue. For me, I believe that God does condone same-sex relationships, with a few strings attached so to speak. I've been researching, reading, and studying this topic for a long time now, just because I want to make sure that I have all the information and that I can be consistent with what the Bible says. God has also been speaking to my heart over the past few years about this as well, and this is the conclusion that I have come to. All the Bible really speaks out against is homosexual sex. In my opinion, the Bible says nothing to condemn same-sex relationships.
Now, I'm sure that what I just said is sure to create some tension, but this is sort of my middle ground opinion that I don't think a lot of people have recognized or even thought about before. I believe that gay people can be in loving, committed relationships. I believe that they can even get married. For me, the only thing that the Bible specifically speaks out against is the actual act of homosexual sex, and for me that's okay. I can live with that. The reason for this is that I think the real thing that the LGBT community, specifically the Christian LGBT community, is pushing for when they fight for marriage equality and same-sex relationships is intimacy. I published a post a few weeks ago about a QTalk that I watched. In that QTalk, the speaker, a Christian lesbian woman, said: "We can live without sex, but we can't live without intimacy." That phrase encapsulates a lot of what I believe concerning this issue, and for me, it provides a scenario in which I can have a lot of the things that other straight Christians can have, just with some slight alterations. And like I said, I'm completely okay with that, because I agree with her. We can live without sex, but we can't live without intimacy.
Thus, my problem with most straight Christians and straight pastors who oppose homosexuality is that they always reduce people like us to a sex act. They always assume that if you're gay or lesbian and you're in a relationship, that you must be having lots and lots of sex, and that's just not true. Straight people are expected to date and be engaged for how many years before they get married and have sex? For some people, it's a long time. But they survive. They don't shrivel up and die because they can't have sex, and I'm sure that no one assumes that just because they are dating or engaged, especially if they are Christians, they are having sex. That's just not how it works for straight people, so why do people make different assumptions just because you tell them that you're gay? That still eludes me.
In the same way, I believe that gay Christians can also have those close, intimate relationships with someone of the same sex without being condemned for it. Honestly, in my mind, it just sounds like a lifetime of dating another person, which is what lots of cheesy Christian marriage counselors would say that marriage is supposed to be like anyway. If you're not going to do the one thing that the Bible actually says that you're not supposed to do, I don't see what you can't have a loving, committed relationship just like all of your straight friends. And before anyone jumps the gun, I want to say that even if you do believe that gay people can get married and have sex under what the Bible says, I don't judge you in any way. To me, it's seriously so irrelevant. In theology, there are three levels of beliefs: dogma, doctrine, and opinion. Dogma is what you need to believe to still be considered a Christian and thus be saved. Doctrine encapsulates the beliefs that tend to separate denominations, but are not required to be saved, and opinion is just that. It's your own personal opinion. For me, I would put this homosexuality debate somewhere in that realm of doctrine and opinion. For me, homosexuality doesn't affect your salvation either way. The only thing that affects your salvation is your relationship with Christ and your belief that He died and rose again to save you from your sins. That's what matters.
Having said all of that, I eventually came to the conclusion that whatever I had just heard from this middle-aged, white, straight pastor who's been married for 35 years (!!!) didn't matter and that I wasn't going to let it affect me in a negative way (I honestly felt terrible about myself after watching it...). I know what God has revealed to me over the past few months, and I've been praying hard and digging into the Word to make sure that's what He wanted me to hear and see, and I still hold to what I just said above, which is a direct result of what God has spoken to me recently.
My last gripe is this: I'm really over these straight, married pastors trying to speak into this situation in my life that they don't have to deal with, especially in the case of pastors like this one, who only spoke out and argued about why homosexuality is wrong without providing any answers or solutions on how to live with a same-sex orientation! I just don't understand how he possibly thought that what he was saying could be helpful to LGBT Christians in any way, shape, or form.
Well, actually I do. It's because his sermon was really directed toward straight people and trying to convince them what to think about this issue, and that's fine, because I want people to see my point of view as well. However, he noted multiple times that he loved LGBT people, and that's just not something that I got out of his message. It seemed really hostile and attacking.
To close this post out, I think that, personally at least, I'm going to be a lot more critical of straight, married pastors speaking about homosexuality from now on than I am of people like Julie Rodgers (who I posted a QTalk about) who have to deal with what they're talking about on a daily basis. It's the thing that irks me the most, straight, married pastors getting so enflamed and heated about a discussion that they probably know very little about, practically. They don't have to experience the things that they're speaking out against. They don't have to deal with the loneliness, or the feeling that the church doesn't accept them, or the longing for someone to love them. It's those kinds of things that I can relate to when an LGBT Christian is the one speaking, even if they voice opinions that I don't agree with. At least I can respect them for speaking out about their beliefs, because they've had to deal with it. They understand what they're asking people to do.
The most powerful quote I've heard about Christians relating to LGBT people is this: Do we really, fully understand what we're asking them to do?
Anyway, this post got sort of ranty towards the end, but these are the things that I was feeling this week. Let me know your thoughts on these things. I'm open to listening to people and hearing more opinions.