Crumbs from the Communion Table

Aug 29

An upsetting video.

WARNING: DISTURBING CONTENT & LANGUAGE.

This video of a 19-year-old being kicked out of the house (and physically assaulted) for being gay is extremely disturbing to watch/listen to, but it is the kind of story I have heard many, many, many times over the years.

This is why I do what I do and the reason I’ve worked so hard at The Gay Christian Network for so many years, giving up free time and a social life, donating everything I can back to the organization I work for. THIS HAS TO STOP, and we have to be the ones to make it stop.

Aug 28

Pain and prejudice: When it’s not all better.

A year ago, I went through one of the most painful experiences of my life when my mother passed away. She was an incredible person, and I miss her terribly. Now, a year later, I realize something about painful, traumatic experiences: They don’t really go away. The pain moves from public to private, but it doesn’t disappear; you just talk about it less, you learn to move forward with life, and people assume things are “all better.”

Time does bring healing, and pain becomes less raw. But what most people think is evidence of things being “all better” is really just the evidence that you’ve learned to cope with the pain and not let it rule you.

Yes, I’m fine. I still joke around and successfully navigate life experiences of all sorts. But just because I don’t go through every day talking about missing my mom doesn’t mean the pain isn’t still there. It is. It probably always will be.

That pain isn’t all-consuming, but it’s also not all better.

Everyone has their private pains and challenges, and most of us don’t spend a lot of time worrying about the pain everyone else is facing. To be honest, it can be easy to assume everything’s great for them unless they tell us otherwise. 

In some ways, that’s perfectly understandable. If we went through life feeling everyone else’s pain at every moment, we might find ourselves paralyzed, unable to move forward in our own lives. But we need to be careful, because this natural tendency of ours can easily turn into self-centeredness and a lack of compassion. The people in our lives may not constantly remind us of the pain and challenges they continue to face, but that doesn’t mean everything’s great, or that past hurts are all better.

And sometimes, the things that aren’t all better are things we need to be aware of. Like when an entire group of people is suffering from the daily impact of prejudice, while some of us remain blissfully unaware.

I’ve been reminded of that over the last few weeks, as news stories including the police shooting of Michael Brown have reignited a national conversation about racism. Michael Brown, like Trayvon Martin before him, has become a symbol of a community’s fear: that in a world where racism is a reality, it’s too easy for misunderstandings or conflicts to turn deadly and for the victims to wind up maligned or forgotten.

It’s a fear that exists even when it’s not spoken. It’s a serious, serious problem, and I’ve seen many Americans—of all races—willing to continue this conversation and work together on what can be done to improve things. But I’ve also heard some people react as if this conversation were an inconvenience at best: “Seriously? We’re talking about race again?! Haven’t we moved on from that by now?” In their minds, racism is a problem that has already been “fixed,” something that’s “all better,” and bringing it up is only a way of getting sympathy based on injustices of long ago.

Those people couldn’t be more wrong. Racism is far from fixed. Racism continues to this day, and we have to acknowledge that. Those who suffer from it can’t ignore it; they face it constantly, though they may not bring it up. Only those of us in the majority get the privilege of forgetting about it.

Even if all racism ceased to exist tomorrow, it would still show its effects for many, many years to come. Just think: If a single traumatic event can affect the rest of a person’s life, how much more can someone be affected by a lifetime of poor treatment! Even with no more racism, the emotional wounds of racism would last for people’s entire lives. Those made to feel like second-class citizens would still struggle with feelings of inadequacy; they would still find themselves distrusting certain institutions and authorities, wondering if they were being singled out.

More importantly, the toll of racism extends far beyond emotions. There are social consequences of racism that would persist long after the racism itself ended. There would still be inequalities in who had been promoted to high positions, which families had more money, which neighborhoods had more resources, which kids could afford to go to nicer schools. Those inequalities would breed more inequalities, even in a world without racism.

The impact would remain even if the prejudice disappeared tomorrow. But it hasn’t disappeared. The situation has improved, yes, but it’s not fixed. Racism isn’t gone. It’s just become less overt.

I’m ashamed to admit how often I forget that.

As a white man in America, I don’t think about racism much. When I do, it’s usually as something in the past—Michelle Pfeiffer’s character in Hairspray fighting to keep her 1960s TV show segregated, as Queen Latifah bravely leads a march for social change. (Yay, feel good movie!)

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But that was before I was born; that’s not now. Today, my circle of friends is racially diverse, and I can’t imagine any of my friends disparaging another person based on their race. I mean, really, who does that anymore? As an employer, I’d never make a hiring decision based on race, and it’s hard for me to imagine a police officer, salesperson, landlord, or government agent treating someone differently because of their race. I mean, I’ve never seen it happen. Surely, I think to myself, that kind of thing doesn’t go on anymore.

But then, as a white man, how would I know if that kind of thing still happens? Of course it doesn’t happen to me; I’m a member of the white majority. I could look at how the world has changed since the 1960s and say, “Thank goodness! Racism has been eradicated!” but that would be a lie. A glance at world events should instantly tell me that racism is a very real problem around the globe (yes, even genocide still exists), and a brief conversation with any person of color should instantly tell me that they experience racism on a daily basis in ways that I can’t even fathom.

Take, for instance, this recent story of a woman who was stopped on the highway and handcuffed in front of her young children for no apparent reason other than her race:

The video is worth watching, but in case you’re not able to play it for technical reasons, here’s what it depicts. Police in Forney, Texas, had received a tip about a reckless driver waving a gun out the window. They were given a description of the vehicle: a beige Toyota carrying four black men. Instead, they pulled over someone entirely different: a law-abiding mother in a red Nissan with four young children. In the video, we see the woman, Kametra Barbour, forced out of her car at gunpoint and handcuffed. She is clearly terrified and confused, as are the children, but the police won’t explain what this is about or why she’s being handcuffed. Eventually, once they realize they have the wrong person, she is let go—after the crying children ask if they’re all going to jail and a six-year-old comes out with his hands up.

If you’re like me, your first reaction to a story like this is to want to believe that race wasn’t a factor: Maybe it can all be explained as a misunderstanding, and it could have happened to anybody. Okay, maybe. But even I have to admit that it’s hard to imagine the same kind of thing happening to a white mother with four young children. Ms. Barbour wasn’t a criminal; she wasn’t resisting; she wasn’t even driving the right kind of car. She was just black. And while we could debate the details of any specific situation, there’s no question that my black friends have way more stories like this than my white friends do. Like it or not, racism is still a factor in American society.

I try to imagine being a child and seeing my own mother pulled out of the car and handcuffed at gunpoint, and I just can’t. When I try anyway, I’m left wondering how it would affect my view of the police as I grew up. I wonder how well Kametra Barbour’s kids will remember this incident years from now, and how it will affect them. The incident itself is over, but how long will its impact last? Will it ever be “all better”?

Because of their direct experience with racism, my African American friends have a very different response to the Michael Brown shooting story than I do. As a white man, I hear the story as just another news event: A guy was shot by a police officer. Maybe it was justified; maybe it wasn’t. The truth will come out eventually. I can be patient. It doesn’t really impact my life much one way or the other.

But to my black friends, this is a very scary story. They’ve experienced racist treatment over and over at the hands of supposedly impartial institutions. Many of them have experienced racism at the hands of police, as hard as that is for white guys like me to understand. Now here’s a story—not an isolated incident, but the latest in a long line of such stories—of someone being killed by the very folks we rely on for protection, for no apparent reason other than judgments made based on his race. If that race is also your race, that’s frightening.

My friends don’t hate the police, or government, or laws. They’re not criminals or thugs. They’re not whiners complaining about past injustices. They’re reasonable, law-abiding citizens who want to know that incidents like this are taken seriously, that there’s transparency in the process, and that the same thing couldn’t happen to them or their loved ones. Because their own life experiences—experiences I have never had—have proven to them that when someone with a gun is making a split-second decision, race matters.

Was race a factor in the treatment of Kametra Barbour, the killing of Michael Brown and Kajieme Powell, or the trial of George Zimmerman? I don’t know. It’s hard to imagine otherwise, but I wasn’t there and I can’t see into the minds of the people who were. What I do know is that these are traumatic events for an entire community, and traumatic events leave scars that may never heal. We have to take them seriously, to continue the conversations about how we can do better as a nation, and to remember that when it comes to life-altering events, the past is only truly past for those who didn’t live through it.

Because it’s not all better. And understanding that is key to moving forward together.

Jun 28

Thought for the day.

Christians disagree on many things: How should we interpret Paul’s comments on gender roles? Is the Adam & Eve account history or metaphor? What is the “unforgivable sin”? Which biblical rules apply to us today, and which ones are cultural?

But with all the places we may disagree, one thing in the Bible is indisputable: Jesus taught us to show love and grace to one another. If you can’t do that while arguing your point on something else, you’ve missed the message entirely.

Jun 17

A reader’s follow-up on yesterday’s transgender article

In response to my article yesterday on a Christian perspective on transgender people, perpetuallurkernazanin writes:

My girlfriend wrote a synopsis of Bible verses and Christian denominational policies in support of trans people…please take a look, and share if you find it helpful!

This is helpful, because I didn’t get into the Bible passages in my post yesterday. Thanks for sharing!

Jun 16

A Christian perspective on transgender people.

dinosaur-ninja34 writes:

Hey Justin I was wondering from a christian perspective what is your opinion on being transgender

Thanks for the question! The answer could get complicated, though, because “transgender” is a broad term, and transgender Christians have many questions to consider about how they will live their lives.

Since I’m not transgender, I haven’t had to wrestle with all those difficult questions, and I wouldn’t dream of pretending to have all the answers. I do have a Christian perspective on transgender people, though, and it’s the same as my view on all people: God created us all, God loves us all, and if God loves you, then it’s my job to love you too. That means treating you with respect, kindness, and compassion, just like I’d want to be treated. Period.

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At least, it should be that simple. But this is a subject that makes a lot of people—even a lot of gay people!—feel confused and/or uncomfortable, so let’s talk about it.

Transgender" is an umbrella term for various situations in which a person’s gender identity or expression differs from what is typical for their birth sex.

This can sound confusing, because many of us use the words “sex” and “gender” interchangeably to mean whether you are male or female. But for students of gender, these words actually have different meanings.

Sex” refers to your biology: When you were born, the doctor looked at your genitals and announced “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” That’s your sex.

Gender,” on the other hand, is largely in your brain: It’s that internal sense you have of your own masculinity or femininity.

A transgender person’s internal gender identity and/or outward gender expression can differ from what is typical for someone with the sex organs they were born with. And yes, the word “transgender” (not “transgendered”) is an adjective, so you would refer to someone as “a transgender person,” not as “a transgender.”

Readers, is this discussion already starting to feel a bit overwhelming to you? If so, you’re not alone. Most of us aren’t used to thinking about things like “gender identity” and “gender expression.” For us, the world is simple: You’re male or you’re female. Men have XY chromosomes, facial hair, deep voices, and penises. Women have XX chromosomes, breasts, higher voices, and vaginas. Simple, right?

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So when someone starts talking about how their “gender identity” is different from the sex they were “assigned” at birth, or when we see someone with an obvious Adam’s apple wearing lipstick and a dress, or when someone says they’re “genderqueer”—it’s easy for us to think they’re just ignoring the obvious realities of the world. “Stop playing this game,” we may be tempted to say. “If you’re male, you’re male. If you’re female, you’re female. There’s no middle ground.”

We may be tempted to say that. But as hard as it may be for us to realize, the world isn’t quite as simple as we think it is.

Sometimes, for instance, a baby is born with genitals that aren’t typically male or female, so the doctor can’t easily say “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” This condition is called “intersex.” (The old term “hermaphrodite” is no longer considered appropriate.)

The Intersex Society of North America’s website includes a breakdown of various types of intersex conditions and how common they are. Genitals, secondary sex characteristics, and chromosomes don’t always line up in the ways we expect. Bottom line: Although these conditions are rare, they are a reality for millions of people in the world.

And if we know those things don’t always line up, then what about our brains? Men’s and women’s brains are different, on the average. So isn’t it possible that some people’s brains might not be fully in sync with their bodies—that someone might, in a very real sense, have a male brain in a female body, or vice versa?

I’m oversimplifying, of course. There are transgender people who describe themselves as being “trapped in the wrong body,” but for many others, it’s far more complex than that. Just for the sake of argument, though, let’s consider that idea as a simple illustration. Suppose someone is born with a body typical of females and a brain typical of males. Is it fair to call this person “she” even though he has a male brain? Isn’t your identity more in your brain than in your body? And if someone’s body and brain are out of sync with one another, isn’t it reasonable for them to consider physical modifications to help bring them back in sync?

Some transgender people go through hormone therapy and surgery for that very reason. Others don’t. Just as there are many types of intersex conditions, there are many different situations that fall under the transgender umbrella. One thing they frequently have in common, though, is struggle: Transgender people are often misunderstood, ridiculed, or even feared by others. Something simple like using a public restroom can be a nerve-wracking proposition for them. And if we keep them at a distance because they’re different from us—or worse, joke about them behind their backs—we’re contributing to the problem.

The confusion many of us have felt is understandable: Most of the time, we instantly identify the people we meet by categorizing them as male or female. When you see someone and can’t tell right away if they’re male or female, your brain isn’t quite sure how to categorize them, and it feels weird, right? Years ago, Saturday Night Live had a recurring character named Pat built on this premise; all the comedy revolved around the idea that no one was sure if Pat was a man or a woman. We joke about things like this because they make us uncomfortable.

The joking is understandable, but it’s wrong. Jokes like this are actually very hurtful to a lot of people. Someone may look to you like a “man in a dress,” but if she presents herself to you as female and wants to be called “she,” common courtesy says that’s how you should refer to her. You don’t know her story: She might be intersex; she might be transgender; she might be neither. It’s not your business or mine what she looks like under her clothes, and gender is way more complicated than that anyway. All you need to know is that she is a human being, created and beloved by God. Whether she chooses to share more of her story with you at some point is entirely up to her. If she does, listen. If she doesn’t, just love her the way Christ would.

I don’t know what it’s like to be transgender, but I have seen how depressed someone can be when their body and brain are out of sync, and I’ve seen how much happier someone becomes when they’re able to be honest about what they’re experiencing. I don’t have to live their experience to see the impact it has on them. And in the end, I find that very few transgender people are interested in my personal opinions about how they should live or identify themselves. They’ve already made their decisions; what they want from me is the same kindness and respect I’d want from anyone else, whether or not that person agrees with everything I believe or do.

Basically, the Golden Rule.

So maybe it’s really not that complicated after all.

May 09

Amazon is fighting with my publisher! O_O

According to this article from the New York Times, Amazon is currently delaying shipments of certain books—including mine—as part of a battle with my publisher, Hachette Book Group. (Sigh. The publishing industry is weird, you guys.)

Anyway, if you’re trying to order a book and Amazon shows it as having a 2–3 week wait, check other sites like BN.com, which is currently shipping many of the same books within 24 hours, and often for less.

Update: Stephen Colbert is having the same problem, and he talked about it on his show:

Part 1

Part 2

Sadly, he didn’t mention my book at the end there, but Powell’s does carry it, and you can also get autographed copies from The Gay Christian Network.

Apr 24

VIDEO: You’ve never heard me make this argument about same-sex marriage.

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On this blog, I write a lot about how both sides can have more gracious dialogue in the debates about homosexuality and Christianity, but I don’t often spend time making arguments for my own personal view. (Anyone can argue for a position; showing grace to your opponents is harder.)

So for those of you who have always wanted to hear me make a passionate argument for my side, drawing on history and Scripture—followed by a passionate but gracious rebuttal from the other side—here’s your chance, because last week I made that argument in a way I’ve never made it before.

Background info: My friend Ron Belgau and I often speak together on Christian college campuses. We’re both gay (same-sex attracted) Christians, but we have opposing views on marriage and the morality of same-sex sex.

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Usually, we speak for two nights: one night about how we agree, and one night about how we disagree. Last week at Seattle Pacific University, though, we tried something new: We condensed it all into one presentation.

Because of the change, I decided to present my view a little differently, combining Scriptural analysis with historical perspective and cramming it all into a short period of time. I’ve made some of these arguments before, but never all together in rapid succession.

I didn’t know how it would go over, but I think it went really well. In fact, I think the entire presentation was awesome. You should totally watch it.

So here it is: Two friends making an audience (and each other) laugh, talking about Christian grace in the midst of the gay debate, telling stories, and passionately debating each other about whether churches should support same-sex marriage. This is loving dialogue in action.

[link]

For your reference, the presentation went like this:

After that, we took Q&A from the audience.

If you’ve heard me do a presentation like this before, you can skip ahead to marker 47:47 to see the new stuff; you’ll get to start with the last tip, which helps to set up the “disagree” portion of the presentation. (If you’ve never heard me speak and haven’t read my book, though, I strongly suggest watching from the beginning. I know it’s tempting to jump to the disagreement, but trust me: A lot of the best parts are near the beginning!)

Enjoy! And please share!

If you would like to have a presentation at your church, school, or group, contact GCN at 919-786-0000.

Apr 23

5 super-awesome author moments.

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As a first-time author, there are a few special moments that you never forget. They’re moments that feel surreal because you’ve always thought of them as things that only happen to big, important authors, and you don’t think of yourself that way. So when they happen to you, it’s like…

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So far, I’ve had four such moments. I feel so privileged, because some authors never get to experience any of these:

1. The day you first get to hold an actual, physical copy of your book. This is becoming rarer as more books come out in electronic versions only. I’m especially lucky because I got to have a hardcover version of my book, which is, like, the coolest thing ever. Here’s video evidence of me being a complete dork the first time I got to see it.

This will forever rank as one of the most awesome days of my life.

2. Your first book signing. “Wait… you want my signature? Me?” My first signing was before the official release, at BookExpo America. I got to sign next to Jay Bakker, Shane Hipps, and Brian McLaren, who is one of the most gracious authors I’ve ever met. I wish I could be as friendly as he is.

Also, this video was so much fun to make.

3. Seeing your book on a shelf in an actual bookstore. I used to say that if I ever wrote a book, I would always want to go in every major bookstore I passed to see if they had my book in stock. Do I still do that? Yes. Yes I do.

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(Hey, there it is, between Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer!)

4. Recording your own audiobook. Very few authors get the opportunity to record an audio version of their books. When my publisher asked me to, I was on cloud nine. And, I’m not gonna lie, every time someone tells me they listened to the audiobook and liked it better than the print version because of the emotion in my voice, well, that just makes my day a million times better.

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Also, I meant to write a blog post about the experience! I need to do that.

And this week I added a fifth:

5. The first time your book gets translated into another language. My book is now available in Dutch! This. Is. Amazing. There’s now a version of my own book that I can’t read because I don’t speak the language. Do you know how amazing that is? (Hint: It’s pretty darn amazing.)

To commemorate the occasion, I made my first Vine of all the versions of my book.

Dorky, but kinda fun, right? Or maybe just dorky.

Actually, there’s one more cool author experience I should mention, because it transcends all the others: Hearing from all of you. Although I don’t always have time to respond, I do read the wonderful messages you all send me—on the blog, on social media, in private messages—and they mean so much. I wrote this book (and this blog) to make a difference, and every time I hear from someone that I’ve done that, it thrills me to the core.

So thank you. Thanks for your support, for your encouragement, and for letting me share this amazing journey with you. You all rock.

Even if I never write another book, this has been by far the most amazing author experience I could ever have imagined.

Apr 22

Homosexuality: It’s not what you think.

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The first time I heard of “homosexuals,” I was completely confused.

I was a sheltered Christian kid and I’d never heard the term, so I asked a more worldly friend about it.

As my friend explained it, homosexuals were men who put their you-know-what in another man’s you-know-where, which was probably the grossest thing I’d ever heard.

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“BUT WHY?!” I wanted to know. Why would anyone want to do such a thing?

“I have no earthly idea,” my friend replied.

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For many years, that’s what I thought homosexuality was. I thought gay men were perverts who weren’t content with God’s design—and had therefore decided to push the sexual envelope by engaging in male-male sex. (Why? I didn’t know. Maybe for the sexual thrill? Or to rebel against God? I wasn’t sure.)

In my mind, “homosexuality” was some form of bizarre, kinky sex for crazy people.

But then something happened.

When I’d hit puberty and all my friends had started to feel attraction to girls, I hadn’t. I had started to feel attraction to guys instead. For years I’d denied it to myself or written it off as a phase, but finally, I had to face the truth: that in spite of my strong faith and the fact that I was dating girls, I had never been attracted to women, no matter how hard I tried.

It took me many years and many prayerful, tearful nights to admit that my brain is wired differently from most guys’. What they feel for girls, I feel for guys. And what they feel for guys, I feel for girls. I can be great friends with a woman, but I can’t fall in love with her. A close female friend feels like a sister, not a lover.

And that’s when I realized:

Oh.

OH.

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So that’s what people mean when they say they’re “gay.”

It’s not about sex at all.

It’s about what you feel inside. It’s about how you relate to other people. It’s about who you’re attracted to—not just physically, but romantically and emotionally. It’s about who you could—or couldn’t—fall in love with.

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And this is why people fight so much about homosexuality.

As I’ve written before, “homosexuality” isn’t a helpful word, because it’s far too vague. If you believe, as I did, that homosexuality is something people do—a sex act—then a lot of stuff about gay people seems silly or senseless. Of course you wouldn’t compare a sex act to marriage. Of course you wouldn’t talk about a sex act around children or in polite company. Of course you wouldn’t ask for public endorsement of a sex act.

This is how I saw the gay rights movement for many years: It made no sense to me, because I thought homosexuality was about a sex act. And lots of people still do. You can tell because of the comparisons they make—comparing it to sexually abusing animals or children, for instance—and because of the questions they ask, like, “Why can’t you just keep it in the bedroom?”

They’re not trying to be mean. They’re really, genuinely baffled by it all. Just like I was.

But here’s the truth: I’m gay, and my life isn’t about sex. Some of my gay friends are having sex, and some aren’t. What we have in common isn’t sex; it’s that our brains are wired differently from our straight friends’ brains. We didn’t ask for it. Some of us fought for years—even decades—to try to become attracted to the opposite sex. Others accepted themselves early on. All of us are faced with the same situation: We can fall in love with the same sex, but not the opposite sex. We could choose to be celibate, but we can’t choose to be straight.

Is it any surprise, then, that most gay people—like most straight people—want to fall in love and have a romantic relationship with someone? Is it any surprise that physical intimacy, including sex, is usually a part of that relationship?

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“But Justin,” some Christians say to me, “maybe you didn’t choose your feelings, but can’t you just treat them as a temptation and abstain? I chose to abstain from sex until I got married.” 

Well, yes, I can, but that’s exactly my point. Even if I abstain from sex for my entire life, I’m still gay, and I’m still alone. That’s not actually a solution to anything; it only seems like one if you think this is all about sex.

As a gay Christian, I have a lot of questions about my future: What if I fall in love some day? What if I don’t? If I end up alone—by choice or by chance—what happens to me if I get sick and there’s no one to take care of me? And if I do fall in love with a guy and decide to build a life with him, I’m pretty confident that 99% of the questions and challenges I’ll face will have nothing to do with sex. Relationships are hard, no matter who you are. So if your only concern about my life is whether I’m having sex, it sure doesn’t seem like you’re thinking very much about me as a person.

Yes, sex and sexuality are part of life. But now I understand something I didn’t understand before: Gay, straight, or bi, a person’s “sexual orientation” isn’t just a sexual orientation. It’s how you’re wired: sexually, yes, but also emotionally, romantically, relationally.

Homosexuality isn’t about a sex act any more than heterosexuality is. Some gay people never even have sex, and those who do, don’t all have it the same way. But we’re all human, we all feel loneliness, and we all crave love. 

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of people out there who think homosexuality is a sex act. As long as that misconception exists, they’ll keep right on being baffled by my calling myself a gay Christian, and my gay friends will keep right on being frustrated at what seems like a total lack of human compassion.

And me, I’ll just keep right on saying, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Read more about this in my book, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audiobook.

Apr 20

“She whispers support and I scream judgment; you see, Easter is for me and my plank-eyed soul.” — Raspberry Jam, “Easter”