I’ve just gotten back from speaking to a packed chapel at Malone University, and I had a blast!
If you’re not familiar with Malone, it’s a Christian school in a more conservative denomination; their official view is that gay relationships are sinful. They’ve been sponsoring a series of “Worldview Forums” in which proponents of diverse viewpoints are offered a chance to debate in front of students, and yesterday, they held a forum on the subject of homosexuality (and, more specifically, gay Christians).
I was speaking along with Christopher Yuan, whose story is very different from mine: He lived a promiscuous life of gay sex and drugs before coming to Christ and leaving that life behind. He continues to be attracted to men, but he’s committed to celibacy, and he typically doesn’t identify himself as “gay.” Christopher and I have very different views on the Bible, being gay, and other topics, so a debate between the two of us seemed a natural fit for this forum.
The thing is, neither Christopher nor I like to do debates. So although our event was set up kind of like a debate, we framed it as more of a gracious conversation with two divergent points of view. We each answered a series of pre-determined questions, and then the audience was offered an opportunity to ask impromptu questions of their own.
Going in, I was incredibly nervous… about trying to fit my answers into the short time for each question! But in the end, it went well, and you can watch a video of the event below.
Of course, if you’ve heard me speak before, you might hear me reuse a few jokes. Shhhhhh! Don’t tell, and we’ll just pretend I’m always that witty off the top of my head. ;)
P.S. If you want me to come speak to your group, you can contact the Gay Christian Network office to set it up.
In Jesus’ famous story of the Good Samaritan, a Jewish man is beaten and left for dead on the side of the road, and it is a Samaritan—a man he wouldn’t normally associate with, someone from the other side of the tracks—who stops, cares for him, and pays for his recovery.
"Who was this man’s neighbor?" Jesus asks. His point is clear: If we are supposed to love our neighbors, often the "neighbors" we’re called to love are the people most different from ourselves.
This isn’t just a story about overcoming racism. The issues between the Jews and the Samaritans were as much theological and philosophical as cultural. For us to understand the story today, we need to replace the Samaritan with the people who most frustrate and anger us: Republicans. Democrats. Fundamentalists. Gays. Christians. Muslims. Atheists. Whoever you don’t like or don’t understand, that’s the Samaritan for you.
Or maybe, just maybe, you’re the Samaritan, and the person you don’t like is the one lying on the side of the road, needing your compassion but expecting you to just walk on by.
We live in a world where people look out for themselves, their interests, and the people they know well—and expect us to do the same. It’s a world where nations broker deals based on self-interest and politicians hold entire governments hostage because they refuse to give in and let “the other side” score a political point.
It’s a world of suspicion and hostility: If you’re lying on the side of the road, it’s your own fault you’re there. Or maybe you’re just trying to trap me. Either way, I certainly can’t be bothered to stop and check on you, much less use my own resources to help you out. After all, you’re the other. You can’t be trusted. You deserve what you get. I have my own circle to worry about.
Jesus calls us to a better way of living. Jesus says that the people we have the least in common with are our neighbors. We are called to love them. To care for them. To seek to understand them. To treat them with grace and compassion. And yes, that includes the folks on the other side of the political aisle from you. Especially them.
This doesn’t mean we act foolishly, of course. Jesus told his disciples to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” But it means that when the world tells us to solve problems by demonizing our opponents and overcoming them with our power, Jesus tells us “those people” are still our neighbors. They have needs, wants, fears, and hurts, too. Dehumanizing them is damaging to our own souls.
[Gifs from this scene in Searching for Bobby Fischer]
A culture-war mentality isn’t in anyone’s best interest, but it’s infected American discourse and politics in a major way. I don’t know about you, but I’m sick and tired of seeing our politicians getting more and more polarized, demonizing one another and refusing to see things through each others’ eyes or make compromises—even as they know that people all over the country are suffering from their inaction.
Every time these stories pop up, I find myself thinking about the Good Samaritan. And I find myself thinking, I wish those politicians who trumpet their Christian faith so loudly would show a little more willingness to live out the principles Jesus taught and modeled.
It’s not just good religion. It also makes the world a better place.
A few days ago, my amazing mom died from a progressive brain disease. We were very close, and I’m still in shock.
As I’m going through the grieving process, I’m discovering that a lot of very good people are very bad at knowing what to say at a time like this. So over the last few days, I’ve been making a list of things I wish people would do when they find out I’m grieving. (It’s one of the weird ways I’m working through my emotions right now.)
Everyone grieves differently, but maybe this list will prove helpful to you next time someone close to you has a tragedy and you aren’t sure what to do or say.
1. When you see me, ask how I am. A simple “How are you doing?” or “How are you holding up?” works wonders. It shows that you care, and it gives me the freedom to respond with a simple “Fine, thanks,” if I don’t want to talk about it—or to give more detail if I do.
2. Pay attention to the mood I’m in. I’ve come to realize that I have three different ways of handling grief:
The best friends are good at noticing which mode I’m operating in at any given moment. If they aren’t sure, they ask. “Would you like to talk about it, or would you prefer a distraction?” “Would you like to get out? Or do you need some space right now?” These are wonderful questions.
3. Let me decide what I need in the moment. At times, I’ve said I wanted to get my mind off of my grief, only to have someone say to me, “No, you need to talk about this to work through it. Avoidance isn’t healthy.” That doesn’t help me. Yes, I will talk through this at some point, but this may not be the right time for me, and you might not be the person I choose to talk through it with. (I might choose a therapist, family member, or pastor, for instance. Please don’t take it personally.) Remember, everyone grieves differently, and only I know what I need at any given moment.
4. If I want to talk, let me talk. Don’t worry about saying the right things; there aren’t any magic words you can say to make me feel better, and we both know it. Just listen. You don’t need to say anything at all beyond “I’m sorry.”
5. Don’t try to fix it. I don’t want to hear about how she’s in a better place. I don’t want to hear about how “God called home an angel,” or how it’s good she’s not suffering, or how she’ll live on in our hearts. I already know these things, and I might say them myself, but when you say them, it feels a bit like you’re trying to cheer me up and stop me from grieving. Right now, I need to grieve, so let me grieve.
6. If I don’t want to talk about it, you can help by being a distraction. When I’m in distraction mode, it isn’t the right time to ask for details about what happened, how the funeral went, or what she was like, even if you’re insanely curious. Right now, I want to make jokes, go for a walk, watch a movie, or something else. Don’t treat me like I’m fragile, and don’t worry if my mood seems to shift a lot. I might laugh one minute and cry the next. It’s okay. I’m glad you’re with me, and I still don’t want to talk about the other stuff. Not right now.
7. If I want to be alone, let me be alone. Don’t take it personally; it’s not about you. I just need some space to process my grief. Don’t try to cheer me up. That only makes me feel worse. Let me know you’re intentionally giving me space and that you’re available when I want to call on you—that lets me know you’re not just abandoning me—but then leave. Let me have the time and space I need, without my having to worry about what you are thinking.
8. Don’t tell me you “know how it feels.” You don’t. You can’t know how it feels to be me right now because you’re not me. One of my best friends also just lost his mom to a similar neurological disease, but even he doesn’t know exactly how I feel, and I don’t know exactly how he felt. We’re different people, our moms were different people, and our experiences of grief are different.
What is appropriate is to relate: “I’m so sorry. My mom died years ago and I still cry when I think about her.” That tells me that you understand that this is difficult, but that you don’t necessarily think your grief was equivalent to my grief. If you’ve never had a serious loss, just say something like, “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling right now,” and follow it up with letting me know you’re here for me.
9. Instead of asking if there’s anything you can do, offer something specific. In the past, I’ve been guilty of asking people, “Is there anything I can do?” But I’m discovering I don’t like it much when people ask me, because I really don’t know what to tell them.
I know, when people say this, they just want me to know that they care and that I can call upon them. But when my friend from many states away asks me what she can do, I don’t know what to tell her. She can’t bring my mom back. She can’t take away my grief. She can’t make it all better. And when I’m already feeling emotionally overwhelmed, it’s easy for her well-intentioned question to come across to me like, “Knowing you’re sad makes me feel helpless. I don’t like feeling helpless, so I’m now transferring the burden to you to find something I can do so that I’ll feel less helpless, or so that you’ll say there’s nothing I can do and I can feel better and know that I’ve done my duty.”
That might sound strange, but I’m amazed at how often I find myself, as a grieving person, having to comfort other people for their feelings of helplessness and discomfort surrounding my grief. It’s okay that you don’t know what to say or do. I don’t expect you to. And if you can’t think of anything you could do in this situation, there’s probably not anything. It’s okay to just be a good listener. I’d rather not be tasked with the responsibility of finding something for you to do.
On the other hand, if you can think of something specific I might need, it’s great to offer that: “Can I bring you dinner?” “Can I finish that project for you so you can spend more time with your family?” “Would you like to get out for a while for coffee or drinks?” I appreciate the offer, and I might take you up on it. Just be sure not to pressure me or be offended if I decline.
10. Understand that this is a slow, difficult, often confusing journey. Sometimes, I might seem very inconsistent in what I want. As I write this, I’m feeling fine. That’s no guarantee I’ll be feeling fine ten minutes from now. The day after my mother died, I poured myself into work like nothing was wrong. Today, I’m taking the day off to be alone. Months from now, when you’ve forgotten this post, I may still be grieving and have times when it seems like more than I can bear—but feel awkward bringing it up for fear of being a downer.
Don’t assume everything is fine just because I seem to be my usual cheerful self, and don’t assume I’m not fine if I say I really am. Sometimes, grief comes in waves.
The grieving process is a weird thing. But if you are comfortable enough to let me grieve in my own way, you can make it much easier for me to do what I need to do and keep moving forward. And that is one of the marks of a true friend.
A moment of levity for your day today from The Doghouse Diaries.
I’m totally going to start saying these.
More serious(-ish) content to come!
Part 5 in my series of questions Christians ask about gay people.
An open letter to Christians everywhere about the “adulterous Christian” analogy.
Dear Christians of the world:
Please, please, please don’t use this analogy. I know what you mean, but this one really ticks gay people off, and it gets you nowhere.
First of all, there is a huge difference between a loving, monogamous relationship—gay or straight—and adultery. One of them is two people selflessly promising love and faithfulness to one another; the other is the breaking of that vow through cheating. Even if you believe that gay relationships are inherently sinful, it’s not a fair comparison.
For “Side A" gay Christians in committed relationships, the analogy itself comes across as offensive. How many straight people would be happy to have their marriages compared to cheating?
I get it, though. People who ask this aren’t saying gay relationships and adultery are the same thing; they just believe both are sinful, and they’re asking why Christians would identify themselves with a sin.
But here’s the thing: Even celibate, “Side B" gay Christians like Ron Belgau and Wesley Hill—who both believe acting on their same-sex attractions would be sinful—still refer to themselves as gay Christians. So why do they do it?
Because there’s another big difference between adultery and being gay.
Adultery is an act. It’s something a person does: cheating on their spouse. But being gay isn’t an act. It’s what you feel, not what you do. A gay person can be celibate or promiscuous, but they’re still gay.
You commit adultery. You can’t commit “gay.”
At most, you could say that gay and straight people have different sets of temptations. (I have never in my life been tempted to lust after a woman. Straight guys can’t say that.) This is very different from calling yourself an “adulterous Christian,” which would suggest that you’re cheating on your spouse.
And in case you’re wondering why I even need to tell you that I’m gay or straight at all, that was the subject of question #4 in this series.
So, my fellow Christians, please help me educate our brothers and sisters so that I don’t have to keep answering this question for the rest of my life. With your help, someday I can introduce myself at church without having it turn into a 3-hour conversation about adultery. And that would make me so, so, so happy.
Your non-adulterous, Jesus-loving, Clue-playing, musical-humming, gay-and-shockingly-boring brother in Christ,
P.S. I apologize to all of my fellow grammar geeks out there who noticed the missing period in one of the gifs and couldn’t concentrate on anything I said after that. I promise to make it up to you somehow. Someday.
For more in this series, click here.
I’m taking a desperately needed vacation, but I’ll be back to posting next week. In the meantime, feel free to check out recent episodes of GCN Radio (I don’t always post them here), or visit my blog homepage and follow the links in the sidebar to read some of my favorite past posts you may have missed.
Thanks for following! I’ll be right back!
Part 4 in my series of questions Christians ask about gay people.
Today’s question is suuuuuuper common, and gay people hear it in a lot of different ways:
Celibate gay Christians get this question, too, and for them, it often sounds like this:
All of these questions are basically asking the same thing, and all of them make the same mistake:
They mistakenly think that being gay is about sex. It’s not.
If we were talking about what someone likes in bed, then I’d agree. If you like whips and chains, or if you fantasize about dressing up in superhero costumes with your wife, that’s information I don’t really need to have. That’s what you like in bed.
But being gay isn’t what I like in bed. Being gay, like being straight, has to do with much more: how my brain is wired, how I relate to men and to women, and who I will or won’t fall in love with. My sexual feelings are a part of that, but only a part.
In fact, straight people talk about being straight all the time! In many cases, I know someone is straight after only one conversation—often within a few minutes of meeting them.
One of my favorite webcomic artists is Drew Mokris, of Left-Handed Toons and Spinnerdisc. I’ve never met him, and I know very little about his life. But I know he has a dog, and I know he’s straight. How do I know? Because when he got married the other day, he publicly posted this sweet save-the-date animation he had made months earlier:
Cute, right? I don’t know about you, but it made me smile.
It’s a love story, not about politics or what he likes in bed. But it’s also about being straight, isn’t it? In fact, every time a straight person mentions an opposite-sex significant other (whether it’s someone they’re with now or someone they hope to meet in the future), they’re letting me know they’re straight.
By contrast, if a gay person had posted this video about two guys or two girls, I can pretty much guarantee there would have been comments accusing them of flaunting their sexuality or telling them they should keep it in the bedroom. With a straight couple, we assume it’s about love, but with a gay couple, we assume it’s about sex.
It’s about more than relationships, though. The truth is, we all want to be known for who we are, and our orientation is a big part of that.
Straight readers: Suppose a rumor began circulating that you’re gay, even though you aren’t. And suppose your family, friends, coworkers, church, and acquaintances all began to believe the rumor. Would you correct them? How long would you let them believe you’re gay before you felt the need to tell the truth? A straight man named Tim Kurek pretended to be gay for a year as part of an experiment. Would you last that long? Would you let it go for ten years? Your entire life?
Most people wouldn’t feel comfortable pretending to be gay for even a day. We want people to know us for who we really are, and when they believe something about us that isn’t true, we feel distant from them. It’s natural to want them to know the truth.
But let’s say you did decide to keep your heterosexuality a secret from everyone in your life. How would you do it?
You couldn’t ever mention your spouse or significant other in public. You certainly couldn’t wear a wedding ring—too many questions. You couldn’t have pictures of your family at work. When current events affecting gay people came up in conversation, you’d have to pretend they affected you even though they don’t. (Closeted gay people have to do the opposite.) If your spouse was sick or injured and you had to leave work early to take them to the hospital, you couldn’t tell anyone why. When people tried to set you up on dates with others of the same sex, or casually mentioned that so-and-so is “hot,” or asked “Have you met any nice [boys/girls] yet?”, you’d have to invent excuses or change the subject.
And that’s just for starters. If I included all the ways your life would have to change, this blog post would be so long that no one would read it.
If you wanted to pretend to be gay, it wouldn’t just be a matter of not bringing the subject up; you’d have to deliberately deceive people. That’s what gay people have to go through every day until they decide to let people know they’re gay. Everyone assumes we’re straight, and until we correct them, there’s a wall of deception between them and us.
When we come out publicly as gay, it’s because we don’t want to have that wall. We don’t want to lie. And we don’t want to live every day worrying about what you’ll do when you find out—because we know the truth will come out eventually, and we’d rather be the ones to tell you instead of letting you hear something through the rumor mill.
One final point…
So what about those single, celibate gay folks? If they don’t have significant others to hide, why does their orientation even matter?
I can think of two big reasons right away.
One reason is that orientation, like gender, affects a lot about a person besides their sexuality. If you’ve ever been the only man in a roomful of women, or the only woman in a roomful of men, you know that being male or female gives you a different perspective on many things. So when I tell you I’m male, I’m not making a statement about what’s in my pants; I’m telling you something about who I am—something that affects how I experience the world and how I’ll relate to you.
The same thing is true of my orientation. Even if I never go on a single date, just being gay means I’m wired differently and my experience of the world is going to be different than if I were straight. Keeping that secret would be like trying to hide my masculinity from you. You would never really know me.
The second reason is that by coming out, we can save others from a lot of pain. This is a controversial subject in the world right now, and many people are hurting because of misunderstandings about gay people. When gay people come out—especially those who defy stereotypes—it’s a way of humanizing the issue and helping people understand. If you know I’m gay, maybe you’ll be more prepared to support your nephew or best friend when he comes out as gay. And when I come out as gay and Christian, maybe your nephew or best friend will have someone to look to as a role model, to know that he doesn’t have to leave his faith behind because of what he’s experiencing.
Even if that were the only reason to come out, I’d say it’s worth it.
Part 3 in my series of questions Christians ask about gay people.
Gay pride parades/marches are popular for a number of reasons:
(Actually, I don’t… but judging from the crowds at Walt Disney World every afternoon and evening, I may be in the minority.)
But why are they “gay pride” parades?
In order to understand “gay pride,” you first have to understand something about shame. And that brings me to a story about race.
I grew up in the suburbs as a privileged white kid in the 1980s. I attended a school for gifted students, where most (but not all) of my classmates were also privileged white kids. Several of my best friends were non-white, though, and I firmly believed in a color-blind society where people would be seen for themselves, not for their race.
So perhaps you can understand why I was confused the first time I saw a black classmate wearing a t-shirt that said “Black is Beautiful.”
Wait a second, I thought. Aren’t we supposed to be color blind? After all, if a white student had worn a t-shirt that said, “White is Beautiful,” it would be considered racist and offensive. Why didn’t that go both ways?
It took a conversation with my black best friend to knock some sense into me.
Black kids in America today aren’t growing up in a world with separate drinking fountains, but they are growing up in a world where dark skin is still considered a liability. In numerous studies, even young children—black and white—identify white dolls as “good” and “beautiful” and black dolls as “bad” and “ugly.”
These cultural messages come from a variety of sources. They’re deeply ingrained, and those of us in the white majority may not notice them. But they’re there. No one likes to think of themselves as racist, but experiments continue to show that people treat others differently (and make different assumptions about them) based on their race.
Even in the African American community, it’s often true that men and women with lighter skin are considered more beautiful than those with darker skin. And this isn’t just an issue for black Americans; in Asia, for instance, cosmetic surgery has become extremely popular to try to look more Caucasian.
The implicit message, no doubt fed by American movies and television, is that white is beautiful and other races are not—that the less Caucasian you look, the less attractive, desirable, or trustworthy you are.
Those of us who are Caucasian can shake our heads sadly at this and wish things were different, then forget about it and move on to the next issue. But that dark-skinned little girl doesn’t get that opportunity. She wakes up every day knowing on some level that society considers her “less than” because of her skin and her nose and her hair:
So when that black classmate of mine wore a “Black is Beautiful” t-shirt to school, it was her way of fighting back against the societal pressures that only saw white as beautiful. She didn’t want to hide or ignore what made her different (so much for “color blind”), and she didn’t want to be ashamed of it either. Instead, she was making a conscious choice to celebrate the very things that others might use to bring her down. By contrast, if someone had come to school in a “White is Beautiful” t-shirt, it would have only added to the very societal pressures she was trying so hard to overcome.
Being gay in America isn’t the same as being black in America; they are very, very different experiences. But both groups have had to fight against a toxic kind of shame.
Some kinds of shame are good, of course. If you do something wrong, you should feel a sense of shame. But some kinds of shame are toxic. If a little girl thinks something is wrong with her because her hair isn’t straight and her skin is too dark, that is a toxic kind of shame. And when her mother encourages her to take pride in her race and her heritage, that’s a healthy, good kind of pride designed to combat that toxic shame.
Gay people in many cultures grow up with toxic shame, too, and because our parents usually are straight, we can feel especially alone. We think there’s something wrong with us because we’re not like the other little boys or little girls—because we don’t like the same things they do, don’t walk the same way, don’t talk the same way. We develop same-sex attractions at puberty and feel a deep, abiding sense of shame—not for anything we’ve done, but for feelings we didn’t want and can’t get rid of. And whether we ultimately choose to pursue a relationship, stay celibate, or even go through ex-gay therapy, that toxic shame can be very hard to shake.
It is that—along with the painful messages we may hear from family, co-workers, politicians, and churches—that prompts many LGBT people to publicly and loudly proclaim their pride in who they are. They don’t mean the “arrogance” sort of pride that Christians ought to avoid, but rather the sense of taking joy in the things that make them different, as an antidote to the shame that threatens to drag them down.
So “pride parades” are, for many, a way to reject that shame, connect with others in the same boat, and find a sense of community and family that they may not otherwise have had.
And yes, some people overdo it.
But then again, some people have had to overcome a lot of toxic shame just to get out of bed in the morning. If a rainbow flag and a tube of glitter helps, I’d say it’s worth it.
For more on pride events, check out my articles here and here.
Gay evangelicals want acceptance from their churches -
Evangelicals are being challenged to change their views of gays and lesbians, and the pressure isn’t coming from the gay rights movement or watershed court rulings: Once silent for fear of being shunned, more gay and lesbian evangelicals are speaking out about how they’ve struggled to reconcile their beliefs and sexual orientation.
There’s some interesting stuff in this AP article—and check out the photo! ;)
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this article to me is that it makes me sound Side B (I’m not) and makes my friend Wesley Hill sound Side A (he’s not). In a way, aren’t we all really on the same side?