Story time for the church.
It’s story time, everyone! Today we get to take a journey through someone else’s life.
One of the things I love doing on my blog is looking at things from different people’s perspectives. Sometimes I address my posts to conservative Christians; other times I address them to the LGBT community. Today we’re going to be looking at things from a perspective many people forget even exists—the Side B gay Christian.
If you’re new to this blog, you should know that I sometimes use terminology from a now-defunct organization called Bridges Across the Divide. They used the terms “Side A” and “Side B” to refer to different moral views on gay sex.
Those on Side A support consummated gay relationships.
Those on Side B believe that sex should only be between a man and a woman.
I grew up on Side B and eventually changed my mind to become Side A. I have friends, followers, and readers on both sides (and some who are undecided).
But for today’s post, we’re going to look at everything from a Side B perspective. So, to all my Side A readers, it’s time to put on our Empathy Caps and imagine the world as if we were Side B. (If you just absolutely cannot stand to do that, you might consider skipping today’s post.)
Now while my Side A readers are getting their Empathy Caps situated, I’m going to ask my straight Side B readers to get yours out too. Because we’re not just going to look at the world through Side B eyes; we’re going to look at it through the eyes of a Side B person who experiences same-sex attraction.
If you’re already same-sex attracted and Side B, you might not need your Empathy Cap, but hey, it never hurts.
Okay, everyone ready? Got your caps on? Here we go… powering up Empathy Caps…
* * *
And here you are, looking at the world through brand-new eyes.
In this life, you are a Side B Christian. Your faith in Christ is incredibly important to you—the most important thing in your whole world, in fact. You want to do anything you can to please God, even if it means sacrificing of yourself.
But you’re also human. You have normal human needs, insecurities, fears, worries, joys, sorrows, and the rest of it. Sometimes you feel lonely. Sometimes you strain to hear God’s voice. Your church family is a big support to you in these times, imperfect though it may be.
There’s one thing your church family doesn’t know about you. When you hit puberty and all your friends started becoming attracted to the opposite sex, you didn’t. You began feeling things for other people of the same sex as you.
You don’t know why you have these feelings, though over the years you’ve imagined a thousand different scenarios to try to explain it. Did something happen to you as a child that you don’t remember? Is it because you didn’t always get along with your dad—or because you were too close, or not close enough, with your mom? Were you too sociable with the opposite sex as a kid? Were you not sociable enough? Or is it just something about how your brain is wired, maybe even from birth? You don’t know, but this is the only reality you’ve ever experienced. You have no idea what it would feel like to be attracted to the opposite sex. Every time you’ve ever felt those “butterflies,” it’s always been for someone of the same sex as you.
You try going on dates with members of the opposite sex, but you feel nothing, and you feel bad lying to the other person, telling them you find them attractive when you honestly don’t. You’ve tried your hardest to see what your same-sex friends see in certain members of the opposite sex, but there’s just nothing at all alluring about them to you. Not a single one.
As you think about your future, how are you feeling right about now?
Gradually, it dawns on you that you’re “gay”—but here’s a problem. All the other gay people you’ve ever met or heard of are Side A. They date people of the same sex. They fight for same-sex marriage. They embrace their sexuality as something good or at least neutral. You’re not like that. For you, it’s something terrible. It’s a flaw. A disease. You believe strongly that God has restricted sex and marriage to one man and one woman, and that’s what you want for yourself—except that you have no opposite-sex attraction whatsoever, and you hate yourself for that. You feel trapped.
You’re lonely, too. Who can possibly relate to your situation? You’re always afraid of being judged—by fellow Christians for your attractions (they think it’s something you chose), and by fellow gay people for your theological views (they call you self-loathing and deluded).
Think about that. Seriously, pause for just a bit and think about how you’d feel in this situation. Who would your friends be? Who would you trust with this information? And how are you holding up so far?
Eventually, you decide it’s time to be honest with your church family. You know you need their support. You’re terrified to tell them, but you do so, expressing it primarily in terms of an “ongoing temptation” that you’re struggling with. You cross your fingers and hope for the best.
At first, they’re surprisingly positive about the whole thing. They affirm you for your honesty and transparency. They offer words of encouragement about how Christ is sufficient in all things. They remark that everyone struggles with temptations, and though yours may be different, they love you no matter what.
Encouraged by your church, you get into therapy to change your attractions, but you eventually discover that your attractions still don’t change. Though you pray daily for a miracle, so far, you’re still very much attracted to the same sex and not at all attracted to the opposite sex. You believe it would be wrong for you to pursue a relationship with someone you have no feelings for, and you believe the Bible forbids a relationship with someone of the same sex, so for now, you commit yourself to celibacy.
You also meet others who have been through the same thing, and discover that there’s a good chance your attractions will never change. You might be alone forever.
Sit with that for a moment. How does that feel? You’ll never have a spouse. Never have kids. Never have sex. Never have a family of your own. Take a few minutes to contemplate that this is how the rest of your life will be.
You keep reminding yourself that the Christian life involves sacrifice, and you put on a brave face. You try not to let it get to you as your Christian friends date and get married. The support you got from them begins to fade as they spend more time on their own families. They’ve moved on from your “problem.” You understand. But it’s lonely at your place, night after night, with just the TV and frozen dinners. You hear stories of gay people who’ve embraced their sexuality and seem very happy. You want that, but you’re trying to stay strong in what you believe. You hear other stories of people who’ve become straight (at least that’s what some people say) and gotten married. You want that, too, but it doesn’t seem to be happening for you, despite all your faith and prayers.
From time to time, your church holds you up as an example of a powerful testimony because of your celibacy, and you find yourself thrust into the spotlight in a way you didn’t expect. Every time that happens, you feel a rush from the adulation, tinged with the sting of hatred from the gay community.
But the adulation wears off faster than the sting does. You feel a certain temptation to become a public spokesperson on this issue, because at least you could keep the adulation coming in, but that’s not really you. And sometimes you feel bitter, like you’ve come to represent a political issue in the eyes of your fellow Christians, but you don’t feel very known by them personally.
You’re also not sure how to identify yourself when people ask. Should you call yourself a “celibate gay Christian”? A “Christian who struggles with same-sex attractions”? Even just finding words to explain your situation feels like a political statement, which is the last thing you want. You just want to feel less alone.
What would you call yourself? Would you understand it if someone else in the same situation made a different choice? How would you feel if people made faulty assumptions about you on the basis of the words you chose?
No matter what you call yourself, you find that a lot of people in “the world” are constantly judging your choices. You get lumped in with the label “ex-gay” even if it’s a word you’ve never used for yourself. You get accused of being personally responsible for the trials of many gay people. You’re called a liar, even if you’ve always been completely honest about what you feel. And you’re constantly told that you’re foolish not to give in to your “natural” desires. Non-Christians ridicule your faith—even more than they did before you came out—and more liberal Christians are constantly trying to get you to go to a gay-affirming church and embrace your sexuality.
You remind yourself over and over that the Christian life involves persecution and ridicule, and most of the time, you’re pretty good about not letting it get to you. But there are some days when it’s really tough. Sometimes you doubt yourself. Sometimes you just want to sit down and cry. It’s lonely to be where you are, and you wish more people understood what it was like.
When you express these feelings to some of your Christian friends, they make casual but hurtful remarks about how you just need to “work on your relationship with God.” Do they think you’re not already doing that? They seem to believe that as long as you’re focused on God, you won’t ever feel lonely. But you can’t help but notice that these same people invest a lot of time in their own romantic relationships, and even God Himself said that it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone in Genesis.
Some days, you deal with all of this pretty darn well. You have a great prayer life, you study the Word, and you feel productive in your job. But you’re only human, and on those darker days, you feel more alone than ever. Maybe you consider abandoning the Side B thing and just finding a same-sex partner—or at least a one-night stand, though you know it wouldn’t really be fulfilling. Maybe you consider trying to marry someone of the opposite sex, even though you don’t believe it would be fair to them, and you know people who have done it who seem to be going through much of the same stuff you are.
At times, you find yourself echoing the lament of a celibate Side B Christian I quoted in my book TORN:
My experience with a lot of churches is that they will say, ‘Gay people should be celibate,’ but then leave you out in the cold to figure out what that means.
Yet when you express these feelings to the Christians in your life—if you can get a moment in between time with their spouse and time with their kids—they offer trite platitudes about “giving it to God” and how “Christ is sufficient” and how your “reward will be in heaven.” You do believe these things, but right now, you need something more concrete and tangible. When you say so, your Christian friends look puzzled, remind you not to backslide, and then go back to spend time with their boyfriends and girlfriends and wives and husbands and kids.
Meanwhile, every night, it’s you, your TV, and your microwave.
* * *
So… how are you feeling right now?
As you’ve been putting yourself in these shoes, have you had some thoughts about what this person should do?
If you’re Side A, you’ve no doubt been thinking that this person should just abandon their Side B views and become Side A. But remember, for the moment we’re looking at this from the perspective of someone who deeply, deeply believes that Side B is right. They can’t just change this belief at will, even if they might like to.
What other options do they have? Perhaps you’ve considered that they should find a close friend in a similar situation—someone to share a close, intimate, but non-sexual relationship with, a sort of “special friend” to help address their loneliness without violating their beliefs. Well, some Side B gay Christians have done just that, but it frequently earns them condemnation from other Christians, who have referred to it by terms like "diet homosexuality."
Perhaps, instead, you’d suggest that this person find a community of others in the same situation—other same-sex-attracted Christians with Side B views, for support and camaraderie. Well, that’s why the Gay Christian Network exists and why there is a Side B community there, but again, many Christians offer condemnation here because they fear such a community would open the door to temptation.
In reality, while everyone’s experience is different, life can be very challenging for a celibate Side B gay Christian. When you understand that, it’s not a surprise that people in this situation often end up, in a moment of weakness, looking for a one-night stand online or something similar. It’s not that they’re hypocrites. They’re just lonely. And the church has historically been very bad at offering the real support these folks need.
So if this little exercise in empathy was helpful for you, especially if you’re a straight Side B Christian, consider reevaluating how you and your church approach this issue. If our Side B churches spent less time arguing about gay marriage and more time actually supporting those in our midst who need love and support, this would be a completely different world.
Oh, and you can take off your Empathy Caps now.
Actually, on second thought… leave ‘em on. They might do us all some good.
Follow-up post: Following up on the Empathy Cap exercise.
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