Following up on the Empathy Cap exercise.
Yesterday, I posted a piece inviting people to put themselves in the shoes of a Christian with conservative views on sex (what we call “Side B”) who discovers himself or herself to be attracted to the same sex and must endure the challenges of living a celibate life.
I have a number of friends in this situation. They are gay (some would prefer the term “same-sex attracted”), but they believe it would be wrong for them to act on their feelings. And I know from my conversations with them that they have many challenges to endure, including a lack of understanding or support from both sides. Their conservative friends mistakenly think they could “choose” not to be gay, and their liberal friends just push them to change their theological beliefs.
My goal was to write a piece about their challenges, to give people a sense of what it might be like to be in those shoes and encourage folks on both sides to be more compassionate and supportive. That’s tough, because I’m speaking to a very broad audience, some of whom don’t understand much about the situation, so I had to squeeze a lot of information into one blog post.
Let me just say, it’s difficult to write about nuanced issues on a blog, because you don’t have a lot of space to explain yourself! In the internet world, people just glance at a long post and respond with “TL;DR.” (That’s “too long; didn’t read,” an abbreviation for people who apparently find even four words too long to read without a shortcut.)
So I chose to write a story about an example person, loosely based on the lives of some of my friends, to invite the reader to imagine being this person and struggling with some of the related challenges, needing more support from the church.
A lot of you really loved this piece! I got lots of “thank you” emails from Side B gay Christians who said I gave voice to the very struggles they’ve been experiencing, and a lot of other people wrote to thank me for giving them a new perspective.
Of course, I don’t think I’ve ever written a piece that didn’t get some criticism, and this one was no exception. While most of the Side B gay Christians who wrote to me told me that they loved the article, a few wrote to say, “Wait, it’s not all negative! You made us sound sad and pathetic, and we’re not!”
Okay. First of all, to those of you who thought my depiction of a person who comes home at night to frozen dinners and TV is “pathetic,” ummm, that’s totally my life, you guys.
Beyond that, though, yes, absolutely, there are many happy Side B gay Christians in the world with fulfilling lives. Not everyone struggles with depression and loneliness, and even for those who do, it may not be the defining characteristic of their lives. The image I painted yesterday wasn’t intended to represent everyone; it was just intended to be an example of what one particular person’s life might be like. And considering how many people have told me that I hit the nail on the head for them, consider that it may be your neighbor’s story if it’s not your own.
"But why focus on the struggles?" some of you might ask. Well, consider the purpose of writing something like this. I wanted people to think about the need that they’ve never seen before, need that many of us may be reluctant to express, because we’re so used to a church culture where people act like they’re fine even when they aren’t. This is especially true for people who feel misunderstood by both sides; they may be reluctant to say that they’re hurting, because they don’t want people to use that against them. ("I told you so! Now if you’d just do what I say…")
That’s not just a Side B thing. As a Side A gay man, I have a hard time expressing my own struggles, because I know a lot of anti-gay folks out there might use them to hurt me more rather than to offer support. Nor is it just a gay thing; I know a lot of Christians who are afraid to share their doubts, loneliness, and other struggles, because they want to paint an image of the “joyful Christian life,” even when it’s not what they’re feeling at the moment.
Is it possible to be celibate and have a happy, fulfilling life? Most definitely! For some people it comes naturally, and for others, it’s an effort, but it’s still very much within reach. Single people (I say this from experience) have lots of time to focus on other things in life—volunteering, helping others, exploring the world, trying new things, making friends, etc. But for those of us who desire intimate companionship and don’t have it, there are challenges, too, and if we don’t talk about them, people won’t know when we need their understanding. I know this as a single person who does plan to get married someday, and if I know it, then I know it’s even more true for those who have committed their lives to celibacy.
It’s a delicate balance. No one wants to be the person who’s always complaining, and of course we should focus on the positives, not the negatives. But in this case, I know a lot of wonderful, dedicated Christians in this situation who have experienced tremendous pain and yet never complain about it. I wanted to take an opportunity to complain on their behalf, and to say, “Hey, this isn’t easy. These folks need our support. Let’s give it to them.”
And I stand by that.
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