This was a difficult decision. I have been pondering for over a year the possibility of considering the challenging subjects of same-sex attraction, same-sex marriage and related issues from a Christ-centered perspective. The decision to do so was difficult for several reasons. First, the issues are obviously sensitive in nature. Many people, especially Christians, do not openly talk about sexuality. To write about sexuality in any detail automatically creates awkwardness at the least, and significant discomfort at the most. Second, the issues are complex. There are a variety of factors and life experiences that contribute to individuals either choosing to be or believing themselves to be homosexual. Many would say it isn't a choice or a discovery - it is simply how they are oriented. These contributing factors make an analysis of the issue of homosexuality challenging. Third, it is not a subject that can be seriously considered in one newsletter article, sermon or Sunday School class. There are numerous themes associated with the subject of homosexuality, each with their own implications. Several installments will be necessary in order to approach a serious consideration of the issue. The series of articles to follow will not represent exhaustive research, but will involve and include a significant amount of research and thought. Finally, the decision to consider this subject was difficult due to the fact it includes potentially divisive aspects. It is not my goal to create controversy or to stir up conflict, but I am well aware of these possible outcomes.
At the same time, the decision to write about the issue of homosexuality was simple due to the rapidly growing challenge it is for the modern church. In a relatively short amount of time, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage have become part of mainstream culture in our country. Influential people including Hollywood film producers and stars, popular musicians, amateur and professional athletes, authors and politicians are regularly expressing (most often) their support of same-sex marriage and encouraging people who are "gay" to embrace their identity. Some who would be considered conservative in regard to political ideology and religion have also expressed their support for the legalization of same-sex marriage. During his five years in office, President Obama has changed his perspective on the issue, once taking a position against same-sex marriage and now endorsing it. It is not a matter of "if" this issue will impact churches like Mt Aetna Bible Church, but "when." We simply must consider this issue.
I chose to title this series of articles, "Homosexuality and Divine Revelation" for a specific reason: I believe the issue must be considered from a comprehensive perspective, not merely from what we sometimes refer to as a "biblical" perspective or a Christian perspective. Biblical and Christian are no longer reliable labels. We need to know what is meant by these labels. Neither is "Christ-centered" an impeccable description of what we can discover about God's wisdom and truth regarding the issue of homosexuality. Many people argue that the teachings of Jesus provide a broad allowance of and support for same-sex relationships while others believe that Jesus condemns such behavior. It is my hope that the descriptive phrase, "divine revelation" will be sufficient for an accurate understanding of God's wisdom. It includes the revealing of his wisdom from creation, from scripture, from the life and teaching of Jesus and from the supernatural guidance of the Holy Spirit. If that sounds like "a lot", it is. But as disciples of Jesus, who is God in the flesh, we should seek nothing less than every aspect of his revelation in order to gain understanding.
What follows is the first part of a personal annotated timeline of my knowledge of and experience with the matter of homosexuality. It is my hope and intention that by sharing my personal story, you will be encouraged to consider your own and evaluate the way you think about this issue and what factors and dynamics have influenced you. Some will conclude that we share a similar story regarding the subject, while others will recognize a very different journey. But all of us have a timeline that reflects the development of our understanding of this issue as well as experiences that shaped our beliefs and convictions. It will be helpful to reflect on what we personally think and feel about homosexuality before considering the issue from God's perspective. Hopefully, we will be able to compare both perspectives and bring our thinking in line with God's.
A NOTE TO PARENTS: While I have taken great care to summarize my story in an appropriate manner, the subject matter is of a mature nature. Please read this before allowing young children to read it. But also note that my story begins at a young age. It may be beneficial for you to discuss this with your children. I highly recommend it.
This personal timeline (part 2 will be part of the next article) will serve as an extended introduction to this ongoing consideration of homosexuality in light of divine revelation. The ensuing installments will focus on aspects of God's revelation as well as a consideration of homosexuality in human history and the current cultural beliefs about the subject. Please know that an attempt will be made to differentiate between my opinions and what I believe to be God's wisdom. And take a moment right now to ask God for help to be guided by the Spirit into truth regarding this issue.
THE FIRST TIME I HEARD THE WORD "GAY"
I was on a bus ride home from school in the third grade when my friend used the word gay to describe something other than the emotion of being happy or the state of being carefree. He and others occasionally used another word that is now considered a derogatory gay slur. I didn't know the meaning behind the words but was afraid to admit my ignorance. Although I simply acted as though I knew what my friend was talking about, I had some sense that it wasn't "good" because I was not hearing those words at home or in any other context. My perception was characterized by innocence and ignorance.
IT DAWNED ON ME
After some time and further interaction with this particular friend, I finally understood that the word gay was used to refer to someone who had a desire for or engaged in sex with someone of the same gender. My first reaction to this understanding was to think it was strange. And because it was sexual in nature, the whole idea made me uncomfortable. My friend was in no way sheltered from access to sexually-charged media in the form of movies, television and magazines. But little to none of that was part of my family experience, therefore any reference to sex made me uneasy. I felt scared and confused.
SOMEONE ACTUALLY DOES THAT
As I grew older and time spent with this particular friend began to diminish, I heard a rumor about his older brother that alarmed me and frightened me. I was told by a reliable source that his older brother occasionally engaged in sex acts with a few younger boys from our neighborhood. This coincided with my family moving away from that neighborhood, for which I was glad. I didn't understand the exact nature of some of the behaviors that were mentioned, but I knew enough to feel shocked and unsafe - I didn't want this to happen to me.
A VERY DISTURBING DREAM
A few years later, I became acquainted with a neighboring family - parents and two children. One of the children was a girl who was my age. The family dynamics were not healthy and the children had very few moral boundaries. I didn't know the girl very well and we had little interaction, but what I did know about her made me uneasy in that most uneasy area of life - sexuality. I had a dream about her one night - the details of which are not appropriate to describe, but were of a homosexual nature. This only added to my confusion and a conscience decision: I would avoid the subject of homosexuality in every way. I vowed not to think about it and not to talk about it. It was an attempt to avoid the uncomfortable emotions and confusing thoughts I had about the subject.
I'M A SEXUAL BEING
Of course, I was soon to begin experiencing changes in body, mind and desire as I reached adolescence, and the reality that I was a sexual being began to force its way into my awareness. But none of that period of development and change involved thoughts about homosexuality. I began to notice girls in a new way and experienced emotions in response to girls that I never had before. This made it easier to avoid the issue of homosexuality.
I WONDER IF HE IS GAY
While I busied myself with a growing (and essentially immature but "normal") fascination with girls, I had also made some new friends as a result of my family moving to a different state before my junior year in high school. One of those friends was outgoing and comfortable, taking initiative relationally. I was a bit shy and somewhat timid when it came to friendships. I rarely, if ever, invited people to my home or hosted sleepover parties or called a friend and asked if they would like to spend time together. Instead, I was always being asked and invited. My new friend was different from my other guy friends. Some of the differences were typical stereotypes of homosexual guys. But I didn't perceive the differences in that way; he was just different. I enjoyed my time with him, even though it was always on his terms. But one conversation we had about a mutual acquaintance brought back the old uneasy feeling from my childhood. What he said made me wonder about his preferred sexual orientation. I wanted to talk to him about it, to explore it with him, even to help him if I could, but the fear and discomfort were too much for me to overcome. I distanced myself from him and when I left for college, I almost entirely forgot about him.
Five or six years later, having finished college and begun serving as a pastor in a local church, I was living in the same area as my old high school friend. We made contact and he told me he was gay. Again, I wanted to reach out to him, let him know that this wouldn't be a detriment to the possibility of a renewed friendship, but he politely declined my offer. This saddened me, but it also sparked a determination to reach out to those I may encounter in the future who may be dealing with same-sex attraction and the consequences of being sexually active. My friend from high school tested positive for HIV.
This first half of my personal timeline detailing my knowledge of and experience with the issue of homosexuality represents the first 22 years of my life. The second half will highlight the last 23 years leading up to the present. But this midpoint in my story serves as a good place to pause and reflect. What parts of my story can you relate to? What do we share in common about our perceptions, feelings and experiences in regard to homosexuality? In what way is your story different than mine? How have your experiences influenced your thoughts and emotions about the issues of same-sex attraction, same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage?
Perhaps the question I most want you to consider is this: Were you uncomfortable reading my timeline and are you uncomfortable answering the questions in the previous paragraph? It is my belief that we often fail to talk about the issues that most deeply effect us - especially as children, but also as adults. This is no simple matter. I talked to virtually no one in my first 20 years of life about the subject of homosexuality. Outside of a few inappropriate jokes, the topic never came up with friends, family, teachers or church leaders before I attended college. This was not good. Who is to blame? Assigning blame is usually not helpful. However, silence about these issues can do great harm, whereas open, honest and safe discussion can often help to prevent great harm. One could say I should have talked to my parents or a trusted adult. I can honestly say that I never would have done so due, in part, to my personality, but also because the subject of sexuality was "taboo." God does not treat human sexuality this way. It is not an exaggeration to say that there is more to read about sexuality in the Bible than there is about heaven. Of course, this does not mean that sexuality is a more important subject than heaven. But it does mean that it is a critical subject and one about which God is not silent.
I desperately hope this partial introduction to this theme will prompt you to reflect on your own experiences and perceptions and that it will also prompt a conversation with God who is not embarrassed or overwhelmed with your thoughts, emotions and choices. He is the God who understands and the God who speaks. Go to him with vulnerability - you can trust him. And he will tell you the truth.