Monday, January 21, 2008

114. The Bible Study

So, as I mentioned last time, I was a ‘guest speaker’ at a Bible Study on the subject of homosexuality. After two frantic days of preparing, I think it went very well, I’m kind of proud of myself. I’m pretty sure I over-prepared though. I had handouts that included a copy of Justin Cannon’s paper on the Bible and homosexuality from, the post I’d written on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, Eugene’s posts on Defending ‘Truth’ by Telling Lies, and a section of a page from on the Greek word ‘pais’. So, yeah, probably over prepared. It was a pretty low key event, sitting around in my friend’s living room. I took every book that I had on homosexuality, and even borrowed 2 from a friend of mine here in the city. I also had burned copies of both of Tony Campolo’s talks (couldn’t find one of them when I got there, but luckily I’d given one to my friend about 2 years ago and she still had it).

So, what happened was that the people in the Bible Study emailed my friend whatever questions they had and she forwarded them on to me. And what I did, because I process my thoughts so much better when I write them down was just sit down at my computer and type out my answers. One of the questions was “What are some ways of interpreting seemingly anti-homosexual portions of scripture that we may not have heard before?” I dealt with that one last, being sure to say that I didn’t agree with every argument I was presenting. For that I relied heavily on Justin Cannon’s study, but I brought in other ideas as well, and then I went into the theories about gay people possibly showing up in Scripture… David and Jonathan, the idea that the word eunuch as used in Scripture often meant homosexual, and of course, my favourite one, the story of the Roman Centurion (that’s why I had the stuff about the Greek word ‘pais’ in there).

But I began answering the other questions first, so to give you a glimpse of what the study was like, I’m just going to copy what I originally typed out (after a bit of editing by a good friend of mine). I didn’t end up saying all of this (I was speaking, and I didn’t just read off the paper, it was just there for me to use as a guide), and there’s some stuff that came up that I didn’t anticipate so it’s not here, but this is what I prepared. Beware, this is a LONG post!

Do you think that homosexuality is a sin?

In a word, no. I think that something that the church needs to be careful of is its language. A sin, according to my definition, involves a wilfully wrong action or the contemplation of such an action. In other words, there has to be a decision involved. Even a decision not to do something can be a sin. But there must be a decision. Homosexuality is not a choice… perhaps I should have started with that. No one in their right mind would choose to be gay. Therefore homosexuality cannot be a sin. The reason I find this such an essential distinction is because I grew up in a world that used this language – “homosexuality is a sin” and because of that I grew up believing that I was a sin… just by being. And it scared me. Because try as I might I couldn’t stop being a homosexual. It didn’t go away no matter how much I cried and begged and pleaded with God, no matter how many other people I asked for prayer it stayed the same. I thought that I was doomed… quite literally.

What you are actually asking is if I believe homosexual behaviour – to be blunt, gay sex – is okay, and to be honest with you I don’t know. I go back and forth on that issue so many times I really don’t know what to do about it anymore.

What is your opinion on gay marriage?
Would you consider yourself to have generally more liberal opinions than the average Christian? i.e.: sex before marriage - ok? not ok?, abortion - ok? not ok?
Do you feel that Christian homosexuals must remain celibate?

I put these questions together because they all kind of ask the same thing in my head. Firstly, do I consider myself more liberal… sex before marriage – I’m a wait until marriage girl all the way. One thing I’ve always tried to be clear about is that my question has never been whether or not it would be okay for me to have sex with a woman, my question is whether or not it would be okay for me to marry a woman. (The sex would, one assumes, be included in that). Abortion: I’m pro-life. Gay marriage… this is another issue. Because I have an opinion about it as a Canadian and an opinion about it as a Christian. I suppose that sounds weird, but here’s what I believe. I believe that gay marriage should be legal. Common law relationships (which are not Biblical by your average evangelical standards) are legal and protected under the law. People who have been divorced and remarried (something quite specifically prohibited by Scripture) have the same rights, responsibilities and protections under the law as those entering into their first marriage. I think that it’s ridiculous that a couple who has lived together for several years but has no intention of ‘legitimizing’ their relationship, or maybe Elizabeth Taylor on her 9th go of it gets to be married but a gay couple does not. I think the law is there to protect us from things that harm us as individuals and things that harm society, and so far I have not come across any arguments that can show me how gay marriage harms society. I think that the right to marry whom you chose is kind of a basic human right. Even prisoners are given that right.

Now what I think should be legal and what I think is okay for Christians are two different things. Though I am quite certain that it should be legal for people to worship any god they choose, I believe that Christians only worship the One True God. I can separate what I think should be legal from what I think is right for Christians. So the question of whether or not I think gay Christians should be celibate is still up for debate. I really do go back and forth on that all the time.

Do you think that homosexuals should be pastors / ordained / in authoritative positions in the church?

Yes. Now again, I feel the need to distinguish here between ‘homosexuals’ and ‘people engaging in homosexual behaviour – i.e.: in gay relationships’. Even assuming that gay behaviour is a sin (which I’m not sure about), simply being gay (in my opinion) should not exclude you from any kind of ministry. Being gay merely means being romantically drawn to people of the same gender: it does not mean anything else. It does not imply a more or less sinful nature than anyone else. Again, even assuming that all gay behaviour is sinful, admitting to being gay simply means admitting to an area of temptation, and if having temptations disqualifies you from ministry then no one can be in ministry.

Now if by ‘homosexuals’ you mean people engaging in homosexual behaviour, then I think that this varies by denomination. Some denominations believe that women shouldn’t teach in the church, so if you are a member of that denomination and you are a woman you shouldn’t try to teach. Some denominations think that gay relationships are perfectly okay and so in those denominations then people in gay relationships should be just as welcome to minister in any capacity as anyone else. In denominations that believe that gay relationships are sinful then no, they should not be ministering. It’s kind of like the situation in the Wesleyan church with alcohol. I personally think that there’s nothing wrong with drinking alcohol in moderation, but Wesleyan church doctrine thinks that there is, and so in order to be ordained in the Wesleyan church (or even to become a member) you have to promise not to drink. I think that that rule is ridiculous and should be changed, but as long as it is in effect I kind of expect those who have made that promise to keep it.

This, of course, takes me right back to whether or not I believe gay relationships are sinful and again, I have to say that I don’t know.

Do you believe you were born this way and it is a natural thought process?

I have no idea what causes homosexuality – whether or not it is biological or psychological I have no idea. I do know that I now kind of ignore the general psychological explanations that conservative Christians like James Dobson give because while I personally conform to the theories (domineering mother, absent father, childhood trauma, etc…) most of the gay people I know do not… and a lot of straight people I know do. So, I kind of tend to think that they are guessing. And oddly enough, these theories are mostly based on Freudian thinking, something that Christians in other areas completely dismiss, but in this one area it is the only explanation that they can find that works. I can tell you that there is very clear evidence of homosexuality in nature (i.e.: animals). And there have been studies done on gay people (frustratingly they all seem to be done on men, almost no one studies lesbians) that look at pheromone reaction and the make up of the brain. The only thing I’ve ever read in these studies that pertains to women, however is the finger thing, and it’s only a correlation, not really a guess as to a cause.

Do you believe that when the early signs started to arise within you, that they could have been "just tendencies" and could or should have been suppressed in any way or should they have been liberated earlier?

Well, that’s exactly what happened. I first told my mother when I was 10 (My first memory of knowing I was gay is when I was 9) and I was immediately sent for prayer and counselling with a couple at my church which turned out be creepy and weird and I immediately dove back into the closet and tried to suppress my feelings. I managed to have some crushes on boys while at the same time knowing that I liked girls still, but thinking that it would go away eventually, if I worked hard enough at the boy thing.

Have you met anyone who has been healed of homosexuality?

I’ve met people who have claimed to be healed. I can tell you about the first guy. He came to my church when I was 16. We were doing a kind of summer outreach in Toronto and he was part of a team that came in to help us with that. He gave a testimony at church about how he had ‘come out of the homosexual lifestyle’ and ‘been healed of his sinful homosexuality’. And I latched onto him. I remember quite distinctly thinking that I was going to learn everything about what he did to be ‘cured’. I was going to learn where he went, what organization he went to, how much it cost, what they taught, what he had to do… everything. I knew it would cost me money and time, and so my thought was that I would learn how he did it, wait until I had my own money and then go do what he did and no one would ever have to know.

So I attached myself to his side, volunteered to be his guide in Toronto, and peppered him with questions. And within three days it was quite clear to me that he was still gay. He would point out certain guys on the street and say things like “man, if I was still gay he would be just my type” or “when I was gay, I would have been all over that guy”, or “oooh, check it out, I’m being cruised” (incidentally, my first lesson in ‘gay lingo’).

I immediately realized what he had meant when he gave his testimony: that he had gone from having gay sex to not having gay sex. Which is not what I wanted or needed, because, well, I wasn’t (and still am not) having sex at all. I’m actually really glad I met this guy because it meant that I questioned any similar testimonies I heard or read, and what I found was that in all of them – without fail – the people who say that they have been healed really mean that they’ve either gone from having gay sex to having straight sex, or gone from having gay sex to not having sex at all. (In one particular case it was merely a case changing labels, went from calling themselves gay to calling themselves straight.) And when you question them, they admit that they still ‘struggle’… i.e.: they still find themselves attracted to people of the same gender sometimes – they still feel homosexual temptations. And as Tony Campolo noted in a talk he gave on “Struggling with the Gay Issue”, if you have really gone from being homosexual to being heterosexual, then the way you will be tempted is with heterosexual temptations.

The biggest ‘ex-gay’ organization out there, and the one that is the umbrella for most of the ex-gay programs you have probably heard of (if you’ve heard of any) is Exodus, and the best that they claim is 30% success rate (and believe me, you have to push and hunt to find that statistic, they hide it very well under their ‘change is possible’ banners). More recently, they have taken to admitting that what they are able to offer are tools to help control behaviour – i.e.: tools to help people become celibate – a lot of what I’ve heard recently their publicity is that they are now admitting that most people who successfully complete their program (that 30% they claim) will always still struggle.

This is not to say that I don’t believe God can ‘heal’ homosexuality, I think He can. I don’t know why He doesn’t most of the time.

I can also tell you that a lot of people who went through those programs came out more messed up than they went in. Many people who go into these programs as Christians come out no longer believing because they feel disillusioned by a faith that promised them change but couldn’t deliver.

I’ve also heard and read about many people who went through those programs and talk about how harmful they were not just to them, but to their families – those programs generally teach that it is the parents’ fault, and so people go into those programs and are told that they have an overbearing mother and a distant father and whether or not it is true they are forced to take that on as truth. On the homepage of one ex-gay I actually read the phrase “I didn’t realize it at the time, but my father was distant and unloving towards me growing up.” And all I could think was – “okay, if you didn’t realize it until you were told, then it probably wasn’t true… other people convinced you that you had a bad relationship with your father and that’s just sad.”

To sum up, I personally think those programs do more harm than good. I think that they are well intentioned, buy well, you know what they say about good intentions…

Even though God loves you so much, do you think that He wants you to remain what you are or does He wish you to be heterosexual?

I don’t know the answer to that. At this point I pretty much believe He doesn’t because I asked Him so many times and tried so hard and nothing changed. I had such peace when I finally went “Okay, this is who I am I guess… so I guess I have to figure out how to be a Christian while still being gay…”

What kinds of attitudes towards homosexuality have you encountered among people in the church?

I have encountered a wide variety of attitudes and beliefs. Here are some more extreme examples. I once heard a guy comment, after hearing of a “gay bashing” incident on campus, that he wished he’d been there so he could have joined in. I’ve also heard this statement more than once “We should send all the faggots to San Francisco, build a big wall around it and let them infect each other with AIDS and die… that would solve the problem.”

Those are the more extreme things… mostly it’s an ‘us and them’ mentality. As if gay people are the enemy. This talk about the ‘gay agenda’ really ticks me off – for many reasons. First off, gay people cannot be lumped together in one group that all want the same thing. I get annoyed when people point out something some crazy Christian says and assume I think the same thing. We are all guilty of stereotyping others and assuming people in our social/religious/work circles are on our side. The important thing is to recognize that the church is always doing that to gay people. I honestly don’t think gay rights activists are asking for anything really drastic: the right not to be discriminated against and the right to marry whom they chose. Pretty basic to my understanding.

Why do you think this issue has aroused so much bitterness - I mean is it that so many Christians REALLY believe that the Bible says it is wrong or has it been more a "social" problem, perhaps reflecting more basic prejudices etc.?

I think that a huge part of the problem is that the church has sort of set itself up as the enemy of gay people. The “us versus them” thing is huge. I think a lot of gay people are angry at the church because they were hurt by the church… growing up in the church and hearing sermons preached against them as people – sermons that called them evil, or perverts. They may also have heard people in the church interchange the terms “homosexual” and pedophile as if they were the same thing (they are so not, by the way… I’ve had to correct people on this before… statistically speaking, children are less likely to be sexually abused by a gay person than a straight one).

Another issue is the fact that there are a lot of lies said about gay people in the church… One particular researcher (Paul Cameron)’s statistics and results are still used even though he was let go from the American Psychological Association for ethics violations and misrepresenting his research. His theories and conclusions have been so thoroughly debunked, and yet his research is still used quite often in Christian publications when talking about homosexuality. (His studies concluded things like gay teachers can influence their students to be gay, gay people don’t live as long as straight people, and most disturbingly, that gay people are much more likely to be pedophiles – all of which have been thoroughly proven to be untrue).

The problem, of course, is that hearing and believing such false, ill-founded statistics causes Christians to treat gay people as sex crazed perverts. It’s offensive.

The church also seems to have arbitrarily drawn a line in the sand about the biblical issues with which to take issue. There are all kinds of things in the Bible that we don’t really pay attention to anymore. Men can have long hair, women can cut their hair and braid it if they so choose. We all go to churches where women preach. My mom attends a church where the senior pastor and his wife both divorced their first spouses before marrying each other. It seems sometimes that the church has drawn this line just for the sake of drawing a line, and it can be pretty awful if you are on the 'wrong' side of that line.

I think one of the things that people need to remember is that if there are100 people in your church, there are probably 2 or 3 gay people kicking around. And lest you think that this statistic doesn’t apply to churches because it is not a random sample of the population, according to researchers (Tony Campolo – a Baptist minister who is also a sociologist – among them) have shown that the statistics are usually higher in churches… and they get even higher the more charasmatic the churches get. And we sit there in churches and hear sermons that use gay people as the examples of depravity in society, or youth pastors who adopt an effette accent while mocking gay people thinking that that is perfectly okay, because there will be no gay people there. But there are gay people in churches, and it’s no wonder that if and/or when they leave the church they are angry.

If you were homosexual but not Christian, how could a Christian friend represent their views on homosexuality (or what could they say) that would let you know it would be okay to become a Christian?

Okay, well, to be perfectly honest, I don’t know why anyone would feel the need to represent their views on homosexuality at all if they were wanting to talk about becoming a Christian. I just don’t think it’s relevant. Even assuming that all homosexual behaviour is sinful, and assuming that the gay person you are speaking to is engaging in gay behaviours, how is it any different from any other sort of sin that we all engage in? Just think for a moment that instead of being gay, the person you are speaking to is in a common law relationship, they’ve been living with someone out of wedlock for years. Would you feel the need to tell them that you thought they were living a sinful lifestyle? Maybe you would… I know people who would. But to be perfectly honest, for the most part it isn’t necessary. I have a good friend who right now has been living with her boyfriend for 4 years. I believe in waiting until marriage, so therefore I think that this is not right. I have never once had to tell her this, she knows me, she knows what I believe without my ever having to say anything. I know this because she’s brought it up.

I think that part of the question here is how to be friends with gay people (who are in relationships) without ‘condoning their lifestyle’, and I think the way to go is to forget for a second that they are gay. For some reason Christians seem to put that in a different class of sin as if it is somehow dirtier than other sins. Imagine that this person is a straight person engaged in something you know is sinful, such as a common law relationship, and imagine how you would interact with them. Would you feel the need to make sure they knew you believed they were sinning? Would you not invite them and their common law spouse over for dinner because you didn’t want to condone their relationship? And as a Christian who wants to share Christ with people, would you expect them to change before coming to Christ?

I think it’s important to remember that this is not a central issue. If you are specifically thinking about sharing Christ with gay people, then I would say to remember how peripheral this issue is: Scripture barely mentions it at all (I’ll get into this more later) and it has basically nothing to do with the essentials of salvation. If you are talking with a person who wants to become a Christian but believes that they can’t because they are gay then get them to stop talking about being gay. It’s just not relevant. Being gay is not a sin, but you know what? Even if it was, since when does sin disqualify you from being a Christian? We’ve all sinned, and we are all on a journey to become more like Christ.

If their issue is that they don’t want to become a Christian because they don’t want to give up engaging in gay behaviour then the issue is that their priorities are not quite right. You can get into some pro-gay theology if you like (I'll outline some in a minute), but again, it just isn’t a central issue. Jesus is central. Our relationship with God is central. Being gay, gay behaviour… these are secondary issues that can and should be worked out later.

So that's it, that's a sort of outline of the Bible study. Hope you enjoyed it.


The Blogger said...

JJ - Thanks for sharing. I love this post. I think you prepared so well and I like how you included questions from your "audience" by requesting them ahead of time. I think that's effective, and I'll probably use that in the future.

I think this was one of the most important comments of the post and the crux of the whole matter.

"I think it’s important to remember that this is not a central issue. If you are specifically thinking about sharing Christ with gay people, then I would say to remember how peripheral this issue is: Scripture barely mentions it at all (I’ll get into this more later) and it has basically nothing to do with the essentials of salvation."

BTW - Thanks also for adding me to your blog roll!

Love ya!

Peterson Toscano said...

wow, this is sooo informative. Thank you so much JJ for stepping up and doing the presentation. You took much time and care. Great stuff!

Ana Jurney said...

Hey. Cool blog. That's awesome you got to speak on this deeply impacting subject!

Michelle said...

This is such a good rundown, you should put a permalink to it in your sidebar.

Michael said...

I appreciate your sharing. I'm currently going through a hastle with my Christian friends who are trying to pressure me into admitting that I'm not really a Christian. It's brutal.

BentonQuest said...

I am new to your blog but I will be back! Great post! Well thought out and even handed. I appreciate that. I can get somewhat defensive and I appreciate you did not get defensive. Thanks again!

Craig L. Adams said...

Just to echo everyone else: this is very good and well thought out. Thanks for posting this.

JJ said...

Thank you all for saying such nice things. This was a lot of work and it's nice to know I did a good job. :)

Amanda said...

Hey, I know I'm a little late in responding to this, but I was recently linked to it.

This is something I've been struggling with for a very long time. I am not personally dealing with feelings of homosexuality, but I am concerned for the church, and for God's ministry on earth, because people are becoming so openly homosexual these days. At first, I thought it was awful, but lately, I'm wondering- is it really? I liked that you touched on the long-hair-on-guys thing; one thing I was wondering about was this:

The epistles, or the books that Paul wrote in the NT, were all aimed at a cultural audience at that time. To understand them as Christians, I think we need to realise that we live in a very different world now, and a modern-day "Paul" would probably have something different to say.

So thank you for your testimony. It has helped me to explore this issue even more. I especially loved what you had to say about authoritative figures and homosexuality.


Christ4all said...

Hi there, Newbie Here. Just came across your blog and I must say really enjoyed this post. I must say it is so nice to see others out there specifically lesbians talking on this topic. I am a lesbian based in South Africa, I have been in the ministry as a Pastor for several years and wow what an experience. Needless to say I am currently un-churched. I too have done much research on this topic with all the back and fourths until one day I sat down and said ok God, it's you and me now. Long story short after many years of wondering, questioning, etc etc I have come to the simple conclusion that I was wonderfully and beautifully made by God, he did not wake up one day and say hey what happened to you I never made you that way.:-) I have sadly buried way to many GLBTI Youth due to suicide simply on this specific issue about being Gay/Lesbian and Christianity. I therefore thank you again for this Blog and your openness to sharing. Never doubt that YOU DO MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Much Love and Blessings!