EDITOR'S NOTE: The following is an excerpt from Love Is an Orientation by Andrew Marin (IVP).
Turn on the television at any given point throughout the day and there’s a good chance you’ll see warring entities slinging personal theology from one side to the other. In that setting the winner always emerges as the one who can speak more quickly and loudly and dominate the conversation. After his appearance on MSNBC, a Christian media figure emailed me and told me how he “manhandled” the other guest, whom I also know because he works for a GLBT organization The Marin Foundation has been involved with.
The way that the argumentative nature of the strained conservative-GLBT relationship has been publicized does more harm to both communities than it ever will do for good. But constructive dialogue just doesn’t make good TV now, does it? This “war” has been paraded around like a circus and because of that, dissension and violent opposition have become the norm that each community feels is the proper way to handle the other. I can safely say that Scripture was never meant to be used to try to beleaguer and embarrass others on national TV, or for that matter, to draw unnecessary attention to yourself.
Unfortunately none of those tactics will be easily changed because the deeply permeated ethos to the fighting cannot be escaped: the interpretation of Scripture—defined as the all-inclusive word of God that blesses same-sex relationships—no, I mean the judgmental Father who casts off gays and lesbians to their rightful place in hell—um, I’m actually talking about the Scripture that is only culturally relevant to its historical context and is not talking about monogamous same-sex relationships—well, it’s really the Scripture that accounts for behavioral choices regardless of orientation—or maybe it’s the . . .
You get the point. Evangelicals believe (as do I) that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, God-breathed by the Holy Spirit through human authorship. When I started The Marin Foundation I was twenty-four years old and had been immersed in the GLBT community for almost six years. But in those six years my experience had been purely relational—mostly through one-on-one interactions with my best friends, people I met at gay bars and clubs, and people who attended the Bible study group. I thought I had seen and experienced enough within those six years that nothing could shock me. It was not until I officially represented The Marin Foundation that I began to see firsthand how systemic and theological differences, as well as a blatant felt-hatred, were played out on a regular basis between the two communities. When I started getting involved with gay churches, gay Christians, and Christian churches and straight Christians who hated gay churches and gay Christians, and vice versa, I quickly realized that the word Christian was just a word—nothing more.
It was a bad label that communicated scorn and ridicule between the two communities who were each trying to prove that their version of Christian was the correct version. “My Christian is better than your Christian. You’re not a Christian. The Jesus I know wouldn’t do those things or say any of that!” Christian was no longer a belief; it wasn’t a religion, and it sure wasn’t what God intended it to be or what Jesus made it.
Alas, I was convinced that each day I woke up I was to be pushed, battered and thrown into a complete mess that totally tested everything I faithfully believed and thought to be true. The battlefield had been marked, the teams were assembled, and I was tired of trying to be persuaded to join one side or the other when I didn’t believe in what either was doing. My heart yearned for authentic Christianity—one where people from both communities lived together in a shared belief in Christ amidst the struggle.
The Words I Never Thought I’d Hear from a Pastor
During a typical hot and muggy Chicago summer day I was in the office of a gay pastor in one of Chicago’s more upscale neighborhoods talking about the bridge-building vision of The Marin Foundation. Although I know this pastor does not speak for all gay pastors, he interrupted me and flat-out told me that he intentionally disregards entire sections of the Bible because he believes that they are not correct, not inspired and do nothing but harm the GLBT community. He then quickly asked me what I thought about that. As I was about to answer the question, he not so subtly crossed his legs, folded his arms and sat back in his chair with a smug look on his face. Looking at him, my only thought was that he must have felt pretty proud of himself trying to trap me, just waiting for me to say something I probably would regret.
Over the years I have met people in the GLBT community who say things like that to get the Christian’s blood going, but I had never heard it come from a professing pastor. I guess this was my baptism by fire. I knew someday, someone was bound to say it, but I never realized how much it would actually affect me.
I sat kind of awkwardly with a puzzled look on my face, trying to get over the shock that those words came out of a shepherd’s mouth. I kept thinking to myself, how can someone who loves the Word so dearly not be totally offended by that statement? With a half-smile on my face I asked him to expand so I could figure out what he really meant. We ended up having an interesting conversation—well, it actually just consisted of him lecturing me in a harsh voice and giving me Pro-Gay Theology 101 for about an hour before he said he had another meeting and promptly asked me to leave his office.
The Words I Never Thought I’d Hear from God
As I left I began to pray to God that not every gay pastor, or gay Christian for that matter, would be like that pastor. If that was going to be the case I knew The Marin Foundation was finished before it ever really got started. I realized that I couldn’t handle or react to such antagonistic behavior with any civility. How was I to ever build a bridge when I loathed the person sitting across from me as he intentionally tried to rile me up and cause an argument?
Standing at a familiar bus stop across from that gay church, I devised a plan to ensure that I would always get the last word. With my chest puffed up, I suddenly heard God say, “What if every professing gay pastor or gay Christian you ever meet for the rest of your life is exactly like that pastor? Does that make what I have asked you to do any less relevant? Now go and do as I have commanded.”
I had never been humiliated and humbled so quickly. With my tail between my legs and an apology to God in tow, Joshua 1:9 came to mind: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
And there it was. He and his words and his goals for my life, for the GLBT community and for his kingdom supersede any encounter I might not ever want to have again. There is a bigger plan at work, and it’s sure bigger than any potentially negative experiences that might come forth—and for a brief second in my self-pity and anger toward that gay pastor I forgot all of that.
This sobering message refocused my thoughts and set my mind on a new path. From that point on, each day for the next six months I set up meetings with every gay pastor and gay church I could find in the city of Chicago. I would get together with them—two, three, four of them per day—to learn about their beliefs and figure out how to somehow get involved.
Even at this early stage I knew I didn’t want to wake up one day and be “that guy” yelling on TV, constantly trying to manhandle the opposition. I knew what I believed as truth, and for the first time I realized that the security in what I believed was not contingent upon other people having to agree with me. If I could only understand the ins and outs of what gay Christians believed I could begin to understand how to best represent Jesus within the GLBT community.
The Spectrum of Gay and Christian
What about your life though? Many of you are not going to have that same experience. In fact, I know many people who go out of their way to avoid any such situation. Living in the midst of both worlds, I have seen how Christians too easily resort to traditional stereotypes about gay Christians—rather than building off of a common ground in Christ and seeing each of them for who they are. Gay Christians are a compilation of individual journeys and lives that have been filled with unique experiences that we can never have.
One of the most common scenarios that happens, more than any of us might be willing to admit, is that conservative churches employ gay Christians not knowing they’re gay. In fact, a very well- known church in the Midwest employs three gay Christians in key positions and they don’t even know! Those three people regularly talk to me because they don’t know where else to turn. I find that to be quite the unfortunate oxymoron—these three people all work at a church and they still don’t have anywhere to turn.
Most gay Christians live in so much fear that they have learned how to proficiently blend in to their conservative surroundings. It’s a great chameleon job on their part, but it’s a heartbreakingly lost opportunity for authenticity on ours.
Almost two years ago I met a man named Tim. He was, and still is, working at a large evangelical church in Chicago, and until he told me his story I could have never discerned his past. Five years ago a pastor who understood who Christ really is rallied his church community to make a new life for Tim. Last year Tim was asked to give his testimony at all three of his church’s services. Beforehand he and I talked about how he was going to relate his life experiences without turning off anyone in attendance, gay or straight. He knows what it’s like to be stuck in between, and because of the prominence of his church in their community, many onlookers from all walks of life would be in attendance judging each word. But when the time came for Tim to get on the stage he scrapped most of what we talked about and let it fly from his heart. Tim opened his time by boldly saying, “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. It’s wholeness.”
This is a concept I had never heard before—profound and very controversial in many evangelical circles, including the one he was speaking to. I sat there looking around at the congregation to gauge their reactions to such a statement.
People were absorbing each of Tim’s words from that moment on.
“Silence kills—secrets aren’t kept forever. There are some things you can say and there are other things you can’t, especially inside the church. You can mention pornography, masturbation, drug addiction and everything in between and find some sort of hope of forgiveness and acceptance from the church (not acceptance as if it’s OK, but acceptance that there is hope). But—and it’s a big but—there’s one word that turns people red in the face and shuts their mouths. I’m talking about being gay. By the time I was seven, I had heard fag, homo and sissy spoken my direction too often. I was always very active at church, and in my heart I thought the more I do the more likely this will go away.
“It didn’t; it just got worse. In a place where you think you could talk to someone and be real with what was going on, the only feeling I got when I’d even think that I could muster up the courage to talk about my life was one of fear. What would people say? How would they react? I wished that I could have struggled with looking at Playboy. At least then I would be somewhat normal. How, as a kid in high school, do you go to your youth pastor and tell him you are attracted to people of the same sex when he does such a great “gay” impersonation that everyone seems to think is hilarious?
“You don’t. So I just kept quiet. I never said a word as I thought at some point it would pass. I tried everything I knew—fasted, prayed, read the Bible. I was so desperate.
“A few years passed and I was on staff at a church across the country from where I grew up. The night before I was about to fly home and visit my parents, I got “outed.” I was great at covering up, but the Internet history told a wild tale. For the first time in fifteen years, in the company of people whom I loved and trusted, I talked about the abuse that happened when I was younger and about my struggle with silence. I bore my soul and all of the pain that came with that silence. As difficult as that moment was, it was a moment that I had longed for.
“I felt freedom for the first time. But instead of finding hope, I was told to box up everything I had and then leave! They ended up dropping me off, alone, for three days in a $29.99-per-night motel on the south side of town that was surrounded by barbed wire, with only $15 to my name. I found out after I returned home that the lead pastor at that church had called everyone he knew from my hometown and told them everything that happened, attempting to bar me from any type of normalcy.
“When I finally got home and saw everyone at my old church I fully expected to get the same response. Instead the senior pastor took my hands in his and looked me in the eyes and said, “Tim, I believe in you. I believe you are called by God and I know God has a special plan for your life. What they did to you was wrong, and I’m sorry . . . and know that I love you, want to help you and can’t think of a better place for you to be than on staff at this church.”
“It was so amazing for me to see in the span of one week how the church can respond to the issue of homosexuality. On one end, I was discarded, told I was broken and was left alone. And on the other I was loved, embraced and set on a path that brought great healing to my life.
“Change is a word that is often emotionally associated with this topic. God brought wholeness into my life and I began to see myself as God saw me. My identity wasn’t rooted in my past, but in Christ. I don’t believe change is the absence of struggle, but it’s having the freedom to choose in the midst of the struggle what I know to be God’s intended path for my life.
“I want to get married and have a family but I don’t believe that being married and having a family will be an end to my struggle or sign that I’m “healed.” My sin is no different than yours, and God’s grace is here to meet us all at our point of need. I am here not as someone who used to be gay, but as one of you. I am an undeserving sinner who has encountered God’s amazing grace.”
Do you think Tim is right in his own assessment of his life? What if Tim didn’t want to get married and instead remained celibate? Would he be a gay Christian in your eyes—because I know many people in Tim’s exact situation who still call themselves gay Christians. What about men and women who are actively involved in the GLBT community and profess to be Christians? Are they gay Christians as well? If they are, are they the same gay Christian that Tim calls himself? Does he still identify with them—is that even OK? These are all questions for Tim, not for those of us who do not feel same-sex attractions. Christians should not be answering these questions for them, but living life with those who have them.
This next section will piece together the pro-gay theological hermeneutic. Take it for what it’s worth. Read it. Soak it in. I am not asking you to agree with their beliefs, but I am asking you to humbly learn their views from their perspective. I will not be arguing and attempting to prove this belief system wrong, but rather putting it out there as a key component to understanding the GLBT mindset.
It is as important to understand pro-gay theology as it is to understand the gay filtration system on Christian apologetics. The Gay Apologetic breaks down into seven sections: general beliefs; general biblical thoughts; an Old Testament gay apologetic; a New Testament gay apologetic; a social apologetic; an intertwined social and biblical apologetic; and eight premises, developed by gay Christian leader Mel White (www.soulforce.org), on what the Bible says and doesn’t say about homosexuality.
Gay Christian General Beliefs
First, the GLBT community sees objections to homosexuality by evangelical Christians as a form of unjust religious bigotry. The GLBT community has battled their way to what they know of religious freedom. If Christians are not willing to recognize that, they’re doing nothing more than causing unrighteous oppression.
Mel White, a now openly gay man who during his closeted years was a speechwriter and ghostwriter for Billy Graham, Pat Robertson, Jim Bakker and Jerry Falwell, succinctly sums up the broader gay Christian thought: “Like you, I take the Bible seriously.” Gay
Christians want to be taken seriously just like heterosexual Christians. The best way to take gay Christians seriously is to presume that the Word of God is being taken in truthful reverence.
Gay Christian General Biblical Thoughts
Gay Christians believe that the passages in the Bible that condemn same-sex relationships are not referencing long-term, committed monogamous relationships. Rather, the Bible is talking about inhospitality, heterosexual rape, pagan ritual sex and orgies, and pederasty (men having sex with boys).
They also believe that translations and interpretations of the Bible are unclear relative to the hermeneutical historical-cultural/transcultural analysis of homosexuality. Since the Bible does not discuss long-term, committed monogamous same-sex relationships, what was applicable for the Israelites and early Christians in their specific historical period is not applicable for gay Christians today.
The key factors that glue the Bible’s overarching principles together throughout both Testaments are the call to love our neighbor and have compassion on the oppressed, and that God gives each of us an ability to receive freedom in Christ. Among many other verses, gay Christians refer to Jesus’ words about the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:37-40 and Mark 12:29-31.
Old Testament Gay Apologetic The Sodom and Gomorrah story (Gen 19) is not talking about long-term, committed monogamous same-sex relationships—it is talking about gay rape, which violates the hospitality laws of the day (Ezek 16:49). The parallel passage to Sodom and Gomorrah is the story in Judges 19:22-26, which consists of heterosexual rape, again highlighting the main theme of rape in concordance with Genesis 19.
Same-sex sexual relations are one of many issues addressed in the Holiness Code (Leviticus), which also prohibits such things as wearing clothing woven of two kinds of material, getting tattoos, planting two kinds of seed together, playing with the skin of a pig and mating different kinds of animals together. Offenders are burned by the fire, executed, stoned to death or kicked out of the community. All told, 613 laws—including the sanctions regarding same-sex sexual relations—are connected by the Holiness Code to salvation, which Jesus’ redemptive blood washed over in the New Covenant, and therefore they are not to be generalized for today.
Also, same-sex relationships in the Bible, such as Jonathan and David (1-2 Samuel) and Ruth and Naomi (Ruth), are thought by a small percentage of gay Christians to be physically sexual relationships.
New Testament Gay Apologetic
Jesus was silent on the issue of homosexuality. Which begs the question: if homosexuality is so important, why did Jesus not say one word about it?
A Roman centurion asked Jesus to heal his servant (Mt 8:5-13; Lk 7:1-10). The Greek word for servant is pais, which can literally mean a male lover. Pais, sexual servants, were very common in the ancient Near East Roman culture, and Jesus would have known this. Therefore Jesus was not opposed to homosexuality.
According to ancient literature, eunuchs could be manmade (castrated) or naturally born (incapable of—or disinterested in—intercourse with women). As one gay Christian author puts it, “To introduce one’s self as a eunuch in ancient times was roughly akin to introducing one’s self today as a hairdresser from San Francisco.”1 Therefore Philip’s baptism of a eunuch (Acts 8:26-40) confirmed that gay men are accepted in the kingdom.
Paul’s condemnation of same-sex sexual relations in Romans 1:26-27 as “unnatural” is once again not referring to long-term, committed monogamous relationships. He is specifically talking about the common Roman practice of pederasty, in which older males “mentor,” or have sex with, male children, which is legitimately denounced as unnatural and caused by a depraved mind.
Gay apologists believe that Paul coined the word arsenokoitēs (1 Cor 6:9-11) as he was referring to older males who were customers of male “call boys” or prostitutes. This practice was common during the Greco-Roman period. It wasn’t until 1946 in the Revised Standard Version (rsv) that a Bible translator decided to label the unknown arsenokoitēs as “homosexual offender.” A similar debate persists with 1 Timothy 1:10.
Gay Social Apologetic
Homosexuality is an orientation, not a lifestyle. This topic will be discussed in more depth in chapter ten.
Homosexuality is genetic: although there has been a historic push over the last decade to complete a research study that infallibly shows a link from homosexuality to a specific gene(s), none have been able to be successfully duplicated to validate that claim. Currently in many circles both gay and straight, scientific and religious, there has been a more common acceptance of homosexuality’s etiology as a combination of biological, environmental and social factors that all contribute to gay orientation.
The APA does not list homosexuality in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM—IV): if the American Psychological Association (APA) believes homosexuality is not a defect, disease or disorder, it should then be recognized as religiously acceptable—as opposed to being a behavior that needs to be modified.
There is an ever-increasing number of the population coming out as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender: Christendom has oppressed the GLBT community for so long that many people over the decades were too terrified to come out and show the world who they really are. Since gay apologetics are becoming more well known within religious circles, as well as within mainstream culture, more GLBT people will continue to show their faces until the Christian community recognizes that GLBT people have also been created by the Creator. There are too many GLBT people for them to be a mistake by God.
Intertwined Biblical and Social Apologetic
Gay Christians believe the Bible is used to justify homophobia, judgmentalism and segregation. This improper use of Scripture directly leads to the cultural stigma and shame GLBT people feel within the mainstream.
GLBT orientation can’t be changed and therefore it is God’s way of telling GLBT people it’s a happy, healthy and God-ordained way of life; otherwise he wouldn’t have created GLBT people as such. Equality rights and legalized same-sex marriage are a byproduct of this thought.
If homosexuality is wrong, how can a GLBT person be a born-again believer and filled with the Spirit, able to use those gifts to bless the kingdom and positively influence nonbelievers’ spiritual lives? Gay Christians have started to change the mainstream’s mindset that GLBT people crave random sex, are STD-laced, and have alcohol and drug problems.
Mel White’s 8 Premises
By all accounts Dr. Mel White has been the most prominent and vocal leader of the rising gay Christian movement. His eight premises, outlined in a booklet titled What the Bible Says—and Doesn’t Say —About Homosexuality, have been used as the basis for the ever-growing understanding of what Christians know today as a pro-gay theology. These eight premises are Dr. White’s biblical responses to the question “How can you consider yourself a Christian when you are also gay?”
1. Most people have not carefully and prayerfully researched the biblical texts often used to condemn GLBT children.
2. Historically, people’s misinterpretation of the Bible has left a trail of suffering, bloodshed and death.
3. Christians must be open to new truth from Scripture. Even heroes of the Christian faith have changed their minds about the meaning of various biblical texts.
4. The Bible is a book about God—not about human sexuality: It condemns sexual practices we accept and we accept sexual practices it condemns.
5. We miss what the passages say about God when we spend so much time debating what it says about sex.
6. The biblical authors are silent about GLBT orientation as we know it today. They neither approve it or condemn it.
7. Although the prophets, Jesus and other biblical authors say nothing about GLBT orientation as we understand it today, they are clear about one thing: As we search for truth, we are to “love one another.”
8. Whatever some people believe the Bible says about homosexuality, they must not use that belief to deny the GLBT community their basic civil rights. To discriminate against sexual or gender minorities is unjust and un-American.
Although this is far from an exhaustive look into gay apologetics, these are the key points that many gay Christians believe. In order to elevate the conversation about the Christian faith and the GLBT community, we need to seek out conversation partners and talk through these key points knowing that both partners will be committed without knowing where the conversations will ultimately lead them.
What Can Christians DO?
Find a gay church with a gay pastor; ask to get together with them so you can listen and learn. The best approach to doing this is to open with something like the following: “Can you please tell me what you believe the Bible says about same-sex sexual attraction and how you arrived at your conclusions? I don’t want to fight. I don’t want to argue. I just want to learn from you about something I know little about from your perspective.”
I have had many seminary students, pastors and everyday Christians over the years tell me that they would love to learn more about the GLBT community and their theological beliefs, but they are afraid that they’ll say the wrong thing and ultimately do more harm than good. But there is no wrong way to humbly listen and learn!
Next, invite GLBT people to your church. This morning alone I had eight new voicemails, and five of them were from GLBT people I don’t know—some gay Christians, some nonreligious and some just wanting spiritual help. All called from 6 p.m. the previous evening to 8 a.m. this morning. That overnight amount of GLBT calling is not an aberration. The GLBT community is interested in the things of God. If we’re not going to help them search for what they’re looking for, which is ultimately the same thing we’re looking for, then they’ll do it themselves without our help.
Have you ever sung a praise and worship song next to a gay Christian before? I don’t know how you would feel, but I’ll never forget the first time I did. I stood there looking to my right and my left at the people I had invited and I was completely puzzled. They sang the same songs as I did. They raised their hands just like me.
They closed their eyes and sang from the depths of their soul as I have done my entire life. I don’t know what I expected to happen, but I sure didn’t expect that.
The entire time I couldn’t concentrate on the songs, the worship or even the sermon. I was just trying to search in my spirit what the Lord thought about all of this. I was planning to take that pending revelation and shout it from the mountaintops. What did I hear? What did I get from the Lord that Sunday? Absolutely nothing. How annoying is that!
I realized through the nothingness that this experience—this time of worship—was only supposed to be about him. It was not about acceptance, validation or condemnation of gays and lesbians. It was not about the gay Christian movement, a pro-gay theology or traditional biblical interpretations of Scripture. It was not about differences or similarities or anything that my mind could futilely try to comprehend that morning. It was about Jesus. It’s always been about Jesus and I lost sight of that.
For the very first time I substantially knew in the depths of my soul that I didn’t have to worry about all of those other things because they were not mine to worry about. I was making it my deal, making it my baggage and making it my worry, and I didn’t have to do any of that. When did I become God? When did I have to figure it all out? When did I have to come up with a position point on every single topic ever thought of in the history of mankind? I didn’t; and I don’t. I am allowed the ability to just trust in the faithfulness of my loving Father to fill in the gaps that I can never understand.
The freedom that came with my simplistic revelation that God is God took the weight of the whole GLBT religious world off of my heavily burdened, weak shoulders. Let the all-knowing God be God, and you be you.
GLBT people coming to church should be a celebration, instead of the head-turning fright festival it quickly turns into. One Christian ex-gay author reflects the broader Christian mindset when he contends that the church has no choice but to fight with the gay community. Coexistence, he suggests, is a practical impossibility.2 We’ve spent too much time destroying possibilities of hope for the GLBT community. It needs to change.
Christians have been trained to think that one attempt at relational redemption will then take away a GLBT person’s pain and hurt. It just doesn’t work like that. People just don’t forgive and forget that quickly. Sometimes I actually believe that Christians dig themselves a bigger hole on purpose just so there is a built-in excuse to point the finger and say, “See, they don’t want to build a bridge. I just reached out.” If the body of Christ is to truly make a difference you must first drop the overt argument mindset. I don’t care what either side says, this is not a war. This is not a battle. There are no soldiers and there is no governmental talking head, no matter how much both sides try to bring the issue before the courts. Until the body of Christ believes that peaceful productivity with gays and lesbians is actually an option, how can we ever expect it to happen?
This is the first main step to how Christians begin to elevate the conversation past a street fight. It’s a lot like the first step God commanded Joshua to take into the flooded Jordan River before the Israelites could cross into the Promised Land (Josh 3). Take a small, yet difficult and uncertain step with the Lord toward another person—even with a very real feeling of overwhelming trepidation for what might happen—and just watch what happens as that little step inaugurates life-altering redemptive conversations about the things of God with the GLBT community.
*This article first published on August 10, 2009.
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