I recently had a conversation with a friend about what it means to be Christian with gay friends. In particular, the friend was asking if it would be morally acceptable, within the Christian ethic, to set two gay friends up with one another. I was pleasantly surprised by the ‘freshness’ of the question and yet a bit concerned for its novelty (at least to me). This novelty of questioning indicated to me that current culture has moved (I steer away from using ‘progressed’ as the term has a connotation of ‘direction toward the correct or improved’ which I do not want to convey), and that, in some ways, we are dealing with more complex questions which will not be getting any easier.
But at the same time, these developments in same-sex marriage laws, modern cultural trends do not mean that the basic issue and foundational questions with homosexuality and Christianity is going away. Benoit Denizet-Lewis writes the very interesting piece “My Ex-Gay Friend” in the NY Times Magazine about Michael Glatze, a formerly gay writer who was devoted to helping gay youth but has now turned heterosexual. His intriguing journey of sexual identity has moved him through Christian liberalism, Mormonism and has currently left him sitting alongside the Christian right. Denizet-Lewis article, which is a very thoughtful read, unearths the battle not between ideologies of sexual orientation, but more so a struggle for acceptance, in both camps. The author writes upon his initial meet with the Christian verson of Glatze:
Had part of me come to “save” my old friend from the clutches of the Christian right? Though I don’t doubt that sexual attraction can evolve, I was skeptical of Michael’s claim of heterosexuality — and I rejected his argument that “homosexuality prevents us from finding our true self within.” Besides, I had a hard time believing that Michael’s “true self” was a fundamentalist Christian who writes derogatorily about being gay. But whatever aspirations I had about persuading Michael to join the ranks of ex-ex-gays, they were no match for his eagerness to save me.
This concept of ‘saving’, we must understand, is not just a matter of right or wrong ideas but is a deep concern for all humans that unsurfaces in one form or another, a concern ‘to become acceptable’. This deep desire to be accepted goes far beyond issues of sexual orientation and even further from the modern shallow idea of ‘tolerance’. Here’s a reflection of the idea of tolerance subtly manifesting itself:
As Ben and I reminisced, I couldn’t help wondering if Michael’s new philosophy might, in a strange way, be a logical extension of what he believed back then — that “gay” is a limiting category and that sexual identities can change. Ben nodded. “A radical queer activist and a fundamentalist Christian aren’t always as different as they might seem,” he said, adding that they’re ideologues who can railroad over nuance and claim a monopoly on the truth.
Ben went on. “To me, Michael is a victim of this insane society we live in, where we grow up with all these conflicting messages and pressures around sexuality and religion, and where we divide into these camps where we’re always right and the other side is always wrong. Some people are susceptible to buying into that, and I think Michael is one of them.”
But to think “we’re always right and the other side is always wrong” as wrong is in fact naive and, I dare say it, shallow. The desire to be accepted goes deeper than tolerance because underneath our desire to avoid discomfort, our desire to sweep the issues underneath the ‘tolerance’ rug is a fact that only one side can be right. Either homosexuality is a sin or it isn’t, it cannot be both. Of course, we cannot just leave the issue at ‘right or wrong’ which is what many Christian conservatives wrongly do and they are rightly criticized for not being more pastoral with the issue. But with the discussion of ‘acceptability’ entails ‘standards’ of that very acceptability, and to begin to find a way in, there has to be a moment of measuring, that is, how do your views (or actions) hold up to that standard of acceptability you desire? And this is what Glatze realized with his struggle:
“For a year I struggled to think of every other reason except for the obvious one,” he said. “Then it just came up, clear as day. The problem was my sexual identity. But that was really scary. I thought to myself, Seriously? That’s ridiculous. I’m a homosexual. I struggled trying to understand what was happening to me. I’d always been told that if you had doubts about the rightness of your homosexuality, which I had been having for a while but was trying to silence, that it was because you just hadn’t worked through all your internalized homophobia. But that didn’t feel true now.”
This can be a good reminder to Christians in addressing this topic. That we need to remember when the issue is acceptability and sin, it is not merely an issue outside ourselves, that the most pressing and pertinent topic of discussion has to be the issue within us. This is important particularly for the Christian to remember, because it reminds us that Christians are not acceptable to God because we are heterosexual, it reminds us that we are accepted even with our utter unacceptability, and in turn, this reminds us of grace. To forget this is to give up the right to participate in this discussion. Additionally, as difficult and uncomfortable of a discussion this topic is, it is not one we can sweep under the rug as it is something that will be raised over and over again and more frequently in our culture as this one particular blog by Ed Stetzer reports. Instead, we must thoughtfully, with compassion and grace, address not just the issue as a philosophical discussion but to see the person within the struggle, uncompromising the truth while understanding that that very truth comes in the form of grace, a grace that leads to repentance and ultimately fills our deep need for acceptance.