The tide started to turn, perhaps, when my editor was reading a piece for my previous blog, “Sacred Tension”, about being gay and Christian. She looked up at me and said, “Stephen, I can’t let you publish this.”
“Why?” I asked.
“Because people would feel attacked, belittled, dehumanized,” she said, “I won’t let you publish this piece, not in its current form.”
“But I’m right,” I said.
“That’s no excuse for being ugly.” She went on to practically rewrite the whole article, making it a much kinder, gentler piece.
The article in question had to do with what many in the gay Christian world call “Side B” – the belief that, while a gay orientation cannot be helped, to act on it is sinful. (Conversely, Side A is the belief that God blesses gay marriage.)
I was expressing how deeply I believe Side B is wrong, blind, and dangerous, and that stories of how it hurts people are important. I still believe everything I wrote in that article, but the way I expressed it was ugly, demeaning, and wrong.
I’ve always been dedicated to peace, kindness, and dialogue. Growing up gay in the conservative world, I’ve always understood that there are reasonable, kind and loving people on both sides, and that it is far more productive to engage in humble dialogue instead of vicious flame wars.
My dedication to that standard was starting to erode, though, and the article my editor refused to let me publish was an example of that slow, painful erosion.
My ability to uphold that ideal was breaking down because, as I see clear as day in retrospect, I was hurting very, very deeply. I had spent a lifetime warding off unintentional knife stabs from fellow, loving Christians. I was nursing a million wounds, chielf among them the pain of going through the ex-gay world, and the betrayal I felt regarding the traditional ethic: I had done my best, fought my hardest, and it left me broken, suicidal, empty.
The dialogue with other Christians – good people struggling so deeply to love and understand and yet bound by the straight jacket of their theology – started to wear me down, and down, and down. Even good and productive conversations started to devastate me.
Left to marinate in these unhealed, ongoing wounds, I became explosively, brutally angry. I learned the painful way that hurt and anger take us to a very primitive part of the brain: where it is only “us” and “them”, where everything is black and white, where there is only survival or anihaliation, and fear – so much fear.
I regret to say that, as I became overwhelmed with my pain as a gay Christian man, I lost sight of the humanity of my fellow Christians who disagree with me.
I started to spiral, and I finally realized the painful truth: I was unable to practice my ideal of gracious kindness and dialogue. I was too compromised, in far too much pain, and I had to detach.
I stopped writing. I cut off all access to social media. I practically vanished from the face of the earth, focusing only on my job and the 3 or 4 friends that I trusted. I felt like a mortally wounded animal, limping up the mountain to hide.
It’s taken a long time for me to even begin to heal. Now, little by little, I’m able to communicate again. I’m able to stand in peace with those with whom I disagree, and I am able to practice the brutally hard compassion I know Christ commands all of us to embody.
I am more capable of conversing in love, of expressing the full extent of my beliefs without losing sight of the humanity we all share. I am able to see that what unites us all – God’s love – is far greater than anything that divides us.
Several weeks ago, my partner and I had dinner with a couple of pastors. While very good friends of ours, they are also Side B, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to engage in such conversation, yet again, when the healing process has been so hard. I’d been dialoging with these pastors for years now, and while I knew them to be safe, kind, and caring, I simply didn’t know if I was up to the task that evening.
One of the pastors looked at us over dinner, with immense pain in his eyes, and said:
I just don’t know anymore. I am no longer non-affirming, but I’m not exactly affirming either. I’m in a middle place, and I just want to love people. I believe both positions take a tremendous amount of faith. And no one knows about my theological shift – if my denomination knew, I would be excommunicated. I can’t talk to anyone about this. It’s hard, but I keep asking myself: at what point does orthodoxy come at the expense of orthopraxy?
Before the meal, we held hands, and my pastor friend prayed. He thanked God for my partner and I, and with that prayer, he welcomed us to his table – not as rivals, not as seperate, but as family, as fellow Christians, fully embraced by God.
During that meal, I was moved – moved by my friend’s humanity, by their willingness to learn, by their courage to not know, and to let go of familiar beliefs. I was moved to tenderness by this secret meal – a meal that could have these pastors ousted.
I remembered my original ideal – that conversation, kindness, and long-suffering patience really do make a difference. I also realized that, as was the case with me, sometimes we can’t engage – sometimes it simply hurts too much – and that is ok, too.