This morning, as I was scrolling through my feedly app, I came across a particular post from an ex-gay blog called Your Other Brothers (they would probably object to being labeled as ex-gay, but that to me seems the best approximation of their work.) Much as I disagree with the guys on the blog, I enjoy reading them. They are figuring life out the best way they can, and I relate to their journey – mine was very similar to theirs before I came to fully embrace being gay. the post in question was a discussion about Trey Pearson, the Christian rockstar and frontman of Everyday Sunday who recently came out as gay. One sentence read, “I can see his heart behind coming out, coming to terms with his sexuality, and all that. But it’s all heart. He’s leading by feeling in lieu of fact.” The simple fact being, I assume, that the Bible is clear, and that no amount of human suffering should dissuade us from that clarity. This is clearly seen as a strength among many Christians, but I see it as anything but.
This Your Other Brothers post is just one example of a trend I see everywhere in Christendom. It’s disturbing. I’d even call it psychopathic, meaning an inability to experience empathy. More and more, I see some of my fellow Christians favoring theological and intellectual consistency over the heart.
I must make something immediately clear: I don’t believe the good men over at the Your Other Brothers blog are psychopaths – nowhere close. I think they do feel a great deal of empathy – they’ve lived the hell of being same-sex attracted in the church themselves. Nor do I think the wider church is psychopathic, either. Rather, be it through bias, or fear, or pain, or simply where their journey has led them, many Evangelicals have come to a system of thought that dismisses experience and the heart as valid evidence. It is not the people who are psychopathic, but the theological systems that are psychopathic.
People like me – people who believe that affirming gay marriage is an act of the Kingdom of God, and firmly believe that the suffering of LGBT caused by the traditional ethic is wrong – are often told, “stop emotionalizing the issue.” This baffles me, and it horrifies me. We are not emotionalizing the LGBT issue, but humanizing it.
The Evangelical Christianity I see, more and more, is a church that doesn’t want to be bothered with the messiness of human experience. It doesn’t want to be confused by experiences, or the heart when it comes tO understanding truth. The heart is, after all, wicked and deceitful above all things. (It never seems to occur to us that, if the heart is deceitfully wicked above all things, than so is the mind, and we are ultimately lost at sea, with no way of seeing or understanding truth. Why is the heart such a wicked thing, but the intellect and “plain sense” get a free pass? The intellect has famously led humanity astray, just as much as the heart.)
What’s trustworthy is the mind – cold, calcuated, reasonable, safe. What’s trustworthy is a psychopathic intellect, devoid of empathy, where the answers are clear and self-evident and unconcerned with such paltry things as suffering. It’s comfortable, no doubt. It must certainly be comfortable to cast Trey Pearson’s suffering as tragic but ultimately insignificant when it comes to truth. His years of pain are certainly unfortunate, but they must not distract us from what we know to be true.
This is a Christianity I want no part of. A Christianity that is not informed by the heart is a monster. A Christianity unwilling to be informed by the suffering of others, and unwilling to say, “I might be wrong” in the face of suffering is a Christianty established to protect the abusive status quo. A rationality that does not calibrate evidence of the heart is not rational, and certainly not “factual”. We can’t toss out Scripture and Tradition, but nor must we throw away the heart and experience. Without the humanizing influence of experience, we become theological Daleks.
Christ invites us into discomfort. Christ is to be found in the silent suffering of Trey Pearson. As Trey unveils his suffering to the world, though, I see too many Christians scrambling to protect themselves, rather than engaging with the Christ at the heart of Trey’s suffering. I see people feeling sad or threatened, declaring how he should have done his life better – he shouldn’t have divorced his wife, (“why, I struggle with same sex attraction and I’ve never divorced my wife.”) How dare we? How fucking dare we? How dare we presume to lecture, presume to know what the secret room of his marriage was like? How dare we respond to his admission with anything other than attentive silence?
The willingness to engage fully in suffering will fuck up our lives, our theology, and our comfort. It will, inevitably, destroy our certainties and leave us with many questions. I am endlessly horrified by a church that lacks the humility to ask questions about LGBT people. I am endlessly appalled by a church unwilling to even consider the possibility of being wrong, a church that would rather preserve theological consistency than be plunged into uncomfortable questions by the pain of LGBT people.
Yes, this is hard. Nearly impossible, in fact, and it’s terrifying. But sometimes, we simply need to get over ourselves, deal with it, and jump into the deep end of the pool, and confront our fear of drowning. Questions are where we encounter God. Questions and uncertainty are the ultimate act of worship, because we have been knocked from our little throwns, and we finally admit that God is God, and we are not.
11 thoughts on “The Heart Matters”
Amen, brother. I came to Christianity in college by studying the short stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had a lot to say about the pathological split between head and heart. As I interpret it, his work proposes that the unforgiveable sin (the sin against the Holy Spirit about which Jesus spoke enigmatically in the gospels) is a kind of intellect-driven narcissism, where we refuse to feel the humanity of others, instead reducing them to concepts we manipulate in our own internal drama. I’ve been disillusioned to find Christians repeating the same error.
“‘,,,leading by feeling in lieu of fact.’ The simple fact being, I assume, that the Bible is clear, and that no amount of human suffering should dissuade us from that clarity. This is clearly seen as a strength among many Christians, but I see it as anything but.” These sound like the words of a “head” christian; someone who parses out the Unconditional Love of God to suit their own purposes.
If God does not Love everyone (all of Creation in fact) Unconditionally, s/he ceases to be God.
To take that a step further, those who choose Conditional Love over Unconditional Love have rejected the Grace God pours out on all of us. Jesus said, “They will know you are my followers by your Love.” Love is the proof and sign of God’s presence in our souls.
I appreciate your detailed thoughts on our YOB discussion, Stephen. I’m so glad you distinguished between a psychopathic system and us as a community, people, brothers. I believe you’re right in that the system is broken, that too often we the Church do not empathize with those hurting in our midst. I’ve fallen short myself…even despite being a closeted SSA Christian for most of my life.
All the same, though, we as a community can’t NOT say that what we believe about homosexuality isn’t fact. If we didn’t believe so, or believed the Bible weren’t clear, very few, if any of us, would even be walking this road of celibacy or marriage with women. You might disagree, but we can’t apologize for this.
I do empathize with Trey Pearson and his secret struggles for all those years. While I’m not married and can’t offer that perspective (as some of our YOB blogging brothers are and did, very strongly, in that post), I can relate with him as a fellow SSA person in the Church — in addition to an SSA person once trapped in secrecy within the Church. Truthfully, I’m more upset at all the believers in his life with whom he felt he could never be truly open and vulnerable regarding this pivotal facet of his life. Why did it take several years into his marriage for this to come to light? How come those conversations about sexuality couldn’t happen in the Church sooner?
That’s ultimately what we’re all about at YOB. Not causing controversy for controversy sake but bringing darkness to light and helping push this pivotal conversation into the sanctuary, the small group living room, the coffee shop down the street. Sorry if we offended in any way, but I hope you better see where we’re all coming from.
Thomas, thanks so much for responding. I agree that you can’t not affirm only the traditional view on gay marriage, but I don’t really believe that is the issue at hand. What I believe my post is responding to is an inability to allow experiences – especially experiences of human suffering – to give us pause or shape our theology. Our unwillingness to open ourselves to such challanges creates a very harmful theology. I was using the specific quote from Your Other Brothers to illustrate a disturbing trend I see in the church at large – a trend that suggests that suffering, while unfortunate, should not pose a challenge to our theology.
But that does not mean everyone who responds to such challanges will inevitably come to agree with me – many of my readers don’t. My primary aim in writing has always been to cultivate empathy among my readers, even if we disagree. Empathy, however, is meaningless if it does not shape our response to the world, and it serves us poorly if we do not at least allow it to challenge our worldviews. I am not asking people to abandon their conservative views of homosexuality – I am asking them to allow the agony of gay people to at least give them pause, to admit “I might be wrong,” and to lean into the suffering of others. My bias is that a conviction without doubt lacks strength and empathy, and gay people feel that deep lack of empathy. I would go so far to say that, if the suffering of others has not challenged our woldviews in very serious ways, no matter the worldview we hold, than we are not responding fully to the call of empathy. My challenge to the church, therefore, is not to abandon the traditional viewpoint, but to let the agony of others pose seemingly unanswerable challenges and questions to our faith. I believe that is where we discover compassion, and God.
I love all the guys over at Your Other Brothers. I love the honesty, and integrity I see there. Keep doing what your doing, and we can keep having these necessary, challenging discussions.
You’re a solid example, Stephen. The Church would do well to have these kinds of comments and discussion. Let’s continue spurring each other onward. Grateful for your love and support; you have mine as well.
One last point I wanted to make, and hopefully one you can appreciate from recovery: we are not our feelings. This has been vital for me the last few years of my own journey, when I am so often prone to believing the feeling that I am worthless, useless, not masculine enough, not lovable (by men) enough, not ___ enough. But I am not my feelings. Not at all. I am His, and He is mine, and I am not my own. I’ve been bought at a price. And God has a unique plan for me and my sexuality, no matter how high or low I feel. These are the facts I must tell myself day by day. I think that’s the point one of our brothers was making.
I do understand what you are saying here.
I definitely see what you mean about this trend in the church. I feel like we are slowly splitting into two factions who both see things as black and white. One side is only willing to look at scripture (often only their own interpretation of it) while the other is only willing to look at human experience. I think both parties are missing a huge gray area, the place where human experience and empathy seems to conflict with the Word and where we need to wrestle with both and try to truly discover God’s will for a given situation. I don’t blame people for wanting to make it black and white. It takes time and effort and both mental and emotional fortitude to struggle through those questions and in the end, you’re left with the fear that you made the wrong choice. It’s so much easier to just pick one and let that be your only guide. I pray that the church as a whole learns to take more information into account when we’re choosing our paths and that we can put in the work to come to our best conclusion. As always, thanks for your thoughtful writing.
We should be moved by the suffering of others and offer compassion. But it seems ludicrous to claim that the Bible and Christian theology should be edited to accommodate the feelings of an individual. If you believe in the Sovereign God of the Bible, it’s absurd.