I’ve spent years of my life sorting through what I believe about homosexuality. I’ve been all over the map in this rugged terrain of theological belief, from ex-gay, to “Side B” to accomodationist, to affirming. Now, mercifully, I’ve journeyed beyond the gay Christian debate. I’m happy with my life and I’ve dedicated myself to what are, in my view, better, nobler things than a life-devouring obsession over my sexual orientation.
However, as I struggled with what I believed about homosexuality, I started to learn about people, and why we believe what we believe. The greatest things I’ve learned from the gay debate have little to do with homosexuality, and much more to do with human nature.
We have a desperate need to be seen
So much of the anguish in this debate comes from feeling unseen. When I was in the bowels of the debate I felt deeply unseen, deeply misunderstood, deeply alien, even to the gentlest of conservative Christians. No amount of kindness could rid me of this alienation. I would hear words from the church about sin and grace, brokenness and redemption, welcome and embrace. I heard words, But I never experienced being seen.
I was never told, simply, fully, without qualification, “I see you.” Instead, I heard anxiety about my presence – anxiety which manifested itself as dogma, theology, sermonizing, moralizing. This was painful. This broke my heart.
I see this in just about everyone: the conservatives who get defensive for spouting unpopular, damaging beliefs; the ambivalent gay Christians who are still sorting out what they believe; the person committed to celibacy; the partnered gay person (like myself) who feels deeply threatened by the Church’s teaching on homosexuality. We all want to be seen. Not, “I see you, but…” because we already know the buts. We already know how we disagree, and why. We feel unseen, and that strikes a deep, horrible cord in our souls.
Here is another fundamental truth I’ve learned about humanity: we all feel pain. We all hurt. As I peruse the blogs from all perspectives, from gay affirming to non-affirming, I see one common theme, one blood-red thread: we all hurt. Homosexuality is a source of anguish for all of us. the complexity of relationships, sex, belief and cognitive dissonance hurt us all, and we all deal with that pain as best we can.
We are Fundamentally Irrational Creatures
When I got right down to it, I discovered an unsettling truth: we are fundamentally irrational, intuitive beings. Much as I tried to articulate a reasonable answer for being gay affirming, the truth of it is this: my heart tells me it is fundamentally wrong to deny gay people the right to marry, and that intuition goes so deep it was self-destruction to deny it. All the rationalizing, while necessary, is often post-hoc articulation for an intuitive, subconscious belief. I am convinced that this is true for all of us.
I observe the same reality in those who disagree with me: it is a matter of intuition, something deep, animal, and irrational telling them what is right and wrong. All the theology is just window dressing, the garments and flesh on the bare bones of subconscious thought. It’s our intuition that’s running the show.
This does not mean we can’t reason and discuss – our intuition often responds to such exercises. But it does mean we need to more fully accept the irrational as a driving force in our convictions.
As Jonathan Haidt points out in his book the Righteous Mind, we make split second moral decisions, and then the intellect acts as the press secretary for the intuitive self, making arguments for what it has already made. Ours are fragile, intuitive, irrational minds. I find it dishonest – self deception of the highest order – to admit anything else.
Theology and reason are necessary, but it is a delusion to believe that they are the pure motivations for our beliefs.
Ultimately, what I have learned about people from the gay Christian debate is that we are fragile, flawed, tragic creatures: beautiful, lovable, hurting, and so easily broken. This compels me towards compassion. The world is, after all, an incomprehensibly big place, our God so unfathomably large. A little bit of compassion – even for our enemies – is in order.
4 thoughts on “3 Things I’ve learned from The Gay Christian Debate”
Greetings again Stephen. In response to your, 3 things I’ve learnt….
I truly believe God is directing your blog where the timing is phenomenally powerful. I cant thank you enough as you diligently direct us to issues within the gay community where as unseen people we hide the pain we carry. Close to overload after spending the last 6mths searching and reading all sides of the gay debate I found I needed to put it all to one side to rest and try and understand why I still find God so distant.
I’ve come to realise to that many church leaders I’ve tried to share with are subliminally so locked into the rhetoric of anti gay teaching that they are intuitively responding on autopilot to a theology that leaves them devoid of empathy and compassionate love for their congregation.
For some their almost contorted faces as they try to defend their position reveals the internal struggle that many don’t seem to be able to reconcile and be at peace with.
Your honesty is so refreshing. Thank you
Harvey, thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts. You make a few powerful observations – the gay Christian debate can be absolutely debilitating. I was enmeshed with it for years and years, and it really crippled me. Few seem to realize how deeply damaging the gay christian debate can be. It hurts horribly. I’ve found that the best way to manage is to ruthlessly implement boundaries, to give myself time to heal. Now I can engage in ways I never could, but only because I’ve given myself LOTS of space to heal.
I hope you continue to find a place of peace. Take good care of yourself.
I know that years ago, I was embroiled in heated discussions that did not go very well, that destroyed me for a time. For a long time Gay and Christian were like oil and water for some. Eventually, they tired of attacking me and went away. Over the years, I have become less and less inclined to even open discussion any more about who I am or that I am gay or a Christian.
I no longer have the desire to engage most people who believe so strongly what they do, contrary to any evidence of acceptance and respect of humanity in others. Religion, like politics, are two areas I intentionally stay away from, because I know who I am, and what I know, and that is good for me. Sobriety teaches me that I don’t always have to argue when it is not necessary to do so.
I have the ability today to decide what I am going to engage in and/or talk about in open community. People come and read because they want to, not because I ask them to. I write for me for the most part. I don’t go out looking for confrontation with anyone any more. I’ve had that experience brought to my doorstep by people who wanted nothing better than to drag me through the evangelical mud. Been there, done that. Don’t do that any more.
I’ve spent my entire life trying to figure out who I am and on what side of whatever argument I sit on, and still, today, I’m not really sure, because I study like a madman trying to figure stuff out. And I know, I won’t have all the answers.
Today I know who I am. And You are well on your way yourself. You have found some modicum of peace and inner security and serenity. So hold on to that. We’ve done the work that entitles us to our self knowledge.
You wrote: “I no longer have the desire to engage most people who believe so strongly what they do, contrary to any evidence of acceptance and respect of humanity in others. Religion, like politics, are two areas I intentionally stay away from, because I know who I am, and what I know, and that is good for me. Sobriety teaches me that I don’t always have to argue when it is not necessary to do so.”
This could be a post in itself. I, too, have learned from my 12 Step program that I am okay, that I don’t need to chase after fights for validation. I think that’s a lot of what it was for me: I was codependent on those who disagreed with me, desperate for their approval. Now, I don’t care. I let myself be who they are, and I accept that I am powerless over others. The liberation is extraordinary.