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.