Gay and Christian: Can you be both?
A few years ago, there was much buzz at my church about an upcoming proposal in our state. The push among our congregation was less about promoting a stance as it was about making sure people got out and voted for this very important issue. We were overwhelmingly united in our opinions and were most concerned with our collective votes being counted. Of course, I made my way to the polls and didn’t pause when marking my ballot in opposition of legalizing gay marriage. I’m a Christian. Being gay is a sin. To support the union of two gay people in what “they” would like to call a marriage would render me a proponent in undermining the sanctity of marriage. No worries that day. God was able to count on me and, along with enough other votes, gay marriage would still not be recognized in Michigan. Victory was ours.
There was never a shortage of opinions, facts, attitudes, and scripture that justified my stance on the gay issue. Because I had and have gay friends, and feel I have never discriminated based on sexual orientation, I felt I loved like Jesus said I should love. Hate the sin, love the sinner. Think about it; if ever there was a time when a gay person came to me asking about salvation, I need to be receptive and supportive. I may be the only one they ever come to and, if I should be intimidating or self righteous, what good would I be to this lost soul? No, I am a Christian. Not one of those who say it while living inversely of it, but one who walks the walk, talks the talk, loves people unconditionally, and votes no when it comes to recognizing a gay relationship as valid. If there is something wrong with you, you can pray on it and, if you are gay, then there must be something wrong with you. There is always a way out. I was there to help, right?
Recently, I finished reading Mel White’s Stanger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America. Some years ago, the title alone would have challenged me. Gay and Christian? That made as much sense as saying round and square. One is one. The other is the other. You can’t be both. Christians are community minded servants of Christ who sacrifice themselves for His will. Gays have selfish desires and live promiscuous lifestyles. Even straight non Christians are contributing members of procreation. Gays couldn’t care less that their choice in gender orientation is counterproductive to the survival of the species. Still, Love the sinner, hate the sin. I can do that.
So why did I read Mel’s book? Because some things didn’t make sense to me. When I am honest with myself, I recognize the overwhelming psychological agreement among the very brightest in the field that our sexual orientation is defined by the time we are six years old. Oh, and they also say that we have no control over that choice. I also know that I serve a loving and forgiving God who asks us to accept His son, Jesus. So if a gay person accepts Jesus, a life of celibacy will be required. Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Another option is to deny their seemingly natural desires and adopt a heterosexual lifestyle. Surely the right partner of the opposite sex and a nice family will be enough to quell those longings. Or better yet, go through ex-gay counseling and get cured altogether. After all, if we have enough faith, God can do anything. Such are the opinions, beliefs, ideas, and solutions that have recently become the unmatched horses on my personal carousel of logic.
Mel White grew up in a Christian home with a loving mother and a hands-on father. He had all the typical opportunities as a child and developed strong relationships with his parents and his grandparents. There was no abuse in the home and his male leaders in school and at church were fully appropriate and positive role models. He had a strong affinity for gospel music and loved to attend mass where he would spiritually soak up the love of God. Mel can think of no reason outside of his natural development why he, since as long as he can remember, is attracted to men and not women. Unfortunately, though he had a well-rounded upbringing chock full of the healthy good and bad of mainstream life, one subject remained nonexistent: homosexuality.
Mel lived out his childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood as a closet gay. He wondered himself what was “wrong” with him. He prayed daily to be “normal” and wondered for most of his life why God ignored his prayers. He married his longtime friend, Layla, adopted a daughter, and had a son by birth. They lived together as an all American Christian family with success finding them academically, professionally, and as a model family unit. Still, Mel struggled with his recurring longings after periods of repression, and each year brought more emotional strife.
It wasn’t until his children were teenagers that he finally, prompted by a psychologist, told his wife. What follows next in the book is his family’s most loving and supportive reaction I could imagine. Eventually, Mel and Layla separated as a married couple. He entered into a longtime relationship with a man he loves, became a pastor of a gay and lesbian church, and continued to be involved in the lives of Layla and his children. As this book gave me an uncensored ride through the mind of Mel White, I learned many new things about my opinions and ideas about homosexuality. Even the things I felt I knew were not quite accurate.
I had always felt that a gay person who “accepts” their orientation is simply admitting to themselves that they prefer the same sex. This didn’t make sense to me. I know they already knew, so what does admitting it to themselves do for them? The answer lies in my misunderstanding of how they perceive themselves. It isn’t that they didn’t know who they prefer. They surely did and they did for their entire lives. However, supported by groups such as the religious right and the secular idea of “normalcy”, they feel something must be wrong with them. Coming to terms and admitting who they are is an acceptance of themselves just the way they are, and a declaration that they are not wrong, but that they are wonderfully complex humans just as anyone else is. That they are valid people. That they belong in this world.
I had also heard of ex-gay counseling. I’d seen a documentary where former gays expound on the success of being cured through intense isolation for weeks in therapy camps. Mel subjected himself to this as just one of many, many different therapy programs. Not only were his efforts not successful and his wallet a bit lighter, but studies have shown that this therapy program has little to no long term success.
I always felt that the right person could “fix” a gay person, or at least help to keep those “impure” thoughts at bay. What man could resist the most perfectly put together, voluptuous woman willing to give her mind and body to him? Don’t we all have that perfect soul mate? We just need to keep looking, right? This notion makes as much sense as me trying to turn the volume up on my television by pushing the channel button on the remote. It doesn’t matter that I think it should work that way. What matters is how the remote is wired. If the remote could talk, it would tell me, “Sorry, Nick, you just don’t push the right buttons for me.”
When I heard of the term gay in the past, I immediately conjured up stereotypical thoughts of what gay looked like. Feminine guys, masculine girls, wild parties, hedonism, perversion, AIDS… They were a society of freaks without respect for their mortality. Just writing that makes me want to apologize. Quite frankly, I can find that same unbridled lack of moral obedience in any heterosexual bar, nightclub, spring break trip, and frat house and I can find it in more places in America than I like to admit. Let’s face it, the gay community, just like the straight community, has examples of quality relationships as well as outright perversion of any moral standard. In fact, I would bet the straight community has more of it as a ratio to their overall numbers. Who am I to use that kind of picture to judge gays? After all, I was a part of the straight group in that same scene. What might surprise people is the reason they might have those same stereotypes as I did. Simply put, it is easy to recognize anything when it advertises what it is. What you don’t recognize is the same thing in everyday life. Most gay people look just like anyone else. You don’t recognize because, in their hobbies, jobs, families, and activities, you are practically staring at yourself. It is dangerous to use a stereotypical image to describe the gay community. We create prejudicial and false beliefs when we judge any group by the worst example of them; cops, priests, Christians, and gays too.
There is no shortage of stories about people who, after years of living in a heterosexual relationship with their spouse, come out of the closet and declare they are gay. I admit some anger in the past with these situations. Like most people, I would ask why would someone get married to someone they didn’t love? Why start a family? Why perpetuate this lie? Why be deliberately unfair to the people who love you today and the children you will create tomorrow? After reading Mel’s book, it is abundantly clear how simple this answer is. Why does a gay person marry the opposite sex? Because they love each other. We all have the ability to love all people regardless of their gender. Mel loved Layla. They were best friends. Most importantly, the gay person is doing what they feel is the “right” thing to do. The relationship can flourish, the families can be healthy, go on vacations, have dogs and cats, host celebrations, and live abundantly. But for the gay spouse, there is always those longings and, in an unknown number of cases, but speculated very high, those longings become more intense as they are repressed. The fulfillment of true spousal love, that soul mate, the “one”… is not met by his or her spouse of the opposite gender. It’s not about sex and it’s not about just any kind of love. It’s about the overwhelming ideal that is right for an individual regardless of what sex that other person must be.
Faith is important. You have to have faith. Scripture tells us, “…Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20). So if a man has enough faith, can he can stop being gay? As one whose wife passed away a few years ago, I remember how hard I prayed for her to be cured of a disease the doctors knew little about. I cried prayers in my seat on Sunday. I cried prayers on my knees at the altar. I cried prayers in the company of strong Christian men. I cried prayers in the company of my weekly small group. Christians in Tennessee, Michigan, Africa, and Japan were praying for her. Evidently, among all those Christians, did not one of them, or me, have enough faith to save her? This is a dangerous way to describe things. No, my wife did not get cured and if, when I die, I find out my lack of faith killed her, I will accept that. Until then, I don’t believe it. I know that everything works for the good of God and that I need to trust Him no matter what. I know he has plan for me and that plan will happen regardless for me no matter my life circumstances. I also know that to show faith in the worst times matters more than being faithful when it is easy to do so.
So, what about the gay person who wants to “pray away his gayness”? What if he is not so strong in his faith and doesn’t have a background in the Word of God? Imagine being told you are gay because of your lack of faith. Mel White was told after one of many unsuccessful attempts at therapy that he was not “working with the Spirit of God”. I do believe God can do anything, but I don’t believe He always will just because we ask. I believe trust and faith should be used equally and sometimes individually when one or the other doesn’t turn out like we thought it would. Then again, I do have a strong faith. How do I show that to someone who doesn’t? We Christians need to be careful to be inviting with our faith rather than repelling with it.
The most difficult part of my study is what to do about the Biblical aspect of being gay. I feel I am in the minority of Christians when I say that I have little issue with it at all these days. I understand the Old Testament book of Leviticus, written by Moses, says “If a man lie with mankind as he would lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death” (LEV 20:13). This same book of the Bible lists other sins punishable by death like a child (or adult) who curses his father or mother (LEV 20:9), a man who commits adultery with another man’s wife (LEV 20:10), a priests daughter who becomes a prostitute shall be burned with fire (LEV 21:9), and even for a man who has sex with his wife while she is on her period (LEV 20:18). Although that does not describe the Jesus I was taught to accept, it is the Word. These are heavy punishments penned by Moses writing for the God of our universe. I can’t imagine the emotional torture a teenager who loves God and has accepted Jesus as his Savior must go through knowing he somehow let this sin creep into his life and will now be the death of him.
Then I wonder… did that teen keep reading? What did he think when he read in the New Testament “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)? I am told the Bible is a book of Hope. I know that to be true. A book for everyone in every situation. A book that tells us “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). I understand that we have great Christian leaders steeped in the Word and consider their churches flocks and they as shepherds. They wouldn’t dare lead their flock astray. My church is one like that. I have great spiritual resources in my church. We minister to the broken, the hurt, the wayward, the adulterer, the addict, the prostitute, the seeker, the seasoned, the babies, the elderly, the good, the bad, and the ugly. So why might the gay person pause before our doors? Can he accept Jesus Christ? Or is there a large group of Christians standing in front of Jesus saying, “Sorry, no, you can’t talk to Him. This Jesus is for straight people”?
In conclusion, I am still perplexed. I admit that I don’t know how to deal with the notion that gay = sin. There is still more to talk about. What I do know is that I sin. I look at things I shouldn’t, have thoughts I shouldn’t have, and I react in ways I shouldn’t. I’m not always the best father or husband. I don’t always eat right. In my past, I lived a hedonistic lifestyle for over a decade that saw my twenties wasted away. Good Lord, I’ve done things I hope my kids never know about. Every day of my life, I battle sin. I must say I’m doing better all the time, but the journey never ends. So what about those gay people? What am I to do about them? How should I think? How should I react? How should I treat them? According to my beliefs, I’m off the hook. It is not up to me to condemn, define, or make sense of what makes a person gay. Still, there is a command I am given that sums up an answer for me regardless and it comes from the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus said. “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”(Matthew 7:12)
There I have it. Simple direction that should please both the gay who is shunned and the Christian who is righteous. How hard can that be?