Monday, November 04, 2013

Great Concessions

I took our students to a great one-day conference last week. Main attraction: Shane Claiborne, who is almost cool enough for his accent alone but also delivered a high vision of believers living in intentional community where suffering is the greatest. Great stuff and much food for thought.

I went to a seminar which really troubled me, though, and I was less troubled by the seminar than by the fact it it seemed to trouble few others who were there with me.

Let me start by saying that I do not hate people who identify themselves as gay. I have known quite a few in my lifetime and I love them dearly, though I know they are often less than comfortable with me. I am in turn not afraid of them, though I have briefly felt that kind of fear with some gay people - something like what women might feel about some men whose glances, attitudes and touch make them uncomfortable.

However, I was told in this seminar that I also should not seek to help people who identify themselves as gay. I have big questions about that stance. In a PowerPoint cartoon shown on the screen, a fellow says to Jesus, "I just can't help having these feelings," and Jesus replies, "Who says you need help?"

That cartoon is not representative of my Jesus. Sorry.

To explain why, let's take the theory of evolution as an analogy. Everyone knows that the earth has been around for billions of years and that there has been plenty of time for life to develop from the simplest beginnings to become the complexity it is today. Since this is common knowledge, followers of Jesus concede to the general consensus with some explanation of creation that allows for the evolution of life over billions of years. If they don't do this, they were likely home-schooled and haven't really thought it through for themselves.

But evolution is only a theory - an assumption by the masses, yes - but we may all be wrong.

There is also the theory of sexual orientation. Everyone knows that some people are born with a sexuality that is different than the heterosexual majority, so that being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual is simply who they are. Since this is common knowledge, followers of Jesus concede to the general consensus with some explanation of why we should receive people of any sexual orientation and practice into our fellowship without any expectation of change. Those who don't do this are homophobic and probably live on a farm with cows and chickens.

But genetically-based sexual orientation is only a theory - an assumption by the masses, yes - but we may all be wrong. That admission was the only breath of fresh air for me in that seminar.

Can we stretch our minds for a moment, and imagine that God really did create the world and all the wonders in it through his spoken word, and that he did not require billions of years to do it? Even if that is too far a reach,  can we stretch in another direction and imagine that there are other explanations for the growing prevalence of variant sexual orientation?

If so, we may discover tragic consequences to our strongly-held assumptions.

Though there is no conclusive evidence of a genetic link to homosexual orientation, there is a great body of evidence for developmental causes (I'm no big fan of Wikipedia, but if interested compare and, or just Google though it may take you places you do not want to go). These developmental causes - whether environmental or circumstantial - are largely ignored, just as evidences for creation are largely ignored.

Does it not seem possible that we have been duped into refusing help to a group of people who are in desperate need of it?

What if "gay" is not who a person is, but what he or she has become, how they have responded to developmental issues in their lives? What if the root causes include deep layers of pain, loss and injustice that will never be addressed because we assume this person was born this way? What if we close the door to Jesus' redeeming grace in these areas of his or her life because the general population considers it demeaning to offer them help, bigoted to to be bearers of the grace of God? This would indeed be gross negligence on the part of Christ's body, the church.

But it is too unpopular and perhaps even dangerous to entertain such possibilities. Instead, we are told to do everything possible to make our gay brothers and sisters as welcome and comfortable - even celebrated - as possible. We would not want to make them feel ill at ease by offering them help for who they are.

Recognizing that I have placed a loaded gun in your hand with this post, I welcome your best shot.


Joshua said...


You write that believing “gay is okay” is an assumption held by the masses, but I think it is rather a conviction that is taking hold of more and more people inside and outside the church as we see our gay brothers and sisters (or ourselves) being excluded and hurt. People are increasingly understanding homosexuality as an issue of justice and exclusion. The closure of Exodus International is quite telling in this regard.

I think there are many ways to address this question. The claim that non-heteronormative sexualities are now more prevalent can be contested historically. There are also good theological grounds for affirming same sex relations/orientations. “The Bible and Homosexuality" chapter in Peter Gomes' The Good Book is by far the best resource I've read, but this one is also good. What I have found so interesting is that there is a very wide range of theological positions within the Christian “gay is okay” camp. The view espoused in this link is actually quite conservative.

Yet the most powerful and transformative angle to this question, for me, has been the personal one. Your position hinges quite explicitly upon the argument that being gay is a result of developmental crisis. You write: “What if "gay" is not who a person is, but what he or she has become, how they have responded to developmental crisis in their lives? What if the root causes are deep layers of pain, loss and injustice that will never be addressed because we assume this person was born this way?” The difficulty with such a strong position is that it can be deflated with even one counter-example. We are friends with many people who identify as gay, some of the most incredible people I know, and to say that they are all gay because of some childhood trauma cannot hold. It just isn’t true. Being gay is overdetermined—so it may well be that some people who are gay have had pain in their childhood, and maybe some of the boys in this category may have accordingly identified with feminine qualities and then interpreted this as being gay (as the argument goes). However, this does not and cannot account for all experiences of being gay. Pushing hard on this argument and saying that even those who have “always known” that they are gay are in fact lying to themselves leads to a very implausible and violent position.

I have also thought of the issue in terms of people telling me to leave Charis because the lifegiving, wholesome, supportive, and generous relationship we have built is somehow sinful due to what genitals or chromosomes we have. The issue hits much closer to home when stated in this manner.


Jim Badke said...

Thanks, Josh - I am glad for your viewpoint, which is obviously different than mine. The Justin Lee article was interesting, though I find his arguments much more of a stretch than the opposing article by Ron B. (, which I am sure you also read.

I also appreciate you pointing out a weak point in my argument, the word "crisis" which I realize now was not comprehensive enough a term. I have changed it to "issues" as not all developmental factors can be described as crisis. For example, a distant father relationship has been sited as a prevalent factor, and that is not necessarily a crisis.

And I am not saying that every gay person has deep, unresolved pain in their lives. But many do, and I contend that neither condemnation nor commendation are appropriate responses on the part of the church. We should welcome LGBT community as they are, but love them too much to leave them there.

Joshua said...

I don’t want to clutter this space, this is your blog after all, but here is one quick follow-up. I, also, do not think that there is a "gay gene." Sexuality is an incredibly complex phenomenon that is irreducible to a singular cause. The options, in other words, are not either directly genetic (making homosexuality something intrinsic in an essentializing manner) nor simply developmental (making it only "external" and therefore accidental). Yet even trying to root out the cause of same-sex attraction in these types of discussions seem to be asking the wrong question, since what is up for discussion should be sexuality itself. That is, also asking “why are people heterosexual?” (There are developmental reasons for this as well which “denaturalize” heterosexuality)

I am in agreement that there are people who are gay have deep, unresolved pain. Many times however, the church has been the cause of much of this pain—accercebating experiences, causing people to repress all sorts of issues, making them hate themselves—precisely due to its stance on homosexuality. (I also realize that the Anglican Church in BC has not done a good job of addressing and dealing with these issues. But this is not representative of the Anglican church in Canada or as a whole) Moreover, I don’t think there is evidence to draw direct correlations between homosexuality and “unresolved pain” such that dealing with one will “fix” the other. In fact, the closing of Exodus International and other similar movements would strongly indicate otherwise.

Again, I’m not trying to fight. I understand where you are coming from. Yet I too am coming from a place of great love for all my gay friends, wonderful friends who have radically transformed how I understand them and their place in the kingdom.