Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pondering Gayness, Love, and Faith: A Self-Inflicted Interview

(This article originally appeared on Cornerstone magazine's online website, which at present and for quite a while has been broken -- inaccessible. So, as this article provoked significant feedback when first posted, and because I continue to think and feel pain over the whole issue, I'm reposting it here.)

What follows is a self-exploration of my thoughts and feelings on homosexuality, one which after re-reading I'd originally decided not to post. It seemed incomplete, fuzzy, and not a little presumptous. But recently, after seeing a very affecting, yet nonetheless one-sided, take on homosexuality and Christianity on PBS -- Family Fundamentals -- I once again reviewed the below and decided, "Hey, what the heck. At least we can start a discussion here on this extremely important topic...."

The questioner is, of course, fictional but his attitude comes, I suppose, from my own self-doubts....

Q: I can ask anything? Okay, let's weird jonboy out. What kinds of sex do gays have?

A: Sigh.... First, those with homosexual attractions usually go through the same sort of fondling, kissing, and so forth as those with heterosexual attractions. Such signs of affection aren't usually mentioned by Christian opponents of the gay lifestyle, but I'm mentioning them because they happen to be true. The initial and main differences between heterosexuality and homosexuality, of course, come down to penile-vaginal intercourse not being an option for homosexuals. Male homosexuals usually achieve orgasm via mutual masturbation or oral sex, contrary to the widespread belief that anal sex is the main method of gratification, though it does play a significant role among male gays. Orgasm in lesbian sex more often than not is achieved via mutual masturbation (tribadism). Oral sex also plays a significant role for lesbians, but the use of artificial penises and so forth (despite being a staple of male-oriented pornography about lesbians) are used very little. (See Kinsey Institute New Report on Sex, 1990.)

The AIDS crisis has obviously affected these practices, especially among men. Blood and semen are both potential carriers of the HIV/AIDS virus. Anal sex in particular is a high-risk activity, as nearly all sex researchers agree the anus is not constructed for the introduction of the penis or any other similar-sized objects. Thus anal sex is likely to cause small tears and abrasions, which of course make transmission of desease more likely, with the person recieving the penis being the one most at risk. Note that I don't say anal sex is immoral simply because it is risky medically; for this portion of our program, I'm trying to keep pragmatic issues such as health seperate from moral issues of ultimate 'right' and 'wrong,' assuming (as I do) that a moral absolute actually exists. Regarding AIDS and oral sex (mouth to penis or mouth to vagina intercourse) the 1990 Kinsey Report says, "[M]ost researchers currently think that the incidence of transmission of the AIDS virus from an infected parner by oral sex is low or practically impossible." Other more recent studies seem to indicate the same, though they also indicate oral sex is not risk-free.

The problem with descriptions such as those in the above two paragraphs -- and those in many if not most 'how to' sex manuals and published sex research -- is that they don't represent what goes on in the heart, soul, and mind of a person engaged in such practices. Neither love nor lust is really 'explained' by such biological exactitude. It's a bit like explaining prayer by describing the body positions, hand movements, and closed or opened eyes of those praying. There might be a certain value in such observations, but one doesn't learn much about prayer from them. Likewise with sex.

Q: Then let's get into the mind of a gay person. Is homosexuality something you're born with, or do people just choose to be gay?

A: Here's a reply that will make no one happy. Remember, I speak as an evangelical Christian and as a friend to some gays who know my attitudes toward their sexual practices. I love, however imperfectly, these people, and I love what I believe to be God's truth revealed in Scripture. The reader is now permitted to laugh at my attempts to balance these two loves. I myself have no great feeling of aversion for gay sex, though I have always found the female body more sexually desirable than the male body and thus would be called "straight." (I do admit to same-sex experiences as a teenager, which I suppose I should feel more guilt over than I do.)

Additionally, I admit that as a heterosexual white male, my perspective is of course limited, and anything I say will be viewed with great suspicion by those within the gay community or allied with it. And that's more than fair. My own goal would be to have no sexual desires whatever for anyone except my fair and wonderous Carol. The fact that sexual lust by "straight" males for women is not only encouraged, but celebrated, in American culture is disgusting to me and to any thinking Christian. When Jerry Kirk, in writing about homosexuality, spent the first half of his book going after the straight church for our own sexual hypocrisy, I thought it brilliant. Speaking personally, I think sexual temptation is not sin, and that sexual sin -- whether "gay" or "straight" -- is just that: sin.

Theology: From a Christian point of view, the biblical data indicates that homosexuality, or to be specific, homosexual practice, is not God's will for humankind. Homosexual practice would be men having sexual relations with men, women with women, and that specifically is rejected in both Old and New Testaments. Further, and much more importantly, man/woman monogamous marriage is the only model for sexual expression specifically blessed by God, from before the Genesis fall throughout the entirety of Scripture. Finally, since from this biblical viewpoint homosexual expression is wrong, fantasizing about homosexuality and gay encounters is also wrong, along the lines of mental adultery spelled out by Jesus: "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart" [Matthew 25:27,28 NRSV].

Despite some interesting attempts by pro-gay theologians at parsing the Hebrew and/or Greek differently to do away with the above, others (including homosexuals such as Pim Pronk) agree that, biblically at least, the evidence clearly rules out homosexuality for Christians. Pronk, for instance, suggests we ignore the biblical data as being no longer applicable, but he admits it is clear on homosexuality as sin. Voices from within the evangelical tradition, including those who are otherwise progressive on gender-related issues such as womens' equality, almost always draw a line at homosexuality. Linda Belleville, for instance, makes one of the clearer cases against homosexuailty being biblically permissible.

Traditional Christian theology suggests two paths for those struggling with homosexual desire, just as it does for those struggling with other forms of sexuality: one, the successful movement into a monogamous heterosexual marriage; the other, a sense of calling and/or commitment to celebacy. It must be said, however, that neither of these options is either 'instant' or easy. Marriage, for instance, may be the absolute worst option for a person who has failed to work through his/her same-sex desires and issues behind those desires. Many such marriages have ended in disaster.

Psychology/Biology: On the other hand, there is evidence that many homosexuals -- including those who percieved themselves solely as gay from their earliest days -- have successfully transitioned into monogamous heterosexual marriages. Though Masters and Johnson were blasted for their findings, they did limited studies that seem to support the idea that gays highly interested in change can succeed (this outside any religious context, apparently). Such studies merely add fuel to the ongoing debate within the medical and science fields regarding homosexuals' ability to 'change' or 'convert' (the latter was a term Newsweek used for a cover story on the subject). Elizabeth Moberly and, more recently, Joseph Nicolosi and other therapists use what has become known as 'reparative therapy' to deal with the issue of homosexuality, though only for those gays interested in changing their orientation. Exodus, International, an umbrella organization of 'ex-gays' and ministries to gays, also offers compelling though anecdotal evidence for the possiblity of change. John Money's twin studies, on the other hand, were said to 'prove' homosexuality was innate rather than learned behavior (they have, of course, been challenged!). I'm not going to further delve into the medical / psychological / scientific data, as it is quite daunting for the layman, and usually is 'spun' according to whatever position the spinner holds on homosexuality's correctness.

I would note, however, that homosexual change toward heterosexuality should not be expected to include complete cessation of all homosexual thoughts. Such an idea agrees with both therapeutic models and theological understanding of the nature of temptation. That is, even as Christians who successfully left life-dominating sinful lifestyles (particularly sexually immoral lifestyles), we are often reminded of them both by memories and by 'triggers' (a snatch of music from the 'old days' or even the smell of certain perfume). This is not the equivalent of being trapped in those desires still; it merely means we are still being sanctified, rather than the erroneous idea that we have been perfected (placed beyond temptation's reach) in this life.

Q: So you're saying gays decided to be gay, and now they need to stop it?!

No. One thing is certain: It is not true for the majority of gays that they simply woke up one day and said, "Hey, I've got a cool idea.... why not start having sex with my own gender?" Almost universally, human beings who percieve themselves as gay will state, "I think I've always been this way... I always knew there was something different about me." In many if not most cases, this realization is one the person greets with ambivalence, or even the wish that they could be delivered from it. Therefore, anti-gay activists such as the disgusting 'godhatesfags' are not only outside all loving contexts, they are also merely furthering the sense of alienation and rejection many individuals struggling with gay desires and orientation expect from the Church.

Non-christians, please bear with me for a couple paragraphs. Christians who approach homosexuality, and homosexuals, without some sort of understanding of this paradigm are doomed to alienate and (in my opinion) sin against gays. If a Christian wishes to 'minister' to gays, he/she must first learn to love gays. And by loving, I mean getting to know that person, becoming a friend whether or not the person 'responds' to Christ. The American evangelical church, often filled with sexual sin and gender bias (particularly in its debate over women taking roles of leadership), offers an overall poor role model for sexual purity and gender affirmation. Humility and friendship offered to the homosexual community, and more apropos, to individuals who define themselves as gay, will be a powerful statement.

This doesn't mean not telling the truth if asked what the Scriptures say regarding homosexual behavior and lifestyles. "Faithful are the wounds of a friend." But it also means speaking into a gay person's life from one's own weakness and struggles sexually (or if one doesn't have sexual struggles, from other areas of sin, such as anger or covetousness or pride). God does, after all, reject all forms of sexual immorality, not just or primarily gay sexuality.

Homosexuality, like sexuality itself, is a matter reaching down into the very core of human personality. As such, it feels like the very essence of one's identity whether or not this is the case. Gays expect to be vilified and condemned by Christians as 'faggots,' 'perverts,' and 'sodomites.' When we instead affirm their humanity and even -- on one very real level -- the reality of love among gays, it at least will give us an opportunity to model Christ's love to them. Am I repeating myself? You bet I am!

Q: What do you mean, 'the reality of love among gays'?! I thought you just said it was a sin, now you're saying it is still 'love'?

A: Human love, like all things human, is transient and broken, touched by the power of sin. A man and woman, for instance, violate scriptural standards by living together outside of marriage. But some such couples do, in fact, share a real love that would if pressed cause them to lay down their own lives for the other. This isn't a defense of living together outside of marriage, by the way! What I'm aiming at is the reality, however, that love between human beings can exist even though in violation of God's perfect and loving plan for them.

In that light, then, there can be and in my understanding are gay couples who truly share a loving relationship with one another. The problem is that this relationship is outside God's plan, and cannot ultimately answer the deepest cries of each one's heart. God can teach them how to love truly and more completely, which will entail giving up (here's the tough part) their homosexual identities. But God also calls the couple living together to cease their relationship as it is defined, though of course, it could be technically redefined simply by the two marrying. (In reality, simply 'fixing' such a relationship by marrying is often not going to work--but that's another topic.) Such an option is not available for homosexuals, since marriage by biblical definition is between one man and one woman.

Anne Paulk, who once was a lesbian, wrote of her experiences in the co-authored book, 'Love Won Out.' She writes of deep friendships which became sexualized (her term). Yet as one reads, it becomes apparent the friendships were in fact real friendships. They weren't (from a Christian point of view) healthy. But they certainly were real, and did contain elements of beauty and tenderness and even altruistic love. John Paulk, Anne's husband, also writes movingly in his book, 'Not Afraid to Change,' of a gay relationship he had which did indeed include far more than genital sex; it was a relationship rooted in a real human love and (when it ended) real heartache.

To deny that homosexuality is often more than sex is to deny the natural human inclination toward, and hunger for, love. Thus the evangelical critique of homosexuality is often stunted and two-dimensional, because it leaves out this vital component.

Q: Now I'm more confused than ever. What are you saying? That gays can love one another, but that they will go to hell for hunting for and finding love? What are you playing at!?

A: Whew. I said no one would like this. To say a gay can love another person, whether or not he/she is engaged in sex with that person, is not compromising one bit of Scripture. The bible talks about human love, and about human love's limitations. "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend." I personally think someone could (and likely has) laid down his life for a gay lover. That requires a powerful form of love!

Love, however, is hierarchical in nature. C. S. Lewis discusses the four loves (friendship, affection, erotic love, and disinterested 'agape' love). His punchline is that without being submitted to and baptised in agape, the other loves will be incomplete and often dangerous. He cites, for instance, the erotic love that causes a man to leave his marriage and family for his beloved; he has been obedient to love, but it is not the highest love.

The definition of 'sin' biblically is that which misses the mark. Human love, due to our sinful condition, falls short. What we may think of as 'true love' may be rooted in nothing more than the physical appearance of the beloved, or her/his cleverness with words. Only those loves which are rooted in the Eternal Lover's love can bring us what we were created to experience.

Q: I've heard many Christians talk about how promiscuous and sex-centered homosexuals are compared to heterosexuals. Are you affirming that gay lovers show as much faithfulness to one lover as straights do?

A: No, I'm not. Secular researchers seem to agree that there is less stability, and more semi-anonymous sex, among the homosexual vs. heterosexual population. Not only Christians have noted this, particularly among gay men. As a so-called 'straight' man, I can testify that genital-based sexual proclivities seem rooted more in the male gender than they do among women; I would be nervous about making such a statement, except it seems supported in secular sexperts such as Masters & Johnson. Some have argued that (generalization alert!) a man and woman tend to balance out sexual experience for both, the man often energizing the woman's sexuality and the woman often tempering the man's sexuality with friendship/emotional companionship. Two men together would, if this idea has value, have a high-sex / low-commitment relationship. Two women, conversely, would likely be able to bond in a more permanent way, yet the amount of sexuality would dwindle radically compared to their male counterparts, and even heterosexually-involved female counterparts.

Randy Shilts, a gay journalist, wrote in his book 'And the Band Played On' about how indiscriminate promiscuity among gay males led to the eighties AIDS epidemic in this country. Currently, the practice known as 'bare-backing' (gay anal sex without condoms) is another expression of male-male sexuality. However, before anyone makes it into the current subject of a shrill anti-gay newsletter, I would also urge taking a hard look at just why someone would do this. If Christians aren't extremely careful, we end up doing the very thing we're accusing some gays of doing; making everything about sex! There is a powerful thread of despair regarding the future within this 'bare-back' community, many of whom are very young and very angry at the way society--even 'respectable' gay society--has attempted to say what is and is not appropriate sexual behavior for gays. I, for one, can't find any way to condemn them. I don't think that's my job... condemnation, that is. I would urge them, with all that is in me, to please, please wear a condom at least.... and then perhaps sit down over coffee and talk about what they expect from their relationships and lives.

Q: You're pretty good, though not all that good, at posturing as an enlightened soul. Now you're even advocating the use of condoms among gays. Is that a Christian position, or are you really just afraid to be identified with the other reactionary bigots?

A: Well, that's two questions. I do advocate the use of condoms for gays, because I don't want them struck down by AIDS or some of the other sexually-transmitted deseases out there. Not all gay men (and very few gay women!) report they engage in anal sex, which is the main method of HIV/AIDS exposure. Oral sex, though less risky, still carries a very real chance of HIV transmission. So, yes, part of being my brother's keeper is to warn him against the further risks he incurs by not using condoms. Condoms themselves, unfortunately, are not foolproof; the AIDS virus is far smaller than are individual sperm, and even sperm cells make their way out of condoms occasionally to impregnate a woman.

But in encouraging them (and the many 'straights' also at risk for AIDS) to wear condoms while engaging in unprotected sex of almost any kind, I feel I'm doing for them what Jesus would have me do. Also I would say there is a better way. How much I share about that way depends upon the interest of the person I'm talking to, but it is very unlikely that anyone will leave a talk with me not knowing my views on Scripture and gayness. To date, I've never had a gay person become angry or defensive with me. Dumb luck?

As far as 'reactionary bigots,' I still cringe at the newsletters coming from well-known evangelical ministries when the topic of homosexuality comes up. I perhaps become even more cynical than most, since what I wonder about is just how calculating the use of homosexuality is in garnering financial support amongst an audience already paranoid regarding gays. As to whether I myself am (a) reactionary, or (b) a bigot, I suppose others will have to make that evaluation. What it feels to me like is that there is a third way between the extremes.

Q: Why do you personally think homosexuality is wrong?

A: I believe that Christian theology is not abstract rules and regulations. It is about the real, that is, about relationships. If God's law is meant to guide us into everlasting relationships, not only to Him but to one anothers, I think that theology is life. I am a lover by nature, and when I was sixteen years old, I discovered what I believe to be the Ultimate Source of Love. If I am correct, and Jesus Christ is what the Bible says He is, my life must be about trying to get closer to Him.

Love is a lifelong pursuit, and any lesser love won't necessarily be good if I want the highest. Homosexuality is a form of love, sometimes barely recognizable as love, other times with many beautiful and even noble attributes. But it is a love God commands me, commands all who would follow him, to leave behind. "Has none condemned you?" he asked the prostitute, after having proven that the self-righteous condemners were themselves guilty. "Then neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more." He gave mercy, part of which was requiring repentance in heart and action.

Homosexuality is wrong because, in the end, God says it is wrong. God does not do so in order for Christians to have a group of people we can ridicule and hate. He does so because he loves all people including self-described 'gays', and has a better way, a love which will heal and confirm their humanity. Our job as Christians is to likewise show that love to gays. It will sometimes make them uncomfortable, especially when we tell them the truth regarding homosexuality being sinful, outside God's will. But context is everything. A gay friend, sitting at my kitchen table drinking coffee with me, is far different than a homosexual I do not know, hearing my words through a bullhorn. Preaching at people makes me feel powerful and them feel powerless; befriending people makes them feel respected and me feel vulnerable. The latter, despite my fear of it, is the right way.

Q: Looking at it from your knee-jerk point of view, I would start wondering if the word 'homosexual' really even means anything. That is, if all sexual desire is wrong except sex between one man and one woman in marriage, why differentiate between gay sex and straight sex outside of marriage?

A: Well, funny you should mention that. One thread feeding into that discussion is post-modernist: sex defined totally by the individual, and the borders of sexual 'correctness' being basically non-existent. Michael Foucault, if I understand him, seemed to lean heavily that direction. (He died of AIDS, a fact some use to discredit him... too easy, I'm thinking.)

A Christian ex-gay, John Smid, has explored that idea from a different angle, more along the lines of your question. According to his reasoning (quoted from a recent [June 2001] newsletter):

Our belief is based upon three foundational truths.

Truth One: There is no such thing as a "gay" or "homosexual" person -- only homosexual attraction/behavior. Accordingly, there can be no "change" from an identity that never existed in the first place.

Truth Two: The truth for most men and women who struggle with homosexual behavior is that they WILL, at times, continue to experience attractions or even struggle with those attractions in large and small ways for a lifetime. It is often misleading and harmful to share vaguely of "total" deliverance without mentioning the normal, on-going struggles with temptations ALL believers have.

Truth Three: God sees homosexuality as sin -- like any other -- and desires us to apply the same biblical model to it that we would to any other sin. His real solution for deliverance and healing is based on repentance and obedience -- finding freedom in Jesus Christ.

Q: Smid sounds as whacked as you are.

A: He's likely more normal than I am, at least I hope so. I know him well, and can say that his own story is no reactionary tale. For a printed version of it, see the new book edited by Bob Davies, Portraits of Freedom: 14 People Who Came Out of Homosexuality. His online 'testimony' can be found here as can the stories of others. These stories aren't pie in the sky, 'everything is wonderful now' stories. But they are encouraging for anyone currently wanting to find a different life outside the homosexual world.

Q Your morality seems hopelessly misinformed and out of date.

A: Ha! No doubt, it does seem out of date. But perhaps something being 'out of date' is a bad way to measure it. Hoop earrings were the rage among women when I was a kid, then went out of date for quite a time. Now, they're the rage again. Love, thank God, is never out of date. Misinformed, however, is even more subjective. If I am informed by biblical morality, I can ignore neither the fact that homosexuality is a sin, nor the the fact that the homosexual is my neighbor. My duty to bear witness to the truth in love is no simple job, but I'm commanded to do it.

5 comments:

David said...

Nicely done - I'm glad you posted it! I agree with everything you said - and I have a question that I've always wanted to ask about homosexuality... is it true that most people who think of themselves as gay/lesbian have been sexually abused at some point in their lives?

Thanks!

Jon Trott said...

David, thanks.

Re the issue of sexual abuse and later homosexual leanings, for me it sounds like an over generalization. An excellent blog Disputed Mutability , where some of these issues are challenged (a former lesbian, now married, runs the site) deals in-depth with over-simplifications on both sides of the gay debate.

I don't always agree with what I read there, but I do always walk away with better perspective on the persons and issues involved. And they, among others, do question any "one answer fits all" explanation for or about homosexuality. That isn't to say there's no connection... I, purely from an anecdotal (non-statistical) frame, can say that many if not most former gays I've talked with were sexually abused.

But that brings up the whole "chicken or the egg" thing. Was any particular homosexual-leaning individual abused before or after their preferences began to develop?

Not to get all super-spiritual creepy here or anything, but have you ever noticed how the sexually and emotionally vulnerable tend to be targeted by others with more predatory natures? Some of the homosexual-leaning people I've known in my life were, it seemed, extra-sensitive and extra-vulnerable/fragile. So were they abused because of this percieved fragility? That is where it gets downright demonic to me... like child rape and so on, the targeting of homosexuals (whether children or adults) by others is an extra wrinkle in that strange alliance between the demonic and the unchanged human heart.

One other half-truth, I think, may be the business about gays and their parents (particularly discussed among ex-gay ministries regarding sons and fathers). I do think this likely has validity to some degree and with some people. But I also -- again -- sense that both gays and some former gays feel it is just one more quickie explanation for something which is more mysterious, and more individual, in origin.

It may be a person was both sexually molested and had a distant / angry / absent / disapproving Father (or Mother). And those factors may have been a great part of where that person first found themselves trying to answer lack of love and personal identity issues via sexualizing them. Without authority I do think many homosexuals desiring to exit the life may find some help and answers there. But others may not.

My bottom line is, I suppose, an intense desire as a straight male not to overlay my interpretation of their life over their own interpretation. In the end, I suspect the journey from homosexuality is unique and individual for each pilgrim who begins it. It really has to be, of course, since the experience of homosexual attraction is also unique for each one. And in the end, I think we need to listen most closely to the ex-gay movement in a wider sense, including dissonant voices within its ranks.

Being Ex-gay today is onerous. Some Christians will welcome you with open arms, but few of even the most well-meaning seem able to take time to actually listen to what that journey of yours has been or will continue to be about. And the gay community -- just like some of the more shrill elements of evangelicalism do to homosexuals -- reduce ex-gays to being self-denying, hypocritical Judases who in reality are repressing their true homosexual feelings.

Well, I sure gave you a long answer for such a short post.

Blessings,
Jon

David said...

Wow - great (and thorough) answer! Thanks much.

Anonymous said...

Several years ago, an individual on an ex-JPUSA board stated that you were looking at porn on the net "for research purposes" for a Christian porn novel you were writing.
Any updates?

Jon Trott said...

Anonymous,

Several years ago, a member of an ex-Anonymous posters board stated that you were looking at Al Queda web sites for bomb-making plans in order to blow up the Empire State building.

Any updates?

Seriously, though... I wish you anonymous posters had the guts to use your names. It would be so much more fun.

No porn novel now, or ever, in the works by the way.

Have fun storming the castle!