Fighting

I recently came across this fascinating article by Christy McFerren while reading Denny Burk’s blog. Burk has been posting about gay and lesbian issues for a while now, and he has done a better job than most evangelical bloggers because he promotes the stories of men and women who actually struggle with same-sex attractions. He has written about Wesley Hill‘s Washed and Waiting, and now McFerren has thrown her hat into the ring of this emerging genre I call “struggle memoir.”

It’s hard to critique a memoir. Everyone’s struggle is individual. Everyone’s struggle is unique. I don’t just mean struggles with homosexuality; I mean struggles, period. So, let me clarify that I’m not criticizing McFerren’s struggle. In fact, her story is as glorious, miraculous, and touching as any redeemed sinner’s story. There’s a lot of good in this essay. The passage that Burk underlined, which I’m quoting here, is one of the best bits of prose I’ve read about any Christian struggle, not just against homosexuality:

“Sometimes I agreed with God about my sexuality because He is Lord, and love is a choice, and that is all. My emotions were left out of the equation so many times because I had to believe either my feelings were lying to me or God was. I purposed in my heart to honor God’s design no matter how it felt, for a very, very long time. I could feel in the waiting that Life was at work in me. Hope was at work in me.”

That’s pretty awesome, right?

But the rest of the article leaves me a little underwhelmed for reasons that I haven’t encountered before in all my years of blogging. The article isn’t the typical, tired, mainstream ex-gay narrative. McFerren doesn’t devolve into therapist-speak or pseudo-scientific theories about unfulfilled childhood needs that caused her sexual orientation, nor does she conflate dangerous lifestyle choices with homosexuality (that’s more of a male ex-gay thing, anyway).

As I’m writing this, even I’m having a hard time expressing what exactly rubs me the wrong way about McFerren’s article. Maybe it’s the first paragraph, where she says that even from a young age she knew homosexuality was intrinsically wrong. I think that might play into the evangelical stereotype that all gays and lesbians know their behavior is intrinsically wrong and that they are secretly ashamed of it. I know that’s not true. While you might be right to say that I should have had an early emotional conviction against my budding sexuality, I can’t say that I did. I didn’t. I liked men, I wanted to be with a man, romantically much more than physically, and I was angry with God for saying “no” to all of that.

McFerren had an emotional repulsion to the idea of growing old and dying with another woman. I had no such repulsion. It took convincing. It took the Bible. It took sound theology, a deep understanding of God, and wise friends who could point me in the right direction (even though many of those friends were just online acquaintances at the time). Maybe my natural aversion to charismatic Christians tripped me up when McFerren started talking about the “voice of God.”

Or maybe it’s simpler than that. McFerren does a great job of recounting how unbearably lonely this struggle can be. In fact, she says that she felt the loneliest after checking in to a live-in program.

But then, a paragraph later, she says she was never alone. OK, now we’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s what rubs me the wrong way about McFerren’s memoir. It’s inconsistent. Now, far be it from me to complain about someone having contradictory recollections of her struggle. My entire previous two blogs are a plethora of contradictory recollections. But I think McFerren hints at the fact that this is a lonely struggle, something that straight Christians don’t often understand (even when they mean well), and then she backtracks so that she doesn’t offend people.

It’s OK to fight. It really is. But I think the negative side effect of an article like McFerren’s is that those who do give up the struggle—and I see more and more of them every day—will be seen as simply giving up the fight as if that’s all their fault. It’s not. If McFerren is totally honest about the people that surrounded her, then she is a truly blessed woman who had incredible support and love. We don’t all have that, though. In fact, I’ll say that most of us don’t have that. Most churches are not well-equipped to deal with this issue (and many other “taboo” issues, too). What makes me cringe about this article is that a straight Christian man will see it and say, “Fight on!” to a struggling man or woman, and then he’ll do nothing to aid in the battle.

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Inevitability

“Whether sexual orientation can change or not, hearts can change and turn any sexual orientation into an occasion for the glory of Christ.”

That’s a pretty incredible quote, and it’s coming from someone who is, to me, a pretty fantastic source. John Piper wrote those words in this recent post, and I’ve wanted to write about them for a few days. Work and school have gotten in the way—the thesis revisions are kicking my butt—but it is truly a great post, and I wanted to give it a shout-out.

Piper’s words remind me my last post, where I mentioned that my same-sex attractions aren’t necessarily “unwanted.” That doesn’t mean I don’t recognize that they are disordered, as Piper calls them in his post. Nor do I see them as immutable. Like I wrote in “Unwanted,” I have friends in godly, beautiful heterosexual marriages, and I love and celebrate them.

I suppose what I like about Piper’s post is that it represents “a wise and cautious balance.” He’s right when he says that there aren’t just three groups: homosexual, heterosexual, and bisexual. Sexuality is complicated, and even though I may sometimes call myself a homosexual for the convenience of using a single term, I know there’s more to me than that. I’m celibate. I’ve been in nonsexual, but real, romantic relationships with women. I’ve also been in nonsexual romantic relationships with men. I’ve been both promiscuous and chaste. My attractions are complex, and they wax and wane like the moon. I could be married with children one day, but I could still be attracted to men in general, the same way that a typical heterosexual man still finds women other than his wife beautiful. These attractions are temptations for both the homosexual man and the heterosexual man, but the ability to say “no” to them indicates regeneration.

It’s just tough to figure out the terminology. I still struggle with it, to be honest. Maybe my career as an English teacher makes me struggle. I want everything to be defined clearly. Change is inevitable. A soul touched by Christ cannot remain the same. It’s not possible. Even if that change doesn’t include a shift in sexual orientation, it will include a shift in outlooks, attitudes, ideas, and behaviors. Since we’re all on such a vast spectrum, how do we define each other? Should we even try to? That’s something I’m still thinking about. Obviously, we have to communicate about these issues, and words like “gay” and “straight” are helpful parts of the conversation, even though they also limit individuals.

These issues are always somewhere in the back of my mind, and I’m glad I have a blog where I can write them down.