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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