Fighting

I recently came across this very interesting 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 of promoting 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 Ms. McFerren is throwing her hat into the ring of this emerging genre of “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 be clear that I’m not criticizing Ms. McFerren’s struggle. In fact, her story is as glorious and miraculous and touching as any redeemed sinner’s. And there’s a lot of good in this essay. The passage that Denny Burk underlined, and which I’m quoting here, is one of the best I’ve read about this (and all) Christian struggles:

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.

Pretty awesome, right?

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

Actually, I’m writing this and even I’m having a hard time expressing what rubs me the wrong way about this. Maybe it was the first paragraph, when she says that even from a young age that she knew homosexuality was intrinsically wrong. I think that might play into the stereotype among evangelicals that all gays and lesbians know their behavior is intrinsically wrong, and that they are secretly ashamed of it. I have it on good authority that that’s not the case. While you would 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 really 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 that.

Ms. 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 and a sound 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 she started talking about the “voice of God.”

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

Oh, wait, but then a paragraph later she says she was never alone? Okay, now we’ve hit the nail on the head. This is what rubbed me the wrong way about this memoir. It’s inconsistent. Now, far be it from me to begrudge someone for having contradictory recollections of their struggle. Heck, 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, and that straight Christians often don’t understand (even when they mean well), and then backtracks just so she doesn’t offend people.

It’s okay 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 every day — are simply giving up the fight, and it’s all on them. It’s not. If McFerren is being 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 go so far as to 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, obviously). 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 do nothing to aid in the battle.

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 what, to me, is a pretty amazing source. John Piper wrote that in this recent post that commentator “Jord” linked me to, and I’ve been wanting to write about it for a few days. Work and school have gotten in the way (thesis is kicking my butt) but it really is a great post and I wanted to give it a shout.

I think this calls back to my last post, where I mentioned that my same-sex attractions aren’t necessarily “unwanted.” That doesn’t mean that I don’t recognize that they are disordered, as Piper calls them in his post. Nor do I see them as immutable. Like I said 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 that there’s more to me than that. I’m celibate, I’ve been in non-sexual but nevertheless real romantic relationships with women. I’ve also been in non-sexual 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 still be attracted to men in general, in the same way that a typical heterosexual still finds women apart from his wife beautiful. These attractions are temptations, for both the homosexual man and the heterosexual man, but the ability to say “no” to them does represent regeneration.

It’s just tough to figure out the terminology. I still struggle with it, to be honest. Maybe it’s my career as an English teacher that 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 huge spectrum, how do we define each other? Should we even try to? It’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 are limiting to individuals.

I’ll open this up to whoever might want to comment on it. I’m writing lesson plans, grading papers and editing a thesis right now, but these issues are always somewhere in the back of my mind, and I’m glad I have a blog where I can put them down.

Unwanted

One of the reasons I decided to blog again was because I was starting to feel old. Seriously. I know, I’m still only three years out of college and I haven’t even hit the quarter century mark yet, so I’m sure a few people are rolling their eyes at me right now, but it’s true. Back when I was blogging as College Jay, things were really exciting. I forced myself to engage with issues, stand up for my opinions, think about things from multiple angles and, most importantly, connect with people of various viewpoints in a respectful, civil manner. I also learned how to slay trolls.

I wouldn’t have blogged if I wasn’t gay, and if I hadn’t blogged, I’m not sure I would have gained the personality traits I gained over those four years. It’s one of the many positive things that came directly from my same-sex attractions, and it’s one reason why I often bristle when someone else notices my celibacy and my traditional stance on sexual morality and thus concludes that my homosexuality is “unwanted.”

Sin is unwanted. Evil desires must be put to death. Putting on Christ means putting off sin, and not coddling it or making excuses for it. As C.S. Lewis put it in one of my favorite quotes, which was actually the first thing I ever blogged:

Christ says, “Give me all. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don’t want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked — the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: My own will shall become yours.”

But note that I said “sin” here. When I talk about the positive things that have come from my same-sex attractions, I’m not talking about the pornography or the promiscuity. I’m not talking about lust or narcissism. I’m not talking about the subversion of God’s created order. I’m not talking about the moral relativists and their proclamations of a watered-down gospel that attempts to love without truth. It’s a bad word in many contexts these days, but I’m a conservative. I’m a Christian. I believe in Biblical infallibility.

I’m also a homosexual. And I don’t consider that an unwanted trait.

A gentleman named Jordan, who has quickly become one of my favorite bloggers in this ever-growing community of chaste gay evangelicals, recently wrote about what he would say if he were offered a magical “cure” to make him heterosexual. It’s a great read, so read it. He found the decision almost impossible to make, and I would too. If some old man in a robe who looked like the late Richard Harris offered to wave a wand and make me straight, my response would be, “Why? What would that do?”

Seriously, what would be the benefit? If you bypass all the social and political injustices that gay people go through (and that’s a big “if,” I know), then morally, heterosexuality has all the same problems as homosexuality. The pornography and promiscuity that I mentioned earlier? The lust and the narcissism? The preachers who say that God’s commands are relative or irrelevant, and that the values of chastity and monogamy are relics of a suppressed past? Straights deal with all that too, so what’s the point? The only difference I can see is that I’d be trying to keep my eyes from lingering on different people and different body parts.

Oh, okay. Marriage is a big issue, I suppose. Being heterosexual would make it easier to enter a godly covenant with a Christian woman. Again, note that I said “easier.” I know that I gained a reputation during my blogging years as an outspoken advocate for lifelong celibacy, but it’s not like I’m opposed to gay men and women marrying heterosexually. I was simply reacting in opposition to the overwhelming pressure to marry that was very common among the prototypical ex-gays, who were a little more relevant back then. Celibacy is my own path right now, and I think it’s a good one, but it’s not for everyone. I get that.

I know gay men (whether they identify themselves by that term or not), who are married heterosexually. Some of the relationships seem wise, healthy and Christ-centered. Others seem like disasters waiting to happen. Shocker of shockers, I’d say the exact same thing about the heterosexual couples I know! Marriage isn’t easy for anyone, and it’s less about sex than society makes it out to be, so the magic wand wouldn’t even ensure a healthy, happy marriage for me. It wouldn’t even open the door for one. That door is already open, and I’ve simply chosen to go through a different door. (A door that, incidentally, is also open to straight people. It’s easy to forget, but many straight Christians remain celibate too, and many by choice.)

So sexual sin is unwanted. Lust and selfishness and pride and perversion and greed are unwanted. What’s important for those well-meaning straight counselors to remember is that homosexuality isn’t limited to those things, just like heterosexuality isn’t. My struggles with homosexuality are experiences that helped me understand what it’s like to be “other.” Homosexuality is the issue that made me rely on Christ. It’s the issue that opened my eyes to my depravity (in all manners, sexual or otherwise) and my desperate need for a Savior. It’ll be completely gone one day, as will our earthly concept heterosexuality, but the good work that Christ has done in me through that frailty is most certainly not “unwanted.”