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.