Christians and the LGBT community-Alienating, Accepting, and Affirming

This week the video above of a North Carolina Pastor has gone viral and North Carolina  passed an amendment defining marriage between a man and a woman. This has brought, once again, the issue of the church vs. the LGBT community to the very front of most people’s minds. What is the role of Christians when it comes to issues like this?

When I was 14 I was in the play A Christmas Carol with my older brother, Richie, at the Alley Theatre. The Alley was the first place I had extended exposure to any LGBT person and my experiences there have helped to form my opinion on the current debate around gay marriage.

My brother and I look a lot alike. I was cast to play a younger him (not for my acting skills) and over the course of my life had become accustomed to people just assuming we were brothers. But a couple of people didn’t realize we were related and when I told one middle aged man that we were brothers his response was, “You’re brothers? How did I not know that, y’all have the same little cutie booty.”

I was 14. He was at least 40.

When he found out some of the other kids and I were a little sheltered he would come up behind us right before we had to go on stage and say, “You guys know what anal sex sounds like?” And continue to act it out for us.

The youngest of those kids was 12. This is what I thought gay men were like. So obsessed with sex they didn’t let the fact that I was 14 stop them from checking me out. So enamored with controversy and making people feel uncomfortable they would tell 12 year olds about the details of gay sex. Basically, he confirmed every stereotype I had about him: any LGBT person is a pervert.

When I was 19 I waited tables. A coworker in her mid 40s asked me how old I was. I told her. She responded, “I love 19 year olds. I love having sex with them . . .” and went on to tell me all the reasons. Later that night I asked my manager to adjust my schedule so I wouldn’t have to work with her anymore. When I explained to him it wasn’t a big deal but that she had come on to me he told me, “Wil, that’s sexual harassment.” A couple other people reported similar experiences and she was fired that night. She was so obsessed with sex she didn’t care I was more than 20 years younger. So enamored with controversy she told me about the details of her sex life. But this isn’t what I thought all women were like.

She was just a regular pervert. The guy at the Alley was just a regular pervert. But I didn’t put that together until recently.

I spent a lot of my young adult life being afraid of any LGBT person. After the story I just told I don’t think anybody can blame me. In my first years of college I dropped a lot of my southern evangelical beliefs about war, politics, women, the poor, but I could not change my opinion on same sex attraction. It left me without a place to feel at home. There isn’t a lot pacifists who want women to preach about caring for the poor that also have a strong aversion to being around gay men.

Then after I graduated one of my closest friends came out of the closet. And all of a sudden a friend that had taught me so much about spirituality, respect, decency, scripture and the love of God was gay. But it wasn’t all of a sudden. He had dealt with his same sex attraction since before we met. While he was teaching me those things he was dealing with it. It turns out, people are incredibly complex and can not be judged by the action of one person you met at 14 who shared one thing in common with them.

In the years since then I’ve had to work through my opinion on the LGBT community and the church over and over again. As I see it, there are three ways for Christians to respond to LGBT persons.

Alienating: A hateful (whether subtle or extreme) response to the LGBT community that judges people on only one aspect of who they are. Phrases like “the homosexual agenda” or the rhetoric about how proponents of same sex marriage are attacking marriage are on the subtle end. While “God Hates Fags” or the video aboveare on the extreme end. People who hold this view actively object to the legalization of same sex marriage.

Accepting: This response maintains that same sex attraction is a sin yet concedes that LGBT persons may have even been born with same sex attraction. It views same sex attraction as a sexual sin that Christ has come to help man over come. It is treated the same as adultery or pornography addiction. People who hold this view may object to or support the legalization of same sex marriage.

Affirming: This response affirms same sex attraction as a God ordained romance. God has given man marriage not just between man and woman but between all consenting adults, regardless of gender. People who hold this view support the legalization of same sex marriage.

I try my best to have an accepting stance. Christ spends very little time (read: none) talking about same sex attraction and a whole lot of time talking about loving those who are different from us. It’s clear that the anger, fear, and unforgiveness I held for years was not that love that Jesus taught. But I also believe that encouraging behavior you believe to be detrimental to the spiritual health of a friend in the name of equality or justice is not love. I feel this exact way about divorce* and that has gotten me in more trouble than any other view I have.

It is such common knowledge that the divorce rate in the church is as high as outside the church. I read an article this week saying that Christians (Pastors especially) are more prone to sexual addiction than any other group. We allow the first and ignore the second. Why?

Because they hit close to home. We see in our own marriages the anger and bitterness that leads to divorce. We have thought about how our spouse has ruined our life, how we could have done better, how we’d be happier without them. We see our own lust and sexual desires taking us down paths we don’t want to go down. We have been addicted to pornography, we have been promiscuous, we have entertained thoughts about our coworker we should not have. These things can’t be too bad, because we do them.

But that’s right. We do them. Because we are broken fragile people who need the grace of God and the grace of our worshipping community. We need to be loved within our weakness and our wrongdoing. We need those who understand our experiences to help us along and to help us learn to look more like Christ. This is for the adulterer and the pornographer, the greedy, the alcoholic, the thief, the one who takes advantage of others. The grace of God knows no bounds so why should our grace?

I used to let my fear and bitterness lead me to unlove. But I am forgiven of that. That is the thing I am more convinced of than anything. We are forgiven. Perhaps I am still wrong. Perhaps I should affirm same sex attraction. Perhaps I should adamantly oppose it. But I am forgiven for being wrong. Even if I never realize I am wrong, I am forgiven.

Perhaps people with same sex attraction will realize they are wrong, perhaps they will not, perhaps they are not wrong, perhaps they are. None of these things put them outside of God’s love and grace.

Perhaps those who are unloving to the LGBT community will realize they are wrong and perhaps they will not. That does not put them outside of God’s love and grace.

Some object to this and call it universalism. That is not what I mean at all. The prodigal son returned to his father to manipulate him and to satisfy his own hunger. HIs need drove him to his father, not repentance. We do not see true repentance until the father runs to him and lets him know what has been true since the moment he left: his father loves him and forgives him. When the son accepts this love and forgiveness he is welcome to the party. It is love and grace that leads to repentance, not the other way around. Love is a better manner of influencing behavior than legislation.

I sincerely hope there is room in heaven for LGBT persons and those who are unloving to them. I hope there is room in heaven for all manner of sinners so that there is room for me.

 

*I recognize that divorce is not a black and white issue, I’m referring here only to the “we don’t get a long now that the kids are gone” kind of divorce and not the kind that are necessary for emotional and physical health of spouse and children.

  • Thank you for your honesty on this post. You make some very excellent points. One thing that I struggle with, is how much emphasis is put on a issue about who should be allowed to love who. Working with low-income families, I am more concerned about who is hungry, homeless etc. Like you mentioned, Jesus talks a lot about loving people. I pray that as a country will we be less emotional about some of the hot topic issues, and strive to love people.

  • Anonymous

    Friend posted this link on facebook, I responded with the below text. Figured you’d maybe want to read it as well to give your thoughts.

    ———————

    Read this hoping it would end in affirmation, ended up quite disappointed.

    I don’t really want to start a facebook argument, but I would like to point out the most glaring fallacies/missteps that I read in this column.

    1. For whatever reason, each time I read an article like this, the author almost always cites a “best/close friend” that they have who came out. I put “best friend” in quotes, not to give the phrase a sarcastic or underhanded tone, but because the adjective in front of friend is never left out, as if the author feels the need to prove that they are indeed friends, so that they don’t seem insensitive. I generally see this as being not so unlike the well known “it’s okay, one of my best friends is black” sentence often spoken after saying something rather racist. The point is, though, that as much as someone may think that having a gay friend validates their opinion (whether “negative” or “positive”) towards sam-sex marriage, it doesn’t.

    *I realize that the author did not specify that the friendship reference validates his opinion. I am just pointing out a trend I’ve seen with nearly every column I’ve read about same sex marriage/relationships that was written by male pastors.*

    2. “Perhaps I am still wrong. Perhaps I should affirm same sex attraction. Perhaps I should adamantly oppose it. But I am forgiven for being wrong. Even if I never realize I am wrong, I am forgiven.”

    ^^^ These types of statements are always what upsets me the most. To paraphrase the above, “I might be wrong but this is how I feel and I will vote and act based on this feeling, knowing that it very well may be both incorrect and morally wrong.”

    I understand that many people are wrong about many things a lot of the time. However, what it really comes down to is that it does not affect the author, it does not affect you, it does not affect any christian on the face of the planet that isn’t homosexual. Feel the way you want, have the opinions you want, this is why you have a brain. But the idea that anybody would actively try to affect the future and quality of another persons life through legislation, on issues that have no affect on the voter whatsoever, is both perplexing and discomforting. If it were an issue of voting solely based on the bible, it would be different, but the Establishment Clause clearly states that no preferential laws should be made in regards religion, and seeing as how the Constitution was put into place nearly 230 years ago, I cannot understand how people haven’t understood it yet.

    I hope that you do not see this as overly argumentative or brash. I tried to write as balanced as possible, and I hope you can understand why I take the positions that I do.

  • Thanks for your thoughts, anonymous as they may be.

    1. The exact opposite of what you said is true here. This did not affirm my previously held belief but challenge and change it. People are super complex (as I pointed out) and knowing them is really the only way to learn this. The point here wasn’t to say, “It’s ok, I have a gay friend.” But to say, “I am learning as I grow and change.”

    2. Your paraphrase is crazy off-base. Like, absolutely couldn’t be anymore loaded of a statement. Because 1) I don’t vote for a variety of reasons that I have outlined in other posts and 2) I’m supportive of same sex marriage (I said under accepting that people there can oppose or support same sex marriage). So the rest of your angry rant is completely meaningless in this context.

    Ultimately, the problem with your comment is the problem I had before my “best friend” came out to me. I was unable to see the nuance of people’s complex personalities. Male pastor who doesn’t say homosexuality is the best? He probably votes all about how awful it is and preaches about it all the time. When the truth is, I’m a complex person with nuanced views (just as I assume you are).

    The great thing, and the real point of this post, is that we are all guilty of doing this and we are all forgiven for it.

  • In fact, here is my post about why I don’t vote http://www.wilramsey.com/the-last-time-i-voted/

    The last time I voted it was to oppose sam sex marriage, which I realized was a hateful thing to do.

  • Barrett

    I know you didn’t cite it here, but I imagine it contributes to your perspective. Does it change anything to imagine Paul’s understanding of homosexuality vs. homosexual behavior? I don’t think that the nuanced view that exists today existed during his time. Homosexual behavior was considered intentional choices made by heterosexual people outside of their committed relationships. Today by and large experts agree that most people who behave homosexually do so because they are inherently homosexual. i.e. they are acting out of their most natural (one could say “God-given”) impulses. If Paul had known this, would he have spoken differently in Romans?

    Also, I share the initial posters concern about the paragraph about being forgiven for one’s misbeliefs. While I certainly agree with the general sentiment, I imagine that it can come across as quite crass to one who is homosexual – who believes that by birth they are who they are – an unavoidable, unchosen attraction. It can easily be interpreted the same as saying, “You’re probably wrong for having white skin. Maybe you’ll realize it soon.” And simply saying, “God’s grace can save me from something that I feel like God gave me” feels… awkward to say it mildly.

  • Barrett, I can tell you’ve been reading that book you suggested to me. My best estimation of what Paul intended comes from Hays Moral Vision of the New Testament where he argues that Paul intends to communicate that homosexuality is proof of our separation from God and not the cause of it. Basically, it is a result of sin and not sin. I think with this in mind, it doesn’t really make too much of a difference. Of course, Hays spends 30 pages on this and is also much more gentle than I am. I would really recommend it to you and free PDFS are easily found online.

    I imagine that section also sounds crass to devout fundamentalists who are giving money to get Prop 8 passed. There are two sides to what I am saying here, and I can really only speak for me. I hope that I can be forgiven for what I do wrong and there is no real way for me to understand what is going on inside of another person. I intended to be ambiguous on that because I can’t speak specifically about that, but I think it is only natural for people to try to resolve that ambiguity.

    I will admit my awkward run on sentence in that section that ends with “perhaps they are not wrong, perhaps they are” started with the wrong part by saying “Perhaps they will realize they are wrong” which implies I am certain that they are. Sloppy writing from a year ago. I think it is important to really focus on the end of that sentence though. Perhaps it is wrong, perhaps it is not. That is not the issue for me, the issue is that grace is bigger than who we have sex with.

  • Barrett

    While I think I understand the theology behind “it’s a result of sin but not sin itself,” (and, I on some days I might agree with it) I don’t understand the usefulness of it. If it is not a sin, then Christians ought to be affirming of committed homosexual relationships just as we are for committed heterosexual relationships. However, it leaves this strange after taste in the mouth. What is it to say, that your innate attractions are the result of sin – but, oh, it’s not your fault, but your still screwed, but your screwdness is also somehow ok, so go with it! (I know that is very unambiguous language but its the fogginess that I feel and fear as the result of this) I mean, isn’t one of the primary points of Exodus 20:5 and 6 that the punishment for the sin of the parents does not go on forever? In fact, it lasts only a very short time compared to the love of God? And, how does that affect one’s understanding of the cosmic work of Jesus on the cross? (And, I don’t really have great responses to those questions. I’ve never actually really thought of them in this context until this instant.)

    Pastorally, sometimes ambiguity is either important or dreadfully necessary; however, I wonder the affect of this ambiguity will be within a Christian culture that is often condemning and degrading even while trying to be loving and within a public discourse that is making this a human and civil rights issue. (I know you’re for marriage rights, but I don’t think that really changes the question).

    I think it goes back to your post on shadows awhile back. Both to live in sin and be a result of sin very easily create shadows, and out of these shadows homosexuality can quickly become sexual misbehavior, suicide, etc.

  • These are big questions that I don’t really have a satisfactory answer to, that is why I’m so glad I can be wrong.

    I would say that it isn’t proof of some metanarrative of sin, but of sin in our very lives. My own unhealthy sexuality stems from my own sense of being separated from the divine. Perhaps we care not about the symptom, but the cause and see the symptom so know there is a cause? Does that make sense? The problem isn’t pornography, for instance, that’s just how we know there is a problem.

    I think ambiguity is so important because of our dualistic thinking that demands that something is either right or wrong. This is what happens in the garden, right? Being able to find nuance and ambiguity is helpful for combatting our desire to label everything as right and wrong and to recognize our shadows.

  • sa1242

    It seems I have offended you, and that was not my intention. I would not
    consider my comment an angry rant by any means, but I suppose both our
    reactions were products of miscommunication. As I said, I tried to be as
    balanced as possible, and I chose my adjectives carefully.

    I was unaware that you did not vote, as I had never read your previous
    posts and did not have that context. Of course I assumed your post was
    geared towards people who are politically active (including voters),
    because today is an important day for civil rights in the federal
    judicial system.

    I don’t believe my demeanor or stance was that of an ‘angry atheist’,
    and even when I was a believer, I would have said much the same thing.
    As a pastor, your quick defensiveness was a bit off putting. Blog posts
    are often hard to read, in the abstract sense, because there’s no voice
    inflection or facial expressions to give the words context and emotion.
    Perhaps I misinterpreted certain things you wrote, but that is why I
    took the time to respond, and ask for your response as well. Thank you
    for taking the time.

    -Sarah Ansell

  • Sarah,

    Sorry if I was defensive. I wrote this post a year ago and it had no political connotations for me and was mainly a response to the disgusting video at the top. So I can see where your assumption came from since you didn’t have that information. I shared it today again in response to some of the ugly things Christians were posting on facebook and it got shared some without the knowledge that it was a year old.

    The thing about my stance is that it makes everyone mad. Most Christians think its too soft and most non-Christians think its too harsh and so I get a lot of questions about it. I didn’t expect this post to get shared as much as it did and didn’t expect to have to deal with it all day and was a little put out. I took that out on you, and I shouldn’t have.

  • Brandon

    Wil,

    I stopped by your page to update the thread on Pope Francis and found this one. There is much here I am grateful to see in print from one I now consider a colleague.

    A few, unconnected things draw my attention, in no particular order. First, you just showed me something in Luke 15 I’ve not considered before: the prodigal son’s motive to return wasn’t as praiseworthy as “when he came to his senses” heretofore implied to me. Now, I see NOTHING even remotely other-centered in his return. (As I reflect on this, my mind races!) Both younger and older brother share deeply the same self-centeredness and complaint of lack. The Father goes out to both to bring both into his celebration–a party with no purpose other than to welcome the return of one self-centered, manipulative ingrate who knew his Father would supply, once again, his most basic need for food and security. And what a supply! The other son, no less self-absorbed, is invited to open his eyes to his Father’s habitual, abundant, ungrudging supply of food and security. The parable stops open-ended: the only difference between the two ingrates is their relative openness to their Father’s magnanimous, unconditional embrace. The only thing required to enjoy the Father’s party is . . . to enjoy the Father’s party.

    Second, I’d like to suggest another variation on Acceptance. ISTM that one doesn’t have to hold that same-sex attraction is sinful as a starting point. One way to approach this matter is to think of the longstanding Christian teaching about ordinate and inordinate loves. Everything, including God’s own self, can be the object of inordinate or ordinate love. Ordinate, proper love seeks from its object what the object can rightly give as God created it; inordinate love seeks from its object what the object cannot rightly give. True loves, and the best attractions, are those whose objects can truly fulfill the desires we place on them. Desired objects which cannot by their created nature satisfy inordinate expectations are idols.

    Sin arises when we seek satisfaction of our deep longings from objects which cannot give it. Considered this way, same-sex attraction can be (I did not say “is”) as much a variation on idolatry as any other longing. The desire for vulnerable, intimate connection with another person need not presume sexually stimulating contact nor preclude non-sexual fulfillment from someone of the same sex. Unfortunately, our base, orgasm-obsessed culture has (almost) entirely forgotten the millenia-old vows of chastity and celibacy.

    Speaking of sex, I would propose that very few familiar with its God-designed orgasmic pleasures avoid idolatry–whether generated by hetero-, homo-, or autoerotic means. Contrary to a certain Evangelical book title, sex is not simply or even primarily Intended for Pleasure. Sex, in longstanding Christian tradition, has procreation as its right and proper purpose. When regarded as an object for something other than procreation, it becomes an idol. I hold this to be equally true of all manner of married or single persons.

    And so, as a variation on Acceptance, I suggest that the same-sex/opposite-sex/LGBT construct is less preferable than one which speaks to accepting all people with inordinate affections and idolatries and loving us (chastely, of course!) and interacting with us to seek the grace of rightly ordered desires.

    Finally, a word or two to Barrett’s point about holding and acting on a belief in a way that affects others even while one is not entirely certain of its ultimate correctness. (I think I got that right.) I think we have no choice but to admit that we find ourselves in existential situations where we have the luxuries neither of certainty nor inaction–these are part of our finite, and fallen, human condition. Our loves, and the loves of others, are not all fully and rightly ordered. So, when we inevitably must press for this or that, humility demands we simultaneously confess our finitude and accept the painful alienation that is sometimes the unwelcome, unintended outcome of our forced, finite choices. In such times, it is good to find ways to suffer with those whom our choices have hurt.

    Pace e Bene.