Category Archives: Sexual Orientation
The first person I met who told me he was homosexual was finishing up a doctoral degree at Fuller, a well-known Christian university, in the 1990s. (I was there for a couple of months). He had become sexually active while there, due to all the opportunity for sexual encounters in the LA area. He frequently used 1-800 numbers to meet people. This man and I sort of dated for a bit. He liked me, but, he just wasn’t attracted to women as much as he would have liked to be. It must have been so hard to live two lives, as it seemed he was doing—a day time life and a nighttime life. He told me one time that he would have sexual encounters in bathrooms with men he had just met, and that he longed to say “I love you!” during orgasms sometimes. He wanted, I think now, a long-term commitment with one of these men, but felt constrained by the Christian graduate community of which he was a part.
My comfort level with homosexuality has slowly increased in the past twenty years (see my post “Middlesexed: One Christian’s Incarnational Journey from Fear to Acceptance”), but I have never been able to get comfy with the idea of any one having multiple sexual encounters with strangers, of any sexual orientation. I know that this approach to sex is increasingly common among young heterosexuals, as well. But it’s not healthy for any one, either physically, emotionally or spiritually. So for those people who long to be married, deeply desire to be committed to one person over their life time, I’d like to give my full-on support. Marriage is hard for heterosexuals or homosexuals alike, but nothing like a lifetime of emotionally empty one-time encounters, as my friend was aware of experiencing.
I think if heterosexual Christians want to increase the level of morality in our human community, we would do well to fully support civil unions or marriage rights for homosexuals. And if Christians want to be welcoming to those in the gay community, why not start with affirming their basic rights to stable, committed monogamy. Don’t some Christians still say that heterosexuals who live together are “living in sin”? Well, this is what we are encouraging among homosexuals when we say that two people who deeply love each other cannot have the legal rights of married couples. No one can change their orientation by controlling laws, that’s for sure. But a society in which homosexual people are finding deep and meaningful commitments which enjoy the protection of the law and the support of citizens can only be a more moral one.
Maybe we could bring some healing to people with varying sexual orientations just by acknowledging their basic human rights in this matter. I think about how I would feel if I were homosexual and were continually told by the church that I was sinful due to something I could not change, and that I should not be allowed to have the same legal rights as heterosexuals. I’d be very angry and I wouldn’t listen to anything the church had to say. Wouldn’t you feel the same? What if the issues were reversed and heterosexuality was considered the sin? I can’t see too many celibate-heterosexual-males-for-Jesus banging on the church door, that’s for sure.
Recently, George Barna found that “overall, heterosexuals are twice as likely as homosexuals to attend a church service, read the Bible, and pray to God during a typical week (31% vs 15%)” (http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/13-culture/282-spiritual-profile-of-homosexual-adults-provides-surprising-insights). Yet 58% of homosexual people in the survey “had made ‘a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in your life today.’” It seems to me that people with a homosexual orientation have been pushed out of the church, left out of opportunities for spiritual growth, and forced into an individual rather than community-oriented faith.
I think Jesus wants everyone to come to him alongside other believers, to know they are welcome at the table of faith, and to be accepted as they are. As Christ-followers, why not begin by supporting homosexual people in their desire for a moral, legal, monogamous commitment to another person? To do otherwise is to unwittingly encourage a 1-800 number approach to love.
When I was in seminary at Regent College, a man named Ron [not his real name] who was both homosexual and married to a woman came to speak to us in a class on Gender and Sexuality. At the time, Leanne Payne, an author who writes about inner healing prayer, predominated my thinking about homosexuality. It was a result of brokenness. It could be, should be, healed. I said this to Ron in a small gathering of students. Ron, never defensive, invited me for coffee in the Regent atrium, where he shared his story. As a Christian, he had decided to try to be celibate, and he had married his wife who was disabled and whom he cared for. But he wanted Christians to understand something important: he didn’t choose homosexuality, any more than any one chooses heterosexuality. It was not something he could be healed of, any more than a heterosexual person could be healed of heterosexuality. He asked me a simple question which at the time dinged off my defenses, but which stayed with me over the years as I reflected on this issue. It was, “What did you think of the slide presentation by Dr. Hui?” Edwin Hui, MD, is a professor who taught on bioethical issues at Regent. He had nothing to say about his views on homosexuality and the Bible. He just showed slides of a variety of chromosomal combinations—way more than I thought possible– which could result in varying sexual orientations. Ding. I saw the slides, heard the question, but they were meaningless due to my armored belief that homosexuality was a result of wounds from childhood.
But I considered my theology at Regent to be incarnational. Meaning, embodied. I needed to know people, to encounter the people I discussed and thought about ethically. Those people would provide the needed lens to read the Bible well. So, I was choosing to live near Vancouver’s impoverished Downtown Eastside where my neighbors would teach me good theology by letting me get to know them. One of the people I met was Jan [not her real name], who had had sex change surgery a few years earlier. She had engaged in prostitution in the past and so I wanted to interview her for a paper I was writing on ministry to sex trade workers. She invited me to her Downtown Eastside apartment to talk. When I introduced myself, she smiled slyly and said Susan had been her street name. We became friends for a time. She was a warm extrovert who sometimes came off as a kindly uncle type; the deep voice couldn’t be diminished by hormones. She said even though she had to have the surgery to feel comfortable with herself, it wasn’t a perfect choice, not a perfect fit. It was a hard life, too. Jan came to church with me a few times, but wasn’t exactly readily accepted. And the church usually welcomed a variety of people—those with schizophrenia, with disabilities like obesity or brain damage, people with addictions. But sexuality was a different matter. They didn’t reject Jan, but they ignored her.
Small dent, you could say, in my defenses. I was learning through people like Paul and Jan who were living what I was discussing. Would Jan really have chosen to go through all she had? Or, could she have been healed if she had only had properly trained inner healing pray-ers? And, what if she didn’t want healing in the inner healing prayer way? That kind of prayer is intense even for long-time Christians. My usual answers were getting a little fuzzier, like those chromosomes on the slides.
After I graduated from Regent, I read the book, Middlesex, intrigued by the title and subject matter. In that book, I met more people; fictional, yes, but possible still, due to the research behind the book. The main character of the book, Cal, is a hermaphrodite due to a genetic condition known as 5-alpha-reductase deficiency. Cal lives as a girl through her teen years, as the condition brings out feminine traits. Her condition is eventually discovered by the medical establishment, and they attempt to do genital surgery on her which she evades by running away. Cal decides to live as a man in his new life. Meeting Cal brought those chromosomal slides to mind once again. Sexual variety can be a biological reality. I finally got it.
In the first years of a doctoral program in clinical psychology, I eventually learned about the brain’s plasticity in regard to sexuality. Sexuality is inborn; it is also learned and shaped through our experiences. So, I do not reject the idea that a man or woman could receive healing from experiences that shaped sexuality in unwanted ways, whether homosexual or heterosexual. That’s a reality, too.
Speaking of heterosexual, let’s name the elephant in the room. Heterosexual people, heterosexual Christians, many of whom who are vocal about the sinfulness of homosexuality, are only finding new ways to reshape heterosexuality in unhelpful ways. A thousand Christians were surveyed about pornography use in 2007; half of the men and 20 percent of the women confessed to a pornography addiction. In 2003, 30 percent of 6000 pastors surveyed confessed to having viewed porn in the previous month. And that was ten years ago; wonder what it’s like now?
Yet pornography viewing is no litmus test for ordination or Christian ministry. What people do in front of their own computers is kind of thought to be their own business, just by virtue of the fact that no one asks. Heterosexual sins just seem more “okay”, somehow, even though no one would condone them outright. But the tiny minority of people with other sexual orientations are often looked at as choosing to live in sin and so are inappropriate for ministry. Or are ignored if they show up at church and are obviously sexually different. That’s the kind of hypocrisy that Jesus liked to point out in the gospels.
Back to me. I am now living far from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, ten years hence. I live in a suburb where people tend to all look alike, on the surface anyway, and sexual orientation is not up for discussion. I continue to need to grow further in my incarnational theology by simply knowing people like Paul, Jan and Cal and hearing their stories. Can any of you help me by suggesting books to read or people to encounter?