Canoeing and God and the Gay Christian – Part 2

My Personal Views and Experiences

My last post was mostly a review of “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines. In this one, I only comment on the book a bit. It is mostly about my own journey from a non-affirming position towards gay and lesbian relationships to an affirming one.

Early in my Christian experience, I attended a couple of churches that were definitely on the fundamentalist side. I listened to a couple of sermons about homosexuality. They were not affirming. One was by a pastor who labelled himself as ex-gay. He had spent several years participating in promiscuous gay sex and simultaneously struggling with recreational drugs. He said that when he became a Christian, God had helped him kick his addictions, which he listed as drugs and homosexuality. He later married and had two children. He said gay people could choose not to be gay, and used himself as an example. In other sermons, I heard that being gay or lesbian was probably a result of childhood abuse or trauma. At times I also heard Christians make insensitive jokes, such as, “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

I did not know any gay or lesbian people, and so, heard no convincing counter-narrative. I didn’t harbour any ill will. There were no protests, and there was no picketing. However, we were encouraged to oppose the Liberal government and the legalization of gay and lesbian marriage. None of this seemed like hate, at the time. We honestly believed that we could “love the sinner and hate the sin.” This, I think, is one reason why conservative Christians bristle so much when they are accused of hating or condemning the gay and lesbian communities. They can’t see it. I couldn’t. What we see as hate, they see as standing up for righteousness and refusing to compromise their convictions. They can’t see that their convictions are they very things that are hurting so many people!

Over the last several years, I have been trying to shed the baggage of fundamentalist Christianity. My goal is to strip my beliefs down to their essence or core. I want to be left simply with the love of God and nothing else. In the next few paragraphs, I’ll describe how my thinking started to change, which will also help highlight another reason why I think “God and the Gay Christian” is such an important book: non-affirming views don’t change overnight. For most people, this will be a journey that will take time and will involve many stages. This is the story of how my views changed.
book cover
A few years back, my brother asked my what my views on gay marriage were. I was a bit taken aback by the question and responded with something like, “I’m really not sure. I don’t see what it has to do with me, since I’m not gay.” For awhile I was content with that position. I’m not against it. I’m not for it. Let the people who it affects make the decisions. As time passed, I started to look at the issue of gay and lesbian marriage from a human rights perspective. I started to think it was wrong to deny people the right to marry the person of their choosing. I started to think that Christians should support gay and lesbian marriage. My reason was that, Christians are supposed to share God’s love with people, not try to make people who aren’t Christians act like Christians. We’re not supposed to be trying to pass laws that make people act like Christians. We should be advocating for the human rights of all people. I still had not considered the possibility of a Christian being gay or lesbian.

About the same time, I also started to look at the Bible differently. Conservative Christians often assume that more liberal-minded Christians simply disregard the Bible’s instructions. This was one problem I noted in Matthew Vines book. As a conservative Christian, he wrote that he holds a high view of the Bible, implying that liberal Christians hold a lower view of the Bible. I would not say that attempting to understand the culture within which the various books of the Bible were written, the issues that the writers were addressing and other possible interpretations, is holding a low view of the Bible. I would not say that attempting to understand the timeless truths of the Bible and apply them to our current culture is holding a low view of the Bible.

I’ve read a lot of stories by gay and lesbian people who have been hurt by the church. I’ve read about young Christians who have suffered greatly, as they prayed for God to change their orientation. Yet nothing changed. I’ve also read and listened to a lot of stories about people who held anti-gay and anti-lesbian views changing their opinions after a close relative has come out as gay or lesbian, or after getting to know a gay or lesbian person well. I have a few gay and lesbian friends, co-workers and relatives. None of them are evil. Some are involved in long-term, monogamous relationships, one couple is married and one couple has adopted a baby. They are all beautiful people. I know that I am talking about a small sample size here – a few of my friends. However, when I compare these relationships to the relationship my wife and I have, I honestly can’t see any real differences. My friends care for their partners, have good times and struggles, are committed to each other, love their child and try to be good parents. These experiences make it hard for me to understand the Christian Right’s contention that gay and lesbian marriage undermines the institution of marriage. The married gay and lesbian people that I know, try to honour their marriage, as my wife and I do. I also can’t see how a relationship between two gay or two lesbain people affects the relationship I have with my wife.

I have spent some time reading and listening to Christian authors and speakers who support same-sex marriage. Wendell Berry is a writer who I have read and respected for several years. He states, “If I were one of a homosexual couple — the same as I am one of a heterosexual couple — I would place my faith and hope in the mercy of Christ, not in the judgment of Christians.” Justin Lee is the founder of an online community called The Gay Christian Network. He is a speaker, author and an advocate for gay and lesbian marriage. Justin is one of the most compassionate, humble and Christ-like speakers I have ever listened to. He is also gay. Listen to him here and here.

A few years ago, I was talking with a friend about supporting gay and lesbian marriage. He thought that the church could support same sex unions, but shouldn’t call them marriage. Although this position sounds like a step in the right direction, I disagree with this position. I think it would create two tiers of Christians. Heterosexual Christians would have full rights and gay and lesbian Christians would have fewer rights. His concern was that allowing gay and lesbian Christians the right to participate in Christian marriage would lead to other changes, such as, wanting to teach Sunday School. I say great! Affirming gay and lesbian people’s right to marry is not enough. I want my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to be able to participate freely in every aspect of Christian life. Let’s have gay and lesbian sunday school teachers and gay and lesbian worship leaders and gay and lesbian youth leaders and gay and lesbian pastors. However, this still wouldn’t be going far enough! Let’s change our presentation of Christian truths and our language too. I have a gay, Christian friend, who has shared some relationship struggles he’s had with his partner. I’ve sat in Christian marriage workshops at several different churches and thought of my friend’s struggles. I couldn’t invite him and his husband. I don’t think they’d be welcomed, and the exclusivity of the language used would offend them. Where do gay and lesbian Christian couples go to receive the support for their marriage that heterosexual couples receive from their churches?

If we invite our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to participate in Christian marriage, if we include them in the full life of the church, if we open up leadership positions, if we change our presentation of Christian truths and our language to be inclusive, we will still not have gone far enough in embracing and loving our neighbours. We will not have gone far enough, because we will have started at the wrong point. We need to start with repentance. For years, we have been telling gay and lesbian people to repent of their sins and to pray that God would change them. We have caused immeasurable pain with our demands. We have pushed gay and lesbian youth to the brink of suicide and beyond. We have torn families apart. We have pushed honest, searching people away from God. We have been searching for imaginary specks in gay and lesbian people’s eyes, while ignoring the planks of judgmentalism and condemnation in our own eyes. Let’s repent of our sins and pray that God would change us.
gay pride
I love these Christians at a gay pride parade!

I’ve left one thing unsaid. It’s important, so I want to end with it. It seems that most people now agree that sexual orientation is essentially fixed. The largest “ex-gay” Christian organization, Exodus International, shut down last year and apologized for the harm it has caused the gay and lesbian communities. Many gay and lesbian Christians say that their orientation is unchangeable. My former ex-gay pastor says that it’s not, that he used to be gay. I have a couple of wonderful Christian friends that have told be that they used to be gay. Who is right? Who is wrong? Maybe both and maybe neither. A few years back, novelist Chimamanda Adichie did a TED Talk about the dangers of listening to a single story concerning Africa. She says that we risk a critical misunderstanding when we do so. I agree. I think we can apply the same principle to human sexuality. My previous views concerning same-sex relationships were based on a single story. Maybe we should listen to more than a single story concerning sexuality. Maybe humanity is infinitely varied. Maybe human sexuality is complex. Maybe, for many of us sexual orientation is fixed and unchangeable. Maybe, for some of us, sexuality is more fluid. Maybe we should listen to and validate each person’s experiences. Maybe we should just love one another.

I’ll end with the lame canoeing reference that I promised. Maybe marriage is like canoeing after all. Some canoes will have a man and a woman in them. Some canoes will have two men. Some canoes will have two women. Let’s all work together to help each other through the storms of life, instead of beating each other back with our paddles.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Two men in a canoe

Canoeing and God and the Gay Christian

A Few Thoughts About Matthew Vines Book:
God and the Gay Christian

book cover

Sorry. The title is misleading. There will not be much about canoeing in this post. However, if you want to read about canoeing, look back at some previous posts, or wait until a future post. A few people on facebook asked me to write my thoughts about this book. The note got too long, so I decided to make it into a blog post. I’ll probably try to make a lame canoeing reference at some point.  I’m actually going to post my thoughts in two blog posts.  This one will focus primarily on reviewing the book, and the next one will be more about my personal views.

In my opinion, Matthew Vines has written an excellent book, advocating for the inclusion of gay and lesbian couples in the tradition of Christian marriage. Matthew is a courageous, young gay man, who studied Biblical languages, considered multiple interpretations and researched the ancient cultures in which the Bible was written. His conclusion, that God would support loving, monogamous, same-sex marriages is well-defended.

At first, when Matthew dove into the theological discussions about the six passages in the Bible that seem to prohibit same-sex relationships, I was a little bit put off. I’m a fairly practical person, and not that into theology. However, as I learned about the Greek words translated into English and started to see Matthew’s train of thought, I grew more interested. His descriptions of ancient Greek and Roman societies reflected what I have previously read. Particularly relevant to Matthew’s topic is the type of same-sex conduct that the Bible writers would be addressing: pederasty (older men having sex with boys), prostitution and masters having sex with slaves. In ancient societies, a loving, monogamous marriage between two people of the same gender, was unheard of. Therefore, the apostle Paul, and other biblical writers could not have been passing judgement on such a relationship.

Another interesting point that Matthew brought up was concerning the idea of sexual orientation. I was unaware, that the concept of sexual orientation has only been around since the mid to late 1800s. Until then, it was assumed that a man who desired to have sex with another man was simply unable to control his sexual urges and be satisfied by women. That means that the Bible, which was written centuries before the 1800s, can’t be referring to sexual orientation, when it condemns certain same-sex acts. It would be referring to pederasty, prostitution and sex with slaves, all of which, would have been extramarital and most likely, exploitive.

How then can Romans even mention sexual orientation? This tidbit really angered me. According to Matthew, the Greek word (arsenokoites) that is used in Romans is somewhat ambiguous. All that can be said for sure, is that it involves exploitation. Here’s the part that really angered me: in early translations of the Bible, arsenokoites is translated as “buggerers,” “the brutal” and “sodomites,” words that carry connotations of aggression or exploitation. It wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century (a very recent development indeed!) that Paul’s words were changed to include sexual orientation. The RSV changed it to “homosexuals”, thereby condemning all gay people. The NIV and NAB tried to soften it by writing “homosexual offenders” and “practising homosexuals” respectively, providing celibate gay people some level of comfort. Bible translators are changing what the Bible says, based not on scholarship, but with a predetermined purpose in mind. That fact really frustrates me.

For me, Matthew’s point that carries the most weight concerns fruit. He quotes the New Testament, “Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” The anti-gay and anti-lesbian stances of much of Christianity is bearing bad fruit. It is, at least partly, to blame for the increased suicide rate of gay and lesbian youth. It heaps condemnation on vulnerable teens, as they search for their identity. It drives families apart. It pushes people away from the God who created them. How can all this bad fruit be produced from “good” doctrine? The answer seems obvious to me.

Will God and the Gay Christian change the minds of conservative Christians regarding support for their gay brothers and lesbian sisters? Maybe. I guess it depends how tightly they hold onto their negative beliefs. At the very least, I hope this books causes people to start asking questions, to start thinking deeply, to move past the talking points of political Christianity and to look at gay and lesbian people with compassion instead of condemnation.

Random Canoe Pics
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