Monthly Archives: April 2011

How Many Of Us Are There?

Earlier this week, I stumbled across a pretty intriguing conversation thread on a social networking site for gay folks.  A guy asked “why are so many people surprised by Christian gays? Just ‘cause we are gay, does that mean we can’t share the same beliefs in God as others?

One of the more insightful responses came from a student who said:

In my opinion, Christianity and being gay aren’t exactly the most compatible, one is always compromised and the two together cause internal conflict.  Unless you make up your own rules or belief system (such as claiming that god loves you even though you’re gay while the rest of the community says otherwise); in which case, you’re not really following the religion’s precepts and you’re not being fully Christian, you’re being something else… but I just think it’s funny to hear people still calling themselves by the name of a denomination that hates them.

Does identifying as both gay and Christian cause “internal conflict”?  Certainly.  Is it difficult to fully invest in our faith when many churches can’t find a way to “tolerate” this fundamental part of who we are?  Definitely.  Are gay and Christian compatible?

I would answer yes.

If there is a conflict, it’s between us and the church… not us and God.  God, after all, is still for us.  Despite what his followers might sometimes say, he never stopped.

George Barna, an evangelical Christian pollster, recently interviewed almost 300 LGBT men and women (selected at random) about their religious beliefs.  According to the results of Barna’s survey, lots of “us” still believe gay and God can go together.  According to George Barna’s “Spiritual Profile of Homosexual Adults:”

  • 70% of LGBT people self-identify as Christian
  • 60% of LGBT people describe their faith as “very important” in their life
  • 4 out of 10 LGBT people say that they are “absolutely committed to the Christian faith”
  • 58% of LGBT people say that they have made “a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in [their] life today”
  • 50% of LGBT people say that “the most important thing in life is to love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul”
  • 1/3 of LGBT people contend that their life has been greatly transformed by their faith

(When you read the report, you’ll notice that Barna’s findings highlight some significant differences between the spiritual devotion, practice, and beliefs of gay and straight people.  Read the report.  You’ll see what I mean.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about why this might be.  Post your thoughts in the comments or send an email to stillforus@hotmail.com.  We’ll deal with this dilemma in a different post)

Although I don’t know Barna’s personal thoughts about homosexuality, his interpretation of this data is pretty insightful.  He says:

People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts. A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today.

The data indicate that millions of gay people are interested in faith but not in the local church and do not appear to be focused on the traditional tools and traditions that represent the comfort zone of most churched Christians. Gay adults clearly have a different way of interpreting the Bible on a number of central theological matters, such as perspectives about God. Homosexuals appreciate their faith but they do not prioritize it, and they tend to consider faith to be individual and private rather than communal.

It is interesting to see that most homosexuals, who have some history within the Christian Church, have rejected orthodox biblical teachings and principles – but, in many cases, to nearly the same degree that the heterosexual Christian population has rejected those same teachings and principles. Although there are clearly some substantial differences in the religious beliefs and practices of the straight and gay populations, there may be less of a spiritual gap between straights and gays than many Americans would assume.

If these numbers are correct, Barna seems to be answering my new friend’s question by saying being gay and Christian may be difficult, but it’s certainly possible. 

After all, lots of us are doing it.

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A Gift from God?

In Toledo, OH, Central United Methodist church’s new billboard is causing quite a stir. The billboard says “Being Gay is a Gift from God.”

According to this ABC News report:

The message is connected to a month-long sermon by Pastor Bill Barnard. “We really believe that being gay is a gift from God, and it’s not anything that anyone has to apologize for or be ashamed about,” he says. “So that’s how it came to be.”

The entire story – including how other churches in the community have responded – is fairly intriguing, but the billboard’s message itself raises an interesting question:

Is being gay a gift from God?  If you’re able to accept that homosexuality isn’t sinful (a high hurdle that many people cannot clear), is it appropriate to consider it a “gift”?

Saying that being gay is a “gift” seems to imply that homosexuality is something extraordinary that is given by God for a purpose.   Interesting, right?  Is our sexuality ordinary (as is often argued in debates about marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”), or is it remarkable?  Is our sexual orientation a gift, or is it more like brown hair, big feet, or a fondness for fondue — spiritually neutral traits that seem more like biological placeholders than “gifts”?

So, if you’ve been given the “gift of gay,” riddle me this…

Is gay a gift?  Or perhaps the better question is, if gay is a gift, why did we get it?  What is it meant to teach us, the church, or the world?  And, if homosexuality is a gift, is it a gift you want, or one you’d rather send back?

Other than being our chosen route toward intimacy and orgasm, does homosexuality serve a purpose?

Is being gay a gift from God?

Watch video of the ABC news story “Church’s Pro Gay Billboard Causes Controversy” here.

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Our Biggest Questions

I spent many, many, many [insert dramatic pause] many years in my gay Christian closet.  I sat amidst my dirty laundry afraid of many things, whispering lots of questions into the dark.  I needed answers before I felt safe enough to come out.

I was 31 before I realized I didn’t have to be either gay or Christian… that I could be both.

I now work full-time with LGBT teenagers and I am amazed at how brave they are.  I can’t imagine coming out during high school.  In 1998, Ritch Savin-Williams estimated that the average gay guy comes out at age 17.   Reliable research is scarce, but that number must be even lower now.  I can’t imagine.

Of course, many of these youth don’t have to fit the God shaped piece into their “coming out” puzzle.  They don’t subscribe to a Bible-based religion that makes saying “I’m gay” infinitely more complicated.  I expect that kids like us – kids whose sexual identity was/is all tangled up with our Christian identity – ask different (and maybe harder) questions during the coming out process than non-Christian kids.

Maybe that’s why it takes us a little longer to come out.

So, let’s compare questions, eh? Leave a comment inspired by one (or more) of these questions…

1. What questions did you ask – or are you asking – yourself, God, or other people during your time in the closet?

2. What did you need to figure out before you could come out as a gay Christian?  (or, what are you still trying to figure out?

3.  What made/makes it hard for you to come out?  What made/makes it hard for you to reconcile your sexuality with your spirituality?

Refrences

Savin-Williams, R.C. (1998). And then I became gay.  Young men’s stories. New York: Routledge.

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Introductions.

If we’re going to have a conversation about something as intimate as sex and spirit, we need to get the obligatory “where are you froms?” and “what do you dos?” out of the way.  We need to set the scene with some context so the rest of the story makes sense.

My name is Bryan.  Among other things, I’m a former minister.  I hold an Undergraduate Degree in Religion from a small Southern Baptist college and a Master’s Degree from a conservative Southern Baptist seminary.  Although I’ve served in several churches, through a tangle of circumstances that is beyond the scope of this story, most of my career has been spent speaking for youth worship events across the country.

When I was a minister, many of my friends who worked in churches thought I lived a charmed life.  I didn’t answer to a pastor, board of trustees, or finance committee. When I wasn’t on an airplane, I was working from my couch in a pair of pajama pants, writing sermons and stories.  My minister friends reminded me often – and, if they had recently endured a deacon’s meeting, with poorly suppressed envy – that I probably didn’t fully appreciate how “good I had it.”

What they didn’t realize was that my southern, conservative, professionally Christian culture was crushing me.  They didn’t realize this because they didn’t know I was gay.

Obviously, as a minister trained in a very conservative tradition, to reveal that I was a homosexual man would not only cause the usual emotional rifts that often come with “coming out,” it would also end my career.

I decided to come out anyway.  After many months of weighing, praying, and preparation, I bowed quietly out of ministry and moved to New York City, a place with a much more temperate cultural climate.  In the Big Apple, where I currently live, I am free to be both a person of faith and a person who is comfortable with his sexual identity.  In NYC I stand with one foot planted in each of two divergent cultures.  To my gay friends I am a mystery because I am a Christian.  To my Christian friends I am an intrigue because I am gay.

But even in the gay community, I can’t get away from God.  I almost never have a conversation with a LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) youth where god, God, the church, or spirituality don’t come up…

Last week I read a scholarship application from a young man who asked a teacher to lead him through an independent study of the Bible as a literary text.  When the teacher asked the boy why he wanted to study the Bible, the boy said, “to find out why people are religious.”

He’s curious.

I lead a monthly event for LGBT kids in NYC that’s held in the gym at a local church.  The program isn’t religious.  The church’s gym simply has everything I need.  It’s cheap, it’s available, and it’s almost indestructible.  Last month, as students were leaving, a 15-year-old gay boy stopped to take a box of pizza I was giving away.  He said, “I almost didn’t come ‘cause this thing is in a church.  I was afraid ‘they’ would be lurking in the corners with their Bibles and their hate.”

He’s angry.

These two teenagers are not unusual.  They’re not alone.  Gay youth in every corner of the country are trying to figure out what they believe about god, God, religion, spirituality, sexuality, and whether all these things can play happily together in one place.

And so, here we are.  Talking about this muddy intersection where sexuality and spirituality meet.

It’s a conversation we simply have to have.  It’s unavoidable, really.  Our sexuality and our spirituality are such fundamental parts of who we are.  They’re like our breathing and our heartbeat.  They can’t be separated without causing tremendous harm.   When you deal with one, you must deal with the other.

So, let’s deal with them, together…

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The Gay Life Cycle (how we get from the snail to the sheep)

I recently heard a fantastic episode of NPR’s “This American Life” that revealed the secret lives of parasites – those disgusting little bugs that sneak into our bodies, hide in our darkest corners, and eat away at our insides.

In the podcast, Carl Zimmer, author of “Parasite Rex,”  tells a fascinating story about the lancet fluke, a crafty little worm that lives in three separate hosts before it finds its final home.  If you’re not squeamish, I think you’ll enjoy the story.  Hopefully it’ll also speak to your experience as a LGBT person…

Act one:

According to Carl, the lancet fluke starts his life as a tiny egg resting peacefully in a pile of sheep poop with a few hundred other lancet fluke eggs.  As night falls, a hungry snail slowly passes the poop and decides she’s hungry. The snail isn’t picky.  She’ll eat anything.  During her midnight snack of sheep poop, the snail not only eats the fragrant, steaming excrement – she also accidentally gobbles up the lancet fluke eggs.  Days pass.  The eggs hatch.  Tiny lancet flukes start squirming around inside the snail.  The snail, not happy about hundreds of worms wiggling around inside her gut, gets a bellyache and spits the tiny worms out in a wad of sticky goo.  Classy.

Act two:

An ant marches through a field, following a tasty trail of the snail’s slime.  The sticky goo is one if the ant’s favorite treats on a hot day.  Imagine the ant’s delight when it finds a tasty wad of snail slime right in the middle of the trail!  The snail must have left it there the night before.  The ant is so excited that it doesn’t even notice the tiny lancet flukes swimming in its supper.  It eats the goo, worms and all.

Act three:

The ant starts acting strangely. It’s not aware that the tiny lancet fluke it accidentally ate yesterday has worked its way through his body and is now clamped onto his nervous system.

From this strategic vantage point, the lancet fluke is able to control the ant like a puppet, telling it what to think and feel.

Inside the ant, the lancet fluke knows there are sheep in the field grazing on the tall grass nearby.  He also knows that he’s never going to get back inside one of those sheep if his host stays buried deep inside an ant hill.  And so, the lancet flute tells the ant it wants to climb.  Obeying the lancet fluke’s every command, the ant leaves its nest and climbs to the top of a tall blade of grass.

Sitting on top of the tall grass, the ant can see a herd of woolly sheep grazing in the distance.  One of the sheep wanders closer.  Before the ant can retreat, the sheep lowers its head, eats the grass, and chews the ant into small, mushy bits.

The lancet fluke survives both the chewing and the swallowing.  Finally free of the snail and the ant, he swims happily in the sheep’s stomach, happy to be home at last.

The Point…

The lancet fluke lives in a pile of poop so he can endure the snail so he can find an ant who will eventually help him get back into a sheep.  He lives a complicated life.

Can you relate?

As LGBT people who believe (or are trying to believe) in God, many of us spend some time in the belly of the snail.  We go thorough so many stages – so many changes – during our journey.  It’s not easy to move from the snail to the sheep – to move from fear and doubt to self-acceptance and celebration.

We seek God.  We separate from God.  We question God.  We thank God. We rebel against God.  We doubt God.  We fear God.  We hate God. We cry out to God.  We worship God.

We live many different (and complicated) lives.  Our identity, ideas, and beliefs are constantly changing… growing to accommodate our experience… stretching according to our stage in life.

What I believed about my sexuality when I was a zealous Christian teenager was vastly different than what I believe now that I’ve gained a few years of faith.  What I once feared, I now embrace.  The snail has given way to the ant.

The upheaval I experienced when I “came out” cleared away some of my less-grounded and unexamined ideas about God.  The demolition was painful, but it also cleared space for more mature beliefs.  The ant is leading me to the sheep.

It’s comforting to know that this lancet fluke journey of ours is leading somewhere;  that every stage – no matter how frustrating, frightening, or confusing – is simply a stop on the twisted way back home.

Like the lancet fluke making his way through a complicated life cycle, it almost seems as if Christ is orchestrating something…  Bringing us back…  Reuniting us with God…  Moving us through the progressive system of salvation.

Sound familiar?

Through Christ God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

He’s reconciling everything to himself.

Even us.

He’s making peace with everything in heaven and on earth.

Even us.

This whole journey – even the crappy parts – is moving us toward redemption.

Kind’a makes the snail and the ant easier to endure, doesn’t it?

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