Friday, January 21, 2005

The Church As Tempter:

Today Joe Carter of evangelical outpost linked to an old post in which he talks about his divorce, and I hate to admit that my first thought was, "Aha!"

Carter, after all, does not exactly hide the fact that he is no fan of homosexuality. See, for instance, his posts "Rohm's Boys: The Surprising Connection Between Homosexuality and Fascism" and "Marriage Minus Monogamy:The Case Against Redefining Marriage (Part II)."

Yet the New Testament is far clearer and more emphatic in its denunciations of divorce than in anything it says about homosexuality as (1) Jesus expressly forbids divorce (see, e.g., Matt. 5:32) but (2) never mentions homosexuality, while (3) Paul's references to same-sex behavior must be understood in terms of the only expressions of homosexuality with which he was familiar: pedarasty and temple prostitution.

Then I actually read the post and realized that, if anything, it underscores one of the main reasons why the church's refusal to allow same-sex couples to marry so often hurts both gay and lesbian Christians and their heterosexual counterparts:

After five years of marriage my wife came to me and told me that there were some issues that she didn't know if we would be able to resolve.... Then she told me she was gay.
What Carter does not mention, but surely must realize, is that his wife almost certainly did not just wake up one day and suddenly realize she was gay. I know I didn't, at least, when I finally broke up with my last girlfriend. We started dating during our senior year of high school, and, as time went by and it became clear to me that I was gay, I tried everything I could think of to change and make the relationship work. I prayed. I suppressed sexual thoughts about other guys. I (secretly) went to the library and read books that theorized about the psychological origins of homosexuality. I even visited an "ex-gay" ministry in hopes of finding a cure.

And then at some point it occurred to me that none of this was working. I could put it all out of my head for a while, but inevitably "it" always came back. Sometimes it happened when I was awake, sometimes when I was asleep and dreaming, but either way it was always only a matter of time. God, I began to realize, was not going to zap me and take it all away.

I knew then that the only fair thing to do would be to break up with my girlfriend. The sad thing is that, by then, we were seniors in college and I'd already "wasted" four years of her life -- something for which I still feel guilt to this day. And yet I know that my experience is not unique. As I've become friends with more and more gay people, I've heard the same story told again and again. Some, thankfully, ended their relationships much sooner that I did; others, like my best friend, didn't muster up the courage until after they were engaged. Another friend was married for 2 years before he realized that he could never become the husband he longed to be.

God only knows how many gay men and women there are right now who are married and struggling with this very issue. And then there are all those married men (and probably married women as well) who go to gay internet dating services in order to fulfill their sexual desires, some of them even bragging about being married as though this somehow makes them more masculine and, hence, more desirable. The sad thing is that their wives are never told the truth. Never, that is, until it is too late for it to be experienced as anything but painful.

"Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the man by whom the temptation comes!" (Matt. 18:7).
The warning comes from the mouth of Our Lord, and yet it seems to mean nothing to the church when it comes to gays and lesbians. And so, instead of encouraging us to be truthful about who we are, the church tells us that we must pray for a cure and, during the meantime, content ourselves with "awaiting the redemption of our bodies"-- as the New Testament scholar Richard Hays has ever so coldly put it.

And yet the church also tells us that our lives will never be complete without marriage. How else to explain the fact that "singles ministries" tend to be little more than thinly disguised dating services? Or that ministers rarely even mention the fact that Jesus was single, let alone preach sermons about how a person can remain single and still have a good life? Or that to this day homosexuality continues to carry such a deep stigma in the church even for those who do not act on their desires?

The result--such is the tragicomedy of the church's position on homosexuality--is that gay and lesbian Christians tend to respond in one of two ways. Either we suppress our deepest identities and try to make heterosexual relationships work, or else we leave the church altogether and turn to the gay "subculture" for fulfillment. But neither choice is good, not for those of us who are gay and lesbian, and not for those who, like my ex-girlfriend and Joe Carter, end up hurt by our failed attempts to deny the truth about ourselves.

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