Saturday, August 11, 2012
My Changed Thinking On Homosexuality an Excerpt From My Book
So, my last post has started some interesting discussions for me on Facebook and in other places, because of these discussions I felt that it might be worthwhile to share the chapter from my book where I discuss my transformed thinking toward the issue of......
Homosexuality (Chapter 29)
“War. Rape. Murder. Poverty. Equal rights for gays. Guess which one the Southern Baptist Convention is protesting?” The Value of Families
Among political issues in the United States today (and especially among politically conservative Christians), gay rights is still one of the most controversial. I’m not sure why this particular issue creates such panic among Christians (there are many unbiblical “acts” taking place in this country, but those topics are never even broached in churches). Regardless of why, homosexuality (as well as providing equal protection under the law to homosexuals) is clearly upsetting to a large percentage of Christian believers. Perhaps it is because Christians have big problems when it comes to any form of sexuality, not to mention a form of sexuality they view as expressly forbidden by God. For the majority of my life I was disgusted with homosexual behavior, and until two years ago I had no question in my mind about homosexuality: it was a sin.
Part of my disgust with homosexuality (I now realize) was simply a hangover from my childhood. When I was growing up, you couldn’t call someone anything worse than a “fag.” I heard this insult thrown around by the boys in my school, by my brothers, and by my cousins. When I was young, I had no idea what a “fag” was, but from the way my brothers used the word I could tell it was a bad thing. Once I learned the meaning of the term—that it referred to homosexuality—I recognized the social and religious stigmas behind the insult. Added to these stigmas was my personal fear that I might be homosexual (because of the sexual abuse I had suffered as a child). I had been molested by two different members of my family, and both were males. In my mind I had participated in homosexual acts, and doing so had possibly made me homosexual.
I was terrified for most of my youth that somebody would find out about the things, which had been done to me by other males, and I would be labeled as a “fag”. The stigma attached to the words fag, queer, and homo created constant fear in me and led me to hide the abuse I had suffered as a child. One of my abusers had threatened to hurt me if I ever told what he had done to me, but he needn’t have worried because I would never have told for fear of people knowing I was actually a “fag” or a “queer.” (I realize these are very offensive terms, but these terms were a big part of my issues with homosexuality so I use them only for the sake of explaining).
So take a terrified, sexually abused kid, who lives in a society where homosexual signifiers are the worst insults of all, and who fears that his sexual abuse means he is homosexual; then heap religious teachings on him. Guess what happened? I became even more terrified. The church taught me that homosexuality was an abomination in the eyes of God. When I heard this teaching, part of me became hopeless because I knew I was a homosexual as a result of the abuse I had endured. I believed I was an abomination in God’s eyes. So to protect myself, I decided I would be as un-homosexual as I could possibly be from then on. In order to become so, I buried my childhood abuse. As I grew older and I began to learn about God for myself, I luckily realized that God must love homosexuals—just like he loved all other “sinners.”
Once I realized that God loved homosexual “sinners” just as much as any other “sinners,” I became very uncomfortable with the way most members of the church responded to those, who “struggled” with homosexuality. It seemed to me this sin (and any other sexual sin) just didn’t get a fair shake in the church. Churchgoers overlooked sins like greed, gluttony, and even substance abuse, but sexual sins—especially homosexuality—drew the immediate wrath of the church body.
I became an advocate very early in my Christian life for “sinners,” arguing that the church should be a place where all “sinners” were accepted and treated with kindness. I believed deeply in the “hate the sin but love the sinner stance,” even for homosexuals. Clearly homosexuality was a sin in my mind, but it was no worse than any of the other sins people in the church dealt with on a daily basis. However, I still struggled with a deep sense of disgust when I was around any homosexual male (I did not have the same problem with homosexual females—such a guy response!). I think the disgust was a lingering fear response from my childhood abuse (which I now know had nothing to do with homosexuality). I continued believing the Church should love the homosexual “sinner” but hate the homosexual “sin” for years.
The first crack in my foundational beliefs about homosexuality came one night while I was watching Bill O’ Reilly. His guest that night was Rosie O’ Donnell. She and Bill spoke of many things, but obviously the topic of her homosexuality (she had just come “out of the closet”) was discussed in great detail. Rosie’s religious beliefs came up during this segment of the interview. O’ Reilly asked her if she believed in God, and Rosie told Bill she did believe there was God. O’ Reilly then asked her what she thought God would have to say about her lesbianism. Her response shook me. She replied something to the effect of, “I think God would be proud that I am able to love at all after what happened to me as a child.”
At that moment I realized for the first time in my life that my view of homosexuality was completely messed up. I had always viewed homosexuality (just like most Christians) as a sin people chose to commit, and they simply needed to make better choices. If Rosie had not experienced trauma in her childhood, I wondered, would she have felt the need to be with a woman instead of a man? Suddenly, homosexuality was no longer a black and white, right or wrong issue for me. I began to think maybe a lot of homosexuals were homosexual because of deep emotional issues with which they struggled. How horribly uncaring and uncompassionate Christians were to label them as “sinners” and summarily dismiss them from membership in the church! My first stage of changed thinking after the Rosie O’ Donnell interview still wasn’t healthy or fair to homosexuals because this view makes homosexuality seem like it is a disorder . . . as if homosexuality is something people need to be healed from, but this event started me on a journey of change in many of my beliefs, and especially in my beliefs about homosexuality.
The next crack in the foundation of my beliefs about homosexuality came when I read the book (which I have already mentioned in the chapter on Hell) The Last Word and the Word After That by Brian McLaren. One of the characters in this book is a lesbian “woman,” who was actually born a hermaphrodite. Hermaphrodism is actually a reasonably common occurrence in human births. Until the discovery of DNA testing, which allows doctors to determine which gender an individual is on the genetic level, doctors chose to surgically remove the penis and make all hermaphrodites “female” because removing a penis is simply easier than removing a vagina.
In McClaren’s book the lesbian character’s doctor took the easy road when she was born and removed her penis. Unfortunately, this lesbian woman was actually more male than female and should have been raised as a boy. Her attraction to females was not sick, deviant, or “sinful” in any way; it was actually quite normal. But in the book her hermaphrodism was not taken into account by the church, and she was rejected by the Christian community. I could not help but feel the injustice this character had suffered at the hands of the church, and although she was a fictional character, I realized there were very real people out there, for whom this fictional story was real life. It broke my heart that anyone should be treated so callously. As a result of reading the fictional story, I began to view homosexuality (and equal rights for homosexuals) as a much more complex issue.
I finally realized that we humans are a mess of bundled genes and DNA. Some of us are born with long toes, short ear lobes, more hair, less hair, and all kinds of other variations. There are so many things, which can happen with our genetics, and we have absolutely no control over these things. I mean, some people are actually born with both a penis and a vagina! I began to wonder if it wasn’t possible for some people to truly be born homosexual.
If a person can be born with both a penis and a vagina, isn’t it possible for a “male” to be born with a fully operational penis, but internally for him to be “wired” more like a female? In essence such a person would be a female trapped inside a man’s body. He would be male on the outside but have natural sexual desires for males; he might even be more interested in roles and activities, which our culture traditionally labels as “female.” In my mind many variations of genetic possibilities indeed became a great possibly. Maybe it was even possible for people to be born kind of straddling the gender fence, and they could easily go either or both ways.
The more I thought about these concepts, the more I realized the church’s answers as a whole when it came to homosexuality were woefully inadequate. I realized I could never look at homosexuals as “sinners” ever again. If it was even remotely possible for someone to be born with homosexual desires, then homosexuals must be treated like any other normal humans. Treating them as something less would be like judging me for being born with a predisposition for baldness. I believe this obvious problem is why conservative Christians fight so vehemently against the scientific argument that someone can be born homosexual; that argument makes them look like the freaks for being bigots.
Many Christians argue that God would never create a child with a mixed or confused sexual identity. This belief is based on a deeper belief that God directly controls the genetic result of human mating, that He/She creates each of us exactly as we are. This belief is based on a verse from the Psalms, which fundamentalist Christians love to quote: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” Traditionally, this belief is followed with a statement that God’s creations are all perfect exactly as they are, so obviously He/She wouldn’t create homosexual children in the womb. But this view poses an extremely troubling question: If God is creating all of us in the womb, and we are all supposed to be perfect when we pop out, then what the Hell went wrong with so many of us? Did God “form kids in the womb” with predispositions for heart disease, cancer, or obesity? Did God make me with an overdose of the bald gene? And what about children, who are born with physical or mental disabilities? Why are some born with Down’s Syndrome? Why are some born without a limb? Did God make them the way they are? I don’t think so. I doubt that God is in charge of exactly how people are born.
I would like to clearly state right now that I am not insinuating homosexuality is a defect of any sort; I am simply trying to show how diverse we all are genetically and how ridiculous it is to say that God personally creates each of us. A loving God wouldn’t intentionally create children with physical or mental defects, so He/She must not be very involved in the process of conception. Honestly, I’m trying to say that Christians can’t have their argument both ways. THEY think homosexuality is a defect, and they say God wouldn’t create babies with defects. Well, guess what, folks? A lot of humans are born with defects, so the argument won’t fly.
Are Christians really going to tell the parents of a child born with severe mental disabilities that God made the child that way on purpose? Even if God really doesn’t like homosexuality (I don’t think God has any problem with homosexuality), it does not mean some males are not born attracted to men and some women are not born attracted to other women. If it is even a remote possibility that some people are born attracted to the same sex, then Christians need to begin seriously adjusting their views of and treatment of the homosexual community. Imagine if the Bible forbade you from having sex with the gender you were attracted to. How many of us could follow such a rule every day for the rest of our lives? If the Bible had forbade me from being heterosexual I would have never been able to follow that rule.
The final blow to my traditional Christian views about homosexuality came when I was watching an episode of the Morgan Spurlock’s 30 days. For those of you who do not know him, Morgan Spurlock is a documentary maker, who critically examines social and societal issues. My wife and I love his movies and find them very thought provoking. When we found out he was producing his own television show, we set our DVR and tuned in! The premise behind the show Thirty Days is to have either Spurlock or someone else put themselves into an unfamiliar, uncomfortable situation for thirty days (essentially, to “walk a mile in someone else’s shoes) to see what the person learns.
Spurlock has gone to prison for thirty days, lived on minimum wage for thirty days, and lived with a Native American family for thirty days (I am sure he has done more, but these are the episodes I have seen). In one episode of the show he sent a conservative Christian, who believed homosexuality was a sin, to San Francisco for thirty days; the young man lived with a homosexual man in his apartment and totally immersed himself in gay culture.
I will not tell you everything that took place during the episode (you should go watch it for yourself). But at one point the conservative Christian and a group of homosexuals got into a debate about whether or not their homosexuality was a choice. In tears, one of the homosexual men stated something to the effect of, “Why on earth would I ever choose to be a homosexual? I am rejected by my family. I am mocked by society. People drive by and throw stuff at me. I would never have chosen to be like this, but this is what I am!”
I believe the Christian in this episode was deeply affected by this poor man’s statement, but even if he was not affected, I most certainly was. I realized how easy it is for me as a Christian to sit in my church and judge the world and cling to my narrow-minded beliefs, but if I would only get to know other people and try to understand them, I would see the world is not nearly as easy to pigeon hole as the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible seems to make it.
I have now come to a place where I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with homosexuality. I believe the only reason the Church has a problem with homosexuality is because the Bible seemingly condemns it because our culture is so deeply rooted in religious conservatism, our entire society has come to see homosexuality as unacceptable. The sad truth, however, is the Bible is actually very vague when it comes to homosexuality. Yes, the Old Testament is clearly against homosexuality, but the Old Testament is also against mixing fabrics when making a shirt. Do we really think any God cares if my shirt contains both cotton and hemp fibers? I doubt seriously if God cares who we are attracted to, either. Christians must accept that some things in the scriptures are simply not applicable to humans in the 21st century.
Yes, we need morals to guide us, but can’t we be guided by the principles of scripture instead of following every obscure rule found within the Bible’s pages? Why not follow the principles like “love your neighbor” and “do to others as would want them to do to you?” If Christians are to follow either of these principles, then they owe the homosexual community an apology because Christians as a whole have not loved the homosexual community, and they have not treated homosexuals as they themselves would like to be treated.
These commands to love should be the overriding principles of all scriptures, which is why Jesus himself said, “One command I leave you. Love as I have loved.” Love, it seems, should be the only rule. Homosexuality does not seem to violate this overriding principle of love, and therefore, should not be considered evil. Yes, there are some evil actions, but they are all actions, which are not of love. I can think of no reason why two men or two women being in love with each other would violate the law of love. Now, having lots of unprotected homosexual sex could be seen as unloving, but so could having lots of unprotected heterosexual sex . . . or being greedy, for that matter.
When it came to homosexuality, I eventually realized (as with many other “sins”) that the only real problem one could have with homosexuality was the group of six scriptures in the Bible, which seemed to condemn homosexual activities. Even if those scriptures were not debatable (which they are), I personally decided those six scriptures were simply not enough for me to abandon the greater principles of love, forgiveness, tolerance, and kindness taught by Jesus. I choose to treat homosexuals how I would like to be treated if I had been born in their situations. I choose to love them like I know Jesus would. If I am wrong, then when one day I stand before God (if there is a God), He or She can kindly show me my error, but if I am going to err, I always want to err on the side of love and never on the side of hatred and judgment.