Tag Archives: gay issues

About that Tim Keller quote (Part 2)

Yesterday, I blogged about the following statement by Tim Keller:

If you say to everybody, ‘Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is a bigot,’ . . . you’re going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority. You’re basically going to have to ask them to completely kick their faith out the door.

In that post, I talked about the quote from the perspective of seeing the fear that seemed to motivate and permeate it.  Today, I want to talk about it from the perspective of seeing the privilege that seems to motivate and permeate it.  Because if I may be honest — and I’ll try to do so as graciously as I know how — I find something deeply ironic about an evangelical minister objecting to the fact that other people might be asking him to change the way he thinks or even “kick his faith out the door.”

Dear readers, that’s exactly what every single evangelical Christian is asking of every single person who follows a different religion or no religion at all:  “Give up your faith and what you believe and believe what I think is right instead.”  So effectively, Tim Keller is objecting to other people (allegedly) asking him to do exactly what he calls upon every Jew, Wiccan, atheist, agnostic, Buddhist, Hindu, and Santerian[1] to do without giving it a second thought.  That’s boilerplate unexamined privilege right there.

It also underlines to me the biggest problem with unexamined privilege:  It’s often the enemy of empathy.[2]  Here’s an opportunity for Tim Keller to consider how (feeling like he’s) being asked to give up something so important to him feels to him and try to imagine how those he evangelizes to might often feel the same way.  And yet, because I suspect he doesn’t even make that connection (or avoids it by insisting it’s somehow different), he’s missing out on an opportunity to (1) empathize with those he’s trying to evangelize to and (2) think about how that empathy might influence how he handles his attempts to do so.

I don’t necessarily want Tim Keller or others like him to quit sharing his beliefs or inviting others to join his faith.  However, now that he and those like him have experienced being on “the other side” of the conversation, I’d like them to let that experience and their capacity for empathy to inform their mission.

Also, it would also be nice if their empathy would help them to understand that yes, if they really want others to be open to their message, they’re almost certainly going to have to be likewise open to others’ messages.  Otherwise, they’re expecting something from others that they are unwilling to offer up to others.  And one thing I that think is near-universal if not truly universal among humans is that we tend not to like double standards.

[1] Not an exhaustive list, I assure you.  But hopefully I’ve named enough religions and non-religious people to make the point that it’s a lot of people he’s asking this of.

[2] Or maybe the lack of empathy contributes to one’s failure to examine privilege.  Personally, I suspect it may be a bit of both, not to mention a self-reinforcing cycle.

About that Tim Keller quote (Part 1)

During her Saturday morning address, Wendy drew attention to the following statement made recently by evangelical minister Tim Keller:

If you say to everybody, ‘Anyone who thinks homosexuality is a sin is a bigot,’ . . . you’re going to have to ask them to completely disassemble the way in which they read the Bible, completely disassemble their whole approach to authority. You’re basically going to have to ask them to completely kick their faith out the door.

One of the thing I noticed about this quote was the fear involved.  Some evangelical Christians fear that if they allow themselves to question their views on same sex sexual relationships — any one of a host of other issues — they might end up losing their faith altogether.  In a lot of ways, I get that fear.  I experienced it once upon myself at times, too.

And I get it because, in some ways, I represent the realization of those fears.  I started out as a devout Christian.  When I allowed myself to rethink my views on homosexuality, it also gave me the freedom to grapple with a number of other questions.  The end result of that process, which only started with my struggle with my sexual orientation, was that I eventually chose to follow an entirely different path altogether and serve other gods.

It’s easy for someone like Tim Keller to point to me and others like me and say, “See, this is what happens when you start down that path!”  And I can understand their tendency to do that, at least to some degree.

The problem is, people like Tim Keller think that what happened to me is inevitable for anyone who starts asking those questions.  I don’t think it is.  I sat in a room with roughly fifty other people this weekend, most of whom serve as living evidence that a journey that begins by asking the tough questions and reconsidering what they’ve been taught doesn’t have to lead one down the path I took.  It’s just as likely that one could change their mind about same sex sexual relationships — or any other single topic — and go no further.  It’s just as likely that after one does all the thinking and reconsidering, one ends up back at the same conclusions they held before then.  So people like Tim Keller are fearing something that’s not inevitable.

I would like to suggest that the fear people like Tim Keller are feeling is the exact reason I think they need to rethink something about the way they do faith.  Because right now, the way they’re doing it causes them fear, and I don’t think that’s healthy for them.  So I’d personally like to see them to start asking some hard questions — and maybe not even questions about human sexuality — in an attempt to restructure and firm up their faith so they don’t have to worry about it unraveling on them so much.  In short, I’d like to see them develop a faith — and a way of doing and having faith — in which they can actually have more faith.

Musings on “Torn”: Christians showing grace

As I mentioned in my previous entry, I want to spend some time examining Justin’s advice for moving forward and away from the “culture war”[1] that he offers in chapter fifteen.  After all, most of the rest of the book consists of him telling his story or explaining his own take on Christian theology in regards to homosexuality and same sex relationships.  The former deserves no response beyond careful reading and the encouragement of others to also read it.  The latter holds little interest to me, as I don’t consider my life to be bound by Christian theology.

But finding a way forward to living peaceful lives with the many Christians that share my workplace, my shopping centers, and the rest of the world with me, that’s something I can get on board with and discuss.  So in this post, I want to consider Justin’s first suggestion:

Christians must show more grace, especially in the midst of disagreement.

In this section, Justin focuses on how Christians approach gay people.  He reminds us of his own exchange with a high school friend that he shared in the second chapter.   He focuses on the fact that his answer boiled down — as Sean pointed out — to the old adage that just about every gay person has heard:  love the sinner, but hate the sin.

In this part of chapter fifteen, Justin reflects on his own experience of people who loved him, but hated his “sin:”[2]

Yes, I know I’m a sinner, as we all are, but something about the phrase feels condescending and dehumanizing, as if I’m now the “sinner” rather than the person’s friend or neighbor, and “loving” me has become the new project they’ve taken on out of obligation to God rather than a genuine interest in my well-being.  For this, it seems I am supposed to feel grateful, as if this were a great imposition on someone who could easily have passed me by and left me in my sinful state.

In addition to the dehumanization of being turned into a “love project,” I’d also note that a lot of Christians who “love sinners but hate sin” have what I would consider some strange ideas of what it means to love other people they consider “sinners.”  You will often hear many Christians talk about “love” in these situations about needing to “lovingly correct the other person,” which often leads to constant streams of preaching about the sinfulness they hate so much.  Not only does this mean once again telling gay people the same things we’ve heard dozens of times before — a reality I noted elsewhere — this kind of preaching about the sinfulness prevents such Christians from getting to ways in which they relate to and show love in more recognizable — and dare I say more traditional — ways.

Love is not an abstract comment.  It’s something that is tangible and can only exist in a real relationship.  And I’d argue that Christians don’t need to just show grace, but need to learn to love in relationship better.  They need to start getting to know LGBT people and knowing what their individuals troubles, concerns, and needs are.  To make an allusion to a popular myth, they need to find out who is actually naked, who is actually starving, who is actually in prison, and act accordingly when dealing with each of those people.  Some needs are somewhat universal among all LGBT people, but can even manifest in different ways among individuals.  Others are more specific to individuals or subgroups within the larger community.  The only way Christians — both as individuals[3] and collectively — can respond to these needs is to become familiar with them first-hand and on an up-close, personal level.

Christians also need to be prepared that meeting LGBT people’s needs may cause them discomfort.  After all, part of loving someone means loving all of them and living with all of them.  That’s the problem with the “hate the sin” part.  Christians who want to “love the sinner while hating the sin” want to conditionally accept some parts of the “sinner” while ignoring the rest.  This does not make for a healthy or desirable relationship.

Over the years, I’ve had a few Christian friends who believe that same sex relationships were wrong.  They loved me — or at least tried their hardest.  We’d get together and talk.  We’d discuss our work, our families, theology (mostly when I was still a Christian), and just about every thing else in our lives.  Then on occasion, I’d fall into a false sense that I really could talk about anything and I’d talk about my love life (or my attempts to find love).

Suddenly, the conversation screeched to the halt at an awkward silence.  The other person would say something rather non-committal, then change the subject.  Just like that, I was reminded that there were just some aspects of my life that were “off limits” for conversation because they were things the other person would rather not think or wrestle with.  If I wanted that friendship to continue, I had to be willing to hide that part of my life — one that I considered (and still consider) extremely important to me.

Needless to say, those friendships faded away over time.  Christians would do will to remember that “love” offered with conditions or limits is not felt as love by those so limited.  That’s a hard truth, but experience teaches me that neither grace nor love are easy.

[1]  I also want to note that in my experience only one “side” refers to it as the “culture war.”  To LGBT[4] people, it’s not a “culture war” so much as a struggle to be treated with the same basic human dignity and allowed to enjoy the same legal protections that heterosexual, cisgender people already enjoy without even having to think about it, let alone worry or struggle.  So I’d say that the way forward would go much greater if Christians would drop the phrase “culture war” and similar rhetoric altogether.

[2]  I don’t accept the idea that same sex relationships are inherently sinful, so I’m choosing to use quotes around the term.  Then again, I don’t buy into the whole theology of “sin” anyway, so there you have it.

[3]  As an aside, I think that an essential key to moving forward is for Christians to stop thinking in terms of “The Church” on an institutional level.  Institutions don’t have relationships.  People do.  It’s why Justin’s point says “Christians need to show grace” rather than “The Church needs to show grace.”  Until Christianity as a whole lays aside the power structures — those structures most vested in seeing things in term of a “culture war,” I suspect the way forward will be treacherous and possibly downright impassable.

[4]  I’m a bit divided on being inclusive in “LGBT people” in this blog post/series or just coming right out in saying “gay people.”  Truth be told, much of the book, while applicable to trans people, focuses on sexual orientation (and gay male sexuality at that) rather than trans issues.  This leaves me torn between wanting to acknowledge other sexual minorities and fearing that by including them in a rather nominal way, I’m belittling their importance and the importance of issues that affect trans people far more harshly than they do me.  Quite frankly, trans people get that kind of treatment enough and I’m still working out ways to do a better job of not contributing to it.

Musings on “Torn”: About these “good people” who keep hurting gay people…

[Content Note:  Discussion of subtle homophobia.]

While reading Justin Lee’s book, “Torn:  Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate,” I began to notice a pattern in the book.  Justin would often describe an unpleasant and even hurtful experience he or another person had with a fellow Christians, then note that the Christian acting hurtfully was really a good person.

I think I get what he’s trying to say here.  I get that he’s trying to make it clear that he didn’t consider any of these people horrible monsters that deserved to be vilified.  I also get that, as he was writing a book that was trying to find common ground and build bridges, it makes sense to affirm and focus on the humanity of those who have done and said hurtful things.

decent-human-cookie.jpgAnd yet, I find it hard to think of someone who has just dismissed what another person has said about their personal experiences as being very “good” in that moment.  I find it hard to think of someone who has just said something — even out of ignorance or misinformation — that deeply wounds and alienates another person as “good,” either.  Certain people may not be Horrible Monsters?, but can we at least acknowledge that there’s a huge spectrum between those two points?

I’m reminded of a recent comment Fannie made on her blog when she was writing about people who denounce and wish to distance themselves the Westboro Baptist Church:

Many bigoted[1] opinions and actions are far more subtle, insidious, and
micro-aggressiony than the rhetoric and actions of either of these
groups. These groups are widely recognized among reasonable people as
being hate groups, extreme, and very problematic. And, for that reason,
opinions and actions that are more subtle than WBC or KKK-style bigotry,
when called out as harmful, are often more readily dismissed and
trivialized (often by those who denounce the WBC) and are therefore more

While I appreciate Justin’s desire not to demonize those Christians who have done and said hurtful things, I do think that calling such people “good” helps keep those more subtle microaggressions[2] invisible.  Enabling people to continue to think of themselves as “doing good enough” — which is what I feel the “good people” tends to do — as long as they meet a very low bar of not actively disowning LGBT children, picketing funerals, shouting condemnations at those attending pride events, and so on is something I find troubling.

On a related note, Justin often suggests that many of these Christians say, do, and believe in the things they do often due to misinformation they’ve been given by certain other Christian leaders.  I also find this problematic.  While I certainly agree that many Christians have been misinformed by wrong-headed and even deceitful Christian mouthpieces, I think there comes a point that every individual needs to take responsibility for what information they accept as factual and solid.

I’m actually rather disturbed by the idea that some Christians take the “expertise” of Christian leaders — many of whom are straight — as authoritative and never check in with gay people, who are most likely the experts regarding their own lives and experiences of gender and sexuality.  Even when listening to ex-gay Christians, who have at least had some experience with same sex attractions themselves, I would think it important to dig into what they are saying and make sure (1) you understand what they are really saying and (2) that their own experiences are truly universal to all gay people.  The first is often not true due to uncommon language uses (e.g. nuanced meanings of words like “change” and phrases like “freedom from homosexuality”) among ex-gay ministries.  The latter is not true simply because of the diversity of experiences that gay people have.

It seems odd to me that people who belong to a religion that claims to value truth — a religion in which the Apostles themselves praised people for testing for themselves everything the Apostles themselves taught and urged them to do so — would simply accept information so uncritically, as many Christians appear to do when it comes to questions around homosexuality.  So while I can certainly appreciate the misinformation they operate under, I’m inclined to hold them responsible for it, whereas Justin seems more inclined to excuse them for it.

It often seemed to me that Justin — and in fairness to Justin, I have seen this tendency in others and no one should take this as me simply bagging on one guy — is in such a hurry to get Christians to build bridges that he’s willing to prioritize making sure their consciences don’t get ruffled too much over the unhelpful and sometimes hurtful things they have done.  Personally, I don’t think that this is a working strategy, as I think that often, the only way to truly change that is to ruffle some consciences.

[1]  I will ask readers not to get hung up on the word “bigotry” in this quote.  This post is not intended to be a forum on what does and does not qualify as bigotry, nor will I allow commenters to turn it into one.  If the word really bothers this much, I would suggest you mentally substitute the phrase “things that make gay people’s lives more difficult or cause them pain or harm in any way” for the word for the purposes of this discussion.  I believe the point both Fannie and I are making will still be clear.

For those of you who really want to know why I have no desire to get into the “what counts as bigotry game,” I will note that it’s partially because I think it’s too often a game played with a stacked deck.

[2]  I will include specific examples of the kinds of things I’m talking about in future posts as I talk about a number of the items Justin discusses in chapter fifteen, “The Way Forward.”

Musings on Torn. A Kindred Spirit.

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been reading Justin Lee’s book, “Torn:  Rescuing the Gospel From the Gays vs. Christians Debate.”  I have a little less than 100 pages (out of the total 259 pages) to read.  While there are some things in Justin’s book that I take issue with — such as his tendency to fall into the trap of focusing on showings how Christianity stands out from all other religions — there is much in the book that I like.

In truth, there’s much in the book that I can identify with.  I can relate to the whole concept of being “God Boy” (though no one called me that and I don’t think I was quite as outspoken as he was) and “having a secret” while growing up.  I resonated greatly when he started talking about his initial reactions when he first started discovering his feelings for other boys.  Justin puts it thus:

At first I had ignored the feelings.  Puberty is a confusing time, after all, so I assumed these attractions to guys were just some sort of weird phase I had to pass through as I matured.  I’d heard Christian authorities such as radio host Dr. James Dobson say that young teenagers sometimes went through a period of sexual confusion, and this seemed to be the proof.

I too remember telling myself that I was just going through a phase when my sexual feelings for other boys first started surfacing.  And yes, I seem to recall various religious experts — most likely including James Dobson — saying things to encourage that kind of thinking.

In some ways, I can also related to his awakening to the realization that he had no sexual interest in girls as a teenager.  Justin writes:

As teenagers, my guy friends had become interested in girls in a different way, and they talked eagerly about their eyes and lips and breasts and legs.  I avoided these conversations, telling myself that the reason I didn’t lust after women was that I was a good Christian boy.  Lust was a sin, so I convinced myself I just didn’t objectify women the way some of my friends did.  That wouldn’t have been Christlike, after all.

I remember a couple of boys in my class that began talking about girls’ anatomy and “humping” them (I’m sure that latter part was all talk) as early as the fourth grade.  And at the time I took my failure to have any interest in such things — like Justin — as simply a matter that “good Christian boys” didn’t think about such things.  (In some ways, I still feel that was true, given just how young we were at that time.)

However, as time went by, I became more keenly aware of just how uninterested I was in girls and just how bizarre this really was.  I remember one night when I was in high school, I lay in my bed and actually tried imagining kissing the female classmate that I was allegedly interested in (in fairness, I did think she was a great person and would have loved to spend more time with her as a friend).  Not only could I not imagine doing so, the thought left me feeling cold and a little bit disturbed.  And that realization left me feeling even more disturbed.
I think that was one of the first times when I really began to wonder what was “wrong” with me.

So in many ways, while there are some things that I don’t agree with Justin on — and there are one or two things I’m still waiting to see how they play out in the rest of the book before I express concerns — there are many ways in which I find myself nodding along as he recounts his experiences.

In many ways, I think that’s a good thing.  One of the central themes of his story seems to be that no one was there who understood, and that’s a theme I can relate to.  I think that’s a theme that many LGBT people — and especially those who grew up within evangelical Christianity — can relate to.  In many ways, Justin’s book is a way of letting those who may now be going through those experiences know that they are not the first and there are those who can relate and understand.

I’m not sure whether Justin’s goal of rescuing the gospel from the “gays vs. Christians” debate will be met, but that sense of offering understanding and camaraderie to those who came after both of us strikes me as something that makes his book priceless.


Generally speaking, I do not “officially” come out at work.  It’s not that I deny or hide the fact that I’m a gay man, and I suspect that most people who see me at work at least suspect or even assume that I’m gay, given the number of stereotypical characteristics I happen to exhibit.  But after becoming the “office curisiosity” at my first job, I otherwise tend to not discuss my sexuality or my love life on any job.

But like I said, I don’t hide who I am either.  In fact, I don’t even think about what it would take to hide who I am, as my experience yesterday so aptly proved.  For various reasons, I decided to bring my iPad in to work with me.  As much of my desk is covered with computers and equipment for my job, I placed my beloved device on the safest space still left clear on my desk:  The corner that’s right next to the walkway through my work area.  I then started taking care of my work and didn’t think of my iPad again until around 2pm (five hours later).

That’s when it occurred to me that I had, as is my custom, laid my iPad so that the screen was face down and the cover was facing upward, visible to anyone who walked by and happened to glance down at my desk.  That cover happens to look like this (except it has a few stains on it now):


Well, if people at work didn’t suspect, they surely do now!

Personally, beyond being somewhat embarrassing and a sign of how little I think about these things these days, this really isn’t a big deal for me.  I’m very fortunate — even privileged — by the fact that I work in a field (software engineering) that (in my experience at least) tends to be fairly tolerant of those who fall outside of many societal norms in exchange for the work done by such people.  Plus, I’m privileged enough to live in a state that includes non-discrimination protections based on sexual orienation.  (We’re still working on getting non-discrimination protections based on gender identity and gender expression, though.)  As such, I can rest comfortably in the knowledge that, unlike someone who works in a less skilled job and/or has the disadvantage of working in a state that permits hostility toward and workplace discrimination against non-heterosexual people, the worst thing that will happen to me is a bit of embarrassment.

While I’m grateful for that, I also want to take this time to advocate for those who are not as privileged, who might face much more severe consequences if it became known in their workplace that they were part of the QUILTBAG community.  If you live in a place that doesn’t offer non-discrimination protections for QUILTBAG people, please advocate for such protections.  Here in New York State, the Empire State Pride Agenda is still pushing for the passage of GENDA, and I’m sure other states have organizations pushing for such policies.  Please consider supporting them with your voice and possibly your money.

And don’t forget the national organizations that help with these fights not only on a federal level, but with assistance on state levels as well.

“Deeply negative implications” aren’t motivating enough?

Recently, there’s been a bit of a brouhaha between Exodus International’s Alan Chambers and others in the ex-gay industry due to Chambers’s rejection and criticisms of reparative therapy.  Recently, NARTH president Joseph Nicolosi chimed in, correcting some of Chambers’s statements and criticizing the Exodus International president.

I want to focus on the last paragraph of Nicolosi’s email:

If homosexual acts truly constitute sin, as you say you believe, then people deserve to be able to avail themselves of all reasonable therapeutic tools to diminish unwanted SSA and explore their OSA potential. You are discouraging them from having such tools, and also as a Christian, you are reassuring them that they are OK whether they “fall” or not, which gives people very little reason to struggle against a condition which has very deeply negative implications for both themselves and for our culture.

It’s unclear to me what Nicolosi means when he suggests that Alan Chambers is “telling them [gay people] that they are OK whether they ‘fall’ or not.”  Some, such as Dave Rattigan, have interpretted “OK” to mean “Will go to heaven.”  I can certainly see where one might interpret the statement that way, though I’m not convinced it’s the only explanation.  Nicolosi could also, for example, be suggesting that he still champions the belief that even being attracted to members of the same sex is sinful and problematic, a belief that has been discarded by most.  Or he could simply be suggesting that Chambers should be encouraging gay people to feel miserable about themselves and are full of self-loathing.  Quite frankly, I don’t find either of my alternate interpretations any less detestable than Rattigan’s, but I think it’s important to include them.

I think what’s more interesting is Nicolosi’s suggestion that gay people need some sort of external impetus — be it the threat of hellfire or people encouraging them to view themselves with self-loathing, to change.  And while Nicolosi thinks that without such impetus, people won’t be motivated to change and avoid the “very deeply negative implications for bot themselves and for our culture.”  To me, that begs a qustion though:  why aren’t those “deeply negative implications” motivation enough?

If the condition of being gay negatively impacts people, then that should be sufficient reason for them to seek change.  And yet, they’re not.  Nicolosi is himself admitting that they’re not and won’t.  I can only assume that Nicolosi simply doesn’t think people are adults and lack the maturity to do the things in what’s their best interests or that Nicolosi is being dishonest — with others and possibly even himself — about these supposedly “deeply negative implications” he mentions.

Jeff Buchanan’s questionable “Don’t call yourself gay” reasons.

A commenter over at Ex-Gay Watch drew my attention to Jeff Buchanan’s article, “The New Sexual Identity Crisis.”  Buchanan is the executive vice president of Exodus International, and his article offers reason why he — and possibly Exodus, as the organization has often held a similar position — discourages Christians from identifying as gay, even if they find themselves (exclusively) attracted to members of their own sex.  (Which, you know, is the definition of being gay.)

He starts out his argument by pointing out that our culture seems to be addicted to identity labels in general, though it quickly becomes clear that his real issue is specifically with identity labels that refer to sexual orientation and/or gender identity.  After all, he doesn’t seem to mind using the identify labels of “executive vice president” or “pastor” in his mini-bio at the end of his article….

Of the particular identity labels that bother him, he offers the following introductory comment:

One can look at the gay community and see the level of identity fragmentation represented in the use of acronyms such as LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex, Ally). The sexual identity label has become a method of reducing individuals to a micro narrative of sexual orientation.

First, we need to note that three (and arguably a fourth) of his labels are not about sexual orientation at all.  Being transgender or intersex is about one’s gender identity[1], which is distinct from sexual orientation.  Being an ally is about supporting and promoting the welfare of LGBTQI people rather than the actual sexual orientation or gender identity of the ally.  The fact that Buchanan is oversimplifying the issues surrounding the labels he’s describing to the point of misrepresentation, I would suggest that going on to discuss the “politics” involved in such identity labels puts him on shaky ground.

Secondly, where Buchanan sees “fragmentation,” I see only an attempt to describe the complex spectrum of sexuality and gender through limited language.  Given the diverse possibilities of sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression of both gender and sexuality in general, it seems that a large vocabulary of descriptive labels is both good and necessary.

Thirdly, I would note that describing someone as gay, lesbian, trans, intersex, or any other such label in no way reduces them “to a micro narrative of sexual orientation” or gender identity.  Identifying myself as gay — or allowing others to do so — does not negate the fact that I am also a software engineer, a brother, a son, a writer, a blogger, a reader, a psychic, a witch, or any of the other myriad things that make up my identity.

Indeed, I will note that the people most likely to push such a narrative are people like Buchanan and the homophobic people who use the ex-gay narrative to demonize and marginalize LGBTQI people.  It is the conservative, anti-gay churches who choose to focus on youn gay people’s gayness and treat them differently.  It is the anti-gay crowd that has historically and incessantly pushed the idea that all the need to know about gay people is that they’re gay and after that, nothing matters.  (And hey, I’ve explained before how that mentality can contribute to some gay people focusing so much on their sexual orientation, themselves.)

In short, if people like Buchanan is concerned that adopting a “gay identity” shouldn’t be such a big deal, then they should quit making a big deal about it.

Buchanan then goes on to give six “points to consider” as his reasons why he doesn’t feel the “gay identity” is “compatible with an identity in Christ.”  The first reason he offers is that taking on other “identity labels” is that it dilutes one’s “identity in Christ”:

With every additional label–whether it is occupation, gifts, interests, or sexual orientation—we detract from the complete work of Christ in our lives and splinter our identity into fragments.

But again, note that he uses other labels in his own mini-bio, labels which refers to his occupation.  I also doubt that he would counsel a woman to quit identifying as a “mother” or a man to quit identifying as an “executive.”  The only labels he seems to worry about are ones like “gay.”  As such, I would argue that this inconsistently applied argument is little more than padding for the list.

I find myself having the same issues with his argument about “sexual segregation.”

An identity based upon same-sex attractions can potentially create a segregated church community. Those dealing with same-sex attraction can be tempted to obsessive introspection and self-pity. The sexual identity label can create an “I’m Special” category that encourages narcissism. But everyone in the church struggles with various challenges and problems. No one’s struggle is unique. We must not let such differences isolate us from the strength found in a sharing community.

The same can be said of any label.  If you talk to many mothers, they will go on at length about their own personal struggles that non-mothers don’t experience.  (As someone who has a sister who is a devout Christian and a stay-at-home-mom of four wonderful children, I can attest to this.)  Married couples often speak of problems they have that single people don’t and vice versa.

But again, I doubt Buchanan is unlikely to apply this “desegregation logic” to those situations and encourage spouses, parents, and singles to quit identifying as such.  This suggests to me that Buchanan wishes to downplay and even invisibilize LGBT people’s struggles in the church rather than avoid “segregation.”

Next, Buchanan touches on what I suspect is the most honest reason in his list, the “anchoring” issue:

While some who suffer receive immediate explanations from God, others are challenged to wait. In the midst of waiting, we must always have hope. An identity rooted in same-sex attractions serves as an anchor that keeps us docked in our present circumstance. We have accepted our lot in life, and experience now becomes our identity. Should a person ever develop a desire to explore a heterosexual relationship, he or she will find it difficult to overcome the label that can deter interested parties.

Despite Alan Chambers’s recent admissions, Buchanan is really still holding out the “change” carrot.  “Don’t say you’re gay, because it closes the possibility that you could fall in love with someone of the appropriate sex!” he says.  I suspect that Buchanan’s real concern is that if people fully accept that they are gay and quit “hoping” for that change — that his own boss admits is highly unlikely to come — they might start considering other options.  And at the heart, I think that’s what “don’t identify as gay” is really trying to avoid.

The thing is, his argument doesn’t hold water.  Identifying as gay will not prevent one from experiencing it if one happens to be one of the statistical miracles that really does fall in love with someone of a different sex.[2]  If that statistical anomaly happens, then it happens.

As for how any particular woman feels about it, I would imagine that if a gay guy falls for her and it’s God’s will, won’t God lead her to feel the same way, no matter what he’s called himself prior to then?

And if this does happen, here’s the beautiful thing about labels:  They are not carved into stone.  A man who falls in love with a woman may requalify himself as “mostly gay, except that I love this woman I fell in love with.” Or he may relabel himself as “bisexual” or “straight.”  (Though I’d personally raise an eyebrow at that last one in some cases.)  If a person’s feelings and attractions authentically change, the labels zie and others use to describe zirself can change as well.

And just to show the complete absurdity of this idea, consider telling a diabetic zie should not identify as diabetic.  After all, for all the diabetic knows, God could decide to heal zem of zir diabetes.  So doesn’t identifying as diabetic anchor zem to that identity and close their eyes to the hope of healing?

Next, Buchanan tackles the topic of authenticity.

Many in this younger generation with same-sex attraction feel they must adopt the “gay” label in order to be authentic. Considering the word authentic means “not false” or “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features,” one must consider if taking on this label is defining a person by identity or by experience. Many mistake disclosure for authenticity. They are trapped by a cultural philosophy of “I feel therefore I am.” True authenticity can only be achieved by conforming to the image of Christ rather than idol of our desires.

The distinction between “identity” and “experience” strikes me as weird, arbitrary, and highly synthesized.  It seems to have this idea that what you feel and what you experience cannot be trusted (which I find a rather surprisingly postmodern concept for someone like Buchanan to express.)  Who one is attracted to is about personal experience, yes, but it is a fact.  To say that one is not gay while being attracted to members of one’s own sex strikes me much like denying that one is a Justin Beiber fan despite feeling an overwhelming desire to squeal with pleasure every time one of his songs comes up on a radio

I’ll also note that his last statement demonstrates exactly why many of us find the desire to avoid the word “gay” so inauthentic.  They wish to claim an “identity” based on what they believe God tells them they should be, but have not achieved and admittedly may never achieve.  How is that authentic?

His fifth reason, “Power of a Name” struck me as much rhetoric without a point.  To be honest, it sounds a lot like certain forms of magick.  I will also note that the verse Buchanan quotes makes no mention of names.  Indeed, I find its use in this context as strange as Buchanan’s fifth point itself.

His final argument against using the term gay is that the term is too confusing:

While it is true that definitions are subject to change, this reasoning doesn’t translate in the realm of gay sexual identity. The term “gay” can have vast socio-political and cultural connotations, and it raises such question as whether the person holds to a traditional orthodoxy on the issue of homosexuality.

First I will note that to gay people, gay means “attracted to members of the same sex.”  Any connotations added to the word are not universal.  Indeed, I’ll note that many of the connotations that Buchanan is hinting at — non-monogamy, a preference for casual sex, and substance abuse — are connotations that have been peddled by ex-gay groups like Exodus for years.  And while I certainly do not deny that each of those things can readily be found among some LGBT people, they are by no means universal.  There are LGBT people who are monogamous, prefer romance, and/or do not touch drugs and even alcohol.  Again, it is organizations like the one Buchanan helps lead that have pushed to keep those connotations inextricably linked to being gay.  In reality, the LGBT community is much more diverse.

Furthermore, I will note that by discouraging gay people to eschew the label of “gay,” Buchanan is effectively ensuring that people continue to see “gay” people only in light of those connotations.  If Buchanan were truly concerned about how gay people are perceived, its seems to me that he would encourage people to identify as gay to visibly broaden the many diverse ways in which a gay person can think, feel, and experience their lives as a gay person.  Instead, he chooses to invisibilize those gay people who would counter his own organizations long-standing narrative about gay people — or more specifically, encourage those gay people to invisibilize themselves.

But to truly show how ridiculous this argument is, let’s apply the same argument to the “Christian” label.  After all, the term “Christian” comes with connotations of crusades, heresy hunts, parents kicking their gay dependent children out or forcing them into horrible forms of therapy, picketing funerals with messages of hate, and many other atrocities.  So will Buchanan now call for all Christians to eschew the Christian label?  After all, given all the connotations that the term might bring to mind, it could lead to confusion.

I suspect instead, Buchanan would simply point out that further conversation and clarification of what a particular Christian believes and does would resolve the confusion.  It’s a shame he seems that the term “gay” is somehow impervious to similar clarifying conversations.

[1]  Actually, I’m not sure I’m entirely accurate in equating the state of being intersex with gender identity, though it is certainly related to sex and gender.  Perhaps someone with more knowledge on the issue will offer a more accurate statement.

[2]  And seriously, what is Buchanan saying about his belief in regards to God’s omnipotence?  Can God’s master plan to introduce a gay man to the one woman he will inevitably fall in love with really be waylayed simply by that man referring to himself as “gay”?

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: The narrative perspective problem

Because Angela and Christopher Yuan’s book, “Out of a Far Country,” is an autobiography, it engages a narrative voice, just like a work of fiction.  This is particularly helpful in this case, because both Angela and Christopher are describing a transformative journey, a journey that involved transformations of their thoughts and behavior patterns.  As such, the process of narrating their story and telling what was going through their minds at the time enhances and furthers their story and the overall goal of the book.

However, neither author is always clear on whether they are totally narrating from the perspective of their earlier selves — the person who lived through the experience currently being described — or their current selves or both.  As such, it’s not always clear if a given point of view is still valid in their current way of thinking.

The first time this becomes troubling is in the very first chapter, where Angela describes briefly an incident from Christopher’s teen years:

I immediately thought back to when Christopher was sixteen years old and I found out from his brother that he had a sexual relationship with a thirty-year-old man.  Christopher had contacted the man, who then invited him over.  Sure, Christopher may have sought the man out, but no matter how you look at it, this man had used and soiled my son.

Note that Angela does not indicate whether she is speaking as her current self who blames this man for “soiling her son” or her 1993 self, who (as her narrative demonstrates) had a tendency to try and control Christopher and even make excuses for his own choices.  That potential difference makes the difference between Angela telling about her own personal growth and Angela perpetuating the myth that gay men are predators who recruit younger men and boys.

Christopher presents a similar problem when he describes his thoughts when meeting with a retired marine who “‘knew a lot’ about homosexuality.”  Chris writes about part of the exchange as follows:

“Well, for one thing, gay men have a shorter life expectancy than straight men.”  He looked at my mom.  “This has been proven by reputable scientists.”

Reputable!  You’ve got to be kidding.  Was this what you’d call knowing a lot about homosexuality?  Using skewed statistics to “prove” that gay men die sooner than other men?  How could any researcher gather an unbiased, representative sample of gay men, when many don’t want their sexuality to be known and others are still denying even to themselves that they are gay?  Most of those studies only gathered data rom gay men who died as a result of AIDS.  What about all teh other normal gay men?

He continued.  “Did you know that a survey of gay men shows that most have had sex with someone under the age of eighteen?”

Seriously?  Give me a break!  None of my friends slept with teenagers.  Did the survey clarify when it was that they slept with someone under-age?  Most likely they were teens themselves.  And by way of comparison, what were the stats for straight men?

Christopher’s analysis of the shorter lifespan claim is 100% accurate.  Most claims about gay men living shorter lifespan is based on the discredited research of Paul Cameron.  There are plenty of resources explaining how Cameron both distorted his own work to get the results he wanted and distorted the findings of others in service of his claims.  In fact, many of the researchers whose works Cameron has distorted have made very public statements condemning him for it.

I have no hard data on sex between underage boys and men over the age of eighteen, however I will note that this is a standard accusation of the anti-gay movement.  Also, they are quick to link pedophilia with gay men — either explicitly or implicitly — in general despite all the research pointing out that sexual orientation has no bearing on a pedophiles choice of victims.  So Christopher’s dismissal of this man’s arguments is not only reasonable, but based on sound and documented criticisms of such anti-gay rhetoric.

But again, Christopher doesn’t make it clear if present-day Christopher still feels the way that Christopher of 1993 felt.  Given the fact that this earlier version of Christopher is being painted as making poor choices (and many of his choices are undeniably poor) and being generally rebellious, it would be easy for readers to assume that this is another one of those areas where younger Christopher “got it wrong.”  This is especially true considering that present-day Christopher has given some indication that at least his theology, if not his politics and methods, aligns with those who continue to spout such discredited propaganda against gay men and LGBT people in general.  The fact that he does not clarify whether he believes that this is one of those places where his younger self “got it right” in this particular instance is troubling.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Christopher and Angela and their book exist in a certain context, and their book serves the potential to serve the purposes of that context in ways that are potentially less-than-honest.  Assuming that they did not want their book used in such ways, it would have been nice if they made more effort to make it clear where their current-day selves disagree with their younger selves and where they still agree.

You can’t make stuff like this up (but Janet Mefferd can)

I decided to take a break from writing up my thoughts on “Out of a Far Country” by Angela and Christopher and Yuan.  While I find elements of the book problematic, especially in light of the culture in which the book was written and that it is presumably supporting, I feel much more strongly compelled to offer my comments on the arguments Janet Mefferd offered against homosexuality in general.

Mefferd attempts to draw parallels between the quest for LGBT rights and the quest to uphold  women’s reproductive rights, obviously intending to show how horrible both positions are.  However, in order to do so, she engages in some extreme rhetoric — making her accusations that those who support LGBT rights and a woman’s right to choose of engaging in rhetoric ironic at best and hypocritical at worst.

As such, I would like to explore some of the arguments she uses to demean those of us who support LGBT rights.  (While I fully support a woman’s right to choose, I would rather leave debunking Mefferd’s caricatures of that issue to someone far more capable of doing so.)  Mefford’s statements will appear in bold, while my responses and thoughts will appear in normal text.

1. Both agendas operate as anti-child cultures of death. Abortion kills children. Homosexual behavior can’t create them.

In three sentences, Mefferd has managed to conflate not wanting to have biological children (or not wanting to do so) with being anti-child and conflates being anti-child with operating as “a culture of death,” a term that I find practically meaningless beyond being used as a tool to instill fear and hatred of others.

This argument immediately ignores the fact that one does not need to biologically conceive or give birth to children in order to have children in one’s life.  One can adopt.  One can become a teacher.  One can become a mentor, a big brother/big sister, a scout leader, a den mother, a Sunday school teacher, a youth center volunteer, or many other things.  Mefferd is once again engaging in the fetishization of biological parenthood and the invisibilization of every other form of adult-child relationship in order to denigrate LGBT people.

Furthermore, by claiming that not wanting or not being able to have children (and there are those adults who are not interested in having children as a significant part of their life in any form) is to be part of “a culture of death,” Mefferd is arguing that the sole purpose of life is to reproduce.  Personally, I find this an unthinkably depressing and pointless understanding of life and culture.  If the only purpose in living is to produce children, who will in turn only exist in order to produce more children, who will in turn only exist in order to produce more children, who will….well, seriously, what’s the point.  This turns life into nothing more than the biological equivalent of a pyramid scheme or other marketing structure.

Mefferd’s failure to appreciate that people — LGBT and others — can remain childless and yet make great contributions to society in the form of art, science, philosophy, entrepreneurship, and hundreds of other worthy and beneficial pursuits shows how little she values these things.
2. Both agendas falsely play on people’s unnecessary fear and guilt by focusing on the micro personal story, rather than the macro moral issue.

Mefford and many like her seem to think that morality can be divorced from the personal.  I disagree, and would argue that it’s the interaction with other individuals that not only defines morality, but makes it necessary.  A person living on a mountaintop alone need not worry about morality.  Moral concerns are for those of us attempting to live with others.

The phrase “macro moral issue” draws to mind an attempt to reduce morality to nothing more than a checklist of behaviors that are either right or wrong, but without the context of personal interaction, such a checklist is meaningless.

Truth be told, pro-choice people and LGBT rights advocates make it personal because these issues are personal. These things are not abstract concepts, but very powerful and influential realities in flesh and blood humans.  I suspect that Mefferd simply wishes to ignore that reality in order to face those tough moral questions about why she should get to dictate how others should live their lives in ways that affect them greatly and herself not at all.

And to be honest, Mefferd and company aren’t nearly as opposed to making the issue personal.  After all, they like bringing up Carrie Preejan, Marjorie Chrisoffersen, David Parker, and the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association and paint them as martyrs.  They like to talk (dishonestly, no less) about how individuals’ “religous conscience” could be at stake.

And, of course, if your answer focuses on deeper questions about the effect on society of embracing abortion on demand or so-called homosexual marriage, rather than personal love for your own flesh and blood, then you look like a jerk.

The thing is, people like Mefferd have been pushing these “deeper questions about the effect on society” of various issues and making dire predictions for years.  And yet, they can provide no evidence to support those predictions, nor can they offer a convincing argument as to why we should take their convictions seriously.  At some point, someone needs to tell Chicken Little that the sky is still as high as it ever was and they need to quit fearmongering.

3. Both agendas rely heavily on Orwellian Newspeak. For the abortion activists, the terminology is “a woman’s right to choose,” “reproductive health decision” or “termination of pregnancy.” No mention of babies. For the LGBT activists, the terminology is “equality,” “civil rights” and “love.” No mention of sodomy.

While it’s certainly true that LGBT advocates (and pro-choice advocates) choose words carefully to frame the issue to focus on what they feel is most important to focus on, Mefferd is being disingenuous by implying that she and those like her don’t do likewise.  Her use of the word “sodomy” is a prime example of this, in fact.  Mefferd wants to talk about sodomy, but here’s the thing, LGBT rights are not about sodomy.  LGBT rights are about people.  Sexual acts cannot push for rights.  They have no need for rights.  People, on the other hand do.  Whether I’m celibate, actively engaging in anal sex, or just prefer oral sex (okay, technically oral sex is sodomy too, but most people who use that term are talking about the buttsex), I am a human being deserving of the same respect, protection, and rights as everyone else.  In fact, I’d argue that the whole reason Mefferd would rather talk about anal sex is that it allows her to avoid facing me as a human being.

I’m complete skipping her fourth point.

5. Both agendas have succeeded by obfuscating the physical death, pain or injury that comes from embracing their agenda….Similarly, why don’t we ever see a major news analysis on the health risks of homosexuality, as reported on the website of the Centers for Disease Control? http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/msm/index.htm

And just as Mefferd and others like her are obsessed with anal sex (but only if two men engage in it!), she and those like her are also obsessed with the “health risks of being gay.”

Except that she (and they) ignore the fact that the health risks she’s talking about have nothing to do with “being gay.”  Truth be told, the health risks she mentions are also health risks for heterosexual people.  The problem isn’t being gay, the problem is engaging in risky sexual practices.  And while it’s true that HIV (the health risk most often cited) is of particular concern among gay men, Mefferd will not discuss the multiple reasons why that is.  She certainly won’t quote this part of the CDC page she referenced:

Homophobia, stigma, and discrimination put MSM at risk for multiple physical and mental health problems and affect whether MSM seek and are able to obtain high-quality health services. Negative attitudes about homosexuality can lead to rejection by friends and family, discriminatory acts, and bullying and violence. These dynamics make it difficult for some MSM to be open about same-sex behaviors with others, which can increase stress, limit social support, and negatively affect health.

That reality makes her next statement particularly interesting.

I guess we are all to believe that the moment America’s First Gay President repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” all the health risks of homosexuality magically went away. Not relevant, homophobe. End of debate.

First, as I covered above, the health risks are not so much about homosexuality but risky behavior, some of which is encouraged by homophobia and other stigma.  And no, no one seriously expected such health concerns to magically disappear.  This is why HIV educators are still hard at work, why researchers are still working to develop an effective vaccine against HIV.  And it’s why many of us are still combating homophobia in the hopes that one day it will cease to contribute to some LGBT people’s poor health.  It’s why various organizations are pushing LGBT people to practice safe sex and to get tested — not only for HIV, but other STI’s as well — on a regular basis so that if the worst does happen, they can get the treatment they need to stay healthy and prevent further infections.

With the above statement Mefferd demonstrates that she doesn’t know the first thing about the health concerns of LGBT people.  Her lack of understanding demonstrates that she doesn’t care about them either.  Bringing them up is nothing more than an attempt to score rhetorical points on her part.

I’m going to pass on commenting on her final points.  I think I have demonstrated that her arguments are nothing more than the kind of rhetoric she accuses her opponents of engaging in.  Janet Mefferd would like to paint herself as the victim of the big mean gays and “abortionists.”  Yet her clear dishonesty demonstrates that she is merely projecting her own behavior on those with whom she disagrees.