I suppose I should start by reasserting the importance of story in our lives. Stories are how we live, they’re what we live. Every single one of us is telling a story with every action and every word.
And that’s why our words matter.
Today’s word has to do with homosexuality. I conducted an interview of sorts with a handful of wonderful people who I’m honored to call my friends. Two are gay, and the other is a father whose son is gay. And all are Christians– extraordinary and inspiring Christians at that. And I want this post to reflect the issue on grounds that aren’t strictly applicable to Christians because this is an issue that affects everyone, but the fact is that the majority of the conflict surrounding homosexuality stems from Christianity. And hopefully you don’t find offense in that statement. Hopefully you don’t find too much pride in it either.
These men have been gracious enough with me to share their stories and to allow me to share them with you. Because all of us believe something that we want to pass onto you, reader, and that is that words and conversation matter. So take your opinions and stash them in your back pocket. Don’t abandon them, but allow yourself to listen.
(Note: the names of some of the storytellers have been changed.)
F*ggot is the only word that I’m going to “bleep” out in this series because it’s the only one of the three that I consider truly and harshly offensive. My hopes are that you do, too. Because, unfortunately, this word is not treated as an F-bomb as it should be.
I love my friends. But one thing that I noticed last year that I particularly didn’t love was our frivolous use of language that we really didn’t understand. Calling each other “f*g” and “f*ggot” were common, along with gay jokes and describing things that we found stupid as “gay.” And as I noticed this, I began to desire a change. And of course, thehardest part about that was that I had to change myself. So I did. I did the absolute best that I could, keeping my distance from jokes and using the word “gay” as a derogatory term so that when the moment came and I heard my friends use the words in that way, I could speak up with a moderately clear conscience that I had changed my own behavior and was continuing to work on the parts that I hadn’t yet. And this led to conversations in which both parties became very defensive. And before I tell you why, I want to note that that same group of friends has become notably better about our use of language in that way.
I don’t know if it was a conscious decision or what prompted it, and I dare not think that it was because of me in anyway.But I still feel compelled to thank you. Because it’s shown that you believe that words matter. And here’s why they do.
When people use the “other” F-word and gay as a synonym for stupid, you’re implying that these things are negative. My friends Tyler and Jarrett both noted this in our conversations, though they also made the concession that most people who use words this way don’t have any malicious intent behind it. And I agree with that observation. But the implication is still there.
It becomes a matter of what I and my friends experienced and what so many of us do with a plethora of our vocabulary:we’re simply not conscious about our words. But, again, that consciousness matters. Because the problem with this specific line of words is that it promotes ignorance at a nearly subconscious level. Kids hear it growing up and gain a notion that they may not even know what “gay” is, but everything they’ve ever seen that someone’s called gay has been bad or embarrassing or cast in a light as undesirable.
Just because you don’t mean it a certain way doesn’t mean that it’s not that way inherently.
You can say whatever you want and not mean a thing by it, but not only do your own words and views then lose value, but the reception simply won’t be there. This is the same train of thought behind the non-apology of “I’m sorry you took it that way,” as opposed to simply “I’m sorry.”
There’s also been an argument that I’ve heard and that I’ve used that f*ggot is like the N-word for gay people. Now this was an interesting topic to discuss with Tyler and Jarrett because they both agreed that the word was awful, but they disagreed with the comparison itself.
Jarrett, who is black, said that they’re both awful words and that he wouldn’t associate with someone who says either, but the comparison wasn’t valid because of the historical value behind the N-word. Which is absolutely understandable and I agree with. Tyler also touched on this fact, the both of us conceding that, as white males, it’s not really our place to decide on the severity of that word in comparison to one that our race had used (and frankly, tragically continues to use) as an implement of oppression.
However, in my conversation with Tyler, he did make another concession in the vein of racial comparison that is worth mentioning.
Especially with his friends, he’s alright with and will even contribute to gay jokes and humor. And the reasoning behind that is this. Firstly, he doesn’t and wouldn’t associate with anyone who would use those words purposely to hurt.But secondly, racism is at a point socially that we need to reach with homosexuality. And that is that comedians and media can make reference to and poke at racist humor because we, as an overall civilization, have reached a point where racism is something as a caricature. Now, do not misunderstand that: racism is alive and well today. But what we’re saying is that in humor, it’s acknowledging the fact that racism has no place in a civilized society. It’s not mocking the race, it’s mocking the racist.
And that’s where we seek to be with homosexuality someday.
The primary thing we’re talking about when it comes to homosexuality is an issue of identity. And the source of that issue, primarily, is the fact that we, as a population, are largely unwilling to talk about it. Tyler’s story very largely revolved around the fact that no one really ever talked to him about homosexuality, and the few instances and impressions he did gather about it were negative, consistently in a church setting and context. Jarrett, as much as I can gather (he didn’t say it outright, but it was implied) was much the same way.
Firstly, both agreed that homosexuality is often misrepresented as a choice. A classic rebuttal both offered to the question of “when did you realize you were gay” or a similar question is “when did you realize you were straight?”The same processes occur as did with me, except when I was attracted to the blonde girl who sat next to me, they were attracted to the blonde boy next to them. And I hope I’ve done that comparison justice.
Secondly, to change how we look at homosexuality, we need to reevaluate how we look at sexuality. Because (I brought this up with both, and both agreed), we only use sexuality to identify gays. Tyler becomes Tyler, my gay friend.
And sexuality does not define our identity. Or at least it shouldn’t. We’re particularly bad at identifying double standards, but I think it would help if you considered being identified by your sexuality, if the way people viewed you was based solely on their perception of your sexual drive.
That’s another thing. And this is something that the third person, the father, Michael observed. Our language regarding gays is heavily and tragically skewed. Because to so many people, “gay” instantly means anal sex. Gay is an identifier of attraction just as straight is. Jarrett touched on the same issue when he noted that there’s a perception thatheterosexuals fall in love and homosexuals just have sex. Tyler made the same observation.
The horrible thing about this is that when this happens, we’re denying homosexuals the cornerstone of human experience: the capacity to love.
One thing Michael struggled with as he talked and moved forward after his son came out to him was the threat of the gay lifestyle taking hold of his son.
But what is different about that perceived gay lifestyle and a straight one? Again, there’s a very apparent double standard. If a bunch of gay people get together in a night club, we assume it’s some sort of terrible orgy, full of debauchery, but if a bunch of straight people do the same, it’s typical, it’s part of the culture. NBA players can live their luxurious lifestyles, sleep with as many women as they want, and even be accused of rape and get away with it, but we still express dire concern when a player comes out as being gay because they’ll supposedly be a bad role model for our children.
Sexuality is all-encompassing in its own arena, homosexuality and heterosexuality alike.
I am straight. Straight is not all that I am. Tyler and Jarrett and Michael’s son are gay. Gay is not all that they are.
I want to go ahead and bring this into a Christian context because, as I mentioned, the issue and conversation is largely rooted there, and all three of these men are largely involved in the church.
First I want to tell some of my own story that’s tied in with Michael’s and his son’s.
Part of my wants to say it was the Sunday after prom, but whatever the reason, I was not there the Sunday morning when Oliver came out to the youth group. But the youth group was where his friends were and he’d come out to his friends from school the day before and it had gone well.
It did not go as he’d anticipated.
That night, after hearing about what had happened from my friends in the group, our youth minister addressed the elephant in the room. And it went as you might expect. We were to love Oliver. But we were not to agree with him.And while I understand the intention of this message, I saw then and I still see now how the execution was misguided. Mackenzie sat next to me, her hold on my hand tightening as the sponsors and everyone weighed in on “love the sinner, hate the sin” as our strategy and that we needed to be very sure to tell him we loved him but didn’t agree with him. He was on a slippery slope and we didn’t want to push him away, but we needed to bring him back to Jesus.Tears streamed down Mackenzie’s face and the sponsors comforted her. Oliver’s going to be ok, we just need to show him the light. They thought she was crying because she couldn’t believe he was doing this. She was crying because she couldn’t believe we were reacting this way. And neither could I.
Several of us went over to Oliver’s house afterward to love on him and tell him that we were still with him. This was where things began to become complex because the perception here was that those of us who went to see him then were there to tell him that “gay was ok” and that we supported his “decision.” That was not the intent, at least not for Mackenzie and myself. I went in there with the knowledge that Oliver was going to be receiving a lot of “I love you, but”s in the coming days and weeks. And what he needed was an “I love you the same as I did yesterday and the same as I ever will.” So that’s where the division began: unintentionally and with two different conceptions of love, that unfortunately clashed in the finer points.
In the following weeks, Oliver was being pushed away. Parents had talked to their kids, reinforcing their ideals about homosexuality and its vices. People were scared, people didn’t know how to move forward. And Oliver suffered for it. I did my best to be present to him, to find ways to try and talk to him without feeling like i was forcing anything. Because I knew my personal opinions conflicted with the mission of the youth group at that time. And as a leader in the youth group, I couldn’t tell which bridge would be better or worse to burn and I was fristrated that the tone was one of bridge-burning in the first place. But the expectations were on me to support the youth ministry’s stance. The pressure came in the form of texts from sponsors talking about my responsibility as a leader and a Christian.
But I’d seen where this method was heading. At the same time, I couldn’t risk the appearance that my persisting to love Oliver in the same way be misconstrued as my encouraging him to “explore his sexuality” or anything out of that vein. It was the proverbial rock and hard place. Because if something did happen to Oliver, they would look to those who had encouraged what was being viewed as his “rebellion,” who had fought against the church with him.
So I kept my hat out of the ring almost entirely. If I had to do it over, I hope that I would be the first to throw it in, and to throw it in standing firmly beside Oliver.
Ultimately the group isolated him, made him feel different, irreparable (as if he were something to repair in the first place). And he left for it.
People didn’t talk about homosexuality. Not in a conversational way. Because there’s talking and there’s conversing, and we only learn from one. We were not willing to learn.
Reading Michael’s account of watching the events unfold brought back all of these memories, but it added an element I hadn’t seen. A recurring motif in the story he sent me was fear and confusion, doubt. About his son, about the church, about the culture he had a misconception of and was so desperately afraid he’d lose his son to.
But something amazing happened throughout it. Something that I was never told when it was happening. And I saw Jesus throw His hat into the ring as I read what happened after what happened at my church.
Because Oliver never stopped loving Jesus and Jesus never stopped loving Oliver. He stopped coming to church, yeah, but he watched the services online. Once he turned 16, he asked for permission to attend Cathedral of Hope, a church that focuses on bringing in homosexuals and growing their faith in a safe environment, comprised primarily of gays. It’s a church just like and unlike any other.
And through all this, Michael changed, too. He was able to sit down and talk with the people at Cathedral of Hope. And what began as fear and doubt gradually transformed into a new heart of desiring to learn and teach others what he learned. He talked about sitting down at lunch with the youth minister and pastor of the church and was able to talk through the power of the table. Because if there’s one thing that happens when Christians sit down to a table together it’s community. The promise of communion is that you can sit down across from anyone, no matter how different, and have only Jesus in common, and that will be more than enough. And that proved to be enough for Michael who now volunteers with his wife to be a resource for parents who are now in the position that they were in 2 years ago.Fear and doubt turned into peace and love. And it changed lives.
Encouraged Takeaways for Christians
So what practically does this mean for Christians? Well, I am in no way qualified to give you the answer, even if I thought I had it. But here’s what I do have.
This notion of “love the sinner, hate the sin,” is total crap. And I say that with the knowledge that many of us have held that as the primary strategy in dealing with homosexuality, so be patient. Here’s why I say that. As Michael said he learned at a conference, it is, for one, a targeting term. Just as “gay” as a synonym for stupid identifies gay as a negative, so too does this phrase identify the sinner as just that: a sinner, and a sinner first and foremost. Their sin is not my sin, so they are a project, an inferior. That is not all that they are. A proposed better phrase was “love the sinner, hate MY sin,” implying that we need to work on our own sin first and foremost.
Additionally, as Tyler and Jarrett noted, and as I’ve observed myself, it is nigh impossible to try and separate the two.Because this is the concept that was tried in the youth group’s strategy for dealing with Oliver. And the fact is, we can’t effectively disintegrate a person’s sin from the person himself, especially in this context. Because the sin in this case is something that’s inherent in the person. And if we are to hate the sin, we still hate part of that person. And trying to act on this looks a lot like how it did when the youth group tried to approach Oliver: “I love you, but you need to put an end to this sin.”
It’s exceedingly difficult to show total love to a person if you’re having to constantly remind them that you believe they’re constantly living in sin because of their sexuality.
Another factor is, as I mentioned before, how we handle sex as a whole. Michael’s house rules, for the most part, remained the same. And for that I commend him to the utmost. Because the rules had always been no cussing, no sex, no drugs, no alcohol, no pornography, and no trying to get around any of these rules.
If you’re a Christian who vehemently stands against homosexuality, who fears that homosexuals are all molesters and out to get your boys, and that a promiscuously gay lifestyle is inherent in being gay, then I’d encourage you to take a look at Matthew 5 and make sure you hold all of those standards for straight people as well. Because we can get all up in arms about gay sex and two dudes or chicks making out, but the fact is that statistically, your straight sons and daughters are looking at each other lustfully (adultery in the heart). They’re looking at and addicted to porn, too. And they’re having oral and anal sex because somehow we’re so hesitant to realistically talk about sex to the point that some believe that as long as it’s not penis and vagina action, it doesn’t count as sex and virginity is conserved.
Is that real enough for you?
Sexual purity is always a difficult fight for Christians because we’re by nature a sexual species. But if we don’t change the conversation about sex, we cannot hope to have a legitimate one about homosexuality.
The Final Word
I want to end on this note:
Having these conversations alone has been life-changing.
I wish I could share the whole of Michael’s story with you because seeing how he viewed the events unfold, compared with how I did was deeply moving. It showed me the extent of a father’s love for his child and what it takes to hold a family together and come out on the other end better for it.
Tyler taught me so much about what it feels like to grow up denying your sexuality, an integral part of who you are, and then suddenly discover balance in Christ through the support and love of friends and family.
Jarrett taught me much of the same, something that means so much to me as one of my friends who I grew up with. Fear and doubt, much like what Michael experienced, but with his own family, unsure of where they might stand.
Jarrett and Tyler each described themselves as lucky. And as wonderful as that is, I still can’t help but think of how tragic it is. Lucky. Lucky because they were loved. Because there are so many out there who are unlucky. There are those who are bullied by their peers, killed, driven to suicide, or rejected by their families because they’re gay.
By telling some of these stories, and by encouraging these conversations, I think my dream is that one day there won’t be any lucky gay people. There will be no luck involved.
Love shouldn’t be a gamble.
There’s a notion that homosexuality and Christianity are mutually exclusive. I hope maybe, if you hold that view, you’ve been nudged from that even a little. If not, that’s alright. I’d love to hear your reasoning and talk with you. But if there’s one thing these guys have taught me, it’s that this idea couldn’t be further form the truth. Jarrett is a devout Catholic who was raised in the church and loves it and the people within it, and the God it praises. Tyler is the same way, and he’s got a boyfriend who pushes him to be a better Christian, who has shown him what it means to more fully pursue God. As he described it, it sounded exactly the same as how I describe what Mackenzie does for me. And Oliver, that sneaky kid, continued to soak in the messages being given by the church that had pushed him away because he still longed for a relationship with the Jesus that we professed but unfortunately couldn’t quite emulate.
My friend retweeted a quote once that was something to the effect of “It’s impossible to follow Jesus and support homosexuality.” This was in the midst of some political hodge podge in which an entire population of people was having its rights voted for, a phenomenon most of us will never have to experience and will never fully understand or appreciate. But in response to the train of thought expressed in that tweet, I have only one thing to say:
How dare you!
I’m going back to what I said about intentions and skipping the concession because intentions don’t matter half as much as the message you’re conveying. And the message there is this: gay people cannot find their identity in Christ.
I will argue that with you as soon as you can tell me exactly how we have the right to say who does and doesn’t have the right to pursue an identity in Christ. We cannot deny them that. We cannot deny anyone that. To do so would be to work against the very thing we proclaim.
Because we try to get around all of it with words and muddled explanations, but we’re not even sure how to have real conversations. So we tell stories out of the Bible and about the supposed “gay culture” and how corrupt things are until we forget what we’re really talking about.
These stories aren’t about the church.
They’re not about Christianity or Jesus or the Devil or a worldly culture.
They’re not about tolerance or intolerance.
They’re not about words or gay jokes.
These stories are about Tyler.
And these stories are about Jarrett.
And these stories are about Michael and Oliver.
These stories are about people. And we are to love people as Jesus loved people. With our words, with our actions, and with our hearts.
If you can do that, the rest will find its place.
Thanks for reading and I hope this has gotten you thinking! Again, I encourage you to share this and get conversations going with me or those around you either on the comments below, on facebook, or twitter.
If you’re interested in participating in the survey for the next part, you can take that here. I’ll also post the link to the survey in the comments on my facebook post, and through twitter. It’s largely open-ended response, so try to take it at a time that you can commit some time and thought into it. Also, unless you specify at the end, your responses will be kept confidential and anonymous. So be honest and contribute to the conversation! See you back next week!