My Story, Part II

In yesterday’s post, I told the story of how the question of Christianity and homosexuality formed the major arena of my wrestling with God for the twenty years between the ages of ten and thirty. That post left off the story with me in a pretty low place, having decided to leave the Church to preserve my mental and physical health. Today I’d like to share the rest of the story, as it stands now.

As I’ve previously noted, this time in my life was outwardly one of renewal and discovery. I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, so to speak, and began to explore old interests and lines of curiosity that I’d long neglected. I also started to date and figure out what my values and boundaries might be there. But, on the spiritual front, it was a different story. That first year, I was numb from everything, and could not engage with it at all. The second year the pain set in: I couldn’t walk by a church without feeling like my heart was being stabbed by a hundred daggers, and it felt like the past was a monster lurking in every shadow, waiting for the opportunity to attack. (These are big and visceral analogies, but it this was a big and visceral time, so they feel warranted, even though I feel far less extreme about that season in hindsight.) Thankfully, in the third year, I found some peace, through a combination of Buddhist thought, drag wisdom, and insights from the story of Jacob. That summer I came to realize just how strongly I was still influenced by the teachings of Jesus, and how much I valued those influences. I still had no idea how to reconcile my sexuality with any theologically and spiritually full vision of Christianity, but it was now something I knew I needed to look into again, and it felt like it was time to do so.

There are a lot of books out there on the subject, both in support of and against the full inclusion and participation of LGBTQ2S+ folk within the Church. But, because of my unique set of influences and experiences, none of them quite hit the mark for me. I needed more than a refutation of the ‘clobber texts’ or the common — but thoroughly Gnostic — idea in some progressive circles that God doesn’t care about what we do with our bodies. So, while I read a lot, and took quite a bit that was beneficial from the Rabbi Stephen Greenbergs and Matthew Vineses of the world, reconciling my sexuality and faith was mostly an exercise in re-learning what I already knew — of history, of the Scriptures, and of theology — and discerning anew which threads to pull on and which to leave alone. Rabbi Greenberg’s thought was particularly helpful for me in this way. An openly gay Orthodox Jewish rabbi, he was coming from a place that was in some ways similar to me: He didn’t just need to find a way of reconciling himself with a few texts (in his case, specifically Leviticus 18), but a with a whole system and structure of belief and lifestyle that seemed impossible for him to fit into. Most importantly, his writing introduced me to Jewish approaches to Scripture, which are full of curiosity, wonder, and legitimate wrestling with texts rather than passive reception of them.

Reading the New Testament again in light of my experiences and this newly discovered room for curiosity and questioning raised profound questions: If the truth of something is to be judged on the quality of what it produces (Matthew 3.10; 7.15-19; 12.33; 21.18-21), what does it mean that the Church’s opposition to homosexuality has born such bad fruit, not only in my life but in the lives of countless others? If Jesus came to give life abundantly (John 10.10), what does it mean that my adherence to traditional teachings on sexuality led to such a truncated and cut-off life? If Jesus valued the compassionate heart of the Law more than adherence to its details (Matthew 23.23; Mark 7.20), what criteria would we use to decide what are the ‘weightier matters’? And, if, as Paul says, ‘All things are permitted for me, but not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 6.12), what if ‘Yes or No?’ isn’t the right question to ask about sex, but ‘Why?’

With these new approaches and questions at hand, many of the barriers to reconciling my sexuality and my faith that had seemed so strong and impenetrable for so long were revealed to be quite flimsy. On the whole, I came to see the Scriptures as far more of an ally than an adversary in my attempt to reaffirm my faith in a way that could be healthy and whole for me, welcoming of all of me. In the end it was a lot easier than I expected; contrary to what I believed, I didn’t end up having to sacrifice much, if anything, important in the Scriptures or Tradition. There’s definitely some re-reading of some stories required, and a questioning of some assumptions about gender in the Tradition — though, the New Testament does most of the work on this front itself if we have ears to hear and eyes to see.

I’ve been using ‘sexuality’ throughout this post as a kind of shorthand. But of course, my sexuality is just as prone to going off track as any other part of my (or anyone else’s) personality. So I’m not talking about a blanket acceptance of everything the libido has to say. What I’m talking about is the ability to bring all of me to the table, for my sexual orientation not to be a barrier to my discipleship, and to affirm that a same-sex relationship can, at its best, plumb the depths of Mystery, be a place of theophany (and, yes, also a cross) just like an opposite-sex relationship can at its best. The funny thing is that this doesn’t render the Tradition mute in the face of human sexuality, but rather allows it to speak far more interestingly and healingly than a blanket condemnation did. Why? Because it’s questioning and challenging the right things rather than focusing on something we experience as innate — as much a part of me as my left-handedness, intelligence, and shyness. In other words, it stops trying to fight things that aren’t likely to change, but questions and challenges how those things get lived out. That’s where real transformation and change can happen. That’s the real spiritual arena and cross of human sexuality.

It was a long and hard journey for me to come to accept and affirm my sexual orientation as something God-given and indellible and possibly even good. But I’m so glad I did. The irony is that I have been pretty consistently single all this time since; one might be tempted to ask if ‘all that’ was worth it if my life was going to be just as lonely as it was before. But the answer is that yes, it was absolutely, without question, one hundred percent, worth it. It’s night-and-day. I am no longer at war with myself but can instead do the good and godly work of putting myself back together again; I no longer feel I have to choose between communion with God and communion with myself; I am able to be more real and present in my relationships, and more open to experiences. Even if the good and godly relationship to which I feel called and for which I know I am well-suited never happens for me, what I have now and how I am able to be in the world now is so much better than my old life.

Moreover, I like the ways the struggle itself has shaped me. Had I not been wrestling with God in this way I would have probably been content for a shallow spirituality. I would likely never have experienced the profound riches of Eastern Christianity. And, I would have not had this great resource of empathy for those who are marginalized in other ways. While I’ll never know how different my life would look had I had a different journey, I am convinced that it has made me a better Christian and better man. And for all that, I am grateful.

Thanks be to God.