How Having Gay Friends Has Changed My Theology

pd_A-Walk-in-The-HillsDavid* and Ann* were two of the first gay people I met after my brother came out to me in the early 1990s. In moments of great vulnerability, each of them shared with me that they were attracted to people of the same sex. My memory is a bit hazy (I’m almost 50, after all) but I think I was the first person either of them had told about being gay. They both immediately shared that they wanted God to change their desires, and I was on board with that. I prayed that they would become straight, and I processed with them as they went through counseling, what was called ‘reparative therapy’ at the time.

But neither of their desires changed. What did change, however, was my theology.

I’ve known these two Christians for over twenty years. I’ve seen them wrestle with God, almost lose faith, and come through to the other side of some dark times. David is now married to another Christian man, and Ann is a committed single. Both are still attracted to people of the same sex. So do you think those friendships might have affected my theology? You bet.

My understanding of how prayer works, when God heals, and what it means to be made in God’s image were all pretty simple twenty five years ago. All three of those theological constructs have changed because of knowing David and Ann. I’ve had to allow a bit more mystery into my theology, a bit more flexibility, and a lot more grace. Before, everything was neat and tidy for me. And that’s not even to mention having to do a lot of rethinking about human sexuality.

Shifting Away From Tradition

At a pastors’ conference, Joe* approached me and asked to talk away from everyone else. On a long walk through the hills, he shared that he’d never thought much about his traditional views on sexuality until the day he came home early from church and walked in on his teenage son watching TV in a dress. That was the beginning of Joe’s journey of rethinking his theology.

I often talk with Christians who once held a traditional perspective about LGBTQ morality but have since become ‘affirming’ because a close friend or family member came out to them. For example, progressive New Testament scholar James Brownson shares in his book Bible, Gender, Sexuality that his son coming out was a major motivator for him to re-evaluate his thinking.

As I wrote in my last post about  How the LGBTQ Community is Saving the Church, there’s something powerfully motivating about shifting your thoughts from abstract theology to real people, especially people you love. Having LGBTQ people in your life whom you love deeply typically changes you. Here are two of the big ways:

  1. Your attitude becomes less judgmental. Unfortunately, this often comes only after a lot of tears or a few shouting matches. Crushing the spirit of a friend or loved one has a way of making you reconsider how you see them. Whether or not your perspective on morality shifts, this is still a theological shift because it means that Jesus is breaking open your heart for others in new and good ways.
  2. Your theology becomes ‘affirming’ – either because you re-evaluate your reading of the bible (for those who value scripture highly), or you simply allow your experience to dictate your morals and don’t want to condemn the sexual activity of your friend or loved one.

The one instance where I often see a lack of theological shift is when a parent finds out that a child is LGBTQ and, instead of processing that in a healthy way, clamps down on that information, turning it into a family secret. Often these families can feel like fortresses, where vulnerability and intimacy cower in the corners. If you’re part of a family like this, I’d be glad to be a safe place to process or help you find one. (contact me here).

Shifting in Other Ways

Last month, Ernie* invited me over to his house and shared with me that he’s gay. He told me of the struggles he’s had in different churches, the loneliness he’s felt, and the deep connection he has to Jesus that has come from his costly commitment to celibacy. Even though we were the only two in the house, he mostly whispered all of this to me, which seemed appropriate since it seemed we were on holy ground. I felt so honored, so privileged to be there with him, to listen to him, and to be able to be with him on his journey.

Having friends like Ernie changes you. Through conversations with my friends who are not embracing their same-sex attraction, my theology has changed. In particular,

  1. I’m realizing that I (and the church) idolize marriage – we view it as the highest form of relationship. We’re strangely uncomfortable with those who are single, always trying to set them up with someone –  which is ironic since our founder was single. Celibate author Wes Hill has done the church a tremendous service in his website promoting spiritual friendship – which historically has been viewed as a higher form of relationship than marriage. Talk about being counter-cultural!
  2. I’m seeing how I (and the culture) obsess over sex – we view it as paramount in our personal identity. Those who are celibate in our midst stand as a stark contrast to the way our culture glorifies and commodifies sexuality, and we’re forced to rethink what it means to be made in the image of God.
  3. I’m realizing that my theology of discipleship has gone soft. Jesus says, “Let any who would come after me take up their cross daily and follow me,” but I want to negotiate with Jesus, haggling down the cost of following him. My friends who are choosing not to act on their same-sex attraction remind me of what it means to follow Jesus at all costs.

Final Thought

David, whom I mentioned earlier, came to see me recently. I met his husband, we walked through the neighborhood, we caught up. Just before we parted, he started to cry as he talked about how he’s met God on his journey since coming out to me twenty-five years ago. David caught me by surprise when he said, “Amidst all of the pain of this process, I wonder if God brought me into your life all those years ago so that you’d be better prepared to welcome your son when he came out.”

I think David is on to something.

 

*Most of the names and identifying details in this blog have been changed.

Advertisements

Author: Bill White

I am a pastor at City Church of Long Beach, a friend to many LGBTQ people, and a conversation partner for people all over the spectrum of beliefs about how being LGBTQ and Christian fit together.

5 thoughts on “How Having Gay Friends Has Changed My Theology”

  1. Very interesting friends. I am struck by how different your friends are from the friends that I have known who were gay. I hope you don’t mind if I share. I expect I will figure it out by your rejection or acceptance of the post.

    My first friends were in high school in the late 80’s. Rebellious and promiscuous, these were broken hearted guys who wouldn’t settle for anyone less than the head cheerleader. Traumatized by repeated rejection, they resorted to heavy drugs and alcohol, acting out, excessive hilarity and unbounded lives. Socially needy, they sought popularity and attention by crossing gender lines and encouraging disdain for civility. I was not a Christian, and enjoyed them briefly yet at a distance. Not sure how far they were going to go. It was only years later, when we heard the confirmation that some of them had declared themselves gay. No surprises, but it did feel odd having known that we had started our friendships wrestling in water polo suits.

    Later in life, in the late 80’s, I went to San Francisco and met a community of professional educators who had moved there for the vibrant night life. Being excellent professionals, often national leaders in their disciplines, they could choose anywhere in the country to apply for professorial positions. It was just before the consequences rose through the roofs, they enjoyed the bars and bath houses that littered the community. I arrived at the discovery of AIDS. A few bathhouses were still open, refusing to close. Many others had agreed to close before legal action was necessary. They all closed within another year. A few of those brilliant minds and good friends paid the ultimate price. Others suffered from the social collapse and shame, that they had thought was rarely a consequence, but learned later, the piper had arrived on their lifestyle.

    I like your friends. They seem deep and engaged in thoughtful dialogue and capable of wonderful deep relationships. I see the reason you have more openness to their perspective. No one discussed these nuanced perspectives in my day. They started to gather more intimately. Some started to consider lifelong relationships. Hardly heard of prior to that. It was wise. A lot of wisdom was learned in those days. The wisdom of lifelong relationships. The wisdom of moderation and deep relationships. The costs of the devil may care life were coming clear. What do we do now? All these imitators of healthy relationships. Healthy relationships, sort of? Freedom to express desires and attractions is good. Limits on the unbounded lives are good. But I’ve expressed my limits to friendship before. Not in family (church) leadership, and sadly, even not in church membership. Consistency with the scriptures, as my simple mind reads it. I want to lead the simple and the complex. I want the children and the child like to understand what Christ wants from us. If it’s too complicated, this curmudgeon won’t go there….

    Like

  2. Thank you Bill for all you share and do for the community and all people. I am always touched by your writing and you always leave me thinking of how I can be a better me. Thank you 😃

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s