It has come to my attention that my commitment to the orthodox sexual ethic is in question; to answer some of these questions, I have posted the transcript of a talk I gave addressing my personal story. It is formatted as it originally was as a speech and not as it usually would be as a blog post, so take that in mind:
(edit: Please feel free to use the comment box below if you have questions. No need to backbite, I am pretty amenable to conversation 😊)
To ask “Why would God care about human sexuality?” is to ask, “Why would God care about Humanity at all?” Not only that but it’s not as if we’re some creature that popped into existence that God currently finds himself fascinated with but could easily fall out of his focus at any moment. The Christian belief is that God isn’t too busy or too distant from humanity to care about the little things much less something as important as how we relate to each other and continue our survival.
According to the scripture, we are God’s particular creations, made in his image, with whom he desires a freely-chosen love relationship. The fact that sexuality is so important to us is a good indication that it would be important to God and that he would have some ideas about how we can best appreciate this aspect of our nature.
If you don’t believe that God exists and actually has a plan for humanity then much of what we’ve talked about here can feel like a tool other people have created to control and marginalize certain people. If you do believe that God exists, and that he has a plan for sexuality that doesn’t include same-sex expression and you aren’t sure of his love for and delight in you, then it may feel like he’s playing games with human lives and the jokes on you. I say this because these are definitely things that I’ve wondered myself while exploring the topic sexuality and Christian theology.
Hi I’m Johana-Marie, I’m a Christian and I’m bisexual. I grew up in a Christian home, and both of my parents were/are pastors and I gave my life to Christ at an early age. Most of the discussion surrounding me about sexuality was about not having sex until marriage, not looking at explicit sexual images, and not lusting after others (though that part was mostly aimed at guys). As I got older, there was also some discussion about the existence of gay people and mostly they were referenced as perverted people who hated God and who were lying at worst or perverted victims of abuse and parental neglect deceived about their attractions at best. Very occasionally gay was shown as something people “used to be”.
See, this was the early 2000s and the height of ex-gay ministries and conversion therapy in the Western Church and the middle of the push for same-sex marriage here in the U.S. If Christians ever acknowledged that someone who loved God might also feel same-sex attraction (rare) then the only solution was the removal of those feelings by some combination of deliverance ministry, healing prayer, and aversion-based psychotherapy. Good Christians didn’t feel same-sex attraction and so of course I didn’t either. It also didn’t hurt that I did actually like boys and I could channel any other “weird” feelings into that.
It began to be obvious that this discussion was going to become more personal; not through myself at first but through my family and friends. It being the early 2000s, I of course had a blog on both Open Diary and Teen Open Diary and it was there that I had my first contact with someone who struggled with same-sex attraction. He was another Christian living in the South and almost every post was about his unwanted desires, inability to fit in with traditional Christian masculinity, and his depression and despair. As a fellow Christian and depressed teen, I did my best to be supportive and encourage his journey, reaching across the interwebs in love and prayer, and we started a dialogue in his comments section. It was there that I began to see the poverty of the approach to sexuality that I had been taught. It frustrated me that no one I asked for advice and none of Christian books I read seemed to have answers for how to deal with being gay and a Christian, other than… trying to not be gay, which didn’t seem to be working.
It was also during this time that many leaders from those ex-gay church organization were either admitting to still being gay or being found in compromising positions that made it clear that they also still had same-sex attractions. The belief was that God would take away desire for sexual and romantic intimacy with the same sex and that if he didn’t you were lacking in faith and sanctification were seeming more and more doubtful. As far as I could tell, my brother in Christ wanted this more than anything and was willing to try anything other Christians told him would work. Why wasn’t God healing him in the way I had heard–and a few times even seen–of other people being healed of physical ailments? Eventually my Open Diary friend started a relationship with a guy and updated his blog less and less. And not long afterward, my siblings came out as well, and slowly became affirming and then left Christianity.
I was still a hardcore conservative Christian who felt that my friends and family weren’t making the right choices, but I could also see the hypocrisy in how my siblings and other queer people were treated in comparison with everyone else who was claiming straight but also doing things that we all considered sexual sins. And I was just beginning to acknowledge to myself that I too wasn’t straight, though I mostly kept this a secret and tried to pray it away.
At the same time, I was investigating my own faith and asking a lot of the other questions that we’ve discussed here at Food for Thought, like is it reasonable to believe in God, is the Bible historically reliable, why should I believe in Jesus specifically and compared Christianity to other faiths. At the end of that search, Christianity was it for me. Jesus was it for me. And I believed the scriptures and they hadn’t changed. So what was I going to do? The question of sexuality was looming over all of my interactions.
To be honest this is an old story that you can search quite a few blogs and podcasts and read a few dozen books and find. I was in denial until I couldn’t be and wondering the whole time if the God I served would love me at the end of this reckoning. I was in the place I mentioned earlier; it felt like God was playing games with humanity and the joke was on me, my friends, and my family. And I became obsessed with the question of if God liked me. And the words here are pretty important, right? Because you can love someone you don’t like a lot and you can have feelings of affection for a group while not really caring for a specific person. I wanted to know if God liked who i was and wanted to spend time with me. I wanted to know if he delighted in me.
After I finished community college, I spent six-months at a ministry focused on combining prayer and worship (music) and art. Think of it as a charismatic evangelical interpretation of a monastery. The most freeing experiences and understandings I came to stemmed from in-depth scriptural study and long periods of contemplation on the love of God. And this is what enabled me to read through the arguments over what the Bible actually says and eventually embrace the orthodox sexual ethic. (It would be a much longer post than what I’ve planned to go through all of the arguments for or against the orthodox sexual ethic and much ink has already been spilled over the last 20 years on this very topic. I encourage you to do your own research for more on that front.)
It was when I was fully convinced that the Christians who felt rage and disgust at people like me were misrepresenting the emotions of God toward me, that I could even feel comfortable reaching out to really understand what people like me had been writing about their experiences all along and doing so from a place of groundedness in the Scripture. It was the beginning of a release from shame; shame that I felt (or felt like other people wanted I should feel) for a multitude of reasons, only one of which was my sexual orientation. As my views of God shifted, my views of how to deal with the Church’s “sexuality crisis” and my own sexuality crisis shifted, as well.
While there is a call to righteousness (and that includes the sexual lives of those who believe in Jesus), the God I was reading about in scripture seemed to see shame as only useful for conviction leading to reconciliation, to bringing someone closer to God not pushing them away. He especially didn’t want His children feeling shame over things they don’t control, haven’t done or have already been forgiven of. This falls into what is often called condemnation.
I think the point about freedom from shame is important: what so much of traditional Christian views about sexuality convey is not even so much the wrongness of homosexual sex but the desire to instill a shame about being a queer person in any way; a disgust not with sin but with who we are and how we present ourselves in the world (the “look”/the “lifestyle”/the “identity”). It was interesting sharing this with a friend; her question was why I would still identify as bi if I wasn’t going to pursue same-sex relationships? My answer was if I am unashamed why would I not? It is still is the best word to describe my sexuality, so what–except shame–would keep me from using the most clear and honest descriptor of my experience of attraction?
To paraphrase Ecclesiastes, “When all has been heard, the end of the matter is: fear God [worship Him with awe-filled reverence, knowing that He is almighty God] and keep His commandments, for this applies to every person.”
A List of Books I Found Helpful:
- Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard
- Bible Studies for the Preparation of the Bride: A Study of the Song of Solomon
- Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ by Jeanne Marie Guyon
- Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill
- Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith by Eve Tushnet