A quick word before you read this next post. Things are moving in a great direction at my brother’s church. The head pastor recently said in a large staff meeting that what they were doing was not a “ministry to the gay community” but rather, “a ministry to the church”. The leadership of this Church has felt a call to learn more about their brothers and sisters in Christ that have been pushed to the margins and muted from the conversation. Their mission is about love and relationships and removing homophobia from the Christian community. Making community mean something. As I hear more and more about what this church is doing, I am becoming weaker at the knees. I love this church.
So, I am not real worried about this church struggling with the problem I am about to lay out to you. This is a recommendation to churches all over about how to start reconciliation with gay community in the midst of a continuing culture war.
There was a serious crisis. A crisis so threatening that those in the Church felt compelled to respond. It was the infamous “Day of Silence” observed by students in my high school. It was a day when individuals took sharpies to shirts in protest of bullying against LGBT students. It was part statement of tolerance and part memorial for students that had taken their lives as a result of bullying.
In the wake of this radical event, my family received a letter from a concerned Christian parent who told her story of having an alcoholic father and how she inherited tendencies toward alcoholism as a result. So ya, she knew what it was like to be gay.
During my freshmen year of college, a friend of mine opened up about his rough childhood and how he was predisposed to violence. Everyday he chose to use his words instead of his fists, even though it killed him not to throw a punch. So, he said, he knew what it was like to be gay.
Others have compared being gay to…
Terrorism (I actually heard this one)
And so on.
These are the types of analogies that are spoken off the cuff by both leaders of the faith and common followers.
But here’s the deal.
If you’re trying to understand something that you have relatively little or no experience with, don’t draw bridges where they don’t belong.
There is a gulf of understanding that has to be accepted. I cannot see from a straight person’s perspective. You cannot see from mine. I cannot see from a woman’s perspective and nor can she see from mine. I cannot see from the perspective of ethnicities other than my own. And even within my own, we all have our own crow’s nest.
Analogies are utilized to make the complex understandable. It simplifies things. But it can also be used to justify a perspective one has already prepared. To best distribute that perspective, its packaged in bite size sound bytes so the masses can spread it accordingly. It’s simple, it makes sense, and all of a sudden,
Children of alcoholics are the same as gay people.
I cringe in responding about the difference between alcoholism and homosexuality, so I am happy that the Women in Theology blog wrote a thoughtful piece on it:
“while genetic and environmental factors certainly predispose certain individuals to become alcoholics, no one, not even the most genetically and environmentally at-risk person, can become an alcoholic if they never take a drink of alcohol. This of course is not true for homosexuals. One does not become a homosexual only upon having homosexual sex. People typically experience themselves to be gay prior to and independently of engaging in homosexual sex. In fact, there are people who have never engaged in homosexual sex, either by choice (some priests and nuns, for example) or by circumstance, who still know themselves to be gay. But why would anyone who has never taken a sip of alcohol consider herself to be an alcoholic? If someone did do this, we would tell her that she was mistaken; quite simply, what she would say about herself would make no sense to us.”
If churches want to be part of the conversation, which I firmly believe they do, they need to stop killing it off with offensive analogies. Growing up gay, especially within Christian community, comes with a mixed bag of blessings and burdens. Our stories are not equitable. All comparisons do is strip away the dignity our testimonies’ deserve.
And when I look back- when I reread that parent’s letter, when I remember the time that analogies became staples to every sermon on the subject; that is the time I began putting padlocks on the closet door. After you hear enough people cast you off as an addict, a defected person, or in some cases, a pervert, like a pedophile, there is no reason to go public. You’d have to be stupid to. Instead, you just sit alone and hate yourself for the monster they said you are.
To bring the conversation back to the church, the analogies have to be dropped.
While I believe many gave analogies in order to establish a certain level of compassion for the gay and lesbian community, they have done just the opposite.
Because analogies to painful illnesses and evil behavior are inaccurate, unnecessary and truly offensive.
Having said this, any church wishing to chart a new course with us should also not give in to the temptation of creating new positive analogies. That still reduces us to our sexual orientation. Our identity is in Christ not in our attractions.
Take in our tales. Listen to the lies we heard for years. Let the shame we felt sink in. Our stories can do far more than analogies ever could.
It may seem like mere words, but to us, they carry a lot of weight. Analogies arm every churchgoer we know with the talking points on how to address us. They minimize us. Patronize us. They make us strain to see Christ through all of the mud being thrown.
And most importantly, they rob the church of needed yet neglected disciples that are valuable to the body of believers. It kills every good opportunity for dialogue and reconciliation to occur. It is a wrench in the machine.
With that, I leave you with perhaps the most important passage pertaining to how we should relate to one another. It’s found in the book of Romans.
“Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.”(Romans 14:13-14 MSG, emphasis mine)
Comparative analogy and authentic testimony cannot share the same bed.
The church has to choose which one is more important.