In 1996, I was a young, newly married man struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction. My life had been centered around church and Christian activities. Yet, in all my years in the church, the only words I heard about homosexuality were condemning ones. I certainly had never heard anything redemptive with regard to homosexuality.
Embracing ear-tickling theology
Fearful of sharing my struggle in the church, and growing increasingly despondent, I began to look for hope elsewhere. Slowly but surely, like Paul talks about in 2 Timothy 4:3-4, I became unwilling to endure sound doctrine, and instead, sought teachers who would teach me according to my feelings. My ears were desperate to be tickled, and I found what I was looking for in the relatively young gay Christian movement.
Today, that movement is no longer young. It has been slowly moving from the fringe to the mainstream. Many mainline denominations have adopted its tenants, believing that the Biblical prohibitions against gay sexuality and identity do not apply to modern homosexual identity and expression. For many Christians, it is hard to understand how anyone could believe a theology that strays so far from orthodoxy. Why do so many people, gay and straight alike, seem so desperate to have their ears tickled?
Choosing what’s wrong in order to feel loved
In my personal experience, and in my experience with many people who either struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction or who self-identify as gay, it is not intentional rebellion that causes most gay-identified men and women to adopt a gay-affirming theology. It is, instead, a great desire to be loved, accepted, affirmed and simply ‘ok’ with God. Unfortunately, most of us did not find that in our more orthodox churches. My acceptance of a pro-gay theology was my final attempt to reconcile the feelings that raged inside of me and yet seemed to be unacceptable to God. The gay Christian movement spoke directly into my inner conflict.
While my surface likely looked fine, my insides were a mess. Imagine being a young boy with a deep, unquantifiable sense of being different and being called a fag in the 6th grade of your Christian school. Imagine the horror of attractions in junior high that seemed to validate the names that were more and more frequently hurled your way. Imagine hearing your pastor describe homosexuality as an abomination and wondering if you were an abomination. Imagine what it might have been like to attempt to forge a loving, trusting relationship with a God who seemed to be disgusted by you. Imagine names, and bullying and self-hatred and self-loathing and fear of what you might really be. Imagine praying every night for God to make you like the other boys and your prayers never seeming to be answered. Imagine dating girls to try to quell the rumors.
In the midst of all of that inner turmoil, I found myself living my life with an underlying, pervasive sense of fear and abandonment from God and I worked harder and harder to try and scrub my secret sin away. I was striving for perfection in almost every other area of my life to somehow make up for my struggle. But it seemed to follow me everywhere. Even as a law student who had never told anyone of my struggle and never acted on it, I read rumors about myself in a bathroom stall and got gay propositions in my school mailbox. I got married with the sincere hope that marriage might fix me, but ended up feeling trapped, illegitimate and completely unknown. My life felt like one giant lie after another until I found something that told me God did love me and He didn’t care what I was or what I did. I was finally ok being gay.
A theology that left me desperate . . . again
I found all of that that in gay theology. I didn’t find gay theology because I wanted to be rebellious. I found it because I was desperate. And my tickled ears felt incredible . . . for awhile. I began attending a gay-friendly church. As much as I wanted it to be good, it was shallow and fell flat. I continued to read my Bible, but it too fell flat as my piecemeal study of it proved as shallow as the gay-friendly church. I began to pull away from any personal connection with my Christianity and plowed forward into a life more and more defined by my sexuality. Gay Christianity provided some sense of spiritual security for me, but I began to feel emptier and emptier. I had found a god who did not condemn me but who was also decidedly powerless and benign. Over time, I realized that I felt as far from Him as I had before.
This new theology empowered me to leave my wife, but six months later I was feeling less and less connected with God and more and more committed to my gay identity. While my heart was still determined and my resolve to make homosexuality work for me was strong, I surprisingly found myself reading the testimony of a man who had walked away from homosexuality. In his story, I discovered the Jesus I had been looking for all along.
The truth that sets us free
I hungrily re-opened my Bible and found that Jesus DID love me, DID accept me, and DID understand me just as I was. And He loved me too much to leave me there. He beckoned me on a journey–not sending me off on my own but offering to walk alongside me and empower me all the way. I found a mentor who persistently walked me through the Word in order to help me see the reality of who I was in Christ –not a straight Christian, not a gay Christian, but simply a follower of Christ and a child of the King. We found a church that offered both truth and grace; where people were real and changed lives were evident.
I thought I wanted license to be who I was, but found that license did not free me. I needed liberty–not liberty in the form of changed feelings, but freedom from being defined, identified and controlled by my feelings. I found that in a Jesus who was willing to get muddy as He personally rescued me from the pit in which I had not even realized I was stuck.
I often wonder how my life might have been different if I had been introduced to this Jesus as a child. What if I had known more about the reality of living in a fallen world, the reality and purpose of struggle, and the fact that surrender to Jesus is very different than simply making demands of Jesus? What if I had heard stories of hope and power from real people dealing with real issues? What if my pastors had not used canned sermon illustrations but had revealed a little more of their own humanity and the way Jesus rescued them from their own pits? I don’t really know and, honestly, I am grateful for each component of my journey today. But I do know that there are many people, just like Paul told Timothy about, who do not endure sound doctrine because they, too, are desperate for someone they have never met through legalism or sanitized, cultural Christianity.
Will we judge the precious souls who find solace in gay Christianity as rebels beyond hope, or will we introduce them to the true Jesus, who calls all who know Him to costly discipleship and offers every person transformation at a level far deeper than the surface of their feelings? Will we push them away to an empty world of licensed behavior, or will we do the harder work of introducing them to the great Liberator and Author of freedom? Sound theology should fill our minds and our hearts as we welcome desperate people and, in our mutual desperation, discover true identity in Jesus!