Two years ago, I was in a small group at St. Aldate’s Church, Oxford, discussing Philip Yancey’s What’s so Amazing About Grace?
Yancey wrote about his friend Mel White who was a Christian gay man, “Mel felt homosexual longings from adolescence, tried hard to repress those longings, and as an adult fervently sought “a cure.” He fasted, prayed, and was anointed with oil for healing. He went through exorcism rites read by Protestants and also by Catholics. He signed up for aversion therapy, which jolted his body with electricity every time he felt stimulated by photos of men. For a while, chemical treatments left him drugged and barely coherent. Above all, Mel wanted desperately not to be gay.”
Mel had suicide attempts, Yancey continues to write, and, like Lonnie Frisbee, “wild swings between promiscuity and fidelity. Sometimes he acted like a hormone-flooded teenager, and sometimes like a sage.”
Finally, “Mel concluded that his options narrowed down to two: insanity or wholeness. Attempts to repress homosexual desires, and live either in heterosexual marriage or in gay celibacy he believed would lead to certain insanity. (At that time, he was seeing a psychiatrist five days a week, at a hundred dollars a session.) Wholeness, he decided, meant finding a gay partner and embracing his homosexual identity.”
Mel remained a Christian, and even sought ordination.
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Such had been the evangelical ghetto in which I had lived for the last 20 years in both America and England, that when we split into micro-groups to discuss the passage, I naively asked Will Donaldson who was then Director of Christian Leadership at Wycliffe Hall, “Can one be a Christian and a practising homosexual?”
Will said, and I quote from memory, “Our children may ask us, ‘You knew the environment was being destroyed, and you did nothing? Wasn’t that sinful?’ And I am going to go home to my warm bed, and am going pass homeless people on the streets,” he continued.
I understood. People starve, while we eat out in restaurants, and go on holidays. None of us is without sin. We all make peace with our frailty and limitations. Why not extend the same grace to gay Christians?
2 Providential Circumstances—In which God decides to broaden my mind and experience
And then, I hire a wonderful cleaner, the only one we’ve managed to keep for more than two years who goes way beyond the call of duty, and puts everything back in the right place as well.
He’s wonderful, and yes, as my gaydar sharpens, I can tell he’s gay, and I can tell this identity is ontological, not a casual choice.
I write about this here and here. I meet more faithful gay Christians as a result of these blogs, and listen to their interpretations of the (in?)famous six or seven scripture verses against homosexuality.
God continues to move. We hire a young man to help us with our publishing company. He is gay, and a Christian. The French tutor who came to our house to tutor me and our girls is gay. My friend, Lesley, recommends her therapist, an Anglican clergyman. His insights help us considerably, and he is gay, living with his civil partner.
Okay, then; Is God saying I need to think more—or what?
And I think of Lonnie Frisbee, the most influential gay man in the twentieth century Christianity, a key person in the Jesus People or Jesus Freak movement, who unleashed a wave of the Holy Spirit which was instrumental in the founding, and phenomenal growth of two major Christian denominations, the Calvary Chapel to which he attracted thousands to his Bible Study, and the Vineyard, which was established after Lonnie Frisbee asked youth, 25 and under, to come forward, then prayed, “Come Holy Spirit.” And those so filled baptised others in hot tubs and swimming pools!!
Lonnie struggled against his homosexuality, to the point of getting married to a wife who left him after an affair with their pastor; was sad and guilty about his repeated homosexual flings; was rejected by both denominations he helped found and flourish when his homosexuality became obvious, and died broken hearted of AIDS, yet forgiving those whose careers and denominations he had established, but who ostracised him and almost wrote him out of their histories for a sin he could not shake.
And yet he was responsible for thousands of people being converted and filled with the Holy Spirit, and changed the direction of twentieth century Christianity through the millions influenced by the Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard Movement.
And a reader left this comment, “Perhaps the great turmoil men like Frisbee undergo is because they are convinced by the evangelical template/mindset that they need to deny their sexuality. Authentic Homosexuality is not a choice…to therefore deny it is to state that God made a mistake…or lots of mistakes. Lonnie Frisbee birthed two movements….perhaps God was making a statement here?”
4 All over the world, the Spirit is moving. All over the world, the Spirit is speaking to the church on this issue.
Again and again, I see children of eminent evangelicals come out as gay. Is this coincidental, or is the Spirit speaking to the church?
Brian McLaren celebrates his son’s gay wedding in what he calls a possible “Farewell, Brian,” moment. His blog so brilliant I am going to quote at length.
He writes: My view on human sexuality has indeed changed over a period of thirty years, and actually, the views of most conservative Christians have also been changing over that period. It wasn’t too long ago that the only conservative position was, “It’s a choice and an abomination.” When that position became untenable due to increasing data, the conservative position evolved to “it’s a changeable disposition, and we know how to change it.” When fewer and fewer people who claimed to have been reoriented were able to sustain the reorientation, the position shifted to “it’s a hard-to-change disposition, but it can be done with great difficulty.” More recently, I hear conservatives say “the disposition may be unchangeable but the behaviour is a choice, so people may choose to live a celibate life or a heterosexual life, even against their orientation.”
This issue is not going to go away. A significant percentage of people are gay – I would guess around 6%. This percentage seems to be a remarkably consistent feature of every human culture and population, every denomination, every religion, including those who deny it exists among them. If each gay person has two parents, the issue affects 18% of the population. If each gay person has one sibling and one friend, we’re up to 30% who are directly affected by the issue.
It’s much easier to hold the line on the conservative position when nearly all gay people around you are closeted and pretending to be other than they are. Eventually for some, the pain of pretending will become greater than the pain of going public. Whenever a new son or daughter comes out of the closet, their friends and family will face a tough choice: will they “break ranks” with their family member or friend, or will they stay loyal to their family member or friend – which will require them to have others break ranks with them?
In my case, I inherited a theology that told me exactly what you said: homosexuality is a sin, so although we should not condemn (i.e. stone them), we must tell people to “go and sin no more.” Believe me, for many years as a pastor I tried to faithfully uphold this position, and sadly, I now feel that I unintentionally damaged many people in doing so. Thankfully, I had a long succession of friends who were gay. And then I had a long succession of parishioners come out to me.
Over time, I could not square their stories and experiences with the theology I had inherited. So I re-opened the issue, read a lot of books, re-studied the Scriptures, and eventually came to believe that just as the Western church had been wrong on slavery, wrong on colonialism, wrong on environmental plunder, wrong on subordinating women, wrong on segregation and apartheid (all of which it justified biblically) … we had been wrong on this issue. In this process, I did not reject the Bible. In fact, my love and reverence for the Bible increased when I became more aware of the hermeneutical assumptions on which many now-discredited traditional interpretations were based and defended. I was able to distinguish “what the Bible says” from “what this school of interpretation says the Bible says,” and that helped me in many ways.
Several prominent evangelicals have gay children or grandchildren. There’s the writer Barbara Johnson. I had a mentor from one of Virginia’s most prominent evangelical families. She, her husband and her brother had founded successful Churches, Christian schools, holiday camps, centres for learning disabilities, radio programmes, etc across Norfolk, Williamsburg, Hampton, Yorktown etc. Her granddaughter came out as gay, breaking a few familial hearts in the process.
Recently, I had tea with an American United Methodist Minister whose son is gay. His denomination does not permit same-sex marriage, and would suspend ministers who conducted them. So when a minister wanted to marry her female partner, eighty of them got together to marry them. Suspend 80 ministers all together? The denomination did not.
After writing my post, I was surprised to hear from other prominent evangelicals who had close family members who were gay, whose sexuality they did not publicly acknowledge. What pain for families!!
5 I am certain the Spirit is moving towards fuller inclusion.
The gay wars brings out the worst in everyone. Phariseeism and judgementalism and a self-righteousness which costs us nothing. We heterosexuals, after all, are not being called to a lifetime of solitude and celibacy. (See some of the comments on my earlier post on this issue. ) An us-and-them attitude. A rigid acceptance of prejudice and a refusal to think, and nobly examine the Scriptures for ourselves.
If Jesus were here, we might not find him in judgemental, self-righteous, theologically conservative and correct bastions. He did not feel comfortable with the rigid, goody-goody people with impermeable theology, who stuck to the party line at all costs. The Scribes and Pharisees of his day.
He would be now, as he was in the flesh, with the down and out, with those we condemn and exclude, ministering to them, pushing for their full inclusion. He would not tell us of the Good Samaritan today, but the good Lonnie Frisbee, or the good William Stringfellow, perhaps.
Research suggests that 6-10% of the population are gay. If so, we are denying full participation in the Christian church to a sizeable proportion of the population. And that is wrong.
6) Why am I writing about a issue which does not affect me directly? I am paying it forward.
Because sometimes one needs to. Things would not change if we only lobbied for what would directly benefit us.
My father immigrated to England and lived here between 1944 and 1952 as a single man. He was a Chartered Accountant (FCA; Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants, England and Wales, his impressive letterhead said).
But racism hampered his career. His boss, who was a fine man he said, told clients, “We have an Indian accountant. Do you mind?” Some did not; some did.
He did not progress in his career as fast as his English peers. He made less money. He left, disgusted, and returned to India, where he was Controller of Accounts for Tata Steel, and we had a fairly luxurious childhood.
When I first came to Oxford University, in 1984, reading English at Somerville College, I had some trepidation. Was afraid I would encounter racism.
But did not. And have not in the 10 years I lived here.
When I was a student, JACARI was big—the Joint Action Council Against Racial Intolerance. My housemates, Mark Wynn, and Catherine Dixon-Forner; my tutor Heather O’Donoghue and her husband the poet Bernard O’Donoghue went to the homes of newly arrived Bangladeshis, drank endless cups of sweet tea, and helped them feel included.
Now 28 years later, racial relations in Oxford are as sweet and pleasant as in any cosmopolitan city I have lived in, and I’ve lived in Manchester; Columbus, Ohio, Minneapolis, Palo Alto, CA and Ithaca, NY. I often wonder if we are reaping the fruits of JACARI.
If my friends and tutors had said, “We’re privileged whites; why bother about other people’s struggles?” things might not have changed. Sometimes, if injustice upsets you, it is right to speak out.
I sincerely believe that Christ came for all men and women, gay and straight. That it is not good for man to be alone, and that includes gay men and women. That homosexuality is not a choice, and so should not be a barrier to full inclusion in the Christian community, any more than skin colour is a choice or should be a barrier to inclusion.