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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Some Thoughts on National Coming Out Day

More than two years ago, I gave myself a deadline. October 11, 2011. National Coming Out Day. I decided by that day I would have researched and come to a conclusion on the sticky issues of homosexuality and Christian faith. 

I thought I had plenty of time to unpack the views of sexuality I had inherited from my fundamentalist upbringing. I thought I had plenty of time to read books and articles on both sides of the issue. I thought I had plenty of time to have the necessary conversations with friends to broaden my perspective with the wisdom and insights of others. I thought that by giving myself a deadline, I would have the sufficient motivation to tackle a complex issue and make it simple in my own mind.

I thought wrong.

October 11, 2011 came and went. And I remained silent because I was still unsure.

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I definitely was unsure of the veracity of all that I had been taught. I grew up in fundamentalist churches where just about everything - including human sexuality - was black and white, cut and dry. "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve" was not just a lame joke. It was gospel truth. Over the last decade, I have questioned much of what I was taught. I've struggled with what to hold on to and what to jettison. I've even written a book about it all. I said to Vanessa the other day the one thing I am not unsure about, Human sexuality is way more complicated than we were ever led to believe growing up in church and Christian school.

But I was also unsure of where I was headed if I abandoned my fundamentalist positions. I know that I don't want to stay in the simplistic world of my upbringing. But I'm not sure what's ahead. I hear the voices in the debate and I just don't know who to follow. I hear the voices from some who have changed positions on homosexuality, but they are just as angry and judgmental. They are just judging a new group of people. I don't want to go there. I hear the voices of those whose journey has led them to completely reject the Bible, the church, and even God. I don't want to go there. I hear the voices of those whose lives are dominated by politics, seemingly pinning all of their hopes to the election of one candidate or the defeat of some party. I don't want to go there. 

I'm living with a lot of uncertainty right now. That freaks some people out, but I'm kind of enjoying it.

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Being unsure of something is no reason to do nothing. I don't live by certitude anymore. I can embrace the mystery and still live by faith. And so, in faith, I began over the last couple of years taking a few small steps:

I expressed my support for same sex marriage. I don't want to rehash all of it here, but more people read this blog post than anything else I've written here on the Grenz: I Opposed Gay Marriage, and I Repent.

I attended my first gay pride parade. I see in the example of Jesus, someone who didn't avoid going where people were. He traveled through Samaria even though it made his disciples uncomfortable. Jesus wasn't uncomfortable with being with people. Going to the gay pride parade this year was my way of experimenting with this idea.

I have lots of conversations with lots of people. Holy crap, do I have conversations. In fact, a week does not go by that I don't have a conversation related to homosexuality and the Christian faith. Some people want to ask me what I think. Some want to share their stories with me. Others want to quote Bible verses at me that they think I have forgotten. More than most other issues, and not by my choice, but this is one topic I spend a lot of time talking about.

I cultivated relationships with my gay friends. When I was a fundamentalist and had all the answers, I didn't have any gay friends. It was very easy for me to make assumptions about what people think and feel when I hadn't actually heard any of their stories. That is not the case any longer. Friendship goes a long way toward ending demonization.

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Taking these steps this year has certainly enriched my life. And it has made me more prepared to say something today, National Coming Out Day 2012. I know I'm a year late, and I still don't have it all figured out. In fact, I'm beginning to think that I may never have it all figured out. But, I am ready to say the following things:

I'm still struggling with the biblical passages. I have read all of the arguments on both sides. Some days the arguments for "homosexuality is a sin" resonate with me. Some days they don't. I wish this wasn't the case. I wish I had a clear sense of what I think. But I don't. When asked the point blank question, "Do you believe homosexuality is a sin?" My honest and true answer is "I. Don't. Know." Everyone's just going to have to be ok with that.

I believe in equality for all people, regardless of sexual orientation. Regardless of whether or not homosexuality is a sin, I do believe that all people - all sinners - are entitled to honor, respect, and equality. I support marriage equality, employment equality, health care and legal equality, adoption and foster care equality. Again, I'm not going to rehearse this part of my journey. You can read about it here: I Opposed Gay Marriage, and I Repent.

I want to know people as people. I've grown weary of grouping people up and making assumptions about what they think and feel based on the label I've placed on them. That approach may work for the political pollsters, but it is not the way of Jesus. Jesus talked to people. He got to know them. He listened to them. He met them where they were. That's what I want to do.

I'm intentionally opting out of the condemnation game. This is may be the most significant and most radical way I've changed when it comes to homosexuality and Christian faith. Regardless of the pressure I feel from both sides of this issue, I'm not going to be in the business of condemning anyone. I just don't think it's my job, and I'm refusing to do it. I am not going to condemn my gay friends. And I'm not going to condemn my fundamentalist friends either. I have resolved to follow the lead of Jesus and say to all, "Neither do I condemn you." If Jesus refused to condemn, then so do I.

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I am certain that my fundamentalist friends will think I am a compromising apostate. I am sure this blog post will generate angry messages and a few unfriendings on Facebook. This makes me sad, but it has become the sad reality I've lived with for the past year. (And yet, what I have experienced is really nothing compared to what many LGBT folks have faced.) My hope is that I can run a bit of interference between my fundamentalist friends and their gay and lesbian neighbors. Even if I don't convince them of where I am coming from, maybe they will hesitate just a little bit before proffering a blanket condemnation of a whole bunch of people they don't know. And maybe they'll be inspired to get to know some people who are very different than them.

I am less certain what my gay and lesbian friends will think of me. I'm not ready to self-identify as an "ally" or as "gay affirming." But I am ready to be a friend. I am ready to listen. I am ready to love. And, I am ready to wish them a Happy National Coming Out Day. I hope that will be enough for now.

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8 comments:

Dean said...

Brother, I appreciate your openness and honesty. This, like so many issues, is complicated. Your pursuit of the imitation of Christ is commendable. But don't forget that the rest of your quotation is, "Go, and from now on sin no more,"

shack said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Trevor said...

Thanks for sharing, Rob. Certitude vis a vis faith and morality seems an overarching theme. Most of this post strikes me as fairly uncontroversial/unassailable, with the key exception being the Morality Question. I don't know how you define "fundamentalist" (and like you I dislike labels but can't avoid them), but I imagine membership in that group would strongly correlate to stance on the MQ.

If you wouldn't mind sharing a bit more: is your current feeling of certitude higher, lower, or the same on this particular MQ versus Christian morality in general and versus sexual MQs in general?

Layton Dutton said...

As I read your post, the impression I get is some bad experiences from Christians earlier on. It seems like you have been with those that believe homosexuality is a sin, and rightly so I would add; but who are very non-Christian in their response to people, which is just as bad.

There has been an ultra condemnation of the sin of homosexuality. But we have no need to condemn. Christ Himself said He didn't come into the world to condemn, but to save the world. We're all condemned already. We just need to show that we are all sinners, which isn't too difficult, and need a Savior, which is Christ.

I'm sorry that you had people act so unloving toward others. That is completely wrong and a definite sin itself. I believe the Bible teaches homosexuality is a sin and yet I also have several friends that would label themselves as homosexuals. We've had at least 5-7 in our own youth group over the years as well. I get along with them and we don't really talk about homosexuality that much. My greatest desire isn't that they become heterosexual, but that they come to Christ. The Holy Spirit will work in their lives from there on the sins or hurts they have. We all have those.

Do I think it is a sin? Yes. But so is adultery and fornication and I know we've had that in our church also. I'm not saying that as a sense of pride. I'm saying that to show we are all sinners - myself being a great sinner. My life in ungodliness could fill volumes of books. I'm certainly condemned.

But Christ came into the world to save sinners. That is the message we must repeat. I don't have to say that homosexuality is not a sin to love the person and desire God's best, just as I don't have to say lying, gossip, adultery or beating your wife is ok to love the person.

I wrote an article myself on the homosexual marriage issue. I may have sent you that link before. It's not the typical "fundamentalist" stand. I'm not exactly certain what all is implied by that term. I would think I'm fundamentalist if it means I stand on the fundamentals of Scripture. If it means I don't go to movies or dance or listen to music with a beat then I guess I'm not. :-)

Here's that link - http://www.facebook.com/notes/layton-dutton/homosexual-marriage-should-we-take-a-stand/10151152319103914

I hope you follow God in what you do know and that He shows you what you have yet to learn....the same for all of us. May we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and in all godliness. And may He be glorified through our words and lives.

Praying with you.

Robb Ryerse said...

Trevor, you are right. Most fundamentalists would be unequivocal in their affirmation that homosexuality is immoral.

About my views on morality in general, I'm for it. I would, however, be more comfortable with an ethical system built around the idea of love rather than one built around dos and don't, laws and transgressions.

Jamie said...

The most loving thing we can do is tell the truth. Homosexuality is wrong. I too struggle having grown up in the dance world where many of my friends are gay and are truly nice people. If you spend some time studying marriage and how it is a picture of Christ and His bride, the church, you will see that homosexual marriage is a distortion of God's Truth and a blasphemy against God's created order. We must love our homosexual brothers and sisters by being kind and telling the truth.

Jamie said...

Rob,

My family and I were talking last night about the morality of our country and how we are no longer a Christian nation as evidenced by the re-election of President Obama. My Aunt was saying that by watching our country's popular T.V. shows, one would think that most of America was gay when really it is only a small percent (but is very rapidly growing). When God talks about homosexuality in Romans, He says that He gave them over to a reprobate mind. What a scary place to be! And you are talking about wanting to be loving?! Then tell our homosexual brothers and sisters the truth. You also said, "I would, however, be more comfortable with an ethical system built around the idea of love rather than one built around dos and don't, laws and transgressions". God's laws are loving. That's why it is called the law of perfect liberty. The Truth will set you free. It's very scary to think that even so called Christians are being deceived.

Robb Ryerse said...

Jamie,

Thanks for your comments. We obviously see things differently. I don't think American is a Christian nation. I don't think the reelection of President Obama is a sign of moral decay. And I don't think that "telling the truth" is the most loving thing we can do. I think Jesus had a much different description of what is the greatest expression of love. I decided to write a blog post about it.

http://thegrenzian.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-most-loving-thing.html

Thanks for your comments.

All the best.

Robb