Monday, June 27, 2011

Quid Est Veritas

What is truth?—John 18:38
Should We Live the Good Lie?

The New York Times article “Living the Good Lie” that I references in my post yesterday discussed how many gay Christians deal with religion and homosexuality. Denis Flanigan, a psychotherapist, believes that
Some gay evangelicals truly believe that to follow their sexual orientation means abandonment by a church that provides them with emotional and social sustenance — not to mention eternal damnation. Keeping their sexual orientation a secret, however, means giving up any opportunity to have fulfilling relationships as gay men and women.
The conundrum the psychologists in the article face is what to tell their clients. Should they try to help them be straight? Should they help them stay in the closet? Should they help them come out? Which was more important, religion or sexual orientation? Warren Throckmorton, a professor at Grove City College, a Christian institution, just north of Pittsburgh said “Many theorists in the gay-affirming world have taken a view that religion is a changeable aspect of personality. But people don’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I’ll be a Baptist instead of a Buddhist.’ Religion is the way the world makes sense to them, and for them that seems like a pretty stable attribute.” He began looking for a less polarized, more nuanced approach. Wayne Besen, the founder of Truth Wins Out, an organization devoted to debunking the ex-gay ministry, disagreed with Throckmorton, “I think Throckmorton means well and really wants to help people reconcile their faith and sexuality. However, the more appropriate way is for people to find a more moderate religion that doesn’t force them to live at cross purposes with their sexual health.” And this brings us to one of the main point of this post. If we are not entirely happy with our brand of faith, why do we not chose a more moderate religion? The reason is because, as Flanigan believed, a person’s “church provides them with emotional and social sustenance.”

Many of the men and women who have strong religious faith who cannot move past the erroneous preaching of hate instead of love find that they must continue to live in the closet, even though they acknowledge their homosexual attractions and yet refuse to live openly.  These people use the term same-sex attracted instead of homosexual.  According to Throckmorton, “They would say they have attractions to the same sex but haven’t formed their core identity around that.”

Last fall, Jim Swilley, the bishop of the Church in the Now, in Conyers, Ga., gave a moving, hourlong coming-out sermon to his congregation, his response to a spate of suicides by gay teenagers and, perhaps, to rumors in his church about his own sexual orientation. “There are two things in my life that I didn’t ask for . . . one is the call of God in my life, and the other is my orientation. I didn’t think that those two things could ever be compatible,” he told his congregation.  Swilley had been married twice.  In fact, it was his second wife, Debye, who persuaded Swilley to come out. When they started dating, Swilley told her about his attractions to men. “Let’s get married; we’ll figure it out,” Debye said. Once they agreed to divorce, he intended to remain celibate for the rest of his life and to take his secret to his grave, but Debye challenged his hypocrisy. “You tell people to experience the real God in the real world, but you’re not real,” she told him. “You don’t believe God loves you as you are.”  Swilley, who is writing a book about his experience, says that any therapy that doesn’t involve coming out is pointless. “You can’t believe the stuff I watched people go through,” he said “and they are all still gay all those years later. And all the people we married off to the opposite sex are divorced.”

After years of experimenting with various treatments, Douglas Haldeman, a psychologist who opposed is to conversion therapy and has been working with gay men recovering from those same therapies since the early ’80s, came to the same conclusion as Swilley. “The clients keep trying,” Haldeman said. “The danger is that it promotes fraudulent relationships, and their mates finally leave them.” He saw too many gay men pressuring themselves to be someone they weren’t and saw spouses trying to adapt to marriages that cheated them of emotional and sexual intimacy.

The American Psychological Association clearly stated its opposition to conversion therapy and unequivocally described homosexuality as normal. But it also offered a nuanced view of religious gay people who did not want to come out. The A.P.A. considered the kind of identity therapy proposed by Throckmorton and Yarhouse to be a viable option. No effort needed to be expended trying to change a client’s religion or sexual orientation. Therapy, in fact, was to have no particular outcome either way, other than to guide the client closer to self-acceptance, whatever the client believed that to be. The difference between sexual orientation and sexual identity was microscopically parsed. “Acceptance of same-sex sexual attractions and sexual orientation may not mean the formation of an L.G.B. sexual-orientation identity,” the report stated. “Alternate identities may develop instead.” It further stated that acting on same-sex attractions might not be a fulfilling solution for everyone.

In their solution, or more likely non-solution, the A.P.A. is guiding therapists with no true map.  Each persons psychological make-up is different.  They tend to want to find an easy answer when there is not one.  I personally do not believe that a life in the closet is a healthy solution, because you are lying to yourself which destroys you from the inside.  I also do not believe that abandoning my faith was ever a viable option.  I never once considered it.  I did on occasion consider finding a more moderate church, but the fact that I was raised in the Church of Christ did not make this a viable option for me and my faith in God.  A true member of the Churches of Christ is not likely to go find another church that believes something that is not in the New Testament scriptures.  The Churches of Christ (and the Stone/Campbell restoration movement as a whole) was founded because the Presbyterian Church of which Thomas Campbell was a member met to lay judgment on each of its members on a weekly basis in order to determine if  they should be allowed to partake in the Eucharist/Communion or not.  Campbell felt that God was the only judge of our faith, not man, and therefore wrote the The Declaration and Address of the Christian Association of Washington which was a starting point for the Campbell–Stone Movement, leading to the development of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Churches of Christ and the Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ.

The particular beliefs of the Churches of Christ and why I hold them so dear are the topics of my next post.


Mack said...

I have a good friend who is a member of the Churches of Christ. My experience, through him, is of a very rigid theology. Part of the issue I've had with more conservative denominations is that they do so much damage to good people of faith. All religions should challenge people's faith, but none should destroy it.

There are a number of gay-friendly denominations out there too: ELCA, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, UCC, Disciples of Christ, Metropolitan Community Church and a number of others. All of these churches seem to have no problem reconciling faith with a different way of being.

I don't know what will make these conservative churches wake up. Will it be when people vote with their feet and leave, or will it be when they are changed from the inside? I suspect the latter, but I hate to think of the human toll that will take to do it.

Joe said...

Mack, in ways, the Churches of Christ have a very rigid theology, though this varies from church to church, depending on the leadership within the different congregations. We did have have a very conservative preacher once, and eventually members of the church, including my family, voiced our opinion with our feet and left to attend another congregation. The ones who stayed eventually woke up to the fact that most of the church members were no longer there, and we found a new minister.

I had a girlfriend in high school who was also a member of the Church of Christ, though a different congregation, and they did not allow dancing, which made school dances difficult. My church has never had such prohibitions. Our preacher doesn't drink, dance, gamble, and all the other little religious quirks, but he doesn't condemn us for doing so. A lot of it has to do with the church community.

And I have the same issues with more conservative denominations that they do more damage than good. Also, I agree with you that all religions should challenge people's faith, but none should destroy it.

My next post does focus mostly on why I remain a member of the Church of Christ and have no intention of changing that. I hope that you will find my view of the Churches of Christ to be a lot less rigid.

Graham said...

I am a Roman Catholic and like every one else who is Gay I had to make a journey in faith and also in discovering my sexual orientation. What I call the journey is one in which we go through moral development. The child accepts the authority of his parents or of his church, but as we grow and develop we have to start to take responsibility for our faith and for our actions.

At the same time we have to grow in a faith the accepts that God loves me. He created me and in my case he created me as a gay man. God loves his creation and rejoices in my being. The main Christian denominations have a long way to go before they will really accept that being gay is a natural state. The Christian Church took many years before it accepted it that it got things wrong about slavery and many other aspects of its teaching.

Because I have integrated my faith and my sexuality I am comfortable in my own skin. It is true that many in the Church do not accept my sexuality, but that is their problem not mine. I know that God created me in his own image and likeness and my role is to manifest to the World somthing of the gayness of God.

fan of casey said...

Joe: I don't know how much this is going to contribute to your discussion but I wanted to provide some additional observations on the topic of religion.

I have a good friend from Hawaii who ended up going to seminary school in CA to become a pastor (he's a southern baptist). My understanding about born again Christians is this idea of a having a personal relationship with God. Also many believe in the literal truth of the Bible.

So my query to my pastor friend was why is there a need for clergy or even a church when one supposedly could have a personal relationship with God? Why the need for a middleman? Could one find God with the Bible alone?

His answer was that pastors were trained to truly understand and interpret the Bible and God's teachings. This then led me to the question: Why is there a need to interpret the Bible if one believes in the literal words? Isn't the black and white print on the pages enough? No, he said, sometimes, the passages are metaphors, and requires formal learning to understand. This then led to the question of subjectivity -- if one has to interpret a passage, who is to say which interpretation is correct?

OK, I readily admit I was kind of being a dick about this but I also was being seriously about pointing out the flaws of claiming literal truth only to get an explanation that only specialized training was necessary to properly understand the Bible and it seem conflicting to me.

Now I don't mean to undercut the validity of your own faith, I just wanted to further explain why I have difficulty following religion.

PS: My pastor friend has never condemned me for being gay. He believes that all people are sinners and deserve redemption and that being gay is no different than a host of sins mentioned in the Bible.

Joe said...

Graham, I whole-heartedly agree with you. God did create us in his image and loves us for who we are. My beliefs, though I attend the same church as my parents, is quite different from theirs. And I am happy to take responsibility for that. I think far too many Christians focus on Hell, and not enough on love, which is part of the reason they have a long way to go before acceptance.

Joe said...

FOC, you are not the first to ask those questions. A large part of the Reformation was about the priest within every man and the ability to read the Bible and interpret it for themselves. I think the Bible is purposefully obtuse so that the Bible can speak to us in many different ways. Those who believe that there is only one answer are those who do not understand the true meaning of God's love.

Thank you for adding to the discussion. I think you bring up some very valuable points and asked some of the questions that many of us struggle with.