Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sankofa (Part Three)

**Sankofa is a four part series looking backward so that I can move forward. Be sure to read Sankofa (Part Two) to see how I came to have faith in Jesus, became part of the 'church culture', realized how unwanting it was, then was led towards embracing a lifestyle of faith. From there, we continue to Part Three . . . .

The more I grew in the 'church culture', the more I experienced the colliding worlds of my homosexuality (or rather, my 'same sex attractions') and the mainstream church's teaching and interpretation of Scripture that it was a sin. That's all I knew. That's all I was taught. Why question it? In fact, I wouldn't have known to question it because at the time, to me, I believed it to be true. So for 13 years of being a Christian, I embraced the concept that something was wrong with me for being gay and, for some reason, God saw fit NOT to change me . . . .

There were so many times when I pleaded with God to make me straight. I begged Him to remove these desires (temptations) towards other men away from me. But every time I asked God why I still have these inclinations, He tells me that His 'grace is sufficient'. Quite frankly, I needed alot more than His grace. I needed Him to change me. I needed Him to bring peace to my flesh. I needed Him to help me feel normal. I wanted to be like everyone else. I wanted to be able to be attracted to women. I wanted to be able to have a wife. I wanted to be able to have it in me to do what was necessary to produce children. Sex. There's no way that I could pull that off. With a woman?! Yeah, right! Not a chance. I'm just not built that way.

So what am I supposed to do, Lord, if You won't change me?

There's a taboo in the church associated with being gay. No one wants to talk about it unless it's being condemned. The problem with that is that it doesn't help me much for it to be the 'unspoken' topic. I didn't want to be gay, but there I was - a professed Christian who consistently and continually experienced same sex attractions. The stigma kept me silent out of fear. Since the church didn't seem to want to do anything to help, I stayed paralyzed with the struggle. I was in a never-ending cycle of a dualistic life. I'd "go to" church to feel close to God. I'd "leave" church feeling unknown and unnoticed because no one knew how depressed I felt (much less why I would be depressed).

In 2003-04, I was introduced to the ex-gay ministry. I had heard about Exodus International. I became associated with a similar type ministry called Desert Stream. An ex-gay ministry, or rather "Side X" ministry as I seemed to have coined recently (in this blog and in a paper I wrote - I never heard it used that way before), is a Christian ministry that holds the perspective that all forms of homosexuality - whether in thought or action - are a sin. They invest their energies to exploring the "brokenness" within an individual's life, pursuing God's "healing", and hoping for a transformation by God from being gay to becoming straight - normal. In a nutshell, the Side X view says that one cannot be both gay and Christian.

I held to the Side X perspective for 13 years believing that it was wrong for me to be gay and that I needed to be changed. I thought that being gay and Christian were two fundamentally opposing contexts that cannot be experienced without compromising the "truth" of Scripture. So I avoided anything remotely related to gay Christian literature. I avoided any contact to the gay community. Yet, despite what I believed about how wrong it was, I still existed with those two realities. I am gay. I am Christian. Those two life contexts kept me living a dichotomous life - a life that kept my gayness hidden, secret, and in the dark and shameful closet and a life that kept my Christianity public, in the light, and something to be "proud" of.

The frustration of living a dualistic life led me to connecting with Desert Stream. I participated in weekly "Cross Current" meetings that gave me a context of openly talking about my struggles. I also participated in a six month intensive program called "Living Waters" for dealing with (what they referred to as) my sexual and relational brokenness. I have since heard many horror stories about other people's experiences in ex-gay ministries. However, I can say that mine was a positive experience. I didn't feel oppressed by them because, at the time, I actually did feel like being gay was a sin. I was Side X so there was no conflict in me with what the ex-gay ministry was teaching me. Aside from the whole homosexuality thing, they also taught about relational idolatry, narcissism, codependency, and sexual promiscuity. In addition, we were all involved in small groups where each of us had the opportunity to talk about our struggles and receive support through them. I found value in the program because I can acknowledge the unhealthiness of how we interact with each other - whether gay or straight. I also found value in the program because, for the first time, I could be heard. I loved being able to talk about the things that I was too afraid to talk about (or the things the Church didn't want to talk about) - the dynamic of being gay.

I was with the ex-gay ministry (in one way or another) for about 3 years. During this time, I was connecting with prayer intercessors from multiple churches throughout the city (as part of my public ministry) to pray for the city as a whole. Since Long Beach, CA has a large gay population, we often prayed against those people and their agenda. Then God began to convict my heart about two things over a period of several months. He asked me two questions: why am I praying against a people I don't even know? why am I praying against "them" when I am one of "them"?

Those two questions led to a significant moment in my life in the Spring of 2005. Those two questions served as seeds to prepare me for what God was about to do in my life, my faith, my sexuality - in me. I met a person who I typically refer to in this blog as "my buddy". We both had a mutual friend who thought it may be beneficial for us to meet. Our mutual friend knew my buddy was gay but not that I was. So we ended up meeting for an early dinner just to connect. It was a somewhat formal dinner with the standard get-to-know-you type of questions. We also talked about the whole gay thing and where each of us stood on the issue. My buddy shared about how, in recent years, he came to terms with him being gay and Christian. I shared about my hope for a wife, a family, and the grace from God that I live with in my struggle with same sex attractions. I don't know if he actually "bought" it. But he did say that he respected the fact that "I owned what I believed about it and was living it out".

That screwed me up.

I began to question his statement to me. Did I really own what I believed about homosexuality? Why do I believe that it's a sin? I realized that I believed that homosexuality was a sin because that was the only thing I was taught. The only interpretation offered to me regarding homosexuality was the Side X view. When I read the Scriptures for myself, I had the filter of the interpretations that were given to me. So then, can I really say that I own what I believe about these things?

I decided that I wanted to be able to own what I believe. I wanted to be able to say that homosexuality is a sin and to be able to say it with conviction. I wanted to be able to say that I came to this decision having been well-informed of all sides to the issue and that through my own prayer, study, and discernment I formed my conclusions. I wanted to own it.

Although I entered this journey thinking that I would come full circle and remain Side X, I knew that in order for me to genuinely process these things on my own, I had to take a step back and claim a neutral position on the issue of homosexuality. I wanted to allow myself to explore what others had to say about it. There are those who believe that a person can be both gay and Christian in a monogamous relationship because it's not a sin to be gay but it is a sin in specific contexts (Side A). There are those who believe that a person can be both gay and Christian but must be celibate because being tempted is not equivalent to acting upon it - it's still a sin (Side B). There are those who believe that a person cannot be both gay and Christian because it's all a sin and one must be transformed to be straight (Side X).

I began this journey of exploration and study and started this blog to chronicle my process. I began to meet new people who are gay and made awesome friendships - some Christian, some not. I began to nurture the friendship with my buddy - a friendship which I've grown to value greatly. I began to visit and participate with inclusive churches. I began to read books, essays, and articles. I began to hear countless stories of people from varying backgrounds. I began to get emails from people from around the country and parts of the world. I began to chat online with people going through a similar journey.

Along the way, I tried to blog with honesty and vulnerability for both my benefit and yours. As I peruse through the archives over the past 7 months, I can't help but think that it's been an interesting journey so far. I began to witness gay Christians actually worshipping the Lord. As I got to know them, I saw the fruits of the Spirit in their lives and I got to a point of realizing that I cannot deny that these indeed are my brothers and sisters in Christ. With that realization, it led to an important question: now what? If I conclude that these gay Christians are genuine believers, then what does that mean for how the Church ought to treat them? Further, what does this mean for me? I saw a parallel between this realization and the one that Peter had when God revealed to him that salvation had come to the Gentiles (Acts 10 - Cornelius' home).

Along the way, instead of seeking to answer the questions that I had, I began to question the answers that I was given. And in this process, I realized that the judgment from the mainstream Church towards gay people (including those within the Church) was a sin worthy of rebuke. This led to a study in Galatians which resulted in a milestone blog post for me called, "Embracing a Different Gospel". I realized that when I accepted Christ and believed in Him 13 years ago, it had nothing to do with my sexuality. It was His grace that I accepted. I realized that adding the Side X component of trying to change my sexuality had nothing to do with my salvation and that in doing so I was embracing a different gospel - one that appeased the mainstream Church's Side X perspective but denied the full grace of God available to me through faith in Christ.

Another significant realization that I had was about 'love'. I realized that both homosexuality and heterosexuality (as defined in today's English) are simply expressions of sexuality. In Scripture, sexual sins are described in the context of unhealthy and unloving expressions of sexuality - for both homosexual and hetersexual expressions. Both these expressions can also be conducted in the context of love.

For quite some time, I had inclined towards the Side A perspective but remained open to the other perspectives (as I still do). However, I realized that all of my study and interviews and research was merely academic. All three perspectives have seemingly good arguments, good points, and good examples. But I got to a point where I felt that I was on the fence and that I would never get off that fence until I took this journey out of the "books" and "dialogue" and started to live this out. In that process of living it out, I trust Jesus enough to continue walking with me and speaking to me about these things. I needed to experience for myself either God's peace or God's conviction about these things - trusting Jesus enough to reveal His will to me along the way and that it was okay to make some mistakes so that with Him I could learn from them. So I decided to take some relational risks. With pre-set boundaries, I decided that I was ready to start dating and meeting people in a romantic context. And I have. And it's been fun and freeing.

Some recent significant moments for me was when, for the first time, I owned my sexuality as a gay man in "Living Life As All of Me" and when I owned the injustice that the gay community often experiences but that I ignored in "Profoundly Offended" and when I spoke to my family this past Christmas that I wasn't simply "struggling with same sex attractions" (that's what I told them in 2001) but that I was actually Side A in "It Felt Like Family, It Felt Like Church" (see comments of that post).

So now, in this part of my journey, I'm finding cohesion in this Two World Collision. Whether its the collision between Church paradigms or between issues of sexuality, my peace is resting on the commands to "love God" and to "love each other". As a single guy, gay Christian and all, it does get pretty lonely. But i'm making healthy connections with people while trying to demonstrate a sincere love - the same love that I receive from Christ.

Sankofa. "Looking backward to move forward."

This is an ongoing journey for me. This is where I've been and where I am now but i'm excited to know that where I'm headed is still a mystery, still uncertain, still exhilarating. I'm still exploring. I'm still just trying to live this all out. I still trust Jesus enough to be here with me and even lead me. I have alot to learn.

**Read on to Sankofa (Part Four) to read about the vision and direction that I sense the Lord leading me into as I move forward from here!

5 comments:

E said...

I didn't realize (or maybe I'd forgotten) that you went through Living Waters. It is a good program in many respects (it helped me deal with a number of issues); it's just a shame that they still think they can help people become heterosexual through it.

Although I entered this journey thinking that I would come full circle and remain Side X

Yep, been there. There's still a small part of me that's just waiting for God to yank sharply on my chain and drag me back over to where I was before.

Anyway, thanks for sharing so openly.

Anonymous said...

Hey Eric and others--I think you should listen to a teaching from Rob Bell that he did this week at Mars Hill...it totally relates to many of the subjects that are dicussed on this site. Just go to
http://www.mhbcmi.org/listen/index.php and listen.

Eric-Again your entry moves me and makes me want to change the world..keep striving to be who God created you to be.

I love you

Becky O

Bud Fields said...

Eric:

I followed your post in GCO, and have read (twice) your work here. Thank you for a painfully personal testimony of truth. Yes, I see a lot of myself in your writing, and that is a good thing.

But, even better, I see a lot of you in it, too. It is a bold decision to be so transparent, and so vulnerable.

But, the very best part of your writing is that I fully view Dad in it. And, there's just nothing better than that. I hope you will not only continue the journey, but continue the Journal as well.

Soli Deo Gloria

Bud Fields

Herobill said...

Hi, Eric.

Well, Zeke asked me to read all this. I have to say I'm touched. I should also say I think I take the Side B view, but even if I'm right (if you're doing wrong) it's not the major issue - there is no condemnation in Christ.

So that's all by way of introduction.

This is all I want to say, here:

I think it's a shame that (it seems like) many "Side B" folks probably act or secretly feel like "Side X" folks. But to me, a gracious, relaxed approach to Side B seems completely consistent with a gentle, patient, endlessly forgiving Lord.

I myself agree with Jimmy Carter! [grin] But I go on with the Lord, and of course I watch what I do. But whatever happens, I know the Lord loves me, and he's kind to me... this is my view of me. Of course, I get to marry a woman. So that's an advantage, I admit.

But the Side X way of trying to change the nature of your own particular lusts sounds to me like trying to war against the flesh with the flesh, which is futile no matter the focus. (I picture Jim Carrey in LiarLiar, in the bathroom, yelling, "I'm kickin' my a$$!") :)

So I appreciate the struggle you had with that, as you described it. I'm sorry too - that way of living definitely sucks! And yeah... most of institutional christianity tries to do everything they do that way - no matter the particular behavior being warred against.

Finally, I deeply appreciate the emphasis you put on wanting to find "Christ-centered" churches. Whether Side A or B is correct, I agree with you on that profoundly, above and beyond all else.

So that's what I have to say. And thanks for blogging.

partygirljessica said...

I was able to move forward too since i started dating a Christian from webdate.com.