Monday, December 31, 2007

Side X Culture and a Vision for an Inclusive Community

Why am I different? How do we address those who are different? Who does God accept? Who should I accept? What would acceptance mean? How do I accept someone with differing perspectives? These are questions many of us have within the Church.

When I began my journey, it was to discover what I could own about the things I said that I believed. However, that journey evolved into one of reconciling my faith and my sexuality. I thought, at first, that I would come full circle in affirming my agreement that being gay and having same sex attractions were wrong. My journey took a turn when I realized that God’s grace extended beyond the box of my paradigm.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not an academic person. I’m not well read and I’ve been criticized and called immature in my conclusions. I’m not all that interested in philosophical or theological debates about concepts. I didn’t start my journey or this blog to create terminology on issues more complex than my own understanding. My journey and my blog are about me finding a way to live a lifestyle of faith authentically and practically.

I coined the phrase “Side X” (or at least I had never heard of it used anywhere else prior to my usage) as a handle to assist my own process for making sense of differing perspectives. It was helpful to me in making categories on the left side bar column of this blog. Then other people started using the phrase – each with their own (similar) definition of what it meant. Since there had been discussion in some circles about its meaning and whether or not the term should be legitimized, I decided to unpack my own thoughts about “Side X” – NOT to provide concrete definition and proper usage as the person who coined the phrase, but rather to explain and clarify how I am personally using it to help my own thought process, and to cast vision for an inclusive community . . . .

The Spectrum of Perspectives

There’s a spectrum of perspectives regarding the issue of being gay and being Christian. Can a person be both? How do the issues of morality and identity relate to a person who has same sex attractions? Both Bridges Across the Divide and Gay Christian Network developed and utilize the terms Side A and B. In my own process, I use these terms as handles. I may or may not use the terms in the same way that they use them. Since I’m talking about my handles and not simply their terms, I describe them with my own bias.

In my view, I see Side A as the perspective that both same sex attractions and gay orientation are equal to opposite sex attraction and straight orientation, and that an appropriate response is a loving monogamous relationship in either a gay or straight context. Same sex attractions and gay orientation are not a result of “The Fall” (Adam’s sin) but rather lust as sin is a result of “The Fall”. God’s best, His ideal, His intention is for genuine love for all people in both platonic and romantic contexts.

I see Side B as the perspective that same sex attractions are a result of “The Fall” and that God’s best, His ideal, His intention is for opposite sex attraction. With a gay orientation, an appropriate response is to maintain non-sexual intimate relationships.

I see Side X as the perspective that same sex attractions are a result of “The Fall” and that God’s best, His ideal, His intention is for opposite sex attraction and straight orientation. Having same sex attractions are a result of gender identity confusion and the appropriate response is to recondition one’s gender identity as an opposite sex attracted male or an opposite sex attracted female.

Some may use the terms Side A, Side B, or Side X to describe themselves but not utilize the full description that I use. Within this spectrum of perspectives, there is a range where people may categorize themselves. So it’s not clear cut and definitive. In my observation, the range may include Sides A, AB, B, BX, X. So rather than seeing these as categories, I see them more as gradations. The point is that people have differing perspectives along this spectrum and I believe that every person ought to have the freedom to journey with God their own conclusions on the matter without the majority perspective imposing its ideology as absolute truth.

I think that the issue of being gay and being Christian is not a salvation issue but instead a “disputable matter”. Salvation comes by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Heterosexuality is not part of the salvation equation. It’s not a gospel of heterosexuality. Therefore, though we may disagree on our perspectives, we shouldn’t be rejecting or disowning (or excommunicating) fellow believers because of it.

Romans 14 describes how we ought to accept one another and refrain from passing judgment on disputable matters. Verses 13 and 14 says, “Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way. As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean.

Further, in verses 22 and 23 it says, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

So maybe it’s okay that we disagree on the issue of being gay as long as we respect each other as being Christian.

The Side X Culture

The problem, I think, is when the majority presents itself as better and superior and imposes its ideology in a way that devalues fellow Christians as true believers.

The Side X culture consists primarily of the mainstream church of straight people (and those who want to be straight) who take on the Side X perspective. Most mainstream lay Christians and pastors are uninformed regarding the spectrum of perspectives and by default take on a Side X perspective as one of the majority. This Side X culture operates with several assumptions.

The first assumption is about the superiority and normalcy of heterosexuality. The assumption is that God’s “best” and “ideal” is to be straight and that His “intention” was that He created us as heterosexual beings.

The second assumption is about the brokenness of homosexuality. The assumption is that having same sex attractions, being less common, are abnormal and not whole. At the fault of parental upbringing, the male/female identity has been broken. Many people associate the “homosexual lifestyle” with promiscuousness, adultery, and an immoral sexual lifestyle. The assumption is that having a gay orientation naturally means desiring what they associate with the “homosexual lifestyle”.

The third assumption is about the need for change. The assumption is that orientation and identity ought to be changed with a restored gender identity in order to fulfill their interpretation of “wholeness”. The assertion is that “being whole is being like us”.

These assumptions by the Side X culture give birth to ex-gay programs, ministries and therapies. With the encouragement of the straight majority, same sex attracted people launch a campaign to recondition each other’s gender identity by giving them tools to help suppress their same sex attractions. A primary tool is to reject and deny a gay orientation.

Ex-gay programs have changed their claims due to criticism. They used to claim a change in orientation but now they claim a change in identity. It’s a subtle difference that gives them a loop hole when a change in orientation doesn’t occur. “I’m not gay. I’m a straight child of God that struggles with same sex attractions. Er, for the rest of my life. But at least I’m not having gay sex anymore and that’s what counts. Right?

The assertion now is that same sex attracted individuals ought to seek a change in identity – or rather to heal the male or female identity as one that is attracted to the opposite sex. Nevertheless, their implication is the same – that heterosexuality is a whole identity and homosexuality is a broken identity and should be changed/healed.

Mixed Messages

The assumptions by the Side X culture taints interpretation of Scriptures. Interestingly, that’s the very thing they accuse gay Christians of doing. They are reading Scripture with a lens of “straight is best”. My assertion is that it’s the wrong lens. The proper lens should be that of "love".

The Side X culture and ex-gay programs give a mixed signal to those in the Church that are same sex attracted. They teach that God’s love is unconditional but they demonstrate the Church’s conditional acceptance based on their interpretation of wholeness.

I find this unjust. They deem same sex attracted people as broken, not whole, not right and not good. This creates a second-class group of outcasts that unnecessarily binds a person’s sense of being when few ever realize that hope of being healed as one of the “untouchables”. The same thing happened so many decades ago when black American slaves were beaten to strip them of their spirit so that their bodies could be used for labor. Their identity was stripped so that they could forever be bound and viewed as something less.

Gay Christians are told that we are merely same sex attracted gender identity confused individuals who ought to force our flesh into conforming to someone else’s interpretation of who we are. It’s wrong to be treated as outcasts. It’s wrong to be treated as second-class. It’s wrong to be treated as less. Further, it’s insulting to be called less of a man or less of a woman simply because we are same sex attracted. It’s emasculating and unjust.

The Side X culture needs to take some responsibility for modern day gay culture because in its war against homosexuality it pushes people who don’t accept the Side X ideology away from God. There are too many people in the gay culture that have had previous religious backgrounds. Yet they were hurt and broken by the Church and having been cast aside (socially or physically), they had little options and little example.

Inclusive Culture

Paul gives his Romans 14 encouragement to refrain from judging each other and continues in Romans 15:7 by saying we ought to “accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.” People may have differing perspectives on the spectrum. However, we can create an inclusive community that maintains a consistent message.

We need a Church culture with a consistent message of love. Genuine love is God’s best, His ideal, His intention for us as His creation. I think that’s where the Side X culture has missed the point. It’s not about being straight or gay as if one was moral and one was not. The point is about loving as opposed to lusting. If we are to change and to grow as God’s people, we should be striving to love better. Both gay and straight people are capable of lust. Our challenge is to grow past the objectification and sexualization of people we ought to love better. I’m still working on that. But as I’ve said before, it’s not about who I love; it’s about how I love.

The Church ought to be calling all people, both gay and straight, to genuine love in faithfulness, commitment and monogamy. We ought to be having the conversation about healthy platonic and romantic relationships. We ought to be talking about growing our relationship with God.

We need a Church culture with a consistent message of authenticity. We have to see past the gay/straight, male/female, ethnic divide and explore our identity in Christ within the context of who we are in our relational/sexual orientation, gender, and ethnicity. We need to focus on the examination of our hearts before God and ourselves so that we can humbly come to God as imperfect beings who desire to grow in character.

As I’ve journeyed through my own process and discovered what God would have of me and for me, I am past reconciling my faith and my sexuality. I am revitalized with a fresher vision to pursue. My hope now is to see a greater sense of community, collaboration, and citizenship through meaningful relationships. Perhaps in the days and years ahead, I’ll unpack further what that could look like!

For more on the Side X culture, be sure to watch the fourth segment of my Survivor series on YouTube here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Blade - December 2007 Issue

Since I hadn't been blogging for several weeks, I don't remember if I told you that I'm now a contributing writer for a local gay news magazine called the Blade. It's primarily a print mag but they recently launched a still-developing Web site to post their content.

I was interviewed by them to talk about Toastmasters in the July 07 issue here. I was also interviewed by them to talk about Two World Collision and being an ex-gay survivor in the October 07 issue here. Now I'm officially writing for them! Woo hoo!

So I thought I'd start sharing with you some of the stuff I've been writing for each issue. Plus you can check out other articles too (if you happen to be interested in some local scoop).

Here's the December 07 issue with my first two articles:

"Latino Men on Display in the OC" is about an unconventional men's beauty pageant.

"Men Chat to Help Each Other Grow" is about a local men's discussion group.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

That's How You Know

I enjoyed dinner at a cool vegan restaurant called Leaf Cuisine last night with my friend Peterson who was passing through LA from Portland on his way back home to Connecticut. He inspires me! It's been an absolutely full and crazy and fun and challenging and discouraging and encouraging 30 days for me and so I appreciate his friendship because he rejuvenates my sense of purpose and is a model for what can be and what should be done in this world.

Seeing as how it's been exactly one month (and a day) since my last post, and also since Peterson gave me an East coast kick in the arse as I dropped him off at the airport to just write SOMETHING . . . . you can blame him for this one!

I saw Enchanted a few weeks ago (which by the way, a good friend of mine who is a Disney photo shoot producer did promo stuff on this movie) and I have to admit that I really liked the movie! Yeah, it's cheesy but I am absolutely a romantic. Plus I like how they balanced out both concepts of believing in Love and also taking the time to get to know a person - dating. One of the hottest things to me is a guy who takes the initiative in expressing how he feels. =P

I laugh at myself every time I listen to this song because I actually really like it! And given the crazy last 30 days I've had, this song brings me up every time! Enjoy!