Friday, February 8, 2013

One of...Them.

It's not often that I can identify with Blanche Devereaux from The Golden Girls. (I know. I'm sorry. So, so sorry. Please stay with me.)

Blanche, the Georgia belle, is applying for membership in an organization called "Daughters of the Old South." By all accounts, the former debutante from Atlanta is the perfect candidate. However, to her shock and horror, as she prepares her lineage presentation for the initiation banquet, she discovers that her great-grandmother was born in Buffalo. If that didn't already spell doom for her society aspirations, her great-grandmother's last name was Feldman. Yes, Feldman. In one moment, Blanche, the charming Southern belle, realized that she was a Jewish Yankee! And of course we laugh, because for once, Blanche's prejudices are pointed right back at herself.

So how exactly do I identify with Blanche, you ask? (Again: I'm sorry. I wish there was another way.) I grew up just as evangelical Christian as Blanche grew up Southern. Like all my red-blooded, adolescent, evangelical brethren, I had dreams of finding my hot Christian wife, having passionate honeymoon sex, making beautiful Christian babies, and taking stunning family pictures on the beach wearing white shirts and khaki pants to hang over our fireplace and send to all our friends at Christmas. This was the expectation. This was what "true love" was waiting for. This was my destiny.

There was only one problem: I wasn't attracted to girls! While I, just like my Christian brethren, dreamed of the day I would meet my hot Christian wife, I actually found myself a lot more attracted to the brethren. Of course I found this inconsistency concerning, but surely it was a just passing phase, a pothole on the bumpy road of pubescence. Surely, once I met my hot Christian wife, it would all go away. It had to. After all, I knew I wasn't one of "them."

Thankfully (and I truly am very thankful for this) I was not raised in a church that taught me to hate "the gays." The Word I heard growing up was a Word of grace and forgiveness. I heard that Jesus died to save sinners, and no one was too far out of his reach.

But still, there was something different about...them. They had an agenda. They were on a mission to ruin our marriages. They were dirty. When our church & school were holding a press conference to make sure everyone knew a Democratic candidate's position on gay adoption and they held a protest across the street, our school locked the doors and told us to stay inside. You never knew what they might do. 

The message was subtle, but I heard it loud and clear. Jesus died to save sinners, but they needed a whole lot more saving than we did.

I learned all the verses that said homosexuals were sinful. I made fun of the gay male cheerleader for our rival basketball team. I joined Facebook groups like "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." I said a lot of pretty horrible and ignorant stuff that I won't repeat here. My hypocrisy never occurred to me...not even once. I was a Christian. They were the gays. I had Jesus on my side. They were trying to take over our country and force us to accept their perverse lifestyle.

So imagine my surprise when I realized that I, the evangelical poster child, was one of them. It was neither a passing phase nor some confusing hormonal hurricane. My head ran out of explanations to give my heart...I was gay.

Now, my epiphany didn't come quite as suddenly or obviously as Blanche's did. I had no official government document declaring, in black-and-white, that I was gay. I had no Bea Arthur sitting across the kitchen table telling me, "You're gay, 'Brother!' Gay, gay, gay!" old Sicilian woman to comment, "I'll be damned, the gay guy's prejudiced!" No, I had no such aid, and in fact, I would never even own up to the word itself. It had too many negative connotations, of parades and rainbows and promiscuity and "Will & Grace" and Democrats.

Moment of truth: I'm still a little uncomfortable with the word "gay." Don't get me wrong, I've come a long way. I understand the stereotype, and I understand how harmful that stereotype can be. But my entire life, that word represented a lifestyle and a worldview that I, my family, my friends, and my church rejected as an abomination. If I now say, "I'm gay," that's me giving in. I'm giving up any hope of change. I'm turning my back on God's redemptive power. I'm placing my identity in my sexuality rather than Christ. I'm taking a dangerous step down the slippery slope of sinful choices.

Or am I?

If I'm completely honest with myself, the real reason I don't want to call myself "gay" is that I'm afraid to associate myself with them.

And what do I even mean by "gay" anyhow, you might be wondering. If it's not parades and promiscuity, then what is it? There's no need to reinvent the wheel, so I'll just quote Wes Hill's recent article about the gay label (a great read by a brother I look up to and highly respect).

"'Gay' in current parlance doesn't necessarily refer to sexual behavior; it can just as easily refer to one's sexual orientation and say nothing, one way or the other, about how one is choosing to express that orientation."

"Gay" says nothing about my sexual behavior. I'm celibate, and by the grace of God, I intend to remain so, unless God changes my orientation. "Gay" says nothing about my lifestyle. In fact, calling myself gay flies in the face of the whole "gay lifestyle" stereotype--an unhelpful stereotype, I might add--because I don't fit that mold in the slightest. (Except that I opened with a Golden Girls reference...I get it.) "Gay" says nothing about my gender identity. Personally, I don't remember ever questioning my identity as a man. "Gay" says nothing about my beliefs on the morality of gay relationships or how I would vote on a gay marriage amendment.

Saying "I'm gay" is my way of saying "I'm broken." I don't work the way I was designed to. And, by golly, who does?

Last week, as I cried out to God in my prayer journal, I wrote the words "I'm gay" for the first my life. Not "I'm attracted to other guys" or "I struggle with same-sex attraction." I wrote "I'm gay." I was instantly filled with fear and shame as I saw the words. My pen couldn't write fast enough as I continued, trying to explain myself and qualify the statement in a run-on, stream-of-consciousness sentence. The words "I don't know" appeared 5 times in one small paragraph. Then it hit me. I stopped writing. My eyes filled with tears. I continued: "All I know is that when I say it, I feel your arms around me. I hear You say, 'Come here, child. I love you.'"

My image of God has always suspiciously resembled a kinder, gentler version of Monty Python's cartoon deity. Scripture refers to God in the masculine. This makes sense. I don't think we should mess with that, and that's why I continue here with care...

In that moment, as I took the mask off my heart and stood there before God in all my naked shame and vulnerability, my image of God was not the man with the long gray beard, waiting to hear my rationalizations and excuses. I saw a rather large, beautiful, black woman. Her smile was warm, and her eyes sparkled with love behind welling tears. Her big arms opened wide as she pulled me up onto her lap and into her embrace. I felt safe. I felt wanted. I felt loved.

I've always known that God loved me. I've read it, I've recited it, and I've written papers about it. But in that brief vision, as I was wrapped in the safe, warm embrace of that old, beautiful black woman, I think I believed that He loved me for the first time. I felt it. 

I took the mask off my heart (or perhaps...He took it off), and Love came in.

Some who share my struggle feel very strongly about the "gay" label. They use it openly to describe themselves and without apology. I don't know if I'm there yet. I'm still processing. This is all very new to me. I would ask for grace from these brothers as I process my thoughts, feelings, and most importantly, my beliefs and convictions.

Now wait, there's more to the Golden Girls illustration. (Isn't the irony stunning?) Blanche went to the initiation banquet, intending to cover up her Yankee heritage and accept her membership into the Daughters of the Old South. However, as she gets up to make her lineage presentation, she cracks. She can't do it. She spills the beans about her Jewish Yankee great-grandmother. Sure enough, she's denied entry into the club, but she knows she made the right decision. Blanche is still a Southerner, and very much so. She has a lot more in common with the other ladies in that room than she does with the Yankees in Buffalo, but she realizes she doesn't want to be a part of a club that won't accept her for who she is, Jewish Yankee heritage and all.

Okay, the illustration gets a little shaky, especially for my personal application. Thankfully, the Church isn't as exclusive as the Daughters of the Old South, although she certainly acts that way sometimes. But even when the Church is exclusive, I'm not going to reject her. I can't reject her. To quote Augustine, "the Church is a whore, but she's also my mother." Even if, at times, she rejects me, Jesus doesn't give me the option to reject her, his Bride. I am committed to the Church, and because I am committed, I instead choose to actively seek her purity and peace in the midst of her whoredom (a whoredom that I'm very much a part of, I must also point out.)

I don't identify myself by my sexual orientation. I identify as a son of God. I sit in worship on the Lord's Day and know I have far more in common with this odd band of brothers and sisters than I have with anyone else. We're all broken. We're all trusting Jesus with our brokenness. But I can't keep lying about my least not to myself. I can't sit silently as a specific group of sinners (a group to which I belong) is singled out for shaming and condemnation; as a generation of confused young people grow up believing that their sin is especially awful, more so than their friends, or that God loves them less because of it. 

The gospel tells me that while we were still sinners, while we were in open rebellion to his will, Jesus came to us, took on our flesh, became one of us, called himself one of us. Why did he do this? How could he do this? Love. 

I'm still praying about this word, "gay." Does it describe my orientation? Yes. Does it describe my behavior and choices? No. Is it helpful for the discussion I'm trying to engage in? I don't know yet. 

But here's what I do know. The Church needs to know that "the gays" are not "them." They're not "out there." They're not a lifestyle nor a political platform. They're not a sitcom nor a pride parade. We're here...well, some of us are. We're in the Church. And we love the Church, because we love Jesus. We're seeking to follow him and carry our crosses and that can be very difficult and very lonely sometimes.

The Church needs to know that we're here. The gays are here. I'm here. I'm gay.

My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus' Name.
On Christ the Solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

Grace & peace,

Your Brother Behind the Mask

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this wonderful post. I agree with you.