Mom, I’m Gay! (Sept – Oct 1996)

By Matt Dabbs

by Anna M. Griffith
September – October, 1996

24When I began working with an AIDS ministry, I naively assumed that I would be dealing with AIDS—people living with HIV disease and their families. Because many persons with AIDS (PWAs) are not gay, I perceived AIDS as being neither a “gay disease” nor a ‘GAY” issue. But in the minds of many Christian people and most church leaders, my vision of working with PWAs immediately translated to “unconditional endorsement of the gay lifestyle and unconditional acceptance of gays,” an unspoken barrier proving to be formidable. I soon realized that separating the two was not unlike the dilemma Solomon faced when he demanded that the child be divided with a sword.

Dealing with AIDS is not our most difficult problem. Underscoring the crisis is the thornier issue of homosexuality. The mere mention of the word in many church circles raises hostility. If someone suggests that we discuss the topic, that person may be branded a heretic because “we all know what we think about this….” Until the son or daughter of one of “us” finally confesses, “Mom, I’m gay”—a disclosure having the potential of throwing a religiously conservative family into chaos. The “we” and “they” are suddenly confronted in the same family—nuclear or church—with the disclosure carrying such disruptive potential that the ruptures may never heal. Yes, the topic spawns strong feelings and great controversy; but if we expect to tame its destructiveness, we must discuss it.

The Problem: Deep-Seated Polarities

The Judeo-Christian Community. In this community, we take our norms, in varying degrees, from the Bible. Passages such as Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, Romans 1:24-32, and 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 state unambiguously the biblical teaching. Leviticus 20:13 prescribes death for homosexual activities and Romans 1 attributes to them all manner of deep-seated divine antipathies. Because generations of Christians have taken these and other scriptures seriously, we have simply concluded, “We cannot accept gay people. They look down on God’s values and reject his teachings. Because the Bible condemns homosexuality, God could not have made this lifestyle compulsory. Therefore, it must be a choice. Because it is a choice, then all gays are in blatant rebellion to God’s teaching.”

Conservative Christians, rightly so, deeply want to do God’s will to the best of their understanding, honor his Word, abide by his teaching, and ascribe to him great holiness. Deeply held values, truths that for generations have anchored our faith, must be protected at all costs.

This is all very straightforward and simple until one has to deal with it in his or her own family—including the church family—and then the position becomes agonizing. We have no quarrel with Scripture, but some of us did the best job of parenting we knew how; we sought counseling, therapy, and reason to no avail. What did we do wrong? We’ve asked ourselves thousands of times. Many Christians have taken the simple route by rejecting their sons and daughters, insisting that homosexuality is a choice and one can understand it in no other way.

The Homosexual Community. Homosexuals generally contend that they were born that way, that homosexuality is an acceptable alternative lifestyle, and that there is no reason for them to change. If challenged with the biblical norms, they reason, “Look, God created me this way. I would never have chosen this lifestyle, but I didn’t have a choice. What’s more, he condemns this lifestyle that he created me to lead and now has sent this devastating disease to punish me for leading it. With all of this, he is terribly inconsistent, so I will have no truck with such a God. Anyway, those Scriptures were written 2,000 to 3,000 years ago and don’t apply to me now.”

With heart-wrenching agony, a second segment of the gay community affirms, “We do want to worship the God that we know and love, but mainstream Christianity will not accept this orientation (which we cannot change), so how can we come before him?” Many of these are presently organizing the rapidly growing gay churches.

I have talked with a third group of gays who say, “I could go either way, but I prefer my own sex. I don’t want to be a husband to a woman or a father to a family.” One of these even confessed, “I know the Bible is right—that God created us, and that he created us male and female. It is the only way that makes sense—the parts all fit together! I just happen to prefer men.”

The lesbians among these have often been hurt deeply early in life by the men whom they trusted. Therefore they want to have nothing to do with men while desperately craving the nurturing that comes so naturally to women.

Our Nuclear Family Background

Denial. My husband and I both grew up in conservative rural Christian communities with deeply held traditional values, so we understand and sympathize with those holding these values. When our son began (at six or seven) to manifest symptoms of homosexuality, we were alarmed but not dismayed. After all, God does not make mistakes; “Scott” would grow out of this, it was just a phase he was going through. We all have our quirks. We would just give him the love that we could and this would go away. But mostly we did not talk about it. We did not want to encourage it, after all.

Confusion. Finally, we had to admit his homosexuality, but our response was confusion. We simply did not understand his reticence to “change.” We knew he could change, because people are not created this way. We sought counseling, therapy, and pastoral advice. We prayed, cried, and became angry, all the while insisting that if he “really” gave his life to God, he could change. We still thought that if he did not change, he would be in open rebellion to God, forcing us to reject him, the path taken by some other Christian families. We took seriously what the Bible says, and we still do.

But presently it appears that we must agree to disagree with our son. Scott finally said, “Mom, I have wrapped myself like a pretzel around the Cross, and my sexual orientation did not change one bit. It did absolutely no good whatever.” So now, we can find him in the first category above, partly perhaps because of our insistence that he had a choice, that he could change. We love him as unconditionally as is humanly possible. We insist that he respect our convictions which we believe adhere to Scripture. He insists that we do not “accept” him because we fail to acknowledge homosexuality as a God-sanctioned lifestyle. But we nevertheless accept him, and otherwise have a good relationship.

In summary, the position of conservative fundamentalists is that because the homosexual lifestyle is a matter of choice, all gays are condemned because they are in rebellion to God. The gay community wants nothing to do with us because we are intolerant of their lifestyle, our God is unjust and inconsistent—therefore irrelevant, and our view of Scripture is hopelessly obsolete.

Allow me to insist on one basic ground rule, however. The gay community has vehemently attacked the Christian community for our inconsistencies, homophobia, and intolerance which, to some extent, is accurate. But they have failed to understand our profoundly ingrained reverence for Scripture and for God’s holiness, at least the way we understand it. If they expect us to respond to them with tolerance, we have just as much right to expect the same from them. Is there any way out of this difficult impasse? I think so. Because we have a just and loving God who cares for all of us, we must try to find his way.

For Your Consideration

Scripture. Read the Scriptures again—carefully. If you have the tools, do some careful study in the original languages. From what I can gather, the Scriptures condemn homosexual behavior, not the tendency, not the person. They condemn the acting-out of the desire. I have known people who have chosen celibacy rather than offend their consciences or their understanding of God’s will for humanity.

Causes/Sources. Presently, experts have been unable to reach a consensus about why some go the gay route. Undoubtedly, early conditioning plays its part in some cases. Behaviorists emphasize the “dominant mother/retiring father” aspects. Some, at critical developmental stages, were molested or seduced by an older man and became “stuck” in that behavioral phase.

Other studies, such as one reported by the Associated Press in a story datelined San Francisco, October 31, 1995, suggest the presence of a defective gene: “’Scientists have found new evidence that a gene inherited from mothers helps influence whether a man is homosexual….Our result says that genes are involved in male sexual orientation,’ said Dean Hamer, an author of the study.”

Thus the polarization derives from how one perceives the cause. If the cause is hereditary, gays distrust God and Christendom’s interpretation of him. If environmental, the Judeo-Christian community presumes that a homosexual can “change.” Therefore, if he refuses to, he is mean-spirited and rebellious against God’s ordinances. The problem is further compounded by a too-hasty resort to personal experience.

Can a gay person change?

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

This passage affirms that yes, people do change. A number of ministries and ministers are devoted to counseling, loving, and supporting those leaving this lifestyle. I may know someone who has led this lifestyle, but has left it, choosing to go straight. I could therefore conclude that this is a choice, that all gays can change if they want to. Leaning heavily on the above passage, some have a charismatic experience, are changed forever, and promptly offer that as a panacea. Others contend that if such people can change “at the drop of a hat,” then they were not really gay to start with. Apparently many factors may enter into homosexuality, probably many combined even in the life of any individual; so to attribute it to one cause or to attempt to treat it from one perspective is to miss the larger picture, and possibly to miss a more effective kind of therapy.

The scope of this article prohibits a discussion of all the suggested causes and all the factors that work (or do not work) to bring about change. But I have mentioned these to say that some can change but many cannot. Apparently God has changed some, but he has not changed all who have come to him. I refuse to attribute caprice to him, or lack of faith to others. Scott’s pretzel comment continues to haunt me. For some it may be a choice, but for many it is not. Some incredulously ask, “Why would anybody want to choose this lifestyle with its ridicule, its prejudice, and discrimination? He would have to be insane!” With a great deal of pathos a homosexual man said to me, “All I really want is to be like my father!” Most express a profound sense of sadness and loss. Many mourn the fact that they will never have a family.

This brings us to a little-discussed aspect of all sin. A dear friend reminded me that God did not give us commandments because he wanted us to hear his thundering voice or because he took delight in spoiling our fun. His precepts are ours because of his love. He wants to keep us from separating ourselves from him. He does not want to see us hurt. “He hates all sin because all sin hurts people… God is not mad because we broke His RULE; He’s mad because we broke His heart, “ writes Stacey Mullins.

Did God Goof Up?

If homosexuality is genetic, I want to scream, “But, God, how could You goof up? How could You create us in Your likeness, male and female, with parts fitting together so well, then create some in such a way as to cause so much misery and alienation, and then condemn them for it?” And in this, the gays have a point. Here God doesn’t make sense. So they are drawn to the perspective that God didn’t goof up, this lifestyle is beautiful and normal, end of discussion.

But the Book must be my norm. I am accountable to it, and it is not that easy for me. He created us male and female and the parts do fit together. He created the first humans to be beautiful, whole, and perfect. But now we have babies with birth defects, Down syndrome, and any number of other irregularities. We have cancer, incurable diseases, natural disasters too numerous to count, and cataclysmic wars. Where do these come from?

All good things come from God, but we live in a fallen world. Sometimes the system within that world goofs up and we have to deal with it. For example, some scientists insist that a genetic weakness predisposes some to alcoholism. Do we therefore throw up our hands and consign all alcoholics to a permanent state of inebriation, refusing to minister to them in any way? Of course not! This brings me to the bottom line, a solution that I can live with.

The Solution

One gay who is also HIV positive told me, “I just feel like damaged goods.” I wonder why we cannot all make that confession, for we are all “damaged goods.” God’s most outstanding characteristic is holiness, and none of us can stand in his presence, for we are all “damaged.” If we cannot ultimately recognize ourselves in this description, we can never fully comprehend the magnitude of his sacrifice or our need for it.

We are ready to categorize our sins, but Paul didn’t do that in 1 Corinthians 6. Is the sin of adultery worse than pride? Is drunkenness worse than hate? Why is the homosexuality over which one grieves worse than the covetousness over which another never repents? Is one’s sin worse because he is found out, while another has a “better” sin because it remains hidden? Which sins are not covered by grace? Or, perhaps more to the point, for which sins do we feel no need for grace?

The only hope that any of us has is to bring all of our “damaged goods” before the cross, for indeed this is all we have to bring. We can attend therapy sessions, counseling, and support groups all of our days, but the only true cleansing, the only true healing, comes from the power of God himself, the cleansing River of Life.

And he does cleanse. Scott’s pretzel comment may have been born from the self that continues to cling so tenaciously to two worlds. I can only guess, but he may have wished for cleansing on his own terms, not God’s. Surrender to God is not so much a gigantic leap to the top of the mountain as it is a tortuous daily climb. We can only surrender to the extent that we know ourselves at any given moment. I had surrendered far more at 40 than I had at 30, more this week than I had last, and He only works with what I surrender.

Ultimately, I cannot determine who will or will not be acceptable before God. I cannot determine the limits of God’s grace. I can know what the Bible teaches. I can teach it to others. I can apply its principles to my life, repent when I am convicted, and extend that same opportunity to others. We are all on equal footing before Him.Wineskins Magazine

Anna M. Griffith

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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