A Little Controversy

So, Alan said this:

I am pro-marriage, but I fall short if that’s all people know of me. Christians must be pro-people and pro-hearts. If we win all of the political battles in the world and we lose people over it then we have lost everything. God’s heart beats, “Souls! Souls! Souls! Souls!” So should ours. As I have stated before, there are people “missing” from the Body and they can be found in the gay community and we would be far better off with them than without. God would rather have a handicapped child than no child at all.

after Wendy asked him this:

I think this is a really critical time in the Christian church in relation to our engagement with same-gender attracted people. What do you think are the most important priorities and values in this area of mission and ministry moving forward?

to which David said this:

The wild card here is the phrase, “less than God intends for His creation.” What on earth does one do with such a statement? One could easily ask Mr. Chambers if he is certain he might not have come closer to God’s best by actually procreating, instead of adopting. After all, that is a major part of marriage according to his interpretation.  Did he miss God’s best by not waiting for his wife to become pregnant?  Should they both have had more faith that God would provide a child the way, well, He intended?

Well indeed.

Sometimes we get into arguments because we don’t really listen to the person we’re disagreeing with. Take for example the fuss made around the time of the installation of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury. One of the criticisms was about an essay he wrote in “Open to Judgement” when he stated that understanding God was like interpreting the “mewlings of a spastic child”. Of course, that’s not quite what he actually said, and that section of a piece on revelation was about exploring the apothatic tradition of the Eastern Church, the area of theology that explores that which is not directly revealed and which sometimes is not even vaguely discernible. The issue Williams is dealing with is not so much denying that which we know, but rather not assuming that which we do not know.

So to the exchange between Wendy Gritter of New Direction Ministries in Canada and Alan Chambers of Exodus International, and David Roberts’ comment on it (David helps run the site Ex-gay Watch). The dialogue between Wendy and Alan was prompted by Alan’s article in the magazine Charisma, where he wrote:

During lunch, my friend asked my views on “covenant friendships”.  I’d never heard that term, but quickly realized she was referring to sexless committed relationships between members of the same gender.  I immediately called them sinful.  She was shocked.  So was I. Apparently, we don’t share what I consider to be fairly cut and dry biblical position on this issue. So I asked her to give me a first hand account of such a relationship that she saw as healthy.  She went on to share the story of a Christian lesbian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful, but holds no hope of ever experiencing heterosexuality. The thought of living a single life was too much for her to bear and so she developed a committed non-sexual relationship with another woman. They held a commitment ceremony, bought a house together, combined their finances and are trying to live happily ever after.  They live in separate bedrooms, but in every other sense of the word, they are partners. “What’s wrong with that?” my friend asked. Everything.

Talk about selling God short in the “I will supply all of your needs” category.  What about abstaining from all appearances of evil?  How about fleeing from temptation?  Two same-sex attracted women getting married and pledging their lifelong love and devotion to one another, with or without sex, is called homosexuality.  How can we say anything less?  There is no such thing as diet homosexuality.  If I was going to go as far as these two women have I would just go all the way.  It isn’t only the sex that makes homosexuality sinful, it is choosing to live outside of God’s best.  He did not create two men or two women to meet the needs of one another in a spousal capacity.  Loneliness isn’t grounds for trying to meet your own needs outside of His will, sexually or otherwise.

I wrote a response to that piece almost two months ago, and a number of things came out of that including an indepth look at the Ruth and Naomi story following some good points by John H.

What comes out in the dialogue between Alan and Wendy is thatome of the facts (i.e. the nature of the relationship between the two women who entered into a “covenant”) are not as clear as they seem. Remember, Alan’s original response was to Wendy’s support for such a relationship. Here again is that paragraph from Alan’s original Charisma piece:

I’d never heard that term, but quickly realized she was referring to sexless committed relationships between members of the same gender.  I immediately called them sinful.  She was shocked.  So was I. Apparently, we don’t share what I consider to be fairly cut and dry biblical position on this issue. So I asked her to give me a first hand account of such a relationship that she saw as healthy.  She went on to share the story of a Christian lesbian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful, but holds no hope of ever experiencing heterosexuality. The thought of living a single life was too much for her to bear and so she developed a committed non-sexual relationship with another woman. They held a commitment ceremony, bought a house together, combined their finances and are trying to live happily ever after.  They live in separate bedrooms, but in every other sense of the word, they are partners. “What’s wrong with that?” my friend asked. Everything.

Two lesbians living together doing everything a married couple does apart from sex. Or is it. Wendy clarifies in her blog piece:

I do not personally know the two women I referred to – I simply knew of their story. I know that one woman is same-gender attracted, I believe the other woman is not same-gender attracted. In our conversation, I referred to these women sharing and celebrating with their community their decision to commit to a long-term friendship covenant. This is not the same as a ‘commitment ceremony’ which implies more of a marriage relationship.

Puts a whole new light on it really doesn’t it?

But then we come to the crunch point, Alan’s now infamous sentence:

As I have stated before, there are people “missing” from the Body and they can be found in the gay community and we would be far better off with them than without. God would rather have a handicapped child than no child at all.

In the comments, Wendy was quick to suggest that there was danger of misunderstanding what Alan was meaning by this:

I think the tone of the conversation in the comments reflects the reality that many of us know well: gay people and gay Christians often feel alienated and/or treated like second class citizens. I don’t think this was Alan’s intention – but it seems that some of his comments are being perceived that way. I’m not sure how many spaces within conservative Christianity are safe for people to express those feelings – but I want BTG to be one of them.

but on Ex-gay Watch there was far less willingness to see the best:

That article is appauling. Especially the last comment AC made referring to many people who should be in church being the gay community… and how God would rather have handicapped children, than no children.
That is so “Jacked Up”!
I cannot believe someone who has been through these sturggles personally, can be so insensitive and disrespectful to the dignity of us Gay Christians. That is so sick.

The “handicapped” comment is insulting not just to LGBTs, but to handicapped people. Disabled LGBT people all over America can tell Chambers the difference between their capacity to love and a disability. The sentence implies that a disabled person is a consolation prize at best, too, and not whole. It says that LGBTs and disabled people both can never entirely be good enough. I hope those adopted children are able-bodied.

From my vantage point, Alan Chambers if far more morally “handicapped” than the average gay American who is just trying to live their life, day to day, the best they can.

and so on.

There are two issues here and I’ll address them one at a time. First the issue of “handicap”.  I think that Alan Chambers has expressed his point very badly here. I agree with most of the commenters who have found this statement really hard to handle. At the very least, you would seriously need to qualify what was meant by that.

If those who have same-sex attractions are handicapped then we are all handicapped because every single one of us has temptation to sin. I can’t see how same-sex attraction counts as a handicap yet, for example, gluttony or gossiping doesn’t. It might be better to talk about “wounded”, but then again I haven’t met a single Christian who isn’t wounded in one way or another, so once again the idea of classifying those with same-sex attraction as somehow inferior (which is what the interpretation of Chambers’ remarks come across as meaning, even if he had no intention of them being interpreted as such) just isn’t acceptable.

The second issue can be summed up by Tim K’s comment on the Exgay Watch piece:

Alan seems to believe that accepting one’s attractions as an identity stands in the way of God being able to provide according to his will. A true believer believes. And accepting second best or a man’s feeble work-around only hurts everyone just as Ishmael (Abraham’s effort to go around God’s Will) was a curse to his children.

That’s a fair expression of the position, but I think Tim’s following example of his upbringing in a health and wealth church misses the point. Where Alan is coming from is a stance on ontological statement, a position very similar to my own. Tim’s critique is itself based on a faulty reading of Scripture amongst those who he grew up with, a reading that believed that Christians should have no need for medication.

This though I think is the real point of disagreement between revisionists and conservatives – ontology. It is one’s identity that is the key to making decisions. If you believe one thing about your identity in relation to God, then you will make certain decisions, if you believe another, then you will make other decisions. If you believe that the Bible simply will not let you validly describe yourself as “gay” as a statement of biological determination, then you will take a position that rejects the posibility of same-sex behaviour or identity. If on the other hand you think that it is valid to call yourself “gay”, not just to describe your attractions but specifically to morally validate them, then you will make other choices.

These things are ultimately a matter of theology for Christians, because our anthropologies must as Christians be based around what we understand to be the revealed truth about who we are as humans and who God is. This is a subject that I continue to explore and write about as I clarify my thoughts on the subject. For the moment though I think my position on this is broadly where Alan is.

One more thought though. Because for Christians this is a theological discussion around anthropology we Conservatives are never going to be able to convince non-Christians of our position, because we’re simply talking another language. That’s one of the reasons why I think the idea that we can somehow counter the liberal drift of the West by reasserting our Judeao-Christian heritage is naive. We’re talking a completely different language.

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