Ascending Mount Carmel – One Step at at Time – Part One
Ash over at Odd Psalms is back blogging.
As for how my Christian lifestyle and gay attractions have mixed, it’s kind of an interesting question. As a Christian, I love God, and I want to love Him more and more with everything that I am. So Christ is who I live my life for, or at least, try my best to. But I’m also gay (i.e. and by "gay", I mean in attraction, not lifestyle), and it’s hard to separate your sexuality from who you are. Ask any straight person; it’s a part of them. So here I am, a young man with two seemingly antithetical sides to my life, both distinct but very much a part of me– I’m a Christian with same sex attractions. Even though I struggle with my attractions to other guys, I try as much as possible not to let it hinder me from serving God. Should it matter that I’m gay? If I hate it when people judge me and hold me back from praising and serving Him because I’m gay, shouldn’t I at least begin by making sure I don’t hold myself back? Why should sexuality determine how I worship Him? Why should being gay stop me from serving Him with all that I am? It shouldn’t. No guilt, no evil thought, no temptation, no sin, should ever stop us from worshipping Him, from giving our all for Him. Does that mean I don’t sin? No. Does that mean that my attractions and temptations don’t sometimes get the better of me? Of course not. Does that mean I don’t have dry periods and times when I feel lost and alone? No. This blog is evidence of that. I still sin and I still fall. But what Christ has done is given me the resolve to stand up and keep running. He has broken the chains of sin in my life so I can stand and boldly declare His claim on my life, and say that even though I fail, I will not give up. Though I fall, I will not stay down. Though I sin, I will not stay in sin. The devil will never have me.
This is exactly what I was writing about a few days back and what some in the revisionist camp find so hard to accept, that many, many people who struggle with same-sex attraction recognise that to act on those desires would be sinful. In response they don’t create a new theology that justifies acting on their fallen desires. Instead they embrace an old, much attested theology – that of purgation. Back in Oxford I wrote an extended essay on the ex-gay movement and spiritual direction in the light of Kenneth Leech’s "Soul Friend". Here’s a sample:
Redemptive Suffering and Purgation – The essence of Classic Spirituality It may be one of the shortest chapters in Leech’s book, but his conclusion, "Towards a prophetic understanding of spiritual direction", captures the heart of the challenge facing pastors today. Leech writes:
"Theology is at the heart of the question of the social relevance of direction. Is this ministry merely concerned with deepening a personal relationship of intimacy with Christ as Saviour? Or is it concerned to deepen perception of the working of God in the structures of society? Is it concerned to enable individuals to live lives of devotion and piety within the accepted framework of the social order, or does it question the spiritual and moral values of that order? Adjustment to society, or the Kingdom of God – which is the perspective? Whether spiritual direction has any social dimension at all is deeply connected with the theological assumptions on which it is based."
Here then is the crux of the future for spiritual direction – will it simply permit conformity to the ways of the society in which the one directed finds itself, or will it stand firm in promoting a Christian perspective on issues of spiritual discipline, morality and, in the question at hand here, sexuality?
What I discovered as I examined a sample of literature from pro-gay writers and ex-gay was that the pro-gay writers almost never engaged with classic spirituality in their attempt to theologise on their experience. In comparison, the ex-gay writers seemed to almost revel in their connection with the spiritual giants of St John of the Cross, Theresa of Avila, Ignatius Loyola and the like. (As an aside, I introduced my solidly evangelical church to St John of the Cross two weekends ago. Wow!!! "Duck to water" is all I can say.) What I’m going to do over the next few days is publish on this blog the second half of that extended essay to demonstrate that point. It’s the same reason, I think, why so many people have taken offence to the Latimer and Ridley video I produced, because their theology simply cannot accept concepts of purgation and the dying to self that is witness (martus) to the transforming power of Christ. I’m going to leave the last word now to two earlier posts from Ash. More to follow later.
It’s beginning again. That old familiar tugging. Everytime I see him. Inside, my heart is stirring once more. I know that, slowly but surely, I am falling for him. I know that as I see him more and more and hang around him more and more, I will soon start to love him. And love makes me do stupid things. Love makes one yearn. And yearning can really suck sometimes. I’m tired. Tired of struggling with it. Tired of always trying to fight it. Tired of the temptation. Tired of the guilt of loving someone I’m not supposed to love. At least, not like that. I’m tired of this cycle. Meeting someone, falling for him, loving him, having to push the love deep inside and stifle it, having it eventually plateau and calm as the years pass, and then meeting someone else and having the whole thing start again. There is this itch inside that I cannot scratch. An insistent burning within that I cannot quench by myself. I want to LOVE. But there is nowhere for this love to go. How does one love when love is not allowed? How does one express a love that, without expression, eats away at you because you constantly hold it inside without letting it breathe? God, if it be Your will, take this love from me. I don’t wanna do it anymore. It hurts too much. … I want companionship. I want someone to talk with who I can love and lust over. I want someone who engages me, physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually. I want to fall over and over in love with this person and have God bless us because we put Him first. I want to get married. I want a wife who I can pray with about our days, about our fears, our kids, the direction we have chosen for ourselves under God. I want to have kids of my own and settle down. I want kids named Micah and Naomi and Stephen (and whatever names my wife comes up with). I want to watch them get born and hold them in my arms for the first time as I watch them sleep. I want to see them take their first steps as I hold out my open arms to them. I want to hear their first words, and cry the first time they say "Dad". I want to comfort them and teach them and guide them, and worry about their every move. I want to watch them grow up and move out and find companions of their own. I want to grow old with my wife, and somewhere down the line re-propose and renew our vows. I want so much for my life. I want so many things I don’t know if I’ll ever get. But God… what do You want?
Welcome everybody, to purgation, where the soul dies to sin and rises to Christ. The final, final words are from my mate Martyn.
I’m not sure where you came up with this theory, but it simply doesn’t hold water. I have known many very deeply spiritual gay people for whom the writings and teachings of the church’s great mystics are a part of their lives and their souls.
I’ve been reading John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Thomas Merton, Ignatius Loyola, Thomas a Kempis, and many others since I was a teenager (let’s see…30 years or so?), and not only do I find them deeply compatible with my understanding of how I relate to God, but I find nothing that would convince me that “ex-gays” should be any more or less affiliated with them than gays, straights, or anyone else. Teresa of Avila wrote about the soul’s union with its beloved Creator, not about whether gay people qualify to have such a relationship with God in the first place.
I moved your comment to the right thread.
Over the next few days I’ll be posting more on this and I hope that as I do you’ll engage with what I publish.
Hi Peter and all,
found Ash’s posts you quoted moving, and painful. Especially the second of the three – “having to push the love deep inside and stifle it…”. It seems to me that if two people of the same sex can truly love each other, can give themselves to each other just as a couple are called to in marriage, then same-sex sex isn’t always and everywhere a sin. Rowan Williams said in his interview with ‘Time’ magazine earlier this year:
“It’s impossible to get from Scripture anything straightforwardly positive about same-sex relationships. So if there were any other way of approaching it, you’d have to go back to the first principle of human relationships. Those theologians who’ve defended same-sex relationships from the Christian point of view in recent decades have said you’ve got to look at whether a same-sex relationship is capable of something at the level of mutual self-giving that a marriage ought to exemplify. And then ask, is that what Scripture is talking about? That’s the area of dispute.” If same-sex relationships are capable of this kind of self-giving then the Scripture texts normally quoted don’t become irrelevant but if you like a gap opens up – they don’t cover all instances of same-sex sex, if you will. And if same-sex relationships are capable of this kind of self-giving, then some of us (me for instance) have been wrong to think that our same-sex desires should never be brought into relationship with another person.
Well, not sure how coherent that was, and yes, someone could say there’s an element of ‘you would say that wouldn’t you’ about it. But the reason I said all that was that following on from it I’d just like to put forward a little disagreement. It seems to me that it’s possible to accept the theology of purgation, of dying to self, you’re talking about, while not accepting that any/every same-sex sex is wrong. So for a gay Christian this could mean living honestly, dying to desires to lie, bear false witness about who one is because it’s easier or convenient; living fraternally, dying to desires to create a ghetto or clique, to exclude those who disagree. I’m not claiming to live up to this (or to be giving every possible example). That last sentence is a rebuke to myself in a way. But as I say, I’m just trying to outline a possible ‘other angle’ on what you’ve posted. Am not trying, by the way, to dismiss the point you made that Lorian quoted above – just to suggest it’s possible that a ‘pro gay writer’ could engage with classical spirituality even if few if any have done.
in friendship, Blair
I think you highlight the absolute “best case” as it were of those on the revisionist camp. Well done!!
What I found (and I’m publishing part two in a mo) is that the pro-gay side simply doesn’t engage with classical spirituality and concepts of purgation. That made me wonder whether they were running away from it – whether once you enter the path of purgation and the Spirit begins to speak and convict, same-sex activity and desire comes rearing up as fallen and therefore you either have to do to it or die to purgation.
Anyway – part two being posted now so would be interested in your response.