Together, We Discovered Mercy

Some beautiful words from Andy Comiskey.

30-years ago, ‘Living Waters’ surfaced in West Hollywood. The burning ground of lust and sexual confusion became a pool of God’s mercy.

Every Wednesday night for two years, we met in the home of a well-known interior designer. Charlie, along with many of his friends, was riding the first popular wave of gay activity on the West Coast. But after the disco and drug-induced orgies, these men and women cried out for mercy.

The Vineyard Christian Fellowship had just sprung up on the west-side of town. Annette and I began to date while attending that church. At the urging of our pastor, who introduced us to Charlie, we began to gather in his home—worshipping Jesus with simple songs, exploring the truth of Jesus’ good will and purpose for the sexually-broken, and praying for each other.

God’s healing presence became greater than our shame and addictions.

Together, we discovered mercy: the transforming power of Jesus loosed through the advocacy of His community.

As He did to the Samaritan woman, Jesus met each one with ‘living water’. He challenged our defenses and fear of real intimacy. He freed us to confess our sin, the truth that in grasping after others we had forsaken Him, the spring of living water, and had dug our own wells, broken wells unable to hold water. (Jer. 2:13)

He began to heal us; we agreed with Him that we were valuable men and women whom He had created to contain and manifest His goodness. We were vessels of honor who He taught to honor one another genuinely, with our clothes on, our hearts intent on growing into maturity. Annette and I married after the first year of this group, and many in our large wedding party were its members.

We did not know in 1980 that the HIV virus was prowling through parties and discos, seeking to devour the unrestrained. AIDS had no name then; it succeeded to destroy many, including Charlie. He died with dignity: sober, sanctified, ready for home.

God wanted mercy, not judgment. (James 2:13) He takes no pleasure in the death of anyone (Ez. 18: 32), and so He liberated ‘living water’ from the desert ground of a people intent on their own destruction.

He suffered and died to lay claim to that desert. He rose again to transform that desert into a place of life, health, and peace for them.

Living Waters is the essence of Christ Crucified and Raised—the river that makes all things new. ‘Where that river flows, everything shall live…’ (Ex. 47:9)

What a privilege to gather in West Hollywood at the onset of Desert Stream Ministries and what became the Living Waters program. What a privilege to be one of Jesus’ answers to the cry for mercy.

‘The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs.’

(Is. 41:17, 18)

Good stuff and a great response to the kind of approach that Kelvin has taken this afternoon.

I don’t understand how the archbishop can believe gay Anglicans to be free to feel, do or act towards anyone else when he, the Archbishop advocates that gay people choose between ministry or human intimacy. That is what the official policy of his church is. What rights does he have to impose restraint?

Let’s not go down the route of outlining the reasons to impose such restraint; there’s an even more basic flaw in this argument and its the false dichotomy that Kelvin is presenting, as I have argued before.

But it doesn’t stop there argues Mills. Because we have made heterosexual desire of the leading, if not the prime factor for getting married, we then make the logical jump to assume that if one doesn’t have heterosexual desire one shouldn’t get married, or one should at least seek to nurture heterosexual desire before one does get married. “Gay men can’t get married” is what we implicitly say, they’re not capable of it because they aren’t attracted to women. “Well let us marry each other then”, comes the reply, and when conservatives respond with cries of “Oh no, that won’t do” then we are rightly criticised (again) for having one moral standard for ourselves (life-long union on the basis of sexual desire) and one for another (the denial of life-long union on the basis of sexual desire).

It wasn’t always like this argues Mills. In the past “homosexual” men have married women, loved them, raised families and generally got on fine. The reason they could do this was because they didn’t live in a society that obsessed about sexual identity. There wasn’t gay or straight, there were only men and women. Men got married to women and had children with them, because that’s what everybody did. They may not, from a 21st century perspective, have particularly fancied their wives, but then many of the “straight” men around them weren’t in that situation either. It’s not that they didn’t sexually desire them, it’s just that they didn’t obsess sexually about them day and night.

Here’s what Mills wants us to understand:

Of course, in defending the validity of marriage for “homosexuals”, I do not have in mind men who are having venery with men whilst also being married. That is as wrong as committing adultery with women. When I argue that “homosexuals” may marry, I have in mind men whose veneral desires remain entirely or mostly focussed on men yet who have never become involved in venery with other men, or who have succesfully settled (one day at a time) into refraining from such venery … I don’t think a man lacks that capacity for marriage and family life merely because his sexualness, if liberated, would drive him towards venery with all attractive men, rather than with all attractive women. Such a man has no reason to fear that the love and meaning he and his wife have in their marriage is actually bogus. And no one else has any reason or right to deem his marriage bogus either.

Let me suggest that such an approach completely undermines the idea that those with a same-sex sexual attraction cannot have intimacy with someone of the other sex. Take myself for example. Since I’m sure Kelvin and others wouldn’t want to suggest that my wife and I are simply lying and being deceitful when we profess to having a loving relationship (in the same way that I wouldn’t dream of denying the reality that may gay friends who are in partnerships do love their partners), how does he handle the fact that I am open about the change in my orientation? If they deny that my orientation has changed then they pronounce me a gay man happily married to a woman, which cheerfully demonstrates the fallacy of the position that the Church’s teaching denies gay men the chance of intimacy. If on the other hand they accept what I say, that I have genuinely seen a profound shift in my sexual orientation then why do they spend so much time bewailing those who claim to be able to help men and women achieve such a change? Surely it must be one or the other (and let’s not have any of this “you were always bisexual” nonsense – trust me, I was exclusively homosexual).

Is the problem with all this that we impose artificial prescriptions on humans (“gay” and “straight” and in-between) when a truly Biblical anthropology doesn’t distinguish or validate humans in such a manner? Isn’t it time we started talking about sex and relationships within a Biblical, not a secular framework? My experience is that the kind of groups that Andy Comiskey writes about above have in some sense done that, that they have laid their broken, fallen humanity in front of the cross and let Christ tell them who they are and what his desires for their intimacy is, rather than letting a non-Biblical idea of personhood dictate their lives.

Thoughts?

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9 Comments on “Together, We Discovered Mercy

  1. I've never denied you the right to live whatever life you like Peter. Nor have I ever tried to label you. Generally, I think people need to be able to label themselves if they want to.

    Your experience is mirrored by countless people who experience straight relationships and then for whatever reason come to define themselves as gay and make choices accordingly.

    I'm more interested in ethics than in trying to define what a person's "orientation" is.

    I wish you well in your choices.

    • None of this answers the substance of my post. Does orientation for some change or not? Is it a Biblical way to look at ourselves to describe people as "gay" or "straight"? Is the dichotomy of ministry or intimacy in any sense real?

      More importantly, does the fact that one is homosexually oriented mean that one cannot be married to someone of the opposite sex and have the very intimacy that is desired?

      All these things are the questions that need to be addressed. Simply saying that some people define themselves as gay doesn't really do that.

  2. I'm not really interested in the idea of orientation. I'm not sure I believe in it enough to have an opinion. I'm close to being agnostic about the concept of sexual orientation, insofar as I understand what it is you mean when you use the phrase.

    So very many people's lives don't seem to conform to one fixed "orientation" that it is difficult to come to any conclusions.

    Acts, I understand. Things people do, I understand. Self definition, I understand.
    My recent post Still shocking

  3. >>Does orientation for some change or not?

    Peter, the more pertinent question is surely how representative your experience is; I certainly don't doubt your account, but I don't think you could deny that your narrative appeals to those on the conservative/evangelical team who don't believe that *anyone* is gay. If we're going to listen to your experiences (presumably the many anglican listening processes are intended to inflect thinking/praxis about sexuality) then logically we should also listen to others. And I'd suggest that such a process, conducted fairly, would show that there are far more ex-ex-gays than ex-gays. *Would* you describe your experience as representative? Also, moving away from gay/straight essentialism (which you appear to do) naturally leads (as you know) to Queer theory, which might be (rather crudely) summarised as 'everyone's bisexual'. So I'm not sure that everyone who implied that you were bisexual were doing so to be needlessly insulting. Isn't potential bisexuality at least implied by your own anthropology of sexuality? And there are surely degrees of intimacy. I wouldn't say the intimacy I have with a close female friend is in any way comparable to male/female intimacy in marriage. So I don't share your enthusiasm for the homosexuals in heterosexual marriage model above. And am I not right in thinking that many ex-gay ministries etc still offer variations on the weak/distant father aetiology of homosexuality? Or are the wives in such marriages meant to know that children aren't a possibility before getting hitched? I'm not sure that would accord with the general evangelical understanding of marriage.

    • Smiled to myself on seeing your comment, ryan, after I'd droned on as below – you've taken rather fewer words to get to the important points ;)

      in friendship, Blair

  4. A few thoughts, none of which may be helpful…..! (In which case why post them, asks a voice… Well, am hoping that they will be of use and that you'll tell me if not, or pull them apart, or whatever).

    Does orientation for some change or not?
    Yes, apparently it does – I believe some people's stories on this (such as yours Peter, and Jackie Clune's, to give another example – she wrote an article for the Guardian which should come up on Google). However, there's a difficulty or two here – in Jackie Clune's story, for instance (and I don't think it's unique in this) her orientation changed without any 'ex-gay' or other intervention. What that means I am not sure – am reluctant to try to generalise. But if you're trying to change your orientation such little evidence as there is suggests it's unlikely to work. I note that in Phil Groves' handbook to the listening process (forgotten the exact title), the last chapter, 'The witness of science', says that it would be reasonable to think that 10-15% of people who have 'unwanted same-sex attraction' might manage to change their orientation. I have never put myself thru' an 'ex-gay' programme and have not seen any change in my sexuality – so folks know where I'm coming from.

    Is it a Biblical way to look at ourselves to describe people as "gay" or "straight"?
    Arguably not, but 'Anglican', 'Methodist' or 'English' aren't Biblical ways to look at ourselves either….. I don't think this is a strong argument but am aware we've discussed this before…

    Is the dichotomy of ministry or intimacy in any sense real?
    If you're gay, do not believe that being gay is a pathology so would be unlikely to seek to marry someone of the other sex, in training for the ministry, and are told or 'hinted to' by a diocesan director of ordinands or other official that you shouldn't mention a partner, or that you won't be able to be considered for ordination if you have a partner, then yes…

    More importantly, does the fact that one is homosexually oriented mean that one cannot be married to someone of the opposite sex and have the very intimacy that is desired?
    Well, I can't say for certain for myself as I've never married – although speaking for myself I doubt it. Am not sure what else to say on this point Peter, except perhaps to ask you, would you recommend that a gay man who'd not experienced any orientation change, get married?

    Two more things:
    you "wouldn’t dream of denying the reality that my gay friends who are in partnerships do love their partners" – but, dare I say it, can this be consistent with the rest of your argument? If their love is real how can it then be argued that their relationships are wrong? Or, turning it round, if same-sex sexual relationships and hence their partnerships are wrong, how can their love be real? I realise this risks being provocative…

    You say "Surely it must be one or the other", but I would like to suggest that it doesn't have to be either of the two alternatives you give near the end of your post. I'm hoping it's possible to believe that you're being honest in telling your story, while yet questioning whether your story means that this is what all gay Christians should do, and also not being 'situationist' about the whole thing. I have a glimmer of awareness that that may well look inconsistent to you…

    This post is quite long enough as it is so will just add that I disagree with your argument in your blog post 'Still shocking', Kelvin – though am likely too lazy to go over to it and try and respond properly!

    in friendship, Blair

  5. It should be noted that the resolution affirmed the desire of those who formed ACNA to remain in the Anglican FAMILY. Most, but not all, of those who formed ACNA belonged to member Churches of the Communion. The headline, like so many that I have read on blogs is simply spin and badly done spin at that.

  6. Peter, I think that most of the "bewailing" going on about the ex-gay ministry comes from the fact that many gays and bisexuals do not choose to attempt to change or shift their sexuality, but are forced into it, either by guilt or through more direct means. The unhappiness that results from this is the cause of the backlash against the movement; surely you can't deny that most such attempted changes don't work and it often results in wrecked marriages, cheating, betrayal, and other negative things. I'm not saying that *no* orientations have ever been changed, but I strongly suspect that the vast majority of those who have changed began their process of their own free will.

    • Would you be surprised if I said that I agreed with you on your first point?

      If you set up a false paradigm of guaranteed orientation change and no more sexual issues then when that doesn't happen of course people are going to lash back.

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