Why I Am Christian and Pro-Gay
This op-ed originally appeared in the March 6, 2016 edition of the Durham Herald-Sun.
A North Carolina middle-school has started a support group for gay students and friends. I celebrate this. Adolescence is a fine time to receive attentive friendship and mentoring about sexuality. My mother was a middle-school teacher. She says it’s a time when kids begin to get their “stuff” together. (She uses saltier wording around adults.) We begin to sort out how to define our own style of fashion, practice our signature, and discover our gifts for arts or sports at the very time we are trying to accommodate to bodies that shift weekly. It is tricky, finding your own “voice” when your voice cracks while trying to impress a peer. Add to this what can be an isolating realization that your lack of conformity to the predictable Adam and Eve pairing was not just a periodic quirk of elementary school, but a solidifying desire to kiss someone of the same sex.
A friend recently sat through a preschool evaluation of her child that included the question “Are you a boy or a girl?” Her toddler “failed” the test. She wondered how other parents might react to such “failure.” Would some children be corrected or scolded for their reply? Adolescence is similar to toddlerhood in that parenting involves a combination of encouragement and caution. You cannot parent a toddler well while constantly shouting “be careful!” “do not run!” and “slow down!” Of course you must teach a child not to run in an unsafe place, but cheering the transition from crawling to walking to running, skipping, and jumping is part of what makes a good parent good. Teaching a toddler they must identify clearly by gender is also a good way to be a bad parent. Similarly, adolescence is a time when adults need to encourage as often as warn. If most of your messages to your middle-school child are about the perils of their gender and sexuality, they will learn that their bodies are dangerous. That might or might not keep them chaste. It could leave them unable even to name their own desire.
There are two popular arguments against my case. One is that sexuality is inherently anarchic unless formed with a procreative purpose. There are Christians who believe a fundamental building block of all that makes human society workable is that sex leads to babies. If sexuality is unhooked from making babies, then society itself becomes unhinged from reality. Think of the words to the song “Anything Goes!” and turn it into a sermon. By this reasoning, sexuality needs to be disciplined from early in life, so that each individual understands they are part of a future dyad called Man/Woman. By this reasoning, if a middle-school boy is able without shame to name that he is beautifully and wonderfully made gay by God, then the firmament may fall down on our heads. I affirm that God alone holds up the sky. I also lament the harm this version of conformity has caused people I love.
There are smart people writing critically about a “Prosperity Gospel.” I am concerned about a growing “Austerity Gospel.” By this form of “Good News,” God brings people closer to one another and to God when we are suffering or otherwise helpless. I have heard people living through miserable marriages bemoan the growing, cultural acceptance of gay marriages because “marriage is not about happiness.” Read charitably, what they are saying is marriage is more often about forgiveness than pleasure. But an “Austerity Gospel” risks privileging the “worse” part of the “better or worse” vow, as if God wishes for us primarily obedience, and uses our pain. I do not believe suffering leads inexorably or even frequently toward holiness. Just as absence can make a heart grow stranger, suffering can make a heart turn mute.
A few clever writers have come up with a new form of what is called “conversion therapy.” They take new affirmations that gender and sexuality are fluid, and use this fluidity to assert that gay people can be happy in heterosexual marriages. If not all people are made to conform to the Man/Woman binary, this argument goes, then who is to say that a gay or lesbian person cannot be happy in a heterosexual marriage? If “anything goes,” then gay Christians are called to go with the will of God, and search until you find someone of the opposite sex who is compatibly gender-bending. This is Christianity at its most insidious. First, raise children not to know themselves and then, if by courage and grace they still identify as gay, use a new form of disorientation toward obedience. Given this foolishness, I can only pray more middle-schools will offer support. I pray gay children may grow up to be brave, and joyfully defiant.