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Yet Another Gay Post… But Not Really

 —  September 17, 2013 — 14 Comments

Can we try it again?

Last week we had a great dialogue on the topic of gay youth, the Boy Scouts of America.and a new alternative called Trail Life USA. The ground rules were simple -

“Let’s see if we can keep this respectable and God-honoring. Remember, the eternities of students are on the line.”

The goal here isn’t a debate on homosexuality, but on what it means to be a youth worker in the trenches of this ongoing topic. Whether or not you have a student in your ministry who is actively walking in this tension, your teens likely know someone who is.

On that note, I’d like to share a link my friend Darren Sutton passed along. His comments under the headline were “Wow. Courageous and unexpected.”

My curiosity peaked immediately.

2012-09_LT-GayCatholicFine1

Especially when I saw the headline: Gay, Catholic and Doing Fine.”

You really need to read the whole article, although I will offer two quotes here:

I have heard a lot about how mean the Church is, and how bigoted, because she opposes gay marriage. How badly she misunderstands gay people, and how hostile she is towards us. My gut reaction to such things is: Are you freaking kidding me? Are we even talking about the same Church?

Actually, the only time I get shock or disgust or disbelief, the only time I’ve noticed people treating me differently after I tell them, is when I tell someone who supports the gay lifestyle. Celibacy?! You must be some kind of freak.

I’d like to again raise some questions in the vibe of what I did last week. For example:

  • How do you feel about this young man taking the approach of celibacy for the sake of his walk with God? In his words: “So, yes, it’s hard to be gay and Catholic — it’s hard to be anything and Catholic — because I don’t always get to do what I want. Show me a religion where you always get to do what you want and I’ll show you a pretty shabby, lazy religion. Something not worth living or dying for, or even getting up in the morning for. That might be the kind of world John Lennon wanted, but John Lennon was kind of an idiot.”
  • Is it healthy to loop “Catholic” and “gay” together? Hear me out on this – I don’t want this to become a word study of 1 Corinthians 6:9, but perhaps we do need to nod to 1 Corinthians 6:11 as we consider the implications for youth ministry. That verse comes after a number of things the Bible lists as sins, adding (emphasis mine), “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”So if your church or denomination takes a stance on something, might it confuse youth to say, “You can be a ___________ and a (Catholic/Methodist/Baptist/etc).” Is that one step away from “You can be a ____________ and a Christ-follower?” Should the target instead be, “Receive Christ. Embrace your new identity and Story. Your sin nature no longer has reign over you, and the Holy Spirit will help you face the temptations for sins that will still swarm in on you.”
  • Honesty time – how much of your first reaction to those last two questions was filtered through your personal view on this topic versus your willingness to walk into the grace and holiness of God? No, really… how much? Is it possible more people know your personal platform on this topic more than they do your walk with the Lord? Maybe we need to take a cue from the person who wrote the blog.

Quick tip – before you hit reply, sift through that last question a bit and remember the ground rules for our discussion here. This isn’t a post about homosexuality, but about how we minister to where students may fall on this as they process it all. Try to share Jesus and not your platform. Thanks!

Tony Myles

Tony Myles

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Tony Myles is a youth ministry veteran, author, speaker, volunteer youth worker and lead pastor of Connection Church in Medina, Ohio... and he really likes smoothies.

14 responses to Yet Another Gay Post… But Not Really

  1. It seems to me that to say, “I am blank, and follow Christ” seems to be the human default. However, I would say that to make “blank” a separate identifying defining quality is an issue. I come at this having read this article numerous times before, and as a Catholic youth worker that works with youth across the LGBT(Q) spectrum. I think that we have to help youth (and adults, and the culture) root their identity first in Christ and not let anything else come near Him in importance. I happen to be a straight, white, male husband and father. All of those things shape my world view and are of varying importance to my identity. However the fact that I have come to life through Christ IS my identity. I died to myself was given a new identity in Jesus. Even for the unbaptized, the fact that they are made in the Image of God should be the root of how we see them and encourage them to see themselves. As a Catholic I do not believe in total depravity (not trying to start that conversation), I believe that the fact that we are made in the image of God makes us good and beautiful, broken and in need of repair, but good and beautiful. I also believe that Christ restores us not just to our original state, but to a better and more perfect state, and that restoration is what affects salvation. So to answer your questions:

    1. I agree that we have to conform ourselves to the Will of the Father. For some this means marriage, others celibacy, and others religious life. It also means doctors, teachers, and mechanics for different people. Our faith (which frankly does include our denominational affiliation) should challenge us. If it does not, I feel like you have picked the broad path.

    2. I have no problem with both terms being presented as long as we are clear on which takes primacy. I feel like Steve (author of the article) is doing just that, placing his identity in Christ first, and helping reconcile the way people perceive the Church with the reality of the Church as Christ instituted it.

    3. All of it was filtered through both. This is challenging topic. I talk to my straight, gay, bi, and trans youth about it regularly. I have sat with the topic, struggled with the topic, and grown in my understanding of the topic. I have tried to root all that in Sacred Scripture, the Oral Traditions, and the Magesterium or my Church. More over I have sat with it in prayer, talked to my peers who are straight, gay, bi, and trans on it. I have talked discussed and debated on it. I have sat in front of the divine presence of Christ on it. Because his grace and holiness of infinite I am not done doing this and will not be ever. It is also not just this issue, but all issues of temptation and concupiscence that I and others struggle with. That said I can only filter things through my personal world view. Even as I imagine what others feel I cannot feel that, unless Christ miraculously lets me. I can only expand my view to include an empathetic awareness of others. I can also conform my view to Christ’s, but I will not do this perfectly or pretend to.

    • Tony Myles

      This is such a generous reply, Tony. I like where you’re going with the concept of identity, as that seems to be the buzzword on this topic – i.e. “God made me this way. It’s who I am. etc” – which is a line that we can drop on anything. I like digging deeper… reminding people that our story doesn’t start in Genesis 3, but Genesis 1. In other words, who did God “originally” make us to be and why do we assume anything we are today is naturally reflecting that? It really offers precedence to consider who are we “really” under the surface of our brokenness. Thanks for spurring this on!

  2. I’m going to start out of order, because I have to get something straight (sorry, horrible pun) about my view on the second question before I stumble through an answer to the first.

    In the context of Steve Gershom in the aforelinked article referring to himself as a gay Christian, it seems to me that he does this because it’s relevant to his message that he is both a Christian and that he, unlike most men, finds himself attracted to other men. We can do this with awkward Christianese like “same sex attracted,” but “gay” (or L/B/T/Q/I/A as appropriate) often makes the point more clearly when talking to a wider audience. Notably, he includes with this a discussion of celibacy, to make the point that he views “gay” as an orientation only, not an orientation followed by a continued pattern of resultant actions. Identity is important (particularly identity in Christ). Sometimes, in discussing LGBT Christians, we can get bogged down in “what you identify as,” which for some can be out of order, but for others, is nothing more than a distraction over terminology that some [mostly straight] Christians find unpalatable.

    “And this is what some of you used to be” (1 Corinthians 6:11) notwithstanding, there are Christians who happen to be LGBT who have earnestly prayed for their whole lives to have their thorn removed – that is, to be made heterosexual – and God has not answered their prayers in the way they have desired. Thus, within the framework of traditional Christian sexual ethics, celibacy is going to be an important part of the discussion for those who follow Jesus and find themselves with such an orientation. The Catholic church has the advantage of having been talking about celibacy for a good while. Some of us Protestants are living in contexts where “celibacy” is a dirty word, so we need to get caught up before the discussion can even begin.

    Having said all that, I think it is only the beginning. As Eve Tushnet said, “…you can’t have a vocation of not-gay-marrying and not-having-sex.” Nurturing a church environment where people who are either celibate for a season or celibate for life can be fully supported and fully participating members of the family is a conversation that starts with youth and continues across all ages. And that is a conversation for which I have few answers, but one which I will be following with bated breath.

    This is pretty much my first reaction to the questions, and it’s completely filtered through my lens of being a Christian who is a volunteer youth leader at a rural Baptist church where it seems like – I swear, no kidding! – half of our [tiny] youth group, uh, would directly find this topic relevant. And let’s just say that I personally understand their struggles more than they know. So, as much as I try to stay focused on God’s love and grace, I’m sure my platform comes through. I try to mitigate that by focusing discussions in youth group on God’s love and grace and generally avoiding this topic unless it’s directly relevant, but still, given my own issues, I’m sure my views come through.

    • Tony Myles

      I appreciate these comments, as well as the vantage point you’re sharing from. It seems like this is a topic that we really have to let God be God over…. and I don’t mean that in the bumper sticker way. His love and grace have to win out… as does His place as God having the final word on what holiness looks like. As you shared, that isn’t always easy even in environments where we’d expect it to be that way. I met with someone a couple weeks ago who shared how a girl in her small ground brought “her girlfriend” with her. Definitely a good thing in some respects, while a culture shocker in another. All the more reasons conversations like the one we’re having have to happen now versus later. Thanks again!

  3. Hello Tony,

    I posed some questions about this topic and the article on the Simply Youth Ministry facebook group. As encouraged, I am instead asking them here.

    As I stated there, and I re-state now, it seems impossible to be a serious, believing Christian and to treat homosexuals in a way that isn’t, at its core, insulting. I refer to this great effort many liberal believers are making to ‘get around’ basically having to say to the faces of friends and loved ones that it’s a sin, it’s wrong and they will burn in hell.

    As I asked before, the core question for me (and no doubt others) would be, is this what your god says or not? Is it ok to be gay or not?

    Your article, when all said and done, didn’t appear to me to advance the issue in any way and instead, made bold new headway in finding yet more obfuscating ways of trying genuinely to grapple with the issue without really saying anything.

    From Rural LJ’s post:

    ‘…there are Christians who happen to be LGBT who have earnestly prayed for their whole lives to have their thorn removed – that is, to be made heterosexual…’

    It seems to me, that if indeed you endorse this post and its content, I have my answer. It’s not ok. It’s a thorn. If you don’t feel this way then you really need to pay attention to how people are speaking about other human beings and tell them not to, and do it publicly. I personally think that to refer to something that is a non-issue, doesn’t affect society in any negative way, is far from un-natural and something that absolutely shouldn’t be causing a human any guilt as a ‘thorn’ is troubling. Do you?

    From your own reply:

    ‘I met with someone a couple weeks ago who shared how a girl in her small ground brought “her girlfriend” with her. Definitely a good thing in some respects, while a culture shocker in another.’

    I realise this isn’t directly related to my original question, or theology, but consider here the use of quotation marks for ‘her girlfriend’. If you are married and someone mentioned that you brought along ‘your wife’ to an event…you get the picture.

    The idea that this may be a ‘culture shocker’ is interesting. I have no doubt that in some parts of the world this is very true, and not because of any overt homophobia. But society is growing constantly and won’t stop. With that growth including gender, racial and sexual progress and understanding, bear in mind how people who use this kind of language will appear in history books just 30 years from now.

    Maybe I draw too many conclusions about how you personally feel, but your language and the language of other believers speaks for you without your knowledge. I can’t help but feel like it would be both easier and more coherent to say ‘Sorry, the boss say’s its wrong’. The idea of a gay couple going to church and being greeted warmly whilst people look on pitying when their back’s are turned makes my skin crawl.

    • Tony Myles

      Hey Jack… thanks again for popping in over here. To clarify before I reply, the intent of this post/discussion is to lean into each other’s perspectives versus try to belittle anyone… be it who we’re talking about or who we’re talking with. On that note, I’ll do my best to address what I sense you’re asking. If I miss something, feel free to reply back.

      I’m not sure what your experience is in working with students, but mine has shown me that what happens during a season of their teenage years may or may not define them in what’s ahead. That’s why I threw quotes around the “my girlfriend” phrase – according to the person I spoke with, she wasn’t all that sure that the girl was in a gay relationship but perhaps wanted to see how she or her friend would be treated by doing something controversial. Since I can’t comment on that anymore than her small group leader could, I hope you’re comfortable with me not assuming what I don’t know there.

      On the other hand, there’s a gay couple who has been attending our church services for a month. I’m well aware of their story and have interacted with one of them on it. I’m not sure what you’d assume about what I assume about them, but for some reason they keep coming back. As I pray with them over various issues, from stuff in life to family matters, they keep opening up to me… and yeah, the topic of sexuality came up once or twice. Yet here we are.

      I’m trying to figure out what to reply to next in your post, so maybe you can clarify what else you’d like me to answer. Let me take a leap on a few things, though:

      - I’m not sure when personal happiness became a moral issue. As a dad, for example, I do many things that are right for my family even though they don’t make me personally happy or comfortable. I do it because I love my kids more than my natural urges. Perhaps that’s an example of what I sense the original post was about – someone who loves God enough to let Him be, well… “God.” First in all things. So for our culture to make how someone feels the dominant value in this topic seems to be skewed a bit.

      - There’s a bucket of things God’s asked me to do that I haven’t been an initial fan of. Forgiveness is one of them, including people who wronged me in ways I never expected. I did find over time that He had it right, though. As one person said, unforgiveness is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to feel it. I’ve found that God is trustworthy on every subject, but only when I stretch to see the Big Picture versus the next platform or soapbox I feel I need to stand on. So I trust what He says about human sexuality, too.

      I’d also agree that the way Christians treat anyone has to be as biblical as the thing they’re trying to be biblical about. It’s easy to judge people because they sin differently that you do – it’s harder to realize we’re all on a journey together, and while we may become passionate about this or that, God gets the final word in who He’s calling us to be, treat one another and do in this world. Otherwise He isn’t God… just a genie we hope agrees with us.

      • Thank you for your reply.

        Regarding the couple that attend your church, you say that you:

        ‘…pray with them over various issues, from stuff in life to family matters, they keep opening up to me… and yeah, the topic of sexuality came up once or twice. Yet here we are.’

        This answers one of my questions, that indeed homosexuality is a sin in the eyes of your god and that you/they are praying for him to draw this thorn that he himself presumably inserted? OK. My problem is when people try to operate as if this isn’t the case or isn’t what they think when it obviously is. (Leaving aside for the moment the cause of this dilemma which is the incoherence of god having ultimate, divine power whilst these ‘sinful’ desires exist).

        This is further confirmed when you say:

        ‘…God is trustworthy on every subject…So I trust what He says about human sexuality, too.’

        Again, he say’s ‘NO’.

        Personal happiness is a deep moral issue. Just ask any psychiatrist! You say that you do the best for your kids because:

        ‘…I love my kids more than my natural urges.’

        The religious view of morality is totally bizarre and more than a little sinister to me. This example translates with respect to our topic into ‘one should love god more than ones natural urges’. Bound up within this is the implication that without god you would be carried away on a tide of terrible and, according to you, simultaneously ‘natural’ urges. Worrying.

        I think, at the core of all of this you are operating on one massive assumption. The truth of god’s existence, and your interpretation of him. This is something that, perhaps unsurprisingly, I remain unconvinced of. Therefore this may not be the most fruitful conversation for us to have. I think this assumption is both the cause of and the prevention of a remedy for non-existent headaches such as the sin of homosexuality.

        Instead of basing morality upon what makes a divine entity happy, why not act morally simply because you don’t want to see others suffer? All you need is empathy. Simple. And look, homosexuality is a now a non-issue! It harms no one and need no longer be a source of guilt, worry and sweating, straining scripture-bending to make it ‘ok’.

        By the way, it is not my intention to hijack this into a ‘truth of god’ discussion. I just feel that ultimately that is what a lot of what we are discussing rests upon. I am more than happy to discuss that of course but understand that you may want to keep this more specifically on topic.

        Jack.

        • Tony Myles

          That’s fair, Jack. Thanks for a generous and respectable disagreement.

          Again, it’s hard for me to describe everything here in a public blog post regarding the couple I mentioned in my church. What I can offer is we’ve never once tried to “pray the gay away” (a phrase I’ve heard used). What we have prayed about are how one of them is facing a court date on something in his life, and the other’s mom had a stroke, and so on. They’re a part of our congregation, so again… maybe there’s more going on in the situation than what you may be taking away.

          On the other matters, I wouldn’t presume to know what every psychiatrist would conclude about personal happiness. ;)

          What I would offer is that we can look at society as a whole and recognize that someone doing something that makes him/her happy does have ripples into society, be it conscious or unconscious. An extreme example would be a person who murders for personal pleasure, and yes… it’s an extreme example. In contrast, proponents of the LGBT community would offer that two people of the same gender in a relationship that makes them “happy” doesn’t affect anything. I hope you’d likewise agree that saying there is no ripple at all whatsoever on anything or anyone is likewise an extreme conclusion.

          Then again, I’m not sure you said that. Maybe what you said is the ripple doesn’t harm anyone or anything.

          Here’s where I’ll land -

          I love that the original post I brought up here was about a young man who is attempting to not be a hypocrite in what he holds to at his core. Whether or not you agree with what he holds to at his core may be a side matter, but maybe you can likewise recognize that here’s one example of someone who is trying to be consistent in his faith versus inconsistent with excuses.

          Now, if you value happiness as you said you do… I’m sure you have no problem with him trying to be personally happy.

          Interesting how that works out. Unless you don’t really hold to that value, in which case we have to start over, don’t we? ;)

          Thanks for the chat! Feel free to email me if you want to talk further – tonymyles@hotmail.com

          • Tony, it seems to me from the way that you’ve engaged this topic that your heart is in the right place. In that vein, I say what I’m about to say in the same spirit that I’d warn my guests if I hadn’t had a chance to pick up the landmines that my dog left in the yard that day. You may already be familiar with this; if so, perhaps others may find something edifying in this note of caution.

            Comparisons between sins like murder and LGBT people are commonplace in the sermons of folks like that “put them behind an electric fence and they’ll all die off” preacher from North Carolina. It should stand to reason that comparisons between an act that deprives someone else of life and a relationship between people with a particular orientation of romantic desire would be fraught with difficulty. I don’t think that this instance was particularly problematic, and it won’t read that way to a straight audience, but it might be triggering to an LGBT audience. Thus, when speaking to a mixed audience of youth, caution about these types of comparisons is advised.

            Similarly, the related comparison of murder to male-male or female-female intimate relations (awkwardly trying not to get stuck in the moderation queue) raises some questions. It’s readily apparent what effects murder has on other people besides the murderer. On the other hand, I haven’t heard much on what ill effects, for example, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer’s 40+ year relationship had on other people or society at large. Talking about relationships that are honoring to God is one thing, but when we start expanding from that realm and speaking to a multi-cultural and multi-religious society, we’re going to need to be prepared to develop these ideas further.

            (This difficulty is why I stay as far away from the nasty p-word – you know, the one that ends in olitics – as possible.)

  4. Tony Myles

    Love your thoughts… we’re on the same page. Obviously the candor of this conversation has its own context. Thanks again for the accountability.

  5. Tony,

    The murdering for pleasure example isn’t just extreme, it’s inaccurate, distasteful and misleading. That example alone shows why I find it more than a little worrying how much authority people of faith claim on many subjects purely because they are people of faith.

    As Rural has somewhat highlighted, murdering is a problem because it affects society negatively. It’s a problem without a deity’s prohibition upon it because of this and it causes me a problem because I have empathy. Homosexuality does not have a negative impact on society, i.e. it is not a problem.

    “Then again, I’m not sure you said that. Maybe what you said is the ripple doesn’t harm anyone or anything.” – This is correct. Unless you do have a problem with it?

    Again, regarding the gay couple who visit your church and the author of this watery article. You seem to find it hard to answer the main question so I’ll do my best to ask it again more clearly.

    Is what they are doing ok with god or not? It seems faily simple to me. Do the gay couple worship a god that does not give them support? Is the author being a hypocrit by trying to reconcile the love of god and being homosexual? If homosexuality is indeed wrong according to your god then I’m afraid it seems like the answer to those questions is yes.

    Again, does your god have an opinion on homosexuality? If so, what is it?

    Jack.

  6. Tony Myles

    Hi Jack. I’m glad you came back… and I’m also glad you recognized the example of murder as extreme… exactly as I shared it was. No argument there. I like how there is a grain of common ground we already have in recognizing that there are truths to the universe that we should all respond to. Someone could argue that such truths are secular and changeable, and yet each of us in this conversation know that every person has some inherent worth – a truth that defies Darwin’s ideas, for example, that only the super-man should rise to the top of culture and all others should be squished. It’s as if Someone hardwired those Truths in us – or as Romans 1:20 says “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”

    Perhaps that’s neither here no there for you, though. And so to your question – God’s perspective is simple… “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.”

    The street language of that (and the foundation to the answer to your question) is God’s opinion of heterosexuals and homosexuals is the same – He laid down His life for them. He’s crazy for all of us… so much so that He will tell us what sin is and isn’t. He tells us that the unforgiveness in our hearts can do as much damage as the hatred that comes out of our mouths; that the lust in our hearts can do as much damage as the acts of sexuality we perform physically. He’s not blind to any of that, and the only way we miss out on Him is if we define ourselves apart from Him and hope He’s okay with it (and ironically still offers us heaven) versus embrace the grace that God so longs to give to us.

    I like the example of Jesus who spoke to a woman caught in adultery. He didn’t say, “You whore. What were you doing?” He confronts her accusers with their own sin, then says, “Woman…” – not “Whore,” but “Woman…” – then He tells her that He has no desire to condemn her, but does add, “Now go, and sin no more.”

    We tend to embrace one side of that versus the other – God has to be love and cool with everything, or God has to be holy and hate everything sinful. He’s both – like a Father who looks at a kid with a splinter and says, “I love you. You need to know that I love you. And I’m going to get that thing in you out with a needle. If I don’t, it will do more damage down the road and infect other parts of your body you can’t see.” Whether it’s our issues of any type of thing that doesn’t belong in us – anger, gluttony lust, or more – God does that with us.

    And it’s not because He’s my God. Logic dictates that if God exists, He/She/It does so in defiance of anyone’s opinion… He/She/It defines His/Her/Its own identity, regardless of how many religions are in the world, So either there is a God who doesn’t have an opinion, but a final word… or there isn’t a God at all and we do whatever we want.

    Truth does exist. It is also personal. After years of questions, I’ve decided to lean into it versus lean away. I hear that in your questions, too – you have responded with a great heart on this topic which lets me know you see the inherent worth God has given to every human being. We often get it wrong, sometimes for seasons of life, and yet we come back to realizing this eventually. It’s not the only thing He sees, though – He also sees the splinters that need to come out of each us. It’s my responsibility to not judge someone else simply because they sin differently than I do.

    Is homosexuality a sin? Is heterosexual lust a sin? Is judgment a sin? Is a rebellious nature a sin? Are stealing, slandering and swindling all sins? According to God (who again, would have the final word on such matters) they are and He wants to take us out of such identities and into something that we were created for before the brokenness of this world skewed how we view things.1 Corinthians 6:11 says, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

    I’d prefer to focus on what God would like to do in me and all of us… from my mess, to His best. For that reason, while it seems you could find a line or two to quote and deconstruct in a reply, I’d simply ask that you take in that message instead. Likewise, if you’d like to talk further, email me (tonymyles@hotmail.com) and I’ll give you my phone number so we can have a personal chat versus us bantering here in chunks like what I just wrote. Thanks!

    • ‘…it seems you could find a line or two to quote and deconstruct in a reply…’

      Haha yes, more than a couple. I may do so by email but I think I prefer the public forum for these discussions as others can read and take something away from them. Is this ok with you?

      • Tony Myles

        Hey Jack! Sorry – just now saw this. I’d love the chance to keep talking, hopefully as I mentioned by phone if you’re willing. Obviously, we could keep yapping here like we already have, but I would love to see if a personal chat can help us avoid circling around one another like a debate. Zip me an email if you’re up for it. Thanks!

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