I just put up a new post on Spiritual Friendship on recognizing sacrificial, servant-hearted love wherever we see it. Here is the link. Certainly, much more could be said on this topic, but I just wanted to focus in on this particular item because I think it is often ignored. Hope you enjoy it!
And an amateur one at that. Here is a poem I recently finished about my struggle to deal with attractions in healthy ways.
I Sheathe My Sword
Today, one of my friends on Facebook pointed me to an article on the Gospel Coalition about a man who experiences an intensely deep friendship with another guy. It really is beautiful. The author's name is Chad Ashby, and in the article, he makes what I would consider to be a correct distinction between deep love between men and homosexual attraction. He says,
To love another man as your own soul (1 Sam. 18:1) is not homosexual love; it is the love of Christ. It is a true willingness to lay down your life for your brothers (1 John 3:16). We must build these kinds of relationships with one another: men who truly love other men.
As I read Ashby's description of his friendship, I found my heart soaring. It is this type of deep relationship that I long for (and experience with a select few of my close friends.) This "Spiritual Friendship", it seems, is one of the many life-saving graces that God has given to me and many like me to successfully live a chaste life.
And yet, as I read the article, I also felt strangely alienated. Ashby makes it very clear that the type of love he is referring to is not homoerotic. But what about when this type of love is also accompanied by a homosexual orientation? What happens when I, as a Christian celibate gay man, experience this type of love, but right alongside of it experience erotic attraction as well? Would Ashby be so quick to tell me to pursue close, intimate friendships? Or would he tell me that it now becomes too dangerous? I'm not sure...
In the conservative circles that I run in, intimate, loving friendships are often praised as beautiful, and guys are told to "recover" them and "pursue" these Jonathan-David relationships. But when people find out that I am gay, they sometimes hit the brakes pretty hard. "Oh, you are PHYSICALLY attracted to guys? Well then you need to be really careful to NOT get to close to guys, because sexual attraction is dangerous." This seems quite ironic to me. We Christian gay folks are often the ones who desire these friendships most intensely but who are often told to "not get too close." It's like we are told, "Here is an answer to many of your deepest yearnings, but you can't really have it. Or if you do take it, if you passionately pursue close male-male friendships, we are going to constantly look at you sideways and wonder what is REALLY going on."
I get that the heart is deceptive and wicked above all else (Jer. 17:9). I understand the dangers of lust and evil thoughts. I am not advocating for the abandonment of wisdom in relationships. But it seems to me that Christian celibate gay people should be encouraged to form these types of friendships just as heartily as everyone else. In order for this to happen, however, nuanced thinking is required.
We need to start distinguishing between sexual and non-sexual attractions in order to deal with each accordingly. Sexual attractions should be fought. Non-sexual attractions (whole-person attractions to personality, character, etc.) need not be fought, but rather pursued toward God-glorifying Jonathan-David relationships. Yes, it becomes tricky when BOTH types of attractions are felt toward the same guy. Because of my homosexual orientation, this happens fairly often. But if I were to abandon all close friendships when I experience a sexual attraction, then ALL of my male friendships would be in a constant state of uncertainty based on my attractions in a particular moment. Instead, I need to discern what type of attraction I am experiencing, fight the disordered ones and pursue the pure ones.
When this is done well, when I fight sin and pursue godliness in my attractions, I find that my friendships become less and less sexualized and more and more life giving, making celibacy that much easier. So, should I not pursue intimate male relationships because of the dangers of attraction? I don't think so. I think the opposite true. Gay people like me who want to please God should fervently pursue intimate male friendships. They are a means of grace, providing emotional intimacy, pure physical touch, and sacrificial love both given and received.
So one of my wonderful seminary cohort friends asked me a great question the other day. He wanted to know how my experience as a Christian celibate gay man compares to the experience of a Christian celibate straight man. I really appreciate the thought that went into this question because it acknowledges that different people may have similar experiences, but "similar" doesn't mean "same".
I think there is a real tendency to flatten experiences. Many people might be tempted to do what Eve describes here in this excerpt:
A lot of the "don't identify as gay" stuff seems to me to be an attempt to gloss over real differences in experience, to pretend that homosexuality makes no important difference in one's life path as a Christian in contemporary society. That seems to me to be an effort to understand gay difference and gay experience as banal. ("I'm not married, so I have to be chaste too! Our situations are just the same. So why are you acting like you're different and special?" No. Our situations may have important lessons for one another. Your situation may be harder than mine in various ways, e.g. I don't sit up nights wondering why I haven't found a nice girl to marry me. But solidarity requires acknowledgment of difference, not suppression of it.)
That last line gets me every time: "Solidarity requires acknowledgement of difference, not suppression of it." YES! So with that in mind, here are a couple ways that I see my experience as a Christians celibate gay man as being different than a straight single man.
Number one, no matter how homely a particular straight guy might be, there is still always the possibility that a particular girl might find his particular brand of homeliness her exact cup of tea, and they could fall in love. I do not have any hope whatsoever of finding the right guy for me...at least if I want to remain faithful to what I believe scripture teaches. So, unless the Lord changes my attractions, my state of celibacy seems much more sure and permanent that "average Joe straight-guy."
This leads to a second way that my experience is different. For a straight guy, when they feel a physical attraction to a girl, they are allowed pursue that attraction toward the end goal of marriage. Now, they might get rejected time and time again, but the fact remains that they can always try to pursue the girl, and if done in a biblical way, that pursuit pleases the Lord. For me as a gay guy, every single physical attraction that I feel must be fought. In regard to romantic feelings, my default mental setting must always be set on "kill!" instead of "cultivate". I have written before on how I don't believe that the WHOLE attraction needs to be fought, but the physical/sexual aspects do.
Now, I do acknowledge that the Lord could change my attractions, or at least bring a particular girl into my life that I become attracted to. However, even in that there is an important difference. For me, at this moment, I have no idea what it is like to be legitimately attracted to a woman. I've tricked myself into it before, but it hasn't ever really been real. So that means that for me to have a legit romantic relationship, I need to have an experience that I have never had before...i.e. be attracted to a woman. That isn't true for straight guys. They have experienced PLENTY of attractions that could potentially lead to a God-glorifying relationship.
I'll mention one more way that I feel the difference (there are more, but no time). For me as a gay guy, close friendships with other guys can be more difficult in at least two ways.
Number one, I might find myself physically attracted to a particular friend, and so I need to make sure that I am acting toward him in all purity. However, I don't typically find this to be all that difficult to navigate. In fact, I usually find that even with my friends that I am most physically attracted to, the more I get to know him, the less physically drawn to him I become.
The second way is how I perceive my male friendships to be most difficult. Here is a hypothetical situation. Lets say that something particularly hard has just happened in my life. I feel spent and close to despair. I go to my friends house to hang out, and when I see him all I really want is to let him know how I am feeling, and for him to give me a hug. No sexual feelings, no desire for anything inappropriate, simply the physical touch of another human. However, I know that said friend knows that I am gay. So...if I ask for a hug, will he feel uncomfortable? Will he worry that he is causing me to stumble? Does he even really want to hug me, or does he think it is really kind of gross? And so I don't hug him.
That is simply one hypothetical situation. There are a hundred more that I encounter daily where the thought crosses my mind, "Did he read something into that touch? What was he thinking? Oh no, I went in for the bro hug and it seemed like he was just going for the hand shake...did he not want to hug me?" It's kind of tough to explain...I hope it makes at least a little sense on how this is tough to navigate and NOT the same experience as a straight guy.
Those differences that I just highlighted to not nullify the ways in which my experience is similar to a Christian celibate straight guy. After all, the words "Christian" and "celibate" are in both of our labels. However, the words "straight" and "gay" do bring with them many differences, and we aren't helping anyone when we just ignore them.
Sorry it's been a while...finals week is finally over!
The other day, I was talking with one of my roommates, and he noted a concern that he had with my Complex Attraction post. In that post I argue that there is a part of my attraction to guys that is good and leads me to befriend them, serve them, and generally want to be around them in wholesome, positive ways. He pointed out that a straight guy who is married might use this same logic with an attraction that he experiences to a woman not his wife. He might say, "Well I know I can't do anything physically with this woman, but that doesn't mean I can't be good friends with her and spend a lot of time with her getting to know her."
EHHHH! Wrong! Huge red flag there. The comparison is not a direct correlation for at least three reasons.
Number one, the guys that I am attracted to and want to befriend are typically not gay. This removes any possibility of inappropriate activity with him, which means that I am more free to pursue a close friendship with said guy because the danger of sexual sin in almost nonexistent. (I am talking physical sexual sin. Lust is still a danger which must be fought.) However, for a married guy befriending a straight woman, this is not the case. There is much danger that should be taken into account because mutual attraction is possible.
That danger also changes the way that I would seek to pursue a close friendship with another gay man. In that situation, the possibility for sexual activity is present just as it is between a straight man and woman. So I would be MUCH more cautious in that relationship, probably putting in place similar boundaries that a married guy would put in place with a married woman. But with a straight guy, even if I am totally attracted to him, I am thinking, "He isn't interested in me," so the danger is greatly reduced.
Number two (and more foundational, I think), a married man has made a covenant before God that his relationship with his wife should be unique from all other relationships with other women. In other words, the mans wife - and no one else - is called to be his best woman friend, and that relationship is exclusive. He is to cultivate that friendship, and be jealous to guard that relationship against any other that might threaten it. However, I as a single man have made no such covenant and therefore have no such constraints. So while a married man is not free to pursue close female friends because he has his wife, I am free to pursue close male friendships because I need not be exclusive in this manner.
Number three. There is a different dynamic at work between same-sex friends and opposite-sex friends, even between gay people, that must be noted. I think Joshua Gonnerman says it best:
Most people, to a greater or lesser degree, are accustomed to being socialized with those of the same sex, and separately from those of the opposite sex from an early age. Though the phrasing “Familiarity breeds contempt” is not what I want, it is true that familiarity with the same sex which all of us grow up with, and which is in fact innate, even from the basic fact that we are the same sex, creates a dynamic where we are often better trained in behaving ourselves around members of the same sex than heterosexuals are trained in behaving themselves around members of the opposite sex."
Therefore, a married man cannot use the logic that I am employing to pursue a close friendship with a woman he is attracted to. It isn't the same situation; it's apples and oranges.
So these last few posts have led to some really great discussions with friends. I am totally loving it!
Case in point. Today, I was talking with my friend Jeremiah about my post Complex Attraction. In that post, I argue that when I experience an attraction to another guy, that attraction not only includes a sexual aspect, but also a desire to befriend and get to know and serve that person. Jeremiah pushed back on that, citing pornography as an example. He rightly pointed out that when someone views porn, what often happens is that the ONLY goal is to satiate a physical, sexual desire, and that the viewer doesn't give a lick about getting to know the porn star as a person, much less serving them.
Great point! Duly noted. And yet...I still don't think it is that simple.
A while back, I was talking with another friend about his history with pornography. As he was sharing his story, he told me that eventually he stopped watching pre-recorded porn videos and started participating in video chat rooms where he could interact with a real person in real time. He didn't find the prerecorded videos to be appealing anymore. I asked him why, and I think his answer gets to what I am saying here. He said that the live chat added a personal element to the sexual act that he found got closer to his root desire. He even told me that often times - either before or after the "sex act" took place - he would end up talking with the person on the other end of the camera, getting to know about each others lives and even encouraging or giving advice to each other. Some of them he actually kept in contact with afterward!
How can you tweeze that desire for friendship and companionship and non-sexual intimacy from the physical desire that took him to the chat room in the first place? I'm not sure that you can. The prerecorded videos were no longer satisfying, in part because they didn't speak to the whole desire, but only part of it. I think that at the core of our physical desires is a desire to know and be known, to have a friend and be a friend, to care for and be cared for.
And those desires are good, even when they come part and parcel with a sinful desire, such as a sexual desire for the same sex.
I was talking about my previous post with my good friend Ryan (read that post before you read this one), and he brought something to my attention that I think should be clarified.
In the previous post, I talk about how when I experience an attraction to a guy, not only does my desire have a sexual aspect, but I also desire to befriend him, serve him, and love him like a good friend. These are good desires that are part of my SSA.
Ryan pointed out that in saying that, it could sound like I mean that the desire to befriend, serve, etc. always comes from a homosexual desire. I do not mean that at all. What I am saying is that I experience those things more intensely toward guys that I am attracted to, and that those desires coupled with the physical desire all conspire together to form my experience of a same-sex attraction.
They don't always go together. I definitely feel the desire to love, serve, and befriend guys that I am not attracted to as well. In fact, that is probably how it works for me most often. I am not attracted to every guy, or even most guys, that I am friends with. I guess you could say it like this: When I experience a desire to love my friends well, that does not necessarily mean that I am attracted to them; I feel those desires toward many of my friends that I am not attracted to sexually. However, whenever I experience a physical attraction toward another guy, it almost always includes (or at least is right along side) an intense desire to get to know them and be their friend.
This is how all attractions work, isn't it? Even hetero attraction. I'll give an example. Back in college, I had a great friend whom I spent most of my time with. We did everything together and knew each other really well. Then he got a girlfriend. All of a sudden, all he wanted to do was hang out with her, get to know her, serve her, etc. Along with his physical attraction to her came an intense desire to be her friend. And you can't really divorce that from the physical attraction.
That is my experience as well. My same-sex attractions have many different elements to them - some sinful, some not sinful. Along with the physical desires (bad) come intense desires to befriend and serve, which are good desires.
Couldn't this be an application of 2 Corinthians 12: 9? "But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in your weakness.'" I experience the weakness of same-sex attraction. And that weakness becomes the very site of the grace of God in which he makes me a better, more Christlike, friend. This should not surprise us. We serve a God who makes beauty from ashes, and uses the schemes of Satan for our good. Praise the Lord that he is that way!
That conversation with Ryan also led to some other interesting thoughts, but I want to devote an entire post to them. Until next time...
Uh, duh...Jesus! How does that relate to this post? You'll understand in a minute.
I need to be really careful writing this post, or I could get into some trouble. What I mean is that I am going to encroach on some potentially controversial territory here, and so a few things are necessary up front.
First, let me just remind everyone that I consider myself a Side B Christian who affirms the authority of the Bible and a sexual ethic that does not condone homosexual activity. Let that be the lens through which you read what I am about to say.
Furthermore, as I just made clear in some previous posts, I believe that homosexual desires are caused by the fall, exist contrary to the created order, and cause people to desire the wrong object. Therefore, SSA is sinful, but not the same as sinning. Rather, it is a temptation to sin, and therefore same-sex desires must be fought.
Ok, enough qualifiers, lets get into it. I was reading one of my favorite bloggers the other day, Eve Tushnet (seriously, go read everything she has ever written on homosexuality!). She was talking about how she is dissatisfied by the language of "disorder" that many (including me) use when talking about same-sex desires. Here's what she said:
Having said that, here's my problem with the "intrinsically disordered" language: I think it relies on a mechanistic understanding of eros. If sexual desire can be easily tweezed away from nonsexual longing and love and adoration then yeah, sure, I guess I can see the point of calling homosexual desire "disordered." But that's not how eros actually works! My lesbianism is part of why I form the friendships I form. It's part of why I volunteer at a pregnancy center. Not because I'm attracted to the women I counsel, but because my connection to other women does have an adoring and erotic component, and I wanted to find a way to express that connection through works of mercy. My lesbianism is part of why I love the authors I love. It's inextricable from who I am and how I live in the world. Therefore I can't help but think it's inextricable from my vocation."
I read that, and my mind exploded out the back of my head. That quote created a totally new category in my mind. I realized (here is the statement that could get me into trouble - brace yourself!) that there are good things that can come from - or even be a part of! - same-sex desires.
(Enter angry mob) SLANDER AND CALUMNY*! BURN HIM AT THE STAKE! CUT HIS HEAD OFF! SLAP HIS WRIST LIGHTLY! (Awkward stares at that guy)
(Nick Defends himself) Wait, wait! Let me explain what I mean.
I believe that any desire that I experience for sexual activity with another male needs to be fought against. But here's the thing: Same-sex desire encompasses much more than my desire for sexual activity. When I experience an attraction to another man, BESIDES the sexual desire, I also desire to hang out with him, learn about his life, be his friend, and serve him. And those are GOOD things that are not disordered. I just feel them more intensely toward guys that I am attracted to than toward guys that I am not.
Eve continues in this direction:
And what's funny is that even the defenders of the "intrinsically disordered" language are defending so little. Basically all of them say one of two things: either "everything you do which is influenced by your lesbianism is tainted," which is bleakly hilarious if you've ever nursed a sick woman through her illness in part because you loved and were attracted to her; or "it just means that your eros can never be acted on, whereas even wrongly-directed heterosexual eros might (could) be in some hypothetical made-up world." Which is like... do we really want to be encouraging unhappily-married heteros to think, "I could totally act on this desire and it would be ordered!... you know, if the old ball-and-chain died, or we got an annulment"? I mean, at that point literally nothing is added by the "explanatory" language of disorder which wasn't already stated by the bare moral teaching: You don't get to have sex with ladies, case closed. I knew that already! What extra work is this jargon doing?"
I think she has a pretty valid point. We are so quick to condemn homosexual behavior that often we don't even want to imagine the possibility that there could be good, right, beautiful things mixed somewhere in those desires. The truth is that, at least to some guys, I have been a better friend, served them better, loved them more fully, and even pointed them to Christ more consistently because I was attracted to them.
Again, this is another reason why we must think about homosexuality in nuanced terms. My attractions to guys are multifaceted, and I must deal with each aspect accordingly. I need to fight any desire for inappropriate sexual activity tooth and nail. I am NOT denying that! But, I need not fight my desire to befriend and love and serve. These are good things.
Wesley Hill says something similar here. "[Gay Christians] can also find their same-sex attraction itself to be the thing that is taken up by God and used as the means to draw them out of themselves." Out of themselves into what? Love, service, friendship, and other beautiful things that they might not have done if they weren't attracted to someone. These are opportunities to take a desire, send it through the cleansing of the cross, kill the sin, and express it in a way that is no longer disordered. Fight what is wrong, and pursue what is right.
I'd welcome thoughts on this. I won't pretend to have thought through all of the implications, so please help me out if you want! But be nice...I'm trying to pursue truth and live the tensions of life well.
*This post is brought to you by the word calumny. Use it in a sentence today. Feel cool.
My name is Nick. I am the Pastor for Worship at Sojourners Church in Albert Lea, MN. I love Jesus, music, the outdoors, Pad Thai, and the movie Stand By Me. I'm trying to live the tensions of life well.