What follows contains some references to sexual violence and may trigger some readers, who may not want to read any further because of that. I understand. That said, this is gonna be a bit long and a bit of a rant so buckle up.]
I spend very little time engaging with Conservative Evangelical voices or blogs these days. Mostly, I find the folks in that community are closed to open conversation and self-reflection and all too often seem to actually enjoy reveling in stupidity (sadly, this is just as true of many of their “intellectuals” as it is of the lay people, as evidenced by skimming through the material presented here or here). Frequently, they remind me of the blind dwarfs that C.S. Lewis writes about in The Last Battle — no matter what you do or say, they will remain convinced that the mud they are eating is the most wonderful food they have ever devoured. When that’s the case, it’s best to just leave them be.
The problem is that a good many of the things that they believe actually end up causing harm to other people. It’s one thing when they choose to sit in the dark eating mud by themselves — it’s another thing when they try to imprison another person in the dark with them and force feed mud to that person. All too often, it is the children of Evangelicals who experience the brunt of this violence firsthand.
Over the years, one of the ways in which I have seen that violence enacted by Evangelicals towards their own children is the way in which Evangelicals have responded to children who identified with a form of sexuality that falls outside of the boundaries established by heteronormativity (for ease of reference, I will use the umbrella term “queer” to refer to this group, as that seems to be more of a norm within scholarship and is less unwieldy than acronyms like LGBTTIQQ2S). All too often, in my work with homeless and street-involved young adults and teens, I have discovered that the primary reason why the individual before me was homeless was because he or she was kicked out by his or her good Christian parents because he or she identified as queer. Often this “kicking out” was also accompanied with physical violence (and sometimes sexual violence).
Anyway, all that to say that one of the few Evangelical blogs that I do read on a semi-regular basis recently posted a link to a post by somebody named Stephen Altrogge. This post is called: “What I Would Do If My Daughter Told Me She Was Gay” [NB: since I first began working on this draft, my computer now tells me that Altrogge’s blog is a virus risk so you may not want to follow the link — I quote the entire post in what follows below].
I think Stephen is trying to distance himself from the gay-bashing violence that we’ve all seen Evangelicals practice, so he does not say that he would beat or rape or disown his daughter and throw her into the gutter if she came out to him. That’s good. Instead, he takes time to try and appear sensitive and loving. Unfortunately for Stephen, this is also the way in which fathers who beat or rape or disown their queer children like to appear in public — and when you’re dealing with kids all too often it’s the parents who are able to manipulate and control the ways in which other view and understand the situation. Be that as it may, I’m willing to give Stephen the benefit of the doubt. Let’s assume he is more loving than a lot of Evangelicals and let’s assume he won’t beat or rape or disown his daughter… that doesn’t discount the possibility that he is a terrible father. As C. S. Lewis wrote in God in the Dock:
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Let’s keep that in mind as we turn to a more detailed analysis of what Altrogge wrote.
The first thing one sees when viewing Altrogge’s post is an image that proclaims that “jesus > desires” — i.e. the person, work, and words of Jesus — as interpreted by Evangelical Christianity — is “greater than” or more fundamental to our self understanding and character formation, than any desires we have. From this one can already discern two things about what follows:
(1) the author thinks homosexuality is bad; and
(2) the author is probably a straight white male who is comfortably situated within the middle-class (or higher) and who had never felt anything close to a serious conflict between what he desires and what he has been taught to think about Jesus (I initially wrote “what he thinks about Jesus” instead of “what he has been taught to think” but there is little evidence that many of these Evangelicals have ever learned how to think for themselves so I thought it best to modify that sentence).
The bio of the author provided on the “About” page seems to confirm the latter point. Altrogge is a pastor who summarizes his role as “generally being awesome.” Not exactly the bio of somebody well acquainted with struggle and suffering, eh? Apparently he is also the author of a book called Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wanabes which, according to the description on Amazon, is about how sports fit into a god-glorifying life and talks about how the Creator of the universe cares about Monday Night Football. Reading through the reviews on Amazon I don’t see anything that suggests that Altrogge explores the broader social, sexual, and economic matters related to sports. Does Altrogge address the culture of rape that exists in the NBA and how one can participate in that culture in a godly way? Does he talk about the machismo, misogyny and sexual exploitation of women that comes with hockey culture? Does he talk about the relation of domestic violence to professional football? Does he talk about the ways in which the Olympics are inevitably a part of a sustained assault upon marginalized populations within host cities for the benefit of developers and how they are used to transfer massive amounts of public funds into private pockets? Does he talk about how organized sports in general actively participate in practices that are oppressive to those who fall outside of the boundaries of of heteronormativity? Somehow I doubt it. The Table of Contents seems to reflect more of the standard Evangelical themes: rejoicing in our “gifts” and using them for the glory of God, losing with grace, fathers and sons bonding over sports, all that jazz.
Of course, in all likelihood Altrogge has heard some of these arguments about professional sports — I haven’t known any hardcore sports fan who wasn’t at least aware of accusations like these, and Altrogge has written a book about sports, so I take that as evidence that he is a hardcore fan. However, it is also likely that he never gave them much credibility or ever looked into them in much detail. Instead, like most hardcore fans, he has probably found ways to brush them aside without ever really confronting them. Why? Because Altrogge likes sports. And Altrogge wants to keep on liking sports. Therefore, they must be good.
But, wait a second here, that means that Altrogge desires something — the pleasure he derives from enjoying sports in various capacities — and this desire is shaping his understanding of his Christian faith (i.e. Altrogge comfortable weds his love of sports with his understanding of Jesus). The desire to enjoy sports is what is definitive because, as far as I can tell, Jesus would have a problem with things like a culture of rape, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, and the rich robbing the poor. Thus, instead of Altrogge’s initial diagram (jesus > desires) one should propose the following two diagrams as more accurate reflection of what Altrogge believes:
desires (to enjoy sports) > jesus
(my understanding of) jesus > desires (that goes against the conventions established by heteronormativity)
The point here is that Altrogge doesn’t really believe that the example, words, person, and actions of Jesus are more definitive for who we are than any desires that we may have. Rather, the point is that Altrogge has found a way of accepting or creating a Jesus who fits perfectly with what he desires and the only desires that Jesus trumps are those that Altrogge does not have — i.e. the desires possessed by Others. In other words:
jesus > your desires, not mine
Now let’s turn to the words Altrogge actually has to say to his daughter. Altrogge begins by openly recognizing that one day his daughter, Charis, or one of his other kids may experience “homosexual attraction.” Thus, he begins by asking himself this question:
What would I do if Charis told me that she was experiencing homosexual attractions?
Notice how Altrogge has shifted the nature of his post — his post is titled “What Would I Do If My Daughter Told Me She Was Gay?” but now he changes from a question related to being gay to a question about experiencing a certain kind of attraction. Why this shift? Because Altrogge does not want to grant homosexuality any kind of formative ontological status. Conveniently, then, this also relieves Altrogge of any shame or disgust he may feel in relation to having a child who is gay. “No gay kids here, boss, I’m all man! I just got some straight kids who sometimes experience homosexual attractions!” Really?
It makes you wonder a little about how much experience Altrogge has being in relationships with members of the queer community. Who knows, maybe Altrogge’s first husband was gay, but it kind of seems like he is talking about something he doesn’t know anything about.
The first proof of this is that no person I have known would ever broach the subject with his or her parents in this way — and this is doubly true of young children and teens. Whoever came out by saying, “Dad, I think I’m experiencing homosexual attractions”? My guess: nobody. No, what the kid will say would be something more ontologically rooted: “Dad, I think I might be gay” that sort of thing. Or, maybe they would be more circumspect and say: “Dad, I think I like girls.” Then, if dad blows up you can always try and retreat from the implications of that statement: “Shit, I’m not saying I’m gay — that’s fucking gross! I’m just saying that I enjoy being around girls more than boys.” Really, though, the kid is saying, “I think I am gay” but in a way that takes a tiny bit of the edge off of a risky self-disclosure.
But back to Altrogge’s hypothetical scenario. By rephrasing the titular question, he is already crafting a fantasy land that is conducive to affirming what he believes and that prepares the way to affirm the story he wants to tell himself about himself (i.e. “I’m a good and loving father and my affirmation of heteronormativity won’t interfere with me being a good and loving father even if my daughter ends up
being gay experiencing homosexual attractions”). Along the way, this means that he has already begun to deny the validity of the world as it is experienced by his hypothetically gay child. Even before he gets a chance to show how sensitive he is, Altrogge has already marginalized the child questioning him — she is not allowed to speak in her own words. She may only speak with the words Altrogge gives her. Now for an Evangelical, where men speak for women, parents for children and straight people for queer people, this may seem like the divinely arranged order of things (so if you’re a female and a child and experience”homosexual attractions” it’s probably best if you never speak) but that perception doesn’t make the outcome any less violent or oppressive.
So how does Altrogge respond to this self-affirming question posed by his hypothetical child? Let’s see:
The first thing I’d do is give her a giant hug and tell her that nothing, nothing, nothing can ever change my love for her. She’s my precious little girl, and nothing is ever going to change that. I’d thank her for telling me about her feelings and tell her that she can always tell me anything, no matter how big or small. I want my kids to feel comfortable telling me anything, and to know that I won’t get angry with them no matter what they tell me.
Question One: What does this reaction communicate to the child about herself? Answer: That something is terribly wrong with her. This is I what I hear: “nothing, nothing, nothing [even the worst imaginable scenario — i.e. you experiencing “homosexual attractions”] can ever change my love for her”… “she can always tell me anything, no matter how big or small [and this is massive]”… “I won’t get angry [although I damn well have the right to get angry about this — or, at the very least, nobody would blame me for getting angry]… and “I won’t get angry with them no matter what” . This, of course, puts a confession of homosexuality on par with a confession of any thing else — a similar confession to Altrogge would probably be something like: “Hey Dad, I accidentally killed mom in a car accident while I was drunk and making out with your brother,” to which Altrogge would respond by saying, “nothing, nothing, nothing can ever change my love for you… you can always tell me anything… I won’t get angry with you no matter what…”
Question Two: what does it communicate to the child about her father? That he is a far better person than she can ever be — not only because he is straight but because he
loves claims to love her unconditionally. Beyond that, the implication seems to be that, by experiencing “homosexual attractions,” his child has somehow wronged him yet he, the long-suffering father, is capable of limitless forgiveness. He appears to be a saint of sorts, someone akin to the father in the parable of the prodigal son.
So, from the outset, Altrogge makes sure to establish the power dynamics he wants to define his relationship with his child, and the moral overcoding he uses to both mask and justify these dynamics — she, the queer child, is terribly fucked up (although, like a good loving father, he finds a way to make her feel this way without putting that into words); he, the straight father, is incredibly patient, kind, and loving.
What Altrogge is actually communicating is that he is the victim in this situation. He is the one who has been wronged. Not his daughter. Not the girl he is teaching to loathe a part of herself. She’s the offender, the one who is wronging him with her confession. Yet, due to his incredible magnaminity, he chooses not to be angry (although it would be understandable if he was), he chooses not to love her less (although it would be understandable if he did), and he chooses to hug her (although it would be understandable if he never showed her affection again).
Question Three: Is this response really an expression of concern for this hypothetical child or is this actually about Altrogge, the way he wants to perceive of himself, and the way he wants others to perceive him? Is Altrogge writing for his daughter or is he writing for himself? Uh-oh…
Question Four: If this is actually about and for Altrogge — i.e. if he actually takes his daughter’s confession about sexuality and makes it all about himself — what does that say about the kind of father he is? Double uh-oh…
From there, Altrogge goes into a pretty standard Evangelical presentation of what they consider to be the Gospel:
I’d tell her that God loves her even more than I do. He created her in his image, and because of that, she is precious to him. He sent his son to die for her sins, which also proves that she is precious to him.
He then applies this to matters related to sexuality:
Then I’d tell her that if she follows Jesus, her sexuality is not her identity. Her identity is rooted in Christ. She is a child of God who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in her. Her fundamental identity is not her sexual desires, her fundamental identity is as a forgiven sinner, united to Christ, full of the Holy Spirit. That’s what Paul was talking about in 2 Corinthians 5:17 when he said:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
I’d say, “Sweetie, if you follow after Jesus, your identity is as a new creation in Jesus. These desires that you’re experiencing don’t define who you are. Jesus defines who you are. You are his. You belong to him. That is your identity. It’s who you are.”
Okay, what’s going? Granted there is an almost pathological drive that Evangelicals have about sharing “the Gospel” at every possible opportunity. or, more accurately, they possess almost pathological drive to have other Evangelicals think they share “the Gospel” at every possible opportunity and that’s probably a factor here. The the reader response Altrogge is probably hoping for is something like this:”look at how amazing this guy is — if I was in that situation I be thinking, ‘Ahhhh! How dare you shame me and force me into this, you dyke bitch!’ and he is finding a way to share the gospel with her!” Hmmm… who is this being written for?
Apart from that, what is this doing here? Well, Altrogge is still trying to tell us that he is telling his daughter that she is beloved. He’s still trying to ease into the hard part of the conversation (the bit about how God fucking hates “fags”), and so he wants to make that easier to accept by telling his daughter that God loves her. Sort of an “I love you, you’re perfect, now change” thing. He’s also furthering his own status in his own eyes and in the audiences of his audience. Because he’s crafted a story where he ends up looking like God — you know, that God who loved us so much as to die for us, the long-suffering God who will continue to love us no matter how much we betray Him (never Her). Sounds a lot like Altrogge’s presentation of himself. right? Maybe we should resketch that original poster once more:
jesus = my desires > your desires
Following this declaration of love, Altrogge starts paving the way to make it okay to tell his daughter that homosexuality is wrong. He does this by distancing her from her sexuality. She is a “new creation in Christ” and is not defined by her “desires.” In other words: she’s not gay, she’s a Christian. Phew. I’m sure she’ll feel relieved to hear that.
That said, I should insert some nuance here: I’m actually quite sympathetic to the argument Paul and his co-workers (and co-authors) make in 2 Cor 5.17 and elsewhere like Gal 3.28, which states:
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
The point of this fundamental shift in one’s understanding of “who one is” is to break down walls of division, and to create a community free from the socially, politically, and religiously supported hierarchies that dominate the status quo of the Roman Empire. Each member of the assemblies of Jesus followers was to relate to every other members in material and tangible ways as an equal or, more accurately, as a sibling. In this regard, the Collection is the best example of what Paul means by equality — indeed, it is only in reference to the Collection that he uses the Greek work for equality (isothes). The new creation that one is in Christ, the new union experienced by Jews, Gentiles, men, women, slaves and freed people, is not strictly the new spiritual status one has before God. It is that, of course, but that only makes sense and is only believable when people do things like gather the little bit of excess that they have and give it — free of charge, just as Christ also gave himself free of charge — to those who lack what they need to survive. In this manner the hierarchies and abuses fostered by dominant perspectives related to ethnicity, nationality, gender, or social status were to be overcome by those who are now described as “in Christ.” Making one’s location in Christ the fundamental aspect of one’s identity is an important part of accomplishing this new liberating union.
Now the purpose of these remarks about Paul and his co-workers is to demonstrate how Altrogge is utilizing this call to a new identity in Christ in a rather different way than Paul used it. Altrogge is using it in order to support the values and hierarchies of the status quo and to actually foster the marginalization and exclusion of some in the community. That is to say, Altrogge is using words written by Paul and his co-workers to accomplish exactly the opposite of what those words were intended to accomplish. That which was intended to be liberating, most especially to those who were marginalized and oppressed by others, is now being used to further marginalize those who are queer — an already oppressed segment of the population.
It becomes easier to see this when we recognize that no concomitant statements are made about heterosexual desires or, rather, about those who are straight. That are no remarks made to suggest that Altrogge’s heterosexuality is not related to his identity — that it is not simply a “desire” that is trumped by his being “in Christ.” You don’t see Altrogge saying: “there is no longer straight or queer, for all of us are one in Christ Jesus.” Why doesn’t Altrogge say this? Because he doesn’t believe it.
He is actually operating with a double standard. Homosexuality is relegated to the domain of “desires” but heterosexuality is a part of who one is in Christ. From Altrogge’s perspective, being straight is a part of being who we are created to be (I’ve criticized this view in this post). Heterosexuality, then, is taken to be an ontological matter — a core part of one’s identity in Christ — whereas “homosexual desires” are said to be trumped by one’s identity in Christ. Once again, Altrogge takes his own desires for granted as divinely mandated while telling others that their desires are less central and, therefore, more easily cast aside in order to be “in Christ.” This kind of move is pretty symptomatic of those who are located in places of privilege and power. They naturalize their own desires and villainize the desires of those who are more marginal.
Having paved the way to say what he really wants to say — that homosexuality is bad, but I’m still a good dad for telling that — Altrogge finally cuts to the chase:
Then I’d gently take her hand and say, “Charis, following Jesus is really costly. Jesus even said that we have to die to ourselves. He said we have to take up our cross and follow him. That means submitting every facet of our lives to King Jesus, including our sexual desires. If you’re going to follow Jesus, you’re going to have to submit these desires to Jesus. You can’t give in to them because the Bible says that any sexual expression outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is wrong.”
Note what Altrogge does not say. He does not say that it is wrong to be gay. Maybe he’s uncomfortable making a statement with that kind of force, maybe part of him recognizes the violence and oppression that are intertwined with statements like that. Instead, he says that “the Bible says that any sexual expression outside of a marriage between a man and a woman is wrong.” Now I’ve spent a lot of the last 13 years studying the Bible in academic, professional, communal, and personal contexts, and I’ll be damned if I can think of anywhere that the good ol’ B.I.B.L.E. says that. I’m actually pretty confident that the term “sexual expression” never appears once in the Bible. I don’t even know what that means. Is flirting a form of sexual expression? What about holding hands? What about telling somebody they are beautiful, handsome, or attractive? How are these thing not, at times, expressions of sexuality? Does Altrogge really believe that the Bible says all of this should only take place between married men and women?
Leviticus, of course, states that it is an “abomination” for a man to “lie with” (i.e. have sex with) another man in the same way that he lies with a woman, and goes on to say that those who engage in this “abomination” should be “put to death” (Lev 18.22 and 20.13). Now, granted, the New Testament authors seem to universally move away from any support for killing people for any reason — in part because Jesus chose to die for what he valued, instead of choosing to kill for what he valued and, in part, because Jesus was like those homosexuals mentioned in Leviticus 18. The civil and religious law determined that his actions should led him to be designated as an abomination who should be put to death. And he was. So, when your inspiration, whom you also take to be a revelation of God, ends up being legally executed, you start to ask questions about the validity of legal executions.
However, even though the New Testament does away with the killing aspect, some authors still seem to take it for granted that homosexuality is bad. For example, in Romans 1.24-27 Paul takes it for granted that homosexual acts are “unnatural” and demonstrate one of the results of what occurs when people practice idolatry instead of worshiping the Creator.
Now, this actually creates a bit of a problem for Altrogge. His daughter, whom he has already made clear is a Christian (“in Jesus Christ”), is obviously not practicing idolatry, so how can she be experiencing “homosexual desires”? If homosexuality is a symptom of the disease of idolatry, it makes no sense to discover this symptom in a Christian. Yet this is precisely what occurs in Altrogge’s hypothetical example (and in the lives of many other non-hypothetical people). That problematizes Paul’s assumptions.
Of course, it’s not difficult to recognize that Paul’s assumptions about what was “natural” and what was “unnatural” were pretty conditioned by his time and place — for example, in 1 Corinthians 11.14 he states that “nature itself” teaches us that it is dishonourable for men to have long hair. Does nature really teach us this? Or does Paul’s culture and his traditions teach him this and he then transpose that teaching onto “nature”? I see nothing in “nature” that teaches anything about how the length of our hair impacts our status as people. So maybe Paul isn’t the best judge of what is or is not unnatural (I wrote a post on this theme here).
So, Altrogge has to pick and choose a bit when he talks about what the Bible says. He wants to allow New Testament passages like Romans 1.24-27 to interpret his reading of Leviticus 18.22 and 2o.13, but he has to hold onto both passages while discarding parts of each passage. He can’t hold onto the link between idolatry and homosexuality found in Romans and he can’t hold onto the link between homosexuality as a recognized abomination and the death penalty found in Leviticus.
So, he kind of creates his own way. It sounds harsh to say that your daughter’s desires are abominable (well, unless you’re referring to an attraction to a particular snowman, but that’s a whole different story!) so he doesn’t say that (even though he probably thinks that — “gay sex? Yuck, that’s fucking gross, dude!”). Instead he sticks to talking about “sexual expression,” “marriage,” “man and woman,” and the costliness of following Jesus. Again, I can’t see how any of this costliness applies to Altrogge’s life but, who knows, maybe at some point one of his female parishioners was sexually attracted to him but he turned her down in order to stay faithful to his wife and his beliefs. That must have been hard. Yep, yep. And I’m sure generally “being awesome” is all a part of the via dolorosa.
That said, we shouldn’t miss the fact that Altrogge has already paved the way to make is daughter feel guilty if she refuses the genuinely costly way that he is holding out to her. After all, he reminded her that Jesus loves her more than anybody — loved her so much that he died for her and that’s a costly act. How could she refuses to die a little (or a lot) in return?
At this point Altrogge starts to sound a little desperate:
She might ask, “Will God take these desires away from me?”
“I don’t know,” I’d say. “But I do know this – he’ll give you the power not to give in to them. That’s the beauty of the gospel. Jesus forgives all of our sins and then gives us the power not to give in to our sinful desires. And it will be hard, and it will be costly, and there will be times when you will feel lonely, but Jesus is worth it. He is so worth it. When you hear Jesus say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’, it will be worth it!”
Can you imagine saying this to your child? Asking her or him to journey into a life of hardship and loneliness? And how old is he imagining his daughter to be at this point? Young enough that he feels it is relevant to explain the Gospel to her, young enough to hug and hold hands and use really simple language, young enough to try and end the conversation by taking her for ice cream (more on that in a moment). So, let’s imagine she is, oh, a preteen at the very oldest. Can you imagine saying this to a child this young (or of any age, really)? “Welcome to a long life of hardship and loneliness, baby. Hopefully, while you’re still young and malleable enough to prioritize what I say over what you experience, you will internalize the message that ‘Jesus’ is worth all of this because, pretty soon, your experiences will start to tell you otherwise — and they won’t stop telling you that.” No wonder he repeats (three times!) that Jesus is worth it. Is he trying to convince her or is he trying to convince himself?
The exchange continues and Altrogge starts to get philosophical:
“But why do I have these desires?” she might ask.
“Well sweetie,” I’d say. “Sin has distorted every person’s sexuality. Every time I’m tempted to lust after a woman, that’s a distortion of my sexuality. Every time you’re tempted to lust after a person of the same sex, that’s also distortion. See, you and I are the same. It just works itself out a little bit differently. We both desperately need Jesus. But the wonderful thing is, Jesus is in the process of repairing the distortions. He gives me power to not give in to lust, even though it feels really strong at times. He can give you that same power. And someday, when he comes back, everything sad and broken will finally be undone.”
He’s wrapping up at this point, so note the final message he gives to his daughter about herself: you are sad and broken. Oh, and distorted. Thanks, dad. Oh, but look, ice cream! Because this follows immediately after as the concluding sentence:
Then I’d say, “You know what? We’ll keep talking about this, but right now, let’s go get ice cream”.
Nothing like dropping a bomb on your child and then easing your own conscience by taking her out for ice cream. The thing is, Altrogge is so rooted in his position of privilege and its concomitant ideology that he probably doesn’t realize that he little girl is going to be unable to sleep that night because she will be so anxious and overwhelmed by her sad, broken, and distorted state. He’s so far removed from being able to understand and identify with those who are Other and marginalized that he’s probably clueless as to the impact of his words. While his is sleeping “the sleep of the just” (to quote Erik Prince, the Christian founder of the world’s largest mercenary army), his daughter will be tossing and turning as she is introduced to the experience of self-loathing.
So, don’t be fooled. Altrogge’s lying when he says: “you and I are the same.” Really, that’s just another way for him to drive home his point about how his daughter isn’t gay — she’s a Christian, just like him. But notice how he reduces her sexuality to the status of “lust” (no ifs ands or buts) whereas his sexuality may be distorted by lust at times but is still fundamental good. He and her are nothing the same.
However, they are the same in one way — he does desperately need Jesus (just as he says she needs Jesus). He desperately needs what he thinks Jesus is and represents in order to convince himself that he is not abusing his daughter. He needs the confirmation he gets from posting this online and getting the applause he got from most of the those who commented — just like they need him to write something like this to affirm what they believe (the Emperor’s new clothes really are marvelous if everyone says so). Destroying Charis’ sense of self worth, alienating her from herself, consigning her to a life of loneliness is worth it, it’s worth it, it’s so worth it. Right, guys? Right, Jesus? Can I get an amen?
So, I’m probably not the best person to ask (you would be better served by speaking with some folks in the queer community, especially those who have experienced the kind of abuse that Altrogge wants to perpetuate) but after all this, how do I think Altrogge could have responded to his daughter’s risky self-disclosure? By changing what he believes about Jesus. Here’s a (far from exhaustive) sample of some things that could be said:
Charis, you’re perfect just the way you are. The creativity of God is a marvelous thing and your sexuality is just one manifestation of that wonderful and good diversity. There’s nothing wrong with what you are feeling. It’s normal and healthy and part of growing up.
I know we’ve spent some time in Christian circles that told us that homosexuality was wrong and it was wrong of us to participate in that. I should have never put you through that and I’ll change that now. I’m sorry, Charis. I was wrong.
I’m sure the circles we’ve moved in, and the beliefs we’ve held, made it incredibly hard for you to share this part of yourself with me. Thank you for trusting me. You take my breath away every day and teach me a lot about what it means to be like Jesus.
Being gay in our society isn’t always easy. Some people may act awkwardly and not know what to say or do. Some people will try and make you ashamed of who you — and some of those people will even tell you they are doing that because they love you. Don’t buy that. And I’ll have your back no matter what. So will Jesus. Jesus isn’t on the side of the gay-bashers. Jesus loves you, and Jesus loves that you’re gay. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
That, Stephen, is what the costliness of discipleship looks like for you. Taking up your cross means giving up the Jesus you follow. That means you’ll have to find another church and another circle of friends. That means you’ll have to go from “generally being awesome” to being rejected, ostracized, and misunderstood by people who previously respected you and looked up to you. That’s hard but that is what it means to be a good father. And Charis is worth it. She’s so so worth it.
Not only is she worth but you’re in for a shock. You might just discover another Jesus — a Jesus who offers us liberation and invites us into a union that overcomes all divides and all hierarchies of power. Jew, Gentile, slave, free, male, female, intersexed, queer, straight… all of us can come together and find the abundant life that can be shared in Christ. That, Stephen, is new creation. And it is very, very good.
Oh Dan. You are starting to take some analyzing cues from The Last Psychiatrist, which is great, because I enjoy both reads. I have a few issues, but I’ll focus on just one which is in your response to the daughter in what you think he should say.
“you’re perfect just the way you are” is a lie. Even you don’t believe that. Why grow? Why learn? Why learn discipline? Why write, read or learn to be in relationship with others? I think that is just as a harmful of a line to say to someone as “you aren’t perfect and it’s because you are gay.” In fact, it seems more loving to say “you and i are the same” even if you don’t believe him when he says it. Are you just saying she’s perfect because it will make her feel better? Sounds condescending.
I agree with your view for the most part, but what I think is the most harmful part of your view on this and in other things is that you seem to think that the best way to help someone change/be transformed/strive for healthiness is to be silently supportive, let them talk and let them figure out their own shit. You seem to interpret any desire for someone else to be transformed oppressive. You think we should just worry about our own shit and just tell everyone else they are perfect the way they are.
The way you are suggesting we view this is to view the father as oppressive because he has certain ideals that he wants his daughter to live out. Fair enough. So you disagree with his ideals and what he hopes for and it’s coming across as selfish and unloving (which it probably is). But where then in your view can we ever hope for a certain outcome for someone we love without you jumping to the conclusion that we are oppressing and trying to control them? What if in this practice conversation he has with his daughter was about something rather than being gay? What if it was something that you actually thought was a harmful way of life? Would his response then be so wrong?
I think really you can only read all this stuff into the conversation because you think its fine to be gay, but for a conservative Christian who equates being gay to being a murderer I’m pretty impressed that this is how he would choose to have this conversation.
I don’t care how you would tell your kid that it would OK that he’s gay. Rather, the question you should ask yourself, what would you do if your son woke up one day and decided that he wanted to be a sex trader who spent his time taking advantage of women and making money off them. (take something that you are passionate about being wrong and then ask yourself how you would respond if your son wanted to do that very thing). I wonder if you would be even half has graceful as Altrogge.
The “Concerns” often try to equate being queer with something like being an alcoholic, gambler, or in your case a sex trader… this is a false argument. Gay people can live happy lives, have satifying relationships, raise children if they want to, be productive contributing citizens. The damage is caused to them from “folks concerned” about their soul or something. Folks that can’t accept this part of them. Alcohol, gambling, being a sex trader is destructive behavior and cannont continue indefinitly with out destroying the person themselves and causing other collateral damage. That’s why being a sex trader is illegal, and being gay is not. (yet anyway).
Sorry Catherine, I was in no way comparing a gay person to a sex trader. I was comparing a conservatives Christian response to a gay person to Dan’s response to a gay person. Because Dan’s outlook at a gay person is so vastly different than a conservative Christian’s I don’t think he is able to get to the heart of the issue.
I agree with you fully that comparing gay people to any sort of destructive behaviour is making vast assumptions and making something guilty by association would be a bad form of concern or argument.
What follows is the exchange that I have had to date with Stephen. I have simply cut and paste our emails and posted them in a comment here – which I gave fair warning of doing in my first email. Things said in public – his blog and then mine – should be debated in public.
Dan: Hello Stephen,
A blog I read occasionally recently linked to the post you wrote about what you might say to your daughter should she ever end up being gay and be bold or perhaps reckless enough to come out at a young age to her Conservative Christian father. In many ways, your post embodies precisely what I think is wrong with how Evangelicals respond to this subject. Actually, even beyond that, I think it expresses a lot of what is wrong with contemporary Evangelicalism in North America. Consequently, I ended up writing a rather lengthy response which I have posted here:
I spend a fair bit of time exegeting and deconstructing your post. Essentially, I think it is wrong in every way. You are welcome to respond to what I wrote, if you like, but I prefer that any exchange be kept in the public domain (on blogs, not by email). I’ve had too many negative experiences with Conservative Christian leaders who want to talk or act one way in private and another way in public to want to begin a private correspondence with somebody I don’t know who is a member of that constituency.
Of course, you are also totally welcome to not say a word to me. That’s your prerogative. If you do email me, however, instead of staying on blogs (mine or yours), I may post what you write in the email. Just wanted to give you fair warning of that.
That said, you’ll notice that what I wrote is a harsh criticism that causes me to question how good of a Christian and how good of a father you are. I imagine those are things that are very near and dear to you (as they are to me). You’re welcome to respond with equally harsh, blunt, and challenging questions or conjectures. I’m not easily offended — and when I don’t try to sugar coat what I say, I’m committed to accepting responses that are also not sugar coated. I invite you to say anything you want in response.
Stephen: Hey Dan,
Thanks for taking time to write me. I would be glad to dialog with you but I have some reservations. In your post you seem to attack my character more than anything else. You assume that I love sports more than Jesus, which isn’t true. You assume that I hate homosexuals, which isn’t true (one of my friends who is gay has thanked me several times for my posts). You even hint at the fact that I may sexually abuse my daughters, which is extremely disturbing to me.
So I would be willing to dialog with you at your blog, but it seems that you’ve already formed your judgments of what I’m like as a person. I’m not sure if our dialog would be particularly fruitful. But if you want to talk in public on your blog I would be glad to.
Sent from my Telegraph Line
Dan: Hi Stephen,
In any conversation or debate the parties already have formed judgments or suspicions about the other party’s character based upon what they already know or based upon what they’ve seen or read or heard. To have fruitful dialogue, then, it is best to own these suspicions and lay them on the table so that they can be challenged or changed. Maintaining the pretense that one is going into a conversation within some pre-made judgments or reservations is actually a good way to not be open to hearing what others have to say (since these judgments and reservations could then go unchallenged and the person holding them can, internally, just continue to find ways to affirm them to him- or herself).
I find it odd that you would even care about what I think of you “as a person” since we don’t know each other at all but here is what I suspect about you (and the more sensitive Evangelical types whom I have known): you’re probably a kind person who tries hard to love the people around him… but you’re so enmeshed in the privilege and power that your status gives you (white, straight, male, Christian, American, etc.) that you don’t even realize how oppressive and violent some parts of your life can be — including parts of your life where you think you are being loving. All to often, we tell ourselves stories about ourselves in order to distance ourselves from being identified with our actions (I love Jesus, I’m a good father, that’s who I “really” am even though, in the hypothetical scenario you describe, your actions and would would be betraying Jesus and abusing your daughter). So, really, who you are “as a person” doesn’t matter to me. Who you are “in action”. That’s what I think anyway.
That said, a few comments on your other reservations:
(1) On loving sports more than Jesus… I think the problem is that you don’t really know Jesus very well — and it’s hard to love somebody that you don’t know (whereas I’m betting you know sports pretty well). Rather than getting to know Jesus, you have been able to sustain a belief in a kind of Jesus who fits amazingly well with what you desire (pretty convenient, right?). Hence the remarks about “jesus = my desires > your desires.” That’s also why I think I worked a Gospel message into my post. My conclusion was really a Gospel presentation — calling you to actually get to know Jesus, the good news, and the abundant life associated with him — although you may have trouble recognizing it as such.
(2) I don’t think I said anywhere that you “hate” homosexuals. I could be wrong about that though. I did say that I bet you think gay sex is “gross” or something like that. And that you’re gay friend has thanked you for the post is hardly proof of its goodness. People who have been colonized and abused within their community of origin or faith often internalize the attitudes and views of the people colonizing and abusing them. Half the battle for liberation is helping to facilitate a shift in the ways in which those who are colonized (in this case, Christians who are gay within Evangelical circles) think about themselves so that they start thinking of themselves in their situation in new ways. I can find kids who have been abused who beg and thank others to continue to abuse them. I can find women who will tell you they were made to serve men. I can First Nations people who think they are inferior to white people. On and on it could go. But being able to find a member of an oppressed population who has internalized and now supports the discourse of the oppressor should not be taken a sign of the goodness of that discourse. And this whole “I have gay friends!” that people who hold views like these is a line that needs to go. It’s like the plantation owner saying: “How can I be racist? All my servants are black and I think they’re great!”
(3) I don’t think you sexually abuse your daughter and hopefully you would never engage in that kind of violence if she ever came out to you but, here’s the thing, the argument you make sounds exactly like things I’ve heard people say who DID abuse their kids in all sorts of terrible ways. I’ve worked with homeless and street-involved young people for more than a dozen years now and it’s absolutely appalling how many kids end up on the street because they fall outside of the boundaries of heteronormativity (in a study I helped within Toronto 40% of street-involved and homeless teens identified their family of origins response to their sexuality as a primary cause of their homelessness… this was the second highest stat next to the experience of violence in the home). It’s just as appalling that so many of those kids come from good Christian homes where they ended up experiencing really terrible forms of abuse because of how their good Christian parents reacted to their disclosures about sexuality. So, you need to recognize that what you say sounds EXACTLY like what is said but those Christian parents and leaders who do things like kick their kids out, beat the hell out of them and even rape them. That means, if you want to keep talking the way you do, you should probably find a way to explicitly dissociate yourself from that kind of action, from that kind of Christian expression, and from Christians who engage in that sort of thing. If you are affirming a certain way of thinking, you need to condemn certain things that are done by people who think that way, otherwise you are fundamentally unsafe for any who have heard what you have to say and at the narration of that accompanied by violence (and, without this disavowal, those who do abuse their kids with physical violence will see you as an ally). In some situations, as much as you may want it, neutrality is not an option. I think this is one of those situations. You’re either a part of the problem or a part of the solution. What you have written so far is part of the problem.
So, there you go. Don’t know if that will make you want converse more (via blogs!) or no. Mostly, I wanted to share what I wrote with you because, since I was disturbed by what you wrote, I thought it only fair to give you the opportunity to change yourself. My motivation wasn’t so much to spark a long drawn out debate but I would be willing to converse further since, who knows, that might be part of what ends up leading you to a conversion experience. Guess, I’m still a bit of an evangelist…
I’m not to pass on the debate.
I would encourage you to be a little more careful with the judgments you make about people. It seems that you took a tiny bit of info you knew about me and formed all sorts of judgements. You assume that I don’t know Jesus very well based on the fact that I love sports. That’s simply not true. Jesus is the center of my life. Everything I do revolves around him. I exist to make his name look great.
You also assume that I believe that “God hates fags” simply because I think homosexuality is wrong. Again, totally not true.
It seems that you took your ideas of what evangelicals are like and simply plopped them down on top of me. How am I supposed to respond to that?
Dan: You can respond (or not) any way that you want. It’s true that I make assumptions about you based upon my interactions with Evangelicals elsewhere. I’m not too concerned about that. It’s up to you to determine how much of what I assume or represent about you is accurate or not. But, really, how you respond to me is pretty irrelevant. How you respond to the content of what I say — how it impacts what you do in your own life, the story you tell yourself about yourself, the actions in which you engage — that’s what matters (as far as I’m concerned).
Interestingly, the ‘God hates “fags”‘ line was the one that I thought, “hmmm, I should have rephrased that” after I posted what I wrote (but I had already emailed you the link so I didn’t want to appear to be playing games by changing the content after contacting you). I should have struck a line through the word ‘fags’ and replaced it with the word homosexuality. Of course, you may think that there is an incredibly significant difference between saying “God hates ‘fags'” and “God hates homosexuality” (i.e. “lust” or “sin,” from the Evangelical perspective). Folks who are gay may feel a bit differently about that. Evangelicals need to realize that.
As for Jesus, well, I’m sure that you’re convinced that your life revolves around your conception of Jesus. I’m also pretty sure that your conception of Jesus probably has very little to do with the Jesus who is revealed in the writings of the New Testament. And I’m also pretty sure that your life actually revolves a lot more around yourself — and enjoying the privilege and benefits that come from being a white, straight, male, middle-class pastor in the U.S. of A. — than you think. Shoot, I’m pretty sure that’s true of pretty much everybody in our context. In your defense, you’re probably not responsible for creating this discrepancy in the first place — most folks who grow up as Christians in North America are taught, from the beginning, how to misread and misunderstand the Bible so the odds were against you. You were probably never shown who Jesus was (and is) and you were probably always taught to confuse a self-serving life for one of discipleship. That’s why I almost didn’t bother emailing you. When years of that nonsense have been pounded into your head, the chance of your life changing because of an extremely blunt blog post written by a stranger are pretty much nil. Still, you never know. People would have said the same thing about trying to talk to Paul when he set out on the road to Damascus.
Dan, it seems odd to respond to you as third party in your dialogue with Stephen, but I will do it nonetheless.
You have admitted, I think helpfully, that “Shoot, I’m pretty sure that’s true [life revolving more around yourself than Jesus] of pretty much everybody in our context.” This, as you have made clear, is especially acute with respect to our appraisal of who and how Jesus is in relation to ourselves.
My question is this (and you may think it orthogonal to the current debate), where in your writings on this do you make space for submission unto death within and at the hands of the (however broken) divinely appointed authorities on this particular issue, while at the same time seeking to humbly, patiently, and in a serving manner through graceful channels, pressing for change while remaining ‘put?’ The figural parallel being the life of Christ as fulfillment of the life of Israel within and yet as a challenge to the Temple institution. Perhaps the most pressing question (for me at least) being your particular connection to a church body (with particular doctrine/teachings along these lines) and that particular church’s connection the Church ecumenically and historically (including the e/Evangelical church of North America, and how that relates to your convictions on this issue)?
The previous comment was Stephen Edwards, and not Stephen Altrogge, to clarify.
Thanks a lot for your comments and questions. I’m not entirely sure I understand what you’re asking and, if I do understand you, I’m not entirely sure what to say in response.
For example, I don’t really think that Jesus engaged in a form of “submission unto death” at the hands of “divinely appointed authorities.” Rather, I think he engaged in a form of “resistance unto death” at the hands of authorities whom he said had little or nothing to do with the God whom he referred to as “Father.” For more on that resistance, I’ll refer you to a sermon I posted here:
Essentially, then, I think our rejection of the claims that the authorities make in order to legitimate themselves (divinely-based or otherwise) leads us into a trajectory marked by various forms of rejection and resistance. This results in many little deaths — you will be ostracized, often by people who claim to follow the same Lord, you will lose jobs, you will be branded as a trouble-maker, you will live a life of constant struggle and, if followed through to the inexorable conclusion, this may lead to imprisonment or to Death itself (as we see happen with Jesus). That’s the via crucis.
(I believe that I’ve experienced that a little bit in my own life but I am far from being able to say that I bear the brandmarks of Jesus on my body, as Paul said — and he well understood this trajectory so it’s not surprising that he was also imprisoned executed by the authorities.)
The question about the church is even more difficult to answer — especially when we talk about what “the Church” has been throughout history. Sadly, the more that I learn about the early Jesus movement (particularly as that movement was associated with Jesus and Co. in the Gospels and with Paul and his co-workers in the uncontested epistles associated with Paul), the more I am drawn to conclude that almost everything that goes by the name “church” today has very little to do with the beginnings of the Jesus movement. The same is true of much of what has been called orthodox Christianity throughout history. I tend to think the groups throughout history that have most faithfully followed the trajectory established by the early Jesus movement have been on the fringe of “Christianity” and have either been marginalized, disciplined, controlled, or branded as heretical. In my own personal experiences, the groups that actually seem to most resemble the early Jesus movement, actually have not been “Christian” groups at all (the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council, the Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users, The Downtown Eastside Power of Women group — all in Vancouver). Yet, as Jesus says, “those who are not against us are for us,” meaning that what matters are the lived commitments of people — not so much their ideological confessions.
I mean, shoot, the word “church” doesn’t really come into use until a few centuries after Jesus. Prior to that, the dominant word used was “ekklesia” which means “assembly” and was used, in the Graeco-Roman context, to refer to the central constituting political gathering of a city. The “church” is really the gathering of those who come together to reshape their relationships and their ways of sharing life together in the service of life and in resistance to death.
Anyway, I don’t know if I really answered your questions so feel free to ask again or to further engage with anything I wrote here. Hope all is well with you.
I wish you’d answer my questions.
Good to hear from a friend who thinks it’s okay to consider homosexuality a sin (or a sign of the ways in which creation is marred by sin) but who thinks that he can hold that view without being oppressive! (At least that’s how I understand your view – which is why I think criticisms in this post are pertinent to you – but in your recent email to me you claimed that I don’t understand your view on these things so perhaps you want to clarify something?)
I’m going to leave aside your remarks about me referring to my daughter as “perfect” because they strike me as trivial and I doubt that you really believe what you write. Besides, those comments mostly function as a gateway into addressing what you see as a broader problem in my approach (if I’m wrong about this, I could always return to this subject).
Really, the core of your objection seems to be that you think that I will see any desire, hope, or effort to influence or “transform” a person in a certain way as oppressive and controlling (this, if I understand you correctly, is what you consider “the most harmful part of my view on this and in other things”). Therefore, you assert that I think that “we should just worry about our own shit and just tell everyone else they are perfect the way they are.”
Thankfully, you haven’t actually properly understood my approach, either as it pertains to this issue or other matters. If that were the case, why would I have written this response to Stephen? If the post itself isn’t clear enough, I make it crystal clear in my email exchange with Stephen (posted above) that I am very much desiring and attempting to create a transformation within people like Stephen. I don’t tell him he is perfect the way that he is — I tell him he needs to change.
In my own faltering (and mostly impotent) way, I have tried to be a part of fostering ways of sharing life together that are conducive to that which is life-giving and are in opposition to that which is death-dealing. This very much means engaging with others with the desire and hope that some transformation will result from the engagement (no matter how many times one is disappointed). That’s why I do the work I do, that’s why we’ve had the upfront conversations we’ve had about theStory (remember that time you told me I’m hard to like? Good times!), and so on and so forth.
Therefore, the question about Stephen’s hypothetical interaction with his daughter is whether or not what he says is life-giving (and liberating) or death-dealing (and oppressive). The conclusion I’ve drawn is that he is engaging in an (hypothetical) conversation that is death-dealing. What’s worse is that he refers to that which is death-dealing as though it is life-giving! Therefore, I push back very strongly against what Stephen says.
BTW, this seems to be what pissed off the prophets more than anything else – stop saying you are the representatives of God while doing things that are totally contrary to the will of God!)
This is also why your comment about “what would I do if my son disclosed to me that he was a sex trader?” is entirely misplaced. Catherine understands this – and your statement that you weren’t comparing gay people to sex traffickers doesn’t really get you off the hook. You substituted “being gay” for “being a sex trafficker” so, at some point, a comparison is being made.
But your comment is also misplaced because it misunderstands what I’m doing. The point of the analysis is to look for the ways in which violence and death or liberation and abundant life are operating in any given circumstance. So, in the hypothetical situation Stephen offers, he is abusing his power over his daughter, calling violence love, and so on – even though his daughter has done nothing wrong (and if you think my response to Stephen is ungracious then you haven’t spent enough time getting to understand how much harm Stephen is likely to do his daughter with this response – what he would deserve for doing what he hypothetically proposes to do to his daughter would be much more severe than a few blunt words from me). However, the scenario you propose is marked by completely different power dynamics, completely different kinds of violence, and a total reversal of parties. So it would require a completely different response.
Finally, I’m really unsure of what to make of this sentence: “Because Dan’s outlook at a gay person is so vastly different than a conservative Christian’s I don’t think he is able to get to the heart of the issue.”
I do think I get to the heart of the issue. Conservative Christians are death-dealing and abusive when they speak and act in the way that Stephen proposes. This is wrong and should change. They need to repent and learn to follow Jesus. That’s pretty simple and straight forward. I’m not sure what else you think the “heart of the issue” might be.
No you don’t understand my view. But it’s nice to be heard from you. I’m glad that you can still be my friend considering we apparently hold vastly different beliefs and also since you can “leave aside me remarks because they strike you as trivial.” Nice. All I was doing was pointing out how your response to your daughter was just as flawed as Stephen’s.
Thank-you for responding, but I still don’t think you are really interacting with what I’m trying to challenge you back with. Maybe I need to be more direct instead of using examples. You think it is not a sin [death dealing] to have homosexual sex. A conservative Christian (Stephen) thinks it is a sin [death dealing] to have homosexual sex. This is the vast difference and why you are approaching this subject all wrong. What you need to do is challenge Stephen on how he approaches/confronts people who he believes are teetering on a death-dealing lifestyle. This is why I used the example of a sex trader, because you think it is death dealing. Stephen thinks that homosexuality is death dealing. So I am off the hook in comparing a gay person to a sex trader because I did not do that and I especially didn’t mean that. All i meant to do is try to put you in the shoes of someone that needs to confront their daughter with a lifestyle that you think is death dealing.
If you want to engage in a conversation if homosexuality is death dealing or not, then that is fine, but you didn’t really interact with that as much (you have in other posts but that wasn’t the point of this post). You need to learn to start where that person is starting before you can challenge them on something. You are speaking so over top of Stephen’s head that no wonder he responded the way he did. He thinks homosexuality is a sin (death dealing) and you do not. This is the vast difference in your approach to how you speak to your daughter.
I’m not so much saying that Stephen is handling this correctly, I don’t think he is and I think you pointed out to all sorts of important issues in the way that he would deal with his daughter. What I’m saying is that the main piece of your interaction with him that is missing is the failure to understand that he is trying to deal with what he believes to be a death dealing lifestyle and his daughter. You don’t think being gay is death dealing so you interpret his entire conversation as him being death dealing which is entirely subjective on your view of what being gay is.
So you can’t tell someone who wants to challenge a death dealing lifestyle that they are being death dealing by challenging it unless you first explain why you think being gay is not death dealing.
Before we go any further can you explain what exactly your views are on this matter because I’m pretty sure the way I’ve represented them is accurate based on what you told me.
Maybe they’ve changed? Or maybe you unwillingness to voice them publicly — even though I’ve asked for clarification — means I’m representing them more accurately than you care to admit? I don’t really know what is going on here.
So, hey, I’ve very clearly put my cards on the table. Feel free to do the same before we continue.
What do you want my view on? My view on homosexuality? Or my view on how you should speak to/confront those that I believe are making death dealing choices? My view on the latter is all I’ve been talking about and confronting you on in these comments.
In regards to my view on homosexuality, we’ve gone over this before and this is why you think I’m being oppressive. I understand both sides of the issue. I understand why people refuse to see homosexuality as part of the created order and believe it to go against the grain of how God created us. I also understand how there isn’t really that strong of a biblical case against it and that it is a Christian’s job to stand on the side of the oppressed and that it might fulfill natural sexual desires that can be loving. I hold both views in tension and I really can’t make up my mind. Is it right, wrong, indifferent? I don’t know. And I’ve told you this and you’ve said ‘well you are being oppressive by not choosing.’ And I disagree. I think I am choosing not to side as an oppressor or an oppressed on either side of the argument. Or better, I can see how both sides can be the oppressor and oppressed at any given point and my view wavers depending on my situation.
My real issue though is your response to your hypothetical daughter. I didn’t like Stephen’s, but I almost like yours less. First. How is one who sees homosexuality as death dealing supposed to respond like this? You’ve stated to your daughter now your opinion on homosexuality and that there is nothing wrong with it and that it’s all part of God’s creativity and growing up. But what if you think there is something wrong with it (ie. why i brought up the sex trade pimp)? How can you suggest to Stephen he responds to his daughter without needing to change his view on homosexuality?
The real question in all this is do you think that Stephen can respond in a life giving way to his daughter without changing his beliefs about homosexuality? I don’t think you do. I think you equate life-giving with pro-gay beliefs. That is where we disagree. I’m convinced that Stephen can be life giving and love his daughter and not oppress her and still think its wrong to be a homosexual. Do you? Why or why not?
I’ve been following the replies to this post with interest and I need to admit that I find the tension with which you hold your conflicting views on homosexuality both familiar and mystifying. Familiar in that there was a time when the passages in the Bible on homosexuality, which are abundantly clear, did inform my views. Mystifying in that when I looked at myself there was everything to be gained by deciding that what the Bible has to say about my own sexuality was nonsense and thereby embracing the love and nurture I had spent almost my whole life looking for. Quite a polarity, eh? The reason I had to break this tension is because it was killing me. To ask someone to hold views that are contrary to something as fundamental to a person as who he/she wants to love and be loved by, or even flirt with those views, as you seem to be doing, is and and of itself, death dealing.
In my own case I once believed there is a God who is Himself love, Who exists in Three Persons between Whom there is only love, Who created the world so that He might show and share this love, drawing it to Himself by becoming part of it and redeeming it. The tension was this: I also believed that I was especially unloved by God, Who is love, because I want to be loved and love other guys. Can you imagine anything that would fuck with a person more than that tension? Asking people to believe that something so elementary to their beings as who they want to share love with in tension with the idea that the very love they feel and want “goes against the grain of how God created us” is oppressive by virtue of that tension. You can’t have it both ways. In my own case I had to abandon the faith in order to escape the tension I created in my own life, I’m no longer am a Christian. I shudder to think that you’ve taken it upon yourself to welcome other gay people into your church community and that you’re asking them to live in this tension. You’re not helping them, that’s for damn sure. I suspect that if you were to meet a gay person who abandoned the faith you’d want to do everything reasonable to help them regain it. In my own case, I find myself wanting that faith back. But you don’t do us any good by being unclear. Either it’s good or it’s not. At least with Stephen and Dan, I know where they stand.
Hi Tom, thanks for the comment and sharing your story. Its stories like yours that, if you allow it, will help people process these things in a healthy manor. It’s also good to hear from you again, it’s been a while!
A few things to clarify.
1. In no way am i struggling between the idea that God loves or does not love gay people. It’s not even part of the conversation. Afterall, I’ve been accused of being on the edge of universalism to some, so this really isn’t a matter of love or salvation for me.
2. It’s not the passages that say man shouldn’t sleep with man. It’s Genesis 1-2 that has been the most powerful shaping story of Christianity in thousands of different ways. I’m not saying I’m interpreting it the right way. I just get why people would have a hard time fitting homosexual sex into that story. I’ve seen Dan try but he’s reaching. At this point I find it undeterminable and illogical to land so hard on either side that it makes the other side absolutely right or wrong.
3. I also understand that it’s next to impossible to look to the Bible, our interpretations of the Bible, and allow it to tell us exactly how to order our lives and who we can love and can’t love. It’s because I don’t look at the Bible as this rule book telling us what we can and can’t do why I also understand the other side of this issue. There are plenty of things in our Bible that we do and believe that are blatantly against scripture and even our interpretations of scripture as Dan points out all the time.
4. I’m not asking anyone to hold any kind of views. I’m not asking anyone to live in this tension. I’m not even saying I believe the right way about things by being in tension. I find it especially sad that you couldn’t feel loved by God because you wanted to be loved by other guys. However, your tension is a lot different than mine. My tension is philosophical in nature, it certainly isn’t tied into who I love or am loved by and it isn’t tied into my identity as a person either. A gay person has their own tension to work out and I would love to walk alongside of them to do that if they want. I don’t want to define their tension for them.
5. I disagree with you that tension is oppressive. I believe it must suck and be confusing, but it’s not oppressive. Everyone (maybe just Christians) feels tension all the time in being the person that God created us to be and what they want to be doing. If you think that tension between who you feel you are and who you feel that God created you to be is oppressive than Dan is being oppressive in this post because he is forcefully creating that tension for Stephen in his life. Again, it comes back to the initial question in what is right and what is wrong. If you think being gay is right, then you are probably going to think that anyone who tells you its wrong is being oppressive. The reverse is also true. However, because I hold the view that being gay is neither right/wrong I am doing my best to refuse to oppress either side. I will admit though, we all oppress, and I’m no better than either side in who I oppress. I just don’t think its fair to say I oppress people by not choosing and you do not by choosing.
6. Tom, to be honest, I don’t think I’m doing any good whether I think it’s good, not good or I’m unclear. I’m not sure why you think picking a side is so much better than refusing to. My good will be done in how I live my life, who I love and those that I choose to suffer alongside of. I don’t really care if someone knows where I stand, I care if someone knows that I love them. I don’t believe that my stance on a issue has anything to do with whether I love someone or not. I think it’s unfair to make my stance on an issue a deciding factor on whether I’m able to love someone as well. Which is why I’ve been asking Dan, and he has not been able to answer me. Can someone hold a bad death dealing stance on an issue and still be a loving person and not oppress the people involved? I believe they can.
It’s not that I can’t answer your questions — it’s that I like the time at the moment. Plus, I’m fairly confident than any person capable of sitting back and thinking for a moment will be able to come up with a decent response on his or her own. Two quick points though:
(1) I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again because I don’t think you get it: that you feel that you are able to remain in the “tension” you identify in this situation is simply an exercise of straight privilege. How nice for you that you can go back and forth and this issue as it suits your needs (look — I can get parties on both sides to think I’m a good person!). Unfortunately, for those who fall outside of the boundaries established by heteronormativity, things are a lot more difficult (as Tom mentions). So you need to own up to the way in which you are simply taking advantage of straight privilege in order to try and have people on both sides think of you as a good and sensitive person.
(2) Saying that those who hold my view (or views similar to mine) are oppressing Conservative Christians by challenging them about what they believe is ridiculous. That’s like saying First Nations people are oppressing settler society when they fight for their lands, or like saying women are oppressing men when they confront patriarchy, or like saying people of colour are the real racists when confront white privilege. It’s the classic line employed by people who are accustomed to having power over others and who are accustomed to abusing that power. When you challenge them on it what do they say? “Hey, stop victimizing me!” Come on. You’re better than that.
Your assumptions are vast. I already admitted to the fact that I didn’t think not choosing was any better than choosing, it was just where I currently am. I don’t feel the need to make you or anyone think I’m good and sensitive. If anything, you can think I’m undecisive. I’m fine with that. But why are you accusing me (with no proof) about why I’m being undecisive and what reactions I am looking for from people?
What kind of privelege am I exercising by refusing to choose?
Dan, saying that you oppress people is far from ridiculous. I’ve seen in your life and on this blog how you use your academics and intelligence to make people feel small while you carry on your merry (I mean miserable) way all the while considering their views immature and unthoughtful. You are unable to engage humans in a loving way therefore you oppress. Your conversation tactics alone are unloving. Saying truth out loud isn’t always loving. Believing the right things and making sure everyone knows about it isn’t loving either. So you can’t tell me that I’m being oppressive by refusing to choose and you are not being oppressive by choosing and refusing to engage people in a way that they can actually understand what the hell you are talking about.
Also, did you just compare yourself to a First Nations person? Nice. Way to make yourself the victim in this conversation. I think you did it just because I pushed back on you and called you oppressive! I can admit my privilege and have all along throughout this conversation. I admit to being part of the oppressive cycle and doing my best not to enter it. You can’t even admit that you oppress Stephen and other conservative Christians when you refuse to see where they are coming from. Instead you pretend you are a victim of racism. It’s as if you actually think conservative Christians are out to destroy the world and you are the only one with enough balls to call them out and you are the poor helpless anarchist who hasn’t hurt anyone with his harmless thoughts. Come on. You’re better than that.
I don’t know if you need any additional input into this discussion, but (even if you don’t) I recently came across Garry Wills’ discussion of uncleanliness. He was indicating that Jesus constantly mixed with the outcasts – the unclean – who were considered so precisely because they violated some portion of the Holiness Code of Leviticus. Those who identify as queer also violate the Holiness Code of Leviticus, and are therefore ‘outcast’, and on that basis Wills’ implies that Jesus would be often in their company. (My apologies to Wills if I have taken too many liberties in paraphrasing).
More voices are always welcome. Sounds to me like Wills engages in a reading similar to that of Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann argues that different and sometimes competing and contradictory traditions operate within the biblical texts. For example, he identifies a “holiness” or “purity tradition” that is often about imposing social hierarchies, supporting established power structures and so on, and he also identifies a “justice tradition” which challenges those things (most notably with the writings of the prophets). Brueggemann then goes on to argue that what Jesus is doing is asserting that the justice tradition trumps the holiness/purity tradition. Thus, like Wills, Brueggemann sees this as a reason to reject the morality of heteronormativity.
Hope you are well.
[BTW, for any who are interested, I came across this link the other day: http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.it/2012/05/heterosexual-redefinition-of-marriage.html ].