On the Need for Gay Christian Role Models

Samuel Ernest is a young blogger whom I haven’t yet had the privilege of meeting, but we’ve corresponded a bit, and I regularly read his sensitive, thoughtful posts with interest. His latest, about his decision to enter The Episcopal Church, was particularly striking. Here’s a portion that stood out to me:

In the 1970’s, when AIDS first began killing off a generation of gay men, my parish provided free burials to anyone claimed by the disease. Gay people go to my church. They are regular attenders—people who have been practicing Christians since before I was born. They are also leaders. One hard part about being gay in [the] denomination [I grew up in] that doesn’t really talk about homosexuality is the difficulty I had in finding role models—people who have wrestled with the questions I’m asking and who can provide insight and wisdom about how to live faithfully while holding those questions. Without such mentors it feels like you always need to be a trailblazer, which might sound exciting sometimes but really is just pretty exhausting and lonely.

Another difficulty I used to have, which I mentioned earlier, was getting stuck dwelling on things like the uncertainty of not knowing how people would treat me if they knew that I was gay (which only increased after I came out on this blog), trying not to say or do anything that might draw negative attention to myself, the persistent thoughts that—wrong though I knew them to be—kept popping up: that I’m different and obtrusive, that I need to retreat. At St. Paul’s I haven’t been so focused on myself and my sexuality because I know that no matter where I end up—in a relationship, with a family, called to celibacy, or just plain single—my church will be there to support me and celebrate life with me. And likewise, I will support the Church I love, not as a trailblazer, but as a servant, whether that be as a layperson, musician, member of the vestry, deacon, or priest.

I’m struck by many things about this, but mainly it prompts me to ask what would have to happen for churches who uphold the historic position on marriage and sexuality (marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, and sexual abstinence is called for among those outside that covenant) to be places where the appearance of gay role models was normal. My experience was similar to Samuel’s insofar as my church growing up scarcely admitted the existence of gay people, let alone talked about the various possibilities for their sanctified witness among us.

Samuel’s post makes me think of something Martin Hallett, director of a ministry to gay people in the UK, once said:

There are probably nearly as many Christians with homosexual feelings who do not believe that homosexual sex is right for Christians as there are those who are advocating its acceptance. A friend of mine in Sweden (Erik) is a Lutheran priest who believes in the traditional biblical teaching on sexuality and has homosexual feelings himself. He determined, from the beginning of his call to the ordained ministry, that he would be open about his sexuality at every stage…. Ultimately, as more evangelicals make such a public stand, it will seem less costly and will, I believe, have a tremendous impact for the kingdom of God…. [I want to] encourage those leaders in the church who have homosexual feelings but who believe homosexual sex is wrong to be more open. People like Erik… are not a tiny minority in terms of all homosexuals in the church…. I wish their voices could be heard saying that “We believe our homosexuality is part of our value and giftedness to the church, but homosexual sex is a sin.” What a difference this would make to the life, witness, and future of the body of Christ.

What a difference indeed. I sometimes wonder if the work we’re doing here at Spiritual Friendship won’t really “take off” and seem fully plausible until we reach the tipping point where a wide number of celibate, gay Christians who uphold the church’s historic teaching are widely known—and widely known as valued and supported and sought after in their various churches.

Even so, there’s a difference, as Samuel’s post notes, between a church or denomination that is open to the increased visibility of its gay members and a church that has been acknowledging and honoring its gay members for decades. Right now, in many of our churches, there’s still a need for trailblazers.

19 thoughts on “On the Need for Gay Christian Role Models

  1. This post really resonates with me, as the lack of witness of faithful Christians with same sex attractions and orthodox beliefs about sexuality has been something I’ve sorely missed. But it is up to us to heed the call to be the light that is put on a stand so that the church and the world might see the gracious work of God in our lives. This is why I recently started my blog Confessions of a Gay Evangelical Christian coagec.wordpress.com. Even so, I am keeping it anonymous because we are not quite there yet regarding a safe environment.

  2. I have been so thankful for the online role models I have found through the blogosphere. Another cool thing that’s grown out of this is online communities that have sprung up recently. I’ve gotten to know so many wonderful people there that have encouraged me in my life as I don’t have many role models to turn to in person.

    If anyone here is interested in a Facebook community for celibate gay Christians, send me an email ajasdell@gmail.com.

  3. As I understand it, the Catholic hierarchy generally discourage homosexual clergy from coming out. This makes it impossible for those* of them who believe the Church’s teachings on homosexuality to be the role models and effective witnesses we could use.

    * I hope it’s a large majority.

    • That is true, but I don’t think it matters if gay role models are clerics or not. The Catholic Church seems to have managed to marshal an impressive array of female role models over the centuries despite having no women priests, for example.

      • It may not matter whether a Catholic is a cleric or not in order to be recognized as a role model or a saint, but it still may be more difficult. That John Paul II opened up the canonization of saints to the psychological disciplines, and since the Church hierarchy right now embraces questionable psychological etiologies of homosexuality, at least implicitly, this means they will always be the occasion for suspicion of any person who experiences homosexual attractions, even if their behavior is impeccable.

      • Yes, but most psychiatrists/psychologists don’t hold to these antiquated (mid 20th century pseudo psychoanalytic) theories. Ever since Hooker published her findings in the late 50’s on a less biased sample of homosexuals than had been previously studied, the evidence has accumulated that homosexuality, in and of itself, does not appear to predict dysfunction. Of course if one defines dysfunction as being unable to be romantic/sexual with the opposite sex, then, by definition, homosexuals are dysfunctional/ill. But since homosexuals can manifest “love and work,” still the two pillars, I think, in defining “normalcy”–psychiatrists are unlikely to ever reclassify it as a psychiatric disorder. (Remember most of us psychiatrists have no pretensions to theological/philosophical definitions of normalcy. Our diagnostic code, in a way, starts with–“does this interfere with [what we/society defines as] functional living?” If so, we count it as a disorder. One could argue that being intrinsically unable to have a biological child with one’s spouse is “dysfunctional,” and many have. Of course that may not always be the case, given advances in reproductive technology. At that point those who argue “intrinsic disorder”–philosophcally, not psychiatrically–for homosexuality would have to rely on the prohibition against artificial reproduction, which at the moment stands even for opposite sex spouses who, without it, cannot have a biological child together. My guess is that the “sense of the faithful”–alas, I don’t know the Latin– will change this stance, and that artificial reproductive methods will be accepted, at least for married couples.) Meanwhile, most parishes will take Belgau’s (or was it Taylor’s) solution to the same sex couples in their midst. It is the same stance taken toward straights in second marriages sans anulllment of the first, i.e. “we don’t know that they are havin sex; they may be living as brother and sister.” In the case of gays if will be brother and brother or sister and sister. This will be the “bridge” stance for a generation or two, until the old definitions of “natural sex, tied exclusively to physical genital complementarity are played out and same sex couples are officially acknowledged in one form or another.

    • Although not a priest, I came out to my new Catholic church the week before Easter. At the pulpit. While I was speaking during a meditation. I was specifically asked to speak because of where I am as a celibate Catholic gay man. Response has been pretty good. Folks want to hear my story.

  4. Great post. The tension of being a trail blazer and yet still needing the support and community is always difficult. My close friends all know my life and story, however I have not come out to the church. While I am sure I can have a significant impact in some ways, at the same time I know that due to the ignorance of many, my role working with the youth may be compromised. Currently the church leaders know of my same sex attraction, however the parents and kids don’t. Sadly, I know of many parents who have raised their kids under the hatred of gays and I am continuing to have to shift their paradigm away from how the parents are speaking to them.

  5. As staystrongsojourner mentioned, there are real consequences to coming out in most of our churches. If I stood up in front of my church and stated “I am bisexual”, would they continue to allow me to teach Sunday school? I hope so, but that’s not a chance I’m willing to take. I value my time with the kiddos too highly.

    That being said, it needs to be done. And if not me, then who? If not now, when?

  6. This is interesting. Within my African American Baptist church context, I have no such role models. Many of our churches are not really sensitive to issues concerning the lives of gays and lesbians among them. They are either painfully silent on the issues or violently homophobic (given to false statistics concerning gay sex, demonization, and stereotypes, and so forth). The one who are sensitive to the needs for ministry either come from a theological perspective of “deliverance” from homosexuality or they have a liberationist/progressive theology which view traditional views as patriarchal, homophobic, and therefore oppressive.

  7. Thank you for the thoughtful consideration. While I think you and Mr. Hallett are right in that more celibate gay Christians need to speak out, I wouldn’t underestimate the work this blog is doing. I know it has been the source of comfort and hope for at least a few of my gay Christian friends considering celibacy. Once they have realized they are not alone in both their experience and views on sexuality several have opened up to their friends and family. I think the trickiest step beyond that IS opening up in the church. But I think that too will come with the continued building of honest relationships.

  8. {I wish their voices could be heard saying that “We believe our homosexuality is part of our value and giftedness to the church, but homosexual sex is a sin.”}

    While I do understand the longing for role models, where I think the problem lies is in the terms used. And I know this particular issue has been beaten to death without (in my opinion) having been resolved.

    The word Gay has been hijacked to the point where now it is strictly a political term and when used it automatically causes divisions (and misconceptions) that require further explanation. “I’m a gay Christian, now what I mean by that is”…..whatever you care to insert at this point.

    The divisions are to a point where they are actually splitting the church, and from where I sit it doesn’t even look like they care what message they are sending. So we do need role models.

    Fighting over property taking each other to court, 1 Cor 6:7″ The very fact that you have lawsuits among yourselves is already a defeat for you. Why not rather just accept the wrong? Why not rather be cheated?”

    Here is it 2000 years later and we look like the Corinthian church all over again.

    With so much devastation going on in trying to accommodate, appease, deal with and understand exactly what “Gay” is;

    Why do we keep on insisting that we label ourselves as “Something” different”? That our struggle is somehow special and we need to really emphasize this point with the word “Gay”.

    It just adds to the confusion. The term Gay (for most people) is equal to either sexual immorality or “there’s nothing wrong with that”, hence the divisions mentioned above.

    The pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme (from the dregs of the world to the darlings of the world) where we must not only be excepted but in some cases even approved and celebrated. We need a whole new paradigm shift without the labels. Our role models should simply be honest men and women of God, warts and all. And yes, some of those role models will be struggling with same-sex attractions which is nothing new. It isn’t a twentieth century phenomenon, contrary to popular belief. What we should be emphasizing is not our being gay, or “gay celibate Christians”, but rather, God is so big that he can and does use anything and everything up to and including homosexuality for His good and His glory.

    By calling ourselves “Gay Christians” we have convoluted the issue. We have made it so people who are clueless (have absolutely no experience of any kind) with this issue don’t know how, are what, to think about us. Because of popular culture they are certainly confused on how to love us. I can drive around my town and see countless church billboards proclaiming how tolerant and loving they are. It’s all about equality, right?
    Once again, the Corinthians all over again, 1 Cor 5:1 “It is actually reported that sexual immorality exists among you, and of a kind that is not found even among the gentiles.”

    Think about that for a second…we have had our whole lives to think about and deal with this issue…which as you well know is not an easy task…and now throw in our modern accepting culture, what a mess. Yet, we expect the average Joe from the next pew or off the street to be well informed about such things as sexual identity and sexual orientation.
    Sorry, but it is not going to happen! It just confuses people; they don’t know how to be loving and kind without condoning immoral behavior so they throw up their hands in despair. Don’t show them a different kind gay, it will not make sense…show them a fellow follower of Christ who low and behold struggles with sexual sin. Who would have thought?
    Strong and courageous most of us are not!

    {I sometimes wonder if the work we’re doing here at Spiritual Friendship won’t really “take off” and seem fully plausible until we reach the tipping point where a wide number of celibate, gay Christians who uphold the church’s historic teaching are widely known—and widely known as valued and supported and sought after in their various churches.}

    As long as you are calling yourselves “gay Christians”, which a large majority of people still consider to be an oxymoron, I would say no.

    It’s only those people who are saying that “homosexual sex” is still a sin who will be valued and supported and sought after. That statement is a far cry from “I’m a celibate gay Christian”. It begs the question…what does that mean?

    When you start the conversation with “I’m gay” everything after is interpreted through that sexual paradigm regardless of your use of Christian as a qualifier.

    “We believe our homosexuality is part of our value and giftedness to the church, but homosexual sex is a sin.”

    Is better, but doesn’t go far enough….how is that a gift? Homosexuality in and of itself is not a gift it’s part of our brokenness, but God has and does use it to transform people into His likeness. When we think of it as a gift, is (I think) when we fall into the trap of “we are special” “we are something different”.

    Our role models should always be Christians, men and women who put God first. Men and women who see no difference in sexual immorality be that adultery, fornication or homosexuality. Sexual sin is sexual sin, period.

    When you start talking about it in that context is when it will “take off”…As long as you keep trying to create a whole new class of people (Gay Celibate Christian) you are just going to be spinning your wheels.
    Is the gay person something other than a man or woman? Stop with the segregation! (setting yourself apart)

    Here’s a thought, why not think of us as simply brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle just like you do.
    No more and no less.

    We all have the same Vocation-to become like Christ, and then use what ever struggles we may have had, be that sexual and/or otherwise as the qualifier.

    And in that vocation (of becoming like Christ), if and when it should come up, we have our very own subset vocation of having to struggle with same-sex attractions. If homosexuality has any value, it’s in the tendency to consume our thoughts, our actions, our self-worth, our very lives, to the point that we must pick up our cross daily and follow God or be lost to it. The sex drive along with all of it’s accompanying connotations is that powerful.

    Our role models should be the ones who are not only aware of this fact but who also have the wherewithal to publicly proclaim it. And they certainly do not have to be, nor should they only be “Gay Christians”, so called.
    It’s great to have someone in our lives to identify with in our particular struggle, but it’s not mandatory by any stretch of the imagination. The garden of Gethsemane comes to mind on this point.

    • Only Christians are or pretend to be confused by the meaning of the word gay.
      Nobody is confused by the word “straight”.
      Therefore so-called “confusion” over the meaning of the word “gay” is a choice.

      I don’t know why we keep indulging Christians in this.

      That’s my two cents.

  9. Pingback: Q marks the spot – Treasure Map 72 (September 2014) | Quaerentia

  10. Wesley said :I’m struck by many things about this, but mainly it prompts me to ask what would have to happen for churches who uphold the historic position on marriage and sexuality (marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, and sexual abstinence is called for among those outside that covenant) to be places where the appearance of gay role models was normal.
    —————–

    My thought :

    The church would need to be completely beaten down by the culture to a place where it’s ashamed of its prejudices in public. This is the way it worked for the racial question as well as the divorce question.
    The church must become irrelevant to be humble.
    This is my honest opinion.

    Whenever the church has power it behaves badly.

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