Why Am I Still a Christian?

Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about my faith, and why I even have it. The past few months have been hard, and I’ve been thinking a great deal about why I should hold onto my faith at all.

And here’s what I’ve realized: I’m not a Christian because it makes my life easier.  It doesn’t. I’m not a Christian because it has saved me from depression, addiction,  and pain. It hasn’t. I live every day with a battle against addictions, despair, hopelessness, and pain, and that has been true every day of my adult life. I’m not a Christian because it rescues me from the cold, terrifying hands of doubt. It doesn’t – I struggle with doubt every day.

I’m not a Christian because I have a home in the church. It has never really felt like home to me. I’m not a Christian because church feels like a safe, natural place for me. It isn’t, and never has been – not as a gay man, and not as the black sheep from a family of pastors.

In fact, my Christian faith has brought more pain, and more discomfort into my life than perhaps anything else. I am certain now that not only would my life be easier without the church, it would be objectively better and healthier.

Because let’s be real. My own religion doesn’t want me. The International church would kill me or excommunicate me for being gay, and historically the church has hated me. The American and European church is in a bloody, self-destructive, self-defeating war over people just like me.

I’m tired of my faith. I’m tired of the church. I’m tired of the hurt. I’m tired of Christianity. I want nothing more than to give up and walk away. Not because I hate God. Not because I hate the church, but because I think I would live a healthier, better life if I did. Because I honestly don’t know if I can stand the hurt any longer. I know I’m a strong person, but I don’t know if I can do it any longer.

I’m not going to walk away. When I reach the edge of my faith and prepare myself to jump, the next thought that passes through my mind is, “but where else would I go? What could possibly take the place of Jesus in my life?”

I read the gospels and for some reason I cannot understand, I believe. I know the apologetics: I can quote Lewis and Chesterton and Saint Thomas Aquinas all day long. I know the historical evidence for Jesus. But at the end of the day, that’s all superficial to me. I’m not going to try to argue anymore that my faith is rational – I’m not convinced that it is. The truth is, I believe because I can’t help it. I believe because there is something at my core that can’t stop loving Jesus, that can’t stop experiencing Him as real. I make that irrational leap of faith across the chasm of doubt with fear and trembling, and for some crazy reason, the faith makes sense to me. I don’t have absolute reason or proof or empirical evidence on my side. But I have something else – something very deep within me that may be very foolish and cowardly, or something that may be very noble, beautiful, and true. That something keeps me believing.

That belief is in the Trinity, God in three persons. It’s the belief that Christ died on the cross to save the world, and that he rose again. It’s the belief that the Apostle’s Creed is true.

But it’s also the crazy, unyielding, tenacious belief that, even as His own people may spit on me or destroy themselves over me, Jesus himself wants me. That his grace covers all of me – even if I’m wrong in my beliefs about gay marriage. It’s the crazy conviction that his love embraces me, keeps no record of wrongs, is patient and kind with me, and that His love never fails. At the end of the day, I’m still a Christian because of the person of Jesus and what He means to me: the God man who came to earth, put on flesh, and walked among us. I am madly in love with the story of Jesus, and that love is keeping me here, in the faith, in the pain, in the brokenness, and in the church.

It still hurts

I have a confession to make: it still hurts.

The pain I feel over being gay – it hasn’t gone away, and there are moments when I realize that it is constant – a dull, terrible throb that feels like it reaches to my deepest places, to my bones.

Trying to place the pain is difficult. It is a lifetime of hard conversations and well-intentioned yet brutal misunderstandings with straight people I love.

It’s the memory of the fear of being disowned by family I love, and the fear – real, panicked, tangible fear I saw  in their eyes as they asked the question, “what is our son?”

It’s the terrible feeling that maybe, just maybe, my life would be easier and better if I could be “normal,” if I could have a wife and kids. It’s the pain of still, in certain dark moments, wanting nothing more than to be straight – to live a different life where things didn’t have to be this way.

It’s the pain of deep, terrifying questions: will I ever really be at peace with myself, or will I always have to fight, every day, not to see myself as a special mutation of God’s original creation? Will I have to fight every day to look in the mirror and see a being that is beautiful and worthy of love, instead of something wrong, diseased,  broken, and yet unfixable? Will I ever look at myself and just see… me?

If I ever do find someone, will I truly be able to love him and commit to him, or will I be blocked and thwarted by a lifetime of fear, of absorbing the belief from my earliest days that my capacity to love is fundamentally broken? Have I so deeply absorbed that message that I will be able to love a partner fully, healthily, without fear? Part of me still believes that hookups are my option for connection.

It’s the pain I feel when I remember this was not the life I wanted. If some mysterious switch hadn’t been flipped, I wouldn’t be on this side of this culture war, this bloody line drawn in the sand of the church’s coliseum. I was cast as an outsider in the church before I ever had the choice.  If that thing deep in my brain or soul that made me gay hadn’t happened, I don’t know what my life would be like, but I do sometimes wonder if it would be better. And I certainly wouldn’t have become something the church fears, pities,  and splits over. It isn’t that the church doesn’t want me, but that they have simply proven to the world that they are too fragile, too volatile, to handle me and stay whole. That is not a church I – or the world – wants.

Sometimes, the pain still comes roaring out at me, and it feels as if the whole world is being compressed into a tiny, suffocating point in which I cannot move or think or exist. In those moments death or self harm feel like the only way out.

I’ve developed a series of responses: I go for a run. I practice pranayama – the yoga breathing and meditation techniques. I get on my mat and let my yoga practice catch me. I pray, I feel, I let it pass through me, and I’ve somehow learned to be less afraid of the pain, and I cry when I need to.

The pain is nothing like what it was – it isn’t the fist that held me down in a constant state of drowning all through high school and college. It’s no longer the psychic cut in my mouth that I obsessively – every moment of every day – thought about. By the grace of God, I haven’t cut myself at all in 2014.

But the pain hasn’t stopped. Sometimes I resign myself to it,  and decide that I may have to live with it perpetually, and I had best learn to deal. Inevitably, I realize that holding the pain and ignoring it will just rot me from the inside out, that I have to find a way to pass through it. And other times, I become afraid that the pain will never go away at all, that my life will never fully be free from the need to medicate it and cope with it.

Despite all that,  I choose to keep going. I’ve chosen to live, and I’m sticking with that choice. Perhaps more insane, I’ve chosen to keep believing in Jesus, despite everything inside of me that tells me that my life would not only be easier but objectively better without him and his followers.

I don’t know anymore if the dissonance of being gay and Christian will ever stop hurting. I hope, though, that I will get to the point in life when it will hurt less.

James Brownson on Romans 1

I got horribly sick last week with strep throat, which completely destroyed my writing and posting schedule. I hope to be back on track with new material this Thursday or next Monday, but till then, I thought I would post James Brownson’s second lecture from his lecture series for The Reformation Project.

Dr. Brownson is, I believe, the new bar of affirming theology, and if you havn’t read his book Bible, Gender, Sexuality yet, you really must.

Watch his lecture on Gender complementarity here.



James Brownson on Gender Complementarity

If you haven’t yet read Dr. Brownson’s excellent book Bible, Gender, Sexuality, (you really should) you can now watch a series of lectures he gave for The Reformation Project outlining his book. They are all excellent, and well worth your time. You can also read my interview with him here.

In the following video, Dr. Brownson lectures on Gender Complementarity, and exposes some fundamental problems with it.

Celibacy as a Death Sentence

Several months ago, I had a conversation with a dear lesbian friend of mine who believes that, while it is okay to have a gay orientation, it would be sinful for her to act on her desires and be sexually or romantically involved with another woman. (This view is commonly referred to as “Side B”, while “Side A” is the belief that God blesses same sex unions. And yes, yes, I know, it is far more complicated than just the simple polarities of two “sides”, but, Lord have mercy, I don’t have the time or energy to go down that rabbit hole in this post.) During that conversation, she told me, “I feel like it is part of my job to show the world that celibacy isn’t the death sentence that everyone says it is.” I’ve been thinking about that statement ever since, because I think that, buried within it, is one of the ideas that frustrates me the most about the traditional sexual ethic.

First, though, allow me to make an important caveat. When I first wrote this piece several weeks ago, I was much angrier and made far more sweeping, all encompassing statements. As I re-read the piece, I realized that I was speaking for all gay people and the beliefs of all Side B people, when I should have only been speaking about my own personal experience as a gay man, and my own personal encounters with Side B. I don’t want to be unfair. So I want to acknowledge that everything I’m writing is very much about my own journey, my own relationships,  and my own experiences. I will let others decide how universal they are.

Based on my my reading of Side B authors, my conversations with Side B people, and my own personal experience of trying to live the traditional ethic, I don’t think it is too great a stretch (please correct me and help me understand if I am wrong) to say that the traditional ethic on homosexuality assumes that everyone is capable of living a celibate life. That must be the assumption, as the most logical conclusion of Side B is that celibacy is demanded of every gay person on the planet who cannot cultivate a heterosexual relationship.

When put that way – that everyone can live a life of celibacy – I cannot technically disagree with it. People live with all sorts of things that I wish they didn’t have to, and often at great and terrible cost. To me, the statement, “all gay people can live a celibate life,” addresses the wrong concern. The question should really be, “should all people live a celibate life? And if so, what will it cost them? Will it cost them their sustainability, their livelihood, their health, their life? Will it result in a life of unending anguish? Will it impair their capacity better to follow Christ?”

The Side B crowd is, perhaps, so insistent that celibacy is not a death sentence because they want to counter the oversexualization of our culture and the idolatry of marriage and romantic love as the only path to true happiness in this life. They want to re-establish friendship as an important crucible for fulfillment, and as equally valid as romantic love. They want to counter the myth that all celibate gay people are white-knuckling, emotionally stunted, ashamed individuals who lead lives of abject misery. They also want both the church and the gay community to accept them as they are: gay, celibate, devoutly committed to their convictions, and, perhaps most unsettling to us, happy.

That’s all good, and I stand with them on every bit of it. I believe the Church and the gay community should accept them as they are, no matter how uncomfortable that may make us feel in the process. I also believe that the vocation of celibacy is important to the life of the church – when the church loses celibate people, we all suffer. I believe, now just as much as I did when I myself was Side B, that friendship is a love as powerful, as intimate, and as important as Eros. I believe we should allow Side B gay people to challenge both the church’s and the gay community’s assumptions about happiness, fulfillment, and sexuality. I believe that, at the very least, Side B people are very good medicine for an American culture that has difficulty processing the lives they are trying to lead.

But I fear that, in trying to advocate for all these various causes, something truly vital is lost. That something vital seems to me to be empathy: the ability to recognize and experience the complexity of other people’s experiences, even if they don’t align with our own. And please, please don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that side B people are unempathetic, but that their words can come across that way. When I hear a Side B person say, as many of my Side B mentors said to me, “Everyone is capable of living a life of celibacy”, I hear a lack of ability to de-centralize from their own experience. To say that celibacy is universally sustainable is to say to me and others like me who find celibacy destructive, “Your experience does not matter. My healthy experience of celibacy proves that you can have a healthy experience, as well.” I, for one, find this dismissal deeply, deeply invalidating, and I think that some of the pushback the Side B community may encounter from the larger gay community is rooted in precisely this experience of invalidation and dismissal.

As I have already described at length on this blog, my personal experience of trying to commit to celibacy was harrowing. After spending probably hundreds of hours reflecting and praying over my experience in trying to live Side B, this is where I am now, with no embellishment, no hyperbole, no over-the-top hysterics: I would rather die than go back. If I were someday convinced by reason and the conviction of the Holy Spirit that Side B is correct (I possibility I must consider, despite how painful that would be for me) I fear I would consider suicide an option. Unless God did something miraculous to make the burden possible for me to carry, I would truly prefer lethal injection.

While this current season of my life has by no means been easy,  it has, without question,  been the happiest,  the most stable,  the most healthy, and the most tranquil.  I know a great deal of that has to do with leaving my convictions behind. I’m not saying that because because happiness through full self-acceptance is the cultural “script” for me as a gay man. I am saying it because, for me, it happens to be true.

I know that my deadly experience with Side B is not universal. I know that it is all bound up in my personal blocks and history and experiences, and the uniqueness of my situation. I know that, despite my best efforts, in the wise and supportive people who surrounded me, I couldn’t divorce celibacy from shame. I couldn’t grasp the celibacy mandate as an expression of God’s love for me or detach it from a punishment that I did nothing to deserve, no matter how much I wanted to believe otherwise. I knew the answers, I knew the ways forward, I knew that “celibacy isn’t really the point,” and I had wonderful people supporting me, but that didn’t seem to matter – I was coming up against the uniqueness of my own situation. And the only way I have been able to get away from those negative messages is to get away from Side B.

And that exactly illustrates my point. People don’t live in vacuums. People don’t always live with the perfect conditions – both internally and externally – that make celibacy possible or healthy. People have real histories and real struggles and real contexts that are complex and diverse and that can block them from ever being healthy in a certain way of life. This shouldn’t surprise us, because it is human nature.

When I was doing my yoga therapy training, the first thing we learned is that different people have different limitations. “Sometimes,” my teacher said,  “we come up against the uniqueness of someone’s body in therapy, and we will have to work with them in  a different way. We will have to modify their practice to accommodate their uniqueness, so that they will be restored instead of destroyed.”

This where I have to reveal one of my deepest passions and perhaps one of my greatest biases. I am, to my very bones, a therapist. I was put on this earth to help people with pain, be it emotional, physical, or relational. I can listen to the stories of sustainable, joyful celibacy from people who hold the traditional ethic and rejoice in what I hear. But the question I always ask – the question I can’t help asking – is, “okay, now what implications does this have for everyone else? What does the prohibition against homosexuality, the belief gay sex is intrinsically disordered, mean for the gay couple of 40 years, the 15 year old, the closeted athlete, the gay husband of a woman?” Maybe it’s the wrong question, but it’s the question I have to ask. And when I hear articulations of the traditional ethic, my immediate, gut level, overwhelming response is the desire to protect other people. I never, ever want another human soul – especially a teenager or young adult – to experience what I experienced. It’s also why I become deeply distressed when many people confide in me their own personal horror stories regarding celibacy; I want nothing more than to find some kind of solution.

In a perfect world, we could all run marathons. We wouldn’t have degenerative arthritis in our joints,  we wouldn’t have unique blocks and differences and histories. We wouldn’t have congenital, chronic conditions that narrow the scope of what we can and cannot do with our bodies. We wouldn’t have injuries that limit our movement – but we do. Even great athletes have unique limitations, and when we try just to push through – when we choose to ignore our uniqueness instead of work with it – that’s when we kill ourselves. That isn’t just true for our bodies, that is true for the whole spectrum of our being.

Sometimes, the uniqueness of someone’s history, emotional makeup, and context prohibits them from reaching sustainable celibacy. That’s the way it was for me, and that’s the way it is for many people I know. I have a friend who bought chemical castration pills, had them in his hand ready to swallow them, because he felt that it was the only way to live up to his convictions. Ryan Robertson, the son of my friends Rob and Linda Robertson, ran away from home and eventually died of a drug overdose because, in part, he had absorbed the message, at the age of 17, that he was uniquely forbidden from ever having the kind of marriage relationship that his parents had so beautifully modeled. The stories are endless.

What disturbs and angers me (the caretaker and therapist in me) is what feels like the dismissal or lack of recognition of such unique blocks in people’s lives. I don’t know if it is denial or simply a worldview issue, but it troubles me, especially when the very same people who seem unwilling to accept the possibility that celibacy is destructive for some are rallying for their own acceptance as celibate gay people. The human experience of sexuality is vast – is it not vast enough to include stories of both fulfilling and destructive celibacy? Why does it have to be just one or the other? Why are we so resistant to that possibility?

We acknowledge a myriad of reasons why someone may uniquely be blocked from marriage. We look at people who have been single for decades and come to peace with the fact that, for whatever reason, the uniqueness of their situation did not allow them to marry. I am fascinated – absolutely fascinated – as to why we don’t recognize that there might also be such blocks and complexity with celibacy. Is it because we view celibacy as an ultimately passive state? Or a waiting room for marriage? Or as merely the “off setting” to marriage’s “on setting”? Whatever the reason, it reveals our underlying misunderstanding about celibacy and marriage: neither are passive states. Celibacy is just as sexual, just as active, as marriage.

Do not misunderstand me: I am not saying that all people who hold the the traditional ethic should abandon their beliefs. I am, instead, asking that people struggle more deeply with the reality of the unique blocks different people face. I am not even saying that such a struggle will result in you agreeing with me about the morality of gay marriage. Instead, I hope that such a struggle will result in something better and more compassionate than what the traditional church currently offers gay people.

The statement, “everyone can be celibate” simply does not account for the complexity of human reality. What disturbs me about the church’s “all gays must be celibate” approach is that it seems to have an utterly different, theoretical humanity in mind – a humanity that is perfect, untouched by the complexity of life’s blocks. What does that say about our theology? What does that say about how the church interacts with gay people? I fear it reveals the attitude that gay people are theoretical, a statistic rather than real human beings with complex lives. At the very least, It means that our own theology about gay people lacks the nature of Jesus the Word, Who put on flesh and walked among us, meeting the complexity of human experience with open arms.

of Celibacy and Dissonance

Eliel Cruz recently wrote an interesting Op-Ed piece for the gay magazine The Advocate titled “In Defense of Celibate Gay Christians.”

There are some very good things about the article. First, the fact that a publication like The Advocate is willing to print the piece is (maybe) a sign of changing times. It shows that the gay community might be more willing to talk about sex and celibacy in a way that that was far less common even a few years ago. Nor is this the first secular, gay affirming magazine to run a profile of celibate gay people – Slate Magazine recently published an article profiling some celibate gay Christians as well. It seems that the gay community is becoming more and more aware of the presence of celibate gay Christians.

Cruz challenges the reduction of identity to sexuality. He says,

While sex is a part of someone’s sexuality, we are not, and should not be, minimized to sex. It’s an important part of intimacy and it’s our right to love who we love — but we are not sex acts. Our sex lives or lack thereof shouldn’t be up for scrutiny by homophobic Christians or gay men. It seems one group of people will only affirm you if you’re not having sex and the other will only affirm you if you are.

His advocacy for gay celibate people in the gay community is noble. He continues,

We shouldn’t allow for a single narrative to represent our entire community. It is hard feeling represented when you’re a minority and even more so when you are marginalized within that minority group. Celibate gay individuals are still gay, they’re still attracted to people of the same sex, and they’re still facing discrimination for who they are. Sexually active or not, they are queer — so shouldn’t they feel safe and included in the LGBT community?

Forcing beliefs on another person, especially beliefs related to something as intimate as sex, crosses boundaries. It’s harmful, especially when specifically geared toward youth. But silencing celibate stories isn’t the solution. We should allow for people to come to their own educated conclusion.

The message here is very good. I think Cruz is specifically addressing the response of the gay community to celibate people (it hasn’t been terribly positive) and advocating for greater acceptance in the gay community. That is good. Everything I am about to say is not intended to negate his thesis or to disprove him, but instead to add another voice to the discussion.

While I agree that gay individuals who choose celibacy should be included in the gay community and their stories heard, I think Cruz might miss some of the complexity and subtlety of some of the issues he raises.

He says,

To be clear, there should be a distinction between forced celibacy and chosen celibacy. An informed adult who chooses celibacy should theoretically pose no threat. Regardless of whether they choose celibacy because they believe same-sex sex is a sin or if it’s part of their religious journey, celibacy is a personal decision that, quite literally, doesn’t involve anyone else.

Throughout the article, he seems to imply that, as long as someone’s conviction is a “personal choice” and they don’t advocate for Reparative Therapy, then our discomfort is needless. But I don’t necessarily believe this is true. I say that because morality almost never “doesn’t involve anyone else.” Morality is  never a solely private matter, no matter how much we may push religious conviction into the world of personal preference.

It is here that an important clarification should be made: there are, in my experience, two broad categories of celibate gay people. There are those who pursue celibacy because they believe that gay sex is universally sinful, and those who pursue celibacy because it is a personal choice, but not necessarily a universal mandate. Everything I am about to say mostly applies to the first category – those who are celibate because they believe gay sex is universally sinful for all people. In my personal experience, I know far more celibate gay people who fall into the first category rather than the second.

A moral choice of this kind – of believing that gay sex is universally sinful – is never a personal choice. We may work hard to conceal it, to respect others, or even to convince ourselves that it has nothing to do with other people’s lives. But if we believe that gay sex is universally condemned – that all who have it must repent and are committing a grave sin – then it isn’t personal. It involves the whole human race. It projects a standard of sexual conduct on every other human being, and we are truly blind if we believe that others won’t sense that and respond to it. We may not be “forcing” people to leave their gay relationships, or die to the possibility of future romantic love, but we are certainly casting them as morally corrupt and their relationships and guiding morals as second best if they don’t. That might not be coercion, but is is certainly not “a personal choice” on our part.

This is where the inherent conflict arises. Cruz is careful to make a distinction between chosen celibacy and forced celibacy. Cruz seems to celebrate the conservative church moving from a reparative therapy approach to a softer approach of celibacy. However, most of the church (and many celibate gay people) sees gay sex as an absolute moral evil. With such a conviction, the line between chosen and forced celibacy will become blurry, especially for young people. If a gay child grows up in a conservative home where celibacy is the only way he can live a morally upright life, he may not be forced or coerced into celibacy, but he does face the threat of losing validation, a sense of inclusion, and standing in his Christian community. The same is true of an adult gay person living in the church. It may not be forced, but it comes at a great price. And the gay person might experience that expectation as damaging, stunting, and no better than coercion. I certainly did.

The gay community may respond negatively to celibate gay people who hold to the traditional ethic because they don’t understand celibacy, but it might also be because they feel the inherent expectations. If someone believes gay sex is universally sinful, a myriad of unspoken messages are subconsciously communicated: if you don’t choose celibacy, you are sinning. I expect you to die to the hope of romance and partnership. You need to break up with your spouse of 30 years.

All of those are huge, scary, invalidating, hurtful messages, and they are all felt when a celibate gay person walks into the room. People will respond – they will be hurt, frightened, and invalidated by the inherent messages of your life. It doesn’t matter if it is a personal choice or not, because we know, instinctually, that morality is never personal.

I do believe that, if gay people choose a life of celibacy, they must have the freedom to choose that life. I do believe that it should be a private choice and that neither the church nor the gay community should pressure them. But, as long as the church believes that gay sex is universally sinful, I honestly wonder if that will ever fully be a reality. I would love to be proven wrong – I would love to see a theological articulation of the traditional ethic that does not inevitably result in an expectation or mandate (there is a very fine line between the two) of celibacy, but I don’t know if such a hope could be possible. (Edit as my friend Sarah at A Queer Calling pointed out, there are those for whom the expectation of the church and a call to obedience coincide. For them, celibacy is expected and a calling, or an act of obedience. Sarah seems to think that I did not include such a group of people in my original post, thereby furthering an unhelpful dichotomy of those who are forced into celibacy and those who are called. That might very well be true. I certainly know people who are responding to both to a sense of obedience and the teachings of the church. It is not my intention to overlook their experience. However, I also feel that their experience does not negate the fact that, for very many, the expectation of celibacy will be damaging, threatening, and invalidating, even though it is not directly “forced.”)

The answer to the question, “do celibate gay people have a place in the gay community” is a resounding yes, but it won’t be without discomfort. Maybe the best we can do is learn to be comfortable with the discomfort. After all, if there is discomfort between the “conservatives” and “liberals”, the Catholics and protestants, and all the other factions in the church, I hardly think disagreement in the gay community will be easy, either. I do think our shared identity, shared struggle, and (if we are Christian) shared commitment to Christ can supersede this inherent dissonance, but it won’t be without struggle. And maybe that’s the way it should be. The discomfort might, in the end, be beautiful, and very good for us.

Eliel Cruz concludes his piece by saying,

Straight people are celibate for religious reasons in all different religious denominations. A gay celibate Christian is no different. The LGBT community should not be afraid of these stories, nor attempt to silence or shame them. If someone’s story threatens your stance or belief system, your stance wasn’t that strong to begin with.

The comparison between straight people and gay people pursuing celibacy reveals, to me, some misunderstanding of the inherent inequality of heterosexual and homosexual celibacy in the church.  When straight people choose celibacy, they do so solely because of personal conviction; they are free to marry, but choose to remain single because they feel called to do so. By contrast, many gay Christians feel that this choice has been made for them and are celibate because society and faith expected them to conform to a certain standard of behavior. Rather than choose celibacy as a personal call, they chose to conform to the traditional ethic that has been presented to them as the only orthodox option.

It is the difference between choosing never to speak, and being expected never to speak because you are a woman. It is the difference between working a certain job because you chose to, and working that job because you are not white, and it was the only job you could get. There are certainly gay people who feel the personal conviction to be traditional and celibate rather than the coercion of others, but they seem to be the exceptions to the rule. Many gay Christians feel the inherent inequality and experience the expectation of celibacy as inherently demeaning towards gay people.

And yes, it might not be forced. But never, ever underestimate the power of expectation. I’ve watched societal expectation break people’s lives: women who were leaders, girls who were too masculine, boys who were too feminine, men who wanted to be stay at home dads instead of bread winners, introverts being told they should be extraverts, or vice versa. We don’t get to find comfort in the notion, “well at least we didn’t force them to be celibate.” That doesn’t keep our expectations from deeply hurting people.
Can I still agree with the message of Eliel Cruz’s piece? Absolutely. Celibacy is good, and people need to make their own moral and life choices. The gay community needs to find a place for celibate gay people. However, we also need to have some challenging and uncomfortable conversations, too, and that is beautiful. That is what it means to be the Church.

Noah, Living on The Edge, and the Sacrifice of Family

I have a confession: I loved the film Noah. When it came out several months ago, I saw it twice in theaters. I loved its cringeworthy moments; I loved its moments of transcendence; I loved the complicated themes it explored; I loved its visual beauty. I even loved the Jim Henson-esque rock angels. It is a rich, strange, complicated, quirky, alienating film – one that left me feeling awe-inspired, assaulted, and a bit confused all at the same time.

But I also loved it because, as a gay man, I saw myself in Russell Crowe’s Noah, and I resonated deeply with the themes of family, partnership, and fatherhood that are explored throughout the film. In other words, I loved the film for its own merits, but also because of how it spoke uniquely to me as a gay Christian man. Now, after having mulled it over for the past few months, I thought I would share my feelings on the film, and how it relates to my experience.

If you haven’t seen the film yet and intend to, I would encourage not reading past this point, as I spoil major plot points for the film.

Prior to the coming of the flood waters, Noah has a harrowing vision of humanity’s true nature, including his own. In a sequence that is almost Calvinistic, he comes face to face with the total depravity of the human race. In that moment, the boundaries he had built between his own family (peace loving, nature loving, caring for the earth and life) and the Line of Cain (violent, exploitative, destructive) breaks down. He realizes that there is no “us” and “them”, that there is only “us”. The human race is absolutely depraved, prone to violence and destruction, and he is no exception.

He thus comes to believe that his calling from The Creator is not just to save the guiltless of the earth – the animals – but to wipe out humanity entirely. He believes that, once he brings the animals on the ark to safety, he must ensure the extinction of the human race by making sure that no more human children are born, and that his family will be the last of the species.

This is a terrible, terrible burden for him to carry, and the scenes of the destruction of the human race are absolutely horrifying as Noah and his family sit in the darkness of the ark hearing the roar of the storm and the screams of the drowning.  As Noah understands it, he has taken on the role of accomplice to God in executing his entire species, and we watch as that crushes him.

The conflict comes when his own son and adopted daughter conceive, and she becomes pregnant. This is when Noah starts to rip at the seams, and when a truly classic Darren Aronofsky breakdown commences. When he discovers that his adopted daughter is pregnant, he races through the three levels of the ark, finally bursting out onto the deck to confront the raging storm, and cries out, “I can’t do this. This is too much. I can’t do this.” He knows that, if he follows his conviction and ensure the death of the human race, then he will have to kill his own grandchildren. In spite of his agony, he resolves that this is the only way forward; he must be obedient to his God, even if it means killing his own newborn grandchildren. (While this twist is obviously not in the biblical Noah story, it is consistent with other narratives and themes in the book of Genesis.)

The conflict that occurs on the ark is harrowing, heartbreaking. The family, on the edge of humanity’s existence,  carrying life on earth to safety, starts to break down and crumble.

Finally, Noah’s daughter gives birth to twin daughters. At this point, the film started to remind me of The Shining, as Noah – a now crazed and broken father – becomes the predator, trying to kill the most innocent members of his family.

The moment comes when he is holding his granddaughters in his arms, his knife raised to kill them. But he doesn’t. He can’t. He kisses them on the forehead instead. He limps away.

Some of the final scenes we see of Noah are of a broken, devastated man who has planted a vineyard and become drunk on the wine. He has carried out God’s impossible call on his life – he has overseen the destruction of the world – but he could not carry out his full conviction. He could not kill his granddaughters. He could do all else – he could build an ark, he could watch the death of his species and his world, but he could not do that. He believes that he has ultimately failed The Creator – that his deepest humanity has thwarted his destiny.

There is a redemptive ending to the story and to Noah’s character, but I won’t spoil it.

As I sat in the theater watching this story, I saw myself in the character of Noah. Like Noah, I was someone who was deeply committed to my faith, and to doing what was right. Like Noah, I was willing to make enormous sacrifices, and while those sacrifices cost me a great deal, none of them broke me. “You want me to become a missionary? Ok, God. You want me to put myself in harm’s way for the sake of the gospel? Ok, God. You want me to be celibate for the rest of my life? Ok, God.” And I was, and I suffered, and I did put myself in harm’s way. On the mission field, I did see violence, I did see death, and I did see trauma. Without going into great detail, the missions organization I worked with came under physical attack in our location. People were hurt, and two were killed. While it was horrific, and I deeply struggled for years after the experience, it didn’t break me. I won’t resort to simple clichés like saying, “it was all for God’s glory.” But, somehow, I did have a peace that kept me stable.

But then, I was faced with my own humanity. I met a man and fell deeply in love. For the first time, I started to understand what family would be like, and I started to understand what I was having to let go. After my relationship with my boyfriend fell apart, I confronted the reality that I did not previously understand.

Like Noah, as he stood there on the brink of killing his grandchildren, I was being asked to look at my future – a future with family, a future with children, a future with a partner – and kill it. I was killing them before they could even be known. I was killing them before I could ever get to kiss them, hug them, hear their voices or see their faces. I was killing my partner before I could ever touch him, or hold his hand, or get to know his soul. And like Noah, that broke me. That was my edge. I could do all else – I could go to remote parts of the world; I could vow never to have sex again, I could confront all the other rigors and commitments and pains of my life, but I could not confront that. If that was to be my fate, to grow old without finding a partner or raising a family, then I would grieve and I would face it. But to choose it – to choose to kill the possibility even before it could be born – that I could not do.

Like Noah, I walked away believing that I was a failure. The final scenes of Noah naked in his drunkenness, alone on the beach, feeling discarded and thwarted by his own humanity – a man who has failed God – that was me in the spring of 2013. I had been asked to kill my granddaughters – my future with a family – and I couldn’t.

It is terrifying to confront the reality that we have edges, that we have breaking points, and that there are lines which, if crossed, will shatter us in a way that may render us crippled indefinitely. As a culture, we don’t think about edges and consequently we don’t really believe in them. We don’t know what it looks like when humanity is pushed to the brink, and we don’t ever want to know. Because of this, we paradoxically believe we are invincible. We both fear and romanticize pain, martyrdom, and persecution. We have a romanticized view of suffering for the Lord, of having a “thorn in the side”, of being persecuted for our beliefs. In our naive invincibility, we hopefully quote the Apostle Paul: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed (ESV)” all the while failing to see that many good, faithful and strong brothers and sisters are crushed, are driven to despair, and are destroyed, sometimes in pursuit of the God they believe loves them so ferociously.

We have strange breaking points: it was not watching the ferocious persecution and violence on the mission field that broke me. It was not grieving for my friends who lost their lives. It was not living with the regular nightmares and the PTSD. In the end, it was not violence or death that broke me. It was family.

What might be more terrifying is the discovery that The Edge exists no matter how great our strength, no matter how noble our resolve, and no matter how strong our faith. Every person has a breaking point – every person has a place where, if touched, their bones will break no matter how strong their muscles might be. For whatever reason – for whatever mysterious, painful, humiliating human reason – being asked to throw away my future family at the age of 24 was mine.

At Noah’s point of weakness – in his brokenness, his drunkenness, his despair – he encounters grace. He discovers a God who, though mysterious, though wrathful, though infinitely beyond humanity, is also tender, merciful, and understanding. In the past year of struggling and praying, I have encountered that same God – a God who made me with that fundamental, elemental need for family, and called it good, a God who made me with my humbling need for the hope of partnership and family, a God who knows that my driving need for love and deep connection is rooted in His very nature, for I am made in His image, a God who that my attraction to men does not destroy that image . I have come to know a God who knows my weaknesses, a God who weeps in the face of brokenness and pain. I may not have all the answers, and perhaps I never will, but what I do know is that I serve a God of tenderness and mercy, a God who made the very need for family that broke me. He is El Ro’i, the God who sees me. I serve a God who understands.