Falling in Love

For anyone who has spent any amount of time reading this blog, you have probably picked up on the fact that the traditional perspective on gay marriage (what some call “Side B”) is a bit of a sore spot for me. The topic is very, very, very personal for me, and the vast majority of this blog, so far, has been dedicated to processing and sorting through how I feel about it. I’ve been thinking that it might be time to share more about why the topic is so very personal. I think enough time has elapsed between now and the events in question that I am in a place where I can write about them in a public way.

At the moment when I was the most certain of my traditional beliefs I fell, quite by accident, very deeply in love with another man, whom I will call Andrew. Andrew was, like me, extremely traditional in his perspectives on gay marriage. We both believed that gay marriage was an ultimately false reality, because marriage was a reality that only existed, by definition, between men and women. We believed that the overarching narrative of scripture as well as the witness of tradition affirmed that homosexual practice is outside of God’s design for humanity and is sinful. We also both believed that our current culture greatly devalues friendship love, and that gay people could find profound intimacy by rediscovering friendship built on the model of great friendships like David and Jonathan, Ruth and Naomi, or the writings of Saint Aelred.

And yet, inexplicably, we found ourselves deeply in love. As far as I was concerned, he was it – there was no other person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. We started talking about having a home together, doing life together, perhaps even adopting. We were incandescently happy. It all felt too good to be true – I had somehow found a person with whom I could do life, and we were striving to live a model of covenant, celibate friendship, like David and Jonathan. But there was a mounting tension and anguish as well. There was a deepening sorrow that he was the man I loved the most  and yet I could not touch him. I could not kiss him. I couldn’t hold his hand, or embrace him too long. There was the horrible sorrow that, if we did live together, we would have to sleep in different rooms, and that I could never wake up next to him in the morning. He was the man I wanted to share my soul with, and yet our bodies could never meet – not even for a prolonged hug – because the combined force of our sexual drives was simply too strong. We never knew where to draw the line.

It suddenly became next to impossible to tell what a “homosexual act” was. Was a quick kiss a homosexual act? Was holding hands a homosexual act? When does a hug become sinful? When you are hugging the gay man you want to spend the rest of your life with? The one you want to share your body with? Sometimes, even looking at him was a sexual act: he was the source of immeasurable beauty, and in my love for him I burned with passion to be joined to the object of my love.

I had always assumed that, somehow, the deeper the love the less powerful the sex drive – that, if I strove to love someone purely, the “disordered desire” for gay sex would subside; that if I loved someone enough I would somehow ascend to a sexless nirvana. I believed this because I had so dehumanized and belittled sexuality – especially my own homosexuality. What I discovered in real relationship was the exact opposite: the more deeply I learned to love Andrew, the more I wanted to be known by him in every way, including physically. It became torture. It was like being told to paint a picture, then having my eyes removed, or being filled with a passion to play piano then having my hands removed. The love was there – it swelled within me, a powerful tide that swept me out to sea – but there was no way I could ever express it. Marriage was off limits. Any kind of sexual intimacy was off limits. The hope of being able to share a bed was off limits. The ability to embrace freely was off limits. We were left in the tortured anticipation of a permanent courtship, destined to always love from a distance without ever coming together.

But it got worse. Andrew had struggled for many years with chastity and his call to celibacy. His struggle had become so intense, so dark, so futile, and so dangerous that he had finally given up, hoping against hope that somehow, God would forgive him and accept him anyway, despite his sexual failings. It was after he had given up that I entered his life. He tried getting back on the wagon for me, but the sheer force of his struggle started to put a strain on our relationship. I watched him suffer horribly, and I was at a loss to know how to help him. He would call me, sobbing hysterically, feeling miserable and sexually shameful. I looked desperately to the wider traditional community, searching for answers to help my partner. I knew that if we couldn’t find some solution for Andrew, it would not only destroy him but also our relationship. I refused to give in, though, and refused to accept the possibility that the situation was futile.

The only answers the wider church could give him – and that I could give him – were the answers he had heard and tried to practice for years. We told him to find a deeper prayer life, to develop greater spiritual practices, to find deep friendships, to re-evaluate his perceptions of love and friendship. It was all to no avail, because he had tried each one in innumerable different ways for years. They had all failed him. I looked at the traditional community and pleaded, “this is the best we can do? This is the best you can give him? There has to be something better. There has to be something to lead him out of this.” But there was nothing, and that was what I absolutely could not and would not accept. I was not going to resign myself to the notion that my partner was destined to suffer indefinitely with no hope of release. It was like watching a spouse die of some horrible condition, all the while being told by the doctors, “we’re sorry, we have done everything we know to do.”

I knew, though, exactly what he needed. He needed hope. He needed the possibility of one day having a partner who could love him, who could share his body as a good, wonderful and beautiful thing. He needed the option of having a partner with whom he could share his life. He needed the hope that his time in the desert would end before his death. This isn’t to say a marriage would somehow be completely fulfilling or totally happy, but the hope of it would offer the context for healing. It was not enough to invest his time in friendships, and even his spiritual disciplines fell short – he needed the affirmation that, some day, an expression of sexuality and marriage and partnership would be good. I recognized that healing was going to evade him as long as hope was never offered him. But the traditional ethic could not offer him any of those things – his desert would not release him till his death.

It reminds me of a conversation I once had with a friend in college. This friend lived with chronic debilitating pain, and she came to me in anguish, asking if I thought it would be immoral for her to have surgery to lessen her pain. She came from an extreme religious upbringing that deemed all forms of surgery sinful, and her parents were forbidding her from having the surgery. The surgery was necessary for her well-being but her religious beliefs forbade her from having it, and all she could do was go on living in pain, coping as best she could. We call my friend’s experience absurd and inhumane, but many Christians call Andrew’s experience simply one of obedience and “taking up his cross”. They would call my friend’s choice to have the surgery an act of bravery and common sense, whereas they would call Andrew’s choice to find a husband an act of weakness.  All of this goes to show that there can be a disturbingly fine line between inhumanity and obedience to God.

In the end, Andrew and I broke up. He could no longer bear the threat of hurting me as he struggled violently with his sexuality, and he thought the most loving thing he could do, at that point, was to break up with me. I was heartbroken, shattered, and entered one of the darkest seasons of my life, with a broken will and spirit. In that place, all the scholars and theology and “pursuit of right belief” in the world could not reason with the grief I felt over having lost the man I dearly loved.

When I say the traditional ethic has failed, I do not mean that it is wrong. I am not writing anything on this blog to try to disprove the traditional ethic, even though I, personally, have moved beyond it, more for personal than theological reasons.

I mean that it fails to interact compassionately with the human lives it happens to be about. The most common embodiments of the traditional view are often intricate and beautiful in their theology, but detached from the lives of people, lacking in empathy and embodiment, and are therefore monstrous. When a theology is developed in isolation from the people it is about, it may have the appearance of compassion, but will be more like an education system enforced by an aloof beauracracy. It may look good on paper to those writing it, but will ultimately work against the students it was established to serve in the first place.

And let’s face it: the overwhelming majority of the church has next to no access to the lives of gay people. The people who make decisions in the church, the people who write doctrine and statements of faith, the people who run ministries, and the lay person on the street – most of them have no inkling of what it means to be gay or to have walked intimately alongside gay people. It is, perhaps, one of the greatest acts of buffoonery in the Church – that hundreds of thousands of Christians have strong and seemingly well-developed convictions about a people group they have never met. That’s foolish, ugly, and wrong.

And this is why I tell stories. Because as long as people are detached from real lives like Andrew’s, our  theology – no matter how scholarly, intelligent, or elaborate –  will fail in the place it matters most: being like Christ to those who desperately need to know His love.

44 responses to “Falling in Love

  1. Stephen, it it incredibly important for many to hear the story you are telling. May Andrew and you receive the healing you so deserve.

  2. Stephen, thanks for sharing. I’m greatly enjoying your blog. I was glad to read of the love that you and Andrew found, and sad to read how your relationship was ripped asunder. I love your questions: what is a homosexual act? Questions that no straight person needs to consider, and thus finds almost incomprehensible. I wrestle with them also. I also agree with the importance of telling story, your story, my story. Story is powerful. I’m a book person, and want to mention two recent reads. Gender, Sexuality, Bible by James Brownson is an excellent study on a biblical definition of marriage, and very affirming. It is an academic book, so can be a challenge to the causal reader. The second book is Not Sure, A Pastors Journey from Faith to Doubt by John Suk. I’ve just begun this book, but am fascinated by the premise and discussion of how the nature of how and what we believe has changed over the centuries, from the laymen point of view. These reads emboldened me as my theological understandings maturate, and gives me security in pursuing that path. God Bless you. God Bless Andrew. in Christ, Doug

  3. Thanks so much for sharing this! I went through a similar situation a few years ago that is still a sore place in my heart. My boyfriend at the time couldn’t wrap his mind around the possibility that the grace of God might be wide enough for gay people’s godly and committed relationships. After tons of wrestling, we broke up for similar reasons you and your “Andrew” did.

    I’ve found myself in a tradition (Episcopal Church) that is very accepting of LGBT people as individuals for the most part, but continues to struggle with how to handle LGBT people in relationships. I’ve seen friends hurt by pastors who will not stand up for them, and who give lukewarm support in fear of offending more conservative parishioners. I can see this changing, though! I believe (and hope!) the Church can change, maybe not all of it, but at least that there will be (and is!!) a safe, wholesome and fully inclusive home for us in our lifetimes.

    Our theologies need to be reimagined and reassessed as we experience the wideness of God’s mercy. You nailed it when you said that the greater Church has no intimacy with gay people. How can a Body imagine itself (theologize) when it is not connected? How can the Body hate parts of itself? And since the LGBT community has been so ostracized for so long, what voice does Church have now to for welcome, healing and rest that Christ offers to all? There’s a lot of work to be done, and a long road ahead. We know there is redemption for even us. And we are here.

    Thanks again for you encouraging words. I need to hear them!

  4. Reblogged this on Ford's Words and commented:
    I’ve never re-blogged anything before. I’m sharing this for many reasons. It is brave, beautiful, and profound. It is also an amazingly articulate illustration of the suffering caused by traditional doctrines regarding homosexuality. I, for one, am so grateful to Stephen for his generosity in sharing this experience.
    - Ford

  5. Pingback: Falling in Love | Sacred Tension | Ford's Words

  6. You just won yourself a convert. Seriously. Ford1968 already had me rethinking and rereading the Scriptures and trying to wrap my mind around it. I’ve been against gay marriage and homosexuality all my life. It no longer makes sense to me to think that way. If I’m wrong about it, I’m sure it’s not the only thing I’m wrong about. Thanks for sharing this. You rock!

    • Well said! If we are required by God to be always right, we are all lost. I think that so many who cling to the belief that same sex intimacy/marriage is sinful are poised to let go of that judgment if only they could truly believe that God will still love and accept them if (when) they are ever wrong about a religious issue.

      • You know, sometimes we really need to question ourselves when we stand against unconditional love and all that goes with it. We need to be consistent and figure out what the Bible means, not trip over what we THINK it says.

        Homosexuality is not a sin. It simply cannot be. And two consenting adults who want to spend their lives together in marriage have every right to be able to do so. The sky will not fall because of it.

  7. Stephen, I was a “severely” committed Catholic in my younger days. I even went so far as to explore the possibility of a Vocation to the Priesthood. In Seminary such a “calling” was considered a Gift from God. Celibacy was likewise part of that gift. Many men drop out because they realize that they do not have the Gift of Celibacy. It took me a very long time to Come Out and accept my orientation. I spent 25 years being Closeted, and then another 15 years struggling to come to some conclusion of what being Gay meant. I finally Came Out to my sister-in-law on November 12, 2010. During the next two years I thought it was God’s will for me to remain single. Earlier this year, quite unexpectantly, I began to think it was important to consider the possibility of a partner. I have never really been in any kind of an intimate relationship. A couple of months after that began, I came to the realization that I wouldn’t be opposed to getting married. That’s where I am now… I’m waiting to see what happens.

  8. When I was a leader within the ExGay movement, we called a romantic same sex relationship an Emotional Dependency. This kind of bond was strictly forbidden and a large amount of energy was expended to “protect” people from what we called, enmeshing, themselves with another person. We called it unnatural love as well and deemed it severely sinful.

    Sadly, I also was in love with a man. I sought every opportunity to touch him, be close to him, and found secret ways to accomplish a meaningful hug. We talked intimately, and found sanctified ways to be in our relationship. I manipulated, deceived, and held secrets close to my heart that were connected to our connection.

    Like you, Stephen, the relationship was broken off. For us, it was damaged beyond repair. After twenty years I ran into this man and the barriers were still so thick, there wasn’t even barely a hello.

    Thousands of men and women find themselves in this double bind. I love you, I’m near you, but I cannot truly have you and now were broken.

    Thank you Stephen, for giving us a clear example of the deeply seated pain of the bondage and damage of the forbidden love.

  9. “Falling in love”… I connected with your story so much, Stephen. For many years, I sincerely believed and followed the traditional Christian ethic against homosexuality. Then I fell in love. My theological ethic and my life reality became absurdly incongruous. My relationship with this woman of God exuded everything I knew to be “good.” I stepped forward into frighteningly unknown territory in beginning a relationship, but found my steps confirmed (astonishingly) on every side. God seemed to be calling my relationship “good” as well. Both my faith and my life have been radically changed.
    Theory cannot and must not be extricated from lgbt persons’ lives and experiences. Thank you for articulating this so well.

  10. Stephen, I waited a day before posting a comment because I wanted to make sure the full weight of your words had sunk in.

    I can only imagine that writing this post took almost as much emotional energy as coming out of the closet initially. Thank you so much for writing it; it’s crucial that stories like this be shared.

    I have to admit that before this post I had a lot of hope for the idea of celibate gay partnership. I’ve read at least one story of a gay couple that was sexually active and then decided to stop, but they stayed together. That seemed like a reasonable, if somewhat improbable, thing to pursue. But after reading this post, I’m left once again realizing there are no “easy” or “safe” answers in this world. Perhaps thriving celibate gay partnerships are possible for some, but the lack of such stories is too big to ignore any longer.

  11. There is nothing wrong with celibacy and chastity. I am 22 and I have taken that vow of chastity for 22 years. I will not have sex until I get married. It has nothing to do with my sexuality. I am a proud SEVENTH GAY ADVENTIST. I don’t wonna be recycled I want to be pure for my husband. That’s my reason of doing it.

    • You are quite right. One’s sexual orientation doesn’t change the beauty of waiting until marriage for a sexual relationship. I pray that God will provide you the husband who will bring out all the best in you as you will in him. Who is the smiling woman in the photo with you? The picture radiates love.

  12. Hi Stephen. I thought your third paragraph was the most tragic and heart-wrenching of all. When the Christian church believes that God is more concerned about what two individuals do with their plumbing than the greatest capacity He has given us as human beings (the capacity to love another unconditionally for life)……then we truly have lost our way.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’ve lived through a similar experience, where I was in love with someone who was in love with me, but we were both going to a church, and there was no way it was going to happen. He’s since disowned me, married a woman, and all I can do is wish him the best.

  14. I believe as a hetro Christian, God and Jesus love us all.

    We are children of the Lord who would NEVER, condem sexuality in the name of love.

    Theology which is written can be sliced and diced to death, but the bottom line for me is that “the greatest of these is love”. I don’t believe God is against 2 people of the same gender being in a loving relationship & being one through joining sexually.

    I think God is still speaking today in our lives… not just in the chosen or unchosen chapters/verses in a bible. You & Andrew are so lucky to share such a special love for one another. Open your heart to hear God. I pray you find that open sexuality between two who truly love each other is as awesome as God meant it to be.

  15. Stephen,

    Thank you, my brother, for this very personal sharing and a very moving portrait of the tragic situation that many of our brothers and sisters face who sincerely desire to follow Christ. I join with you in prayer for all of our brothers and sisters who face rejection, alienation, spiritual despair and suicidal thoughts over this issue. May our Lord Jesus Christ look with compassion upon us all and touch our bodies, cleansing us of our deepest darkness.

    I have a clarifying question, based on what you had shared about the Church failing Andrew. Was Andrew a part of a sacramental community which was teaching the ancient Christian method of overcoming sin (i.e. the ascetical wisdom manifested especially in the 12 steps)? Did he have the Sacraments? Did he have any contact with the Apostolate Courage, for instance? I am quite near convinced that unless one has these, it is nearly impossible for most people to overcome same-sex attraction and achieve sexual integration.

    with respect,

    Timothy

  16. This story broke my heart. I count myself among those Christians who haven’t really known many gay people personally, but stories like these that I happened upon here and there on the web that have “converted” me into an ally. Thank you for sharing, Stephen. I wish all the blessings in the world upon you and upon Andrew.

  17. Stephen, thank you for your powerful words. They inspire me to share my experience of the ‘Celebrating the Body Electric’ workshop I did last month. The program is well known and has been conducted since 1984.

    It is about channeling erotic energy. It is physical and not theoretical. It deals with erotic energy and not sex. We were naked for most of the sessions but we happily observed a set of rules that required us to avoid oral and anal contact and ejaculation.

    I lived a celibate life in a religious order for 12 years, and I think I could say that we didn’t do anything that would have violated my vow of celibacy. The difference is that the workshop taught me to love and enjoy my body, and to reach out in love and celibate touch to all the other members of the group.

    It was a profound spiritual experience for all of us. It certainly brought me closer to my God. Our sexuality was something to be celebrated, not feared or denied. In the context of what we experienced, sex itself could turn out to be an anti-climax, though it doesn’t have to be.

    As I read your account of your tortured relationship with Andrew, I couldn’t help feeling that it would have ended so differently if you’d had the opportunity to attend such a workshop together. I hope that individually you both get to the place where I am right now.

  18. Stephen,

    I must say that although I still hold to the “traditional ethic” as you call it (for both theological and personal reasons), your voice is one that is all too rare and needs to be heard by those who divorce humanity from this issue.

    Thank you for sharing this and forcing us all to remember that this isn’t just an intellectual, theological issue, but a deeply human one as well.

    Below is the part that really resonated with me the most.

    “When I say the traditional ethic has failed, I do not mean that it is wrong. I am not writing anything on this blog to try to disprove the traditional ethic, even though I, personally, have moved beyond it, more for personal than theological reasons.

    I mean that it fails to interact compassionately with the human lives it happens to be about. The most common embodiments of the traditional view are often intricate and beautiful in their theology, but detached from the lives of people, lacking in empathy and embodiment, and are therefore monstrous. When a theology is developed in isolation from the people it is about, it may have the appearance of compassion, but will be more like an education system enforced by an aloof beauracracy. It may look good on paper to those writing it, but will ultimately work against the students it was established to serve in the first place.”

    Exactly!

  19. Pingback: Grace and Truth | Leaving Gomorrah

  20. Stephen,

    I was deeply moved by what I’ve read in your posts. I have a very stupid comment to make. I’m sorry that it is so stupid, but, well, please forgive me.

    I’m an atheist (though my best friend is a Catholic priest and a theologian, so I’m not such a bad fellow), and the first thing that comes to my mind upon reading all this is: oh, how happy I am to be an atheist. I have homosexual friends, both male and female. I never had to think even for a second about their way of life being sinful or not. They harm no one, they are good people, they are my friends, period. Their sex life is none of my business.

    I think all this rejection of a minority is very, very bad for religion at large. Seen from the outside, this brand of religion looks more like a burden than like something elevating. I know I’m making a caricature, but the feeling still lingers.

    I wish you well, and that you may find the proper balance between your faith and your personality.

  21. As someone who has moved from a more “actively LGBT affirming” position to something closer to the “Side B” position, I would just like to say two things–you are a beautiful young man with a very important message to the Church, and you express it eloquently and with great and valid conviction.

    While I do now, after many years, accept a more traditional view regarding my own sexuality and attractions to those of my own gender, one thing I have vowed to never do is impose that view upon others, or to question their Christianity or spirituality in that process. And in that regard I even hate the term “Side B,” as if I was in some other camp than you, and subtly somehow a superior one at that! Not the case. We are not on different “sides” nor should we perceive ourselves as such. We are equal brothers (and sisters) in our loving Lord Jesus Christ, wherever we fall on this particularly sensitive topic or a host of others, and I for one plan to keep shouting that loudly and clearly, while yet sharing why I have migrated to (ugh!!!) the “side B” position within my own sexuality. To me that is what tolerance means in its purest sense. We can view this topic differently while not allowing it to become a barrier between us as believers. If we do not begin to do so it will indeed implode our effectiveness in a world who so sorely needs the message of the Gospel.

    All to say we are both equals in Christ, with equal access and footing under the Cross, and each of us have an important message to share with the Church and world. And it is time we share it with the passion and understanding which you clearly do. I am so very honored to have found your blog today.

    God bless.

    PS–I would love to sometime repost the above blog if you will allow me to do so. Just let me know.

      • Will do, and of course I will give you proper credit as well as linking your blog–WordPress may do that automatically but I will be sure on that, and I generally write an intro paragraph to any re-blogs so I will do it there too. I look forward to reading much more of your work.

  22. Amazing post – and how well you convey the agony of what can’t be. Thank you for explaining the pain. It is indeed buffoonery for church leaders to legislate actions and reactions against people they neither are nor understand. Jesus knows me; this I love. Let’s hope His people catch up with Him.

  23. Oh, how I sobbed reading this. I am going through the same situation. So fearful to lose my girlfriend because she wants to stay chaste and not have a physical relationship; yet, our alone time suggests otherwise. And I’m here telling her, “we’ll get through it together!” And I don’t stop her when she tries to seduce me. I feel so guilty and I know she feels worse. Please help us pray. It’s a selfish prayer, but she considered suicide just thinking from splitting from me. And I’m crying again just posting this.

  24. Stephen, you really are a great writer and truly know how to express what you believe to be true as to what GOD might also believe.
    Long story short, Please don’t be thinking that because some of US (usual sinners) don’t believe in same-sex marriage, it means that we are being hateful and/or mean spirited just because we non violently voice our opinion about “IT”.
    I recall hearing stories in the old days when I was in the army, “I” the militia where some gays were thrown over a bridge and then stories of gays being taken from their homes because they were caught having sex. I’m not going to say that these stories were true and/or not true but I made it clear that to do so was wrong.
    (pendulum with a long wire; can swing in any direction; …
    Longer story shorter, pendulum with a long wire can swing in any direction … What I’m trying to say is that it hurts\ me to see my beloved Canada allowing Same-Sex-Marriages and truth be known as far as I’m concerned, if it keeps going the way it is going, it might be best to simply close all Churches down because two wrongs will never make “ONE” Right! Right?
    I better stop before, I get carried away again like I did in a couple of these blogs below:
    http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.ca/2014/07/literature-in-news-redefining-religious.html#comment-form
    https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=18142394&postID=678386619463466416
    God Bless Peace

    • Thank you for commenting. For the record, I never see a theological disagreement, especially a disagreement which arises from long suffering, studying, and integrity, as unloving or hateful. I may see it as wrong, destructive, but I do not believe it is hateful. I am sorry you have been branded as such before. To understand how I view those who disagree with me, please read the post “Finding Balance.”

      • Thanks for the replay and long story short, it’s not you per say, it is just that there seems to be some kind of agenda started by let’s call them angel gods from paradise who will not stop until they have accomplished what they have started with US (usual sinners) since the beginning of Adam and Eve because of the hate they have for GOD (Good Old Dad).
        Longer story shorter, these invisible angel species don’t care who they short change with their so called love. We can turn over a rock and they’ve already recorded what is under each “ONE” of them. As far as they’re concerned, we human sinners are less than animals and
        these alien angels have always believed that they can pro-create with any human cells that is not protected and do a better job then God’s Word did. Let’s just call these angels PALE GAS accompanied by their invisible daughters.
        Only for those who have spiritual ears to hear here:
        I’ve already registered your site and who knows if “Time is on my side” “I” might pay you another visit someday. LOL :)
        Good Luck and God Bless

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