Over the past 2 years, I have been on a long, complicated journey in regards to how I respond to people and their ideas.
Over a year ago, when I was still traditional in my beliefs regarding homosexuality and was committed to a life of celibacy, I believed that the heart was of utmost importance. I was less concerned with what people believed, and more concerned with why and how people believed it. My posture was one of empathy and hospitality. I chose to see the dignity and intention behind what people believed, even if they disagreed with me on the subject of homosexuality and were partnered or open to partnership.
While this was noble, hospitable, and kind, the consequences of ideas – and sometimes even the ideas themselves – were lost on me. In my hospitality, I lived in an increasingly pluralistic, relativistic mindset where ideas had fewer and fewer consequences, and therefore had little meaning. I was so focused on hospitality and empathy and seeing other people’s perspectives that they all became a multi-colored wash of ideas that had little significance. While I was absolutely convinced that homosexuality was not God’s best and that I would be sinning if I had a partnership, that conviction never extended beyond my own personal life and into how I saw other people’s lives and their choices. My commitment to empathy and hospitality was so all consuming that I had become a relativist in regards to sexual morality.
And then, something happened. After an enormously difficult relationship, my celibate boyfriend and I separated. In the months after losing my boyfriend, I had a massive change of heart – I could see more clearly and hear more truly. Over time, I came to see that ideas have consequences, that some of those consequences are absolutely deadly, and that I had a moral obligation to challenge ideas that I believed to be destructive.
I came to believe – and I still believe – that the traditional ethic on homosexuality is a force for extraordinary destruction. I believe that an ideology that requires a huge population of people to be celibate or never to experience safe, stable, and legally recognized marital bonds inevitably creates a culture of promiscuity, disease, abuse, and rebellion. Certainly, a few individuals will thrive, but the community as a whole will suffer tremendously, and I believe that is exactly what has happened. I believe that telling young people that they must, for a lifetime, die to the hope of having a family, children, a spouse or any kind of sexual intimacy can and does cause despair and destruction. HIV/AIDS and Syphilis are both on the rise in my age group among gay men again, and I have become convinced that the only way we can begin to make a dent in the prevalence of these diseases is to tell gay teenagers, “you can get married. Your body and your sexuality can be precious and beautiful and a channel of grace for another human being in this lifetime. Your body has significance beyond you and your own wants and needs – it will matter to someone else. And you have an obligation to be loving and kind in the expression of your body. Having a meaningful, monogamous bond that will be recognized by society and the law is an option for you.” I believe that as long as that message is barred from reaching our young people, we will continue to create a community of promiscuity, disease, and abuse (and the church will go on pointing to such disfunction in the gay community as proof that homosexuality is intrinsically disordered.) Our ideas have consequences, and I have a moral obligation to oppose the ideas that I believe to be intrinsically destructive to God’s children.
But, there was a problem. I believed all this to the neglect of seeing people’s hearts. I lost sight of the principles of hospitality, compassion, and empathy that I had valued so deeply. In my heart, I became another brand of the fundamentalist that I so adamantly opposed. I dehumanized people, judging them on the basis of what I perceived to be the consequences of their beliefs, instead of the integrity, kindness, and compassion of their hearts.
Now I am struggling to find the complicated balance between honoring what’s in people’s hearts and recognizing that some ideas have destructive consequences, however well-intended they may be. There are many things about the traditional ethic on homosexuality that deeply concern me and should be addressed. But I also see now that the integrity, compassion, and intellectual rigor of my non-affirming friends is good, redemptive, and admirable. I understand that they believe what they believe because, given their circumstances, their worldview, the evidence they have observed, they can believe nothing else. To do otherwise would be to compromise their moral integrity. I see now that we live in extraordinary moral complexity in our relationships: that complicated, well-intentioned people can with integrity hold complicated ideas that may have both enormous goodness and beauty but also extraordinarily destructive potential. I see now that we are all better off if we are students of those we disagree with, instead of simply enemies.