Finding Balance

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.

5 responses to “Finding Balance

  1. “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.”
    This is probably one of the most significant statements I’ve ever read in regards to the connection between sexuality and spirituality and it is something that every gay man, every PERSON, needs to hear. Thank you, Stephen.

  2. As a random aside, I always get a bit upset when someone uses ‘fundamentalist’ as a pejorative. I know why, of course, but… honestly, I think part of the major problems we face, as a community of believers, is that we have strayed so far from the fundamentals of our faith. Love for each other, as made equally in the image of God, showing truly radical grace, giving each other mercy and truth in equal measures to what have been given to us… would that we had more such ‘fundamentalists’!
    But again, I understand your point, and I agree, it’s a difficult balancing act.
    While I don’t agree with all of the implications of the philosophy, it might be helpful to think of this in terms of memetics- that is, the idea that Richard Dawkins popularized, where the ‘meme’ is the basic cultural unit of information, much like the ‘gene’ is to our DNA. You and I both know that there are a lot of memes in this particular debate; ‘gays are disordered,’ ‘gays are fundamentally sinful,’ ‘gays care more about sex than what God wants.’ And of course, there are opposite views that can be equally as harmful, up to and including ‘do whatever you want, God loves you anyway!’
    The important point isn’t whether those views are correct or not, it’s that those views are not unlike a pathogen in them. In a way, that’s an image of sin as well, something that is a part of us in one sense but a twisted infection in another. But more importantly, it’s just a part of someone, usually as a part of how they were raised. It doesn’t necessarily make them bad people- as you point out, most of them have strong moral codes and a great deal of intellectual insight and integrity- it just means that they have a way of looking at the world that can be harmful.
    What does it mean for us? Well… it does change how we look at the issue. The meme =/= the person, and not unlike how we should show extra compassion to those who have certain inborn biological traits, we should show it to those who have that different mindset. That is, we aren’t necessarily upset at the person, but rather, those beliefs that we have a disagreement with.
    I don’t know, I find that a kind of useful mental stance to have, especially for topics like this. I hope that this was of some use to you, and I’d just like to emphasize that it takes a lot of integrity to admit that you were incorrect, so… I’m proud of you, Stephen. You’ll finesse your way through this, of that I have no doubts.

  3. It sounds like you are seeking to find, and in fact are finding the balance described in Romans 12:9-10; “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves.” I’m challenged and encouraged by your transparent testimony to the value of staying in the struggle. And, I’m not at all surprised by the integrity with which you walk in this sacred tension.

  4. Again, I find that I resonate with you wholeheartedly. For what it’s worth, in the past year that I’ve been following you, I’ve found you to be honest, gracious, more than fair, and exceptionally loving of those who disagree with you. As an ardent centrist, it has been lovely to find some other people in the world who can hold strongly to their beliefs while also respecting and cherishing others with different beliefs. There is much talk among the masses about achieving this, but so few people actually do. You are an exception, my friend. And I thank you for exemplifying how it’s done :)

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