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Further Reading

Column: Undercover

Crossing the Rainbow

Reflections at the Intersection of Christianity & Homosexuality

by Terrell Clemmons

Kent Williamson was about eight years old when a friend who'd come over to play asked him if he wanted to suck his "naughty bit." Or would Kent let the friend suck his naughty bit? Kent reacted with childhood fury. He kicked the boy out of his house and threw a tennis ball after him as he fled down the street. About ten years later, he heard a guest speaker at youth group say that around one in four teens their age had already had some kind of homosexual encounter, and immediately the naughty bit incident came back to mind.

Article originally appeared in
Salvo 39

These chance encounters were the extent of his exposure to homosexuality until an unplanned turn of events two decades later. By then a filmmaker, he needed a few seconds of footage of a gay pride parade as background content for a film he was finishing up on postmodernism and the church. So he headed up to nearby Washington, D.C., for the Capital Pride parade. It was an otherwise ordinary task for a filmmaker.

But he was blown away by what he saw. For one thing, there were a number of churches in the parade. He thought the churches would be on the curb protesting, but that wasn't the case. Then something totally unexpected happened. A lifelong conservative Christian, he'd been expecting to see sin, and sinners, at the event. And he did. But in the middle of filming and witnessing all manner of things he really preferred not to see or ever even think about again, he sensed in his spirit a voice he took to be the Spirit of God. Kent, if you want to see the sinner, look in the mirror.

It cut right to the heart. His sin had nothing to do with the homosexual lifestyle, but it was still sin, nonetheless. He left that day humbled, and with a newborn conviction that there was a story to be told. And that was the beginning of Stained Glass Rainbows, a project several years in the making, and one that Kent hopes will generate meaningful dialogue across this confusing gulf that exists between Christianity and LGBT affairs.

A scene from the parade fairly well illustrates the far-too-common dynamic.

"Why are you here?" he asked a street preacher.

"Because the Bible says to go out in all the world and preach the gospel," he said. "It's a sin to promote a lifestyle that goes contrary to the word of God," he added, meaning the parade.

Of course, the Pride celebrants didn't appreciate that, but rather than ignore him and go on their way, a few same-sex couples took to conspicuous kissing in front of him in something more akin to defiance than affection. The crowd started cheering them on, and soon he was shouted down by a collective chant of, "Jesus loves gays! Jesus loves gays!" The bizarre scene looked like a cross between Mardi Gras and a high-school pep rally.

Creating Relational Space

Kent hopes Stained Glass Rainbows will open up space for dialogue beyond this kind of contention and protest. It's been called both "pro-gay" and "anti-gay," but actually, it's neither. Rather, it looks at the intersection of Christianity and homosexuality through an array of figures whose voices run the gamut of viewpoints. If you expect it to explicitly endorse your "side," you'll probably be disappointed. But Stained Glass Rainbows can generate thought and discussion.

Kent traveled the country and asked lots of people lots of questions. How do you know you're gay? Is homosexuality a sin? What does the Bible say? Is homosexuality a choice? Is change possible? One point soon became clear: the knife blade that divides people is the question of whether homosexuality—or more specifically homosexual behavior—is sin. A closely related question is, Can homosexuality be integrally reconciled with faithful Christianity? Individuals' responses can be loosely sorted into three categories:

Yes, homosexual behavior is sinful before God, and cannot be reconciled with faithful Christianity. Into this category fell the street preacher, a family of Westboro Baptist Church members, New Testament scholar Robert Gagnon, and a variety of people who formerly identified as gay, some of whom still experience same-sex attraction.

No, homosexuality is not a sin. It is possible to be a faithful Christian homosexual. John Middleton and Cindi Love, respectively a former pastor and a former executive director at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC), a church body founded in 1968 by and for LGBT persons, held this view. Notably, neither Middleton nor Love made any significant distinction between homosexuality as a matter of their makeup and homosexual acts they might or might not engage in volitionally. Both defined sin fairly well as "something that separates you from God," and both maintained that their being homosexual did not separate them from God. "I don't see my sexual orientation as part of my brokenness," said Middleton. "God convicts me of the things I need to address in my life, and anyone who does not hear that voice of conviction isn't listening." (Perhaps tellingly, Middleton has since left MCC and as of 2014 identified himself as a "non-theistic, mystical humanist.")

The third category consisted of what you might call non--responses—some form of I don't know or I don't care. "I don't even know what the anti-gay Scriptures are anymore," said Ric Alba, who played in a 1980s Christian punk rock band called the Altar Boys. "I'm not interested." Ric said he set out at about age 30 to try and reconcile the two, but later it was "like I got another calling. And that calling was, don't. Don't bother. It's a bullet dance."

Early Sexual Abuse & Gay Agony

Kent respectfully allowed everyone he interviewed to speak freely for him- or herself. Some did not lend themselves to easy categorization. Sean, for example, was also a Christian punk rocker. Refreshingly honest, he said he wishes the Bible didn't speak against homosexuality, but admitted it probably does. "It's probably because I want it not to, that I don't want to stand here and say that being gay is okay. Because my desire to be gay, to live the lifestyle is so strong, that if I were to step out and make that declaration, I think it would be from the wrong motivation." Molested at age 14 by a youth pastor, Sean recognizes that this first sexual experience, which he admits he found enjoyable, may have something to do with his being gay.

Among all the gay-identifying people he spoke with, says Kent, two themes were nearly universal: an early encounter with homosexuality, and a desire at one time or another to end their own lives.

These two realities alone, so common to the gay experience, ought to move Christians to follow Kent's lead and wrestle with the question he wrestles with: How do I love my gay or lesbian neighbor while still holding fast to the truths presented to us in Scripture? He concludes the film with a reflection on the naughty bit incident from his childhood. "That very well may have been the day when I learned how to hate," he said. "But somehow, along this journey, I'm learning how to love."

What Is (Sexual) Truth?

There's no question he's motivated by Christian love for gays and lesbians. But I don't think the naughty bit reaction necessarily had to do with hate. On the contrary, it may have been a perfectly legitimate, even healthy, reaction, at least for an eight-year-old boy.

Psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck, most known for his massively successful 1978 book The Road Less Traveled, later followed up that book with People of the Lie: The Hope for Healing Human Evil. For his purposes, he defined evil as "that which kills spirit [or] seeks to kill life or liveliness." His definition resonates with that of Ravi Zacharias, who defines evil as "a violation of purpose."

Peck illustrated what he meant by evil with vignettes of people he'd counseled who were seemingly upstanding, but had one fatal flaw. They could not "bear the trial of being displeasing to themselves." He identified two reactions to such people that he'd seen, both in himself and in others: revulsion and confusion. "While [the evil] seem to lack any motivation to be good, they intensely desire to appear good. Their 'goodness' is . . . in effect, a lie. That is why they are the 'people of the lie.'" People of the lie, then, were evil because, in large part, they narcissistically refused to recognize any inner imperfection.

Now, I want to be careful here, because I am not saying that gay-identifying people are evil. I want to shift the focus from people to behaviors and then pose a hypothetical question: If God created humankind male and female, with the corresponding reproductive organs, and if he brought them together and blessed their sexual union, then would not homosexual practices constitute a violation of sexual purpose? And if so, might not the agony of gay-identifying people be a reflection of the life-damaging nature of homoerotic acts, which run contrary to created sexual reality?

If so, then Kent's emotional revulsion to a behavior may well have come from a place of health, not hate. And calling it hate may only add to the confusion.

The Christian Paradox: Life by Way of Death

There is much confusion and revulsion on all "sides" of the Christianity-homosexuality imbroglio. Still, as adults, Christians must press on to love people made in God's image without nullifying legitimate recoil from corrupted behaviors, sexual or otherwise. And we must also try to shed light where there is cloudiness and confusion. The most clarifying responses to Kent's questions came from Dr. Robert Gagnon, who noted that Jesus both intensified God's ethical demand and, at the same time, reached out aggressively in love to those who had violated that demand.

Watching Stained Glass Rainbows with a group would be a good way to follow his example and to begin taking up these challenges. Another excellent resource is the documentary Such Were Some of You, in which 29 former homosexuals tell their stories. Both films come with a discussion guide, intended to help Christians work through this incendiary mix from a perspective of biblical truth about created sexual reality.

Ric Alba was right in a way that he probably doesn't recognize. Reconciling the claims of Christ with any sin is a bullet dance because something must die. The invitation Christ extends to all people is to come to him and die with him in order that we may live. His is the example we have of how to love our gay and lesbian neighbors as ourselves. •

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