The most engaging response to my piece "There Probably Isn't Any Neutral Way to Report on Homosexuality" came from an introspective reader who begins his musings by capably introducing himself:
Like you, I grew up in a community where gay slurs and jokes were common and tolerated, and like you, I never experienced direct gay-bashing. The anti-gay culture was more related to what was seen as a propagation of the "liberal agenda" (which, in the mid-to-late '90s was in a significant power struggle with the Christian Right) and increasing immorality in areas like sex before marriage and abortion than as a direct rebuke to gay men and women. Regardless, it instilled a deep-seeded fear in me that my secret attractions and latent sexuality would be discovered and that I would be ostracized.
This persisted through most of high school. Despite attending a seemingly progressive high school (or, as progressive as one can be in the Midwest), gay bashing and the fear it created in me saw an intense escalation. Even the most outspoken liberals in my class were often brutally caustic towards homosexuals. I don't presume that this is the case nationally, and I recognize that much of this was due to an excess of testosterone and insecurity, but it is noteworthy. Only in my small youth group did I feel a kinship that I felt would be strong enough to withstand the revelation of what I saw as my fatal flaw. My senior year of high school, for the first time I opened up about my hidden attractions to my youth minister. I went into our informal meeting physically shaking, anticipating the kind of rebuke and dismissal of the kind I often heard about through the media (which, unfortunately, does exist), only to receive deep compassion and support.
In fact, six years later, support and compassion are the only things I have experienced within the communities of Christians of which I have been a part. If I'm being fair, I am still selective about who I tell my story to (I eagerly await the day when homosexual Christians will not be afraid to fully share their lives with others), but have been amazed at how little the revelation of my attractions has affected my relationships. In many cases, it has strengthened them. And my story is not an isolated one: I have met a significant number of Christians in the same boat, struggling, hurting, and yet believing in God's deep and abiding love for them.
How does this affect the way that I view the issue of gay marriage? The first is that I try to approach the debate with a significant amount of humility. I have been on all sides of this issue at different points in my life, and my position is constantly evolving. As a relative traditionalist on the issue of same-sex marriage, I find myself in a difficult spot. I can see clear constitutional reasons for allowing people of the same-sex to marry one another. And yet I know that if same-sex marriage becomes normalized, the generations after me will come against significant attack for believing otherwise. Honestly, I think it boils down to an issue of semantics for me. I, like most Christians, believe marriage to be an institution consecrated by God; how then, can it be in direct opposition to his commandments in the Bible? An increasingly common solution has been to advocate civil unions as an alternative to gay marriage. This offers an equitable, legal solution without the religious implications of the term "marriage." It seems petty, I know, but if you note that in the Bible it refers to Jesus Christ as a "Word," you will understand the significance of semiology in the Judeo-Christian tradition. And, in favor of brevity (which by this point seems to have been all but lost), I will forgo the issue of civil rights and the comparison to "separate but equal" seen in the Jim Crow laws of the South, although I have struggled with this issues as well.
Recently, I've seen many of the less conservative congregations begin having corporate dialogue about homosexuality. Some even sponsor roundtable events to weigh the different sides of the argument. And I've seen many churches avoid the issue altogether, avoiding what many see as a divisive and alienating issue on both sides. As you say in your article, it's a difficult issue to remain neutral on because it so strongly affects the trajectory of people's lives and because it is tied directly to the normalization of homosexuality in culture at large.
Many in the church, including me, recognize the biological aspects of the issue, which further complicates the picture for Believers. How could a loving God allow someone to have intense attractions that they are not allowed to act on? But as Christians, we have to believe that there is something more important than personal liberty, that obedience to the most important and meaningful thing in the universe will supersede and fulfill all of our desires. That, like Patty Bergland in Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom, we are more free when we are tethered to something real, more alive when we are connected.
Honestly, this is the first time I have opened up about my experience to someone outside the church. Living in a city on the West Coast, I know that my decision to stay celibate would be met with ridicule, that I would be seen as a dogmatic religious nut denying reality in the service of some figment of Christians' collective imagination. And that's OK, it just affects my ability, as someone who has not fully come to a conclusion about this issue, to participate in the national debate. Like most political issues, the voices we hear are the ones of those who have already decided. Those of us in the middle--who are searching and struggling, who often see the quiet complexities of the issue--are left out because there is no room for uncertainty anymore.
My heart breaks for those who have been hurt by Christians and those who are alone because of fear. My heart breaks for the years I missed because of my own fear. But it's time to flesh out the middle ground, to give a voice and a face to those who are struggling with their identities.
Thank you for allowing us a little bit of legitimacy.
Emails from readers grappling with this issue are encouraged regardless of where you come down.