Not Crying On Sundays Part 3: The Forced Choice

The church has been celebrating their recent happy middle ground. “We can agree that you can be gay, we agree that probably won’t change, but ACTING on it is a big, fat, sin.” The church can congratulate themselves on this victory of practicing humanity while holding their self-appointed high moral ground, applauding themselves for being able to find a path to show gay sinners they are still lovable anyway. It’s a perfect place to stand, really. After all, we are all born with things we WANT to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s ok to do it. Logical Christian thinking at its finest.

On one hand, it IS helpful to those Christians who felt so forced so deeply into their closets that they needed to hide their identity, their actions, their lives from the church. The Christians who could not deal with the assured rejection from their religion if they were found out. These Christians lived so deeply in the closet because of this judgment that they either lived double, shame-filled, lie-filled lives, fought deep, deep suicidal despair as their prayers each night for God to make them straight went unanswered, drawing the conclusion that either God didn’t hear them, God didn’t care, or worse, they just could not produce the level of faith it took to reach God’s ears. The third choice was just to walk away from their church as well as their faith, as these were certainly one in the same.

This new found middle ground is helpful for those teens coming out to their parents in a way, because it just gives everyone room to breathe a bit. No longer do good Christian parents have to panic the moment their child comes out to them, seek help for their sin, or berate themselves for obviously not raising their child correctly. They can step back and realize, ok that’s who they are, but I still have a job to do. I now have to break the news to them that while it’s ok to have gay attraction, it’s not morally ok to ever be able to get married and have a family. While a tiny fraction nicer, a grievous realization for the gay person as well as the family to grasp.

Hopefully, this new middle ground cuts down a bit on suicide and suicide attempts, depression, and even can have the power to make what was thought of as grotesque and perverted, be more natural, at least having those thoughts.

It provides certain gay Christians a middle ground as well, if they truly believe that God is asking them to remain celibate, or to err their earthly lives on the side of caution, they can hopefully do that. My hat’s off to them in their attempts and beliefs. While I believe it is rarely a sustainable choice, if one is to have that commitment we need to treat it like any other commitment. One might mess up from time to time but you forgive, call them human, and move on. Same as we would hold the pastor to his commitment to stay away from porn. He probably won’t all the time, but hey, that’s a forgivable offense as long as he tries, tries again.

And I hope celibate gay Christians can forgive me for my cynicism, but it’s a pretty high bar they are aiming for. I have no idea the statistics out there but I can’t imagine many gay celibate Christians staying that way indefinitely. Maybe for some they just veer off the road once in a while, or perhaps they stick with their convictions for several years until they meet the man of their dreams and have to face the ultimate choice. The funny thing is, when we meet a straight Christian who is called to celibacy, I don’t believe there is one among us who would hold that person to their commitment when they announce they’ve fallen in love and happily marry. No, I believe most of us would rejoice and claim that God has indeed rewarded them for their commitment to God all that time. Suddenly what we called the gift or sacrifice of celibacy has certainly been altered by God.

We cannot, however, do that for a gay Christian. No, it would be our God-given responsibility to hold that gay person to their commitment and claim they had to give up the person as their obvious cross to bear.

I’ve read and met celibate gay Christians who know that deep down, if they do end up meeting that person of their dreams and when they realize they can’t just walk away from that person, they know that is the day they will walk away from their faith.

And that is the forced choice the church continues to throw down the gauntlet about. At the end of the day it comes down to this: choose love and commitment and your human and God-given desire for intimate relationship or choose your faith. You can’t have both, friend. We can, but you, you have been deemed unable to have both. That’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Life’s not fair. Christianity is about sacrifice. Jesus says we need to give it all up for Him. Well, you do. Or, you walk away.

The irony is that I believe it’s the church driving that message and not the gay Christian. The church says you have to choose and if you don’t pick the church you clearly aren’t a Christian because you can’t give up your sin. It’s a no-win argument if you look at it that way: pick your sinful desires or your faith. You want both? No, ma’am that’s not an option. You won’t cut off a part of you, leave your spouse you’ve committed to already , your hope for a loving same-sex partner and future family? Then your faith has to go.

I think this is where both the church and many gay believers tangle their faith and the church into one and the same. If you don’t agree with the church as an authority over all things God, you can’t have the faith either. You can’t be called one of His. You can’t wear the label. You walk away from the church and you’re walking away from God, plain and simple.

The gay Christian is mostly scratching her head thinking, I’m pretty sure I meet the criteria for getting to call myself a Christian. I’m pretty sure I believe in Jesus. I’m pretty sure I can walk the walk.

The thing is, church and faith aren’t the same. You can have one without the other. Many a person walks in to a church building every Sunday but doesn’t believe. Many a believer doesn’t darken the doors of the church. Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe church can be an important place to grow your faith. And if you have a true faith, it needs to be constantly fed. Faith isn’t about making some choice to believe that Christ is Lord and then move on with your merry life. Like all relationships, it needs constant nourishment. Fellowship is important. The Bible speaks clearly about that. But it’s not the end-all-be-all for one’s faith. It isn’t one’s faith.

When gay Christians are pushed to pick their faith or their identity and pursuit of a covenantal relationship, most will choose the latter. Most will choose to believe in a God who wouldn’t make them choose that. Most will decide that would be an impossible choice, incapable of that “choice” and walk away from it all, holding deeply to the belief that somehow, the God that they were taught is Love, will not leave them behind even when the church does. They hopefully await the day the church reopens it’s doors and will most likely come running back. Maybe. If they aren’t too jaded by the church by then. Not because they will someday see the error of their ways but finally be validated. They will hope for a God of grace and understanding when they arrive at the Pearly Gates. Most gay Christians do not end up choosing the church. Not because they love their sin too much, but because they will choose acceptance over rejection. Because it’s an impossible choice anyway. A non-choice.

When the church links faith and the church, gays do too. They come to the conclusion that if they walk away from the church which does not affirm them they must also walk away from God. This may be the biggest grievance the church has committed. In an effort to turn people from their “sins” they have driven people from God. Ultimately it is the church who has committed this, not the gay Christian refusing to turn from his sin.

It’s not that the gay Christians necessarily need the church to be affirming (that is, agree to perform gay marriage, etc). That isn’t exactly what drives them from church. It’s the realization that you can’t be a “true” Christian if you’re in a same-sex relationship, committed or not. And even if you are a believer in the eyes of the church, until you let go of your stubbornly-clinging sinful desires, the church has the right to “discipline” you in the form of prohibiting leadership or service positions as the Bible calls us to call fellow believers out.

A recent study came out pointing the statistic that the vast majority of gays leave the church not because the church is not affirming but because of how they were treated. The study does not however go into what gay Christians view as poor treatment. This study assumes it’s the stories of outright rejection, people being cast out, asked not to come back, etc. Which, unfortunately has happened to a lot of gay Christians. I’m willing to bet, though, that simply barring same-sex married Christians from volunteering, service, baptism, and the insistence that they are continuing to lead sinful lives is grouped into the “poor treatment” category. Sure, most gay Christians aren’t necessarily pushing for their pastor to outright marry them, but instead insisting that perhaps there are no “sinful desires” they need to be persuaded to sacrifice. At least not their marriage anyway. Gay Christians have just as much self-reflection and improvement as any one else, they just may not have “extra ones!”

As for these two gay Christians, we don’t know where this journey will take us as we balance on the line of our faith and the church. Like people, no church is perfect and we know the search for the church that is perfection is an exercise in futility. But when we feel our faith is questioned it can be hard to stay with a church who causes us to feel less-than. The pursuit of a relationship with God will never end for us, nor will the relentless pursuit of Him for us. The church’s beliefs will change over time, and I’m thankful that God’s love is forever steadfast for us in spite of it.

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