Given stories like this in the press currently, and all the ongoing hoo-ha about gay marriage, I thought it was about time I get my act together and write something about how my Christian beliefs work with the fact I am getting married to another man.
The first thing to say about Christianity is that it is – literally – a very broad church. It’s a label that is applied to all sorts of faith communities – from high-Catholic masses to small Quaker meetings – and what I talk about will only apply to a relatively small element of it. For my part, I grew up as part of a ‘charismatic new church’ (the cultural shorthand for which would be ‘happy-clappy’) in an environment where people regularly spoke in tongues, prophesied the future and prayed for healing. My church also did lots of good and practical things, such as lunchtime concerts for elderly people and going to Romania in the early 90s to bring plumbing and heating to orphanages, but in general the activity of my church was so focussed on the wider epic canvas of global revival that it rarely lowered itself into the down-and-dirty world of things like homosexuality.
My church was also part of the ‘evangelical’ stream of Christianity, which meant it was strongly bible focussed and believed that the bible is a handbook for everyday life. And so when I was in my early teens (and aware that I fancied boys rather than girls) and stumbled across this bit of Leviticus…
“Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.” Leviticus 18:22
… I found it bizarrely encouraging. You see, I was in a church that believed in healing, and as homosexuality was so clearly against the will of God all I needed to do was keep quiet and pray hard enough and eventually God would heal me. Brilliant! So I never told anyone about what I was feeling at the time, and there was never any explicit condemnation from the front of the church, so I was actually shielded in a lot of ways from the worst that evangelical Christianity could have thrown at me. I firmly believe that had I told my church leaders in my teens what I was feeling, and they had tried to ‘heal’ me, it would have been a disaster and a one-way ticket to the loony-bin. Looks like my chronic fear of rejection was good for something after all!
It wasn’t until I was 24 that I decided to actively figure out what being gay meant for me as a Christian. I read a ton of books about what the bible has to say about homosexuality and came to the conclusion that – well – the bible has precisely nothing to say about homosexuality. On one hand you’ve got a load of ancient sacramental purification laws from the Old Testament, and anyone really enforcing those needs to take a long hard look at themselves, as well as changing their eating habits and ditching half their wardrobe (thank you President Bartlett). Then on the other hand you’ve got a collection of letters written two thousand years ago to a group of churches in the eastern Mediterranean. These letters by Paul do talk about how “homosexual offenders” as well as other miscreants (hello “drunkards”) will not inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6 v9-10). But what I found in my research was that the Greek word now translated as “homosexual offenders” (‘arsenokoitai’ – fact fans) is still hotly debated as to what it means.
I was faced with a choice. Did I choose to base my entire life around a translation issue from a 2,000 year old letter just in case it turns out that one particular group of biblical scholars have got it right? Frankly, that just seemed bizarre to me. And still does. So I decided to play it by ear. I would still live my life according to the important bits of Christianity (you know: the stuff about loving other people, and trying to make the world a better place) but I would also start dating boys. I figured that if the two were completely incompatible it would soon become obvious. But 11 years later I still reckon I’m on the right track.
But many other vocal Christians out there appear to believe differently. Why? Well, I suspect it’s because they’ve grown up in a culture where homosexuality is seen as a bit ‘icky’, and because a few passages of the bible chime with their own personal feelings of ‘ickiness’, they have no problem believing that it is biblical truth, and therefore current and relevant. What this means is that if anyone comes along to challenge the evangelical church’s negative stance on homosexuality, this challenge becomes interpreted as an attack on biblical truth, and consequently becomes an attack on the entire belief structure. This goes some way to explaining the wide-ranging popularity of the ‘Coalition for Marriage’s online petition against gay marriage. The Coalition for Marriage have framed the argument for gay marriage as an attack on faith itself, not just a criticism of one specific inequality.
I must admit that for many different reasons, my sexuality among them, I’m not regularly attending any church at the moment. But I still would call myself a Christian and still spend a lot of time with other Christians. And the Christians I choose to spend time with are the ones understand that the bible says much more about including and loving everyone than it does about being gay. I’ve been totally accepted and encouraged by most of my Christian friends, and they’ve also welcomed Donny as well. I think there probably have been a few people who have a problem with me living openly as gay, but I guess they were the ones who stopped sending me Christmas cards, or have defriended me on Facebook. I can live with that.
But I do recognise this has created a tension for a few of my Christian friends. On the one hand they absolutely want to stay friends, but on the other hand there are these institutions they have always respected telling them that gay marriage is an attack on core Christian values. This leads to an unhealthy schizophrenia – the person who I sit down and have a natter with over a coffee is the same person who worries that coming to my wedding is against their beliefs. It’s unhealthy – and it’s really terrible of groups like the Coalition for Marriage and the ‘Core Issues Trust’ (who were behind the bus adverts) to put people in the position where they feel forced to choose between their gay friends and their beliefs.
I firmly believe you can hold on to both.