rainbow cross
gay and christian?
gileselliott.net

This page is principally my small contribution to a debate which, if you're not a Christian, is unlikely to spark your interest (though it might!). Unfortunately, for those of us who are both gay and christian it has been neither academic nor trivial but has cut to the core of who we are and left a lot of casualties along the way.

It occurred to me as I was thinking about this page that there is another question begging to be asked: given all the exclusion and the bigotry, why am I still a Christian anyway? I have to admit that I found this much harder to answer.

Finally I have included a list of links in case, as they say, 'you have been affected by the issues raised'.

But first, an apology

If I've known you for you for years and never quite got coming round to coming out to you, I apologise for this. The fact is that coming out starts scary, becomes enriching, but eventually becomes tedious, as regurgitating the same story over and over again inevitably becomes. I hope you don't feel slighted: I just haven't quite got around to it. You could view this website as a personal declaration that avoids the necessity of a tedious late night conversation.

Taking the church head-on

The Hard-line position summarised

Fred is an orthodox evangelical Christian. I will make him a decent person without malice, as I there is nothing to be gained from setting up, and then knocking down, a 'straw man'. His argument goes something like this...

God is good, loves us, and intends the best for us. He is also certain to be a better judge of what is good for us than we are. One way he has chosen to communicate his intentions is through the bible, a divinely inspired mixture of guidebook, instruction manual, rulebook, and love letter.

One of the things that God has consistently opposed [Fred continues] is sexual relationships between people of the same sex: in fact any sexual relationship outside of marriage is a Bad Thing. Not because he [God] is being deliberately obstructive, but because he knows best, just as, say, a parent will stop a child pushing a paper clip into an electrical outlet.

It doesn't make me feel good that what I'm saying must hurt you [says Fred, sadly], but just because we want something doesn't make it right. And it doesn't get any righter with the passage of the millennia. And what's more [he goes on, looking more earnest] by rejecting what is wrong you'll be surprised at the other kinds of riches God will shower you with.

Yeah, right, I hear you (and me) saying. And if Christianity (or, arguably, any of the other mosaic religions) hasn't lodged itself anywhere in your psyche you can leave it at that and move on. Otherwise, though, a more analytical response is called for. Here follows a very brief, website friendly version

A Response

The first thing to notice is that there is, of necessity, quite a big gap between whatever it is that God really thinks and how this percolates through cultural, temporal, and lingustic filters, into the bible. Yes, in a (very) few places same-sex sex is prohibited, but then so is tattooing, eating shellfish, allowing women to speak in church, and allowing the disabled to participate in worship. To varying extents all these are considered OK now. This is not seen as watering down the bible but contextualising it. The challenge, logically, is to understand as much about a given text and its context as possible so that one can, as it were, attempt to extrapolate back to underlying truth: It is rather as though God's revelation was projected through a weirdly shaped lens onto a surface: we need to understand the shape of the lens in order to work out what the original, unscrambled, image was meant to be.

This leads naturally to one asking the question: why has gay sex prohibition not gone the same way as lobster eating prohibition? Presumably because it has been deemed that this is one of the fundamentals that is not subject to change: boil away the contextual impurities and this is left unchanged, the gold of divine truth. But who did this deeming, when, and why?

At this stage in the argument, a strange thing normally happens. With great ceremony and reverence, like a deus ex machina, the concept of the holy institution of heterosexual, monogamous, marriage is lowered onto the stage from the rafters. I say strange because I'm never quite sure where it comes from (although I understand that St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas may have something to do with it): its illustrious position does not appear to be wholeheartedly justified by scripture.

Certainly the old testament doesn't appear to talk much about marriage as a virtuous state to be aimed at, although there are plenty of examples of rather tricky marriages demonstrating God's power in our weakness, and the frequent acquiescence of polygamy. At least to my jaundiced eye it looks less as though the bible is setting up monogamous marriage as the key societal element, but more as though it is recognising that that this is already the case and accordingly (and sensibly) devoting substantial resources to discussing its conduct. It sometimes seems to me that the 'orthodox' view is one that looks through the lens that has decided that sex within heterosexual marriage is the only option, and finds what it looks for.

But of course this touches on the key problem for Fred. Every analysis of the bible (or anything at all, come to that) is coloured and shaped by the culture, mindset, and wishes of the person who reads it. Fred is not immune from this; he brings his own preconceptions to the bible, and the fact that these preconceptions are themselves shaped by other people's study of scripture does not, of itself, validate them. Fred may counter by saying that my more flexible, tolerant, reading of the bible is shaped by my culture, and my wishes. But at this point his argument has bitten its own tail, by conceding that interpretation is affected by context.

Ultimately Fred has two options. He can adopt a fundamentalist approach, but in doing so he must accept that he cannot pick and choose which biblical injunctions he applies and which he will discard. Alternatively he must recognise that although truth may be absolute, we view it (even in the bible) 'through a glass darkly' and weigh his conclusions accordingly.

Why am I (still) a Christian?

The moment I wrote the question above I realised that answering it comprehensively was virtually impossible. There are so many ways to answer it: I can talk about culture, circumstances, emotional make-up, or just say 'because I still believe it's true'! Certainly it would have been awfully convenient to ditch it. In the end, and for the time being, I can only give the following, partial, answer.
  1. If you're anything like me, you'll have a suspicion that if you dig too deep into anything that means a lot to you, you'll find that it's not real, not solid. You fear that you'll discover you're on a stage set, and what you thought was a real landscape was a fabricated illusion, and after a bit of digging you reach a hollow wooden stage. But however much I have dug into the world of Christianity I have never reached the bottom. That is not to say that I have not frequently found hollowness in christian institutions, nor that, while digging, I have always liked or ever understood what I have found. Unlike in other contexts, in this case if you don't like what you find you have to keep digging! To just pretend you haven't found it leads to weak, simplistic theology. No matter how perplexed I become I never lose the feeling that, in some undefinable way, I am touching (or at least reaching out to) the Real.
  2. Paradoxically I find that the more I trust the reality of my faith, the more I seen and am fascinated by the truth I see elsewhere, and (crucially) vice versa, whether the 'elsewhere' is Sufi Islam, String Theory, Deconstruction, or a cold winter morning in my garden.
  3. While I'm on the subject of paradoxes, I should add that one of the things I love about Christianity is that paradox is at its core. An omnipotent god being executed, the first being last, giving to receive, the weak being strong. I think this is so not because God is just being annoyingly perverse, but because deep truths are too large for us to grasp, and, in some strange way, paradox is the nearest we can get to them.
  4. I love the person of Jesus. I don't mean that I know him, much, or really, but just that what I read about him in the gospels, and the flavour of him that has percolated into my soul, is beautiful, and draws me toward him. Ironically, the image I have of him is clearest when his name is being used badly. I once saw, in the Guardian, a letter whose writer clearly thought the same way; he asked the Orange order to ask themselves: 'would Jesus have walked down the Garvaghy Road?' Well, what do you think?
  5. Of course the key thing about Jesus (if Christians are right about this) is that I am not talking just about a historical figure, but someone who (a) is around now and (b) is the creator made manifest. I have a lot of sympathy with people who find this hard to stomach: if the whole universe was created by some unimaginable being, why would he get involved in the lives of little dots moving around on the surface of a tiny lump of rock, and even become one, and loves them? But just suppose he (she?) (it?) (they?) did (and does)...
That's all for now, and I don't think I've done very well at conveying my thoughts. Maybe it might also be a good idea to see how Pi puts it in Yann Martel's 'Life of Pi'

Helpful Links

Inclusive Church
An umbrella organisation that works across denominations

Evangelical Fellowship for Lesbian and Gay Christians
When I first heard of this organisation, I thought that linking the words evangelical and gay was oxymoronic, but it helped me, conceivably saved my life, by realising that they aren't, not just through the excellent conference speakers but also for the atmosphere of love, accaptance, and (yes) holiness. I should declare an interest, however, as a member

Accepting Evangelicals
I like this one for a reason hinted at in the ambiguity of its name: it is both for evangelicals who do not believe that the bible outlaws same-sex relationships, and for evangelicals who are not willing to concede this but are willing to accept the integrity of those who do

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