Living a Theology of Contrast Instead of Opposition

When it comes to gender and sexuality, we can live at peace with our faith without living in animosity to those who are different.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “positions” lately and what it even means to hold a position.

When people ask about my “position” on “homosexuality,” it’s rarely in the interest of broadening their own perspective, understanding my own, or (God forbid) adjusting their beliefs. Instead, it’s usually because they’re looking for a category (“I’m side a” or “side b” or “affirming” or “celibate”) that allows them to quickly box me away into one of two teams: the good guys or the bad guys.

But what if I don’t want to play for a team? What if I’m tired of the good guys and the bad guys?

I think part of the problem is that we’ve allowed ourselves to become unable to conceptualize a belief system different from our own that isn’t also antagonistic to our own. If it’s different, it must be a threat. 

As a result, “positions” become increasingly defined not by the personal convictions that permeate how we live and think and hope but by the battle stance we take in a never-ending war to protect ourselves from “them.” The discourse is not so much about growth and understanding as it is about winning and losing. And if that’s the case, then it makes perfect sense to sort people into the good guys and the bad guys. 

Now granted, good guys and bad guys really do exist. But a lot of times “good guys and bad guys” are just people who happen to see the world differently. And should difference of perspective really be the deciding factor in who becomes the enemy?

Working Towards a Humble Theology

It seems to me that we’ve lost the ability to believe what we believe with humility. Too often, we treat our own viewpoint as though we see through the eyes of Jesus Christ himself. So when people disagree, we act as if they differ not with us but with God. We might as well make ourselves out to be God. 

But the only person who knows how God views the world is God himself. There’s a reason we call our beliefs “beliefs” instead of “knowledge.” We don’t know. We engage the mysteries of life in faith, not certainty, and we trust that God’s grace will redeem our plentiful blindspots, because if it doesn’t, then all of us are doomed. 

Embracing a Theology of Contrast

So I guess I’m tired of living in a world where, “I’m right; you’re wrong,” determines the nature of discourse. What if I’m wrong, and you’re right? Or what if we’re both wrong? Or even more radical, what if we both have a piece of what’s right?

There’s a time and place for telling people they’re wrong, don’t mistake me. But there’s also a time and place for admitting that we could be wrong too. And quite frankly, I see far more of the former than I do of the latter in theological discussion.

My good friend Mary Sue Dauod put it to me this way: at some point we’ve gotta learn how to live in “contrast but not in opposition,” to borrow her language. We don’t always need to oppose perspectives that don’t fall in line with our own. Living at peace with our faith doesn’t require combat. We can choose to live in contrast instead of conflict.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a time and place for opposition. But there’s also a time and place for cooperation. And when it comes to gender and sexuality, I think it’s time we learned how to cooperate. We can live in diversity without living in animosity. We can do our best to be faithful to the witness of Scripture while, dare I say, affirming the best efforts of our siblings in Christ to also be faithful to the witness of Scripture. Their best is no better than ours. All of our works are like filthy rags.

Letting Go of Battle Positions When it Comes to Gender and Sexuality

So I guess I’m saying, at least when it comes to gender and sexuality if not for a great many other things too, that it’s time to put aside the “I’m right; you’re wrong” nature of discourse and pick up humility instead. Certain things are definitely worth fighting for, such as the ancient creeds of the Christian faith, but other things are worth adopting a posture of humility for. And I’ve become more and more convinced that gender and sexuality are among those things that require grace, not warfare. 

So here’s to living in contrast instead of conflict. Here’s to living at peace with our faith and not casting suspicion upon those who live differently. Here’s to becoming a conscientious objector to the battles we’ve been told to fight and honoring God’s grace as it falls upon all of us. I’m tired of insisting that I’m right. I’m ready to acknowledge that my best is no better than yours. 

New Beginnings: Embracing the Tension of Living In-Between

Maybe there is a better way than taking sides.

I’ll be embarking on a new chapter in life this week, and I find myself thinking back over the past couple of years and reflecting on my path ahead. Life transitions always make me reflective. So I’ve found myself especially reflective this summer.

About ten years ago, a college acquaintance told me that God had given her a vision about me. She said that a balance appeared above my head with burdens on either side and that I held up the weight of both like a fulcrum in the center. She said that the Lord had called me to live in the in-between.

It honestly didn’t mean much to me at the time. I didn’t know her very well, and she didn’t know me, and the image of a “balance” didn’t ring true to me at all. I politely thanked her for sharing and then quickly forgot about the whole encounter. I never thought about it again until recently.

more “New Beginnings: Embracing the Tension of Living In-Between”

Recovering from Spiritual Abuse: Webinar with Kyle J. Howard

Kyle J. Howard discusses what it looks like to recover from spiritual abuse and trauma.

Kyle J. Howard recently joined me for a live webinar discussing spiritual abuse and how to recover. We talked about everything from trauma to bitterness to whether or not Christians really must forgive their abuser no matter the context. It was an incredible conversation! I’ve selected some excerpts below for you to read (if you’re a skimmer like me). But feel free to listen to the complete audio above. It’s well worth your time!

In What Ways is Spiritual Abuse Overlooked in the Church?

Kyle: I think it’s a profoundly neglected area. And I think there’s a couple of reasons for that. One is that the very consumption of power is something that is often overlooked in churches…. I’ve gone through seminary up to an advanced M.Div and never heard once anything in any of my pastoral classes related to the power dynamics that come with the position of spiritual authority. It’s just a non-category.

So when we think about spiritual trauma or spiritual abuse, I think much of that hinges on the reality that many people in positions of authority, or who have power within the church, do not realize the impact. Or, if they do, other people—who should be assessing them—don’t realize that they are wielding power in a way that actually is harmful. more “Recovering from Spiritual Abuse: Webinar with Kyle J. Howard”

Recovering from Spiritual Abuse: Live Webinar with Kyle J. Howard

Kyle J. Howard discusses spiritual abuse in live webinar.

What is spiritual abuse? How can we recognize it and how can we heal? Are there any practical steps we can take to protect ourselves and ultimately recover from painful, even traumatic, experiences?

Join me and Kyle J. Howard on Wednesday, July 17th, @ 7pm ET for a live webinar on healing and recovery from spiritual abuse. Kyle brings with him a wealth of experience and knowledge surrounding spiritual abuse in the church, and his work has helped countless men and women understand the impact of spiritual abuse in their own lives and begin the recovery process.

For LGBTQ+ Christians, this topic is particularly important, especially for those who remain in conservative denominations, often navigating atmospheres that are spiritually toxic for sexual and gender minorities. It’s a discussion you won’t want to miss! [Registration closed. Check out the recording.]

About Kyle J. Howard

From a gang-member and battle rapper to a preacher and theologian, Kyle J. Howard has experienced Sovereign Grace and has dedicated his life to proclaiming it to others. Kyle has received an Associates in Biblical & Theological Studies and a Bachelors in Biblical Counseling from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is currently finishing an Advanced Masters of Divinity in the field of Historical Theology. Kyle is a public theologian and Christian counselor who primarily serves the church through practicing soul care, writing, and teaching about both racial trauma and spiritual abuse/trauma. Though a comprehensive counselor for several years, after experiencing both racial trauma and spiritual abuse in the church, Kyle began to shift his focus to raising awareness about these two realities as well as extending his services for free to those who have been wounded in the Body of Christ and can’t afford to pay for care. Kyle has been married to his high school sweet heart (Vy) for ten years. They currently have three children (10, 7, 3), and live in Atlanta, Georgia. Kyle can be heard on his podcasts The Coram Deo Podcast and Soul Care, you can also read through his many articles at www.kylejhoward.com, or follow him on Twitter @kylejameshoward.

Why Celibate Gay Christians Don’t Need to Fear Hell

Revoice is just a week away! One of my biggest hopes is that this conference will carve out a space for LGBTQ+ Christians to adhere to historic teachings apart from threats of hell. If we ever hope to make conservative churches a safe environment for LGBTQ+ people, this absolutely must become the norm. Also, if you plan to be at the conference, please don’t hesitate to say hi! I can’t wait to talk!

One of the single most common reasons for gay celibacy amongst celibate gay Christians is fear of hell.

Letting go of my white-knuckle grip of celibacy was the best thing I ever did.

Now wait a minute.

Letting go of celibacy?

But isn’t celibacy the very thing that gay Christians must desperately maintain apart from getting married to the opposite sex? Isn’t celibacy, like, the point?

In many conservative churches, it is. The focus upon “no gay sex” in Christian communities often amounts to a type of spiritual suffocation, whereby celibate gay Christians slowly strangle themselves under the mounting pressure to avoid gay sex. Okay, maybe they’re dying, but at least they’re celibate. So, like, it’s fine. Right?

Unfortunately, it’s not.

It’s impossible to cling to Jesus and receive his gift of grace when we’re desperately clinging to something else. God calls us to be desperate for Jesus, not works of the law, and to cling to his righteousness, not our own. But unfortunately, the counsel given to far too many celibate gay Christians amounts to a call to cling to their celibacy and not their Savior. more “Why Celibate Gay Christians Don’t Need to Fear Hell”

Check Out These Resources on Faith and Sexuality

Preston Sprinkle’s Center for Faith, Sexuality, and Ethics recently released a brand-new online resource called The Digital Leaders Forum, a comprehensive course equipping ministry leaders with teaching on faith, sexuality, and gender from a traditional perspective on sexual ethics. I participated as a panelist and found the entire experience to be filled with grace, sincerity, and a true desire to build bridges between LGBT+ people and the conservative church. Check it out to learn more!

The Digital Leaders Forum provides comprehensive training on faith, sexuality, and gender from a traditional perspective on sexual ethics.

 

Also, if you’ve been following my blog for the past few months, you might remember me referencing Kutter Callaway’s book Breaking the Marriage Idol. I recently completed a review of his book that was published over at Evangelicals for Social Action. Check out a snippet below:

“The necessity of marriage is seldom, if ever, questioned in our culture, whether secular or Christian. The centrality of marriage to our anthropology feels ubiquitous. More than once, I’ve heard pastors describe marriage from the pulpit as the “ultimate” human relationship, and rarely in church have I ever seen singleness treated as anything other than a “season of life” before you get married.

But Kutter Callaway dares to challenge such thinking in Breaking the Marriage Idol: Reconstructing Our Cultural and Spiritual Norms, shining a much-needed light on the church’s complicity in worshiping romantic love. His book stands out for the cultural commentary in the first section alone, where he provides a devastating analysis of the church’s idolatry of marriage. I would even go so far as to say these chapters ought to be required reading for anyone engaged in the ongoing conversation of Christian sexuality.

However, the remaining two sections of Callaway’s book lack the insight of his earlier chapters. Many of his ideas come across as underdeveloped, and many of his more controversial claims lack an adequate defense. As a result, the book succeeds in exposing much of the problematic thinking behind evangelical assumptions about sex and marriage, but it ultimately fails to provide adequate answers to the questions it raises.” Read more…

Check out the full review: “Bedfellows: A Review of ‘Breaking the Marriage Idol'”

Male Effeminacy, Misogyny, and Homophobia: A Response to Desiring God

If you’d like to read the original articles on effeminacy by Desiring God, to which I am responding, check out the following links:

 

Male effeminacy, malakos, or malakoi has nothing to do with being gay or homosexuality and everything to do with toxic masculinity.

 

The English word “effeminate” harkens back to a time in history when “femininity” occupied the lowest rung of the social ladder. We get the word “virtue” from the Latin word “virtus,” which itself came from “vir,” meaning man. Think about that. Historically, virtue was inherently masculine. The implication for the feminine isn’t that difficult to figure out.

Even today, we stumble under the weight of our misogynistic history, commonly associating the feminine with what is “less.” People still say things like, “You throw like a girl,” and hardly think twice about the implications. What’s more, people still write articles condemning men who don’t fit a very narrow construction of masculinity by accusing them of being womanly, or “effeminate.”

Most recently, Desiring God published two articles touching upon the topic of effeminacy (linked above), where gay men are condemned for their “effeminate habits,” first implicitly and then explicitly. But the most common passages of Scripture used to justify this sort of thinking paint a very different picture of what effeminacy actually entails. more “Male Effeminacy, Misogyny, and Homophobia: A Response to Desiring God”

Spiritual Family: A Bond More Enduring Than Marriage

I recently published a follow up to the article I wrote in the spring for Equip, an organization run by Pieter Valk and dedicated to supporting sexual minorities in the church. My article in the spring challenged evangelical notions of the relational primacy of the nuclear family, and this article follows up to expand upon these thoughts. Check out the excerpt below or read the whole article on Equip’s blog.

Spiritual Family a Bond More Enduring Than Marriage

 

“I wrote a guest post for Equip last spring which addressed the priority of spiritual family in the Christian life. I’d like to follow up on that post by engaging in some more reflection on the ideas I presented. In an age where more and more people feel ostracized by the church, this discussion may be more important now than ever before, at least in American culture. Getting the family of God wrong means getting the church wrong! And that’s something we just can’t afford.

For single and celibate people, the stakes are particularly high, especially for celibate gay Christians. Lifelong celibacy means surrendering the possibility of biological family in pursuit of the Kingdom of God. In exchange, the Bible promises a family that is ‘many times more’ in this life (Luke 18:28-30), a spiritual family that is more meaningful than anything a traditional family could offer. Unfortunately, celibate gay Christians struggle to find such a family.

Notably, Rosaria Butterfield, who is well-known for her contribution to discussions on same-sex attraction in the church touches on a number of ideas relevant to this discussion in her book The Gospel Comes with a House Key. In a recent article, she had some strong words to say about the state of Christian community:

‘[Christians] have swapped out the biblical priority that the church is the family of God for a counterfeit that says the blood of biology ranks higher than the blood of Christ. And when we do this, we toss the most vulnerable brothers and sisters under the bus. The Christian life comes in exchange for the life (and sometimes the family) we once had, not in addition to it.’

It’s no coincidence that Butterfield’s book comes out during a cultural moment when more and more people see the church as a place of hatred (especially towards gay people) rather than a profound embodiment of supernatural love. When we consider that Scripture ties our very identity as a people of God to our larger reputation for love (see John 13:24), there may be no greater indictment against the church today.” read more

 

Divorced and Celibate: Reflections from the Other Side of Marriage (Guest Post)

Christian attitudes toward divorce and remarriage have been largely redefined in the past century. Historically, Christians were never permitted to remarry with the church, even in the case of a lawful divorce, even if you were the innocent party. Divorced people were expected to remain celibate. More recently, however, many Protestant denominations have abandoned this position. Guest writer Darla Meeks is one person who swims against this current, having chosen celibacy following her divorce rather than getting remarried. 

I encourage you to read her reflections below with an open mind, regardless of where you stand on the topic of divorce and remarriage. There is much to learn from individuals like Darla who choose the path less traveled today.

Jesus' commands regarding divorce, marriage, remarriage, and celibacy are clear.

 

I am a divorced Christian woman. I’ve been divorced for 10 years now, after a 17-year marriage to an unbelieving, chronically unfaithful spouse. Now in my fifties, I have a life that doesn’t include a mate, and I have no children. My parents have passed on. My brothers live in other states. The same is true of my extended family. I don’t see any of them much, except during brief out-of-town visits. I keep in touch by phone, text and social media, but that’s about it.

I’ve had two relationships since my divorce. One of those men rejected me; the other, I rejected. I didn’t have sex with either of them while I was seeing them. In fact, I haven’t had sex in a very long time.

So, my life has little or nothing to do with the traditional, nuclear family.

What say you, Christian family? Am I a sad woman? Am I alone and lonely? Is my life over? Am I depressed and on the verge of suicide?

Even worse, am I a degenerate, profligate, back-sliding individual who has lost God’s greatest blessing (marriage & family) forever?

I say to you, no to all. In fact, by the very grace of God, I am happier than I have ever been as a celibate, single person. more “Divorced and Celibate: Reflections from the Other Side of Marriage (Guest Post)”

Boy Erased: An Open Letter to the Gospel Coalition (Guest Post)

Last week, the Gospel Coalition published a review of Boy Erased, a movie depicting the true story of Garrard (Jared) Conley’s experiences at a conversion therapy facility called Love in Action. I’d encourage you to read the review by Brett McCracken before reading the response below. I have much respect for the Gospel Coalition and frequently link to their articles in my blog. However, even respected Christian outlets have blindspots. My prayer is that Brett McCracken and others at the Gospel Coalition would be willing to exercise humility in recognizing their need for growth when it comes to responding to LGBT+ topics and issues. We are all on the same team, and we can all learn from each other. I pray the Gospel Coalition is willing to learn from my friend Henry in his letter below. 

Check out these links for additional resources on Boy Erased put out by organizations run by LGBT+ people dedicated to supporting LGBT+ people in life-giving ways:

The Gospel Coalition's review of Boy Erased missed an opportunity to weep with those who weep in the LGBT+ community.

 

Dear Brett McCracken/The Gospel Coalition,

I am writing this in response to the article you wrote last week about the film “Boy Erased.” My name is Henry, and I am a gay/SSA celibate man who believes in and adheres to the traditional teachings of the church as it relates to sexuality based on scripture. I don’t know you, but I am familiar with TGC and some of your work. I read your review the day it was published, and while it had several strong points, there were key parts that felt very off to me. A discussion was started on a forum I’m involved with, and I quickly realized that I was not alone in my assessment of the article. I would like to share those thoughts with you now, not as an attack, but as a means for dialogue and deeper engagement on a topic that I think TGC (and the church) could do more work on. I aim to be charitable and graceful with my words, and I pray that this is beneficial to you and anyone else reading it. more “Boy Erased: An Open Letter to the Gospel Coalition (Guest Post)”