"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Saturday, March 31, 2012

On Coming Out of the Closet

Many of you who are connected with the George Fox Community (and perhaps some who are not) might be aware of “OneGeorgeFox”—a community of GFU alums who are pushing for more conversation about gender and sexuality on GFU’s campus.

Their goal is to validate the sexual orientation of all people, support those who’ve been hurt by a Christian anti-gay message, and bring about change in GFU’s own policy toward issues of sexuality. Many of these people are LGBTQ; some are not, but rather allies who share a similar perspective and hope.

Here’s a link to their letter; I strongly suggest visiting the site: http://www.onegeorgefox.org/. It might make more sense of what I have to say here.

If you visit the site and scroll down to the signatures—those who, at the very least, have read the letter, agree with the views and cause presented, and feel there is value to identifying with the “movement” and perhaps even felt a sense of “call” to sign—you’ll see my name. At least that was something like my experience in signing the letter.

Yes…I signed the letter. Considering my own journey on the matter, the opportunity to publicly support this group was almost providential timing. I come from a generally conservative evangelical experience, so for those of you that are not a part of that tradition reading this, it might help to know this background information to understand why this was a big step for me (and for Joann, who also signed the letter; though I will say that in what follows, these are my thoughts…I don’t speak to her journey on the matter here).

I would guess my journey is similar to many. As I explained to a friend recently, that path goes something like this: staunchly condemn LGBTQs—be sad for them and their condition—“love” them but expect them to change—“love” them and “tolerate” them—see them as equal and valid—see the beauty and goodness of their orientation.

I’ve been uncertain for some time how I’ve felt about the issue. I guess there are actually two issues I’ve felt unclear about. One: do I support gay marriage? And, two: do I believe in the inherent goodness and rightness of having an LGBTQ orientation?

They really are separate issues to me. The first—the support of gay marriage—concerns issues of liberty, politics, the Church’s role in society, and the definition of marriage. Believing that it is good, ethical, and Christ-centered to encourage this kind of marriage seems possible even if one didn’t find validity in the actual orientation of homosexuality.

Considering what felt most loving, most in line with the character of God, most consistent with Jesus’ teachings, and what seemed to be the utilitarian choice, and even most evangelistic (loaded word, I know)—I at some point concluded that it was good and right to support gay marriage.

But the second issue—is it “good” to be gay—is a different one, for me at least. My feelings on this are complex, and I’m still sorting through them. I don’t like to talk in certainties; I’m much more comfortable saying “I believe it enough” than “I know for sure.” To me, that’s not weak faith; it’s just honesty, with myself and with others.

But I’ve reached a point where I’m much more comfortable landing on the pro-LGBTQ side than the anti-. I know that’s very reductive to say “pro” and “anti,” as I’m sure many who are “anti-gay” would say they are “pro-love” and “pro-people” but against the “illness” or “sin” of homosexuality. But hopefully the way I’m using those prefixes is clear.

I can respect a gay person who wants to change themselves and fervently try to remain straight out of religious conviction. But I don’t think it’s necessary, and my experience with God—one experience among many—has led me to believe that homosexuals should accept their nature and seek happiness and love without living the rest of their lives in conflict about their feelings. To me, thinking of homosexuality as an illness or a sin is neither helpful nor accurate.

I think what will most bring glory to God, most bring people to encounter God, most allow the Church to be a demonstration of the character of God, and most honor the individual is a willingness on our part to embrace the love that LGBTQ people have for one another as something beautiful and pleasing to God.

It’s funny; I think some Christians have had to wrestle with fear over how their bold statements of faith might be ridiculed by the culture around them. For example, I think Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, and even was resurrected from the dead in an act that had eternal significance for all humankind. That’s a ridiculous and untenable viewpoint to some outside the Christian faith.

But the issue in question here seems to lead to the opposite phenomenon. I’m confident there are many Christians out there who want to be more outspoken about their feelings about this issue but are fearful of the ramifications from their own community. Or maybe they’re just not yet convinced, given their long-held traditional views. It’s hard for them to not feel like supporting homosexuality means being anti-Jesus or anti-Bible.

Most of my hesitation has actually been more about science than the Bible. Maybe that seems backwards to some. But if both sides of the issue are honest with one another, it’s pretty clear that there’s more than one “Biblical perspective.” I get really exhausted by those who believe homosexuality to be a “sin” who claim that the “pro-gays” are ignoring the Bible and simply accommodating to a liberal, secular culture. Please, please…stop saying this.

I understand if you believe the Bible condemns homosexuality; I/we know your verses and know your understanding of the nature of Scripture. Yet many of those who are pro-LGBTQ are intelligent, thoughtful, and God-seeking people who love Scripture and have reached a different conclusion. It’s not as simple as who is on the side of God or the Bible and who’s not; stop oversimplifying the issue in this way.

But the Bible is no longer the issue for me here. I think it’s been my own lack of awareness of the various conclusions of the community of neuroscientists, psychologists, sociologists, and biologists. I listen to the Bible; I also listen to science. They are not enemies. But I guess I’ve been given sufficient evidence to conclude that having a homosexual “bent” is something natural, un-chosen, healthy and even—good.

I also have heard the complaint from some who are aware of and opposed to the goals of OneGeorgeFox that their expectations—that GFU would change its view of Scripture and lifestyle policy—are misguided, as it’s inappropriate to ask GFU to make such a change (maybe this isn’t as common a concern as it seems to me).

Frankly, I don’t understand this. These expectations stem from a belief that GFU is actually in error in their understanding of Scripture on this issue and that its current policies are harmful to a certain population of students. It seems a reasonable desire to say to the board and the greater GFU community: consider that you’re wrong, in light of new, fresh reflection on Scripture and new awareness of the human condition, and adjust accordingly. It wouldn’t be the first time that “reformation” has happened in Church history.

I realize there’s a lot in this post that could be unpacked more, and I likely will do so in the coming months as inquiries arise. Consider this my “coming out party” and public support of OneGeorgeFox and its goals.

And consider it my broader support of those who are confused about whether or not God loves them and whether or not they’ll ever find acceptance from others or be able to accept themselves or experience the joy of love and romance in the context of a faithful, committed relationship (see, I’m still old-fashioned about some things). J

I don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. The church has been in that place too many times, save for bright spots here and there (go Quakers! J). I want to do the will of God, want to embody the radical love of Jesus, want to encourage people toward fullness of life. My actions in signing this letter reflect my belief that I’m doing this as best as I can.

I knew and know there is some risk to my livelihood and relationships in being more open about this, considering I want to eventually teach theology and religion at an evangelical university, and considering that many people I care about disagree with me. But in the end, I counted the cost—and concluded more help and good than harm and evil would result from my support. Sometimes that’s how my decisions are made. With risk. With faith.


Mrs. McDonough said...

Matt, this is beautifully written. Thank you for sharing so vulnerably, with truth, and for living out Jesus' call on your heart with courage, even when there's deep personal risk.

This is faith in action.

You have my respect and friendship. I'm proud to be on this journey together with you.

Love, courage and peace to you-

duckmonkey said...

Matt! Stumbled upon your blog from OneGF Facebook page. Do you remember me from Credo? (Fong was my maiden name) Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I feel I've taken a similar journey through your struggle with this issue and am happy to see that I am not alone. Congratulations on getting into the PhD program and your soon-to-be-born little one! My husband is finishing his PhD at Princeton Theological Seminary. Blessings to you and your family!

duckmonkey said...

Sorry, I thought my full name would show. It's Amy Congdon (Fong) from Credo/GF. :) And that picture is wickedly old!

C. Wess Daniels said...

Thanks for sharing your journey on this Matt.

Matt Boswell said...

Thanks Kim and Wess. And yes, of course I remember the unforgettable Amy Fong. :) Nice to hear from you. Glad to offer some solidarity. What's your husband researching/writing about?

DeLisa said...

As a current George Fox University student and ally for both OneGF and Common the journey has been challenging in certain ways and moving.

It's so lovely to have read your beautifully well written post and be so tremendously encouraged by it.

Thank you my friend and may God bless the rest of your journey!

Patrick said...

Thanks for sharing honestly about your journey, Matt. I like to see thought on issues like this as such - a journey - and not as a dogma or fixed belief. When I look at my own journey I consider my understanding of Scripture in light of my experiences with LGBTQ individuals. There are many that I admire, respect, and care about - in the same way I care about my heterosexual friends. But I cannot help but realize that temptation is a circumstance which affects people of any sexual orientation, and that each of us is more or less tempted to commit a sin depending on our genetic predisposition or nurtured factors. I am an advocate of love between male and male, female and female, but I believe there are boundaries interwoven in those types of relationships just as I believe there are boundaries interwoven within my relationship between a married heterosexual man and a single woman who care deeply about each other. I believe that sin is involved in many types of sexual acts or fantasies. I believe that sex between people of the same gender is a sin, but I very much love people who are oriented toward that desire, just as I would hope that someone with that desire loves me even though I have acted sinfully in my own life.

Matt Boswell said...

Glad to be an encouragement, DeLisa.

Matt Boswell said...

Hi Patrick!

To you and to others with a similar perspective as yours, I hope I haven't belittled your love for LGBTQ individuals. Not saying you felt that, though your comment reminds me that it's important to honor people like you who are filled with genuine Christ-centered love for others whoever they are and yet come to different conclusions about what expressing that love looks like practically. You have a great heart and mind...thanks for your insights here!

Charity said...

"But if both sides of the issue are honest with one another, it’s pretty clear that there’s more than one “Biblical perspective.” I get really exhausted by those who believe homosexuality to be a “sin” who claim that the “pro-gays” are ignoring the Bible and simply accommodating to a liberal, secular culture. Please, please…stop saying this."

I agree that people on all sides of this issue have biblical support for their views, and I agree that healthy discussion is the best way to understand and love each other, no matter what we believe. But to stop using the Bible as my supporting argument? That seems dangerous - with this topic, or any other.

That said, I quite enjoy your blog; it's usually challenging and thought-provoking, which I suspect is at least one of your goals with it.

Matt Boswell said...

Charity, I agree. I'm not advocating the Bible be abandoned, nor relegated to a secondary source on this issue. I'm saying earnest, intelligent Bible readers/scholars come to different conclusions on what constitutes the "Biblical perspective."

My concern is with the assumption made by some that pro-LGBTQ's are ignoring Scripture. Maybe some do. But I and many who love the Bible and take it very seriously come to different conclusions about what is right action.

Part of the divide in interpretation might not simply be "does this verse say A or does it say B" but rather what is the nature of Scripture and in what ways and to what extent does it reveal the desires/will of God?

Hope that helps. :)