Friday, April 08, 2016

To my fellow Christians,

It's hard to know what to say anymore.

It's hard to know what to say when many of you who profess to be Christians still need to be told that gay and lesbian people are human beings, made in the image of God. That you shouldn't hate people that God made. That when you hate someone you are crushing their soul. That God does not call us to crush people's souls.

Is this a revelation?

Getting chewed out by your boss can ruin your day. Getting criticized by your spouse can make you resentful and depressed. You start doubting yourself. You feel deflated. You might even feel like crying. It's awful, but you know it will pass. There are things you can do to rectify the situation. There are things you can do to distract yourself from negative feelings until better days arrive.

Few of us know what it's like to be hated. Not hated because someone is jealous of you, or because you rub someone the wrong way. That's more like resentment. Hatred is when someone despises your very existence. Their hatred does not center on what you say or do, but who you are. You see how their eyes change when they look at you. They are not looking at a fellow human being with casual acknowledgement and acceptance. Rather their human soul seems suddenly to have vacated the premises and now you have no connection with their person. No compassion or understanding or common humanity to depend on. You know that anything you do or say will only confirm in their mind that you don't deserve to exist on the same planet.

It is the emotional aftermath of a bad day at work or a fight with your spouse intensified a hundred times. This is not about being deflated or discouraged. Hatred is a soul-withering assault on someone's deepest sense of self. And when you experience it enough times with enough people, you really begin to believe that you don't deserve to exist at all.

Imagine what it would be like to receive such vibes from people who profess the name of Jesus Christ. Who pray and sing and worship and give out big hugs and smiles. You are drawn to these loving, joyful people. You think you even see Jesus in them when they speak glowingly of their love for God. Maybe they will love you. Maybe there is hope for you. Yet they are the ones who turn to you and say, "Gays are going to hell." "God has given you over to your depravity." "You'd be better off dead than gay."

Do you see the problem? Do you see how not-like-Christ it is when Christians thrust daggers into people's souls?

There are many things that Jesus said to sinners. None of them were hope-crushing, soul-wounding words of hatred. Maybe it will help to give some examples:

"Your sins are forgiven." (Matthew 9:2)

"What would you like me to do for you?" (Matthew 20:32)

"Don't be afraid, just believe." (Mark 5:36)

"All things are possible to the one who believes." (Mark 9:23)

"You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Mark 12:34)

"Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43)

"What do you seek?" (John 1:38)

"Give me a drink." (John 4:7)

"Do you wish to get well?" (John 5:6)

"Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" (John 8:10)

"Whom do you seek?" (John 18:4)

"Why are you crying?" (John 20:15)





Friday, February 19, 2016

Repost from 6/24/09: What does it cost to bridge the gap?

At the most recent GCN Conference, someone asked me to define what it means to be a "straight ally." I answered that it's mainly about being willing to pay the price for supporting LGBT people, and there usually is a price to be paid.

While the cost of dealing with persecution and social pressures may immediately come to mind, there is also the cost of dealing with your own heart issues. I talk more about that in this post from 2009:

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How can we as straight conservative Christians "bridge the gap" in our conversations and relationships with gay friends, family members and acquaintances on the topic of homosexuality? Most evangelicals are easily able to summarize what the Bible teaches about how to relate to our neighbors: Christians should be loving and kind, patient when wronged, respectful in the face of hostility, forgiving, humble, compassionate and truthful.

So the question isn't knowing how we ought conduct ourselves as Christians. What needs to be explored is why we so often fail to relate to gay people in the loving and winsome way that the Bible so clearly outlines.

I believe the answer is that straight Christians cannot bring down the walls between ourselves and the gay community until we have confronted the walls that exist in our own hearts--fear, pride, insecurity about our own faith. The biggest challenges are not "out there," rather they lie within. I remember the three biggest challenges I faced when, as a conservative Christian, I first began the process of building bridges with people in the gay community.

When I first became interested in trying to understand where gay and lesbian people were coming from, I had already been taught by many highly respected church leaders that "homosexuals" were particularly depraved individuals who had strayed so far from the will of God they actually chose to pervert themselves by living the gay lifestyle. A good Christian girl like me would have absolutely nothing in common with these sordid types, so I initially thought my big challenge would be knowing how to talk to them at all. Yet what I encountered in real life was completely different from what I had been told to expect. I met ordinary people, many of whom were professing Christians, who never wanted to be gay in the first place. Some had contemplated suicide in their teens, others had spent their young adult years in therapy trying to change. Many finally came to terms with their situation only later on in life and at last found the courage to make the best of it. I felt it would have been wrong to despise these people, and I even found myself relating on so many levels to the heart-breaking stories I heard.

I had been told to hate the sin of homosexuality. What I encountered were people who had fought a battle with self-hatred for so long, the last thing I wanted to do was dogpile on their pain. I had been told to enlighten these people with the gospel. What I encountered was only my own tremendous ignorance, my own need to be enlightened about what it was like to be in their shoes.

And so the first challenge I faced was whether to follow the righteous exhortations of godly Christian leaders I admired and trusted, or go with my own instincts in an entirely different direction, based on my own conclusions about gay people that--apparently--no other Christian in the world had ever come to except me. (Or so it seemed.)

Any serious Christian would much rather submit to the majority consensus of the church than run the risk of being wise in one's own eyes. I wasn't any different. What ultimately made me press forward was that I saw clear opportunities before me to love people instead of despise them, to understand instead of judge, to listen instead of command--and that path just seemed more in line with what the Bible taught. It was as simple as that. And yet even though I knew I had good reason to follow that path, I was sick with fear. Fear of being a maverick, fear of being unsubmissive, fear that I might appear rebellious, fear that my reputation in the church might be damaged. All that fear was a barrier that needed to be crossed.

This soon led to the second major challenge I had to confront, which was the difficulty of having to face people at church every Sunday, knowing that I was going against the standard wisdom that most of them embraced about gay people. The church had always been like family to me, from the time I first came to Christ as a teenager. My fellow Christians were people who worshipped with me, invited me over for dinner, prayed for me when I was in need, brought meals to my house when I was laid up, loaded boxes into my U-Haul when I had to move--and I did the same for them in return. To go against what these good people, my dearest friends, believed about homosexuality, and to side instead with what everyone called "the homosexual agenda," felt like the worst kind of betrayal. Like some bout with insanity that I just needed to snap out of.

The only way I could to deal with the nearly unbearable tension was to remember that as much as my church family meant to me, my first responsibility was to follow Jesus Christ. And I simply found it difficult to believe that Jesus would reach out to harlots, tax collectors, demoniacs, lepers and heretics but would disapprove of me reaching out to gays and lesbians, because it might upset some of my Christian friends. So in my heart I had to let go of my need for my friends' good opinion. Later on, when some of them found out my views and let go of me for good, I remembered Jesus once again, that by the time he'd made it to the cross at the end of his life he was alone. It meant that however painful loneliness might be, I could at least take comfort that there was no shame in it.

The third major challenge was probably the most serious. As I got deeper into the issue--talking with gay and lesbian people, reading books, having email exchanges--I began to realize that the conclusions I was coming to about the nature of homosexuality were presenting a challenge to my own Bible-believing faith. Because if people weren't choosing to be gay, why would God allow this to happen to them? Why would he allow something to befall them that would so alienate them from their families, their communities, their churches? Why would he allow their chance of enjoying a love that could be both personally fulfilling and socially acceptable to be permanently sabotaged? Is God cruel? Is the Bible mistaken?

Over time my faith survived these challenges, and has even grown stronger as a result. But I can also appreciate how much easier it is for us to burrow deep down into our churches and cling to simple, cut-and-dried explanations about homosexuality rather than expose the vulnerabilities of our faith to something much more complex. And yet if we are willing to admit this much, we should at least try to be honest with ourselves when it comes to befriending gay and lesbian people. How much of our inability to love them is rooted in our personal insecurity about our Christian faith? When we argue with them, aren't we sometimes just trying to protect our own beliefs? When we insist that they are unrighteous, might that be just another way of asserting our own righteousness, so that we can temporarily silence the doubts we have about ourselves as Christians?

I have been on this journey for nearly ten years, and although it may appear to others, and even to myself at times, that this has been about trying to break down walls and build bridges between myself and gay and lesbian people, I know that for me it is really about something far greater. Like many of the challenges that Jesus Christ calls me to, I realize that his ultimate purpose for me has not been the challenge itself, but to teach me more about himself, so that I might understand more deeply his life, his heart and his word. Simply put, I have had to trust him. For that reason, I could never regret any of it, whatever the journey has cost me along the way. I have become richer in Christ, and that has fully compensated me for whatever else I may have lost.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Welcome, listeners of The Ken Fong Podcast

If you found this blog because of my interview on "Asian America: The Ken Fong Podcast," I'm glad you found your way here!

To make it easier to find out more about what Ken and I discussed during the interview, I've compiled the following links:

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Here is the video of my keynote speech at the 2016 GCN (Gay Christian Network) Conference this past January. The video does skip some, so here is the full written transcript to that keynote.

"A Conservative Christian Case for Civil Same-Sex Marriage" -- the controversial article I wrote in 2000.

This is a YouTube video of my keynote back at the 2012 GCN Conference in which I explain about the controversy my husband and I had with our old denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (Unfortunately, this video does not cover the complete talk; it is just a homemade video one of the conference attendees recorded of the last two-thirds of my talk.)

"Musings on Christianity, Homosexuality and the Bible," the original website I created back in 2000 to reach out to gays and lesbians.

Chronology of events and trial documents relating to the OPC controversy my husband and I were involved in.

Toward the end of the interview Ken asked me if there was anything in my background that shaped me into the type of person that would speak out in the church for the gay and lesbian community. Upon reflection I'm not sure how I managed to overlook one very important factor: being "Japanese American."

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So you're a straight Christian who wants to understand better how to relate to someone who is gay? Here are some blog posts to help get you started:

  • "How gays and straights talk past each other": Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 -- This short series is a primer to help foster communication across the gay-straight divide.
  • "On having gay friends": Part 1 and Part 2 -- Some tips and reflections compiled from what I've learned over the years.
  • "Side B, with qualifications" -- Ken and I talked about the Side A/Side B debate among gay Christians. In this post I explain why, as a straight ally, I don't take a hard-line Side B approach in the debate.
  • "Surviving ex-gay ministries" -- In 2007 I attended an Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and learned first-hand about the trauma ex-gay ministries have caused people. In this post I attempt to put myself in the shoes of an ex-gay survivor and tell their story.

My interview on "Asian America: the Ken Fong Podcast"

Last Friday I was interviewed on Asian America: The Ken Fong Podcast. Heads up: the interview is eighty minutes long, but I think we were able to keep the conversation flowing and interesting. If you have a long commute to work, listening to this would be perfect to help you pass the time.

Ken Fong is the long-time pastor of a well-known Asian American church in Los Angeles called Evergreen Baptist Church. He also serves as Executive Director of the Asian American Initiative at Fuller Theological Seminary. We recorded this podcast in his Fuller Seminary office.

I know Ken as a fellow sojourner who is seeking to bring about love, respect and understanding between the LGBT community and the conservative church. Because we are both Asian American, conservative evangelical, and have taken an interest in the LGBT community, Ken and I have crossed paths before. I suppose we fit a unique demographic, and I'm grateful to him for the opportunity to be a guest on his show.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Yes, I am Side B. No, I do not advocate celibacy for all gay Christians.

Apparently, in spite of my recent and very public 2016 GCN Conference talk, there is still some misunderstanding about my Side B position. A recent article written by Stephen Parelli, who was present at the conference, called "Celibacy at Gay Christian Network: What's that all about?" characterizes me as advocating celibacy for all gay Christians.

I never advocated such a position in my keynote, and I never have advocated that position on this blog or in any past writings. The entire point of my GCN keynote was this: "Yes, I am Side B. But I believe Side A gay Christians should be accepted in the church in an 'agree to disagree' fashion according to the principles of Romans 14. Now, allow me to explain why I think the conservative church has been too blind in the past to see this truth, and how being obedient to Scripture can lead us out of this mess."

Over four years ago on this blog I wrote a piece called "Side B with Qualifications" that might be helpful to anyone wanting to understand further why I call myself Side B. Here is how I conclude my post (italics added):
This has caused me some problems. I have discovered that labeling myself Side B conveys the idea that I think Side A gay Christians aren't really saved, that all gay Christians should be celibate otherwise they're living in sin, and that my agenda should be to befriend Side A people for the purpose of converting them to Side B. And I have to wonder, what ever happened to respecting the consciences of others? I believe I can manage that as a Side B person. And nothing about what I believe concerning my imaginary choice as an imaginary gay person in an imaginary scenario blinds me from the reality of seeing true Christian faith in the many, many Side A gay Christians I meet all the time.
From what I've experienced I don't think the Side A/Side B divide is nearly as great as the divide between those who do and do not recognize that there are some cases where taking a "biblical" side is more about a personal choice than a cosmic mandate. I side with those who believe in strict moral convictions for themselves but much leniency and charity for others. I wish there were a label for that group.

Monday, January 11, 2016

"What's Next for the Conservative Evangelical Church?"

For those of you who made the request, I am here providing the manuscript of my 2016 GCN conference talk, "What's Next for the Conservative Evangelical Church?"

The talk was also live streamed but sometimes the video skips, which I understand can be annoying.

I loved meeting all of you at the conference. Even though I sometimes have trouble remembering names and faces, if you told me your story I almost always remember that. When people tell me about their personal experience I can visualize and sometimes feel the emotions of it, and that leaves a strong impression. So if you told me your story, remind me of it if you'd like to drop me an email, and that will help me continue our conversation.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

GCN Conference 2016

I will be speaking at the upcoming GCN Conference, taking place in Houston on January 7-10, 2016. So the past three months I have been deep in my thinking cave, thoroughly neglecting this blog even though there is more on my mind regarding transgender issues. Apparently I am a "nationally acclaimed blogger and theologian." I had to laugh at that. Maybe "at one time nationally vilified and now thoroughly ignored" is more accurate. Anyhow, if you are planning to be at the conference, I hope to see you there.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Demanding a biological basis for gender identity

Some years ago I read about a male pastor who was kicked out of his denomination because it came out that he sometimes wanted to identify as a woman. Most of the time he was fine with presenting himself as a man, but some of the time he wanted to present as a woman and even chose a female name for that part of himself.

His church freaked out, of course, and gave him the ax. Yet there was a reasonable explanation for this pastor's behavior. Before he was born, when he was still in his mother's womb, he had a fraternal twin sister. Instead of separating and becoming another person, she somehow ended up fusing back with him so that the two of them formed a single person. As a result he was, in his biological make up, 70% male and 30% female. There is even a term for someone who is has two different sets of DNA as a result of absorbing a fraternal twin back into their body in utero: human chimera.

In the current debate over transgender people, many Christians are saying that it is just plain common sense that if someone is biologically male then he should view himself as male, and if someone is biologically female then she should see herself as female. Period. With no room for debate. If this were an ideal, unfallen world prior to Genesis chapter 3, I would heartily agree. But here and now, living in this messy, fallen state of humankind, it is not so. Instead we have this case of a pastor who was biologically both male and female. If biology directly determines one's personal sense of gender self-identity, then this pastor was being true to that principle. Even the proportion of time he wanted to spend as male versus female was true to the proportion that he was biologically male versus female.

Yet the reason this pastor was run out of his denomination was that he looked physically male and therefore he was expected to act and identify as such exclusively. The basis for his wanting to identify partly as female was hidden from the human eye, and yet it was very real. It could even have been scientifically proven through genetic testing.

In the case of transgender individuals, just because the basis for their desire to identify with a gender opposite of their (apparent) biological sex is hidden from our eyes, that doesn't mean it isn't real. Are we really so arrogant that we can dismiss this crisis of identity that they feel, as if we know everything there is to know about human beings, our mysterious formation in the womb, the human brain, genetics, and the origins of gender identity? The discovery that human chimeras exist is a relatively recent one. Who knows what else there is to discover about ourselves as human beings?

Here's something else to consider. Why do Christians need to know if there is a scientific explanation for the transgender experience before we stop our mistreatment of them: this merciless sneering and mocking and condemning of people whom we have made zero effort to understand? I thought the Bible was the basis of everything we do. We already know that Jesus commanded us to love people and refrain from judging them, because after all we do not see the heart and have no idea what sort of challenges they may be facing.

Of course, we can always wait around for science to uncover the reasons for the transgender experience--someday--before we feel like taking seriously Jesus' command to love these people. It's just that, given the way we normally scorn modern science almost as much as we do transgender people, I think that would be extremely ironic.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Is polygamy next?

Jonathan Rauch has made these arguments many times before, but in case you missed it, he explains once again why the legalization of civil same-sex marriage doesn't open the legal door to polygamy.
Now, people who want to take issue with the theoretical and empirical literature on polygamy should feel free to do so. What they should not do is what Chief Justice Roberts and Fredrik deBoer do, which is to ignore the literature altogether. Blandly asserting that there's no good reason to oppose polygamy once gay couples can marry makes no more sense than saying there's no reason to oppose date rape or securities fraud once gay couples can marry. It doesn't follow, and it isn't true, and the intellectual laziness implicit in asserting it is epic.
To find out why Rauch thinks so, read his article here.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Looking back and moving forward

Fourteen and a half years ago I wrote an essay called, "A Conservative Christian Case for Civil Same-Sex Marriage." I wanted to show that Christians can still hold to a traditional understanding of the Bible on homosexuality without being guilty of committing political and social injustice against gays and lesbians. I also wanted to point out how engaging in an earthly battle that prevents a minority group from receiving their legitimate constitutional rights only tarnishes our Christian witness to the hope of heaven through Jesus Christ.

Yesterday's SCOTUS decision is, in my view, the prevailing of earthly justice. Given the way our constitution is written, plus the history of the civil rights movement in this country, it was inevitable that this day would come. What's important for Christians is not that this day has come, but that we reflect upon all the years that have led up to it. How honorably have we conducted ourselves these past fifteen or so years? How profitably have we redeemed the time? Have we adorned the gospel in our interactions with the LGBT community? Is there anything we wish we could have done differently?

It has often helped me to realize that when you follow Christ, you follow him alone. You don't take your family with you, though you'd like to think you can. You can't take your friends with you. And certainly there is nothing you can do about everyone in society. All that's under your control is how obedient you are to Christ in your own personal relationship with him.

But we don't want to be his disciples under those conditions. We want to obey only if everyone else is doing the same thing. If same-sex marriage is wrong, we aren't content to hold to that belief with a clear conscience before the Lord. We want everyone else to believe it too. We don't want our children to have anything to do with it. We don't want society to approve of it. We definitely can't handle the idea that God may be leading us to view it as a sin and yet be leading someone else to the conclusion that is it okay.

What everyone else is believing and doing is irrelevant to your responsibility toward Christ, which is to follow him yourself, alone, according to how he is instructing your own heart. You can't know what God is doing in the lives of others, and you aren't meant to. When Peter pointed to the disciple John and asked Jesus, "But Lord, what about this man?" Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" (John 21:21-22)

You follow me. There is freedom and joy in doing what the Lord asks of you without fretting about what he is asking of someone else. Without fretting about where society is headed and whether we are still a Christian nation and whether the next generation will believe things and do things the way you want them to. Moving forward, here's hoping the next fifteen years will be about less fretting and more lonely, single-minded discipleship.