Thus, this post is probably going to be a lot more personal and raw than it probably should be. I typically shy away from my personal story and my personal opinions, as I previously shared, because of the position that I hold as a psychologist, consultant, and speaker. In addition to being the ardent teacher who wants her adherents to critically examine their positions, I do not want my personal issues or convictions to taint or skew someone else’s views in a negative way. Another reason I do not share my personal views is because my views seem to always be in flux. And that fact alone scares the heck out of me!
I am an educated woman—I have two Master’s and a Doctorate. I have studied psychology, counseling, and sexuality from a secular perspective and from a Christian understanding. Within the Christian framework, I have studied gay-affirming theology and the traditionally conservative theology of sex and sexuality. In addition, I have had courses in hermeneutics, Church history, spiritual direction, and had a survey of the Old and New Testaments. I have advanced training in sex therapy as a whole in addition to sexual identity therapy specifically. I have read countless responses to qualitative research questions about the interactions between sexual identity and Christianity, and gender identity and Christianity. I have heard people’s personal stories in therapy. I have participated in conferences where as a researcher I was there to not only share theory but also garner feedback and input.
Bear with me as I feel a little like the Apostle Paul right about now:
“What anyone else dares to boast about — I am speaking as a fool — I also dare to boast about. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. … Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?
. If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness” (2Cor. 11:21b-23, 28-30; NIV; italics added for emphasis).
So, here’s where it gets personal, not only are the issues of sexual identity, gender identity, and religious identity my areas of expertise professionally, they are my life. I have struggled with all three since childhood. I have participated in “ex-gay” ministries. I was a research participant for a qualitative study that was conducted for a book. I have had training to become a coordinator and leader of a sexual and relational healing ministry. Even though I have never claimed a gay identity, I did want to start an ex-gay ministry at one point. I gave my testimony at an ex-gay conference. I have had same-sex relationships. I have lived as a celibate single. I have struggled with emotional dependency. I have been asked leave a church that I loved for merely sharing my struggle—not due to being in a relationship. I have voluntarily stepped down from leadership positions in churches because of relationships. I have wanted to commit suicide because of the internal struggle I felt regarding my experiences of same-sex attraction and feeling like I was an abomination in the sight of the only God I ever wanted to love and please.
I have been a mess.
But: I. am. NOT. a. mess!
I am more whole and healthy than I have ever been (I went through my own therapy years ago and have had amazingly redeeming relationships since then).
But here is the real reason why I’m not a mess: I trust in a God that can handle my mess much better than I can, and I’ve given up trying to figure it all out on my own. Because I have learned that even after all of my education and experiences I still do not have all the answers…
and even when very smart theologians disagree (of which I am not one)…
even if some sexual-minority Christians call themselves gay and others don’t…
God is still the God of all Grace, Mercy, Justice, and Righteousness…
and the Holy Spirit is alive and speaking to the hearts of all believers!
Thus, I personally believe that each person who struggles with the experience of same–sex attraction in the midst of a devout, earnest relationship with Jesus Christ will be convicted one way or another about his or her particular situation at any given time.
He has done it for me on multiple occasions.
I have been convicted of being in unhealthy, damaging relationships (both romantic and not). I have experienced the peace—and I would venture to say the blessing—of God within a same-sex relationship. And I experienced the conviction to leave a satisfying relationship. I have felt convicted to remain celibate until I am in a covenanted marriage. I have felt the blessing in celibacy. I have also felt the pain and loneliness of singleness that leaves one crying herself to sleep at night longing for intimacy, companionship, and touch. And in the midst of those times, I have felt the sweet, gentle presence of my Almighty and Sovereign God and Prince of Peace. I have felt conviction regarding how I was acting and speaking from a place of unforgiveness and anger toward those who have hurt me or shamed me due to my experiences and/or choices. I have felt convicted to forgive and pray blessing over everyone who has caused me grief. I have felt convicted to let people disagree with me and love them anyway.
I know very faithful Christians who have felt convicted to remain celibate. I also know very faithful Christians who have felt blessed and convicted to remain in committed heterosexual marriages. I also know very faithful Christians who have felt blessed and convicted to be in committed same-sex unions (whether sanctioned by their churches or states or neither).
But here is the caveat: in order to know whether or not a same-sex partnership is ok for you or me, as believers in Jesus Christ, there has to be evidence of the Holy Spirit’s guidance and direction in our lives, and that we have followed that leading on various accounts throughout our lives. It needs to be an ongoing earnest relationship with God. We can’t just think, “I am a Christian and God will bless what I do.” No. God does not take his orders from us. There has to be evidence of a reciprocal, communal, life-giving relationship with God wherein we submit to his authority in ALL areas of our lives. Like Julie Rodgers posted yesterday: “I don’t eat the half gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream; I don’t hoard all my money to spend lavishly on myself; I don’t have sex with another person since I’m not in a covenantal marriage; I don’t judge others without first laying out my laundry list of sins before the Lord and repenting.”
With that said, I have recently been experiencing the conviction that for some sexual-minority Christians there may be grace for committed and covenanted same-sex marriages, but for others, they probably should remain celibate. But, just like all heterosexual couples, the decision to marry has to be a decision that is made with a cloud of witnesses, after lots of prayer, within a community of accountability, and with the peace of God that transcends all understanding. Marriage in general is not taken lightly in Scripture. We shouldn’t take it lightly either. But to quote Paul again (and yes, I know he’s talking about heterosexual marriage here, but try to read the spirit of the word not the letter of the law):
“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1Cor. 7:8-9; NIV).
So, just like in my previous post, I may seem a little wishy-washy. Because, sometimes, I am. Sometimes I do not know what God’s Spirit is convicting me of in the moment. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I agree with His conviction and leading. Other times I don’t like it one bit. But at all times I know that he is God and I am not. And I fully trust in him and that he will guide and direct my path.
When it comes to my clients and the participants of my research, I trust that God has them in his hands and can hold their hearts and hurts much better than I can.
And I let him.
As a therapist and consultant my job is to help facilitate positive growth towards the effective living out of one’s life. Regardless of whether my client ends up claiming a gay identity and moving in with her lesbian partner or not, that is her decision to make with God and her partner and their community so long as she is able to make this important decision from a place of health and “good-enough” wholeness (emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually).
To this end, my opinion doesn’t matter one bit though my ability to facilitate growth does. It’s God’s opinion that is the only one that really counts. And the more you and I press into Jesus Christ, get to know him through his Word, through his Spirit, and through our interactions with others, we will learn to hear his opinion about our decisions—great and small—more and more clearly.
Here’s to living in community but for an audience of One.
In Christ’s love and mine…
A note about comments: I truly want to hear your heart-felt and intellectual critiques (both positive and constructive). However, if your response is mean-spirited, or is not productive to the discussion, or is based on what you heard someone else say but you haven’t actually researched it yourself, then please, pray really hard about whether or not you should even type it. And if you choose to type it, I will say thank you for exercising your free speech, and I will in return exercise my right to not allow it on my blog. I really want to keep this a safe place for everyone to share thoughts, emotions, experiences, and convictions. Thank you for helping to create generous spaciousness.
A note about my therapy: I DO NOT conduct any type of reorientation, conversion, or reparative therapy. These therapies have questionable results that have not been fully studied by methodologically sound research. I also do not conduct prescriptive gay-affirming therapy as there are again no methodologically sound studies to support this type of treatment either. The therapy I offer for individuals experiencing conflict between their sexual identity and faith values is client-focused Sexual Identity Therapy, which is the type of therapy suggested by the American Psychological Association (2009) in their report on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE).