An audience of One

I have been inspired recently by the courage and vulnerability of a friend and co-laborer, Julie Rodgers. You can check out the posts I have been inspired by here, here and most importantly here.

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 when amazingly talented and gifted writers and people of solid Christian faith and understanding have different convictions and experiences (e.g. Justin Lee & Wesley Hill)…

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).

Advertisements

14 thoughts on “An audience of One

  1. I’ve been thinking about this post on and off all day. I resonate with parts, but I’m also bothered by parts. And I couldn’t put my finger on why until just a minute ago. The wishy-washy-ness, it bothers me, and I’m bothered that it bothers me. This is a good thing!
    At first I was like, “Trista comes off as wanting to be all things to all people. Why can’t she just take a stance?” But then I realized while your stance may not be consistent, your heart is rock solid. You are “for” people no matter where they land, and I love that. I want to be like that.
    I’ve been ruminating on this for some time. It seems that we Christians are addicted to taking stances, and we demand it of each other. And I hate it, yet I still find myself participating in it. The need to be right is our Pharisaical disease. I think that’s why Jesus resisted debates and spoke in parables so often. So I want to learn how to love well, even, especially to the neglect of being right.
    You have given me a great gift today, in that you’ve given words to my quest. Thank you!

  2. Praise Jesus! I am so glad you found a gift in my words, H.B. You are right in that my stance right now may change from celibacy is trump to same-sex relationships can be ordained on any given day. But my hearts desire is and has always been that people are to be loved and cherished where they are, and I strive to do that as best as possible (making many mistakes along the way).

    I remember a preacher who came to my childhood church for a revival one year say something along the lines of this:

    As Christians we have a tendency to want non-believers to pick themselves up by their boot straps and clean themselves off at least a little and then come to church and meet Jesus and get “saved”. But that is not the Gospel.
    The gospel says we (believers) are going fishin’ with Jesus (he was a Southern man!), and when you go fishin’ you grab up your pole, bait the hook and toss the line as far out as you can. Then you reel it in “real slow like,” and you might just catch somethin’. If not, you do it all over again until you do. And when you do catch somethin’ you grab the fish of the hook and then you clean it.
    He went on to explain that Jesus is the one who is fishin’. We believers are the bait that he uses to allure the non-believers to get hooked. Then Jesus is the one that gently takes that beautiful soul off the hook and is also the one that has to do all the cleanin’!
    He then added this little quip: When was the last time you saw a fish jump straight up out of the water all nice and clean for ya? But isn’t that what we expect of others?

    We expect others to clean themselves up to our standard of thinking, our ways of believing theology. But that is not what Jesus does. Jesus bends down and cleans the disciples feet to demonstrate that He is the one doing all the cleaning…

    I am very much convinced that there are very good and much smarter people out there in this world who have different theologies than I do about various issues. Some people believe that speaking in tongues is not supposed to be done today, that it is a sign of evil; whereas there are other folks who believe that the only way you know you are for sure baptized by the Holy Spirit is by the demonstration of speaking in tongues. Two very different beliefs! But neither is salvific.

    In my humble opinion (once again, I am a psychologist, not a theologian), the only beliefs that are directly related to the salvation of my soul have to do with Jesus: Son of God, born of a virgin Mary, lived sinless life, was crucified dead on a cross as sin atonement/propitiation (in my place because I deserved it and not him), and literally and physically raised from the dead three days later and ascended to heaven and now sits on the right hand of the Father. And I, by the faith given to me through the power of the Holy Spirit, repent of my sinful nature and choose to agree with God about who he says he is and who he says I am and how I should live my life (this is very truncated, but you get the gist). As I recently wrote to a friend, I like to major on the majors (those core beliefs that are salvific in nature) and minor on the minors (all other doctrinal beliefs). And for me, same-sex relationships are not salvific, thus they are minors.

    And I have to trust in God enough that his Spirit will convict people of their sin, as he convicts me of my sin. I have to let him be God and have faith that he will do that. In all honesty, I often struggle more with my pride and arrogance than I do with lust—and I really find women to be attractive! But God is the one that convicts me of those things, not anyone else—especially not anyone holding a sign to tell me that God hates people like me. Just not true. The Holy Spirit convicts with kindness and it leads me to repentance…and I trust that he will do that for others too. WORD!

    Keep on keeping on, my friend. And thanks again for your thoughtful comment.
    Blessings on you!

    • One other short comment, H.B. I had another pastor (my current one) say something that has stuck with me too that I think applies very nicely here. He said:

      “Faith is doubt seeking understanding.”

      Chew on that for a while. Love it!
      Blessings…

  3. Isn’t choosing to live in a state of sin contrary to what God says is wrong a salvation issue? I’m not trying to come off weird I really am asking. I am a same-sex attracted individual as well so I know how I feel. But I also know what the bible says despite what I feel. Maybe I’m getting it wrong? I do wonder that OFTEN.

    I think God is just as serious about sin as He is grace.

    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 really hits it home for me. Homosexual relationships do matter in light of eternity and salvation.

    Now I’m not perfect I have issues with lust. I’m trying to get it together and by his grace learn to live to glorify Him. But I don’t think we get to decide which sins we get to keep.

    I hope I’m not coming off wrongly. Believe me it’s very tempting for me to just throw in the towel and find a partner. I understand why someone one would. But I’d rather live how God says to. There has to be a reason it’s prohibited. He knows a lot of things better than I do. I don’t mean to condemn anyone if they are living like that. I just want to seek what The Lord is asking of us SSA individuals.

    • Thank you for your question and comments, Rad. I totally hear your heart. Thank you for expressing it so well. And in all honesty, I hear the struggle that you’re experiencing between what is sinful and what is not based on how you interpret scriptures. But first off, to give a direct answer to your initial question, I would have to say, yes. I believe that if you are persistently and consistently living with an unrepentant heart and willfully continuing to sin irrespective of God’s desires for your life, then I would question whether or not you really have allowed Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. This would be true for anyone regardless of the issue.

      When I note that I feel that committed, monogamous, covenanted same-sex relationships are a minor issue and not salvific, it is based on the premise that there are well learned theologians who disagree on the sinfulness of these types of relationships. They do agree that any sort of lustful, promiscuous, premarital (read pre-covenanted), extra-marital sexual relations are sinful and not God’s best for us. (As an aside I REALLY like how Steve Chalke [http://www.oasisuk.org/inclusionresources/Articles/MOI] expresses the heart of the commands to not engage in sex outside of a covenanted relationship. You can really hear it in his voice in this video: http://vimeo.com/60242218)

      It harkens me back to when Peter is given a vision of what he is allowed to eat (all things that he considered sinful to him) when he was in the company of people for whom eating these things was not sinful. It also makes me think of when Paul writes about the fact that for some people some things are considered sinful and others are not, and that we are to respect our weaker brother. I think of these types of passages when I say that same-sex relationships (as I have defined them above) are minor issues and not salvific.

      I think this issue of the sinfulness of same-sex realtionships really is more about those of us with SSA living life in a way that honors God as best as possible with what we’ve been given and according to our understanding of what Scripture teaches us and how we’ve come to interpret it for our lives. And my hope is that this is done in a loving community of faith, learning from our faith tradition and growing in our understanding of the revelations of God. I am not sure we have everything completely settled or completely understood…I don’t think we ever will, we are mere humans I’m afraid! 🙂

      But that doesn’t take away the struggle for sure. That doesn’t ease the discomfort of thinking that we might be “confined” to a life of celibacy in which we fear that we will die lonely deaths. I don’t like that thought. But right now, I have to trust that Jesus is and continues to have something out there for me bringing me joy and contentment in my pain and submission. And if someday I end up getting to be in a covenanted relationship with someone, whether male or female, I believe it will bring God glory and honor because that is the sole focus of my life and heart’s desire. I pray that for you as well.

      Keep on keeping on!
      Blessings in Christ…

      • How can it be honoring to God? Because we in our own hearts say it will be? When do we start making our own religion out of all this?

        This isn’t just about this one issue. I have issues with all the divisions we have in the church. I was talking with some dear friends about how we can have so many different views on everything from scripture to doctrine and all claim to have the same Holy Spirit. I feel like Pilate sometimes asking “what is truth?” The firmest truth we have is scripture.

        Anyways sorry to rant about other stuff. Thank you for taking the time to respond. I may not agree completely but it’s nice to know I’m not alone in the struggle.

      • Thank you again for sharing your concerns and questions. This is a messy, sticky, yucky, confusing, and altogether difficult topic for sure. My hope is that regardless of our theological and doctrinal differences believers (both sexual minorities and not) can find solace in Jesus. He tells us to seek, ask, and knock. We are told we don’t have wisdom because we don’t ask. We need God’s heart and mind to be shared with us and others (through his Word, through our experiences of the Holy Spirit, through our circumstances, and through our growing understanding of tradition and culture). So I pray for all of us as we struggle together through our messy spirituality (to use Mike Yaconelli’s term) that we petition and petition, and then keep on keeping on in our asking for said wisdom and discernment. Another prayer I have is that we do all we can to cling to the cross and redemption of Jesus and let go of everything else that binds us. I don’t have all the answers, and neither does anyone else on this earth for that matter. And I’m ok with that. I just pray that I do the best I can with what I’ve got to love Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God my Father with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. And then out of that learn to love myself well so that I can love others with the Grace that has been given to me.

        Many blessings to you…

  4. Great post Trista! Thanks for sharing your story and putting your heart on the line to help others!

    • Thanks, Laura. It’s very rewarding to share and be heard. I hope it does indeed help others. Many blessings on you this week.
      Keep on keeping on, my friend…

  5. I had no idea you were dealing with these issues on a personal level Dr. Carr, I hope you find your own personal answer that will sit well in your soul. I tried emailing you and left a message. I pray for you and wish the best.

  6. Thank you so much for recommending this article – it wrecked me in the very sense of the word and in the very best way possible. Still processing and am chewing on it, but wanted you to know how deeply I resonated with it and that I’m thankful for people like you who are helping so many of us on our own journeys of acceptance and peace with ourselves and others 🙂 You’re such a blessing!

    • Wendy, I am glad that this post touched you. I hope you are digesting it well. And thank you so much for your sweet & kind words of encouragement to me. You and your sweetheart were a blessing to me at the GCN conference. I am so glad you got to come and I had the pleasure of spending some time with you both. Keep on keeping on…

      Many blessings…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s