Why I Am An Ally

i am an ally

A short time ago, I was asked if I would be an “affirming therapist.” By saying yes, I was indicating that I would provide therapy for a same sex couple without trying to talk them out of their relationship. By saying yes, I was saying that I would focus my therapy on the client rather than on any particular goal I might have in mind.

And by saying yes, I was indicating that I was privileging my relationship with my clients above any conviction/belief/opinion I may hold.

For one assignment in a cultural diversity class, I was asked to wear a rainbow pin for one week. The rainbow pin signifies support of the LGBTQQIA* community (more commonly referred to as LGBT). Our professor wanted us to wear the pin in the different contexts we experienced on a weekly basis and write about the reaction/response we received. The professor told us not to put ourselves in a negative situation (i.e. it was not necessary to get fired for wearing the pin).

My boss at the time asked me not to wear the pin while at work; not because of their own personal convictions, but because they did not know how their superiors would respond to it. I complied with my boss without argument. It was not my place to put them in a bad spot for the sake of an assignment.

And by complying, I was indicating that I was privileging my relationship with my boss and co-workers above any conviction/belief/opinion I may hold.

Conversations surrounding same sex issues are often heated. So heated, in fact, that most conversations are not “dialogue;” instead, they are occasions for two parties to yell at each other and hope they win the argument by sheer volume. My guess is each generation has their “issue,” and for some reason, same sex attraction is going to be the issue for this one.

I have never experienced same sex attraction. I have never experienced the exclusion and isolation that many have. But my heart hurts for people who struggle to find their identity and place in this world. I hate to see people lose every close relationship they have as they try to live true to who they are; as they try to find out who they are and who they have been called to be. I want to walk alongside them.

So I define myself as an ally. Why?

1. Behind every label or definition there is a person. Do you know how many genders there are? Do you know how many different manifestations of sex there are? Do you know the difference between gender and sex? Did you know what all the letters LGBTQQIA stood for without looking at the footnote? Are you aware of the two or three initials I left off and what they stand for?

One more question: does any of it matter? Yes. And no. Yes, it matters because we need to know that when we talk about same sex attraction we are talking about a lot more than we think we are. We need to be informed and educated and aware.

But the reason the answer can be no is that we get so wrapped up in definitions and labels that we forget we are talking about people. Someone’s child. Someone’s sibling. A living, breathing, feeling person. When we spend so much time defining we often end up manipulating and exploiting people for our own gain, whatever side of the issue we fall on.

I am an ally because there are people who have been hurt and cast aside and they need to know there are people who will love them and walk with them.

2. Orientation is not the same as behavior. This is an issue that many people (especially Christian people) struggle with. Orientation (and for the matter attraction) is not behavior. There are many people who experience same sex attraction who not only choose to act on it, but they also believe it is sinful. In other words, they keep with the traditional teaching of the Church. Experiencing same sex orientation, or opposite sex orientation for that matter, does not mean one is participating in sexual activity.

When so much vitriol is expressed about same sex orientation, we are alienating people who need companions on their journey. There are people who need to talk and share and reach out for help, but they are afraid to because they have read people’s facebook feeds and twitter posts. They have seen the bumper stickers and the posters. They have heard the hatred. They need to know there are people who love and will listen.

3. We are called to love all God’s children. Jesus touched lepers. Jesus befriended prostitutes. Jesus told a woman caught “in the very act of adultery” that He did not condemn her. From the beginning of God’s conversations with His people, those who were widows, orphans, immigrants, or poor (in other words, those who were outcasts) were to be treated with special care and honor.

Two things about that: first, it obviously means we need to reach out to and love on those who are put down by their families, communities, and even themselves.

Second, we should stop viewing same sex behavior as equivalent to leprosy. Again, by doing so we are alienating those we need to be reaching out to. We are shutting doors instead of opening them.

And we cannot love those we refuse to invite.

4. “There is no difference.” This is a quote from Romans 3:22. Paul says there is no difference as we come before God. All of us are in need of God’s grace. One travesty of the way people with same sex attraction are treated in our churches is that we have elevated it above all other sins and struggles people face. But there is not a person in any church who is not currently dealing with (or has overcome) some type of struggle. Shutting our doors and turning a cold shoulder to people we have defined as a certain kind of sinner makes us exactly the same as the religious people Jesus railed against during His ministry. It makes us exactly the same as Peter when Paul rebuked him for failing to eat with Gentile Christians. There is no difference: I am in as much need of God’s grace as you are.

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I have intentionally not addressed my theological views on the matter of same sex attraction, although my desire to be an ally is definitely informed by my theology. Perhaps I will do that in a future post. But the reason I have shared why I am an ally before sharing my theology is this:

I am privileging my love for and relationship with children of God who experience same sex attraction over any conviction/belief/opinion I may hold.

*Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning, Ally

My Name Is Paul And I’m An Alcoholic, Step 6

One Thursday each month I will share a post on one of the 12 Steps. This month is Step 6. Here are the others: Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, Step 4, Step 5. Recovery is an area of life that 12 Step groups have done amazing work with, yet many churches (and other community groups) struggle with what to do. My hope is that this series will help those who are not in recovery learn more about their friends and family members who are in recovery. I welcome any feedback, questions, and concerns you may have!

“Were entirely willing to have God remove all these defects of character.” (Step 6)

“When men and women pour so much alcohol into themselves that they destroy their lives, they commit a most unnatural act. Defying their instinctive desire for self-preservation, they seem bent upon self-destruction. They work against their own deepest instinct. As they are humbled by the terrific beating administered by alcohol, the grace of God can enter them and expel their obsession. Here their powerful instinct to live can cooperate fully with their Creator’s desire to give them new life. For nature and God alike abhor suicide” (Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 64).

A clergyman friend of Bill Wilson once said that Step 6 separates the men/women from the boys/girls. Why is that? Up to this point in the process, the recovering addict has admitted the addiction, reconnected with God, practiced extreme self-reflection, and confessed their wrongdoings to God and another person.

So what could possibly be so profound about becoming “entirely willing”? For the clergyman, it was precisely that: willingness. As the alcoholic learns through the process of the 12 Steps, the alcohol is only a symptom of a greater problem. An alcoholic without alcohol still has a long way to go in recovery.

As Wilson states in the above quote, the alcoholic’s life is quite an oxymoron: the addict wants to live a long and healthy life, but because something is lacking they turn to alcohol and instead start to destroy that life. Once the alcohol is removed, God can enter. Once God enters, the desire to live a healthy life can partner with God instead of alcohol.

But to live a healthy, prosperous, mature life one must be rid of all those character defects that led to addiction in the first place. This is where that separation comes in: putting down the drug of one’s addiction is only part of the recovery process. Those who can venture forth and become entirely willing to have God change their lives are the ones who will be more likely to enjoy long-term sobriety.

So what does all this mean for friends, family, and spiritual communities? How can they help recovering addicts at this point in the recovery process?

First, remember that the drug or the alcohol or the obsession is not the only thing the addict is recovering from. It is easy to pigeonhole people into certain categories. We think the alcoholic just needs to get rid of alcohol in order to be well. This is rarely true. We do recovering addicts a great disservice when we walk away from them saying, “They have given up their drug; they are good to go!” Those in recovery are in great need of support long after the obsession to use is gone.

Second, for many recovering addicts the process of asking God to remove character defects is harder than asking God to take the drug away. As I mentioned, drinking or drugging is just a symptom of a greater problem. Once I quit drinking, my struggles with manipulating others and dishonesty became much more apparent. And just like I justified my drinking (“it’s not that big a deal”), I justified my lying (“I am only protecting others”). Just as I learned I could no longer come up with excuses to drink, I also learned that I could no longer come up with excuses to be dishonest with others. I cannot tell you which process was more difficult. But I can assure you my process of recovery did not stop once I quit ingesting alcohol. My process of recovery had only just begun.

Third, acknowledge the common experience we share as humans and as Christ-followers. If churches are going to do a better job helping recovering addicts, we are all going to need to do a better job realizing how much community support we all need to overcome our struggles and temptations. We are all going to need to a better job admitting just how tightly we cling to some of our character defects. If you have ever said, “That’s just the way I am,” you have experienced the struggle of the recovering alcoholic. Let us not allow one another to get away with that any more. Let us all work together to become the people God has called us to be. And let us do it together.

 

Follow-up: #nomoreporn

I need your help.

On Monday, I shared this post about what I need to do to stop porn. I ask that you it, comment on it, and share it. Let’s get this conversation going among as many people as possible. Let’s be as loud as we can about the destructive nature of pornography. Let’s brainstorm and implement ideas that can bring about the end.

Let’s even start a hashtag movement: #nomoreporn

#nomoreporn:

  • Because our daughters and sons are more than their private parts.
  • Because sexuality is beautiful when shared appropriately.
  • Because kids are becoming addicted at younger and younger ages.
  • Because you are beautiful the way you are.
  • Because I value your humanity.
  • Because I do not want young women trafficked in this country anymore.

What else can you add?

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After sharing my post on Monday, a friend shared a story with me: there is a woman whose partner wants them to watch porn together. She does because she thinks that’s what she needs to do to be a good spouse. She cries most of the time because she knows she cannot live up to the images and activities portrayed on the screen.

And that is one of the dangers of pornography: it cannot deliver what it promises. Porn is to sexual intimacy what the WWE is to athletics. It is fake. It is contrived. It is nothing more than actors being told what to do.

If we are going to help bring an end to the destruction the porn industry wreaks on our culture, we must start talking about it. Parents, we need to be talking to our kids. We need to be talking about sexuality in healthy and appropriate ways.

It’s embarrassing.

It’s uncomfortable.

It’s necessary.

These are conversations we need to have. We need to be sharing stories with one another: stories of struggle and redemption. Stories of purity and triumph. Stories of temptation and turning to spiritual guides for help. Stories of our own journeys through adolescence.

Are you willing to take part in bringing an end to porn? Are you willing to do what is necessary to limit the access your children may have—even if it is no more than having conversation? Are you willing to share your story? Are you willing to encourage those who do?

We can end it. But we need each other’s help.

Please share this post, and the previous post, and share your ideas, your triumphs, your hashtag. It’s a movement: #nomoreporn

No More Porn

Let me start by saying I was recently guilty of the behavior I am going to address in this post. More on that later.

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Several months ago, I attended a Man Retreat. It was a weekend devoted to answering the question, “What does it mean to be a man of God?” I was one of a handful of adult chaperones (which, in hindsight, sounds kind of ridiculous!). Although I have written about that weekend before, I want to bring up one of the topics that was discussed once again.

It is time to say, “No more porn.” As we had times of open discussion, the young men in my group talked about how much they hate pornography—the entire industry. Yes! 14-18 year old young men HATE what pornography is doing. They hate the accessibility. They hate the prevalence. They hate how it objectifies women. They hate to think that one day one of their sisters, or cousins, or aunts, or mothers could be involved. They hate that their friends talk about such things as “car porn” or “food porn.”

I walked away from that weekend convinced that this current generation of adolescents will be the group that brings an end to pornography as we know it.

“That’s a bold statement,” you might say. Or you might tell me, “That’s an awfully small sample size to base such a claim on.” And perhaps you would be right.

But I will stand by it. And if I am going to stand by it, I need to act on it. So how can I do that?

First, I need to say, “No more porn.” Sure, I can point to the fact that there are no dirty magazines or movies in my house. But I need to ask if my children see in my everyday actions that I truly hate the way pornography objectifies people. Do I make inappropriate comments when certain actors or actresses are on the screen? Do I watch movies that do not fit the industry’s definition of “porn,” yet would still embarrass me to watch if my parents, or my pastor, or my Savior were present? Am I calling out the destructive portrayal of women that my children witness in the shows they watch? Am I searching out stories that show the value of a person based on who they are, not what they do with their private parts?

Second, I need to stop saying the word “porn” as if it is a neutral word. Calling things “porn” only serves to de-sensitize us to the damaging nature of pornography. Looking at amazing cars is not “car porn.” If I happen to drool over pictures of desserts, I should not call it “food porn.” When we do that, we make it sound like pornography is nothing more than a joke, a humorous yet facile way to describe something. (Huffington Post, I’m looking at you.) But that is wrong. Pornography is destructive. Pornography kills relationships. Did you know that there is now something called “Pornography-induced erectile dysfunction”? And did you know it is occurring in men in their 20s? Stop using the word as if it is little more than a punchline.

Third, I need to stop excusing porn. Every time someone says, “It objectifies men, too,” or “It’s their own choice to be in those movies,” or, “Hey, it’s just a way to make a living,” we are saying we don’t care that women are trafficked and treated as sex slaves so that a few people can get rich off of destroying numerous lives to provide a quick release. Girls are lured into the industry with promises of acting roles and are treated like prostitutes with the movie producers being the pimps. They are used and dumped when they no longer generate revenue. And yes, pornography objectifies both men and women and serves to subjugate sexuality to nothing more than a quick fix. But I cannot minimize the damage the porn industry does to women by saying, “It hurts men, too.” Because when I say that, what I’m really saying is, “Leave my secret sin alone because if you dig any deeper, I’m going to have to come clean.” Instead, say something like, “Yes, this industry is destroying our young women and men and it must be stopped.”

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I said I messed up recently. A friend of mine posted a funny question on facebook about movie titles that could double as porn titles. I read all the comments. I laughed. I even added one of my own.

And then I remembered a small group of high school men I spent time with a few months ago. They had said, “We need to stop laughing about pornography.” THEY said it. Not me. Not the other adult small group leader. The young men. The teenagers. The highschoolers. The ones so overcome with hormones right now they can barely see straight.

Their words convicted me. So I deleted my comment. I didn’t read anyone else’s comment. And let me say that I am not angry with my friend who posted the question. Because he just did what a lot of us do. He is not a mean-spirited person. He is not someone who contributes to the defamation of women. He is a great husband and father. He just asked a question similar to questions I have asked in the past.

Too often, I have treated pornography as a joke. I have pretended that since I am not in the industry I have no responsibility for the damage that is done. And that is wrong.

So I want to change that. I want to say loudly: NO. MORE. PORN.

It ends now.

I will remove the word from my vocabulary, unless I use the word to call it out for the destructive evil that it is.

I will not let it be treated as a joke.

I will not remain silent in the face of mistreatment of women or the misrepresentation of sexuality.

I will allow the words of teenagers to convict me when I am wrong.

I will not let people tell me that young people don’t realize what is going on or that they don’t care.

I will encourage young women and men to appreciate who they are.

I will pray that young women and men have the courage that I so often lack.

We can stop it. We must stop it.

NO. MORE. PORN.