Asking Questions, Having Conversations

The following is a post I wrote for CenterPeace: providing safe spaces for men and women who experience same-sex attraction. For years, CenterPeace and their director, Sally Gary, have been striving to help create and increase conversations. I was honored to write this piece and am glad to share it here on my blog, as well. I would encourage you to check out CenterPeace’s website and blog.

(My post is one of series of posts written by fathers. Beginning today (Monday), Sally will also be sharing guest posts written by mothers.)

Continuing with our guest series from fathers of LGBTQ daughters and sons on Fridays, here’s a post from my friend, Paul Mathis.

Sometimes, I say the dumbest things. (According to my children, this only seems to be heightened as they grow older.)

I like to think I am a kind person; a thoughtful person; a caring person; a smart person. I know that I truly do want to be supportive and encouraging. But sometimes, in my quest to speak words of kindness, I mess up and say something that just sounds awful.

Have you ever read those posts on social media? Something like “Ten things never to say to a foster family,” or “Never say this to someone whose family member is deployed.” I read those and realize that I have said virtually all of them. Always with the best intentions. Always because I truly do care. But sometimes, I just don’t have the right vocabulary to speak into certain situations.

So when my son came to me several years ago and said he was bisexual (and later he would tell me he was gay), I did not know what to say. I came up with some non-committal response that ended with me telling him I loved him.

There is so much I wish I knew at that point. I had been raised in a traditional, conservative denomination that taught homosexuality was a sin. Although I never participated in any boycotts, I was quick to put down Disney and other media companies for their “liberal, homosexual agenda.”

Yet through all of that, I had several friends who were a part of the LGBTQ community. They welcomed me and I welcomed them. We spoke freely and openly. I can truly say I loved counting them among my friends.

But there were so many times that I would either say the wrong thing thinking I was being funny or supportive; or I would just not say anything at all because I was afraid anything would be the wrong thing.

One thing I never did: reach out to someone who could help me have these conversations. However, that was not just because of my fear; I did not know anyone with whom I could have those discussions.

My son approaching me made me so aware of my perceived inability to have these conversations. I did not know what to say. I was afraid to say anything wrong so I defaulted to saying nothing at all. I was woefully unprepared.

I wish I could go back and tell my past self that I was not unprepared. I loved my son. I still do. And it was okay for me to tell him that I was confused, uncertain, scared, and whatever else. It was okay for me to say that because I could also say without hesitation that I loved him. I loved his siblings, as well, unconditionally. I repeated that as often as I could.

I wish I could go back and tell myself that it is okay to question what I had been taught and to be okay with not having an answer. I wish I could tell myself to continue on the journey. I wish I could tell myself that I did not need to feel alone on the journey.

Here is what I cannot do: go back in time. Here is what I did do: reach out to Sally Gary and ask if I could have a conversation.

I remember well the day I texted Sally and asked if I could talk to her and say things that might make me sound ignorant and hateful. I just did not have the language I needed to have a conversation about sexual identity and orientation with my son.

Sally was welcoming. She was patient. She was kind. She was loving.

In the ensuing six years, my relationship with my son has grown closer. More than anything else, Sally taught me that I actually was prepared to have this conversation with my son because I loved him. Sally has taught countless people that conversations based in love are such a vital piece of building and maintaining relationships.

Here is what I continue to do: encourage every parent who has a question to make use of CenterPeace and all its resources. First and foremost, love your children. Second, know you are not alone. Third, continue engaging in conversation based in love and covered in prayer.

Sometimes, I say the dumbest things. But sometimes, my child hears me and knows he is loved.

I am grateful for CenterPeace and Sally and the conversations that have started because of this ministry. I am grateful for the visible support Sally has been to countless others. So when she lost her hair due to her chemo treatments I wanted to do something as a visible sign of support. My shaved head has inspired many questions. Each time I answer, I get to talk about Sally and CenterPeace!

Being Equipped, Encouraged, and Empowered at the Intersection of Faith and Sexuality

This post was shared on CenterPeace’s blog last week. I am grateful for our family’s opportunity to participate in this event. 

One weekend in October, many people are going to gather and discuss issues surrounding faith and sexuality. CenterPeace is hosting the e3 Conference (equipped, encouraged, and empowered) from October 27-29 at the Highland Oaks Church of Christ in Dallas, TX. Many Christian scholars from across the country will join families to share stories and information and discuss how to hold conversations about faith, same-sex attraction, and gender identity in loving, Christian ways.

I am excited about this conference for many reasons. As a Christian and student of the Bible, I truly am seeking to increase my knowledge in areas of interpretation and application. I have questions that I thought I always knew the answer to, and maybe I did. But I mostly just accepted what was said to me without genuine, honest searching.

As a recovering alcoholic, I have experienced many preconceived ideas about addiction and recovery—many of them negative. Through conversations and spending time with people, I have been able to teach people that the experience of an alcoholic in recovery is not what they thought. This same lesson has applied to me as I have had the opportunity to talk to Christians who are attracted to members the same sex or who do not identify with their gender the same way I do. I have learned that many of my preconceived ideas were wrong—and often negative. I have learned to love and have conversations; with the purpose of that dialogue being to learn and become shaped more in the image of Christ.

As a parent, I have wrestled with what it means to have a child acknowledge his own same sex attraction. I have learned the blessing of having people with whom to hold conversations. I have had a lot of questions. I was blessed to have people and resources close by. I know that many parents either do not have or are not aware of the resources available to them.

The e3 Conference can be a great step in the journey for parents, siblings, children, or friends who love someone who experiences same sex attraction or has questions about their gender identity.

If you have questions about the intersection of faith and sexuality, this is the conference you need to attend. Come and find conversation partners. Come and ask questions. Come and learn about resources.

Come and be surrounded by the love and peace of Jesus.

Talking About Same-Sex Attraction (A Book Review)

On the second Thursday of each month, I would like to share my thoughts about some of the books I have read recently that have impacted my life in meaningful ways. This week’s book is actually two books!  Torn by Justin Lee and Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill are essential reading for every Christian who knows someone who experiences same-sex attraction. These books can also help non-Christians understand the different viewpoints Christians have. You can purchase them here:

http://www.amazon.com/Torn-Rescuing-Gospel-Gays-vs-Christians-Debate-ebook/dp/B0076DFG5S

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0310330033/ref=pd_lpo_sbs_dp_ss_3?pf_rd_p=1535523722&pf_rd_s=lpo-top-stripe-1&pf_rd_t=201&pf_rd_i=1455514306&pf_rd_m=ATVPDKIKX0DER&pf_rd_r=1WRTX7H0HVYJW9ZRJJFJ

One of the most volatile issues facing the church today is same-sex attraction. When the topic comes up, walls go up almost as quickly. People who hold to the traditional understanding of the Bible and teaching of the church are adamant that homosexuality is a sin that must be purged from the church and from society. On the other side are people who think we should accept all people regardless of sexual preferences because the Bible is an outdated document and we know more now about biology than we did then.

People on either side often are intolerant; not only of people on the other side, but also of people who find themselves somewhere between these two extremes. However, the middle is where the majority of people reside (my opinion). And it is from this position of being in the middle that leads to so much doubt and confusion, especially for people in the church: how do we respond to people whose orientation is such that we have been taught they are sinful? How do maintain our scriptural integrity while still following the command to love others?

What’s more, this is a huge issue for straight people in the church. But what about for Christian men and women who experience same-sex attraction? How difficult is this journey for them? That is where these two books come. I highly recommend both Torn and Washed and Waiting. Both are personal memoirs the authors share; Torn is written more like a “traditional” book (beginning, middle, end) while Washed and Waiting is a little more choppy (though still put together in an excellent manner).

There are three lessons from each book that are vital for all Christians to acknowledge as we learn how to better interact with our brothers and sisters experiencing same-sex attraction:

  1. Orientation is not a choice.

This is huge. Orientation is NOT behavior. Both Lee and Hill share their journeys and pour out their hearts about nights spent in prayerful yearning for God to change what they felt, who they were attracted to, and how their lives were to be lived.

Hill describes it this way: “There was a time in my struggle with homosexuality when I felt that the world was caving in on me.” He goes on to say he sometimes felt as if his struggle was a “mindless, unobserved string of random disappointments.”

Lee says this: “It was, I thought, the worst secret in the world. It was the deepest, darkest secret I could ever imagine having, one that I could never tell anyone, not even my parents or best friends. It was the secret I would take to the grave…. I waited patiently to grow out of this phase.”

Both authors talk about sleepless nights, tears shed, prayers uttered, and a search for someone-anyone-they could share their struggle with. Reading both of their stories illustrates how their orientation is anything but a choice.

This is a difficult concept for many in the church to grasp. Orientation and behavior are not the same thing. The Bible says absolutely nothing about orientation, although it does address behavior.

Lee expresses in his book how he heard a lot about the church’s response to homosexuality, but he never actually knew anyone who was gay. I think that is indicative of the issue many Christians have today: we view same-attraction as an issue instead of viewing the people that are affected.

  1. Sharing one’s story is powerful.

The best part of both books is the vulnerability shared by both authors. I am a huge fan of sharing one’s story. I believe confession within community is sorely lacking in our churches. I believe that with too many issues we have dehumanized the topic and argued about who was right instead of making sure people were loved.

Lee writes, “I believe our goal should be truth, not ideology, and that we must have the humility to admit that we still don’t have all the answers.” Hill explains how he learned from his friends that sharing his story with them made them realized they were loved.

We think we do not know people who are struggling with same-sex attraction. I suggest the issue is we have not been open to listening to people’s stories. Both of these authors are exhibiting bravery by talking about their same-sex attraction so openly and publicly.

  1. Not everyone agrees.

I suggest reading these two books together. Both are valuable stories. Both authors have websites that serve as great resources. Both authors talk plainly about how orientation is not a choice.

But there is one area which they fall on different sides: Justin Lee believes it is biblically acceptable for same-sex attracted people to enter into committed, monogamous relationships. Hill believes the Bible teaches same-sex behavior is always wrong; therefore individuals experiencing same-sex attraction must commit to a life of celibacy.

(Sarcasm alert.) How can two gay men disagree? Aren’t all people with same-sex attraction committed to some subversive agenda to make everyone accept their lifestyle?

In many churches, “homosexuals” have been lumped into one camp. And that camp is outside the walls of the church. What these two books illustrate is that there is no one “gay lifestyle.” Both men are intelligent. Both men are Godly. Both men are trying to live out their spiritual lives as God is leading them. Yet they disagree on this issue of same-sex behavior.

I encourage you to read both books and keep an open mind as you read each one. Neither comes across as trying to justify their position. Both have spent time in study and in community. Both have approached this prayerfully. They have set an example for how all Christians should approach this, or any, issue.

I cannot recommend these two books highly enough. I hope all of you will read them. If you have questions about this topic or these books, please reply to this post. Or email me privately. This is a conversation that we must have.

Justin Lee’s website: http://www.gaychristian.net/

Wesley Hill’s website: http://spiritualfriendship.org/