Wednesday, July 01, 2009

A Better Way To Live

I often find myself engaged in online debates and squabbles of various kinds, even though I should be studying diligently for my two literature-intensive summer courses, preparing my various graduate school applications, and taking care of various administrative errands that will make the end-of-summer checkout process a lot easier on both myself and my residents. I had one such debate recently with a conservative professor at my university. He's somewhat notorious on campus because he is essentially my college's version of Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity. He has a wide variety of Facebook friends: students, members of the community, and fans from around the country. I happen to be one of his friends. Because of the political nature of his status updates and notes, debates often spring up on his wall a lot.

One recent argument touched upon a subject relating to GLBT individuals. Often times when these kinds of debates pop up, I bring up my personal story in the briefest terms possible, just to give a little bit of background to go along with my views. Perhaps that is proud or irrelevant, but I do think that experience does help the authenticity of an argument. In the most recent debate, I used the term "personal sacrifice" when referencing the fact that I had given up romantic relationships for my faith. The professor replied with a hint of contempt, saying that following God's commandments shouldn't be viewed as sacrifice. I conceded that point. "Sacrifice" wasn't the right term. What I meant to say was that I have gone through a lot of loneliness, heartache, ostracism, and struggle that I wouldn't have to deal with if I was actively gay, instead of celibate.

Apparently even that didn't really fly with the professor, who said that "God's commandments show us a better way to live," and that if I was mourning the loss of past relationships, then I wasn't "getting it." I'd quote his comments in full, but our debate thread was deleted from his Facebook wall for some reason, so I can only paraphrase. To me, that sounded like outright prosperity Gospel, something I don't appreciate at all. I've always been under the impression that God's commandments reveal His holiness. To say that their purpose is to show us how to live a "better life" misses the point a bit. It also has other drawbacks, such as bringing up the notion that sinners suffer while the righteous prosper.

People who hold that kind of view bother me, because at best, it's inaccurate, and at worst, it gets in the way of ministry. If you go up to a non-believer and insist that, because they don't believe, that their lives are empty, their relationships are meaningless, and they aren't living the best life they could, then they're going to shut you down immediately. For one, you've assumed something about a person you don't know, which is never a good place to start a conversation. Secondly, you miss the point of the Gospel. It is not about how emotionally fulfilled we are or how happy we are in this lifetime. It's about how deeply depraved we are next to God's holiness and what Christ did to save us.

But even more specifically, that kind of comment ticks me off because it cheapens my experiences. It assumes that there is really nothing good about gay relationships. Yes, I personally believe that the sex is sinful, but that doesn't mean that the companionship, mutual care, and affection are meaningless. Heck, in some cases, those feelings can continue on even after same-sex partners decide to become chaste (as seen in this somewhat stereotypical but still moving Boston Globe article from a few years back). Love really does exist among gay people, and it would be wise for many Christians to understand that.

That kind of attitude also assumes that if a Christian is lonely or unhappy or suffering, then they're doing something wrong. They must not be keeping the commandments, because God's commandments are meant to help us live a better life! It's a modern version of the theology of Job's friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. This, of course, simply makes it harder for Christians who are having a hard time to get support. The fact of the matter is that sometimes being a celibate gay Christian does feel like a sacrifice, not only because one has given up something that others take for granted (romantic relationships), but because the marriage-centric church is not really good at being a place for singles, let alone GLBT ones.

Christ did indeed die to give us eternal life, but that doesn't mean that our life on this earth will necessarily be a better one. It will have a better purpose, and it will have hope beyond hope, but it might not necessarily have the trapping of earthly wealth, or even emotional fulfillment. The better a Christian realizes that, the better he or she can be there for and understand those who are hurting, whoever they may be.

No comments: