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.

15 comments:

Eddie said...

Hi Jay,
Wonderful post!! In my opinion, if that professor is a Christian, he's heading for trouble, as in Ann Coulter. I'm a Christian, and I'd hate to come across to people piously. It's not of God. Swerving in another direction, it's not that God doesn't want to bless us, but what is it that we expect from God? Unfortunately, there are all kinds of movements in the church, as you've said, that Christians should all be healthy, wealthy (monetarily) and happy, happy, happy. Jesus had his times of suffering, terrible suffering. What makes "the church" think we humans should be spoiled on easy street? Isn't salvation enough?

Jeff S. said...

Jay, agree 100%. I still sometimes grieve the loss of relationship with two particular men that I cherished. Even though we crossed intimate boundaries that negatively impacted what was a good friendship to start with, we had something good, and it hurt when I made the decision on faith to leave the relationships. It has been difficult to find the same level of caring among many Christian men that I have known since, although I did eventually find some.

You express yourself so well, Jay. I commend you for speaking up with your professor.

RikFleming said...

Bro,

In humility listen to the professor again. He/she may have had a point that you are missing.

I'll give you an example, you said in closing "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."

I wholeheartedly disagree. Even if our life entails nothing but constant suffering for the sake of Christ, it is a "better one." If you read through the Book of Acts you'll find the apostles rejoicing for being found worthy to suffer for the name of Christ. From a worldly perspective, that is absolutely insane. From from a heavenly and eternal perspective, to live in constant suffering for Christ is better in the here and now than to live like Donald Trump.

One thing that we must be careful of, is to be nostalgic about past sinful relationships as if to have lingering sentimental feelings of them and try to see them as anything BUT a total rebellion against a Holy God.

On te other hand, in regards to caring for one another - yes, things such as visiting a person when they are sick and so forth, even if the relationship is gay, is an act of love. And THAT should not be discounted, which I think was your main point, right?

Jay said...

Eddie and Jeff: Thanks for the comments!

Rik: Trust me, I know this professor, and I also know the full context of the conversation (which I wish I could have quoted, but like I said, the thread was deleted).

When he said "better life," he didn't mean it in the way that you mean it. He meant it in the Joel Osteen "Your Best Life Now" kind of way. Obviously, following God's commandments is always going to be "better" in the sense that God is holy and thus His commandments are holy. What he meant was that following God's commandments will make one objectively happier, healthier, and more emotionally fulfilled. I really doubt you'd disagree with me when I say that's a bunch of bologna.

And yes, my main point was that I see the sexual intimacy as an act of rebellion, but I do genuinely miss the close companionship that, unfortunately, only really comes with romantic relationships nowadays in our culture (even though I don't believe it has to). I also reject the notion from Christians that gay couples don't have genuine feelings of love for one another. No one says that non-believing couples don't, so why make that extension towards gays?

Sweeney said...

A sacrifice is a good thing and there is nothing wrong with calling something what it is.A sacrifice is something that is done out of love. I am reminded of a story in the bible, I can't remember where it is or who is in it. But its the one where a man wanted to follow Jesus, but he ask Jesus if he could wait a day so he could go bury a family member that had just died. Jesus replied "let the dead bury the dead" and told the man to follow Him. I think giving up the oppertunity to bury a loved to follow Jesus is a pretty big sacrifice and shows how willing the guy was to follow Jesus.

As for the friendship thing among gay guys, I, like you, don't believe that homosexual sex is right, but as guys who struggle with SSA, we have an oppertunity to form the closest friendships ever, because we understand each other. Its an amazing thing. I can say from personal experience.

I may be going out on a limb by saying this, but the friendships between two men who struggle with SSA and are really trying to glorify the Lord, their friendship is very similar to the one Jesus wants to have with us. Jesus loves us so much. Its harder for strait guys to develope close relationships like men who struggle with SSA do.

Joshua Cookingham said...

Interesting...but a lot of what you say is ture. Too often we attribute suffering to 'sin'. I agree that love can exist between gay couples, but it's not the same as God's love, that is, it's not complete. technically, I can love just about anything, but if it's outside of God's framework, it's not the same.
In any event, congrats for sticking it to the "prosperity Pastor" are you sure you're really having issues with Calvinism? lol.
God bless Jay.

MR said...

We can be "sorrowful yet rejoicing" as Scripture says. When we have God's Promise of eternal, perfect joy we can endure pain on earth and yet be happy in Him. That is a miracle, but God performs it in some of the most difficult circumstances.

I love what John Piper said:

"Which is the greater miracle? A) Singing at midnight after being beaten? Or B) an earthquake opening the prison? A any day."

A. Friend said...

It's hard to try to convince people who are the epitome of existence--White picket fence Christians--that anyone who is not like them is not "under a curse".

In other words, when you're so normal you can be tempted to think that "God is just like me".

You see this narcissism often in talk about how Jesus was a tough carpenter who used to wrestle in the streets.
In other words "Jesus looks as close as possible to how I look".

All that to say that of course he has no empathy. He's straight, Christian and he's "right" and you're a "pervert"--end of story.

Semper Certatio said...

Jay,
I thoroughly appreciated your post. A sacrifice is just that- a sacrifice. It is giving up something that you delight in so as to please or placate God. If it means nothing to you, then it isn't really a sacrifice. As for the prof's "better way to live" crap, its just that- crap. I would encourage him to read 1 Peter and 2 Timothy. Peter and Paul both recognized that the Christian life is not an easy one, that it is extremely difficult and painful. To say that difficulty, lament, pain, suffering, etc., is a sign of weakness of Christian walk, witness, or testimony is to contradict scripture.
-SemperCertatio

Brandon said...

I think you're right, Jay, and I thank you for writing this and having expressed these ideas to your professor friend.

aujaharris said...

Hi Jay,

I am not sure why I am even writing this because I already know where you stand with respect to sex between people of the same sex.

I hope I have communicated to you that I respect your decision to be celibate but as someone who is in a committed CHRISTIAN long term relationship with another man..every time I read one of your posts when you talk about being single and celibate it absolutely breaks my heart. I know that we can all develop non sexual close friendships with people but it is NOT the same thing.

You seem like such a bright, caring young man who would have so much to offer another guy. I guess

I just think you deserve be loved and to love. I completely respect your descision to do this because of your beliefs and quite honestly I don't believe relationships are for everyone BUT this voluntary effort to choose this for yourself just makes me so sad for you.

As I have always said to you I wish you the very best and will continue to pray with you. *sigh"

Peace, Jack

Jay said...

Jack: You certainly have communicated that you respect my decisions, and I hope I've communicated that I respect yours. We all should have the freedom to live our lives as we see fit. So no worries, there.

I just think you deserve be loved and to love.

And I plan to. Despite all the difficulties, in many ways I'm excited to be able to love more people, and love them in different ways, than those of us who get married or form lifelong partnerships. If you're going to feel sad for someone, don't feel sad for me. There is plenty of love here and in my life and it is deep and abiding. Just because it doesn't look like the kind of love you have doesn't mean its of lesser quality.

Thank you.

aujaharris said...

Jay,

Don't worry I will not feel sorry for you I was just reflecting on some of the things you have said in your blog posts --I wish you the very best.

Jack

Brady said...

Jay- if I was your friend on facebook and you posted this, I'd do the little "Brady likes this" thing. ;-) Great post.

I also think Sweeney makes a good point about Sacrifice not necessarily being a bad thing. Jesus knew people would be sacrificing to follow him. If he never used the word, he heavily implied it. The road to heaven is a hard one because of sacrifice, but that doesn't mean it's a bad thing.

Dave said...

Hi Jay -

I hardly ever blog, but ran across yours from the EGW website. I just really respect you and your position, and am grateful for your deeply thoughtful comments online. I hope to keep up more with your journey, as it may help me in my own. Below is a link to an article you may or may not have read entitled "Awaiting the Redemption of our Bodies." I thought if you hadn't read it, you might appreciate it.

Peace,
David

http://www.presbyterymiddletennessee.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/hays-article.pdf