The Gift That Comes with the Need
I have received a gift of faith in Christ, and a gift of being a sexual adult male. For those like myself who can find they are sexually attracted to their own gender, navigating the water where religious and sexual conviction meet can be quite tricky. So I was honored to be included in the dialogue that ESA set up around this difficult confluence that few Christians seem willing to chart.
It was a cordial conversation where I believe we each felt we were given the space to share our journey without the concern that someone would belittle our view or critique our choices. I personally came away with a clearer understanding of how I approach my own sexuality, clarified in the light of how others approach theirs.
I was struck in our dialogue that sexual sins get a lot of airtime in our churches. Those we may judge as having aberrant sexual behaviors are seen as exceptionally sinful compared to others. And yet Jesus targeted the Pharisees and their hypocrisy more than anyone else he addressed. A more Christ-like approach seems to be to walk with individuals in their pain and sexual brokenness, gaining understanding in the matter, holding them, and committing for the long haul, rather than wagging fingers.
In the midst of struggling with my need to connect deeply with other men, I often wondered if I should try to either pray the need away or embrace it as a sexual desire. But both those conclusions threaten to eclipse the gift that comes with the need—the human gift of being created for intimate connection with others. Yes, that connection can be expressed sexually, but that is only one way and, as Jesus points out, the greatest expression of love is not sex but self-sacrifice for the other: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends."
My own story involves coming to understand, through trials and tears, that my sexual desires for my own gender are, at their core, not about sex. They are about meeting childhood needs that were never met. It turned out that my same-sex needs were brotherly rather than sexual, and I would never discover who I was as a man by having sex with my gender-mates. It's hard and ongoing work, but when I allowed myself to face the horrible messages I received growing up with a negligent father and to simply fall weeping in the arms of a loving brother who stood in for my father, it was beautiful, as is being released from the tyranny of sexualizing that impulse.
But I get why so many people end up embracing a gay identity and having sex with their gender-mates. Little is offered by the church in the way of shame-free nonsexual touch and support, and who wants to spend their life alone or without sex? It's a double bind with no good solution in a cultural climate that's toxic.
But I can't deny that I've felt my sexual urges for men go completely away. Have I found that if I'm hungry, angry, lonely, or tired my sexual impulses for men can come back? Certainly, but I also know that the dog I feed is the one that grows the strongest.
God has challenged me to seek covenants and community using a bigger framework, one that moves beyond a sexual relationship. I feel that most Christians are stupid in regards to loving and walking with those who struggle with being sexually attracted to their own gender. One Christian camp says, "Come back when you're better." The other camp says, "Find a lover and settle down." I believe neither is helpful.
While the experiences and approaches to dealing with same-sex desires varied greatly within our dialogue, I found it refreshing that in our discussions we often came back to the deep need we all have for community. What does that kind of community look like? It's a core group of people who understand you, your angels, and your demons and choose to walk with you for the long haul. Specifically for those of us who can find ourselves sexualizing our own gender, finding those long-term compatriots can be difficult work. I know I had fear that the very nature of the struggle was going to push away those I needed the most. But such people do exist, and those relationships have been life-giving.
It is my hope that dialogues like Oriented to Love can be part of a movement to create a body of Christians who are willing to be a refuge and shelter for those who struggle with their sexual identity. The first step is simply to begin walking with someone who is on that journey.
Something that came up in conversation that was helpful for me to see firsthand was that kind and sensitive Christians will choose to self-identify as "gay" or other such titles. I say that this was constructive for me, because my own journey has been in many ways to push against the 20th-century fad of creating and using the title "gay" to group a largely incongruous bunch of people together. But I saw in some of these men and women that taking on the title of gay, queer, or LG BT finally gave them peace and a place, a community to be a part of. That gave me pause. Why have we not grafted such beautiful people into our families and faith and called them our own?
Tim Timmerman is a visual artist and professor of art at George Fox University in Newberg, Oreg., and the author of A Bigger World Yet: Faith, Brotherhood, and Same-Sex Needs.