I admit that this is, indeed, a very long post, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. This is my report of the forum “Can you be Gay & Christian” and includes my thoughts and interpretations of the various statements and messages put forth there. I will also go on record publicly saying that I am ashamed that no gay or gay-friendly clergy found it wise enough to present the other side of this very important debate. To think that I was the only person there to speak against the messages taught is scary – especially considering that I hadn’t the time, the knowledge or the language to help any of the possible teens, young people or adults struggling with accepting themselves in their relationship with Christ and having to grow up in an environment that tells them they will never be quite good enough unless they change.
On Thursday, September 20, 2007, I was able to attend the “Can you be Gay & Christian” forum hosted by the Coalition of Conscience at the FIRE Church in Concord, NC. I posted about the forum first last month and then on Thursday (there is some good discussion on Thursday’s post).
The original intent of the forum, according to Coalition of Conscience director Dr. Michael Brown, was to have an open and honest dialogue between the Coalition of Conscience and members of the Charlotte-area gay & gay-friendly clergy.
Brown said he had invited members of the clergy from thirteen area churches – including the New Life Metropolitan Community Church, MCC of Charlotte, Myers Park Baptist Church, St. Martin’ & St. Peter’s Episcopal Churches, Holy Covenant UCC and Jay Bakker’s Revolution Church. Brown also said up to 500 personal invitations to the event were handed out at the Pride Charlotte festival at the end of August. He also noted that this was his third or fourth attempt at organizing a public discussion on issues of sexuality & Christianity with members of the Charlotte-area LGBT community.
Unfortunately, none of the invited gay or gay-friendly clergy or many (if any) of the LGBT community members showed up to the event. In fact, I did not meet even a single other openly gay (and self-affirming) person at the event other than my friend Shawn (who was nice enough to come with me to the event).
In a pre-event interview with Brown, he explained the purpose of the event.
“We want to open a door of grace to the gay & lesbian community. We are convinced from the Scriptures that Jesus is against homosexual practice. We are equally convinced that Jesus died for homosexual and heterosexual alike,” Brown said, “We know there is a lot of misunderstanding. We know that a lot of gays and lesbians have been driven out of churches as if homosexuality was the worst of all sins…. Just by saying, ‘Let’s talk about it,’ hopefully we can break a wall down there.”
At the beginning of the forum, however, Brown made his point very clear: One cannot be gay & Christian, or rather, one cannot be a self-affirming gay person and Christian:
“If you mean, can I be a devoted follower of Jesus while struggling with unwanted sexual desires, while saying I know these are wrong, I resist them, I don’t give into them, I do not practice homosexuality, I’m celibate and I’m abstaining from these things and my goal is to be pure in front of the Lord, but I’m still struggling with these things… Can you be gay and follow Jesus? In that sense, yes. And that’s the same as a heterosexual struggling with lust, desire, temptation outside of wedlock. However, if you mean can I practice homosexuality? Can I engage in romantic and same-sex relationships and does God endorse those things and can I be a follower of Jesus at the same time? The answer is absolutely, categorically no. The Scripture leaves no room to question that.”
Brown then went on to address the “Clobber Passages,” those passages of the Bible most often used to condemn homosexuality. Of course, Brown used his own interpretation of Creation, Leviticus, Romans and I Corinthians, without mentioning that many Biblical scholars throughout the entire world disagree with his interpretation (which is why it was so unfortunate that no gay or gay-friendly clergy showed up to make a presentation).
While Brown’s language was, indeed, couched in what one could certainly call “compassionate” language, it nonetheless left no room whatsoever for a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person to be both a devout follower of Christ and self-affirming. The language used, not only by Dr. Brown but by the other panelists as well, I found to be based entirely upon a common premise found in anti-gay theology: God does not love gay or lesbian people just as they are (I’ll expand upon this thought later, in my “Points I took concern with” section in this post – near the bottom).
Another member of the panel during the forum was Stephen Bennett, the leader of an ex-gay ministry. Bennett calls himself a “former homosexual” and gave his testimony during the forum. Relating his childhood of growing up with an alcoholic father, never fitting in at school, desiring the attention and approval of both his father and his fellow schoolmates, Bennett eventually made the case that a part of his “homosexual sin” was directly tied the love he never felt from his father.
At the end of his story, Bennett said that he was “looking for the love of his father in the arms of other men.”
During his very emotional testimony, Bennett related his “introduction to the Wonderful World of Homosexuality,” after he was dumped by the college school mate with whom he had his first gay relationship. Bennett related how he met with past school mates who were also gay.
“They introduced me to the gay bar scene and for the next eleven years my life was on a downward spiral as I got deeply involved in the homosexual lifestyle,” Bennett related.
He told of his heavy use of drugs and alcohol, promiscuity and one-night stands and his always unrequited searches for “Mr. Right.”
Finally, Bennett settled down into a happy relationship with another man, a relationship that lasted three years. According to Bennett, however, his happy life would turn to torment when an old friend visited him and spoke to him about the Bible and how she said it condemned homosexuality.
“Then she opened to Romans chapter one,” Bennett said, “And then she read to me the three things, ‘Stephen if you continue in this life’ – and I lost many friends to AIDS, I’ve buried numerous boyfriends in the ground who’ve died from AIDS and lost many dear friends. She said three things may happen. Number one, God may give you over to your sin. Number two, God may allow you to believe the lie and number three, he’ll make you a reprobate in his sight, meaning never have the chance to come back to the Lord… But that scared me so much, just like the Ethiopian eunuch I said, ‘What must I do to be saved?’
“Within two days I was out of my partner’s bed and in about two weeks or so on my way with my walk with Jesus Christ.”
Frank Turek, an apologist and professor at the FIRE School of Ministry was last to give his presentation, which consisted of “non-religious arguments” against the “validation” of same-sex relationships. For the most part, Turek’s presentation focused solely on marriage rights for same-sex couples and why the government shouldn’t endorse them.
Among Turek’s claims was that the “traditional family” is our “National Immune System” and that without traditional marriage, our nation and world society would be nothing. He also claimed that marriage for same-sex couples is about nothing more than recognition and acceptance, what he called “normalization and validation.”
Using taken-out-of-context quotes from gay leaders such as Andrew Sullivan and Michelangelo Signorile, Turek attempted to back up his claim that all gays wanted was to radically change the institution of marriage to the point where it meant nothing.
At the end of his presentation, Turek asked “Two Final Questions,” directly opposed to each other and based on what I think may be among some of the most twisted and illogical premises I’ve ever seen.
His first question was “What would be the effect on society if everyone lived faithfully in traditional marriage?”
He asked responses from the audience, with some answers: No STDs, no adultery, no abortion, no welfare, less crime, poverty would go down.
His second question was “What would be the effect on society if everyone lived faithfully in Same-Sex marriage?”
His response was that, “It would be the end of society. It would be over.”
While no one can really say that Turek’s answers to these two questions are entirely false, we can say that the two questions are entirely and utterly unrealistic and absolutely impossible. Gay folks aren’t asking for all people to be forced into same-sex relationships… we are asking that we be allowed to enter into relationships recognized by our government. Heterosexual people will always remain the overwhelming majority of people on earth and I don’t think we have to worry about a decline in our population just because of the allowance of marriage equality.
Video & Audio
I wish I had more time to write on what I saw and heard at the Forum. I wish I could actually put the entire video up, but unfortunately I cannot. I am currently working on a high lights video and, below, are two videos with my personal testimony I gave to the audience and the response to my testimony.
Gay & Christian: Matt Comer’s Testimony
Gay & Christian: Response to Matt Comer’s Testimony
Perhaps the most distressing part of the forum came when my claims about extremist anti-gay views (such as those of my child-hood church) being an extension of the message being taught at the forum were confirmed by a member of the audience.
A Christian audience member first says that he agrees with me in that gay & lesbian people should not be killed, but then goes on to advocate the use of capital punishment against gay & lesbian people. His claims are similar to those I related in my personal testimony from my experiences in my childhood church. Dr. Brown, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Turek respond vigorously against the claims, although the Christian audience member’s words support my claims that it is only a small step from condemning so-called “homosexual behavior” and actively pushing for more violent and extreme responses against gay & lesbian people themselves.
The audio below contains the full exchange.
You can download the audio to your computer with this link (right click & save file as or save target as)
Highlights of the Forum
Some Forum Points that Concerned Me
There were numerous things said or insinuated within the forum that concerned me or with which I have to take issue.
From each of the panelists – Dr. Brown, Mr. Bennett and Mr. Turek – I had to take a step back and, in some ways, bite my tongue during the forum as I heard things that were either patently false, illogical or straight-up (excuse the pun) prejudiced and exclusionary.
Point One: God’s Love of Gay & Lesbian People & Comparisons between Homosexuality & Other Sins
Throughout the entire forum, numerous comparisons and linkages were made between homosexuality and sins such as pedophilia, incest, bestiality, adultery, alcoholism, lust and others. Sometimes the linkages were made in the form of a “slippery slope” argument (InterstateQ.com reader Jarred takes on the “slippery slope” defense against LGBT people in his blog).
There is one major difference between my sexual orientation and sins such as those I listed above. In each instance of adultery, incest, bestiality, adultery, alcoholism or pedophilia, a person (or more than one person is hurt). In my loving, life-long, committed relationship with another human being (who may happen to be a man), no one is hurt just as no one is hurt when there is a loving, committed, life-long relationship between a man and a woman.
Going further: In adultery, the one cheating on his or her partner is hurting that partner because he or she has actively betrayed their love, commitment & trust; also, the one cheating on his or her partner has also committed a sin in the eyes of God, as he or she has broken the promise made to God – and the partner – during the blessing of the relationship being broken.
In pedophilia, a child is not emotionally or mentally (not to mention, physically) able enough to make a decision on matters of sexual activity. In this instance, an adult betrays the trust, love and innocence of a child by taking advantage of the power he or she has over that child. The abuse of that child leaves life-long emotional, spiritual, psychological and, often times, physical scars and harm on the child.
In bestiality, one seeks only to fulfill a selfish, self-gratifying personal, sexual purpose. The animal is unable to return any love or commitment to the person. The animal is not human and the person engaging in such sexual perversity is not able to enter with the animal into any life-long, committed, mutual relationship, a place where the emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically intimate relationship of sex firmly belongs. The person hurts him or herself by denying themselves the fulfillment of human love and mutual devotion and commitment.
In alcoholism, the alcoholic not only hurts himself through the act of a continual poisoning of his or her body (the “temple of the Lord”), but the alcoholic also harms those around him or her. The alcoholic’s loved ones, friends, other family, community, employer and co-workers are all affected by the alcoholic’s continued drunkenness and inability to adequately care for himself, family, community or career.
In the act of incest, the two family members engaging in such activity help to contribute to the breakdown of the family unit. As put by InterstateQ.com reader Casey:
Briefly, one of the best arguments against permitting adult incest is the destabilizing effect that having family members as potential sexual conquests would have on the trusting intimacy of the family setting. For example, if adult incest was legal, how could I as a daughter trust that my Dad was just being protective when he encouraged me to “wait until it’s right”… as opposed to just trying to save me for himself? Things like that truly would destabilize the family unit in a way that is much more logical than the claims that having two mommies confuses kids. Thus, there is a very clear line and an entirely separate rationale for keeping incest illegal – it isn’t about sexual liberty, it’s about genuine family stability. Not to mention the concerning genetic aspects.
In short, incest breaks down the family unit by destabilizing the trust and mutual, non-sexual, familial love found within the family. This breakdown harms every individual in the family unit and contributes to the breakdown of society, as I think all people – gay or straight – agree that families (of all shapes and sorts) are the foundational building blocks of our society.
In lust, a person objectifies another person in an air of personal, sexual, self-gratification. Notice the word “objectifies.” While lusting, a person turns another human being – another beautiful creation of our God – into an object with one use: sexual gratification. Instead of seeing another person as a full member of God’s creation and a human with full dignity, the lusting person will see another as an object to a means.
In each of these instances, and more, the sin is a sin because it harms either the person committing the sin or the other people around the person committing the sin, or, in some cases, all the people (and more) involved. In life-long, committed, monogamous relationships between two people (either same-sex or opposite-sex), no harm is done to any person.
In terms of God’s love for gay & lesbian people, I cannot believe that my God would condemn me only for the love I feel and experience with another human being (male or female). I do not believe that my God would eternally separate me from His presence because I lived a life of love inside a life-long, committed, monogamous relationship with a man, experiencing the same and intense love and mutual devotion, care and support that is felt by straight people.
Also, I do not agree with Brown’s assertion that one cannot be gay & Christian. I feel as though any person who is a believer in Christ is indeed saved. This is called Free Grace. And while one is yet a sinner, one is saved by Grace. While I still find myself lying, cheating or stealing, I can still be assured that God has saved me. So, if “homosexual behavior” is a sin, Free Grace would still stand and a person would still be saved if they believe fully that Christ is their personal Saviour. When God makes a promise of salvation, he does not break that promise. For a person to live his whole life following & loving Jesus, what kind of promise-breaking God would send that person to hell simply because he or she felt love?
Point Two: The Linkage Between Bennett’s “Gay Bar Scene” Life with the “Homosexual Lifestyle.”
During his testimony, Stephen Bennett makes two statements which seem to conflate the lives of all gay & lesbian people with an unseemly and dangerous lifestyle of drugs, drinking & promiscuity.
He says he was introduced to the “Wonderful World of Homosexuality,” thereby insinuating that there is one and only one type of gay or lesbian person and that there is one and only one type of a so-called “homosexual lifestyle.”
Later, Bennett expands what he means by a “World of Homosexuality.” He says: “They introduced me to the gay bar scene and for the next eleven years my life was on a downward spiral as I got deeply involved in the homosexual lifestyle.” He tells of his troubles with drinking, heavy drug use, the selling of illegal drugs and promiscuity.
What makes his statement so wrong and so detrimental is his conflation/linkage/comparison of “the gay bar scene” with “the homosexual lifestyle.”
Gay & lesbian people – just like straight people – are varied, diverse and different. All people – gay or straight – live very different lifestyles. While Bennett (along with other ex-gay activists) so easily conflates “the gay bar scene” with a so-called “homosexual lifestyle,” I have never seen any one try to conflate any lifestyle of a straight person involved in a straight bar scene with the entire spectrum of different lifestyles experienced by straight people.
Gay or straight, people live varied lifestyles. Some people live quietly as students or scholarly people who sit at home and read all the time. Some people are athletes. Some people are career politicians. Some people are home-makers, house-wives and house-husbands. Some people spend all their time working in a law or financial career. Some people do nothing with their lives and sleep all the time and, yes, some people – both gay and straight – are involved in a life-killing, harmful and dangerous bar scene filled with illegal drug use, heavy drinking and promiscuity. Although some people may be involved in some sort of action, we cannot say that all are that way because some just happen to be.
Point Three: The Health of Gay & Lesbian People
Throughout the entire forum numerous mentions were made of AIDS. Although no panelist directly connected HIV/AIDS to gay & lesbian people, there were many times, especially in Bennett’s testimony, where AIDS was mentioned.
In Frank Turek’s presentation, it was noted that “some studies” supposedly showed that gay & lesbian people lived up to 30 or more years shorter than the average person. This is one of those patently false statements, as it is assuredly based on the debunked, non-scientific studies of Paul Cameron, a person repudiated by almost every major medical and psychological association for his unprofessional behavior and his non-scientific “studies.” More info on Cameron’s “Obituary Study” here.
Point Four: Bennett’s Testimony
Stephen Bennett’s testimony was emotional and moving. As I told him immediately following the close of the forum, I respect his testimony and life story and do not condemn him for it. I told him that I take issue with how many of the ex-gay organizations portray these important issues but that I do not harbor any malice against people who describe themselves as “former homosexuals.”
During his testimony, however, Bennett stated that this was only “my testimony, but there are many others who have gone through what I’ve gone through” and that many others have successfully changed from gay to straight.
That may be true, and if so, I can’t do anything about it. I do take issue and concern over the apparent forcefulness of the ex-gay industry’s attempts to say that all gay and lesbian people can and should change.
Just as Bennett claims that this was only his testimony but that there are many others that have experienced what he has, there are also many, many people on the other side of this debate – people like me and especially “ex-gay survivor” Peterson Toscano – who have experienced the opposite. There are gay & lesbian people, many of them, who have tried and tried and tried to change in order to fit into the church and who have never been successful. There are people who have gone through ex-gay therapies or other means to changing who have never been able to change from gay to straight. I’d dare say that for the majority of gay & lesbian people, change is not possible.
So then, the church gives gay & lesbian people two options: Change or forever live your life with the absence of a healthy, mutual, life-long, committed & monogamous relationship by remaining celibate (something Paul says that only a few are really called to do and that one must enter into voluntarily, not forcibly).
Point Five: God’s Word is the same now, then and forever
As a Baptist I firmly believe that, yes, God’s Word is the same now, then and forever. I believe that Scripture is unchangeable. But unlike my fellow Christian brothers and sisters of FIRE Church, Coalition of Conscience and other more conservative Christian strains, I do believe that the Bible is something human beings continuously come to understand in different and better ways as time progresses and as God reveals more truth to us.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people saw God and the spiritual world around them in a much different way than we now see it. In fact, Judaism does not even teach that there is a hell, or a place of eternal separation from God.
At one time in history, Christians believed that slavery was condoned by God and, in fact, if one were to read the Scriptures one could certainly find passages supporting that premise. The good news is that we – as God’s Children and under His Divine knowledge – have moved forward through new revelations of what He intends for humanity. We now know – no matter what the Scripture says – that slavery is not condoned by God.
At one time in history, people believed that Scripture condoned the treatment of women as nothing more than the personal property of her husband. Just as with the issue of slavery one can certainly find Scriptural passages to support this claim. However, like slavery, human kind has grown past this erroneous interpretation of God’s plan for humanity. We (well, at least I hope that the majority of us) now know and fully believe that women are equal to men and are not their personal property.
The Bible has also been used by Christians to condemn Jews, inter-racial couples, children, the disabled, the mentally ill and many, many more throughout history – including gay & lesbian people.
Now, humans are finding that the Bible does not necessarily condemn gay & lesbian people. Humans – through Divine knowledge – are coming to see that the love between a man and a man or a woman and a woman is no different than the love between a man and a woman. If there is one Scriptural and Gospel message that we can all agree upon, it is certainly the call to love others and to be loved by others. True, deep, compassionate, mutual and equal love between two humans who commit to live their lives together is never wrong and more and more Christians are coming to this conclusion.
The panelists were right: The Bible does not change… but, unfortunately, they do not understand the concept that our human understanding of what Scripture says and what God intends for us does indeed change as we grow in new spiritual revelations from God and as we bring more people into God’s loving arms and fold.
Point Six: “Un-natural Love” and “Counterfeit Relationships”
During the forum, Bennett claimed that the love and relationships of gay & lesbian people are “un-natural” and “counterfeit.” At the end of the forum he even told me that if I were to only take one and just one thing away from what he said, then I should remember that I “will never find Mr. Right.”
I’ve covered a lot of these points in Point Five above, but I feel it is extremely important to say that love is love. The love of a man and a man or a woman and a woman is no different than the love found between a man and a woman. Love is not harmful, dangerous, fake, “counterfeit,” or “un-natural.” Love is just that: love. No human should be able to tell another human that their committed, life-long, mutual and monogamous relationships and love is not valid. To do so is to place yourself in a position of judgment over another human being’s ability to love and be loved – something for which God clearly designed every human being.
Point Seven: Turek’s Claim that the Marriage Movement seeks only to bring “Normalization & Validation”
In his presentation, Frank Turek claims that gay & lesbian people do not truly desire marriage for marriage itself. Using taken-out-of-context quotes from gay leaders, Turek says that gay & lesbian people only seek the acceptance and recognition (something he calls “Normalization and Validation”) of their so-called “lifestyles.”
He quotes Andrew Sullivan who said that marriage is really the only reform that matters because it will provide many of the legal protections LGBT people are fighting for in other pieces of legislation. This quote is not meant to say that gay & lesbian people only want marriage because we seek to force an agenda on anyone, but rather fighting for marriage is more worthy a use of our time as a community because in the end we will gain many things: The right to marry the one we love and have that relationship consecrated by law – something we should all enjoy – and that we will also gain many other legal rights all citizens should have gay or straight.
He also quotes Michelangelo Signorile who uses quite radical language in saying that gays should fight for marriage and then destroy an “archaic institution.” Unfortunately, Turek must not realize that Signorile’s views are far, far, far from mainstream and that the majority of LGBT people probably do not even know who Signorile is.
I have done my best to present the forum “Can you be Gay & Christian” in the most accurate way possible. As I promised Dr. Michael Brown, I have attempted to represent the words of each panelist as fairly as possible. I have used quotes where possible and attempted to interpret the words and statements of each panelist as fairly as possible. With that said, however, it is only common sense for everyone reading this to realize that my particular interpretation of these words and statements will be far from the interpretation arrived at by any of the panelists and likely, by many of the audience members who may agree with the panelists. As a member of the minority group to which these words and statements are directed, one should be wise enough to expect that I may find something offensive or take issue with something that the majority group would not find.
If any clarifications need to be addressed, I’ll be open to that, but I will stand by my assertions in regard to my equality not only in the eyes of God and the Church, but also the law.
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