loving the other part of the flock, part TWO
My tribe has been orbiting around “truth” like the earth orbits the sun. This is because truth gives us a center of gravity to keep us in place and to protect us from spinning out of control. My assertion has been that we have been orbiting around a truth too small for us, limiting the intended scope and reach of our lives. We are meant to have the Truth Himself, the resurrected and alive Jesus, as our center of gravity. Smaller truths, such as our attempts to understand God in the form of theologies, doctrines and the western mind, are good and can be helpful but when they take the place of the Truth Himself they also become a form of idolatry. We think we know.
To have Jesus at the center means that we are constrained by love as the force that holds us and keeps us. Jesus at the center is the only way in which we can love and fellowship with those with whom we disagree. But to center ourselves around Love is quite a difficult shift. Love seems to let just anyone in. Love makes space for the other. It is very difficult for people like us of the dualistic mind, to imagine that there is something more important than the truths that we hold dear. Truth, after all, has been how we have differentiated and defined ourselves as a particular kind of Christian. It has become our identity. So, more than ever, we need Christ.
I am bringing this up again because I am adding another post regarding gay Christians. Many of them find one of 3 categories that fit their journey. One is to be gay and committed to Christ, which means monogamy at the very least (and opens up questions of unions, marriages, ordinations, etc.) Some of them are very dear friends. I have written about these folks in a previous post (click here). Another category is to be Christian and celibate. I also have friends in that place. The third category is about healing. This is the one that I am writing about today.
This will also make a lot of people mad at me. It seems that no-one is safe from at least some maligning when speaking out on this volatile issue, no matter what angle we come from. Those who pursue inner healing are sometimes criticized and even made fun of by those in the first group, especially those who call themselves ex-ex gays. However, it is also important to know that there is a lot of very harmful “treatments” out there, some of which is thrown together by well-meaning pastors and churches who are panicked about the issue of homosexuality hitting home through one of their own. Many of those who scoff at the idea of healing have been through a program or an accountability group that tried to change them and failed, leaving them feeling foolish or shamed. These experiences further cement the belief that healing is not possible.
Few Christians who have an opinion on homosexuality seem to have much understanding as to what goes on inside the developmental process of a human being in regards to his or her sexual orientation. Contrary to political correctness-ology, science has produced no evidence for a gene, and twin concordance studies reinforce that there is not one to be found. There is also the reality of sexual fluidity, which describes the phenomenon where some with homosexual orientation do change, even spontaneously (which does not mean overnight) as a result of ongoing relational and developmental growth. Without going into it all, what we actually do know is that there are thousands of factors that go into the make-up of a person’s sexual identity and orientation including biological, hormonal, environmental and family factors as well as a person’s own interactions, perceptions and responses to life. Human beings are wondrously complex. There is no simple “choice”. We ALL do harm when we try to demand that everyone fit into the category that fits our theological model. Hence (cool word, hence) we all need to re-center on Christ from whom we all draw our life and identities if we are to love well at all.
A sweet friend who is a former lesbian wanted to share her story. I will call her Lila. She wants her true name hidden because as she says, “there’s a lot of crazies out there”. I agree. So please read this story with openness to the unique person that she is and the healing work that she has experienced God doing within her heart and life. You may not agree with her, but her story is her story. And because I have lived and worked for decades with people and in a church culture which forces pretense all too often, I know deep integrity when I see it. She’s the real deal.
Lila grew up in a very strict fundamentalist church. She describes it as “ingrown, small, and always perpetuating bad theology.” Women were not allowed to speak in church except to sing, but the men led the singing and did all the preaching and praying. For women there was no voice, self-determination or choice. Lila would be expected to carry on in life as the women always had: cooking, cleaning, raising kids and serving her husband. Her parents even encouraged a relationship with a 19 year old man when Lila was only 14. He was ready to marry her and start a life together. Lila realized that this life meant only more of what she had seen in the lives of the church women all around her and she vowed then and there to never marry.
Lila’s mother had severe post-partum depression from which she never fully emerged. She remembers her mother as disengaged and sad, staring blankly ahead for hours on end. Though she now understands that this condition wasn’t her mom’s fault, she was left unattached and very alone, despite a grandmother who cooked and cared for her and her siblings. She was a little girl lost at home and was surrounded by so much misogyny at church and in community that her sense of “being” was all but shattered. For those who understand the developmental and attachment processes of people at all, Lila lived within a set-up in which a core sense of “Home” and safety, which begins with a deep warm connection with mother and is crucial to creating a healthy, attached but individuated self, was robbed from her.
She eventually left home and left God. She became promiscuous, getting her physical needs met with men to whom she would never be committed. Because of her life experiences, she believed that men were assholes and she craved a place to be emotionally safe, which was to be found in the arms of a woman. A couple of long-term exclusive relationships with women followed over the next 20 years.
After the last relationship, which had become controlling and abusive, Lila moved to a new city to start fresh and found instant connection from the gay community. She says, “The gay community gives you your identity. It’s who you are within it. It’s a benevolent gang. They have all known exclusion and abuse and don’t fit anywhere else. They all just want to be known and loved. This community provides that.” She lived through many difficult times with them, especially the days of so many deaths due to AIDS.
Through a personal family tragedy – the suicide of her beloved brother – and the care of a new friend she began to feel God’s loving pursuit in her life amidst her grief. At one point she actually entered church again and could sense God standing beside her with His hand on her shoulder. She came back to faith through the pursuit of this loving God who was very different from the angry, small, oppressive and judgmental God of her youth.
At that point she recalls, “I was scared to death of what He’d do with me.” What would God ask of her? Where would she go? That’s understandable given what she had known. She also feared that she wouldn’t know who she was without the identity she had within the gay community. She feared that her old friends wouldn’t be open to her anymore.
She found a group of people who were familiar with the inner workings of the heart and were able to walk beside her in her journey – not for “fixing” but for deepening her relationship with God. There was counseling and prayer as well. Lila says that learning that sexual sins are not the worst of all sins (unlike what she had been taught) was very liberating. And, she found tremendous hope in learning that the root problem within her heart was not homosexuality. It’s not what needed to be “fixed”. What she needed was a re-orientation back to the God who loved her and gave her true identity. From there she says, “In Christ my life wasn’t mine anymore. He gave me a new identity and a new heart.” She adds, “I had been searching for wrong things to fill me.” The emotional dependencies and way of attaching to others in order to find her identity and a sense of belonging (in all sorts of ways) were beginning to be replaced by a strong core self. The process was full of mystery and courage. There’s no “10 steps to change.” But Lila has found a new center of gravity.
But I’ll let Lila speak for herself:
“Our healing only happens at the foot of the cross. We don’t stand and demand our healing. I had to be naked and humble before God and admit that I couldn’t do it anymore. I’m done. So, I lay it down at the foot of the cross. I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life “white-knuckling” this. I knew that if God is who He says he is then He could heal me. But, if He is going to do His part I needed to also do mine and stay at the foot of the cross.”
“And, I learned that I was only able to heal when I was able to forgive others. There is no healing without forgiveness of others and oneself. This meant the doctors that misdiagnosed my mother and robbed us of her care, and the men who had oppressed me, among others. I needed to forgive myself as well.”
On the journey we all walk:
“Idolatry is the biggest problem in the church today. We are full of idolatries. We use all kinds of things to fill ourselves such as sexual addictions, pornography and the ways in which we create ourselves. I trust in how smart I am or I stay wrapped up in my own world and my own needs.”
Where she is at now:
“I have not arrived, but I realize now that I am comfortable in my own skin. I refuse the label “ex-gay”. People label each other. I am a daughter of God”.