Thursday, June 21, 2012

Homosexuality, Letters on Same Sex Marriage - and how that must hurt

Ever since last Sunday, when many churches around Australia read out letters about same sex marriage to their congregations, there's been one question that keeps running through my mind: How many gay people left church after hearing that letter? How many gay people gave up on God?

And maybe I'm being overdramatic. Maybe no gays left the church or gave up on God. But if they didn't, I'm sure that at least some gay people attending church last Sunday felt a little uncomfortable.

And feeling uncomfortable is not always a bad thing. Christianity ought to take us out of our comfort zone sometimes. But there's a difference between feeling uncomfortable because you're out of your comfort zone and feeling uncomfortable because you feel like you don't belong.

I don't know what it's like to be gay. But I do know what it's like to feel uncomfortable in church. I have been severely depressed. I've listened to countless sermons telling me that Christians should be happy. And every single time I heard that, I thought, well why aren't I happy? What's wrong with me?  I'm also divorced. And I went through my divorce while I was attending a Pentecostal church. With all due credit to those people in my church at the time, they never made me feel judged. They offered love and compassion, without saying that what I was doing was okay. Strangely enough, in the end, I felt more uncomfortable about my depression than I did about my divorce.

In the end, my divorce helped me get over my depression. But before that happened, there were so many times when I felt like leaving church and giving up on God because there seemed to be something wrong with me. Christianity didn't work out for me the way it seemed to work out for other people. And if I was depressed, and if I was getting divorced, maybe that showed that God had given up on me.  That's what it felt like anyway. Why else would I continue to struggle with things that didn't fit with the Christian ideal? If Christians were meant to be happy, and meant to stay married, then maybe I just wasn't meant to be a Christian.

And feeling like this only made me feel more depressed - which ended up making me feel even guiltier about how badly I conformed to the Christian standard.

Now none of this may seem like it has anything to do with same sex marriage. But I think it does. Because I heard lots of things against divorce in those days. I heard lots of things against being unhappy. And every time it hurt. And every time, I felt like a failure. And every time I felt like a failure, I felt like giving up on God.

I would like to say that it's thanks to my perseverance that I'm still a Christian today. In all honesty, it probably has more to do with the fact that this was a temporary stage in my life. Once it passed, I didn't feel so uncomfortable anymore. I started to think that maybe God hadn't given up on me.

But if they had been permanent stages, if I had lived in a time when divorce just wasn't on at all, if I had lived in a time when depression was seen as someone's fault rather than an illness, I doubt I'd still be in the church today. It's really hard to constantly feel like you don't measure up. It's also hard to constantly feel like the church disapproves of what you are doing.

Now this doesn't mean that we all say, well, fine, everybody should live as they want to live and the church should say nothing about anything in case we hurt people's feelings. Love the person but hate the sin may be one of the worst phrases in a Christian's vocabulary, but it does kind of make sense. But how many people actually get to move beyond that hatred for the sin to discover the love for the person. I know I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the love people showed for me when I went through my divorce. But I knew it was coming for a long time before I talked about. All I could see was hatred for the sin and I imagined talking about it would only get me condemnation.

And like I said, that was a temporary stage in my life. Imagine how I would feel if the "sin" was treated as one of the worst possible sins by Christians. And imagine if that "sin" didn't feel like a sin at all, but something I could not change. There have been many people who have undergone prayer and counselling to "rid" themselves of the "sin" of homosexuality. And yet it does not work. These people do not choose to be homosexual. For those who have been raised in the belief that homosexual is an 'abomination', I think some of them would gladly give their right arm not to feel same sex attraction. Some people even choose to take their own life because they can't bear the pain of being gay.

I can't imagine what it's like. I know what it's like to have something temporary in your life that you feel God doesn't approve of and yet you seem powerless to change. I can only imagine the pain of having something permanent, which isn't even treated as just another 'sin' by the church, but often as the worst possible sin. I've never heard the word 'abomination' used by the church in relation to any other sins. And yet there are plenty of them. Why don't we share the same disgust for pride and lying as we do for homosexuality? Why don't we have a sermon on Proverbs 6:16-19 and talk about the abominations listed there?

There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination [i]to Him:
 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
 A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
 A false witness who utters lies,
And one who] spreads strife among brothers. (Proverbs 6:16-19).

Of course one doesn't necessarily need to even consider homosexuality a sin to be against homosexual marriage. Homosexual practices are not the same as the definition of marriage. And while I have no problem with same sex marriage myself, I can understand why some Christians would be against it.

However, what I find difficult to understand, and the reason I felt like crying - yes actually crying - last Sunday is why Christians need to launch this attack on same sex marriage. I keep fairly up-to-date with Christian news. I can't remember any issue ever where the churches have been united in the same way they have on this one. There are so many important issues that Christians could be united against. Instead, the one issue we do unite on is the one issue that has the power to really hurt a lot of people.

What message is that sending to gay people? Yes, we love you. But we think preventing you from marrying each other is more important than any of the other things Jesus told us to do. Actually, I probably should make that any of the things Jesus told us to do, because he actually didn't say anything about same sex marriage or homosexuality at all.

I just wish people would at least try to see this from the perspective of someone who is gay. How hard would it be to hear a letter read out in church (and know it is being read out at many other churches) that speaks out against something you may desperately want, that (even if it's not explicitly stated) may make you feel that the church doesn't like something about you?

Imagine if you loved someone of the same sex. And imagine that you wanted to express that love through a life-long commitment of marriage. And then imagine that many churches all around Australia spoke out against same sex marriage on the same day.

Don't you think that would kind of hurt?

I don't know what it's like to be gay. But I know what it's like to feel like you don't belong. I know what it's like to feel like you're not acceptable to God. I know what it's like to want something desperately that many Christians disapprove of. I also happen to know what it's like to be attracted to someone when you probably shouldn't be. And I know what it's like to really want to change all those things and not be able to.

It hurts. And in my mind, anybody who's hurting deserves not just lip service about love and compassion, but real love and compassion - and understanding. Even if we don't agree with same sex marriage, shouldn't we at least try to see it through the eyes of those who want it? Shouldn't we at least try to understand their pain?

Wherever we stand on the same sex marriage debate, we must never forget to show love to the people whose lives will be affected by it the most. And we must never forget that behind the debate there are real people, with real pain, with real struggles, with real desires and with real love. Let's us give them real love in return.

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