Thinking that is sustained over time doesn’t always equal Truth. Sometimes it just equals tradition.
Just because many religious people get something wrong over and over and over again, doesn’t eventually one day make it right.
In fact, when it comes to things that we come to believe corporately as a people, sometimes history and tradition and religion are the enemy of progress. We become intellectually lazy; wrong but comfortable in that wrong-ness and unwilling to dig deeper because of the work that would involve and the assumptions we may have to revise.
Ever since Christians have been talking about sexuality (more specifically, homosexuality) many have been trying to begin with an assumption that is simply incorrect and dangerous—that it’s something that people choose.
Here’s part of a conversation between myself and a blog reader; a straight Christian man who was repeatedly, rather matter-of-factly, and quite judgmentally telling LGBTQ people that their gender identity and/or sexual orientation was simply a choice, a willful decision, (and because of that he reasoned, a decision to sin).
It’s an all-too familiar song sung to the LGBTQ community by the religious community. He did what so many well-meaning but misguided straight people of faith do: try to tell a gay person how their hearts work.
On a comment thread where literally hundreds of people had previously talked about their own experience as LGBTQ (many of them Christians trying for decades to deny and change and pray away what was so clearly inherent in them), this man simply refused to listen. I don’t think he was doing this to purposefully hurt them or shut down the conversation, he was simply trying to protect a part of his faith that was being threatened by actual people’s experience to the contrary.
After watching the discussion devolve into a series of predictable religious sound bites, I jumped in and we shared this exchange:
Reader: Sexuality is a choice.
Me: When did you choose heterosexuality?
Reader: I made my choice as a teenager when I started to date girls.
Me: Were you ever sexually or physically attracted or are you now attracted to men?
Reader: (Threatened) No, never!
Me: Not really much of a choice then, is it? A choice, implies different possible options. But dating guys wasn’t ever really an option for you, was it? If you had been attracted to men but began dating women anyway, then your sexuality would have been a choice. As it is, you simply went with what felt completely right and natural, rather than with what would have been disgusting and distasteful to your sensibilities. It was a consenting to instinct, not a decision in opposition to it.
I went on to share with this man what I want to share with those of you who echo his views on sexuality as a choice; with as much compassion and care and understanding as I can:
I feel for you and I’m sorry—but I think you’re wrong.
I’ve been a pastor for 19 years, and been shoulder-to-shoulder and face-to-face with thousands of wonderful, God-loving men and women, who were and are living an inherited lie: the lie that LGBTQ people can choose the objects of their affections and the inclinations of who they love. You may not believe me when I tell you this, but I understand.
I know well the difficult spot that you’re in as a believer. I know that if you can believe that sexuality is indeed a choice, it can allow you to feel negativity or judgment or disapproval toward people without guilt. But for the vast majority of people who identify as LGBTQ it isn’t a choice, but simply an acceptance of what is most real and most true.
As a cisgender person you can disagree with that statement if you’d like, but know that when you do you’re not being honest with how your own heart works and how you yourself have experienced attraction and affection and love and the desire for intimacy with another.
I know as a Christian, how hard you’re straining to believe this old lie, and the tug-of-war that is happening in your spirit as you fight for an idea you may not quite have peace with anymore.
I know that you’re desperately holding on to a damaging prejudice, despite so much evidence in the face of it, because you really need that prejudice to reinforce the faith perspective you’ve grown-up with and grown comfortable with—and the one you feel you need to keep in order to please God.
To abandon that assumption, would expose the huge house of cards to the dangerous breezes of a billion follow-up questions in its wake.
I understand this. I truly do.
But this idea of anyone choosing who and how they love, an idea that so many Christians hold so tightly to:
It’s simply not real.
It’s a fake truth dressed up as religion.
It’s a counterfeit license to discriminate in the name of God.
People are lives, not lifestyles.
There is no such thing as a “gay lifestyle”, any more than there is a “heterosexual lifestyle”.
In this world, there are only people. There are simply human beings, some who are heteronormative and some who are not.
It’s just the simple, stark, unadorned truth of our shared humanity, regardless of how it messes with our religious convictions or makes us uneasy. Sexuality is not binary. It is a spectrum.
Many people are not made heterosexual and they can’t be made into one.
Each of us has within us, desires to be known and cared for and loved that are all far beyond what we can steer or alter. You know this, because you’ve experienced it all yourself. To tell a non-heteronormative person that they could and should somehow be convinced to choose the opposite of what their hearts say, would be to suggest that you, a heterosexual person, with enough pressure and cajoling and therapy could possibly be convinced to be gay. (I imagine this would be an insulting proposition to most of you).
Straight, Christian friend, you can feel any way you care to about those who identify as LGBTQ, but you’ll need to develop your faith perspective in light of this truth about them. You can build any case you want against non-heteronormative people, but you simply can’t have choice as a weapon in your arsenal.
If you argue that gay people are making a decision regarding their sexuality, you’re essentially not accepting the logic of your own journey and history, and you’re expecting them all to make an emotional sacrifice that you haven’t ever had to make.
That’s a problem.
That’s not loving your neighbor as yourself.
That’s not the Golden Rule.
I’m pretty sure that’s not of Jesus, either.
But don’t take my word for it. After all, I’m still just another straight Christian guy talking about LGBTQ people and that’s definitely not the solution here. We’ve had far too much of that, for far too long in the Church.
Here’s a suggestion: The next time you encounter another adult who tells you that they’re LGBTQ, ask them whether it is their choice or not, and however they respond, have the decency and respect to believe that their understanding of their own heart is more trustworthy than your evaluation of it from a distance.
If they tell you it’s a choice, then for them it’s a choice. If they tell you they’ve felt this way since their earliest memories, trust that they know better than you about their reality.
Millions of LGBTQ people, many of them just teenagers, are being damaged, wounded, and some are quite literally dying trying to bear the oppressive heaviness of this assumption of choice that we’ve placed on them. Frankly, I think the Church needs to own this and do some of the “loving of the least” we hear Jesus calling his people to.
I know this message may anger you or frustrate you, or make you want to dig your heels even more deeply into the assumptions you’ve lived in for so long, but I pray you won’t. I pray you’ll ask some really tough questions about what you’ve believed about sexuality, and what you know about your own experience.
And I hope that you won’t just accept the answers you think you know.
We Christians talk about “speaking the truth in love” an awful lot.
I share this truth, with all the love I have for you who are trying earnestly to reconcile a faith that you care so deeply about, balanced with the love I have for the LGBTQ community who are trying to live authentically and peacefully alongside you in community and being injured by you.
They are testifying with their words and their hearts, that they did not ask to be born compelled to love as they do, anymore than you or I did. I think they deserve to be heard and listened to, not preached or shouted at. You would desire and demand the same of yourself.
One of the easiest and least compassionate things we can do in this life, is to assume that the way we experience the world is the way that everyone else does or should.
We need to do better as a people of faith, at seeing gay people (and all people for that matter) as they are, not as we desire them to be. Our faith after all, claims that all people are made in Gods image, not in our own.
Christian, maybe you’re right. Maybe love is indeed a choice, but just not in the way you’ve always thought.
In a very real and tangible way—you may need to choose who and how you love.
*Obviously, if someone identifies as bisexual, then choice is at the very heart of their sexual identity, and I don’t mean to mischaracterize them. The very individuals they are drawn to, are not a matter of choice per se, but an involuntary response to those particular individuals. The point is still, that we are all attracted to others on a much higher level than simply an intellectual one.