Since I was a teenager, I’ve had my encounters with homosexuals. Besides brushes with gays in shopping centers (like the old Plaza Singapura), when I was a Secondary School student I remember that there was only one gay in my school. Everyone referred to him as one who was gay. I knew a bit what being gay or homosexual was, yet I didn’t really understand it fully or confront this issue fully till I came to Australia. I don’t recall ever having been homophobic in an extreme way. Maybe I was in a subtle way that almost every non-homosexual is. But I don’t recall ever having made fun of homosexuals.
Very early on in Australia, I was challenged to think more about homosexuals. This was no doubt due to the fact that I was starting to think about social issues more intensely at that stage of my life. Homosexuals were after all in a similar category to the poor – the category of the marginalized, as would be women too. But another reason for my heightened interest in the unjust treatment of homosexuals was due to a close friend of mine during my whole stay there. I got to know this friend very early on as she was one of the persons I caught a cab with to go to a club. Although I didn’t get to know her well that night, I saw her in a lecture I attended (Psychology) and we developed a pretty close friendship.
I clearly remember the day she told me she was a lesbian. Well, she didn’t exactly say it out in words. On the 25th July 2002, a close friend of ours and I went to pick her up from the Airport. She arrived back from holidays in Singapore just before the 2nd session started. After having reached her apartment, this other close friend of ours had to leave to meet her boyfriend. I stayed on with her in her bedroom early that morning and she started to tell me about her past life and her old girlfriends. Before, I was suspicious she was a lesbian but didn’t dare to ask her. I did ask this close friend of ours (three of us were pretty close) but she feigned ignorance when she actually knew! But anyway, after she started to show her ex-girlfriends’ pictures to me, I realized the truth. Later on, she asked me why I didn’t ask her if I was curious as to whether she was a lesbian. My response was, “How do you expect me to ask you such a question!” :)
Anyway, having a close friend who was a homosexual did make me think even more about this whole issue. Also, Australia is a more open society and homosexuals are proud to be homosexuals there and the people are much more open to homosexuals than in Singapore and Asian countries. (By the way, I attended the Mardi Gras parade on 1st March 2003 and my favourite television program was “Queer Like Folk” – American edition – which I watched very regularly during in 2003!) I was therefore challenged to think more about how people should relate to homosexuality and especially how Christians ought to relate to them.
Throughout this time, I became convinced that the Church needed to do a whole lot more to reach out to homosexuals. In Singapore, there was a ministry called Choices that was part of a charismatic Anglican Church here – the ministry is associated with Exodus International. It caused a stir in the newspapers one time for putting up a big banner saying that it’s possible for homosexuals to change. To many homosexuals, this was in very bad taste. I felt the same way too. Two things concern me here. Firstly, I don’t think I would agree with the theology of the group. Secondly, even if I agreed with its theology and they were speaking the truth, they were clearly not speaking the truth in love. It was just like another fundamentalist Christian group promoting their ‘truth’. They think they are right in doing so because they believe so clearly in it, yet they do it the wrong way.
Concerning the first issue, I will freely admit that I have a lot to learn concerning what the Bible says about homosexuality. And I do plan to read up more in future. However, I don’t think it’s so simple as many people make it up to be. I’ve been interested in theology too long to realize that there are too many different interpretations around. And yet everybody seems to think they are right and the others wrong. I’ve mentioned before that this is one reason why I am postmodernist to a certain extent. One thing I can’t stand is fundamentalist groups that proclaim that they are the only ones who are biblical and ought to be trusted and that others are wrong. There are a lot of Christians who speak as though they have the true interpretation of this and that issue or biblical passage. And we find many of them among anti-homosexuality Christians.
Again, I’m not saying that there is no truth. Sure, there is truth. The Bible is true. But we all need to be extremely careful with our interpretations. Everyone should try to come up with a stand on most issues. And in fact, I try to do that. But everyone should also be open to being shown wrong and corrected. Let’s not be too confident in ourselves and our interpretation. The fact that there’s an alternative interpretation in every issue of the Bible one can think of should cause us to pause. I believe there’s absolute truth and God has a stand in every issue. But I also believe that God’s stand and will is often times not so straight forward and black and white as we think. I think a lot of times, while one side or interpretation may be closer to the truth than others, that particular interpretation is probably not fully what God has in mind either. That doesn’t mean to say it doesn’t matter how close to the truth we are in our interpretations. It does and we ought to hold as close an interpretation of the truth as possible. Yet we also need to be open to other point of views and through that we may learn more and get even closer to the truth.
If we all realize all this, we’ll all be more humble in our interpretations and open to what others have to say. One thing I really cannot stand among the anti-homosexuality position is that most of them put forward their position as though it’s so clear and any clear-thinking Christian would see it as they do. They thus label others who come to a different view as not being true to the Bible or not believing the Bible. I’ve come to the conclusion that any Christian who sees things like that and is thus overly dogmatic and does not show any sort of understanding or acknowledgement that there may be a good case for an alternative view – such a Christian ought to just keep quiet as he/she is not being of much help to someone who is searching for the truth. In fact, he or she will be a great hindrance to others due to his arrogant dogmatism and pride.
I may come to the conclusion that homosexual acts are wrong and sinful eventually, or I may not. But whatever position I take, I know that it’s not so straightforward and that I will need to be open to correct myself if I need to.
The second issue concerns speaking the truth in love. Eventhough I have yet to come to a more conclusive position on homosexuality, I will admit I’m leaning more towards the traditional view that homosexual acts are wrong and sinful and that homosexuals should try to change. (I’m inclined to this position only because I haven’t really read alternative views). And even if eventually I come to the more traditional position, I still feel that there needs to be alternative and different ways to reach out to homosexuals. The way the Choices ministry reach out to homosexuals is to change them. They are very clear from the beginning that Christians who join them will be on a journey towards change. Now, in a way I understand the purpose of the ministry. For assuming that homosexual acts are wrong, then the homosexual Christian would either need to remain chaste throughout the rest of his/her life or change his orientation through God’s power to stop sinning. Therefore, a ministry advocating change from the beginning is correct. But I believe there needs to be other approaches. The situation is more complex and alternative approaches thus needs to be used. By being so outspoken about the fact that homosexuality or homosexual acts are sinful, the Church will alienate many homosexuals. The way Choices does it ultimately gives the impression that ‘condemnation’ comes before anything else. And I think the whole spirit of it all is wrong: it doesn’t convey a spirit of love.
If homosexual acts are wrong, then change ought to be the goal. There ought to be a journey towards change for every homosexual Christian (unless he/she would want to remain chaste, in which case it would be ok to remain homosexual). But the question ought to be asked if there should not be an atmosphere of overwhelming welcome and grace available in the church to attract a group of people who have long been marginalized and been at the receiving end of oppression and injustice. I believe there should be a place of refuge for homosexuals in the church. Choices may minister and attract many homosexual Christians who want to change by God’s power. There, they will find a place of challenge, accountability and help. However, the homosexual Christian community is broader than that. Many homosexuals want to find a Christian community of refuge and growth, but find it hard to change or don’t even see the need to change. A ministry like Choices will scare away these Christians. For these people, we need a safe place that lets them know God loves them and accepts them AS THEY ARE, not only if they change. Such a place could still aim to see as many change as possible – but they don’t have to proclaim that from the start nor do they have to harp on the fact of change. To do so will only make homosexual Christians feel condemned till they change! However, if we have a place of grace and love, the truth can be preached lovingly and more homosexuals may be reached this way and desire to change. Sometimes it takes growth and maturity to see the need to change and have the obedience to do so. A ministry that proclaims, “I will not let you stay long and grow and learn more things and become more like Christ before you change, BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO CHANGE NOW (OR PRETTY SOON) AS YOUR LIFESTYLE IS NOT PLEASING TO GOD NOW!” is not only unloving and so uncharacteristic of the way God relates lovingly to sinful people, but will not be as effective in its goal to see homosexual Christians turn straight.
There are a lot of other issues involved in all this. For example, a lot of Christians have tried their best to change and yet have failed – many have been through a ministry like Choices for years and yet have not been able to change, as much as they have wanted to. All this goes to show that things are not so simple. There is evidence that many have changed, yet there is also evidence that many have not been able to. As a charismatic and one who believes in the power of the Holy Spirit, I do not doubt that God can change miraculously. Nothing is impossible for God. But yet as we don’t always see miracles and healings, I believe we will not always see that miraculous transformation of orientation that many homosexual Christians have sought. I would reason that this is because the Kingdom of God has not come in all its fullness. That is, the Kingdom of God and its manifestations has come in Christ. Yet it’s only when Jesus returns again when we will see God’s power in all its glory.
Again, may I state that I have not come to a position on the Christian and homosexuality. But whatever my view eventually – and even if I adopt the tradition position – I will still feel that there’s a great need in the Church to reach out to homosexuals in a more loving way and we need to develop different approaches that manifest more love and acceptance of homosexuals.
Excellent article, really enjoyed it!
I’ll ‘change’ the day you can tell me when exactly it was you ‘decided’ to be straight.