Where is the Fruit?

Note / trigger warning: It was brought to my attention that due to the tags for this post that it may be found by some that are not necessarily looking for its subject matter. This post details with statistics and quotes how heinously LGBTQ+ people have been treated, particularly by the Christian religion.

Like nearly all of my posts, my audience is in a sense very much my former self: a conservative-to-moderate evangelical who was willing to be persuaded by love and sound logic. I imagine that my Google search would have looked like this post’s tags if 5 years ago a close friend had told me that they were trans and I could not in good conscience affirm them. So, for the time being I am keeping the tags but adding this intro as a caution.

Even though this is mainly to persuade Christians (who may be LGBTQ+ themselves) who are non-affirming, I hope that it also lends solidarity, support, and empowerment to those who are LGBTQ+ affirming that have been the victims of this type of oppression. If that’s you, I think statistics and stories matter, so I’ve included them, but that doesn’t mean that you need to relive them.

There is no debating that there have been times throughout history in which Christians have done great damage. Most of us would like to think that those eras are long gone, or that even more recent atrocities were committed by supposed Christians very much unlike ourselves. But what if there is a group of people who claim that Christians are presently doing a great deal of damage?

It is understandable–admirable even–that most serious Christians elevate their scriptures above the laws of mankind. After all, if there is a creator of the universe that is all-just but also all-loving, it is not unreasonable to assume that in our finitude we will not always comprehend the laws set forth by this god. There are bound to be commands that don’t make sense in light of our finite comprehension.

Therein lies the question: At what point do we trust the power of observation and our faculties of reason to inform what we believe this god has commanded of us? After all, if we are created by God and bear his image, then the tools of observation and reason are valuable gifts.

On several occasions I have asked for Biblical evidence of certain evangelical moral views only to be told that “it’s in the Bible.” When I told a friend that after extensive Bible study I am now affirming on the LGBTQ+ issue, they began to list Bible verses as if they couldn’t take my claim of Biblical study seriously.

However, it is simply insufficient to say that one should do anything because the Bible says so. Such assertions assume that the interpretation of any given biblical passage can be ascertained, and if so, that the person interpreting can do so correctly. It is not that there are not solid methods of interpretation, but rather that any given interpretation method relies on various presuppositions–often mired in more contemporary, Western ways of thinking–and that even interpretation with the utmost care can result in catastrophically erroneous beliefs.

Perhaps it is possible that there is a better litmus beyond plain exegesis. I would suggest that one can also measure the truth of any given theology by observing its fruit.

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” —Galatians 5:22-23 (NRSV)

Faith requires us to believe in the unobservable, not reject the observable. Scientists do not debate the if of evolution. 97% of scientists agree that the earth is billions of years old and that all life came by the evolutionary process. The debate regards the how of evolution, but it is nothing that will make evolution a “theory in crisis.

Matters of hard science, such as evolution, are easy. It becomes more nebulous with social issues. Science is not loving, joyful, peaceful or the opposite of any of those things. However, how Christians treat other people and how their theologies inform that treatment does bear fruit.

For centuries the Church has rejected the LGBTQ+ community on Biblical grounds, but the world knows a lot more about LGBTQ+ people than they did in prior centuries. Christians have tried to categorize it as a mental disorder, claimed that it was a choice, and attempted conversion therapy. Alan Chambers, former president of Exodus International, admitted that conversion therapy does not work. But it wasn’t before the damage had been done.

Now most mainline denominations acknowledge that being gay is not a choice, but they insist on terms like “same sex attraction” and call LGBTQ+ Christians to abstain from acting on their sexual or gender orientation. One only needs to have conversations with LGBTQ+ Christians who have endured this teaching to see the damage that it does.

One trans person told me that they felt that trans people are even despised by the gay community and that society regards them a little higher than child molesters. I’ve heard multiple LGBTQ+ people tell me that they wouldn’t wish being LGBTQ+ on their worst enemies.

“LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth.”

“LGB youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth.”

“40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.”

(source)

A listen through Blue Babies Pink demonstrates the extreme anxiety and loneliness that LGBTQ+ people go through.

“For me, being closeted was like walking around the world bleeding, but with no one ever seeing. It was a big gaping wound that only I could tend to. I was bleeding all over the floor of home and office and church while the rest of the world sped past me, oblivious….

“And in those lonely moments, I wrestled with the question of how I became gay, of how everything in my life could be so great except for this one big awful thing. Lots of tears. Lots of worry.” —Episode 15, “The Art of Distraction”

 

“The lifetime singleness thing was the backup plan, but, honestly, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. I was 26 and had a lot of life left to live. I still had lots of single friends. But as more people disappeared into the married world, friends became more scarce. The supply of single people was limited and thinning with time.

“My future was feeling blurrier . . . scarier. I noticed straight people love the future—white picket fences and babies and beach vacations and soccer practices. I wasn’t sure if I’d have any of that. I wasn’t sure if I could stick it out for the long haul.” —Episode 24, “Lonely Practice”

There is also this from a gay man who grew up Catholic:

“If you were told by those you trusted most that your sexuality was broken, was a threat to you and those you loved, how far would you go to protect the world from it? Would you hide it from your friends? Abandon anyone you ever fell in love with? Tell your family you had to leave them because you feared how you were hurting them? I did. I believed that promise.”

“I remember sitting down as my friends walked down the aisle, my head in my hands and tears streaming down my cheeks. To be honest, what I sensed imagining my own wedding was not relief. It was the first time I had ever actually allowed myself to picture it happening to me, and it felt like the dirtiest thing I had ever done.”

“How could I be so well-liked on the surface and reviled underneath? I loved my job and accepted that I would have to be single for life, but loneliness would gnaw away at me at night until I began to realize I would not be able to keep up this path for much longer.”

“When I was in high school I once came close to driving my car into oncoming traffic. It was dusk and the steady stream of headlights whooshed by, each one like an invitation heading straight toward me only to miss at the last moment. I knew that would be an awful way to do it, probably taking a bunch of other lives just because I didn’t want keep on living mine. But the desire for some relief, any kind of break from how much I hated myself for the way I was — perverted and incapable of love — in that moment I would have welcomed the crash.”

—From “I Thought Gay Celibacy Was My Only Option–I was Wrong” by Patrick Gothman.

One post on a blog that seems to call for LGB Christians to remain celibate highlights the results of a study of celibate LGB Christians:

“The results of the study show that many of the participants lacked a support system where they felt that they belonged fully. Without a nuclear family as they got older, there were fears of the sustainability of singleness, especially in bouts of loneliness. Participants highlighted that, even more than the lack of a romantic partner, it was the lack of access to supports that many married people have, such as avenues for intimacy, companionship, healthy models of celibacy, and a vision for a future they could thrive in, that made celibacy challenging. Participants showed that loneliness often leads to negative thoughts of self and affective experiences that make engaging in meaningful relationships difficult. Participants described this as a domino effect, where their focus on self led to negative beliefs about themselves and negative expectations of their future.”

The Church’s perpetual solution for LGBTQ+ is to learn from the mistakes of the past and  then make all new mistakes. The church has ostracized and demonized LGBTQ+ people, it has told them that they are abominations and because of their sexuality or gender that they are broken (I am not disputing the idea that everyone has brokenness in their lives. I’m disputing the idea that someone is broken or has brokenness in their life solely because they identify as LGBTQ+).

The Church has told them that they are born wrong. It has tried to change them and failed miserably. The medical community widely agrees that conversion therapy isn’t just ineffective. It’s harmful.

Now mainline Christianity (including Catholicism) insists on celibacy for LGB people. Where is the love in celibacy for someone who otherwise feels no physical or spiritual compulsion to practice it? I see no positive fruit in telling someone that they have to go without romantic love their entire lives–that they have to be lonely–because a bunch of heterosexual–mostly white men–think God said so.

In describing its policies on celibacy, the United Church of Christ’s website quotes a Reformer as saying that celibacy is…

“. . . a daily nagging of conscience and unrest of mind, by which all joy becomes suffering, all consolation saddening, all sweetness bitter. . . . [It] dulls and deadens the human senses, hardens the heart, and restrains natural honesty, leaving one in the end in so uncivil and inhumane a state, and so guilt-ridden and remorseful, that one hates salvation and the good in one’s life and longs for misfortune.” —Eberlin von Gônzburg, 1522.

I see no  love, joy, or peace from a call to celibacy for LGB people, particularly because it does not not permit love, joy, or peace for LGBTQ+ believers. I know that most Christians who are non-affirming are sincere in their faith. They don’t mean malice and likely believe what they believe out of love. But it is not bearing good fruit, and that is a red flag that this is a toxic and false belief.

One University of Massachusetts study found that forced celibacy can be psychologically harmful.

“Results revealed how celibacy could harmonize sexuality and Christian spirituality, benefiting some celibates by providing them peace, satisfaction, and spiritual vibrancy. However, for many others, celibacy instigated dissonance between their beliefs and their sexual desires and behaviors, leading to substantial challenges and harms that negatively affected their wellbeing. Participants, especially ex-celibate participants, described psychological, emotional, social, sexual, and spiritual harms.”

The call for anyone to be celibate who does not feel spiritually or physically called to be celibate is also not Biblical.

“I’m telling those who are single and widows that it’s good for them to stay single like me. But if they can’t control themselves, they should get married, because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion.” —1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (CEB)

There are also those who identify as transgender or gender non-conforming. It is not fair to conflate them with LGB (or pansexual) people. There is even less Biblical support to condemn those who identify as trans, and yet the Church maligns them more than any other queer demographic. For those who would claim that gay-affirming Christians are using worldly values to justify what they believe, there is no issue more clear than the trans issue that those very same people are doing it too.

Most trans people just leave the church rather than face the rejection they know that they will encounter. How could one expect anyone to feel welcomed and loved in a place that tells them that what they are is fundamentally wrong? This is all bad fruit.

Conversely, I ask where the good fruit can be found? I see beauty and peace in a person who can finally become the gender with which they have identified as a young child. I see love between B.T. Harman (Blue Babies Pink) and his husband Brett. I see a lot of joy there too. I see kindness when trans people are welcomed into a community.

LGBTQ+ people have proven that they are not broken. They want to have the same love, joy, and peace that everyone else has. They just want to do it in a way that the Church doesn’t want them to for no other reason than the Bible seems to say so in spite of all of the damage this belief is doing.

A non-affirming stance is a harmful stance. An affirming stance is a loving stance. I cannot believe that Christianity would call anyone to believe something so damaging while also ignoring the fruit of the Spirit that our LGBTQ+ brothers, sisters, and gender non-conforming siblings bear and have potential to bear.

Same sex love isn’t what’s doing the damage. The Church’s opposition to it is what’s doing the damage. Even the healthiest approaches of non-affirming churches are still hurting more than helping. It’s not simply God asking people to do a hard thing and not act on their sexuality. It’s causing heaps of damage and trauma. It has to be that we’re reading this thing wrong, or maybe the Bible is a terrible tool for figuring out who should have sex with whom. If to believe the Bible I have to believe that the Bible teaches that gay relationships are a sin, then I’d rather just not believe in the Bible, because by the Bible’s own standards it would fail.

Biblical moral commands are only as good as the fruit they bear. The Bible has been used to justify all sorts of oppression, often by well-meaning Christians who genuinely thought they were just following God’s word. Systemic change in that oppression does not always start with a different or more correct interpretation of the Bible. Often it takes a social outcry. We are hearing that outcry now from the LGBTQ+ community. It is time that we listened.

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