A few weeks back I got a call from a local student working a piece for her college magazine. The college was Azusa Pacific University and the article was on being gay and Christian. Of course I was delighted to be interviewed for the feature -- which is running int the December issue of APU's Collide Magazine.
By Sarah Rogers, staff writer English major
“I’ve always known I was gay,” said Rod López, a May 2010 biblical studies APU graduate. “I’ve never been sexually attracted to women ever since I was a child. I knew I was supposed to like girls, but I didn’t.”
Dr. Mark Yarhouse, who was invited by APU to speak to professors on homosexuality, found in his 2009 research of gay Christian college students that they had differing understandings of their sexual preference’s origin. Yarhouse is the Endowed Chair of the School of Psychology and Counseling at Regent University and the developer of the Institute for the Study of Sexuality. Most participants for his research article, “Listening to Sexual Minorities on Christian Campuses,” believed their same-sex attraction was biological (10%), environmental (53%), or had not formed an opinion and could not answer the question (17%).
According to the American Psychological Association’s website, other explanations for same-sex attraction have pointed to psychological problems. Since 1975, the organization has been attempting to remove homosexuality’s social stigma as a mental disorder.
Gay and Christian: these two factors in identity, faith, and sexuality meld together amidst controversy. But what does it mean to be both?
Studying the Faith
López, who is currently a teacher through Teach for America, grew up in the Catholic church and transitioned to an evangelical one in high school. If he told people his sexual orientation, he would say he was struggling with homosexual thoughts and tendencies. But no longer does he define his homosexuality as a struggle.
“I think someone can be gay and Christian,” López said. “I also think that person can be not only gay, as in sexual orientation, but also can be actively gay and in a same sex relationship.” He had always accepted he was called to celibacy, but some of his APU Bible classes challenged his understanding of human sexuality. According to López, the Christian academic world is not as unanimous on homosexuality as he previously believed.
“In Romans 1, Paul talks about people giving themselves over to sin like same-sex lusts,” López said. “When you think about the Roman world, men of equal economic and cultural status rarely had sex with each other. Often, sex was a power dynamic and they would have sex with younger boys and slaves.” In ancient Rome, López believes penetration was an act of power, not one of love. For two men to be in love and committed to each other was unheard of, as far as he knows.
The Bible is silent on the modern version of homosexuality, according to López. “Same sex relationships now are not about power or status, but two people genuinely in love who want the best for each other,” said López. He would not say the Bible promotes homosexuality, but loving homosexual relationships did not exist and therefore are not addressed in the Bible.
“The Bible doesn’t address every single thing in modernity,” said López. “Christian couples are in love, centered in Christ and want to be disciples of Christ together. I see that and I say, ‘Is that really the same thing being talked about in Romans, Deuteronomy or Philippians?’”
This is not to say López discounts the Holy Bible. “The Bible is the Word of God and I think there’s life and hope to be found in Scripture, but I just don’t see it applying to the situation,” López said. “I think we need to address every part of it and figure it out.”
Wrestling with biblical teachings on homosexuality also brought disagreement with his church. While at APU, López attended an evangelical church and served as a high school youth group leader. When Prop 8 was on the ballot, members of the church organized a booth in the lobby, handing out pamphlets against gay marriage.
“I didn’t think it was appropriate for the church to do that,” said López. “My thing was, if a gay couple walked into church right now, they were going to feel unwelcome.” He began to bring up the subject, but as a well-known church leader, López was asked to step down.
“I was there to mentor the youth. I went for the community and I wasn’t going to go if I couldn’t be involved in the high school ministry,” said López. He started a house church with some friends instead. After he finishes his two-year commitment to Teach for America, López hopes to find a new church in California.
“I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a believer being with other believers,” said López. “I would never dream of doing things on my own because that’s not Christian or what the body of Christ is supposed to be.”
Losing the Faith
For some, churches have been a place of exclusion and hurt. For Abigail Cirelli, a 2010 journalism and sociology APU graduate, her conception of the world was “God is love and people are gay.” She was searching for an understanding of God that allowed for both truths to be harmonious. “I was into liberation theology for a while that teaches God is the God of the oppressed and they are His cause,” said Cirelli. “That allowed me to see the coexistence of Christianity and the acceptance of the reality of the human experience, which is a spectrum of sexuality.”
Cirelli grew up in a small, blue-collar church that she always saw as a loving community. One day, her pastor mentioned they would be going through a video series on homosexuality and how to love the sinner, but hate the sin. “The first time they mentioned it, I burst into tears,” said Cirelli. “A group of people I know are good and loving people created a space that wasn’t safe for everyone.”
Feeling betrayed and tricked, Cirelli couldn’t understand why her church would ask her to separate her body and soul. “You can’t love someone and hate who they are,” Cirelli said. She identifies as queer, being neither straight nor completely gay.
Now, Cirelli has left the church and considers herself agnostic. Treatment of the homosexual community was not her reason for leaving. Christianity felt artificial to her. Cirelli said, “I think the most holy and sacred things are or reside in the connection between people.”
Arguing the Faith
Reverend Susan Russell is on staff at All Saints Church in Pasadena with LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) inclusion as part of her portfolio. She is also the chair of the LGBT group for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and serves on the Religion Council of the national Human Rights Campaign.
“Often, I get the question, ‘Show me in the Bible where it says homosexuality is okay,’” said Russell. “I will say, I can’t find a text that will tell me that. I also can’t find a text that will tell me we should ordain women, be against the death penalty, or abolish slavery.”
Discernment is necessary to read the Bible in context, Russell believes. Texts in the Bible state stoning was the penalty for children talking back and the idea that the sun revolved around the earth. “I believe in the 21st century we have a different understanding of the psychology and biology of homosexuality,” said Russell.
“There are a percentage of people who are, for lack of a better word, hard-wired to form their best, most authentic relationships in terms of emotional and sexual intimacy with partners of the same gender,” said Russell. “Given that that is a scientific given, I think as a theologian my response to that is, ‘Where is God in those relationships?’”
Common arguments against homosexuality tend to be Scripture-based, but Russell believes Christians should look at the wider message of the Bible. God’s wider message, to Russell, is His love, justice, and compassion. “If you belong to a tradition that reads the Bible literally, I would challenge you to read it all literally. I think it becomes a challenge,” said Russell. “We take the Bible too seriously to take it literally.”
To allow the issue of homosexuality to polarize and divide the greater church is to miss the high calling of being followers of Jesus, she said. Russell said, “Good people of deep faith reading the same Bible come to different conclusions about God’s will. But we should not allow ourselves to be distracted from the wider work of the church by allowing gay and lesbian families to be the sacrificial lambs of partisan politics.”
Note to the reader: This article’s purpose was to look at a part of identity that is an important discussion to college-age readers and the greater church. The Collide staff chose to examine a narrow aspect of a large discussion regarding homosexuality and to answer the question, how do people identify as both gay and Christian? Most sources interviewed speak personally on this question.