Tuesday 27 March 2012

Being Gay - Such A Disappointment (Part 1/3)

Over the last few weeks, one subject has really taken me by the scruff of the neck and given me a thoroughly good shaking. It has troubled me that so many people think that a gay sexual orientation is disappointing for a human being to have. "Being gay is okay, but really, it would have been better to be straight," so many people believe. In this post, I want to unpack this notion a little to see what is truly there. So let's start with one of the hardest things that most gay people find difficulty in doing.

Why is it that so many gay people, myself included, have found it so immensely difficult to come out to parents? I did it over twenty years ago, but boy oh boy, I certainly put it off for a very long time - wanting to, struggling with the desire, but then backing away from it only to have it return relentlessly until I actually did speak to them and tell them the truth about myself. A massive struggle! In BGBC I did discuss this topic at length and talked about the fear of rejection as being the fundamental reason for the dilemma. And while I do believe that fear of rejection is the crux of the matter, I think now there is perhaps another way of characterising this difficulty. This alternate characterisation is strongly associated with the fear of rejection and I think is actually a part of it. It is this concept of disappointment.

We do not want to be disappointments to our parents. We do not want to feel like we're letting them down. And coming out as gay can have this quality of feeling like we're a real downer on their happiness, a lead balloon in their once blue sky. "Oh Ashley you know told us he is gay. We'll love him of course and support him, but it's such a disappointment for us. Not that we'd tell him that. We're still getting used to the idea." These are the secret words we fear. Recently, on a gay Christian website, a mother of a young man who has just come out to her has written in to ask for some input from the forum. Allow me to quote just one small sentence, actually a question. "Why do I feel so disappointed inside when he's the same person today as he was yesterday?"

I feel dreadfully for this poor mum. She and so many others see being gay as a second-best, a silver medal, a downgrade from the optimal. Her disappointment is actually a form of grief. She is struggling with the loss of an image - the image of the trajectory she always believed her son would take. The sense of disappointment is palpable, but she, like the rest of us to some extent, has bought into believing a fairy tale.

The fairy tale goes like this. You get born. You go to school, you live in a loving family, you pass all your exams, you go to university or get a good job, or both, you meet your opposite sex partner, you fall in love, you get married, you buy a house, you have kids of your own, and finally, you live happily together forever. This is the trajectory that most parents just naturally believe their kids will take. It's all very linear. A moves on to B then on to C, then onwards to the end, each milestone all very 'normal' and even over the course of a lifetime. From the point of view of queer discourse, we might call this a heteronormative myth, that is, a fairy tale-like belief based on the notion that heterosexuality is the assumed norm for everybody and that a nice neat linear trajectory along the lines I just listed will ensue.

But not everyone lives this myth and many people have to deal with all manner of meanderings, twists and turns off this straight and narrow path. Some of the more common ones I hear about in my Consulting Room on a daily basis are: miscarriage or still-birth, developmental disorders, learning difficulties, illness, disease, accidents, misadventure, confusion as to direction, failure at education, tyrannical bosses, harassing colleagues, dislocation, unemployment, teenage pregnancies, affairs, divorce, redundancy and dementia to name but a few.

Of the hundreds of possible twists, one such meandering is when a child turns out to be gay. From that point on, the rest of the fairy tale stops dead and all the dreams and expectations for that child according to the assumed 'normal' trajectory evaporate in the disclosure, "Mum and Dad, I need to tell you something." When you are brought up your whole life to believe in the fairy tale and see other people purportedly living it, then you just come to expect that it will be true for you too.

So what's wrong with the fairy tale? Nothing in itself. Some people do in fact manage it, at least on the surface. But it does tend to corral our thinking and expectations into a very narrow view of how our lives and our kids' lives will turn out. But as any adult knows, life is never this black and white, never this clean-cut and neat, so when the kids deviate from this well-imagined path, there can be a sense of disappointment.

And so to the troubling aspect about this disappointing gay life. Why is it disappointing? It’s the idea or belief that when your child is gay, he or she won’t get to live a life of happiness and fulfilment. This is the essence of parental disappointment. It is played out in society at large too so that there is a cultural sense of disappointment in young people turning out to be gay. “Oh did you hear about Sally and Greg? Their young Jason came out to them as gay. How disappointing for them. Poor Sally.” When my partner was 21 and out, he was seeing a medical specialist who offered him this little pearl of his wisdom for free, "well being gay is okay, but you wouldn't wish it on anyone would you?" Apart from the jaw-dropping insensitivity from a highly educated clinican whom you would expect better from, you cannot hep but notice the distinct notion of disappointment for my partner in his being gay.

I think one of the principal foci of parental disappointment is the idea that the gay son or daughter will not have children of their own. While this is understandable from a heteronormative point of view, it is not the point of view of gay people themselves generally speaking. In fact, some gay people do have children, either from previous relationships or as a step-parent, or with a gay partner through IVF or surrogacy. However, most gay people don’t have children and manage to lead happy lives without them, much in the manner of straight people who do not have children.

This is a very delicate point for people get extremely tetchy when you start talking about children, but I think it needs to be made if there is to be societal change around our topic in question. While the human race depends on sexual reproduction for the perpetuation of our species, and having children is an absolute miracle, having and raising children in the 21st century is not necessarily the only way to have a good life. And at the risk of offending every straight parent reading this, nor is it necessarily the pinnacle of human relationships. While having children is a beautiful act of creation, people can have perfectly fulfilled and happy lives without them. And let's be honest, children do not always bring happiness and joy to their parents nor are they necessarily always an integral part of the family unit. I regularly see people of all ages who are no longer in contact with parents or children for one reason or another and almost every day, I see empty nesters whose children have grown up and moved on and have very little to do with them. I only say this to suggest that having children is not for everybody and that despite its common occurrence, should not necessarily be the criterion by which we judge whether or not someone is going to be happy and lead a fulfilling life.

This is an important point because I think it is integral to the disappointment model of gay sexuality we are are examining. So, the next time you hear someone suggest that being gay is a disappointment, take the time to ask what it is that the speaker really means, what it is that is actually disappointing. For me now, the whole disappointment view is wrong and harmful and causes unnecessary suffering to all, both gay and straight. So a declaration: Being gay is no more disappointing than being straight. Let me elucidate.

Just about anybody over the age of 30 knows that life is a mix. In a wonderful first world country like Australia, for most of us, life has a lot of good, a heck of a lot of neutral and a little bit of bad. We each make our way according to our own lights and for the most part do the best we can. We have enough food to eat, clothes on our back and we make what we do of our educational and employment opportunities. Whether straight or gay, we want to lead happy and fulfilled lives where we can enjoy the fruits of our labours and feel safe and valued by our families, partners and friends. Such a life is deemed a good life.

As far as a gay trajectory goes, there is no real reason why any gay person would not be able to achieve such a life. Yes, there are yobbos out there who in a drunken state might pick on us, but they pick on others as well. No-one is really immune from such sociopathic behaviour. Often it's about being in the wrong place at the wrong time unfortunately. But aside from this kind of thing, which we gays for the most part are pretty good at avoiding, gay people can and do flourish. Not just exist. Flourish!

We have a great fun. We value our friends in a special way. We can establish incredibly loving partnerships that can be kept alive and thriving. We can work in fulfilling jobs and careers, get ourselves well-educated, keep fit, look after our homes, become involved in the community, dance and enjoy ourselves. We adore our music. We can even involve ourselves in personal development to grow spiritually if we are so inclined. We can travel the world to see its marvels and we can act out our lives in compassionate ways by helping others. We build a camaraderie that is second to none and in a country like Australia, we can feel comfortable in our gay skin and confident of being able to flourish. And to top it all off, we put an emphasis on our sex lives that can be rewarding and enriching. This has all the hallmarks of a successful life, a life lived to the full, a life of substance. Such a life is the very antithesis of the disappointment model of being gay. “Oh those poor gay things, will they ever be happy like we straight people are?” And to that the answer is a resounding YES. Our being gay does not preclude us from living well.

There is nothing disappointing about being gay, or having a gay son or daughter, or for that matter, having a gay father or mother. Disappointment doesn’t come into it. When expecting parents are asked which sex they would like, you often hear the formulaic answer, “we don’t care, as long as it’s got ten fingers and ten toes and is healthy, that’s all that matters.” Why not take that thought one extra step. “We don’t care whether he’s straight or gay, as long as he’s happy, has opportunities and gets to live out his life in a meaningful way being loved and valued.”

Wouldn’t it be grand if we lived in a world where being gay was as equally valued as being straight by parents and society? “Mum and Dad, there’s something I want to talk to you about.” “Oh you’re gay, how wonderful for you.” What a world that would be. Let’s try to live that world now. Let’s try to make that world the reality, so that in the end, there is no difference in how we are all treated, no difference in how we are all thought of. Let’s discard the old disappointment model of being gay that sees our orientation as being inferior and second-rate and accept the idea that being gay is a wonderful gift, a fantastic different way to live life and experience it, just as much the gold medal as being straight. After years of self-rejection over my sexuality, I can now think how blessed I am to be gay and how lucky I am to get to live this kind of life. You know, if I had been straight, I wouldn't be the man I am today. I would be somebody else. And I'm pretty happy with the man I am today.

So parents and friends, if your loved one tells you that he or she is gay, rejoice with them and don't be disappointed. They've just begun a new adventure. 

Saturday 24 March 2012

Newcastle Herald Review 24 March 2012

A nice little review by Newcastle Herald Weekender Magazine book reviewer David Christie - brief, very positive and very welcome. Thanks David Christie - glad you liked it.

Thursday 22 March 2012

Message to Queensland

This week on Tuesday night 20th March I had the wonderful opportunity to speak to the State of Queensland on ABC Radio 612 Brisbane - which covers the entire State. And my topic was, you guessed it, Being Gay Being Christian. In the week that brought us a patently homophobic and provocative television commercial by a minor political party in Queensland for their upcoming election and a Sydney man driving his repugnant truck of hate - homophobic billboards emblazoned on the back - all the way to Brisbane up the east coast, interviewer Rebecca Levingstone spoke to me intelligently and respectfully about the issues that the interface between gay sexuality and Christian faith brings. It was a most interesting interview and both Rebecca and I enjoyed our time together enormously. I hope that it helped the people in Queensland understand more about gay sexuality generally but also how it does not exclude gay people from being followers of Jesus.

If you know someone who might benefit from hearing this, perhaps a parent of someone you know who is gay and who is struggling with family issues or a gay person themselves who might be confused or struggling, then point them here to the BGBC Blog and encourage them to have a listen. Share it around as much as you can so the greater good can be achieved. Blessings everyone.


Pax et Amor - Stuart

Sunday 18 March 2012

A Queer Reading of The Pearl of Great Price

On pp106-7 of BGBC, I state the following about my theological position these days. "However, one of the greatest reform movements to sweep the world church is the Progressive Christianity or Emergent Church movement, which is not fearful of human intellect or the spirit of inquiry and seeks to have modern scholarship elucidate faith in the context of a modern world." I am comfortable in aligning myself with such a Christianity. One of the principal areas that the Emergent Church is looking at in its new ways of thinking about faith is the nature of salvation.

For a very long time now, the nature of salvation has been discussed in terms of an innocent man being required to die to pay a price to an angry and remote God for the sins of humanity, thus saving them from His wrath and judgement, and bringing them salvation. In theological circles, this is known as the Penal Substitutionary Model (PSM) of salvation. You know it well. It has been taught to us all from the cradle and it is the major discourse on the topic of what salvation means in Christian thinking. Jesus had to die for yours and my sins, thus paying the price, a blood sacrifice, for us all and in our stead, thus allowing God to put aside His righteous judgment and wrath and accept us as His children. It’s pretty powerful stuff, and not a little unsettling, I am sure you will agree.

However, not everyone in Christian scholarship is entirely comfortable with the PSM holding the principal and only way of talking about salvation. Many scholars are uncomfortable with the picture of God that the PSM presents and they feel that by focusing on the ‘payment for sin’ concept, the model leaves out the positive message of salvation and the indescribable love of God. So in this blog let me refocus on another aspect of what salvation might mean.

One of the characterisations of salvation that the Progressive Christianity movement is trying to reinvigorate is the idea that salvation can mean healing, wholeness, unity and connection – with the Divine, with oneself and with one’s neighbours and the world. Such healing and wholeness comes directly from the life, the teaching, the example and the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Some of those aspects reach up to the transcendent, some out to our fellow humans and some within my own interior world. It is this last that I would like to emphasise here as we take a fresh, and this time, queer look at one of Jesus’ stories – the pearl of great price.

I always used to puzzle over this shortest of parables. It is so tiny. When they finally added the punctuation and verse numbers to the Bible, which it didn’t have originally, this little story turned out to have just two verses or two little short sentences. Yet it is a powerful little story and really packs a punch, as so many of Jesus’ stories did.

It is found in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13 verses 45-46.
Here it is in two different translations.

"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it" – NIV.

"Again the Kingdom of the Heavens is like a jewel merchant who is in quest of choice pearls. He finds one most costly pearl; he goes away; and though it costs all he has, he buys it" - Weymouth New Testament.

So with our notion of salvation meaning healing and wholeness, unity and connection, let’s take a fresh look at this parable especially in the way it may relate to LGBT people.

First up, notice how Jesus frames the whole thing in the terms, "the kingdom of heaven is like." This is not the first time Jesus uses this expression and it is not the last. In modern Biblical Studies today, we would say that this theme of the Kingdom of Heaven is one of the major substantive themes in all of Jesus’ teaching ministry. He was always on about it. These days with better understanding of ancient languages through linguistic analysis, a better translation would be ‘the realm of God’ or even the ‘government of God,’ or to use the everyday, ‘God’s way of doing things.’ In other passages in the New Testament, Jesus went on to talk about the realm of God in proximity terms – it is described as being: at hand, close by, around you, here, within you. You can’t get much closer than that last one, can you – within you.

Secondly, Jesus offers a simile to explain what this interior realm of God is like. It is only one simile he uses out of a number so even from this we can take reassurance that there is not just one way to characterise salvation, for surely that is the realm of God within us - no, Jesus himself uses many ways to describe it. And what does he say? He says that it’s like this particular merchant who is on the lookout for fine pearls and then when he finds one of extraordinary value, he goes away and sells everything he has in order to purchase it. When I read something like that, I always want to know the ins and outs of it. For example, I want to know why this is a good picture of the realm of God as opposed to some other picture? How does it work to give us an example of how the realm of God operates? What are the metaphors for life here?

Let’s look. The merchant is looking for something special we are told. He’s on the lookout. He is on a mission to find something of great value. That’s exactly the kind of mission I was on when I was trying to come to terms with my gay sexuality. I desperately wanted some happiness in my life. I certainly did not experience healing or wholeness, unity or connection, either with God or within myself, even though I followed after the Lord with all my heart and strength, and despite my church life with all its praise and worship and fellowship, I always felt inwardly in despair that I held this great and dark secret that kept separating me from God. Or so I thought at the time. Healing and wholeness eluded me.

And when I finally got honest with myself and started looking for some real life answers, it was only then that I experienced the realm of God, the breakthrough that brought me to the light where I could see my life clearly. I could stay closeted, in denial of my sexuality and attempt to suppress my human desire for the rest of my life in the erroneous belief that I was doing it because God wanted me to. Or, I could accept the very obvious and clear fact that I was a naturally gay man and was attracted to my own gender physically and emotionally. I could remain in self-disgust or I could come out into the light and accept myself and like myself and even love myself for the man that God had made me. It was a stark choice; one or the other - despair or hope, lies or freedom.

Then in our text, notice too that the merchant actually did find what he had been looking for. With all that resolve and all that effort, he finally found his treasure, his valuable pearl, or as the old King James Bible puts it so beautifully, his "pearl of great price." I think as gay people we too find our pearl of great price. It is of such inestimable value for two reasons. The first is because it represents something that we have longed for for so long, something we have searched for for so long – no less than a new way of living, a new way of being. All the early years of wondering, running, hiding, suppressing, fearing, but always knowing deep down. And then we reach it, we find it – wow, what freedom!

But secondly, it is of such inestimable value because our pearl, just like the merchant’s, costs us everything, our old life. Privately coming to terms with our sexuality and then subsequently coming out has resonance with Christian baptism doesn’t it? The old is gone, behold the new has come. Our merchant on a mission after finding his pearl then goes away and determines to have this new thing. He is so focused. He sells everything. The Weymouth puts it beautifully doesn’t it? "He finds one most costly pearl; he goes away; and though it costs all he has, he buys it." It cost him everything. He really must think it's worth it.

Accepting our sexuality and living life as an out gay person costs us our old way of living, our old way of experiencing human life. For some, like me, it costs us some friends. It cost me my job, my salary, my security, my social life and my church life. That was twenty years ago and times have changed. But some might still ask, "was it worth it?" And the answer – Absolutely YES! When you find the pearl of great price as a gay person who has been struggling with sexuality, nothing compares. Living in freedom. Liking yourself. Loving yourself. Meeting others just like you. Having love in your life. Having touch in your life. Living authentically. Not having to hide. Not having to pretend. Not having to live the life-lie, as I put it in BGBC. All of that drops away. It is worth ALL of the cost.

So the realm of God is just like this merchant, so Jesus says. This is our salvation. It is an interior change - a setting free emotionally, psychologically. The Spirit of God leading me, inviting me to intimacy and relationship with Himself and others asa gay person. My salvation brings me healing and wholeness, unity and connection. At one with myself finally. Feeling the gentle guidance and undergirding of our loving God in my life as a gay person. God’s salvation within.

So if you find yourself a gay person in a church or family who is longing for salvation - longing for healing and wholeness, longing for unity and connection, then let the light of God’s love and gentle guidance guide you into being set free too. Don't live the life-lie. Talk to someone you can trust. If you don't know anybody, find someone. be like the merchant on a mission. Don’t put it off. You’ve been searching for this life of value, this life of happiness for such a long time. Let the Spirit of God allow you to find your own pearl of great price. And you’ll be able to follow the Way of Jesus in your life as a valued and loved gay person. Your pearl will be of inestimable value.

Love to hear your thoughts.

Pax et Amor - Stuart


Monday 12 March 2012

Celibacy and Gays Pt 1.

Over the last few days I have been pondering what it really means to have a lifelong commitment to celibacy. Why have I been pondering such a thought? Because this is exactly what the church teaches today that young gay people should have. It works this way. You're young, gay and you go to church. You come out hoping to find some acceptance. Instead you are offered what I consider to be one of the most devestating and vicious pieces of counsel that anyone can hear.

You must not only repent of your sin, but further, you must commit to an automatic, externally-mandated, no questions asked, non-negotiable obligation to celibacy. And you must do this for the rest of your life. Both will go home that night after this mandate is given - the counsellor and the counsellee. The Catholic priest who himself has a mandated and enforced celibacy, his from his superiors in the Church, will go home that night and have the accoutrements of the vast resources of the Catholic Church to help him live out his life within the confines of celibacy - a celibacy for which he volunteered in the first place. Alternatively, the evangelical or Pentecostal pastor, more likely to be married than not, will go home that night and have sex with his wife after a long series of tiring Sunday services and forget about his young charge that night. The gay teenager or adolescent who has been told how to live his or her life by a Christian authority figure will go home that night crestfallen, in fear, loneliness, confusion and anguish. "What does this mean for me?" he or she will rightly ask, and "How on earth am I supposed to do that?"

I want to deconstruct this piece of throw-away counsel in this blog post to ensure that people see what it is that we're really talking about. First of all, the church has been traditionally big on the whole sin message. It has virtually predominated the life and discourse of the church since the 1st century. Personally, and I am not alone in this theological position, I think it has warped the message of the Gospel and the meaning of Christ and the incarnation so that the message is now so skewed to sin that we have lost sight of the greatest story in the God - Humanity epic - the Divine act of continuing creation. But because of the dominance of the sin message, we have come to accept scriptures like "For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" as being the crux and point of the whole Gospel. So, the church across the ages has taught that we must avoid not only sin itself but the occasions of sin. What this means is that we are supposed to diligently avoid any place, person or event that might lead us into an occasion for sinning. With that in mind, let's get back to our topic at hand.

A gay person, young or older, is told in declaration not negotiation, by a clergyman that they are to commit to lifelong celibacy because to act out of their natural gay sexual orientation would be to reject the divine order and to commit sin against God according to the Scriptures. Of course this will also mean avoiding the occasions whereby sin is a potential outcome.

So in real life what does this mean for our gay person? For ease of flowing prose, let's make this person an adolescent gay guy, but it could just as easily be a young lesbian woman. To start with, he cannot hold hands with a partner - lest that lead him into sin. He cannot sit on a sofa, arm around the shoulder of a sweetheart to watch a movie - lest that lead him into sin. He cannot give or receive a foot massage during the movie - lest that lead him into sin. He cannot run his fingers through a boyfriend's hair - lest that lead him into sin. Of course, he cannot have a boyfriend at all anyway. Likewise he must refuse all overtures from another male gay friend to have his own hair touseled - lest that lead him into sin. He certainly should not give his friend a back massage or receive one either - lest that lead him into sin. He cannot hug this other young man, even when he desperately wants or needs a hug - lest that lead him into sin. He most certainly cannot kiss his friend no matter how much he may have fallen in love with him - lest that lead him into sin. In fact, given the propensity to closeness and intimacy with this other young man, he should avoid him at all costs and not allow his presence into his life.

There can be no trips to the beach or bushwalks together. There can be no wonderful cinema experiences or music shared at a great concert. No special dinners. No time spent together just lolling about with your loved one. None of the normal and typical behaviours that young people in love get to to do. Those feelings, those behaviours are denied our young man. Any of these could lead to an occasion for sin!

He will never be able to spoon his partner in bed during the winter months. He will never be able to lie there with his partner and talk before falling off to sleep or laugh hysterically lying there together at some hilarity that happened to him during the day. He will never be able to kiss his partner good-night or snuggle up to him half asleep on a rainy early morning. He will never be able to shower with his partner and have the fun of washing each others' backs. Never bathe with his partner, legs entwined as they navigate two bodies into one bath with a few candles set around. All the talks, the banter, the laughter, the bonding that occurs during these behaviours will be denied him. His straight brother will have them all, but our young gay man will be told that he must endure this solitude for the rest of his life - just because he is gay - an orientation that emerged without his say-so during early adolescence just at the same time as his brother's straight orientation emerged without his say-so during his own early adolescence.

And of course it goes without saying that he will never be able to make love to a boyfriend or partner, never know the passion of sexual touch, the physicality of his own body during love-making, the sheer delight of sensual pleasure, the like of which there is nothing to compare. No early morning bonk just because they both feel like it before they go off to work. No late night encounter becasue they're not tired. No middle of the night half asleep bonding of two people in love. No grunt sex. No passionate sex. No make-up sex. No slow sex. No romantic sex. No birthday sex. No New Years sex. No stress-relief sex. No sex at all. No allowing his natural desire to be met in any way. And by God, he can't stimulate himself either because that is a sin too.

No, our young gay man must deny his body and every desire that it affords him. He must reject everything that is sensual. He must repudiate everything that is relational to the same gender with the exception of platonic relationships, a cruel joke on his mind and heart. He must endure a life of loneliness and solitude, a life of of longing and yearning, of exquisitly painful isolation as he watches his brother and peers pair up in relationships with their girlfriends.

But our gay young man must not touch and must not be touched. He is to live out his life outside of what is considered to be healthy and whole for the the human family - outside of loving touch. With the exception of family and friendly hugs or pats on the back - and if he's not close to his family, then that's just bad luck - he is not to be touched. He is denied the first and oldest of our senses - touch.

And in its place, he is told he must rely on Christ. When he feels the need to take someone in his arms and hold them close, instead he must call on Christ. When he feels the need to be held tight and kissed and caressed, instead he must call on Christ. When he is as horny as only an adolescent can be, then he must call on Christ. In the middle of the night when he wakes up because of overwhelming sexual tension, he must call on Christ. And he must do this day after day, month after month, and year after year. For life! He is told that God will give him the strength to bear such a burden.

But Jesus never does heal us of our gay sexuality. How can he? It is not a sickness. Jesus doesn't appear in the middle of the night and take away our desire or our loneliness or our isolation. When we turn over to an empty space in a bed and feel the weight of loneliness, it is not Jesus who meets that need. It can only be a flesh and blood person. Try relying on Christ in this turmoil for ten, twenty, thirty, forty years or more - this is what he has been told he must do.

Our young man turns into a middle aged man and he is tired and lonely and angry. He is angry at the church and angry at God for having to endure such a dreadful life. And he is angry at himself for letting clergymen tell him how to live his life rather than giving primacy to his own conscience and to following the Way of Jesus as a gay person. He feels it is all too late now, he feels that he has squandered his youth by living in a sin consciousness - his desires never did go away, so he constantly repented and asked forgiveness of God for his relentless sin nature.

This is the logical consequence of telling a young man or woman that they are obliged to commit to an automatic non-negotiable lifelong celibacy. I call it it by what it is. It is emotional abuse. And our young people are vulnerable to Christian authority figures telling them this stuff. It is abuse pure and simple. Abuse by the church. Abuse by the clergy. I have seen first-hand what this teaching has done to some people. They are utterly diminished by it and are shells of their potential selves.

The psychology literature shows clearly that touch is an essential component for human beings to grow, thrive and flourish. Without it, there is frailty, diminution and death. We have seen this in other mammals such as rhesus monkeys in the famous Harlow experiments and we have seen it in human infants after the Ceausescu regime fell in Communist Romania in untouched orphans with underdeveloped physical, cognitive and emotional capacities. There are serious consequences to not being touched!

So to the church, to the clergy: Stop this abuse. Stop it. You have no right to tell any person to live that way, young or older.
As I say in BGBC, God is not into torturing his children and neither should you be.

This is me when I was in my 20s, preaching at a church camp,
looking confident, but inside in turmoil at my loneliness and longing -
the moustache, long hair and tight little footy shorts all gone now.
I know the story above well because it is also my story. For too long I lived a life of self-enforced celibacy because I believed the teachings of the church about my nature as a gay person - that I was sick and sinful and needed to be saved or healed. They were wrong then and they are wrong now. My loneliness as a young man knew no bounds and my desire to be touched was sometimes overwhelming, despite my strong faith in God. Today I am so grateful that I made it through.

Don't let your precious life be destroyed by fatuous thinking that has come out of a blind stubborn church still not ready to undertand human desire in all its forms, that refuses to work with what science has shown us about human sexuality and that still treats gay people as entrenched sinners who choose a sinful lifestyle. Achh! Be free in the knowledge that if you are gay, God has given you a wonderful gift, a different way of experiencing the world, an exhilirating way to experience human life. You get out there and enjoy being gay and leave the celibacy to the mediaeval monks.

So the next time you hear a church leader, clergyman or pastor of any church casually say, "well if they're gay, they'll have to remain celibate for life to be in right relationship with God and his church", then understand that what they are sentencing on another human life is effectively a life lost, a life of isolation and a life of desolation. Celibacy means a whole lot more than just not having sex.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Friday 9 March 2012

Interview with John Cleary on Australia's ABC Local Radio

In this blog post, I am placing my interview with veteran religious broadcaster John Cleary on Australia's ABC Networked Local Radio program Sunday Nights. This was broadcast on 4 March 2012. Here is some information about John and the program from the ABC website:

John Cleary is a veteran ABC broadcaster and one of Australia's best-known commentators on religion. In his 30-year career with the ABC he has worked extensively in both radio and television, but is known principally for his association with Sunday Nights on ABC Local Radio and The Religion Report on ABC Radio National.

John began his career in Perth, was one of the original Compass team on ABC TV and a co-presenter of the philosophy program, Meridian, on Radio National in the 1990s. For several years, John also appeared in a regular slot on the ABC youth network JJJ.  His 1992 book on the Salvation Army in Australia was awarded the Christian Book of the Year.

In 2008, John was host of the interfaith event held by the Catholic Church in conjunction with World Youth Day and the visit of Pope Benedict XVI. John is in high demand as a conference moderator and speaker.

Sunday Nights is unique in the field of religious broadcasting. This four-hour program, broadcast on networked Local Radio across Australia and Radio Australia as well as digital radio and internet streaming, provides highly topical, wide-ranging and interactive coverage of issues of religion, ethics, spirituality, values and social issues.

The program is bracketed by talkback - a topic-based discussion with expert guests in the first hour, and a more general chat about issues of the day in the final hour (the One O'clock Chat Room), with a rotating list of specialist commentators.

In the second hour, from 11.00 pm AEST, John goes deeper on important issues with an extended interview with a significant person in the program's fields of interest, from Australia or overseas. Authors, politicians, religious leaders, academics, musicians and artists are among the people who have appeared in this segment. Often they are asked to select some favourite music tracks which can open up intriguing lines of questioning.

Click below to listen:

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Why I Remain a Person of Faith

Over the last few weeks since the release of BGBC, I have been interviewed many times. Of all the questions that I have been asked so far, there is only one that every interviewer has asked. It is this: if the church hurt you so badly and was so destructive in your life, then why on earth did you stay with Christianity - why didn't you get the hell out of there as fast as you could like other gay people did?

The one dominant emotion in each of the interviewers was incredulity. They simply could not believe that after everything I had endured at the hands of the church and good Christian folk that I chose to stay with a faith that was ostensibly so homophobic, so hostile to my natural self, so aggressive in its repudiation of my personhood.

So all these years after the fact, what do I think of this?

Well for a start, I think incredulity is probably the most logical feeling to experience. It really is hard to believe why I stayed, if not in the institutional church, then with the Christian faith. And I am not the only one who has experienced this. Lots of gay Christians get asked all the time why they continue to bother with the whole thing, given the church is so resistant to change and enlightenment.
Here is my answer as I see things at the moment. Part of this can be found in the final chapter of the book and part of this is new for the BGBC Blog.

The thing is, when one has a deep faith as I had, it is not the easiest thing in the world to just abandon it. This is because our faith is birthed and rooted in the person of God, not in the institutional church. While the church hurt me, and it certainly did, I cannot blame God for that.

You will recall from BGBC if you have read it that I felt I needed to put God on the shelf in order for me to get some answers. I had to be broken in order to finally be honest with myself. I do not say that everyone has to experience this brokenness, only that I had to. It was when I reached that point where I could no longer go on and that nothing made sense any more, that I finally began my upward journey to truth and peace. It was that honesty that lead me to seek help from a Psychologist who gently and carefully took me through everything that I needed to talk about - sex, tenderness, desire, companionship, self-love, self-acceptance, healing.

And to achieve this resolution, I felt I needed to do it outside the church - outside its worldview, outside its terminology of sin and salvation, outside of its teachings on human sexuality. The lovely thing that I have realised for a long time now though is that even though I thought I had put God on the shelf for those years, nothing could have been further from the truth. Instead of me putting Him aside, I was actually held firmly by grace. This is the definition of grace I love the best - to be taken hold of by the Divine Presence, to be grasped by God. We so often think it is our grasping of God that makes the life of faith work. It is not this at all; it is the reverse in fact. It is being grasped by God. During those years in the wilderness for me, I was held by the Divine Love at every moment, every point, every tear.

And so, to abandon the God I had loved my whole life proved impossible for me. So grasped was I by God as a young man that I could not do it, though the church repudiate me, though Christian friends reject me, though they all think I am in error, or backslidden or in heresy. In the end, it was not they who had to live my life, with or without God, but me. I had to choose to live my life authentically as my true self. And where there is truth, there is ultimate reality, there is God.

At the end of that long dark tunnel I found God not only out in the light but I eventually realised that He had been with me under the mountain undergirding my life and trajectory all along, always to freedom, always to peace, always to relationship, always in love. So while incredulity is truly the logal thing to feel at such man-made destruction, the love of God goes beyond logic to the depths of being, the depths of identity.

However, there is another reason why I stayed with my faith too. In BGBC in Chapter 11, I talk about why some Catholics choose to remain in the church when its official teaching is so out of step with modern scholarhsip in psychology, sociology, theology and Biblical studies. It is this notion of not abandoning the church to the bigots and the ignorant, but choosing to stay in order to make a difference, to open up the conversation that has to be had and to make the declaration - I am gay and I am Catholic, you will not deny me my church that I have grown up in from my infancy. This rather 'protestant' position is also why I wrote BGBC.

I wanted to say out loud that the church's teachings about gay people are wrong, unjust and harmful and that they needed to cease declaring these teachings. So part of my living faith today is not just my own personal relationship with the Divine but a sense of using this book to help others to self-accetpance and self-love and to know that God is on their side too. To the whole of my faith I stand as the gay Catholics to the whole of their Church. I cannot abandon it to bigotry and ignorance and stand idly by while good people are hurt and the reputation of the Gospel is tarnished.

And so I remain Christian. One friend put it this way. "It is my first language." I like this. My faith is my mother tongue. Though I cannot hope to ever pretend that I will understand everything about how God works in this world, it is enough that I do not understand yet get to make meaning out of a confusing life through the prism of Jesus and to know that I am grasped by grace.

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Pax et Amor - Stuart

Thursday 1 March 2012

Sydney Mardi Gras 2012

This weekend in Sydney, Oxford Street will once again light up to the music and marching of the annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, only this year, the organiser's have dropped the 'Gay and Lesbian' bit and just opted for "Mardi Gras" (more on that later).

In thinking about Mardi Gras this year, it has occurred to me just how much I have changed over the years since it started, so with your grace and patience, I would like to take just a moment to trace some key developments of my life over the course of the life of the Mardi Gras and to show how even the most stultified man can change and grow.

1978 - First Mardi Gras 24 June. Violence erupted after the lead float was confiscated by police. Fifty-three arrests and many beatings ensued.
In 1978, I was two years out of High School, studying at Univeristy. I had started a music degree the year before but hated the course and so started reading English Literature and Humanities in 1978. I had stopped attending the Catholic Church by then and was serious in my love for God and the things of God attenuated through an evangelical lens. I had joined the Uniting Church. I was in complete denial of my sexuality and probably agreed with the opponents of the Mardi Gras that such a sinful way of life should not be paraded on our streets.

1981 - the Mardi Gras is moved to its present location and into summer to better enjoy Sydney's fabulous weather.
In 1981, I had finished my degree and decided to study for a Diploma in Education, a twelve month monster of a study year that equipped a person to be employed by the then Department of Education. I was arguing good-naturedly with the Catholics in my study-groups about 'important' issues of the faith like baptism, the role of priesthood, the role of saints, the place of the Bible, the interpretation of Scipture and a whole lot more. I was repudiating everything Catholic back then quite self-righteously. As a 22 year old, I was watching everyone else have partners and relationships while I had none. The emptiness was growing inside me, but I persisted in the denial of desire and self believing that God would 'heal' me.

1985 - It was suggested by the Australia AIDS Task Force that the gay community should be 'responsible' and cancel that year's Mardi Gras.
By 1985 I was working in a Christian school in Newcastle. I was one of its original and pioneering teachers. During these years, I taught not only English but religious education, assisted in weekly chapel services for the staff and students and paritcipated in staff retreats. I was fully involved in my own church too in a leadership role, both in preaching and in the music team. It was over this period that my mental health began to suffer as a result of such a long denial of the self. It was also during these years that I alttempted to rid myself of my gayness by every Christian means available. I prayed and fasted, was prayed over by countless holy men and women, tried divine healing and deliverance from demonic oppression, prayed in in the Spirit for hours on end and entered into spiritual warfare. Nothing changed. God remained silent and I remained gay and in denial, holding on to a fading belief that God was going to change me or make me stay this way in order to make me humble or to teach me some kind of life lesson. I wondered whether this was own personal Pauline-like "thorn in the flesh".

1989-1993 - The Mardi Gras was being televised on Australian TVs and mainstream Australia was seeing it in their loungerooms. Numbers had grown to 500,000  - an enormous pulic spectacle. Fundamentalist Christians were going into apoplexy at such a bald-faced demonstration of 'sin.' Chief among these was the Rev Fred Nile who eventually went into politics, going into the NSW Parliament's Upper House. Fred would regularly denounce the Mardi Gras and "sinful homosexuality" and would even do stunts, like all politicians do occasionally, and very publcily pray for rain on Mardi Gras parade night. His own Party began to be associated with an ultra conservative and anti-gay rhetoric.

In 1991, still teaching at a Christian school, still a local leader and well-known in the faith in Newcastle, I was asked to stand for Fred Nile's Call To Australia Party in the State election by standing for the seat of Waratah. I had no desire to do this, not because I didn't endorse the CTA platform, but more because I had no experience and very little time to put into an election campaign. As history shows however, against my better judgement, I agreed to do it and my name is now forever linked with having stood against the nasty homosexuals and their nasty lifestyle as a candidate for Fred Nile's Call To Australia Party. Outcome - the good people in the seat of Waratah were wiser than me and out of 35391 enrolled voters, I received 1008 votes. Thus my illustrious political career that began with with a whimper went out with a fizzle.

1990s - As the official history says, "Throughout the late Nineties and early part of this century the event continued to grow, both in terms of tourist and spectator numbers, the quality of the events and the scope of the festival."
1990s - For me, these were the years of turmoil. I had quit my job at the Christian school and lost almost all of my friends and certainly my social networks. My sexuality would not be denied and my fatigue at trying to suppress it had grown to huge proportions. I ran out of energy and simply hit rock bottom. It was during these years that I went to the top of the hill in Newcastle, swore at God and told Him that I was over waiting for Him and that I needed to find some answers for myself. These years were the beginning of my new life. It came out of the brokenness of the old life. It wasn't until I got honest with myself that I found the truth. And yes, the truth did set me free.

2008 - After some lean years with flagging numbers and then a new organisation to run it, the Mardi Gras celebrated its 30th Anniversary and is going strong.
In 2008, I had come through my great awakening and was out, partnered and happy. I had made friends and was living with my partner of then 7 years. I had returned to University and retrained as a Psychologist. I had completed my PhD in 2005 and learned about what really matters in life, having done my research in psycho-oncology which saw me running cancer support groups for many years. An amazing time! In October 2007, I started writing Being Gay Being Christian. It took me two years to write the first draft - much longer than the final product - and then another two years to refine it to the existing book. But as someone recently remarked, "It must have been a labour of love." It was!

2012 - Mardi Gras has changed its name from Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras to just Mardi Gras. The parade is still hugely popular in both the gay and straight communities and each year it takes on a different theme. I think the name change so I am to understand is to suggest making it more inclusive. These days, gay Christian groups like the Metropolitan Community Church and Freedom2b march in the parade celebrating both their sexuality and their faith.

2012 - While I do advocate inclusivity, I also believe that it is important to celebrate diversity. The Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is not the same as every other mardi gras in the world. It really is there to give the queer community their day to be out and proud, to have their families come along and support and even march and to feel the power of community. I would not like to see this diminished by watering it down. There is only one day in the year that LGBTIQ community can stand up proudly and be heard in a very straight world and consciously call attention to itself. It is important to remind the straight world that we're here and not ashamed. Though not without problems, the Mardi Gras continues to be a necessary corrective to a straight world that we are still part of Australia, that we are still queer and that we are part of the the fabric of society. Changing the name I think is a mistake and I hope the organisers re-visit this decision. Personally, I would be marching this year myself if I were not committed to other media engagements for BGBC; next year!!

And at the beginning of 2012 the week of the Mardi Gras parade, I find myself happy in my relationship, happy in my sexuality, happy in my faith and happy in the knowledge that God in His infinite wisdom created me gay and gave me this incredible gift by whose compass I get to navigate this wonderful thing called life.

To one and all - Happy Mardi Gras

Pax et Amor - Stuart