On Being LGBT, Christian, and Coming Out

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Today’s question from a reader took me by surprise when I first read it. I suppose I was surprised because I don’t consider myself as someone who really “takes sides” on questions of sexuality and faith: if anything, I have written about why I won’t take a stand on gay marriage.

However, the topic keeps coming up. On the blog, I’ve been asked questions about being friends with someone who is transgender. I also wrote about our response to the World Vision controversy last year (here with a Screwtape letter, and here with a parable of a gay samaritan).  I’ve linked to articles in Pick of the Clicks discussing some of the issues at hand, and had books pressed into my hands by friends since then. So I suppose I am willing to talk about it, even though it’s not a soapbox issue for me. Having said that – I’m answering today’s letter as a friend, not as an expert, and my goal – as always – is to aim for the grace and truth blend which is found so beautifully in Jesus.

Dear Bronwyn,

I’m finally doing it: I’m finally coming out as bisexual. My spouse knows, but I’m ready to be authentic with everyone else. This poses a bit of a problem: as a Christian, I don’t think this is wrong, but I have plenty of Christian family/best friends who do. I know it’ll be hard for them. I’m ready for there to be misunderstandings and awkward questions. (Even gay people have a hard time with, “How can you be bi if you’re committed to one person? Doesn’t that make you straight/gay?”) But I want to minimize the pain for both of us, anticipate their questions with grace, and find some way to make this as easy as possible on everyone.

And, if I’m honest, I feel terribly vulnerable. I would really just like to know they still love me. I don’t know if that’s even appropriate to ask when you drop a bomb like this on someone.
I know you don’t necessarily agree with LGBT, though I’ve loved your posts on the subject. I was wondering: if your child, cousin, or best friend came out as bi to you, how could they best do it in a way that respects you and doesn’t get your guard up? What are things you would want to know or that it would help you to hear? What if this person lived far away and couldn’t do it in person?

Fearfully brave

Dear Fearfully Brave,

I’ve recently read a few books dealing with LGBT issues. My book club read Two Boys Kissing, a YA novel I would never otherwise have picked up. After that, I read Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe, a book which I didn’t know had gay themes until I was well into the story. So that made for two novels I would not ordinarily have read – and I”ll admit, despite being very well written stories, they were uncomfortable for me to read.

Still, reading uncomfortable things is something I am increasingly becoming comfortable with, as I am discovering that reading is not just about enjoying stories, but also about learning to hear the voices of the human condition.  As such, reading those two books were very important for empathy-building for me, because as someone who has a public Christian profile, I am one of the last people on earth likely to be expected to really hear the deep hurts and desires which someone struggling with their sexuality. It’s a bit of a catch 22, really: evangelical Christians are presumed to have little empathy, and so we are not entrusted with people’s deepest heart issues. But without hearing the real struggles of real people, how can we build empathy? I am grateful to literature for sharing some of that inner monologue with me where others have been unable to.

And it’s working, I might add. It’s working in that I feel my empathy and compassion growing, my love expanding for the wounded and vulnerable and confused. I’m realizing nobody chooses to struggle with this because they want to be ornery or sinful. Rather, they struggle – and dealing with others’ discomfort and disapproval is a large part of the pain that comes with choosing to come out.

So what would I say to you? I would say: say what you’ve written to me. That you’re still married. That you still believe. That you’re wrestling. That you want them to know because you love and respect them enough to want to be more fully known by them. Tell them you don’t need them to agree, or to endorse you, or even to understand – but that you would love them to let you know they still love you, if they are able to do that.

Some of the questions that would come to mind might be: what does this mean for your marriage? What will this change in terms of how you live your life? What will this change in our relationship? Also, is there anything you want me to do or to say? I think your willingness to answer questions as best you can communicates a great deal. The fact that you are married (and happily so!) to a Christian of the opposite sex goes a long way towards assuring a conservative Christian that you are (relatively) safe: a fact which is not insignificant in our concerns for our loved ones who are charting unknown territory.

Another question which might present itself from your immediate family is the question of causation: whose fault is this? will people blame us? and what caused it? There is still much disagreement on whether sexuality is biological or environmental, and those who were part of both our situational nurture and our genetic nature will feel some sense of responsibility in answering for the information. (Aside: I am currently reading Nicolosi’s book A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality, which is a fascinating and surprisingly compassionate read. Its Amazon reviews are all either 5-star or 1-star… which tells you a lot about the presuppositions of the readers). So, perhaps you might want to address the fact that no matter how it came to be that you find yourself identifying as bisexual – you’re not blaming them.

It is, as you suggest, likely that some family members may need some time to process, and even to grieve, your news. You can do nothing else but give them that space. I hope, though, that in time they will be able to see where you are coming from and affirm their love for you and welcome to you.

I daresay a letter might be easier, given the distance. The letter might be hard to write, and harder still will be calling them after a while to ask if they’ve read it. There are a 1000 hard ways to do this, and not a single right, easy way.

I, for one, would want to welcome you with open arms. Not because I think homosexuality as a lifestyle is okay (I think the Bible is clear that this is a temptation which we are called to bring under Christ’s clear rule about the way in which we govern our sexual relationships)… but because the Bible is also really clear that the ground at the foot of the cross is level, and we are not to throw stones or pass judgment on those for whom Christ died. We are the church, you and I.

I”ll be praying for you as you share your news.

Bronwyn

22 thoughts on “On Being LGBT, Christian, and Coming Out

  1. Bronwyn, you model a grace here that many of us would do well to emulate in our conversations. This issue is not going to go away, and I do believe Jesus would have us stand on that level ground shoulder to shoulder proclaiming, “I am a sinner, and chief among them.” So good!

  2. I’ve read all kinds of blogs about how to be friends (or not at all) with people of the opposite sex if you are married, or if you’re single but your opposite-sex friend is married. I’m curious how the tone of that dialogue will change as more Christians come out as bisexual, because then no friendships are considered “safe.”

    Curious what you’d think of Rachel Held Evans’ series on Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian. I don’t agree with all his findings, or know how to respond to them, but it’s interesting to read at least.

    • Hi Beth, I knew about RHE’s series on Matthew Vines’ book, but had not actually read it. I think I might now.

      I agree with you: the lines about “safe” friendships, or even “safe” counseling relationships in situations concerning sexual orientation become very blurred indeed. It will be interesting to see how the popular wisdom on stewarding our relationships changes in the next few years.

  3. Really wonderful read. As someone who has been on the receiving end of a similar conversation with family member who came out, I really appreciate your thoughts as I’m still struggling to formulate mine into words. Thank you.

  4. This letter puzzles me. Is the writer planning to stay committed to her marriage? If so, in every marriage, spouses have moments where they find someone else attractive, whether gay/straight/bi. But because of our commitment to our marriage, we turn our thoughts toward our spouse, and toward the vow we made before God. Why would it be necessary to share your sexual interests with any family members if you are committed to your spouse? I suspect it’s because our culture places so much emphasis on an individual’s identity as gay/straight/bi instead of emphasis on our position as a follower of Christ or child of God. Maybe it would be good to remind the writer that her primary identity is as a Christ-follower, not as a ___________ (gay, bisexual, gossiper, thief, etc.)

    • Melanie, both you and Kathy raise a good point: is it really necessary to raise this issue with family if there is no intention to act out on it? That wasn’t something I thought to consider in the letter, but it is a good question, and I was assuming that the one asking the question felt, for whatever reason, that it was necessary to disclose.

      I really appreciate your comment. You are right: our identity is primarily one as a Christ-follower and daughter or son of the King. However, secondary identities and roles still feature heavily in the way we interact with others… so I suppose it calls for situational wisdom to know when certain information is salient to disclose.

  5. Romans 1 is pretty straightforward. God will save a homosexual, but God will not leave them there. It is possible for a person to have homosexual/bisexual temptations, but they are temptations. god never allows one of his own to be tempted more than they can bear. True or not true?

  6. Most homosexuality/lesbianism is caused by audio-processing deficits in the right ear. Other symptoms caused by those deficits are left-lateralization, often vocal/speech abnormalities, and low self-control in other aspects of behavior, to mention a few. The science has been done. The research studies are available. No one is paying attention to them. I have put together the pieces of the puzzle that describes the spectrum of so-called “mental” illnesses, which includes gender confusion. They are conditions arising in one or both ears, usually and especially the right ear. They can almost always be treated, preferably in childhood, with gently amplified, high-frequency sound. Stop listening to the sorrowful stories with only one half of your brain and start looking with the other half of your brain for the science that explains these aberrations and the treatment that can cure them. Robert is not correct in one sense: people are overwhelmed by their temptations all the time if they are disabled. You don’t ask a crippled person to run a race without first healing the damaged limb. Ear problems are an invisible disability that have not been acknowledged because they were not understood. THEY CAN BE CORRECTED JUST AS PEOPLE CAN CORRECT VISION WITH GLASSES. Please, please, please pay attention to the learning that has been done and apply it.

    • Laurna: would you mind providing a few links in a reply comment where readers can start reading about the available research studies you mention, as well as recommended steps forward – in case readers (and the writer of the letter) would like to pursue this further? Thanks for commenting.

      • Hi, Bronwyn, This area of research has not reached the stage of popularized writing, except, perhaps, for my book Listening for the Light, which combines primary research with the tale of how I arrived at it. I provide the overarching theory of behavior that encompasses most gay and homosexual behavior, too, although I avoided that topic because it did not concern Daniel . He was schizophrenic but definitely not homosexual. He is no longer schizophrenic. Studies of lateralization on gays are essential to understanding homosexuality, but you have to know something about cerebral neurology to give them a context. You have to know that left-lateralization (“atypical” lateralization) affects a range of people from those only slightly affected to schizophrenics, where it is a prevalent characteristic (although Daniel was not; yet he was rather ambidextrous, which is a step towards left-lateralization). In the following example, notice that the study refers to several other studies linking homosexuality to lateralization. Notice also “parietotemporal” further on because the stream of sound from the right ear to the left temporal lobe (via the brain stem) is the significant stream of sound for left-cerebral dominance in integrative processes, although these researchers know nothing about that. So, here we go: http://www.springerlink.com/content/n462n4382243n412/ is about corpus callosum [the neural bridge between the hemispheres] anatomy in right-handed homosexual and heterosexual men. The beginning of the abstract states, “The results of several studies have shown that homosexual men have an increased prevalence of non-right-handedness and atypical patterns of hemispheric functional asymmetry. Non-right-handedness in men has been associated with increased size of the corpus callosum (CC), particularly of the isthmus, which is the posterior region of the callosal body connecting parietotemporal cortical regions. We hypothesized that isthmal area would be greater in homosexual men, even among right handers.” Further along, “This result suggests that right-handed homosexual men have less marked functional asymmetry compared to right-handed heterosexual men. The results also indicate that callosal anatomy and laterality for motoric functions are dissociated in homosexual men. A logistic regression analysis to predict sexual orientation category correctly classified 21 of the 22 men (96% correct classification) based on area of the callosal isthmus, a left-hand performance measure, water level test score, and a measure of abstraction ability. Our findings indicate that neuroanatomical structure and cognition are associated with sexual orientation in men and support the hypothesis of a neurobiological basis in the origin of sexual orientation.” OK. But the researchers doing this study do not know of Alfred Tomatis’s work on the ears that show handedness is related to the functional capacity of the RIGHT ear. And can be corrected. My work picks up where Tomatis’s leaves off, but relies absolutely on his findings about the right ear’s control of the voice, which is just one aspect of what the right ear does for the left brain. The right ear controls, in an essential way, just about everything else in behavior, too. Anyone deeply interested in learning more should consider investing in my book or monograph (a summary for professionals of the neurology and behavior theory in the book) and contact me directly. I am the only person, as far as I know, who is talking about these physiological aspects of homosexuality — although Tomatis noticed it, he, too, side-stepped the issue.

  7. Two comments from me on this one:
    1) YES listen to people’s stories! I really have little time for people with strong opinions about gays who have never sat and truly listened to the very real and the very hard stories of very real people! The first story I heard was my sister’s and it completely changed me – as it should. But people are often afraid to listen to people’s stories because it is so much easier to sit in the black and white!
    2) I would also ask “Fearfully Brave” what is motivating him/her to ‘come out’. If they (him/her is so cumbersome!) intend to remain faithful to their spouse and not seek any other relationship then what is the purpose of putting yourself or others through this pain. I do understand that you feel it is about your identity and therefore maybe you need to be ‘fully known’ by those closest to you but if you don’t plan to act on this attraction in any way then I believe others will just wonder why they have been told. I’m really not saying this to be snarky and hope it doesn’t come over like that but I think Fearfully Brave really needs to know why they feel compelled to share this information that is going to cause themselves potential hurt and confusion in others. But if it needs to be done then I’m also with Bronwyn – a letter is good. It gives you time to say exactly what you want and it gives your hearers time and space to digest the information.

    • I always love it when you comment, Kathy 🙂 You and Melanie both raise an important point: is it necessary or loving to share this information, if they are still planning to remain faithful to their spouse? I hadn’t thought to cover that question.

  8. This is AWESOME. Thank you so much for your wisdom, Bronwyn. I like what you said about Christians and empathy: there really is something cyclical going on here that needs to change. Consequently, I’m really impressed that you read gay lit. I think reading books with those kinds of protagonists is the first step to understanding.

    Understanding isn’t agreement. But understanding is vital to loving.

    I LOVE Two Boys Kissing and Aristotle & Dante. There are a few more book recommendations like them for anyone interested: Every Day (also by David Levithan), Will Grayson Will Grayson (David Levithan & John Green) and The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Emily Danforth). They look at–respectively–bisexuality, being friends with a gay, and the lesbian perspective when older family members want to convert her to straight.

    • I need to take a break from reading gay lit for a while! But I’ll get back to my John Green binge-fest soon and am sure WG, WG will make its way onto my reading pile before long.

      Curious to hear your thoughts on Laurna’s comment above.

  9. I think your letter was well thought out and sensitive. I can’t imagine the pent-up fear and anxiety involved with coming out. Although my blood boils when I hear about the militant and political side of the LGBT community, there’s nothing like knowing a person who struggles with homosexuality to turn my judgment into empathy. Your comment that the “ground at the foot at the cross is level” is spot on. I won’t endorse the sin. But it’s not my place to throw the stones at individuals. Otherwise, I’d be hurling stones all day at the different sinners around me. And I’d have to dodge a few stones too.

    • I’d be running for cover from the stones too. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Karen. I so long for this blog to be a place for gracious and truthful conversations, even if they are hard to have – and I appreciate your voice.

  10. Bronwyn, thank you for taking the time to understand the holiness of each person’s journey. Thank you for the depth of grace and respect you portrayed in this letter. For this journey-woman, you have captured the beauty of grace-filled response while still holding to your understanding of God’s design. My heart is full. This is the first post i have read on this subject that left me feeling as if I could breathe again.

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  12. So i’ve been wanting to tell you this…I really enjoy your blog. You’re a unique christian voice and and a much needed compassionate one. Keep writing! Don’t stop! We need more of you in this world!

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