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Shedding my Skintight Shame

May 20, 2013

Today I’m over on Registered Runaway’s blog! He asked me to write a letter for his Love Letters Series (posts every Monday). It’s a fantastic series that’s been going for a couple of months now, and I’m so proud to be a contributor!

I so appreciate RR for his wonderful heart. He desires to bring understanding and especially LOVE into the conversation between LGBTs and Christians. I’ve been touched by every letter. It’s so good to know I’m not alone in my experience as a gay Christian, and it’s heartening to know we have straight Christian allies!

Here’s a bit of my letter:

When I finally embraced my sexuality in my late 30s, I didn’t have it out with God. I braced myself for it, but the onslaught never happened. I was like a little girl afraid to look up at my big, tall, strong father, expecting to see his face red with anger or white with disappointment. But what I saw instead was a delighted and toothy grin. It was disorienting at first.

You can read more on Registered Runaway’s blog, here.

And I really encourage you to read all the Love Letters. I know you’ll be challenged by the heart of every contributor to the Love Letter Series.

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From → tellings

15 Comments
  1. Seth permalink

    Hi HB, I linked to your blog from RR. Thanks for sharing part of your story. I went back in your history and read about your partial coming out. Sounds like you have a difficult situation with where you work. Reminds me of Mel White’s book “Stranger at the Gate.” I had a question for you, do you think the people/organization you work for would condemn you if you came out to them but also said you were celibate? Or are they also condemning of the orientation as well?

    • hballaman permalink

      Hi Seth, thanks so much for stopping by! Yes, my situation is quite hard at the moment.
      To answer your question, if I told them I was gay and intended to remain celibate, they wouldn’t fire me. I know of someone in our org overseas who has taken that track, but I think he also desires to be able to marry a woman at some point. He definitely sees it as a sin issue and they agree with that.
      I think their stance is mostly about behavior not orientation. But I also know many in the org would say people cannot be born gay, i.e., it’s psychological not biological. That’s the “official” stance of the org. So they would say it’s a “curable” condition and would probably encourage me to get help to change.
      To me that’s not much different from outright condemnation because it essentially condemns me in other ways; like telling someone with dark skin they can make their skin white. It’s a Sisyphean task that brings shame because you’re unable to overcome it. The bottom line is I’d be marked either way and never be accepted for who God made me to be. Thus, I’m not telling them and am looking for work elsewhere.

  2. Seth permalink

    I’m really sorry for your tough situation! Full disclosure, I’m a strait married Christian guy, just trying to figure out how the LGBT issues fit in with my faith. People in my circles keep saying God will deliver Christians from a gay orientation, but it doesn’t seem to happen often. Do you know anyone who experienced that? I read Rosario Butterfield’s book and it appears she claims that. Besides that, I’m not sure if there are any other concrete examples. Do you think it’s possible? Or mostly a hoax? Or some of both?

    • hballaman permalink

      [Seth, this is a long response!]
      I have never met anyone or even heard of anyone who has experienced a change in sexual orientation. It just doesn’t happen. There are plenty of gay Christians who say they have been delivered, but if you press them, I think very very few would say their same-sex attractions are gone. If you listen to the language used, the words they choose, many say they’ve been delivered from the lifestyle, the behavior not the orientation. This is telling.
      I don’t doubt that Rosario Butterfield believes she has been delivered, i.e., she’s not lying about her experience. But I do doubt she’s now heterosexual. This is such a hard thing to talk about and can be confusing to parse out. I think one reason is because there’s such a deep stigma in the church. (Another reason is the doctrine on gender, but I won’t tackle that now.) If you experience same-sex attraction, your options are limited. 1) You can hide them. 2) You can come out and openly struggle for deliverance. If you want to remain an accepted member of the community, those are the choices. To come out and affirm your orientation means being ostracized and eventually expelled. You are labeled as an unrepentant sinner, and with that label comes the choice to repent and change or leave the community. So that’s why I think you see the victory or deliverance stories. Gay Christians want to remain members of their communities, so they either hide and live in quiet shame or they openly struggle and risk public shame if they never experience deliverance or if they “fall” back into homosexuality. Not much of an abundant life either way.
      But the tide is turning. I encourage you to Google John Paulk and Exodus International. Many leaders of the ex-gay movement are changing their stories. Also, Justin Lee’s book Torn is excellent. No one becomes ex-gay. The orientation is never changed.
      I would (very loosely) liken homosexuality to left-handedness. It’s possible for a left-handed person to become adequate at using their right hand, but they will always essentially be left-handed. And forcing that change can bring adverse “side effects” like stuttering. It’s scientifically proven that people are “wired” to be right- or left-handed. They think and process differently. They engage the world differently, and that’s a good thing! Our society realized this less than 100 years ago. Left-handed people are not “normal” but they’re accepted. Left-handedness will always show up in about 10% of the population, and people don’t even question it now. They used to try to change it but not anymore.
      The science is loosely similar with sexual orientation, but I would say the “side effects” of someone forcing themselves into heterosexuality are much worse than stuttering. Our sexuality, like handedness, is hard-wired. It makes us think and process differently. It makes us engage the world differently, and I think that’s a good thing! It’s another form of diversity. It’s not just a stereotype that LGBTs tend to be more creative, outside the box people. We are literally outside the normal experience, so how we see the world and engage the world has to be different.
      Seth, thank you for your openness! I’m heartened by your willingness to investigate this tough issue instead of just believing what you’ve been told/taught. To me that’s the key to understanding…seek out people who do not see this as just an “issue” but who are living it as their personal experience. So many Christians try to intellectualize and theologize the gay issue away without ever knowing or even talking to a gay person. That puts them in fence building and gate keeping mode, a stance based on fear that sees gay people as less than human and gay Christians as an oxymoron.
      But the truth is gay Christians exist! We are walking among you, probably at the same incidence as in the general population (2%-7%). Again, like left-handers, we are not “normal” but we’ll always be a percentage of the population. And hopefully someday soon people won’t question it.

  3. Seth permalink

    HB, thanks for the time and care you put into your answer. Yes I’ve read Justin Lee’s Torn. It was a very readable book. In an attempt to figure that all out, I’ve also read Washed and Waiting, Love is an Orientation, The Jack Bank, and am working on Stranger at the Gate right now. I joined a group at the Gay Christian Network and briefly interacted with many gay Christians over there. I’ve also tried to connect to gay Christian blogs. There’s not many of them it seems, so I appreciate ppl like RR and you contributing to the discussion. It’s a hard thing for me to figure out as I also want to esteem what God has written in Scripture. And yes I know there are some different ways to interpret some of those passages. Regardless of what the resolution of it all may be, I’ve very sorry for the situation you find yourself in. If you’re working for a group like Focus on the Family, I can certainly imagine the response you’d get if they knew you were gay.

    • hballaman permalink

      Seth, you’ve read more than me! I have Love is an Orientation & The Jack Bank on my list but haven’t gotten to them. I do, of course, have first hand experience on the subject. 😉
      I don’t feel led to lead a celibate life, but I do respect those who feel led to it. As with heteros, I think some are led to celibacy. But not all of us, again as with heteros.
      I agree with you that honoring God is paramount, and Scripture has a few verses on the subject. I personally interpret them in much the same way Justin Lee outlined in his book. The context of the verses tells me they are focusing on sexually exploitive relationships, where sex is used as aggression (Sodom/Gomorrah) or in conjunction with idolatry and pagan worship (Romans 1). And Jesus never says one word about homosexuality. That’s important to acknowledge. What Jesus did talk about and model over & over was love and the inclusion of the outcast/other.
      Evangelicals tend to focus on the perceived sin, and they seem to think that excuses them from love and inclusion. Or they define love through the lens of judgment and say they are “loving” gays by telling us we’re abominations. I think that’s just plain wrong. Wherever anyone lands on the issue of whether it’s sin or not, Jesus still relentlessly modeled love and inclusion in almost every encounter he had in the gospels. The only people he was hard on were the Pharisees, the religious insiders! People like to say the Bible is clear on homosexuality. I’d say the Bible is 1000 times more clear on love & on including outsiders. The progression from the OT to the NT is increasingly inclusive. God hints at this progression to Abraham in Gen. 12. And the radical inclusiveness culminates in Jesus. I think his proclivity to include outsiders was a major motivation in why the religious leaders killed him. They were enraged at the idea.
      A great passage that doesn’t get much “press” is Acts 10. The key is verse 28: “[Peter] said to them: ‘You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with Gentiles or visit them. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.'”
      I believe Jesus finished the sin argument on the cross. He obliterated the penalty of all sin for everyone for all time. I also believe he gave us a new commandment to love [John 13:34. John 15:12]. He said love is the greatest commandment [Matt. 22:37-39], and it is the filter through which we are to view all other commands [Matt. 22:40]. Paul said we continually owe each other love [Romans 13:8], and that love fulfills the law [Romans 13:10].
      I can’t prove to anyone what is the “right” way to believe about homosexuality, but I know where Jesus has led me. I will continue to follow him and hope others will trust me as I walk with him. I will do the same for them.
      What I can say is this: Jesus is abundantly clear about what is the “right” way to treat people, and that is to love them, all of them, especially the outcasts and the oppressed.
      Seth, again, thank you for your kind words (and the heart behind them!) with regard to my work situation. It’s such a weird circumstance to me. I’ve already explained it in another post, but I feel torn in many ways. The bottom line is I do not “fit” their culture anymore, and I won’t force myself to try. I don’t have hard feelings, I just feel tension within. God had me here for a season and now it’s time to go, I truly see that. The ironic thing is he brought me here, to the heart of Christian ministry, to bring me out of the closet and to help me embrace who I am. It’s so weird but totally makes sense. I needed the safety of the Christian huddle to really be able to ask the hard questions. I needed the stability of the culture, and on some levels the solid theology it adheres to, to be able to challenge that theology and my own beliefs about God and about myself. I had no idea, but God knew that and he engineered the circumstances I needed. I love that about him!
      I’m glad you found my blog, Seth. And I so respect your desire to deeply engage this issue by seeking out the people who live the issue. As I said above, I cannot tell you what to believe. I can only tell you my experience. I trust your experience with Jesus will lead you where you need to go, and I am happy to continue this conversation! Blessings to you, my friend.

      • Seth permalink

        I forgot to mention Jeff’s Chu’s book, Does Jesus really Love Me? and another one called The Cross in the Closet (forgot the author’s name). Jeff’s is quite good, he’s a talented author. I’d recommend that one to plenty of people.

  4. Seth permalink

    Sorry, meant to also add I know about John Paulk from another contact of mine. I don’t know his circumstances, but coming out and then leaving one’s spouse… I just can’t get behind that. But I know what you’re talking about with the main part of his story, being ex gay didn’t work for him

    • hballaman permalink

      Right. I didn’t think about that when I mentioned him above. I was referring to the fact that his orientation didn’t change. His story is a hard one, but that’s kind of my point. He believed that was his only option and so he forced himself to behave like a heterosexual. I don’t know how to reconcile that. I see both sides. Forcing yourself into a mold you don’t fit doesn’t seem right, but neither does leaving your spouse and family. I don’t have an answer. Ugh!

  5. Seth permalink

    HB, I certainly wouldn’t call you an abomination! But I know people who would and I know how the reasons that are given. I guess I’m in that odd spot where I’ve seen the main arguments from both sides and feel they both have strengths and weaknesses. But I would really like to see professing Christians from both sides love each other (as you said) even amidst disagreement. The situation reminds me of Matthew 11 (I think) where Jesus is called a glutton and a drunkard and John is called crazy and demonic. But Jesus says, “wisdom is justified by her children.” I kind of feel that type of statement is where I may end up on the issue. If being side A is ok with Jesus, then surely it should produce good fruit long term, right? And if its not, it would lead to deception and thorns and so forth. One thing I’m curious about though, does being side A for you lead inevitable also to other progressive or non-orthodox doctrines or beliefs?

    • hballaman permalink

      That’s a really perceptive question, Seth. I think in some areas it has to, like gender roles, which I alluded to in an earlier comment. Being gay kind of blows to hell the traditional teaching on gender roles. I was an egalitarian before I ever tackled the gay issue, but now even more so.
      As I said earlier, I think the traditional teaching on gender directly affects the gay issue. There’s a pretty strong correlation between belief in complimentarianism and belief that homosexuality is a sin. When your worldview leans heavily on men and women having specific God-ordained designs and roles, there’s no way to accommodate a gay relationship within that paradigm. So that’s the obvious one. I think there are others, but I think the underlying issue is when you start to question one area, it leads to questions in other areas. That’s a natural and honest exercise one must participate in. I don’t think it inevitably leads to abandoning all orthodoxy, but the questioning is inevitable.
      Are there specific doctrines you had in mind?

      • Seth permalink

        Yeah that makes sense. Im sort of leaving complementarianism myself; my marriage works best when we both act egalitarian. I guess what I was referring to is this: I know another lesbian who doesn’t believe Christ’s death atoned for sins. It may be a natural outflow of viewing the bible in a different way, but to me, substitutionary atonement is the core of the gospel, and appears all over the bible. That would be case where it’s really hard for me to view someone who denies that as a Christian. In fact, much harder than her being a Side A married lesbian.

      • Seth permalink

        Let me hasten to add that I don’t think that all lesbians believe the same things or that you speak for all, :). That would be silly. Just the general question, does being gay predispose one to disbelieve in various historical Christian doctrines?

      • hballaman permalink

        Glad I’m not the lesbian spokesperson! 🙂
        “Does being gay predispose one to disbelieve in various historical Christian doctrines?” That’s a great question. I think I know what you’re getting at. In some ways our very existence challenges some aspects of Christian doctrine, like with gender roles as I said above. Being gay and being Christian can create considerable internal tension, and that tension arises primarily because of doctrine. It’s a hard place to be when who you are and what you experience doesn’t fit the program, so to speak. I think many gay Christians begin by questioning themselves and trying to force themselves into a mold that will never fit. Some stay there and live in a straightjacket (pun intended!).
        Others move to the next logical step of questioning their religious system. This is a very scary place to go because it feels like you’re questioning God. And it’s exacerbated by others warning you against the very same thing, saying things like “unrepentant” or “open rebellion” and such. But it’s really a necessary place to go, and I think God actually welcomes it and honors it. (I think of Jacob wrestling with God.) It can be a very healthy exercise and can result in profound transformation and deeper intimacy with God.
        So, I think it’s not that gay Christians are predisposed to disbelieve doctrine. It’s rather a predisposition to question or challenge doctrine, particularly those tenets that do not match our experience. If you experience attraction to your own gender and have never made that a conscious choice, how do you reconcile some of the traditional teaching? I think that’s why so many Christians believe homosexuality is a choice. They have to believe that otherwise they will have to question doctrine themselves, and as I’ve already said, that’s a scary place to go.
        Another thought. There are plenty of heteros who don’t believe in substitutionary atonement. So questioning doctrine is not specific to the gay community. I actually think Christianity is currently in a period of flux or shift with regard to doctrine. I don’t know if you’ve read anything on historical cycles, but we’re smack in the bullseye for the beginning of another one. The Church has experienced major upheaval every 500 years or so, The Reformation being our last shift. It was likely precipitated by the invention of the printing press among other events. The printing press brought a quantum leap in access to information…our printing press is the Internet. Also, The Reformation brought a shift in the seat of authority, from the Pope to the Bible. What will this next shift bring? I think it will bring a new understanding of the Gospel and a new seat of authority. What will those be? We’re just at the beginning of the cycle, so it hasn’t been determined yet. But I’m personally excited to see where things go.

      • Seth permalink

        Straitjacket… oh wow, lol Took me a second there 🙂 Yeah I feel the tension (even fear) questioning things myself, and I’m not even gay. I do know if I even took a side B position, or one similar to Misty Irons, I’d gain a lot of derision and lose some friends, let alone a side A one. I think questioning is right though. Christ wants us to “give a reason” to anyone who asks us, reason not slogans or other non-reasons.

        Yes I do know lots of non-gay people question the atonement. I was just wondering if it was a pattern for gay people to first become side A, then lose beliefs in hell, atonement, sin, et cetera. I think you know what I mean, basically the slide and deception of sin that Romans 1 speaks of. I hope that’s not the case. I don’t know enough gay people long enough to say it is or isn’t. Those sorts of beliefs I’d put at the core of being a Christian and would find it very hard to view someone as a follower of Jesus who didn’t hold to them.

        Yes most christians do think homosexuality is a choice. If that’s proven to be wrong, many might change their minds. But I should say as a pseudo-Calvinist that most Neo-Reformed/Calvinists (in our country at least) do not have to believe that being gay is a choice in order to still condemn it. It might be a big divide with the rest of Christendom in that doctrine.

        I’m not terribly familiar with the cycle you mentioned, but I am a fan of cycles in general and specifically the Generational cycle espoused by William Strauss and Neil Howe. There’s certainly a lot of flux going on I agree. And I think Jesus meant what He said about the Church overcoming the gates of hell. I’m super positive on the long term direction of the world because of Christ, I think humanity’s path only gets better (even with many sorrows along the way).

        Ms. Allaman, I really appreciate you chatting with me candidly. It’s so helpful for me in my journey. I’ve subscribed to your blog so I’ll be around. If you’re ever in Kansas City, give me a shout and I’ll buy you a drink -since you work at a Christian non-profit I know you like coffee. 🙂

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