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Hoping for Wholeness

Written by: on March 6, 2015

Gender. Sex. Sexuality. Sexual identity. Gender identity.

I taught this class last week. Really. I did. Every time I do, it prompts deep debates. How are men and women different biologically? Is my biological identity the same as my gender identity? Is gender a social construct? Why does the topic of sex freak us out? Why does the assignment of gender roles irritate some and comfort others? Is the historical privilege and power that is frequently assigned to men a biblical mandate? And what about when we are attracted to people of the same sex? Or both sexes? Is this all based in culture? Creation? God?

A thousand questions. A thousand wounds. A thousand joys. A lot of opinion and emotion, but critical thought is hard to come by.

Then I sat down to read this week’s assigned readings: “God , Sex, and Gender: An Introduction” by Adrian Thatcher [1], and “Love is an Orientation” by Andrew Marin [2]. Thatcher presents a text book for Christian universities and seminaries addressing the hard topics of sex, gender, marriage, same sex attraction, and presents theological, traditional, and cultural approaches to each issue. As a whole it was appropriate, perhaps radical for some Christians, but well suited for a class like my social work students in a Christian University.

However, it was Marin’s work that drew me in. Marin takes an emotionally and theologically charged issue – same sex attraction – and gives it a face. He makes it human, as opposed to a series of abstract constructs and theological principles. Marin tells his own story, growing up in a conservative, Christian background, distinctly homophobic in his actions and attitudes, and how he came to immerse himself, as a heterosexual Christian, in the LGBTQ community. As a young man, three “best” friends, came out to him as lesbian or gay in three consecutive months. Through these experiences, he found God calling him to immerse himself and serve the LGBTQ community. My brief summary is of course an oversimplification.

Marin presents a theology, but it is not whether same sex attraction is a sin, but rather, how do we help people develop healthy, whole relationships with God? Instead of focusing on the minors (what is your sin?), he focuses on the thing that matters.

Of course there are those that would argue that this is simply avoiding the issue. But I stand with Marin on this.

I was once just like Marin. The thought of same sex relationships grossed me out. All I thought of was the sexual act, not love or wholeness or joy. I remember attending a women’s event many years ago, when I was the director of a rape crisis center. I was uncomfortable, as I walked around with my date, a nice “manly” man, amongst the predominantly lesbian women present. I didn’t understand. I had no compassion.

And then God brought a young woman into my life who wanted to know God. She was a mess, clear and simple. She had struggled with addiction, depression, suicidal thoughts. And she was gay. But she wanted to be discipled. Brave and self righteous Christian as I was, I stepped in. I could love her to Jesus.

The problem was, she already knew Jesus. She didn’t need me to save her. But everyone else who knew Jesus had kicked her out. At 16, her good, faithful, Christian mother, would bust into her room and beat the crap out of her because she was gay. She would swear and condemn her and tell her what a terrible person she was. And then she sent her to a psychiatric inpatient facility. And then she kicked her out of the house. This young woman deeply desired an active relationship with Jesus, and she knew His sweet voice. But she was utterly convinced that God didn’t like her because every Christian, starting with her mother, had promised her this was true. She was going to hell. Churches told her that the only way she could have a right relationship with God was to change. But she didn’t know how to do that.

Twenty-five years later, that young woman is one of my closest friends. She and her wife live upstairs in my duplex. I didn’t save her. She and her wife both know the Lord, but they have so many stories about Christians it’s hard for them to feel safe around large groups of us. They feel as uncomfortable around groups of Christians as I once did in that large group of lesbians. Still, there are many differences. No longer depressed, suicidal, or addicted, my friend is in a healthy, committed eight year relationship. And she and her wife both have a secure knowledge of their relationship with God. They, and another gay couple, are part of my family. We celebrate holidays together, travel together, and care for one another.

Marin writes about helping people to wholeness; about pointing them to healthy, secure relationships with God. He notes that there can be multiple outcomes from that. Sometimes, people move from secular to spiritual. Sometimes they become Christians. Sometimes they move from sexually active to celibate. Sometimes they move from gay to straight. [3] Marin reminded me of my own experience in therapy. My therapist happened to be a Christian woman who was active in the LGBTQ community. We talked about many things in my many years of therapy, including sexuality. As a social worker, Christian, educator, and friend, I was curious about a lot of things. MaryBeth told me that her approach was not about changing orientation. It was about health and wholeness. She helped people set goals toward healthy relationships and boundaries. She found the same thing that Marin writes. Some people, as they became healthier, moved away from same sex relationships. Some moved into stable and healthy same sex relationships. Some found their way back to God. And some became celibate.

I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. But I like some of Marin’s suggestions. Such as avoiding closed questions that ask for a one word response (e.g., is homosexuality a sin?) and instead engaging in dialogue. Act in love and humility. Be vulnerable and honest. Be inquisitive. Apply biblical principles of following Christ.

A also know that sometimes we have to step into the fire and act on behalf of those who are downtrodden, beaten and oppressed. I frequently am reminded of Steve Chalke’s essay, “A Matter of Integrity”. I shared his essay with my class last week, in part as a counter to all of the negative stereotypes about how Christians deal with sexuality. Chalke used his position of influence to build a bridge and open doors to welcome and include and love LGBTQ people in the church. It cost him his ordination. But he did what I believe we are all called to do: to act on behalf of the oppressed and to love them as our Lord would do. My call is not to judge. Not to condemn. But to follow Jesus and to love others as He did.

[1] Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction, Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011.
[2] Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.
[3] Marin, Loc 2659.

About the Author

mm

Julie Dodge

Julie loves coffee and warm summer days. She is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Concordia University, Portland, a consultant for non-profit organizations, and a leader at The Trinity Project.

15 responses to “Hoping for Wholeness”

  1. Julie…
    Rich words — a thoughtful and thought provoking post. As we were reading this week I thought about how much we need this conversation and how risky it can be. Several years ago I was sitting at a table, perhaps similar to the one you were at recently. The question was asked, the opportunity for dialog was present, but it was not taken up. I honestly don’t know if students were trying to bait the visiting guest presenter (I kinda think that might have been part of the reluctance), but no dialog took place. It is, as you noted, a conversation where critical thinking is difficult and often absent.

    A year or so ago I had quite an intense conversation with a relative who sees the aspect of homosexuality from the perspective of moral absolutes. In this framework homosexuality is a sin, we are sinners, you repent and then you can be saved. The conversation was difficult and ended with tension hanging in the air. Thatcher’s book would be incredibly challenging, but perhaps Marin’s book would be even moreso.

    Marin mentioned the “eternal importance of seeking God above everything else rather than debating orientation, sex or politics is the first eternal principle of bridge building with gays and lesbians.” (122). The thought from our reading and in your post is that the conversation might radically change if our first intent is to build a bridge. This is high risk ‘stuff’. It makes Presidents of colleges nervous, it causes fund backers to back off, we tend to polarize rather than think thoughtfully with the other in mind. The opportunity is to know the individual, to “see” the face – to see. Thank you….

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      Great comments, Carol. Yes, this stuff makes people nervous in all venues. It is oh so hard to clearly understand and discern what God’s truth is when we live in a pluralistic, fallen world. Wouldn’t it be crazy if God didn’t care about sexuality at all? (Though I don’t think that’s the case). I’m trying to remember which book brought up the marriage in heaven point – when the Saduccees approached Jesus and asked who a woman would be married to in heaven if she had had the seven brother husbands, who all died. Sexuality seems to be a thing of earth, but still important. And deep. But we set our course towards things of heaven and trust that God will show us His way in spite of us.

  2. mm Deve Persad says:

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts through your experience, Julie. It’s amazing to me, how much I am learning from the rest of you and your vast work and personal histories. This is so important: “I don’t pretend to have all the answers.” – if more Christians could remember that, our world would be a much different place. Not having all the answers allows us to be mutually dependant upon the Lord with whom we walk through life – like your upstairs friends. In points of difference, I’m always interested in how others view biblical passages. Would your friends have a view similar to Thatcher’s or somewhere in between?

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      You ask a good question, Deve, as to how my friends would interpret Scripture. The down side of not feeling welcome in the church is that most of my friends who are gay are weak in Scripture. They expect to be condemned, so they don’t read much. And the objective critical thought piece is clouded by powerful emotional wounds. The sad result is that they have a selective theology. Which as I ponder this, makes me wonder how many of our traditional Christians have a selective theology…. Hmmm. But I digress. I think my friends would agree with Thatcher, but out of culture and not Scriptural reasoning.

      • mm Deve Persad says:

        Julie, I think you’re right…both perspectives: your friends and many ‘christians’, both suffer from weak theology because they’ve either been fearful of thinking or because of negative religious experiences have not considered thinking theologically worthwhile…that is a tragedy in itself as it removes us from the enormity of God’s reconciling love for all of us.

  3. mm Stefania Tarasut says:

    Julie, you said that you like what Marin said… I’m wondering if you think that he should have gone a little bit further in his approach or do you think that his response is balanced? 🙂

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      You and your questions, Stef! 😉

      Has Marin gone far enough? I think he is as balanced as I have seen. And I think folks on all sides of the issue would say he hasn’t gone far enough. Which makes me think he’s on the right track.

  4. Julie,

    Beautiful writing in your post; I didn’t want it to end. Thank you so much for sharing here.

    I am still in process on these matters — I think I always will be — perhaps that is true for all of us. I, too, appreciated Marin’s book and was glad that he didn’t have all the answers or try to force us to believe just like him. Marin gives us room to think, room to pray, and room to love others even if we do not have it all figured out.

    I don’t often take hard stands on issues. I am, like you, a teacher, so it is not appropriate for me to always take a position with my students. It was good to be the student this week, not just the teacher. One thing I did do this week was to move farther along in my understanding of LGBT issues. And for that I am grateful. Reading your post contributed to that deeper understanding, and I am grateful for that as well.

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      Thank you for your kind words, Bill. With my students, when I catch myself sharing a bias or an opinion, I try to identify it as such – and to tell them that they don’t have to agree with me. My goal is for each to consider the issues and to develop their own critical thought and logic. I care more for the validity of the argument. I want them to wrestle.

  5. Telile Fikru Badecha says:

    Julie, Thank you for sharing your experience. I appreciate the reminder to “Act in love and humility. Be vulnerable and honest. Be inquisitive. Apply biblical principles of following Christ.”

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      Thank you Telile.

      I think I needed that reminder again this weekend. I was talking with a friend about different things, and I stopped listening to him. I was right and smart and arrogant. And I wounded him. It doesn’t matter what the issue is, we need that (I Need) that constant reminder to act in humility and love.

  6. Liz Linssen says:

    A lovely written post. Thank you for sharing your precious experiences. I love how you end, “But he did what I believe we are all called to do: to act on behalf of the oppressed and to love them as our Lord would do. My call is not to judge. Not to condemn. But to follow Jesus and to love others as He did.” Amen to that!

  7. mm Julie Dodge says:

    Thank you Liz. I get the impression that this is also what you are hoping to live out and model in your ministry. I continue to lift you up in prayer for Gods wisdom and protection.

  8. Miriam Mendez says:

    Julie, -beautiful and honest post. Thank you. I appreciated what you wrote, “Marin presents a theology, but it is not whether same sex attraction is a sin, but rather, how do we help people develop healthy, whole relationships with God? Instead of focusing on the minors (what is your sin?), he focuses on the thing that matters.
    Of course there are those that would argue that this is simply avoiding the issue…” And maybe this is part of the problem we look at this as “an issue” and we forget the “person.” Instead of focusing so much on the issue, perhaps we need to be aware on the person and as Marin states, focus on the thing that matters—the love of God. Your story and experience with your neighbors is a beautiful story of love, compassion and grace. Thanks, Julie.

  9. Julie, great post! You are personally in the mix of this topic and it seems to me that you have exemplified the grace, mercy, and love of Jesus to people around you. You are the embodiment of the incarnation of Christ to so many. For that I appreciate and love you.

    This certainly is a quagmire of a multitude of issues. I’d like to suggestion to not ask close questions but rather to look at the person beyond what we think is a problem. Only with this particular topic do we look at the behavior greater then the person. We seldom classify other people into groups solely on the basis of their behavior. But at the same time those who have that distinct behavior seldom gather in groups to legitimize or advocate for their particular behavior.

    These are difficult waters to navigate through. However I believe your conclusion must be a summation of this topic. “My call is not to judge. Not too condemn. But to follow Jesus and to love others as he did.”

    I appreciate your heart Dr. Julie for all people including centers just like me who are searching a way to connect with God even in the midst of my failings.

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