THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 91
Tension and the gay Christian
(extra length article)
Tension is so much a part of modern day life - we all know what it is like to feel rushed and harried!. In one sense tension is a necessary part of life - we need tension to get us out of our lethargy sometimes. And we need tension to make us really stretch out to excel at something. It is said that every good actor and singer has severe attacks of butterflies in the stomach as they wait in the wings to perform onstage!
But there are signs that the level of tension generally is rising, and that is evident in the search there is all around for a spiritual solution to life’s problems. Indeed, the huge rise in the popularity of alternative medicine is another signal that people are looking for solutions for the tension they feel.
For gay people tension is a part of life. This is because of the attitudes of society in general and of certain people and institutions in particular. For gay Christians there is an inevitable tension that is a constant in their lives. What would any Christian feel if the whole basis of their being was called into question by fellow Christians? It is inevitable that gay Christians feels that tension - even if it is at a low and unconscious level. In this article I want to look at the tension a gay person feels and suggest some ways to tackle it.
We might classify tensions into two broad groups - good tensions (which I would define as tensions which do more good than harm to our life) and bad tensions (which I would define as those that do more harm than good). If you had a fraught childhood then it is probably that you will have all sorts of bad tensions as a legacy. Often it is advisable to seek professional help in such a case. A good psychotherapist or a wise older Christian might be able to help deal with problems inherited from childhood. But here we are dealing more with the tensions that arise for gay people - both because they are gay and from the pressure of life generally.
What particular tensions arise for the gay person simply because they are gay? Lets just look at six sources of tension for the gay Christian.
There is first the problem of guilt. Because homosexuality is still considered a controversial matter by some groups it is impossible for the gay Christian to ignore the fact that he is condemned by many Christians for what he is and for what he does. However much the gay person realises that these people do not understand either sexuality in general nor homosexuality in particular, the fact remains that in many churches his homosexuality would be condemned. This is not helped by some Christians going to excess in their condemnation - saying that a gay person is possessed by the devil, or is sick or is choosing to be sinful in contravention of scripture. There was a recent comment by a Christian cleric that homosexuals were worse than animals.
The gay Christian, however, realises that the Holy Spirit is still a living force within and that he is being empowered and guided by God. Nevertheless it is a burden to know that thousands of honest and sincere Christians condemn you as sinful, sick or possessed. Imputed guilt, then, is a strong source of tension in the life of the gay Christian. Indeed, I would say that it may be one of the greatest sources of tension in his life.
The second problem for a gay Christian is the need to constantly be on his guard as to what he say and how he acts. If he is not careful he can come into conflict with those who find the idea of homosexuality difficult and assume that everyone they meet is heterosexual. For such a person it comes as a shock to learn that someone with whom they deal is gay. Being gay has become much more accepted - but sometimes there is still surprise and even dismay when the fact is discovered. The gay person has to be on his guard so that his gay side does not obtrude in ordinary social intercourse, otherwise he can run into trouble. The problem arises most acutely when the other person is homophobic - often without their realising it. All sorts of problems can arise if such a person objects to gay people.
The third problem for gay people is the problem of meeting other gay people and in particular finding the emotional and spiritual support that every human being needs and craves. A gay Christian won’t find the spiritual understanding and fellowship he seeks in the gay bars and clubs. Sometimes he may feel it is almost impossible to find a spiritual soul mate who is gay and Christian.
The fourth problem will affect a large number of gay people. This is the group that is in the closet in one way or another. Maybe they are out to a friend or a few friends - but not to their family. Or maybe they are out at home but not at work. The secrecy involved - even if it is at a fairly low level - is still a strain on the emotional life of the gay person. Gay people learn how to be very sensitive to other people and their opinions. Sometimes that can be an emotional drain. This is another reason therefore why gay people feel tension.
Fifthly, there is the problem of moral standards. Because many churches resolutely refuse to even countenance the possibility of gay Christians being acceptable to God, they have totally opted out of providing any moral guidance. There are a host of new moral problems for the gay Christian which he needs to think about, decide what he feels is right and what is wrong, and then order his life accordingly. But the churches simply opt out - they don’t want to know. As an example let us take the case of a young man who falls in love with another man who is married. Is the situation of the gay man exactly analogous to the case of another woman, outside the marriage, tempting the husband in a marriage? Or can there be a deep friendship (which might or might not become sexual) between the two men without there being anything wrong about it? And this is only one out of many moral questions raised for a Christian by gay relationships.
Sixthly, there is the matter of the mental, emotional and spiritual life of the gay person themselves. They may well be struggling with the problems of biblical interpretation. Or they may be struggling with the desire to continue in their church fellowship, but know that they cannot reveal who they consider themselves to really be with their fellow Christians. This can be a great strain. It can make a person feel a hypocrite or a traitor. It can set up enormous conflict within the gay person and often there is no one to whom they can turn for help and guidance.
Enough has been said to show that a gay Christian in our society faces tensions that the heterosexual Christian does not face.
There are many signals that indicate tension below the surface. Anxiety in all its various forms can be one clear sign. The person who cannot decide on simple matters is another. Disturbed sleep can have its roots in buried tensions. A constant restlessness and inability to ‘settle down’ is another sign that may indicate deep tensions. But often we don’t need to look for signs - we just know that we are over-tense and that we need to do something about it.
What are the practical steps we can take to deal with inner tensions?
Perhaps the first step is to recognise the problem. Maybe we have become so accustomed to our tension that we hardly notice it. But probably we notice the effect it has on our life - the restlessness, the short temper, the constant searching for something without realising the cause. We sometimes have to recognise that we are in denial of our own tension. We don’t want to admit that we are tense because, perhaps, we don’t know what to do about it. Maybe we just cannot face up to what we see as an insuperable problem. Maybe we have bought the lie that that is just how we are and we cannot change.
We need to know that tension is treatable. It may take time and a lot of patience. It may need the help of others. But it is treatable and it is possible to live a calm and peaceful life, being just tense to the right extent in the right way, as life requires. Too much tension can vitiate the will and then we become apathetic and lethargic. Sometimes too much tension may galvanize us into furious activity to try to block it out. There is a way out of our dilemma. There is a solution and the Christian is perfectly placed to find and implement it.
Instead, we often turn to inadequate ways of treating our state of tension. Alcohol is one favourite way. It is so easy to form the habit of a few drinks to relieve our tension . There is no harm in using alcohol to become relaxed - for example at a social gathering. But there is every reason to avoid becoming dependent on alcohol to lessen the pressure of tension in our daily life.
It may seem strange, but another way some people try to overcome their tensions is by living dangerously. It seems some people deliberately go into dangerous situations in order to free themselves of the burden of tension. By choosing to experience a greater tension they feel they escape their ongoing tension - at least for a time. Unfortunately the effect does not last!
Another way some people attempt to deal with tension is to seek some particular goal that they think will solve all their problems. The gay man seeking ‘Mr Right’ is perfectly acceptable - as is the straight man seeking Miss Right - but it can become a compulsion without any possible satisfaction. It can become just another habit which the person uses - unconsciously - to assuage their tension.
All these - and there are many other strategies we employ - are attempts to overcome or lessen the feelings of tension that beset us, and they may be successful up to a point some of the time.
After recognising the problem, the next step is to be prepared to do whatever is necessary to make a difference in the way you live. That requires decision. And the willingness to be prepared to go to some trouble to find the cure. One must start with the simple practical steps one might take - moving from the physical to the mental, emotional and spiritual.
Putting that decision to change into practice is the third step. It may be that fairly simple changes will start you off. For example it may be that your life is unbalanced in some way. You may decide that you get far too little exercise. Instead of spending £500 to sign up to a gym start to go for a fifteen minute walk in a local green area. Do it twice a week to start with. Then increase the frequency and the length. You will probably find you feel so good that you want to increase the time spent just walking.
Or you might take up some form of sport - there is no need to plan on reaching Olympic standard or running the marathon - all you want to do is have some fun playing some strenuous game with others. Getting fit is a major help towards relieving stress. It makes us healthier and it enlarges our social circle. It also takes the mind off our obsessions!
Another fruitful line for many people is to look into the practices of visualisation and relaxation to help their mental approach to life.
These are two powerful weapons in your armoury but they are often dismissed far too easily by some people. Visualisation is not some exotic foreign system - it is what we are all doing unconsciously all the time. It is what every top rank sportsperson does whenever they are competing. You will always see them looking withdrawn and preoccupied just before the event. The runner stands there looking down the track as if he is lost to the world. What is he doing? He is visualising the forthcoming race and seeing himself winning.
You can employ exactly the same technique in regard to your tensions. You can sit quietly and visualise an imaginary scene in which you change from being tense to being relaxed and free from any anxiety or tension. Perhaps you will use the phrase ‘I am fully relaxed’ to yourself several times. You can elaborate on your imaginary scene until you can see it so vividly that you remember it. Then the next day sit down somewhere and for a few minutes remember exactly the same scene and play it through again as you repeat to yourself ‘I am fully relaxed’. You will find yourself relaxing and the burden of tension lifting. The more often you run through this scene the more effective it will be for you. That is the simplest form of visualisation. It is a valuable tool.
Relaxation is an incredibly powerful aid in moving out of tension and anxiety. There are myriad forms of it. Choose one that suits you. If you want to learn a technique for relaxing get one of the many books on the subject and practice.
The fourth step is to consider whether you can share your problem with a friend. If you have not got a friend at that level of confidence then maybe you need to find one! We all need our friends and there is nothing better than having someone with whom you can share the things you tell no one else. We all need people we can trust like that. Maybe you need to attend some meeting place such as the Courage Meetings in Central London - see their website.
For Christians the fifth step is perhaps the most important of all. It is to deepen your spiritual life. This is not difficult. It is very simple and starts with a decision that you are going to be more the person God wants you to be. And that you will do whatever it takes to be in harmony with and obedient to your Lord.
It will certainly mean that you make sure that each day (with the occasional miss!) you spend time with God. Having a Quiet Time - even if of only ten minutes - is the proven method for Christians who want to progress in their spiritual life. It will include some reading of the bible (for heaven’s sake use a really modern translation) and being quiet so that God can communicate to you. Putting matters into God’s hands in prayer is a great relief! And listening to hear His way for you will guide you through the troubles and problems in your life. Many people use a notebook and ballpoint to note down the thoughts that come to them for later and deeper consideration.
Here is my final suggestion - and perhaps it is one of the most important. It is to take one or more of the following verses and repeat them to yourself every morning on awakening and several times throughout the day and then again just before you go to sleep. Different days - different verses. Pick whichever appeals to you on the day. But do it. Regularly. Consistently. Do it until the repetition of those verses is so automatic that you find yourself repeating them as you go through your day - in the shower, as you walk along, or in the lift, or whenever you enter a building.
There is absolutely nothing harmful or wrong in repeating verses of the bible to yourself. Do it knowing that God our Father, who sent his son Jesus to be our Saviour, wants to impart life and peace and joy to you through His Holy Spirit so that your life radiates the life of Christ.
SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORISING (one verse at a time) AND FOR FREQUENT REPITITION
Wherever I go, thank God, he makes my life a constant pageant of triumph in Christ.
(2 Cor. 2.14a)
I consider myself dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
(from Rom. 6.11)
Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Thee.
My God will supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
My peace I give to you.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
There are another hundred appropriate verses - why not hunt for your own favourites?