PoMoHippy CharisMystic & LOVE ACTIVIST:
“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put ones own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”
― Henri J.M. Nouwen
Blogging is a Moving Meditation.
BLOGGING as a MOVING MEDITATION:Liminality's thin passage untangles as it weaves, fits in the ineffable nooks and crannies of my heart's prayer wall, like the cracks in pavement, mile markers on the road, windblown whimsical napkin poems written in eyeliner.
Thursday, September 06, 2012
Brad Sargent: My Story about Gender, Sexuality and Perspectives on "Successful" Transformation.
I know God will not give me anything I can't handle. I just wish that He didn't trust me so much. Mother Teresa
St. Andrew's Catholic Church in Roanoke, VA Wikicommons
TWW is not a blog of two women. It is a blog started by two women and it is made up of its readers and commenters. It is a community, which was well-demonstrated by the incredible outpouring of support for Eagle. When I wrote that I was planning on doing a series on the gay issue and the church, Brad contacted me and said he would like to tell his story.
Anyone who has read this blog know, love and respect Brad and his thoughtful and intelligent comments. (As I once commented to him, "You are smart.") So, this is his story and it is well written. I am grateful to him for being willing to share one aspect of his life with all of us. Brad, not only are you smart, but you are strong. Thank you for gracing us with your presence.
If you’ve read my “brad/futuristguy” comments on various stories here at The Wartburg Watch over the past, you may recall that my professional work is mostly in cultural interpretation, strategic foresight (futurist skills), and organizational systems design and development.
Much of my “personal work” over the past 40 years has dealt with gender and sexuality, and that may be even more complicated than my interdisciplinary work in research and writing. I’ve come to see gender identity and sexuality as two of the most complex aspects of being human. I served as the first Resource and Publication Specialist forExodus International from 1991-1996. I also taught in 2000 at the International Bioethics Conference at Trinity Seminary, on the topic of transgenderism as an emerging bio-medical ethics issue. Because of this background, I got in touch with Dee and offered to share some of my own story and perspectives on what I’ve learned through the years.
SAME-SEX ATTRACTIONS AND MY THEOLOGICAL VIEW
In high school in the early 1970s, I became aware of having mostly same-sex attractions. But, having a traditional moral upbringing in a mainline Christian denomination, I didn’t act on those attractions. Since becoming a born-again Christian my first year in college, I’ve done far more biblical studies and considered gender and sexuality as part of that. In my overall understanding of God’s moral revelation in Scripture, same-sex attraction is a form of brokenness that results in temptation, and acting out on homosexual attraction is a form of sin. That view means the activity of homosexuality and the adopting of gay, lesbian, bisexual identities are not honoring to what God wants. Thus, I still haven't acted out on homosexual attractions, and don't intend to – I’ve done what I can to train my conscience to choose the other direction. [I saw this expressed a whole lot more succinctly in an acquaintance’s Blogger profile. He wrote: “Interested in men, but interested in following Jesus more.”]
Over the last 40 years, I’ve considered alternative views on Scripture in general, and different interpretations of passages specifically on same-gender sexual behaviors. It seems to me that many of these views start with the assumption that our feelings and attractions are the ultimate value, and then find ways to interpret in favor of our attractions the questions we wrestle with about moral revelation, and why would God “make us this way” and then condemn us for it, and such like. I started with a different working assumption – that God is Lord and He reveals things we would not otherwise know, and He sets the standards for personal morality and social ethics.
And that means it’s actually irrelevant to my obedience as a follower of Jesus whether these attractions are from nature, nurture, both, or neither. If the Almighty says a specific behavior is sin, my response should be to trust the Spirit’s empowerment to avoid it. So, I haven’t found these other interpretations intellectually or spiritually viable, even if at times they might make life seem emotionally or relationally easier. To me, they lead in another of the many broken, sinful ways that God never intended for people to go.
I am, however, also a proponent of each person – Christian or not – being responsible to determine his/her own paradigm of values, beliefs, and behaviors, and being accountable for them. As a follower of Christ, I interpret this as a part of everyday discipleship and the “priesthood of every believer.” So, I’m not here to dictate my presuppositions and paradigm to anyone else, but as a sojourner in a host country, to share my viewpoint when the opportunity or necessity arises.
That said, I define my identity as a Christian male, I choose to remain sexually abstinent, and I actively avoid pornography of all kinds as much as possible in our sex-saturated culture. This is the specific path I’ve chosen for four decades to deal with temptations toward same-sex activities. Some might say I’m suffering for nothing, but again, I’m not working from their paradigm. I see suffering as inevitable, perhaps even anguish as inevitable. But despair and futility are not. The pathway I have chosen is one I consider the way of the cross. It is a way that acknowledges/embraces and redeems suffering to generate beauty in the midst of ashes. In postmodern terms, this is how I've constructed a life/lifestyle that embodies radical discipleship, as best I've come to understand that as having great freedom within biblical boundaries.
As to marriage, I never saw that as “the great fix-all” for SSA. (Actually, I’d go so far as to say that anyone who suggests marriage as “the cure” for homosexual orientation is not only naïve, but inflicting spiritual abuse.) However, the idea and even the possibility of marriage has been on my radar occasionally. Unfortunately, the women I was interested in at various times were not interested in me, and vice versa – the relational weirdness of the latter being more difficult to deal with than the unrequited love of the former. Is there still a “bachelor's til the rapture” club? (Then again, I'm not sure I'm a pre-millennialist or yadda-yadda anymore anyway, so whatever …)
GENDER AND IDENTITY
My basic conclusion about gender identity is this: “Gender has more to do with what’s stored in the attic than how the plumbing works.” You can be male, but not feel masculine. You can be female, but not feel feminine. How we deal with the integration (or disconnection) between physical and emotional can send us in very different directions – I believe with both our gender identity and our sexuality.
And I have dealt with some significant gender identity issues, basically having viewed myself as “non-gendered” or in “gender limbo.” Proverbs talks about how foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, and in retrospect, I realized that at a very young age, I withdrew from masculinity. I never felt I fit in with the world of boys and men. I didn’t know what to do about those feelings, so in my understandable foolishness, I tried to extinguish what I thought was the source. (But I also did not attach to femininity, or I would likely have dealt with something within the transgendered spectrum.) So, as a young adult, I ultimately identified more with being a “person” than with being a man.
That has changed, thankfully, and I see my main identity as being a Christian man. Over the years, though, I’ve run into a fair number of men and women with a similar problem. While emphasizing “personhood” may seem like a relatively productive choice, it is still based in wounds and emotional pain that need to be healed.
On that line, one of the more dramatic learning situations I’ve heard was shared by my friend, Jeanette Howard, author of Out of Egypt: Leaving Lesbianism Behind. (I was her project manager, editor, and writing coach for that book, for which she dubbed me “an honorary ex-lesbian.” I’m sure I have the official wall certificate somewhere still …) When she was a very young Christian, Jeanette constantly referred to herself as a “Christian person.” Those who were discipling her gave her a rather radical assignment: To stand in front of a mirror, look herself in the eyes, and thank God aloud that He’d made her a woman. It took her days before she could stand before a mirror without just dissolving into tears. More weeks before she could even look herself in the eyes. Months, finally, before she could do as she was asked. The learning process there was important, but her actions were, too.
My own gender dissociation manifested in some peculiar behaviors that afterwards made sense in light of my level of uncomfortability with masculinity. For instance, when I got to college, I stopped shaving – not because growing a beard was a “manly” action, but, actually, the opposite. If I didn’t shave, I didn’t have to look in a mirror every day as one more reminder of being male. For me, the turning point came in 1989 in a Christian men’s support group where all the guys were dealing with gender and/or sexuality issues. During one prayer time, I simply told the Lord that I really didn’t understand what it meant to be a man but was willing to find out and asked Him to lead me in that. That began a different fork in the road on the journey I’m still pursuing.
ASPECTS OF OBEDIENCE AND TRANSFORMATION
Early on in my college experience, I became a born-again Christian. I’d been raised in a traditional mainline denomination, but it was more about religion than a relationship then for me. When I chose to follow Christ, part of my paradigm shift was to see the Bible as God’s revelation to us of things we wouldn’t necessary conclude on our own. And sexuality was one of those moral issues with social and ethical ramifications. I began studying those aspects of what the Scripture had to say, along with everything else. (As it turned out, I spent more time in Bible and theological studies during my college years than I spent in all my classes combined.)
Eventually I began working through the sexuality side of my identity. I’ve never called myself “gay,” or had a “gay identity,” or identified with LGBT movements or cultures. Since I wasn’t “gay,” I’ve never really identified with the “ex-gay” label either, though I got in touch with Exodus International in the mid-1980s, a few years after I learned of the network’s existence. There weren't all that many recovery/transformation print resources on overcoming unwanted homosexuality back then, and the closest ministry was about 250 miles away. So my “process” was mostly just general, everyday Christian discipleship, carried out in the usual context of local church and peer groups.
As far as dealing with specifics of my homosexual attractions, that was mostly on my own, at least until the late 1980s. That was when a Christian counselor friend of mine and I started a support group for Christian men dealing with the entire range of gender identity and sexuality issues. (This is the group I mentioned where I prayed about accepting the reality of being a man and asking God to help me understand masculinity.)
The 15 to 20 guys in the group were working on overcoming personal issues and/or fall-out related to: heterosexual addictions, homosexuality, bisexuality, transvestism, transgenderism, voyeurism, exhibitionism, pedophilia, hiring prostitutes, addiction to pornography, adultery. These weren’t really issues that local church staff seemed willing or equipped to address in those days. (Are they even now?) And, for many of these specific problems, there were nearly no resources from a Christian perspective anyway.
So, we went a different route instead of trying to create a specialized program for each different category of issue and go in rotation – what we chuckled at as “the perversion of the week.” We focused together on our common need: “What is Christlike masculinity, and how is Jesus a role model for us?” Our slogan for this was, “Same root, different fruit.” And indeed, it was intriguing to see that as we focused together on our common ground of Christlike masculinity, every man seemed to experience an increased ability to reject whatever specific kind of sexual temptations they were prone to. That was all happening at least two full years before Promise Keepers burst onto the scene and suddenly, discipleship resources for men – some good, some awful – started flooding the market.
“GENDERIZED MINISTRY” AND TRUE COMPLEMENTARITY
My friend's counseling agency affiliated with Exodus, because some of us were dealing with same-sex attractions and Exodus had resources available. I went to my first Exodus conference in 1989, and taught on writing to get published at their 1990 conference. During my workshop, I met Jeanette Howard, who was writing what turned out to be the first counseling/recovery-oriented book for women coming out of lesbianism (the other books were mainly personal testimonies). As I mentioned earlier, I helped her with Out of Egypt as project manager, editor, and writing coach.
The entire project was a deep lesson in collaboration in the Body of Christ, and not just between myself and Jeanette. I’d like to share about that, since I think it has something crucial to teach us all about true complementarity – the kind where women and men work together as peers, using their different perspectives and gifts to create something far more relevant and enduring than could be done by either gender or background type working alone. How often do we see that happen in the Body of Christ? It was my first mega-experience of crowd-sourcing. Here’s what happened.
The first and second drafts for the whole book (almost 300 pages) were completed in just four months, which is amazing all on its own. But it wasn’t just because Jeanette spent a kazillion hours writing (though she did). It’s because she and I brought together a very unusual structure of four teams to help.
(1) I’d mail out the first drafts of chapters to a group of a dozen or so “outside readers.” They would send back corrections, questions, and comments. I’d compile them and present editing options to Jeanette for her to decide how she wanted to handle it. (2) Then we met weekly with a critique group of experienced writers who gave their input on next drafts. (3) At the end of the revision process, we held a pizza party where another group took on the next-to-last draft.
That may not seem so revolutionary, but here’s why it was. The target audience of Jeanette’s book was women who had decided to come out of a lesbian lifestyle and wanted an introductory book to get them started on that journey. However, the overall group of 20 people involved in these four teams included:
Women and men, ranging in age from their 30s to 60s.
Singles, individual married people, and married couples.
Those with homosexuality attractions and those with heterosexual attractions.
Everyday disciples, counselors, and local church ministry leaders.
Everyone said they learned something important for their own spiritual growth from reading Jeanette’s manuscript. It didn’t matter their gender, orientation issues, age, marital status, or occupation. It was a personal growth experience for each participant. It also shows how people with a particular “besetting sin” problem as the Puritans would call it, can work side-by-side with those who don’t have the same problem, in a symbiosis that brings healing and strength to everyone involved. We are all so much more than just our sexuality, our gender, our “issues.” What could be done in and for the Kingdom if we worked together in this kind of REAL complementarity all the time?
(4) The fourth team was actually the foundation to the whole process, and that was our prayer team. A letter went out every 10 days to two weeks with a combination of progress report and specific prayer requests. That helped Jeanette and me make sure we were taking time to stop, reflect, and evaluate how things were really going – but also to remember how deeply we were being supported. And perhaps most important of all, these newsletters were reminders that this was at its core a spiritual enterprise to bring resources for transformation to those who wanted it, not just a writing project or a ministry program for the heck of it.
EXODUS AND AN IDENTITY BEYOND
Anyway, the Exodus staff saw how I worked with Jeanette. (We all worked in the same office suite, and some of them were on her review and critique teams.) Bob Davies, who was the Executive Director then, asked if I wanted to join their staff to work on newsletters, other resources, and conference organizing. It made spiritual sense to me. So, I said yes and moved there about six months later.
And that's how my Exodus connections came about. I’d already been studying gender issues and producing resources on HIV/AIDS ministry since the mid-1980s. (I sensed God calling me to AIDS ministry in 1987, before I knew a single person infected or affected by HIV.) I intuitively felt that gender identity, transgenderism, androgyny, misogyny, and misandry would become increasingly important personal and cultural issues, so I sought to incorporate those in my resourcing work at Exodus and as suggestions for expanding the teaching components of its annual conferences.
Exodus moved its headquarters to Seattle in 1996. I had the opportunity to move there, but chose to stay. I felt I’d done what I could to get Exodus’ resources catalyzed, and felt it would be better to turn it over to someone else to maintain that momentum. And, basically, I had done nothing but talk, write, and edit material about sexuality, homosexuality, gender identity, and personal transformation for six years full time – seemingly more than enough for a lifetime, since I didn't see that as my long-term calling. As I noted before, I am more than my gender and sexuality issues and my ministry after all – as are we all.
So, I started work at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. And for ministry, I shifted back to social transformation, which is what I started out with as my focus in college almost 25 years earlier. I got involved with church planting, strategic foresight (futurist skills), and cultural analysis. I’ve occasionally taught guest lectures to seminary students on all those subjects, as well as on gender and sexuality. I work with an international team that’s producing The Transformational Index, a missional ministry system of planning tools and measurable indicators of social impact.
I last taught at Exodus conferences in 2000, and have occasionally blogged comments (mostly on Dr. David Fitch's blog in the category on women/GLBTQ ministry) and specifically about a “welcoming and mutually/redemptively transforming“ stance, as opposed to the “welcoming and affirming” gay-affirming approach and the “rejecting and condemning” ultra-conservative isolationist approach. But other than that, I have been writing mostly about spiritually abusive leaders, malignant ministries, and dystopian societies – and how we MUST understand the destructive human impact of these sick systems if we want to shape organizational design/development for churches and ministries to be safe, healthy, holistic, and sustainable … that is, “welcoming and transformational” for all.
This is probably the most I’ve *written* on gender and sexuality in over 10 years. That doesn’t mean I’ve ignored processing those personal issues. It’s just that there are now smaller parts that fit into a far more comprehensive and coherent paradigm. They are not the life-dominating questions that they were in decades past. And in all things, I am still seeking to live out what I have long understood to be the definition of “success” in terms of personal transformation from homosexual attractions: Following Jesus Christ with all my life and for all of my life, in radical obedience to what I understand the Scriptures say about who I am in Him, and what it means to be a godly Christian man.