Recently I invited a group of young, dynamic Christian leaders to join me in a Skype conversation on marriage and gender. I was interested in exploring whether there was anything new we could bring to the conversation to help believers better understand the spiritual nature of sexuality. In facilitating the conversation, I desired to explore my own feelings on the issue, considering my background in the gay community, and see what the Lord could offer through revelation that comes via fellowship.
One comment I made in particular piqued interest, so I want to examine it here in writing for others to consider. I said I would never encourage a gay person to get married because it imposes a construct in which they are forced to remain in that lifestyle—a prison, if you will. On a personal level, should a gay person approach me, I simply could not in good conscience encourage the union.
Why is that?
We discussed several different marriage paradigms, especially the conjugal/political element, which observes the structure of marriage and family as a source of order and nurture. We brought up the spiritual realities of communion and intimacy with one’s spouse, and I think we agreed the simple dynamics of intimate, nurturing love has become dominant in our culture’s concept of marriage. But these don’t speak to the essential reason I oppose gay marriage.
Certainly, as one observed, a gay couple could divorce should one or both partners receive a revelation indicating a different sexual identity. With that in mind I cannot exactly suggest marriage hinders that possible transformation.
But, there is something else.
My spouse is the most important and influential “other” person in my life excepting Jesus. When we engaged in marriage, we agreed to ensure our relationship would always be primary. We understand our influence over each other is fundamentally focused upon propelling the other into God and God’s purposes. My posture toward Doug is watchful, seeking ways to direct Him to Jesus and strengthen him in his relationship with the Lord. It is the essence and success of our marriage. The Lord has given me an element of responsibility toward Doug and I firmly believe Jesus will comment upon it when I see Him face to face. Similarly, Doug’s assignment from the Lord to cultivate my love for God cannot be underemphasized. A large part of my transformation from a masculine lesbian to the wonderfully feminine, “straight” woman I am today is largely due to Doug’s obedience to God in this regard. We understand God is the center of our love for each other and God has used our marriage to bring healing and wholeness to us both on a level no other relationship possibly could. The communion I have with Doug spiritually is second only to that which I have with Jesus.
In considering this post I asked myself, What do I have with Doug that I did not have with my lesbian lovers? I did not have the relationship with God as I have today, so could I apply the above paragraph to any of my lovers?
No, because the most challenging element of our marriage is difference.
Several years ago, the Lord invited Doug and me to Chicago where I had once lived. Jesus asked us to go to the places where I socialized including Boys Town and Andersonville. It was a treasure hunt of sorts. I went to my favorite hangouts and listened as Jesus spoke to me. The catch—I didn’t know where He would begin speaking, so I went everywhere I could think of, especially the most colorful spots. Jesus spoke to me about sex shops and bars in Boys Town and about Presbyterians at 4th Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue where I once loved to worship. He reminded me of art and music, books, and ideologies. But the most profound revelation of the trip occurred in a feminist bookstore I enjoyed in Andersonville. There I looked at all manner of literature from lesbian porn (believe me, Jesus is not shy to comment on why we look there) to feminist classics and listened to the Lord tell me about my identity and the journey I had been on. I have spoken of this at length in other posts, so let me share only this: Jesus exposed a root of my lesbian experience.
I could only love myself and my lovers could only be like me.
Don’t take this to heart and assume all gay people share this dysfunction. Nevertheless, it was certainly true of my life and it is essentially why I argue against gay marriage. As a lesbian I struggled to love myself. In fact, I hated myself and tried to commit suicide, but desperately needed love. I was trapped in brokenness and the only way for me to extend love to another person meant drawing on a perverted, even destructive, love for myself and extending that to myself through my partner.
And so I cherish my ability to love Doug well, which empowers and shapes his identity in Christ by drawing upon my revelation of his uniqueness. By struggling to engage and understand our differences, I am humbled and brought deeper into a servant posture that is far from the feminist subjugation I opposed as a lesbian. In reality, it pushes me to a higher revelation of my own identity in Christ. It exposes my weaknesses and invites me to greater wholeness that can be shared with Doug and that ultimately strengthens our bond.
Really, Doug has an experience of life in his masculinity I will never fully engage, no matter how fluid my gender may be spiritually. (For a comment on that see this post.) I rely on his experience of life to expand my own, and I invite that difference to reveal my identity as a woman. I have found that the buffeting and striving that occurs in what Alan Hood of the International House of Prayer calls, “The Great Equalizer,” has been essential to understanding who I am and what I value. Most importantly, it invites me to see as Jesus sees and love as He loves. In the triumphs of seasons of love, Doug and I have encountered spiritual dynamics in Christ that define our lives and destinies.
I can hear the argument, “We’re all different, so loving another woman—even if she looked like me—would still pose the challenge of incorporating difference into love. All relationships engage this challenge, and gay Christians might share this pursuit in Christ.”
I cannot agree because I believe there is a divine construct to spiritual and biological order. I am willing to propose our generation’s questions about gender and marriage are linked to the spiritual reformation occurring on earth today. And I am willing to say that love and all its spiritual facets are now paramount in marriage. However, I believe God ordains spiritual communion between men and women for the purpose of further revealing His character and its creative nature.
But here is the bottom line for me:
I had a burning bush moment shortly after graduating from seminary (where I was Out.) In that moment God announced His name to me. It shifted my paradigm and I believed He knew me. From that waypoint, I began a journey to find Him. Not only to find Him, but to experience His life. I desired to really have communion with Him as promised through “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” I wanted an experience where I was alive and could share His thoughts, His feelings, His understanding. His very essence. I wanted to know Him as a spouse. My experience of His presence was everything I longed for: identity, peace, focus, intelligence, grace, wisdom and especially to be known. And so I ran after Him and sought Him wherever I thought I could find Him—in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches where I could see Him manifest. And later, even in the theologies I had once rejected.
But my birth in Christ never began with an inkling of focus on my sexuality. My theology from seminary equipped me to accept my sexuality as a God-given reality, so it was well over a year before I began to question whether homosexuality was deviant. After months in His presence, I was changing. A sanctification was occurring that I recognized and that ultimately led me to disengage lesbianism—not because of its overt sinfulness, but because it distracted me from God. Times pursuing other women strangely diminished my experience of His presence. I don’t know whether that was due to subconscious shame, or was divinely orchestrated; nevertheless, I increasingly chose Him over relationship with my past lesbian friends and with new lovers.
Letting go of my lesbian identity was humiliating. It was every bit as difficult for me to come out of that lifestyle as it was to go in. But I had no choice.
Somehow, at some point, I lost that identity, and I can only attribute this to the revelation I received of His character and how it changed my own. My departure from lesbianism was the fruit of my experience of His presence, alone. It wasn’t His word to me to repent. He didn’t convict me from day one about my sin. Rather, He invited me to bask in the glorious love only found in His manifest presence. From that place of stillness and meditation on His character, I was transformed. The truth of WHO I AM ESSENTIALLY became apparent. I am heterosexual and all that implies in sexual desire. I enjoy and am enlivened by feminine virtues. I am whole. I am centered and all the constructs are gone. And I believe this TRUTH of identity is a comment on Scripture and natural order. I am not a man trapped in a woman’s body, and I don’t find the fullness of my sexual expression in intimacy with women because God’s presence served as a purifier of sorts that stripped away years of pain and brokenness only to reveal an alignment between my body and my soul.
Fundamentally, I believe there is always an underlying truth of identity waiting to be revealed in every gay person, just as it was for me. I cannot properly steward the redemption I was given without believing it is possible for everyone to discover their true identity in wholeness—sexually and otherwise—through Christ. And finally my experience aligns with Scripture, though I didn’t fully realize it without 20/20 hindsight, and so I uphold the truth of Scripture for people’s lives.
The promise of the revelation of God, the spiritual maturing that occurs through heterosexual union, the healing nature of intimate communion with one of opposite gender, and the potential for creative expression born of that union are the essence of marriage and are fundamentally a means of dominion promised to us in the Garden. In my opinion, a breakdown in any of these areas is a significant hindrance to the manifestation of the sons of God of Romans 8, which promises us all, married or not, the fullest experience of God’s glory on earth.
Copyright © 2015 by Kathryn Elizabeth Woning All rights reserved.
This article was written by Elizabeth Woning. For more from Elizabeth, check out her website here.