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Sharing in faith: My friend Alex

The Rev. Greg Stover
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS
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Late one evening during my time as an undergraduate at The Ohio State University, I met Alex at the open sanctuary of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church on campus. As young Christian believers, eager to grow in our faith in Christ, Alex, myself and sometimes others met there from time to time to study and pray.

This night, only Alex and I were there. He had something heavy on his heart. Over the next hour, Alex poured out his heart about his sexual struggles, his sexual attraction to men, and his conviction that he was gay. Alex was sure he had never “chosen” to experience sexual attraction to persons of the same sex. It was just the way he was. Yet, Alex’s instinctive response (and mine) was that following the attractions he experienced was not what God had in mind for him as a follower of Jesus.

Alex’s revelation was a surprise to me. Until that time, I had never met a person who acknowledged himself to be gay. Yet, Alex’s self-revelation changed nothing about my friendship, care or respect for him –– nor my confidence in his faith. We were two followers of Jesus seeking to share our lives openly with one another and live in ways pleasing to the Lord.

As Alex shared his struggles, we followed our natural impulse: we opened our Bibles. Neither Alex nor I brought the tools or training to the Scriptures that we would bring today. We did bring a confidence that the Scripture was God’s word to us. We read the standard passages from the Old Testament (Genesis, Leviticus, and Judges) and the New Testament (Romans, I Corinthians and I Timothy). Some today set these passages aside as culturally bound, out-of-date and of little value in the discussion of human sexuality. Interestingly, these passages were confirmation of God’s will, encouragement and words of hope for Alex.

Along with the prohibitions and warnings, Paul wrote: “That is what some of you used to be! But you were washed clean, you were made holy to God, and you were made right with God in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (I Corinthians 6:11) Alex believed, and so did I, that Alex’s same-sex attractions were not the final word in his journey to grow in holiness, any more than any temptation can claim the ultimate victory when God’s Spirit is working in us as in Alex.

I have come with time to understand that the passages mentioned above rest on an even more foundational biblical witness about our human sexuality. They stand on the foundation of God’s expressed intention in creation and Jesus’ affirmation of that intention.

Many point out that Jesus said little which directly addresses human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. Some Christians conclude the seeming silence of Jesus on these matters as evidence that Jesus espoused a loving tolerance for wide diversity in human sexuality that simply trumps other passages of Scripture.

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I believe the case is quite the opposite. Far from Jesus’ relative silence being a tacit affirmation of alternate sexual identities, attractions and practices, I believe it is the strongest evidence that Jesus’ own perspective reflected the prevailing Jewish understandings of human sexuality. Jesus would have known many examples of alternatives to monogamous heterosexual marriage. They were prevalent in the Greco-Roman culture that surrounded Jesus and the Jews, yet Jewish teaching on human sexuality stood in contradiction to these alternatives.

It would be strange indeed for Jesus, who never hesitated to confront portions of Jewish interpretation of the law or tradition that he believed misrepresented God’s intent, to remain silent if he believed the teachings of the Old Testament regarding sexuality and marriage, in which he had been raised, were in need of correction.

When asked to address the matters of marriage, sexuality and divorce most directly, Jesus turned immediately to Genesis and the understanding that God has created us male and female as the basis and foundation for marriage. In doing so, Jesus affirms marriage between one man and one woman as God’s intention and pattern in the very fabric of creation.

Over 40 years have passed since Alex and I studied and prayed together that night. We’ve lost touch, but the last I knew (about 20 years after our graduation) Alex had been ordained in another denomination and was happily married with several children.  

That night in St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Alex and I believed that Christ would free him completely from same-sex attractions. I now realize that many LGBT persons may not experience transformation in that way despite all their desires and attempts; others may. There are also significant testimonies of LGBT persons who openly embrace their sexual orientation while determining to live in harmony with God’s intention of monogamous heterosexual marriage as the appropriate context for sexual relationships.

Today, when I hear someone say they are lesbian or gay, I am no longer surprised. Yet, I continue to believe that the relationship I had with Alex many years ago offers an example of what the ministry of the church can be: a place of honesty, openness, loving accountability and support in Christ.

Alex told others in our Christian group of his sexual identity. Each responded with love, support, and prayer. No one shunned Alex or walked away from him, nor did he from us.

My longing and prayer is that United Methodism would be a place where we all discover that our deepest identity is not in our sexual identities, but in being followers of the Christ growing in God’s holiness. All of us fall short. Because of our crucified and risen Lord, it can be said of all of us, “This is what some of you used to be.”

This is how Scripture has spoken to me and how it continues to speak to me today.

The Rev. Greg Stover
Cincinnati, Ohio

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Posted July 22, 2014