The reason for that image will become clearer at the end of the blog, but for this piece, we need to go back to the beginning! Over the months, I’ve tackled a range of issues. This month I want to go back to something I was struggling with when I first began writing my essay several years ago. Within the Christian non-affirming mindset, being LGBTQ+ is seen, either as a choice a person has made – and therefore one that needs to be repented of; or a condition, a defect, that God can heal. If we describe people identifying as being LGBTQ+ as having a “condition”, Christians will see it as their job to pray for healing. In fact, that was the comment of my then pastor, who I spoke to early on, when I began exploring my thinking. I had written a first draft, but was wanting to get his thoughts as he was fairly new to the church. He only saw those two options: 1) Choice, requiring repentance, or 2) a health problem, requiring healing. For him and much of the non-affirming evangelical church, no other option was available.
That didn’t satisfy me, so I went on my own exploration of theology, science, ethics and personal stories. All the way through those early days I sought out people who would be prepared to chat these things over and make sure my theology was Biblically sound, and defensible, and one person I was extremely grateful to was the Assistant Principal of a local Baptist college. If you ever read this, thank you. I hope she’d still say my theological reasoning remains sound.
Within non-affirming evangelicalism there is no room for a third option, because that would threaten that particular worldview. This worldview started to develop after 1946 when the Revised Standard Version, New Testament, first, wrongly used the word “homosexual” in its texts, and most subsequent other translations followed their lead. https://canyonwalkerconnections.com/forging-a-sacred-weapon-how-the-church-became-anti-gay-hub (The RSV New Testament was published on February 11, 1946, with a ceremony commemorating its publication held in Columbus, Ohio. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revised_Standard_Version. The full Revised Standard Version of the complete Bible was published in 1952.)
I believe there must be a third option, and for me, that third option, I believe, is that homosexuality is simply part of being human – part of God’s potential for humanity – mirroring what we see happening in nature. However, how do you find ways to explain the concept in a way that don’t make it appear that being LGBTQ+ has wholly negative connotations – that it is in some way, a defect?
For example, my initial instinct when I began exploring the issue, was to think in personal terms: in that I have suffered from a lifetime of asthma (– seemingly inherited from my mother, and her parents before her, so, for me, it has a genetic component), and others have their own health issues, and we all learn to live with them to some degree or another. At that time, I saw being LGBTQ+ as being a slightly different “condition”, but one that was in some way, a result of some genetic/biological/chemical aberration.
After a while I realised that this couldn’t be correct, because if it were truly some sort of “condition”, it ought to be possible to be treated, or healed. We now know that although homosexuality has probably been around since time began, it has only really been in the public spotlight for the last 60-70 years. For most of that time, medics and the church have been trying to change gay people into straight, and it simply doesn’t happen. And when there are reports here and there of the odd case, you want to delve into exactly how strong the evidence is, because it is very much an outlier. Being LGBTQ+ is a biological condition, not a moral lifestyle choice. As I’ve said before, if God really thought it vital for a gay person to be straight, we’d see changes happening all the time, God’s own nature requires change to occur, in every instance, without failure, as part of a person’s experience of becoming a Christian, and it just simply doesn’t happen, does it?
Medics stopped trying to change people decades ago, and the World Health Organisation removed sexual orientation from its list of “International Classification of Diseases” in 1990 and “Clinical literature shows that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings and behaviours are sound. They are perfectly acceptable variations of human sexuality.” https://www.dandc.eu/en/article/world-health-organization-considers-homosexuality-normal-behaviour. However, churches and faith groups across the world continue to be blind, turning their backs on the science, causing untold harm in their efforts to force change.
So, when I started to write my essay, I was trying to find some way of finding positive illustrations that didn’t paint LGBTQ+ folk as defective. I deliberately used that word because I know what it is like to be defective, with my lifetime of asthma, and how it affects your self-confidence. You can’t do all the things you’d like to, also getting left out of things, and you get bullied because you are different, which in turn hits the self-confidence again. But my story doesn’t end there, in defeat.
I started to look for parallel human conditions where natural differences occurred, that were fully accepted as not requiring treatment. I’m still not sure I’ve hit at a conclusion that hits the “sweet spot”, but I am convinced of this: that if there were no LGBTQ+ folks in the world, that would be, from a genetic, statistical, and sociological point of view, impossible, or at least wildly implausible. Why? Because every other facet of our body chemistry and make up, is subject to changes and differences, so why would sexuality be excluded from these same tendencies to move away from the typical?
In my essay, I used two main illustrations, one was the fact that we are all either right-handed or left-handed, and although being left-handed is a bit of a nuisance, because, when a left-hander writes something by hand, their hand will drag over the text they’ve just written, potentially smudging it. However, left-handed people tend to develop a way of either twisting their hand/arm so that it doesn’t pass over the newly written text, or twisting the paper to an angle where their writing hand doesn’t run over the text. It must be frustrating, but they learn to adapt. A little like we have seen with humanity throughout history, we learn to adapt to the topography, climate, vegetation, and food that we find in the new places we discover.
The second example I used, was our levels of intellect/intelligence. We all have different levels of intellect, from those who are super intelligent, to those who would be diagnosed with severe learning difficulties. We do not see parents praying that their precocious super-intelligent child becomes more neuro-typical, and neither do we see the child with challenging learning difficulties being prayed for, on an ongoing basis – especially after a diagnosis has been given. The situation is accepted, albeit perhaps, with sadness and reticence.
When non-affirming Christians look at LGBTQ+ issues, I would therefore argue there is a lack of intellectual reasoning, along with an unwillingness to engage with most fields of science, and a dogmatic unwillingness to truly explore the ethics, morality, and theology of the Bible. It seems that for many, their faith isn’t strong enough to properly face the issues with honesty.
In my essay I also talked about how we all have different sized body parts, whether that be fingers, toes, noses, ears, hands, feet, genitals, arms, legs, lungs, other internal organs, etc. Some are tall, others short, some large, some small. If everyone was a similar height and shape, our shops wouldn’t have to stock racks and racks of the same design, in so many different sizes.
The way the non-affirming church behaves, one would think that everyone fits into one of two identical boxes, but that simply isn’t true, is it? I’ve already shown (both in this blog and other writings) that there are wildly different parameters of everything that defines us as human, so why on earth wouldn’t there be the same range of differences in our sexuality as well. In my essay, I also talked about how it seems to me that, even being gay, isn’t a nice tidy box with a ribbon on it.
In conversations with friends and contacts, a few/some who identify as gay, also have potential attractions, albeit much reduced, to someone of the other sex (noticeable nevertheless, even if there is little or no interest in acting on it), and again this isn’t statistically surprising. Obviously, there are those who are attracted 50/50 to both male and female, and they identify as Bisexual, but there will be those who may be 60/40, 30/70 or 90/10 … or whatever. Obviously at 100/0 you are talking about someone who is either wholly straight, or wholly gay, and although by far the most people will probably be nearer one or other of the extremes, there will be folks planting their flags at any point on the continuum. There will also be a few who will have no place to plant their flags – those who identify as Ace, or asexual – “someone who does not experience sexual attraction”.
What does the church say to them? In my experience the church will welcome them with open arms (providing the ace person don’t speak too openly about it) since they’re not doing all that naughty stuff with their bodies, because sex is bad and holiness good! (More about that in a minute.) This is in spite of the fact that there is little difference between someone who is gay and one who is ace – from the angle that neither are sexually typical, which is the pigeon-hole the church wants everyone to fit in. I suspect that a church would start to have palpitations if an ace member started to wear the Ace flag/badge and going to Pride events!
So, let’s get back on track.
Do we pray for healing of someone who is left-handed, or that God would reduce the size of someone’s large feet, or increase the size of someone’s hands, to make it easier to play sports, or swim? No, we just play the cards we have been dealt. However, there are some medical conditions we can alleviate and correct with medicine and surgery, and this is entirely appropriate. I definitely wouldn’t be here if there had been no drugs to treat my asthma. As I mentioned in my essay, when I was a child, mum and dad were so worried I wouldn’t make it through the night on one occasion, they were planning what they should do if I died. And mum was a fully qualified nurse, who I always remember as being completely focussed and rational – and I don’t remember ever seeing her panic. A couple of years before she died, she told me they had fully expected me not to last the night.
The Bible encourages us to pray in all situations (Philippians 4: 6), but it doesn’t tell us specifically what to pray for. However, we are told to bring our worries and anxieties to God (1 Peter 5: 7), but our prayers need to give God flexibility to answer those prayers in ways we may not have thought about. So, when people talk about “praying the gay away”, that is the wrong thing to be praying, for two reasons: 1 – you’re telling the person you reject them, and when they aren’t healed you are “telling” them God has rejected them, because He hasn’t healed them, or that it is their own fault because they didn’t have enough faith. 2 – You’re telling God the only acceptable answer is to remove something God may have allowed as a special gift, so that the person he created, may be realised in all their glory. In which case He won’t, and doesn’t, answer that prayer.
So why do non-affirming Christians pray for some things, whilst seeing others as simply differences from the norm that we can accept, and that we don’t need to pray for? I suspect it is something to do with that word “accept”. Non-affirming Christians find being LGBTQ+ is distasteful, so instinctively want to reject it. It’s probably got as much to do with a gnostic ideology as anything else. Gnostics would see anything to do with the spirit as good, whereas anything to do with the body as bad. Hence, they adopt a kind of dualism, so that everything is seen as being either good, or bad, sacred, or secular.
When I was a teenager in the early Seventies, I loved Pop and Rock, but that was frowned on by older people in the church. I loved it when Larry Norman wrote and sang “Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music” – a song later covered by Cliff Richard on his “Small Corners” album. So, hymns and praise songs were regarded as good, but love songs and protest songs (and, at that time, most pop songs), are bad – they are either sacred or secular – sacred, good, secular, bad. Sex, because it is so associated with the body, and passions, is usually seen as bad, and historically it has caused so many to stumble in their faith – count the scores of TV evangelists and high-profile church leaders now outed – Hillsong being simply the latest, but won’t be the last, of a very long line. Sex though, is a gift of God and should be seen as such. A truly Christian worldview is wholistic, treating the whole person, making no such distinctions as sacred and secular. A song, or book is judged on how well it conveys the message: is the message good, healthy, affirming of God’s creation, presenting its message in truth and honesty; did the author/musician do a good job? Is it memorable or forgettable? Is it a good example of the genre it purports to represent? I’m sure you can add other criteria.
However, I also want to add a different illustration to the idea of picking something which is neither intrinsically good nor bad, but where there is a huge variety of differences. We look at a painting, or photo, and say, “Wow, look at the vivid colours of that sunset!” How do we know that the colours you see are the colours I see? Is the red I see, the same red as the one you see? We have learned, to understand that a strawberry, for example, is red. In whatever lighting being used to shine on it, whether that is natural light, blue light, or UV, we know the strawberry is red. We know it’s red and we have labelled it from childhood as red.
If I am colour-blind, I have learned that when I see that colour, I can call it red, but although we both call it red, what we actually see may be very different. Someone with red-green colour blindness struggles to identify the difference between those two colours, and the same goes for blue-yellow colour blindness. There is a far rarer condition where people experience achromatopsia’s or monochromacies, which means that somebody is truly colour blind, meaning they only see in black and white. Just so that you understand, in general, red-green colour deficiency, means that people are more likely to confuse a whole range of shades around red and green, not just red and green, themselves, and likewise, this goes for the blue-yellow deficiency.
Colour blindness affects 8%, or 1 in 12 men and about .5%, or 1 in 200 women. Why is that? This is all to do with those pesky chromosomes again. There is a gene in the X-chromosome that causes colour-blindness. In men, we only have one X-chromosome, so if that gene is affected, we experience colour-blindness, whereas in women, who have two X-chromosomes, if the first one is affected but the second chromosome is normal, the condition doesn’t occur. A woman can only be colour blind if she receives an affected X-chromosome from each of her two parents. (Read more at http://www.newhealthadvisor.org/Can-Women-Be-Color-Blind.html)
How did I end up going down this alley? Recently I was listening to BBC Radio 4’s “The Curious Cases of Rutherford & Fry” and the episode was called “The Colour Conundrum” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07dx75g/episodes/downloads). It was fascinating, as it made me realise how varied our vision is. You can listen to it on the above link or as a Podcast via BBC Sounds. What we see is determined by the three types of cones we have in our retinas and how the signals they send to the brain are interpreted so we can see what is in front of us.
Dr Gabriele Jordan, from Newcastle University, described how we have these three types of cones in the retina. “One is sensitive to short wavelength light – sometimes people call them blue cones. We have the middle wavelength sensitive cones, or M‑cones and the long wavelength sensitive cones, and they all have different kinds of opsins in their photoreceptors that make them sensitive to slightly different ranges of light.”
She went on to say that “an opsin is the protein part of the photopigment molecule. So, when a photon of light is absorbed, that basically triggers a switch in the molecule, so light energy is then transformed into a different kind of energy, which is electrical signals that are passed onto the brain.”
However, as the programme continued, they discussed the fact that things can go wrong and how the eyes can be tricked, fooling the brain into seeing things that simply aren’t there For instance, one issue they were talking about was colour opponency, which is where you stare at a weirdly coloured picture for 15 seconds and then when it is quickly switched to a black and white copy of the same image your eye sees it for a short time in full normal colour. This example isn’t the one they quoted on the programme, but it is very similar: https://petapixel.com/2020/08/26/this-optical-illusion-tricks-your-brain-into-adding-color-to-a-black-and-white-photo/
Then there is the example of the dress that was all over the media a few years ago, where, for some people the dress appeared to be coloured white and gold, and others, looking at the same picture on the same device, at the same time, saw it as blue and black! I can’t reproduce it here because of copyright, but you can find it here: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/blog/2015/feb/27/science-thedress-colour-illusion-the-dress-blue-black-gold-white . So what colour is it for you? Every time I have ever looked at it, it appears as white and gold, but around 50% of the population see it as white and gold and the other 50% as blue and black. There was one exception: when I was writing a paragraph earlier and glanced across to my second monitor, and for less than a second it appeared blue and black before reverting to the obviously correct colours (for me!).
Professor Anya Hurlbert, also from Newcastle University, explained that “… when we construct colours, we do that inferential thing, totally unconsciously, and filter out what we perceive to be the light shining on the object, so we can get at what the object is really reflecting. But everybody’s brain does that differently. So, that image could be made from a black and blue dress under yellowish light, or it could be made from a white and gold dress under blueish light, and different people, totally unconsciously, make a different inference, and if their brains unconsciously filter out blueish light, they see the dress as white and gold. If their brains unconsciously filter out yellowish light, they see it as blue and black.”
So, clearly my brain unconsciously filters out blueish light. You might only ever see it as blue and black, in which case your brain unconsciously filters out yellowish light. If you are interested in other tests related to colour blindness have a look at the tests at: https://www.colorblindnesstest.org/farnsworth-munsell-100-hue-test/. And I would especially try the Farnsworth Munsell Hue test where the idea is to put boxes in order according to their colour, so, on the first row the boxes change from a gloomy pink to a gloomy green and you have to move each of the boxes so when you have finished, there is a smooth transition from one colour at one end to the other colour at the opposite end.
While we are playing games with what we see, I’m sure you remember when Magic Eye pictures came out. Some found it easy, some hard, and some impossible to see the hidden images in the main picture. To get a reminder, go to: https://www.magiceye.com/stock-images/ and see how many you can work through. For me, sometimes it works well, and sometimes I struggle, seeing part of the image before it disappears, as I slightly move my eyes, and I have to start again!
Then finally, what about optical illusions, I put one at the top and hope you enjoyed the seemingly moving circles as your eye moves around the image! Here’s another one where your brain will show you large grey/black dots that fill the white space, at the corners of each rectangle.
And here’s a similar one, where the black dots flash, or appear, when you don’t directly look at them:
And finally, an oldie but still an effective illusion. Are the two middle lines curved or straight?
What was the point of this? Other than to have a bit of fun, all of these go to show that there are so many natural differences between us. There is nothing defective if a person insists that an obviously white and gold dress, appears blue and black. You see some things differently to me, and I, you. And it is normal and fantastic.
There is nothing defective if you write with your left hand. There is nothing defective if you have a higher/lower IQ to me. There is nothing defective if your sexual orientation is different to mine. We didn’t all come out the same mould and our genetics are different from each other. Not wrong – just different. We have around 20k genes, so we expect differences. We are far more complicated than a simple, narrow-minded, binary construct, and I’m certain it puts a smile on the face of God to see such a variety of people, all with different strengths and weaknesses. And those weaknesses mean we need to work together to achieve the best things, especially those that are really special.