Friendship Across the Divide
Reflections on Friendship with Justin Lee by Ron Belgau
One of the most helpful things to me about the Bridges Across project is the development of specific terminology. We use the terms “SideA” and “SideB” to talk about the two main viewpoints on homosexual activity. The project defines those terms as follows: 

Homosexual relationships have the same value as heterosexual relationships. 

Only a male/female relationship in marriage is the Creator’s intent for our sexuality.

From the introduction to Justin’s World:

Life doesn’t always turn out quite the way we expect it to. It certainly hasn’t for me. I grew up a very conservative Southern Baptist, perhaps difficult to live with at times, but very sincere and very committed to what I believed. I never dreamed that, a few weeks before my 19th birthday, I would be sitting in a minister’s study saying, “Mom, Dad...I’m gay.” I know they never dreamed it either. 

People have told me I should give up my “oppressive” faith. They do not understand what Christianity is all about. Others have asked why I don’t deny my sexuality. But as you’ll see in these pages, it’s just not that simple. This is a site for the truth-seekers out there — not those who agree with me on everything, but those who ask tough questions and who seek to understand even those things which they cannot accept. 

I don’t have all the answers; far from it. But I believe that we learn more by listening to each other than we do on our own. If you’re struggling with questions about your own sexuality...if you’re trying to figure out how to relate to someone you care about who has declared himself or herself “gay”...if you want to be able to relate better to people with different beliefs...if you have spiritual questions, or are just looking for some kind of Truth... I hope that my pages will be some small aid to you in your quest. 

     —  Justin Lee

Links to Justin’s writings:

Asparagus and Sexuality

A Note About Terminology

Is It A Choice?

Is “gay Christian” an oxymoron?

“Someone I care about says they're gay.”

I’m gay and Christian. How can those two worlds possibly fit together?

A Review of Straight & Narrow

Friendship Across the Divide
by Ron Belgau <>

ON MARTIN LUTHER KING DAY, 1998, I attended the Washington State Governor’s Prayer Breakfast. The featured speaker was Dr. Tony Campolo, and he spoke about commitment: commitment to the people who were near to the heart of Jesus, the poor, the outcast, the oppressed. And in his speech, Dr. Campolo did something unusual for a late twentieth century American Christian: he included gays and lesbians among those to whom Christians must be committed. He said, 

I’m in a lot of trouble in the Evangelical community these days because there’s a group of oppressed people that I tend to love. And it’s a group of people that everybody’s upset with these days. I’m a conservative on this issue: I’m against same-gender marriages. But let me just say this. I was in high school. And there was a boy in high school who everybody picked on because we found out he was gay. We mocked him, we ridiculed him—you know what high school kids can do when they find out that somebody’s gay. We humiliated him in every way we could think of. On Fridays when the other boys went into the showers following gym, he would never go in—he was afraid. And when we came out with our wet towels, we whipped them at him and stung his little body. 

I wasn’t there the day they took Roger and pushed him into the corner of that tile shower, and as he wrapped himself up like a fetus, five guys urinated all over him. He went home, and that night, went to bed, got up at two o’clock in the morning, went down to the garage, and he hung himself. And I knew I wasn’t a Christian. Oh, I believed all the things that Christians are supposed to believe. I went to Church. I believed the whole thing. But if I was really a follower of Jesus, I would have been Roger’s friend. And I would have stood up for him, and I would have put my arm around him, and when they came to attack him, I would have been his defender, and if they started to talk about me in negative ways, I would have been able to say, “Blessed are ye when men shall revile you and persecute you and say all kinds of terrible things about you falsely, for my sake, rejoice, and be exceeding glad, for great shall be your reward n heaven.” 

That’s what it means to be a person of commitment, and I wasn’t committed that day. I wasn’t committed to stand up for the battered down, the beaten and the lost and the downtrodden. 

     Those were surprising words to hear at a prayer breakfast—the usual headquarters of the Christian Coalition. Commitment to standing up for gays who are battered down, beaten, lost, or downtrodden is not popular these days among conservative Christians. Much ink has been spilt in conservative circles opposing the National Endowment for the Arts for supporting such works as Andre Serrano’s “Piss Christ.” They object (I think quite rightly) to debasing the Christian religion by immersing an image of Christ in a jar of urine. Yet I cannot help but think that they are ignoring the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy and faithfulness. For while I join them in objecting to the “Piss Christ,” for debasing the image of God with urine, it is only a metal facsimile which is being debased. And I question the reality of their objection, for when it is the flesh and blood image of Christ who is tossed into a tile shower and urinated on, they often ignore the problem, pretend that it does not exist, and pass by on the other side. 

ALTHOUGH I WOULD CONSIDER MYSELF GAY, as a Christian, I have come to believe that sex with another man would be wrong. My good friend Justin, on the other hand, believes that two men can share the intimacy in marriage as a man and a woman, and believes that God will bless such a relationship. We therefore disagree quite sharply on a very important issue. Yet it is too easy to just say that Justin is wrong and leave it at that.
     One day, as Justin and I were talking about our differing beliefs, he received an e-mail from a sixteen-year-old gay kid. In his e-mail, this young man explained that he had been about to commit suicide. He grew up in a Christian family, but had heard so many condemnations of gays from his parents and pastors that he did not feel he could tell anyone about his struggles. While he was typing up his suicide note on his computer, he took a break and went to the Internet, where, seemingly by accident, he came across Justin’s testimony. And as he read Justin’s story, he saw another who had gone through many of the same things he had, and gained a little hope that maybe he could find Christians who would help him to deal with his struggles and with his pain. And so he chose not to commit suicide.
     God’s Spirit clearly guided this young man to Justin. And I am forced to ask myself the question that Jesus asked the expert in the Law: “Who was a neighbor to this man?” Were his parents, his pastors, the Christians around him, who made him feel that he had no place in a Church, no hope, and nowhere to turn? Or was Justin his neighbor?

JESUS SAID SOME VERY UNUSUAL THINGS during His ministry. When he talked to the Samaritan woman at the well, He told her very clearly that the Jews knew more about God than the Samaritans. In the Sermon on the Mount, He said, “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Yet when a teacher of the Law (the most knowledgeable sort of Jew) asked Him “Who is my neighbor?” He told the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, a priest and a Levite (both the very most educated and knowledgeable about God of the Jews) walked by the stricken man. A Samaritan stopped to help. Jesus left no doubt about who behaved correctly. Sometimes, you can have all the right knowledge and do all the wrong things. And sometimes, you can be a Samaritan and do all the right things.
     According to the Meyers-Briggs personality test, I am an INTJ. “INTJs approach reality as they would a giant chess board, always seeking strategies that have a high payoff, and always devising contingency plans in case of error or adversity... INTJs can be quite ruthless in implementing effective ideas, seldom counting personal cost in terms of time and energy.” On the other hand, Justin is an INFP. INFP’s “present a seemingly tranquil, and noticeably pleasant face to the world, and though to all appearances they might seem reserved, and even shy, on the inside they are anything but reserved, having a capacity for caring not always found in other types. They care deeply—indeed, passionately—about a few special persons or a favorite cause, and their fervent aim is to bring peace and integrity to their loved ones and the world.”
     In Straight & Narrow, Thomas Schmidt does an excellent job of characterizing a fundamental difference between the sides of the homosexuality debate. SideA, he says, relies more on “stories” and “experience”, whereas SideB relies more on “arguments” and “authority”. Says Schmidt, “To err in either direction produces exactly the same proud claim: ‘I know better than you.’ The only difference is that those who pit experience against authority stress I, whereas those who pit authority against experience stress know. Both claim to serve the cause of Christ. Both have lost sight of the way of Christ.”
     But God desires that we love Him with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind, and all our strength. Justin and I both strive to answer that call. I have focused on developing a sound theological approach for gay Christians, rooted in both Scripture and the tradition of the Church. But I approach this intellectually, “seldom counting personal cost.” Justin approaches it more personally, focusing on the emotions involved. Through our friendship, Justin and I help to maintain a healthy balance between head and heart.

LISTENING TO TONY CAMPOLO’S SPEECH was a very emotional experience for me. I have never heard a Christian deny that “hate the sin but love the sinner” applied to gays. But while I have heard many Christian pastors preach impassioned sermons on the sin of homosexuality, until Tony’s speech, I had never heard a pastor speak with passion about loving gays and lesbians. Most Christians pay lip service to loving gays, but the do not love with all their heart.
     I think the words of Jesus aptly describe the attitude of many Conservative Christians: “The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees (and conservative Christians) sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for the do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:2-4). And to the conservatives who do these things (and not all conservatives do), the Apostle Paul would say, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24).

IT CAN BE TERRIBLY FRUSTRATING for me to be a conservative Christian and be gay, even though I am celibate. Conservative Christianity is the heartland of “family values.” Their vision of the “good Christian life” is almost inextricably tied up in their vision of marriage and the family. Most cannot imagine that there can be any happiness or purpose to be found in celibacy. Where Paul saw something better than marriage, they see only a second-best solution to a difficult situation. Most will accept it as that; but they cannot see that there could be any good in it, or that I could find any happiness.
     Worse, because their vision of Christianity is so limited to the family, it can be very lonely to be a Christian without a family, who does not intend to start a family. “Singles’ ministry,” all too often, means opportunities to mix and meet potential mates. Singleness is suspect. Thus, in addition to the loneliness that comes from not having a relationship, there is a deep isolation that comes from being out of step with the community.
     And the deeply unfortunate thing is that I am out of step with the community because the community is out of step with Scripture. Neither Jesus nor Paul was married. If the Christian life is the “Imitation of Christ,” then celibacy is surely a positive good for the Christian.
     When I tell conservative Christians that I am gay and celibate, most are impressed that I have made that difficult choice. But they keep wondering if I might not be happier if only I could find some way to get married. Or they will say how much they respect me because marriage is such an incredibly wonderful thing which they could not possibly do without, especially because it’s going to be so hard for me to control my sexual urges, but it’s such a great example that I’m willing to bear such a difficult—if not impossible—burden. Now, I think that this is supposed to be a compliment. And I think that it’s supposed to be encouraging. But it isn’t, and the reason it isn’t is because though they recognize the validity of the choice I am making, they cannot recognize that there is anything good to be found in that choice. I choose celibacy because I see real fruits at the end of the journey and along the way. Nobody denies that I can choose celibacy; virtually everyone denies the existence of the fruits, or at least has grave doubts of their existence.
     This is not only frustrating; it is also deeply demoralizing. The body of Christ is supposed to build each other up. Conservative Christians understand how destructive it is for children to always hear from the secular culture that there is no point in waiting to have sex until marriage, because the culture denies a positive good which they recognize. They realize that if children lose sight of the goods of marriage, they will not likely resist the temptations of the secular culture. They recognize the profound spiritual danger of a culture which doubts the value of marriage. And yet they do precisely this to me by consistently doubting the value of celibacy.

IF I EVER FALL AWAY FROM SIDEB, it is almost certain that it will be because conservative Christians undermined my commitment to celibacy by undermining my hope that there was some positive good to be found in a celibate life. This may sound like a cop-out, an attempt to evade responsibility for my own decisions. It is not. Ultimately, I will stand or fall based on my own choice to accept or reject the Grace and Strength of God. But it is frustrating for me to hear conservative Christians complain about how “the liberals” are destroying society, when I find that I am nursing far more wounds inflicted by conservatives than by liberals. I hope that somehow I can wake conservative Christians up to the appalling number of “friendly fire” casualties they are generating. At the same time, God can heal any wounds conservative Christians inflict on me; those wounds do not excuse me from the responsibility for my own decisions and my own walk with God. But neither does my responsibility for my response to those wounds eliminate conservative Christians’ moral fault in inflicting those wounds. It’s a hard balance to strike -- whether the sinner you are confronting is a self-righteous cC or a promiscuous homosexual. I’m afraid sometimes I'm as self-righteous towards conservative Christians as they have been towards me.
     One of the things I really appreciate about Tony Campolo is that he recognizes the need for conservatives who oppose homosexual activity to support gays in being celibate:

As a matter of fact, I would argue that, from my evangelical, conservative position, I'm going to argue that what we really need to do as a church is to provide a framework to help brothers and sister who want to remain celibate, to do so. We need to pray for them. We need to encourage them. We need to support them. We need to stand by them.
     The need for support is very real, and its availability very limited. Indeed, there have been times when I have come close to losing heart. Quite recently, I nosed closer to despair than I have come for a long time; and in that “dark night of the soul,” Justin helped to pull me through.
     I spoke with him many times during those days, venting my frustrations with the conservative Church. He listened sympathetically, having experienced many of the same frustrations himself. But he also encouraged me to act with integrity—not to abandon my beliefs about celibacy because conservatives were frustrating me. And eventually I pulled through and regained my hope. But I can never forget that as I lay battered and bleeding on the side of the road, the one who came to stand by me and nurse me back to health was a gay Christian who believes in gay marriage. “Who was my neighbor?”
     The Jews and the Samaritans were enemies—and in a sense, so are Justin and I. Justin believes and publicly teaches that gay marriage is blessed by God. I believe and publicly teach that sex is only valid within marriage and with an openness to conception. One or both of us are wrongly leading others astray. The same was true of the Jews and the Samaritans. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that the Samaritans did not know God. But He never cast woes on the Samaritans, and He did cast woes on the Pharisees.

JUSTIN AND I COME FROM SIMILAR BACKGROUNDS—conservative Southern Baptist families. And both of us know intimately the struggle between a gay man and his God. We also understand the struggle to grapple with Twentieth Century Christian sexual ethics. We both learned about sex from James Dobson. Dobson claims to represent “traditional values.” And yet we learned from him that masturbation and birth control were ok—positions that would have been regarded as radically undermining traditional Christian sexual ethics in any church a hundred years ago. We learned how foolish the Church had been to link masturbation with mental illness a hundred years ago. And we also learned that homosexuality was definitely a mental illness. The Church used to argue that sex should only occur within marriage, with an openness to the conception of children. In this century, most Western Christians have abandoned that position.
     Justin believes that the Church of the past was too prohibitive with regard to sex. Most American Christians, including James Dobson, would agree with him on that. He believes that the purpose of marriage is a lifelong emotional, spiritual, and physical bond between two people. And he believes that such a bond can occur between two men. While I cannot accept it, I think his position is reasonable.

THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT TALKS A LOT about moral absolutes. But they endorse a sexual ethic unheard of in Christendom until this century. When, in 1930, the Lambeth Conference became the first official Christian body to condone birth control, the Catholic Church responded by arguing that acceptance of birth control would lead to increased rates of STDs, teen pregnancy, pre- and extra-marital sex, divorce, and spouse abuse. Whether there is a causal link or not, in every one of those categories, things have gone deeply downhill since 1930. While I agree that in many ways the Church at times was too prohibitive and repressive about sex, I do not agree that the modern experiment has succeeded. I cannot believe that Christians who were guided by the Holy Spirit would, for nineteen centuries, consistently err in the direction of radical repression.
     But I do not want to become a Pharisee. Intellectually, I am forced to regard James Dobson as a sexual radical, and a much more dangerous one than Justin, because very few people listen to Justin and millions listen to Dobson. But the fact that Justin helped to bring me through my “dark night of the soul” reminds me that intellectual conviction is not the whole story in a faith whose central command is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” It is not enough to know the truth and walk by on the other side. It is necessary to love “the battered down, the beaten and the lost and the downtrodden.”
     This is one of the central “secrets” to my hope that celibacy can be a positive way. Both in financial terms, and in terms of time, a family is a major commitment. A larger house, food, clothes, college educations—all of these things take time and money. A man without a family is a man with more to invest in “the battered down, the beaten and the lost and the downtrodden.” And when celibate gays come together to pool their resources, they not only find community to support each other, but they also have more to give away to others in even greater need. 

JESUS HAS CALLED US TO BE WITNESSES. Witnesses do not pass judgment. Witnesses do not execute sentence. Witnesses do not jump up in court and yell at the wrong time. Witnesses tell the court what they have seen. It should not surprise us when witnesses testimony does not always agree: the most honest and reliable witnesses seldom tell exactly the same story about a concrete event, like a traffic accident or a murder. On a terribly complex issue like this, it is likely that it will take the wisdom of one greater than Solomon to sort through all of the conflicting testimony. 
     But as much as Justin and I disagree, I would like to draw attention to how much we agree. We agree that God is real, that Christ came to die for us. We agree that love is at the root of our service to God. The Apostle Paul writes, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:14-19). 
     The Church is Christ’s Bride. But here on Earth, it is composed of fallen, all hoo human people like St. Augustine or Justin or James Dobson or me. The members of Christ’s body here on Earth are not perfect, but we are being perfected. So long as there remains any sin in us, that sin will interfere with our relationship with God and will damage our relationships with other human beings. That sin can take the form of self-righteous pride or anger, or it can take the form of lust. And it is always easier for us to see others’ sin than to see our own. In the meantime, we must strive to repent of our own sin, forgive others’ sin, and trust Christ to reconcile us to each other and to God.
     Tony Campolo and his wife, Peggy, disagree about the issue of homosexuality. And yet they stick together. They publicly debate the issue. But yet they stick together. When they publicly debated the issue at North Park College Chapel, Tony said,

I have to announce that we are two people who do not agree. We have very, very divergent views on this issue. I for instance believe that the Bible does not allow for same gender sexual marriage. I do not believe that same gender sexual intercourse is permissible if you read the Bible as I do. 

Peggy believes in monogamous relationships. In short, she would hold to a belief that within the framework of evangelical Christianity, gay marriages are permissible and she will try to make her point...

Alright, we do differ and the reason why I like doing it this way is that we have something to say that is more important than anything we say in words. Weâre saying something by being here and this is what it is, that it is possible for two people to differ intensely over a crucial issue and not get a divorce. It is possible for two people to have lively discussions over dinner and have interesting intellectual exchanges over an important issue, a decisive - this is not a minor issue - this is a major issue, and still stay together in a loving relationship. And it is our hope that of all the things that we communicate to you today - this above all should be communicated, that it is necessary for us to respect each other across our differences, love each other and recognize we belong together even if we don't agree on an important issue as crucial as this one has posed to be. Let not an issue destroy the fellowship. Let not a difference of opinion alienate us. Let us be one in Christ Jesus because we're going to have to work this thing through. A hundred years from now this, I think, will be resolved. In the meantime let us stay together. Let us love each other. Let us be together. So I like this format where a husband and wife who care about each other have these differences of opinion. 

     Like Tony and Peggy, Justin and I disagree. But we hope that you will marvel at the way that a God perspective can bring reconciliation between us as we reach out across the divide. And as I contemplate the mystery of how we can disagree and yet be very, very good friends, and how I can feel so unloved by many I agree with, I can only cry out with Paul: 
     “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.” (Romans 11:33-36). 
Tell us what you think!
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My Intro

Justin's Intro

The Peggy/Tony Campolo Debate

What Is Truth? - An essay I wrote about being gay and finding truth. 

Be sure to check out the stuff I've written for Oasis .
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