Mailbag is an occasional Q&A of your inquiries regarding faith, sexuality, and relationship from an LGBT perspective. We aren't theologians or counselors, but we're walking the same path as many of you and will do our best to answer the questions you have. You can submit your own question here.
My boyfriend and I are in the very early stages of our relationship (we met about two months ago and have been together about a month). It's his first relationship with a guy and my first relationship with anyone. We've talked about it and we're committed to a Side-B view and celibacy, but I still sometimes find myself second guessing the relationship. It made me think of the post where you talked about praying for God to convict you if there was a problem with your relationship. I wonder if these doubts that creep in are the Holy Spirit bringing that conviction or if they're a result of latent shame from my upbringing. So I guess my question is, when you say God didn't convict you, do you mean you never had doubts about having God's blessing on your relationship, or more that any doubts were overcome by other means?
A Dubious Battle
Dear Dubious Battle,
Thanks for reaching out to us and honoring us with some of your story.
I think it's a common theme for gay Christians to feel doubt about same-sex relationships: We've been taught for years that this kind of relationship is contrary to God's design, and we face condemnation and even exile from loved ones if we pursue relationship. So in that sense, doubt and fear are built into the fabric of our relationship experience. It takes a courageous and discerning person to cast off the layers of learned values and be able to step outside of the noise of family and church and culture to seek the unfiltered God and understand what His attitudes may actually be.
I had plenty of doubts about God's blessing of our relationship. Before Constantino and I started dating, I wanted a solid yes or no, which God never offered. So while being in constant prayer and communication with Spirit, I stepped into relationship with Constantino, ready to step out if I felt convicted. My doubts sprouted more from my desire for certainty than my feelings that I was doing anything contrary to God’s design. So I continued in relationship, letting it grow deeper while still frequently checking in with God. To this day I haven't gotten a solid answer from God: no visions at night, no writing in the clouds. But I see the fruit of our relationship—the way it has brought us both closer to God, and the way it has positively impacted others in our lives. That fruit has been undeniably good and, for me, that has been the clearest evidence.
Were my doubts ever from the Holy Spirit? That’s a good question. Where does doubt come from? The best I can come up with is this: I think there's good doubt and there's bad doubt. The good doubt is a kind of discerning doubt; it's when you hear or experience something and the voice inside your head pipes up to tell you that something about a situation or belief doesn't feel true, or that something doesn't quite fit. I think this is a healthy type of skeptical doubt, and is the kind of doubt the Spirit can use protect us from false teachings and other bad ideas or situations.
The bad doubt is a fear-based doubt. It's the voice inside our heads that tells us that we are somehow flawed and broken beyond repair, that no amount of understanding God or the Bible will be enough to give us the certainty we crave. It's a kind of doubt that too closely echoes the fears and doubts and messages of the loved ones in our lives who don't approve. This kind of doubt holds us back; it makes us small.
So, I think the challenge is to discern what kind of doubt you are feeling. For me, the easiest way is to see what emotions are tied into that doubt. Is there fear, guilt, or shame? There's a good chance that's bad doubt. Good doubt seems more characterized by curiosity, skepticism, and perhaps a healthy kind of fear (the kind that keeps us from sticking our fingers in electrical outlets). I believe that if we are honestly seeking God, He will reveal truth to us, even if it’s not in the ways we expect.
Locker rooms are basically strip clubs for gay men (especially when they are populated with other gay men). So how should I navigate them when they are very difficult to avoid? An ex-boyfriend of mine once suggested we go to the gym together but I hesitated based on the fact that it might cause us to see each other naked and quickly lead to us crossing sexual boundaries (which I did not want to do with him or anyone else before being married). Maybe not all gay [Christian] men struggle with this, but it's been a lifelong struggle of mine to control the homoerotic nature of locker rooms, and I'd love some advice.
Stressed While Undressed
There are many places and situations that can inadvertently arouse lust, for both men and women, gay and straight. But it's true that places like locker rooms pose a unique challenge for gay men looking to avoid temptation.
One of my favorite quotes on temptation, usually credited to Martin Luther, is this: "You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair." We can't always prevent temptation from happening, but we can choose our response to it.
When you enter a locker room, think about taking a head-down, business-only approach. Tell yourself you're in there to shower, change, and get out as quickly as possible. Avoid eye contact, if it makes you uncomfortable, and if you catch yourself next to someone who might cause you problems, move. If you’re working out with a friend or boyfriend, it’s no big deal. Shower and change as you normally would, or use a towel to change if you feel more comfortable. If you don’t make it “a thing,” it won’t become “a thing.”
I'm not much one for rules, but there may be seasons of life where self-imposed restrictions are helpful training wheels until you can better monitor and respond to these situations. If you find yourself really struggling, avoid going into the locker room in the first place. Consider keeping your gym bag in the trunk of your car and showering elsewhere.
But all of that advice is secondary to this: Look at what the deeper issues surrounding your temptations might be. How are you feeling when you're at the gym? Do you feel disconnected? Do you work out alone and feel isolated? Often our feelings of temptation are more than just visual stimulus—often we're in the kind of emotional state to be vulnerable to temptation. When we feel full—in community, in love, in self-worth—temptation feels distant, muted, and easy to control. Rather than trying to expel the negative (temptation), focus on filling yourself with the positive (connection). Try working out with a buddy. Make plans to meet friends before or after the gym. Listen to music or podcasts that fill you up. Do whatever helps you to connect to people or to Spirit. And maybe, just maybe, start a friendly (clothed) conversation with the very guy causing you to lust rather than ogling him. A genuine connection forces us to see people as people, not just objects of attraction, and allows us to dispel the superficial lust that masks one’s humanity.