Once, in a session at the ministry I was attending when I first began asking questions, I shared about a testimony I'd read online of an ex-ex-gay, and the joy he discovered when he came to a place of self-acceptance. The response I received from our group leader was (to paraphrase) "I'm sure my life would be a lot easier too if I stopped working on my major life issue."
Even at the time his response seemed overly dismissive to me, even though it was technically consistent with the Christian doctrine of self-sacrifice and wrestling against sin. But are we necessarily correct in making the assumption that condoning gay relationships is the equivalent of giving anyone a free ride through life? It is true that some who are supportive of gay relationships have made assumptions based on an inadequate understanding of traditional Christian teachings about the role hardship plays in our spiritual lives, but it's no less shallow to dismiss all gay-positive theology on the grounds that it would supposedly make life too easy.
The conservative position is, of course, far more nuanced than that, but it is interesting how easy it is to fall back on the assumption that making corrections to our understanding of what constitutes sin necessarily lets anyone off the hook. I struggle no less than anyone else with pride, lust, greed, general self-centeredness and a host of other sinful inclinations. It's true that I experience more peace in my life now that I'm not trying to name and claim my 'natural heterosexuality', but last time I checked peace was still listed as one of the fruits of the Spirit.
It's interesting to watch the verbal gymnastics that conservatives will engage in when describing gay individuals. On the one hand, all gays are miserable and dysfunctional because of their lack of repentance; on the other hand, if a gay person appears to be happy and well-adjusted it's because they've surrendered to their sin. Any unhappiness or self-destructive behavior observed in a gay individual's life is directly caused by their homosexuality, even though many heterosexuals deal with exactly the same issues (perhaps they're all gay and they just don't know it?). Any doubt that a gay Christian experiences is the conviction of the Holy Spirit, while any doubt that an ex-gay Christian experiences is the whispered lies of the devil.
Christians who in one breath acknowledge the dangers of legalism will lose no time imposing legalistic rules on those whose behaviors they disapprove of with their very next breath. Real-life experience must conform to 'biblical' rules that confirm the sentiments of the majority, no matter how many details have to be ignored or whitewashed to make those rules appear to work.
I say this without pointing any fingers at that small group leader; he is one of those rare individuals who consistently and faithfully practices what he preaches, and he makes considerably less noise about it than your average religious right activist. For that matter, it's both interesting and telling that those who shout the loudest about the 'selfishness' of gay couples are in most cases married (sometimes more than once) and enjoying the comforts of a middle-class American lifestyle. It's quite easy to preach about the hardship God's path requires when the preachers consider themselves exempt from the hardship part.
It's also quite telling that those who truly model a lifestyle of hardship and self-sacrifice tend to be the last to heap demands and ultimatums on others. While the Christianists are busy practicing the "do as I say, not as I do" approach to world conversion, those truly committed to following the example of Christ preach first and foremost through their actions, which speak louder than any rhetoric ever could.
Celibacy can be a rewarding vocation for those who voluntarily choose to commit themselves to God in that fashion - for homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. But God calls each of us to a path that's uniquely tailored to our individual needs, and no human authority can ever be wise enough to chart that course for us. When God requires a sacrifice from a person, the end result of submitting to God's command is greater joy and peace. When the church, claiming to speak on God's behalf, demands identical sacrifices from everyone in apparently similar circumstances, the result for many is a loss of joy and peace, and even the destruction of their faith.
Such a demand for conformity is in fact a double standard since it does not take into account the unique needs, experiences and characteristics of each individual. Defenders of the conformist approach will level charges of relativism at anyone who challenges their rules-based 'one size fits all' version of Christianity, while rationalizing away those parts of the Bible that contradict their methodology. At the same time, they place their greatest focus on those rules that affect them the least. In so doing, they become like those denounced by Jesus in Matthew 23:4:
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.Righteousness is manifested through the love that we show to our neighbors, not through the demands we place on them.