“Flipping the Script” to Win Gays Back to the Evangelical Church

My mother once told me about something I’d done as a child that I don’t remember, but that resonates deeply with me. Apparently, after she tucked me into bed one night, I pleaded with her, “Don’t leave me.”

I’m sure my outburst was prompted by one of those childhood fears of whatever was lurking under the bed or in the darkness of the closet.

As she was leaving the room she told me, “Don’t worry, Jesus is here with you.”

To which I replied, “I know. But I want something I can hold.”

What I expressed at such a tender age is the universal need for real, touchable relationships—a basic human need. We all need companionship of some sort, whether it’s an intimate relationship, or a deep relationship with friends and family.

I was reminded of my childhood plea for concrete companionship after reading an article by Nick Roen entitled “An Alternative Script for Same-Sex Attraction.” Roen, who is honest about struggling with same-sex attraction, writes about his disagreement with the so-called “gay script” that says, “Embrace who you are and you will find happiness.”

In his “alternative” script, he calls the church to stop bashing LGBT people, and instead find ways to urge LGBT people say “Yes!” to something greater instead of saying, “No!” to their desires for, y’know, the companionship we all, as human beings, crave.

I completely understand why Roen would seek to “flip the script” for gay and lesbian people in particular. With the demise of “ex-gay” groups like Exodus and the diminishment of the whole “ex-gay” industry, the hope for a “cure” for homosexuality is finally on its way out.

With a “cure” out of reach, gay and lesbian people who wish to remain in the anti-gay Evangelical Christian church now must come up with another way to remain true to the church and what it teaches.

Let me be clear: I am, in no way, questioning Roen’s beliefs. If he truly feels that God calls him into a life of chastity in singleness, that is his decision to make. I know plenty of people, gay and straight, who are perfectly happy being single and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Singleness is a choice they have made because it makes them happier. It’s not a choice I would make, however, and herein lies the crux of the problem for me and many other LGBT people.

By “flipping the script,” as such, Roen is seeking to convince other LGBT people that it’s not just the church that wishes you would deny your desires (if you can’t cure them), but God wishes it for you also.

Jesus says that those who can accept singleness for the Kingdom should (Matthew19:12), and Paul speaks shockingly highly of singleness in 1 Corinthians 7:8. Indeed, singleness can be a wonderful thing that mirrors our relationship with Jesus in a way that marriage cannot. Singleness should be celebrated, not downplayed. 

But, if we want to swap Bible verses, I’ve got theologians to back me up, too. As Vanderbilt University Divinity School New Testament Studies professor Amy-Jill Levine points out, God is quite clear about the divine command in Genesis 2:18 that “it is not good that the human being should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.

This helper is the one to whom the human being will cleave, who mirrors the human image, who challenges, inspires and loves, who helps create a new family. If God declares that it is not good for the human being to be alone, if God says we should have a partner who fulfils us, then surely condemning gay people to lives of singleness and celibacy opposes divine will.

But, let’s not play the Bible prooftexting game, because that really gets us nowhere. Instead, let’s see what the scientists have to say about the importance of companionship for human beings.

Abraham Maslow has postulated that all humans need things like food, shelter, air, sleep and a sense of security. Right there among those top needs are the social needs of relationship. When we have companionship we have someone to share our lives with, to share our thoughts and feelings, to share our dreams with and move toward those dreams together.

This is the kind of companionship I find in the relationship I have with my spouse. We fulfill those basic needs of food, shelter and security for one another—we even, after 12 years together, still provide that need of intimacy and sexual fulfillment—but the relationship is about so much more.

What Roen is denying to himself and to others who buy his script is this deep human fulfillment of knowing and being known so deeply by another human being that being away from for them an extended period of time physically hurts. What two people can share in a deeply intimate and personal relationship is, I believe, as close to divinity as human beings can get.

Roen would deny this to LGBT people, but he offers a couple of alternatives. First he offers us Jesus!  He has said “Yes!” to Jesus, he writes. That’s fantastic. But, my five-year-old me arises to object. “I know I have Jesus. I want something I can touch!”

Jesus is a fantastic listener. He’ll let you go on and on about your problems, your desires, the day’s frustrations and joys — but he’s not that good of a snuggler. That intimate human contact — even just a good snuggle before going to sleep  — can be enough to sustain even the hardest of heart throughout their lives.

 If Jesus doesn’t do it for you, there’s always the community.

“If we took friendship seriously as a potential site of devotion and sacrifice, far fewer people would feel neglected and unwanted,” Roen quotes from Eve Tushnet. 

Sure, but friendship can only go so far. I have very few friends willing to reach the level of intimacy needed to fulfill that deep longing for true companionship. Somewhere, a line gets crossed.

The other problem here is that the “friendship” offered by so many in the mainstream church to those struggling with same-sex attraction is often hard to distinguish from pity. The gay and lesbian people in their midst are somehow handicapped—of “sacred worth” as the Methodists might tell us—but still obviously lacking something.

Their sin—and their potential to sin—is seen as greater, more grave. And, if you slip once, that’s it. You’re out on your ear, shunned for your own good, because that’s just how much they love you.

This is, of course, why LGBT people who want to be accepted in anti-gay churches must buy this script, because if they don’t, if they mess up, they not only face the scorn and rejection of the church—they are condemned to an eternity in hell. If that were my very real and present fear, I think I could cook up a few good excuses not to date. One has to ask just how “voluntary” is singleness if the punishment for partnering up is eternal damnation?

Perhaps the best evidence that this “flipping of the script” is simply another failed attempt to deny how God has made LGBT people to live is found in a study of out gay men. The study, conducted by the University of Montreal and  published earlier this year found that “coming out” of the closet and embracing life as a gay person led to less anxiety, depression and social burnout than those who remained closeted.

“Something about coming out of the closet might make them more resilient—if you go through a major, stressful event like that you have to develop coping strategies that you might be able to use in the future,” [said Robert-Paul Juster, the study’s lead author].

Again, I do understand deep devotion to a certain form of Christianity’s beliefs about God and what they say God believes about homosexuality—but the concrete, scientific evidence is clear—the original script Roen so hates is actually the one that calls LGBT people to live a full, abundant life (something Jesus promised to give us all, by the way). It appears that science is proving true what that Jesus guy knew thousands of years ago: “The truth shall set you free.”