I was wondering if it is a sin to have sex with another male? I want to be a true soldier of Jesus Christ but feel that my addiction to anal sex is getting in the way.
Two caveats before I get started. One: I’m not a mental health professional – I am entirely unqualified to make or to repudiate diagnoses. Two: Absolutely everything that I know about you I learned from the 40 words that make up your letter. That said:
I don’t believe that you’re an anal sex addict. I believe that you are someone who has been taught to be ashamed of being the way that God made you, who has been taught to be ashamed of being gay.
Generally speaking, we employ the language of addiction to describe compulsive behavior that persists despite its destructive and disruptive consequences. In other words, habitual behavior (including behavior that an individual may depend on in order to feel happy or calm or alive or whatever) that doesn’t impede an individual from fulfilling her responsibilities and enjoying her life doesn’t qualify as addiction. I’ll give you an example: I read just about every day. It isn’t uncommon for me to get up in the morning and immediately start reading, to read intermittently throughout the morning and afternoon, and to read last thing at night before I go to sleep. But here’s the critical thing: even though I read a ton, I don’t read instead of taking my son to preschool or paying my bills or talking to Mrs. FKB or keeping my appointments. I have, therefore, no anxiety whatsoever that I might be a problem reader.
Similarly, if you are having anal sex (or if you are looking for opportunities to have anal sex) instead of going to work or school or brushing your teeth or voting in the election or spending time with your friends, then you really are an anal sex addict. If, on the other hand, you are leading a reasonably balanced life — and I strongly suspect that you are, even if you are having a lot of anal sex — then you almost assuredly aren’t addicted.
I’m underlining that point pretty heavily, Stan, because there is little value in spending a whole lot of your energy in trying to solve a problem that you don’t have. Such an effort is fruitless and it distracts you from working on your actual problem. In your case, focusing on fighting a non-existent addiction will pull your attention away from your real and big problem: it sure sounds like you belong to a broken community with a broken theology.
The 20th Century theologian, Fred Rogers, beautifully explained what a life-giving community looks like. Such a community (or such a neighborhood, in Mr. Rogers’ language) is one that is able to say with conviction, “I like you just the way that you are.” Now, that isn’t to say that such a community never offers critiques to its members, never suggests that a member might have something to learn or somewhere to grow. But it is to say that such communities don’t equate learning or growth with coercing anyone into a crushing homogeny. Life-giving communities do not create a scenario in which belonging is predicated on taking on the identity of the majority.
It’s time for you to do something brave and important and difficult, Stan: it is time for you to step away from the community that has sought to shame you for being who you are and who has dressed up their shaming in the language of addiction. It is time for you to go find a community that will affirm and, indeed, will celebrate all of you, your sexuality included. It is time for you to find a community that has a bigger and more generous and more Grace-filled idea of what love looks like, of what God looks like.
Here are some concrete ideas to get your search for a new community started. Make the friends who use addiction and shaming language into small-dose friends. (I guess you could go cold turkey on those friends and just stop seeing them altogether, but my instinct is to do a slow a slow fade on them.) Meanwhile, up your dose of friends who either don’t care about your sex life or don’t see it as way of defining you. Throw yourself into activities that make you feel great about yourself: maybe sports or board games or theater or antique spoon-collecting, whatever works for you. Try out a new church once or twice a month. Go meet some people who aren’t the least bit interested in moralizing about your sex life. Go form community with them.
I recognize that I am inviting you do something really hard: there is nothing easy about leaving a community. But know, Stan, that God wants you to be joyous and free. Know that Jesus will be with you as you go. (I’m not sure whether or not Jesus wants you to be his soldier – if that metaphor works for you, then keep on using it – but I am positive that, as our Lord says in John 15:15, Jesus wants you to be his friend.) And know that your departure, while it will likely bring grief to you and to others, will also be a gift. I guarantee that it will be a gift to you. And it might just be a gift to the community that you are leaving. It might just give some of its members the holy shock that they need in order to see you and God and the world in a new way.
This month we celebrated National Coming Out Day. It is my prayer that, when that holiday rolls around again in 2016, you will celebrate it as a gay man who is completely and unapologetically and joyously out of the closet.
No, it isn’t a sin to have sex with another male. Go forth, Stan, to find the community that will help you to believe that. Go forth to find freedom.
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