Some Relational Handles on Dealing With “The Gay Issue”

The issue of the legitimacy, status and treatment of “gays” is one that can no longer be avoided even by those with a talent for burying their heads in the sand.  While formerly people of a decidedly conservative religious bent may have sought to dismiss the situation with doctrinaire categorical statements and proof texts, today “the problem” cannot be dismissed so easily and “the issue” is in the air.

I want to speak to those heterosexuals who sense or know that they do not deal comfortably or well with “the gay issue.”   I want to share two handles that help me, although I hasten to add that these handles by no means resolve all issues and solve all conflicts.  Nor do these handles deal at all with the theological and textual issues involved. There is plenty theological and biblical textual discussion out there done by others better than I could do.  I am not discussing issues of right or wrong, sin, or anything of the sort.

I am dealing here not with biblical or theological issues. I am dealing here with relational, human issues.   This is important.  I am mindful of a dear friend, a Messianic Jew, whose lesbian sister wanted him to hold the chuppah at her wedding.  This created quite a crisis. I won’t tell you how the crisis was resolved–that is not the point.  But I am sure that many of you are finding that “the gay issue” is not out there. It is in here: close in and personal.

So here are some personal handles that help me in dealing some relationship issues related to dealing with gay friends and acquaintances, and with how I think about the issue relationally.   I hope this proves helpful.

Handle #1 entails remembering that it is not helpful to talk about gays as an abstraction.   We are talking here about gay people, sometimes gay brothers, sisters, friends, children, members of our synagogues, churches, parachurch groups, cousins,  you name it. Gay people are people, and they are as different from one another as other people are different from one another.  Are there oversexed homosexuals and homosexual pedophiles?  Certainly. But are there oversexed heterosexuals and pedophiles? Without any doubt. The more gay people you know of both genders, the more it becomes clear to you that these are people: some of them annoying, irritating, narcissistic or over the top—but so very many of them very dear, warm, and precious.

About six months ago I purchased a book on life advice by Tim Gunn, whom my family knew from watching  Project Runway on television.  He is the former head of Parson’s School of Design, always immaculately dressed, extremely articulate and perceptive about matters of design, and, get this, quite pastoral in his dealings with people.  I bought the book, Gunn’s Golden Rules: Life’s Little Lessons for Making It Work, for my wife and daughter because I thought they might enjoy it.

Then I read it myself.  What a marvelous book of touching candor, humility and wisdom. I loved the book. It taught me things about life that I needed to know.  Some day I would love to tell Mr Gunn how moved I was by it.  Incredible.

Now, I’ll bet there are some of you out there who cannot imagine or even condone reading a book by an avowed homosexual.  (By the way, Mr Gunn confesses to being undersexed—for years disnterested in pursing an orgasmic relationship with anyone.  He remains a celibate homosexual man.  I’ll bet some of you never thought there could be such a thing as an undersexed or celibate homosexual man.  But that shows how categorical our thinking is–and wrong.)  And  is because homosexual people are people just like other people are people, that we who claim to be advocates for truth must admit that there are some such people from whom we could learn something important, not only about style and fashion, but about human caring, relationships and wise living.

I would no more dismiss all homosexual sources of reflection on the life well-lived than I would accept all heterosexual sources of the same.  People are individuals and deserve to be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Handle #2 –  For those of us who do not feel comfortable endorsing a gay lifestyle whether in individual cases or as a rule of thumb, it is helpful to understand and implement the distinction between approval and acceptance.

I have a friend in her fifties or perhaps sixty years old by now, whom I have known for over thirty years. She is a dear friend, who served with me in a religious organization, and who was an important part of a congregation with which I was involved.   In her mid-forties she decided she had a choice between spending the rest of her life as lonely as she had been, or accepting the reality that intimacy with a man was not possible for her, and that she needed to “come out” as a lesbian. (Whether we agree or not with her analysis of her alternatives is not the point here. Hang on).  Later, in a series of conversations, we gingerly touched upon the issue of whether or not I approved of her choice. Now, she is an adult, a brilliant, capable, compassionate, admirable adult. Why should she need my approval?  I told her that. It is inappropriate and unnecessary for adults to need the approval of other adults in order to validate their choices.   More to the point, it is highly inappropriate for someone to demand approval for choices or preferences of any kind.

Let’s look at it from the standpoint of politics.  You are a staunch Republican. A member of the Tea-Party Movement. Your brother in law has four Obama/Biden bumperstickers on his car,  and one each denouncing George Bush, Sarah Palin, and Michelle Bachman. Whenever the two of you get together at family gatherings, the sparks fly because he is angry that you don’t approve of his politics.  The point is, why should he need your approval?  And more deeply, why should he demand your approval?  Why should the lines of your relationship be obscured by your withholding that approval?  It is always wrong for any of us to demand that someone else approve of our politics, or worse, to make that approval a condition of our relationship. This is coercion, not relationship.

Similarly, no adult gay family members, acquaintances, or friends should have the need for your approval, and certainly it is wrong for them to demand it.   They should be able to stand on their own two feet.  But they do have a right to ask for and receive your acceptance, which does not mean that you approve.

Getting back to my out of the closet lesbian friend, I told her this: “You are an adult and I love you.  Why should you need my approval for your choices? They are your choices and I accept them just as I accept you.”

Let’s learn to practice the difference between approval and acceptance. None of us should demand from others their approval of our stance on any issue as a condition of relationship. This is coercion.  Nor should they demand that we approve.  This is no relationship at all.  But they can ask for and we can, and I believe should, extend to them our acceptance of their choices as their choices, which they have a right to make, without needing our approval for doing so.  Nor should we seek to control people by withholding or approval. This would infantalize anyone who submitted to it.

Let’s learn to respect people and their right to make their own choices, even when we do not agree with the choices they make. That is part of what it means to respect people as people–regardless of gender or sexual identity. This way all of us can maintain our own convictions without these convictions foreclosing the possibility of relationship and respect for those who live under a rainbow flag.

About Stuart Dauermann

The blog of Rabbi Dr. Stuart Dauermann, teacher, mentor, radio talk show host, denizen of Los Angeles, and a visionary with a long career in Messianic Jewish activism. You can hear Rabbi Dauermann as he hosts Shalom Talk, a weekly radio show, and even listen online at ShalomTalk.com. Rabbi Dauermann spends time traveling nationally and internationally, and throughout the year is in Israel as a Scholar in Residence at the MJTI Jerusalem Center. He has plenty to say about Jewish-Christian relations, the need for shalom in the world, and the agenda of Messiah, the Son of David.
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15 Responses to Some Relational Handles on Dealing With “The Gay Issue”

  1. Dwight Newman says:

    This should be interesting.

  2. Sue M says:

    “You are an adult and I love you.  Why should you need my approval for your choices. They are your choices and I accept them just as I accept you.”

    If we could could all say this and mean it, what a beautiful place the world would be. I find that as I get older, I have less and less tolerance for others’ attempts to coerce or manipulate me. Your three simple sentences are an easy way to diffuse what could otherwise turn into an argument.

    We are long time Tim Gunn fans and loved the book, too.

  3. Zuzu's Petals says:

    This post made me think of this article, which challenges the notions of American (over)sexuality that may be out there. The takeaways: Virginity and celibacy, well into adulthood, are more common than we think: 13.9% of men and 8.9% of women. Factors that correlate to virginity are church attendance, abstention from alcohol and having a college education.

    Germane to our discussion “The study also found that male homosexuals were 11 times more likely to be virgins than heterosexuals, while female homosexuals were 6 times more likely to say they were virgins than heterosexuals”. If up to one-half of homosexuals are in effect celibate, it really calls into question the nature of homosexuality–Is it common sexual desires “working in reserve”, or is it some general aversion to or inability to have to sexual desires in general or confusion in a person psyche about feelings of friendship compared to physical sexual attraction? And how is it related to asexuality, awareness of having no sexual desires whatsoever, a condition just as prevalent as homosexuality? Or what’s to say that some amount of believed “homosexuality” among some asexual people is just the equivalent of a blind person confusing phosphenes with being able to see in the dark?

    Also, regarding your article, I agree with the general notion of “acceptance” without caving in with “approval” to homosexuality, but the Torah is very clear about this matter, and we can’t deny that some level of conflict and estrangement is inevitable between observant Messianic Jews and “practicing” homosexuals–as much as there would be between “practicing” alcoholics, “practicing” shoplifters or “practicing” idolators. As Paul bluntly put it, they’re outside the Kingdom of God by doing what they’re doing. I Cor 6:9-10, Eph. 5:5. Yes, we’re to “accept” their right to exist and be present in our congregations, but at some point we have to say “You’re not getting to the next level with God unless you repent of these thoughts and acts and start treating it as a problem to be solved in your life rather than a condition to be approved of and be proud of.” It is inevitable some point in the Body of Messiah’s dialogue with the homosexual community, approval and disapproval, with everything those words entail, have to come into play–regardless of how heartbreaking it can be to have such a conflict with otherwise nice and loving people.

    • In response to your final paragraph, two things. First of all, I said, and meant to say, that I was steering clear of biblical and theological arguments on this matter. Second, is it not naive to imagine that one’s homosexual acquaintances/friends do not KNOW that their evangelical/evangelicalized friends do not agree with their sexual preferences/lifestyle, etc? Do they need from us a theological/rhetorical onslaught in order for them to know this? Not in my experience. And before one can indulge in a “thus saith the Lord” kind of theological tete-a-tete, one needs first to gain a hearing, and I am certain that my approach is a better way to do that than the alternative you suggest. People should know that we accept their right to make their own decisions and to deal with the consequences themselves. Only then is the possibility of a genuine hearing opened between us.

      • Zuzu's Petals says:

        Yes, I agree. I didn’t mean to propose any “alternative approach” to what you were suggesting. I was thinking ahead to a point where we’ve already “gained a hearing” with a gay person and there is some healthy dialogue and interest in our faith, at which point they’re either going to stumble at offenses and not.

  4. Eric says:

    This approach will be very useful to me. I will need to know when to use it. I can see how this script could apply to the the context of evangelism and dramatically change it. This script subtly points out that a person should seek divine validation rather than human validation.
    I don’t imagine that John the Immerser would use a script like this but I think that Yeshua did use this type of script with the woman at the well. He never answered her question on where to worship (Jerusalem or Samaria). Is this approach better for individuals rather than groups? I can see how this approach might be good for an angry mob with a lot of rocks.
    Thank you for writing this.

  5. Dwight Newman says:

    The specificity of your post reminds me of a judge’s instructions to a jury—it’s a challenge to confine one’s thinking to “acceptance/approval”.

    I think I can accept/love a person in his unique identity as a person irrespective of his sexual sub-identity. Hopefully he can also accept me as a person irrespective of my inability (for whatever reason or reasons) to affirm him in his sub-identity as a homosexual.

    You can stipulate that religion/theology stay out of your posting (and religion/theology will respect your parameters and recuse itself); but I’m doubtful that it’s possible to do the same with politics. It’s more important to the radical homosexual political agenda to coerce a social affirmation of homosexual identity than to allow for basic mutual inter-personal acceptance.

    Something precious is at stake here (like the life of the baby in the story of Solomon and the two prospective mothers). I think “Religion” is like the harlot that wants her baby to live (even if she can’t have it); and I think “Politics” is like the the harlot that rolled over on her baby during the night and suffocated it.

  6. Dwight,

    You say, “I think I can accept/love a person in his unique identity as a person irrespective of his sexual sub-identity. Hopefully he can also accept me as a person irrespective of my inability (for whatever reason or reasons) to affirm him in his sub-identity as a homosexual.” I agree that the gay person should also be able to accept you “irrespective of your inability . . . to affirm him in his sub-identity as a homosexual. I would only hasten to add that acceptance is a matter of behavior, rather than simply of attitude. We need to learn to treat decently and courteously people with whom we disagree. Unfortunately, we live in such a polarized climate that people cannot imagine learning from people of the opposite camp, whatever that camp might be: this is a loss.

    In your second paragraph, you make a common mistake which is surprising considering the general caliber of your thought and writing. You lapse into speaking of the “radical homosexual political agenda.” Of course, when dealing with radicals advocating an agenda things get dicey. However, you posture your position as being reasonable and respectful. If you are going to talk of a hypothetical where one partner is a radical politicized homosexual, the opposite partner in the encounter should be a radical right winger. And as you no doubt know, there aren’t many radical right wingers who can be trusted to deal courteously with radical homosexuals. In other words, to construct your argument fairly, BOTH sides would fall short of the advice I offer!

    Yitz Greenberg, Modern Orthodox theologian and mentor rightly said, “One must never compare the best examples of one’s own position with the worst of someone else’s.” Good advice, yes?

    • Dwight Newman says:

      Rabbi,

      This is good stuff. Mea culpa on the “radical homosexual political agenda” thing. It was meant as verbal short-hand (a toss of a verbal hand-grenade, yes, but with the pin still in it) and well deserving of a verbal back-hand. But beyond this, I’m a bit confused by your response. I realize this isn’t a forum per se but a place for focused comments about salient points of your postings—and yet I think I’m fairly representative of a great many of your readers (and this is such good, hard stuff to grapple with)—please allow me just this one long response, and if I’ve over-spoken my welcome I’m ready to be quiet and hopefully learn from your reply the things that presently elude me.

      You rightly say that “acceptance is a matter of behavior, rather than simply of attitude,” but in normal run-of-the-mill neutral-ground interactions between individuals of even polarized attitudes, it’s my observation that far more often than not, the two parties do actually treat each other with at least a modicum of genuine decency and courtesy (sometimes even to the chagrin of their attitudes)—they do, in fact “accept” each other as people. The point I was wanting to make about my hypothetical “I”, and the “thou” of another person (whose sub-identity is GLBT) is that outside forces (i.e. “Politics/Governance”, more so than “Religion”) war against the unique person hood of the two individuals by instigating and prosecuting conflicts between various sub-identities (sex, gender, nationality, ethnicity, etc.) which should be subordinate to one’s unique personal identity. There are jackbooted attitudes and jackbooted behaviors on “BOTH” poles of a radicalized conceptual political sphere, but some of the jackboots within the sphere are faux leather and some of them are real leather. Politics has its “Peace-and-Justice” polarity and its “Law-and-Order” polarity—but in actuality, “Law and Justice”, and “Peace and Order” comprise third and fourth “polarities”—the four corners of a dichotomy—and six sides of a “sphere”, if you will. Your carefully worded and elegantly written post may be “elephant free” (the room is well-ordered and pleasant) but it’s an elephant’s world out there on the other side of your door handles, yes?

      I was immersed in the art world for years, and had the pleasure of many GLBT acquaintances; but I didn’t see too many of the “best examples” of your post—mostly just average people who could find very little or no contentment in their lifestyles. I wonder if some GLBT individuals conclude that their discontentment is due to a lack of non-GLBT approval/affirmation. Maybe they fall prey to the politics of sexual-identity, and slip ever further away from their unique and original personal identity. I don’t know. Years ago I enjoyed a friendship with a man who pined for the life and love of a homosexual relationship, but was too shy and apparently too “gaydar-less” to pursue it on his own. He asked me to go with him to a few gay bars (accepting that I was not GLBT) so he could find the courage to meet someone. He was such a lonely man (but not the “needy” kind that drive people away from them because of their neediness). So we went to a few bars here and there, and we had a few drinks, and we even danced a few times to “get him out there on the dance floor”. In retrospect, I think it was like taking an alcoholic to a wine and cheese tasting. If one of my children “come out” to me one day, of course I won’t love them less, or accept them any less—but neither will I remain silent out of respect for their choices—I hope and pray that we’ll talk about it—however they want to talk about it—in whatever way they’re able to talk about it and in whatever way they’re able to listen to me talk about it. Something precious is at stake here.

  7. Rabbi Joshua says:

    Rabbi Stuart,

    I applaud your raising this issue and your suggestion that we “learn to respect people and their right to make their own choices, even when we do not agree with the choices they make. That is part of what it means to respect people as people–regardless of gender or sexual identity.”

  8. Stuart Caban-Siegel says:

    Dear Rabbi Dauermann,

    Thank you for your very interesting blog post.

    While I agree that acceptance without approval can create improved opportunities for civil discourse, I doubt whether it can create deep and lasting relationships. I speak from my experience as a baptized, Jewish man serving Christ in the Episcopal Church and through a civil marriage to another man.

    Let me begin with a story: I was blessed to do my theological studies at Union Theological Seminary in NYC across the street from Jewish Theological Seminary. While a student at Union, I became friends with some few rabbinical students at JTS. I was invited to Shabbos dinner on occasion and was received with an acceptance of my conversion to Christianity but not approval of it (and in the hope that one day I would return to Judaism). While these were enriching and enjoyable friendships, acceptance without approval limited their depth. They were real but limited because there were so many things about which we agreed to disagree and about which we agreed not to talk.

    While a relationship that is intrinsically limited is better than no relationship at all, this limited relationship can be quite painful for all involved, especially within families. What seemed to be an open, mutual and comfortable communication becomes stilted and uncomfortable as acceptance without approval constricts trust and intimacy. As you suggest, like most religious gay people, I am quite familiar with the biblical and theological objections to my marriage offered by adherents of various movements within Christianity and Judaism. The passionately held beliefs of those who dispute the morality and validity of same-sex marriage often leads to a repetition of these objections in hopes that I will finally receive their interpretation of scripture and tradition as conclusive. This usually leads to mutual exhaustion and frustration. Acceptance without approval would, at least, create a blessed respite from harangues and reflect a respectful acknowledgment that gay Christians have prayerfully done their homework and discerned the will of God for their life. It can be difficult for some of my Christian brothers and sisters to accept that I dissent from their interpretation of scripture and tradition (or who object to my even seeing it as a particular interpretation as opposed to the manifestly true interpretation).

    If they do accept me and my husband without approving of us, I suspect it is a challenge for them to integrate us into their lives in a way that allows them to feel faithful to their understanding of Christianity. If they invite me and my husband to their home and treat us with respect and affection, but not approval, they must then explain to their children (hopefully after we’ve left) that they believe us to be deluded sinners living in a counterfeit of marriage. How will that work in the long-term? Probably, not so well. Either their acceptance without approval will erode into something so like approval to be indistinguishable from it or they will get tired of managing the contradiction and the relationship will drift apart.

    My marriage isn’t like supporting the Tea Party when you’re a Democrat, it’s the sacramental manifestation of my life in Christ. Many Christians find that thesis as unbearable as my rabbinic friends at JTS found my belief that being Baptized did not make me any less Jewish. I don’t know if people can maintain long-term relationship with those they see as defying the core of how they understand reality. Reflecting on the history of faith does not inspire optimism.

    Shalom,
    Stuart (Shomo Moishe)

    • Dear Stuart,

      Thank you for honoring us all with such an intelligent, relevant and honest comment. I like you already.

      As you correctly perceive in your comment, I do see this “acceptance without approval” option as a bulwark against haranguing one another. You are correct in pointing out that acceptance without approval does establish some sort of distance in a relationship. It cannot and will not have the same relational impact as wholehearted approval. Although this may create a certain degree of sadness for one or the other sides in the relational transaction, one cannot avoid the reality that acceptance and approval, and the relative relational impacts of such, cannot be equivalent. However, we should also note that the extent and impact of the distancing created by such a difference varies and is subject to modification and negotiation. In some cases, due to the personalities and personal histories and view involved, the distance is great: the approval instead of acceptance is icy. For others, there is still quite a bit of warmth, even if we agree that the degree of intimacy is affected by the withholding of approval.

      But as I point out in my posting, the chilling comes from the other side as well: people who demand that their choices or views or interpretations of their gender realities be ratified by others are asking too much. While one can demand respect, one cannot and ought not to demand agreement. Indeed, in my view, a relational partner that demands agreement is not looking for relationship at all, but for control. And that is downright icky.

      Finally, both sides of such differences would do well to exercise caution as to how they characterize or interpret the other. Although your characterization of relatives who disagree as “explaining to their children (hopefully after we’ve left) that they believe us to be deluded sinners living in a counterfeit of marriage” is certainly accurate in some cases, there are just as many people who would instead say “Stuart and his partner have made certain choices that we feel are not the best choices from the perspective of our faith but they sure are great people aren’t they?” Similarly, it does no good and much harm for people to imagine that all homosexuals are addicted to short-term serial sexual partners, although such do exist. All of us would do well to be careful of our stereotyping, and that, like all relationships, takes work.

      Kol tuv.

      Another Stuart

  9. Nathan: A "gay" Messianic Jew says:

    I am a Messianic Jew. And I have SSA (same-sex attraction), commonly known as homosexuality. I enjoyed this article, and I agree that it is possible and necessary to accept people with opposing views, without having to approve of their opinions or lifestyles. As the chosen people of G-d, our primary mission is to lift up Yeshua by living the Torah way of life, and being a light of Torah to all nations, including our own Jewish people. We can do so, by practicing what we preach: Loving all people, while not necessarily loving their misguided lifestyles or opinions. Accepting our “gay” friends and neighbors, but never approve of their homosexual lifestyles or opinions. I am a non-practicing “gay” person, because I love Hashem more than my own sexuality, I love Torah more than sex. It is hard at times, but the reward is great. There are many of us within observant Jewish communities, including the Messianic one. So please, do love and accept the practicing gays, but please do not forget to be Maccabees who will not comprimise with the world or give in to the demands of the pro-gay propoganda movement. The Torah-observant, non-practicing “gay Maccabees” need you too.

  10. Nathan: A "gay" Messianic Jew says:

    Just a question on accepting vs. approving. How about active and/or open, practicing homosexuals who want to be members of the congregation, speak, vote, be called up to the bimah, stand under the chuppah, be ordained etc.? What would you say to such a person, to help them understand that we love and accept them but do not approve?

    • Thank you Nathan for your question. I had this situation in my congregation twice in twenty years, two separate people, male and female, both people who decided to embrace a gay identity/come out of the closet, both of whom left my congregation when they made that decision. Each knew that they would not be fully accepted at the synagogue with their partners, and therefore chose not to the there. In this they were right. Messianic congregations are small, and things get around. Although it might disappoint you to hear me say this, we must accept the human reality that social systems can become disturbed by factors within them that are difficult or impossible to absorb. As a related example, I at one time had a woman attending my congregation whose conduct demanded that everyone present be aware of her moods and her neediness every time she showed up. Whenever she misbehaved and utterly co opted or disrupted our services or meeting, and I would ask her to absent herself for a time, a friend of hers would begin calling me unrelentingly complaining about how disconsolate she was and how I was being unfair to her. It was a no win situation: If I succumbed either to her behavior or his imploring, I would giving her license to dominate and co opt every public meeting without consequence, thus holding the rest of the congregation hostage to her moods. I eventually had to forbid her and him to attend. I had a responsibility for the shalom bait, the familial tranquility of the congregation. I have learned that whenever that is threatened I must deal with this for the sake of those under my charge,

      Similarly, requiring a congregation to accept and fully enfranchise people who are out of the closet gays, and their partners, would mean requiring the congregation to absorb and accommodate factors which are contrary to their own convictions. That would do a disservice to them.

      While all of us are free to make our own choices, we are not therefore free to demand that others adjust their own convictions to the choices we have made. This is not the way life works, except in coercive contexts. I would seek to convey this to the gay persons inquiring about full enfranchisement. While they are free to make their choices, and while I am free to accept those choices, I am not free to require others to accept those choices as not being at odds with the value systems those others hold individually and as a congregation. One cannot make a different choice and then resent that it puts one in a different category from others who do not make that choice. Choices always have consequences.

      I see from your previous letter, which I will be answering next, that you are a celibate person with same sex attraction. I am fully persuaded that there is no valid basis for barring such people from any roles in congregational life. All of us are attracted to all sorts of things: this is no crime. It is what we do about those attractions that is key.

      You have my profound respect for the tough choices you are making to not be governed by your same sex attraction. Discipline in sexual matters is difficult for all of us, and all who make heroic efforts are to be commended, as I commend you.

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