Note from the BCC staff: In this blog, Brad Hambrick writes about his forthcoming book on homosexuality, Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk (Minneapolis, MN: Cruciform Press), due to be released in January, 2016.
Part 1: Why Did I Write Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk
It might be more helpful, at least at first, to explain why I didn’t write Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk. I didn’t write this book because I believe homosexuality is the most important or pressing issue of our day. Actually, to the contrary, I wrote this book because it was my perception (accurate or inaccurate) that part of what complicates the subject is that only people who are very passionate about the subject have the courage/boldness/audacity to speak or write on the subject.
It was my belief that someone who didn’t feel like history hinges on homosexuality needed to be part of the conversation. This is why in the opening chapter I try to help readers have an accurate feel for how I weigh the importance of this subject.
I do not consider homosexuality my “hill to die on” issue. I don’t believe the probability of experiencing the Third Great Awakening or the superpower status of America hinges on the moral or political issues surrounding homosexuality. Neither do I believe that gay rights are the logical extension of women’s suffrage or racial equality efforts.
If your position on homosexuality is approximated in the paragraph above, you might be uncomfortable with this book. When the subject is framed in either of these ways, the answer becomes so immediately “obvious” that it is hard to conceive how someone could disagree with you. Even if this is where you are, I hope you’ll keep reading.
There is a second reason I wrote this book – I was asked to, both directly and indirectly. This book was not on my radar until a friend came to me and said, “Would you be willing to write a book on how conservative Christians can have gay friends without compromising their convictions? I think that kind of book is missing and it’s not something we do well. I think you have a tone in dealing with sensitive subjects that could navigate the topic well.”
My initial answer was, “No. Thank you for the encouragement, but I don’t think I’m passionate enough about the subject to write a book on it.” But the request was “sticky,” and I began to listen a bit more closely to the debates in the Christian blogosphere. That is when I began to realize my non-passion for the subject might be an asset instead of a liability.
As I listened to the debate, I had two conclusions. (1) “Conservatives” came across as if they had never cried with a friend who experienced same-sex attraction. They were even wondering what “same-sex attraction” meant. (2) “Liberals” came across as if the only way to be authentic was to embrace a gay identity as if sexual attraction trumps every other aspect of personhood. Yet, I couldn’t imagine experiencing same-sex attraction or having to choose between these two polarized positions if I wanted someone to help me think through my experience of same-sex attraction.
Then I began to reflect on the number of pastoral counseling conversations I’ve had with individuals who experienced unwanted same-sex attraction. I thought about one of the primary sticking points in these conversations: the absence of authentic friendships in which these individuals could be fully known (honest about their struggle) and fully loved (without placing a strain on their Christian friendships) without embracing a gay identity and joining the gay community.
Counseling might provide some relief, but only an understanding community can offer hope. As I say in chapter two of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk, “Counseling without friendship is like being stranded in the ocean and given a raft for one hour a week but asked to swim the other 167 hours.” A counselor who counsels without a church that understands creates an impasse; there is hope (“God doesn’t hate me because I experience same-sex attraction”) without direction (“I am still incredibly alone and the church doesn’t seem willing to help alleviate this significant part of my struggle”).
So I said yes and began the process of writing Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk. My enthusiasm for the value of the project has grown. But, honestly, I don’t look forward to the controversy it may bring. Who can write 100 pages on homosexuality and not upset some people? That grieves me. Not because I am thin-skinned and anxious about people not liking me, but because “debating the topic” usually means “missing the person” who is struggling.
My greatest prayer for this book would be that God would use this book to equip the church to build bridges of friendship to care for Christians who experience unwanted same-sex attraction and for non-believers who did not find the fulfillment they had hoped for in a gay identity. When those conversations occur in living rooms and coffee shops, maybe that is the beginning of a change in the tone of conversations on social platforms and debate panels.
Regardless of whether that latter, lofty objective is achieved, I will be elated if Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk results in same-sex attraction no longer feeling like a sentence of “solitary confinement” for individuals looking for hope and direction from Christian friends in the midst of their experience of same-sex attraction.
Part 2: What Will You Learn in Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk
In this section I want to introduce you to the kind of questions that are addressed in the six chapters of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk. I hope to equip the church to be a place where situations like the ones below become increasingly frequent.
- An individual who embraces a gay identity could say, “I have friends who are Christians and disagree with my chosen lifestyle but love me well. I believe they would gladly help me if I had a need.”
- A teenager who is beginning to experience same-sex attraction could say, “I have Christian friends who understand what I’m facing and care enough to help me think through this confusing experience.”
- Parents of a child who is experimenting with homosexual behaviors could say, “Our small group cared for us well and helped us think through how to love our son. It was surprising how safe we felt to wrestle with the questions we were facing.”
- An individual who was considering leaving the gay lifestyle could say, “The Christians that I knew while I was openly gay are a big part of the reason I may pursue what I now believe to be God’s design for sexuality.”
If these statements represent the way you think conversations about homosexuality should be like in the church, I believe you’ll find Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk to be a helpful resource.
Chapter One: “Language, Stigma, and Expectations”
What is the difference between the experience of same-sex attraction, the engagement in homosexual behavior, and the embracing of a gay identity? How do these categories help Christians speak from a conservative sexual ethic without shutting down conversation? What are the terms and forms of logic that immediately designate us “unsafe” for those who experience same-sex attraction? What are healthy, realistic expectations in a voluntary conversation when two people have a vested interest in conflicting value systems? How can the church be a safe place for these conversations, so that “coming out” after 10+ years of silence is not the only way to let people know about a same-sex attraction?
Chapter Two: “Being Comfortable Being Uncomfortable”
Talking about sex is awkward enough. If we believe that Romans 1 is the only road to homosexuality (i.e., progressive sexual depravity), then we will respond to individuals who experience same-sex attraction as if they were the equivalent of sex addicts and pedophiles. Our ignorance of same-sex attraction heightens the awkwardness of these conversations and increases the likelihood we will be inadvertently offensive. This chapter examines the common internal obstacles to being a mature, informed participant in conversations with friends or family members who experience same-sex attraction.
Chapter Three: “Getting to Know the Experience of SSA”
What is it like to realize that your experience of romantic attraction is different from most people? What are the common markers in the journey of individuals who experience same-sex attraction? What is it like to “know” that your attractions cannot be talked about “at church,” but other people’s can? How would that dynamic influence your experience of Christianity and culture in general? An appreciation for these questions (but not necessarily agreement with your friend’s conclusions) is vital to being a good friend.
Chapter Four: “Getting to Know the Person Experiencing SSA”
An appreciation for chapter three does not constitute the knowledge of any given individual. Knowledge about a subject without knowledge of a person is debate-prep more than relationship; it aims at winning an argument more than influencing a person. This chapter provides good questions to ask based upon the content of chapter three and gives guidance on how not to reduce an individual’s existence to sexual attraction when the subject comes to the forefront of conversation.
Chapter Five: “Winning an Argument vs. Influencing a Friend”
“Gotcha” lines never transformed anyone’s sexuality. They get applause from those who agree and disdain from those who don’t; they polarize. What should be our tone and emphasis when discussing biblical passages on homosexuality? How early in a relationship do I need to bring up these passages in order to be a faithful Christian? Is it profitable to discuss things like research biases in genetic findings related to homosexuality? If so, how, when, and for what purpose? At what point does protecting a friendship for the sake of influence become moral compromise?
Chapter Six: “Navigating Difficult Conversations”
Would you go to my wedding? Should my parents allow me and my partner to come over for Christmas? Am I not supposed to be hurt by Christians who say things in attacking and demeaning ways? If I do not experience any, or very limited, opposite-sex attraction do I have to remain celibate my entire life to be a Christian? These and other subjects are addressed in an annotated dialogue that helps the reader think through what it would be like to have conversations with someone who experiences same-sex attraction.
 SSA = same-sex attraction.