Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Church

In a moment… the horribleness!!! Mwahahahahaaaaaa!!!

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…but first, a bit of background. This is a post about “Side B” Christians.

On this blog, we’ve talked about two Christian positions on same-sex sexual activity. We’ve called them “Side A” and “Side B.”

Side A argues that gender isn’t a deciding factor in the morality of a sexual relationship. According to Side A, a relationship between two men or two women can be moral or immoral, just as a relationship between a man and a woman can be moral or immoral. (Cheating on your spouse? Immoral. Abusing a child? Immoral. Loving, monogamous relationship between two consenting adults who selflessly commit their lives to one another? Moral.) Side A argues that when the Bible mentions sinful homosexual activity, it’s sinful because of the context (idolatrous cult prostitution, for instance) and not because of the gender of the partners.

Side B, by contrast, argues that same-sex sexual behavior is inherently immoral. Side B Christians believe that God’s design for our sexuality is to experience sex only within the lifelong bond of a man and a woman. This means that any sex outside of that bond, whether premarital sex or cheating on your spouse or same-sex sex, is sinful in God’s eyes. According to Side B, the Bible offers clear condemnation of homosexual activity that is not limited to any particular context; it continues to apply to modern-day Christians.

My Side B Christian friends sometimes ask me this question:

I want to be compassionate. But I can’t change what I think the Bible says about homosexual behavior. Can my church and I still be loving even as Side B Christians, or is it the very notion of Side B that gay people find so offensive?

Well, the answer to that is a bit complicated. Obviously, Side A gay folks feel pretty strongly about the importance of being able to fall in love, get married, and have a family, so yes, a lot of them are going to be offended by anyone’s opposition to that, no matter how compassionate their language might be.

But hey, I’m an evangelical Christian from a strongly Side B background. I get it. Even though I ultimately changed my position to Side A, I totally understand why my Side B brothers and sisters disagree with me, and I respect that you need to be able to speak truth as you understand it. And I know a lot of gay people who feel the same way I do; we believe it’s possible to have theological disagreements and still love one another.

For many of us, it’s not Side B per se that makes us feel unloved. It’s some of the stuff that Side B people say and do even when they’re trying to be loving. I’m not talking about the “God hates fags” folks, and I’m not even talking about the political fights. I’m talking about what happens when you’re gay and you walk into a Side B church or Christian group.

To understand why, let’s look at three subgroups of people we might find in the Side B community.

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1. Celibate Gay Christians – Yup. There are gay people on Side B, like my friend Wesley Hill, author of Washed and Waiting. They know they’re attracted to the same sex, but they consider it to be a temptation and so they work hard to resist acting on their attractions. These are some of the most passionate, devout Christians I’ve ever met. They make incredible sacrifices to serve God, and the road they walk can be incredibly challenging and lonely without support.

Obviously, the secular LGBT community wouldn’t understand this group. But at least they get lots of support from their churches, right?

Sadly, often not. And that’s partly due to the influence of another group:

2. “Change” Advocates – Some straight, Side B Christians are under the unfortunate impression that being gay is something people can just turn off like a light switch or be healed from through prayer and therapy. They’ve heard a testimony from someone who claims to have become straight, and so they assume that anyone could become straight if they’d just give God the chance to change them.

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In the film X-Men 2, Bobby’s parents discover that he has a mutant power: He can turn anything into ice. Frightened about the implications of this, his mom asks him, “Have you tried not being a mutant?”

It’s an absurd question. He could choose not to use his powers, of course. He could hide his mutant identity from everyone. He could use a different word to describe himself and avoid the word “mutant,” knowing people are prejudiced against mutants. But inside, he would still be different, even if no one knew the truth but him.

Gay people face a similar challenge. We could hide the truth, use a different word, never act on our feelings, and even marry a member of the opposite sex to whom we’re not attracted, but we’d still be gay.

Churches with the Change Advocate approach make life very difficult for even the celibate gay Christians. From a Change Advocate mindset, being celibate isn’t good enough; you have to become straight! As a result, even the celibate gay Christians feel pressured by their own churches to lie about what’s inside them in order to avoid being ostracized. You can imagine what that does to their loneliness, self-esteem, and faith.

But let’s look at one more group in the Side B community, a group where many of my straight Side B friends find themselves.

3. Celibacy Advocates – As more and more news comes out about the fact that orientation change doesn’t work, with even the leaders of the movement repudiating it, a growing number of compassionate straight Christians are moving away from a Change approach and embracing the idea that the church should welcome and support gay people who are willing to commit themselves to lifelong celibacy.

Which is a good thing.

Kinda.

And that brings me to one of my favorite short films:

Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.

Joss Whedon’s short film is the hilarious and tragic story of Dr. Horrible, a super-villain wannabe…

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…and his nemesis, superhero Captain Hammer.

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Also, it’s a musical.

Captain Hammer is muscular, attractive, and beloved by the city, but despite being a superhero, he’s not such a great guy. In fact, he’s pretty darn arrogant and not all that compassionate.

Captain Hammer’s narcissism is most evident to us when he gives a speech at the opening of a new homeless shelter. Addressing the dozens of homeless people in attendance, he sings:

It may not feel too classy, begging just to eat.
But you know who does that? Lassie. And she always gets a treat.

Ouch. He continues:

So you wonder what your part is, ’cause you’re homeless and depressed.
But home is where the heart is, so your real home’s in your chest.

Hate this guy yet? Yeah. You’re supposed to. The character is written as a self-righteous jerk who doesn’t truly comprehend the suffering of others, because he’s never had to go through it himself.

This song, with the chorus “Everyone’s a hero in their own way,” is apparently Captain Hammer’s attempt to cheer up the homeless. But to us, the audience, it’s plainly patronizing and insensitive. Someone living on the street doesn’t need platitudes about how “home is where the heart is”; they need food and shelter from the elements. And even that doesn’t touch their loss of dignity.

Now here’s the twist: This is how a lot of straight Side B Christians sound when they talk to gay people. They don’t mean to. They’re trying to be loving and understanding. But this is what comes out:

“You sure you’re not able to become straight? Darn. Well, then, unfortunately, God says you have to be celibate for the rest of your life. Man, I know that’s gotta be tough. But hey, just give it to God. He is sufficient! Ooh, gotta run; I’m late for a dinner date with my wife.”

Yes, God is sufficient. And home really is where the heart is. Neither one of those is especially helpful to hear when you’re hurting and lonely and want more than clichés.

Captain Hammer’s song continues with:

Everyone’s a hero in their own way; everyone’s got villains they must face.
They’re not as cool as mine, but folks, you know it’s fine to know your place
Everyone’s a hero in their own way. In their own not-that-heroic way.

Sometimes, straight Side B folks will say that celibate gay Christians are “heroic” for fighting their desires for companionship and abstaining from “practicing homosexuality.” (I’ve been told this on a number of occasions because I’m single. They usually take it back when they find out that I do want to find the right guy someday.) But even when the celibate gay Christians are told they’re heroic, that’s not how they’re treated. The Celibacy Advocates may not insist on change like the Change Advocates do, but they still often talk about celibacy as the barely-acceptable booby prize for people who couldn’t live up to God’s real expectations. There’s always the sense that you’re “not that heroic”; that you’d be much better off to be straight. Indeed, a straight Christian who has sex before marriage is almost certain to be treated better in a conservative church than a gay person who lives his or her whole life celibately.

Despite his words, Captain Hammer actually views himself as the hero, and he says as much:

I’m poverty’s new sheriff, and I’m bashing in the slums. 
A hero doesn’t care if you’re a bunch of scary, alcoholic bums!

And that’s the truth about how he feels. He doesn’t like being around the homeless. They make him feel uncomfortable. He says nice things because he wants to be compassionate, but in truth, he just doesn’t feel a lot of compassion for them. He wants to see himself as a good person, but he doesn’t want to get his hands dirty or get close to people who make him feel weird.

And as a gay person in the church, let me just say: we know when this is how you feel. We can see it in your eyes and hear it in your voice. And when we don’t come back to your church even though you tell us that you want everyone to be welcome, that’s why.

Now please hear me. I’m not saying that all straight Side B Christians—or all advocates for celibacy—are Captain Hammer. In my book, I tell stories of some wonderful straight Side B Christians who are doing everything right. But as more and more Side B Christians are moving away from the old views of “gays are evil” and “gays can change” to a new view that advocates compassion (which is a good thing), I’ve noticed Captain Hammer Syndrome becoming an epidemic. And it’s often the Christians most convinced they’re compassionate who are actually the biggest Captain Hammers. As a group, the Side B Christian community sounds a lot like a Captain Hammer chorus to a lot of gay people.

You want to know why I wrote TORN? It’s because I want to help Christians on both sides—A and B—understand what it’s really like to be gay in the church, and give them practical advice for how to truly minister to those in their midst who are looking for Jesus, not Captain Hammer. Jesus, the one who ate and drank with sinners and treated them as if they were his equals.

Because right now, we’ve still got a long way to go.

[Related post: Invisible.]