I recently attended a one-day conference in Chattanooga called “Sexuality in the Church.” Not “Sexuality and the Church” but “Sexuality in the Church.” A minor detail, perhaps, but that in is a two-letter preposition with huge implications.
Sexuality of all shapes and sizes most certainly exists inside the Church just as it exists outside.
A friend invited me to the conference, and truthfully, I entered it with minimal expectations. Would the church hosting the conference keep things surfacey, and would this SSA struggle be sugarcoated or misrepresented? Who would even attend such a conference?
To my delight, quite a number of people attended — a diverse lot, too. Many races and all ages were represented, including an equal number of men and women. SSA individuals like myself and plenty of OSA individuals seeking greater understanding and connection with fellow brothers and sisters.
To my additional delight, surfacey came off the table within the first five minutes. The conference organizer assured everyone that words like “masturbation” and “penis” and “vagina” would be spoken throughout the day and for us to tread carefully from session to breakout group.
I almost had to remind myself of where I sat: surrounded by pews and a giant wooden cross hanging behind the guy breathing “masturbation” into his microphone.
All day long, the open presentations, workshops, and discussions made me question the same thing over and over: why isn’t this special sort of day just an ordinary everyday occurrence in the Church?
One of my more significant insights from the conference centered around a talk on Mark 8 and Jesus’ healing of the blind man at Bethsaida. It’s one of those isolated passages you read a million times and don’t pay much attention to, and then you put it in a broader context and it hits you like a bushel of manna.
“Then [Jesus] came to Bethsaida; and they brought a blind man to Him, and begged Him to touch him. So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, ‘I see men like trees, walking.’ Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was restored and saw everyone clearly.”
Jesus didn’t heal the blind man in one fell swoop. He touched him. And then He touched him again. A two-stage healing.
Mere sentences later, Peter declares Jesus the Messiah. And yet he has no understanding of the exact role the Messiah must play: that of a suffering Messiah.
“[Jesus] said to [the disciples], ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Peter answered and said to Him, ‘You are the Christ.’ Then He strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him. And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.'”
Peter sees Jesus, and he also doesn’t. He might as well be blind.
Sometimes healing and eyesight happen right away, as evidenced numerous times throughout the Gospels. But for whatever mysterious reason, full vision sometimes takes longer. Sometimes you first must see men walking like fuzzy trees before you cross the next divide.
Sometimes you see some shell of Jesus but not the entire Jesus. This notion of carrying your cross and suffering as He did may not be something you want to see.
Regarding struggles with my sexuality, I have most certainly been healed from the alone. Indeed, I squint and now make out all these fuzzy trees fraternizing about this community.
I am not alone, and neither are you.
And yet the struggle continues, and I don’t claim to be fully “healed” of my sexual struggles whatsoever. I’m still waiting for healing’s second stage.
I have hope that one day we will see clearly like the man at Bethsaida. That our struggles and sorrows will cease once and for all.
But until that coming day of clarity, I must learn to squint and suffer well as Christ himself suffered.
Kudos to New City Fellowship in Chattanooga for a most excellent conference on sexuality in the church. I’m grateful for the personal revelations, new connections, and a renewed hope in openness for the Church at large. I hope this conference returns next year — and I hope other churches learn to see with a similar, renewed vision.
Have you experienced a culture of openness and transparency in the Church, be it at a conference, service, or other venue? Share your stories below!