A New Challenge and a New Opportunity
I recently read Will Young’s book To Be a Gay Man. The book tells his story of growing up and coming into the public spotlight as a gay man and his journey to deal with the gay shame that he experienced as a result of society’s portrayal of and treatment of gay people.
There are lots of things in the book that would be fruitful for further reflection, and I may come back to some of them in future posts. I also found that reading it was a helpful reminder of the benefit of reading things by those who might have a very different perspective or different life experience to us. I don’t do enough of that and found that a helpful reminder.
One thing really struck me in latter part of the book. As Will talks about his efforts to understand and address the gay shame he experienced and the negative ways that was affecting his life, he shares about a key moment that he describes as his rebirth. Meeting with someone in a garden shed in Oxford for some ‘breath work’ he had a dramatic experience:
What occurred there was that, through my breathing, I end up, to all intents and purposes, rebirthing myself. God knows what was going on, but when the session finished I felt drained and rather relaxed. (p.215)
He goes on to relate a key encounter with some homophobic young people on his way home that afternoon which marked a key step in working through his gay shame.
What really struck me reading this was how Will is happy to speak about his experiences in spiritual terms. In fact, shortly before recounting this event, he talks about a key realisation that he ‘harboured a deep, spiritual wound that needed fixing’ (p.214). This is against the background of some negative comments about Christianity earlier in the book (pp.4, 46-47).
This openness to spirituality but rejection of Christianity reminded me of how the world around us has changed in the last five to ten years. We have now moved beyond the time when being a Christian was laughable and debates about science and religion were the big stumbling blocks for people who aren’t Christians, to a time when being a Christian is offensive and the big stumbling blocks are the Bible’s teaching on ethical matters, especially sexuality.
There are various important implications of this reality for both mission and discipleship, but one I don’t think I had thought of before is the vital role that spiritual gifts—perhaps especially miracles, healing and prophecy—can play in mission. Obviously, these spiritual gifts have always been important in mission, but perhaps a culture that is very open to broad spirituality and to the idea that there is more than just the physical world will be particularly open to offers of prayer for healing, to the reality of miracles, and to words of prophecy that couldn’t have been known through human means. Maybe there is an openness to the things that will demonstrate God’s goodness in action which may in turn create an openness to the God’s goodness demonstrated in other ways, including in his guidance to us for the use of our bodies and sexualities.
It may be becoming harder to say that we believe sex should be reserved to marriages of one man and one woman, but at the same time, it might be getting easier to offer to pray for people or to bring words of prophecy to them. There’s a new challenge here, but as so often with a new challenge, there may also be a new opportunity.