Friday, September 19, 2008

Ray Boltz is Gay: Old news but time for reflection.

I'd never heard of Ray Boltz before last week: I don't tend to go in for Christian music in a big way - or indeed in any way post Elgar - so perhaps that isn't surprising. I came upon his story by chance as it was featured in a number of blogs I was browsing. I thought it was an interesting story: in its own right as a human interest story but also because of the way it has been covered in cyberspace.

As I understand the story Ray Boltz, who has been a significant influence in the American Christian music world for some years, has come out as gay. He did this, apparently, after a long period of soul-searching arising from a lifetime's understanding of his sexuality. He and his wife have now separated, at least in part as a consequence of his no longer being able to cope with the subturfuge of living as a straight man, although it seems to be an amicable and mutually supportive separation.

What has shocked me about this story is the way some Christian groups and publications, together with a significant number of individuals have turned on Ray Boltz and savaged him. Hot on the heels of the shock and distaste at this most vitriolic, wicked and un christian display of malice came a growing realisation that this treatment reveals the weaknesses in the theological approach of the Christian Right to issues of Human Sexuality. People are "disappointed" (the most mild description I could find) in Ray Boltz not so much because he is gay but because his admission of Homosexuality raises uncomfortable theological questions that the Right can not answer adequately and so would rather were not asked.

The time-honoured response of the Religious Right when threatened in this way is to resort to that most compassionately Christian of strategies: distance, ostricise, vilify, demonise and reject. The final stage is to question his Christian credentials and conclude that he is a "false Christian", was never saved and is in need of a true conversion experience. This conversion experience will bring him back, not just to God, but to the true way of the Heterosexual: everything will then be right with Ray and the natural order of things will be restored and he can be rehabilitated. The terms "gay" and "Christian" as applied to the same person is clearly a non-sequiter: it doesn't fit in with the theological world-view of the Religious Right, therefore it is clearly wrong.

So alien is the possibility that gays might also be made in the image of God, the Religious Right has to present sexuality as a choice. If gays were "born that way" it undermines homosexual discrimination on any grounds not jut theological grounds: a lifestyle based on innate propensity rather than conscious choice, is far more difficult to condemn. Yet Ray Boltz made a choice: he turned his back on his natural (note no use of speechmarks there) sexual preference and chose the heterosexual lifestyle. We can perhaps imagine the emotional turmoil: he didn't want to be gay. Who would when your co-religionists compare you to child-molesters; when you know that homosexuality is effectively the unforgivable sin in the eyes of man; when those same men - and it is, unsurprisingly, mainly men - tell you that God has a particular distaste for your sort and berate you with tendentious interpretations of scripture; when there is no acceptance, compassion or understanding in Christian society and when it must simply be easier, if not safer in some places, to play straight? So Ray chose to play it straight and we can't say that he didn't give it a fair go: thirty-odd years by anyone's standards must count as perseverence in the Spirit.

Ray chose Heterosexuality and in the end he couldn't sublimate his homosexuality. His true nature reasserted itself and that doesn't fit the script. It doesn't fit the script because it challenges the founding principle of the ex-gay movement: that God can change one's sexuality (although why he would need to if sexuality is merely a choice seems to me to be theologically inconsistent). This is too threatening.

Do we think that Ray didn't agonise in prayer over this? Do we think that he didn't repeatedly cast himself at the foot of the Throne of Grace in anguish? To hear some people talk you'd think that had never occurred to him. I have no doubt that Ray prayed long and often. I have no doubt that Ray repeatedly claimed the promise to be a "new creation in Christ" but he found it either to be an empty promise or one that God did not feel he needed to grant in terms of Ray's sexuality. I have no doubt that Ray then redoubled his efforts to be faithful to God, because surely God's failure to grant his prayer was merely an indication of his lack of faith? And this is how the Right sees it because there is no other alternative that makes sense in their theological world-view. Ray Boltz has let them down because he wouldn't - couldn't - fit the theological template as required. His experience has challenged a way of thinking. So now he is an unrepentant sinner and a deviant too and is therefore fair game for anyone to take a pop at.

Christians eh: don't you just love 'em?