There is a regular flow of news stories and blog articles about efforts to repeal DADT as it relates to the U.S. military. For my fellow Canadians who might not follow such reports, DADT stands for “don’t ask, don’t tell”. It refers to a practice in the American armed forces that compels soldiers to keep their same-sex sexual attractions, gay identity, and/or same-sex sexual relationships under wraps if they hope to continue in their military careers. As a pacifist-leaning Canadian who is admittedly ill-informed about U.S military issues, the whole concept of DADT seems counter-intuitive to me. It would seem to me that if you are asking soldiers to entrust their lives to one another, there would be tremendous benefit in fostering an environment of authenticity and integrity. By asking a group of individuals to hide such a significant part of their identity perpetuates a climate of secrecy that, in my mind, erodes corporate integrity. But …. as I said, I really have no experience that gives me any platform on which to speak to U.S military issues.
But I do have extensive experience in the church. And in many ways I observe a similar silent expectation of DADT within the church, that I believe erodes our corporate integrity as the family of God.
In the first place, I see same-gender attracted people bear the incredible burden of exhausting vigilance to ensure that no “clue” slips that might reveal the reality of their sexuality. I see how this has shipwrecked lives due to the copious personal, emotional and spiritual energy that must be spent on hiding. I’ve seen people fracture under the pressure and walk away from not only the church but from God. I’ve seen mixed orientation marriages shatter after years of secrecy finally break and the truth emerges with such pent-up intensity that navigating the challenges of remaining in the marriage seems inconceivable. I’ve sat with people as they have wept over lost years – years of not being able to fully be themselves, to be known for who they truly were. I’ve sat with people who identify as ex-gay but stagger in the knowledge that they continue to wrestle with same-gender attraction while everyone assumes they are healed. I’ve ached to hear the incredible isolation that DADT causes real people with real lives.
But this “don’t ask don’t tell” mentality while most significantly impacting gay people in the church, also affects more than just those who are outside the heterosexual mainstream. I’ve had more conversations than I can count with Christians who find themselves less clear, more uncertain, living with the reality of ambiguity on this issue of homosexuality. I hear, as they quietly confide in me, a kaleidoscope of emotions. Fear of believing the wrong thing. Anxiety as they confront and critique long-held assumptions. Concern to not hurt or betray the church they love. Exhaustion at the thought of trying to explain to their fellow church members, who are so very certain and so very clear, how and why they are at the place they are. Frustration at the lack of safe space for them to articulate their thoughts and questions around these realities. Resignation in their assessment that it is simply too costly to rock the boat given the reality that it will likely bring limited change to mindsets anyway.
All of these emotions describe an environment that is hindered in being robustly authentic or inviting courageous exploration of the Biblical text, the Holy Spirit’s leading, and shared discernment. They describe an environment in which control wins out over honest wrestling.
DADT encourages the formation of secret clubs within a given fellowship. Lines get drawn between those who are “open-minded” and those who are not. Knowing looks when certain statements are made perpetuate invisible divides. Assumptions and judgments flourish in this kind of environment. Perceived agendas aren’t actually talked about or confronted. People simply keep their distance from one another. Relationships become more superficial or overtly strained. Experience of community is compromised.
Back in the day, we used to be able to count on a pretty monolithic perspective on particular issues within a given congregation. Increasingly, in our intercultural, intergenerational, post-denominational, post-Christian context we encounter complex layers of diversity within our local fellowships. While this ushers in a messy, uncomfortable and sometimes painful exercise in learning how to love, serve, and honour one another, I believe this presents an exciting opportunity for growth and maturity. I believe such diversity is both God’s heart and his way of shaping, refining and transforming us into the character of Christ. Invitational. Hospitable. Not threatened. Not easily offended. Willing to be misunderstood. Breaking barriers. Standing for justice. Reaching the marginalized. Refusing to play favorites. Extending forgiveness. Pursuing reconciliation. Embodying freedom.
We ought not to run from such diversity, ought not to try to control it or coerce it into uniformity. We ought to live in the midst of it, live in the reality of the tensions it creates, wrestle with the paradoxes that arise. We ought to face the challenge of mastering our own selfish, fearful, prideful, easily threatened hearts.
But DADT gives us the easy way out. We don’t have to face the reality of our diversity. We don’t have to wrestle through the hard questions. We don’t have to examine and re-examine not only what we believe but why we believe it and how it is that we hold what we believe when we encounter those who believe in a different way. DADT is a false freedom from conflict. Behind the mask of the peace it proffers lies a leprosy that eats away at authentic community. It keeps us superficial, secretly divided, with a false sense of unity. And it has the very real potential to destroy individual lives.
It’s time to repeal “don’t ask, don’t tell” ….. in the church.