‘Gay Conversations With God’

I’m not sure this is a book.

It’s in book form, mostly — type is set on pages in a binding, words on paper — but it reads more like the transcription of a one-man show. In Gay Conversations With God, James Langteaux gives us a spoken-word performance, with the rhythm and rhyme of speech. The cadence and wordplay and oddly laid-out parenthetical comments all make me want to see and hear that one-man show.

I suspect, then, that this book would work best as an audio book read by the author. Or, rather, as an audio book performed by the author, since that’s what we have here, a performance.

It’s an entertaining performance. Langteaux is charming, charismatic, sometimes moving and sometimes very funny. He can be both self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing, both painfully honest and defiantly defensive. He can be engaging, exhausting, amusing, infuriating, profound, profane, affectionate and abrasive, inviting and off-putting — frequently all at once in a single anecdote.

I like him. He works so hard to be liked that it would seem churlish not to. I enjoyed the show.

But I also worry about him. I’m left, at the end of this performance, wondering what Langteaux is like when he’s not performing. Or wondering if there ever is a time when he’s not performing — when he allows himself to stop. What is he like when he’s not “on” — not on stage, not on a roll or on a rant or a riff?

The manic persona we meet in this performance can’t be sustained all the time. I wonder if the pendulum may swing to the other extreme when the spotlight is off and the audience has left the theater. Who is James Langteaux on nights like this, when the world’s a bit amiss, and the lights go down across the trailer park? Who is he when the wig goes back in the box?

That last bit is from Hedwig and the Angry Inch. The reference seems apt because Langteaux seems divided in two, split between two worlds. He is a gay man. And he is an evangelical Pentecostal. Langteaux is very gay and very Pentecostal. If there were a Kinsey scale for Pentecostal spirituality, he’d be a solid 6 on that too. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Some of my best friends are Pentecostal …)

He struggles to reconcile these two worlds:

I’ve been a pretty bad Christian and a fairly decent homo for a very long time. But the idea that these two wildly disparate worlds may merge seemed about as likely as Grey Goose sponsoring the Southern Baptist Convention.

Langteaux is flamboyantly Pentecostal. As with much of this book, that can be both off-putting and endearing — and more so of both than his sexual flamboyance because it’s less self-conscious, less intentional. His discussion of his sexuality often has a deliberate “ooh, did I shock you?” quality that can seem more performance than revelation (see, for example, the book’s subtitle: “Straight Talk on Fanatics, Fags and the God Who Loves Us All”). One senses that he’s always aware of how his frank comments may be perceived by heterosexual readers. But when he discusses his intensely Pentecostal spirituality, he seems less aware that this may be strange or unfamiliar to others, making that discussion seem less guarded and more openly earnest.

J.R. Daniel Kirk is probably right when he says that Langteaux’s discussion of sexuality can be “over-the-top in ways that, while probably helpful to those who need the book most from the gay-person-struggling-with-God end of things will no doubt put off most who hold a non-affirming position.” But I suspect the book’s flaming Pentecostal spirituality may also put off other potential readers.

For years, Langteaux was a producer and reporter for The 700 Club. His faith still takes that shape, with all the spirit-filled intimacy, immediacy and intervention it takes as a given. So Langteaux is someone who constantly seeks — and receives — signs from God. God speaks to his heart. He believes in miracle. His testimony includes numerous explicit answers to prayer, and even the classic open-the-Bible-at-random gambit/discipline.

This spirituality — intuitive, visceral, emotional and idiosyncratic — is both a weakness and a strength when it comes to Langteaux’s struggle to reconcile his undeniable gayness with the faith that also defines him. He learned that faith from people like those at The 700 Club — people who see God as vehemently, inviolably anti-gay.

In the world of The 700 Club, God’s hostility to gayness is simply a given. It’s not something that is argued so much as something simply asserted — a self-evident truth endorsed by the sanctified intuition of all spirit-filled Christians. The argument, such as it is, is all pathos.

And for the most part, that is how Langteaux responds — all pathos. As Kirk writes:

As a Bible scholar, I was less than happy with the biblical discussions in the book. But this isn’t an exegetical book, it’s not even attempting a biblical argument for homosexuality. It’s about the experience of finding the God of love.

Experience and intuition are the “heart” at the heart of Langteaux’s plea. We evangelicals are big on hearts. We ask Jesus “into our hearts.” It would be an awkward moment if you stood in an evangelical pulpit and praised God for saving you when you asked Jesus into your mind.

So this book is written from the “heart” — a cri de couer. If you’re looking for a biblical discussion, turn to someone like Matthew Vines. Langteaux is not a Bible scholar. In his 700-Club world, the Bible is one way that God speaks to Christians, but not the only way. God’s side of this “conversation” isn’t mainly scriptural, but comes through more individual direct revelation. In this world of intuitive, spirit-led Pentecostalism, such direct revelation can seem to trump scripture, tradition, reason and experience (the four parts of the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral”).

That’s the trump-card that Langteaux’s former colleagues at The 700 Club play against him, and the same trump-card that he plays in response. That leaves things at a stand-still. “God showed me.” “Oh, yeah? Well God showed me too.” Pathos vs. pathos.

In places, though, Langteaux’s pathos leans toward something more formal and less subjective. In a breathless retelling of Jesus’ story, Langteaux writes:

[The religious] would never buy into the teachings of a guy who was unwilling to obey the basic laws of the Sabbath — how in the hell could this man be God when he continually chose to over-ride the very rules he had put in place thousands of years before? Rules and laws that these religious men spent a lifetime perfecting, preaching and enforcing. …

To top it all off, Jesus had a new message — it was a message not of rules and laws and dictates but a message of unconditional love and grace.

That points in the direction of something a Bible scholar can work with, although Langteaux himself doesn’t continue in that direction.

Langteaux’s history with The 700 Club involved him, for years, in the promotion of its anti-gay ideology. He was even, for a time, heralded as an example of the kind of miraculous “reparative” spirituality that can pray away the gay. Being a part of that world was damaging for him — damaging for his self-image, damaging for his soul. And, of course, it wasn’t only damaging for him, but also for other LGBT people who heard that anti-gay message, or whose lives continue to be affected by the millions of Christians who have heard and absorbed that message.

Langteaux seems to realize the damage he has suffered, and the damage that others have suffered, but he doesn’t dwell on his own role or culpability in promoting that agenda. As Timothy Kincaid wrote at Box Turtle Bulletin, that makes Langteaux a bit problematic. “When a damaging person comes out,” Kincaid says, he reserves the right to be skeptical.

That suggests another book, I think, that James Langteaux probably needs to write and that others, like Kincaid, certainly need to read. This book doesn’t offer such a mea culpa, but it may be a step closer to that step — the ninth step that Kincaid (rightly) sees as necessary.

But what are we to make of this book? I don’t think it’s likely to be popular or persuasive for those in the church who reject the full affirmation of LGBT Christians. Those folks are always demanding (and then dismissing) a point-by-point refutation of their clobber-verse proof-texts, and Langteaux doesn’t even attempt to provide that.

But perhaps those Christians will, at least, recognize that this is a personal testimony. We Christians are supposed to like personal testimonies (particularly ones, like this, that offer lots of sordid detail). Langteaux’s personal testimony won’t likely persuade such Christians to change their views, but I hope, at least, that it may make them more aware of the consequences of those views and the human toll they take on all sides.

The real audience for this book, though — the people it can and, I think, should reach — is made up of other people like James Langteaux, people caught between these two worlds, undeniably queer and undeniably evangelical. There are likely millions of people struggling to live in that divided state — a population larger than that of the divided city in which poor Hedwig was born.

Some of them will try to pray away the gay but, as Langteaux found out, that never works. And some of them, like Langteaux, may try to gay away the pray — but that didn’t work for him either. He was born this way and born-again this way.

He’s not alone in that. And for many others like him, torn between those two worlds, this messy, off-beat book may be a lifeline and a source of healing.

  • http://twitter.com/FearlessSon FearlessSon

    Experience and intuition are the “heart” at the heart of Langteaux’s plea. We evangelicals are big on hearts. We ask Jesus “into our hearts.” It would be an awkward moment if you stood in an evangelical pulpit and praised God for saving you when you asked Jesus into your mind.

    I am afraid that such matters of the heart are outside my experience; I do not understand them.  I have always thought it best to invite Jesus into your mind.  Read him, comprehend his message, analyze it, appreciate its value, extrapolate how to apply it, be satisfied when it works out.  

    In the case of people like Langteaux, I could certainly see how this would be a conflict of the mind.  Cognitive dissonance, trying to reconcile two ideas which causes emotional torment when they will not fuse together into one cohesive mental framework.  I always assumed that reprative therapy was one way people resolve this kind of conflict, not by making a person less gay (that never works) but by making resolving the conflict of ideas in their mind, trying to reconcile their ideas about what God wants by doing something about their sexual orientation that is incompatible with the other ideas they hold.  Of course, a generally more successful way to resolve this dissonance seems to be when the person in question either leaves the church behind entirely, or finds a denomination which is more progressive in its acceptable and celebration of homosexual members.  

    In Langteaux’s case, that looks to be difficult.  The religious values he was raised with are too ingrained to completely abandon the church.  But I think that he has some hope.  Yes, there are wide sections of the evangelical community which still have a mad-on for teh gayz, but I think that section keeps shrinking year after year, despite getting more vocal as it does.  

    It might be slow, but things are steadily getting better.  

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    for many others like him, torn between those two worlds, this messy, off-beat book may be a lifeline and a source of healing

    I would love to hear from some of those people who have found this book worth reading.

    Failing that, I think I would rather beat myself repeatedly over the head with it than read it.

    What you describe reads to me as a man still struggling with the barbed wire that entangles his soul. And in my experience, the only thing that ever does is cause the wire to tighten.

    I feel for James Langteaux, and I wish him peace and stillness and love.

    But I don’t think I’m ready to feel with him.

    Edit: Oh, and… first!

  • Carstonio

    I would think that the misery that Langteaux went though should have been unnecessary. There’s no basis for disapproving of anyone else’s homosexuality (as opposed to one’s own) whatever causes it. Using “born this way” as a basis for arguing against homophobia implies that the latter might be justified if it was determined to be a choice. Perhaps it’s no accident that the 700 Club folks insist that it’s a choice and also disapprove of membership in other religions.

    Here’s the question that I doubt that such Christians have never really answered – why couldn’t they treat homosexuality like the Amish do technology, as something they eschew for themselves but don’t begrudge others? I don’t know if that would have helped Langteaux, since he saw himself as one of them. I believe strongly that the common humanity of gays and straights requires that one treat an individual’s orientation as a personal matter. But when I make that point, I feel like I’m arguing against the entire belief system held by the straight members of the 700 Club. Not their position on homosexuality but their position on their relationship with their god. That wouldn’t have been the issue with Langteaux because the matter was personal for him.

  • Loki100

    As a gay man, I find it rather difficult to have much sympathy for Langteaux. He did incalculable harm to innumerable people from a position of unbelievable privilege, coming out doesn’t change that fact. It feels exactly like what Fred was talking about earlier, that in fundamentalism actions are irrelevant, merely positions. Sorry, but as with all such people, just coming out is not enough. Come on your knees, humbly seeking atonement.

  • stly92

    I’m a Christian. When I was a kid and was prompted to ask Jesus into my heart, well, nothing much ever came from that.

    When I was an adult, and I asked Jesus into my mind, on the other hand, that’s when I got the big angel chorus and hallejeluh.

    I got sideways looks from many of my fellow Christians for doing so. The unspoken rule was that you were not to use your mind in conjunction with Jesus. If absolutely insisted that you must there, here, Read some Josh Mcdowell. But don’t read the people he critiscizing to make you get an accurate picture of the other side’s views. I had to ignore that and read the other side anyway. At the end of the day, I still came out a Christian, but in my mind, a much stronger, better Christian.

  • flat

    I think Fred made a very important point when he said that Langteaux was first trying to pray away the gay, and after that: to gay away the pray but I don’t think that you can reach God either way.

    So he is gonna need both I think, but that is a personal matter between him and God.

  • Robyrt

     Generally, the 700 Club set sees homosexuality as actively harmful to its practitioners and to society, which creates a legitimate basis for disapproving of it in someone else. There are a lot of things we begrudge others while eschewing for ourselves, like criminal acts. This isn’t really a your-relationship-with-God issue, I think, it’s a disagreement on the facts.

  • http://heathencritique.wordpress.com/ Ruby_Tea

    If absolutely insisted that you must there, here, Read some Josh Mcdowell.

    Heh…speaking of painful and messy…

  • Carstonio

    Fundamentalists caring if gays are harming themselves? Oh, please. These are the same people who practically danced for joy when AIDS appeared. I might describe the claim that gays are harming society as based on grossly misogynistic assumptions about gender roles. But even that gives people like Tony Perkins too much credit. The column that Fred cites in condemning Perkins shows that this claim is a deliberate lie based in hatred. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Charity-Brighton/100002974813787 Charity Brighton

     Well, that’s the way they word it. They claim that homosexuality hurts gay people and those connected to them. They sometimes claim that gay people are more likely to abuse children, are worse parents even if they aren’t abusive, and are otherwise detrimental society. Many of them are lying, and the rest are just deluded jerks, but those are their beliefs.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Generally, the 700 Club set sees homosexuality as actively
    harmful to its practitioners and to society, which creates a legitimate
    basis for disapproving of it in someone else.

     

    Which would create a legitimate basis for disapproving of it in
    someone else IF they could point to any indication of homosexuality
    and/or gay sex doing any actual harm, you mean. Which
    they can’t. (The only thing I can come up with which might be close is the ease of HIV transmission via m/m sex, but there are many many ways to transmit HIV and the most common one is f/m sex, and anyway transmission of HIV via f/f sex is really rare, so a blanket condemnation of gay sex this is not. Blanket condemnation of unprotected sex, and of people who know they’re HIV+ having sex without first informing their partner of the HIV+ness, but not of gay sex.)

    Instances where the harm is done by other people’s negative
    attitudes towards the person in question being gay and/or having gay
    sex, rather than the harm being done by the person in question being gay and/or having gay
    sex, contradict their point rather than supporting it.

  • Hexep

    I can think of no better answer to this than the one already given by Our Author:
    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2008/03/21/lb-the-pope-of/ 

    Specifically:
    The fundies’ white-knuckled anxiety — their barely repressed doubts and their fear that their faith may be a house of cards that would crumble if exposed to the wider world — seems to be spreading to other branches of the evangelical movement. That’s the predictable result of adding weird mythologies to one’s faith. The fundies convinced themselves that if the world is any older than 10,000 years then Jesus doesn’t love them. Thus they have to avoid all exposure to science. Evangelicals are trying to convince themselves that homosexuality is a choice and that the invasion of Iraq was God’s Will. Like the fundies, they have welded these ideas to the bearing walls of their faith, so that if they are not true, then nothing is true. They thus find themselves, like the fundies, having to avoid exposure to an awful lot of the real world around them.

    I don’t know how to italicize.  But I don’t think I would, even if I could.  Let’s not discuss it.

  • Carstonio

    The claim that they honestly believe those things about homosexuality and gay people is highly questionable. At best, they could be the type of panicked rationalizations involved with acrophobia or claustrophobia. But that wouldn’t even come close to describing the folks at the Family Research Council, whose lies are obviously planned and calculated.

  • AnonymousSam

    A lot of such lies can be summed up with one explanation: They might not believe it, but someone, somewhere, undoubtedly will.

  • Tricksterson

    I suspect that many homphobes are still in denial that AIDS is spread by heterosexual sex.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     Just a few months ago some or other republican lawmaker claimed that heterosexual transmission was almost impossible ‘because” AIDS started with “some gay airline pilot having sex with a monkey or something.”

  • Carstonio

    Comedian Sam Kinison, not the most tolerant of people where gay men were concerned, mentioned a similar theory, and I wondered if he came up on his own.

  • Tricksterson

    Kinison was, IIRC a child preacher before he became a raunchy comedian so that’s probably where he got it.

  • Tricksterson

    Yup, checked it he was a Pentacostalist preacher.  Well into adulthood too.  He didn’t become a comedian until after his first divorce.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Timothy.Kincaid.LA Timothy Kincaid

     It amazes me when people shelter themselves from ever hearing anything that might challenge their beliefs, and still call it “faith in God”.  Faith is when you are willing to seriously consider what others say knowing that God will guide you – even if he guides you to something you don’t believe today (as you discovered).

    What they have isn’t faith in God, it’s cowering in dogma.


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