How I Got Here
Where I Am Now
This post has been more difficult to write than I would have guessed. And it’s because I really don’t know where I’m going. Yet.
Let me back up a little bit and tell you what I’ve done in the past year. I was privileged last fall to attend a talk presented by Jack Rogers, retired theology professor at San Francisco Theological Seminary and former moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA. He is the author of Jesus, the Bible, and Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church. He talked about the recent scholarly studies that examine the contextual meaning of the passages in the Bible that mention homosexuality—and how those studies changed his viewpoint. I highly recommend this book for those who need assurance that the Bible does not at all condemn same-sex relationships*.
The audience—consisting primarily and interestingly of men in their forties and women in their fifties and sixties—were gathered in tables of six for discussion. At my table were two gay men and four straight women. Our group leader was the son of a pastor; his partner of twenty years was the leader at another table. They have a nine-year-old daughter and appeared very much content with their circumstances and who they are. The other man at our table clearly was there for affirmation. He teared up several times as we talked about loving acceptance. What a crime that he had to find it among strangers. What a gift that he could find it among strangers. He grasped my hand as we were leaving and thanked me profusely for being there. My gosh. My heart aches for him and those like him who hurt so much.
This spring I learned from the Bilerico website that a seminar was being held locally about how to address the public about LGBT issues in a way that is noninflammatory. At that OUTSpoken seminar, I met a woman who said there was someone else I needed to meet. That friend is a member of a Presbyterian church in Columbus, IN, and she is taking her church through the process of becoming open and affirming. In addition to pointing me to dozens of resources, she told me about the Welcoming Church conference I recently attended in Ohio.
I am empowered by my experience in Ohio. I believe I can begin to help my church become intentionally welcoming to the LGBT community. It will be an incredibly slow process, given the starting place. That’s okay; bulldog perseverence is one quality that’s served me well over the years—to some people’s exasperation, but hey. I liken this process to turning an aircraft carrier: it takes a huge amount of energy to turn the rudder, and then the ship eventually, ever s-l-o-w-l-y, turns. But it does turn.
Within that conference I had an eye-opening experience. One of the activities in which we participated was a role-playing exercise. Each of us was given a description of the committee member we would portray to discuss whether “our church” should form a task force to create a statement of welcome. (Read that last sentence again. The discussion is about appointing another group to discuss it. Quite typical of my experience in church.)
My character was a closeted gay man who was afraid of being discovered and, as a result, being excluded from the church community where he was currently welcomed. He wanted the task force to be formed but was afraid of the conflict that might be engendered. Our “committee chair” opened the discussion. I found it excruciating to try to express my opinion as a gay man who wanted to remain closeted. Every word had to go through the filter of “Would this reveal who I am?” I had to vet each sentence before I spoke, and as a consequence said little as conversation sped past me. I had strong opinions but I couldn’t find a way to express them without revealing myself. It was emotionally exhausting.
As time drew to a close, each of us at the table disclosed our characters. Cries of “You’re gay?!” came from just about everyone. I had succeeded in staying in the closet but at great cost to myself and to the process of moving “our church” forward. What a revelation.
I don’t pretend for a minute that I understand what it is to be gay; I would never presume such a thing. But I think I had a tiny glimpse for a few minutes of what so many men and women go through every minute of their lives. Some never escape that prison while others feel free only when removed from the general population. Let me profoundly apologize here for any role I have ever had in that sentencing, however ignorant I might have been. It’s time for the end of ignorance.
(By the way: the discussion exercise illustrated beautifully how traditional methods in the church will doom this effort to failure: “discussion” devolved quickly into heated arguments; not one person changed his mind about his stance; and absolutely no consensus was met on how to proceed further. We went on to practice the method that works, a way for all to be heard without rancor—an incredibly valuable experience.)
At each of the three events I’ve attended in the past year, my initial reaction upon arrival was the same every time: Where is everybody? Why are so few attending? This is not right. But we’ve got to start somewhere.
When I tell my story it is clear that there are people I meet along the way who affect the direction I take. They’ve been there in every pivotal moment of my life, and I call them signposts. As I stand at a crossroads, trying to decide which road to take, signposts point the way. So here I stand. I think I have a path to follow for my church, even if I have to hack away at the undergrowth with a machete. But which way should I go for you? What would you have me say or do? Every single one of you who reads this blog and comments is a signpost to me. (And if you’re a lurker, I welcome your email.) So:
Which way should I go?
*For the same message using the same sources but less-formal language, read The Children Are Free: Reexamining the Biblical Evidence on Same-sex Relationships by Rev. Jeff Minor and John Tyler Connoley.
Postscript: David recommends Wrestling With God & Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition as an excellent book for Jews interested in learning more about faith and sexuality.