I commonly say I never knew there was such a thing as homosexuality until I got to college. Until then, I just vaguely thought there were tomboys and sissies. Now nearly a half-century since I started college, I struggle to remember when I first had an awareness or knew someone who was gay. If my memory is correct, I first became aware of the general struggle of those who were gay before I actually knew anyone who was gay.

Over the years, I could come to know gays and lesbians. Like most of us, we knew them first as friends, acquaintances, classmates or family members before we knew they were gay. So, with it coming in that order, we were disarmed. Each of us could compile quite a list of people we know who are gay and we would be struck immediately about how normal, likable and acceptable they are. For me, through the broad blessings of experiences, including travel, education, reading, meeting so many people, it was only natural to be fully accepting and to champion their cause. In more than 40 years of very active church work, I have never taken the side of those who would exclude our gay brothers and sisters from the full opportunities we heterosexuals enjoy.

As a Presbyterian, I have been ashamed at our denomination’s alarmingly slow willingness to come around to allowing gays to be ordained as pastors, elders and deacons. We are not there yet, but headway has been made in recent years — and all too many have bolted the denomination with our moving to inclusion of our gay brothers and sisters.

Needless to say, the Presbyterian Church (USA), like other denominations, has lost many members because of its stubborn restrictions and cautious steps toward opening leadership to all regardless of sexual orientation. I just finished reading an eye-opening, 62-page booklet published in 2004 titled “Far From Home: Tales of Presbyterian Exiles,” written by Alice V. Anderson and published by the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, a leading movement to end sexuality bias in the denomination.

The booklet contains 37 accounts by 40 people who had been nurtured early on in the Presbyterian Church and who had found it to be their spiritual home until they could no longer endure the doors shut in their faces as they revealed they were gay. Most sought authenticity instead of lives in the closet. Their prayers of longing to be straight or psychological therapy or toughening it out didn’t transform them to what they were “supposed to be.” Many were heartily supported by sympathetic church members and leaders, but rules against ordination of practicing gays and discrimination of those intentionally celibate were too much.

As a result there has been a massive drain of supremely educated, justice-minded, competent Presbyterian pastors or candidates mostly to the United Church of Christ or to the Metropolitan Community Churches, both of which are long past the discrimination and marginalization of gay people. The Episcopal Church has been another magnet. I was very moved by the one- or two-page personal accounts of their journeys. All were eminently faithful to the call of God to serve his Church. Some got well into their careers as closeted pastors or ones who had not fully come to terms with their gay leanings until midlife in some cases.

Here are some statements pulled from the booklet:
–Emily Hassler: “The PC(USA) is wounded by sinful judgementalism. It makes it lose creative, lovely people.”
— John Gage spoke before 350 gathered presbyters “and told them, ‘Thanks. You’ve taught me so much. I now have to say goodbye because you will not challenge me to grow in this gift of ministry in the same way as you do my heterosexual colleagues.”
–Kurt Wieser: “The Presbyterian Church had the audacity to say ‘no’ to the call given me by God and to the nature given me by God. I was complicit in saying ‘no’ to God by remaining in an institutional church that opposed me and denied the authenticity of my sense of call.”
–Dean Plusquellec: “I feel the denomination as a whole is not welcoming to progressive thinkers. It has become very narrow.”

My Tempe church undertook a discernment process across several years, with the congregation invited to classes, to hear special speakers, read materials and hold hearty conversation about homosexuality. (That exercise earned University Presbyterian of Tempe a city MLK Day Diversity Award in 2000.) I suspect we lost a few members as a result of our growing openness and acceptance. I believe we are a healthier church because inclusion is so fundamental to who we are. Some of our sister churches, however, resist acceptance, citing selected scripture and drawing strength from like-minded congregations and their pastors. So we take up sides while still trying to be congenial. But one by one, we lose churches from the denomination over the homosexual issue. Better to lose those churches from our alliance than to betray our gay brothers and sisters.

How often I think that people in their heart of hearts really do believe two humans have every right to entrust their lives fully to one another. Reasoning and fairness are stopped by the constraints of group think and the tyranny of having to share a common position or become an outcast. Many, no doubt, harbor feelings and opinions that would be heresy to their group if voiced. Honesty is the casualty.

We are certainly heartened with younger generations being fully accepting of gays and to be accepting of gay marriage, etc. There’s no stopping the movement. Conservatives won’t be able to turn the tide. With 10 states now allowing marriage equality, it is clear momentum grows to make it nationwide. We have to believe the U.S. Supreme Court and Chief Justice John Roberts are watching. Will they be on the side of justice, history and social reform or just end up offering a wrenching Dred Scott-sort of ruling that only delays the inevitable? Justice delayed is justice denied, but we have confidence that eventually we’ll join an ever-increasing world (France, Canada, Norway, Spain, Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand and others) in allowing all people to live out who they are and who they want to love.

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