Today, I choose to tell the story of how my mind has changed. I was not always a supporter of the full inclusion of LGBTQ folks in the life of the church. For me, I hoped I always lived with an element of compassion toward this group of people and believed that they had a place in the church, but that place stopped when it came to positions of leadership. I believed that same-sex relationships stood outside the accepted Christian norm of what was permissible for those in leadership positions.
My compassion was rooted in two things. My understanding of the gospel as a vehicle of love and grace, not judgement and condemnation. And my friendship in college with a gay student. We were at a very conservative Christian college thirty years ago where he had to keep his orientation a secret. We became close enough that he revealed it to me and I kept his secret with him. I saw firsthand his difficult struggle and witnessed the lie he had to live. I watched the look on his face when “gay jokes” were told. I know he experienced deep pain at times and he struggled with feelings of loneliness and isolation even in a large Christian community. On the other hand, my hesitation toward full inclusion was also influenced by two matters. One was my understanding of the scriptures. Though, I would acknowledge it was mentioned rarely, and never by Jesus, the seven times that same-sex behavior was discussed, I understood it to be in a non-approving way. Second, was my personal inability to understand same-sex attraction. I just didn’t get it.
I was able to live with this “welcoming but not affirming” understanding for quite some time and even viewed myself as somewhat of a progressive on the matter. The change started happening when a young gay man asked to be ordained by the regional church that I was part of, a region that expressly forbid the ordination of “avowed and practicing homosexuals.” A rather quick, awkwardly planned, and loosely understood Regional Discernment process was put into place. What it ended up doing was kicking the can further down the road to a more fully formed Regional Discernment Process. It was a process I was asked to co-chair along with another pastor in the region. Participating in that process was a long five year commitment. Though that process had too many parts to mention in this post. It was during that five years that my mind began to change. Here are a few of the specific things that happened that changed my mind.
1) I could no longer reconcile my understanding of scripture with a negative view of homosexuality. Scripture is not primarily a rule book full of do’s and don’ts. Scripture is a story about God’s love for all creation. A love most fully known in Christ, who not only did not mention the matter, but always welcomed into his circle those who had been pushed to the edges of society. If I interpret the scriptures through my faith in Jesus, I can’t come up with any understanding other than that of full inclusion for LGBTQ folk.
2) I met too many especially talented gay and lesbian people who loved the church and wanted to serve it fully. I met numerous persons who were in lifelong committed relationships with a person of the same gender. Their relationships were of a mutual love and reciprocal caring. The only difference between them and a heterosexual couple was the matter of gender. At this point, I began to realize it was more important how we loved than who we loved.
3) The book, “Middlesex,” played probably the most important role in my change of mind for it dealt with issue of intersex people. Though the book was the fictional account of someone whose gender from birth was not distinguishable, I was gripped by the things I learned. I was also driven by this book to look at matters from a scientific perspective where I learned that 1 in every 1,500 births has some biological problem with gender identity. I decided, that if gender can be non-determinative biologically, then there are psychological and emotional aspects to gender that are difficult to understand as well. “Middlesex” helped me “to get” what I didn’t get for a lot of years.
So this is a very brief story of how and why my mind has changed. How has it changed my ministry? In every congregation I have served I have tried to address the matter of human sexuality both from the pulpit and the classroom. Since, I save all my sermons and class material I went back and researched my offerings on this matter. You can see a clear progression in my work from “welcoming but not affirming” to “open and affirming.” In my previous congregation I led a four week study that looked at the matter of homosexuality and the Christian faith from a personal perspective, an understanding of scripture, what science has to say about the matter and finally what kind of community should we be as people who follow Jesus. More than forty people attended the class and we had a healthy and healing conversation that I think influenced the understanding of many folk.
I know it is likely that many of the people who might read this article have already made the journey toward full inclusion, but there might be some who haven’t. I told my story for the latter. I could no longer understand my Christian faith as one that excluded people who wanted to be part of the body of Christ and be fully accepted for who they were created to be. I believe changing my mind on this matter has drawn me closer to following the one I call Lord. And my prayer is that my friend from college found a church that could love him fully for who he is.