I was part of a two-session panel discussion about the church and homosexuality a couple of weeks ago. One of the speakers was Jack Rogers, author of Jesus, the Bible, And Homosexuality: Explode the Myths, Heal the Church; the other speaker was a good friend of mine, a gay man who is retired Presbyterian clergy; and then there was me–a lesbian Presbyterian elder. This took place at a local Presbyterian-related retirement community, and was organized by one of the residents there (whose children include a lesbian daughter).
I have participated in a number of LGBT-related speaking gigs over the years. The first one was in 1974, shortly after I came out, speaking to a group of students at a private alternative high school in Sonoma County… basically, a bunch of kids who had grown up at peace demonstrations and love-ins. A pretty easy group, even with teen-age awkwardness about anything to do with sexuality.
Retired Presbyterian clergy are pretty well divided on this subject. Those who came to listen to us skewed toward the supportive side.
One thing I have found to be true whenever and wherever I have spoken or otherwise self-identified as queer: people want to share their stories. They tell me of friends, neighbors, co-workers, family members, and occasionally themselves. There is so much negativity in the church as a whole that people have the need to talk, but they fear the reaction that they will encounter. People need a safe space in which to share.
Since this event took place, I have had several people quietly buttonhole me to tell me their stories. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a gay or lesbian child who, for all intents, just didn’t exist in public conversations. And not because the parent is ashamed of their offspring, but because they don’t want the reaction to their loved one to be negative, to hear the words of condemnation that some people think are okay to speak–because “the Bible says so.”
That brings me to part two of the discussion, which took place this past week. The two speakers were a psychologist who is a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary (and a Methodist), and a local Presbyterian pastor. The first speaker went on and on and on, apparently an “abbreviated” version of a presentation he had made at the California-Pacific Methodist Conference this summer; he went on for well over an hour. It was all of the vitriolic hate-speech that I’ve heard before in the church. He even decided it was okay to graphically describe a particular sexual practice to a bunch of 70- and 80-year-old retired clergy and missionaries.
If someone had spoken this way in the corporate world, they would be disciplined–or fired! But in the church, it’s somehow become acceptable to talk this way.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” And Jesus replies, “‘You shall love God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” –Matthew 22
My friend who had coordinated these sessions was serving as the host of the event. After he had introduced the speakers, he sat up at the front of the room facing the assembled audience. I kept watching his face throughout the presentation. And I felt so sorry for him. At least I was sitting with my friend and co-presenter from the previous session, and he and I could make little quiet remarks to one another to ease the tension.
After they were finished speaking there was little time for Q&A, because the first speaker had gone on for so long. But that was okay, because there didn’t seem to be many questions that people wanted to ask anyway. And then there was the inevitable after-event gathering, where people of like mind and heart checked in with one another. I had yet another person “come out” to me as a parent of a gay man (another who will have nothing to do with the church…).
It’s too bad that the speakers, the Christian homophobes, weren’t able to witness the consequences of their hate-speech. I don’t know if it would make any difference to them–because they truly feel that they are on the side of the Bible. But it isn’t the case that they would see the consequences of their actions.
I can’t see any way that Jesus–the God of love come to us in human form, the advocate for the downtrodden and the outsiders–would be pleased with this.