Twenty-two years ago I was the thirty-nine-year-old Rector of a theologically and socially conservative parish.
We were about to be rocked in our view of the world and our understanding of how to read the Bible. Our understanding of our faith and what it might mean to faithfully apply our theology in the real circumstances of peoples’ lives faced a serious challenge. A few of us would survive the journey together; many others felt compelled to seek a different community in which to embody their faith.
For me, the journey had begun in 1992/93 with a personal crisis that shook my own faith. But the journey took a leap forward in the summer of 1994. In August I described in my journal an encounter that marked a turning point.
As the Anglican church again impales itself on the how we relate to people in same-gender relationships, it seems worth revisiting the incident that deepened the sea-change in my own understanding of faith, myself, my theology, and the church.
Here is that story:
(nb: Keep in mind this was written 22 years ago; there are places now where I would not express myself exactly as I did in this writing.)
August 1994 –
We arranged to meet for lunch. I met him at his work; we drove to a local park and shared a simple picnic in the sun. I have known for a long time this conversation was inevitable. If it hadn’t been here at this time with this person it would have been somewhere else at another time with someone else caught in the same bewildering dilemma.
So many of my easily settled certainties lately had been coming a little unglued. It seemed more and more difficult to separate what was essential to my faith from those convictions which were merely a reflection of the cultural expression of that faith in which I had been nurtured for the last fifteen years. But surely I was not going to have to rethink even the beliefs I held so firmly about human sexuality.
It is so much easier to hold convictions about other peoples’ lives when we don’t actually know those people. It is true I had been acquainted in the past with individuals who identified themselves as homosexual. But, I had seldom known anyone intimately who belonged to this sub-culture of our society. Now, here I was sharing cream cheese and tomato on home made bread with someone who was telling me that he had concluded, after years of painful struggle, that he was a homosexual person.
I respect and care about this person. By any definition he is someone I would view as a Christian. I know he desires to walk faithfully the path upon which he believes Jesus has set his feet. I know that this individual struggles to be faithful and authentic in his Christian life. And yet here he was telling me that, for whatever reasons, he believed himself to be homosexual.
Over our lunch he said that for as long as he could remember he had been homosexual. He had sincerely fought against this fact of his life, knowing it did not fit with the Christianity he had been taught. He had prayed for healing and longed for change. He had confessed his “sin” and received teaching and “deliverance” in an attempt to “cure” this “affliction.” There had been times when he thought he was “cured.” But then the old thoughts and desires returned. The familiar longings would resurface and disrupt the uneasy peace he thought he had reached.
He told me that, since he had begun to acknowledge and accept the person he now truly believed himself to be, he had experienced a freedom and a peace which he had never before known. He had found new freedom in his life, new freedom to give and receive the precious gift of love. He had begun to experience a new openness in his life and a renewed sense of hope that he might find greater wholeness and integration in his relationships.
So much of what he said about this new beginning sounded like the very thing Jesus wanted for those he encountered in his earthly ministry. Here was an individual who for years had experienced life as a desperate trap. He had lived with a sense of bondage, with a hopelessness that led often to despair. Now he was beginning to experience new life. He was feeling free for the first time and was enjoying a peace within himself which he had never imagined possible. He sensed a new depth of relationship, a new creativity, and a new excitement and hope in the acceptance of the life which he had come to believe was his true heritage.
How could I sit across from this sincere, honest individual and say, “What you are telling me is sin”?
What right do I have to demand that this person repent of something he honestly believes has brought such good and godly fruit into his life? How could I sit in judgement upon this person’s life? How could I even dare to hint to him that my experience of life is more true, more authentic, and more godly than his own most deeply felt experience of his own life?
Is it really my role to try to destroy this person’s hope and send him back to the endless struggle to be something he sincerely believes is a contradiction of his entire being? Who will be hurt if this person establishes a stable relationship for life with someone he genuinely loves?
If I dash this person’s confidence in his new found life, what guarantee of “healing” and hope do I have to offer in its place?
It is stunning that two decades later, we are still having this conversation. We live in a culture in which this issue was settled over ten years ago. Canadian society is never going to reverse its acceptance of gay marriage.
Children and young people are growing up today in a world in which people in same-gender relationships are free to celebrate their lifelong commitment to one another in exactly the same way as heterosexual couples, except in most Christian churches where they still face restrictions. It is difficult to see how this remains a battle worth fighting.
What grievous harm would be done if I were able today to preside at a sacramental celebration of a same-gender couples’ pledge to lifelong faithfulness with one another instead of sending them away from their church to be married by the state?