On a recent evening I read a book by a distant relative that told the story of her life and that of her husband as missionaries. I was troubled by it. Both of them as teenagers had received the Grace of God and had established a clear purpose for their lives together.
For many years I was denied that Grace simply because of who I was. I was told that I had to repent of the sin of homosexuality. I fully admit that I did not accept that denial very graciously and followed a self-destructive path because of my frustration and rejection. How much of the failure was due to my selfish preoccupation with my situation and how much was due to the rejection by the church? I don’t know, and a this point in my life it doesn’t matter for I was side-tracked for a very long time.
What was Jesus’ message about the poor, the despised and down trodden? It was acceptance and renewal. Why has the church for so long accepted the cultural mores of the day and not heeded his message? Because in its doctrine homosexuality was the only unforgivable sin that was beyond redemption, ergo “love the sinner and hate the sin.” Unfortunately, for decades most of the emphasis has been on the hate (and all the consequences of that) and very little on the love.
So much energy has been wasted in the decades of discord and disputation that has divided Christians on this issue, who see their differences as irreconcilable. Supposedly the dispute is about how we read the Bible. The history of the church is full of disputes over theology and doctrine that frequently spilled over into outright war. Of course, the differences in dogma in most cases really were about struggles for economic and political power rather than over spirituality.
The memoir that I wrote was not so much to justify my decisions, which often were wrong, but to offer an example of the struggle that most gays and lesbians encounter in trying to reconcile their beliefs and their personalities. If you can’t change who you are, and the church tells you that you have to repress those feelings then it only can lead to desperation and sometimes death. Fortunately I did not try suicide (as so many other teenagers have done when faced with similar situations), but I did struggle and did not cope very effectively.
So much of the discussion in recent years has been about promoting gay rights as the next step to a more fully inclusive and democratic America rather than about the stance of the church. Some denominations has searched their doctrines and have decided to become more welcoming and inclusive, but mine has not. So why not just go somewhere else where I would be welcome? Because I was raised in my church, and I can not abandon it even though it conveys a second-class status upon me. I want to help my church to grow — not through argument and division —but through genuine love and acceptance. Tolerance is a very grudging and unforgiving word. I don’t want to be tolerated; I want to be accepted for who I am.