Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Confessions of a Recovering Homophobe

My dear brothers and sisters,

I wrote the following essay on another blog nearly two years ago. As I read it over, I realize that it may cause pain to my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. However, it is an honest account of my growth and change in the way I regard gays and lesbians. The main point I'd like to make is that people can grow and change if they allow themselve to be open to the movement of God's Spirit. Here is the essay with minor editing. Before you read, remember that I wrote this two years ago, and that where I was then is not where I am now. The work of God's Spirit continues.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Confessions of a Recovering Homophobe

I was one of your garden-variety closet homophobes. I was not a gay basher, I wished gays and lesbians well; my encounters with them were cordial when our paths crossed. Along the way, I worked with and was casually friendly with a couple of gay men, whom I found to be quite simpatico. Of course, back then, they were in the closet - more or less; I knew that they were gay, but we never talked about it. I felt toward them a vague sort of "otherness", even though I liked them a lot. I saw them as having a kind of shadow hanging over them.

In August of 2003, as the Episcopal Church met at the 74th General Convention, the issue that took center stage was the vote on whether to consent to the consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. The people of the state had chosen Robinson, a gay man, who was in a committed relationship with another man, to be their bishop. My bishop voted against giving consent to Robinson's consecration as bishop. The motion to give consent passed, and Gene Robinson was subsequently consecrated Bishop of New Hampshire. At the time, I agreed with my bishop's vote; non-celibate gays and lesbians should not be ordained bishops. I did not think they should be priests, unless they were committed to lifelong celibacy. However, I could not quite put aside the thought that the Episcopalians in New Hampshire had chosen Robinson to be their bishop, and why shouldn't they have him?

As the controversy continued to swirl around, I decided to search out the references to homosexual behavior in the Bible. The source that I found most helpful was from the website of Loren L. Johns, a Mennonite. (The link to the source is no longer active.)  The Gospels, which, to me, are the heart of the Bible, are, as you know, silent on the subject of homosexual practice. Either Jesus did not mention it, or the writers of the Gospel did not think it important enough to include in their accounts of his life and teachings.

After the convention, on the local level, there was a good bit of unrest, much argument back and forth, and I soon became uncomfortable with all the focus on the private sex life of Gene Robinson. It began to seem prurient to me. Folks would say, "Do you realize what 'they' do?" I would answer, "No, I don't; do you know what Gene Robinson and his partner do? Have they told you in detail what they do?" None of the other bishops were subject to this kind of scrutiny of their private lives, so I thought that we should just let Gene Robinson's private life remain private, that it was none of my business. I don't know what he or anyone else does in private, and I don't want to know.

Think about this: it was not people who were in favor of the consecration of Gene Robinson who brought me over to their side by their persuasive arguments. The folks with whom I basically agreed were the ones who pushed me to the other side, because I was put off by their intrusiveness into the sex lives of consenting adults. I could not stand with them, so where did I go?

By the grace of God, and in a rather astonishing evolution - to me anyway - I have come to take a totally different view of gays and lesbians, not to see them as "other", but as human beings like me. In my own church, I see the contribution my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters make. I use the phrase "recovering homophobe", because I believe that prejudices do not die easily.

When Gene Robinson's name is mentioned in the media, it is often, "Gene Robinson, the practicing homosexual bishop." The phrase "practicing homosexual" becomes an ever-present appendage to his name. I see it as an affront to me to have Robinson's sex life thrust upon me every time his name is mentioned. Our local diocesan newspaper not only used this phrase, but did not even bother to use Robinson's name. He was just "the practicing homosexual bishop of New Hampshire"; he who is not to be named, I suppose. I asked the editor of the newspaper either to refer to other bishops as "practicing heterosexuals", or to stop using the phrase with Robinson.

As to the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, I'll leave that between God and the Christian homosexuals to work out. I believe this: we are all sinners. I believe the church is for sinners, for the lost sheep. Jesus said in Luke 5:32, "I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

21 comments:

  1. "...it was not people who were in favor of the consecration of Gene Robinson who brought me over to their side by their persuasive arguments. The folks with whom I basically agreed were the ones who pushed me to the other side."

    I think that this is a very important point, and why, when I bump into ad hominem attacks, stereotyping, hatred from the "progressives", I have to call it out. Those that oppose us do all the dirty work. Why get muddy? Why become a mirror image of that which you oppose?

    For a blogger who had no plans to blog, you're a damn fine one, Grandmére. You're #2! I can hardly wait until you write something with which I don't agree!

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  2. Actually, KJ, I posted this in fear and trembling of offending folks I've come to know and like very much through these tubes of the internets. It's quite true that I've come a far distance since I wrote those words two years ago, but that's material for another post.

    Thank you for your very kind words. You can't know how much they mean to me.

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  3. Grandmère Mimi, even though I do not agree with you, you write with such gentleness and grace about your convictions that I cannot imagine anyone ever being offended by your words.

    Furthermore, I think that this sort of writing is far more likely to engage folk like me in constructive dialogue than the more strident sort of attacks - of which, I'm sorry to say, I've contributed far more than I care to remember, to my shame.

    Keep on writin', and we'll keep on comin' - as KJ says, for someone who never intendeed to be a blogger, you're a damn fine one!

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  4. Thanks, Tim. I'ts likely that we have more in common than you and I know, and we must keep talking, despite the disagreements.

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  5. (((Mimi)))

    See, you prove to me that the Holy Spirit is alive and well and dwelling among us.

    What a blessing you are!

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  6. My dear, Eileen, thank you. You are a blessing to me, too, and you make me laugh. I love it when you join in my nonsense and fantasies at MadPriest's place.

    I am adding you to my blogroll, which, no doubt, will draw a host of readers to your site.

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  7. Gettin' ready for my blogmeter to start spinning!

    You are already on mine, and I can see the deluge of people that are now flocking here!

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  8. Ah, (((Mimi))). You are such a lovely woman. I am glad to know you here and at MadPriest's place.
    I wish I were close to you so we could have red beans and rice and maybe some coffee with chickory.
    Perhaps I shall take a train ride into the Deep South some day soon. There's something about the humidity that grows good folks! And it's good for the skin, too. ;-)

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  9. Grandmére,

    I have received an e-mail from Grandpére. He's wondering what a fellow has to do around your house to get a decent meal anymore.

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  10. Mimi,
    Thank you for posting this 2005 essay.

    I can't imagine how anyone could be offended, but I know what you mean by posing it "in fear and trembling of offending" your friends.

    Allen

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  11. C'mon down, Susan.

    KJ, tell Grandpère that to get a decent meal, he has to cook. Actually, he already knows that and does most of the cooking now. I raised my family on hot meals every day, cooked by me, for twenty-something years. Take-outs and fast food were a rare treat, because we could not afford them for a family of five. I got little respite from the kitchen for many years.

    A few years ago, I retired from regular cooking. I cook only when the mood strikes, which is not very often.

    Allen, thank you for understanding. I did, after all, come out of the closet as a recovering homophobe, and I was worried about the response.

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  12. Ho - what was I thinking - busy here chatting instead of adding Grandmère Mimi to my 'long distance blogging friends' list.

    It's done. And I hope my list will increase dialogue, as it includes people on all sides of the current disagreements in the Anglican world!!!

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  13. And, I should add, some who aren't Anglicans at all!

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  14. I appreciate your journey, having been on a similar one myself some years ago. I appreciate the honesty and gentle nature of your writing. Looking forward to hearing more of your thoughts.

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  15. Mimi, you're lovely! Adopt me please... ;)

    xoxoxo

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  16. Mumcat, thank you.

    Luiz, you are already mon cher petit-fils adopté, and you are très doux yourself.

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  17. I've just started reading your "Confessions", and I wanted to thank you for having the courage to write them. You give me hope again. (and after reading that disgusting Virtue post I needed some)

    Tikkun Olam!

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  18. This is a great series of posts.
    I like your statement about the soft intervention.

    It is all about personalizing minorities. Once we get past the nameless, faceless "other", and meet individuals, it is a world of difference.

    Thank you for recognizing that we are all God's children -- he wouldn't make people queer if he didn't love them! :P

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  19. PadreRob and Alexandra, thank you. I have not read this series since soon after I posted them. I tried to read them the other day, and I had to stop, because I have changed so since I wrote them. They made me cringe.

    However, I'm pleased that you found them worthwhile. What I found transformative for me was hearing the stories of GLTB folks, and I've heard so many more stories since I wrote those pieces, that I'm a long way from where I was then.

    Thanks again.

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  20. Grandmére, I printed out and read your Confessions, and I wanted to thank you for this essay.

    I grew up near Thibodaux (and sometimes Baton Rouge) in a good Catholic family. While none of my immediate family could be considered homophobes, there was such an overwhelming culture of homophobia in the area.

    When I was in my mid-20s, I had to face up to the hard fact that I was a lesbian, and that I was never going to fit in with what was considered right and proper in South Louisiana culture.

    I had a choice. I could leave, or I could die. I'm not being melodramatic--my desire for suicide during that time was much higher than my desire for life. Even if I had stayed alive physically, living such a closeted, self-hating existence would have killed me slowly.

    Much has changed since the early 90s when I left Louisiana. In some ways, gays have become more accepted and understood. I am openly gay at my workplace, and my partner is considered my spouse by my company and my coworkers.

    However, hatred against gays has not let up--in fact, in some ways, the strides we have made have served to polarize the two sides into even greater extremes.

    One of the groups (here in Kentucky and back in Louisiana) that always had the worst problem with homosexuality was Christians. It wasn't just my lesbianism that cause me to leave the Christian faith (I had many problems with Catholicism and Christianity in general), but I certainly wasn't made to feel welcome because of it.

    Reading this--you are so obviously Christian and so obviously decent--reading this gives me hope. Not that gays will be accepted completely in my lifetime--I'm not that delusional.

    But with people like you out there, speaking frankly and compassionately, removing the labels and reminding your readers that we're all just people...I have hope.

    Thank you for your courage in posting this. I'm very glad I found your blog.

    PS: I don't get gay Republicans, either. Seriously--what are they thinking?

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  21. Debbie, thank you so much for your comment.

    I can only imagine what it was like growing up around here. I recently met a young lesbian woman who is originally from Thibodaux. She is a singer and lived in New Orleans until Katrina and can't wait to get back to live there. At dinner, she told her story and cried while telling it. She has two gay brothers. Her very Catholic family finally came round once she told them, but it took about two years for them to adjust.

    Since I started my blog, I've heard so many stories similar to yours, and each one of them brings tears to my eyes. With one or two exceptions, they are not happy coming-of-age tales.

    For what it's worth, although Thibodaux is a nice enough town, I'd rather have been living in New Orleans, my home town, for all these years.

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