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 (The link to the source is no longer active.)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."