malcolm marler

on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Category: Homosexuality (page 1 of 2)

A More Radical Way

Selma MarchWhen I was as smart as most fifth graders in 1965 in Montgomery, AL, two of my heroes were Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Most everyone I knew shared the feelings for the former.

But I didn’t tell anyone about the latter when he led a march in March from my birthplace in Selma to my hometown in Montgomery.

Dr. King was one of my heroes because he was a Baptist preacher like my daddy, a preacher’s kid like me, and he believed that everyone should be treated with respect and loved because we were children of the Most High.  He taught that when someone hit you, don’t hit back, just like my daddy coached me in life.  And so I didn’t, at least as best I can remember.

My daddy also taught me about a man named Jesus.  And as I’ve grown older and become a preacher myself, I’ve realized just how radical this God Man Jesus was and is.

Luke 6:27-38

 ‘But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

 ‘If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

Wow.  That is radical stuff.

So when I say from my 30+ years of ministry with persons who are single, married, partnered, or divorced, straight, gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered, that all of us are children of the Most High, we may disagree.  But if you disagree with me, I cannot write you off.  For if we only seek those who agree with us in our faith, what credit is that to us?

For today our words can become our water canons, and our judgment of others our own path to condemnation.

With God’s help, let us choose to be more radical to listen, love, bless, pray, turn the other cheek, and give away what we have.  Otherwise, what credit is that to us?

Thank you for your patience, this is going to take awhile.

Loving the Sinner, Hating the Sin

Regardless who you are, I need and want to love you more.

Regarding hating the sin, I will reserve that for my own.

That will keep me busy.

Peace and grace to you, Malcolm

 

What Jesus Said About Homosexuality

Jesus said the following about homosexuality,  ”  .” That’s it, period.

Now Jesus did talk about heterosexuality, marriage, and divorce.  But that is another post.

If it were not for grace, we would ALL be in trouble.

Thanks be to God.

Dear Parents of Gay Children

I’ve been wanting to write this letter for a while. I have heard that some of your pastors, priests, rabbis, or imams have unfortunately misled you regarding your son or daughter’s sexual orientation.  We have made your burden heavier, not lighter.

As a clergy person, I want to apologize to you. I am very sorry.  We were wrong.

This issue reminds us of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s when we thought we were right to preach against integration.  We thought since our sacred text allowed slaves thousands of years ago, then we could ignore the rights of persons of color in our lifetime.  So we supported the laws that restricted where African Americans could eat or sleep or live, or whether or not they could be educated alongside our children or marry whom they loved.  We quoted the scripture out of context to support our views.  And even worse, many of us were silent, and we allowed others to speak for us.

And now we are doing it again. We have not listened carefully to the struggle or pain of your son or daughter.  We have only tried to change them.  We have ignored the grief in your heart.

We have used the Bible to exclude rather than to include, to incur guilt instead of grace.

We are afraid. We are afraid we will lose our jobs if we preach the truth.  We are afraid that some of our own family members, or even ourselves, are struggling with this issue.  We have not found the words in our vocabulary to speak of this issue with love and  grace.

So I ask you to remember these three things until we talk again:

1.  You did not cause your child to be gay.

2.  Your child is not choosing to be gay, it is who s/he was created to be.

3.  Your child has so many gifts that our world needs.  Love them for who they are, and teach them the same principles you would teach them if they were straight.  Be honest with your struggle and be vulnerable with them.  It will give you an opportunity to grow closer to one another.

God loves you and your child. Gay or straight, black or white, we are all in need of God’s grace.

I will write more in coming days when I have time.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Please pray for us, we need it too,

Malcolm

Abomination

samegendermarriageThis may be one of the most boring posts I have written on my blog Why?

I prefer to tell stories because I think we learn best from the experience of others, and God speaks to me clearest through interaction with others.  But, for years I have heard some of my Christian friends talk about what the Bible has to say about homosexuality.  This issue is ripping our churches apart in most Christian denominations.  It does not have to be so if we would be open to more light and less heat on the subject.

You have heard the words if you’ve grown up in a Christian church.  “Homosexuality is an abomination before God.”  Proof texting (a passage of Scripture used to prove a doctrine) all by itself is as dry as dust and holds no life-giving water for me.

So how do we take the Bible seriously without trying to make every word and each letter to be understood literally?  For me, there are three guidelines to interpreting and understanding what the Bible means to me:

1)  What does the scripture actually say in its full context (audience), and how is it consistent or inconsistent with how Jesus lived and what he taught?

2)  What have Christians said about the meaning of this passage through the ages (tradition) as I do not live my faith in isolation, and I do not have all the truth.

3) Based on my personal experience in the world, with the Spirit’s help, how can I spiritually discern or grow from this truth? In my Baptist upbringing, we called this way of thinking  “the priesthood of every believer.”  In other words, how do I use the brain God gave me to understand a spiritual truth?

I believe many of the people who say “what the Bible says about homosexuality” have never really studied the context of what is written. I have to admit I was one of them.  I did not read and study it myself for many years. I just chose the Bible verses that supported what I already believed, and repeated what I heard others say.  As I have grown older and have known hundreds of persons who are gay through my ministry, and have been exposed to a new way of understanding as a result, my beliefs have changed.

So, let me try to explain what I believe about the Leviticus 18 passage used by many Christians against gay folks.

What does this passage actually say? You can read the entire chapter for yourself here.

The “abomination” word is used in verse 22, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”  It also adds a penalty at Leviticus 20:13, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”  Few today would advocate the death penalty for all homosexuals, though there are a few.  So why have this sexual rule or ethic?  (Leviticus also says it is an abomination to eat shrimp or shellfish, all kinds of birds are forbidden, and the list goes on).   The context is important to understand.  In other words, I don’t know one Christian who lives by what Leviticus says, except when it supports the point they want to make.

It was the Jewish belief 3,000 years ago that everything to do about human life came from semen (women were not valued in the circle of life since there was no understanding of ovulation and eggs), in other words it all came from the guys only.  So to masturbate or have sex with another male (spilling semen without creating children) was considered murder because no child could be reproduced.  The future of the Jewish people depended on procreation, as it does for every ethnic group.

But there is no understanding here of mutual loving relationships between two males or two females.  It was all about procreation.  But to make the leap that couples who cannot or do not create children as a result of their sexual union disqualifies all of us heterosexual couples who have not been able to, or have chosen not to, have children in their relationships.  I would be in that list.

As a preacher’s kid growing up in Alabama, I remember some members of my father’s church quoting scripture to justify not allowing African Americans to worship in our church (as if they wanted to worship with us), or not allowing African Americans and white people to date, or God forbid, to marry whom they loved regardless of race.  The whole right to marry whom you love, regardless of race or gender, to me seems to be at least a civil (equal) right of every American in the same way that voting is.  They did the same in my seminary years when they wanted to forbid women to be pastors or priests.  But I get ahead of myself.

A minister friend of mine read my blog recently and wrote to me and said, “Malcolm, I appreciate the way you care for people who are homosexual showing them God’s love, but the overwhelming evidence of Scripture is so clear about how wrong that behavior is, when do you help them to see how wrong their lifestyle is?”

“I don’t,” I said without any inflection in my voice.  “I just love them the way I believe God does, and in the way that I want to be loved,” I added.  “I checked my job description when I came to work here in 1994 and I couldn’t find where it said I was supposed to straighten everyone out, so I try to avoid doing that,” I said with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek.

I am a third generation ordained Baptist minister.  I have been a minister on the staffs of Presbyterian, Southern Baptist, and United Church of Christ Congregational churches.  And now at this time in my life, I am a member of the Episcopal church.  Some people would see the last two sentences as evidence that I am confused about what I believe.  To me, hopefully it means I’m willing to be open to growing and learning from others.  I don’t have the last word about truth.

For me, this scripture is not about mutual loving, respectful, committed relationships between two adults.  It is about making sure there are enough children for the tribe to survive.

My experience in walking with hundreds of people who are gay is that I’ve never known one to say “I chose this way of being.” Rather it is the way they have always been.  The way they were created.  This is my experience in listening to them, maybe yours has been different.

The most loving thing I know to do is to encourage respectful, committed, loving relationships towards whomever he or she is attracted regardless of gender.

This blog is getting too long so I will stop for the day, and maybe add more later.

In the meantime, you can read ALL of the scriptures related to homosexuality in the Bible that most Christians reference:

  1. Leviticus 18 (today’s reading)
  2. Leviticus 20
  3. Genesis 19
  4. Judges 19
  5. Romans 1
  6. I Corinthians 6
  7. I Timothy 1

Want to read more?  I recommend a book called “Those Seven References: A Study of 7 References to Homosexuality in the Bible” by The Rev. John F. Dwyer.  There is also an excellent short booklet written by Mel White, “What the Bible Says – And Doesn’t Say, about Homosexuality.”

Thanks for any comments that you have.

Alan and Manny

This post fits in both series:  “One Christian Minister’s Response to Homosexuality,” and “The Alabama Heartsong Retreat.”

Alan Woellhart

Friendships change us. Alan Woellhart is one of those friends in my life.

I met Alan in 1993 when I was interviewing for my job at The 1917 (HIV/AIDS) Clinic at UAB.  He was on the Chaplain search committee, and a patient at the clinic.  Alan was also one of the instrumental figures in starting the Alabama Heartsong Retreat, and he is the only person in Heartsong’s history who has helped coordinate and attend all of the retreats since 1993.  An amazing accomplishment by itself.

Alan met Manny on July 4th weekend in 1993 and like many love stories, the two of them were a perfect fit for one another.  I observed the tenderness in the way they talked and listened to one another, and how thoughtful they were in their actions towards one another.  They were best friends, as well as partners in life.  Their personalities complimented one another.  They were quick to smile and laugh when in each other’s presence.

After dating for about a year, Alan asked, “Malcolm, I want to talk with you about something.  Manny and I want to get married and we were wondering if you would do the ceremony?”  It was the first time I had been asked by a gay couple to officiate at their wedding. In Alabama of course, this really meant a union “blessing” since they would not even receive civil rights of a married couple by the state.

I told Alan that I would be honored to participate in their wedding if the two of them would be open to pre-marital counseling.  After all, I had performed many weddings as a minister and had done pre-marital counseling with the heterosexual couples.  (Alan secretly told me later that he thought I was trying to find something in their relationship so that I could respectfully decline.)

I met four or five times with the happy couple who always held hands in my presence and we talked about finances, issues related to their families of origin, faith and its importance in their lives, communication skills, and more.  They were clear that they wanted to make a life long commitment to one another in front of family and friends.

The wedding was at Alan’s home in Jasper, AL. Most of the staff of The 1917 Clinic were present along with Alan’s family.  Some of the Catholic nuns who were friends from our previous Heartsong Retreats were also present to celebrate the day.  We all stood in the living room, shoulder to shoulder, face to face, for Alan and Manny to declare their vows before God, friends, and family.

I used the same service I had used for most weddings I had conducted with a few changes of pronouns in the vows.  The language changes were minor.  The reception afterwards was joyous and the food was delicious with smiles, hugs, music, and lots of laughter.

Alan even won his mother-in-law over in subsequent years and he became like another son to her.  He said, “after I painted her house and hung ceiling fans, she came around!”

And then one day Manny noticed blood in his urine and Alan took him to the doctor. After some tests, the diagnosis and prognosis were grim–renal cell carcinoma.  Treatment was scheduled but Manny’s health declined over the next year.

In 1996, Alan convinced Manny into coming to Heartsong with him.  The rest of the participants loved Manny and I will never forget Alan singing to Manny in the Wednesday night talent show.  They were inseparable.  Ironically, it was the year after I had been divorced and I wondered if I would ever have a love like the two of them shared.  They gave me hope.

Over the next year, Manny was hospitalized and there were times when Alan couldn’t see Manny in ICU when he was critical because medical staff stated that only his “family could see him.”  That just wasn’t right.

Both decided that Manny would be cared for at home in his last few months.  The extraordinary hours and tender loving care given to Manny by Alan were like couples I had visited in similar circumstances over the years.  I visited him at their home.

On September 19th, 1997, Manny died at home with Alan at his side.

I had the privilege and honor of conducting Manny’s wedding and his funeral.  It was the first time I had conducted the wedding and funeral for the same person within such a short period of time.

Understandably, it took Alan several years to work through his grief.  I remember that he came to Heartsong for the next couple of years and he hardly said a word the whole week.  His grief was almost too much to bear.  For all of us.

Finally, Alan became the sassy, no-nonsense guy so many of us knew him to be previously.  He began living again.  His faith was one of the things that made a difference.

Today, Alan has been HIV positive since 1989.  

Maybe now you can understand why I felt a lump in my throat this week when I was sitting across the table from Alan as we put together the 16th annual Heartsong Retreat starting on Monday .

I thank God for giving me friends like Alan Woellhart.

Friendships make a difference.  Alan sure has.

Part IX — My Coming Out Story

This is the ninth in a series on “One Christian Minister’s Response to Homosexuality.” (updated April 2013)

Mary and Malcolm, life partners

I have been wanting to say this publicly for most of my adult life, but I have been afraid to admit this to myself, to my loved ones and to my friends.  I was afraid what my family would think or say or do.  I did not want to hurt them.  I’ve always wanted them to be proud of me.  I’ve tried hard to be who they wanted me to be.   But, I have to be who I am, who I believe God created me to be.

I know that some of you have been wondering about my sexual orientation.  I have wanted to be truthful about my feelings from the time I went to seminary, became a pastor in rural Kentucky, and worked on the church staff of two churches full-time in Kentucky and Connecticut.  What I am trying to say is I know that at least a few of you have wondered if I am straight or gay for all of these years especially since I worked as a Chaplain in an HIV?AIDS clinic for 15 years.

So, during this month of my 31st anniversary of my ordination in full-time ministry, I have decided to come out of the closet.

Here goes.  Deep breath.

I am straight. There, I said it.  It is true, I am a heterosexual. While I prefer you refer to me as “straight,” I know others are more comfortable with the term “heterosexual” or “hetero.”  Either are better than some names I’ve heard.  Some of you are probably saying you knew it all along and it does not come as a surprise to you.  For others, I realize this may come as a shock and I hope and pray you will still love me regardless.  I am the same person you have known for all these years.  But from this day forward, I’m not looking back. I’m choosing to move forward as a child of God.

Maybe one of the easiest ways I can answer many of your questions is to just answer the TOP TEN questions I have been asked over the years.

1.  When did you first decide to become a heterosexual?

I knew in the first grade when I loved sitting by Andrea in our reading group in elementary school in Montgomery.   We even secretly told one another we were boyfriend and girlfriend, but neither of us knew what that meant so nothing happened.  I have felt this attraction towards girls for as long as I can remember.

2.  What do you think caused you to be a heterosexual?

Now that I am in my 50′s, I see life differently than I when I was younger.  I look back and believe God created me to be a “hetero.”   I always had a very close relationship with my mother.  Tragically she died when I was ten and I used to think I was maybe straight because I’ve always wanted to love a woman the way I loved her, since she was the center of my universe. But now I know that her death was not the cause of me becoming a heterosexual.  I have been this way all my life.

3.  Is it possible your heterosexuality is just a phase that will change?

No, it is not a phase.  I can’t imagine what it is like being with a man sexually. It is very natural for me to be attracted to a woman.

4.  If you’ve never slept with a person of the same sex, how do you know you wouldn’t prefer that?

Well, that’s personal.  But let me put it this way, I just don’t have the sexual attraction and desire for a person of the same gender, though I have many close friends who are male.  Does that make sense?

5.  Why do you heterosexuals insist on flaunting public displays of affection with a partner?

I agree it is uncomfortable for me when I see people hanging all over each another in public.  I recently sat behind a man and woman in church, and they either had their arms around each other or held hands during the whole service.  It was distracting.  But I do admit I like to hold my partner’s hand when we walk together, or give her a little kiss on the lips when I am leaving home or when I see her initially in public.  I don’t mean to be offensive with my PDA, it just the way I feel.

6.  Why are heterosexuals so promiscuous?

I admit that many fellow heterosexuals are promiscuous and they get a lot of media attention. Politicians, sports figures, movie stars, and clergy do not always help our reputation as straight folks.  Of course, I can only speak for me.  I have been faithful to my partner.

7.  What do you believe the Bible and God thinks about heterosexuals? 

Well, I believe that God loves all of God’s creation.  Since I’m a Christian, I believe God loved me so much that God sent God’s Son to show me and others how we should live.  I know God must be disappointed with many of us as heterosexuals.  We all fall short.  All of us.   I am thankful for God’s grace and forgiveness.

8.  How can you enjoy a fully satisfying sexual experience with a person of the opposite sex when the physical, biological, and psychological differences between you are so great?

No comment.  Next question.

9.  Why do you think heterosexuals are so unhappy?

There are many reasons straight people are unhappy.  Sometimes we try to find happiness in what we can buy, or through sex, or drugs, or alcohol.  Sometimes we are unhappy because we are disconnected from our Creator.  I can think of hundreds of reasons why heterosexuals are unhappy, as well as a few homosexuals I know.

10.  Why are heterosexuals always trying to seduce others into their sexual orientation?

I have never tried to seduce another person to change them into being a heterosexual.  I can only speak for myself.

So there it is for all the world to see in bold letters.

MALCOLM MARLER IS A HETEROSEXUAL.

I hope you will still love me, because this is who I am.  We all want to love someone, and want to be loved by our beloved.

Thanks for listening.

 

Part VIII — Gay Marriage

This is the eighth in a series on “One Christian Minister’s Response to Homosexuality.”

gaymarriage

When I started dating my wife, Mary Sullivan, on January 29, 2003, I was swept off my feet.   I told the world about it.

I remember calling my “surrogate mother” from my college years, Ina Durham, from the airport as I was leaving Mary in Chapel Hill in 2003.

“Ina,” I said with unbridled clarity like I had never expressed, “I have fallen in love, I’ve been swept off my feet, and it has finally happened!”  She giggled with me and asked for more details.  Ina and Harry had been second parents to me for almost 30 years.  They always held on to the hope that I would find a life partner with whom I could celebrate life fully.  Over the next few days, I called dozens of people to share my joy.  I told Kelly, Chris, Joe, Mike, and many others at work about this new love I had found.

But I simply cannot imagine having to keep that relationship a secret from others.   And yet, that’s what some of my friends do on a daily basis who are gay.   If they are not ready to risk rejection from friends, or love that is withheld from family members, they keep quiet.  They tell no one, and their joy is silenced.

Many of my friends who are gay or lesbian have to mute their excitement daily, use “neutral pronouns” when they are asked by work colleagues what their weekend plans are, or shake their heads “No” when a stranger asks them if  they are married or have children when making small talk.  They are asked, but they don’t tell.  Except maybe in the smallest of circles.

I called Rick Meyer, my close friend from Glastonbury, CT who had stood by me for years when I struggled through my divorce, and had been there for me through several relationships that didn’t work out.  He shared my joy when I told him I was getting married.  I had found my life partner and I wanted the world to know.

Mary and I went to the court house and bought our marriage license.  We called my pastor and asked her if she would perform our wedding ceremony in a few days.  Sarah had come to know Mary and her children because we worshiped together regularly and she was almost as excited as we were.  We eloped a few days later with only Sarah, Judy Bridgers (close friend), and Brendan and Kiki present.  Instantly Mary and I had all of the rights and responsibilities that all spouses enjoy.  But not so if you are gay.  And that’s just not right.

Not only can you not buy a marriage license for your life partner in Alabama if you are gay, but you better not ask your clergy person about blessing your relationship either.  They are more likely to see your joyful love as illegitimate and shameful.

Even the most caring and enlightened clergy I know believe they have to turn down the opportunity to do a “Union Ceremony” for a gay couple because his or her job depends on it.  Who can blame them?  How many of us make decisions that risks our present and future job opportunities?  And yet no hospital visitation, or property rights, or inheritance come with a clergy blessing.

I used to think that “domestic partnerships” sanctioned by the state would be enough if it gave equal rights to couples. I should know better growing up in the South during the Civil Rights movement and hearing “equal but separate” education for persons who were black and white.  Those of us who were white believed it was very equal and were thankful it was separate.  It didn’t affect the majority of white folks anyway.  When you are in the minority though, being equal is more important.

While domestic partnerships might be an interim step, a domestic partnership is not enough.   For gay couples whose faith is central in their lives, anything short of a wedding denies a gay couple the joy and blessing of their church.

I believe that God is love, so how can I oppose two persons who want to make a life commitment to one another in love?  How can I deny a couple all of the rights that I take for granted? How can I deny a couple the social support that I value in my own marriage?  How can I deny a couple the blessing all straight couples get in a church whether their faith is central or not in their lives?

I cannot.

But I can continue to offer my services to gay couples who ask for a blessing in a Union Ceremony as I have done in the past in Alabama.  I can advocate for gay couples to have rights that are equal to straight couples.  And I can work towards the day when gay marriage is legal in Alabama.  Don’t laugh.  Many of my brothers and sisters in my home state could not have imagined the day when an African American man would be President of the United States.  And we will have an African American governor in the state of Alabama, maybe sooner rather than later.

My silence in the past as been my downfall.  I simply can’t do it anymore.  It’s just not right.

___________________________

NOTE:  There are signs of hope.  Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa (April 27, 2009), Vermont (September 1, 2009), and Maine (May 6, 2009) have legalized same gender marriages.  California approved same sex marriages, then had it taken away, and is still being pursued.  Bills to allow same-sex marriage are currently before lawmakers in New Hampshire, Maine, New York and New Jersey.  Legal unions or domestic partnerships are approved in New Jersey, New Hampshire and Washington (April 15, 2009).  Maine, Hawaii, District of Columbia, Oregon, and Maryland  have created legal unions with certain rights.  Read more here.

Part VII – Creating Community

This is the seventh in a series on “One Christian Minister’s Response to Homosexuality.”

Mary Bea Sullivan - My Encourager

Mary Bea Sullivan

I was talking with my Mary last night about how discouraged I was about this series on homosexuality on my blog. When she asked why I said, “I don’t know, I think my friends who are straight are probably annoyed with a straight, white, bald guy writing about this issue. And I’m not sure this is really encouraging or helping persons who are gay. I just don’t know,” as I shook my head.

She reminded me about two blogs that I read on a regular basis and how I had just read two posts from those blogs aloud to her recently.  We were both moved by the truth, clarity, and humor of each.

Mary said, “Drexel and Rami are not even aware that you read their blogs and you are moved by their words.  I bet there are people who are reading your blog and you just don’t know about it.”

She saw my faithless face and added, “Besides, I’m not sure that is the reason you are writing anyway,” alluding to the fact that I write because it is important for me to put my thoughts, beliefs, and reflections down for my own sake.

And, she is right.  I write here so that I can be clearer about my life’s purpose.

The reason I am on this planet is to create community and connection for persons who need it most, wherever I encounter them in my daily life. I know what it is like to be alone and wonder if God is present.

When I got up at my regular 4:30 a.m. time this morning, one of the first things I read was an email I received overnight from an anonymous reader on my blog.  Here is what this person said:

Thank you for giving a damn about me. Thank you for giving your heart and soul to those of us in the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgendered, questioning) community.  Thank you for serving God and embracing the diversity that IS God.

I am reading your series and have wept through nearly every post. It reminds me of my own struggle with sexuality vs. my Evangelical upbringing. I prayed for nearly 30 years, endured exorcisms (yes, exorcisms), counseling, ex-gay camps, condemning, damning sermons, flaming accusations, etc. from the church.

I was and still am Gay. God didn’t change that part of my life. I had come to a point where I plea bargained with God that if He didn’t change me, I’d just be gay, leave Him behind and go to hell, like I had been taught–because I couldn’t fight anymore. I surely couldn’t be gay AND Christian.  So, if God didn’t change me, it meant He didn’t love me. My whole world changed in 2006. I visited a gay-affirming church and Pastor J.R. Finney II, from Covenant Community Church taught me to forget all that I had learned and to discover God again; this time, without the guilt of religion.

While I am thankful for my previous religious upbringing, as a foundation for God’s word, I am more thankful that I got a chance to re-learn what God really says about me in His Word. God thinks I am OK and I’d rather have God’s approval. I have since forgiven those Christians who ignorantly shunned, hated and damned me.

I have even forgiven the Pastor who “outed” me 17 years ago during one of his famous fire and brimstone sermons on a Sunday morning when I was absent.  He is no longer there.  I have visited the church of my childhood several times since then–and you know what, I am loved by them.

The members, many who have been my Sunday school teachers, school teachers, either don’t remember or don’t care that I am gay. And you know what? They accept me unconditionally and often invite me to do the Lectionary readings on Sunday morning when I visit.  That is an honor that I cherish. I am what I am; I am how God made me, and I embrace that now.

My life has been hard, but I grew and I learned, and I thrived. I think that, things had been really easy, would I appreciate my life this much? Furthermore, the struggles remind me that “the negative experience helps us appreciate the positive that much more.”

I want to say thank you to this anonymous writer for creating community for me when I needed it most.  Surprise, surprise.

And thank you to my wife, Mary Bea Sullivan , for your encouragement in my life.  You create connection for me like I have never experienced before.

I think I’ll keep writing.

Part VI — Matt’s Story

This is the sixth in a series on “One Christian Minister’s Response to Homosexuality.”

When I have the privilege to listen to a person’s story as he or she shares a personal journey about sexual orientation, you begin to hear common themes over and over again. Matt wrote part of his story and sent it to me when he discovered I was writing this series.

The themes in Matt’s story below are familiar: Early awareness of being different; recognizing secret feelings towards the same gender in middle and high school but still trying to fit in with the norm; finding persons to talk to openly about feelings in young adulthood; and finally finding peace about one’s orientation. For many of the persons I listen to, like Matt, he or she finds that a spiritual journey is at the heart of it all.

MattWhen I was little, I knew there was something different. In 5 year old kindergarten, I remember playing with the girls over in the toy kitchen, more than with the boys over with the rubber balls and such. The teacher would always come over, and with her hands on my shoulders would push me over to where the boys were. She would tell me that I should play with the boys…so without hesitation I looked at one of the boys and said “Hi, my name is Matthew and I’ll be your server this evening, can I start you out with some drinks?” I would take everyone’s order then head back to the kitchen. The girls loved the idea of playing “restaurant”, and the boys could care less….the teacher eventually gave up.

I went through local public schools for elementary grades, then transferred to a private Christian school for middle and high school. As I grew older, I still knew I was different and towards the later years of high school had an idea of what was going on. When I tended to have crushes on the boys and not the girls…I knew. However, I was programmed to believe that it was wrong. My school taught that it was an affect of a poor relationship with one’s father. At the time, I bought that idea as my father and I hardly said two words to each other through high school. It wasn’t until my arrival in college that I began to really deal with me being gay, and how it affected my spiritual walk.

Fortunately, my best friend from high school (also my roommate) and I began attending First Baptist in my college town in my freshman year. We both began to get really involved with the Baptist Student Union and our church’s college group. Everything was going well…I had met a cute girl and we had begun dating, school was going great. I was having the time of my life.

I walked into my freshman political science class along with around 400 other freshmen. The professor had a seating chart in order to maintain attendance records, so I found my spot and sat down. I started talking to a guy next to me in class and before long he let me know he was gay. Through his friendship I was able to talk to someone about everything that was going on and he understood exactly. The weight that was lifted off of me was incredible. I immediately thought that if I am questioning myself, the last thing I need to do is cause someone else pain. I talked with my girlfriend and told her what was going on. She was angry and decided to tell all her friends and my friends what was going on.

I kept attending the First Baptist Church. The minister of college students eventually pulled me aside and flat out asked me what was going on related to my breakup. We ended up going to lunch one afternoon and I dreaded the conversation. He asked…I told….but his reply was not what I expected. He sat there and told me that not all Christians believed the way I was taught…that there are some out there who actually believe being gay is perfectly fine…and that many of those Christians were in attendance at First Baptist.

Steeple and RainbowThat following summer, I scheduled a meeting with another pastor in my hometown and we talked. His first response was to laugh. I looked puzzled at him. He apologized and then said he had known I was gay ever since I was a little guy. I continued to look puzzled…he affirmed that not all Christians believe it is wrong. He continued to reassure me that everything is fine with me, and that I need to find my own spirituality…his words were “To own my spirituality”. He wanted me to drop everything I had learned…and to re-read the Bible again for the first time. Clear out everything I had been taught…all pre-conceived ideas and to develop my own faith based on my own relationship with God.

So I did. I began reading everything over again. I took theology courses, studied different viewpoints and arguments on interpretations. Through the years at college, I began to open up to different ideas and beliefs. I questioned everything.

I finally understood that I am created by God as a gay man…this is who I am..who I am supposed to be.

Matt is now an active member in his church in Birmingham, AL.   I appreciate his friendship and for sharing his story so that others could hear it.

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