Shout “Hallelujah!” in this part of the Bible belt and odds are someone will answer, “Amen!” Here we’re surrounded by evangelical Christians, a group not known for their warm embrace of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people. In my coming out experience, theirs was the loudest, nastiest voice telling me to get lost, assuring me I am sick, sinful and on the fast track to damnation.
I do a better job nowadays at throwing away such demeaning messages—but what to do with the people who repeat them? My one brother, for instance. And my three sons. They root their rejection of me and other gay people in church dogma.
Of course, not everyone takes the same stance. Other evangelicals in my family and Dave’s are more accepting; they’ll interact with us face-to-face. But ours is an uneasy truce. It includes a don’t ask–don’t tell provision: gay topics, activities and issues are taboo subjects of conversation. Vast swaths of the life Dave and I lead remain under wraps.
Maybe this is natural. Maybe I'm off base in pining for full acceptance by others, particularly self-identified evangelical others.
To be sure, Dave and I do have evangelical friends (well, two) who are wondrously accepting and whole-person affirming. They sympathized when I related a recent encounter with my best friend from college.
Ken and I hadn’t seen each other since 1983, not since the day he’d served as best man when I married a woman. Years later I’d written him to say I'd come out as a gay man. He’d responded, “Go to hell.” That was the last I heard from him. Then the other day this note arrived: "It’s been a long time. Lots of water has gone under the bridge. I'd like to hear your story. Can we get together to talk?"
We arranged to meet at a restaurant. When Ken arrived I recognized him right away. He’s hardly changed in appearance nor, I soon learned, in his acceptance of gay people. He began dropping hints. How important church attendance is to him. How he uses every opportunity he finds to model the love of Christ to those outside the church. How angry he gets at people who claim to be Christian but don't follow the rules.
But he’d asked to hear my story and I obliged. I gave him an overview, stressed the innate nature of my being born gay. As we said goodbye he told me he understood I had been dealing with same-sex attractions from an early age, but he drew a different lesson from this than I did. “If I were convinced I’d been born a bank robber,” he said, “I wouldn't see that as a lifestyle choice that honors God.”
(When I related this comment to a gay friend he laughed. “You got ‘bank robber?’ I got ‘ax murderer’ from my college roommate.”)
Much as I lament the traditional evangelical stance towards gay people, I understand it. After all, I was raised evangelical myself. I know first-hand the sense of entitlement that comes with believing yourself to be one of God’s chosen few, granted special power and privilege.
Power and privilege act as blinders. They blot out a wider world view. While I recognize this in my evangelical neighbors, I have a long way to go towards seeing it in myself—especially when it comes to my being white, male and middle class. I’m certain people of color, women and those less well-off than me can spot ways I rely on power and privilege. Thank heavens I see it myself every once in a while.
Times I do drop my blinders I discover all over again the world is far bigger and more interesting than I know. It’s right there for the looking all the time. To which I say, “Hallelujah!” (Do I hear an “amen?”)