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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Accidental Ally:

How a homophobic pastor found his way into affirming the gay rights movement


Few of us end up where we thought we would.  Our youthful ambitions give way to changing interests and demands of time and place.  Not many of us become the person we said we would be when we grow up.  For many years in my preteen and adolescent years I wanted to be a doctor.  However, my insufficient chemistry skills kept me from that ambition.  My three year stint in the U. S. Marine Corps convinced me that a military career was not for me, either.  In fact, I resisted declaring a major in college until the last moment beyond which I would have had to spend an extra semester.  Many of us find that “life happens” and more often than not, it happens while we are making other plans.  If someone would have told me, even upon entering middle age, that the last few decades of my life would have turned out as they have, I wouldn't have believed it.  Worse, I wouldn't have wanted it that way.

How can a straight pastor, born to Fundamentalist parents and into a Fundamentalist church, raised with the concomitant prejudices of his time, educated in a Fundamentalist college and converted to an antigay denomination, find his way into the gay rights movement and become an ardent spokesperson and ally?  The short answer is, by the grace of God. The longer one follows (but not too long).

Recently one Sunday, my wife and I visited a congregation of my denomination in North Hollywood, California.  We were early, so I pulled into a nearby Starbucks and we had a cup of coffee inside.  There I noticed an actor who I recognized as one always typecast as a heavy. Actually, not just a heavy, but with an evil, even demonic side.  What was remarkable about this encounter is that he was utterly charming, had a most welcoming smile, and his friends with him adored him.  I saw him not long after that on a TV show and I just couldn’t see him the same way again.

I mention this because we all have had similar experiences with people or situations that make us change our minds about something, even about things long held.  So when I found myself living in San Francisco on the mid-1970s, I was prepared for what I expected would be an encounter with stereotypical gays: sex obsessed, drug ridden, and out to get me.  I knew I could spot them easily and thereby protect myself, because of their flamboyant ways. Much to my surprise, not only could I not identify the people who were gay where I worked, none of them fit the stereotype.  On Halloween and Gay Pride days, the activists were out in number along with others who just wanted to let off steam, but for the most part they were as normal as anyone else I knew.  Many of them lived with partners for years, even were raising children, were good employees, and lived life much as I did.  The façade in the stereotype had a huge crack in it.  I learned that the gay stereotypes are decidedly false.  When people try to tell me otherwise, I just say, “You don’t know enough gays!”

Then, when a couple we knew and loved divorced, we found out that the wife was a lesbian. My wife, after I began wondering how we should relate to her now that we knew, said, “Rene’ is still the same person we loved before we knew this.  How can we not continue to love her and keep her close?”  As much as I wanted to concur, I had other baggage.  It’s summed up with all that I thought the Bible taught about the sinfulness of LGBTs.  So that began my serious, deeply serious look into the biblical and theological evidence that both supports and denies the proposition that LGBTs are hell bound unless they change their ways.

So, over the past twenty years I have acquainted myself with the scholarly literature in biblical studies as well as in sociological and psychological areas.  My motivation was solely to go where the results led me.  I had no horse in this race; I have no gay children, no gay parent or any relative that I know of.  I was not defending a point of view; I was trying to gain one, and I eventually did. I learned that virtually all professional studies and academic groups support LGBT normalcy and advocate for their full inclusion into mainstream America.  I learned that most biblical scholars support LGBTs and welcome them into Christian churches without need to change.  I learned that the arguments against gay inclusion are based on biblical literalism which is not a helpful way to read the Bible.  I learned that although the Bible is misused to condemn LGBTs, it's actually is one of their best friends.

Best of all, I have been welcomed into their community, lived with them for almost three decades, and count my association there among the highlights of my life.  That’s the long and the short of it.  So, keep reading this blog.  If you have an open mind, you might discover a few things that may change how you look at things, too.

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