Samuel Ernest is a young blogger whom I haven’t yet had the privilege of meeting, but we’ve corresponded a bit, and I regularly read his sensitive, thoughtful posts with interest. His latest, about his decision to enter The Episcopal Church, was particularly striking. Here’s a portion that stood out to me:
In the 1970’s, when AIDS first began killing off a generation of gay men, my parish provided free burials to anyone claimed by the disease. Gay people go to my church. They are regular attenders—people who have been practicing Christians since before I was born. They are also leaders. One hard part about being gay in [the] denomination [I grew up in] that doesn’t really talk about homosexuality is the difficulty I had in finding role models—people who have wrestled with the questions I’m asking and who can provide insight and wisdom about how to live faithfully while holding those questions. Without such mentors it feels like you always need to be a trailblazer, which might sound exciting sometimes but really is just pretty exhausting and lonely.
Another difficulty I used to have, which I mentioned earlier, was getting stuck dwelling on things like the uncertainty of not knowing how people would treat me if they knew that I was gay (which only increased after I came out on this blog), trying not to say or do anything that might draw negative attention to myself, the persistent thoughts that—wrong though I knew them to be—kept popping up: that I’m different and obtrusive, that I need to retreat. At St. Paul’s I haven’t been so focused on myself and my sexuality because I know that no matter where I end up—in a relationship, with a family, called to celibacy, or just plain single—my church will be there to support me and celebrate life with me. And likewise, I will support the Church I love, not as a trailblazer, but as a servant, whether that be as a layperson, musician, member of the vestry, deacon, or priest.
I’m struck by many things about this, but mainly it prompts me to ask what would have to happen for churches who uphold the historic position on marriage and sexuality (marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman, and sexual abstinence is called for among those outside that covenant) to be places where the appearance of gay role models was normal. My experience was similar to Samuel’s insofar as my church growing up scarcely admitted the existence of gay people, let alone talked about the various possibilities for their sanctified witness among us.
Samuel’s post makes me think of something Martin Hallett, director of a ministry to gay people in the UK, once said:
There are probably nearly as many Christians with homosexual feelings who do not believe that homosexual sex is right for Christians as there are those who are advocating its acceptance. A friend of mine in Sweden (Erik) is a Lutheran priest who believes in the traditional biblical teaching on sexuality and has homosexual feelings himself. He determined, from the beginning of his call to the ordained ministry, that he would be open about his sexuality at every stage…. Ultimately, as more evangelicals make such a public stand, it will seem less costly and will, I believe, have a tremendous impact for the kingdom of God…. [I want to] encourage those leaders in the church who have homosexual feelings but who believe homosexual sex is wrong to be more open. People like Erik… are not a tiny minority in terms of all homosexuals in the church…. I wish their voices could be heard saying that “We believe our homosexuality is part of our value and giftedness to the church, but homosexual sex is a sin.” What a difference this would make to the life, witness, and future of the body of Christ.
What a difference indeed. I sometimes wonder if the work we’re doing here at Spiritual Friendship won’t really “take off” and seem fully plausible until we reach the tipping point where a wide number of celibate, gay Christians who uphold the church’s historic teaching are widely known—and widely known as valued and supported and sought after in their various churches.
Even so, there’s a difference, as Samuel’s post notes, between a church or denomination that is open to the increased visibility of its gay members and a church that has been acknowledging and honoring its gay members for decades. Right now, in many of our churches, there’s still a need for trailblazers.