Thursday, January 21, 2010

Coming Home

A Gay Christian Speaks to Fundamentalists

Jonathan Odell

Last year I got a call from an administrator at a Midwestern seminary with a reputation for its “take no prisoners” conservative theology. He had permission to conduct a series of seminars on hot-button issues like abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage. His plan was to bring in a succession of speakers, one to take the pro side of an issue, followed by a second to present the opposing view.

I took a deep breath. I knew what was coming next. “We want you to take the pro side on homosexuality,” he said.

“Yippee,” I thought. “I get to argue for Satan.” So I asked him, “Why me?” Why me indeed... “The administrator pleaded his case. “I want you to come here not only because you’re gay, but because you’re religious. You’ve obviously held on to your spiritual beliefs.”

I didn’t tell him I’d been able to retain my faith by steering clear of the hateful fundamentalists that universities like his turned out. Instead, I lied and told him I’d think about it. “Well, I can’t blame you if you say ‘no,’” he added. “In fact, I might lose my job over asking you. But I think it’s worth it.”

...I decided I would say no to the request, but I couldn’t tell my contact that I was really declining his invitation because I was terrified of being rejected. After all, I was apparently the only homosexual he had come across who actually believed in God, so I had to keep up the image for what to him must be a very select group of gays. So I did what I usually do when I need to make a purely emotional decision appear rational: I turned to Google. I entered the name of the school and the word “homosexuality” into the search engine. My aim was to find a way to blame these fundamentalist Christians for being so hopeless that I wasn’t going to waste my time on them.

The first hit was an anonymous letter, written by one of the seminary’s own students to a gay support group, pleading for help. He wrote about being a Christian, a closeted gay, and suicidal. “From the outside, I appear much like any other student on campus,” he wrote. “I am a Christian, dedicated to my family, my friends, and my academic career. I am also gay. I came close to committing suicide several times, but God had been looking out for me. He had given me one friend on this campus with whom I could be totally honest. I believe that were it not for him, I would not be here today. One day, I hope that we can be seen for who we truly are, as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.”

This student’s poignant testimony of desperation and isolation, his love for a church that rejects him, these brought me back to my own youth. As a boy, I too was desperate for some adult to say, “I know just how you feel. I was afraid, too. But look at me. I survived. So will you.”

Now I couldn’t refuse the invitation without rejecting this young man, and by the same token, rejecting that kid inside me who is still waiting for some adult to stand up for him. I guessed this terrified adult was going to have to do the job for both young men...

When I walked to the podium that night and scanned a room of budding fundamentalist preachers, I discovered the place was only partially filled. Most in the audience were faculty and female students. Hanging in the back was a crowd of young guys who eyed me suspiciously, still deciding whether this talk was for them, and what exactly their attendance might say about their own testosterone levels. I nervously blurted out the first thing that came to my mind: “Hello, I’m the gay guy!” It was meant to be humorous, but the silence was so thorough that I could hear them breathing.

“OK,” I told myself, “don’t be clever. Just tell the truth. If they walk out, they walk out.” I began again. “When I got the invitation to come speak today, it was a no-brainer.” I looked directly at the young men massed in the back of the room: “Not in a million years!” I noticed a few smirks, but at least we shared some common ground. We all would rather be somewhere else.

“I’d like to say I’m happy to be here today,” I continued, “but I’d be starting our relationship with a lie. Right now, you are the folks I grew up with. The folks I fled over thirty years ago and have kept running from: my family, my community, my church. You were my first family, and families know how to wound you the deepest. So today I just need to say I’m not here because I want to convert you, or change you, or sway you, or make you like me. I’m here because whether I like it or not, you are in my life and I need to somehow make peace with that part of my life.”...

Very thought provoking essay on a difficult subject for many Christians. It is definitely worth reading! I particularly liked the author's father statement "I guess both will have to be true". Sometimes congtradictory as it may sound it is the best possible answer!

You can read the entire essay by clicking on "Coming home", at the top of this post, or by going to;



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