I have a couple of vivid memories of the family room — we called it the “TV room” — in the house in which we lived until I was nine. The first was asking my mom about streaking, right during the streaking boom of 1974 — that would have made me six-years-old. I think I’d heard the song, “The Streak.” Having been a student at UC-Berkeley in the mid-60s, my mom was quite familiar with nudity on campus (ahem, witnessing it, not participating in it; her senior year roommate was a nudist).
The second is a similar memory. I don’t know what I was watching with my younger brother, Andrew, but the word “gay” was used. I remember walking into the kitchen, my brother trailing me, and asking my mom what “gay” meant.
It must have been one of those moments when a parent instinctively knows that it’s time for a sit-down chat, and that’s exactly what she did. I don’t remember exactly how she explained same-sex love to us, but I do vividly remember one thing she said. “Tony and Andrew,” she said, looking at us intently, “I want you to know that your father and I will still love you no matter whom you love. And you can always bring home, to our house, anyone you love.”
I suppose what struck my seven-or-eight-year-old self was that her statement implied that there were families in which being gay was not acceptable, in which family members were not necessarily allowed to bring home the person they loved, particularly if the lovers were of the same gender.
From there, I didn’t think much about homosexuality for many years. I didn’t know any gay kids in junior high or high school — well, at least I didn’t know any who admitted they were gay — the Edina, Minnesota of my youth wasn’t the most diverse community.
Of course, I did have gay friends, and I didn’t know it. My best friend in 9th grade, for instance, was constantly being called “fag” by others in the junior high. I didn’t think much of it, since Steve seemed not much different than I. We spent most of our time together at church, and we were both considered leaders in the youth group.
I lost touch with Steve during high school. Years later, our junior high pastor, Paul, told me that Steve had recently died of AIDS. Paul reached out to Steve’s family to offer condolences and offer to perform the memorial service, but Steve’s dad responded to Paul with vehement anger. He told Paul that he blamed Steve’s death on the church and that he would never step foot in a church again.
The same goes for high school and college. I had gay friends, but I didn’t find out they were gay until years later when they came out.
When it came to what I thought about homosexuality as a Christian, I pretty much walked the middle of the road. I’ve always thought that all persons should be afforded the same rights and no one should be discriminated against. But I also knew that the biblical prohibitions to homosexual sex should be taken seriously. And I remember quite a few debates in which I argued against homosexuality using the argument from natural law, the book of Genesis, and my own pithy deal-closer, “Look, the parts don’t fit. The plumbing’s not right. That’s how we know how God feels about it.”
Aside from that rather crass and unsophisticated argument, I didn’t talk about it much and didn’t think about it much. Confronted with a gay couple who wanted to teach Sunday school, the church staff on which I was serving in the late 1990s studied the issue, read a book (Homosexuality in the Church: Both Sides of the Debate) about it, and took a vote. We were each given a sheet of paper with a line on it that represented a spectrum. On one end was “Shouldn’t be members” and on the other end was “Ordained.” Between were “Members only,” “Teach Sunday School,” “Deacons and Church Council,” and “Weddings.” When plotted out, the majority of our large church staff clustered around the middle, allowing gays to serve as laypersons in leadership, but stopping short of blessing gay marriages/unions.
As I gained a little prominence as an author in the youth ministry world, people began asking me my opinion on homosexuality. I often quoted one of my seminary professors, Bill Pannell, who was involved in the civil rights movement. I had lunch with him during my last semester at seminary and as we drove back to campus he said to me, “Civil rights and abortion will be nothing compared to how the church has to deal with homosexuality. I’m glad it’s your generation and not mine who’ll have to figure that out.”
With that in mind, I always responded, “I’m holding that issue in abeyance. I haven’t made up my mind yet, and I’m in no hurry to. Homosexuality,” I would say, “I one issue that I don’t want to get wrong.”
And yet, all the time I could feel myself drifting toward acceptance that gay persons are fully human persons and should be afforded all of the cultural and ecclesial benefits that I am. (“Aha!” my critics will laugh derisively, “I knew he and his ilk were on a continuous leftward slide!”)
In any case, I now believe that GLBTQ can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state.
Well, I suppose this blogalogue will be a test of whether I have good theological and philosophical reasons for supporting the rights of GLBTQ persons to marry, or whether I’ve simply caved to the mushy inclusivity of pluralized nothingness. In either case, Rod, I’m looking forward to this conversation, and I’m praying that it is ultimately glorifying of God. (Read Rod’s reply here.)