As a committed Orthodox Christian, I affirm my church's teaching that sex outside heterosexual marriage delays progress in union with Christ. Of course, I don't expect people outside my faith to agree with that--but I'd welcome a chance to display this beautiful faith in its entirety, not distracted by that one guideline. Even for us Orthodox, this is a private matter, between a person and his or her spiritual director. Why did my friends think it necessary to organize a public response? I wondered what they saw that I didn't.
As I looked around the room, I saw a mix of gender, age, race, ethnicity, and faith--Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, even a representative of the Nation of Islam. The one thing we had in common was strong commitment to a faith.
As I listened to the speakers, I was still struggling to understand their point of view. I tried to picture how a nice male couple living down the street, mowing their lawn and paying their taxes, could damage my marriage.
Why weren't we talking about the most obvious threat to marriage: divorce? And what about promiscuity? If anything undermines the standard of lifelong monogamy, it's cheapened, merchandised sex. Heterosexual promiscuity destroys families more often than the gay sort; on a list of priorities, we should straighten out straights first. If we were gathered, as speakers kept saying, to support "one man, one woman" marriage, why weren't we talking about cheesy strip clubs or divorce-prevention programs?
When it emerged that some Nation of Islam friends could conceivably stretch marriage to "one man, four women," I threw up my hands. "I came here with an open mind," I said, "but I haven't yet heard evidence that makes sense to me. And if we go out there saying we oppose homosexuality because traditional marriage is composed of one man and up-to-and-including four women, we'll be the laughingstocks we deserve to be."
The problem, I think, was that my friends assume homosexuality is a political issue. We got used to thinking in political terms during the abortion debates, and with abortion that was justified; the minimum purpose of law is to prevent violence, particularly against children.
But homosexuality, it seems to me, is vastly different. Widespread promiscuity, straight or gay, is dangerous, but I don't see a reason to rank private homosexuality high on the scale of public threats. I'm willing to be convinced, but I haven't been yet.
For some people reading that statement, the conclusion is obvious: "Then the faiths must change!" For them, the task of each generation is to update ancient beliefs, making them relevant to current needs. Contemporary analysis is assumed authoritative and competent to critique the past. They question historic faith, not themselves.
But to those of us gathered in that room, such an idea is baffling. We see the faith as ancient wisdom, truths attested by people throughout time and around the world. This multicultural affirmation indicates a wisdom higher than we could devise on our own, distracted as we are by our culture's loud and transitory fashions. So we handle this treasury with gratitude, and hope to pass it on intact. We seek illumination and healing. We don't want to change the historic faith; we want the faith to change us.
This is the great submerged reef that will continue to shipwreck understanding until we learn to recognize it. It is futile to begin the sexuality conversation with sexuality itself; that skips over the question of where we get the tools by which we evaluate sexuality.
Beneath it all, we have two vastly different ways of viewing ancient faith, and our press releases are faxed from different floors of the Tower of Babel.
As a person who moved from a pro-choice to a pro-life position, I always wanted to increase understanding between the two sides; consequently, I was a founder of the "Common Ground" dialogue movement. Over the years, I saw wonderful things: Abortion providers and clinic protesters, political-action committee leaders and pastors, talked and listened to each other, gave and received forgiveness, formed lasting friendships. I wish that conservatives and liberal gay activists could begin the same healing path. Minds may not be changed, but hearts can be, once prejudice and stereotypes on both sides blow away.
At present, we are hampered and thrilled by wild suspicion of each other's motives and beliefs. I hope that someday we can get serious about dialogue. Then we can move beyond misunderstanding and arrive, at least, at genuine, sincere disagreement.