Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On Gays, Ex-Gays, Unsure Gays, and the Kingdom

A few months ago, J and I announced to one of our pastors (Patsy) that we wanted her to be a part of our wedding ceremony.  She seemed uncomfortable with it.  I know what you're thinking: "Well of COURSE!  What pastor wouldn't be nervous about a gay wedding!  Her conscious was probably getting to her!"  But that wasn't it at all.  In fact, she has always been one of our biggest fans and greatest supporters.  Patsy explained to us that she felt like it was well beyond time for Cedar Ridge to address issues of sexuality.  She wanted to attend our wedding with a clear conscience, knowing that she was celebrating outloud, rather than in hiding - for fear that some unapproving member of the church would find out.  She was adamant that if the pastors of the church were going to be performing a gay union, then the church needed to know how its leaders approached sexuality.

I was mortified!  Utterly mortified!!  For the past 5 years (since I've been a member of CR), my greatest fear is that *I* would be the cause of a major doctrinal and physical split in the church.  I've blogged about this before here (also see Andy Marin's blog here and here).  In defiance, I retorted "well fine, we'll just get Brian (McLaren) to officiate the wedding!" (the idea being that since Brian isn't officially a pastor of the church anymore, there would be no need for us to push the homo issue).  That pretty much didn't fly with Patsy :-/

Thus began months of planning this new direction for our church.  I don't want to in any way imply that this whole year of the church's teaching has been for the purpose of helping everyone to realize that at CR, we love gays.  Not in the slightest.  Our leaders have long had a passion to express the unfathomable, irrational, extravagant love of Jesus to the world.  So our teachings and discipleship group meetings have all centered around learning how to love "the other", learning how to love in the midst of disagreement, learning how to truly listen to others.  And after months of such teaching, our leaders felt that it was indeed time to look at sexuality.  And not homosexuality as "an issue", but rather how we should approach sexuality being sexual creatures who are sexually imperfect, but who seek to be sexually whole and healthy in the presence of God the Creator.  No one, however, pretended to be ignorant of the fact that if you start talking sexuality in church, you're going to have to talk about gay people, gay love, and gay marriage. . .

We kicked off our sexuality series a few weeks ago (In Pursuit of Sexual Wholeness).  The first week, Matthew talked about "Sex is Great!"  And it was a wonderful sermon about the ways in which Christians have stigmatized sex so much, as to make God's most beautiful human act seem shameful and dirty.  The next few weeks, Patsy and Matthew taught about the various ways in which we as humans can be sexually broken, and gave us hope for healing in the example of Jesus.  Then Matthew finished up with probably THE most moving sermon ("Love is the Greatest") I've heard him - or anyone, for that matter - share to date.  He challenged us all to think about sex from the lens of it being a supremely loving act.  It was profound, thought-provoking, and convicting.

Through all of the planning for this series, the biggest question looming in the back of everyone's minds was how we were going to address the orientation question.  J and I were enthralled by the New Direction Ministries' video "Bridging the Gap: Conversations on Befriending Our Gay Neighbors", and suggested that maybe we could set up a few nights throughout the sexuality series where we watch sections of the DVD as a community, and then have a question and answer period afterward.

Matthew had a concern about the video being an ex-gay production, and in a magnanimous act of empathy towards gay visitors to CR, he didn't want to do anything that might alienate them or make them feel as though we were promulgating an ex-gay approach for all gay people (though, admittedly, New Direction is hardly a "typical" ex-gay ministry with an ex-gay approach!)  The mere hint of association was enough for Matthew and Patsy to consider other ways of discussing homosexuality.  The idea about a panel discussion finally emerged.  There was extreme concern among members of the leadership team that something of this nature could easily devolve into a meaningless debate, and would jump-start a church split if we were not careful.

But I wasn't so sure it had to be that way.  Several of us put our heads together to brainstorm ways to make this happen.  I recounted to Matthew the experience I had at one of Brian McLaren's conferences after writing his book "Generous Orthodoxy", where he gathered a few people who dealt with same sex attractions, and told the entire audience that we were there to listen, and listen only.  No questions, no statements, no debates.  Only listen.  It was an amazing experience!  I was sure that we could replicate the same atmosphere of humility and understanding at CRCC.

In the midst of the sexuality series, Matthew began to talk about the special event that we were going to have at CR: an evening of listening to a panel of people talk about their struggles with their sexual orientation.  Yours truly suggested we call it "Perspectives on Sexual Orientation".

Last night was that special event.  "Nervous" does not even begin to describe my emotions leading up to this panel discussion!  My stomach was churning all day.  When I returned home from work yesterday, I was so anxious that I could hardly think!  I downed 2 shots of vodka in a mixed drink I concocted on the fly, and then J and I set off for CR.  (This turned out to be a bit of a mistake, for though it did temper my nerves significantly, it also - along with the 2 glasses of water I downed previously - made it feel like my bladder was going to explode by the time I reached church!  I peed 4 times within the next half hour while we were all getting mic'd up!)

The panel consisted of J and I, along with another gay couple (K and JP).  K and JP have been together for 11 years, and they were one of the fortunate 18,000 couples that got married in California before the residents of that "great" state decided to rescind marriage rights for gays.  From the very beginning, I felt as if something big was going to happen.  Matthew introduced us as committed couples who were married (or "about to get married" in the case of J & I).  This simple introduction was a supreme act of kindness.  Here was our pastor and friend, affirming our love before the entire church.  Somehow, in that moment, my relationship to J felt substantial in that way that commitments do when an entire community is brought in on it.  It was kind of a like a preview of what our ceremony will be like in just a few short weeks! :)

The 5th person on the panel (S) was probably the bravest among us.  Not only was she the only woman on the panel, but she was also the only one whose tale was more or less "ex-gay" in nature. (It's actually unclear, based upon S's story, whether or not she is bisexual, or more lesbian, but she had significant attraction to women, which has considerably affected her marriage to her hubby R.)

Think about that.  You really did hear me correctly.  My church had committed gay partners on stage.  Before everyone!  And the leaders asked them to be there - out of love, not out of condemnation so as to make an "example of sin" out of them!  The leaders wanted the entire church to know how much they were a part of the community.  AND . . . and there was a same-sex attracted woman - married to a man, and convinced that this was God's calling for her - on that same stage!  Gays and Ex-gays, side-by-side.  Like lions laying down beside lambs.


But what happened next was truly astonishing.  As we began to tell our stories - one by one - the love, grace, and understanding was literally palpable.  As K began to share his story, I looked across the room and saw the faces of friends and loved ones, strangers, agreers and disagreers - but all were faces of love and respect.  My nervousness melted away like wicker in wax, burning. We were not there to compete - or to take sides.  No one was better than anyone else.  No one felt the need to suggest that my love for J was inferior.  No one felt the need to suggest that S's love for R was suspect, or some sort of fabrication.  They just listened - with utmost respect, and supreme humility.  And then, they asked questions.  And the questions were poignant. 

The entire evening, I was fighting to hold back tears.  I was overwhelmed by emotion as I heard the pain from my fellow panel members, as I retold my own sorrowful tale, as I saw tears streaming down countless faces in the audience, as I looked into the eyes of friends who sent beaming smiles my way, as my friend and brother stood and announced his love and support.  By the time it was over, we (the panel) had received standing ovations. 


Even now as I type this, I'm overrun by emotion.  It was truly a divine evening.  Utterly surreal.  I cannot even describe it with words.  Stupendous, amazing, jaw-dropping; these are all imprecise, clumsy words which I would not deign use to describe what it was like to be on such holy ground.

It was, indubitably, the Kingdom at work on earth.  As Patsy shared with me afterward, this was a pivotal event in the history of our church.  It is a momentous sign of our vision come to fruition.  This vision that seems so utterly ridiculous on the surface:

"Imagine a community that dares to dream of heaven on earth; a community where everyone is accepted and respected and their journey cherished, regardless of their background, beliefs or place in society; where everyone looks out for the concerns of others and no one is alone."

Honestly, who would attempt such a thing?  I mean, is that even possible?  And that's only the first part of it.  It gets more preposterous as you go on!  And yet, this is what we want to see happen in the world.  This is where our hearts lie.  And last night, I realized just how much I am not alone in effectuating this insanity!  This community has signed on to do the tough work of genuinely, authentically accepting and loving one another - no matter where they are on their journey - and taking that love to the world.

5 comments:

ShannonDBR said...

I too am so proud of our church for being a church that will meet people where they are on their journey, instead of expecting people to meet church vision. Hands down, it is the most open & accepting church I've ever attended to date.

You guys never cease to amaze me. Your courage in your authenicity - being who you truly are - openly & honestly - was an utterly amazing to watch.

I've done lots of things & some brave things at that, but even I was not sure if I, if I was in your shoes, could do what I witnessed the 5 people on the panel did last night.

It is a honor to know both you & J, to know your struggles, to know your thoughts, to know your feelings, & to be a witness to not only your love, but the journey you both are on.

God has chosen to do something special through you... may you never forget that "you have to tell your story in order to respect it."

Love to you.

Pomoprophet said...

I can't remember the last time I read a blog post that long... but I was captivated! What an amazing place. As much as I love my Lutheran church and the tradition it draws from, those types of events are not part of our story and so we miss out on experiencing such wonderfulness. I am sure I would have been in tears too. I wish you and J's families could have been there. Perhaps it would have softened their hearts.

I think i'll have to listen to that sermon "Love is the greatest" sometime. I found it on the website.

So you've taken to the bottle to get through your nervousness huh? Is that why theres a reception before your ceremony? So you have time to down 2 more shots of vodka!?!?!? For shame! :)

Joe Moderate said...

Oh Pomo, if only you knew the benefits of the bottle ;-)

DJ, this event sounds like it was nothing short of amazing. Was it a bit healing as well to tell your story in a religious setting including folks on all sides of the issue and to receive no rejection? Sounds so powerful, man. I wish, I wish, I wish I could have been there. I searched the CR site on the outside chance there was a publicly available recording of it. But I'm guessing it is being kept as a personal "family only" gathering for your community. Makes sense.

So happy for you guys to have had that opportunity! Also impressed by your pastors' extreme sensitivity to how even BTG might have been misinterpreted. So cool.

Finally, is sex really God's most beautiful human act? I thought self-sacrifice was. Or cuddling :-) Oh the cuddles, I love the cuddles :-)

D.J. Free! said...

Shannon,

"You have to tell your story in order to respect it." Who said that? What sage words! I love that!

You honored me with your presence. I was telling J the other night how wonderful it was to look out in the audience and see you! You laughed with ferocity, and grieved with strength. It was beautiful :)

And you honor us further with such words of humility and kindness. Thank you! I'm so proud of CR too!

Pomo,

Don't be silly! We can't even HAVE vodka at the church! The ceremony is so that we can down some Champagne beforehand! ;)

Hey, there's nothing stopping that wonderful Lutheran church from creating some wonderfulness like that all its own!

Joe,

Absolutely YES! It was SO healing to be able to tell my story in front of such a broad audience, and have it validated by tears, laughter, and affirmation rather than ignorance or rejection. I too wish you could have been there!

As for the recording, it hasn't been made available, and it is my understanding that when it is, it will be password protected for CR members only. I think a couple of the panel members were a little wary of having their stories accessible to the whole world! Of course you know that *I* didn't give a damn about that, but I had to respect the privacy of others - including my very own J :)

Hmmm . . . interesting question about God's most beautiful act. Self-sacrifice is certainly high up on that list, if not at the top, I'd say. But I think I was implying more of a "shared" human act (self-sacrifice - while having benefits for the objects of that sacrifice - isn't shared per se). And I feel like sex would sort of trump even cuddles (as intoxicating as cuddles are!), by nature of its very intimacy. After all, cuddling happens with lots of people, but sex is exclusively for the one you love most :)

Jeff S. said...

Just catching up on some blog-reading. You rpost reminds me of the gay man who lives with his partner and attends our Tueday night Celebrate Recovery meeting, and the young gay man who attended our youth group and just graduated from high school, both of whom are engaged in ongoing dialogue with me about issues of faith and sexuality. I may not be up on stage like you were, but small steps from within the church, not exactly sure of the end result, but feeling guided by God, people like Wendy Gritter and Andrew Marin, and bloggers like you.