A first century apostle named Peter coined this cool phrase, “living stones” as he was writing to encourage several of the new churches. I’m going to steal this phrase and use it in a way that has nothing to do with Peter’s intention, but fits nicely with this episode of my blog. If you feel this is outrageous or sinful, take a number; there are a lot of folks ahead of you with more serious charges.
So there was this long period following the sort of sensational life-changing events that shocked me into losing all certainty in the things I had been spoon fed about God’s and Scriptures’ teaching on homosexuality. But on my journey I encountered many GLBTQ folks and also encountered some rabid gay haters, and some equally rabid Church/God/religion haters. I ran into some folks who were engaged in homosexual behavior but weren’t gay or bisexual and some who were gay and living a straight life. In my limited experience and understanding of how this all worked, my impression was that those who were living a life that directly contradicted their true nature were the most miserable.
It is the wonderful, mostly GLBTQ folks who I am calling “living stones.” By that I mean that they are the people who over time became building blocks in my understanding of GLBTQ experiences and world view. They were the ones who most helped me see the pain and mistreatment experienced by GLBTQ people at the hands of a church that I loved passionately and by colleagues whose companionship I deeply treasured. My vision for their inclusion in the church became a passion that burned in my heart and one that I deeply hoped to see come to fruition in my lifetime. It was through them that new certainties began to replace the old.
Each of my new friends in the GLBTQ community has a story from which I learned a great deal. Surprisingly to me, they offered more patience and kindness to those that condemned them than they received in return. Mostly due to my friendship, several LGBTQ people began to attend my church. I told them they could be safe there but they couldn’t expect to serve in any leadership roles unless they were “closeted.”. My words to them must have sounded like betrayal, and indeed they were. There are few things I regret more than having been the messenger of exclusion and rejection to these hopeful friends. To be brutally honest, I was just too afraid that I would lose my job and/or my reputation to live into my convictions. Then when an anti-gay rights measure was on the ballot during a state political campaign, a respected woman in the congregation stood up in worship one Sunday and verbally abused all LGBTQ people, equating them with murders, perverts, and sexual predators and describing how God saw them as abomination, I shirked my responsibility as the spiritual leader of that Church and just sat there and let it happen. I could have at least condemned such vicious speech and irresponsible use of scripture, but I didn’t. I failed to speak on behalf of Jesus’ call to love everyone…everyone. It was a teachable moment that I failed to utilize the on behalf of my dear friends. . I had sacrificed these friends rather than speaking truth to the congregation on their behalf.
All but two of those friends stopped coming to church and, despite my many apologies, no longer trusted me as their advocate. I was tormented by the immense wrong I had committed and began to feel unworthy of my pastoral calling. I was neither like Christ who spoke boldly against the state of Judaism, nor like George Fox, who courageously spoke out against empty religion. I still, in my moments of solitude, compose a response that I should have given to that vicious attack and yet that opportunity was lost. Ironically, shortly after that I felt led to leave that church and all those people I loved. It was true; when I disobeyed out of fear, something worse than I feared became my fate.
These LBGTQ friends, who had counted on me, eventually very graciously forgave me, but they still reflect on that worship service as one of the most painful experiences of their lives. That experience greatly reduced my confidence so that I stopped reaching out to LGBTQ folks. When I moved to another church I seldom mentioned my passion for the acceptance of gays and lesbians. I didn’t feel strong enough to raise the issue because I didn’t trust my own willingness to take the risks involved.
Still, the wall of conviction that my “living stones” had built remained intact, though dormant, in the heart of my soul. And the voice within, the questions, and the encounters were always in the forefront of my mind. At that time I heard in a sermon by Myron Augsburger who said, “Regret is like a bulldog bite that sinks its teeth into the dead flesh of the past and refuses to let go.” I knew I had to move on, forgive myself, and obey that inner voice.