In August of 1984, my youngest brother, who had been my childhood playmate, died with AIDS. Just two weeks earlier, while visiting him in the hospital, he told my husband and I his lifelong secret. He was gay and had always been gay.
I have wished many times since that brief encounter with the person he really was that we could have been granted more time so that he could help me understand this complex reality. But for some reason (possibly my own pious and judgmental attitude that kept him from sharing this secret with me), our time of unmasked openness with each other was limited to a few short hours. Yet it was freeing for both of us to realize that when the secret was out in the open, we loved each other more deeply than ever before.
Because this issue touched me so personally, I began to search and try to understand the gay/lesbian issue. As I searched, it became clear to me that what I had believed all my life about gay people was not correct. In fact, it was wrong - terribly wrong! I want to share with you the reasons why I have changed my mind.
1. The testimony of my brother's wife.
My sister-in-law did not allow the tragic death of her husband to make her bitter. Nor did she shrink into oblivion and live as a recluse. She had only a few months to adjust to the truth about who her husband really was. That time became a time of new openness, understanding, and compassion between them.
After Ray's death she sought out his gay friends and learned to know them. She sat by the bedsides of persons dying with AIDS and ministered to them. She became director of pastoral care of an organization that promotes understanding and caring for these afflicted persons. She began to share her story and became an advocate for gay and lesbian people. Families with homosexual members began to come to her for understanding and counsel.
She has touched the lives of many persons throughout the United States and Canada because of her compassionate understanding. Before her retirement, she served in pastoral ministry in several Mennonite churches and continues to fill interim pastoral positions when the opportunity arises. In our discussions together she has helped me to a new and deeper understanding of Scripture on this subject.
2. The testimony of my brother's life.
My brother was an excellent nurse. We had not known about the special contributions he made to the nursing profession until some of his colleagues shared this information during the memorial service. The Governor of Kansas sent a letter of condolence to his wife and children with appreciation for his services as executive administrator of the State Board of Nursing. When he died he was associate executive director of the National Council of State Boards of Nursing.
He was a respected member of his church. When they learned his lifelong secret, they did not shun him, but made it possible for him to die at home through their round-the-clock care for him and his family.
3. The testimony of Peter to the church at Jerusalem concerning fraternizing with Gentiles (Acts 10:1-11:18).
Circumcision was at the heart of God's covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14). It was the sign of the everlasting covenant between God and his people. The importance of this rite is emphasized in Genesis 17:14:
"Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised ... shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
This became such an important doctrine of the Jewish faith that to eat or fellowship with an uncircumcised Gentile was unthinkable. Therefore, we can understand Peter's consternation with God's object lesson (repeated three times) that he was to do something contrary to what he had always taught and believed firmly to be right.
Peter was called to account for his actions by the circumcised believers in Jerusalem. Step-by-step, he told how God led him to act contrary to the tradition and teaching of the church when he went to the home of a Gentile. Then he said,
"And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. If then God gave them the same gift that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?"
(Acts 11:15 & 17).
I thank God that Peter was willing to risk his reputation and position as a leader of the church to follow the truth to which God was leading him. If Peter had not obeyed, where would we Gentiles be today?
4. New insights in books and articles written by biblical scholars.
As I looked to God to guide me, more and more resources were brought to my attention. I will list a few for anyone who wants to begin a deeper study of this issue:
Barnett, Walter. Homosexuality and the Bible: An Interpretation. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications, Pamphlet #226, 1979.
"Christians and Homosexuality: Dancing Toward the Light," special issue of The Other Side magazine, 300 W. Apsley, Philadelphia, PA, 1994.
Hill, Leslie. Marriage: A Spiritual Leading for Lesbian, Gay, and Straight Couples. Wallingford, PA: Pendle Hill Publications, Pamphlet #308, 1993.
Scanzoni, Letha and Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? Another Christian View. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1978, 1994.
Scroggs, Robin. The New Testament and Homosexuality. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.
5. The testimony of an associate pastor of a church that provides a
"safe haven" for all people.
This pastor and I worked together for several years in our conference offices. My husband and I went to visit the church at Germantown and had an interview with her. When I asked her how she came to believe that it was right to include homosexual people as members, she replied, "My parental home was always an open and welcoming home. So I learned to accept all people." Further dialogue with our friend helped me understand why this congregation had to risk the censure of the conference body in order to follow the way God was leading them.
6. Personal witness of Christian gays and lesbians.
The video, Body of Dissent, prepared by the Brethren/Mennonite Council for Lesbian and Gay Concerns (BMC), helped me get in touch with the personal struggle and pain of people who are born with homosexual orientation. I also read the book, Stranger at the Gate: How to be Christian and Gay in America, by Mel White.
The next step was to personally learn to know gays and lesbians. In all the years I wanted to learn to know these people so I could help them change, God brought only one to me, and he did not need my help to change. Now that I have allowed God to change me, I have many gay and lesbian friends. Their lives have greatly enriched mine, and their sincere desire to know and honor God continues to challenge me.
7. Testimony of non-gay members of a safe haven church.
The members we have talked to from Germantown Mennonite Church who are of heterosexual orientation have assured us that they do indeed see evidence of the Holy Spirit's work in the lives of the gays and lesbians who worship with them. Because God has given the witness of his Spirit within his homosexual children, they cannot refuse membership to them.
8. Testimony of parents of gays and lesbians.
We continue to meet more and more parents who have gay or lesbian children. I never before realized how many children of this sexual orientation are born to families who are highly regarded as sound biblical families in our Mennonite churches. Their sons and daughters are neither rebelling against God, their families, or the church. I have been much impressed by the quality of relationships among these family members. Most of the parents we know are very supportive of their children.
My husband and I frequently attend the Connecting Families weekends. Connecting Families is a group of families from Brethren and Mennonite churches who meet together once a year to learn from and support each another. A few couples and individuals from other denominations attend also. One couple we met had been members of a Mennonite church, but when their lesbian daughter was not accepted, they supported her by going to a denomination that would welcome them all. How sad that such gifted persons needed to find fellowship elsewhere!
I had the privilege of sitting in with a small group of mothers who have lesbian daughters. Each mother shared the gift that her daughter has been to her. The relationships expressed were, without exception, very loving and warm.
9. Testimony of Christians throughout the broader church.
Letters to "Readers Say" (Gospel Herald) and "View-point" (Mennonite Weekly Review) have strengthened and added more insight to the truth I have been seeking. Letters written by persons who, at various times in my life, have walked the path with me have been especially meaningful.
10. Loving, committed relationships of same-gender monogamous partnerships.
My husband and I have enjoyed the privilege of being guests in a few of these homes, and we have learned to know many same-gender couples. We are inspired by their love and respect for each other.
11. Actual success rate of ex-gay ministries.
I believe that ministries designed to help gay people change have been able to help a few of them to reach that goal. People, who have much more knowledge on this subject than I do, describe it as a continuum, where those who are completely heterosexual are at one end and those completely homosexual are at the other end, with varying degrees towards the center. Those nearest the center are the ones who are able to change. Many people say, "But God can change all of them."
Most of my gay friends have earnestly prayed to God to help them change, but they have finally found peace by accepting themselves as persons created by God to honor God. In this acceptance they have come to a new realization of God's love for them.
12. Contributions to the church and society by gay and lesbian persons.
King James I of England, who authorized the revered King James Version of the Bible, was homosexual. Artists: Michelangelo, who painted the frescoes on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, and Leonardo da Vinci, painter of The Lord's Supper were also gay. On the lesbian side are Willa Cather, a writer, and James Miranda Barry, the first British woman doctor, who passed as a man all her life to avoid the consequences of full disclosure. (Quoted from Homosexuals in History by A. L. Rowfe and Lesbian Lives by Barbara Grier and Coletta Reid in Is the Homosexual my Neighbor? (p. 30ff).
13. The church has been wrong before.
Yes, I know the church has voted and usually that settles it for me, but this time I do not agree with the decision that gay people cannot be a part of the church.
Years ago my father was denied church membership because, as a banker, he wrote insurance policies. Some of the persons who voted him out came to him for insurance policies later. When insurance was no longer considered to be "sin," the church leaders revisited my father's membership status but, because he was unwilling to discontinue wearing a tie, he was again denied membership.
My family suffered the consequences of those decisions. I am sure that many of you in my age group (65-80) can recall other instances where the church has been wrong.
In the days of slavery, some church people used the Bible to prove that it was right to own slaves. Other church people laid their lives on the line to provide an underground railroad to freedom for many slaves. Today my husband and I feel God has called us to put our lives on the line in a different way.
We do not like conflict and feel much more comfortable when brothers and sisters live together in peace. However, we cannot accept the kind of peace that shames our gay brothers and sisters for being who they are (using terms borrowed from Lewis B. Smedes in his book, Shame and Grace.)
14. I know what it feels like to be judged a sinner.
While suffering for years from a strange and puzzling illness, a beloved family member wrote several letters telling me that I could get well if I would "quit my sinning." My sins were sins of dress and hair style. I knew then (and still know) that I am accepted and loved by God, for God's own Spirit affirms that truth to me. But I know how painful and frustrating it is to be told, "God cannot accept you because you do not live the way I interpret the Bible."
I am sure I have done my share of making people feel rejected by God with my own narrow interpretations, and I am truly sorry for that. If I would have followed Jesus' new commandment to love others just as Jesus loves me (John 13:34), and if my church could have trusted God to do the judging, I believe my brother might be alive today.
After an intense day of debating this issue in our conference (April 1995) that ended with a majority vote to make the Germantown congregation a "second class" congregation, we ate dinner at a local restaurant with one of our friends. As we shared feelings and experiences together, he said, "I always enjoy the peace of the 'back roads' of the countryside, but today I will be glad to get back to Philadelphia where I can feel safe again." Quite an indictment on a church meeting where we were urged to "hate the sin, but love the sinner"!
15. The life and teachings of Jesus.
Now I come to the most important reason of all. I see no condemnation for those of homosexual orientation in the words of Jesus, my Lord and model. I do see and hear condemnation for those who interpreted the Scriptures and formed their own human laws. But I see Jesus loving and identifying with all persons who were marginalized and shamed by others. In answer to a lawyer's question about which commandment in the law was the greatest, Jesus said,
"'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets" (Matthew 22:37-40).
I am sick and tired of the terms "heterosexual" and "homosexual," and I long for the day when we no longer label one another but reach out in love and caring concern for each other. Then we can admit that we do not have all the answers and trust God to show us how to listen to each other and accept each other with love, allowing each person to have the freedom that God gives to all of us.
I wonder what history will record about the decisions made by the church in 1995. I believe God is weeping for God's children.
PS. (added several months later) To All Who May Read This Article:
In sharing my experience, I want to make it very clear that I am not advocating promiscuity of any kind. Nor am I making a case for partners in a "mixed" marriage (heterosexual and homosexual) to separate. But considering the pain and heartache that is usually a part of those marriages, I feel it would be much better if they were never entered into in the first place.
I am saying that God gives each of us freedom of choice and the Holy Spirit's guidance to make good choices. Therefore, in my opinion, the church should bless covenanted, same-gender, committed relationships between two people who are sincerely seeking to do God's will.
Article Revised - January 2006
APPENDIX -- More Resources
Aarons, Leroy. Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son. San Francisco: Harper, 1995.
Bess, Rev. Howard H. Pastor, I Am Gay. Palmer, Alaska: Palmer Publishing Co., 1995
Boswell, John. Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1980.
Helminiak, Daniel A. What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality. San Francisco: Alamo Square Press, 1994.
Marcus, Eric. Is It a Choice? Answers to 300 of the Most Frequently Asked Questions About Gays and Lesbians. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1993.
Morrison, Melanie. The Grace of Coming Home: Spirituality, Sexuality, and the Struggles for Justice. Cleveland: The Pilgrim Press, 1995.
Piazza, Michael S. Holy Homosexuals: The Truth About Being Gay or Lesbian and Christian. 2nd ed. Dallas: The Sources of Hope Publishing House, 1995.
Waun, Maurine C. Learning to Embrace Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Persons in the Church. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1999.
Body of Dissent: Lesbian and Gay Mennonites Continue the Journey. (39 min.) Toronto: Video Productions, 1994.
BMC, Box 6300, Minneapolis, MN 55406-0300. Phone: (612) 722-6906
E-mail: email@example.com Website: www.bmclgbt.org
Growing Up Gay. (80 min.) Denver, CO: KBDI-TV, 1992.
Brian McNaught tells what it is like to grow up as a gay individual.
To order: (800) 875-7676.
There's a Wideness in God's Mercy: Dr. Lewis Smedes on Romans One.
(30 min.) Soulforce, PO Box 3195, Lynchburg, VA 24503.
Phone: (877 ) 705-6393 (Toll free).
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.soulforce.org
* * * * *
Both articles are included in the book :
From Wounded Hearts, Â©1998, 2003
compiled and edited by Roberta Showalter Kreider
available from the ChristianGays.com Store.
by Roberta Showalter Kreider
Copyright May 1995
Revised January 2006
(Used with Permission)