On the weekend of November 12, I was invited to speak at a symposium at Highlands Church in Denver, CO. Rev. Mark Tidd laid forth a daunting request. Would I be willing to speak open and candidly about my experience as a gay person of faith? He’s not the first person to ask. From the moment that others have become aware of my story I have received many requests to comment, admonish, endorse or simply just appear in the on-going, emotionally charged conversation about being gay and Christian. At the same time, I have found much encouragement to simply remain silent. The message seems to be clear: It is ok that I am gay, but it is not acceptable to some that I speak of it.
That being said, it took several long emails and phone calls with Rev. Tidd and the symposium facilitator, novelist, Jonathan Odell, for me to agree to participate in a symposium entitlted “The Evangelical Church & Homosexulality”. They worked hard to convince me that this was a moment of hospitality; an opportunity to release the tension of silence by means of sharing stories. Stories of loss, of joy, compassion and of spiritual growth. Stories not fully written, continually evolving, fragile and potent. Not unlike the stories any of us could relate to, regardless of gender, ethnicity, spiritual traditions, or social class.
Yet the elephant in the room remains, we are talking openly about the experiences of being gay in the church. I find that anytime I write it down (gay) or say it out loud (gay) or talk about the joys of sharing my life with a partner (gay)…there is always someone who comments that they wished that I would not speak.
In the words of a pastor who came out to his church, “Pastor, we all knew you were gay. We’re just made as hell that you told us.”
But here’s the rub. How well do we, or have we ever, responded when assumptions are made about our unique person? When we meet a new friend, join a new group, continue a relationship with another human being, we tell the stories of our lives. We share the narrative of how we grew up, what experiences have shaped us. We confess our sins, our misdeeds, waiting for the other person to make good their escape. We lure them back in with tales of our accomplishments, our victories, our strengths. We secure these bonds by showing our vulnerabilities and willingness for the capacity to love.
Along the way of living we accumulate the joys and sorrows of our individual experience that grow into ‘our story’. We learn by listening to others. We learn in the telling of our own journey. We wound, heal, divide and unite, over and over again.
I cannot avoid it. I have a story. Occasionally, someone asks me to share it in questions like: Where did you grow up? Why do think that? What’s your family like? How did you get that scar? What’s it like being gay?… Every time, the dizzying risks of vulnerability sound their alarm and I am left with a question:
Will I share my story?