By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
Tonight I learned that a close relative has ‘come out’. She is 22 years old: happy, smart, sociable, gifted in leadership. She just landed her first teaching job, in a small town in the north of England. And it occurs to me that she might have trouble living openly as a gay woman in a teaching profession in a non-cosmopolitan setting. She is poised to make a strong generous contribution to the world as she meets it. I can only hope that her strong personality and sense of humour see her through any barriers to living as herself.
I wish I believed that her Christian foundation would provide whatever she needs to deal with the barriers. She grew up joining her family in the friendly village church: when we visited there, people told us what wonderful girls she and her sisters are (she also worked as a bar-maid in the pub near the Church). My question is how her faith will serve her as a gay woman in a world that is still on the cusp of full inclusion of non-traditional sexual identities. Will she be required to make choices that might not arise in a non-Christian community?
Put baldly, the issue I’m beginning to explore here is that the gay people I know who seem comfortable with who they are do not appear to remain attached to any religious community. (They also live in urban centres, a matter I won’t explore here). Gay people who remain committed to Christian community seem more likely to remain conflicted and under stress as they try to be who they are.
This young woman is not the first person in our family to declare her homosexuality. Another niece’s daughter, 27, has lived as a gay woman for the past 10 years in Montreal, with her family’s support, and has just moved with her partner of 3 three years to Toronto. Her academic career provides a safe environment so far, as do the substantial gay communities in Montreal and Toronto. She is not at all religious.
By contrast, my male cousin has known he was gay since his early teens. He has been Christian since he was 12. He is now 67 and his life is marked by the tragic pains of denial, punishment when found out, therapy with electric shocks when arousal followed being shown pictures of naked men. He became deeply religious, was ordained, married, raised four children, and now is writing a long Russian novel in his semi-retirement. He has come to terms with his self-denial. We never discuss the cost but he appears to 10 years older than his age.
And so for years I have wondered if we as Christians are provided for by our faith communities if we are not heterosexual?
What do I want Christian faith to provide? As a heterosexual who loves some homosexual individuals I want a sensible position to share with those with whom I pray regarding same-sex relationships. I want this common viewpoint to arise from some reconciliation between personal revelation (experience), teaching from church leaders, from scripture, and arrived at through shared reasoning. Of course, this could mean I want everyone to think as I do, but it’s not a single opinion that I want to share, but rather an agreement that all the variations of sexual identity are to be respected as part of being human. The fundamental principle is that God’s spirit resides in each of us whether we think about it or not and that spirit unfolds over time if we allow it.
I also hope for Christian communities within which we provide reassurance to our young that they don’t stop being worthy of the community’s love if they realize they are attracted to people of their own gender. Of course, following this path will not result in traditional marriage and raising of children. The legitimate expectation of a good Christian is to become embedded in family life – the natural order for someone fulfilling God’s purpose. (Or if Roman Catholic, you can join the world of clergy – another world entirely).
A note on what I understand as the R.C. world at the present time: if you’re not going to marry, celibacy is expected and particularly for any devout gay person. Tolerant love toward homosexuals is expected from the rest of us. Homosexuality isn’t a sin: living as a gay person is. End of discussion. There are small sub-cultures within the R.C. world that have moved on and provide truly welcoming space for those who defy the Church by being openly who they are. I’d like to discuss this reality another time.
The United Church of Canada has led the effort to provide support and supportive theology. Excellent. Isn’t that enough? No, because so many Christians still think they are on the side of Jesus when they disapprove and judge open homosexuality as disgraceful.
At a gay wedding two weekends ago at a Distillery district art gallery, people passed by as the two brides were photographed, each gorgeous in long white dresses. Some ignored the scene, some paused and smiled, some poked each other and frowned: “Look at that. Would you look at THAT!” My best guess is that the disapprovers included many good Christians. It’s early days for same-sex marriage, but could we not, as Christians – knowing how much we’re all loved by a compassionate God – take the lead in open-hearted welcome of the new inclusive reality?
Sometimes I’m hopeful and sometimes not. And does it matter? We know from Jesus’ teaching the direction we have to move in. Love, respect, inclusion, compassion. No-brainer. Except that we are deeply divided as Christians on the matter. The source of the “Go To” direction is also the source of the Barriers to getting there. We are part of the problem.
Cousteau says it’s all one ocean – what happens in the Gulf doesn’t stay in the Gulf. Similarly, if we’re all created from the same Spirit, what hurts another hurts me. And if Susan, my niece, spoken of at the start of this piece, can be happy I’ll catch that too.
Hope someone feels like addressing this with me . . .