Finding One’s Own Way

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 . . .

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6 Comments

Filed under Rosemary's entries

6 responses to “Finding One’s Own Way

  1. Dan Cooperstock

    This is excellent and important, Rosemary. I do though have to admit that I cringe at the phrase “good Christian” in reference to those who disapprove of same sex marriage. By my definitions, that is NOT a good Christian.

    There are many Christian churches that are strongly supportive of gays and lesbians (the vast majority of mine, liberal Quakerism, included, with rare exceptions). There are a lot of Quaker Meetings in Great Britian, in case your niece wants to check them out.

    For anyone that tries to make Biblical arguments about this, you might want to show them the following amazing clip from the West Wing, where President Bartlett challenges a “Dr. Laura”-like figure on her Bible quotes:

  2. Now I know what it’s like to be the commenter instead of the blogger. (It’s not so easy, I realize – so much to say, and only this puny little box to say it in!)

    First, thank you Rosemary. The words that struck me most deeply are, “we are deeply divided as Christians on this matter. The source of the ‘Go To’ direction is also the source of the Barriers to getting there.”

    I think you’ve already shown us the way forward. I’m struck that your entry is about people you know and love. I know several friends whose opinions about same-sex marriage have shifted simply because of someone they knew. It’s when we stop talking abstractly and talk with real people that hearts and minds open up.

    I think this is the only way we’ll come to any unity among Christians too. Dan says (I know with a twinkle) that those who disapprove of same sex marriage are, by his definition, NOT good Christians. But actually, I know some lovely people who disagree with me on this issue, and it would be good to have a real conversation with them.

    Right now, it feels too prickly. I suspect they’re on the defensive, afraid of being written off as “haters.” And I don’t quite trust myself to be open and thoughtful on issues where I’ve already formed a strong opinion. So nothing happens. It’s the same with other “big divide” issues like abortion. I’d be interested in hearing other peoples’ success with finding the right forum for these tough but necessary conversations.

  3. Dan Cooperstock

    I guess my approach on this topic is to ask for an explanation of why they feel that way.

    If it’s a Biblical explanation, I really feel that is so easy to refute, starting with the fact that Jesus said nothing about it, and going on to all of the other things that the Old Testament says are bad that we no longer feel are bad, etc.

    If it’s “tradition”, well, things change, like our approaches to slavery & racism (both of which are well supported in the Bible). Why not this one as well?

    Beyond that, there is seldom any reasonable argument that can be offered – possibly the “uck factor” about gay sex or something. Aside from the fact that that reason is just silly, this should not be framed as an issue about sex, but one about love.

    There’s a member of our Quaker Meeting that is still very firmly against gay marriage (and especially gay sex). But when anyone (including me, in several long conversations) tries to pin him down on his reasons, it is impossible. If you can’t give reasons that hold water, I’m sorry, but I lose respect for your position, and feel that you have no right to try to force that position on other people.

  4. Rhonda Teitel-Payne

    Small/big thing. Rosemary, you say “of course” gay people will not be able to follow the path of traditional marriage and raising children. Did you mean to say this yourself, or do you offer this as the “logic” of people who denounce homosexuality? Of course, gay couples have children and participate in family life all the time. Some of them have been very good at re-defining and strengthening (not weakening) what family means – to everyone’s benefit.

    Dan – your “uck” factor made me giggle. Any adult child will tell you that the biggest “uck” is to think of their parents as sexual beings. Obviously this doesn’t make us try to stop our parents from having sex (although I don’t suppose we encourage them to display it in front of us, either). Whether you agree with it or not, heterosexuals are able to display their sexuality freely in our society and it is discriminatory to insist that gays be asexual in that context.

    Joy, I share your desire to figure out a way to have this conversation with people who don’t agree with me, a way that doesn’t leave me (and the other person) enraged.

    Thank you all for affirming that there is room for a broad range of sexuality within Christianity. It means there is room for humanity.

    Rhonda

  5. Dan Cooperstock

    Rhonda, just to be clear, the “uck factor” is not my thinking – I completely agree that whatever public displays of affection are acceptable for straights should be acceptable for gays. I was just quoting one element of concerns I had heard raised by people who frankly I consider to be homophobes. And I don’t think the “uck” part for them is necessarily about public stuff, it’s more about private sexual practices.

  6. Deborah Hierlihy

    I am reading Rosemary’s words and the responders with interest. Thought I would share a bit on this topic. Interestingly enough, I have found it to be more challenging to ‘come out’ as a member of a faith community than as a lesbian. Among my peer group in larger urban centres like Toronto, I encountered an anti-faith bias.

    The world view of the church I grew up in (Anglican) failed to embrace or reflect the understandings I had as a feminist starting in my late teens and then as a lesbian in my early twenties. Sad to say, 2 and a half decades later, the Anglican church world wide and in the diocese where I now live in Eastern Ontario has not kept pace with changing social norms. While gay and lesbian members may represent 25% of the congregation on a given Sunday in the small town where I live, and our money is welcome in the collection plate, we feel like second class citizens due to the Church’s stance on gay clergy and gay marriage (and the conservative stance on these topics articulated by our local bishop.) Sad really. And I have stopped going. First Unitarian in Toronto was a wonderful spiritual home for the years I lived in Toronto. It is what I miss the most moving out of Toronto a bunch of years ago.

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