The convergence of conservative “christians” in my neighborhood this weekend reminded me of an article I wrote for The Epistle, a web magazine for Christian gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
Jon-Jon and I have known each other since seventh grade and have been friends for over twenty years. We were both reared by liberal Jesuits, attending the same Roman Catholic grade school, high school and university. I had always considered ourselves highly educated, enlightened and worldly men. While he pursued his MBA at an ivy-league school and climbed the ranks of international finance, I followed my own path in New York, where we finally caught up with each other a few years ago.
We reconnected. I met his lovely wife and children and he met my partner, John. We visited each other’s homes and broke bread together on many occasions. We marked birthdays and other milestones through phone calls and parties. It seemed like our bond was forged not only by shared history but was also being strengthened by our renewed friendship.
It thus came as a surprise when he called me at work about a year ago, during the height of the controversy surrounding Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson. Under some other pretext he rang me, but a few sentences into the conversation he asked if he could talk to me about something that “bothered” him – the consecration as bishop of an openly gay man. To him, I must have been the best person to approach, being gay, Episcopal, and partnered with an Episcopal priest.
It bothered him. Although he is a Roman Catholic, he was bothered by what was unfolding in the Episcopal Church. He then proceeded to proof-text, which totally blew me away, as he was the last person I expected to resort to such tactics and take the Bible literally. He cited passages that condemned homosexuality and in turn I reminded him of what our religion teachers and Jesuit professors taught us: that the many disparate books of the Bible were written at particular points in history, by authors influenced by the prevailing culture, for a specific audience. Moreover, I pointed out that God gave us minds to think and discern.
Our conversation volleyed back and forth for a good fifteen minutes until I said, “Jon-Jon, let me ask you: do you believe that homosexuality is a sin, is evil and that homosexuals will burn in hell?” He readily answered yes. “Then,” I continued, “we will never reach consensus. I believe that I am a child of God and that I will be welcomed into my Father’s house.”
We are all children of God — homosexuals, heterosexuals and transgendered individuals. If we could internalize this reality, this awesome grace, it might free lesbians and gays from the need to justify ourselves to others, especially to those who use the Bible and religion to deny homosexuals our place at the table. Remember that it is God’s table, not the fundamentalists’ nor the pope’s nor any one else’s who claim to have full knowledge of God’s will. It is God who chooses and invites, not man.
A recent episode of Religion and Ethics News Weekly featured a gay Orthodox Jew who has been struggling to integrate his homosexuality with the strict and exclusionary paradigm of his tradition and family. It is a story a lot of gay Christian women and men share. Some choose to turn their backs on their families and religion. Others choose to hope against all hope for eventual acceptance from people and institutions that refuse to love all of God’s children. Although the need for acceptance and love from our families and religious communities is very human and is to be expected, homosexuals have to realize that sadly, this need will not be easily met. Unfortunately for some, it may never be met. However, by owning one’s birthright as God’s own, a Christian gay woman or man will be better able to deal with the rejection of others. The pain and sadness that come with a parent’s disavowal or a pastor’s rebuke will not go away, but how could we not lift our heads up and live our lives with integrity knowing that we have as much right as anybody else to live and love?
This is the greater truth: we are all God’s children. We have as much right as anyone else to live, to love, to be. Let us not spend our lives seeking earthly approval when we have the love and grace of God. Let us live our lives with honesty, integrity and love, as the true sisters and brothers of Jesus and as the true heirs of God.
Jon-Jon ended the conversation by saying that he hoped I was not offended. I answered that I was not. Later that year, he and his family joined me and my partner, along with other family members and friends, in celebrating our new home. We broke bread and laughed, brothers and sisters in Christ.
Erwin de Leon
New York City
May 30, 2004
Image from Rutgers University Libraries.