06 November 1991

On Becoming a Christian

But Jesus said, Forbid him not; for there is no one who shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me. — Mark 9:39
I suppose I should confess that I joined a Defense Research Lab before I joined the Church. The order of things isn't all that important, since they came about nearly simultaneously. I went to church because we were new in town and my wife wanted to go.

I toyed with the idea of dropping her off at the door and picking her up when she was done. After eighteen years in the Bible Belt, I distrusted Christians, even though I had been raised as one. Still, I was searching for a "wholesome discipline." I had begun reading up on various religions, especially Zen Buddhism, while treading the mill in Corporate America, because I needed a source of inspiration to withstand the grind. Finally, I realized that I had gained as much as I could from studying about religion, and that to become transformed, to become whole, I would have to practice one. Christianity was the one whose symbols meant the most to me, but I had doubts about it. Christians seemed to me to be people who either used church to show off their best behavior and clothes, or to further their political agenda, or to show off to God how obedient they were by crucifying everyone but themselves and recruiting like mad. In short, I thought Christianity was a dead religion.

But I walked in with her, sat down, and was amazed. The man in the pulpit gave literate and thoughtful sermons, interpreting Christ's message with care, inspiration, and compassion. I began to respect the pastor as a thinker and a moralist. But what really convinced me that he was honest about his Christianity was that my wife and I surmised that he was gay. Not only was he a Christian in spite of what the church did to people like him, he was like Christ in that he was ministering to people who would, and eventually did, almost literally crucify him when they realized who he was. When he spoke the Word, I knew he meant it. (Those who would quote Scripture in an attempt to discredit him I answer with the former blind man's words to the Pharisees in John 9:30, "Why herein is a marvellous thing, that ye know not from whence he is, and yet he hath opened mine eyes.")

And that is how I began becoming a Christian. I also had help from some other special people. As part of my wholesome discipline, I took 50 hours of training to become a Stephen Minister (a lay pastoral caregiver or peer counselor). The people I ministered to helped me tremendously by allowing me to walk a little way along life's journey with them. Through my experiences helping them I gained a greater understanding of what it means to think of God as acting in the world (in spite of suffering) and of what prayer is about (and I gained a great respect for my pastor as a caregiver, teacher, and supervisor).

One of those special people was a young gay man with AIDS who had been ejected from his Fundamentalist congregation. For him, I was just barely "Christian enough" at first. On my part, I had to come to terms with a number of things in order to counsel him effectively: my antipathy toward Fundamentalism, my fear of AIDS, and my understanding of myself as a man. Straight men are usually uptight around gays because gays present an alternative variety of manhood, in the presence of which straight men realize that they never really looked into their own manhood. Fearful of what they might find, they avoid the questions by avoiding (if not picking on) the gays. I was no exception. So I had to get comfortable with myself as a straight man in order to affirm him as a gay man.

Which was part of the key to his survival. In order for his somatic (bodily) self to resist his disease, his psychological and spiritual self needed healing. He had to come to an understanding and acceptance of himself as a gay, Christian, man. I'm glad I was around to help, and to witness his transformation from a man on his deathbed (the doctors had given up on him, sending him home on pain medication to die) to a long term survivor.

So I get angry when I read about the "controversy" in various churches regarding ministry with gays and lesbians, gay or lesbian marriages, and ordination of gay and lesbian clergy. The controversy is caused by good and pious people who ask in tones of shock and disbelief, "Do you really believe homosexuality is acceptable to the Lord?" I want to ask in reply, "Do you really believe you are acceptable to the Lord?" If one of these folks answers "No, not really," then we have an opportunity for some serious ministry. And if he or she answers "Yes," I would challenge, "Then love others as God loves you." Those I have met who walk in God's Love as an ongoing experience respond with love, even for those defined by human society to be unlovable. Because they experience acceptance of themselves, they hardly question it regarding others.

For many others, who I think doubt their acceptance, homosexuality is a purity or cleanliness issue. This is ironic, because all present day Christians would have been considered unclean by the earliest Christians. According to the Bible, it took Divine Intervention (Peter's vision in Acts 10:10-28) to get Peter or any of the first Christian community (who were all Jews) to enter the house of a Gentile (a non-Jew, all of whom were considered unclean), and even then he did it cautiously, taking witnesses with him so that he could explain himself to the folks back home. In other words, people who have themselves had special dispensation to be considered clean enough to enter the Church give thanks for it by calling someone else unclean. It's like joining a fraternity only to have contempt for the new pledges.

And so I watch my Church make war against itself over the "homosexuality question." To steal a phrase from Dr. King, somewhere I read, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Which is peacemaking — to affirm all God's people, or to deny part? Which promotes unity — to deny the witness of the minority, or to affirm the witness of all? When Jesus fed the five thousand, I doubt that he checked for affectional orientation or recent genital activity. If the loaves and fish can be taken as a metaphor for God's Love, we seem to be anxiously counting our portion rather than giving generously to the multitude. We might do well to remember (Mark 4:25), "For he that hath, more shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath." Perhaps acknowledging the Word from whomever speaks it, and affirming the committed relationship of whoever loves each other are ways we are called to share what we are given. Perhaps more shall be added to us when we do.

See also Lutherans Concerned North America's Reconciling in Christ program.

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