A gay Christian speaks to fundamentalists
image by © Koren Shadmi 2010, Levy Creative Management, NYC
Last year I got a call from an administrator at a Midwestern seminary with a reputation for its take-no-prisoners conservative theology. He had permission to conduct a series of seminars on hot-button issues like abortion, stem-cell research, and gay marriage. His plan was to bring in a succession of speakers, one to take the pro side of an issue, followed by a second to present the opposing view.
I took a deep breath. I knew what was coming next. “We want you to take the pro side on homosexuality,” he said.
Yippee, I thought. I get to argue for Satan.
Several years earlier I had given a reading on the same campus. It was from my novel, The View from Delphi. I hadn’t come out as gay then, only as a Baptist. Years before, I made the decision that the only time I should feel obligated to reveal my sexual orientation was when there was something positive in it for me—like a quick way to get rid of a Jehovah’s Witness.
“Why me?” I asked the caller.
“Actually,” he said. “I heard you were gay before you showed up.”
It turns out that the dean had done his best to cancel my previous reading. I had not known at the time that my gay presence was sufficient to cause a scandal. What would happen if I were to actually talk about it?
The administrator pleaded his case. “I want you to come here not only because you’re gay, but because you’re religious. You’ve obviously held on to your spiritual beliefs.”
I didn’t tell him I’d been able to retain my faith by steering clear of the hateful fundamentalists that universities like his turned out. Instead, I lied and told him I’d think about it.
“Well, I can’t blame you if you say no,” he said. “In fact, I might lose my job over asking you. But I think it’s worth it.”
Great, I thought. He’ll get fired and I’ll get crucified. Who could refuse an offer like that?
The people at this particular school were the same religious fanatics I had fled in Mississippi as a young man. I knew already how sessions like these could turn out: each side using every trick in its holy book to destroy the spiritual legitimacy of the other side. And even on those occasions when I got the better of my opponents in public debates about gay rights and gay marriage, I came to realize that few minds had been changed, and that some hearts had actually hardened.
Still, the administrator’s request tugged at me. Thomas Wolfe famously wrote, “You can’t go home again.” Well, perhaps Wolfe was only half right. You can never go home again, but you can never leave completely, either. I suspect the unfinished stories of home will haunt us all until the day we die, creating a never-ending succession of possibilities to get it right. To say “to hell with you” and slam the door isn’t healthy closure, yet that’s how I had exited my Christian community in Mississippi.
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