12:45…(pt 2)

I’ve been asked to continue my thread detailing my journey as a former fundamentalist and how I came to accept and embrace my many gay and lesbian friends.  Here is part two of my pilgrimage of understanding.

As a new minister recently hired away from a previous church, I was feeling pretty good about myself.  Even under the cloak of spirituality the thought of being sought out and desired gives a boost to an otherwise ordinary existence.  The honeymoon phase for a new minister should be experienced by every living being.  Imagine everything one says  or does being met with glowing admiration and acceptance.  Having witnessed this period during my last hire, I wanted to embrace every moment as I knew once the warm fuzzies wear off the real work begins.

I noticed Jerry and Fred (mot real names) around the church and initially didn’t really think to much of them apart from anyone else.  It wasn’t long before I learned they were very kind and gregarious and seemed to always have something entertaining or encouraging to say.  The people of the church gravitated towards them as would be expected and their presence was seemingly loved by everyone at the church.  They created some of the most elaborate decorations I’ve ever seen inside a church.  The ‘Hanging of the Green’ was just short of a Broadway production transforming the old stale auditorium into a Thomas Kinkade painting with grand flourish.  Their combined voices in the choir redefined my understanding of how beautiful a choir could sound. They worked tirelessly making sure the choir robes were immaculate in every aspect.

We heard told by many of the grand dinner parties they would often throw.  An invitation to one of the soirees was treated as the height of complimentary, from then onward,  now considered an insider.  The food, we heard, was beyond description and talked about long after the event concluded.  Without question, this old southern church was a better place because these two gentlemen choose to worship there and invest themselves in the lives of others.

Their home was a perfectly restored old Victorian complete with a grand staircase and a chandelier that left you speechless the first time it was seen.  Every personal detail sought to offer a glimpse into who these two men were and what they held dear and important.  Conversations were hard to hold for first time visitors as the embellishments and potpourri would constantly steal your attention and distract you from the topic at hand.

I know what many of you must be thinking as you’ve read this thus far…How did you not know they were gay men?  Fair question.  My answer would be even though I had some understanding  of gay men and lesbian women, my ability to decipher this trait was unrefined.  The truth of the matter is, even if I did know, which I didn’t until later on, the fact that these two men were life partners would have made little difference at all.  They were just interesting and generous men who treated me wonderfully and offered me a friendship that I willingly took.

Soon I was invited to one of the famous dinner parties and was swallowed in by their charm and warmth.  I found myself stopping by for many visits, many unannounced just because I enjoyed spending time with them and they always made me feel welcome whenever I stopped by.  I considered them friends.

It wasn’t long before the whispers began to circulate among the brethren about the nature of my friend’s relationship.  I was pulled into various meetings to discuss Jerry and Fred where juicy details were provided that described the revulsion many felt towards gay men in general and to my friends specifically.  I was saddened by the vitriolic pronouncements that were being spread about people who were so loved, valued, and appreciated only a short period of time ago.  Now these same “friends” where pouring out buckets of Old Testament anger upon the undeserving heads of these two men.  All they did was offer themselves as members of this community and make it a more enjoyable place to encounter.  Whatever ones belief about homosexual people, it should take into account that these are in fact, imperfect people just like you and I.  That simple fact was quickly overlooked as now the witch-hunt was fully underway.  From that moment onward, these two men where treated as objects of scorn and any attempts at offering humanity where effectively squashed.  More secret meetings were held as the faithful couldn’t come to grips with the reality that was before them.  I was repeatedly asked if they had ever tried anything inappropriate with me as I had spent so much time with them.  My reply was not as they hoped, I said they were good friends who cared about me and I likewise cared about them.  The only thing inappropriate that I could think of was one of the deacons wives who seemed to ask me to visit only when her husband was away.  This information wasn’t what they were looking for.

The church collected its gathered wisdom and decided through it’s “spiritual Leadership” that Jerry and Fred would be allowed to stay in the church but could not be in any leadership positions and needed to not be visible about the church in any way .  In other words, they had to stay in the shadows and dark recesses of the church and stop being everything they were and give up being loved by so many.  Slowly more and more Sundays came and went without seeing their smiling faces.  Visits to their home were less welcome as they sorted out what was to become a new chapter in their lives.  I still tried to be friends as nothing changed in my mind with them but the scars were to deep by now.  It wasn’t too much longer and these two fine men faded off and found other places to invest themselves.  I didn’t understand their hurt back then and took it personally and started to pull back my life from theirs.  If there ever was a time for me to be a good friend it was then but I failed those guys miserably.

I always had trouble reconciling the church’s “teachings” with my friendship and knowledge  of these two men who were at one time very important to me.  Now as I’m older and have escaped the clutches of hate imposed by these types of leaders, scripture has come alive and clear to me.  We were wrong in how this situation was handled…offering them up as a sacrifice to our efforts at self-purification all the while ignoring the direct teachings about love, acceptance, grace, forgiveness, and inclusion.  Going forward,  I pray my life is known for ignoring the man-made teachings about isolation and rejection and instead is solely focused on being a better friend, especially to those on the fringe.

Jerry and Fred, wherever you are I hope one day you’ll forgive me for not standing up for you against the injustice that was perpetrated against you both by God’s followers.  Know this, I’ve taken your brave example to heart and will be the one out front fighting for you in the future.  Be at peace and know your lives made a difference.  Thank you for teaching me what I was unable to learn on my own.

Kindness matters.

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