My piece "There Probably Isn't Any Neutral Way to Report on Homosexuality" prompted an engaging, introspective letter to the editor, "A Gay, Celibate Christian's Conflicted Take on Same-Sex Marriage." One can think and pray mightily on a subject and still come to all the wrong conclusions. Sadly, I think this young man has done just that. A bit of my own background: Now 60 years old, I grew up at a time when to be gay was to be sick -- a deviant who preyed on innocents. Bullies were the least of my fears, Mr. Friedersdorf. Being loathed and despised by one's own parents, family, friends -- that was a daily terror that influenced not only my behavior but my self-regard. Everyone disapproved of homosexuality, so I did too. I prayed just as fiercely for "deliverance from evil"' to no avail.
To say I independently came to the conclusion that being gay was wrong (I dated women in the hope my feelings could be redirected) is farcical. Denying one's sexuality, either through celibacy or behavior modification is not a free choice. Real choice requires exposure to different experiences and views. I would suggest the choice of celibacy by gays growing up in an evangelical household is not freely made. Indeed, the pressure to conform amongst that group is probably as intense as the pressure I felt 45 years ago. The very fact that this young man only selectively shares his secret is proof that he knows he can only conditionally rely on the love and acceptance he receives from a handful of of his fellow Evangelicals.
I very much want to tell this fellow that real love is not conditional. It is not withdrawn when the beloved fails to measure up to another's expectation. If it was, literally every marriage would fail and every family would be broken -- torn asunder by each others' unmet expectations. The fear that he will be shunned or excluded from a religious community is indeed troubling: is his group unfamiliar with the profound biblical admonition "judge not lest ye be judged in kind"? With respect, there seems to be a good deal of biblical "cherry-picking" that conveniently bolsters a human prejudice rather than a divine purpose. The god that made heterosexuals, also made me and him. Unlike this troubled young man I don't think I am a defective product in God's assembly line of life. I am a different model. Colors vary and features differ but we are no less His creation.
Also, I can't permit the remark "the Bible teaches" marriage is between a man and a woman to pass without objection. There are a score of prohibitions in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that evangelicals and fundamentalist ignore regularly. For example, if Biblical teaching were obeyed unmarried teenage girls who became pregnant would be stoned to death. Are they? Nobody would dare sanction such behavior, but keeping gays excluded and diminished is apparently always every "good Christian's" duty. And what about Evangelicals who divorce? Are they cast out for failing to keep the marriage covenant? I doubt it. Probably they are excused. Even if his Evangelical friend can't bring themselves to acceptance, shouldn't the least we expect of an authentic Christian is forbearance? He should demand more of his friends or find truer ones.
I would like to suggest to this young man he visit any number of other Christian churches -- Presbyterian, Lutheran, or Episcopal -- before he concludes that being gay and being a Christian is mutually exclusive. To my surprise and joy I found there are millions of Christians who believe I am made in His image no less than themselves. They do not regard being gay as a defect that requires retooling. Best of all, one can -- more and more with each passing day -- find acceptance within one's family too. It is not easy. Indeed, that struggle is perhaps hardest of all. But it is possible and worth every awful, painful, heart wrenching conversation. The reward is the most precious gift any gay person can receive -- acceptance and understanding.
In the '60s and '70s I was told and believed I was a deviant. In the '80s I was told the AIDS epidemic was God's judgment upon people like me. In the '90s, DOMA and DADT became law to keep me in "my place." Today my place is in Congress, on the school board, in the military and yes, at City Hall, applying for a marriage license. My personal struggle for equal treatment has done more than defined my life, it has made me whole. I would respectfully suggest that a person who denies his sexuality out of fear of disapproval -- whether divine or human -- is not yet whole. I hope he will challenge himself and friends to reevaluate some of the things they believe. It will be very hard -- even terrifying. But it is everything.
Thank you for this opportunity to respond Mr. Friedersdorf. If you think it appropriate please pass this along to the writer. And thank you too for worrying whether straights are free of prejudice or misconception when they comment on gay subjects. They are not. But neither are gays free of prejudice either. In my experience, the best of us acknowledge this and keep working at making the world a better place. The extraordinary advances in gay rights in just fifteen years can, I think, only be explained by a willingness of some to challenge and others to listen with an open mind and heart.
As a gay icon would say: "It's a good thing."
Emails from readers grappling with this issue are encouraged regardless of where you come down.
A reader has now responded to that gay, celibate Christian: