Since my last experience trying to phone my primary care doctor’s office and get a refill amounted to a series of voice mails left by me, which received no answer and led to no renewed prescription, I took the doctor’s advice and today registered for their Internet portal. I looked over my records online and after scrolling down through “conditions” now deemed “resolved” was surprised to see the following category of “active” items:
Personal Health Conditions
The first listed was “never a smoker.”
That sounds legit.
The second listed was “Homosexuality.”
I wonder if my straight friends who are patients there would find a note proclaiming their Personal Health Condition of “Heterosexuality?”
Yesterday I was reading about Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, and his continuing effort to be in dialogue with evangelical Christian leaders about the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the church. He was invited to a conversation with Rev. Caleb Kaltenbach, an evangelical pastor whose parents split up because they were both gay. Kaltenbach has tried to find scriptural support for being okay with gay people generally, especially since that group includes his parents.
As a child, Mr. Kaltenbach attended a gay rights march with his mother, and he recalls protesters yelling that God condemned the marchers and throwing urine on them. (His book, “Messy Grace,” part memoir and part advice for pastors on ministering to gays, will be published this year.) He says evangelicals should welcome gay people with “acceptance, but not approval.” Openly gay couples attend his church, he said, but are not allowed to serve on the leadership board. (From the New York Times)
My bold there. I don’t understand why, in a world where there are so many, many, many churches in flavors both denominational and non-, a gay couple would freely choose a church where leadership is forbidden to them due to their relationship status. I wonder about the hurt feelings sustained when they have been around long enough to want to get more involved and discover they are not *that* welcome. In a world where even Tony Campolo is now encouraging churches to embrace and accept gay couples, I hope they know there are other choices.
It’s possible that queer couples who go to a church where they are not received as full members, where they are not allowed to serve in leadership roles, where their status as baptized members of the Body of Christ is somehow “less than,” feel they are on a mission from God. I know I sometimes feel that way, living in South Central Pennsylvania, which is not exactly the most progressive corner of the globe. There are days when it feels like my entire calling to this place is to be an ordinary queer on behalf of Jesus Christ, whether as the interim pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation a few towns over or as the wife of the female Senior Pastor at the Presbyterian Church USA congregation across the street. Every time I answer the door at the manse as her wife, I am representing. Every time I share a family anecdote in a sermon, I am representing. Every time I get home from church first and walk our puppy, and the Presbyterians stop over to pet him before they go home, I am representing.
Some days it feels so ordinary to be there in a church-owned house with my wife and our children that the only thing I stress about is whether the puppy will chew on something that belongs to the church rather than to us. Other days, it feels like I finally know what cross I was always intended to bear, a cross engraved with the words “Queer Christian.” It’s not a death sentence; rather it is a holy burden, and the work of my life, to be queer and faithful.
He says evangelicals should welcome gay people with “acceptance, but not approval.”
This sentence weighs on me. It’s essentially the opposite of the UCC’s category for welcoming churches, “Open and Affirming.” Despite my continuing concerns about whether my family is fully safe, much less accepted, here in South Central Pennsylvania, on the whole we have received an amazing and affirming reception in our churches. This is particularly true at my wife’s church, where she continues to do fruitful ministry, and I do a lot of the things any pastor’s wife might as a volunteer leader: I lead a women’s Bible Study, and I serve on the Fellowship Committee, and this morning I stood witness at a wedding.
I don’t know the experience or the point of view of the gay couples who attend churches like Kaltenbach’s. I do know the feeling of doing what you believe God calls you to do. I also know the experience of being rejected or, worse, ignored by people who will not meet my gaze because they cannot quite get to acceptance, much less to approval. My hope for the couples who bravely return to church each week is two-fold. First, may they know that there are plenty of churches, more all the time, where they and their gifts for leadership and service would be most welcome. Second, if they are choosing to work through it in response to a call from God, may the change of hearts happening in the world reach the places where they are now, and may they be able to see the change and know they were part of it. Perhaps this is the work of their life, too, to be queer and faithful, accepted and approved by God.
That’s a weird thing to write, because in fact I passed for straight for most of my life, either because I hadn’t thought yet about not being straight, or later because I *had* thought about it and just couldn’t face what it might mean for my life.
Today I was getting a pedicure, and to be completely honest, it’s not the first time I’ve let the women in that particular salon think my spouse is a pastor in town who happens to be a man.
We were talking about dogs, and I said we used to have a Golden Retriever, and the young woman doing my pedicure, who had figured out we are a blended family, asked, “Was it yours or his?”
Sometimes, no matter how hard I try to not have it be a thing, being queer is a thing. It’s a truism of coming out that some of us don’t “look” queer, and that means we have to come out more often, because otherwise no one will know.* I’m that gay, that lesbian, that queer. Just last week, I asked my hairdresser to queer me up, but I still look like somebody’s mom, which is to say a person whose sexual orientation is not of particular interest to people, especially those younger than I am, whether they are gay or straight. This is true even in the gayest looking item of clothing I own (a $4.99 black thermal hoodie from the clearance rack at Old Navy).
Our 10-year-old is filling a notebook with jokes, which reminded us of this one:
A father and son have a car accident and are both badly hurt. They are both taken to separate hospitals. When the boy is taken in for an operation, the surgeon says ‘I cannot do the surgery because this is my son’. How is this possible?
The surgeon is his mother.
My spouse is my wife, and the Golden Retriever was hers.
Usually I can find a way to avoid the pronouns, but sometimes, and this was one of them, the pronouns will get you. And I’m sitting there with my pants folded up to my knees and one foot in soapy water and the other foot in the hands of a stranger with sharp tools, and I’ve got nowhere to hide.
“Was it yours or his?”
“His,” I said, and even though we joke about how we are the Ward and June Cleaver of gay couples, and I’m June, I felt bad about it.
Most of my life has been lived with the benefit of massive privilege: white, raised reasonably well-off, well-educated, American, Protestant and, until I came out, straight-in-the-eyes-of-the-world and quite honestly in mine, too, for the majority of that time. Even before I came out to myself, when I was telling *myself* a story about my life, I could take for granted that talking about my family was safe.
I could take for granted that talking about my family was safe.
Today I couldn’t do that, and I’ll admit that the law passed in Indiana is on my mind. People I know are sharing articles and op-eds they think are smart, saying the real trouble is about liberal intolerance toward religion, or that marriage equality is okay with them but people should have the freedom to associate with who they like. I would ask them to consider that the effect of such a law is more than the specific and localized legal impact. It says to people, even in places where it is not the law, that gay people – and particularly married gay people – are an acceptable group to despise and avoid.
It gives permission to “other” people, which is a dangerous thing.
I would like to ask my straight friends to consider how they would feel about going into a restaurant, a barber shop, a clothing store, a yarn store (God forbid!) or a ball park and being refused service. I would like to ask my straight friends to imagine not feeling safe to answer the kind of passing question your dental hygienist or nail technician might ask.
Then think about me. Picture me and my family, going to the kinds of places your family goes, and not being safe because our kid has a mom and a step-mom. I am asking you to personalize this and picture us when you wonder if this law really hurts anyone.
That’s why I didn’t correct the young woman doing my pedicure this morning. That’s why today I passed as straight.