Almost 20 years ago, I saw an op-ed column from someone expressing his views on homosexuality. “It’s a choice,” he said, suggesting that a change of orientation was possible and akin to changing one’s mind — “just like I decide what color of socks I’m going to wear in the morning.”
I couldn’t believe my luck! Excitedly, I started calling my gay friends.
“Hey, you know all the prejudice and problems we’ve faced over the years? Seems it was totally unnecessary. All we had to do was change our minds! Why didn’t we think of that?” And we all shared some laughs over the writer’s naivete.
As most gays from my generation can testify, in the face of raging discrimination and worse we did try to change our minds — that is, our sexual orientation. The problem was, it doesn’t work. Try changing your own if you don’t believe me.
The laughs I got from that op-ed piece came to a halt years later at a philosophy class I took in preparation for my anticipated calling as a minister.
Our professor assigned each of us to give a philosophical discussion on any subject. An amazing young woman (I’ll call her Sharon) presented one that profoundly affected me.
Sharon was a beautiful person from the inside out. She was driven with a passion for justice. She also was extremely overweight. Those two factors, in fact, became the basis for her discussion: her perspective on morbid obesity.
Never having faced a weight problem myself, I didn’t appreciate the difficulties and the prejudices with which Sharon and others like her had to struggle. Until her talk, my own flippant attitude was that overweight people should just stop eating so much. It was a choice, I thought, just like I decide what color of … uh …
And there I was: exhibiting the same callous disregard for her issue that “sock guy” had for mine.
Sharon forced me to see myself for who I was, bigotry included. As a ministry student, it brought me to appreciate Jesus’ own wisdom at a new level: How can you take the speck out of someone else’s eye when there is a log in your own? Possibly the most insidious element of prejudice is thinking it is not part of you; it’s just the other guy.
I thought of this with the ongoing debate over the Christian faith and homosexuality, largely fueled by differing positions on marriage equality. The debate sometimes leads prominent Christian fundamentalists — “Duck Dynasty’s” Phil Robertson most recently — to offer up their religious views in ways that are not particularly constructive.
While many people on my side of the issue want to see such opinions shut down, I think we’d do better to use Sharon’s approach. I’d love to talk to Mr. Robertson. I’ve heard his views and would like him to consider mine.
I’d start by noting that we’re both Christians and have both read Biblical passages addressing homosexuality. I’d point out that he can more conveniently accept them. They don’t affect him. He can read them as they pertain only to someone else and keep on going.
Then I’d explain that I didn’t have that luxury. How, when I got to those passages, everything stopped. I now had a serious matter of faith to deal with if my faith was to mean anything at all.
I’d describe to him my struggle with those passages, about how I prayed and fought and cried over them. I’d mention how I tried to become straight and how I begged God to “cure” me of being gay. I’d tell him that no cure ever came, despite all my prayers.
So what does a Christian do in that situation?
If you’re straight, please don’t answer too quickly. If you’ve never felt pressured to change your sexual orientation because of a religious standard, you do not know the impossibility of the situation. Just like I didn’t know what Sharon went through until her talk on morbid obesity. To our class, she brought her experience and her pain. All I brought was an uninformed opinion and hurtful bigotry that I assumed as truth. Please don’t make the same mistake.
Finally, I would talk about the spiritual benefit that came from struggling to learn how to be both gay and Christian. Being different made me see things differently, including scripture. I saw that some things cannot be described solely in terms of black and white.
But I would not be so cliche as to say these things linger in some gray area. I would say they bring color. And sometimes colored socks can accent an outfit quite nicely.
Ron Pedersen Jr. is a minister in the United Church of Christ now serving Mount Troy UCC (firstname.lastname@example.org). His views do not necessarily represent those of his congregation.