I am a Queer Christian.
I state this proudly. It is an expression I love to use. It shocks people, gay and straight, believers and non-believers alike. It challenges them.
For many, this is an oxymoron. How can I consider myself Christian, they ask, and still be a "practising homosexual"? Isn't homosexuality at odds with the basic tenets of the Christian faith?
For many in the gay and lesbian community, this assertion smacks of betrayal. As an open and proud gay man, how could I align myself with an institution, the Christian Church, which has done so much to abuse us, to malign us, and which continues to oppose our struggle for equal rights in society?
Let me begin by acknowledging the horrendous damage the Christian Church has inflicted on so many of us. For years and years, I have railed against the "spiritual abuse" inflicted by the Christian Church on so many of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.
I have experienced this personally. I have been challenged, I have been shunned, I have been accused of beastly acts by many so-called "Christians" for years. Yet I remain within the Church. I continue to tell my story, often to people who would prefer not to hear it.
Why? Because my Christian faith enriches my life, sustains me, and empowers me to do things I could not otherwise dream imaginable.
I came out of the closet in 1974, at the age of 22. It was without doubt the most painful experience of my life. My religious background only aggravated the pain. I had been taught that homosexuality was a sin. I thought I was turning into some kind of horrible monster, incapable of loving or being loved.
Coming out was also the most intensely spiritual experience of my life. Who am I? What am I? What is my purpose in life? These were the questions I asked myself. Not finding answers, I sank deeper and deeper into depression.
When I had sunk just as low as anyone could go, when I had my vial of pills and glass of water waiting on my dresser, I saw the face of God for the very first time in my life. Well, I didn't exactly see a face, nor did I hear anything, but if I can put into words what I felt at that moment it was this: "Be still, my child. You are my creation. Live, and love, as I have created you. I will be with you always."
And so I have. It has been an incredible spiritual odyssey.
After coming out, I abandoned the Church for many years. After five or six years, I slowly, tentatively, sought out a church home.
In 1979, I sought membership at Bloor Street United Church in Toronto. Very early during my sojourn there, I outed myself one evening at a Bible study group. The very next day, my pastor called, asking me to come to see him. After asking me what had brought me back to the Church, he suggested that he and I collaborate on improving United Church ministry and outreach to the gay and lesbian community.
I knew at that instant that my prayers had been answered!
These days I am an active parishioner at St. John's Anglican Church on Elgin Street here in Ottawa. I cannot tell you how proud I was, during our last Pride Day parade, to march by my church and see the Rainbow Flag hanging over the front portal!
None of this has been easy. At Bloor Street Church, I was the only openly gay member of the congregation. At St. John's Church, despite the relatively large numbers of gay and lesbian parishioners, the issue of homosexuality had never been addressed straight on. I have been challenged at every turn to explain myself, to justify my beliefs, to explain my relationships.
In an ideal world, none of this would be necessary. Among people who truly accept the essential tenets of the Christian faith, none of this would be necessary. But, as we all know too, too well, this world is far from ideal for gay men and women.
When I first arrived on the scene at St. John's Anglican Church, I was greeted with much suspicion. People there thought I had a political agenda. I do. My activities within the Christian Church are no less political than my dealings with business, with politicians, with EGALE, within the AIDS movement. But my primary motivation was not political; it was spiritual.
So ignoring those who shunned me and those involved in whisper campaigns against me, I just continued with the business of being myself. By sharing worship, sharing grief over friends who have died of AIDS, sharing Scripture and sharing prayer, my fellow parishioners have come to accept me. They have come to understand the challenges I face, challenges I face with God's help.
They are now among my strongest supporters and confidants, and I thank God for them all!
There are many gay men and women hiding in the pews of many of our churches. I refuse to hide, at church just as in other avenues of my life. I lay claim to the gifts of God's grace, recognizing myself, and my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, to be children of God, created in his image.
I refuse to give up the Bible to the fundamentalists. I have never understood their interpretation of Scripture. Why do they quote to us from the Purity Code in Leviticus, and not themselves keep a kosher kitchen? What right do they have to use Scripture as an instrument of oppression?
As a gay man, I take great joy in many of the Bible's stories. I am moved by the physical affection between Johnathan and David, the future king of Israel, and inspired by the devotion of Ruth for Esther. I love reading about Jesus' deep friendship with Mary and Martha, and his concern for John, the disciple he "loved". My favourite story is that of the Roman soldier, whose "beloved boy" Jesus healed.
Was Jesus homophobic? I can find no evidence that he was. I find the silence of Jesus on the question of homosexuality to be far more eloquent than the verbosity of so many of his followers.
Does being a Queer Christian make life easier? Despite the wealth of spiritual energy I have found, I would have to answer no. To be openly gay in the Church is to face a multitude of contradictions and confrontations.
I am inspired by these words of George Bernard Shaw: "Do not follow where the path may lead. Go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail."
I am inspired by a vision of a community where all, gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight and transgendered, come together as agents of God's love for all creation.
My faith assures me that day will come.