I recently had dinner with my good friend Shirley. Well, all right, Shirley’s not my good friend but she is becoming a better friend… but I’ve known her partner (whom I will call Sandi) a lot longer than I’ve known Shirley. But I’m not sure that Sandi is comfortable with me posting information about our dinner. They own a lovely house and quite enjoy having us over… which is nice, since Shirley’s allergies and our cats prevent us from returning the favour. But our “couples nights out” are quite fun… and usually involve BBQ. However, that is not the point of this post.
I happened to mention to them that I’m planning to head to Chicago in a few weeks, for a couple of days: this happens to be the 25th anniversary since I graduated from Moody Bible Institute… my first post-secondary graduation. The first week of February will be Founder’s Week, and it is an intense time of speakers and discussions and fellowship. Often old students return on their significant anniversaries… like this one of mine. A friend of mine who graduated with me was interested in going back, and wondered if I would go with me. I agreed; and I’m looking forward to it.
Interestingly, in this discussion, Sandi suddenly turned to me and asked: “Why?”
Yes. She couldn’t understand why I would want to go back to a place that I had been so “not-me”. A place where I had denied myself for so long, ultimately marrying a woman in order to try to fit in with their expectations. I reminded her that it was all my choice, but she again asked me: why? During this whole discussion (Shirley and Tim were very quiet as we got more intense) she reminded me of a question she had once asked me. Moody teaches, and many churches believe, that women should not be in leadership roles in the church. It’s all focused around 1 Timothy 2:12, “But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet.” It’s one thing to know that’s what the Bible says (and if you’re a conservative, Bible believing Christian… if the Word is inspired and inerrant and wielded like a weapon in your weekly sermon… then that’s all you care about.) But it’s another thing to try to explain “why”.
Sandi had asked, and I had tried to answer,all those years ago: at the time I was just beginning my Scriptural eduction and trying to sound confident. I was fumbling about how “woman” (as though there is any unified group who might be called that) was made from man and was less spiritually developed… and other crap I’m too embarrassed to remember. If I remember correctly, that was one of our last discussions together (and, in fact, is one of the reasons that I thought she might not want to speak to me when we reconnected). Sandi is like that. She will happily leave idiocy to it’s own devices and let it go where it will. In this case, I was lucky: I got better.
But all this is in background to that question only a week ago. Why would I want to return to the Institute, where I know they don’t accept gay people, where I know they think it’s a sin and where some even teach (or at least taught) that the desire for same-sex affection is evidence of demonic activity? Why would I want to do that to myself? Fortunately, I had thought this through. I had through about it a while back… before even starting to contact my friends from the Institute.
There are, essentially, two reasons. One is to face my own fears. After I “came out” when I moved to Arkansas, it took me years to tell even a single person from my graduating class that I was living with a man. But I did: and we talked through it. She has eventually come to where she doesn’t necessarily agree with my perspective, but she can at least accept where I am. We essentially agree to disagree. Some of my friends nowadays have difficulty even with that: but I tell them my friends from Moody aren’t gay, they’re living in their own context. I’m quite happy with the relationship that is developing now. I want to see how many of my other friends from this time are open enough to see things similarly. Some, I know, are not: but I’ll never know until I try.
And secondly: because in some ways I challenge every one of their stereotypes. I was a good student at Moody. We had great discussions about theology and discipline and following God. People knew me, and knew me well. I hope that to some my testimony can work to illustrate that gay people are not all the rebellious, reprobate, God-hating people they think we are.
And there is a certain degree to which I want to follow this full circle. Talk about ironic. It would have been twenty-five years ago that I stood on the podium and received my graduation diploma from then-president of the school, George Sweeting. My family had come from Toronto and some relatives from England. It was a big thing. It was the first (and only) time that I dressed in the regalia and walked the aisle to get my diploma. And when I opened it… dum da da dum…! I found it was a woman’s. Oh, it was made out to me and my name… but it was in recognition of “her Christian character” and “her zeal in practical Christian work”. I took it back to student services and they snatched it up in their desire to get the error repaired… if only because women were not allowed in my major, in “Pastoral Studies” (see above). But not before I’d made a photocopy or three (see above right). So it was doubly contradictory. But it was so very, very appropriate.
And people say God doesn’t have a sense of humour.
But what really got me (and the reason for this post) was Sandi’s last question.
“Will you be safe?”
Now that was a question that I had not considered. I live at Jane & Finch in Toronto, one of the “high risk” neighbourhoods that comes close to being “dangerous”. I’ve walked through Cabrini Green and other parts of different cities that had the reputation for not being safe; the worst that has ever happened has been that I had a knife drawn on me once. Oh, and I was held up at gunpoint when I was working at a convenience store in Pennsylvania. I’ve been in several life-threatening accidents, including one that resulted in a coma for six weeks. Yet I’ve never worried about being “safe”.
I hope I will be safe. I should be. But if some of the discussions I’ve had on Gather are any indication, there is a lot of hatred out in the institutionalized church. Hatred and frustration that is most easily focused on those who are different… and I would be a good example of that. I can fake being the same… it’s really not that hard… but I’m so tired of faking it. Those who are my friends are the ones who shouldn’t want me to fake it, and anyone else just matter enough to me any more. It’s that “anyone else” group that I’m worried about.
But I should be safe. Or I won’t know it until it’s too late.