As several denominations struggle with the issue of gay pastors, I am reminded of something that happened to me a few years ago.
I had just graduated from seminary and was doing my CPE at a local nursing home. I was still involved at the church where I was an intern and was asked to serve on the church board. It came to a vote and I was voted in nearly unanimously. I say nearly because one person voted against me. I knew who it was and so did many others. It was an elderly member of the church. He had some idea I was gay and many people assumed that was why he voted against me. After the meeting concluded, he asked me to come with him into another room. He explained that he prayed and studied the scripture on the issue of homosexuality, but his conscience was not swayed in favor. As he said this, he began to cry.
I was and still am touched by this guesture. He did have to speak to me to explain his actions, but he did. He might not approve of who I sleep with, but he did treat me with respect. This wasn't simply about being right for him, but about being loving.
Yeah, I know that his actions were hurtful. Yes, it would have been nice had he voted in favor. But I could respect his decsion even if it was wrong, because he valued me enough to respect me.
Why am I sharing this? I guess because sometimes those of us who fight for justice for GLBT folk tend to paint everyone and anyone who might disagree as evil and backward and not worth listening to. Many pro-gay people think saying anything that is against being gay is hurtful to gays and react strongly to anything that might be hurtful to gays.
But the thing is, there is a difference between words and people that do mean to harm and those that are just not there yet. There are people that truly hate gay people, but not everyone who might have an opinion opposing gay marriage or gay ordination is necessarily a bigot. And the fact is, I'm a big boy-I can handle an old guy.
I truly believe we must work for justice and inclusion in the church. But grace has to be part of the plan. The old man's opposition was tinged with grace and for that reason I could also respond in grace.
I still see the old man-he is now in his early 80s, but still going strong. We are friendly to each other and he still treats me with the utmost respect and even sees me as Biblical scholar (?). And I love his tenor voice-which is still strong after all these years. I have no idea how he feels about me being gay or having a husband. But I do know that he has taken the command of love very seriously and I will truly weep the day this man leaves the scene. He has taught me about grace; and for that I am ever thankful.
Great, now I'm tearing up...