Monday, June 25, 2012

Gay Pride Weekend -- 2012

This past weekend was Gay Pride Weekend across the country. There were parades and celebrations in the United States and many other places around the world. This was an especially celebratory year because “Don’t Ask...Don’t Tell” was erased from military life and our President spoke out for Gay Marriage. 

I asked a gay friend of mine several years ago if he didn’t get discouraged with the slow progress of gay rights. This was his response.“Yes, I do get discouraged. When you have to stay in a closet to keep your job, when you have to pay your Doctor bills out of your pocket because if your employer found out you were gay you just might lose your job. But I remember the slow progress of the civil rights movement. It has taken us a long time to get where we are with race. Since we live in the South I know how complicated race is even today. And yet,” he said, “knowing history I know that the times are changing. I know we have made great strides the last few years. I also know we have a long way to go—but I believe we will get there.” 

As a Pastor I could tell you sad stories that cluster around gays. Men and women who have sat in my office and sobbed because their parents found out and told them they could never come home again. I remember parents who have come in and could not understand why Johnny or Suzie was not like their other children. I think of those committed couples who have had to seal off this primary part of their lives from their parents because they would be horrified to know their child had a gay partner. I remember a gay friend telling me that when his mother died her Pastor would not allow her gay son to sing at her funeral even though she had gone there all her life. They moved the service to another church.  

I remember a sad story a Pastor- friend of mine told me. A young gay man came home from California to die. His parents told no one. They were so ashamed. They were good church folk but would not put their son’s name on their church’s prayer list. No one even knew he was home. He never had a visitor. When he died there was no obituary notice in the paper. No one in their church’s dinner group or church family knew of their sorrow or their secrecy. The boy was buried with the minister and his father and mother standing by the open grave. The funeral home had provided the Pall Bearers.  

Yet—I have been Pastor of more than one church where people moved over and made room for some gay person or couple. I have watched little blue-haired women stand at Church and say, “I would vote for Billie any time to be my Deacon. I know he is gay but I have watched the care he gave his grandmother and I hope my family will treat me the same.” I have watched a church open its arms and take an AIDS baby into their nursery.  I know a Sunday school class that swerved communion to one of their members dying of AIDS. It was the last food he took before he died. I have known distinguished members of the community that shook their fingers in my face and said, “You are destroying this church by allowing gay members to worship here.” But, years later, that same couple came back and said, “We’re so sorry we did that...we know better now. I just wish we could turn back the clock.”  

I know the excesses of a few in gay pride parades and other places. But these are in the minority. I have also learned that to be gay is not about what one does in the bedroom anymore than heterosexuality is simply what happens in their sexual relationships. Homosexuality and homosexuality is not what we do—it is who we are first. We’ve come a long way even in my lifetime. We have a long way to go—but I am proud of my President. And I am proud of those pastors scattered here and there—more than most people realize—who have bravely stood up for everyone and not just some. And I am very proud of those churches that have realized the “whosoever will may come” is not just a gospel song but also a mandate for God’s people everywhere. And I am proud to be part of a country that is still moving toward liberty and justice for all.

I lived through some of the hatred of the black’s yearning for justice. I have seen the same thing in some faces when it comes to gay folk. But we may not be moving as fast as we should—be slowly that old dream of liberty and justice for all is not just a pledge to be said—but a promise to be kept.

I recommend John Grisham's book of short stories, Ford Country. The last story in that book is entitled, "Funny Boy." It is the tale of a young man with AIDS who comes back home to Mississippi from California. It is a moving story that this great story-teller tells with grace and sensitivity. I recommend it highly.

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