Monday, December 05, 2005

Conversations You Wish You Weren't In
In "Care for the Soul", Thomas Moore said something along the lines of "Family is a wonderful gift from God in that it allows us to spend tremendous amounts of time with people we would not otherwise even want to know."

Don't take this the wrong way. I've been extremely lucky both in the family I've chosen and the family I was born with, and I love them all dearly. But there have been occasional glitches in the matrix, which is how I know that some of you will find yourself sipping eggnog and biting your tongue while your aunt/uncle/cousin/grandparent rants about "the gay agenda" or words to that effect.

It might be some other topic. The Liberal War On Christmas. Ten Commandments in Public Buildings. Intelligent Design. The Misguided Heliocentric Model of the Solar System. If any of those come up this season, I'll most likely bite my tongue and pray for a change of subject. But I'm resolving here and now to draw the line at homophobia. I'll draw it gently, and with as much kindness and tolerance as I can, but draw it I will.

Let me tell you a story. I tend to repeat myself, so it may be one I've told before.

Quite a few years ago, my father and I got into an argument. The Boy Scouts had just gone to the Supreme Court arguing for the right to discriminate against homosexuals, and I was more than a little torn up about it. I grew up in the Scouts, and the virtues they taught me are the virtues I still live by today. Those same virtues had me appalled, now, at what they as an organization were doing. My dad, on the other hand, thought they were doing the right thing. He talked about morality, the Bible, and family values.

I could feel my blood pressure rising, but the argument I wanted to make wasn't about anger, it was about love, so I ignored it. "I understand," I said. He was talking from his experience, after all. So I told him I was going to talk from mine.

I told him that when he talked about "gay people" that he was talking about quite a few of my friends.

I talked about teen suicide, and how much higher the rates for attempted suicide were among gay teens. I wondered how the Boy Scouts could call it kindness to tell a teen in the middle of that struggle "You're not good enough for us."

I told him about Matt, who I worked with in high school, and the way our relationship changed after I knew he was gay. Could you imagine, I asked, not being able to talk about Mom with the guys at work?

I told him about the friends I had in college that struggled with their sexuality, and the difference in the state of their soul that it made when they finally realized who they were, and what sex they were meant to be with.

Finally, because this was back when I was a church-going man, I told him about Gary, our music director, who'd been fired from a Southern Baptist church for being gay. He and his partner had been together for 15 years at that point, and would marry if it were legal, but it wasn't. We were lucky to have him, frankly, and his soul blossomed at being in a place that affirmed for him that God loved him, and that his love for his partner was every bit as blessed by God as the love between a man and a woman.

And then I shut up, and never brought it up again.

Just to clear things up, I don't consider myself a Christian. I was raised in a church that taught the whole Bible, but seemed to prefer the Old Testament to the New, and it sort of left a bad taste in my mouth. And then there's the matter of metaphysics. But I do believe in right and wrong, and I definitely think it's wrong to exclude anyone based on things over which they have no choice. It's wrong, whether we're talking about country clubs, housing, employment, recreational groups, or the right to marry. And I believe love is indeed what makes the world go round, but that it can be damned hard to find. Therefore, we should celebrate it wherever we find it, and not worry about the details.

The one thing the religious right and I agree on is that discrimination against homosexuals, whether institutionalized or private, is a moral issue. Also, when I'm trying to persuade people, I find it much more effective when I answer them in the language they're already speaking.

Oh, and because every story deserves a happy ending, I should mention that a few years after the above conversation, my parents changed churches. Their old church's shabby treatment of homosexuals was one of the big issues he brought up in explaining the switch.

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