As a kid growing up in southeast Arkansas in the 1970’s I never gave much thought to homosexuality. As far as I knew I had never known a gay person. That was until 1982, maybe ’83, when a friend “came out”. I had known Drew for many years, almost all our lives to that point. I heard much from our mutual friends, some of whom were disgusted. In small town Arkansas of course, there was quite a lot of homophobia, and we were still in a time when society wasn’t tolerant of openly gay individuals. Even in that environment I couldn’t believe some of the vile things people were saying.
After the initial shock wore off and the level of intolerance I had heard from my friends, I thought long and hard about how I felt about my friend’s newly declared sexuality and about how it affected me. Finally I came to the conclusion that the things we had in common had nothing to do with sexuality. It simply didn’t matter to me who he was sleeping with. Unfortunately, shortly after his coming out he moved away and I never saw him again, so I was never able to tell him that it was okay with me.
The next time I had to think about it was just a year or so later. I had gone off to college and joined a fraternity. After a semester at Arkansas State one of my pledge brothers came out. Even though many were shocked, none were surprised. What did surprise me was how quickly he disappeared from the fraternity. Again, I had to evaluate if the fact that Anthony was gay really meant we could not be friends or even fraternity brothers. I have always been ashamed that I didn’t stand up for him when he was kicked out of the fraternity.
When I joined the Navy in 1986 I did not expect that my military service would become the facilitator that would bring my personal journey with my feelings about homosexuality to its logical conclusion. As an Operations Specialist I worked closely with an Electronics Warfare Technician, whose name I cannot recall. He was exemplary of everything that an American fighting man should be. He was professional; he knew his job and did it well. He carried himself with impeccable military bearing. He was a 4.0 sailor in every way. The kind of guy that you just knew would save lives, if and when the time came. Suddenly, one day he was gone. Just like that. When I asked around I found out that he was gay and that he was on his way out of the Navy. If the story I heard was correct, someone read an incoming letter that was from his boyfriend, and in less than a day he was off the ship and, from what I heard out of the Navy in a couple of weeks.
Having been raised in the south, in the Baptist church I was not surprised by the bigotry that my friends faced. I did not have the strength of character to openly advocate on their behalf, but I did come to the conclusion that a person’s sexuality is not a critical factor in whether or not they should be my friend. Today, serving as an Elder in the First Christian Church of Conroe where we have many gay and lesbian members I have become more convinced, every day, that just as sexuality isn’t a qualification for my friendship, neither should it be a qualification for membership in our worship community.
While I might be able to twist certain scriptures out of context and use them to condemn homosexuals, I cannot find anything in the teachings of Jesus that makes me believe that such use of scripture is acceptable. Jesus threw out “the law”; he called on us to love one another unconditionally. I have no doubt that Jesus would approve of my gay and lesbian friends who have been in committed, loving, mutually supportive relationships for decades, and find their relationship more acceptable than a so called “traditional” marriage that includes abuse or infidelity.
I believe that God created everything, and that everything God created is good. I know from my gay and lesbian friends that they have no more choice over their sexuality than I do. Therefore, God must have made them that way. As it happens I believe that all of my homosexual friends are good, honest, decent, hardworking, loving people who live the life that Jesus called us to live. I wish I could say the same thing of all of my straight friends. But then with Jesus, there is always hope.