It’s strange to me when I think about all the sound and fury in the media- the American media specifically, but even media in general- that Christians seem to make about LGBT people, whether it’s marriage, rights in general, or how they’re “abominations” or “condemned by God”. It’s strange because I can count the number of conversations I’ve had on the subject with fellow believers on one hand. I don’t believe there’s ever been a sermon in the church about homosexuality, or why it’s wrong. It’s mostly whispered and maintained in hushed tones, like a lot of things we’re uncomfortable talking about, or don’t understand.
Maybe it’s just that the extremists get play. That’s not surprising, given that being a thoughtful, moderate voice doesn’t make for compelling television/reading. Satirists like Jon Stewart, Rick Mercer, and Stephen Colbert thrive on taking things to the extremes, pointing out the absurdity of events and viewpoints, and political columnists likely draw their commentary to the extreme to general interest. Those on the margins are more defiant, more passionate, and more likely to inspire fervent agreement or ire. Opposition and conflict can be easier than compromise and collaboration.
But, back on topic. This is another relationship piece about how someone impacted my viewpoint, similar to the last one, but I’m going to drop a hook on you: This is the story of how I was invited to one of the first gay marriages in Alberta.
I worked at Safeway for a time in my 20s, as a stock boy. Produce and grocery, with the odd shift in the freezer. This was a slightly higher class than Tim Hortons (and better pay), but not that much higher, in the final estimation. You got the same mix: college students, lifers, underachievers, and generally people who didn’t want to be there. The atmosphere was lifeless and uninspired, with most doing just enough to get through the day. I counted myself in that group, some days.
The jobs tended to be split along gender lines: Women were cashiers, and the guys did the stocking. There was a practicality to this, but it also bred some a very inbred atmosphere. A group of (mostly) underachieving males, left to themselves, tended not to be the most progressive of thinkers.
This was a point in my life where I was searching for direction, and that atmosphere probably wasn’t the best for me. I survived with my quick, sarcastic wit, and mostly stayed out of the way. I eventually moved to the male-dominated produce section, with people coming and going, searching for a certainty in direction. I could relate to that. I’m still looking, in a lot of ways.
At some point near the end of my tenure, we had a gentleman named Evan (again, name changed to protect the person) join us. He was different from the usual underachieving sort we got there: he seemed intelligent, and thoughtful, and generally positive. Another person I could converse with on all sorts of subjects. Evan was genial, and good with customers, and could handle pretty much anything that was thrown at him. He was bald, a trait I’m starting to share with him now.
But his presence bothered me: Evan was smart. He had his “stuff” together. Why was he HERE? He wasn’t me, searching for his direction. He wasn’t the lifers, unable to quit because they couldn’t do anything else. He was in his late 40s/early 50s, near as I could tell. He should have been well established in whatever career he was going through, not slumming it with us.
One day I came into work, and sat down in the break room to read the newspaper. Certain pages were gone, from both the Sun and the Herald. This was strange. The Sun, particularly, seemed like a deliberate effort; someone had gone to the trouble of cutting out a particular article, out of both editions, with the rest of the page still there.
But in a grocery store, rumours travel fast, and I heard what had happened: the head cashier had done it earlier. I didn’t get to hear why. At that point, Dennis and I were getting the Herald at home, so I could rectify my curiousity once I was done for the day.
So I went home, and opened the newspaper. I found the article, about Evan, and his partner. He was gay, and campaigning to get married in Alberta. The article went through history, where he’d been involved, and what he was doing now. This was fairly prominent news in conservative Calgary (I’ve often referred to Alberta as the “Texas of Canada”, and it’s a well-earned stereotype). I didn’t blame the head cashier for her forethought. For Evan to have been outed this way, working with a bunch of regressive thinking guys…
Similar to with Adam, I felt a kinship with Evan here, as an outsider, someone more ostracized than accepted in the general workings of the grocery store at that point. I read the article, and gained a new respect for him, for his trouble (and for Adam’s, really): He’d been fighting the fight to be together with his partner for YEARS. No wonder he didn’t have a career. He was busy chasing his dream. I thought of Adam again, working the margins, rejected by society, facing walls and obstacles for something as simple as the man he lived with.
Suddenly, being a churchy sort didn’t seem so tough, in comparison. The worst I’d get for admitting being a Christian was teasing and rejection at work. The worst for his was, well, working at Safeway in his late 40s, fighting for what he wanted.
To my surprise, there was little reaction among those that worked with Evan- to his face, anyway. I heard what the guys said when he wasn’t around, the slurs and insults that were heaved, and that confirmed my suspicion that it would be tough going for him. That there was a lot to be done to get from faking acceptance to actually being cool with it.
Evan never seemed burdened or let down by it openly, and I admired him for that. He even invited everyone in the produce department to his wedding, which he and his partner were going to do with the justice of the peace in downtown Calgary. How amazing, that he could be open and loving in an environment that mocked him behind his back.
As before with Adam, nothing changed between myself and Evan. I felt a great conflict here, as my beliefs warred with my morals. What was the right thing? I didn’t know. My paralysis kept me silent, and to this day, I am ashamed I never talked openly about my faith with Evan, or did more to defend him at the time. My experience with Adam had given me the certainty that we as Christians need to build bridges with the LGBT community, not burn them, and I feel as if there was a missed opportunity there.
I don’t doubt my faith in God. I did, on the other hand, know for certain that flawed humans could misinterpret the word for their own purposes (see, again: Westboro Baptist Church) and let their hate blind them to an opportunity to share the gospel, to show love and be shown love by other humans.
In my grasping for answers, the one thing I kept seeing and coming back to with regards to LGBT people was the old “love the sinner, hate the sin” adage. But even this felt very lukewarm to me, uncertain, like I was either denying my faith or promoting a viewpoint that excluded people from receiving or showing God’s love. But it was all I had. I saw so many Christians, so many churches who turned away LGBT people, and I would not further that hate.
I was a sinner. We all were, according to the Bible. So why was the LGBT issue the one that got us religious folks the most ornery (especially when we NEVER TALK ABOUT IT)? Why not stealing? Drinking? Rape? Murder? God can forgive, right? Why was sexual orientation the biggest problem? Why was it a problem at all? Did that orientation make them incapable of faith? I’d been challenged by Adam, and Evan, encouraged even, in ways that I wouldn’t have been had I thrown the Bible at them or shunned them. Was God using them to open my eyes, to challenge me? Or to reaffirm my faith and understanding?
More to come. Thanks for reading.