Monday, November 19, 2007

My Journey from Judger of the Gays to Brother of One

My ears always hurt on the descent of a plane ride, so when the wheels finally found the ground I was both relieved and annoyed: relieved of the searing pain which I had been experiencing for the last fifteen minutes but annoyed from the inability of my ears to find the correct pressure at ground level in Indianapolis. Neither of these emotions, though, lasted farther than the smiling attendant stationed at the exit, ushering everyone from the vessel. Instead, my mind turned to the coming reunion and, right on cue, my gut excreted the perfect ingredients required to fulfill the recipe for anxiety and uncertainty. I followed the crowd through the unfamiliar terminal toward the correct baggage claim, my palms slightly sweaty and a wave of shyness overtaking me. It was there that my older brother would pick me up. My gay brother.

I have memories, both vivid and vague, of life in the church. The musty smells, the not-quite-sweet-enough Kool Aid and races beneath the pews on dust covered tile floors. There is a great deal of comfort and belonging as I remember the relationships and faith which I took for granted as a small child. These memories I am profoundly grateful for. But there are other memories that I recall with lesser reverence.

On our birthdays when we were little, my mom allowed my siblings and I the distinct honor of sovereignty over television programming. For whatever reason, I was infatuated with a show called "Kids Incorporated" on the Disney Channel. (I know, it’s embarrassing). That is until… the great boycott. My family decided to join with some conservative Christian leaders in shunning all things Walt (we had previously boycotted Proctor and Gamble and had an ongoing feud with Halloween as well). Walt was sympathetic to “those gay people”. I often heard derogatory remarks aimed at a talking head inside our family television, usually consisting of nothing more than personal attacks against the pundit’s disgusting lifestyle. Needless to say, aligning with the boycott was a no-brainer.

This was the world in which I was raised. On the one hand, spiritual and physical love and encouragement were never at a loss. With great thanks I am able to say that this hand was the more prominent of the two. But still, firmly grasped in the other hand, was a hatred and judgment working to undermine the truths being instilled in me. Bolted high atop a pedestal was that very sin trumping all others. Higher than pride, greed, lust and even murder sat the disgusting evil singularly responsible for the collapse of great empires, that would inevitably be the demise of the American family structure: homosexuality.

When my brother revealed to my sister and I that he was gay, he cried. I remember being shocked at this reaction. He cried because he was fighting a battle between his sexuality and the childhood beliefs which, up to this point, we hadn’t had any reason to question. This was not a battle he had chosen, desired or been conditioned socially to enter into. His reality was quite the opposite. If only he could have been rid of it, then he would raise children and be accepted as a "normal" Christian man.

Eventually the fight became too difficult and he chose to embrace homosexuality rather than continue to push back. In response to this, I did what any good Christian would and should do: I wrote him a letter. With Bible in hand, I used the concordance to find every scripture which condemned his hedonism and offered a stark rebuke. Upon sealing the letter, placing it in the mailbox and my brother reading its words, our relationship began a quick spiral downward and, within a few months and arguments, it ceased to resemble anything beyond a silent, tense coexistence during holidays. Soon after, the grave news spread to my parents and throughout the rest of the family. We were at a loss as to how to handle the situation.

While there was silence between my brother and I, there was a loud cry for understanding inside myself. The tension between the black and white doctrines of my upbringing and the grey and beige situations of real life tore my brain and heart in two directions. Was reconciliation to be had or must I simply choose one side over the other, opting to fight with my brothers in Christ on one side or my brother in flesh on the other?

I am not here to demoralize doctrinal truths or dogmas. These are the things which outline and give the Christian faith its foundation and identity (though they are also heavily debated and disagreed upon). Nor am I offering my view concerning homosexuality as sin or not. There are honest, faithful and God fearing people on both sides of the issue who are to be respected. In them you might find stimulating debate. (See below)

Instead, I am here to speak of a seven-year journey that forced me to engage and question a belief that I dared not previously converse with. Along this journey I learned about myself, my faith and how that faith should be manifest in this world. After all, doesn’t the model of Christ demand us to be manifestations of him in the world? Aren’t we meant to embody this model in a dynamic way that speaks to the situation around us? Is it acceptable to formulate a “perfect understanding” of the faith, separated from the immediate context, and, in doing so, become people content with hiding behind our truth monopolies because reality would render that system inadequate and irrelevant?

Prior to discovering the character which was my brother’s sexuality, I would have found it difficult, if not downright sinful, to allow the water of my life to be dirtied through personal interaction and relationship with a gay. I could have, of course, prayed fervently for and evangelized them, but true friendship or relationship was too dangerous. But when a person is connected to you by DNA (a connection which brings with it memories of the Eiffel tower and lost teeth and Christmas at grandma’s) somehow the old adage “hate the sin, love the sinner” seems to objectify and justify attitudes toward individuals which Christ himself sought to remove. It’s funny how intimately knowing a person makes it more difficult to write them off as subhuman in need of a good “fix”. It is impossible to view them as an issue easily proven wrong and condemned to hell by the utilization of a few well-placed verses of Holy writ.

There was and is so much that I couldn’t understand. I know my journey in truth and action has only begun. What I do know without any doubt, though, is that my former methods of dealing with my brother were unfruitful and ungodly at best. “There must be another way,” I thought, “a better way.”

Thus began a process of reconciliation between two brothers, motivated on my part by a desire to encapsulate and exemplify the story and ministry of Jesus as best I could; both with my brother and the rest of the world. The actual story was and is not as tidy as this recounting paints, but progress is progress.

On the last day of my trip to Indy, my brother and I walked around the campus of Indiana University where he is working on a Doctorate in some sort of music study. (He has always been pridefully technical in his explanations of anything music, usually losing me somewhere between baroque and Rossini). We had spent four long days together, many hours of which were spent in his 1997 Saturn Sedan, windows down for lack of A/C, forced to bask in Midwestern countryside and one another’s company. Conversation flowed, silence existed without awkwardness and love was expressed in subtle words and understanding nods. Though my heart weeps as a result of what has been done to him and so many like him, and because I fear he might never draw near to Christ again on account of it, I feel for the first time I was able to express my faith in a way which pleased the faith-giver. In this I am encouraged.

Our last meal together found us in a local Turkish restaurant on the outskirts of the campus. We were the only customers present and it was perfect, though I would regret later my decision to order the beef kabob on a warm autumn day with such a long trip home.
I did not regret, however, descending upon the skyline of Central Texas with burning eardrums, content in knowing that I once again had a big brother.

(For a more progressive view, see Allen Verhey’s work The Holy Bible and Sanctified Sexuality from Interpretation 49 (1995): 31-45; for a conservative view consider Tony Campolo’s book Speaking My Mind and his chapter on sexuality. Also, Tony and his wife Peggy disagree on the issue and their debate here is both interesting and enlightening.)

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