In 1989, Murray Richmond was the pastor of a small Presbyterian congregation in North Carolina. At the time, he writes in an essay on Salon.com, the issue of gays and lesbians in the church was “invisible”—but his views were clear, homosexuality was a sin, end of argument.
Gay rights were barely on the radar of mainstream churches. The idea of an openly gay pastor was beyond the pale. I knew there were “gay churches,” of course, but I did not believe one could be a practicing homosexual and a Christian. The Bible was straightforward on this issue. It all seemed incredibly obvious to me.
In the years that followed, gay rights, both in the church and in society, became what Murray calls, “The Issue” that consumed his church members. Richmond found himself evolving on the issue, mainly because he resented that it was being put ahead of other, more pressing concerns like “feeding the hungry, preaching the gospel, comforting the afflicted, standing up to racial intolerance—these were the struggles I signed up for, not determining the morality of what adults did in their bedrooms.”
Richmond preached against homosexuality, but found his heart wasn’t in it, especially after developing an email relationship with a gay Christian and seeing how the church’s teachings against homosexuality had deeply hurt people.
It wasn’t until his own marriage fell apart and he had left the pulpit to become a chaplain that Richmond finally did his “180 degree” turn to acceptance for gays and lesbians.
With distance, I could see the mean-spirited nature of the anti-gay movement, and the naked way large Christian organizations used the “gay threat” to raise money.
Richmond’s experience is probably nothing new, but it underscores the importance of Christians who also happen to be gay and lesbian to continue their work in both church and society. When given the chance, people of good will can make this same 180 degree turn. The more the “mean-spirited nature of the anti-gay movement” is revealed, the more people will come to accept gays and lesbians as real human beings in need of not just love and respect but full civil rights.
Richmond wonders why the church has singled out gays and lesbians for special condemnation and comes to this conclusion:
I think, is that it’s easy to condemn homosexuality if you are not gay. It is much harder than condemning pride, or lust or greed, things that most practicing Christians have struggled with. It is all too easy to make homosexuality about “those people,” and not me.
The religious right capitalizes on this every time they demonize gays and lesbians as people with “sinful lifestyles” instead of human beings with real lives. It’s easy to fear “those people,” and feel self-righteous in condemning “them.” Which is why it is important for gay and lesbian people to be out and up-front about who they are, and who God has created them to be. The more people know about the lives of gays and lesbians, and the more direct experience people have with gay and lesbian people, the less fearful there will be. Many of them will experience the same cognitive dissonance that Richmond experienced, and come to his same conclusion:
Now I am wondering why, if two gay people want to commit their lives to one another, they should ever be denied that chance. No church or pastor should be forced to perform those ceremonies, and they can choose not to recognize gay marriage for their adherents. But the constitution of the Presbyterian Church does not explicitly forbid a pastor from being a thief, a murderer, or an egotistical jerk. It is not designed to do these things. It does prohibit a gay person from becoming a pastor. All I can ask is: Why?