Posted by: minnow | November 3, 2011

Day of Dialogue

The university I go to holds a Day of Dialogue every year.  On this day students and members of the community have the opportunity to attend a variety of lecture and discussion groups on a whole host of topics all connected back (sometimes rather loosely) to education.  This year there were several sessions during the Day of Dialogue I would have enjoyed attending though many were at the same time so I had to choose from several contenders.  (Often a problem for people who are interested in political and social justice issues).  One I tried to attend, discussing ageism, was actually canceled.  Just before days end, however I went to a panel discussion on being Gay and Christian.  The panel focused primarily on keeping dialogue open, moving toward a spirit of inclusiveness, and providing safe places for the GLBTQ community to express their faith.

None of the specific information the panel provided was new to me; I have seen the scripture references that were provided and heard the arguments on both sides of the issue. I was heartened however, by the individual panel members’ willingness to share their own stories and perspectives.  One young man shared how throughout high school his continuous church and school attendance (He went to a Catholic school.) was like receiving hundreds of little paper cuts.  No single cut was insurmountable but the accumulation of cuts produced inside him a self-loathing that took several years to heal.  Another panelist described how difficult it was as a lesbian to try and have relationship with parents who run an exit program, a ministry geared toward “healing” gays and lesbians from being gay and lesbian.  The most conservative voice on the panel came from a Presbyterian pastor who explained to the audience that he was probably ahead of most of his congregation in his point of view.  He called for continued dialogue and a recognition on the part of the more liberal minded that more than a few of those he pastors are sincere in their desire to be true to scripture and avoid being hateful or hostile as they wrestle with the issue of same sex sexual relationships.

For many homosexuals the Presbyterian pastor’s position does not go far enough especially for a religion that promotes its God as a God of love.  Personally I tend to see the pastor’s position as a vital starting point but agree it does not make a good stopping spot.  This issue touches me personally as I have recently emerged from a religious tradition stuck in a much more restrictive and judgmental mindset than the Presbyterian pastor’s.  And, I have a son who for years fought his own sexuality in isolation.  A gifted intercessor, he initially thought his feelings were part of his gift, allowing him to identify with others struggling with their sexuality.  Realizing his feelings were more personal than that he spent a period of time begging God to take them away, all the while filling his own mind with self-depreciating thoughts.  After all, according to the Church, his God considers him as an abomination, especially since (with regard to sexual matters) the Church sees little difference between thought and action.

How long my son lived with this torment I cannot actually say.  Sadly he was too afraid his family would reject him to share the truth about what he was going through.  His fear stopped him from telling us for several years and caused him to suffer alone. As his mother I am grieved.  Yet, I understand the experience of many gay children growing up in religious homes mirrors my son’s, or is worse.  And, while my son was not greeted with the violent rejection he feared, he was also not received with an enthusiastic round of applause either.  Coming out has not been easy.  Becoming comfortable in his own skin has not been easy.  Educating us about what hurts has not been easy.

My son’s story is one of thousands, hundreds of thousands, of young people struggling to understand who they are in the context of faith.  Obviously, for many of these children, probably most of them, the message of an unconditionally loving Father has been overshadowed by images of condemnation and rejection.  Those of us who believe in the former need to do something about the latter.  We need to wake up and we need to wake up the rest of the Church.

My personal exit from an organized religious institution was not the result of my son’s struggles but it certainly would have been had I not already left.  When I asked the pastor’s on the Day of Dialogue panel if anything was being done to “educate” other pastors in the community, to open lines of communication within the Church, or to expose the condemning language used in most of the more traditional Church settings, the panel members basically shrugged their shoulders.  Some muttered something about it being hard enough to simply keep their own places of worship talking in open positive ways.  And, other simply remained silent.  This, too, grieves me.

At the same time, all six members of the panel for the Day of Dialogue were people of faith who are part of larger communities which are trying to make a difference.  I need to hang on to that fact.  As I continue to encourage my son in his faith, embrace and speak life into the vision he has for his future, and build my own relationships with the people he is in relationship with, I am buoyed by knowing the journey I am on need not be made in isolation.  The Church is bigger than its ugly, hurt, and lonely places.  In some circles grace, forgiveness, and acceptance abound.  I believe these circles are growing and that belief gives me hope.

This is a late addition to the Synchroblog.  Here are some other links:

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