Redeeming Our Sad Gay Situation: Awareness

by Christopher Blake

Leader Index

Article Index

Awareness

Understanding-1

Understanding-2

Understanding-3   

Understanding-2

Understanding-3

Healing Perspective and Conclusion

Overcoming Prejudice

If You Know You're Homosexual

 

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Scene 1 

At the time of our encounter, Jack and I didn't know each other well. I lived in a cozy water tower apartment in San Luis Obispo, California. and he lived somewhere across town. Despite our lack of familiarity, we were enjoying a relaxed, meandering conversation; he lounged in my one overstuffed chair. I perched on the edge of my bed. 

I had begun my fifth year at a public university, and our talk reflected a world still reeling from Viet Nam and Patty Hearst and Watergate. Suddenly Jack fixed me with a look that communicated a deeper level of intensity, 

"You know," he said, I'm gay." 

I was stunned. What was that he's said? My thoughts catapulted, and an unnamed terror jolted through me.

"Well," I finally managed with a a tinge of defiance, "I'm not." 

Seventeen years later the memory of Jack's revelation still evokes confusing emotions. Was I angry or afraid? Why did I feel somehow betrayed? 

Scene 2 

Beginning in 1981 a church-sponsored treatment center called Quest Learning Center located in Reading, Pennsylvania, was promoted as the Seventh-day Adventist Church's chief response to homosexuality. In 1985 Quest's director, Colin Cook, appeared on the Phil Donahue Show in connection with Homosexuals Anonymous, a support ministry related to Quest. The response was overwhelming. Over the next 17 hours more than l,3OO calls requesting more information poured into Andrews University's Adventist Information Ministry (AIM).1 We (the church) seemed to be on our way toward dealing with "the problem."

However, tangible results-- meaning documented cases of "cured" homosexuals--still were not appearing. An article in the March 15, 1986, Columbia Union Visitor cautioned, "The church needs considerable patience and sensitivity in its ministry to homosexuals, as well as in judging the results of the Quest program."2 Two months later Cook, an ex-gay, issued a correction to a quote of his from that same issue. He denied that "seeing a handsome man can present a temptation to him" and announced, "I do not experience this kind of temptation today."3 

A year later Quest Learning Center was closed. During interviews with Ronald Lawson, a professor of sociology at Queens College of the City University of New York, clients of Quest revealed matters that led to its closing.4 Colin Cook later acknowledged in print that he had indulged in very inappropriate physical intimacy with some [his] counselees."5 Although Homosexuals Anonymous continues operating, the ministry of Quest Learning Center ended on a tragic note.

One evidence of the true largeness of a person or an institution is the ability to admit: "I made a mistake. I'm sorry. Here's what I'm going to do, as far as I'm able, to make up for it" And so I waited for my church to issue a proclamation or an apology or something that began: "Though we acted in good faith, we could have made a mistake by suggesting that Quest was the answer to homosexuals' problems. We need to do more for this group of church members. For the  future, here are some tangible ways we're going to help homosexuals ..." So I waited, and waited, and waited. 

I'm still waiting. 

Scene 3 

It's spring 1990, and amid budding cherry trees I'm attending a conference titled "Adventists and AIDS: Our Stories, Our Response" at Sligo church in Takoma Park, Maryland. 

As a youth magazine editor, I consider myself fairly aware of the AIDS epidemic and its related anguish. What I'm not prepared for at this conference is the pain and hopelessness that pour from the homosexual community in attendance. These aren't angry, profane protesters -- these are hurt-filled, humble people, and most have been wounded by fellow church members. 

One young homosexual describes his childhood, when from his first thoughts he knew he was different: he was attracted only to males. Then he points out the absurdity of believing that anyone would choose such an orientation. "Why would I choose to be excluded?" he demands, "Why would I choose to have my family ashamed of me? Would I choose to be subjected to constant persecution? Tell me this," he asks a stunned audience, "When exactly, did you choose to be a heterosexual?" I couldn't say. Can you? An older homosexual man recounts how three Seventh-day Adventist churches denied him membership despite his having been celibate for about 15 years. With tears in his voice, he asks the audience, "How long do I have to be celibate before I can become a member again?"6

Scene 4 

I'm in St. Louis, Missouri, in April 1991, at the annual meeting of Adventist Editors International. The AFI members are interviewing Robert Folkenberg, General Conference president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. He has just expressed his view that he would appreciate knowing about especially sensitive and controversial articles before they are printed, so that he might provide some broader input. It appears to me that this could be a good time to seek that input. 

"All right," I say politely, "INSIGHT is going to he tackling the topic of homosexuality some time in the future. What input do you have for us?" The room is quiet. 

Elder Folkenberg states his opinion, then responds to questions for clarification. For my final question I ask, "How should the church treat people who are homosexual but who do not practice their homosexuality?" 

He pauses to reflect, then says, "I cannot imagine God condemning someone for overcoming a sinful tendency." 

Scene 5 

A letter arrives for me at the INSIGHT office. It is written by a Seventh-day Adventist mother of a homosexual. The following excerpts reveal her agonized journey. 

"I never thought of myself as the crusader type, but I guess that is what I've become in the past three and a half years since I found out about my son. 

"Not too long ago I talked to the senior pastor here and offered to lead a homosexual support group in the church if he thought there was a need. He said he could think offhand of at least a dozen families who knew about their kids' being homosexuals, and several others who didn't. However, when a discreet announcement was put in the church bulletin, apparently nobody else felt brave enough to respond. 

"Because I still felt a need to talk, I attended a P-FLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meeting. I don't agree with everything they teach, but there have been few--very few--people that I have felt comfortable talking to over the past few years. I still feel that I've touched only the tip of the iceberg of my feelings. 

"I think probably the great majority of our members are as ignorant, misinformed, and prejudiced as I was before I found out about my son. I thought gays were perverted weirdos who chose to live that way. My immediate reactions were disgust and refusal to think about it when the subject came up. The really sad thing is that my son grew up feeling the same way, so when he realized he was that kind of monster, he had a terrible self-concept. He wanted so badly to be normal, to get married and have children, and he prayed for years that God would change him. When that didn't happen, he gave up on God. 

"What I would like so much to see is, first, that our church members understand what homosexuality really is and the difference between the condition and the behavior. 

"My second wish is that our children, while they are young, understand that being a homosexual is not a sin -- it's a handicap that God can help them live with. They need parents and church members with whom they can be open; they need sympathy, understanding and love. Other children who are not homosexual need to understand these things too, because often, in the early years, they are the ones who cause homosexual children the most pain. 

"Well, I've gotten carried away, as usual, when I get on this subject. But if I can help save our younger generation of homosexual children from the trauma and despair many older ones have suffered, it's certainly worth it." 

FOOTNOTES

  1. Eugene Hamlin, "SDA Says Homosexuals Can Have Freedom." Adventist Review, Feb. 6, 1986, and Ron Graybill, "Freedom From Homosexuality--Goals of Quest Learning Center," Columbia Union Visitor, Mar. 15, 1986.
  2. Graybill.
  3. Columbia Union Visitor, May, 15, 1986.
  4. Ronald Lawson to Neil Wilson, Oct. 23, 1986.
  5.  J. Robert Spangler and Colin Cook, "Homosexual Recovery -- Six years Later" Ministry, September 1987.
  6. A catalog of cassette tapes from this conference is available through American Cassette Ministries, P.O. Box 922, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania 17108-0922; phone 800-233-4450 or 717-652-7000.

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