“I really doubt I’ll have a job soon,” replied the man sitting next to me at the GCN convention in Chicago. Like me, Rev. Danny Cortez wasn’t really sure why he was there, but felt quite confident that he needed to be.
Cortez has been a traditional, conservative Southern Baptist minister in Southern California; happily married, four kids, a big congregation that loves him, and today he has a problem. About five years ago, one of his flock, a 20 something girl “came-out” to him, and challenged everything he had taught and had been taught about homosexuality. Sara had been one of his “shining stars,” a youth leader who genuinely witnessed for Jesus; the Pastor considered her a Christian to be admired and emulated. So when she admitted to him, in confidence, that she had a same-sex attraction (SSA), nothing fit. Although she, and they, tried desperately to “pray away the gay” striving for a closer, more faith filled relationship with our Lord that would “fix” her, she continued with her SSA.. She had done this for years, and would continue to plead that this burden be lifted, and reparative therapy was also tried, even though it sounded absurd: The idea of “repairing” a disordered sexuality was based on the premise that children formed a SSA when they had a faulty or dysfunctional relationship with their parents. But her’s were model parents, who love each other and their children, and both have a healthy relationship with her. Sara eventually switched to a more “affirming” church, but continues her sharing and mentoring, pastoral relationship with Reverend Cortez.
However the Pastor wasn’t really sure who had done the mentoring. She had showed him that his ideas about homosexuality were built on a crumbling foundation. He had been misinformed about SSA, and he was now very challenged, and very troubled. Had some of his sermons wrongly condemned? Had he caused self-hatred in adolescents (and adults)? Had his messages split families? Was he to blame for bullying, or worse yet – suicides? The next five years were filled with research and discovery, anxiety and guilt. Finally he simply came to the conclusion, “I can no longer do this.” His wife knew the torment he was enduring, and supported his decision to tell his church elders at its next meeting. He was quite confident that this would lead to him being out of a job, and he would need to tell the kids to prepare for some belt-tightening.
The next morning he was taking his kids to school when the infamous “gay equality” Macklemore song came on the radio; he turned up the volume. This would be a segue for the conversation he needed to have with his children. When the song was over, as he struggled to put his pending unemployment into words they could understand, his son asked why he had turned up the song. “I really like the lyrics,” he explained. “Really, dad?” asked his son in astonishment, “but do you understand what the lyrics say?” “Yeah, son, actually I do.” There was a five-minute pause, before his son said…
“I’m gay,” his son sobbed, having dreaded this conversation for years. (Just this week, his son Drew posted this)
Suddenly all the angst and theological gymnastics precipitated by Sara’s coming out to him all made sense. This certainly did not feel like any kind of coincidence. Even though the sequence of events now was starting to feel like the hand of Providence to Pastor Cortez, this was all still very foreign, nothing really made any sense at all. At least he had a better acceptance, if not understanding, of the journey. How many of his colleagues had asked members of their own congregations to worship and seek counsel elsewhere? They would only be welcome back when they were “normal.” So there he sat at the Gay Christian Conference, worried about his career, and his family.
So why was I sitting there, next to Danny and his wife?
On the Camino de Santiago, I had made a decision to make a difference with my own life. Before his accident, my son had such a strong and loving connection with God that it overflowed onto every one he knew. Surely he had confusion and anxiety about his SSA. This was a challenge, adding some stumbles to his rocky road, but we all have some. So how did he work it out with God? Why did he enjoy such a healthy relationship and so many others, straight as well as gay do not? I honestly don’t know, and I certainly don’t take any credit.
I can say that my son Cullen never heard the hateful sermons that I have read about. They are “always our children,” and my minister has only pounded the lectern with messages of God’s love manifest through Jesus, who seemed most angry with those who sat in self-righteous judgment as hypocrites. Our Church is a “hospital for sinners, not a sanctuary for saints.” As a father, I embraced every conversation with him to use as a “parenting, even pastoral moment.” Faith without journey is blind and shallow. Our God invites our questions and doubts as we stumble through. If there’s proof for everything and it all makes perfect sense, it’s not “faith” at all!
For my readers well versed in the Bible, we’re all aware of the seven famous “gotcha” verses in scripture which “seem” to condemn all aspects of homosexuality. I’m not a scholar, but I am well enough read to know how the many versions, translations, and commentaries differ for a myriad of reasons, including cultural context. I honestly only know one thing: I am sure of much less than I was a thousand bible hours ago. I’ll not go into any more details here, it’s so easy to Google search until you find something you want to believe. If you’re curious, and have no idea where to start, look at these people: Rachel Held-Evans, Justin Lee, Andrew Marin, Alan Chambers, Susan Cottrell, Matthew Vines, Daniel Mattson, Kathy Baldock and Julie Rodgers. These are really incredible people and really thought-provoking links, and many vehemently disagree with each other; All challenge the way we think, so come back and look at each one thoughtfully…
If reading and research sound like too much work, start by watching this video of the Robertsons, who lost their son Ryan to a drug overdose, with their initial evangelical rejection of his orientation playing a huge part of the story. A shorter slide-show version here and also an animated one (bring tissues when you watch Ryan’s story).
I’m most devastated when I hear so many stories of rejection by their own families. If we fail to provide unconditional love to our children, what message are we sending? Are we the hypocrites so often condemned by so many of Jesus’ parables? How can we possibly expect forgiveness, acceptance and unconditional love from our heavenly Father when we refuse to forgive, accept, and love our own children? (Mt 18:33)
These are statistics that most certainly must make Jesus very sad:
When gay youth are unaccepted by their family, they are:
- eight times more apt to attempt suicide than those who are accepted
- (The Trevor Project was formed specifically as a gay child suicide prevention website & hotline)
- six times more susceptible to depression than those who are accepted
- three times more likely to get involved in drug and alcohol abuse than gay youth that are accepted
- three times more likely to contract HIV/AIDS and STD”D than gay youth that are accepted?
So I sat in my chair in the back of the room next to my new friends. I looked around and I was honestly in awe. I was in the room with over 700 people – many were parents there supporting their child and some were pastors learning how they could possibly change their approaches, but most were people with same-sex orientation there to worship Jesus Christ. Yes, we were “in church” for much of the four-day conference. I would look out at the crowd, and pretend that I was there with my own child and these were his friends. They held their hands up high in worship, with every voice singing with such volume! Every denomination was represented and standing together with the most ecumenical thing I have ever witnessed. This was, without doubt, one of several times in my life when I was sure the Holy Spirit was present and truly directing an experience. (These are people that have been told not to return to their congregations until they had been repaired?)
Churches should be safe havens filled with a loving message of support. The fact that many are not makes me confused. Even if you think homosexual relationships are sinful, ESPECIALLY IF you think this, shouldn’t you be the one MOST welcoming to those seeking the love, forgiveness, and counsel of Jesus Christ? As you sit in the pews and look around, you do realize you’re looking at the spouse cheat, the tax liar, the work thief, the hateful bigot, the one living in adultery, the porn addict, substance abuse cripple, and the jealous covet. If you’re honest, you may see them in the mirror. Who are we to exclude an entire group of others from standing next to us?
As you lament the fact that your own children have “lost their faith,” look closely. This one piece of the puzzle may be a metaphor. Our new generation has more empathy and is much more accepting of homosexuality today. They see the loving “Christian” community that rejects and vilifies their gay friends as not very loving at all. Clearly we don’t get much positive secular media coverage, but perhaps the biggest enemy of our faith is not outside the walls of our churches at all.
Before beginning the keynote address, the speaker specifically recognized the parents who were there supporting their children. They stood to thunderous applause. Pastor Cortez reached down and pulled me up. “You’re son is here, and you should be standing up.”
I’m no theologian, and am an expert about nothing. I have opinions that have been formed by my upbringing, my culture, my immediate environment, and my conscience. If Pope Francis, who I believe is the Vicar of Christ on Earth can honestly say, “Who am I to judge?” then my slamming Leviticus over someone’s head would seem wrong. If my boy could converse and embrace with our Lord the way he did, I feel I it a worthy enterprise to foster that kind of relationship in folks of all kinds, as best I’m able. So, I’ve read dozens of books, attended this conference, as well as at The Marin Foundation.
In previous posts, I’ve described lots of my mistakes and failures and a few of the many times I’ve fallen far short; I’ve shared them for a reason. Exposing your true self, warts and all, shows you’re vulnerable, approachable and able to relate. It’s an invitation to others in my Church, my Community, and anyone who I might encounter who doesn’t know where to turn to approach me if they need resources. I’m not really sure what it will look like just yet, but I am forming a support mechanism, a ministry of sorts. The perception seems to be that my Roman Catholic Church has no where to turn. In fact, we have quite a few support mechanisms if you know where to find them; the most helpful support ministries are the folks themselves.
I have been there, walked in a parent’s shoes. I’ve shouted at God, pleading for help, begging for answers. I’ve read dozens of books, spoken with mentors. I’ve cried the tears of panic and anguish with concern for my son’s physical, mental, and spiritual health. Because of the unique texture of my life Camino, I can be quite a resource. There’s much comfort and consolation in knowing you are not alone when you face something so frightening. I can direct concerned parents and their scared, confused children, as well as frustrated adults with many struggles associated with this journey.
Please feel free to contact me or pass this post on to someone who may need to hear this.
And, as always, I’d love to hear your comments.
Rev. Danny Cortez, Linda Robertson, me & Mrs.Cortez