Heated Hot-Tub Discussion with Gays!

I have to share a story of something that happened to me about 10 years ago. I'm going to extract it straight from my journal entry at that time: Lisa and I met some seminary friends in Bangor for a little holiday. We were having a wonderful time. We drank beer, ate snacks, listened to good music, talked, and laughed. Everything friends should do. They talked about their daughter's struggles. He would say things like, “She's very spiritual, but she doesn't have a religious bone in her body! She can smell a fake a mile away and will not go anywhere near one!” She says that the way the church is right now, they might as well be speaking Latin because they talk a language that isn't heard anywhere else. I fell in love with her from a distance. It pointed me back to that same issue I'm passionate about... that I strongly desire we become a community that is like Jesus and has no religiosity about it. As the women were getting ready for us to go out to a restaurant, I picked up my friend's book by Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul. I cracked it open to this page and read:
Oscar Wilde's letter from prison know as ‘De Profundis', ‘from the depths', is an extraordinary example of Romantic theology, and in it he discloses the place of shadow in the image of Jesus: ‘The world had always loved the saint as being the nearest possible approach to the perfection of God. Christ, through some divine instinct in him, seems to have always loved the sinner as being the nearest possible approach to the perfection of man. His primary desire was not to reform people any more than his desire was to relieve suffering... But in a manner not yet understood of the world he regarded sin and suffering as being in themselves beautiful holy things and modes of perfection'.
The fact that this was written by a persecuted gay man deeply impressed me, especially after what happened after that: The four of us went out and ate supper at a nice restaurant. We decided to talk theology. My friend asked: “What does your church feel or do about gays?” After a long and rather heated discussion, I realized my theology was inconsistent and therefore false. I took the usual and safe tactic, “Hate the sin; love the sinner!” But he questioned its escapist hypocrisy. If we say we are sinners, then we can't separate the sin from the sinner, etc.. They have gay friends and love them. He insisted that we can't judge people, especially when they didn't choose their orientations. I always search for the bottom line, which I feel must always be God's love and grace. So I said, “Unconditional love, but with the understanding that all who draw near to the Lord are changed.” “As long as,” he responded, “you don't require them to change in that one particular area!” It was a challenging discussion. It left my head and my theology reeling. I felt a transformation going on in my mind. Honestly, I could feel my brain changing in a profound way. When we returned to the motel we decided to take some drinks in travel mugs down to the hot tub. The four of us were alone for a few minutes. Then three men came in and joined us. We introduced ourselves. They asked what we did. When they discovered I was a pastor, they immediately said that they were gay. I absolutely knew that the grace had a score to settle with me that very night. They told their story of how their gayness got them kicked out of a church, squeezed from their jobs, and mercilessly persecuted in their hometown so that they couldn't even get furnace oil delivered to their home. One of them was so fearful that he stayed in the pool and wouldn't join us. Another was rather quiet. But one was very wounded and had serious and heart-breaking questions, directed straight at me. With tears of sorrow and anger, he said he wishes he could've made a choice just to avoid all this persecution, but he couldn't! With great frustration he explained all the ways he tried to change. He said he loves God and tries to follow Jesus just like anyone else might. But all he has experienced at the hands of his brothers and sisters and society as a whole is hatred and hardship. No one... not one... will walk with him or his friends. This went on for over an hour. Their story was disturbing and true. After we told him we were just talking about this issue at supper, he exclaimed, “This is fate! We all needed this, didn't we!” When we went back to the room, I went outside and smoked a nice cigar. All I could do was meditate about all this. I thought of the woman who came to Jesus, only to be rejected by him. But she fought for a place at his table, and her tenacity caused her wish to be granted. These gays are like that. And it reminded me of when Barnabas went to Antioch because it was rumored, of all things, that the Spirit was at work there among the heathen. After he observed the community for a while, he concluded that they had experienced God's grace, for he was a man of faith. I saw God's grace in these guys. I didn't see it in their persecutors, or in my own attitude just hours before at supper. My mind, in a day, had changed. I was a different pastor now.

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