I don’t post as much as I used to. I simply ran out of things I wanted to say. And I still get questions that I answered at length in my posts here, so I have some doubt as to how useful my blogging is. But for some reason, I felt the desire to write this morning.
I try to maintain friendships I made before I held a pro-gay relational theology. Some of my newer, more gay-affirming friends have wondered about this, and all I can say is that I don’t think you have to agree with people to like them. Certainly, I hope, you don’t have to hate people just because you disagree with them.
My less gay-affirming friends have, by contrast, wondered about some of my newer friends, particularly my gay Christian friends who tend to rant about the conservative Christian churches they came out of. “Why are they so angry all the time? Everything they post on Facebook is so angry. We were so nice to so-and-so, and now it feels like he hates us.”
No doubt many of us on both sides of this debate, after the cultural storm has passed, will look back with some regret on things we said and wrote. But the anger my fellow gay Christians feel makes sense to me.
Consider a slave and his master just before Emancipation. The master is a kind man. He provides for his slave. He feeds and clothes him, doesn’t overwork or abuse him. He may even offer education to the slave’s children.
Emancipation comes, and the slave starts to consider what it all means. As he breathes in fully his new status, he is at first elated to know he is free. But that is followed soon after by an almost unbridled anger toward his former master. The slave considers that there never was any real difference between the two of them, and that even though his owner was a “nice” man, the very position of master-to-slave kept that slave in bondage all his life up till now. The slave’s anger is real, and it is fair, no matter how kind the master may have been.
I get that this is no perfect analogy, that race and sexuality are different, but the similarity is enough that the analogy works, I think. When a gay Christian begins to believe that the Bible (and, therefore, God) may not be as relationally anti-gay as a particular pastor or church may have suggested, there is at first elation, and then, not long after, anger that borders on fury. (I’ve been through those stages myself.) As nice as the pastor and his church may have been, their very position on the gay issue kept that gay Christian in bondage all his life up till now.
If you’re the pastor or member of that church that the gay Christian is now attacking on Facebook, you need to know that you may be the kindest, most well intentioned person on earth, but the very fact that you held the position you held, and that you possibly communicated it as Truth with a capital “T” rather than as simply your understanding of the Bible, has profoundly affected the way the gay Christian views himself and his deepest longings. You communicated that something was very wrong with this other person, which the gay Christian fully believed. Until now. The anger is real, and I think it is fair. Maybe there are better ways to express the anger than what the gay Christian has found, but right now that is beside the point. The anger needs to come out. It needs expression, and you as the former master don’t get a say in what that expression looks or sounds like.
I’m back at work this morning after a weekend I’ll remember for a very long time. Dan and Joe, whose story I’ve been chronicling here, were married on Saturday, and the whole event, from rehearsal to reception, was not only insanely fun, but also incredibly inspiring. To my gay friends who think monogamy and commitment are either undesirable or unattainable, believe me: you want the love and the life that Joe and Dan have with each other, and they would tell you with bright eyes and big smiles that it’s so very possible for you, and not to settle for something less because there’s nothing like hearing someone say they willingly forsake all others for you. I’m posting one of my favorite pictures from the weekend, and I hope you’ll spend some time staring at it. The two of them went through a lot to arrive at that moment, their first dance, and they would tell you how worth it the whole journey was, and they would wish the same for you.
Well, the big day is here. Joe and Dan take their vows at 2:00. If you want to follow along, I’ll be tweeting throughout the afternoon and evening with plenty of pics–as long as the little iPhone battery that could holds up. You can follow along on Twitter @MattZRogers.
In a recent post, I asked Dan and Joe why they think more gay people don’t seem to be seeking a lifelong relationship with just one person, be it called marriage or something else. There are plenty of folks who are, for sure, but even in states where gay marriage is now legal, the altars aren’t busy with gay couples taking their vows. Why? Joe and Dan seem so happy in their life together, that I wondered why, to the extent the stereotype is valid, do many gay guys settle for brief, sexual relationships that seem almost terminal from the start. And why are they terminal from the start, if that is the reality and not just a perception?
Joe and Dan both seemed rather passionate about the topic, so I asked them both to write out their thoughts on the matter. Last time we heard from Joe. Now, it’s Dan’s turn.
I think it’s less a stereotype and more a reality. But like I said before, you have to ask why this is so. It’s not enough to just write off gays as not wanting or being capable of maintaining long-term relationships. There are reasons, I think, that gays tend to struggle forming solid relationships.
I think many of us who are gay go through a “phase” when we come out and are new to the community where we hook up as much as possible to compensate for the years of “closet life” and not being able to share affection with another human being. Most gays in the past didn’t get to go through the experimentation and dating phase of the teenage years, and so they go through it later in life when they come out, sometimes in the 30s or even later. I went through my phase, just as Joe went through his, but some gays never leave theirs. They get stuck in it, which is why, at least in Atlanta, that we have so many forty- and fifty-somethings still wearing Abercrombie, going to bars, and expecting to meet “Mr. Right” every night. It’s the only thing they know, because they were never shown anything different. They’ve never had examples of anything else, and often they’ve been told they can’t have anything else.
We gays often are a community of skin-deep individuals, and relationships cannot be just skin deep in order for them to last forever. We learned from a young age to hide what we really feel and think, to bury the most intimate parts of ourselves because we were taught that it was bad to be gay, and many of us in the gay community have never unlearned that, so we stay very surface level in our relationships, even with other gays. We tend to define ourselves by what we have rather than who we are because, unfortunately, many of us don’t know who we are—the identity crisis Joe talked about—or we don’t like who we are because we’ve internalized all the rejection we’ve received in the past. So we focus on stuff we have instead. This can include having a good body, having a BMW or other flashy car; having more clothes and accessories than any man or woman will ever need, having lots of beautiful friends that can name-drop with the best of them … on and on. All of these things cause problems in straight relationships too, but I think they are a particular problem among the gay community, and they keep us having lots of sex but little depth or longevity in our relationships.
Mobile apps like Grindr have only made the problem worse. It’s so easy to meet someone right now, have sex right now, and then never see the person again. You can have fun and never have to get to know yourself or the other person. I have friends who do this, and I feel so bad for them because if it begins with sex, it isn’t likely to end in a “forever” relationship.
Having said this, I realize it’s especially tough in the gay community to meet other gay under healthier circumstances. Besides gay bars and parties, and mobile apps and websites like Grindr, where are gays to go and interact and get to know each other in a healthier way? I encourage my gay friends to check out accepting churches, outdoor clubs, etc., where the focus is less on meeting someone quickly and more on sharing a common purpose or goal with people you get to know over time.
I really don’t want anyone to think that I am putting down the gay community in any way. I embrace it, love it, and participate in it in ways that I deem appropriate. At one point in my life, before I met Joe about two years ago, I was the guy in the tiny bathing suit bar tending the annual Joining Hearts Pool Party at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, but for me, that was just fun; it was not a life. I knew that I was not going to continue doing those things the rest of my life. Now I’m preparing to get married in a Methodist church right around the corner from my old bar-tending spot, and I am completely okay with that situation!
I think as gay marriage spreads across the US, our community will slowly become more like the straight community, with lots of single people, divorced people, and married people. Just because we can get married in some states now doesn’t mean that all gays are going to suddenly run out and get married. There’s a lot of work we need to do to build healthier relationships first, but I do think that as more and more twenty- and thirty-somethings commit, become leaders in the community, and demonstrate healthy, loving, married relationships, the trend will spread. Hopefully, Joe and I are a part of that. Our wedding ceremony at the church will be open to anyone who wants to attend, whether they have received an invitation or not. We want people to see what is possible for them too.
In the last post, I asked Dan and Joe why they think more gay people don’t seem to be seeking a lifelong relationship with just one person, be it called marriage or something else. There are plenty of folks who are, for sure, but even in states where gay marriage is now legal, the altars aren’t busy with gay couples taking their vows. Why? Joe and Dan seem so happy in their life together, that I wondered why, to the extent the stereotype is valid, do many gay guys settle for brief, sexual relationships that seem almost terminal from the start. And why are they terminal from the start, if that is the reality and not just a perception?
Joe and Dan both seemed rather passionate about the topic, so I asked them both to write out their thoughts on the matter. In this post, we’ll hear from Joe. Next time, Dan will share his thoughts.
I think it takes a certain amount of self-confidence and forward thinking to seek a lifelong relationship. Ever since I was little, I was a dreamer and thought about what my life would look like down the road. That for me always included being married and having children. When I started to accept that I was gay, that dream was shaken a bit, which I think happens to many gay people. The fact that being married to someone of the same sex has been seen as wrong or taboo until very recently creates quite a roadblock to envisioning that as a viable future. I am lucky because my brother married his partner back in 2000. If we had more examples of successful, respectable relationships like that to inspire people, I think more gay people might be able to see themselves in that situation.
Also, I think many gay people go through an identity crisis whenever they get close to coming out. It’s right around the time you come to terms with being gay and decide that maybe it’s okay to admit it and embrace it. That in and of itself brings about a certain level of uncertainty as to who you are and what you hope to be. For many years, you tried to repress yourself and now trying to redefine yourself can be tricky. How can you possibly be in a relationship with someone else if you don’t have a good relationship with yourself, and a good sense of who you are? In my experience I think many gay people do seek relationships but that crisis of self prevents the relationship from being much more than what it is often: two people who are afraid of who and what they are. There’s a kindred spiritual connection there as they both understand what the other is going through. But just having that in common isn’t enough. Lifelong relationships are most successful when they have a lifelong purpose and goals that can grow as the couple grows. If the goal is only companionship, that tends to get routine quickly causing many people to seek something new and exciting. This can lead to infidelity or promiscuity. Dan’s and my “fairytale” relationship started with a few major common goals: raising children, the importance of family, spirituality, living a healthy lifestyle, and dedication to self and each other. As we approach this next phase of our relationship, we now seek new goals as a couple that stem from these and help us grow, building on the foundation that bonded us together from the start.
Dessert arrives—time is short, and I still have so many questions—coffee ice cream for me, and butter pecan for Joe. Dan, I’ve learned, is diabetic, and settles for a taste of each.
Why, I ask, do Joe and Dan think more gay people don’t seem to be seeking a lifelong relationship with just one person, be it called marriage or something else. There are plenty of folks who are, for sure, but even in states where gay marriage is now legal, the altars aren’t busy with gay couples taking their vows. Why? Joe and Dan seem so happy in their life together, that I wonder why, to the extent the stereotype is valid, do many gay guys settle for brief, sexual relationships that seem almost terminal from the start. And why are they terminal from the start, if that is the reality and not just a perception?
Joe suspects it’s a crisis of identity. “When you’ve been told all your life that what you are and what you want is not ok, or even very bad,” Joe says, “and then you see a lot of examples of the gay stereotype being lived out, and you suspect it isn’t love but instead some kind of physical substitution, it’s hard to imagine a healthy marriage for yourself. I’ve always been a total romantic and very traditional, so I’ve always dreamed of being married and having kids just like the rest of my family members. So that helped me truly believe one day I would. Also my brother married his husband back in 2000, so I had an example early on of what was possible for me. The ideas that being gay is not an affliction and that marriage is an option are very new concepts in our culture. I think as time goes on, you’ll see a lot more gay people wanting and believing in that one-person-for-life relationship, and making it happen.”
Dan agrees: “I think as gay marriage spreads across the US, our community will slowly begin to look more and more like the straight community, with plenty of single people, married people, and divorced people.”
Dan also says he thinks the stereotype of gays being overly sexual early on in relationships, and often promiscuous for years after coming out, is largely true. “I think it’s less a stereotype and more a reality.” But, Dan cautions, “You have to ask why that’s the case. It’s not as simple as saying, ‘See, gay people are immoral,’ or whatever. Many gay people don’t come out until they’re 25 or 30 or even later, so they never went through a normal pubescent teenage phase. They didn’t get to go through the bad relationships, the mistakes, and the random hookups that teenagers often go through. They’re doing that now at 25 or 30. Part of maturing is working through that stuff. Joe and I both had to go through our own maturing phase, and hopefully we’re a little wiser now. We’ve taken the physical side of our relationship very slowly. We talked early on about how we wanted to save some things for marriage. We want to be an example of that kind of maturity for our kids.”
“And maturity,” Joe adds, “requires a lot of honesty and transparency with your partner. That’s also hard for a lot of gay people. Think about it, when you’re coming out and acknowledging that you’re gay, that’s as vulnerable and transparent as you can get. If that level of honesty was met with shame, hatred, or disgust, you often shut down, stay surface-level in your relationships, and not risk being open like that again. I think that’s why a lot of gay relationships never go any further than the physical. Sex can remain surface level. Many gay people don’t know how to be and are often encouraged not to be really honest about their emotional selves, which prevents the kind of intimacy and depth necessary for a truly loving, lifelong relationship.”
Joe and Dan certainly seem honest with each other. I learn that they have a “no secrets” policy between them. When they find some other guy attractive, they say it. “It’s how we prevent temptation from getting a hold of us,” Dan says. “It’s unrealistic to think we’re never going to be attracted to anyone other than each other. That’s human nature. If you start hiding things like that, it gives intrigue and mystery a chance to build into something that could come between Joe and me. We don’t want that, and so we just say it if we think somebody else is attractive. Maybe that approach wouldn’t work for everyone, but it does for us. And most of the time, just admitting the attraction to whoever the other guy is takes the excitement out of it. It reminds us that what we have together is so incredible.”
Our checks arrive, and we have to wrap up the conversation. Joe and Dan both seem to have much to say about this topic, so I ask them to write out later their extended thoughts when they get home (which I’ll share with you soon).
We pay and then step outside into a warm, late-spring evening in Charlotte. I thank them for their time and perspective, and tell them how refreshing it is, and how much hope it gives me. I mutter something about how I become cynical about ever finding a guy who wants this kind of one-man-for-life, unbreakable commitment. That’s when Joe says something I’ll never forget: “You have to fight that! If you let yourself become cynical, you become part of the system. You become the problem.”
We hug, exchange goodbyes, and go separate ways, but that last line hangs with me all the way home. If I let myself become cynical, I become part of the system, and probably ensure I never find what Joe and Dan have.
Our meals arrive. Dan and Joe share their entrees with each other. We pour more wine and continue talking about their relationship.
I learn that before Joe met Dan, he was getting discouraged about ever finding his soul mate. “I got to the point where I would go on dates with guys I wasn’t even really attracted to at all, just to see if something would happen.” His message to single gay people now is, don’t give up. Keep looking. “And be willing to look anywhere, to go anywhere,” he says. “I once flew out to California just to go on a date!”
The searching ended for Joe when he met Dan on Facebook. After several dates and many hours of conversations that both Joe and Dan say were some of the happiest of their lives, Joe decided he wanted to make it official. “I did the whole middle school note thing. I wrote out, ‘Will you be my boyfriend?’ with boxes for ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘maybe.’”
“Of course, I checked yes,” Dan says.
Eight months later, they both knew they wanted to spend their lives with each other. “We knew pretty early on we wanted to be together,” Joe says, “and that we wanted an actual marriage more than just a partnership of some kind. I’ve always wanted a church wedding. So, we had talked about it—about who would propose and who wanted to be asked. I told Dan it would be nice to be surprised. And I eventually was. I had no idea the night he asked me.”
“I had kept the note from Joe asking me if I’d be his boyfriend, and I added a question to it. ‘Will you be my husband? Yes, no, or maybe.’”
Dan arranged to meet Joe for a nice dinner at one of their favorite restaurants. He arrived early with gifts: a red rose for Joe’s plate, a collage of pictures he had put together chronicling their relationship, and an envelope containing the note and a Sharpie. He set his iPhone to record the moment.
Joe arrived, unsuspecting. “It started to occur to me what might be happening when I saw the collage,” Joe says, “but I went into the evening without a clue.” When Joe read the note, his eyes instantly filled with tears. He looked up from the paper as Dan got down on one knee.
“We’d only been dating eight months,” Dan says, “so I told him that I knew it was early on, but that I had no doubts, and that he’d make me a very happy man if he’d marry me.”
“I wicked gay reacted,” Joe says, laughing. With tears running down, Joe took the Sharpie, checked the appropriate box on the note, looked at Dan, smiled, and said, “Yes!”
“We’re both healthy eaters,” Dan says, “but we had cake that night.” Dan knew that he wanted to ask Joe’s dad for permission to marry Joe, so that evening he called.
Joe says, “That sealed it for me! That’s the sign of a good ole fashioned gentleman.”
By now, I’m dying to know what Joe’s and Dan’s parents think about all this. From earlier in our conversation, I’d gleaned that Joe’s dad is Catholic and Dan’s is a Methodist minister.
“I have a gay brother who came out before me,” Joe says, “So my dad had been through it before. He gave Dan permission to marry me, and he’ll be at the weddingalong with the rest of the family.”
Dan’s family is another story. “My parents have never met Joe,” Dan says with a note of sadness. “I would love for them to, but that’s the choice they’ve made. They won’t be at the wedding, and that’s also by their choice. We still talk almost every week, but they’re just not okay with my being gay and in a relationship. Maybe in time.”
In fact, I learn, there is a broad spectrum of family response on both sides, ranging from full acceptance to just the opposite. Dan says he hopes people will see in this that his and Joe’s story is not a flawless fairytale. “I wouldn’t want anyone to think that our situation is perfect or that they can’t have what we have. Our relationship is born out of reality, and it has its challenges like anyone else’s will.”
So, besides the fact that gay marriage is a relatively new phenomenon in our culture, why aren’t more gay people seeking this fairytale, imperfect as it may be, and what advice do Joe and Dan have for gay people who are seeking to marry? That’s next …
(Note: Because I hate reading a story and not knowing who is who in the associated pics … in both images here, Joe is on the left, Dan on the right.)
My job affords me time (and permission) to check Facebook, and despite the frustrations of the social media site—all the political rants, privacy concerns, and coercions to “like” a picture in the next three seconds or you don’t love Jesus—I’ve met some wonderful people through Facebook whom I never otherwise would have known. Joe and Dan are two such people. While I see plenty of Facebook profile pictures featuring gay couples, something just felt different about these two. Flipping through their pictures, they seemed so comfortable together, so unconcerned with what the world might think. It all looked very natural, unforced, and as it was meant to be. I friended them, and we began chatting back and forth for a few months. Last weekend, I finally had the chance to meet and share dinner and a good bottle of wine with Joe and Dan.
Their story inspires me because they are examples of what I hope to have some day: a healthy, loving, monogamous, relationship with a man that leads to the altar. For so long, as I’ve recounted previously, I thought I could not have this and should not have this, that it was an impossible fantasy, and an immoral one at that. Now, things are different, and I see Joe and Dan’s relationship as something both good and attainable. But how did it happen? How did they meet, fall in love, and form a faithful relationship in a culture that often encourages immediate sex with as many people as you want at the expense of the slow, tough work of building an enduring life with just one person?
Joe says he was always a romantic at heart. “I’ve always had pretty traditional ideas about relationships, having grown up in the Catholic Church, so I knew I wanted a partner for life.”
Joe first saw Dan tagged in someone else’s picture on Facebook and wasted no time getting in touch. “I had a rule at the time that if I found a guy attractive, “ Joe says, “I would let him know. He deserved that rather than having me simply stalk him online. So, I messaged Dan.”
“And I responded pretty quickly!” Dan interjects, as they look at each other and smile. They have that same blissful glow about them that I as a pastor used to see in many of the engaged straight couples in my church.
After an exchange of messages and a long phone call one night, they decided to go on a date.
Joe says, “That was the easiest conversation I’ve ever had with anyone. It was just so natural talking to Dan that I couldn’t stop!”
“I had to tell him to breathe at one point,” Dan says with a laugh.
A first date led to a first kiss—a kiss that felt different than any before. “That was the first time I’d ever kissed a guy that having sex with him wasn’t the first thing that came to mind,” Dan says. “I mean, I did want that, of course, but I wanted so much more. I wanted to know this guy.”
Joe says the two of them wisely took their relationship slowly at first, mostly because they had to. “We were lucky in that I was traveling a lot for work at the time, so we weren’t able to move too quickly and fall into the three-dates-in-three-nights trap. Also, we lived about 40 minutes apart at the time, so that meant some nights we just texted or talked on the phone, and that allowed our relationship to develop at a more natural and healthy pace.”
But the strong connection they had was obvious to them both very early on. After only the second date, as though he knew already that this relationship was not the same as all the ones before, Dan said to Joe, “This is going to be fun.”
“And it was, and it is!” Joe says. “I started bringing home little souvenirs from business trips for Dan, something I’d never really done for anyone before. And he really listened intently to me when I would talk. He picked up on a detail in one of my many random stories about how I’d read that some celebrity demanded his driver pick him up from the airport with blue M&Ms only and a bottle of white wine in the vehicle. Next time Dan picked me up at the airport, he surprised me with a picnic that included blue M&Ms and white wine.”
Unbeknownst to Dan, little moments like that led Joe to begin keeping a journal of their growing relationship. “I had never been much of a writer before, but I just wanted to remember everything, every first. I didn’t want to forget any of it.”
One day, months into the relationship, Dan discovered that journal, and now the two update it together, chronicling their life as a couple. There aren’t quite as many things to write about these days. Joe and Dan have been together for two years, so there are fewer “firsts” to write down, but they seem no less in love for having run short of new things to do. And that’s one aspect of their relationship that so intrigues me, and inspires me. They get that it’s not always going to be like it was that first date, or even that first year.
Dan says, “It’s not always going to be hot and spicy. It’s not supposed to be. Some of that initial excitement comes from the mystery of it all, the unknown. But the longer you’re with someone, the better you know the person, and the less mystery—the less spice—there is. That doesn’t mean you’re not still in love. It just means you have to work at injecting spice into the relationship and realizing that sometimes it’ll be boring, but that boring doesn’t equal non-existent. It doesn’t mean something’s wrong.”
As Joe, Dan, and I continue sipping wine and waiting for our meals, a hundred questions run through my mind. When did they decide to marry? Who asked whom? Or was it just a mutual decision at the end of a conversation? What do their parents think about all of this (I already know that Joe’s dad is Catholic and Dan’s is a Methodist minister)? How do Joe and Dan approach the whole sex before marriage issue? What advice do they have for other gay guys and gals hoping for a life partner some day?
Stay tuned …
I completely missed the Lenten train this year. I should have fasted from Facebook as I’ve been considering for months now. So that the Holy Week train doesn’t also leave the station without me, I’m taking some reflection time each day this week to consider the mystery and miracle of the sacrifice and triumph of Jesus. Part of that reflection for me involves music, and I wanted to pass on a couple of selections that have been meaningful.
Italian composer Gregorio Allegri composed Miserere in the early 1600s (Probably 1630s). It’s a setting of Psalm 51 meant for use during Holy Wednesday and Good Friday services in the Sistene Chapel. A portion of the text reads,
Have mercy upon me, O God, after Thy great goodness
According to the multitude of Thy mercies do away mine offences.
Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness: and cleanse me from my sin.
This is one of a handful of works I discovered as a teenager that sealed my love for classical music. I remember hearing it the first time, having no idea what the musicians were singing but thinking it was the most beautiful sound ever created by the human voice. I still think it may be. You can read along in English as the singers deliver the Latin, download a version sung in English, or simply close your eyes and listen (in any language) to the sounds of the soul in contrition before God. Get alone, shut out all other sound, and just listen.
At the other end of the historical spectrum of classical music is John Debney’s score to the 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ. Whatever you think about the film itself, or its director, the original score is a gem worth revisiting. Again, close your eyes, and just listen. You’ll feel as though you’ve been transported back to first century Israel to witness the beauty and horror of that Holy Week. And unlike Miserere, the Passion soundtrack ends with the resolution of resurrection.
Would love to hear your own suggestions. Feel free to comment below.
Have a happy and holy week.
It was an angry year, and good riddance to it. The only questions I have for 2012 are, should I try avoiding you in the future, and if so, how?
I began 2012 blogging about faith and homosexuality. Specifically, Christian faith and my homosexuality. I knew going in I was likely to regret the move, and it took about five minutes from the time I posted the first entry for that to prove true. I heard it all. A friend of some 15 years told me, “The Bible says I’m not supposed to have you in my home.” An old college acquaintance quipped, “When you’re done justifying your sin, maybe you can tell me how to justify my lust, because that’s easier than repenting.” A few accused me of “scriptural gymnastics,” a favorite phrase of some evangelicals when someone challenges their beliefs with a non-traditional interpretation of certain Bible passages. No one ever told me why what I was thinking wasn’t right or couldn’t be right; they only told me I was wrong, often in painfully pithy ways. I’d love to say I let the criticisms all roll off my back, but no. Some of those comments still smart.
Next, we had Amendment One, North Carolina’s measure to amend its constitution by banning legal sanction of any union other than that of one man and one woman. No civil unions, and certainly no gay marriage. The vote wasn’t even close. Sixty percent of voters approved the amendment after months of angry exchanges among politicians, civic groups, and churches. If the whole matter had not been so terribly serious, it would have been comical. “Who exactly,” many must have wondered, “is this Jesus? Are these people even talking about the same person? Why does no one seem to know who he is? He’s wildly variable from one church to the next.” Again, I’d love to say I laughed off all the angry attacks I heard, but it’s a little tough to absorb being told you’re shaking your fist at God just because you believe he understands that some people cannot be straight no matter how bad some of his disciples want them to, and so provision should be made for their relational needs, as well. As the vote count rolled in, I stood in a sea of amendment opponents. When the image of Billy Graham appeared on stage behind a handful of gloating politicians and church leaders, I heard the most unrepeatable obscenities hurled, not at God, per se, but at his church, and I realized just how many generations the church (as unfair as it may be to lump us all into one phrase like “the church”) will be paying for its use of politics as a weapon in a culture war. “If you have not love, you are nothing.” If you have hate, what does that make you?
As if to add insult to injury, we next had Chick-Fil-A Day. Again, spurred by a politician, the church took sides, often against each other more than anything else. Some said it was about equality. Others said it was about morality. Still others, that freedom of speech was on the line. Mostly what we all accomplished, I suspect, was spreading more bitterness and, depending on your camp, further padding the wallet of a millionaire maker of chicken sandwiches. But they really are good little boogers, what with that deep fried deliciousness and that lone little pickle on top. Dab of mayonnaise. Mmm mmm. Costly too. A lot of gays got further from anything that smacks of “church,” and even folks like me, who love and serve the church, were left with a rotten taste in their mouths of religion gone rancid.
And then, the biggie hit: Decision 2012. For months that seemed unending, we heard supporters of both candidates accuse each other of the most ghastly things, just because they see the world differently. Facebook was nearly unendurable for 10 out of 12 months this past year. That’s quite a sum of unpleasantness.
Finally, the election passed, only to see another wave of Facebook fighting roll in in the wake of the Connecticut elementary school massacre. “It’s about the second amendment!” “It’s about stemming gun violence!” “It’s about our children!” “Guns don’t kill people …” And we solved … ? Yep, nothing. Just spread around a little more anger and arrogant head-shaking: “Can you believe so-and-so believes THAT? I’m so glad I’m not like THEM.”
Am I alone in feeling like 2012 was a bitter progression from one argument to the next? I’ve dubbed 2012 “the year of the schism” because it did feel to me as though every month–sometimes every week–brought some fresh issue to scrap over. And scrap we did. I’m not sure what the solution is either, how we keep 2013 from following the same pattern, or if we even should try to. Maybe these fights are good, or necessary at least. We don’t live in a Pollyanna world. Sometimes we’re going to disagree, bitterly even, and the only thing to do is to have it out, and maybe this is a healthy and essential process. Surely, few people would say the 1960s were a harmonious time, but we needed to “have it out” over racial equality. It was a messy but necessary debate. Having it was good and ultimately healthy. Maybe our current arguments are the same. Doesn’t feel like it though. I ended 2012 edgy, irritable, and snarky, expecting at any moment to get completely blasted for some belief I hold. I look back on the year and think, “What did all that arguing accomplish? What did I accomplish?”
No tidy ending to this post. This is the early stage of my period of reflection as I make goals for the New Year. Maybe it isn’t right to want to stop the arguments our society is having. Maybe we need to have them. Conflict can be healthy. Maybe the debates are good, or at least necessary. If so, how do I endure them without turning out bitter in the end? I don’t want to say good riddance to another year in twelve months. I want to look back and say, “That was good. Messy, perhaps, but good.” How do I make this happen?