A week before the Primates met in Tanzania, a young gay man just starting college near New York City came to CFLAG for help. His father in Massachusetts has told him in so many words to “go straight” or be cut off. He has three months to decide what to do.
For Episcopalians with LGBT family members, this is an old, sad story we know only too well, now playing itself out on the international stage. It seems that the House of Bishops has until September to decide to go straight, or at least appear to, or the Episcopal Church will be sent into some form of exile.
We know the story
For those of us with gay children and other family and friends, it’s sad but not surprising that our anxious Anglican family is begging its only fully “out” member — the Episcopal Church — to hew to family expectations and fears and not embarrass the family on the world’s religious stage. Like the young man’s anxious and grieving father, powers in the Communion are saying to us, “Don’t threaten our sense of who are and how things are supposed to be. We can’t bear it.”
If we’re honest with ourselves, we can relate to that. Some of us remember wondering, when a family member came out, how this fact reflected on us! Even if the thought was fleeting, and love drove our response, we also wondered what our friends, parishioners, and other family members would think. Who could we talk to? If we’re parents, we probably wondered what we did wrong. Many of us still have trouble talking about our LGBT family members in church or in “polite” society. We are fearful or ashamed.
We also remember worrying about our gay family members, once they had the courage to tell us their truth. How could they have “chosen” this path we had been taught was deviant? What would become of them? How could they possibly live full, healthy, productive lives as God intended them to, if they followed a path so different from our own? We loved them, so we thought, and some part of us wanted them back as the “straight” people we thought they were before they told us the truth.
How little we knew. How thoroughly indoctrinated we were in the belief that something is wrong with you if you’re not heterosexual. How like some of today’s Anglicans we were, if only in our hearts, before we were challenged by our love for an LGBT family member or friend.
To the extent that we were unable to listen and learn, we experienced much unnecessary suffering, as did our families and LGBT loved ones.
How can CFLAG help the Church?
Unlearning the myths and outright lies we were taught about homosexuality is a process, not an event. It’s painful to experience this process all over again, this time with the Anglican Communion. How we wish we could speed it up, and open the eyes of powerful church family members who are still too fearful to listen and learn. We’ve seen families break up over this. When this happens, it breaks God’s heart, and ours.
Bishop Katharine is calling us to pause, listen, and lower the emotional reactivity. She asks us to fast from ascribing motives to others, seek Christ in those we most disagree with, and not be afraid. I can’t think of better counsel to a family in crisis. And I believe that we CFLAG members have some very specific contributions to offer the church at this time:
1. Perspective. Families need time to unlearn the lies about homosexuality, just as our LGBT loved ones needed time before they had courage to come out. Given centuries of church-sponsored homophobia, this can be a long process. We Episcopalians have been at it for four decades. The rest of the Communion wasn’t paying attention until we “came out” in 2003.
Our coming out was a gift to the Anglican family—they just don’t know it yet. We family members can help lower the emotional temperature by remembering and sharing our own family experience with that process.
2. Support. While the international church family goes through the excruciatingly long process of unlearning the lies, LGBT Episcopalians need our support more than ever. They continue to pay an unbearable price in the Church’s failure to welcome their full humanity and inclusion in the church family. In addition to simply making ourselves available for pastoral care, we straight family members and friends are being called to:
Share our stories with the wider church. Jim Naughton on Daily Episcopalian (http://blog.edow.org/weblog) points out that it’s past time for Bishop Robinson alone to bear the burden as the “face” of the struggle for LGBT inclusion. “The world needs to see other leaders in our Church stepping forward and speaking out.
Friends, that includes us. We have family stories to tell, and they really do change hearts and minds over time. Incarnation has a way of doing that. Bishop Katharine has reported on the beginnings of change she observed in some of the remarks made in Tanzania. Our church’s actions have already achieved the first step in the process: no one in the Communion can now deny that LGBT people exist in their churches. Though our witness may not open Archbishop Akinola’s eyes tomorrow, if ever, many others are less fearful and more willing to hear. Let’s look together for more opportunities to share our stories.
Share the suffering. For those of us who are heterosexual, the Episcopal Church’s experience of being misunderstood, threatened, and possibly exiled gives us only a tiny glimpse of the extended and often extreme suffering our LGBT loved ones have lived with for most of their lives—in families, in church, and in society. More than ever, they need to know that they are not alone. We families and friends share the suffering. Let’s look together for more ways to make that clear to more people.
3. Connection. Families who reject their LGBT loved ones pay a heavy price. Parents literally lose their children. The loss is incalculable on both sides. The Anglican Communion is now courting such a loss. Many are asking, with good reason, “Unity at what price?”
We families have seen what happens when gay people try to “go straight” to appease fearful family members so they will not be cut off. Everyone pays the price. The whole Communion will suffer if our church takes backward steps. I want to believe our Presiding Bishop when she says that we are not being called to do so.
We have also seen what happens when LGBT people are kicked out of their homes or understandably leave their rejecting families in order to survive. All suffer. So will the whole Communion if anxiety prevails and our church is exiled in some way.
We CFLAG families know there is another way. We have experienced it. Our LGBT loved ones have taught us by their courageous and persistent example: they have stayed connected to our families without compromising their identity. Our stories and theirs can help the Episcopal Church at this time as it looks for ways to stay connected to the Communion as the church we are, not as the most anxious and fearful wish we would be. And to do so lovingly, patiently, and confident that God is working in us and through us to bring about God’s purposes for us all.
Clergy Families & Friends of Lesbians and Gays