Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Dear Rev. Johnston

The following was a nice birthday present (9/22) that my brother wrote. I shared with people in the gay Christian group here in Seoul and they were all very moved. Rereading it I was interested to note that he was awakened three times by the Lord which reminded me of when God calls Samuel (I Sam 3:1-10).

Dear Rev. Johnston,

I am writing you in the early hours of the morning because I cannot sleep. I have awakened three times feeling the Lord calling me—or rather convicting me—of my silence and ordering me to write to you. I know better than to ignore the Lord. He will pester my conscience until I do His will. So, here I am writing you against my human judgment and need for sleep.

I will not use my full name, because I do not know what you would do with it. I am an attorney in the KC Metro area who serves mostly Hispanics and Spanish-speakers—again, in an answer to God’s calling in my life. I was baptized at age 9 and have been a good Baptist since that time. I am an active member of my church and attend regularly with my fiancee of two years. In May, we will be married by my father, a Baptist minister of at least 30 years.

Standing by my side as best man will be my brother, an excellent grade school teacher currently teaching at an English-language non-denominational Christian international school overseas. He has always been there for me when I needed him, has been by biggest cheerleader throughout my college years at a Baptist college and throughout law school. He continues to give me moral support and encouragement from overseas as I volunteer for other issues of God’s calling in my life—continuing education for high-school dropouts, creating middle-income housing in blighted neighborhoods in the urban core, volunteering for a free “Ask-A-Lawyer” day for an interfaith organization that provides temporary housing and job placement assistance to the homeless, and organizing congregations across the KC Metro area on issues of racial and economic segregation and social justice.

My brother was baptized at age 12 or 13 by my father, as was I. While he taught in Kansas for several years in a low-income school district, he taught Sunday School and played piano for his church nearly every Sunday. While overseas, he continues to be active in a Christian support and accountability group as he continues his walk with Christ. My brother is also gay.

My brother revealed this to me over e-mail while I was in law school because he was afraid of what my reaction would be over the phone or in person. And honestly, I used every—and I mean EVERY—argument and authority in the Bible, in law, and in philosophy to convince him not to be gay. If there was any logical or Biblical argument that could have changed his mind, I would have already discovered it.

His revelation was a shock to me at first. I was at first somewhat angry—why was he “doing” this to me and my family? I thought this kind of thing could ruin my father’s reputation, would break my mother’s heart, might make it more difficult for me to attract a good Christian woman to marry, and threatened to shatter the close family unity we had. For two years, I held his secret to myself, which required deflecting inquiries by my mother and reporting back to my brother whether or not the folks were getting suspicious. It was a very heavy burden to bear.

After two years of arguing with and praying about my brother, for whatever reason, I Christ gave me His peace that passes understanding over the matter. None of my theological opinions had changed, but my fears had subsided. And I was frankly tired of dancing around the white elephant in the room with my folks. The right thing for my brother to do was to tell them himself when he came back on vacation one summer. I knew that my family would need my support on all sides, so I insisted on being there.

My brother told my parents separately, and the differences in their reaction were compelling. My mother was understandably upset. She stated that this is not what she and my father had taught us—which is true. She also tried to convince my brother to change; I believe she suggested going to “treatment” and then marrying a “recovering” lesbian so the two would keep each other accountable. In retrospect, I cannot imagine a more dismal and depressing life for my brother, as such a partnership would be based only on trying to “kick this homosexual thing,” and not on love, respect, friendship, common beliefs and common goals—all the things that bind my fiancee and I together in addition to God-given physical attraction. Nevertheless, my mother’s response only made my brother more defensive and more combative. It was an angry and somewhat hurtful confrontation, but as I told my brother, not all that surprising. My mother gave me the argumentative and combative side that serves me so well in court. That’s just how she is, God love her.

My father’s reaction was completely different. Now working as a hospice chaplain, he simply smiled and told my brother that he loved him and had wondered for some time when my brother was going to tell him. My brother cried and I think I cried too. The experience was amazingly like experiencing and realizing the grace of Jesus for the first time. In the same way, here was my father telling my brother—sure, I know you are not perfect, but you are my son, and I love you anyway, unconditionally. My father’s reaction, just like my mother’s, was not all that surprising. My father gave me the ability to listen, to empathize, to have compassion, and to see people as God sees them—as God’s children who are loved despite all their flaws. That ability has served me well in my law practice and serves my very well in my relationship with my fiancee. That’s just how he is, God love him.

So, that’s how it happened, and it’s been over a year since my brother told my parents. I was afraid that it would fracture and destroy my family. Thanks be to God, it did not. I was afraid that it would ruin my father’s reputation. Obviously, it really never could have. I was afraid that it would break my mother’s heart. She’s still not happy about it, and continues to collect materials about treatment and individuals who say they were “cured” of homosexuality, but she still loves my brother very much. I was afraid that it would keep me from finding a good Christian wife. Of course, it did not.

Let me be clear. I still have mixed feelings and beliefs about homosexuality. I don’t believe it is God’s will for anybody to chose homosexuality, but I’m not entirely convinced anymore that it is a choice for most. I haven’t really decided whether my brother was born gay or chose to have a relationship with a man, but I don’t think there is any choice in the matter for him now. He is in a monogamous relationship with his partner (also a Christian) of about two years and has never really shown any doubt or any signs that he would or even could ever change. He continues his walk with Christ as best he knows how, assured that God knows he is not perfect, but loves him anyway unconditionally. Far from being deviant or tortured as some would portray individuals in his situation, he is very happy, very loving and he is very much true to himself and God being gay. Having known my brother all my life, and now that time has passed from the initial shock, I find that it’s not all that surprising. That’s just the way he is, God love him. And I do believe that God loves him. And I love him very much just as he is

I have read over the last several months of your role in the political effort to pass an amendment to the Kansas Constitution to further ban gay marriage, which—as I learned in law school—is already illegal in Kansas. I saw you prominently featured on the cover of The Pitch Weekly with the headline—in reference to the infamous protests of Rev. Fred Phelps of Topeka—“Ministers Hate Fags Too.” I read the latest article in the 9/21/04 issue of the Kansas City Star regarding your organization of a series of “pastor policy briefings” intended to encourage pastors to get involved in the political process. So, I figure you are exactly the person qualified to answer some of the questions that have been nagging me for months:

First, of the two very different reactions of my parents above, which was the more Christ-like? My father’s approach did not condone homosexuality in any way, but it certainly was loving and has bound our family together. I am convinced that my mother’s approach, although well intentioned, would have left my brother trapped in a miserable and loveless marriage, which would eventually have been doomed to failure after many years and possibly a few children. At some point, my brother would not be able to continue being someone he simply is not.

Second, if my brother and his partner move to Canada, (which is, in fact, exactly what they plan to do) and if they decide to get married as a same-sex couple there, how will that marriage harm my upcoming marriage? My fiancee and I will still love each other and be committed to each other just as much. My brother, in fact, would be living the Christian example of marriage that my parents gave us as best he can. He would probably be an example for other homosexuals to commit to a single, life-long, monogamous partner, rather than the reckless irresponsible existence which many feel is their only option at this point.

Third, what empirical basis do you have for the assertion that allowing same-sex marriage or unions would destroy the institution of the family? I would agree that no-fault divorce has seriously harmed the institution of the family in America. I would agree that absentee fathers are a great cause to the decline of the American family, and a cause towards almost every social ill that plagues America today. I would agree that raising children in poverty, crime, and racial segregation has weakened families all across the nation. The harm that these three phenomenons have inflicted upon the family in America is well documented and undisputed. Yet, I have not seen you nor your allies organize for a change in the law or the state constitution to ban no-fault divorce, absentee fathers, or raising children in poverty, etc. Why not? And why are you not pushing to elect candidates who are committed to fight against these very real threats to the family? Don’t you care? Aren’t these issues important enough? These issues have been destroying our families and our society for decades now. More than 50 percent of marriages end in divorce now, and that has nothing to do with same-sex marriage.

Fourth, what are you doing to communicate that even though you find homosexuality to be sinful and morally reprehensible, that there is no justification for hate and violence against homosexuals? Frankly, this is a real concern for my brother, and it is one of the reasons I think he may never return to teach in Kansas. And that’s just wrong. He’s a great teacher (and no, he doesn’t “teach homosexuality” in the classroom or anywhere else) and he should be teaching children in Kansas, not overseas or in Canada. Will not your campaign embolden non-Christians who would do evil against homosexuals by giving them some kind of moral justification for hate-crimes?

Fifth, have you ever met an openly homosexual Christian? Do you know any or are you friends with any? Are you willing to meet with any and ask them honest questions about their belief or their life?

Sixth, what are you doing to counter the perception that Christians are simply hateful people? I am sure that it is not news to you that many non-Christians have that kind of perception of our faith when they hear or see pastors like yourself or Fred Phelps so vehemently oppose homosexuality.

Seventh, what are you doing to protect your church and others against losing their 501(c)(3) status? It is clear—not subtle at all—which candidates you support and you are using the Church as your podium. Also, as you well know, demographic studies show that Protestant Christians now only comprise 50 percent of the American population, and within a few years, will cease to be the dominant religious group in America. How do you avoid the perception that rather than caring about the well-being of the nation, the political efforts by Rev. Jerry Falwell and others like yourself is really about power, i.e. trying to institutionalize into law the power Protestant Christians have had in our society over the last 225 years? I don’t have to tell you, Reverend, that that is the perception, and it is the single largest contributor to the Church’s increasing difficulty to reach and witness to non-believers. Frankly, my brother, as an openly gay Christian, has been an unlikely witness to many foreign non-believers simply because of who he is.

Rev. Johnston, I know you are a busy man, and you probably have no desire to be side-tracked by one semi-anonymous letter. However, I would appreciate a response to these questions when you get a chance. Being the son of a preacher, I also know that letters like these can be great material for a sermon. That’s your prerogative, I suppose, and for that reason, I am not including my full name. I have heard even other pastors trashed—and I mean trashed—on local Christian talk radio because they supported a moderate Republican candidate instead of the pro-life Republican candidate. I’m not saying you would attack my character instead of respectfully addressing the religious and policy questions I have raised, but we both know some people who wear a cross on their lapel unfortunately would have no problem doing so.

I look forward to your response. Thank you for your time and consideration of this letter.

In Christ’s Peace and Love,

David G.

No comments: