An old friend's been visiting this week. I've known this man since elementary school. He was a student in one of the first 4th grade classes my mother taught when she went back to teaching. I was also in 4th grade that year, at a school across town from where Mom taught, but I was well aware of her students. I'd helped prepare their classroom, spent many weekend days in their empty room, and often looked at their names on the bulletin and chalk boards. In the spring, Mom put on the play Tom Sawyer, and I was in the audience as my future friends and graduating classmates performed. Yes, I knew them. A couple of years later, all four elementary schools were herded into one middle school, and our odyssey together began in earnest.
So this man who is visiting wasn't quite a friend in elementary school. He wasn't even quite a friend in middle school when we were crammed together with 200 of our classmates. I knew who he was, I'm sure he knew my name as well. It wasn't until high school that we became friends. This week we were trying to determine just when we began to be friends and we couldn't really name a particular moment. Junior year, maybe?
But we were friends. And he was friends with Beve as well. We all went to Young Life, Campaigners, all kinds of Bible studies and activities. He was (still is) a kind-hearted, sweet man, who laughs easily, cares greatly about people, and wants to be liked. Loves to be in on the action. He's a gentleman. He was raised by his mother to be so, and he has it down to an art. Yes, he's a courtly gentleman, my friend is.
About midway through college, this friend married. He was the very first of our large circle to marry and it came as something of a surprise to most--if not all--of us. I'd been living away from home for a year, so had missed this relationship building, but so had most people, apparently.
That's all back-story.
Or sideways story.
This man has been a faithful follower of Jesus for a long time. He worked hard at his walk, wanted desperately to be the man he believed he was supposed to be.
The man the church told him he had to be.
Yes, I said that.
I've been trying to figure out how to write this story, how to tell it without slathering it with the love I have for this man. I mean, I have loved him for so long, have KNOWN him for so long. Really known...
that even when he finally had to leave his marriage (or was forced to) in the bitterest of ways, due to his own actions, which he's repented of again and again, I loved him. Even when he admitted to himself once and for all--in front of God and everyone--who he is, who he's always been, I loved him.
No, let's call it what it is, he came out of the closet.
My friend is gay.
That's what he admitted.
And the church he'd been attending for years, the church in front of which he repented and confessed and asked for prayer, shunned him. What happened to him in our hometown became a public tragedy. I'm not telling you anything the newspaper didn't report at the time. It was awful. Just plain awful. I don't have a recipe for how the church should react but I know it wasn't that. It must start and end with love. And definitely not cause Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome as it did in my friend, who is the most earnest of men.
He asked me the other day what I believe about him being homosexual, I told him there was no way he'd chosen it. I personally have never seen anyone try harder NOT to choose it. His sexuality, which had been as plain to all of us who knew him way-back-when, was the last thing he would have chosen. To be ostracized, tormented from without and within, to feel worthless and wrong just for being, to want to die because he couldn't control his feelings no matter how often he prayed? Who would choose this? And, to be honest, my mother knew he was gay when he was in 4th grade. No, his sexual orientation is part of his DNA.
I don't believe sexuality is wrong.
We are born a certain way.
We cannot do anything about that.
However, promiscuity is wrong.
There's a huge difference between sexuality and promiscuity. I am heterosexual, but my being so neither governs my every thought, nor allows me any liberty. I am not free to have indiscriminate sex.
Nor is anyone else. My friend, who is closer to Christ right now than he's ever been (and it's a holy, beautiful story!), lives a celibate life. He could say exactly the same statement I just said about his own sexuality. We have much in common, my old friend and I, though he took a very circuitous route to get here. A long, hard, sometimes excruciatingly painful route of his own making. He owns his sins along the way. He owns the failures he made that cost him his marriage, and damaged other relationships.
But this I know, my friend is redeemed and loved and my brother. In God's eyes, he is in exactly the same position I am in. Loved and saved by the amazing Grace of Jesus Christ.
He's told Beve and me this week that this is the best season of his life. He is free and whole and full.
What more could we want for anyone?