[from the June 2003 issue of THE NET- newspaper of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida]
In the parking lot of the rural parish I happily served in New England
for fourteen years, a combative church-shopper was eager to hint that her
would soon continue their search in other towns. “I’m surprised
that ‘the issue’ has not erupted here,” she snickered. I
realized that she was in her family’s characteristic attack mode, in
no way willing to have a conversation.
“I hope that you find the congregation you’re looking for” was my hopefully warm reply. Their track record of wreaking havoc among visited churches was becoming well known. I was relieved that they would be on their way, because I did not have the pastoral skills to minister to them effectively.
This was the first of many times that I realized that, for many lay and ordained churchfolks, I am an “issue.” Since 1937, my baptismal, confirmation and ordination certificates, all within the Episcopal Church, list my name as a person, my baptismal identity as a child of God called to love and be loved.
When my partner and I, both 66 and preparing to celebrate our 48th family anniversary in September, hear that we are “an issue,” it is usually discovered that who we are and how we behave bears virtually no resemblance to twisted images portrayed in the public mind and media.
What people often see are clearly troubled individuals, outrageously behaving men and women, transient relationships, pedophilia, and ephebophilia; they hear of behaviors harmful to the body. Admittedly, these characteristics are real among some people of all sexual orientations.
What the public does not observe among gay individuals are those who are well adjusted and ordinary in their behavior and appearance; who live as single women and men as well as in family oriented, long-term relationships; individuals who firmly reject heterosexual and homosexual pedophilia and ephebophilia, and whose sexual behaviors are in no way damaging.
There is no way that the Gospel can affirm all heterosexual and homosexual behaviors. On some matters, after we study the Bible and contemporary sciences, we may agree to differ. Too, we may be surprised by new information.
In my New England parish and cathedral posts, as well as in my secular positions as a writer and professor, my relationships have usually been personal, that is, as a person in relation to other human beings. This has been my partner’s experience, too, both as a cradle Episcopalian and in his public high school teaching and administrative career.
Nonetheless, we are too often surprised, and hurt, that many lay and ordained people who do not know us--or the many like us--refer to us as an “issue”. We are not an issue; we are, like all other Episcopalians, children of God who have the moral responsibility to live within the New Covenant of God’s love through Christ.
Dr. Richard T. Nolan is retired-priest-in-residence at Saint Andrew’s, Lake Worth, a Chaplain to Integrity–Palm Beach, and editor of www.philosophy-religion.org/. He is canonically resident in the Diocese of Connecticut.