As many of you know, I am an 80 year-old gay male living alone after the death of my beloved nearly two years ago. In my twilight years, and especially in the 21st century, I really don’t find it necessary to defend who I am and what I have become. I am just one happy guy still involved in the experiences of life and basking in the memories of the preceding 80 years.
Yet, even at this age and in this century, I still receive inquiries like the following and I want to put an answer out here so that any who wish may see my response. Some of you may know also that I was a Southern Baptist minister for a number of years during the last century. It is from my life in that capacity that I receive the most inquiries and to a degree I believe they are legitimate, especially when one comes along under the subject heading: “Educate me.” I believe that is the primary way that those of the heterosexual “lifestyle” will gain greater understanding of who I am and why. I want to give their sincere searches the attention they merit.
My response may at times sound flippant or condescending, but it is not intended to be that at all. (If you, as a reader, are offended, please accept my apology up front.) It may demonstrate my weariness at being asked the same question year after year when there is such an abundance of written material available to those who sincerely want answers. But I will address the question from my perspective — the only one to which I can truly speak.
Late last night (2/20/2011) I received the following via Facebook. It is from someone in my “ministerial” past. I present it to you verbatim:
Hi, Ted. I’ve been wondering about something and finally am getting down to just asking you about it. I only want to get a better understanding; I’m not being judgmental. How do you reconcile your practice of homosexuality with what the scriptures say about it? My interpretation of the scriptures is that it is a sin. I know we are all sinners, but the sins that I realize I commit, I ask for forgiveness and don’t make a conscious effort to continue. Just wondering.
Six sentences, about which books, theses and dissertations have been written, have been directed at me on Facebook where the normal response is limited to some 400-500 characters, not words. That is why I have chosen the format of a “note” that I can post on my wall. I hope it will provide the inquirer, and others who may read this, with a “better understanding.”
I always have to smile when I read, “your practice of homosexuality.” It is almost like there is the belief — though I am confident that is not the case — that at some point in my life I chose to get a degree in homosexuality so that I could take the state exam, get my license and then open up my office to practice. It seems similar to someone who might at some point choose to pursue a career in medicine or law and who chooses classes that will provide a solid background for the rigors of either a medical school or a law school curriculum.
Such is not the case with my homosexuality. I did not wake up one morning and decide that I would be homosexual and set about learning what I needed to know so that I could “practice” my sexuality. When my family asked me what I was planning on doing with my life, I did not say, “Oh, I think I will be a homosexual even though it will take years of study.” Being homosexual is what I am, not something I became or something I practice. Too, I don’t need to “practice” my homosexuality any longer since I am really quite proficient and professional in my ability to be gay.
I cannot remember when I was not homosexual. I may not have known the vocabulary that is available now but I did know that I was different before I entered grammar school. I discovered what that difference was a year or two later. There were no role models in Tennessee back in the 1930s so I lived a life of abject loneliness and sexual abstinence until I screwed up (Freudian choice of words?) the courage to come out when I was a few weeks shy of my 47th birthday and after I had left the ministry.
At that point I became a more serious student of scripture than I had ever been before. I did not read the Bible and simply say, “That’s what that means.” I began the kind of study that necessitated a lot of hard work since it required looking at it in the context of the time and customs when it was written, not just my reading it and interpreting it as I saw fit. I read books by scholars who were on both sides of right/wrong controversy where my sexuality was concerned. After years, I became convinced that what those scholars said — who were much more intelligent and versed in scripture than I — was true. “If you want to find a book that condemns homosexuality as an orientation, you must look somewhere else other than in the Bible.”
If we look at scripture in that manner we will find that many of the instances where a verse or two look as if they were condemning homosexual orientation, they were really polemics against idolatry, sexual abuse, inhospitality and other such subjects. We need to look at all of scripture in its historical context to better understand what the writing was saying then and determine what it means in the context of 21st century life.
When an inquirer states, “I am not being judgmental,” I begin looking for the judgment that undoubtedly will come, if not immediately, then certainly, soon. That happened in this inquiry as well. Notice the reference to “sin.” The statements, “How do you reconcile your practice of homosexuality with what the scriptures say about it? My interpretation of the scriptures is that it is a sin. I know we are all sinners, but the sins that I realize I commit, I ask for forgiveness and don’t make a conscious effort to continue,” say, in essence, “I make changes and you haven’t” or “my repentance has been more effective than yours.” Reminds me of the little ditty we used to chant after Sunday school as children back in the dark ages: “We don’t smoke and we don’t chew and we don’t go with girls who do. Our class won the Bible.”
If we are speaking in theological terms, then, yes, I am a sinner. But my sin is not my homosexuality. The inquirer seems to define homosexuality as a behavior that is interpreted as sin. I did not engage in “homosexual behavior” until I was 47 years old. Does that mean that, even though I was homosexual all those years before, I did not become the sinner until I engaged in the behavior defined as sin? Does it mean that since I am now alone again and “not practicing my homosexuality” I am no longer a sinner? I think you can begin to see how ludicrous this becomes.
It also necessitates calling up that old standby that many anti-gay individuals and groups use: “Love the sinner; hate the sin.” This is an effort to relieve the guilt felt for hatred. If I (the sinner) am defined as the behavior that is defined as “sin,” then those who use the little statement above have not gained absolution of their guilt, they have rather compounded it. If I am the sin and the sinner, then the statement really reads: “Hate the sinner; hate the sin” and there needs to be some other escape from the unchristian act of hatred.
I would encourage those who read scripture, and use it to pass judgment, to begin reading the scripture as a means of confronting their biases and not as a tool for confirming them.
Many of those who condemn on the basis of scripture apparently have not confronted their own sins during their “studies.” Some of the most outspoken critics, of those of us who are gay, base it on scripture while they themselves, for example, have been through numerous marriages and are, therefore, guilty of adultery according to scripture. And we know what the Bible says the penalty for adultery is, don’t we?
Hayes is a resident of Kingston, New York. He wrote this essay in 2011, but wanted to share it with Inter Lake readers as something still relevant.