His name was Joe. He came to church thirty minutes early and left five minutes before it started. Then, he would stay through the first five minutes of the service and leave. Next, he would stay through all of the singing. Then, he would stay long enough to listen to part of the message. Finally, he stayed for the entire service. I was not sure, but I suspected Joe was gay. Sure enough, he was. I had only been exposed to one other gay man in my life. Well, at least one other who had “come out of the closet.” I am sure my path crossed many others who had not been so bold. Statistically speaking, so have you.
The only other gay person I had known in any real capacity was a young man in the mid-1980’s at the church I was serving in Knoxville. He announced he was gay. In hindsight, I realize how brave of a move that was for him. He was immediately ostracized. Everyone was afraid of him, including me. I would not shake his hand. I would not stand next to him at the urinals in the bathroom. And, I would not drink after him in the water fountain. We were all afraid of AIDS. As could be expected, this young man left his church, his family and his home town. I never saw him again. I left Knoxville in 1989. I understand after a decade or so of hard living he came back home with AIDS; basically, to die. I understand he was welcomed with open and loving arms. And, he passed away.
Why am I writing about this topic? It was through Joe that my eyes were opened to God’s unconditional love. You see, when Joe started attending our church, people became angry. People within the church who I had personally won to Christ, tithing members of my church, came to me and said, “Either he goes; or, I go.” To which I replied, “I am sorry. But, he is not going anywhere.” And, they left. They were not going to attend a church where gays were welcome to worship. As a pastor of a Pentecostal church, no less, how did I handle this sensitive topic? When I taught what the Bible says about sexual sin, I taught that any sex outside of marriage was sin according to God’s word. This included ALL sexual sins: premarital sex, extramarital sex and homosexuality. I did not point my finger at any one person or circumstance. Through a series of months, Joe accepted Christ and was baptized in water. He had asked my wife, Donna, who was also a credentialed minister to baptize him. And, she did.
So, unlike most pastors, or most Christians for that matter, my wife and I lovingly embraced a gay man. Our stand was that it is our job to love God, love people, teach the Word and let God do the rest. And, that is what we did throughout the entire time we pastored. I quickly discovered that I was a fish swimming up-stream. That was not the norm and it was not what most “churched” people wanted. Heck, it wasn’t what most of society wanted. Never-the-less, I was bound and determined to abide by my interpretation of God’s Word and my own convictions; even if it meant I was to starve. And, I nearly did.
I am going to share more about this journey of the heart in future posts. But, I felt it was necessary for you to get a grasp of who I am, first. I am a man who loves God, my wife, my family and I love people. After I left my last pastorate in June 2008, I decided to systematically strip away the traditions and influences that I had been exposed to my entire life. I have been on a quest to discover truth: the real truth with as little preconceived notions as possible. It has been anything but easy. But, I am making progress. I have lost friends. Those who I thought were good friends in the process. But, so be it.
The pendulum swings to both sides of the extreme during seasons of transition in life. It is important to treat people with love and respect as they find their way. My pendulum is starting to come back into balance. And, that balance is somewhat different to what it was at the beginning of my post-pastoring journey. I have shared with you many stories of the pastoring season of my life in the series “The Truth.” Now, it is time to begin sharing the next chapter.
Until next time, be blessed!