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Hurting Gays, and Ourselves

By Ermalou Roller
Sunday, November 12, 2006

We're all familiar with the headlines involving homosexuality. The names of Jim McGreevey, Mark Foley and now Ted Haggard have become known throughout America because of admitted or alleged homosexual "indiscretions." We have not heard as much about their families. That's where I come in. I understand something of what their families are going through because I've been there.

We all understand that reputations were ruined, careers lost and families hurt by these scandals. Apparently what we don't understand is that we are all part of turning these disclosures into scandals. And our clucking and condemnation after they emerge, while a contributing factor, isn't where our real culpability lies. The root of the problem is in our denial that gays and lesbians are as worthy and unworthy, flawed and gifted, as heterosexuals. The root belief that homosexuals are "less than" the rest of us stretches long and deep in this society.

Our condemnatory attitudes began in the latter part of the Middle Ages. Until then the Christian church in Western Europe, and thus the general culture, had largely tolerated or ignored homosexual acts. But everything changed when Thomas Aquinas and other religious writers labeled not only homosexual acts but all non-procreative sexual behavior "unnatural." The Roman Catholic Church continues to promote this idea today, even though most critical thinkers appreciate the relational bonding, tension release and joyous pleasure that sexuality affords along with the possibility of procreation. Of course any practice of sexuality that harms, takes advantage of or demeans another person is wrong, no matter who is involved. Nonetheless, instead of dealing with this and other related issues in a straightforward way, many join the church in simply rejecting gays and lesbians.

Let me hasten to say that I do not intend to single out the Roman Catholic Church for criticism. For several years my own denomination, the United Methodists, has presented invitational ads on national television proclaiming the church to be one of "open hearts, open minds, open doors" while declaring in its Book of Discipline that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." Thus the United Methodist Church, like many others, remains deeply divided over this issue.

It took the Catholics 142 years to accept Copernicus's insight that Earth revolves around the sun. Today too many people are hurting and too much damage is being done to continue to wait for any church to step up and admit it is wrong about its condemnation of the "practice" of homosexuality. It's time we did our own critical thinking and rejected outdated science and theology. For, ironically, the anguish of our rejection of gays and lesbians, as horrible as it is for them, affects us all.

I know this because I have suffered deeply as a result of America's prevailing views about homosexuality. You have as well. I was married to a closeted gay man for 15 years, and we had three children before the truth of his sexual orientation emerged. The emotional devastation of that revelation and our subsequent divorce has been profound for me, my children, my former husband, our extended family and our friends.

I was fortunate to be able to move forward with my life instead of remaining, as one friend recently put it, "a puddle of violated humanity." I remarried, became an ordained clergywoman and served the church for 25 years as a pastor, district superintendent and dean of the cabinet of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church. Broken relationships with family have been largely, if not totally, healed.

But many people are not as fortunate. They, and our society at large, miss out on the fullness of life that is tragically denied to so many because the rest of us don't want to deal fairly and fully with such a difficult and embarrassing subject. Families are torn apart, careers ruined, gifts and graces underutilized, and lives destroyed. Thus, ironically, the anguish that gays and lesbians suffer because of their rejection isn't visited just upon them, as horrible as that is. It affects us all.

This Election Day the citizens of our country demanded change by voting for different leadership in Congress. Now I would urge us all to seek actively to inform ourselves and change our attitudes about gays and lesbians. For only in this way will we begin to address the real problems that our condemnation has visited upon them, upon those who love them and, indeed, upon us all.

The writer lives in Lisle, Ill.

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