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Abuse: take it or leave it


I know a guy in his mid 60s, who had the courage to come out recently – and it took a lot of courage. Though married for nearly forty years, and knowing he was gay for most of that time, as a conservative Baptist, he refused to break his wedding vows. He stuck with it. But, when his wife died, he was free to acknowledge his orientation – and he had the guts to do so.

He came out to his three children, not knowing how they would react. Two have embraced him as he is, and the other, a daughter married to a Baptist minister, has not. He takes this philosophically, believing this daughter will eventually come around and, if not embrace his gayness, embrace him again as her father.

Where he has not come out is at church. And this is the tragic part. He has belonged for many years to a huge Baptist church in a suburb of Nashville. He and his wife raised their children there. Most of his friends are members there. This is where he goes to meet God. Yet he’s afraid to be himself. The minister frequently makes hostile or derisive remarks about gays from the pulpit – and there are “amens” from the congregation. My friend knows God loves him, but he’s afraid his church will shun him. He’s torn and tormented – and who wouldn’t be?

I met and talked with this man over coffee in midtown Nashville – 25 miles from his church and neighborhood – where he was free to be open about himself and talk about how sad all this makes him feel. Church is a major part of his life. It sustains him in many ways – and yet it tears at him. He said he feels something close to physical pain every time the preacher insults gay people.

Here’s the hard choice in front of him: either come out and face the music, or leave that church and find another one. I know this is really tough, and if I were in his shoes, I’m not sure what I’d do.

Hard as it is, though, here’s the truth: he’s subjecting himself to abuse. He’s allowing others to beat him up with an ugly interpretation of Christianity. It does him damage ­– both as a man and a Christian – and it’s his choice. He can take this crap – or leave it.

Let me make something clear right here – I am not trashing Christianity or Baptists. I know plenty of Baptists and other conservative Christians who embrace gay people the way God made us. And, while I am fully embraced in my own Episcopal church, there’s an ugly strain of homophobia running through the Anglican communion that shows up in some Episcopal churches here in the US.

This isn’t really about church anyway. It’s about allowing others to abuse you.

My friend’s situation is not easy. Bless him, he’s between a rock and a hard place. But he will continue to suffer if he doesn’t make a change. This pain will not go away any more than his gayness did while he stuck it out through 40 years of marriage.

I have another friend who cannot come all the way out right now because he would lose his job if he did. What a sucky situation that is! But this guy is actively working to change his employment so he can come all the way out. I cheer him on!

I know none of this is easy, and everyone’s path is entirely different. If you’re in this kind of situation, I’m not telling you what to do. But, I am saying the pain will never go away if you stay in an abusive situation. And once the abuse stops, and the pain begins to subside, the relief can be truly liberating!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Margaret Ellis permalink
    07/24/2010 5:26 PM

    This is a serious problem, and while I know that he thinks it would be hard to leave that church, the relief he would soon feel would greatly overshadow the pain. You are so right, this is the worst kind of abuse, spiritual abuse. It is being practiced in churches all over this country. As a strong supporter of gay rights, I too, had to leave a church rather than sit in the pews and put up with it. I did confront the minister head on before I left. I was foolish enough to think I could stick around and foster some kind of change. What a waste of time. I say find a spiritual community that supports who you are.

    • 07/24/2010 5:40 PM

      I’m with you, honey. If you can’t change things where you are, leave them behind and go somewhere else. And it applies to all areas of life – not just the religious.

  2. Joe Branham permalink
    08/01/2010 10:03 AM

    I can’t be too sympathetic for this guy and his situation. He didn’t want to break the vows of marriage but had no problem lying to her knowing he was gay “for most of that time.” And he’s STILL going to that church that hates him??? What a person’s religion can do to their brains saddens me… After this much time — and it being 2010 — he’s doing this to himself and it’s hard to feel anything for him until he fixes things.

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