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My Mother's Gay Neighbors

When she finally passed away, I spent a day walking the street telling her neighbors what had happened and saying good bye to old friends. When I came to the home of the two men across from her, no one was there and the insides looked empty.
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This has been a complicated time for gay rights and gay marriage. On the one hand, Washington and Maryland joined the ranks of states that now legally accept it, bringing the number to six, plus two Native American tribes. On the other hand, when the New Jersey legislature passed a similar bill, Governor Chris Christie vetoed it.

And on another hand, President Obama recently came out in support of it and a Circuit Court of Appeals struck down as unconstitutional the "Defense of Marriage Act," which had banned it. But at almost the same time, North Carolina voted overwhelmingly to support an amendment to their constitution which would ban it.

When I try to make sense out of this, I think of my mother who passed away a few years ago. I live in Massachusetts and she lived in Oklahoma, and when she grew frail, I could seldom get home to help her. I felt awful about that, but she did have some wonderful friends who looked after her, including two old gay guys who lived across the street and who mowed her lawn, cleaned her gutters, and stopped in now and then to see how she was doing. They were -- as she put it -- "rescuing the old 'widder lady' in distress."

When she finally passed away, I spent a day walking the street telling her neighbors what had happened and saying good bye to old friends. When I came to the home of the two men across from her, no one was there and the insides looked empty, so I moved on to the next house where I saw a man whose daughter I had dated as a teen. I asked him what had happened to the guys next door and he said, "Well, that's an interesting story." Evidently new families had moved into the neighborhood who didn't know the two men and who were not like the older crowd, and they were upset that everyone had allowed "queers" to live so close by. Young parents, inspired by teachings of TV preachers and a nearby mega-church, were worried that these old men might become a danger to their children. They began organizing and talking to friends, and finally after several bitter encounters, the two moved away. I asked the neighbor if they had ever actually done anything wrong and he said no. Actually, he said, "they were pretty good fellas." But "they were queer and all, and they say that's bad, so I guess it is."

My own church denomination has struggled over this. Its public face is very open. We've ordained gays and lesbians for years, and in 2005 our national "General Synod" voted to affirm gay marriage. But at a local level, we've had thousands leave the church in protest. I lost a member just this year over it. I casually mentioned to him one day that I had once performed a wedding for two elderly women who met and fell in love while playing bridge. And the next day he came into my office and said he was leaving. He could stand divorce, drinking and obesity (all condemned in the Bible), but he couldn't bring himself to worship God in the same building as people who accepted others whose gender orientation was condemned in the Bible.

At one level I don't have a horse in that race. I'm happily heterosexual and have no interest in changing. And though I've recently experienced a painful failed marriage, so far as I know the prospect that my mother's friends might someday apply for a wedding license had nothing to do with it. But at another level I also can't imagine the pain of being driven from my home because of my gender orientation.

The Bible actually says very little about homosexuality, and some of the references are frankly unclear, and Jesus is totally silent on it. What he is not silent on is the need to love all people. Bring in the poor, the hungry, the outcast, the sick, the aliens, lonely and marginalized. He condemns wealth and war and oppression, but not two old men who love each other and mow lawns for neighboring widows.

I was present the year our church passed the resolution affirming gay marriage, and it was tense. After rancorous study and debates, the majority finally concluded that no matter how much one might argue the differentness of gays from straight people, they couldn't quite be convinced of the wrongness of it. How could God create human beings and then tell them not to love one another?

They took a leap of faith that day, praying that their actions were discerning the will of a still-speaking God. And I confess that I agreed with them.

I've been encouraged by the words of a Baptist preacher friend from Dallas who once told me that when he dies and stands before St. Peter at the pearly gates, and he hears a list of his lifetime's sins, he expects to hear a long list. But when all is said and done, he said he would much rather be judged for being too open minded than too closed. "If I'm going to make a mistake," he said, "I suspect God would rather it be a mistake of loving too many people into the kingdom than too few."

And, you know, I think I agree with that too.