"The Gay Divide" - The Dallas Morning News
- The Gay Divide
By SUSAN HOGAN/ALBACH / The Dallas Morning News
No issue is as divisive among Christians as
homosexuality. The stories told here aren't about
people who make headlines.
They aren't the leaders of the conservative or liberal
factions. They aren't the ones turning church
conventions into war zones.
These are the people who get lost behind the debates
over policy. They're the ones wounded in the battle
over Bible verses.
Homosexuality isn't just an issue to them. They live
KIM RITZENTHALER / DMN
A closer look at people who face the struggle between
faith and sexuality
The church closet
A teen's tale
A parent's story
A new outlook
Finding a home
Nowhere to go
Caught in the middle
Celibacy brings peace
The greatest taboo
Bound for life
The endless fighting over the issue hurts them. But
they're also bruised by the silence.
Some believe that God says homosexuals are people of
sacred worth but same-sex relations are wrong. They
have the weight of Christian tradition on their side.
Others say it's time for tradition to change. Some of
them suffer openly, some secretly because they differ
with church teaching.
Faith has led these Christians down different paths.
But each has a common plea to churches.
Be compassionate. Be loving. Reach out.
These are people whose stories are seldom heard. They
share them with great fear of backlash.
But their hope is to bridge understanding. Here are
The Church Closet
He's a gay Protestant pastor in North Texas.
If he came out publicly, he'd lose his job.
He's fearful that will happen anyway.
His denomination teaches that God loves homosexuals
but frowns upon their sexual activity. Abstinence is
the only acceptable lifestyle, it says.
This pastor has never been in love with another man.
"I was 36 before I'd even get together with other gay
people," he said. "It was scary just to let some other
gay person know that I was gay."
It took him a long time to realize his sexual
orientation. In grade school, then high school, then
college, he waited for attractions to women to kick
They never did. He was devastated when he realized he
"I was pretty much into biblical literalism," he said.
"My whole understanding of homosexuality was that the
Bible said it was sin."
When he felt called to seminary, he figured God would
"If it's so wrong, so horrible and so against God to
be gay, then God will certainly change me before
calling me to be a pastor," he said.
Not until his fourth and final year did he realize his
sexual orientation wasn't going to change. Maybe it
wasn't supposed to, he thought.
He found books that caused him to rethink Bible
passages used to condemn homosexuals. He also
discovered that many homosexuals weren't promiscuous �
a prevalent stereotype in churches.
"It came to me in prayer that I was called to
ministry, not in spite of my homosexuality but, in
part, because I am a gay man," he said.
But getting to that point was a lonely, isolating
process. It only grew more intense after ordination.
He lives chastely by choice, not because of church
law. He hopes to fall in love someday and live in a
monogamous relationship with complete sexual
Being gay has made him a more compassionate minister,
he said. Still, he seldom has breathed a word to
anyone about his inner turmoil.
He doesn't feel safe doing so, especially in his
"If people knew who I really was, they would despise
me, let alone fire me," he said. "I've lived in
constant fear that it may all end because of church
A Teen's Tale
Her father is straight. Her mother is gay.
He says homosexuality is sin. She says it's blessed by
Each side uses Scripture to sway Wynndee Thiessen.
"My dad's family says the Scriptures were written by
God, and homosexuals are going to hell," said Wynndee,
16, of Fort Worth.
"My mom says the Scriptures were written by men who
put their own beliefs and opinions into it."
Wynndee is pulled both ways.
She lives with her mother, Deedra Wynn, 36, the three
children whom Ms. Wynn had by artificial insemination,
and her mother's partner, Tammy Alford, 35.
They attend the Cathedral of Hope, a mostly gay and
lesbian church in Dallas. Wynndee said she likes it
because no one is shocked her "parents" are lesbians.
"I can talk about it and not worry that kids are going
to beat me up at the dumpster afterward," she said.
"People will be friends with you, and it's not scary."
Her father's family lives in Oklahoma and attends a
Pentecostal church that teaches against homosexuality.
"You can't talk about homosexuality because everybody
thinks it's a sin," Wynndee said.
Three years ago, Wynndee declared that she was a
lesbian. Both sides of the family were skeptical.
"I felt she was trying to please us," said Ms. Alford,
whom Wynndee calls her stepmother. "I discouraged it
because it's such a tough life."
Wynndee's persistence changed her mind. But Wynndee's
grandmother is convinced it's just a phase.
"I think she was taught that lifestyle," said Pat
Thiessen, 61, of Eakly, Okla. "I pray God will send
her a Christian friend to insulate her against the
evil she's surrounded with."
Wynndee's mother and stepmother have been together
nearly 12 years. As former Baptists, they said they're
sensitive to the mixed messages that Wynndee hears.
"We assure her that God loves her as we are," Ms. Wynn
"I tell her God blesses sexuality," Ms. Alford said.
"It's a gift to be celebrated."
For Wynndee, God is like the lava lamp in her bedroom.
A Parent's Story
His is a parent's anguish. His only son is dead.
A decade has passed, but the pain is as sharp as ever.
When word came that his son lay dying in a California
hospice, Len Layne hustled to catch a plane. But he
was told not to come.
His son didn't want to see him. For years, his son had
been angry with him because he couldn't endorse
"I couldn't tell him what he wanted most to hear,"
said Mr. Layne, 88, of Fort Worth, "that a gay
lifestyle was acceptable."
Dudley Layne died of complications from AIDS in 1990
at age 43. He didn't allow a family funeral. His
friends scattered his ashes.
"The last time I talked with him, he told me he had
made peace with God," said Len Layne, a retired United
But the son never made peace with his father.
Dudley was 18 years old when he burst into his
parents' bedroom and told them he was gay. He sobbed.
They sobbed. They held each other tightly.
"It ripped us open," said Len Layne, now a widower.
"From that night onward, we constantly sought God's
He bought a shelf of books on homosexuality.
"They told me that homosexuals can't help it," he
said. "There's no need to try to talk them out of it.
What you have to do is love them."
He tried to love his son unconditionally, without
condemnation. It wasn't enough. The tension grew.
"I never knew what my son expected of me," he said. "I
couldn't, in good conscience, tell him I approved of
his lifestyle. But I never rejected him, either."
He hopes others find a lesson in his story. He pleads
with the gay community not to hate the church.
"You are part of the church," he said. "Please don't
push away Christians who cannot bless your lifestyle."
He also says churches must do more to welcome the gays
and lesbians who fill their pews.
"They're people. They're not going to contaminate us,"
he said. "We must love them every bit as much as God
His words were muffled by tears. A long silence
"Our lives were drenched in pain," he said. "There are
other parents sitting in the pews right now hurting
just as bad."
After so many years, his grief is still a gaping
"He's still my son," he whispered. "I've never stopped
A New Outlook
Randy Thomas used to be a party-happy gay man.
He frequented gay bars. He dated men. He balked at
It's not just his thinking that's changed today.
He says his sexual orientation has shifted, too.
"I could be married and have children someday," said
Mr. Thomas, 33, of Arlington. "For now, I'm choosing
Kim Ritzenthaler / DMN
Randy Thomas used to live a gay lifestyle, but says
his faith enabled him to experience an orientation
He said that before his orientation changed, he first
had a spiritual conversion.
"I invited Jesus into my heart and immediately felt
peace," he said.
But the homosexual attractions didn't stop.
That has been a 10-year journey aided by Living Hope
Ministries in Arlington, an outreach of Exodus
International, the largest of the ex-gay
The ministry teaches that homosexuality is a sin that
can be overcome.
"In Jesus, we find the freedom to change," Mr. Thomas
He said he became aware of his homosexual attractions
at age 10. By the time he graduated from high school,
he was immersed in the gay culture.
"I heard pro-gay theology, and I heard Jerry Falwell,"
he said. "I thought that's all there was to
He ran from Christianity because he thought it meant
condemnation. At Living Hope, he said he found
Today, he's a Southern Baptist and director of Living
The ministry's approach is criticized by those who
don't feel sexual orientation can be changed. They
point to Exodus chapters that closed after leaders
returned to a gay lifestyle.
Mr. Thomas is aware of the criticism but says he knows
firsthand there can be freedom from homosexuality with
"A lot of times people want to portray us as
simpletons or right-wing fanatics," he said. "We are
people with particular convictions, trying to live out
our lives as peacefully as possible."
As his faith grows stronger, the temptations grow
weaker, he said.
"The temptation still comes from time to time," he
said, "but it doesn't have any power over me. I don't
miss it. I don't want it. I don't long for it."
Finding a Home
It's said that Sunday morning worship is the most
segregated hour in America.
Gays and lesbians go to their churches. Straight
people go to theirs.
David Allen tired of the divide.
Two years ago, he quit a mostly gay church that he had
gone to for years.
"I just got tired of everything being about being
gay," said Mr. Allen, 41, of Dallas.
So, how does an openly gay man choose a church?
Most mainstream churches don't ordain gays and
lesbians, or bless their relationships. Mr. Allen
didn't put much weight on official policy.
"I looked for a church that accepted me," he said. "I
wanted a family."
He tried other gay churches at first.
"More gay rhetoric," he said.
Then he tried black churches.
"The services were so long."
He found a home in a small, multi-ethnic United
Methodist congregation less than two miles from his
"Most people are white," he said. "But there are
blacks and refugees, straight people and gay people.
You have all ages."
He likes the mix.
"Everybody is very accepting," he said. "If I felt the
members were against me, I would leave."
Not that he knocks gay churches. They're important, he
said, particularly to people struggling with their
spirituality and sexuality.
And without those churches, he might never have found
A decade ago, Mr. Allen didn't attend church. Then he
joined a tennis league at a gay church and became
curious about the worship.
He intially went to worship because of the friendships
that he formed. Then he discovered a spiritual hunger
and stayed for eight years.
But as he grew in faith, he longed for a broader
"Week after week, it seemed like the sermons were
always about homosexuality," he said. "What got to me
was that sometimes they tried to make characters in
the Bible out to be gay."
He has found a home in mainstream Christianity by
ignoring his denomination's policy battles over
"I had to weigh what's important," he said. "My local
family is sufficient."
Nowhere to Go
Lynn McCreary came out to her church.
Then she found herself without a church.
Everything changed four years ago, when she began to
think of herself as a lesbian. She was 41 years old
and had never dated.
Kim Ritzenthaler / DMN
Lynn McCreary, a founding member of Trinity United
Methodist church in Denton, was made to feel unwelcome
there because she is gay.
She said she finally knew why.
"It's a whole lot better being honest with yourself,"
She said she had good reason to feel safe telling her
church. She was a founding member, a lifelong United
Methodist and a dedicated Sunday school teacher.
United Methodists affirm homosexuals as children of
God but teach that same-sex relations are sinful. Ms.
McCreary, who doesn't have a partner, views the
teaching as a double standard.
"To me, that's like God playing a trick on you," she
said. "To say you can have these feelings but not act
on them is not consistent with the way I understand
Her troubles started three years later, after the
leadership changed at her church, Trinity United
Methodist in Denton. Sunday school teachers were asked
to sign an affirmation to live by the denomination's
beliefs and "highest ideals" of the Christian life.
The word "homosexuality" wasn't used. But Ms. McCreary
said she was told by a church staff member that she
had to remain celibate to continue teaching.
It felt like a slap.
She said she was made to feel suspect, all because she
had shared an intimate discovery about herself.
"It's not right that we have to fear coming to terms
with who we are," she said.
The Rev. Steven Davis said the affirmation had nothing
to do with homosexuality.
"Everyone is welcome at our church," he said. "The
question is how do we help people who disagree with
teachings on homosexuality understand that there is
still a place for them."
The church backed down after Ms. McCreary's protests.
But the hurt never went away, and she left the church.
She tried a nearby Presbyterian church that welcomes
gays and lesbians, but it didn't feel like home.
"I'm a born-and-bred Methodist," she said. "It's my
identity. That's very important to me in connecting to
But in her city, she has nowhere to go.
Caught in the Middle
Like many pastors, the Rev. Harold Rucker is caught in
He's tugged in one direction by those in his
denomination who affirm gay couples and in another by
those who condemn them.
"Years ago, pastors weren't put in this position,"
said the caring ministries pastor at First United
Methodist Church in Richardson.
He tries to follow his denomination's strict teaching
on homosexuality and still minister to gays and
lesbians who turn to him.
At times, it feels impossible to do both.
"Personally, I do not feel comfortable in a homosexual
situation," he said, "but I never turn anybody away.
Nor do I use those situations to condemn. I don't see
Christ doing that."
His church draws 2,500 people to weekly worship. It's
a mostly white, middle-class, heterosexual
Some parents who seek his counsel don't see their gay
or lesbian children's sexuality as an issue. Church
policy bothers them.
Others struggle to accept their children. Pastor
Rucker says he counsels them to love their sons and
daughters as children of God.
"Some Protestants would have kittens if their kids
married a Catholic, or certainly a Muslim," he said.
"I council parents upset about their kids' sexuality
just as I would any other parents who had children not
living the life they wanted for them."
He supports his denomination's stance against
ordaining noncelibate homosexuals and blessing
same-sex unions. But if the policies changed, he said,
he would try to support them.
"Many people would leave the church, but I wouldn't,"
He said he welcomes gays and lesbians to church,
though he doesn't condone their sexual activity. His
goal is to model Jesus' love without being strident.
"When they come to the Lord's Supper, I serve them
Holy Communion just like everybody else," he said.
"That's between them and God."
Years of debate over homosexuality have fractured
United Methodists and other denominations. Pastor
Rucker is sick of it but sees no end anytime soon.
"Every year, the battle just gets uglier," he said.
"It's definitely the hardest thing. You have people
pulling you on either end."
Celibacy Brings Peace
Faith was as important to Tracy Hummel as breathing.
But finding himself attracted to men was crushing.
How could he love God and have homosexual feelings?
How could God possibly love him?
In college, as a Baptist, he tried to suppress the
feelings. But he eventually tired of the struggle.
He went to gay bars, then felt empty and ashamed after
sexual encounters. He prayed harder.
His searching led him to a mostly gay church that told
him God blesses monogamous gay couples. That didn't
fit his view of Scripture.
"It sounded nice, but deep down I felt I had to choose
between God or the gay lifestyle," said Mr. Hummel,
41, of Hurst.
He became a Catholic and in the church discovered
Courage, a support group that teaches people with
homosexual attractions to live chastely, whether
single or married.
He says he's finding peace as a celibate man.
"I have sexuality, but that doesn't mean I have to
perform sexual acts," he said. "Jesus didn't, and he
was truly a man."
Courage doesn't pressure participants to change or
deny homosexual attractions. But it encourages them
not to identify as "gay," "lesbian" or "homosexual."
"We teach people to be chaste out of a love for
Christ," said Father John Harvey of New York, founder
He said homosexuality is a "condition" that can be
controlled through spiritual discipline. His approach
is sanctioned by the church but criticized by
Catholics who approve of gay relationships.
Mr. Hummel attends weekly Courage meetings � a time of
prayer and sharing led by Father Mark Seitz of
"I see a radical honesty in their desire to live a
holy life," Father Seitz said.
"He keeps reminding us that saints are not made
overnight," Mr. Hummel said. "It's a journey, and we
have to keep pressing on in faith."
Mr. Hummel said his prayer life has deepened. His
sexual attractions have waned and no longer have the
power they once held.
"I used to hope that God would perform a miracle and I
wouldn't have these feelings anymore," he said. "Now I
feel God's mercy and his presence more than ever."
The Greatest Taboo
Some Protestant churches make a point of publicly
declaring that homosexuals are welcome.
Bethany Presbyterian Church in Dallas was nearly half
gay and lesbian when a straight Hispanic group asked
to join them three years ago.
Rosa Alfaro, one of the Hispanics, said she had never
been around openly gay people before.
"Homosexuality is taboo in our community," she said.
"Families feel ashamed. They don't talk about it."
Bethany's gay and lesbian members also were hesitant.
"We were a congregation where people felt safe holding
the hands of a partner during worship," the Rev. Todd
Freeman said. "People needed assurances that wasn't
going to change."
A quarter of the Hispanics left.
"They said they didn't want their children around gay
people," said Pastor Daniel Alatorre, the associate
pastor, "or they were afraid people would think they
And some didn't approve.
But Mrs. Alfaro and her family stayed. Two years ago,
when her brother died of AIDS, she thinks she received
more compassion than she might have at other churches.
"People who reject gays and lesbians don't know them
personally," he said. "When you see them as people,
you see what good hearts they have."
Pastor Alatorre said gay Hispanics and their families
� even those at other churches � seek his counsel
because he's at Bethany.
His attitude toward homosexuals changed in seminary. A
Hispanic man was dying of AIDS, but his family or
church wouldn't visit.
"It wasn't right," he said. "The Bible says to love
Bound for Life
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of
The ceremony was under way. It looked just like a
Fresh flowers. String quartet. Ave Maria.
The grooms, dressed in gray tuxedos, swapped nervous
Scriptures were read. A sermon delivered. Rings
And in the end, a kiss.
It was a February afternoon at the Cathedral of Hope
in Dallas, one of the few spiritual places where gay
and lesbian couples can exchange vows of commitment.
The church calls it a holy union because couples can't
legally wed. But to Larry Robertson, 35, and Patrick
Petillo, 42, of Grapevine, this was their wedding day.
"The only difference was that no one was fitted for
gowns," Mr. Robertson said.
Many Protestant denominations are embroiled over
whether to allow the ceremonies. Most teach that the
Bible only sanctions heterosexual marriages.
"Other churches will say gay and lesbian people are
people of sacred worth, but they won't bless their
relationships," said the Rev. Michael Piazza,
cathedral senior pastor.
During the ceremony, he spoke about the story of David
and Jonathan as biblical evidence for same-sex
"We're not talking about sex," he said, "but they were
people of the same gender who entered a sacred
The 40-minute ceremony was witnessed by 125 guests �
friends, co-workers and three Catholic priests from
out of state.
Mr. Robertson said he didn't invite his parents "out
of sensitivity for their struggle" with his sexuality.
Mr. Petillo's parents flew in from New Jersey.
"It was beautiful!" Patrick's mother, Joan, said
afterward. "I hope that people become more open-minded
and accept the lives that God gives people."
The Grapevine couple, both Catholic, fell in love more
than a year ago. They aren't allowed to wed in their
faith tradition, but a Catholic priest said he co-led
the ceremony "as an act of pastoral care" despite
church prohibitions against officiating.
"It's not every day you stand up and commit every bit
of your life to someone," Mr. Petillo said.
"We could have done it on a mountaintop," Mr.
Robertson said, "but we wanted it in a church because
we have such deep feelings about our spirituality."
For further reflection on gays, faith
Here are resources that reflect the viewpoints on
homosexuality found in this week's religion stories:
From a conservative perspective:
� Beyond Gay, by David Morrison (Our Sunday Visitor,
285 pages, $14.95).
� Coming Out of Homosexuality: New Freedom for Men and
Women , by Bob Davies and Lori Rentzel (InterVarsity,
208 pages, $11.99)
� Someone I Love Is Gay: How Family and Friends Can
Respond , by Anita Worthen and Bob Davies
(InterVarsity, 216 pages, $11.99)
From a liberal perspective:
� Coming Out as Sacrament, by Chris Glaser, (Geneva,
152 pages, $16.95).
� Holy Homosexuals, by Michael S. Piazza (Sources of
Hope, 207 pages, $14).
� Is the Homosexual My Neighbor? A Positive Christian
Response , by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Virginia Ramey
Mollenkott (HarperSan Francisco, 232 pages, $15).
� Hope Counseling Center, Dallas: 214-351-5657 or
� Courage: 972-938-5433 or couragedfw@....
� Living Hope Ministries, Arlington: 817-459-2507 or
� PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and
Gays): 972-777-3524 or .
Online at: http://www.dallasnews.com/religion/stories/intro_02rel.ART.6db2a.html
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