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"The Gay Divide" - The Dallas Morning News

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  • John Mayes
    The Gay Divide 03/02/2002 By SUSAN HOGAN/ALBACH / The Dallas Morning News http://www.dallasnews.com/religion/stories/intro_02rel.ART.6db2a.html No issue is as
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      The Gay Divide
      03/02/2002
      By SUSAN HOGAN/ALBACH / The Dallas Morning News
      http://www.dallasnews.com/religion/stories/intro_02rel.ART.6db2a.html

      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
      it.

      Also Online

      KIM RITZENTHALER / DMN
      Multimedia:
      A closer look at people who face the struggle between
      faith and sexuality


      Their stories:
      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

      Books


      Support groups



      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
      their stories:

      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
      in.

      They never did. He was devastated when he realized he
      was gay.

      "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
      "fix" him.

      "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
      expression.

      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
      denomination.

      "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
      policy."

      A Teen's Tale

      Her father is straight. Her mother is gay.

      He says homosexuality is sin. She says it's blessed by
      God.

      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
      said.

      "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
      homosexuality.

      "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
      Methodist pastor.

      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
      help."

      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
      loves them."

      His words were muffled by tears. A long silence
      passed.

      "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
      wound.

      "He's still my son," he whispered. "I've never stopped
      loving him."

      A New Outlook

      Randy Thomas used to be a party-happy gay man.

      He frequented gay bars. He dated men. He balked at
      religion.

      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
      abstinence."


      Kim Ritzenthaler / DMN
      Randy Thomas used to live a gay lifestyle, but says
      his faith enabled him to experience an orientation
      shift.
      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
      organizations.

      The ministry teaches that homosexuality is a sin that
      can be overcome.

      "In Jesus, we find the freedom to change," Mr. Thomas
      said.

      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
      Christianity."

      He ran from Christianity because he thought it meant
      condemnation. At Living Hope, he said he found
      healing.

      Today, he's a Southern Baptist and director of Living
      Hope.

      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
      Jesus.

      "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
      home.

      "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
      faith.

      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
      message.

      "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
      homosexuality.

      "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 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
      God's love."

      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
      the church."

      But in her city, she has nowhere to go.

      Caught in the Middle

      Like many pastors, the Rev. Harold Rucker is caught in
      the middle.

      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
      congregation.

      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 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
      of Courage.

      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
      Waxahachie.

      "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
      were gay."

      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
      your neighbor."

      Bound for Life

      "Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of
      God ..."

      The ceremony was under way. It looked just like a
      wedding.

      Fresh flowers. String quartet. Ave Maria.

      The grooms, dressed in gray tuxedos, swapped nervous
      smiles.

      Scriptures were read. A sermon delivered. Rings
      exchanged.

      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
      commitments.

      "We're not talking about sex," he said, "but they were
      people of the same gender who entered a sacred
      covenant."

      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:


      BOOKS


      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).


      SUPPORT GROUPS


      � Hope Counseling Center, Dallas: 214-351-5657 or
      cathedralofhope.com/counseling/index.htm

      � Courage: 972-938-5433 or couragedfw@....

      � Living Hope Ministries, Arlington: 817-459-2507 or
      http://www.livehope.org

      � 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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