Sandy Brawders and Bill Silver taking a break from "practicing" homosexuality
during the 1978 United Presbyterian General Assembly in San Diego, California.
Photo by Mark Sick, New York City.
I am aware that saying I have been “spiritually active” has positive connotations for most people, not just people of particular faiths.
“Spiritually active” may bring to mind numerous intimate encounters in prayer with others and contemplation on one’s own, experimentation with a variety of spiritual practices of Christian and other religious traditions, participation in a myriad of worship services, religious ceremonies, and spiritual exercises as well as retreats and classes and studies of the Bible and other sacred texts, and the use of various readings and videos and recordings to deepen and broaden and enhance my spirituality. I could do all these and still be considered “faithful.”
And if I were to say I have been physically active, I might be considered fit and healthy.
But if I were to say I have been “sexually active,” promiscuity rather than fidelity usually comes to mind. And unhealthy rather than healthy.
When Presbyterians began considering ordination for same-gender-loving candidates, we were designated as “avowed, practicing homosexuals.” Bill Silver, whose candidacy for ordination in New York City Presbytery prompted the denominational study, preferred to be called an “accomplished homosexual” rather than one who was merely “practicing,” as he had been in a relationship for a number of years!
As part of the study, the research arm of the denomination conducted a survey to discover what Presbyterians thought of the ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” As a member of the denominational task force on homosexuality and ordination, I tried, in vain, to persuade them to change or explain the language, pointing out that Presbyterians would probably oppose the ordination of “avowed, practicing heterosexuals” as well.
“Avowed” carried negative connotations, reminiscent of “avowed communists,” and “practicing” did not immediately suggest those in monogamous long-term covenant relationships.
Another phrase was sometimes used, equally problematic: “sexually active.” This description may reinforce the fear and envy of heterosexual men that the straight body theologian James B. Nelson wrote about in his book The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuality, Masculine Spirituality: that gay men were having sex all the time, the male ideal!
After my first book was published, part memoir and part accounting of the denominational struggle, a pastor came to me during a General Assembly, commending me for writing the book, but telling me it reinforced the notion that gays are promiscuous.
“How so?” I asked, sincerely puzzled.
“Well, you mention several relationships during the course of the book [which spanned the first 38 years of my life!]. You explain how various things like homophobia and the closet interfered with those relationships, but still, my congregation would not understand.”
I responded, a bit taken aback, “You mean to tell me that straight people don’t have a series of relationships before they marry?” (I could’ve added, “or even after they marry,” as serial monogamy is quite acceptable.)
For me, I didn’t really begin dating until I was in seminary and later while serving my first congregation. Back then, what straight people experienced in adolescence was denied lesbians and gay men until adulthood and often later in life.
This prompted a fellow seminarian to caustically quip to a mutual friend that while he was dating one woman, I was seeing “Tom, Dick or Harry.”
All of this post’s pondering has been prompted by my going through hundreds of my personal photos, looking for pictures I might use on this blog. I also ran across pictures of men who have touched me emotionally, physically, sexually, and spiritually. Each had his turn shaping my soul, teaching me how to be a better person and how to improve my relationship skills.
I have become a better lover and partner and spouse because of them. Also, a better Christian.
The vast majority of photos reminded me of family, friends, pets, colleagues, teachers, campuses, communities and congregations who did the same, along with places, events, jobs, and situations that also shaped my soul.
I have lived a “promiscuous” life, grateful for all those who have touched me, figuratively and literally.
Through it all, God and Jesus have been faithful companions with whom I could pour out my soul, whether in ecstasy or loneliness. As for all of us, God shaped me in my mother’s womb, but also in the womb of church and relationships. And Jesus taught me that I was being born again and again and again.
To read the June Pride series, click here and scroll down. They will appear in reverse order.
To read the June 2016 Pride series, click here and scroll down. Click here for the final post of that series which appeared at the beginning of July.
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