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Loving the Sinner and the Sin

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I have been having a lively debate with my siblings concerning gay marriage. We grew up in Northern New Jersey, in the center of suburbia, in a pretty typical upper-middle-class family. Our parents were diligent in our education, however, perhaps a little hypocritical about our religious upbringing. We were baptized Christians, but I suspect it was more an act to cover our bases than from any religious commitment.

Our Sunday mornings would start with the three boys quietly hiding out hoping that our Dad would oversleep so we wouldn't have to go to church. Usually at the last minute, our Dad would lurch out of bed, slip on his robe, hustle us into our clothes and drive us down to the local Lutheran Church. We were a little envious of our friends attending church as a family. The worst of it was coming out of church with our Dad sitting in his car waiting for us while reading the New York Times. But whatever the lack of interest, you have to respect my Dad's commitment to getting us a well-rounded education!

At 12, I attended confirmation classes; this was the Lutheran answer to the Jewish bar mitzvah, a ritual of coming of age. I worked for two years to be accepted by the Church as a believer and member. OK, so I didn't have the best attendance, but somewhere along the way I just ran into a philosophical problem with their near literal interpretation of the Bible. It seemed to me that God was not the kind of guy to reject babies into heaven because they didn't get baptized. You can jump to the obvious conclusion that Pastor Nelson was a little put off by my lack of belief and suggested that I return once I was willing to commit and accept the word of God. I'm 60, but I suspect he may have given up hope.

I communicated to my parents that I (or Pastor Nelson) had chosen to forego the confirmation ceremony while I mulled over my spiritual commitment. I half expected anger, but it was more like their acceptance of me into their club. They never came right out and gave me a high five for my decision, but it was pretty well understood that they were proud that I had not fallen for the act.

I need to make something clear; I do believe in God, I just don't believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. And for sure, I don't believe in the religious rituals and mumbo-jumbo.

Mary and I gave it another shot when we moved to the Morristown area of New Jersey. For a while, we attended a Christian Church that ended up being really genuine, but fundamentalist in their beliefs. We were enjoying our association until one day when the minister ranted about the unholy and sinful existence of gays. That was our last day.

Mary and I are both the product of the Woodstock generation and the make-love-not-war, peace-and-love movement. We were hard working hippies. But we enjoyed long hair, Grateful Dead concerts, books by Ken Kesey and participated in anti-war protests. We adopted a life view of self-awareness and exploration with an overall acceptance of all lifestyles at a time when older generations were still fighting the liberation of women and the acceptance of alternative sexual orientations.

My siblings are pretty much the extreme opposite. They have adopted many of the tenets of the church and to this day take a more literal interpretation of the Bible in evaluating life's positions. So, you can probably see where this is heading. Our relationships are based on love and caring but tolerate a difference in belief systems.

Our debate heated up this last summer when Mary and I attended our first gay wedding. It was with a couple that we met in our Williamsburg condo a number of years ago. Craig is a conservative marketing executive who works for a Fortune 500 company and his partner, Alejandro, is an artist and art teacher, working in Brooklyn at a public school while he pursues his craft.

This is a second marriage for Alejandro. His first marriage was to a woman. They bore a son, who is now an accomplished financial services executive in Manhattan and appears to have a loving and close relationship with his Dad.

Last month my brother's youngest daughter graduated with a Masters in Christian based Therapy. So of course I asked, "And what does she do when confronted with someone who is gay?" He remarked, "This is a very interesting question! Of course it is very clear in the Bible that homosexuality is wrong. But we have family members and co-workers that are gay, we embrace and love them. However, we believe that this is nurture versus nature influence." It ended with his conclusion, "Love the sinner, and hate the sin!" As you can appreciate, this started a lively debate!

Why do I care? Perhaps there is some underlying fear that my family is just a small indication of a much broader base of our society, and the freedoms we have adopted over these 40 years may go away? Or maybe a fear that old prejudices may reappear and freedom of choice may get affected. But I think what is most upsetting is that prejudice of any sort is a distraction to enjoying all of what life has to offer. It makes for hard work to keep track of all of the groups in our world that may be living a sinful life. It has to affect the way one approaches, experiences and enjoys relationships.

I wish my family had experienced the highly emotional and moving wedding ceremony of Craig and Alejandro. They expressed their love and commitment to one another in a way than I have rarely experienced in the many heterosexual weddings I have attended. Craig expressed something incredible in his speech at the reception. He knew he was gay as a young man in school, and remembers having the sad acceptance that he would never experience marriage and committed life with a partner and mate. This wedding was an overwhelming realization of a dream come true.

Love the Sinner AND the sin!