In January 2009 Ed Bacon, the rector here at All Saints Church in Pasadena, Calif., was a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show and spoke the words, "Being gay is a gift from God."
Those seven words, offered in response to a call-in viewer from Atlanta, set off a ripple of reactions that lit up Oprah's switchboard, almost crashed our parish email server, and continues to bring people toward us here at All Saints. The segment recently aired again (on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network), and so nearly three years later, we are finding that "being gay is a gift from God" is the gift that keeps on giving.
And the gift that it is giving (as the 2009 segment makes the rounds again via YouTube and on Facebook) is a new wave of email feedback in response to a faith leader standing up and speaking out against religious based bigotry aimed at LGBT people.
Here are two examples -- which I found literally side by side in our inbox this morning:
Subject: ed bacon
shame on you ed bacon on what you said on oprah, how could you (a socalled man of the cloth) say such blasphumus things against our lord and his good book, shame, shame, shame, i pray GOD will forgive you, you know not what you say......shame
And then there was this one:
Subject: A Message of Thanks to Ed Bacon
I caught your conversations with Oprah and the following media prattle regarding your statement that being gay is a gift from God. I am not sure that I believe in God, but I would have to believe that if there is a God, and he made all people in his own image that I would have to be, even as a gay man, good. I know that I struggle through every day the same as everyone else, trying to understand why I am here. What is my purpose? This is not a new question for anyone, regardless of who they are inclined to share their sexuality with. I know deep in my heart that I am good. If God is responsible for that, then I am grateful.
You made the comment that some of the backlash from that statement came from those who called themselves Christians. You said some of those comments were the most vitriolic you had ever heard. Please understand that there are those of us who have never heard anything but that from Christian organizations and Christians for our whole lives.
There is no war on God. There is no war on the Christian church. There are just a lot of very hurt people out there, like me, struggling to understand why we are here, and trying to find our inner goodness, and worthiness.
I hope your comments go a long way to help promote healing and understanding. I hope that your church will be successful in changing the perception that God is vengeful and will smite those who don't fit into this culture's general ways of thinking. I hope your church is successful in promoting the idea that God's love is unconditional and that we have all been created as he intended us to be, and that we are all good in his eyes.
It will be awhile (if ever) before I am able to make a leap of faith to believing that there is a God. I do hope that those who do will try to err on the side of love and tolerance and not be afraid of what God will think of them if they extend love to all people regardless of their sexual orientation and whatever other differences we find hard to tolerate in this culture.
Keep up the good work!
We will. And whenever we wonder whether that work is making a difference, I hope that these words of thanks to an Episcopal priest from a man who isn't sure that he believes in God will be another gift that keeps on giving:
The gift of hope that we can, by stepping out and speaking out against LGBT discrimination, heal some of the "very hurt people out there" who have been wounded by the wolf of homophobia hiding in the sheep's clothing of the Christian Gospel.
The gift of reminding us what a privilege it is to be a community of love, justice, and compassion standing ready to catch those who become able to make the leap of faith and believe in the God who has always believed in them -- in spite of the Church that has rejected them.
And the gift of teaching us that the shame is not proclaiming that being gay is a gift from God. The shame is not proclaiming it loudly enough.
Follow Rev. Susan Russell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revsusanrussell