Yesterday, the aftermath of Irene’s fury had me at a not-so-local Starbucks to do a little work. As it turned out, I had the most delightful conversation – with a stranger, no less.
Steve (not his real name) sat down next to me with his tea and asked how I had fared with the storm. After commiserating some, he discovered that I was responsible for education initiatives at a local church, and it piqued his interest. Steve, too, was an educator. He was a retired elementary teacher, and I could tell he loved every minute of his career.
He continued to ask how it was that I landed in my career choice, how it was that I came to work in a local church and why I pursued that vocation. So I shared some of my story.
In the process, I learned that Steve was gay and had been spurned, not surprisingly, by the Catholic church some time ago. I told him I was very sorry about that, that I had heard similar stories from too many people, and not just gays, and not just from the Catholic church.
We talked back and forth, circling this very issue, of the intersection of homosexuality and the Church. Steve was genuinely inquisitive and curious about me and my general background. I hope I returned the favor, for I was similarly interested in who Steve was, how he felt about this and that, etc. I recall thinking, mid-conversation, how enjoyable and challenging Steve was.
At one stage, I don’t remember the exact question that prompted these thoughts, I expressed my frustration with the whole issue at hand. I said, “Steve, I really don’t like the way the Church, at large, has approached the issue of homosexuality. And for that matter, I don’t care for the message I hear from the gay community, either.”
See, the Church has placed one’s sexuality at the center of the conversation, when that ought not be the main thing for us. At my particular church, for example, our number one goal for everyone walking in the door is to have that person experience a real connection with God, to draw closer to Jesus, regardless of where they begin. Our goal is not to discover to which club you belong and segregate along such lines. No one is checking ID’s at the door.
“It would be dishonoring,” I confessed to Steve, “to treat you as if you were only an educator. You’re clearly a teacher, through and through, but you’re so much more than a teacher. Neither can I approach you as just a man, for you’re so much more than just your gender. It would be disrespectful for me to make your sexual orientation the sole descriptor of your identity. I need to address you as a whole person.”
And the message I get from LGBT communities, largely, is the same, that they are, first and foremost, gay or bisexual or whatever else. They do themselves a dishonor. In my opinion, it’s not the most important thing about any one of them.
Nor, as I’ve thought about it more, would I want to be treated in this way. Sure, I love to teach, but I’d hate to be thought just a teacher. I’m straight, but I’d hate to be approached as just a simple straight stereotype. And I wondered whether there was a single category that I would like to dominate my being in such a way.
Steve and I found ourselves on delightful common ground. I enjoyed who he was, a rich and thoughtful human being. I hope I run into him again.