From Unaware to Activist – One Man’s LGBT Journey

by Dave Sutton, Ainsworth United Church of Christ, Portland, OR

I’m really good at hindsight. That’s why it’s so easy for me to ask, “How could I have been so unaware?”

My theology was first formed by my Methodist pastor father constantly and joyfully sharing the “good news” that grace was not earned but available to all simply for the accepting. The foundation of my theology today is “God loves me. And you. And you, too”. The disconnect between the good news and the old attitudes and slurs about LGBT people never occurred to me. It was long before I knew any term that wasn’t derisive for people of a different sexual preference than mine. Of course I didn’t know any of those people personally, or at least I wasn’t aware (there’s that word again) I did. The pain of staying closeted was less than the devastating judgment, derision and discrimination these people would face if they were “out.”

My personal dam cracked when I learned the lesbian daughter of a former pastor of my Methodist church in Olympia, Washington was not welcome there, and if we raised the issue, “It would split this church in half.” My shock was first that anyone was not welcome in my church. How could that be right?

That led me to a Reconciling Movement (Methodist term for Open and Affirming) seminar and a video of a gay seminarian who came out to his family in a letter home. Shortly after the letter arrived, his father called. “Don’t ever speak to me or your mother again.  If you even speak to your sisters I will disown them.  Don’t ever come home again.” Click.

Other presentations were from LGBT persons rejected by churches. The realization that my church and many others had made someone not welcome was incomprehensible.  That people would be rejected so fiercely and frequently they would come to believe God hated them was unbelievable.  My dam had broken. I couldn’t understand how, of all the organizations in the world, a church could draw a line that shuts one person out and lets another in for any reason.

I became active in the Reconciling Movement and met the Methodist bishop who drafted the language to the Methodist Book of Discipline in 1983: “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Later the bishop realized his error and had been working with the Reconciling Movement for several years. At every quadrennial General Conference there was a motion to change the language about homosexuality.  The motion lost every time, but I maintained hope, as each time the losing margin was smaller.  However, in 2000 it became clear the growing influence of the United Methodist Church in Africa would overwhelm any possibility of change in the attitude on homosexuality.

After a lifetime as an active, committed Methodist; son of a Methodist pastor, I could no longer participate in “my” church.  Today I am proud to be part of a denomination that long ago not only welcomed as members, but ordained women, African Americans and LGBT persons.  I am proud to be part of a congregation that welcomes, indeed is built on and is the richer and more powerful because of, the active participation of members of all races, genders and sexual orientations.  It fits my understanding of how a church must function, but as we know, God is still speaking.

What’s next?  Marriage equality!

This is the defining civil rights issue of our current generation.  And when we win this issue, we will have eliminated the last bastion of official discrimination by the government against its own citizens in this country.  Today…almost all of those laws have been struck down and… essentially the only pervasive set of laws that continue to discriminate against American citizens are against gay and lesbian couples. – Attorney David Boies on “Charlie Rose” 4-1-13

The United Church of Christ is again leading the way.

Editor’s Note: To learn more about working for marriage equality in Oregon try to attend the People of Faith Say “I Do” conference on May 4th.  (see flyer)

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