To walk in another’s shoes may be an impossible challenge.
I am who I am; how can I imagine being someone that I am not.
I walk in the shoes of a white man; how can I walk in a black man’s shoes?
I am straight and know only the attraction to the opposite sex; how can I know same-sex attraction?
And yet, and yet – unless I try to walk in another’s shoes, how can I begin to know the path they travel? But that begins with a relationship. I cannot walk in a stranger’s shoes. For me, friends and extended family members include gay people. And knowing them is to embrace them and to love them for who they are.
But I haven’t tried to walk in their shoes. The point has come when I need to do that, for my sake and for theirs. There’s no button for a magical switch. There’s only the hard work of reading, listening, observing. And then, hesitantly, uneasily, to step into the other’s shoes, inside the other’s skin.
But then a new struggle would have begun. I would have had to take off the mask. To make myself talk, disclose, expose. It would have been an excruciatingly painful prospect. I would have wanted to spare my parents and my family. But I would not have been able to go on living a lie.
Later I would have told my friends. They might have known it for some time. Then I would have told my pastor. I would have asked him if it was a sin to be homosexual. He would have said only if one acts on it, and shared the Bible passages with me. I would have left with a heavy heart and a welter of conflicted feelings.
I wouldn’t have told him nor my parents that I had a special male friend. I would have been still too confused where that relationship was going to go and where it shouldn’t go. Both Christians, we would have been trying to take our faith seriously as believers. We would have done much reading. And we would have prayed.
Gradually we might have come to believe that we were not wrong to be attracted to each other, to want to be together. But we would have known that parents would not agree, and neither would the church. And their acceptance was basic to our relationship, to our peace, to our future.
And God’s acceptance? That would have been a fundamental concern.
Would our journey have led to an emergent understanding? We had been taught that the essence of God is love, that all of his commands, his will for us, are an expression of his love, meant for us to reflect and practice that love. All of the “thou shalt nots” forbid actions that would harm another, that would violate loving our neighbour as ourselves. We might have come to see that one’s sexuality, regardless whether it’s straight or gay, can be used in perversion to abuse another, to treat and use another as object; or it can be used as an expression of love, an expression of a mutually intimate relationship that overflows with love for each other and for God who gave us each other.
The Bible passages seem not to refer to this latter expression of love.
Yes, some among us are LGBTQ; that’s who they are. And it’s as natural for gays to fall in love as it is for straights. Is such love God’s gift for one and forbidden fruit for the other, or is the gift the same? Is it a blessing for one and a sin for the other? They may come to love another, and receive it as a blessing. They may come to feel and receive God’s acceptance, and weep in gratitude. They may not receive the acceptance of parents, nor of the church. And that, too, makes them weep.
Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird tells Scout: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view [. . .] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
I tried, and the attempt has moved and blessed me. My thinking has changed about two people loving each other with all their hearts and wanting to commit themselves to each other in the sight of God, to honour, serve and encourage each other, to serve God and the church together for the rest of their lives.
My prayers are more fervent now for the healing of family relationships. And for the church, that it may learn ever anew, “to love one another . . . for by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
What will be the witness of the church of Jesus Christ to the world?
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