Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
— Romans 5:1-2
When you say a prayer before a meal, why do they call it “saying grace?” My father was a stickler about grace. I had no problem with his long, sermonic prayers before meals in the privacy of our own home, other than the food getting cold. However, when it came to praying in a restaurant, I was horrified. I remember one time when the waitress came to our table and our family had their heads bowed and my father was saying grace. She said, “Is there a problem here?” I wanted to leap to my feet and say, “Yes! My father is embarrassing the hell out of me!”
I eventually learned to slightly bow my head with my eyes open and pretending to cough so I could keep watch for the waitress and give her the “we-are-praying-come-back-later” sign.
I seldom pray before meals now and never in restaurants, but occasionally I say grace.
Several years back a friend had offered to take me to the airport. Our friendship was recent and I had begun a conversation with him about reconciling my faith with my sexual orientation. In talking with him, I knew that he was a deeply spiritual person and that God was in the process of healing the deep wounds of his life. Before we went to the airport, I had fixed a small lunch for us. As we sat at the table, I wondered if my friend needed to pray. I asked him if he would like to say grace. He declined.
Over time, our conversations continued. He eventually joined a men’s prayer group that I am a part of. I remember the joy I felt when I heard him pray out loud. And now he is the one who reminds me that I need to say grace.
I was opening some e-mail, when I ran across the news headline, “Pastor Outed by Gay Prostitute.” It piqued my interest, so opened the article. My jaw dropped when I discovered it was Ted Haggard, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals. I would not have been surprised if it had been a Pentecostal pastor. Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart had paved the way for hypocrisy and scandal in the church. But, until now, the Evangelicals had only had a few minor “stumbles.” Not only was Ted Haggard President of the National Association of Evangelicals, he was pastor of a mega-church in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the home of many significant Evangelical para-church organizations … including, Jim Dobson’s Focus on the Family. Ted Haggard pastored a mega-church, he had built a 24-hour Prayer Center, he talked with the president of the United States and was a close friend of Jim Dobson.
I don’t like the word “homophobic.” It is a stone too easily cast. However, it is true that there is no one more homophobic than a closeted gay man. Ted Haggard had rallied forces against the “homosexual agenda.” He was against gay marriage and saw homosexuality as an abomination.
I was recently having lunch with a gay man who came from a conservative Christian background. We talked about Ted Haggard and how gay Christians are forced to compartmentalize their lives. He said, “I remember sending money to Focus on the Family to combat the evils of homosexuality while I knew clearly that I was one myself.” Then he said, “I only saw two options: go crazy or drive my car off a cliff.”
For 45 years I remained in the “Evangelical Closet.” From my earliest memory I knew that I was “different” and eventually it became clearer that I was gay and from an equally early period in my life I knew that I wanted to be a pastor. I followed my calling and with equal measure I buried my sexual orientation. For 45 years I remained celibate. It was an encounter, not with a prostitute that brought me out of the closet, but rather my encounter with a loving and caring gay man. Through tears I told him that I had never been held by a man before. He leaned in and whispered words that would forever change my life, “David, you deserve to be held.” And then he held me.
I had not lived a life of self-loathing and hatred. I had lived a life of isolation and fear. In that moment of human embrace I made the decision that I would embrace my sexual orientation and end my celibacy. By age 45 I was a pastor. I was not a pastor of a mega-church. I had been ordained by the Church of the Nazarene and was serving by appointment of the Methodist Bishop a small United Methodist Church in north Portland.
I straddled the fence of my Evangelical past and Mainline Liberalism. Ironically, neither brand of Christendom had a place for me as a pastor. I was politely asked by the Church of the Nazarene to return my Certificate of Ordination and told by the United Methodist Church that once I announced that I was a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” would be removed as pastor from my United Methodist congregation.
I walked out the closet and into unemployment. Over the last seven years I have been on a journey of reconciling my spirituality and my sexual orientation.
I read Ted Haggard’s letter to his congregation. It sent chills up my spine to hear that he would be mentored for “spiritual restoration” by, among others, James Dobson. If there was any glimmer of hope for Ted Haggard, that he could see that the dark shadowy parts of his life were not evil, but rather God-given, they will be squelched like a prisoner of war being interrogated and reprogrammed by his captor and torturer. Dobson is a Nazarene. I used to speak his language. Haggard will be reprogrammed and become a Stepford Christian. He will become “proof” that the “evils of homosexuality” can be overcome by fervent prayers and cold showers.
If a man can rise to the heights of mega-church pastor and President of the National Association of Evangelicals and not have the spiritual resources to combat his sexual orientation, what hope was there for me? If there is one theological thread to which I cling like a lifeline, it is that of “grace.”
I know enough of the Bible to know that Jesus’ call is not to be “Soldiers for Christ” … not “Prayer Warriors” … not to a muscular Christianity that says, “If I try hard enough and long enough, God will change me.” Christ’s call is to be full of “grace and truth.” (John 1:15) Our call is to authenticity, to quit shining the light on the “SIN” of others and shine the light inward on our own hearts and lives. Truth is looking in the mirror. Grace is not averting your eyes.
The tragedy that I see among many gay Christians, and in myself, is that we compartmentalize our lives. Some leave the faith and go to the extremes of, “I know I am going to hell but this is who I am.” And then they live in the hell of disconnected, anonymous sex, self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. Others build one compartment for their sex lives and one compartment for their faith. It keeps us from going crazy or driving our car off the cliff.
My choice is to try to tear down the dividing walls of my life. To live my life as honestly and openly as possible, to surround myself with people who will listen to my confessions and share their own. My choice is to say “grace” at the end of the day.
A FOOT … UH, ER … KNEE-NOTE
Many of you know that in the last year my ability to walk has diminished greatly.
Even limited walking is very painful to me. I have decided that a knee replacement is my only option for maintaining my mobility. On Monday,
January 8, I will have a total right knee replacement. My pre-existing condition will add some complications to the procedure. The anticipated recovery will be
about six weeks. If it is successful, I most likely will have the left knee replaced
Below are two links in regards to Ted Haggard. The first is an article in Harper’s magazine about Ted Haggard called “Soldiers of Light,” that was published a year and half prior to recent revelations. The second is a link to the letter of resignation that he wrote to his church.