January 19, 2016
Dear Bishop Sumner:
I read with interest your remarks regarding the Primates’ meeting. There were two phrases that you used that especially struck me as rather insensitive when it comes to LGBT people – especially those here in Dallas where you were selected to serve.
The first is your comment that our diocese has a unique perch to “speak the truth in love.” As a lawyer, I know that I am not to assume anything, but it is difficult to take that phrase and not assume that the “truth” of which you speak is that of traditional marriage, as defined by the conservatives in the church.
I find it a bit ironic, and disconcerting, that a church which exists largely in part because a king wanted a divorce, has suddenly found its voice on “traditional” marriage at the expense of the LGBT community.
I trust you when you say that your discernment has led you to believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman and that this belief has lead you, and thus the diocese, to not allow same-sex marriage in the diocese. However, there are many in the church, who have concluded that the “truth” is otherwise, and I don’t understand, that unlike the progressives in the National Church which gave you the freedom not to follow the new same-sex canon, why you insist on uniformity and a bending to your will on this issue in our diocese.
“Disciplining” those whose discernment has lead them to another conclusion is not in the best interest of a church that proclaims it wants “unity in our communion.” Prohibiting the Episcopal Church a vote in the broader church for the next three years, appears to me to be nothing more than an attempt to push the “liberals” out of the communion; and is really no different than you pushing LGBT people in our diocese who wish to be married to Fort Worth.
Why should another’s discernment regarding same-sex marriage override my discernment; the discernment of other ministers in the Dallas Diocese; and the discernment of the National Church? Why should your discernment lead to pushing those of us who want to be married in our local church, by our local priest, to be “forced away” to Fort Worth?
What happens when the TEC doesn’t change its position? Does it get expelled by the Anglican Community, only to be replaced by the ACNA, who is attempting to usurp our National Church? If it does, will you lead the Diocese of Dallas out of the Episcopal Church and into the ACNA, while proclaiming it to be the “true” Anglican voice in America? Locally, what happens when, after “going to Fort Worth” to get married, we decide to stay? Or if we come back, ask you to say a blessing over us on our anniversaries? What happens when a priest of this Diocese follows his or her conscience and marries a LGBT couple? Do you defrock them? Is the marriage valid? Is this what you mean by “unity of communion?”
I ask these questions, not out of disrespect, but because as a legally, married gay man, the father of two adopted sons, and one who chose the Episcopal Church in which to raise those sons because of its inclusive nature, I want to be able to answer the question posed by my oldest son after he heard you speak at St. Thomas in November, “Why does the Bishop hate Gay people?”. Or my other son’s question of “What will the Bishop do for me, the son of two gay men?”
I do not want my children, who suffered enough rejection in their early lives, to feel rejected by their Church. I do not want them to believe that the local leader of their Church hates their fathers. Finally, as their father, I do not want them to be hurt because others cannot grasp what they discovered when CPS gave them two Dads – Love is Love – and it is inclusive and doesn’t push people away simply because of who they are or what they may believe.
Which brings me to the second phrase in your response I find disconcerting –“The wound in our communion is real.” I have read and heard how conservatives in the church are being “hurt” by the recognition of same-sex marriage. It appears to be a common theme for the traditionalists in this Diocese to remind the rest of us how “hurtful” and “painful” the decision is for them to bear.
This type of thinking, and claiming to be part of a minority, (a minority of which you chose to be a part of as opposed to one in which you are born) not only demeans the very real hurt and pain, including in some cases torture and death that LGBT people have long suffered throughout the world (including in God’s church – especially Africa), it also diminishes the hurt and pain that our Savior experienced during his crucifixion. A crucifixion brought on by people who “followed the law” and also believed they knew the will of God.
I remember the pain I felt when, as a young man I realized that I could not pray the gay away. I remember feeling the hurt in my heart that God did not love me and that I would never feel the Spirit within my soul that had always been a part of me. In addition to the hurt, I worried that my family would reject me; that my friends from my small hometown and small Methodist college would no longer want to associate with me; that I would lose my job or be arrested.
Because of these thoughts and fears, I lied to others about my true self and pulled away from my family and long-time friends.
The pain that this self-imposed isolation brought caused me to turn to people and places, where with enough alcohol, I at least felt welcomed and loved. This false sense of love led me to relationships that were detrimental to me and to those around me as I became increasingly focused on keeping “my truth.” As I became more weary lying to myself and others about my true nature, sometimes, I would get close to telling my family or friends my secret, but I would stop myself; remembering how my Mormon friend was disowned by his family and his daughter taken away when he came out. Or, I would think of my friend Troy, whose mother cried and told him he was going to burn in hell just because he was gay. So I kept my secret as the Spirit inside of me slowly started to die.
I would stop myself; remembering how my Mormon friend was disowned by his family and his daughter taken away when he came out.
Funny thing about the Spirit though; it kept pushing me and prodding me to turn back to the God I had always loved and now that I desperately needed. I started looking for a place where I could be true to my nature and be loved for who I was. I tried several non-denominational “gay” churches, but missed the liturgy and traditions of my Catholic upbringing. I tried the Catholic Church but felt guilty when I took the Eucharist and feared that if found out I would be forced to leave.
It took Troy dying and a Catholic priest’s sermon at his funeral (telling us what Troy had learned while he suffered through the end stages of AIDS) before I got the courage to reveal my secret. Troy’s message was a simple one, and one that the Episcopal Church teaches every Sunday – that God loves everybody; that we are all God’s children and if you love God and your fellow man, then there is no death, there is no suffering and there is no hell just for living your life as you were created by God.
As I listened to the sermon, I was overwhelmed with anger and hurt, that this sweet man, whose words were being spoken by a priest from a church that had made him afraid to be who he was, had suffered so long with the fear that when he died he would not be with God – a fear instilled in him by “traditional” people who believed they knew God’s will.
After the mass, I went home and wrote a letter to my parents telling them I was gay. Afraid that they would reject me, I lacked the courage to put it in the mail. I called a friend who read it and agreed to mail it for me. As he left my house that day, letter in hand, I felt a burden being lifted from me – yes, the truth does set you free. Shortly thereafter, I was led to St. Thomas, where I immediately felt at home and for the first time in a long time, felt at peace with my God. When I adopted my two sons, I knew that St. Thomas and the Episcopal Church would be a place where they would be welcomed and feel the love and grace of our God. They were baptized on Pentecost Sunday, 2011; I was received into the church two years later.
My husband was thinking about joining us in Church, but now feels pushed away by what he views as the hypocrisy of a church that says it “Welcomes You”, but won’t let us participate fully in its sacraments. I’m afraid you are losing my sons too. In fact, my oldest, (the one who wants to know why the Bishop hates gays), has suggested that we attend the Baptist church behind our house, where he is also a member and which has always welcomed him and treated us with respect. I am, regretfully, starting to feel that he may have a good idea.
I know from reading your previous writings that you believe that being Gay is a choice; I assure you that I never chose my orientation; and despite all of my prayers and actions to change the fact, I was unable to do so. I was not truly happy until I accepted God’s will for me. I chose to live into my creation and chose to accept God’s love and grace. Your discernment may not change your mind on same-sex marriage, but you can choose to be more gracious to the LGBT people and those who have reached a different discernment in the diocese that you serve.
Choose to let the priests in this diocese that believe in same-sex marriage perform those ceremonies; Choose to let LGBT people get married in their home church; Choose unity over uniformity; Choose love over dogma. As a successor to the apostles, you have been given the power to loosen that with which you may disagree (Mathew 16:19 and 18:18-19), I pray that you choose to do so.
With all of God’s Blessings,