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The Demands of Love and the Intimacy of Justice

Many people are very supportive of gay men and lesbians but, and perhaps this is more true of men than women, they are also clear in establishing that they themselves are not gay. Many are willing to accept the risk of association, but not the risk of mistaken identity.

Balans, Old Compton Street, London

A friend, who happens also to be gay, claims my heart in unusual and profound ways. We met years ago in California, in the United Church of Christ. Walker was a student training for the ministry and I was assigned as his pastoral advisor for the duration of his training. A committee told me he was openly gay and handed me his file. I was flattered. You see, it polished my liberal inclusive identity. It rewarded my advocacy. It sanctified my struggle for justice. It redeemed my risking professional advancement and personal attack.

Our first encounter was in a Berkeley café. He was wonderfully crazy and creative and I felt ponderously conventional and established. In time mutual caution became mutual respect. Respect became friendship. Friendship became love. In time Walker was ordained and called to the only ministry the church could, at that time, tolerate. He became the AIDS minister. And all this time he was the gay friend and I was the straight friend. That is until he kissed me, on the lips.

The kiss was not an advance. It was not an invitation. It was simply a spontaneous gesture of loving friendship. The kiss was not sexually threatening, exploitive or manipulative. And yet, all my self-defined noble deeds, all my self-exaggerated risks, all my self-conceived bold public statements, all my self-important theological and biblical arguments were exposed as painfully bounded in one moment of lips touching lips. The unease I felt became articulated in a quesiton: did I truly love this man, or was my love actually checked by the fact that he was gay?

As it turned out, others saw the kiss, the result of which was the quasi-public questioning of my sexual identity and another question for my soul to ponder. The question was this: was my commitment to justice constrained by my unwillingness to be identified, not with, but as one of those treated unjustly? The issue of sexual identity has been made profoundly complex and important due to an equally profound and complex history of homophobia in our church and society. However, if I truly believed that a gay person had as much ethical, theological, or anthropological integrity as any straight person, then why would I care if others thought I was gay or bisexual? It was not a matter of guaranteeing a correct identity. It went deeper. It went to my integrity of being. In many ways I no doubt made it clear to everybody and anybody that, while I supported gay rights and had gay friends, I was straight. Justice was one thing, my identity was another.

Until that kiss my love for gay men and lesbians was conditional and my support of gay people was qualified. In a church and society that metaphorically stitches pink patches on our clothing in the attempt to identify those who must be rejected, conditional love and qualified justice is not good enough. For the sake of love and justice it doesn’t matter if I am gay or straight. It does matter where I stand when others inflict spiritual, emotional and sometimes physical violence on God’s people.

 Copyright © 2002 Dale Rominger

This reflection was first published in:

Courage to Love. Compiled by Geoffrey Duncan. London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 2002, pp 151-152.

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