Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Remembering the person in the marriage debates

I found this article quite engaging. Brandon Ambrosino recounts his experience as a college student at Liberty University, eventually "coming out" to several professors. Liberty University, if you're not familiar, was begun by Jerry Falwell, who is known as extraordinarily denigrating to those with same-sex attraction.
Mr. Ambrosino writes that most people who learn that he has same-sex attraction and attended a fundamentalist college think his life must have been one of misery and persecution.
Instead, he shares stories like this:
After I made an ambiguous and slightly off-color remark about Oscar Wilde during her British Literature class, Dr. Prior (who writes for The Atlantic from time to time) asked me to come talk with her during her office hours the next day. I agreed to stop by because, well, she was fabulous, and I couldn't imagine having an awkward conversation with someone that fashionable. After all, her daily mantra—which she borrowed from her beloved Wilde—is, "One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art."

"So what did you want to talk about?" I asked her.

"We can talk about anything you'd like, Brandon." This answer made me loathe her. Come on, lady! We both know why I'm here. You just want me to admit I'm gay so you can perform an exorcism on me!

"Well," I huffed, "You asked me to come in..." to come out, I thought to myself. My wit shines in tense situations.


So we sat. And sat. And stared at each other. And every now and then mentioned something trivial (for instance, my turkey sandwich) that, for some inexplicable reason, made us laugh uncontrollably. Finally, she told me she had to get going because her next class started soon.

"Ok, ok, wait," I told her, and she cocked her head.

"Yes?" she asked me, and the tone of her voice calmed me down. It was as if she was saying, Brandon, I already know what you want to tell me. Please, just say it.

And I did: "Alright... for the last few months... well, really, for years, I've felt... ok, who knows how long? I mean, anyway, it doesn't matter." She just nodded and made mm-hmm sounds.

"I've been... struggling"—I made sure to use this word, since it implied that I was not fully a homo, but only dealing with the evil temptation—"with... with the idea... with thoughts of..." and the word got trapped in my throat. I couldn't bring myself to say the word. That word was so powerful and scary.

I looked at her as my eyes welled up with tears. And when I saw that her eyes were welling up, too, I realized I was safe and that she could handle my secret.

"Homosexuality!" I blurted. "I've been struggling with homosex..." and I broke down. Here I was in the English chair's office at the world's most homophobic university, and I'd just admitted to her I was gay.

She got up from her chair, and rushed over to me. I braced myself for the lecture I was going to receive, for the insults she would hurl, for the ridicule I would endure. I knew how Christians were, and how they clung to their beliefs about homosexuals and Sodom and Gomorrah, and how disgusted they were by gay people. The tears fell more freely now because I really liked this teacher, and now I ruined our relationship.

"I love you," she said. I stopped crying for a second and looked up at her. Here was this conservative, pro-life, pro-marriage woman who taught lectures like "The Biblical Basis for Studying Literature," and here she was kneeling down on the floor next me, rubbing my back, and going against every stereotype I'd held about Bible-believing, right-leaning, gun-slinging Christians.

When I heard her sniffle, I looked up at her. "It's going to be ok," she said. "You're ok." She nodded her head, squeezed my shoulder, and repeated, "I love you."

The article is quite long, but I found it worth the time.  While Mr. Ambrosino self-identifies as "gay" today, it is clear that his encounters with loving professors at Liberty University impacted him.  Did they tell him they approved of same-sex activity?  No.  But they told him something else -- You are a person.  You deserve love.  You are loved.  You have dignity.  You are a child of God.

When issues like the redefinition of marriage become nationwide debates, we tend to forget that people are involved.  On the one hand, the redefinition proponents tend to only talk about the fact that people are involved.  On the other hand, marriage defenders like to talk about ideas, philosophies and teachings, without regarding the person.

We need both.  

We need to affirm the truth and beauty of the Church's teachings on marriage.  But we also need to love the person as a person, not as a charity case.  We need to share authentic love.  Because it's authentic, it includes truth about what is a morally good relationship, what love and marriage are, etc., but that truth can be communicated in different ways depending upon the situation.

For the young man at Liberty University, he knew where his professors stood on the topic.  What he didn't know -- what he needed to know -- was that his person, his identity was not his sexual attraction.  It wasn't hypocritical for the professors to love him and yet disapprove of same-sex activity.  They were doing both, even in not specifically addressing the topic from a moral viewpoint.  

As the debate becomes more heated, we all need to consider -- are we doing both .... well?

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