Last month, I was reading the story of how Beth Stroud was defrocked as a United Methodist minister because she is openly gay and has a committed relationship with Chris Paige, her lesbian partner. Well I read the story and saw the pictures of Beth and Chris, and I have to say that my heart went out to both of them. I actually liked them. They seemed like good people. I certainly disagree with their stance, but I also recognized that just because someone could be wrong in a certain area does not mean that the grace of God is not operative in his/her life. So I had this sense that both Beth and Chris were in God’s hands and are just as loved by Jesus as I am. So I prayed for them and I asked my Abba Father that I would get an opportunity to meet them. I don’t know why I wanted to meet them. I know that I cannot change them, and I am not planning on changing my views on homosexuality either. I guess I just wanted to tell them that in the deeper and truer sense, that though I disagree with their views, I truly want the best for them and consider them both sisters in Christ.
God answered my prayer. At first, I did not recognize this. Frankly, I was mad. I found out that Beth and Chris were coming just one week before their speaking engagement here at Oberlin. I was upset because I have pretty good relationships with the students who were bringing her to campus. I was wondering why they did not give me the heads up so that I could better prepare my community for what might happen. But now, I only had a week to get them ready, and I was mad. I guess I felt a little betrayed.
I quickly got over my sense of betrayal when I had the chance to clear the air with one of the student organizers of the event and after I remembered that I prayed that God would bring them to Oberlin. It just so turned out that the main reason they came was because they were gong to be here anyway for the Thanksgiving holiday, because Beth’s sister is a professor in the History Department here at Oberlin.
Anyway, my community prayed for Beth and Chris and their respective speaking engagements this past Monday. We also prayed for one another and for the campus. I even coached the students in my community to be prayerful if they were going to either ask a question or make a statement. Thankfully, none of them embarrassed themselves or the Christian community (and I didn’t either). In fact, the entire evening’s events went very smoothly and peacefully.
I did have a chance to speak to both Beth and Chris. I thanked Chris for her talk (she was up first and she really did a great job telling her story with both humor and pathos) and I told her who I was and that I was with InterVarsity. She received me gracefully, but I got the sense that she was a bit taken back when I told her I was with IV. Then during dinner while sitting in a circle of students with Beth and Chris, I listened to Beth respond to a question by a student about how she felt about not being able to work any longer in a position that really fulfilled her and suited her well. Beth did a great job answering the question. I then shared how I was not allowed to even get a position that I thought that I was born for. I then talked about how God spoke through a friend of mine by reminding me that I am not position, but rather, a child of God. Beth looked at me and said that a friend told her something similar, that it would be good to be just one of the “baptized” for now. It was clear to me that we both understood that God was more interested in us having a relationship with Him, than any service we think we render Him.
It was at this time that I shared with Beth, Chris, and the students how I prayed that I would get a chance to meet them, I even told them how I did a similar thing while I was on a retreat and reading Jean Vanier’s “Be Not Afraid”. I told them that while I was reading the book, I prayed that God would give me the opportunity to meet Jean. Well, I closed up the book, walked back into the retreat center where I was staying at, and saw a flyer that Jean was going to be in town that night speaking at a nearby university (Harvard Divinity School to be exact, this was when I was living in Boston).
Beth and Chris got a kick from the testimony and laughingly asked me to pray that God would lead them to right foster child since I seemed so connected (for they had recently had been certified as foster parents).
When it came time for Beth to speak, the room the event was held in was jam packed. There were people from all over Northeast Ohio there, not to mention the dozens of students who came out to the event.
Beth, just like Chris, is a very effective and engaging speaker. What I really appreciated about her is the fact that she did not either demonize or caricacturize the conservative evangelicals who opposed her. She even talked about different conservatives whom she has connected with shared “holy ground” with.
Which brings me to my last time with her during the reception after her talk. I went up to Beth and told her that I agreed with much of what she talked about with regards to Scripture and homosexuality. For example, the text in Genesis 19 that is frequently used to speak against homosexuality is really more about gang rape and does not really speak to consenting adult homosexuals who are in loving relationships. Plus, Ezekiel 16:49 let’s us know that the real reason that God was upset with Sodom and Gomorrah was because they were apathetic to the needs of the poor and marginalized.
However, I pointed out to Beth that this does not solve the more fundamental issue coming out of Ephesians 5 that marriage was clearly meant to be between a man and a woman and not for same gender people. Moreover, I pointed out to her that I believed that there was something theological about being male and female (hinting at Genesis 1). To my surprise, Beth agreed with me on this point.
At another point in our conversation, I told Beth that while I was against Gay marriage personally, I felt that Gay marriage should be legalized because this is a pluralistic culture and I don’t feel comfortable shoving my religious views down someone elses throat. Beth’s response was again surprising. Upon hearing this, she held my hands and then told me that if all theological conservatives like myself agreed to what I just got finished saying, that this would mitigate violence and misunderstanding against homosexuals in this country. She then told me that she felt that there was holy ground between the two of us, and I felt that I gained a new friend.