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Clifton Spires is the father of a gay son who walked out of the family home in 1996 after a family row and they've never seen or spoken to each other since. A journalist living in Ohio with his wife and other son he now campaigns vigorously for gay rights and each week on OutUK he reflects on how this affects his life and family. Though it's written in America, we believe the issues he deals with affect the worldwide gay community. Previous columns are archived in OutBack.

Jeffrey, Wish You Were Here

Dear Jeffrey:

I'm sending this letter to you via the Internet, because I don't know the zip code of whatever celestial plane on which you're hovering these days. I figure the NET is kind of open territory and you probably have access to some sort of infinite web server --- Jeffrey@eternity.com, or something.

I miss you now more than ever, old friend, what with your fellow Presbyterians being torn apart by these issues of gay ordination and blessings of same-sex unions. How ironic that the same denomination you pastored would be facing the same issues as the Baptists, of whom you secretly sometimes made fun. Your Catholic, Methodist and Episcopalian friends, who also struggle with the divides created by these issues, would value your gentle humor and wisdom.

Although we did not share the same kind of faith, you and I always provided pastoral care for and promised to keep each other in line when we spoke out in public against injustice. On this issue,though, perhaps we would need a third party to keep both of us in check. I recall how passionate you were about gay rights. Being a pastor to the gay Christians of Columbus, Ohio, was your final mission before AIDS took you down. If you had been a part of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly last month, I know on which side you would have stood. But would you remain calm --- one of God's frozen chosen," as you used to lovingly describe some of the reserved congregations you pastored? Or would you be Firebrand Jeffrey, the man who wrote letters to the editor denouncing activities of the Ku Klux Klan in Ohio, or Confrontational Jeffrey, who stood up to the bigots who opposed having a drug counseling center in their small-minded, small town neighborhood?

It seems a needless question. You would stand up for Christ-like principles as you learned that God did not intend for God's children to squabble over poorly translated and purposefully misinterpreted semantics; that God did not intend for The Bible to be used as a point of bickering or as a tool to allow the exclusion, by theocratic oligarchies, of selected minorities from full participation as vessels of divine love.

How would you have reacted to this latest vote of the General Assembly --- to stop discussing same-gender unions and have its presbyteries ban them once and for all?

Would you continue to be among those who will raise up the issue again and again?

Would you, who worked hard for your master's and doctorate degrees, suffering the rigors of religion classes at Princeton, consider leaving the church?

Would you call for those Christians who work for equal rights for gays, lesbians, transgendered and bisexual people within their churches to leave their denominations and join united in a gay-friendly Christian house of worship?

I know what pain this debate would cause you. You would try to console those whom you pastored and work to make sense out of the struggle. You would remind them that as a Christian, you believe God's love is all-encompassing and it is only human religious sectors _ and just a portion of those _ that are rejecting those who are gay. You would urge them to have faith, not only in God, but in humanity's ability to evenhtually reach sanity every so often and stop the madness.

You would point to 81-year-old William P. Thompson, the stated clerk of the General Assembly from 1966 to 1984, a former president of the National Council of Churches and the World Alliance of Reformed churches. Thompson was once an opponent of gay and lesbian ordinations. You would urge gay people, Christian and non-Christian, to be comforted, as you would be, by Thompson's willingness to be arrested for protesting unequal treatment of gays and lesbians by the Presbyterian Church. You would quote Thompson's statement, at the time of his arrest, "I'm convinced that sexual orientation is received by people, it is not chosen."

You would remind us all that you believe God is the giver of all things good, including sexual orientation, and that such gifts should not be rejected but celebrated. People like you and me, dear Jeffrey, who have sought and are seeking equality and peace of mind for our gay family members and friends, are having a not-so-wonderful time these days, even as we see small baby steps of progress made.

As the postcard says, "We wish you were here," to help us continue to fight the good fight and celebrate the small victories we can see as the smoke of each battle clears.

Written in the spirit of friendship forever,


Published 9th July 2000


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