I can only imagine what it was like to be a young man in 1949 -- to go to a small Methodist affiliated liberal arts college in the Midwest and to have found a male lover there.
I can barely imagine the conflict of heart and mind he faced. Am I no longer a good person? I love this man, but who can I tell? Am I lovable in the eyes of God?
I do see why he may have felt he needed to change schools, to move far away to the west coast, to make himself try to be heterosexual, to marry that nice strong Christian girl and commit himself to marriage and his Methodist ministry.
I can imagine his intentions to follow a straight path, to be a caring pastor, to offer a message through his “chalk talk” drawings and to work closely with his wife in ministry. He sat and prayed with many, like the family whose 3-year old son accidentally shot and killed his older brother. Then he, in turn, accepted the love of the community when he and his wife, after trying to have a child for so long, lost their beloved baby during childbirth.
I can only imagine what he thought God’s words were to him. He asked to be moved to a conference in Indiana. He found a certain stride there. He and his wife had 2 children. He got a master’s degree in pastoral counseling and then a doctorate while serving several churches.
When and why did he decide to leave active ministry? This I can only imagine. He moved his family to New Jersey. He began his practice as a clinical psychologist. They had another child. But after a couple of years, it was time to move again.
It was the 1970's. The sexual revolution was in full swing and he was in the Midwest. He taught medical students and developed a thriving private practice. He conducted psychological evaluations for ministerial candidates and taught adult Sunday school at the Methodist church.
He saw heterosexual and homosexual couples in therapy. He became one of the few psychologists in the Midwest to counsel transgender people seeking sexual reassignment surgery. He granted interviews to the newspaper and spoke whenever he could to educate people on sexuality. He kept his ordination as a Methodist Minister but he could no longer deny his sexuality to his family and close friends.
I can imagine the hope he felt when in 1972, at a time when 70% of the American people thought same-sex relations were always wrong, a committee of the Methodist Conference recommended that the following language be included in the social principles:
"Homosexuals, no less than heterosexuals, are persons of sacred worth, who need the ministry and guidance of the church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship which enables reconciling relationships with God, with others and with self. Further, we insist that all persons are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured."
Then I can imagine his feelings when this passage was amended to the point where it included a condemnation of homosexuality as being “incompatible with Christian teaching."
Throughout his life, he never left the United Methodist Church. Now that he’s gone I can only imagine what he would say upon hearing that the church still hasn’t found its way forward, in its collective heart, to welcome, embrace and accept all people.
While I, his daughter, was disappointed and angry, I can imagine him telling me that educating people is still needed.
So, I will take this time to say, let’s educate ourselves. Let us be aware that homosexual behavior is naturally found among humans and animals. Same-sex experiences have been reported throughout history and across cultures.
Let us know that there are debates over whether sexual attraction and identification is a “choice” – but this is like trying to figure out whether personality style is a choice. Genetic factors, hormonal influences, brain processing differences, social and environmental factors all combine to influence attraction and sexual identification.
Let us acknowledge that humans are diverse. Humans vary. Let us remember how long it took for humans to accept that the minority group of left-handers (8-12% of people) are not “sinister” or “evil” but just another variation among humans. That issue seems silly to us now. So how long will it take to accept that that those who identify as LGBT (about 4-5% in the US) also represent human diversity?
As my dad said in reference to bisexuality and homosexuality in a 1974 NY times article, “In our society….it’s like being left-handed in a right-handed world.”
Can I imagine a time when the United Methodist Church can fully embrace all people, including my dad? I’m trying.