August 3, 2008
Tim Schmucker

Acts 10

The sermon I was to give today had grown out of a challenge from the preaching team to preach on business and money. That was going to be hard enough – I thought I had gotten out of it with this malaria or dengue tropical disease – but not quite, I guess. So, now I have a 7 minute reflection, and it’s about sexuality. Umm, not sure which is more difficult.

Sexuality, Friendship, and Monday faith. More precisely, sexual orientation, intimate friendship, and a desire to follow Jesus in all of life.

I met Paul 20 years when he was studying at a Mennonite Biblical seminary, and we quickly became bosom buddies. We bonded incredibly quickly as we discovered common interests in theology and biblical interpretation, in music and literature, and in entrepreneurial endeavours. We also quickly came to understand each other intuitively, knowing what each other was thinking and easily guessing each others’ tastes and preferences. Later when his daughter came to live with Jacqui and me for what was to be 6 months but turned out to be 6 years, she would say “Seems to me that I’m still living with my dad ‘cause you two are sooo alike.” Unfortunately, she often didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Paul and I have lived together and travelled together. We’ve gone into debt together and struggled out together. We’ve supported each other through extremely difficult personal and family crises. We’ve held each other’s hand through bankruptcy, both the business kind and the spiritual kind. And from the beginning, we’ve continually challenged each other to be more faithful followers of Jesus.

Paul is one of my four most intimate male friends. Paul is also a gay man. His children are from a teenage marriage that he began when he was fearfully attempting to run away from the truth of his sexual orientation.

When we met, Paul was a single father raising his small kids alone. I was later to also be divorced but grieving the loss of my kids’ daily presence in my life. With our children about the same age, we walked together through all the difficulties and anguish of our parental realities. And our relational ones too. After a few years, I found a life mate (that would be Jacqui, in case any of you aren’t sure!). Yet Paul didn’t for a long time. We supported each other through the proverbial thick and thin. Me with the challenges of remarriage and dual families, he with ending what he had expected to be a life-long partnership, and the continuing difficulty raising children without their mom around.

Once, a couple of years after Jacqui’s arrival in Canada as a newly-wed (to me that would be, just in case some of you aren’t sure!), she was in crisis. Crisis with this foreign culture, crisis with this foreign language, and crisis with my extended family that included my former spouse and her whole family. Jacqui was ready to chuck it all and return home to Colombia. She called Paul, and within a few days he was on an airplane flying to Toronto from another continent to walk with us through that time. Jacqui and I cried for hours when he left a week later.

In short, my life has been incredibly enriched by his friendship. I would not be the father, husband, friend, and Christian that I am today without Paul in my life during the last 20 years. He has been God’s gift to me.

We didn’t’ talk about his sexual orientation during the first decade of our friendship. It wasn’t immediately apparent to me – I was blind, he says! – and then later when he slowly and cautiously revealed his secret, we simply just didn’t talk much about it. It was acknowledged at times, but not discussed. In a very real way, it simply wasn’t relevant to our friendship.

Then about 8-10 years ago, we began to talk about it more deliberately. His church, a conservative, independent Bible-believing, quasi-Evangelical quasi-Pentecostal one, was in crisis over his significant lay leadership roles. The issue was not his leadership, but his sexual orientation and practice. So his congregation embarked on a discernment process somewhat similar to ours. At the end, their conclusion was not based on scientific study or factual information or biblical exegesis. Rather, their conclusion focused on their empirical experience with Paul. They recognised that they didn’t have all the answers to biblical interpretation, nor did they all understand sexual orientation, nor were they ready to make far reaching statements. But Paul had been their brother for over 15 years, and in him they saw and experienced the fruits of the Spirit, his relentless desire to follow Christ daily in life, and a deep and untiring commitment to their congregation. Their conclusion? We don’t have all the answers, we don’t understand everything, but we know that Paul is a child of God, a follower of Jesus, and our brother, as he is – a gay man in a life-long committed relationship. Paul was truly welcomed and affirmed by his church.

And I remember Cornelius, the centurion, the gentile. An archetypal symbol of uncleanliness for Jews and followers of Jesus. To be avoided at all cost. Clearly outside of God’s work with God’s chosen people. Abhorrently dirty! And Peter’s vision where he was taught three times, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” And then Peter’s conclusion after meeting Cornelius: ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

Our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters are to the Christian church today as gentiles were to the Jewish followers of Jesus 2000 years ago. When will Christians understand as Peter did that God shows no partiality, but loves and accepts all who trust God and do what is right?

I love my dear friend Paul, and fervently hope that should he come to our church with his life partner, we would all welcome him and them with the joyful and open arms that he deserves as a child of God and follower of Jesus. Our welcoming statements says that we do. Will we? With joyful and embracing arms?