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A story of 1988, divisions and hopes for the future

A brief story regarding 1988 appears below:

Before and during the 1980s, every major societal institution, including organized religion, was homophobic. My family attended a church that could be described as evangelical. The church was quite legalistic and homophobic. In the 1980s, my family was very homophobic. During the late 1980s, I was living and working in a small town on the prairies. I was just coming to the understanding that I was gay. I was isolated and had no idea where LGBT communities were located and how to be in touch with my community. The AIDS crisis was in full swing, so there was a lot of anger directed at gay people and some ministers claimed AIDS was God's punishment for being gay. There were times when the anger was expressed at work, by both colleagues and by clients.

During this stressful era for LGBT people, the United Church was discussing homosexuality and the role of gay people in churches. The church that I was attending was renting facilities from a United Church of Canada congregation when news of the 1988 decision hit the headlines that the United Church would not bar homosexuals from ordination. I recall a frightening backlash in the media and from people living in the town. Even when there was a lull in the strong language, just meeting in a United Church of Canada congregational building meant I was reminded of societal homophobia every time I went to church, even if nothing was mentioned by the minister.

Seeing the angry divisions in the United Church made it feel more dangerous to be discovered to be gay in my church denomination. I cared enough about my denomination to not want the denomination to be torn apart with strife and hate. While events in the United Church forced me to think more about my sexuality, the events added significant stress to the topic.

One week I was leading a service. Before the opening prayer, I asked people if it was okay to pray for people with whom we disagree. I could see almost every person nodding their heads. I continued, “We are going to pray for the United Church of Canada,” and I proceeded to give a prayer asking that the divisions cease, that love and peace would prevail. And I got no negative feedback from the supportive prayer.

Years later, when I was forced to leave an Evangelical church, I knew that there were Affirming United Church of Canada congregations and I joined a church that is now Affirming. Now it is possible for me to be open about my sexuality, to be accepted at church and to hold positions in the church that I am qualified to do.

My hope is that more United Church of Canada congregations will become Affirming and that church members will better understand the culture and history of the LGBT community, so there will be a better level of acceptance in the church and so church members will better understand how to meet the spiritual and social needs of the LGBT community. I also hope that the United Church of Canada will become a dynamic, thriving and growing denomination.

Signed, Gary


Shared with permission.

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