A Pastor Who Changed His Mind About Homosexuality

Murray Richmond, a Presbyterian minister, hospital chaplain, and current legislative aide in the Alaska State Senate, has a fantastic article up at Salon. The title: “I preached against homosexuality, but I was wrong.”

But over the next five years, homosexuality not only became an issue — it became The Issue. Sides were drawn, and those of us in the middle were pulled to either end. I was a biblical Christian, of the “hate the sin, love the sinner” crowd. And so it seemed clear that I could not fully accept, ordain and marry gays. If I was going to be forced to choose a side, that was mine.

The truth is, I was put out that this was an issue. Feeding the hungry, preaching the gospel, comforting the afflicted, standing up to racial intolerance — these were the struggles I signed up for, not determining the morality of what adults did in their bedrooms.

He says there were three things that eventually changed his mind:

  • A conversation with a gay Christian man who no longer wanted to hide his orientation
  • Realizing that a parishioner who wanted an exorcism to get rid of the gay was really “not demon-possessed”
  • Meeting a woman whose pastor-husband left her for a man because he no longer wanted to live a lie

These experiences shook my worldview. It became clear to me that none of these men had chosen to be gay, just as I had never chosen to be heterosexual. How could I condemn someone for something that was really not their fault? Meanwhile, I was experiencing the slow disintegration of my own marriage. Needless to say, it was hard for me to condemn anyone else for their relationships when mine was in such bad shape. I began moving closer to the center. If homosexuality was a “sin,” I wanted to add an asterisk to it.

If a pastor can be educated about this issue, maybe there’s hope for some of the other bigots in the church…?

For that to happen, though, people who are gay have to take the difficult step of coming out — to themselves, to people they know, and to people who might be opposed to homosexuality. And if you’re gay and Christian, you’re in a better position to make other people see the light.

(Thanks to Siobhan for the link)

  • Rich Wilson

    Highly recommend the film “Out in the Silence” There was a pastor/preacher in there who went through the same change of attitude. Very heartwarming, and a great film. I saw it on Hulu, not sure if it’s still there, but if you’re in the US it’s worth a check.

    Lisa Ling also covered the “Pray Away the Gay” idea in an episode of “Our America”. The turning point for someone in there was that someone he was counseling took a knife and draino to his penis and testicles in guilt.

  • http://urbanmennoniteblog.com Ryan

    I can sympathize. In Canada there is less pressure to pick a side, and most really are somewhere in the middle mainly because they haven’t actually been forced to think it about that much. But as a Christian, and now trying in a theological school including with a proudly lesbian classmate, I also changed my mind from being “neutral but if I had to pick then homosexual activity (not orientation) is a sin” to fully embracing it.

    What finally did it for me, and this will sound ironic to this site, was the Bible. We’re always told that the Bible is clear, but once I actually looked at it, I realized that it is not. There are translation issues, there are multiple ways to interpret it, and there are only a few verses out of the entire huge text that *might* be talking about it anyway. If no science could point out anything wrong with it, no other logical or experiential knowledge could find anything wrong with it, and not even the Bible actually says there’s anything wrong with it, then I saw no reason to still consider it a sin.

  • exe

    Thank you for this post. It tells me there may be hope for humanity yet. Love is a good thing, even if it is a little different from what we are used to.

  • http://planetatheism.com Pedro Timóteo

    There are translation issues, there are multiple ways to interpret it, and there are only a few verses out of the entire huge text that *might* be talking about it anyway.

    You do realize that you can apply that to ANY subject, right?

  • http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com Sharmin

    One of the parts that struck me was this:

    Looking back, I see how much my own opinions had been formed by the fact that I was representing a split congregation. Our church, like so many, was divided. And while the people who believed it should be accepted were not going to leave if we maintained a position of non-acceptance, those who felt it was a sin would bolt in a heartbeat if we ever allowed gay clergy or gay marriage. If they bolted, half our budget would go out the door. I knew the issue could tear the church apart. What I didn’t realize was how it could tear apart the people in the church as well.

    Hopefully, if more pastors change their minds about homosexuality, the people who think gays should be accepted will also feel that they can speak up and have a say, instead of staying silent about their disagreement.

  • Poyndexter

    “It became clear to me that none of these men had chosen to be gay, just as I had never chosen to be heterosexual. How could I condemn someone for something that was really not their fault?”

    All the same things can be said about paedophiles and serial fornicators. Whether a group can “help the way they feel” has nothing to do with one’s subjective judgment of the propriety of the desire. He’s confusing two opposing ethical systems and thinks he’s reconciled them, when in fact all he’s done is re-segmented his mind for a new round cog-dis.

  • cat

    “For that to happen, though, people who are gay have to take the difficult step of coming out — to themselves, to people they know, and to people who might be opposed to homosexuality.” This bothered me. Heteros really do not understand this issue. You do not get to ask people to risk their lives, safety, jobs, families, homes, etc. for “the cause”. Helping people come out is not telling people to come out, it is providing resources and a safety net if everything falls apart when they do. Yes, coming out is very liberating and it saves one from the slow death that is the closet, but often it also means leaving everything else behind and often it means stepping onto a minefield.

  • Paul

    “You do realize that you can apply that to ANY subject, right?”

    Make your choice among the following:

    1. A text means exactly what it says. Period.

    2. A text can mean anything we want it to mean.

    3. Some texts have a wide range of interpretations, so much so that their reading becomes nearly arbitrary, while other texts have a smaller range of interpretation so that their reading is able to be centered on a firm consensus. For instance, poetry might be a good example of the former, while a sentence describing a chemical reaction might be a good example of the latter.

    4. Something else.

  • JustSayin’

    So clear something up for me, Poyndexter: are we once again being compared to pedophiles? If so, I’ve gotta say, that’s gotten really fucking old.

    I hope, however, that you’re only using that analogy to pick apart what you deem to be a logical fallacy in a particular area of Richmond’s thinking.

  • Rich Wilson

    Thanks @JustSayin’ for highlighting what @Poyndexter said, which highlights what the pastor said:

    How could I condemn someone for something that was really not their fault?

    The operative word is fault.

    Homosexuality isn’t a fault. It’s kind of like saying racism is wrong, because it’s not someone’s fault they were born a different color.

  • Secular Stu

    Not good enough.

    There’s nothing wrong with homosexuality. There’s no “moderate” moral stance on this, there’s nothing wrong with it. Even after his experiences, this guy still can’t say that. He takes the same bullshit position as other Christians: that while homosexuality is a sin, there are lots of worse sins out there. It’s a sin, but he just wants “to add an asterisk to it”.

    I know it’s certainly refreshing to see Christian leaders become slightly more tolerant, but the tolerance is built on a shoddy foundation. We feel the urge to support people like this, because we know that practically speaking this sort of lack of opposition will be necessary for gay marriage to become a reality. But let’s not pat these guys on the back too hard.

    People like this are equivalent to someone in 1860s America believing that, although black people are biologically inferior to white people, that doesn’t mean you should enslave them.

  • Jake

    Wow, Stu, who shat in your breakfast today?

    And on the whole homosexuality/paedophilia/fault/nature/etc. issue, I’d like to quote South Park:

    NAMBLA Leader: We are human. Most of us didn’t even choose to be attracted to young boys. We were born that way. We can’t help the way we are, and if you all can’t understand that, well, then, I guess you’ll just have to put us away.

    Kyle: [slowly] Dude. You have sex with children!

    Stan: Yeah. You know, we believe in equality for everybody, and tolerance, and all that gay stuff, but dude, fuck you.

    Kyle: Seriously.

  • http://annainca.blogspot.com Anna

    I agree with Stu. The last paragraph of that article is terribly insulting:

    Now I am wondering why, if two gay people want to commit their lives to one another, they should ever be denied that chance. No church or pastor should be forced to perform those ceremonies, and they can choose not to recognize gay marriage for their adherents. But the constitution of the Presbyterian Church does not explicitly forbid a pastor from being a thief, a murderer, or an egotistical jerk. It is not designed to do these things. It does prohibit a gay person from becoming a pastor. All I can ask is: Why?

    The title of the post is a little misleading. This guy obviously hasn’t “changed his mind about homosexuality.” He still thinks it’s a sin. He’s still opposed to it. He simply doesn’t believe that the church should focus on homosexuality while ignoring other things they consider to be sins. Considering this man’s original position, perhaps one could consider his current stance progress. It’s nice that he seems to support civil (but not religious) marriage for same-sex couples. However, he certainly has negative feelings about homosexuality. Tolerance is not the same as acceptance.

  • Paul

    Jake, homosexuality isn’t a sin because other things are sins.

  • Poyndexter

    JustSayin’:
    “you’re only using that analogy to pick apart what you deem to be a logical fallacy in a particular area of Richmond’s thinking.”

    Bingo.


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