Once a long time ago I spoke often at various conferences. Now conferences are those gatherings where some people who have done a little get to pontificate to those who are not quite as far on the path as they are. Now having been reared as a Southern Baptist I was always looking to convert people from their errant ways. Otherwise I would never speak to them. Conferences always seem to be for the needy. Those who need to be heard to feel worthwhile. Those who need to live vicariously through the hard work of others. Those who need to be seen. I am none of these and thus have never been a fan of conferences and usually view a conference as entering behind enemy lines.
Once I was asked to speak at a conference of fathers and sons. The idea was noble trying to make the world better through better fathers. This seemed to me to be a good and safe place to be. So I agreed, not because I thought I was a great father to my son but to meet other men who were going through similar things. In my talk I told of growing up next to Birmingham and never hearing a word about the years of Bombingham and Martin Luther King Jr. How I lost something when my parents, who were sympathizers to King and his movement remained silent about those times.so I grew up and never heard about MLK Jr. even though I lived a few miles outside of Birmingham. I now know I do not want to avoid the mess of our country and i want to share that history and my views on it with my son. I wanted him to know the full me, flaws and all. The talk went well and I was even asked by a few ministers to give a sermon on the topic at their churches. It was also good I felt that my son was there with me.
The next speaker, a local minister, who I had heard a lot about and was looking forward to his presentation. It was then I realized I was behind enemy lines. His sermon was about fatherless homes created sissy men who thought they loved each other. Fathers should raise their sons so they would not be infected with the cultural disease of gayness. It was a very judgmental speech. It was told with vigor and animation that only a black pastor on fire of God? could tell. One of the many problems I had with such a harsh judgment was how he came to the stage. After a grand introduction two young male adolescents came onstage bearing a bench. Then the great pastor with a man at his side came on the stage. He was humungous Four hundred pounds at least. He struggled to the front of the stage and sat on the bench with the two young men at his side as he delivered his fiery speech. After the service we ate and both young men brought him plates filled to the brim for his lunch. The young men, who were the pastor’s assistants, would never learn about the sissified way but I could not help but think he was teaching them something else that was not that great.
At another conference I was to talk to a gathering of fifteen to twenty Black Baptist pastors on the Bible and homosexuality. We were in small room with a podium and a table. It was my white self on my favorite island: Jekyll Island. This was one of the main reasons I had agreed to the suicide mission. But in this small room with these ‘moderate’ pastors there was none of the beauty of the island, only homophobia, except one minister who had arranged the whole affair, who was not married. I started the conversation with the question: did they know all of the places homosexuality was mentioned in the Bible? Even among these people of the book I received the same answer I usually did: no. My next question was why do they speak with such confidence on a subject they had not fully vetted? So I proceeded to help them discover this subject that is seldom talked about in scripture.
As I went along I noticed the challenges to my interpretation came more frequently. But although they had evoked and revoked homosexuality from the pulpit they knew very little about it. This made the discussion curve toward my concepts that had been built in the fire of homophobic seminary students. Tired at last with losing the repartee they fell back on their spiritual mentor. This was an older, more experienced minister who acted as the spiritual guide. He intoned his wisdom that basically said take me with a grain of sand. I thought: I am a white boy in the midst of these black ministers who give reverence to this older pastor. I knew this was not a situation in which I would likely do well. A white younger man challenging the older black minister on his home turf was not a recipe for success. I was once again behind enemy lines. After two hours of this discussion I came away with a commitment from them to not join the cultural wars against homosexuality and give it as much prominence as the scriptures: seven passages amongst seventy two different books of the Bible. I also suggested they take the advice of Jesus, who never mentioned homosexuality. I also suggested we were to give everyone as much love as Jesus demanded we have for our neighbors.
I left this meeting feeling dirty and sad. So I took a long walk on the beach in the dark with nothing but the moon and stars to light my way. I listened to the constant rhythm of the waves beating the shore. And wondered would that be my fate? A wave constantly beating the unremitting beach. As I walked on the beach I watched by the light of the moon the crashing waves. Once the wave crashed it returned to the great ocean taking with it a little sand. One wondered what happens to the sand after the ocean captured it? Was the ocean changed or the sand? After a couple of hours in the darkness I drove home. I never received a thank-you.