Our Family Outing: A Memoir of Coming Out and Coming Through by Joe Cobb and Leigh Anne Taylor. I had picked up the book because I knew Joe Cobb in passing as he's the minister at a local church and I have attended other events where he was present. I read this book in preparation for the event tonight, and yet I was not prepared by how moved I would be by the story. It's the memoir of Joe and Leigh Anne, who had been married for 13 years when Joe admitted to his wife that he might be gay. It chronicles them both as they come to terms with his life-shattering announcement, share the news of the separation with their young children, and amazingly (over time) offer grace to one another, making a new vow upon their divorce that they would "speak and act in loving ways toward one another and about one another." They have honored their vow and exceeded all expectations. They remain friends even as they have found new partners. Leigh Anne is the godmother to one of Joe's two children with his partner, James.
While I know the subject of homosexuality (particularly within faith and the church) is a touchy subject, I have to admire the courage Joe and Leigh Anne both show in sharing their struggles in honest, open, and moving ways. I'm inspired by the way that faith has been a source of strength and support for them, in spite of Joe being required to step down from ministry in the United Methodist Church. After the hurt that the Church has inflicted upon those who struggle with a sexual identity outside the "norm", I am astounded that both Joe and Leigh Anne remain in ministry and speak with such tenderness on the faith that is central for them as individuals.
Growing up in a backward town, I was subjected to many stereotypes and prejudices, yet had very little personal experience to make up my own mind on a lot of issues. Seminary was my first real exposure to the "problem" of homosexuality, particularly as it is experienced in the church. It was discussed in classes and debated among classmates, especially as the governing body that funded us was drafting their own stance on the issue. According to one professor, it wasn't necessarily wrong to be homosexual (it could possibly have a genetic component), but it still remained a sin (according to the Bible) to act upon homosexual impulses. Thus, homosexuals should remain celibate. That seemed a little unfair to me, especially coming from this married, heterosexual man who didn't have to choose whether or not to act upon his love and desire. It reeked a little to me of the unfortunate concept practiced in many churches to "love the sinner, but hate the sin".
But really, aren't we all sinners? How is any one sin worse than another? Is it just when we can sigh with relief that the issue isn't one with which we struggle, and focusing on it allows us to remove the focus from our own failings? And really, who would CHOOSE a lifestyle that is so difficult, so outside what we consider the norm, when it causes so much heartbreak? If it is an innate identity, it is part of our created order, a part of our God-likeness that we shouldn't deny.
But the most compelling argument to me is not based on facts, but feeling. LOVE. There are times when I feel God's Spirit so close, when I feel the nod of heavenly assent...when grace and mercy and faith are so evident and strong. I felt that tonight, in the personal stories of Joe and Leigh Anne, and in the way the Spirit has brought them wisdom and discernment. It's much like the certainty of my own calling. I had no idea how controversial it would be to announce my ministry desires as a Southern Baptist woman, and yet, nothing could dissuade that gentle, fierce passion within. When I was questioned and doubted, I couldn't argue with the scriptures that stood against me, neither could I argue with the Truth of God's calling within my heart.
Faith, as Joe Cobb reminded me, is ultimately all about love. And that love is so strong that it casts out all fear.
May the Love of God continue to work in hearts and lives, uniting us in purpose so that it becomes about Love winning over fear. May it be so that the Gospel will not be equated with sin and fear, but with love, grace, mercy, and forgiveness.