The Power of Presence

This summer I attended my first gay wedding. Jon and I had been friends for 7 years, having first met while we were both part of an Exodus affiliated ministry in the States. In the years since then our lives have taken radically different paths. Two years ago he came to my wedding, flying from the Midwest to Portland, Oregon simply to be there with me on my big day. It was between the service and the reception that we sat down in a basement Sunday school room and he told me that he now had a boyfriend.

I knew then that our friendship would change. Up until that time it had been based on shared experiences and beliefs – beliefs that with the passage of time were changing for him. But I also knew that Jon was a friend that I cared deeply about and I was not going to let this hinder our friendship. So as I hugged him that day I promised him that we would always be friends.

Over the next few years we had a number of long talks, we debated theology and principles of hermeneutics, but also shared laughter and trust. We talked of our relationships and families, and even went on to be filmed for a documentary together. I watched the pain in his life as many of his Christian friends and even family members dropped out of his life.

At first I had questions about whether I should attend his wedding or not. But by the time the day rolled around I had settled that in my head. I felt strongly that as a friend and as a Christ follower for me not to have gone would have sent a message of conditional love. That wasn’t what I wanted. So my goal in attending was to simply be present and show my love for Jon and Chris as openly and genuinely as I could.

The night before the wedding my wife and I were invited to a dinner and bachelor party. At the dinner I found myself in the distinct minority of being the only guy at the table there with a girl. Many there were already friends of mine, but it made me aware of what it means to be in the minority. This was especially highlighted when others turned to me and asked “So what do you do for a living anyways?” But after a few tense moments of explaining, tongue firmly implanted in cheek, that I was “in the business of forcing gay people to become straight”, people around me laughed and began to relax, and ask questions. For several of the people there, the fact that as a conservative Christian I would be willing to travel and simply be there for an event like this meant that they were willing to listen to what I had to say. And as I respectfully shared, and more importantly listened to their stories and experiences, I was able to make new friends. I even got to help a couple people see that simply because they were gay didn’t mean that Christians had to treat them like jerks.

The wedding itself was done in the Quaker tradition, with the focus on silence and collective sharing. When my time came, I spoke words from my heart. Many there knew who I was from the documentary we did together, and I knew there was some tension at what I would say. By speaking words of honest grace and love, speaking of our friendship and the good that was in the two of them even in the known tension of our differing beliefs, I believe that I acted in good faith as a friend and a Christ follower. When I finally got to Jon and Chris in the receiving line, they both hugged me and told me how grateful they were that I had come, and how much it meant to them.

And then there was an awkward moment as I had to explain to them that I could not sign the guest registry. According to Quaker tradition, all those who did so were seen as officiates in the wedding, and my own vows and conscience prohibited me from doing so. For me it was the line in the sand I couldn’t cross in good faith. But Jon just smiled. Our friendship was built on respect, and he respected my own beliefs and limitations, and valued me for who I was, even as I valued him. “I’m just glad you’re here” he told me.

As I drove home I was full of mixed emotions, happy and sad all at once. Happy for the good things happening in Jon’s life, and happy for the friendship we still shared. Sad, at the same time, for the loss of shared values and beliefs. What I appreciated most was that Jon accepted all of those feelings in me that weekend, even as I accepted him. It occurred to me on the way home how many rich and meaningful conversations I got to have that weekend and that in many ways I had gotten to minister that weekend, sharing what I believe, caring for others and more… but that if I had gone seeing the weekend as an opportunity to minister I don’t think I would have been in the right place to do so at all. In the end it was my willingness to simply be present in Jon’s life with no strings attached that allowed me to both minister to others, and in truth be ministered to by others. And that is enough.

-BP

#dealingwithdisagreement #demonstratinglove

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