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Scott lived next door in my college dorm. He was friendly and outgoing, well-known and loved on campus, a gifted musician. Many expected he would pursue a musical career and make it big as a popstar. But he transferred from our school, I went to seminary and we lost touch. Two years later I heard rumors that Scott was gay, something I had never supposed. The rumors were surprising.
Scott lived north of Seattle and my first church was in Yakima. He traveled over the mountains to welcome me to Washington. At that time, he told me he was gay. He explained it would have been easier to not be gay, especially for his parents, but he had come to terms with it and his life was good.
A few months later, he called to ask for help. He had been summoned by the elders of his church to answer questions. We spent a couple of days examining the standards of the church, theological papers, and scripture. While he was eager for the challenge and thought he would enjoy the conversation, he was obviously stressed. He wanted to articulate his faith to the people who had shaped him, but he also knew they were not pleased.
After our study, we concluded he needed to be willing to admit that he was a sinner. With a sly smile, he said he was ready to confess to being a wretched sinner, like everyone else around the table. We also concluded he needed to be honest about his assurance of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. He said that would be easy.
Scott gave me a report of his meeting with the elders. He said the more he talked, the angrier they became. They didn’t appreciate that he confessed their sin. And they were much more hesitant about his salvation. They accused him of making a mockery of the Bible and said he was no longer welcome in their church.
They officially excommunicated him. On the next Sunday morning, his parents sat down in church and opened the bulletin, only to learn that their church had condemned their son.
Several months later he called to say he had AIDS. Within a few months he would be a guest on a local television show, representing the thousands at that time who were dying. I was one of the hosts who interviewed him. He admitted that he had been careless, which made him vulnerable to the disease. He was suffering and knew there was no cure. He also said, in the midst of suffering, he felt the presence and glory of Christ walking each step of the journey with him.
Scott died, and as we grieved, the fear, the misinformation, the moralism, and the judgmentalism continued. People wondered if it was possible to catch the disease at the visitation. There were logistical issues concerning where the funeral would be held. The only church in town large enough was the church that had excommunicated him. Out of respect for his parents, they agreed to host Scott’s funeral. But who would preside? Although he had been excommunicated by his home church, Scott had found a new church. His new pastor and I conducted the funeral. His former pastor, my colleague, who presided at his excommunication, sat in the back row.
I quoted from Romans 8, “It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ who died, or rather, who was raised, who is also at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ?”
Much time has passed and I find myself reflecting on how Scott has changed our lives. I will never forget listening to Scott’s father tell Scott’s partner at the funeral that he considered him his son. I watched Scott’s mother develop a ministry for others who were dying of AIDS. I went to a mountain retreat where men left their deathbeds to listen to this woman with a heart bigger than Mt. Rainier tell them that Jesus loves them. They sang “The Old Rugged Cross” with tears streaming down their faces.
I watched as my pastoral colleague wrestled with his decision. When he retired early for health reasons, he told me it was because of the mistake he made about Scott. Condemning a parishioner does damage to the soul of the pastor. About five years later I saw him again. His painful journey had found healing and peace with God. He looked twenty years younger.
Scott’s parents are still members of that church. I think of them when I hear stories of people leaving churches over music they don’t like. They stayed in a church that did them wrong, and in doing so have modeled more grace than they were given.
My church, the Reformed Church in America, is splintering. The Christian Reformed Church seems like it is about to. As we struggle to find a path forward, Scott’s parents have already shown us the way.
Well said. Thank you for this testimony. I wish everyone would read this.
Thanks you for sharing this touching story. Thank God for parents like Scott’s.
This brings tears of sorrow that we still can’t seem to comprehend just how deep and broad the love of God is and always has been and always will be. May the grace modeled by Scott’s parents abound in both of our denominations.
Thank you, Harlan.
Poignant and beautiful. Thank you for sharing Harlan.
Thank you, Harlan.
Three of the churches in the village I live in have gay pastors. I wish Scott could have received God’s love from any of them. I recognize the difficulty in the two denominations mentioned. I guess I just don’t “get it,” especially when Jesus didn’t even found a religion, let alone a denomination. He brought a new way of life, of being. Maybe I have an errant definition of love.
When a moral issue has a name and a face it all looks so very different. My understanding of the various expressions of human sexuality changed when I sat in a dimly lit hallway outside the blood lab of a major Toronto hospital. While my first wife was waiting to have blood drawn to determine the progress of her cancer treatments I looked around, recognized we were sitting together with AIDS patients anxious as we were, and I came to the sudden realization that mortality was the common denominator we were all dealing with. It had a great levelling and equalizing effect that remains with me to this day.
Thanks Harlan for this beautifully written rendition of a tragic but all too frequent story of someones life. I am crying on my 85th birthday because nearly 80 of those years are a version of Scotts story. The years of acute pain have morphed into a dull ache that never goes away.. thank you for enabling me to soak my pillow this morning. Thanks is inadequate. Don jiskoot
Thank YOU, Donald.
Thank you for the article. I am so sorry for Scott. I have often thought that no person would choose to be attracted to the same sex. Who would choose to be outcast? Would Scott have chosen to be excommunicated from his church? I do not think sexual orientation is something one chooses.
Scott’s story–enacted in a play written by a college professor–changed my life as a student at Northwestern College. Today, that play would not “play” well in our community, sadly. Thank you for being his pastor. Moreover, thank you for being his friend. Most of all, thank you for pointing us to God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
Harlan, thanks for this affirmation of God’s love for all persons! I, too, believe this deep in my heart. And I feel such deep sorrow over how this issue is tearing apart the RCA.
Thank you for your honesty and compassion- we are truly still living in divisive times and I am saddened by the hatred shown by Christians to each other. I am hoping and praying that we can put down the bows and arrows of discord and find love and compassion.
Thank you, Harlan.
Thank you, Harlan.