Andy is the Executive Director of the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns. His background is in communications: reporter, press secretary, and most recently, communications ministry at the UCC office in Cleveland, Ohio. Andy is gay and single.
How has your personal journey to self-realization as a gay man strengthened or challenged your faith?
Faith made it possible for me to be fully accepting. God’s love was just a concept in my life until I came out and then it became real.
I was talking to a straight friend, a pastor, who said, “I didn’t realize how self-actualized you had to be to be an out gay man.” She saw that what she took for granted, I couldn’t.
I came out when I was 40. It happened at a big LGBT rally in DC in 1993. I was standing in the crowd and the state delegations went by. At the head of each were people in military garb. That was when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell became our policy. I knew all these people were putting their careers on the line. I was proud of them and ashamed that I had been a coward all my life. I felt shame right then. Like a conversion, I lost my fear of coming out almost immediately
Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
Yes, the Jesus Prayer. The old version is “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me.” The short form can be as simple as, “Jesus, Mercy.”
It’s from the Eastern Orthodox tradition and is often coordinated with breathing. It has a physical effect and you can do it anywhere. I have Muslim prayer beads, a “tasbih.” (Andy pulled these from his pocket and showed them to me.) I pray the Jesus prayer touching each bead. That’s what I do.
What is one of the defining moments in your life as a Christian?
As much as I believed God loved me, it was that moment of coming out that I really grasped that God loved me completely. Who I was is God’s design and being gay is fully acceptable to Him. I was able to offer myself completely then to God.
Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?
A friend of mine lives victoriously with mental illness. The moral courage and spiritual stamina he shows!
He has fought for years for his mental health and wellbeing. He will not be defeated by poor diagnoses and suicide attempts. He finally got the right treatment so he has a brilliant career as a musician and is beloved by his church. He is a leader in his own right.
His faith has played a critical role in his ability to survive and grow. And he has a practical sense of what you need to get through what could be defeat. He is one of those people God sends you as an example and a friend.
In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the church?
Psalm 139, particularly, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13).”
What would you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?
I would quote Jesus’ Golden Rule: Do to others as you would want done to you. The corollary is in the Talmud: That which is hateful to you, do not do to others.
I ask, “How would you feel if your marriage, your capacity to love another human being or to raise a family were treated with the same contempt and opposed as fiercely as the marriage and families of LGBT people? How would that affect you, your marriage, or make your life different?”
What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?
One of the most important things is to stay grounded in one’s tradition and claim it as our own. I know there are many who see our traditions as the source of our oppression. But I think we can draw on our tradition.
The Christian tradition gives us powerful resources for not only our spiritual journey but also for our struggle for liberation. I find, when I am speaking from tradition to people for whom it is important, then I am able to connect with them in ways that I could not if I were attacking their tradition.
I want to find points of contact in our values and beliefs.