At the 2015 Conference in St. Louis, the following keynote speech was delivered by Dr. John Near, retired Professor Emeritus of Music at Principia College.
Emergence International 2015: “A glorious day is dawning”
Dr. John R. Near, Professor Emeritus of Music, Principia College
Good morning! I’d like to begin by reading Hymn 2 from the Christian Science Hymnal.
A glorious day is dawning, And o’er the waking earth
The heralds of the morning Are springing into birth.
In dark and hidden places There shines the blessed light;
The beam of Truth displaces The darkness of the night.
The advocates of error Foresee the glorious morn,
And hear in shrinking terror, The watchword of reform:
It rings from hill and valley, It breaks oppression’s chain.
A thousand free men rally, And swell the mighty strain.
The watchword has been spoken, The light has broken forth,
Far shines the blessed token Upon the startled earth.
To hearts and homes benighted The blessed Truth is given,
And peace and love, united, Point upward unto heaven.
I’m honored to speak to you today, and I guess it’s my life’s journey that has brought me here. As this address has evolved, I realized I had a lot to say, so I’ll break it into two 50-minute segments, with about a ten-minute pause mid-way through.
I chose this hymn because it bespeaks the dawning of freedom from chains of oppression. About three weeks ago, I visited the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, England. It’s a moving and unsettling documentation of the slave trade that blighted history for more than a century. Several poignant quotations are engraved on the museum’s walls that I find apropos to the freedom from discrimination and the quest for rights that LGBT people have been fighting for. Here are a four of them that span about two thousand, four hundred years:
—Thucydides, 4th century BC: “The secret of freedom [is] courage.”
—Epictetus, 2nd century AD: “Is freedom anything but the right to live as we wish? Nothing else.”
—Woodrow Wilson, 1912: “The history of liberty is a history of resistance.”
—Martin Luther King, 1963: “Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
I began writing this talk before the Supreme Court handed down the decision on marriage equality that changed our country. As I thought about what I might say today, I began to peruse my memory of growing up gay in an unaccepting society. Many distant feelings I thought I had buried or forgotten resurfaced — feelings of confusion, shame, embarrassment, fear, sadness, and even anger. At first it was distressing, but, ultimately, it has been a healing experience for me to be able to put these feelings into the perspective of how far LGBT rights have progressed since I was a young teenager. So, this is kind of an autobiographical retrospective. I’m going to relate some of the experiences I’ve faced, and some of them I’ve never spoken of before now. As I’ve reviewed them, I’ve seen how much I was forced to grow as a human being and, even more, as a Christian Scientist. I hope by the end of this talk we’ll be ever more grateful that we can live more liberated lives today.
As I began to write about the experiences I wanted to share, I realized that trying to sugarcoat them did not express the depth of hurt and damage they caused. Though exposing some painful episodes from the past, I want to express my fervent hope for healing in the present, that the culture of the past will not be that of the future. I know that everyone with the LGBT label has a compelling story to tell, and I know mine is not unique, though it is narrated from the vantage point of a lifelong Christian Scientist who had a deep desire to spend his career in service to the Christian Science Church and The Principia — whose stated mission is “to serve the Cause of Christian Science.”
Some of us in the audience have likely felt the scourge of discrimination, misunderstanding, and, I dare say, even hatred, because of our sexual orientation.
I recently came across a mother’s published letter in defense of her gay son. Fifteen years ago, in April 2000, Sharon Underwood from White River Junction, Vermont, wrote to the editor of the local Valley News. In the letter, she expressed her indignant anger at some Vermonters whose moralism had for years inflicted pain and torment on her young gay son. But the import of her letter is much broader, for it tells the story of thousands of LGBT youth trapped in communities where they still aren’t welcome. Her letter is so compelling that I want to read it.
“Many letters have been sent to the Valley News concerning the homosexual menace in Vermont. I am the mother of a gay son and I’ve taken enough from you good people.
“I’m tired of your foolish rhetoric about the “homosexual agenda” and your allegations that accepting homosexuality is the same thing as advocating sex with children. You are cruel and ignorant. You have been robbing me of the joys of motherhood ever since my children were tiny.
“My firstborn son started suffering at the hands of the moral little thugs from your moral, upright families from the time he was in the first grade. He was physically and verbally abused from first grade straight through high school because he was perceived to be gay.
“He never professed to be gay or had any association with anything gay, but he had the misfortune not to walk or have gestures like the other boys. He was called “fag” incessantly, starting when he was 6.
“In high school, while your children were doing what kids that age should be doing, mine labored over a suicide note, drafting and redrafting it to be sure his family knew how much he loved them. My sobbing 17-year-old tore the heart out of me as he choked out that he just couldn’t bear to continue living any longer, that he didn’t want to be gay and that he couldn’t face a life without dignity.
“You have the audacity to talk about protecting families and children from the homosexual menace, while you yourselves tear apart families and drive children to despair. I don’t know why my son is gay, but I do know that God didn’t put him, and millions like him, on this Earth to give you someone to abuse. God gave you brains so that you could think, and it’s about time you started doing that.
“At the core of all your misguided beliefs is the belief that this could never happen to you, that there is some kind of subculture out there that people have chosen to join. The fact is that if it can happen to my family, it can happen to yours, and you won’t get to choose. Whether it is genetic or whether something occurs during a critical time of fetal development, I don’t know. I can only tell you with an absolute certainty that it is inborn.
“If you want to tout your own morality, you’d best come up with something more substantive than your heterosexuality. You did nothing to earn it; it was given to you. If you disagree, I would be interested in hearing your story, because my own heterosexuality was a blessing I received with no effort whatsoever on my part. It is so woven into the very soul of me that nothing could ever change it. For those of you who reduce sexual orientation to a simple choice, a character issue, a bad habit or something that can be changed by a 10-step program, I’m puzzled. Are you saying that your own sexual orientation is nothing more than something you have chosen, that you could change it at will? If that’s not the case, then why would you suggest that someone else can? . . .
“You invoke the memory of the brave people who have fought on the battlefield for this great country, saying that they didn’t give their lives so that the “homosexual agenda” could tear down the principles they died defending. My 83-year-old father fought in some of the most horrific battles of World War II, was wounded and awarded the Purple Heart.
“He shakes his head in sadness at the life his grandson has had to live. He says he fought alongside homosexuals in those battles, that they did their part and bothered no one. One of his best friends in the service was gay, and he never knew it until the end, and when he did find out, it mattered not at all. That wasn’t the measure of the man.
“You religious folk just can’t bear the thought that as my son emerges from the hell that was his childhood he might like to find a lifelong companion and have a measure of happiness. It offends your sensibilities that he should request the right to visit that companion in the hospital, to make medical decisions for him or to benefit from tax laws governing inheritance.
“How dare he?” you say. “These outrageous requests would threaten the very existence of your family, would undermine the sanctity of marriage.”
“You use religion to abdicate your responsibility to be thinking human beings. There are vast numbers of religious people who find your attitudes repugnant.”
And Mrs. Underwood concluded, “God is not for the privileged majority, and God knows my son has committed no sin.” This is an amazing letter! It embodies the very spirit in those four quotations I read from the International Slavery Museum.
I’m grateful that societal norms are changing sufficiently enough today that the LGBT community can emerge from under the shadows of the negative stigma that has denigrated so many. In early July, after the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality, while in Philadelphia I joyed to see some crosswalks painted by the city in rainbow colors. And, of course, we all saw buildings across the country bathed with rainbow colored lights—even the White House — and wasn’t it a sight to celebrate! Yet, LGBT folks are still not completely out of the woods. Evangelicals and those politicians courting their vote are continuing to express some of the same discriminatory, hateful ideology and rhetoric that the LGBT community has long had to face.
In a May 10 article in the Christian Science Monitor, one can read that many politicians “expressed support for a constitutional amendment that would allow states to re-ban gay marriage if the Supreme Court recognizes a right to such unions.” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said, “If for some reason they don’t [re-ban gay marriage] . . . I believe it’s reasonable for the people of America to consider a constitutional amendment that would affirm the ability of states to do just that.” This is precisely the kind of discriminatory ideology that continues to denigrate LGBT people.
Another example is that of the Rev. Franklin Graham who, on June 9, called for a boycott of the Wells Fargo Bank because it released an ad that depicts a loving lesbian couple learning sign language before adopting a deaf child. Rev. Graham cited this as evidence of the “tide of moral decay that is being crammed down our throats by big business, the media, and the gay & lesbian community.” Graham wrote of his boycott, “This is one way we as Christians can speak out—we have the power of choice. Let’s just stop doing business with those who promote sin and stand against Almighty God’s laws and His standards.” Of course, Rev. Graham got burned because he did move his money to another bank, “a good solid bank,” as he described it. That bank turned out to be a big supporter of gay rights and the Miami Beach Gay Pride Parade. I think that was an “Oops moment” for the Reverend!
I don’t see that the strength of the family is under threat by marriage equality, as some may argue. Rather, it is now supported by legality, as demonstrated by countless married gay couples that are raising children successfully. Former Mississippi Governor Ronnie Musgrove, who in 2000 had signed into law a ban barring homosexual couples from adopting a child, stated recently: “I believed at the time this was a principled position based on my faith. But I no longer believe it was right.” The governor continued, “As I have gotten older, I came to understand that a person’s sexual orientation has absolutely nothing to do with their ability to be a good parent.”
The use of religion to garner support against basic human rights is wrong. Appealing to a person’s faith-based beliefs and opinions to trample basic human rights is wrong. I am not the bigoted Christian of whom Reverend Graham speaks; in no way does that Christian represent me. The psychological and emotional scarring of the LGBT community by condemnation in the name of God and religion is deep—so deep, in fact, that many struggling with their sexual orientation have chosen suicide as a way out. I do not accept that God created LGBT people with an inherent flaw requiring “reparative therapy,” “reprogramming,” or “healing.” Yet, it’s this societal judgment, often faith-based, that causes lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth to attempt suicide up to four times more than their heterosexual peers. And on May 10 the Monitor reported this shocking statistic: “40% of transgender people try to commit suicide compared to 1.6% of the general population.”
I was deeply moved when the people of Ireland voted “yes” on the same-sex marriage referendum on May 22, 2015. Yet, as wonderful as that was, I’m grateful that social justice in the United States is founded on Constitutional principles—principles that are being interpreted to protect all citizens from discrimination, repression, and assaults on personal dignity. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority ruling for marriage equality, stated that the Constitution grants dignity to same-sex couples in their right to marry under the law. By excluding them from legal marriage, he said that governments inflict “dignitary wounds,” that they demean and stigmatize such couples, “disparage their choices and diminish their personhood.” It is on this foundation that the majority of the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality on June 26, 2015—certainly one of the most dramatic and historic decisions since that which legalized interracial marriage back in 1967. Just a few years ago, it seemed almost unthinkable that legal protections would be extended to gay men and lesbians, whose sexual orientation, expressed physically, was widely considered a crime, as well as a sin.
I suspect we all know the historical facts of the gay rights movement. Only in June 1969, the police raids on gay bars in New York City — specifically the Stonewall Inn — set off spontaneous and violent demonstrations that popularized the slogan, “Out of the closet and into the streets.” The following year, marchers walked up San Francisco’s Polk Street, and in 1972 this event became a parade that is now celebrated in many countries around the world on Gay Pride Day. These events were only some forty-five years ago—well within my memory. Hate crimes and discriminatory practices have been rampant throughout the world. While I was coming of age, United States laws criminalized gay sex and interracial unions.
Throughout my life, dodging the label of being gay became almost an art form. I have known where my attractions lay since I was very young, though initially I certainly didn’t know what to call it. Furthermore, I had no idea that at the time homosexuality was considered a mental illness, and that people considered it deviant, immoral, and against God’s law. Mostly, in my little rural farm-belt hometown in central Illinois, the topic of homosexuality was never mentioned. One of the first times I felt the scourge of the homosexual label came in 1968 when my family went to see a movie called “The Detective,” starring Frank Sinatra. It was one of the first Hollywood films to have an openly gay character, and one scene showed the police rounding up a group of young gay men. I looked at the trailer recently, and gays are routinely referred to as “perverts.” Barely outside the theatre, my father proclaimed that he was sure “none of those people live in our town.” I was suddenly introduced to the sting of condemnation and shame that went with being gay, and I knew from that moment I had to hide it. In the following decades before their passing, I never talked to my parents about my orientation.
During my four years as a student at Principia College in the late 1960s, I know now that at least a half dozen of my best friends were gay, though we never knew or discussed it at the time. So taboo was the subject that it just could not be mentioned. Pejorative remarks about gays were common; the stigma, shame, and fear of being found out were crushing to me. In those days at the College, all men had to have dates for every social event. I was always uncomfortable on those occasions because I knew for me it was a charade, and I felt sorry for my date. If you can imagine, everyone had to post the name of his date on the dorm bulletin board. One of my straight roommates was so incensed with this demeaning requirement that he invited an elderly single faculty woman. Professor Ann Putcamp taught Old Testament and was a noted Bible scholar; she had been present when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered about 1946, and we students thought she might have been the model for the great sphinx! It was really quite humorous when she accepted my roommate’s invitation to the upcoming dance, and he proudly put her name on the bulletin board as his date. I got to know Ann quite well a few years later while working in Boston, and she always giggled about that date with my roommate.
I graduated from Principia at the height of the Vietnam War. When I went for my military physical, in those days it would have been easy to get exempted from service by simply checking the box avowing that one was a “homosexual.” But again, the shame and stigma of being identified, carrying that label on my military record, and knowing my parents might find out, was enormous. I just could not do it. I hated the term “homosexual,” and I must say that, even today, I greatly dislike the term because of all the negative connotations it evokes through my life and memory. A few months after I passed the physical, I did get exempted from military service, but it was because of the draft lottery.
Subsequently, in 1970 I moved to Boston where I had recently been appointed a substitute organist of The Mother Church. I also wanted to pursue my Master’s degree at the New England Conservatory of Music. This turned out to be one of the most fortuitous events in my life, for it was there that I met a fellow organ student from Fresno, California, who was to become my life partner. Though I did not know it at first, it turned out that Aran was also a life-long Christian Scientist and had been his branch church’s organist since his mid teens. A personable and highly accomplished individual, he served his branch church in almost every capacity over the years. Everyone in his church adored him. But, like myself, he had to hide his orientation from his church and the community. By the end of the school year we had secretly become a couple and decided to commit our lives to one another. We bought rings and went down to New York City for a few days. On May 6, 1973, we entered Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, went to a little chapel off one of the side aisles, affirmed our love for each other, exchanged the rings, and lit a candle together. In the sight of God, here were two life-long, class-taught Christian Scientists celebrating a same-sex union to one another in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral — in 1973! I still wear the ring he gave me, as it symbolizes our beautiful union of “kindred tastes, motives, and aspirations,” as Mrs. Eddy so eloquently states in Science and Health (p. 60:4). For 29½ years, we remained faithful partners and shared all of life’s precious experiences until he passed away prematurely on his 58th birthday, now 13 years ago. Without any hesitation, I can say we had a wonderful “marriage,” and I use that term “marriage” purposely, because it was a beautiful marriage in spirit, if not legally. We always felt that God had brought us together because in no other way could we see how it would have happened; it was the gift of grace. As Mrs. Eddy tells us in Science and Health, “The miracle of grace is no miracle to Love” (p. 494:15). Yet, because of norms in society, our Church, and our work places, we had to live our union in secret, under the shadow of bigotry and discrimination — covering up our relationship and even denying it to those who occasionally pointed suspecting fingers our way — but we were together and that’s all that mattered to us. If Aran were alive today, there is no question that we would be legally married and in our 43rd year together. Legal marriage for same-sex couples not only brings equal rights in the eyes of the law, but the sanctity and protections that marriage assures.
When I completed my definitive biography of the French composer Charles-Marie Widor, I dedicated it to Aran, though it is with great regret that at the time of the book’s publication in 2011, I could only write on the dedication page: “To the memory of my dear friend Aran Vartanian.” I was still employed at Principia College and I knew that I could not write the personal dedication I would have preferred. Today, I should like to change this: “To my dear life partner Aran Vartanian.” I am telling you all this because, until after my departure from Principia, I could never talk openly about our relationship. So this is somewhat healing for me now to be able to acknowledge him and our wonderful life together. It was the greatest tragedy of my life when he passed on. I had to grieve in private, for I could tell no one about us — and this, after almost thirty years together. It is only in the past couple of years that I have been able to talk openly about Aran, and each time it has brought on emotions too long pent up. To negotiate decades of condemnation, discrimination, and fear of reprisal is something no one should have to do. Thankfully everyone is now free to love whomever they want and to be legally married. Certainly, a lot of lingering bigotry in some corners of society requires further legal protections for LGBT folks, but we’ve come a long way. While I’m grateful to have seen this progress in my lifetime, I can’t help feeling sad that there are countless generations of gay Americans who didn’t live to see this day, including my dear partner — and I really should say “my husband,” for he would be today.
Now I’d like to go back to my years in Boston for a moment because they represent a time in the history of the Christian Science Movement that I witnessed first hand. Some of you may not know that there was a time from about 1925 to 1950 when the Christian Science Journal indicated “colored” after the names of black practitioners and black Christian Science churches; this is an historical fact that should not be swept under the carpet. I was a member of one of the large St. Louis city churches for a number of years; there was an elderly African-American member who recalled the time when black congregants were seated in the back of the church —a practice not at all in consonance with the teachings of Christian Science. When I knew her, she proudly sat in the front of the church. Mrs. Eddy wrote of the “battles” won by the “defenders of the rights of the colored man,” and she foresaw a fuller liberty to come. She writes in The People’s Idea of God (pp. 10–11), “The rights of man were vindicated but in a single instance when African slavery was abolished on this continent, yet that hour was a prophecy of the full liberty of the sons of God as found in Christian Science [emphasis added].” Many times she refers to the “rights of man” and “human rights.” Now, I would like to ask, “Whence came racial prejudice, discrimination, and segregation in our Church?” Like the non-acceptance of homosexuals, these unacceptable historical behaviors may reflect the times in which they took place, but I find no approval for them in the teachings of Mary Baker Eddy or Christ Jesus. Our Church’s perspective on racial injustices has evolved and it has made significant progress in overcoming the wider legacy of that era. However, it is time for the Christian Science Church to place any perceived non-acceptance of openly LGBT individuals into the dustbin of history!
I lived in Boston for fifteen years (1970–1985). In addition to earning my Master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music and a Doctorate from Boston University, I was Associate Organist of The Mother Church. I played all my graduate degree recitals on the organ in the Extension. I played for hundreds of services, appeared on recordings, and, for a period of time, I gave monthly noon organ concerts in the Extension. I strove to bring the highest standard of “musical excellence,” as Mrs. Eddy calls for in the Manual of The Mother Church (p. 61:21), to everything I did. And I am particularly proud of my double-CD, “The Boston Years,” containing some of the recordings I made at The Mother Church during that period.
What I’m about to relate took place while I was in Boston. It is very difficult to talk about, but it’s indicative of that part of the Church’s past culture that I pray will never be repeated in the future. Starting in the mid-1970s, a dissident church member sent out several bulk mailings highly critical of The Mother Church’s officers and many of its activities. Among his many charges was that numerous homosexuals were serving in various capacities at the Church Center. While his assertions were true, not one of the individuals I knew was “out” — really an impossibility for anyone working at the Church Headquarters. However, an inquisition was soon conducted in an effort to ferret out all possible homosexuals. The Christian Science Board of Directors appointed a top official at the Church Center to conduct the investigation. He happened to be a long-time close friend of my family, and I had known him and his family since I was a little boy. I was among those called in and questioned as to whether or not one suspected individual with whom I worked closely had ever made inappropriate advances toward me, and whether or not I knew of any homosexuals working at the Church Center. This wonderful family friend admitted that having to question me about this was very painful for him. I loved the Church and my work there, and although no one had ever made inappropriate advances toward me, I did know several gay employees. I thus found myself lying to him in order to maintain the appearance of what seemed acceptable to the Church’s position. This was deeply troubling and humiliating to me, and the aura of fear created by this investigation was palpable. I knew of several others who were also called in, and they were deeply affronted by this investigation. Whereas it is admirable to put the love of one’s Church above all personal considerations, being forced to lie about oneself and others in order to serve is no small matter in view of Christian Science teachings where Mrs. Eddy tells us in Science and Health, “Honesty is spiritual power” (p. 453:16). Unfortunately, in many cultures around the world today, LGBT individuals are often forced to lie and conceal their orientation under the threat of severe persecution or even death.
About the same time, a student in The Mother Church Sunday School, whom I only vaguely knew, mentioned me in a testimony one Wednesday evening when I was playing the organ. I was mortified when this student said he was glad to have come to the service to hear John Near play the organ. My Christian Science teacher soon called me in because of rumors that this young man and I were “involved,” which was absolutely untrue. But, as we know, that’s the nature of malicious gossip. A practitioner once quoted to me: “A lie can travel half way round the world before the truth has got its shoes on.” I was embarrassed to be counseled by my teacher to “express your manhood,” as he put it. At the conclusion of the inquiry during this time, at the Annual Meeting of The Mother Church, a member of the Board of Directors made this pronouncement: “There are no known homosexuals working at The Mother Church.” Many of us cringed. Some held highly visible positions at the Church Center. These men and women were deeply committed, well-respected Christian Scientists honorably serving the Church they loved in their respective professional areas. Yet, to know that if any of us had been discovered, the result would have been condemnation, immediate dismissal, disrupted careers, and ruined reputations. I was terrified of being found out. I was giving the best I had to offer, and yet I felt branded and spurned by my Church. I so wanted to live up to the high expectations of Christian Science, but now I felt burdened by the heavy weight that I could never be good enough. It took me some time to reconcile the condemnation I felt from the Church with the truth of God’s unconditional love for all His children. I had to gain the spiritual understanding of my goodness, but once I found it, I’ve never doubted again.
I was recently in London with friends at the Royal Albert Hall café before the evening concert. We sat at the only table available. Someone had left behind a paperback book; it was the novel Maurice by E.M. Forster, written in 1914 about a gay man. I glanced at the Introduction, and I could hardly believe what I was reading. In it, Forster explained, “The man in my book is, roughly speaking, good, but Society nearly destroys him, he nearly slinks through his life furtive and afraid, and burdened with a sense of sin.” Forster was describing exactly what I had felt, living under the shadow of condemnation from society and the Church. I’ve since read the entire novel and found it deeply moving. I don’t think my finding that abandoned book was an accident!
Then, only a few days ago, a close friend with whom I went through Christian Science class instruction wrote to me: “I really think that the Church’s stance on homosexuality caused a lot of unnecessary grief for way too many of us for too many years. I’m just glad that I finally, at the age of 45, realized that I was actually a good person, while being gay!” My friend, now twenty-three years later, is legally married to his partner of over twenty years. I can’t help drawing the comparison between the man in Forster’s book, my friend, and myself—and undoubtedly untold numbers just like us. We each had to find our innate goodness, when society and the Church were putting the weight of sin on us.
I’m sure you all know that articles condemning homosexuality and same-sex relationships in the harshest terms began to appear in the Christian Science periodicals in the 1960s. The earliest article appeared in 1962, and it referred to the “vile, Scripturally condemned practice of homosexuality.” Just ten years later, as the understanding of sexual orientation evolved, the American Psychiatric Association ruled homosexuality not to be a mental disorder. Articles continued in the 1970s, but it was in November 1980 that a highly explicit article was published in the Christian Science Journal, titled: “Only one kind of man.” (It was translated into French and also appeared in Le Héraut in April 1981.) The article was directed specifically to homosexuals, and I will never forget the shocking effect it had on me. The author was a Christian Science teacher of repute; he referred to “the problem of homosexuality” over and over again as “aberration,” “deviation,” “perversion,” “sexual indulgence,” “abnormality,” and many more such unseemly labels. He equated homosexuality with “error” and “evil.” The Church’s anti-gay policy was made abundantly clear by such statements as the following: “Abnormality, indulged, distorts the values of the human mind. It is like a dark cloud obscuring the sun. It obscures the light. It blurs reason and perpetuates confusion”; “homosexuality leaves to the institution of the human family no legacy of improvement”; “Science decries sexual deviation”; “For Christian Science to accept homosexuality as a legitimate and permanent state would be a great disservice to those afflicted by it, and inconsistent with the Christian Science teachings of healing and redemption”; “Such relationships have no reasonable defense but are delusive, because they are not natural or normal”; “Christian Science insists that homosexuality is healable, because it has no more validity than any other erroneous state.”
Everything in this article indicated that inherent homosexual orientation was outside God’s plan, that gay people were damaged at best, mentally ill at the worst, and in desperate need of “healing.” But healing into what? Heterosexuality? Celibacy? Asexuality? The author pointed to the former by explaining, “the multiplication or generation of man takes place through sexual activity. This is the normal outcome of the sex act.” Clearly, there was no latitude whatever for the kind of loving, faithful relationship Aran and I had — at that point for over seven years. I leave it for you to ponder the impact of this article, sanctioned by the Church.
While some may think all this represents the culture of the past, and I believe in large part that it does, I know of some Christian Science teachers, practitioners and church members who still subscribe to these strident homophobic views. I would feel culpable if I did not stand up here now and challenge this ideology, and implore that healing is still needed to right the heinous wrong of discrimination wherever and in whatever form it exists, and especially in our Church. How do we do it? I see no other solution than to “love more for every hate,” as Mrs. Eddy tells us in her “Mother’s Evening Prayer.”
At one point I thought I might teach Sunday School, but I was told by the superintendent of The Mother Church Sunday School how I would have to respond if a student ever asked about homosexuality; she instructed me, “Homosexuality is not in keeping with Christian Science.” Years later, during the interview for membership in a branch church I soon joined, a church member elicited my thoughts on the question of homosexuality; I glossed over it in order to become a member. I relate these experiences because the Church I love, and have spent my entire life serving, has caused me moments of despair, enormous anguish, and sometimes self-condemnation. It may seem remarkable that I have remained a Christian Scientist. But the fact is that I have endured the very real culture of condemnation, humiliation and shame directed towards homosexuals because I could not imagine leaving Christian Science. Still, over many years I have known a number of gay Christian Scientists who did leave, because the Church’s condemnation of them prevailed over their devotion to Christian Science. I had a personal choice to make, and over time I learned to separate the Church organization and what I heard being espoused by some of its adherents from what I gleaned in the beautiful, non-judgmental writings of our dear Leader, Mary Baker Eddy. I love Christian Science, and I’ve seen its truths demonstrated in my own and others’ experiences too often to leave its teachings.
There have been many instances, as in the aforementioned Christian Science Journal article, when statements from the Bible and the writings of Mrs. Eddy have been selectively quoted to support the condemnation of homosexuality. We have all heard, and still hear, the clarion cry that “homosexuality is wrong because the Bible says so.” This kind of degrading language based on biblical passages is not only applied to homosexuals, but also to women. For instance, I Corinthians 14:34, 35:
“Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.”
Had Mrs. Eddy felt bound by this biblical mandate in the New Testament — and thank God she didn’t follow it — we would not have Christian Science!
I recently read the book of Leviticus straight through, and I was struck by how judgmental it is in condemning all sorts of “uncleanness” and “abominations,” and especially how such cases are to be punished. Those who condemn homosexuality cite two familiar verses from Leviticus as their rationale: 18:22 and 20:13, the first of which reads: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” And the second reference punishes those who commit such an “abomination” with this sentence: “they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.” The Christian Science Sunday Bible Lesson has included the first passage in the past, though I’m glad not to have seen it for a few years. Although Leviticus’s condemnation of homosexuality is often cited, there are a couple of other verses we don’t hear espoused by Bible-thumping evangelicals, and certainly the penalties affixed to them are never executed, at least not in our culture:
Lev. 20:10–11 “[T]he man that committeth adultery with another man’s wife . . . the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”
Lev. 24:16 “[H]e that blasphemeth the name of the Lord, he shall surely be put to death, and all the congregation shall certainly stone him.”
It should more often be asked of zealots pointing to biblical authority: “If homosexuality is wrong because it goes against God’s law, why are any number of activities once regarded as unacceptable now viewed as less offensive?” To use a rigid interpretation of scripture to pick and choose what one wishes to condemn, while ignoring other scriptural passages that affirm social practices no one condones today, completely invalidates the argument.
The day after the Supreme Court issued its decision on marriage equality, I saw a cartoon showing an angel standing on a cloud, looking down to earth and saying over his shoulder to God: “Boss, the zealots are calling for lightning strikes on the Supreme Court.” God answers, “Tell ’em all I’ve got in stock today are rainbows.”
A few years ago a letter to commentator Laura Schlessinger went viral when it pointed out many inconsistencies between the Bible and present-day acceptance. Most seem humorous today, but here’s a statement to consider from Exodus 35:1–2:
“And Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said unto them, These are the words which the Lord hath commanded, that ye should do them. Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the Lord: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death” [emphasis added].
We recognize this as a parallel to the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8–11). But we don’t read of anyone in our culture being put to death for working on Sunday.
There are too many such biblical statements to point out that were written to address some ancient context, but I have always had particular disdain for these kinds of judgments because they demonstrate how one can use the Bible to justify almost anything. Cherry-picking biblical quotations for partisan purposes is more than suspect. I love the First Tenet of Christian Science: “As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired [emphasis added] Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life” (Science and Health, p. 497:3–4). And I emphasize the adjective, “inspired”; for me, Mrs. Eddy’s inclusion of that word certainly has significance.
I have often pondered, with great comfort, the following statements by Mrs. Eddy in the chapter on “Marriage” from Science and Health: “Union of the masculine and feminine qualities [emphasis added] constitutes completeness” (p. 57:3–4). And a few lines later she writes, “The attraction between native qualities [emphasis added] will be perpetual only as it is pure and true, bringing sweet seasons of renewal like the returning spring.” (p. 57:11–14). I love how she references qualities in these statements. She explained in Science and Health, “I won my way to absolute conclusions through divine revelation, reason, and demonstration” (p. 109:20–22). Although she may not have seen the breadth of meaning that can be inferred from some of her statements, divine revelation certainly did, and for me there are a number of statements in Science and Health applicable to same-sex unions. Here are a few that especially stand out to me:
— “Unselfish ambition, noble life-motives, and purity,—these constituents of thought, mingling, constitute individually and collectively true happiness, strength, and permanence” (p. 58:7–11).
— “Fulfilling the different demands of their united spheres, their sympathies should blend in sweet confidence and cheer, each partner sustaining the other,—thus hallowing the union of interests and affections, in which the heart finds peace and home” (p. 59:11–16).
— “Kindred tastes, motives, and aspirations are necessary to the formation of a happy and permanent companionship” (p. 60:4–6).
— “The scientific morale of marriage is spiritual unity” (p. 61:30–31).
— “Marriage should signify a union of hearts” (p. 64:17).
— “Each successive stage of experience unfolds new views [emphasis added] of divine goodness and love” (p. 66:14–16).
In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy tells us, “Christian Science presents unfoldment” (p. 68:27). Although the Christian Science Church’s current position on homosexuality seems to be one of not taking an explicit position, I think there is definite evidence of “unfoldment” in the February 2014 Christian Science Journal where the Christian Science Board of Directors issued a statement titled: “What is The Mother Church’s policy on sexuality and membership?” Their response to this question does not directly refer to homosexuality, but I think it can be seen to encompass it. I will speak more about this later. In any case, the Board’s recent statement “unfolds new views” that are a far cry from those published in the Christian Science periodicals in past decades. I hope and pray that the old rhetoric will never to be repeated.
This year there have been countless excellent articles about LGBT issues in the Christian Science Monitor, an official publication by The Mother Church. The May 10 Monitor quotes psychologist Marco Hidalgo, who says, “There’s a growing understanding that being transgender is just another normal variation of human diversity.” I would like to expand this statement to include each part of the L-G-B-T label; in other words, each one is “just another normal variation of human diversity.” This accepted, I would add that within whatever “normal variation of human diversity” a Christian Scientist may find him or her self, it is adherence to moral standards in relationships and the quest for greater spiritual understanding that are normal.
“New views” have been unfolding beyond all imagining, and I believe this leavening in human thought must eventually abolish faith-based bigotry. As I stated at the beginning of this talk, I want to express my fervent hope for healing in the present, that the culture of the past will not be that of the future. [10-minute pause]
In 1985 when I applied for a faculty position at Principia College, the issue of sexual orientation again presented itself. A faculty member, who later admitted to me that he saw nothing wrong with homosexual relationships and had in fact toyed with one, had sown seeds of suspicion about me. When the College president brought it up during my interview, I told him very directly that he did not have to worry about any inappropriate behavior with any students. By then, I was in a committed and very secure relationship for over twelve years; the sanctity and solidity of that relationship precluded my having any interest in an outside dalliance. Furthermore, it was my conviction that my personal life was completely private; it was none of Principia’s, or anyone else’s, business. I had come to know that the kind of love my partner and I shared was ennobling, not degrading, and that what others might have called “perversion” was in reality their perversion — a perversion that caustically denied an essential part of human inheritance. Aran’s and my relationship in no way inhibited our spiritual growth, but enhanced it as we often read, discussed, and studied Christian Science together. After my Christian Science teacher passed on, I attended Aran’s Christian Science Association with him for many years. Christian Science was a vital part of our relationship, and it only brought us closer together.
At the end of my interview at Principia, a senior faculty member who had been my academic advisor many years earlier came to see me at the Principia Guest House the morning I was to leave. Because of the gossip swirling about, he quizzed me about my sexual orientation; I found all this terribly uncomfortable and really quite offensive. I determined that I would not go to work at Principia College. It was clear to me that Principia was not my right place. However, just before I left, a member of the Music Department phoned me at the Guest House and said she really hoped I would accept the position, and the Dean of Faculty called me upon my return to Boston to make an offer. It was with great hesitancy that I accepted, but I decided to try it for one academic term only—maintaining my apartment in Boston. For me, Principia was on trial; among other things, I didn’t know if I could survive the homophobic and judgmental atmosphere. Of course, I ended up staying for twenty-eight years, and I would have remained longer had this issue been resolved earlier by the Principia Trustees.
I want to tell you about something very special that occurred upon my return to Boston after my interview. I was conversing in general terms with a Christian Science teacher about my doubts of taking a position at Principia College. I will never forget that he told me very directly, “Don’t go if you have to compromise your integrity.” A couple of weeks later, I found out that he was a Principia trustee. That’s what I call integrity!
I decided more important than my orientation was service to the Cause of Christian Science and Principia’s mission. I wasn’t going to run around waving a rainbow flag, and I think people saw me as a regular faculty member serving with distinction, which was certainly my intention. In the end, that is what put me in the perfect position to become the voice for change after I left Principia; I had earned credibility, trust, and respect. With the motive to bless, I have found that one can speak out on deeply affecting issues, and people will listen. A question I suggested that the academic deans ask of all faculty and staff leaving Principia’s employ is: “How are you leaving Principia better than you found it?” Although I can point to numerous significant professional and academic achievements and contributions, perhaps my greatest has been to help move Principia off its homophobic position.
On December 3, 2013, in my Open Letter to the Principia Community, I asked:
“What is Principia doing to help its students who may be confused and feeling outcast over their orientation?” “How is Principia answering their questions and needs in a positive, non-condemnatory manner?”
Christian Scientists need to be the most loving, understanding, compassionate, and supportive adults that young people can find. I had heard that a gay student was told he needed healing. From my own experience, I know this is a crushing verdict to place on a young person struggling with sexual orientation. Although there have been testimonies by some who claim to have been healed of homosexuality, I know a number of gay Christian Scientists who prayed diligently for many years, often with the engagement of a Christian Science practitioner, about being healed, only to give it up as fruitless. For me, the healing needed is that of faith-based prejudice and condemnation of sexual orientation that differs from the majority.
During all my years at Principia, there were many challenges regarding this issue, but I came to make it as much a non-issue as possible by concealing my orientation. While this was uncomfortable and unpleasant, I decided to do it for the greater good. Whenever the topic was raised on surveys sent out by students or classes dealing with social issues, I remained silent, fearful that any comment might be traced back to me. Over the years, several gay faculty and staff members moved on — or were moved on — and I might have done so also, except for the fact that I loved teaching and supporting the Cause of Christian Science through my work with students at Principia. I saw the future of the Christian Science Movement in those students, and I was willing to make personal sacrifices to make a contribution to their intellectual, moral, and spiritual growth. At the same time, I will again acknowledge that I had the most loving, understanding, and supportive partner imaginable through those years. We cherished each other and our life aspirations together, but as a concession we agreed that there would be periods of time when we wouldn’t be together. This was a huge sacrifice, but we reasoned we would have to make it because we both wanted to support Christian Science by working within our Church. Aran fully supported my desire to be at Principia, and an openly gay relationship was simply out of the question. When we committed to each other, we couldn’t have imagined that we would knit together nearly thirty years of treasured experiences, but largely in secret.
Now, I want to fast forward to the end of my Principia career and what led up to my Open Letter to the Principia Community. Over the years the students had become increasingly opposed to Principia’s anti-gay position. General social acceptance and tolerance was advancing, but Principia was not. Discussion was stifled or overruled with selected biblical and Christian Science platitudes. However, vocal support for ending the non-acceptance of gays peaked with a student sit-in in the School of Government in April 2013. The students drew up a petition requesting a change in Principia’s practices. It is important to point out that there was no official “Principia Policy,” only some wording added at some point to the student and faculty Handbooks; also, Human Resources selectively told prospective hires: “This institution does not knowingly hire homosexuals”; and then applicants were asked, “are you in line with this policy?”
I was the Creative Arts and Communications Unit Head, and I held the distinguished William Martin and Mina Merrill Prindle Professor of Fine Arts endowed chair. I had reached the point in my career where I was ready to take a personal stand — but only somewhat. I signed the students’ petition, an act I thought innocuous enough. A few days later at a Faculty Leadership dinner, which included the College Unit Heads, one faculty member asked the College president about the advisability of signing that petition. It was against College policy to support any gay agenda, and that had pretty much kept the lid on any dissention from faculty and staff. The president voiced the party line, cautioning, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” For me, that was a defining moment. I felt I could no longer tolerate homophobic discrimination. I had suffered long enough and it had to end for me personally. Perhaps I subconsciously recalled the advice given to me by that Principia trustee twenty-eight years earlier, not to compromise my integrity.
Although I had signed a contract for the 2013–14 year, within a few days I submitted my resignation in the guise of “retirement.” I still did not make my reasons known to the administration because I decided it would be best to finish my distinguished career on a positive note. My sudden decision to retire was a shock to everyone. At Commencement a few weeks later, the Trustees conferred upon me the title of Professor Emeritus of Music, and I taught my last Summer Session that June. I thought I would just fade out of the picture in retirement. However, that isn’t what happened. We are often called upon to do things we never dreamed of; our lives often lead us in directions unimagined, and perhaps undesired. The underlying reason for my departure from the College faculty came up in an open forum of Faculty Senate the following November (2013), and to clarify the situation, I felt compelled to write my Open Letter to the Principia Community (December 3, 2013). At that time, it was made clear by Human Resources that the topic of homosexuality could not be discussed publicly.
Prior to this, I had never been involved in gay activism, and it’s a topic that still doesn’t come easily to me. I’ve spent more hours than I can possibly count writing, praying, and rewriting this talk, over and over again. It has forced me to grow in character and spiritually as I’ve struggled to evaluate and articulate my thoughts and deep-seated feelings. It was never my intention to become involved in gay politics at Principia or anywhere else, but it was apparent that I had to do so because a colleague who voiced the true reason of my departure before the College Faculty Senate was being condemned and silenced by the Principia administration. Human Resources called her in, along with the Faculty Senate president, and she was placed under a gag order — she was forbidden to bring the topic up again in a public forum. I had no alternative than to respond personally in the most forthright manner. It was a very difficult letter to write, as I was “outing” myself publicly for the first time in my life. Initially, I wanted it to be published in the Principia Pilot, the student newspaper. But I was told it could only appear if the College president wrote a response. This was unacceptable to me because I had read Principia’s anti-gay position backed up with the standard rationale too often, and I could not accept that. So I decided on an email distribution to the entire College faculty. I confess I said a prayer before I pushed the “send” button on that mass distribution; I wasn’t sure what I was about to unleash.
As you know, the letter quickly went viral, and the response to me was immediate and overwhelmingly positive. As they flooded in, I read, often in tears, of the effects of homophobic discrimination and repression that were related to me over and over again. Here were dozens upon dozens of sincere Christian Scientists — straight and gay — who were struggling with an issue they felt uncomfortable or forbidden to discuss. I believe there was only one letter that admonished me to read the Bible. On January 22, 2014, I sent a second mass distribution of Selected Responses, addressed to the Friends of Principia:
Since sending my “Open Letter to the Principia Community,” I have received about 150 personal emails and Facebook messages. Many people have poured out their heart, relating their very personal stories. As a follow-up to my letter, I have selected 35 responses to share in the attachment to this email. I have removed all names to impersonalize the messages. Thank you to all who have so honestly shared your thoughts on this issue.
A retired Professor of Physics from Delta State University in Mississippi, Dr. Carlysle Meek, had written to me shortly after my Open Letter appeared, and I included it in the Selected Responses. He has given me permission to read it here:
My wife and I have a Facebook friend, and we recently found the letter you wrote to Principia College posted on her page. We just want to let you know we are 100% behind you on all the many points you made about Prin’s anti-gay policies. I remain incredulous that in this day and age, institutions can be so shortsighted, unfair, and foolish as to maintain antiquated and unloving positions like this. We have a son and a daughter, both gay, who were raised as students of Christian Science from birth, and we KNOW that their lives are exactly what divine Love provided to them! Yes, they dated heterosexually during high school, but as soon as they moved away to start college, they both came out to us and said that they had ALWAYS believed they were gay. We were so happy that they had reached the point of maturity and trust that they could live their lives openly and freely as happy and fearless gay people. To view homosexuality as somehow an immoral choice and not an innate part of a person’s true being is to totally fail to understand how life works. I have worked for years now to educate as many people as will listen to this fact.
Dr. Meek’s letter pours forth the kind of love and understanding that I would hope all Christian Scientists and people of faith could genuinely express on this issue.
What originally had been intended only for the Principia community quickly spread over social media. I have been told that members of the Christian Science Board of Directors read my letter, and, in February 2014, the statement referred to earlier was published in the Christian Science Journal. Although perhaps a coincidence, there was finally some clarification from the Church as to its position on sexuality and membership. It quickly became apparent that Principia could no longer justify its open practice of discrimination based on what seemed to be The Mother Church’s implied practice of non-discrimination. In addition, marriage equality was being increasingly recognized — one state after another — and Federal recognition seemed imminent.
Many non-Christian Scientist professional colleagues also read my letter, much to my chagrin. I have been quite embarrassed that my colleagues found out about Principia’s unjust discriminatory practice. It has been difficult to explain why I stayed in the face of such discrimination and repression that is illegal most everywhere else. Here are a couple of messages I received:
—From my doctoral advisor at Boston University: “I just Googled you and found your open letter to Principia College. I am so moved by your courage and the clarity of your expression that I just want to join the ranks of heterosexuals who support your cause and hope to see PRIN change its policies soon and forever. My wife agrees and wishes you all the very best.”
—From a world-renowned concert organist: “I cannot tell you how much I admire you for having written this letter. Mrs. Eddy was certainly watching down from heaven as you wrote it and I know she was approving of every word you wrote. She certainly was not the horrible Victorian ultra-conservative prude that many people have portrayed her as being—one only has to read her writings to see what kind of a loving, Christ-like person she was. Again, I am so proud of you—I am sure you have no idea what good you have done for people in general, not to mention Christian Scientists who struggle with questions of sexuality.”
As a result of my Open Letter, another College faculty member, Annabelle Márquez, soon did a lot of soul searching concerning her employment at Principia College. She has given me permission to share her story. Annabelle asked herself: “Are you willing to ignore and legitimize the abuse of others by participation in institutions that explicitly condone practices where there is strong evidence that those practices have caused harm? My answer was clearly a resounding ‘no.’” Annabelle went on to ask: “What if your ‘standing up’ meant possibly hurting yourself and your family financially and career wise; would you still do it?” She reasoned, “Where this becomes a matter of character for me is when I see students and faculty being hurt by this practice . . . and this is undeniable to me. . . . I cannot in good conscience support it in any way. . . . I had to weigh expressing and acting on my convictions against the fear of lack of employment. The former won out and I stated clearly to the dean of academics that I would no longer work for an institution with an employment ‘practice’ that endorses discriminating against people due to their sexual orientation. . . . My character and every fiber of my being have to stand up against accepting these practices.” Annabelle wrote to the College president and spoke to the provost and the Faculty Senate president about her concerns; she then courageously left the employ of Principia College. Although she returned briefly to fill a critical need at the School in St. Louis, before the policy change, she left a second time as soon as a suitable replacement was found.
In my Open Letter, I wrote: “To those reading this letter who may think this is not an issue that concerns you, I would ask you to think twice about living passively with the poison of discrimination and repression in any form.” I know people did think twice about it. Subsequent to my Open Letter, a survey was taken of the College Faculty on February 5, 2014, and the vast majority responded in favor of eliminating the discriminatory practice (the exact percentage was not disclosed publicly). Then, at Commencement in May 2014, a large number of the graduating seniors taped equal signs on top of their mortarboards. I understand the Trustees’ decision to end discrimination based on sexual orientation was soon made, but extenuating circumstances prevented the decision from being announced until November 18, 2014. Despite possible losses in donations and student admissions the Principia Board of Trustees announced a new policy that I fully support and admire for its wisdom and crystal clarity. Here’s their complete statement:
In light of Principia’s primary purpose to serve the Cause of Christian Science, the Board recognizes that sexual orientation does not prevent an individual from healing or making contributions to the growth of Christian Science around the world. All students, faculty, and staff shall be perceived, welcomed, loved, and supported as spiritual ideas. They are expected to honor the community standards of moral and spiritual purity in relationships. In terms of practices at Principia regarding admissions, community standards for living in the Principia community, and employment at Principia, we are directing the administration to establish consistent rules and regulations for students, faculty, and staff, regardless of sexual orientation.
What a wonderful day that was!
It is my hope that not only at Principia, but in the Christian Science Church at large, all are “perceived, welcomed, loved, and supported as spiritual ideas,” regardless of sexual orientation. Human thought has overwhelmingly evolved and mollified on homosexuality; old views are no longer seen as theologically sustainable; marriage equality is now the law of the land, and United States law largely bans discrimination based on sexual orientation. As a consequence, Mrs. Eddy’s injunctions in The First Church of Christ Scientist and Miscellany regarding obedience to the “laws of the land” need to be highlighted, for they have a new ring to them:
1. “Christian Scientists abide by the laws of God and the laws of the land” [emphasis added] (p. 128:19–20).
2. “I would not charge Christians with doubting the Bible record of our great Master’s life of healing, since Christianity must be predicated of what Christ Jesus taught and did; but I do say that Christian Science cannot annul nor make void the laws of the land [emphasis added], since Christ, the great demonstrator of Christian Science, said, ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill’” (p. 219:18–25).
3. “I believe in obeying the laws of the land. I practice and teach this obedience, since justice is the moral signification of law. Injustice denotes the absence of law” (p. 220:12–14).
Let me emphasize what I see as Mrs. Eddy’s all-important directive here: “I do say that Christian Science cannot annul nor make void the laws of the land.” In view of this, for instance, the Kentucky county clerk who was recently jailed for defying court orders to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples on the basis of her religious faith and conscientious objection, were she a Christian Scientist, she could not claim support for her actions to disobey the “laws of the land” based on her religious faith.
In the Manual of The Mother Church, Art. VIII, Sect. 20 (p. 46:1–6), Mrs. Eddy has this to say: “No person shall be a member of this Church who claims . . . a spiritually adopted husband or wife. There must be . . . legal marriage, which can be verified according to the laws of our land.” Clearly then, any legally married gay person can be admitted into Church membership, assuming he or she meets the requirements stated on the application forms in the Church Manual (see pp. 114–19), and is endorsed appropriately. This being the case, a gay single person living in accord with the Manual stipulations must also be freely admitted, without discrimination. No gay member or applicant for membership in the Christian Science Church should feel compelled to hide “in the closet.”
It has sometimes been suggested that it would be better for gays to just be quiet about sexual orientation when applying for membership in The Mother Church or a branch church. But it would be wrong to expect a legally married gay person applying for church membership to hide the truth. For too long, LGBT men and women have been forced to live tacitly under “Don’t’ ask, don’t tell” in order to gain acceptance. This is now passé! Remembering Mrs. Eddy’s words, “Honesty is spiritual power,” there must be honesty and openness in our Church, and all must be treated equally as spiritual ideas. Only in one place in Science and Health, in the context of speaking out for “the rights of women” (p. 63:19), does Mrs. Eddy employ the term “discrimination,” and she accompanies it with the marginal heading: “discrimination unfair.” Christian Science is strong because it is based on Love and the Christ truth. When we speak of the love of Love (God), we speak of Love that embraces all human diversity equally: black, white, straight, gay, or any other variation. As I see it, acceptance of all “simple seekers for Truth” (Science and Health, p. 570:14–15) is the right policy for membership in the Church of Christ, Scientist. Our Church must be more inclusive in an increasingly diverse population.
The Board of Directors’ policy statement on sexuality and membership in the February 2014 Journal states the following, and I believe it can be interpreted to cover the whole ground:
Those who join The Mother Church do so because they have caught some measure of the vision that is at the heart of Mary Baker Eddy’s discovery — “man is not material; he is spiritual” — and they want to unite with others who are working to demonstrate this great fact. Even when they fall short of the ideal, they still realize their hearts’ desire is to overcome any mortal definition of self in order to follow Jesus’ example and teaching as the way of bringing to light our true spiritual identity. And they realize no one can do it for them.
Subsequent to the announcement by the Principia Trustees, the Pilot published an article, “A Historic Social Change” by Annika Fredrikson, to which I was asked to contribute my thoughts. I wrote:
I am heartened to read that the Principia Board of Trustees has finally changed its position on sexual orientation and that faculty, staff, and students who do not identify as heterosexuals are now welcome to enroll or work at Principia without fear of discrimination or retribution. At the same time, it is important that the rift be healed between Principia and the LGBT students of Christian Science — past and present — who chose not to apply, were counseled that they needed to be healed, were asked to leave, or had to live in secrecy because of their sexual orientation. In addition are those who have strong feelings in favor of the former practice. All must be brought harmoniously and compassionately into the fold. The fallout of Principia’s discrimination has been measurable. I had planned to remain on the faculty a few more years, and I know others like myself have left because they could no longer tolerate unjust discrimination and the concomitant repressive atmosphere. It is admirable to put supporting the Cause of Christian Science and Principia’s Mission above all personal considerations, but being forced to lie about oneself in order to serve is no small matter in view of Christian Science teachings. I am grateful that present and future LGBT Christian Scientists who wish to study or work at Principia do not have to live with that anxiety and the guilt it engenders. But the harm done to Principia and in a larger sense the Christian Science Movement by the anti-LGBT position needs healing. The Trustees’ announcement is only the first step in this process. At least they have now recognized and stated publicly: “sexual orientation does not prevent an individual from healing or making contributions to the growth of Christian Science around the world.” That has long been a proven fact.
My dear friend of thirty years and cherished colleague in the College Music Department, Dr. Marie Jureit-Beamish, Professor Emerita of Music at Principia College, offered her thoughts in the same Pilot article:
It was just 25 years ago that the Berlin Wall came down, thus marking the end of one of the most repressive and dark times for the citizens of Germany. Drawing a parallel with this historic moment in modern history to celebrate freedom, we can also now celebrate the recent announcement by the Board of Trustees that includes the following embracing statement of inclusion for our fellow man: “All students, faculty, and staff shall be perceived, welcomed, loved, and supported as spiritual ideas.” For the last 25 years, Germany has dedicated enormous resources in correcting the wrongs of the past; likewise, the healing process at Principia College will require great efforts to right the errors of its past.
Indeed, as Dr. Jureit-Beamish concluded, “The clouds of darkness have lifted, and the light of Truth will burn brightly on all associated with this new day in the history of Principia.”
As you’ve undoubtedly noticed from my numerous references, I am an avid daily reader of the Christian Science Monitor, founded by our Leader, “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind.” Earlier this year, I kept track of the number of times the Monitor contained articles covering the progress of LGBT rights; I finally stopped when it became apparent that an article, or two or three, appeared almost every day. The Monitor has not avoided covering this most highly visible social issue. Just on September 17, the Monitor headlined the story of a transgender teen crowned homecoming queen at a Kansas City-area high school, and a few days ago there were three articles concerning Pope Francis’s controversial meeting with the county clerk who has refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
In a Monitor article back on March 20, Dr. David Gushee, a professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta, is quoted as saying: “More and more of us are coming to know gay and lesbian Christians, in their dignity and their suffering. Many Millennials no longer find the older narratives of condemnation plausible: It doesn’t fit the facts, and it doesn’t fit the lives of people that we know.” I think Dr. Gushee has put his finger on the crux of the sea change that is now extending rights to LGBT people. It is clear that some of the most conservative religious and secular institutions still have to contend with gay rights. It may be some time before society reaches more unanimity on this topic, but, as with racial discrimination, I believe it must eventually come if we are truly to become the nation described by President Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address: “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
The violation of LGBT civil rights, the shaming of LGBT people, and the suffering that results from it are still all critical issues that demand strong reactions. There are still plenty of discriminatory laws in effect in the United States today. There are still countries that criminalize LGBT people with harsh penalties under the guise of Christianity, Islam, and other religions. There are still people calling for discrimination against LGBT people, “reprogramming” them, imprisoning them, or sentencing them to death. Without question the struggle is not over.
As stated in an article in the June 30 Monitor, “Marriage equality advocates acknowledge that no single decision has the power to totally overcome centuries of entrenched opinions.” I, as a Christian Scientist, know that only one thing has the power to do this—it is when “Love is reflected in love” (Science and Health, p. 17:7). The article continued, quoting Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Mary Schmich, who wrote for the Chicago Tribune: “The Supreme Court’s decision won’t end discrimination against gay people. It won’t end the ugly rhetoric. It won’t confer on gay people any greater chance at a happy marriage than any other person has. It’s a victory not only for gay people but for all of us who understand that we are only as free as the people around us, only free when the people we love are free.” And then she added, “If you haven’t already, take a moment now and salute your gay friends who have finally been granted this freedom and respect. If you think you don’t have gay friends, think again.”
Indeed, “A glorious day is dawning”! Thank you so much for inviting me to speak to you today.
© John R. Near,