“Hey Mark,” I said outside the church on a bright day. He had grocery bags in each hand.
Of course, Mark isn’t his real name…
“Hey Pastor Tim,” he said a little sheepishly. “How are you?”
“Good, good, how’s the new addition to the family?” I said, putting my hands in my pockets.
“Ha. We’re all tired, but surviving the transition…” he smiled.
Mark and his wife had just welcomed a new child, a son, into the world. I remember seeing the posts about it on social media.
“I suppose you noticed we haven’t been in church a lot lately…” he went on.
“Well, new babies disrupt schedules. That’s just true.” I nodded. Even though I didn’t have children at that point in my life, I knew it was just plain truth. Babies mess up your world in all sorts of ways.
“There is that,” he went on, averting my eyes, “but I’m not sure we’ll be coming anymore. At least not here.” He was honest and frank and seemed embarrassed about it all.
“Okay…” I responded, “is everything alright?”
“Oh yeah,” he said, “but I’m not sure we can raise a kid in this church.”
“Really? Why?” I was genuinely curious. In the ministry you learn not to take these things personally…well, you try not to.
“It’s not you,” he said, “or anyone. Everyone here is great. It’s just, well, we had a boy…” his voice trailing off as if I should know what was implied here.
“Yes…?” I said. I was hoping he wasn’t meaning what I think he was meaning.
“And, well, your church teaches that it’s okay for people to be gay. And we don’t want him hearing that. Especially because we have a boy.” He looked down.
“Wait,” I said, “but what if he is gay? I mean I’m not sure what having a boy has to do with it, but what if he is a sexual minority of some sort? Don’t you want him to hear that he’s loved and accepted and alright?”
Mark just looked down.
“It’s just harder because it’s a boy,” he repeated.
I’m not sure how the conversation, or the situation, would have turned out had they had a girl. I mean, I can’t conceive of how that would make a difference. But I also know that traditional conceptions of masculinity is something still prized in many corners of modern America.
“I mean, I don’t think I have a problem with it, but Sharon…” he said, voice trailing off again.
The conversation was full of lots incomplete sentences, almost like if the sentences were completed, the foolishness of the statement would be too boldfaced to take. We often avoid saying the thing because to utter the thoughts of our hearts would actually embarress us.
“I’m not sure I understand,” I said. “I don’t think being open and welcoming is harmful to children. I think it’s helpful. Necessary, even.”
“I know. But if he hears it’s okay to be gay, he might become gay,” he said.
“I don’t think the biology works like that, ” I smiled. I tried to diffuse the obviously uncomfortable situation.
“We’re just not okay with it,” he said finally. “And we don’t want him to be okay with it. But I hope to see you around the neighborhood.”
“Sure, Mark. And if you all ever want to talk about this, just let me know. Happy to keep the conversation going.”
I waved as he walked away.