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Short Stories: The Sin of Homosexuality

Cartoon by Samuel LIllermann

Thirty-seven years ago, my family and I went to the Ohio State Fair. This was the first and only time we attended the fair. At the time, we had three children, ages 7,5, and 2. I had been pastoring Somerset Baptist Church — an Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregation — in Mt. Perry for three years.

It was 1986 — the year Somerset Baptist rapidly grew, reaching 206 in attendance one Sunday. We ran four buses across a three-county area, bringing scores of mostly poor children, teens, and adults to church. I was finally seeing the fruit of my labor. The church was a beehive of activity, which was perfect for a driven workaholic such as I was. As the church grew, so did my prominence in the community. I was twenty-nine, full of myself, sure that God and I were on the same track. After all, church attendance was growing, offerings were increasing, and souls were being saved every Sunday. What could go wrong, right?

While the Gerencser family was at the fair, I noticed several tables on the fair concourse staffed by state employees offering free condoms and safe-sex materials. This was the height of the AIDS crisis, and Governor Dick Celeste, a Democrat, was doing what he could to combat the needless deaths of primarily gay men. As I read the materials, I found myself experiencing a range of emotions; you know, the steps of Baptist outrage: disgust, anger, increased blood pressure, mumbling like a made man, and full-blown rage. I gathered up some of the material, telling myself, “we will see about this.” I have no doubt that my “righteous” anger ruined our day at the fair. I’m sure Polly agreed with my outrage, but thought to herself, Can’t the kids see the cows while we are here?

Come the next Sunday, I was loaded for bear. I was a homophobe, as were many of the core members of the church. We believed that homosexuality was a sin, and not just any sin. It was THE sin above every sin. In my mind, homosexuals were disgusting; people unworthy of anything but scorn, ridicule, judgment, and Hell.

I told the church about what I had found at the fair, stirring their outrage too. I decided that the church should run a full-page ad in the local newspaper decrying Governor Celeste’s AIDS campaign. It took all of one week to raise the money ($900) necessary to place the ad in the Perry County Tribune. I wrote the copy, listing what the Bible said about homosexuality and my objections to Celeste’s wicked homo-loving campaign to keep gay men from dying. Safe sex? No such thing, I thought at the time. My view of human sexuality was bound by my IFB indoctrination and conditioning. I was what my parents, pastors, and professors made me. Homophobes breed homophobes. It would take another decade before I realized that I was wrong, and another fifteen years after that before I was openly willing to stand with LGBTQ people in defense of their persons and rights.

The full-page hit was a big hit with Evangelicals everywhere. I was viewed as a defender of Biblical “truth” and God-ordained sexuality. The ad was picked up by several network TV stations in Columbus. Someone in the Celeste administration sent me an official letter, reminding me that “safe sex” saved lives. It would be many years before I was ready to accept such things. On that day, I took the letter as more evidence that I was right.

Homophobia seems to be an incurable disease, but it is not. I am an example of a person who can change. It took me a lot of years, understanding, and apologies to get where I am today, but change is possible. Next month, I will walk with others in the Defiance (Ohio) Pride Parade, as will Polly and our gay son. Have I “arrived”? Nope. Biases and prejudices run deep, and while I now consider myself an enlightened liberal, there are still moments when past ugliness will percolate to the surface. Rarely, but often enough that I know that I remain a work in progress — as do we all.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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    Yes, I was exactly the same as you, Bruce, homosexuality (though I hated even letting that word pass my lips,) was utterly disgusting, the worst of sins – though sexual sin of any variety seems to be at the top of most fundies list of unforgiveable transgressions. My deconversion views now mirror yours and I’d have attended our town’s first Pride march last weekend had I not been away then. I was invited to lunch while away by my son in law’s strict Brethren, homophobe parents. Son in law’s gay brother, Sam, was there too, (at least his bigot-parents don’t shun him, I’ll give them that.) He brought along his new partner, a lovely bi person, all facial piercings, tattoos and flamboyant clothes…..all power to the elbows of Sam and his new partner in that situation. Sam knows I’m on his side after a frank discussion recently when we were able to talk freely and I could tell him I’m not the devout fundy homophobe pastor’s wife I once was and I abhor his parents views too! We agreed to do all we can in our different ways to show my small g/children – his nephews and nieces – that there are world views other than the horrible biblical one presented by his parents.

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    I hear you, Bruce! I was the teenage homophobe with all the same beliefs about LGBTQ people you mentioned. Then I went to college and somehow became friends with a bunch of gay men. I am not sure how that happened, but it did. And these guys had stories to tell about how parents disowned them, or they were afraid parents would disown them, a broken engagement with a woman because he loved her too much as a friend to put her through a life where he wasn’t sexually attracted to her. So much pain, yet so much joy in openly being themselves finally. The university in the early 90s had an assistant dean devoted to promoting LGBTQ equality on campus, and the Lambda organization (the campus LGBTQ organization) grew and provided a safe haven for students. I changed because I became friends with these young men and listened to their reality.

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    MJ Lisbeth

    I wasn’t inculcated with homophobia so much from my parents as from the church and culture (pre-Vatican II Catholics in a Vatican II world) in which I grew up. Of course, I continued to profess my hatred–while having a gay male and a lesbian friend on the side–as an Evangelical Christian. Later, I held on to my homophobia as a way of “overcompensating,” if you will: I was trying to keep people from seeing that I wasn’t the cisgender heterosexual male I was presenting to them–never mind that some saw through my facade.

    I have lived as a woman for nearly two decades and still, at times, find myself confronting my old, ingrained beliefs. Give yourself credit, Bruce!

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    Red in MN

    I’m a gay man who grew up in an IFB church and went to a “university” largely supported by IFB churches. I still struggle with anxiety from the anti-gay teaching drilled into my head those many years ago. It can be torture sometimes. I applaud your acceptance. People like me didn’t ask to be gay. We weren’t groomed or recruited nor did we make a decision to be gay. We just are. Sometimes in lighter moments I think maybe God made me gay on purpose to keep me humble. If I were straight I’m afraid I would have been the biggest IFB prick anywhere.

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Bruce Gerencser