In the 1950s and ’60s I grew up in a Reformed Church in a small town in Southwest Michigan. The sermons in church assumed a literalistic interpretation of the Bible and leaned more heavily on reinforcing obedience than on embracing others in unconditional love. Sex roles were and still are rigidly enforced. Women in that congregation have never been elected elders or deacons
In the ’60s and early ’70s professions in medicine and law were opening up to more women, but women in Reformed denominations were deemed unqualified to use all of their gifts to serve as ministers. I chafed under this injustice fostered by literalistic interpretation of several verses from Paul’s letters. Later I left conservative Calvinism for liberal Methodism, which affirmed the gifts of women in all church positions.
During the era of civil rights, I was aware of the injustice of separate but not equal as that applied to ethnic minorities. But I was not yet aware of injustices to other minorities. I was not sensitive to the offenses I was causing by mocking gays and lesbians. I still remember how when Christmas caroling I enjoyed singing “Don we now our gay apparel,” flipping my wrists limply and giggling as I unknowingly mocked those around me who were still “in the closet.”
Some of those are still in the closet for fear of losing the love of relatives and friends and even fear of losing their jobs. As I later listened to the stories of gays and lesbians around me, I realized how, by my attitudes and by my mockery, I was offending them, forcing them to lead lives of secrecy and fear of being “outed.”
When I learned in the mid-1990s of a Christian school teacher’s loss of his career because his son came out as gay, I reached out via email to the son and to his father and mother. I wanted them to realize that though their church had let them down, they could still find acceptance knowing that nothing could separate them from the love of God. Through them I learned about Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and with my husband I become active in the Holland Lakeshore branch of that organization.
In the past decade, I have lost respect for institutions that force people to choose between loving their children or keeping their career. I have lost respect for folks who shun others because they love their gay and lesbian children unconditionally. I have lost respect for people who interpret the Bible by selecting out a certain few legalistic verses to clobber gays and lesbians and who thereby overlook the good news of Christ, who urged his followers to love their neighbors as they love themselves.
In recent decades, I have become more sensitive to the injustices of the powerful and privileged and more an advocate for the marginalized. When my husband and I moved to Holland, Michigan, to retire, we sought out a church that was inclusive and progressive. I am grateful to gays and the lesbians, for they have released me from the narrow confines of the literalistic, fundamentalistic faith of my childhood to a more inclusive Christianity, one that has room for all.
Judy Parr received a B.A. degree from Hope College and M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Ohio State University. A retired college English teacher and technical writer, she is a member of Hope Church in Holland, Michigan.