It was September 1971, I was in my second year at Seminary and I was called home. My brother Jack was dead. He was not a casualty of Vietnam. He left this world as he lived with high drama amid tragic circumstances. His world was the Mecca of homosexual society, Greenwich Village before Stonewall. His neighbors were rich and famous and he would have it no other way. Jack was 30 years old. He had made his fortunes on his looks, and life beyond youth did not seem glamorous or possible. Oddly, I had been to see him only a few months prior. He was not in good shape and drugs and alcohol were taking an emotional toll. As the “good” brother, I wondered then if he would survive, and my worst fears were confirmed.
Jack hadn’t been home for quite a few years. Grand Rapids was not a friendly place for a queen of his stature. And Christian Reformed culture was not a place for his uncloseted lifestyle to find refuge. I do remember one of his last visits. I was in college and picked him up from the airport. There was no question of Jack’s orientation from 100 yards or more. I took him to my sister’s house. She was married with two small boys living not too far from my parents. Both Jack and Mary Kay were adopted, and they shared a special bond. Later, I found out from Mary Kay that on that day, Jack had sat at her kitchen table and broke down into tears. He gestured to her house, her kitchen, her children and said that was all he ever dreamed of…
I spent much of my adolescence afraid of becoming gay. We lived in a culture that thought it was a disease, and needed at best to be kept secret. And when Jack could not keep his orientation secret, he had to move away to Chicago and then to New York. Jack’s life was tragic and his death caused my parents great despair. They felt that his death was a violation of God’s promise. You see there was no room for Jack in the church, and he never made confession of faith or had any use for a religious society that did not include him. A good deal of my own pilgrimage to the progressive side of the Christian Reformed community was in search of a more inclusive gathering of the saints – a place where my beloved brother might have felt included.
I wonder if Jack might be alive and happy if he had been born 30 years later. I wonder if he and Fred might have sought out a child to adopt or found a community of faith that would support their commitment to each other. I wonder then if God’s promises to Jack would have seen some tangible fulfillment and some relief might have come to his troubled life. In many ways Jack empowered me to carry that torch. He made me see a church’s exclusion that I may not have ever noticed. He introduced me to a world and culture that might have passed me by had my family not been blessed with his presence.
For me and my house there can be no understanding of the body of Christ that does not include people like my brother and people like myself – sinners, struggling to find meaning and community in a world that has little of either. Families with gay and lesbian sons and daughters need to be affirmed as they struggle with difficult journeys. And the church needs to openly celebrate the contributions of all God’s children.