DURING THE FOURTH CENTURY, at the height of the Arian controversy in Constantinople, one Christian wrote that it was impossible to go into a bakery for a loaf of bread without debating the nature of Christ. Was he the eternal Son of the eternal Father or was there a time when be was not? With bishops physically assaulting other bishops over this question and emperors changing sides on a regular basis, the debate spilled out of the church into the streets, where the Athanasians favored passages from John's Gospel and the Arians shot back with passages from Mark.
When I read this chapter of early church history, I thanked God for letting me live in a later one. Then I got back to planning classes and grading papers. That was before the 2003 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, however, when a majority of delegates from across the United States confirmed the election of the Rev. Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Communion.
Since then, North Georgia has come to resemble Constantinople in at least one regard: no Episcopalian goes anywhere without being asked for his or her position on homosexuality. While no physical assaults have yet been reported, the debate has split churches and threatened budgets. It has also involved heat ed references to scripture. Robinson fans tend to favor passages from the Gospels, while Robinson foes shoot back with passages from Paul. In the crossfire, it is not hard to understand why Anthony the Great fled civilization for the desert in the middle of the fourth century. Depending on who your neighbors are, snakes and hyenas can look like pretty good company.
The problem I run into at the bakery is that I do not have a position on homosexuality. What I have, instead, is a life. I have a history, in which many people have played vital parts. When I am presented with the issue of homosexuality, I experience temporary blindness. Something like scales fall over my eyes, because I cannot visualize an issue. Instead, I visualize the homeroom teacher who seemed actually to care whether I showed up at school or not. I see the priest who taught me everything I know about priesthood, and the professor who roasted whole chickens for me when my food money ran out before the end of the month. I see the faces of dozens of young men who died of AIDS, but not before they had shown me how brightly they could burn with nothing left but the love of God to live on. I see the face of my 16-year-old friend, still waiting for his first true love, who says that if he found out he was gay, he would kill himself. …