There are many Christian Fundamenetalists who also happen to be homosexual, if not a member of the LGBTQ community. My late partner, Dr. Morris Taylor knows first hand the pain and suffering these people go through. He was a leader in the Seventh Day Adventist community. Below is the text of an address Dr. Taylor gave to the San Diego Adventist Forum telling and sharing his journey in grappling with Christian Fundamentalism and his own identity. I beleive this can be both a comfort and inspiration to anyone struggling or questioning their sexual identity.
Please read and feel free to share with any all who need to hear Dr. Taylor’s important message.
(If at the end of thios message you would like someone to talk to I have some resources added to the right of this article.)
Dr. Morris Taylor’s Address on Homosexuality for the San Diego Adventist Forum
by Dr. Morris Taylor
Hi! I’m glad to be here in San Diego to share ideas with you. Part of me feels like a freak from a foreign circus and another part of me feels like an alumnus at a homecoming. Many of you may feel conflicted or uncomfortable for whatever reason. I embrace your hurt and care about how you feel. We are in this together. Each person engaged in this discussion deserves our respect, regardless of whether others agree or disagree. So, let’s all relax. We can be family.
Congratulations to the San Diego Adventist Forum. For over two decades you have fostered dialog regarding issues of current interest to Seventh-day Adventists! Dr. Larson, I thank you for inviting me to share in this presentation regarding the “Interface between Christianity and Homosexuality”.
I am a Connecticut yankee by birth. Until I was drafted into the U.S. Army, I had no idea how provincial I was. I had never traveled outside of New England and New York State. My first airplane ride was aboard a transport plane with no windows or seats. I was scared. Upon arrival at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, I was waiting in line at the mess hall. The question everyone was asking, “Hey, buddy, where are you from?” “I’m from Boston,” I answered. One of the guys derided in a raucous voice, “Oh, you’re one of those tea party boys!”
I am honored to be here for three important reasons. First, I would like to witness that it is possible to be both spiritual and gay. Second, because I empathize sincerely with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons within the church, I want to be sure you get the message, “God loves each of you.” Third, I hope that I can make some practical suggestions how the church can welcome L/G/B/T people into fellowship.
In your kind introduction, Jim, you mentioned that I am a professor emeritus at Andrews University. “E” means “out of” and “merit” means that I deserved it.’ More seriously, I am presenting my personal experience and my own thinking. My participation in this symposium in no way reflects the views of Andrews University. I am speaking outside of my area of academic expertise.
Each of us has a story. In the telling of our stories we have an opportunity to grow in mutual understanding of what it means to be part of the human family. I am a homosexual person. It takes courage to tell you part of my story in a public setting. I did not choose to be gay. Given our lot within the church and society, no one I know would choose this sexual orientation. This is just who we are. For the most part I will tell my own story with brief references to the stories of other people whose lives have intersected mine.
I am truly indebted to the Seventh-day Adventist Church and their educational system which nurtured me and, to some extent, limited me. With gratitude I salute kind persons who gave unusual contributions to my development. A public school teacher who paid for my church school tuition for several years. The wife of a college president who gave me a warm bath and clean clothes on Friday afternoons. An academic dean who helped me learn to drive a car. I am proud of my Adventist heritage.
In the l940’s and l950’s people living in a conservative rural community were not likely to meet gay men or lesbian women. My large family was poor; we used kerosene lights and outdoor plumbing. Reading material was limited with almost no magazines or books in the home. When the Sears mail order catalog arrived, I enjoyed at length the pictures of men’s underwear and swimsuits. My interest in artistic activities was often squelched, sometimes by ridicule. From age eleven, boy friends were important to me, although I had no sexual contact with any of them. Since I was rarely chosen for team sports, I would spend recess talking with my special friend. Older men also interested me even though my world was largely filled with women. Because of social pressure at the Adventist school, I took a girl to the annual banquet. Some girls would try to get my attention; but in all probability I would never have wed if left to my own inclinations.
When I returned from the U. S. Army in l955, I married a lovely woman, Elaine Myers. My wife and I planned for and welcomed our four wonderful children. Each of them has become well- rounded individuals and high achievers.
After their mother’s tragic death from an auto crash in l976, we pulled together as a family. I tried to assume the role of both parents. A year had not passed when friends were talking to me about marrying again. They introduced me to Rilla Ashton. I realized that it was best for my children and me to accept this stabilizing influence. It was important for these young adults to have role models in their impressionable years when each was making a decision regarding his or her marital future. Rilla still is a great stepmother and a beautiful person.
For my entire professional career of forty years, I lived and taught on Adventist college campuses — Atlantic Union College, Walla Walla College, Southern Adventist College, Pacific Union College, and Andrews University. My proverbial homosexual closet had locked doors most of which I myself did not dare open. Silence and secrecy seemed the only safe haven; however, I feel cowardly for having chosen this path.
These are some reasons this gay person remained sequestered. Adventist’s literal interpretation of the Bible regarding homosexuality leaves little room for independent thought; discipline for homosexual behavior comes swiftly. Self-revelation continues to be dangerous because confidentiality is virtually nonexistent even in most counseling venues. Because spouses, children and extended family are incorrectly perceived to part of the cause of homosexuality, they often feel guilty or shameful. To protect those who are precious to you, therefore, a gay or lesbian person usually represses everything. In ultraconservative societies information about homosexuality is deliberately suppressed. Denial is so severe that the church has used legal action to be sure that “Seventh-day Adventist” and “homosexuality” cannot coexist. The fear of shunning is palpable in Adventist subculture.
Meanwhile, I saw students, colleagues and friends being fired, committing suicide, suffering mental illness, running away and enduring alone. During my professional years I never spoke to an Adventist in a situation where we both admitted to being gay. Unfortunately, persons struggling with their own sexual identity are sometimes among the most rabid in their denunciation of others; it can be an unconscious way to deflect detection. Even heterosexual persons are suspected of being gay if they speak any kind word or show compassion to the unfortunate persons who happen to be homosexual. So the barbaric dance perpetuates itself.
May I read a poem which I wrote in 1993 expressing what it is like being a gay person living in a straight society.
COLOR ME GRAY
COLOR ME GRAY
An opaque shadow furtively creeping along a wall
whose psyche is seldom seen
COLOR ME GRAY
An old garment with color waning
by wearing and washing and wearing again
COLOR ME GRAY
A lonesome tear trickling down a face
to join those of yesterday in salty embrace
COLOR ME GRAY
A silver fox slinking across a wintry landscape
whose path is rarely traced
COLOR ME GRAY
Bright ideas mixing together to become
dulled and dingy in hue
COLOR ME GRAY
The trustee in gray flannel suit
playing conservatively by the rule
COLOR ME GRAY
A venerable, acceptable non-color
smugly conforming to accepted norms
COLOR ME GRAY
No sun, no glow, no rainbow…
only drab, dreary, interminable gray.
Over a period of several years I gradually opened the multiple doors of my closet. As I said earlier, “We all have a story.” I would like to focus on some defining episodes that occurred during the process of admitting to myself that I was a homosexual person and eventually becoming more comfortable if others knew.
One Sabbath my family and a few friends were eating dinner on our patio. The conversation drifted to President and Mrs. Clinton’s proposal for the overhaul of health insurance. A seminary professor asserted, “I don’t see why my tax dollars should go to benefit unwed mothers and persons with AIDS. I had recently attended the funeral of one of my young friends who died from complications due to this dread and mysterious disease. At his memorial service I had the opportunity to greet Matthew’s mother personally. I assured her that Matthew spoke lovingly of her despite the fact that the family had virtually disowned him. Apparently she was not able to hear me, for she replied that she must leave and get something stronger to drink. Matthew’s father, a Baptist minister, chose not to attend the radiant and comforting service celebrating Matt’s life. I was sad and angry about the attitudes of both the Adventist and the Baptist preachers.
The gay bars in Chicago seemed to be the only place where I could meet persons like myself without fear of outing. I had never gone to bars and did not drink alcohol. The smoke was awful. One evening, in the semidarkness I noticed a man with a clerical collar. I hoped that this might be my chance to talk with an understanding person, so I moved closer leaving a seat between us. I ordered a cranberry juice and offered to buy him a drink. Above the raucous music we chatted about my situation. Violating my own defense system, I told him my correct first name and my church affiliation. He responded with insight and compassion for he came to this bar purposely dressed as a cleric to minister to gay persons. He shared the story of his brutal dismissal from an administrative position in a prominent church related university. When his name appeared in the local newspaper for a minor infraction deliberately provoked by undercover operatives, he was given twenty-four hours to vacate his office and apartment. My fear of being apprehended and fired increased, so of course, I reinforced the doors to my closet.
On another occasion I struck up a conversation with a good- looking guy at a beach. After a pleasant swim he invited me to his prize-winning Victorian house. As we were talking seriously in the hot tub of his secluded garden, he asked, “What church do you attend? My lover and I are looking for a place to worship.” Ordinarily, I would have been instant in witnessing to my faith, but I realized that a gay couple would not be welcomed where I worshipped. When I did mention my church in the best light possible, I discerned that he was disturbed. My new acquaintance had been a top executive with the Ford Motor Company. His neighbor was a Seventh-day Adventist minister. They had been friends available to fix lawnmowers or play golf until one day the preacher discovered that his neighbor was gay. Never again would the Adventist speak to him. The pride I once felt in my denomination turned to shame. I did, nevertheless, continue to teach my Sabbath School Class of twenty-five years in the choir loft.
My first opportunity to worship with homosexual people came unexpectedly. A thousand miles from my home seemed a safe distance to attend a Metropolitan Community Church, a congregation largely made up of homosexual Christians and those who respect them. I was thrilled to be among hundreds of worshippers enthusiastically entering into praise. Midway in the service I was overcome with joyous emotion and began to weep. I was embarrassed and apologized softly to the gentleman seated next to me. Whereupon he grasped my hand firmly and spoke gently, “Don’t worry. I cried for two years when I found this church.” He had been an active member of a conservative church and an elementary school principal in Michigan not far from where I was teaching. After being dismissed from his job, he moved to Florida where he and his partner are successful and happy. During that service my heart rejoiced and sang; however, I reluctantly returned to my own church.
For two or three years I read insatiably about homosexuality. Certainly I did not go to any library or use normal search methods that might be traced. Instead I visited bookstores in Chicago and purchased whatever I thought might be helpful. Gradually I understood how homosexuals, along with women and persons of color, feel about the omission of their place in history.
Among the subjects I explored was the relationship between religion and homosexuality. I read about twenty books on this subject. Next to the Bible and the Desire of Ages by Ellen White, Chris Glaser’s book Come Home! influenced my devotional life the most. I still treasure the extensive marginalia I wrote while on this spiritual journey. Let me share two. “I decided here to pray about my homosexuality. Heretofore, I guess I sort of blamed God and asked ‘Why?’ Surely this aspect of life, my life, can be prayed about and shared with God. I feel so reticent to include God. Guilt dogs my trail. I doubt myself, blame myself and hate myself, not all the time, but all too often. O GOD! Please show me that you care. I want to trust you. I won’t let go until you bless me with your loving acceptance. Amen.” And later I wrote, “Should I choose to come out, I would find a church fellowship like this [a church which treats us as family, not strangers]. That may make me a closet Adventist. Not necessarily. I suspect they [another church communion] would welcome my Adventism a lot more openly than SDA’s would welcome my homosexuality.”
One spring day I was sitting with my car windows rolled down waiting for my wife to walk past so we could go to the school cafeteria for lunch. My pastor chanced by and asked if he could join me. I readily agreed. Unbeknownst to him, I had spent all morning phoning the six mental facilities on the university insurance list to determine if one might be gay friendly. I had already come out to the pastor so it was no surprise to him when I asked, “Do you feel comfortable with my teaching the Sabbath School Class in the choir loft?” After considerable ‘hemming and hawing’, the minister asked, “Isn’t this too dissonant for you?” From his subsequent comments it became obvious that he would rather I resigned. His rejection was so startling that I pointed to the car seat he occupied and replied, “ If Christ were sitting where you are, he would say, ‘I love you’.” My spirit grieved when I realized that it was inevitable that I must give up my passion for spiritual witness within my church. I voluntarily admitted myself to the mental hospital the next morning to receive the professional help I needed.
An associate pastor and his wife invited my wife, Rilla, and me to go out for dinner. As I suspected, he hoped that we could get better acquainted and talk about our marital situation. From his own experience he was able to talk with us about the Biblical ideal of marriage in a nonjudgmental way. Over a period of months we conversed and prayed together. Even when it became evident that Rilla and I would live separately, he continued our friendship. During a university vacation period this pastor was celebrating the Communion. Rilla had left with the ladies for the foot washing, and I decided for the first time in my life that I would just sit in the pew without participating. This minister walked directly to me and invited me to participate in the service of humility with him. His spiritual nurture for me, feeling an outcast, was evident. I accepted his invitation.
MOVING TO SAN FRANCISCO
On June l, l998, I took my Steinway piano, the antique cherry desk and a few other personal belongings to San Francisco where I now live with my partner, Tyler Kelly. He and I joined Grace Episcopal Cathedral, which is only two blocks from our home. Each of us had become dissatisfied with the exclusionary practices of our respective churches. My leave-taking of the Seventh-day Adventist Church was the only honorable route available to me given my sexual orientation. It is my view that a loving God would not create me an abomination nor require me to deny who I am. Tyler and I enjoy worshipping together in a welcoming environment. The Dean of Grace Cathedral, while attending a conference in a distant city, was asked if his congregation and clergy tolerated homosexuals. He replied, “Absolutely not! They are part of who we are!”
The Biblical quotation chiseled in stone over the doorway to Pioneer Memorial Church, at Andrews University, “An house of prayer for all people”, used to bother me because I felt excluded. In no way do I repudiate my forty years as a Professor of Music, a church elder, and Sabbath School teacher. I bask, however, in the inclusion of my new church home.
Soon after I joined Grace Cathedral, I was enjoying the fellowship of the coffee hour when a man came running across the room to embrace me warmly. To my shock it was a former piano student of mine at Andrews University. He introduced his partner of sixteen years, and we proceeded to catch up with our experiences of the past twenty years. He told me about the struggle with his sexuality while on an Adventist campus. A counselor, in whom he had confided as a maturing graduate student, broke confidence. Within days he administration threatened to expel the student. As it turned out, he was allowed to complete the quarter and graduate. However, he was discriminated against in his job applications and recommendations which forced him to accept a mundane job outside his education as a master of music.
I am trying to diffuse my resentment and anger by becoming part of a process of reconciliation and healing. Recently, I spearheaded the development of a pamphlet entitled “The Episcopal Church Welcomes Us.” This was the result of a group effort and received approval by laity and clergy. After the worship service this material is prominently displayed. At the break you may wish to peruse a copy and for a suggested 50 cent contribution you may take it with you. I have a dream that someday you may wish to develop a comparable flyer which is entitled “The Adventist Church Welcomes Us.”
OBSERVATIONS FROM MY EXPERIENCE
I am learning to take responsibility for who I am. As a human being, I deserve space to survive and thrive. There is room for me at the foot of the cross and at Christ’s communion table. I further believe that the Holy Spirit speaks equally to all persons. It is my privilege to become a child of God, no more and no less. There are no conditions or limitations of God’s love towards each person. The religious right has no right to deny my rights or rites (r-i-t-e-s).
After careful study and reflection, I continue to believe that the experiences recorded in the Bible serve as a springboard to our understanding of Deity. Revelations about God are ongoing and vital to spiritual progress. Some well-meaning church members may limit their spiritual growth by a proof text response to the Scriptures; I choose, however, to grow beyond the need to hide behind societal norms or traditional Biblical interpretations. Cultural and denominational bias serves me negatively when it permits me to dismiss or demean persons different from me.
I think that it is important to acknowledge my past, to grieve injustice towards lesbian and gay persons and to repent of sins towards them. That includes times when I was speechless when my voice might have made a difference. Homosexuals were singled out for special torture during the holocaust and there were pitifully few who even spoke out or even today know that this horror happened. Unfortunately, across the world we are still the objects of violent hate crimes. I urge all thinking citizens to renounce violence. Until we have infinite knowledge, infinite wisdom and infinite love, we cannot administer infinite justice.
In my opinion the theological arguments for and against homosexuality are as inconclusive as they are conflicting. I have read extensively on this subject. Because I am a gay man, it is difficult to view the discussion objectively. I admit my bias resulting from who I am. Serious consideration leads me to conclude that the prejudice and insecurity of some heterosexuals within the church also skew the picture. I submit that similar challenges to the collective moral conscience include other social issues such as the Biblical treatment of Gentiles, the colonial treatment of slaves and the present treatment of women in the church. I embrace the transcendent principles of love, honor and acceptance that permeate all genuine spiritual paths in the solution of ethical dilemmas.
Is homosexuality a sin? The oft-repeated slogan, “hate the sin and lover the sinner,” does not help. Unless I know the answer for sure, I am not able to condemn the existence of homosexuals, nor judge their behavior, nor deny their privilege of establishing loving relationships. I cringe when I hear that AIDS results from a judgment of God. I reject extreme statements which accuse L/G/B/T people of sins which encourage God to withdraw his protection from America or any other country.
Correct information goes a long ways towards dispelling fear. Issues surrounding homosexuality are complex and there are no simple answers. Scientific evidence and statistics may be played to advantage on either side of the debate. As scientists map the human genome the hereditary aspect of homosexuality is becoming clearer. Homosexuals are human beings who happen to be gay or lesbian. Offensive stereotypes and derogatory labels harm all who use them. Christ’s compassion demands the application of the “Golden Rule”.
From an ethical perspective it seems imperative to ask gays and lesbians about their experience and trust them as equals. There is enough blame to go around, and both homosexuals and heterosexuals are caught up in the moral dilemma. All thinking persons are challenged to participate in making our homes, schools, churches and workplaces more open and tolerant. The churches have a current opportunity to help provide basic needs which are often denied gay and lesbian persons.
Boys and girls thrive in a secure environment at school free from derision and physical abuse. Youth belong within the loving embrace of family instead of experiencing censure and banishment. High school and college students should participate in honest discussions of sexual issue; they have a right to confidential and professional counseling and they need openly gay and lesbian role models. Adults deserve job security, equal housing opportunities, protection from hate crimes and social acceptance. In the event of illness or death homosexual people deserve visitation rights, legal protection and honorable burial. The churches have a golden opportunity to take a lead in overcoming heterosexism and homophobia.
A PERSONAL TESTIMONY
To my way of thinking homosexual persons have considerable gifts to contribute to the church. Gays and lesbians make up a disproportionately large segment of the helping professions such as health and pastoral care, the artistic vocations such as music and other arts, and the teaching areas in a broad spectrum. To deny these persons an opportunity to serve within the church community impoverishes the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
At this point in my spiritual journey I feel more at peace. I am still flawed and human. Yet I am content to trust God’s grace and I try to accept each day with optimism. Many opportunities for ministry come my way. It remains a privilege to dialog with any person or group of people about my faith including my lifestyle and sexual orientation.
Since you have invited me and because I am part of a controversial sexual minority, I have emphasized this aspect of my life on this occasion. Sexuality constitutes only a portion of life. I crave acceptance as a whole person, rather than being a case study or a prickly example. On this occasion I do not have time to share with you a more complete life story. I would rather reminisce about my wonderful family, my successful career and my artistic delights. .
When I was a boy soprano, I often sang at evangelistic meetings. Return with me to enjoy a gospel song, “Just as I Am”. God’s unmerited mercy accepts each of us as we are. I want to share this message with new meaning in a piano arrangement by John Innes. I am grateful to be alive. I am glad to be gay. God is still good.
For security reasons, I prefer using Twitter, hastag #arnoland if you have any comments or questions.