Sunday, October 21, 2007

Abandoned Friendship

He used to talk about me that way.

I sat across the table listening to him tell others about how this other guy was right for the project we were doing. It was hard to hear the praises of someone else when we had formerly worked so well together. I was feeling replaced and for this past week, I've had to come to terms with some hard realities.

I think I was wrong about the substance of our friendship.

It was easier for me to always describe him as the straight friend who walked with me through my journey. As I shared my story, I would reference him as a friend I came out to and supported my process. He was someone I could bounce ideas off of - someone I could process my questions with. I wasn't alone on my journey because he was there.

But when I look back, that isn't what actually happened. We talked about the issue occasionally. He read my blog every once in a while. We saw each other every day because we worked together, albeit for God, and even talked passionately about vision and community and the things of God together. But when I reconciled my faith and my sexuality, he abandoned the friendship.

What happened to him walking with me? He was simply supervising my struggle . . . .

We've known each other for nine years. We shared hearts and passion and vision and paradigms. We had a synergy that I've not shared with anyone else. We both spoke the same language and God used our complementary strengths and weaknesses to serve His Kingdom. We were a pair. And when I came out to him, he supported my struggle.

I wanted to change. He wanted me to change. But he was patient with my process and he was willing to wait through my struggle. I participated in ex-gay programs for two years. He remained a supportive outside observer. He affirmed our friendship. I posed questions as I journeyed through the struggle. He loved the questions because it's refreshing to our faith. It led to interesting conversations, plus it was a good story for him to be able to say that he had a friend struggling with homosexuality with whom he was "walking with".

Then God began in me a process leading towards reconciling my faith and my sexuality. It started to complicate things. It started to challenge his own belief system about the issue. But he was still engaging the questions. How do we respond to the brothers and sisters within our Church who struggle with being gay? Celibacy seemed like the best compromise. I saw him journey from having a Side X view of believing heterosexual transformation was necessary to having a Side B view of believing that gay Christians ought to abstain from such activity. I saw it as growth in him.

Then I did reconcile my faith and my sexuality, claiming a Side A view that it's okay to be gay and Christian within the context of monogamy, commitment and faithfulness. I began to believe that there was no difference between homosexuals and heterosexuals and that we all are capable of unhealthy sexual sin but we are called to an authentic and genuine love - for God and for each other. I began to see through a new and fresher lens.

But he knew me. I didn't fit in his box of what those gay Christians were like. I walked with God and my faith as a lifestyle was real and sincere. I short-circuited his belief system because if it were okay by God for me to accept myself as gay (even though I had been gay this whole time), then that would require an adjustment to his beliefs - something that would apparently require too much humility.

I became Side A and since he couldn't follow me there, rather than remaining at Side B, he found it easier to return to his Side X beliefs. He had to. His belief system was in jeopardy and he could either walk onto unknown waters on faith based on what God had been showing him so far or he could return to familiar ground.

I remember the conversation. He needed time away from our friendship so that he could sort everything out. I had stepped away from our public ministry because my potentially controversial presence would have been a distraction from our vision and message of unity within the Church. Ironic. But he needed to figure out how to function within that public ministry without me - without his pair. And we both needed to grieve that loss.

Our ministry relationship had been divorced and so it was easier for him for us not to be around each other. It may have been convenient for him as he eventually replaced me with a ministry team of people with whom he could lean on. That was a blessing for him and the organization. But I was still alone, feeling like our friendship wasn't worth maintaining.

Today's blog post was triggered by a blog post that Peterson wrote last week for ex-gay survivors. He listed off many of the ways we've been harmed by ex-gay experiences. One of the things he described was harm to our relationships. He mentioned, "friends who rejected us because the conditional nature of the friendship. Once we no longer identified as ex-gay and a struggler, they ended the relationship..."

He asked for survivors to share how they've been harmed and this is an excerpt from my response comment (that eventually led to me writing today's blog post): " . . . . This still has hurt me tremendously. I thought I had a friend who was walking with me but that wasn't true. Rather than continuing to walk with me despite how it challenged his paradigm, he chose to distance himself to repair his original theology. Knowing me screwed him up. And it hurts accepting the fact that he really wasn't walking with me. His compassion for me was limited by his conditional acceptance."

He joined the ranks of those who ostracized me - those who ex-communicated me from their regular fellowship. The problem was that his actions weren't consistent with his stance of friendship when we were on the phone or in person. So I held to the illusion of a friend who walked with me because I didn't want to admit the fact that he abandoned the friendship long ago.

I'm realizing that at the core of our relationship, it was a ministry one. When we removed the shell of ministry, we had no other interaction. We shared no common interest outside of the call to community. Our ministry relationship was divorced and we continued forward living out the call separately. Now, God has brought us back together into a different context - both a part of a broader community collaborative, now representing separate organizations.

Honestly, it's hard for me to see him succeed because I feel like he chose that over our friendship. Could he have had both? Perhaps. Or maybe he needed to distance himself from me in order to remain in the good favor of the pastors he was networking with. And I think there's some bitterness in me there too. I'm glad to see the work of the public ministry succeed. But my heart is still there because it was an organization that God birthed out of the two of us.

I voluntarily stepped away from the organization so that it could succeed in its vision. But he should have fought for me. He should have defended me. And that admission is hurting me right now.


Peterson Toscano said...

Eric, I find this posts to be painful because it resonates with similar circumstances in my life. To find that a friend really saw me more as a ministry project to minister to and that our friendship was actually conditional wounded me deeply. Even today I feel leery of some friendships wondering where the breaking point might be.

Thank you for the integrity and the courage with which you dig into these issues. Thank you for revealing your heart.

Anonymous said...

The brutal honesty of your posts always impress me. They also inspire me to try an achieve a better authenticity with myself.

I'm truly sorry that your friend chose the ministry over you. How your journey made him wander away from you.

Thank you for sharing.

Bill Rogers said...

Eric, I resonate with this somewhat as I had a friend who was always very open minded and accepting, or so it seemed, who abandoned me after I came out. The only difference is that I came out as a struggler and he still abandoned me. However, most of my friends, even my Christian friends, have remained with me and for that I am grateful. Thanks for your honest sharing.


The Rainbow Zebra said...

Just know you have a straight/Christian friend (and my family) in FL who will ALWAYS walk with you.

(((((Eric)))))) Love you hon.

Steve said...

Eric, I understand the feelings of loss. For years, my ministry activities and ministry brothers defined my life and friendships. When I found that their primary view of me was rescue, save and repair, it seemed to cheapen the memory of everything we had done together.

And then there are people who really are true, Christian friends - who share the joys and discoveries and pains and embarrassments in life. Last night, I was sharing with my str8 friend Nathan the "fun" of coming out late in life, and having things like "first dates" at 50 years old...

And I have to admit that most of the friends who have faded away have also been "nudged away" by distance, and time - not by my orientation. We are not in each others' lives - I am here in Ohio, they are there in Kansas. Our paths cross so rarely...The ones who have rejected me based on being gay have been few - but then the Lutherans have always been more middle of the road than most evangelicals on that topic.

The song that comes to mind as I re-read your post was Wayne Watson's A Season In Your Path...if you don't know it, email me and I'll send you the MP3.

Heard that friends are friends forever
But we don't talk much anymore
I guess that I’ve gone my way
And I guess that you've gone yours
Was kindness too neglected
On my list of deep regret?
In spite of distance unexpected
Can we forgive but not forget?

Sometimes I think about you
Some old memories make me cry
Remembering the good times makes me laugh
But all in all I'm richer
For the happy and the sad
And I'm thankful for a season in your path

I guess God alone deciphers
When people need each other most
Who will be the blessed receiver
And who will be the gracious host
And all a servant here can do
Is unto the Lord avail
Content at times to be the wind
And at times to be the sail

If another winter settles
On your shoulder down the road
Without a thought of what's behind us
Let me help you pull your load

Sometimes I think about you
Some old memories make me cry
Remembering the good times makes me laugh
But all in all I'm richer
For the happy and the sad
And I'm thankful for a season in your path...

Hugs across the miles, Eric.

Brad Fieldhouse said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pomoprophet said...

Thanks, Eric, for pointing me to this post. It is sad how we (and it is "we" for I am sure we have our areas where we do the same thing) make relationships so conditional. And most of us don't even know it!

I think you're right about people resorting back to what is comfortable rather than have their beliefs crumble. It is telling about the modern state of Christianity when people are too afraid to venture out in faith. This reminds me of my journey from conservative evangelicalism into a more postmodern mindset. Beliefs were falling all around and I didn't know what to do and many of my friends and co-ministers stepped back and pushed me away to keep their little world afloat.

Somewhere there are genuine people...

Grace man, grace!