I Hope He’s Happy Down There

I have a good friend who Bev and I met at Divinity School a few years ago. He was a prosperous business man, who in mid-life decided to become a minister. He will probably make an extraordinary minister. He’s strong, yet sensitive; passionate about his beliefs, yet understanding of others. He’s also a dedicated Red Sox fan, which can’t hurt. One thing about him that he doesn’t talk about too much is that he is also “gay,” a gentle euphemism some people use for being homosexual.

The first church he served was a large prosperous one in a Boston suburb. He got off to a fairly good start. Good sermons, good programs, good youth work. However, after a few months he decided that he should be honest and tell them about his controversial sexual orientation. I think he figured that since homosexuality is such an emotional, polarizing subject, it would be better to tell the truth than to continue lying and someday be found out. In a sermon one day he talked about the struggles, the secrecy, the ridicule, and the nasty looks he often got from people when they knew. He told it all.

I don’t know how well the sermon was received with the congregation. Some time after that he was working with his sexton in the church’s fellowship hall. They were changing light bulbs. My friend held the ladder while the sexton climbed it to reach the lights. When they finished, they both carried the ladder back to the storage closet. As I recall, they were talking about the sermon and my friend’s homosexuality. The sexton was fairly quiet during the conversation, but by itself, that didn’t seem odd. But suddenly, without warning, the sexton rammed the ladder forward and pinned my friend’s head against the wall. Then the sexton began hitting him and kicking him repeatedly until he finally fell to the ground. He remembers screaming but he couldn’t get away. The sexton was a big man and he continued swinging his fists at my friend in rage until he finally was unconscious. He doesn’t remember anything after that for some time, but he understands from the stories told by people who came in to stop the fight that the sexton continued hitting him again and again long after he was unconsciousness on the floor.

He was in the hospital for several days after that from broken bones, lacerations, and a serious concussion in his head. And he was in bed for several days more eating with a straw and trying to learn to walk again. When he finally returned to the church everyone tried to be very nice. The sexton was punished, the people forgave him, everyone was sympathetic, everything was back to normal, but not long after that my friend left the church. He moved away and took a tiny little church in a tiny town down along the Mexican border and so far as I know, that’s where he is today.

I thought about him today because I’ve heard so many stories recently about churches firing ministers who were gay, or denominations de-churching local congregations when they hired someone who was gay. And, of course, our nation continues to debate whether it is right to allow homosexuals to serve their country in the military or hold office or buy property, or join major political parties. Maybe I have also remembered his story because it’s hard to argue about “those people” in the abstract when I can remember my friend’s face after he got out of the hospital.

I hope my friend is happy down there on the border. With his skills and gifts he could be an extraordinary minister. I wonder if he has gotten the courage to tell them the truth yet.