X, as I am going to call him or her, is a young person with a degenerative nerve disease. I first caught sight of X at Gene's sermon at St. Mary’s, Putney on Sunday. X was there again on Monday night for Gene’s appearance with Sir Ian McKellen at the British premier of For the Bible Tells Me So. I later learned from a member of X’s parish that X is very devout and very active in the parish, as is X’s family. Not long ago, X came out, to friends and family, as a member of the GLBT community—a difficult moment in any life, compounded by the complications of X’s nerve disease.
Gene has been a beacon for X, the member of X’s parish told me. The fact that he is both proudly Christian and proudly gay has helped keep X in the Church. And remaining in the Church, a lifelong source of hope and comfort has given X strength for an extremely difficult journey. I spent several years as a sportswriter, and have profiled a few handfuls of famous people during my journalistic career. I am familiar with the look on fans’ faces when they meet their heroes. I saw that look on X’s face on Sunday when X had a chance to spend a few private minutes with Gene after his sermon at Putney. Excitement, admiration and gratitude passed in waves over X’s young face, but X wasn’t so star struck as to make conversation impossible. This wasn’t just a matter to getting an autograph, or shaking a celebrity’s hand—it was putting one’s self in a pastor’s hands, and trusting him to take good care of you. I don’t know what Gene and X talked about, but I know that X among the first to arrive for the movie premiere the following evening.
X and others like X remain in the church, or come into the church because they believe they can trust a church that counts Gene among its leaders. When you consider the issue of gay bishops, and same sex relationships it may be helpful to think not of Gene, or Susan Russell, or the other great advocates for the cause of GLBT people in the church. Think of X and all the people in X’s position, people who long to feel the love of God and experience the support of their Church, but who can feel neither, in most of the Anglican Communion, unless they deny who they are or accept the notion that the God who smiles upon heterosexual intimacy has created them for a lifetime of celibacy.
To argue against gay bishops and gay clergy is to argue against a Church that can reach out effectively to people like X. It is to argue that the good Gene has done in this person’s life is outweighed by the necessity of preserving a bitterly contested interpretation of the Scriptures. It is to argue that God endorses the concept of acceptable casualties, and is not troubled if X, and others like X, are among them.