That question is explored in author Laura Lee’s new book, Angel, scheduled for release next week. I will be interviewing her at 11am EDT today on my Blog Talk Radio show, “Christ Enlight.” You can listen to the show, either live or on demand, by visiting http://www.Blogtalkradio/cbergland or by visiting the multi-media page of the http://www.ChristEnlight.org website.
So? What if your male pastor fell in love with another man? That’s the question Angel seeks to explore. A widowed, forty-two year old pastor named Paul Tobit finds himself attracted to a twenty-five year old man named Ian, who comes to his church to attend and Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Their chance meeting is followed by a series of events which draws them into each other’s lives and forces Pastor Tobit to come to terms not only with this discovery about himself, but also his marriage to Sara that ended when she died of cancer. He’s also forced to confront the growing suspicion within his congregations about the nature of his relationship with Ian.
Laura Lee offers insight into the world of the Church that can only be gained by having spent significant time there. The truth is that many church people are profoundly un-Christian, hardly the type of people you would want to associate with socially. They are judgmental, gossipy, nosy, self-righteous, vindictive, and filled with a barely concealed anger that simmers just below the surface of their being – and that’s on their good days! Paul encounters all of these qualities in his congregation, as well as his own preconceived notions of human sexuality, and struggles to move toward a whole and loving place in his life. Ironically, his church flourishes as his love for Ian flourishes, but it is that very love that brings conflict within the church as well.
That fact is perhaps the most telling indictment of institutional religion in the book. It is perhaps the ultimate irony that institutional Christianity has come to use membership and attendance numbers as the yardstick of a pastor’s performance, and while many tricks and devices have been manufactured to create the right environment for church growth the only reliable factor impacting church growth is a loving, energized pastor – but if we believe he or she is loving the wrong person we do our best to drive them out of ministry. Ironically, the very thing that makes a pastor effective – love – can be the same thing that members can’t tolerate in him or her.
Angel is a book we all need to read, because it’s more than a story about one man and his ability to love. Reading it, I found myself contemplating not only issues of human sexuality, but also issues of privacy, issues of prejudice and stereotypes, issues of church politics, and the variety of ways in which love and sexuality coexist in the human experience in ways both new and old. What is it about most heterosexual church members that cause them to be better able to deal with a promiscuous heterosexual pastor than a monogamous homosexual or bisexual pastor? Why do we care more about who someone is with than about how someone is with that same person?
I’ll be promoting this book heavily and talking about the issues in it frequently because this book addresses the unexpressed issues that still linger in the minds of heterosexual people in denomination that have rightly voted to include LGBT people in the full life of the Church, including ordination. It’s one thing to say you accept somebody, but it’s another to understand that their life struggles, the issues which they must face, are the same as everyone else’s – it’s only the gender of the people that changes.