Let’s talk about sex

By on September 1, 2009

When two straight men meet for a series of same-sex lunches, anything can happen. Canon Harold Munn recalls the year of living dangerously. More important, he shares what each learned about the other while discussing same-sex blessings.

WE MET IN one of those dreaded clergy gatherings where the bishop numbers you off into groups of five. It was time, the bishop insisted, to discuss THE issue. We went around the little circle, most of us opposed to any change in the traditional practice, me a minority of one. My words felt as if they were landing on the most barren of ground.

Except for one colleague. I didn’t know him very well but he listened carefully and appeared to take my position seriously. Didn’t prove me wrong at every word. I thought he might be open to further discussion and we arranged to meet for lunch. It was clear that a thoughtful person like him would need only a few minutes listening to my careful explanations. Then he too would join the ranks of people who had heard the call of the Spirit.

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We met in a pub near his church in the middle of Vancouver Island. I quickly discovered that he’d thought more deeply about same-sex blessings than I’d expected. For every telling point I made, he had a counter-point ready. I realized I would need a second lunch to convince him.

A month later we met in a restaurant near my church. By the end of the meal he was no more convinced of my position than the month before. Even worse, I was running out of arguments. I told myself it was always good to listen to the other person if you wanted them to listen to you. When he saw how sincere and loving I was, he’d be convinced. Besides, next time it would be his turn to pay.

So the next month, in a Chinese restaurant near his church, we chatted about congregational life, the latest diocesan meetings, our families. And about the same-sex issue. We tried out the latest arguments we’d been saving up. When they didn’t work, we weren’t really very surprised.

Then it was a greasy spoon near my place. The weather was miserable-cold and drizzly. It had been fun, but we both knew the time was coming to get serious. There were consequences. We tried to find a way to clasp hands (ideologically, of course), and hold a circle in which each of us had a place no matter how different our positions.

We failed.

As we trudged through the rain to our cars I did my best to sound friendly, but I had the sinking feeling this was the end. It was close to Good Friday, and the immediate future looked pretty bleak if after all this time, the two of us couldn’t find a way to be in church together. It looked as if the experiment had failed and the lunches were over. And even the Spirit couldn’t make headway.

Still, we arranged another lunch, sometime before Pentecost, back in the pub where it had all started. It was like meeting an old friend. Hand-clasps. A hug. “It’s great to see you!” We talked about Easter, what was coming up for Pentecost, plans for the summer and the latest diocesan gossip.

We completely forgot to talk about sex. This was a potential disaster since Mary Ruth Snyder, editor of the Diocesan Post, (newspaper of the diocese of British Columbia) had asked us to write up our conversations for a series called “Same-sex lunches.” The next deadline was looming. So we wrote about how much fun we’d had talking about sex and not talking about sex, and encouraged our readers to do the same.

When the article appeared, an irate elderly reader called me on the phone. She’d had lunch with an equally elderly lady friend, and wanted to know if I was accusing her of having a same-sex lunch. She wasn’t having any of that, she bristled. She was a sweetie and it wasn’t long before she was laughing.

My same-sex lunch colleague wasn’t so easily persuaded. To this day, he remains entirely convinced that God is calling us to faithfulness by resisting with all our might the call to bless something abhorrent to Him. I remain equally convinced that God is calling us into faithfulness by blessing these holy relationships. At the end of nearly a year of these lunches neither of us had budged one iota from our original positions.

But both of us has changed profoundly. I find myself defending my lunch-mate’s position from unfair criticism when I am with colleagues who share my point of view. He declares, for anyone who will hear, that I am a “true” liberal. I take that as a true compliment. I see in him a deeply committed follower of Christ, loyally going where he has been called, regardless of the consequences. I feel at home with such integrity, even though I continue to work for that which he profoundly believes to be false.

Will the Spirit somehow draw the two of us into a common understanding? Not so far. But something important did happen. A loyalty and a friendship sprang up from barren ground. And it would never have happened if we’d shared the same perspective on same-sex blessings. One thing we do agree on: miracles in the church are still possible. And who knows? The Holy Spirit may yet “gather us into one great family” at God’s eternal banquet.

I’m counting on it.

Canon Harold Munn is rector of The Church of St. John the Divine in Victoria, B.C.

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