You’ve got to know when to hold’em

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So you have probably read my post from the weekend about Idoya’s coming out and the family’s response to it so far. Thank you for all the support, kind words and connection. Even if I haven’t come back to you personally I want you to know it is very much appreciated and not taken for granted.

That being said I wanted to let people know that we are good, I am good, the situation as it sits right now is as good as it can be. I have had moments in the last six months where I have gone to the darkest place possible for a person to go, but come through those and am out the other side.

I often think about life as a poker game, you get dealt cards and they are the only cards you have, the only ones you can play with. You can’t steal a few extra cards from the deck…you have what you have and nothing else, what matters in poker is how you play those cards. The cards we have are that Idoya is a lesbian, I am straight, we have children and our current outcome, the way we’re playing these cards, is pretty much as well as we possibly can at this point.

When this all first happened I search and searched the internet for help, I looked to see if our story was told elsewhere and what I could gleam from it to help me. I didn’t find our story which surprised me. I found some similar(ish) stories and I found many inspiring stories from the spouse who had come out and found themselves, or I found stories from the heterosexual spouse which many times were vicious, hateful and bitter.

“Nowadays I don’t even think of him. He lied to me, the person I trusted the most in the world. I learned that one never really knows anyone, even their partner of 10 years. How could I get this so wrong?”

“I will never forgive her for what she has done to me but mostly what she did to two wonderful kids who deserved none of this.”

“It has been hard for the kids as his behaviour has changed so dramatically. It’s like straight Jekyll and gay Hyde! Since being out, he sees very little of the children.”

Now whilst I acknowledge I have not walked a mile in these people’s shoes, and cannot know what happened in their marriages, like these comments, nothing I read resonated with me and my story so I have decided to tell my story so that when the next person goes through what I have been through…maybe they can find a resource the will help them.

There are some amazing stories out there of couples who have stayed in some form of loving relationship like Glennon Doyle Melton and her husband. Glennon, who is the author of ‘Love Warrior’, has a journey to coming out that has been something that I have grasped onto many times. Her ‘ex-husband’, who she refers to as her ‘forever life partner’ seems to be an amazingly supportive and loving man, but his story is not out there…so even the places where I found kindred spirits there were gaps in the story for me to grasp onto.

All I can say today is that I feel a responsibility to put my story, my perspective, my ideas on this whole crazy thing we call life out there, and in the future if this is helpful to someone then great. It may not be that you are going through a situation exactly like ours, but maybe you are having issues in your relationship, trouble in paradise or difficulty, of whatever kind, in your partnership…then hopefully my story may speak something to you on some level.

Remember we all get dealt cards we must play in the game of life, sometimes the cards are crap and we need to either figure out how to play them well or give up on the hand.

As Kenny Rogers tells us…

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you’re sittin’ at the table
There’ll be time enough for countin’
When the dealin’s done

This is still very early in my journey, and how/where we will land is not yet known, but for the beginning stages of this crazy new life, with my ‘ITH’ and kids by my side, I think we’re sitting at the table, counting our money and now we need to figure out how to either gamble it, bank it or spend it.

We’re coming out

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Whatipu, 2014

As it is plainly obvious I have been very quiet on here for the past six or seven months. There are lots of reasons for this, but the main one is that there has been something going on in my personal life, and to be honest, writing pithy pieces about politics, religion or pop culture has been pretty low on the priority order.

Many of you know my wife Idoya, and many of you know that we have collaborated on content like elephantTV and that we have advocated for the LGBTI community for a long time. What many of you may not know is that a couple of years ago Idoya came out as bisexual and has identified as such since then. It’s not that it has been a secret, Idoya has written about it openly on her blog, but as most of you here read my writing mostly, it may not be as well known to you.

In the second half of last year, Idoya came to a realisation that she wasn’t bisexual, she was in fact gay. As I am sure you can imagine this created many questions about our relationship and what it meant for us as a couple and as a family unit. To me it was obvious that if one is bisexual then a partner can be male or female, but if one is gay…then a member of the opposite sex is outside the circle of people one can be in a sexual relationship with. 

It has been a difficult time for us and I would like to say today, to the very few people who knew the journey we were on, thank you so much for your support.

I want to let you know that Idoya and I are very much committed to one another and to the kids (obviously) but our marriage as it was…is no more. We are living together in the same house, albeit in separate bedrooms, which is exactly how we want life to be right now and it means the kids have lost neither mum nor dad. We are here as a family unit going through this stage of life together and strong. What we have now is a new commitment to a relationship that will likely be very different to any other you have seen before. We still love each other, we are still committed to each other and to the family unit, we still support one another and want what is best for one another. Who we are to one another is hard to quantify right now and we sometimes (jokingly) call each other our ‘ITH’ which stands for ‘insert title here’…what that title will be in the future, who knows.

From researching what feels like hundreds of instances where, within an apparent straight relationship, one party realises that they are gay, these are the four most common scenarios:

  1. The gay spouse has always known and has either lied to themselves and their partner, or they have suppressed their true feelings in order to maintain some kind of expected societal norm.
  2. There has been infidelity where the gay spouse has come to this realisation and then experimented in their new found understanding of their orientation.
  3. There have been clear signs that are obvious to the both people (e.g. “Oh that’ll explain why we haven’t had sex for two years”) as they look back once the revelation has occurred.
  4. The couple split immediately and it’s fairly ugly.

None of these four scenarios describe our situation, although on reflection Idoya does connect the dots and can ‘see signs’ but maybe it’s just the ‘bloke’ in me but I didn’t see them, and still don’t really. Even in a situation that is not that common, our story seems unique and not-the-norm. Idoya and I have had our difficult times over the past few months as this has been incredibly stressful, but I constantly come back to the position that Idoya has done nothing wrong. She has discovered a truth about herself and she has not wronged me or the children. So how can I do anything but support her in her journey and, in turn, go on my own journey as well to find out what this all means for me, for us and for the whole family?

As far as our daughters go, this is now their new normal. Currently all three of my precious girls are thriving and going from strength to strength. The choices we’ve made in handling this, particularly in working so hard to keep our family unit as together as it possibly can be, may seem weird to some, but I see our daughters as canaries in the coal mine who show us that so far we are doing well.  We have done our best at every step to move forward with integrity and love, and because of that, for now anyway, they are taking it in their stride.

Idoya is a writer and has written in a far more eloquent way than I and if you have an interest in what I am going through, then I think it’s important for you to read her perspective as well.

Finally I want to address the ‘religious’ elephant in the room. Many of you will know my involvement within the church and within church organisations. Many of you in those communities will be questioning how it is that we can be accepting of this new life which such apparent confidence. I can only say this: the Bible states in the Book of Psalms that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” This is the idea that as humans we were created as unique and special right from the womb. I want to state publicly that I see what Idoya has realised about herself as precious. She is as fearfully and wonderfully created today, as an out lesbian, as she was on the day I married her. This is who she is and I am proud of her and fully support her.

It’s Time

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona – a cathedral under construction for more than 130 years

A guest post by Idoya Munn

Change. The church has been doing it since she was born. We are a responsive creature. We move, adjust, transition, re-configure, re-imagine, re-group, adapt, alter, and transform. It’s a sign of life.

Here’s a potted history:  Pentecost, Constantine, Polycarp, Clement, Iraneaus, the Council of Nicaea, Arianism, the Council of Ephesus, The Nestorian Schism, the Iconclasts, monastic reform, the Inquisition, the East-West Schism, the Crusades, John Wycliffe, the Protestant Reformation. Each name or event a marker for a moment of tumult.

Some versions of church history will have you believe that it was all plain sailing after the Reformation. But let’s not forget the Catholic Reformation, the conflicts between Lutherans and Calvinists, the Council of Trent, the Puritans of the New World, Wesley, the Great Awakening, Pentecostalism, Mormanism, William Wilberforce, the Missionary movement, Vatican II, and the development of Ecumenism. All moments or inceptions of change.

Now cast your minds back over the vast range of issues that have caused the church to divide and re-make itself in the last two centuries alone; slavery, segregation, mixed-race marriage, the sexual revolution and changing attitudes towards divorce and re-marriage, the role of women, the division (or not) of church and state, the growth of Pentecostalism and the mega-church, the young people leaving the church in droves, and now what seems to be the greatest controversy of all; the emergence of a brand new sexual ethic. That is, we have come to the conclusion that there is a thing, and this thing is called sexual orientation.

Let us not underestimate how new this thing is. We didn’t have the concept sexual orientation until very recently.  Moses didn’t have it when he wrote Leviticus, the Romans didn’t have it while their military leaders enjoyed their male concubines. Paul didn’t have it when he wrote Romans. Even when the word homosexuality came into common useage in the English language in the early 1900’s, we barely had this thing. The words sexual orientation had not even been formed. The Greek poet Sappho, the tragic Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing – the subject of the film The Imitation Game, and even the vociferous Gertrude Stein, all lived before the concept of sexual orientation as we understand it now was put into words.

So how do we read theology then, in the light of this? How do we read the Bible? How do we make up our minds about LGBTI Christians? How do we decide what we think about same-sex marriage? How do churches and denominations make the daunting decisions that face them about the inclusion of gay couples in parish life, and about the legal changes that are transforming society’s understanding and practice of marriage? And most importantly, how will the church respond to the growing appetite from within its ranks for a new understanding of sexuality? One that is inclusive rather than divisive; one that loves rather than judges; one that sees similarities before it sees differences.

When we talk about same-sex marriage and the brand new civil right of marriage equality, a right so brand new that we are not all convinced it is a civil right, we are not speaking in a vacuum. This issue is not a neat and tidy package that can be responded to with simple logic, or brushed under the carpet with a heavily-wielded stack of bible verses.  This is new territory. We haven’t been here before. History and tradition inform us, but they cannot guide us where they have not been. We bring them with us, tucked into our conversations, allowing them to ground us and challenge us and warn us of the dire consequences of getting this wrong. Let’s be clear: there are lives at stake.  And not lives that would be measured by how well they affirm some universally agreed upon definition of what it means to be a Christian, but individual, uniquely created people. People who get up in the morning and go to bed at night, people who laugh and cry and breathe, who have children, jobs, homes, dreams, passions and loves. People who love.

In Africa, in this century, thirty six nations prescribe jail sentences for homosexuality. In three of those sodomy is punishable by death. Other nations convict with flogging, hard labour, or life-time jail sentences. Even in the few African nations where being gay is not illegal, homophobia and transphobia and related hate violence are rife.  In Russia, despite the fact that homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, Putin’s powerful anti-LGBTI propaganda bill means that anyone convicted of LGBTI “propaganda” to minors can be fined or imprisoned. Activists have been detained for acts as simple as carrying “Gay is Normal” banners. And even in seemingly open and tolerant countries such as New Zealand, suicide rates for LGBTI youth are tragically high.

This is not a theological problem, although theology is a vital part of the conversation. This is not an entirely political problem, although politics are changing and clearly need to change. This is not about the denigration of society, or the destruction of the family, or the manipulation of society’s mores by some vast lobby group with a “gay agenda.” This is a human problem. It is about people. And specifically, as it is becoming more and more apparent, it is about people within our churches, people we sit next to in pews and bake cakes for and pray for. People who from the outside may not look any different. Except for one small difference. We understand that difference better now than we did before. It’s those words; sexual orientation.  It’s time to smarten up and allow those words to inform our conversation about sexuality and marriage. And it’s time to listen to the people to whom the conversation matters most.

Christian voices from within the LGBTI community:

 Justin Lee

Vicky Beeching

Jeff Chu

Matthew Vines

Jennifer Knapp

Christian leaders, authors and academics who have come out in support of marriage equality and LGBTI rights… a few names out of many:

David P Gushee

Rachel Held Evans

Tony Campolo

Steve Chalke

Rob Bell

Brian D McLaren

Organisations committed to the conversation:

A Different Conversation

The Reformation Project

Accepting Evangelicals

The Gay Christian Network

The Marin Foundation

Canyonwalker Connections

Marriage Equality is the New Civil Rights Movement

It’s probably been fairly obvious for a while that I am a supporter of marriage equality.  I have always viewed same-sex marriage as a cut and dry case of civil rights. I believe that marriage is a governmental institution, not one that belongs to the church. Marriage, in its many forms, pre-dates the church. And as discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal in New Zealand, it is obvious to me that to deny same-sex couples the right to marry is discriminatory.

I myself got married fourteen years ago, on a bright winter’s day in June. I hardly thought about marriage as a right back then. All I knew was that I was in love with a beautiful girl and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. It was a case of opposites attract, and we had no idea how much work our love was going to take, but here we are all those years later, and the cliché is true. We are more in love than ever before.

For us, marriage was a right of passage, the beginning of a journey that forced us to grow up like nothing else could. Statistically speaking, marriage improves every success marker for the couple and the children that may come from that marriage. Marriage done well makes everything better – and I can vouch for this. Marriage is also the ultimate gift. There is no other commitment quite like it. Marriage is the fullest demonstration of love that can be given from one person to another. It’s an amazing, life-giving transaction and it can only build stronger families and therefore stronger communities. Why would we want to withhold this incredible gift from anyone?

After watching Selma recently I finally came to the conclusion that the current battle for marriage equality is akin to the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960’s. Marriage equality is a civil rights issue. It has similarities with the world-changing battle that Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lewis and many others fought (and sometimes died) for. Marriage, for the spiritual, emotional, physical and legal benefits it offers, is a civil right.

In New Zealand we have been fortunate enough to have had both civil union and same-sex marriage legalised. But until same-sex marriage was legalised couples who were joined by civil union could not avail themselves of the Matrimonial Property Act, or adopt children. In other countries where same-sex marriage has not been legalised, gay couples are significantly disadvantaged. They are withheld rights to hospital visitations, medical decision making, adoption, parenting rights and automatic inheritance, among other rights.

John Lewia on Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965
John Lewis on Pettus Bridge in 1965

You may not recognise the name John Lewis, but he was with Martin Luther King on the bridge at Selma, and is considered one of the ‘Big Six’ civil rights leaders. He is the only member now still alive. He is a Christian and has been an American Congressman for more than 25 years. If there is anyone who has the right to compare the fight for marriage equality with the civil rights movement it is him. He was there in the thick of it then, and judging by his political and religious positions he is still in the thick of it today. There is literally no one else on the face of the planet who can look at these two issues, compare them, and speak to them with as much authority as John Lewis.

As a response to President Obama’s public support of Same-Sex Marriage Congressman John Lewis said:

Once people begin to see the similarities between themselves and others, instead of focusing on differences, they come to recognize that equality is essentially a matter of human rights and human dignity.

Even as early as nine years prior to President Obama’s public statement, John Lewis was beating the drum for marriage equality. In 2003, the man who was at the front of the march with Martin Luther King wrote an article for the Boston Globe that stated:

“I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions and they stink of the same fear, hatred and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”

Sometimes it takes courts to remind us of these basic principles. In 1948, when I was 8 years old, 30 states had bans on interracial marriage, courts had upheld the bans many times, and 90 percent of the public disapproved of those marriages, saying they were against the definition of marriage, against God’s law. But that year, the California Supreme Court became the first court in America to strike down such a ban. Thank goodness some court finally had the courage to say that equal means equal, and others rightly followed, including the US Supreme Court 19 years later.

Some say they are uncomfortable with the thought of gays and lesbians marrying. But our rights as [human beings] do not depend on the approval of others. Our rights depend on us being [human beings].

John Lewis today
John Lewis today

He couldn’t be clearer; the fear and intolerance that leads people to seek to withhold the right for same-sex couples to marry is the same as the “fear, hatred and intolerance” that Lewis and the civil rights movement faced in the 1960’s.

As a follower of Jesus I want to be in the camp that stands up and speaks out for the disenfranchised. I want to speak up for those whose voice is not always welcome, not always heard. You can throw all the bible verses you like at me, and I’ll say simply that Jesus’ commandment to love one another trumps them all.

Some people may be unaware that the work I do for elephantTV is done jointly with my wife Idoya Munn. Although I am the presenter of the episodes, behind the scenes the project is carried 50/50 between us. This is the first post in a series, and we’ve written the next one together.

As I said in my earlier post, genuine comments and healthy, constructive conversation are welcome.