Reconciling Life as a Christian who Supports Same-Sex Marriage
Michael Coren reflects on his coming out as pro-gay in his latest book.
In 2015, Michael Coren, a well-known and respected Christian author and former Sun News host, came out in favour of same-sex marriage. The backlash from conservative and religious media was relentless. Coren was ousted from the community that once championed his beliefs: he was fired from columns, banned from Christian outlets, and lost speaking opportunities, all in the name of LGBTQ rights.
In light of his experience, Coren (who has contributed a couple of articles to Torontoist) has penned a new book, Epiphany: A Christian’s Change of Heart and Mind Over Same-Sex Marriage. Below, Torontoist excerpts a brief passage from Epiphany.
I’m hardly naïve about the venom possible in such matters, especially on such a hot-button issue, and most especially coming from true believers who feel they have God on their side.
However, what did surprise me was the sheer number of people involved, that they called themselves Christians, and that some of them were ordained Catholic priests and Protestant ministers as well as lawyers, academics, and teachers. This was not just the usual gang but those with graduate degrees, those who have sworn to love God, those who actually know me and my family.
Yet the more I was attacked the more I saw the hypocrisy of those who claimed to be loving, and as a consequence the more firm I became in defending and speaking up for the gay community. Let me emphasize that I do not accuse all opponents of equal marriage of being cruel and dishonest—I know many of them to be kind, good people—but within the organized church-based opposition to the gay community and equal marriage there is in my experience something worryingly dark and dangerous going on.
It reminded me of what the Anglican priest, author, and broadcaster Mark Oakley said when he used an image with its origins in the Methodist community and wrote of the dangers of “the swimming pool Church—one that has all the noise coming from the shallow end. In such a paddling pool it will be easy to say ‘easy’ and mysterious to say ‘mysterious’…a Church more interested in self-indulgence, imposed boundaries and small interest groups. It will be fearful of truthful and genuine debate and will lack the confidence to form friendships.” In my case, however the pool wasn’t shallow but positively empty, and those standing in it seemed to want to push me into the deep end with heavy weights around my neck and hope and pray—especially pray—that I couldn’t swim.
This self-indulgence, noise, and fear lead inevitably to cruelty and panic, which is precisely the opposite of the Christian message. For example, I received dozens of graphic accounts of sexually transmitted diseases, sometimes with quite horrible illustrations, and was told ludicrously that these were the virtual preserve of gay people. Beyond AIDS, I was told of all sorts of illnesses, diseases, wounds, and disorders that were rife within the gay community. I was such a fool, they told me, I needed to learn and understand before it was too late. Lesbianism seldom seemed to figure in these letters, and there was a strange, bewildering but perhaps revealing obsession with anal sex, not to mention a near total lack of understanding of the realities of gay life. Perhaps this was understandable but their tangible hatred was not. They hadn’t even made an attempt to think outside of a gruesome and malignant stereotype and one that leads to incalculable pain, suffering, and discrimination.
At around the same time as this was happening, we debated on my television show the decision of American football player Michael Sam to announce that he was gay. One of my guests, a British-educated but Toronto-based evangelical pastor named Joe Boot who has written several books and is building an international reputation, disagreed with Sam for numerous reasons.
I argued that we must not allow zealots to define and decide the debate or the language of discourse. The Reverend Boot disagreed and insisted on using the words sodomy and sodomite. I said that he was being deliberately offensive, that it was absurdly reductive to distill gay relationships to a single sexual act, that the language was archaic and by its nature pejorative, that half of the gay community were women, and that many gay men might not even consider this activity as part of their relationship. I also argued that gay people do not choose their sexuality and that we must appreciate the love and affection that exists between gay men and women. Also, do we describe heterosexual couples merely by the act of sexual intercourse? Of course not. My guest disagreed with me on all these issues. This interview, as with the one concerning Uganda and the idea of imposing the death penalty for homosexuality, also went viral and led to another wave of attacks.
At around the same time as this was happening, we debated I was repeatedly accused of giving in to pressure or, more often, of changing my opinion because I wanted to make money.
Reluctant as I am to discuss money, I have lost at least half of my income because of my reformed position on gay issues. If this was about making cash, I’ve got it all terribly wrong. There also seems to be a belief among opponents of gay equality that the gay community is supernaturally powerful and influential and will suddenly reward people who support them and, naturally, punish those who oppose them. It’s a little similar to the rantings of anti-Semites who are convinced that Jews control the world and its finances and that we oppose them at our peril and become overnight millionaires if we embrace the cause. There was no pressure, there is no money, and there is no hidden agenda. It’s especially ironic in that the same conservative Christians who were so intent on “exposing” me and making my life so difficult tend to be the first to complain that they are being persecuted for opposing gay rights.
Another method of attack was to dismiss me and my views as, apparently, I was always changing my mind and changing my religion. One person wrote to me, “You were a Jew, then a Catholic, now you’re a gay.” I’m not sure what denomination “gay” is, but the truth is that although my father was Jewish, I was not raised with any religion at all. I became a Christian in 1984 and have remained a Christian ever since. In that period, I did leave the Catholic Church for a few years in the late 1990s to worship in a number of different Christian churches, partly because I was speaking in these churches at least every second week, but then returned. But that was the only real change. I have never moved an inch from orthodox Christian teaching in 32 years. I do now worship as an Anglo-Catholic in the Anglican Communion but that’s partly because I couldn’t in all integrity and with respect toward the Roman Catholic Church continue to receive its sacraments while knowing in my heart that I disagreed with some of its social and moral teachings.
One would have thought that Catholics would have at least understood this but that was certainly not the response I experienced. Knowing how many Catholics do receive the sacraments while rejecting Catholic teaching and knowing that some of those people were now attacking me was, I must admit, sometimes difficult to take.
As for changing my mind “all the time,” the truth is that I have been boringly consistent over the years. But anyway, I have never understood why learning, evolving, growing, and changing is thought to be such a bad thing, especially from a spiritual and religious point of view. Perhaps I am taking it too personally and even over-thinking it, when what it amounts to is merely another way to try to discredit me, to discredit my views, and to discredit the gay community.
The amount of time and space devoted to me was, I suppose, paradoxically flattering but also incredibly surprising.
One traditionalist Catholic blog ended an extensive diatribe about me with a large picture of a corpse hanging from a tree.
Another tried in some obscure way to connect my change of view on equal marriage to the tragic, macabre, and infamous rape and murder by three gay men of a twelve-year-old shoe-shine boy in Toronto in 1977.
Another fellow spent an admirable amount of time creating pictures of me surrounded by naked men at various Pride parades from around the world. There was I, smiling at the camera for a portrait shot, with the caption in quotes that “gay people are the finest Christians.” What I had actually said was, “After so much persecution, stigma, and pain, those gay men and women who have remained Christian are some of the finest Christians I have ever met.” Almost every word was juxtaposed with a naked bum or a blushingly visible penis.
It’s noticeable how often a Pride parade composed of hundreds of thousands or even a million people is characterized by opponents, and even some supporters, by the few dozen men and women who wish to walk around naked. I’m not at all supportive of such behaviour and I know many gay people agree with me. In fact the Grand Marshal of one of the largest Pride parades in the world told me that if he could he would remove all nudity from the event. He also stressed that the church groups in the parade massively outnumbered the naked marchers.
I was advised on several occasions by friends who were lawyers that I should sue some of the people writing about me. I chose not to, partly because it would only give them and their cause more publicity and also because unlike most of the self-professed Christians attacking me, I do believe in turning the cheek and forgiving when at all possible. But, my God, there were times when it was extremely difficult to do so.
I also received hundreds of notes from people, both gay and straight, thanking me for what I had said and written. I was surprised and delighted by how forgiving and encouraging so many gay people were and also by how little cynicism there was and how rare were those who dismissed me as someone who had waited for far too long to come around to their way of thinking. Some of the letters brought me to tears with their stories of personal suffering, pain, and loss, and I have made many friends and learned a great deal through all of this.
I also received letters from reasonable critics who made quiet, calm arguments but, in all honesty, these were not numerous. There were also those—including two senior Roman Catholic priests—who wrote to me and, while I knew them to disagree with me, said simply that our friendship was lasting and solid and that no more had to be said.
But it would be dishonest to say that all of this made the attack campaign irrelevant. It hurt, it stung, and it scarred. Yes, I know that Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” but he was dead at 55 and I had just turned 56. The whole experience boosted my empathy, deepened my faith, and gave me a vision and a perspective that I had not previously possessed but it also left a mark and one that, if I am candid, has yet to heal. Perhaps, however, that is for the best.
Michael Coren’s Epiphany is out April 26. Coren speaks at Glad Day Books on Saturday at 2 p.m., and at the North York Central Library May 16 at 7 p.m.