published Saturday, October 19th, 2013

Cooper: Love one another

If you don’t cotton to everything Devin Kennamer believes, consider at least what he says is most important.

“Love one another.”

Kennamer, 22, who grew up in Henagar, Ala., is a marketing specialist for GradesFirst in Birmingham, Ala., and is gay. It is his hope that, little by little, he can convince people it’s perfectly acceptable to be Christian and gay.

“So many people growing up in the South, and elsewhere, really, are passionate about Christianity,” Kennamer says, “but they are told you can’t be Christian and be gay.

“But it’s also not an option,” he says, “whether to choose to be gay or not.”

Kennamer’s last statement alone will close the eyes and ears of many. But if anyone wants to hear him out, he knows he’s facing an uphill battle. He knows there are people who can’t turn away from what they’ve read in the Bible, from what they’ve been taught in church.

But he says he loves the church — he grew up in Grace Presbyterian in Fort Payne, Ala. — and just wants to have a conversation with those who disagree with him.

This summer, Kennamer read some 1,500 pages of material in preparation, then attended the inaugural conference of The Reformation Project, a Bible-based, Christian nonprofit organization that seeks to reform church teachings on sexual orientation and gender identity.

He was one of only 50 people — gay, straight and transgendered — to be selected for the conference, held in Kansas City, Mo., in an exhaustive application process that included essays, personal stories and an introductory video.

Among the issues the conference training covered, Kennamer says, was that people take the Bible out of context when they quote passages such as Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as a woman. It is an abomination.” That passage and others like it referring to heterosexuality and homosexuality, he says, are not referring to sexual orientation but sexual excess.

In other words, Kennamer says, the Bible is not condemning a covenantal, monogamous sexual relationship between people of the same sex but the wretched excess that has the potential to manifest itself in any sexual relationship between two people.

He wants it understood, he says, that he — and The Reformation Project — are not saying the Bible was wrong, only that it has been taken out of context.

But if Kennamer’s points are lost on some people — and he knows they will be — he hopes they’ll consider the young people who knew they were gay from an early age, heard such a lifestyle condemned in their church and felt they had no choice but to leave the congregation in which they were raised. Many of those people, he says, “dive into a rebellious life without Christianity or may start living a lie of not being who they are.”

Most, according to Kennamer, will never return to a church, and it’s the next group of those people he wants to keep from leaving.

He wants people to understand, and he believes “they’re starting to realize,” that “people who are gay are not the stereotypes you see on TV. They’re just normal people. They’re Christians. They’re just people who want to grow up, have a family, have kids.”

“It’s extremely difficult” to get that message across in rural areas like Henagar, says Kennamer, who didn’t begin coming out to friends until he was 18 and in college, “but it’s getting better.”

“I love where we’re from,” he says. “I love the South. I don’t want to leave; it’s home. But a lot of people are closed off” to friendship with someone whose sexual orientation is different from theirs.

“I just wish they’d sit down, get to know a gay brother, a gay sister. I think they’d find they’re not so different.”

When Kennamer is back home, he says, he’d like to meet with some of the church officials at Grace Presbyterian and start a conversation. Indeed, he says, he’d be willing to meet with anybody who’d hear him out.

“There’s a lot of really, really special people [at the church],” he says. “Some people are not comfortable or agree with what I have to stay. But their love is still there. I hope they’ll be fully accepting, fully affirming one day. I understand it’s confusing. It takes time. I understand that.”

Kennamer says he’s been blessed “with a fantastic family” and is “really lucky to have a voice, to speak on behalf of a lot of people.” So, he says, he feels obligated to use that voice to get his message of inclusion heard.

But “whether you believe the way I believe or not,” he says, it is vital to “love each other unconditionally.”

Contact staff writer Clint Cooper at ccooper@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.com

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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