Pigs flying overhead, hell freezing over and any other clichés you can come up with to describe shock, incredulity or even horror: Michael Coren, writing an article for Daily Xtra! If it’s any comfort, until around two years I also would have thought the idea preposterous. I say it with no pride, and more than a little shame, that for the longest time I was considered an opponent and even an enemy of the LGBT community. That changed, or I changed, after a set of events and experiences in early 2014, which I chronicle in my new book, Epiphany: A Christian’s Change of Heart and Mind over Same-Sex Marriage.
The entire process is too long and multi-layered to explain in a column, but the origins were in then foreign minister John Baird’s entirely justified and vital criticism of Uganda’s proposed legislation to make homosexuality a capital crime. The idea appalled me, I supported Baird, and said so on television. I assumed that every Christian — and I was very much the face of conservative Christianity in mainstream media — would agree. I was wrong.
I was attacked for “selling out.” Genuinely surprised, I invited the leader of a right-wing women’s group onto my television show. She said the death penalty for gay people would be “unwise.” I’ve never been speechless on TV before. Unwise! Murder and extermination unwise?
I suppose the door had been opened. Shortly after this, World Vision, an international Christian charity group, announced that people in same-sex relationships were welcome to work for them. Within 24 hours, however, pressure from Christian groups and churches had forced them to backtrack. They had threatened to withdraw their funding. In other words, fire the gays or African children will die. Christ must have been weeping.
I certainly did. This was not the faith I had embraced so many years earlier. I spoke out against Christian homophobia, called for a new conversation, pleaded that we listen rather than shout. Which led to a campaign of abuse, threats and insults that I have never encountered in a long journalistic career that includes time in Northern Ireland, the Middle East and war zones.
I was seeing a new, deeply disturbing face of Christianity and, simultaneously, was being praised and congratulated by members of the gay community. I was invited to meetings, to speak with gay Christians, to have lunch with ordinary gay men and women. The process was gradual but increasingly inevitable. In June 2014, I wrote my syndicated Sun column — in a dozen newspapers — apologizing for any pain I had caused gay people. I didn’t even mention marriage at this stage, but offered contrition for my actions and words. Believe me, it wasn’t easy.
What happened next changed my life. The waves of love and warmth that came to me from gay people all over North America and even Europe broke my heart. I was also fired from columns, lost numerous speeches and was labeled an adulterer, a thief and someone who was mentally ill. People wrote to my wife, claiming that I was having an affair with another man; my children’s Facebook pages were trolled and they were in turn accused of various crimes.
If the desired effect was to change my mind, it worked. It radicalized me, obliged me to read, think and pray harder and to soon realize that I had been wrong on marriage — to be candid, I think I knew this anyway but lacked the courage to say it. So I did indeed come out, as it were, and declared my support for equal marriage. I also knew I couldn’t remain in the Roman Catholic Church any longer and retain self-respect. I could not lie, could not pretend. I no longer believed in the Catholic Church’s moral teachings.
Yet all of this was product not of a weaker belief, but of a deeper Christian faith, and a belief in a Jesus who accepted everyone and who personified not judgment but love; a man who never even mentioned homosexuality but did scold those who condemned others, and who assumed that only they were pure and righteous.
I joined the Anglican church, where I have never been happier. That move was made public by some right-wing Catholic bloggers and the attacks were multiplied. I was dismissed from more columns and had more speeches cancelled — and while money and career aren’t the issue here, I probably lost half of my income — which is ironic, as one of the attacks on me was that my move was motivated by money!
Now comes a book and, I am sure, more darkness from those who dance in its shadows. But my only regret is that this didn’t happen earlier. Let me say again, even though I have said it countless times: I am sorry for any pain or harm caused. I can’t expunge that, but I can make sure that what years I have left are devoted to what is true, good, noble and liberating. Thank God for my epiphany.