June 29, 2017

By Denny Wayman

Rik Cryderman grew up in a Free Methodist parsonage.  I first met him in seminary and enjoyed his intellect and depth of love. His journey of faith and life did not take the path he expected when as a seminarian he first recognized that he was gay. Now in his 60s his daughter, best selling author Kelle Hampton, blogged an interview with her father and asked him questions that help all of us.  You can read it on her blog here if you want to explore both her journey and his.

I connected with Rik and asked if I could take some of his thoughts he expressed to his daughter and post them here.  He graciously consented.  I do so in hopes that as we discuss sexuality and same-sex attraction we do so not as an issue, but as persons, equally beloved of God.  As I said here: “As Christians who have experienced God’s compassionate love and who are committed to extend that love to our “neighbor”, homosexuality is not an “issue” we discuss dispassionately, but rather we compassionately enter into the experience of those whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual.”

I’ve only taken the part of the conversation between Kelle and Rik that I found most interesting.  Kelle’s words are in bold and Rik’s are in italics:

What is your first memory of any attraction to men and when and how did you finally identify as being gay?

It’s strange, Gary [Rik’s partner] tells me he always knew.  I didn’t.  It wasn’t something I was even aware existed, growing up in a home quite lovingly insulated from a real world. We had no friends who smoked, drank, danced or went to movies. And you can be sure, we knew no one homosexual.  We had no lack of love, no neglect in guidance–my childhood was happy and full.  I was more comfortable with my mom than dad–but that’s true of most children.  I was afraid of making mistakes in front of him.  But I loved him and never doubted his love for me….

I never wanted to play with dolls or dress up like a girl–it’s not like that at all.  My awakening would come many years later after I had dived into the current of everyone’s dream–go to college, find a wife, have a baby.  I would never have married had I known.  I would never have done that to another.  It happened when I was in seminary.  It came out of nowhere, in a mall, in Lexington, Kentucky when a very nice looking young man made an advance on me and in that moment, a life of not knowing suddenly knew.  Very little happened in that encounter.  But a string was pulled and a light was lit that showed me someone I first loathed and began to hide and deny.  I actually thought about ending my life.  I was almost to graduate, respected, married, a new and proud father, held in promise to do great things.  It was odd–in that moment I could look back and see things I didn’t understand at the time.  The college guy who drove my school bus that I would stare at in the big mirror above his handsome head.  It wasn’t sexual thoughts I’d have, it was wondering what it felt like to be him.  Was that a first crush?  Or the good friend I had in high school–we even exchanged Christmas presents.  Again, it was nothing physical–I hadn’t a clue, but did I love him?  For the next years, mine was the silent, secret battle of suppression.  Relationships were sabotaged by my pervading persuasion “If they knew me, they wouldn’t love me.” So I never believed they really did.  I knew I wasn’t worthy.  I hid.  I always worried someone would know.  I hated the sensitive in me, the gentleness, the artistic and expressive me.  They weren’t characters that distinguished me–they were clues that might discover me.  This was my life.  I had made my choice.

Through those years of suppression and denial, hiding and hating myself, there would be isolated incidents–mostly accidental but sometimes arranged, where I would be with another man. Quick, anonymous, disconnected, emotionless. I allowed myself nothing more.  The prelude was heart racing excitement; the postlude regret and shame.  Like the transformer toys my son played with, I reconfigured myself and slipped seamlessly back into a life I truly loved with people I absolutely adored, believing the two worlds, the two people could never, ever meet.  No one in the church talked about these things, except in cruel jokes or raw disdain.  To reveal my struggle would be to ruin my world, with kind Christian smiles, prudent decisions by best interest boards with prayerful discernment–oh, and whispers by everyone, everywhere. Not to mention the hurt of two parents I loved and respected, entwined in the same churchy webwork….

Meeting Gary was sweet innocence.  It was nothing lurid, clandestine, cloaked.  We met at a health club.  Fully clothed. We talked a bit.  I could tell you what he was wearing. A white sweat shirt with a aqua and peach Detroit logo. I liked his smile.  Our conversation moved to the parking lot. We somehow exchanged phone numbers.  I told him I was married.  We parted ways.  But his smile stayed with me.  He called.  I didn’t have the nerve.  We met for lunch and talked some more.  It seemed I’d known him all my life, or maybe just wished I had. There, I was real.  When I left, I put my costume on.  I told him that I couldn’t do this.  He said it was okay.  I tried not to call him.  But I called him.  I really called me.  It seemed I was where he was. It was effortless to be with him. It was like where I always belonged. While my heart felt finally at home in meeting Gary, it was also deeply torn in the love I felt for who was back at home–my wife and children. I truly did love my wife. Together, we had woven so many memories from the years before the children to the present. She was, even in the loneliness of my hiding, my very best friend. It may sound strange, but there’s not another woman who could have pulled my heart from hers. While I knew it couldn’t be and shouldn’t be, I just wanted a great big house where we could all live forever together.

To see that people went out of their way to make a public gesture to make sure their support of gay people not sharing the same right they enjoy is noted. As a man of great faith who often defends the church and people fighting against gay marriage, what’s your take on all this? How does this make you feel?

I love the people of my heritage.  I have such respect and reverence for the church–they are good people.  If we strive for tolerance and seek acceptance, we must embrace the intolerant and seek to understand the bigoted who will not be changed by laws or litigation, they will be changed by learning and knowing those they fear and condemn.  I’ve told Gary, “Sometimes I wonder if our mission and mandate isn’t to live and love visibly. To persuade, not with a protest but a presence. To be honest, answer questions, be open.”  …

We’ve never felt inclined to march in parades, make posters or circulate petitions.  We’re not militant about other issues either.  We’re not convinced they persuade mind changing or promote paradigm reversal. We don’t have a problem with those who choose that approach.  It’s just not us.  It seems to attract the wackos, enlist the angry, distort and dilute the message. Gay Pride parades that feature drag queens, leather men and the nearly naked dancing to “It’s Raining Men” do little to promote inclusion, inspire tolerance and make normal a life and love that isn’t asking to be flamboyant or fashionable, just welcomed next door.  We still have friends who tell us, “We hate to admit it, but you’re the first gay couple we’ve ever really known and had in our circle of friends.  The fact my husband likes you blows my mind!”  Maybe our parade is very little–two of us, walking down your street…

First, I love my church–imperfect but evolving, out of touch but reaching, simplistic but sincere. They hold my roots, both my family’s and my faith’s. You may not know it, but that church rescued our family when it called your grandpa from a reckless life and set us on a course of good. Those within that church found security in a set of beliefs, behaviors and boundaries… These weren’t mean, resistant people.  These were good and godly folks like your grandparents, who surrendered “the world” to salvage their broken lives in this new, redemptive family that had welcomed them in. Each change took time, and slowly they could realize, the church still stands, their heart still stirs. Much was rooted in the understanding of scripture.  For instance, to embrace the broader truth of the verse “condemning” the wearing of gold, that is found in the first words “let your beauty be from within.” And to hold high the principles of scripture while recognizing the context of a time and culture far from today.  So I still love the spirit of the church, who taught me God loved me and is committed to helping me be all I can be.  They just didn’t know all I would become….

Years ago, when I was married to my wife and the pastor of a church, we were active in children’s ministries.  Together, we did creative and entertaining puppet presentations complete with falsetto voices and elaborate props, teaching biblical principles  through fun stories.  On one occasion, we were crouched behind the thick curtain stage, arms extended with the furry puppets proclaiming the gospel somewhere above us.  Suddenly, the curtain structure collapsed.  We were exposed.  Two adults, on hands and knees, our scripts, pinned to the curtains–gone.  A kind crowd of giggling children forgave the faux pas and allowed us to resume the charade.  The audience was not so forgiving when, years later, my curtain dropped, my script slipped and I was exposed.  I remember thinking, “I am who I’ve always been. What you loved about me yesterday was part of all you now know of me and want me to hide again.”  Oddly, I had hidden, not because I loved me but because I loved them, and didn’t think they’d love me any more. One sure love I’ve never doubted nor felt distanced from is God’s.  And it seemed to grow in every step i took into honesty and intentional integrity. His voice speaks louder than those who say they speak for Him. His vision is clearer than those who claim they know the way.

So, would you agree that the gay rights advocates who aren’t as embracing and understanding of intolerant people as you are advocating in an important way?

To say something “about them” is to widen the chasm between us and raise the volume on the rally of “Bigot!” “Fag” “Hater” “Queer.” They fight against what they see as a machine, pushing an agenda, forcing acceptance, demanding the perspective of gays be recognized while the principles of conservative believers be silenced. Those crusading initiatives may change laws and establish rights, but they don’t really convert attitudes or promote true understanding.  I’m sure there’s a place and purpose for the zealots on both fronts, but that just isn’t us. We have been blessed to finally, always be accepted, privileged to live authentically and openly, and allowed to show our world a committed relationship of tenderness and respect. It didn’t happen earlier because of our own fears of rejection and our hesitation to hurt those we love.  Do I get mad at Christians carrying banners damning gays to Hell?  Yes!  But I also get angry when I see folks attack a Chip and Joanna Gaines because they find fellowship in a church that considers homosexuality a sin, and I’m supposed to suddenly hate their shiplapped interiors and amazing renovations?  We all need a fixer upper on that conclusion!

So tell me this, you have the mic and the last words to this interview. The volume is turned up. What do you want people to know?

A supportive friend from my fundamentalist past shared a post for Gay Pride month on her Facebook page.  The message was affirming, encouraging acceptance and understanding. The comments were less inclusive, challenging her Christianity, citing scriptural evidence, like a prosecuting attorney, condemning gay people to eternal damnation and referencing some collusion with a “homosexual agenda” determined to destroy the world we know.  I knew these people.  They smile when they meet me and are gracious to me in public. In spite of their views, I like and respect them.  If I want them to be tolerant, I must be as well.  I don’t believe they know enough of the issue they are so passionately against.  Their “love the sinner, hate the sin” stance keeps them feeling like God’s faithful pointer dog, showing the world the wrong from their knoll of righteousness.  It is easier to excise a needed scripture verse than to be open to know and understand a person who is gay, to hear they neither had nor made a choice, that most likely they struggled with, suppressed, buried and surrendered at an altar, these desires that emerged when these righteous people were sneaking a peek at porn during puberty.  I wonder if they worry their world will tumble if ever they asked, “Maybe this isn’t sin.  Maybe this is being honestly human.”  I will not argue scripture with them–I don’t believe God left His Word as an arsenal for battle.  But one scripture I hold high, drawing me closer to God and away from the fray, is Psalm 51:6. “Truly God desires honesty in the innermost being…”.  I’ve never been comfortable with “Gay Pride.” I’m sure my discomfort lies with my lifelong teaching that pride is wrong.  I am proud to be a child of God.


To read the entire blog go here.