In 2014, Michael Coren – the conservative Catholic columnist, television personality and bestselling author – made international waves by coming out in support of gay marriage and leaving the Roman Catholic church. Earlier this year, he published Epiphany: A Christian’s Change of Heart and Mind Over Same-Sex Marriage.
I found his book heartfelt, beautiful, and compassionate. I am always moved when someone like Michael Coren – someone who represents the conservative Christian vangaurd – publically switches views and risks disgrace from his own camp. I reached out to Michael to discuss his book, his thoughts on the church and the LGBT issue, and (as he describes it delightfully in his book) his “conversion on the road to the rainbow.”
What was your goal for writing Epiphany?
To explain my journey but also to try to put matters right; for many years I had been a leading voice in Canada opposing equal marriage. I wanted to show how if I could change so could other people. It was an act of love and contrition but also an intellectual, moral and theological exercise.
You describe your journey to fully embracing gay people as first a conversion of the heart. What initially prompted such a radical transformation of heart for you?
The entire process is long and multi-layered but the origins were in what happened to Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird and his 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 gays or African children will die. Christ must have been weeping.
What has the response to your epiphany been like? What have you learned from the experience?
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 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, explaining 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 but 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.
A central theme that emerges in your book is that the LGBT issue is not a central aspect of Christianity, and that disagreement on this topic should be accepted in the Church. Why did you come to this conclusion?
I began to listen, watch, learn. I re-read Scripture with a new lens I suppose and I realized that humility was vital in all this. I don’t expect every Christian to automatically change but I do expect every Christian to try to be gentle and understanding. In a perfect world all would change tomorrow but in this broken world we have to be a little more patient. I suppose I am trying to be reasonable and practical.
Has your faith changed over the course of this transformation? How has it not changed?
Oh yes! It has never been deeper. I now feel I can look Jesus in the face and not feel ashamed. I fail Him all of the time of course but in different ways. I am now committed to trying to live His teaching. The change is that I am more Christian; but I haven’t changed my absolute belief in the truth of the creed.
What would the Michael Coren of today say to the Michael Coren of yesteryear, who was not affirming of gay marriage and was perceived by many as very anti-gay?
Cringe! Seriously, I do cringe. But I have also apologized countless times and will continue to do so. I am ashamed of some of what I said. I wasn’t a monster but I was wrong, and I was too arrogant and dogmatic to see how wrong I was.
I have met many people in the church who engage with the humanity, kindness and goodness of gay people, and yet are torn by their conservative views – they simply cannot get around their conservative theology. What would you say to such people who are confronting the reality of gay people, and struggling with their theology?
That’s a very good point. There are the fanatics who are best ignored but then there are the good people who are so rooted in a conservative interpretation of Scripture that they cannot evolve. Please read my book –the second chapter is all about The Bible and how we need to think again. Read Jeffrey John in the UK or Britain’s Bishop of Buckingham. There is no contradiction between orthodox belief and an embrace of gay equality.
What do you see as the future of the church and the LGBT issue? Is the situation getting better? Is it getting worse? How do we move towards a more humane and accepting world for LGBT people?
Because it is getting better is it getting worse. Let me explain. Young people in North America and Europe – and even in Africa and the developing world actually – are changing or have changed on all this. They simply don’t care about one’s sexual orientation. Because of this the conservatives in the older generation have become more belligerent and defensive. This will be won but the final conflicts will be nasty. I am convinced, however, that the church’s full acceptance of gay people could lead to a new awakening for all of Christendom.
What would you tell your fellow Christians who are immensely anxious over this issue?
That I understand. That I was too. That there is no shame in that. But then need to pray, be silent, listen, spend time with gay Christians, ask what God really wants. Try to separate what you are as a product of your environment, culture and upbringing from what you are as a new creation in the ever-loving Christ.
What would you tell LGBT people who are deeply wounded by the church? What do want us to know?
I would never have the audacity – the chutzpah – to tell them anything. But I would bow my head and ask forgiveness. We have harmed and hurt you and we should pray that you now treat us with more love than we have treated you. God forgive us.
Michael Coren is available for interviews and speaking engagements at firstname.lastname@example.org