In The Sunday Conversation, Weekend Edition Sunday brings listeners an unexpected side of the news by talking with someone personally affected by the stories making headlines.
Allan Edwards is the pastor of Kiski Valley Presbyterian Church in western Pennsylvania, a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America. He's attracted to men, but he considers acting on that attraction a sin. Accordingly, Edwards has chosen not to act on it.
"I think we all have part of our desires that we choose not to act on, right?" he says. "So for me, it's not just that the religion was important to me, but communion with a God who loves me, who accepts me right where I am."
Where he is now is married. He and his wife, Leanne Edwards, are joyfully expecting a baby in July.
But let's start earlier, in the mid-'90s, when Allan was in high school, when he found himself thinking about boys more than girls. "It was a pretty immediate realization that it was in conflict with my faith," he says.
He didn't understand how he could resolve his feelings, he says, and had little support from his friends. "I didn't know anyone else who experienced same-sex attractions, so I didn't talk about it much at all," Allan says.
But at a small, Christian liberal arts college, he did start talking.
"My expectation was, if I started talking to other guys about this, I'm going to get ostracized and lambasted," Allan says. "I actually had the exact opposite experience. ... I actually was received with a lot of love, grace, charity: some confusion, but openness to dialogue."
Allan considered following a Christian denomination that accepts gay relationships, but his interpretation of the Bible wouldn't allow it, he says.
"I studied different methods of reading the Scripture and it all came down to this: Jesus accepts the rest of the Scripture as divined from God," he says. "So if Jesus is who he says he is, then we kind of have to believe what he believes."
Allan first met Leeanne when they both worked as teenagers at a Christian summer camp. "I always joke with her that she was one of the cool kids and I was a raging fundamentalist nerd," he says.
They didn't click at the time, but in 2006 they both applied for the camp director job, and Leeanne got it. When she was ready to leave the position, he took her to lunch to scope out the job.
"We got off talking about the job and started talking about our experience of the last couple years," Allan recalls. "I don't want to be gushy or romantic, but I just melted inside, and thought, this is someone who understands graciousness. This is someone who understands acceptance, and this is someone I want to spend as much time with as possible."
He was drawn to her heart and soul, he explains. "Out of that was birthed our intimate relationship."
Leeanne says she knew Allan struggled against a sexual attraction to men. "I wondered if he was going to be able to put something like that behind him, or if it was going to be something that would affect our relationship," she says.
But the way they see it, people in any marriage must work to resist attractions from outside the relationship, whether from the same or the opposite gender.
"There's always going to be situations where a partner is sexually attracted to someone else and isn't necessarily dealing with sexual attraction with their partner," Leeanne says.
"Everybody has this experience of wanting something else or beyond what they have," Allan says. "Everyone struggles with discontentment. The difference, I think, and the blessing Leeanne and I have experienced is that we came into our marriage relationship already knowing and talking about it. And I think that's a really powerful basis for intimacy."
Allan says he does not identify as gay.
"I think I made conscious choices along the way to say this is something I experience," he says, "but this isn't the thing that defines who I am personally."
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.
ALLAN EDWARDS: I don't personally find it helpful to use my experience of sexual attraction to define myself as a person, so I'm Allan. I'm Donna Mary's son. I'm Leeanne's husband. I'm a follower of Jesus Christ. Those things are just more important to me, I guess, than the experience of same-sex attraction.
MARTIN: That is the voice of Allan Edwards. He's the pastor of the Kiski Valley Presbyterian Church in western Pennsylvania. It's a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America. Edwards is attracted to men but he considers acting on that attraction a sin. He's been navigating what that means for most of his life. Allan Edwards is our Sunday conversation.
A. EDWARDS: You know, middle of high school I began to see and understand that my thought life was drifting more and more toward my male classmates and less and less toward my female classmates. And it was a pretty immediate realization that it was in conflict with my faith, and I didn't really understand what happened next, I think.
MARTIN: Was it the kind of thing that people knew about? I mean, how did your friends respond? Were you ever bullied?
A. EDWARDS: So this is like the mid- to late nineties, and we're not at a "it gets better" moment yet in secondary education. And so I didn't know anyone else who experienced same-sex attraction. And so I didn't talk about it much at all. I first started talking about my experience when I was at a small Christian liberal arts school. And my expectation was, if I start talking to other guys about this, I am going to get ostracized and lambasted. And I actually had the exact opposite experience.
When I started talking about this being part of my story, this being part of my makeup, I actually was received with a lot of love, grace, charity - some confusion but openness to dialogue.
MARTIN: You decided that your faith was so important, and you believed you couldn't be gay and a Christian, and so you just decided to sequester that part of yourself, to suppress that part of yourself.
A. EDWARDS: Yeah. And the word suppress is a pretty loaded word in this whole conversation, isn't it?
MARTIN: How do you think about it?
A. EDWARDS: So I'll push back.
MARTIN: Yeah, please.
A. EDWARDS: I think we all have parts of our desires that we choose not to act on, right. So for me, it's not just that religion was important to me but communion with a God who loved me, who accepts me right where I am - all of that is so transformative that the practical living part, the OK, I need to now decide what I do with my sexual orientation, what I do with my experience of sexuality, that kind of comes after this experience with a very transformative and gracious God.
So for me, not choosing to use the identity language, that was a choice. There are friends of mine who identify as gay Christians, and they believe that for them, a life of celibacy is necessary. I think I made conscious choices along the way to say this is something I experience but this isn't the thing that defines who I am personally.
MARTIN: So you decided that you didn't want to be celibate, that you wanted a marriage, you wanted a partnership, you wanted a sexual relationship with a woman.
A. EDWARDS: Mhmm. Yup.
MARTIN: We should point out there are several Christian denominations that do not consider gay relationships to be sinful, that allow ministers to marry gay couples. Was that just never an option for you?
A. EDWARDS: I actually tried to go down that road. Right, so the center of Christianity is the Bible, OK. Accepting that tenant, which is kind of an essential tenet of Christianity, I thought, OK, if we can get to a place where we understand that the Bible doesn't actually prohibit this thing that I think is prohibited then it would be OK. And so I studied different methods of reading the Scripture, and it all came down to this. Jesus accepts the rest of the Scripture as divine from God. So if Jesus is who he says he is then we kind of have to believe what he believes.
MARTIN: How do you view those churches, those Christians? Are they distancing themselves from God? Are they sinning?
A. EDWARDS: Boy, talk about, like - this whole conversation is super loaded. Right, so the word sin - also super loaded.
MARTIN: Do you not see it that way? Is that not the right word? You would not use that word?
A. EDWARDS: Well, it's not that I wouldn't use that word. Here's the thing. People in the Christian tradition who come to some of the same conclusions I come to have said some incredibly hurtful things and demeaning things about people in the LGBT community. And being hurtful and vitriolic is also outside of the Christian ethic. It's not true to the Gospel of God's grace.
So I want to try to speak in a clear way but also a gracious way. So friends of mine who are in the Christian tradition who don't see homosexual relationships or activity as outside of the bounds - I think that they're in error. And I would say that especially pastors and Christian teachers who tell people it's OK to engage in homosexual behavior that they're leading people astray, they're leading people away from something really beautiful that God offers, and that is wholeness, redemption, grace, yeah.
MARTIN: How did you meet your wife?
A. EDWARDS: Well, my wife and I - she's actually here in the studio with me.
A. EDWARDS: My wife and I met when we were 15 and 16. We worked at a Christian summer camp. I always joke with her that she was one of the cool kids. And I was like a raging fundamentalist nerd. I was unbearable to be around when I was probably 16, 17.
But in 2006, she and I both applied for the summer camp director's job and she got it. And then she was leaving the position, so I took her out to lunch.
And I don't want to be, like, gushy and romantic but I just kind of like melted inside and thought, this is someone who understands graciousness. This is someone who understands acceptance. And this is someone I want to spend as much time with as possible. And out of that was birthed our intimate relationship.
MARTIN: I know she's sitting right there and I know this wasn't part of the plan but would Leeanne be OK if I asked her a question?
A. EDWARDS: She's putting on headphones now.
MARTIN: OK, good.
A. EDWARDS: She's pretty awesome.
LEEANNE EDWARDS: OK, I'm here.
MARTIN: Hi, Leeanne.
L. EDWARDS: Hi, Rachel.
MARTIN: It's nice to meet you.
L. EDWARDS: You, too.
MARTIN: You know, that's quite a story that Allan just laid out about how you two met and the bond that you obviously shared. But to outsiders, this is a big deal to be in a committed relationship, in a marriage with someone who feels a sexual attraction to other men, not to women. Were there any red flags for you?
L. EDWARDS: Sure. Absolutely. As we were dating and even through the process of being engaged, Allan had to come to me one day and share that he had fallen into the struggles of pornography again which is something he often would turn to whenever he wasn't feeling satisfied and was struggling against some of the feelings that he had.
And I wondered if he was going to be able to put something like that behind him or if it was going to be something that would affect our relationship.
MARTIN: This is another really personal question.
L. EDWARDS: That's all right.
MARTIN: I don't how to say it but just to say it. Do you two have a sexual element to your relationship?
L. EDWARDS: Absolutely.
A. EDWARDS: Yes.
L. EDWARDS: Yeah. Yeah. We do. It was something that we struggled with, you know. The way that we think about sexuality is not that it's always based on a sexual attraction. There's just as likelihood of being attracted elsewhere in a opposite-sex relationship as there is in somebody who's struggling with same-sex attraction.
A. EDWARDS: I think - just to jump in, if that's OK - I think the expectation of the world around us is if you struggle or experience same-sex attraction and you get married to a woman, you will suppress, suppress, suppress until you explode.
Folks have said that to me. They said, you know, one of these days you're either just going to ruin your family's life or you're going to commit suicide. And that's hard to hear, obviously. But I guess my response to that is everybody has this experience of wanting something else or beyond what they have. Everyone struggles with discontentment. The difference, I think, and the blessing, I think, that Leeanne and I have experienced is that we came into our marriage relationship already knowing and talking about it. And that actually, I think, is a really powerful basis for intimacy.
MARTIN: You do work with young people who are going through some of the same things. Do you worry that these are people who are really young and still haven't quite figured out their path? And while this may work for you, that your guidance or your counsel would perpetuate a sense of shame for young people who might be better served with another path?
A. EDWARDS: I think that's a great question because I think that some people have had that story and experience. They've been shuttled off to a camp or to a therapist against their will and just had really awful, traumatic experiences in that. My personal practice, when a parent calls me - I get this call like once or twice a year. I get the call, the fix my gay kid called. And the real work I find is with parents to open up dialogue with their children. If an older student, you know, someone in their mid- to late teens is willing to talk to me, I'll talk to them. But I tell parents, I'm not going to work with someone who doesn't want to have these conversations. I don't think that that's fair or loving or just.
MARTIN: I read on your blog that the two of you are trying to have a family. Is that right?
A. EDWARDS: Yeah. We both wanted kids right away. And we are now expecting. So we're expecting our first in July.
L. EDWARDS: Thank you.
A. EDWARDS: Thank you. Yeah, we're really - I'm sorry, I'm going to, like, start crying. You know, I'm so super excited.
MARTIN: Allan Edwards is a pastor at Kiski Valley Presbyterian Church in Leechburg, Pennsylvania. We were also joined by his wife, Leeanne. Thanks so much for talking with us, you two.
A. EDWARDS: Thank you.
L. EDWARDS: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.