Now as he [Saul] was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city and you will be told what to do.” (Acts 9:3-6)
It strikes many of us as odd that genuine transformation of an individual, like the conversion of Saul in the passage above, can and does occur. Many of us have become cynical about faith, and religion in particular, so inner spiritual transformation from a publicly espoused religious and moral perspective is suspect, if not just denied.
And yet, I have had the opportunity to witness such transformation in my colleague and spirit-filled brother, Rev. Jeff Hood.
The force of the universe caused the collision of Hood and me while he was a prideful, conservative Southern Baptist and I was an African American seminarian married to my life partner of over fifteen years—another man. I was out at our diverse seminary, and I was a Unitarian Universalist to top it all off.
How could I trust someone who once told me directly in an auditorium filled with witnesses—predominately of liberal varieties of Christianity—that “homosexuality could not be the best that God has intended for his children?"
Do I believe in change or not?
At the time, as we sat together on a panel talking about human sexuality, I was stunned by Rev. Hood's conviction. I was intrigued more by the smile on his face. It was as though he knew he would have to love, carefully, all the homosexuals who were within the sound of his voice.
This included me, the seasoned Black, gay activist seated across from him.
Hood had to deliver “The Word,” and he felt it was his sacred obligation to do so in that moment as much as Saul of Tarsus had in the first century.
In that lecture hall, I had a response to Hood’s proclamation about homosexuality. It was as if the universe were determined that Hood and I would not only meet and conflict with each other, but that we would discover that if brotherly love is expressed truthfully, it is all-powerful.
Not only my liberal friends, and the young, fellow leftists would I have to love. But to love everyone was the commandment, even a thinner, conservative, brilliant young man like Hood who was in the throes of discovering what was vital to his life and his ministry.
My curiosity was spirit-possessed and I desired to know more of Hood's story.
How did he come to be so calmly convinced of a hateful religious position and how could he smile with such care at the same time? If Hood truly believed my innate sexuality was an aberration of what God wanted, what He “truly” wanted for me, then why the sincere smile?
And even further, could love change my own activist-trained visions to include a conservative who spoke bigotry to my face? Could I love him? Could I even stomach having lunch with him?
My relationship with Jeff has been one of rapid movement, as I have held on as he moved from a clearly held position of bigotry to a radical conclusion that has disrupted and recreated his entire ministry and existence. Our friendship is a story of my daring to believe that there was something more behind the smile, namely, love.
As people of faith, what must we believe about the possibility of transformation?
What must we believe about the transformation that is accessible through relationships, an avenue through which love travels to alter our being?
Through our friendship, Hood and I saw past our need to be “right,” and our blatant differences, and we began a dialogue which has served us both through several difficult life transitions.
He has faced his religious tradition, his family, and his friends with the ministry that now liberates and celebrates those he once sought to save from their homosexuality.
Our dependable friendship was one of the influences that, despite our beginning, helped Hood reform his previously held position.
The deafening, speeding pace of some growth and shedding of the old creates friction with strongly relied-upon aspects of our existence. This friction is a source of sparks, whether we consider them divine or just natural phenomena, sparks that light up our world.
We can try to preserve some sense that the world is not changing ever faster—faster than we want—while sitting and observing Hood’s change unfolding, but not for long. The world is in the midst of transformations, and these global shifts will best be served by a conscious people of faith and people of wonder. Our recognition of this common necessity, change and pain, not only for ourselves but for every element of the physical world, will help with the acceptance of both Hood’s changes and our own.
It has been five years since I met Jeff Hood. Instead of an adversary, I have become a dear friend, confidant, chosen uncle to Jeff's three kids and a devoted supporter of his saintly wife.
By the grace of God or something like that, I have walked with Jeff, and it has changed my life.
Now, we stand together as brothers at that beautiful table feasting on love.
Who will you bring to the feast?
Photo provided by Rev. Jeff Hood (left), pictured with Teague and two of Hood's three children; Duncan E. Teague's words are adapted from his forward in Rev. Jeff Hood's The Queering of an American Evangelical