As GGN readers learned last year, Michael Coren, broadcaster, journalist, and former anti same-sex marriage “soldier” has put down his guns, his pen, and his sword because he’s had an epiphany. He sat down with GGN publisher Shaun Proulx to discuss the wild ride of a Christian daring to change his heart and mind over same-sex marriage as detailed in his acclaimed new book, Epiphany.
Shaun Proulx: This to me is such important story and I know as a seasoned news man you may argue no, ISIS is an important story, the US election is an important story, but I don’t think there can be ever a story more important than a person’s ability to change and grow and move in the direction of what I call love. And that is what’s going on with you. I’m so honored to call you my friend now, I’m so thrilled about the example that you’re setting. Especially because a long time ago, when you were writing the kinds of things you wrote, there was a lot of damage done to a lot of people, damage in a world where gay people were already damaged horrifically. You were an add-to, and a very articulate add-to, a very educated add-to. But, you had an epiphany, and so I want to start by asking you: are your new conclusions really something that came in a light bulb moment?
Michael Coren: It’s mutual: I’m flattered, and honoured to call you a friend. You ask a very good question. There probably wasn’t a particular time when I “crossed over” and realized I was completely in favour. I think it was incremental, I think it was a series of personal discoveries, public events, thought, prayer, consideration, reaction from all sorts of people; the horribly negative reaction from conservative Christians, as I began to ask for apology and began to change my thinking. It was gradually asking for different conversations between the Christians and the gay community, and can we not use words like “sin” or “disorder”, and show love and understanding. The more I asked for that, the more anger I received from conservative Christians, and the more gratitude, and very touching regard from people in the gay community, and it pushed me into being completely in favour of equal marriage. So I’d like to say to any conservative Christians reading this: Well done! Because although I would have eventually got to the position anyway, you made it happen much quicker. Your attacks on me, your attacks on my family, your libels and slanders just made me realize very quickly, it showed me a glimpse of – though I would never claim for a moment, to know – what it’s like to be gay, particularly as a gay Christian.
Shaun Proulx: I can show you what it’s like to be gay if you want, Michael.
Michael Coren: (Laughs) I got just a glimpse of an indication, by the way I was treated, and I said it on your rdio show and I’ll say it again: Some of the finest Christians I’ve ever met in the past two years have been gay Christians. These are people who stayed in churches, knowing that they were not welcome. Some people would prefer they not be there, some people would condemn them.
Shaun Proulx: You look back in at your body of work and have now an understanding of the effect it had. You and I talked about it. We had lunch, you showed me some photos of your family, and in that red hot minute I had to force myself to show you photos of mine. And while that was my own internalized homophobia and mine to deal with, that homophobia is the result of many years of being told I was wrong. So here I was with you of all people, forcing myself to treat myself as your equal. That’s what happens when hate is lobbed at you – I’m only one example of millions of gay people who felt it far worse than me. The damage hate does can last a lifetime.
Michael Coren: That was a very important day, that lunch. You hesitated before you showed me a photograph of your then-husband, and that’s not your fault, that’s my fault. You also told me how my columns had made you feel. Look, I’ve done a lot of apologizing in the past couple of years, and after a while it’s become self-serving and morbid, but I’ll make this absolutely clear, let’s not play around here: I cringe at some of the things I said. I feel shame, and I don’t think I’ve properly forgiven myself. I’m not saying that to get any applause from anyone, and I’m not some weak, wilting flower. I know I did wrong, and in what years I have left, I’m going to try and put it right. This is where I’m more proud of Epiphany than anything I’ve ever written in thirty years.
Shaun Proulx: The ripple effect that you had, a negative one, can now be flipped into a ripple effect that moves out and changes the world for good; it is a movement toward love. The reason why you are more proud of this book is because it is the deep expression of love, and you were not expressing love before. You might have thought you were, for your Christian faith, or for something else. I don’t know how that works in evangelical minds, but this – your change of heart and mind – is love. This is love when you can start to understand somebody, this is love when you can build bridges, and, when you can say: I was wrong. We’ve all got that capacity. That’s why I think this is such an important story, is because we’ve all got the capacity within us to always move towards love.
Michael Coren: I’ve never been more happy and content as a person. I think there was this duality, inner turmoil going on. On one hand, here is Christ, who just goes on and on about love, and tolerance and inclusion, and on the other hand, if you saw just how angry the Christian right can be. Recently they were trying to get into my children’s Facebook pages.
Shaun Proulx: Christ.
Michael Coren: The lengths they’ll go too; I was having an affair, apparently. I was being blackmailed by my gay lover, whoever this poor guy is, or my wife was gay, or the kids were gay. I’d had a breakdown, I was a liar, and the classic: I was doing it all for money. And I thought to myself: I lost about half my income in about two weeks when it came out that I fully embraced equal marriage. Every speech was cancelled, three columns disappeared, 100 Huntley Street, that had me as a regular guest host, they cancelled everything.
Shaun Proulx: How very Christian. I’m going to tell you how you look right now: You look really well. And I think it’s because you’ve moved to more authentic happiness. I haven’t seen you in a bit, but you look really happy. And happy attracts all the new opportunities you want to replace those you lost that will be a better fit for Who You Are now. I want to talk to you about one of the words you’ve used. You talk about “tolerance”, a word used about LGBT community often. Drives me nuts. Why do you say tolerance? Why not acceptance?
Michael Coren: Yes, I think that’s a better word.
Shaun Proulx: Because I don’t want to be tolerated, do you? Does anyone?
Michael Coren: It sounds almost pejorative doesn’t it? I think you’re right. I say tolerance, but acceptance is maybe a better word. You want the same love and acceptance as anyone else.
Shaun Proulx: The actions of the Christian right – towards the LGBT community and to you post-Epiphany – is all fear-based behaviour. What is everyone so afraid of? Having had a different stance once, what were you so afraid of, of me getting married? What is everyone so afraid of?
Michael Coren: There is a fear, and it’s very sociological, but it is sexual too. What happened time and time again was an obsession with one particular sexual act. They define this entire issue by one sexual act. They minimize and deconstruct it, and it’s so reductionist, and that is to their detriment, and that’s so un-Christian.
Shaun Proulx: I’m so proud of you, because not only does it take a brave man to allow an epiphany and to own it inside himself, and to then move differently through the world after it, but to write a book about it and face loss of income, and the criticism and backlash that you have had; Michael it takes a really bold man. I was plugging your book on my social media when it was coming out, as I would for any friend, and some reaction went like, “Whatever. He’s got a lot to atone for.”
Michael Coren: I’ve been overwhelmed by the forgiveness and love by the gay community, going back almost two years now, and it gets better all the time. And I’ve heard from few who have really refused my apology, or are still angry. There are some people who simply will not forgive me, and in the end, that has to be them and not me. There’s nothing I can do about it.
Shaun Proulx: At that point it’s not about you.
Michael Coren: I will do my best. I’ve apologized many times, and will continue to do so, for pain and cause. I can try, now with what I have left, to repair the damage. I’m trying very hard, becoming an advocate. But, for those who can’t forgive, I don’t blame them, but I can’t change them.
Shaun Proulx: Has it surprised you to learn from different conversations you must have had, how persecuted the LGBT community has been, even here in Canada? How much one person has had to put up with by virtue of the fact they’re gay?
Michael Coren: I’ve been appalled and delighted, because there are also some wonderful stories of people who have expected the worse from their families for example, and have been stunned by how good their parents have been. I was speaking to a Canadian Church Press Convention, and there was a man who told me they had practically raised a boy who was thrown out by his family. But however bad things can be still in North America, they’re way better than they were. We must also remember what is going on in Africa, and the West Indies, and Russia. Not forgetting the Islamic world, where things have been very bad; the African church and Uganda is particularly bad.
Shaun Proulx: Uganda being one of the first stories you heard that led to your epiphany.
Michael Coren: It was, it changed me, but Uganda is now pulling in Kenya and Nigeria, and other countries, and even South Africa used to be funnelled in on this issue. But now that Desmond Tutu is no longer in charge of the Anglican church, things there are getting worse.
Shaun Proulx: Do you understand why so many people are leaving churches in droves?
Michael Coren: I do, and it pains me very much. My voice is a small one, but I’ve written quite a bit. Not just columns and articles on issues of sexuality, or Christianity or what the church should be, and I’ve gotten a lot of response from people saying, “Well I didn’t know that. If that’s what the church was doing, maybe I’ll try it again.” Just recently, someone who I had lunch with, again, not on gay issues, but on politics, he’d been very much opposed to. We became friends, and then we went out for lunch, and now he’s coming to my church. There is a new liberal Christianity that I despised for years and made fun of. I realized now, how uplifting it is. To be orthodox in your faith, leading you to be progressive, leading your views in public life, it’s a wonderful combination.
Shaun Proulx: There’s a lot of room for dramatic changes in the way churches are run. When I was a little boy, I was very drawn to the church. I liked going to church, I wanted to be in church, and I realize now it’s because I knew that there was something bigger out there, and I also wanted to learn about it. But what I got were restrictions, rules, and judgements and conflict. None of it felt right to me. I felt that I was a good person, but the church was always telling me I wasn’t. It wasn’t even a gay thing, it was just too many rules, too many problems, and it stirred up conflict in me, which is probably why I identify as spiritual not religious. But I still love the idea of a church being a sanctuary for people where you could go and feel God’s embrace, feel uplifted, and whole, and with a possibility for evolution, and expansion within yourself – as opposed to, what I know a lot of people feel, which is: Church make me feel “less than”.
Michael Coren: It hasn’t celebrated humanity enough.
Shaun Proulx: Probably the hardest several months of my life have just gone by. I would have liked to have found solace in the church. I would have liked to have had a place like that, because there were times when I didn’t want anyone, any friends around me. But I did want to talk about the bigger picture, the why, and how of what I was experiencing, and to have someone like a church, or a pastor, or a minister would have helped me a lot. I think this is the kind of work that lies ahead for churches, is to realize the humanity within us, to celebrate humanity, and make themselves about the people, including the gay people who attend or who are clergy.
Michael Coren: I would say between 30 and 50 percent of the clergy are gay, and many of them are not celibate. I know priests, I know senior clergy in this city, who are not celibate.
Shaun Proulx: How did you stop yourself from feeling like a hypocrite, when you were deeply involved in saying what you were saying about same-sex marriage, for example. Knowing that you have this kind of thing going on, and then of course, all the scandals with the abuse that happened, and then going on and on, but how did you not feel hypocritical?
Michael Coren: The abuse was something different, it has nothing to do with homosexuality, that’s pedophilia, and what happened in the church, it still happening. So many men were hiding their sexuality, it created a climate where you could hide, and so the pedophiles could use that to then hide behind what they were doing.
Shaun Proulx: I’m not linking the two, I’m saying is there’s so much obviously, glaringly, wrong, yet we just keep acting like we’re good Catholics, with all of this going on under around us.
Michael Coren: I couldn’t, I personally wasn’t a hypocrite. It was very difficult for me, because I knew the number of men. If people are gay and celibate, and that satisfies the church to a degree, but there are many who are not. One chapter in Epiphany, there are a series of interviews, and three of the people are former Roman Catholic clergy, and two of them became Anglican clergy, one just left the priesthood completely, I didn’t put everything in the book, some of it was off the record, but they said they were struggling to be celibate, and they gone on to Diocesan meetings, and they’d look around, and think, most, of the men here are in relationships with other men, and here I am trying to be celibate. It’s just ludicrous! Even at the highest level, Bishops and so forth, and it’s known that some of these people are senior! Some of them would actually support equal marriage, others don’t. All of them will read letters from the Pulpit when required, condemning gay lifestyle and equal marriage, now that is the most hypocrisy art in the appalling order.
Shaun Proulx: You just said something really interesting. You said if some gay men are celibate and that satisfies the church; I think the church needs to start thinking about satisfying me. Satisfying you. Satisfying her and him and they. There’s an attitudinal thing that I think has a lot to do with people’s dissatisfaction. The table needs to be flipped.
Michael Coren: It does, and that’s in every Roman Catholic church. That’s what it requires of its clergy, but that in itself is disingenuous.
Shaun Proulx: What’s the difference between religion and spirituality?
Michael Coren: I suppose religion is the institutionalized version of spirituality. A lot of people say I’m more spiritual than religious, and the right wing would say, I’m more religious than spiritual. I think they go hand-in-hand. For me, they do. I do believe in communal worship, I do believe in the structure of the church, I’ve grown to love the structure of the Anglican church. It can be frustrating at times, but I do love it. I’m a sacramental Christian.
Shaun Proulx: Religion isn’t about faith, religion is stories about faith. Michael, it’s still a mind-fuck to be sitting with you, because I never thought I’d know a Michael Coren who believes “my love is the same as his love.” I’m dumbfounded still.
Michael Coren: Me too, and just the other day, I did a reading at Glad Day Books, and I went in there, and never had been in before. I’m sitting there, and we’re talking about medical things, and I mentioned urology, and I suddenly said, “I never thought I’d be sitting in Glad Day Books talking about my urology op.” Life’s funny!
Shaun Proulx: You’ve never been to a same-sex marriage have you?
Michael Coren: No I haven’t. Anyone out there, please, I’d like to attend one.
– Shaun Proulx is the publisher of GGN. Join his #ThoughtRevolution on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and hear him every weekend on SiriusXMCanadaTalks 167 or online here. If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, read his weekly column, Spirit & The City in 24 Hours each Thursday.
– This interview was condensed and edited.
Graphics by Polo Izquierdo