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Witnessing a journey from intolerance to acceptance of gay people

You know exactly where Michael Coren is going in his new book. It's right there on the cover page: Epiphany: A Christian's Change of Mind Over Same-Sex Marriage.

Mr. Coren, a long-time columnist, broadcaster and now the author of 14 books (including, in 2011, Why Catholics Are Right), was the poster middle-aged man for conservative Christianity.

He was, in his own words, "arguably the ... most high-profile opponent" of gay marriage – and then, in 2014, he published a mea culpa of sorts calling for a "more Christian dialogue on the matter." He also said, and continues to say, sorry for the "harm and hurt" he acknowledges causing.

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In Epiphany, Mr. Coren sets out to explain how it was he then came to fully embrace "equal marriage." It's the story of a man going to a place he never imagined going.

Because we know from the title that the writer arrived safely and is just going to tell us of his journey and what he found when he got there, Epiphany is a travelogue of sorts. Think of it as The Lonely Planet Guide to Not Being a Jackass About Gay People.

Oddly, the book is a bit of a page-turner.

Mr. Coren's is not a partial voyage ending in the marshy lands of "civil unions" and loved "sinners." Via his deeply felt Christian faith, he has come, he explains, unavoidably, to the position that gay people, should they desire these things, are entitled to, and equally deserving of, a shot at all the things straight people often set their sights on: love, sex, marriage, children (adopted or otherwise) and God's love included.

Mr. Coren has ended up – astounded, and delighted to have found himself mostly welcomed there – at the place he clearly views with some wonder, the place where almost everyone I know lives.

Curiously, that's part of what held my interest. Sometimes it's not until people come in from out of town that you take the time to pay your respects at your local monuments and revisit your at-hand attractions.

While many readers could be forgiven for thinking something along the lines of, "Thanks, you go ahead – I've already been to Black Creek Pioneer Village," as they start to read of Mr. Coren's trip, they may find, as I did, that they keep reading.

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"Good for you," the liberal reader might say, smiling politely at the eager, indeed effusive, tourist as he charges onward, "but I don't particularly need to be shown how butter is made, thanks very much. I get it. I got it years ago."

Some sweet woman reading Epiphany may even have a "glad you're headed that way, Michael, but I was raised on a goddamn dairy farm, if you take my meaning" feeling.

"My wife and I make my own cheese, actually. We make fresh ricotta," she may want to say. "No need for us to tag along," and yet she may.

Mr. Coren is an articulate and plucky explorer. He charges straight at the hypocrisy of the many Christians who, although Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality and plenty to say about the evils of divorce, allow divorcees to pass almost effortlessly through the eye of the needle.

Why, he asks, are the "sins" of charging interest on a loan and mixing fabrics – both forbidden in the Old Testament – overlooked while so many Christians "obsess" about gay people?

As I've said, many of us have already been down this road. Perhaps we tried to drag reluctant relations with us, but it turns out it's fun to tour this stuff with an interested friend.

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Mr. Coren offers an entertaining and scholarly takedown of the few and far-between Bible passages that touch upon, or very possibly don't touch upon, homosexuality; and of the damage the church has done with that minimal ammunition, with no end in sight.

He's not buying the new Pope many progressive Catholics are so optimistically embracing, nor should he. Those are better press agents, not better angels, at work there.

Familiar as I was with most of the ground he covers, I stayed right with him. Eventually, the feeling I got, coming round the bend with Mr. Coren, who ends the book by imploring the reader to "never stop looking at the world as a place of love and never stop accepting and embracing love" was something like, "Oh, hey, now that's a sight to see! Niagara Falls, it really is worth the drive, from time to time."

Like that of any good traveller, Mr. Coren's arrival in a new land causes him to reflect on the place from which he has come. In large part, he's unimpressed.

It doesn't help that his old country basically withdrew his citizenship as soon as he reported himself to have gone a bit abroad. Work he relied upon was lost, he was compared to a pedophile, called a pervert, and those he loves were similarly maligned. Most galling of all to him, it seems, people let him know they were praying for him.

This treatment may be sadly familiar to many people, to gay people. Of course, as Mr. Coren is, thankfully, first to acknowledge, the place where he finds himself now, as a straight ally, is essentially just a suburb, a glimpse, a mere four-day tour, staying in the best hotels of the actual experience – but, yes, Mr. Coren, some might say, welcome to Gay Town.

Occasionally, one senses that Mr. Coren is a wee bit of a colonialist at heart, someone who, having "discovered" a place, isn't content to leave well enough alone.

He bemoans the fact that the media at Gay Pride always cover the naked people, whom he wishes weren't there; then he recruits gay friends who think the exact same thing.

Straight conservatives seem to have the most acquiescent gay friends. Mine are always so scrappy. Do straight conservatives have gay friends on some kind of retainer? They seem to turn up only when straight conservatives have a (usually dubious) case they're trying to make. Mine, I have to invite for dinner.

One of Mr. Coren's gay friends "stressed that the church groups in the parade" at which the friend was the grand marshal "massively outnumbered the naked marchers" and, I admit, when I read that bit, I was close to wishing Mr. Coren had stayed home.

There are, I'm pretty certain, more Hindus named Ted at your average Pride parade than naked guys and, yes, the occasional nude attendee does get the lion's share of media attention (this also happens at Burning Man, sparking undetectable levels of outrage and concern), but none of that is the point.

Saying "I accept that homosexuals are entitled to equal treatment, that it's not for me, a straight person, to judge them," is not the same as saying, "It's okay, straighties, I have judged the gays, and found them to be alright, largely because most of them wear clothes!"

Gay Pride is a celebration. Sure, everyone is welcome, but it's not your Big Gay Open House. Pride is not a weekend for gays to spruce the place up, let the straight people in, and hope they'll buy it.

Pride is a parade, not a bunch of people lined up for inspection. Frankly, I always hope those rare naked people, bless them, make some young man or woman attending Pride for the first time feel a little less exposed.

I trust Mr. Coren will consider this when he attends the Toronto Pride Parade, as he plans to do (I'm delighted to say) for the first time this year.

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