Monday, March 26, 2007

Now *that's* what I call good news!

Last night I attended something called "Soup and Study" at my progressive Episcopal church. How progressive? One day last summer, I was talking to two women I hadn't seen there before. This was during coffee-and-donut time after church one day while the General Convention was going on last June, so I asked if that's what they were in town for. One of them responded, no, they had just moved to the area and were looking for a church. They found us by doing a Google search for "gay Episcopal church", and there we were. That made me smile--yep, that would be us. And yet that's now how I think about my church most of the time. It just happens to be one of the bi-products of a church that practices an "open table" where we strive to welcome everyone as they are--doubts, questions, and all, "wherever they are on life's journey".

So, I feel good about belonging to a church like that. I feel lucky to have found such a place. And I feel sad that some people don't even know to long for such a place, because it's never dawned on them that it could exist. That really struck home for me when I was listening to Tanya Erzen last night, as she shared some of the research she did in an "ex-gay" ministry, culminating in her book Straight to Jesus. One thing that she really emphasized was that many of the men she met in that program describe their transformations as a religious process rather than one of sexual conversion. Based on their past experiences, often in conservative/fundamentalist type churches, they were convinced that a positive gay identity and a relationship with God were mutually exclusive. From an article that appeared in Salon last year: Without exception, the men (and a few women, though New Hope only admits men) who sign up for this perceive a fundamental, irresolvable contradiction between their Christian faith and their homosexual orientation.

The article also goes on to say,

What they all seem to have experienced was rejection from the churches and communities they grew up in, which explains their mistrust of the Christian right. "Most of them can't handle the truth," one man told Erzen. "If you're in the church and you're a drug addict, murderer, whatever, guys will come up to you and slap you on the ass. But if you state that you struggle with homosexuality, you get the whole pew to yourself." Some of the men at New Hope had asked their fellow congregants for help and prayers, only to be shunned or told they were possessed by demons. Some didn't dare to speak of it at all.
It really is sad. And, as I started to write up some of what Dr. Erzen shared last night, I could already imagine what some people might say--well, that's the trouble with organized religion. But it doesn't *have* to be that way. And I can't help but think of the pain that some of these people might have been spared, if only...

With that in mind, I'd like to share part of a sermon I read today. It's by Louis Crew, the founder of Integrity (which, for anyone who is not aware, is the Episcopalian GLBT organization). It ends with this story,
When Ernest Clay and I married thirty-three years ago, I wrote my parents and told them about him. They wrote back saying they were happy for us but asked me not to bring him home to visit. “We are old,” they said, “and while most of our friends would remain our friends, we don’t want to put them to the test. We have to live here, and you don’t. But we hope you will continue to come to visit us on your own.”

I showed the letter to Ernest. He smiled when he had finished, but said nothing.

“Well, get your things. We’re driving to see them. It’s only 250 miles and we’ll be there before bed time.”

“Didn’t you read the letter?” he asked.

“They wrote that only because they don’t know you yet. When Dad sees how gentle you are, just like Mother, he will fall in love with you; and when Mother sees….”

“Louie, you’re going to see them, but I am not. I respect their wishes. They have a right to their quiet retirement.

“And you’re going to see them, because if you don’t, something very important in you will die. You are able to love me because they loved you. In that way, I get the best of both worlds: I have a good husband and I don’t have to spend time with my in-laws.”


“No but’s about it,” he said. I sulked, but I went.

After several visits, my father said, “Son, I don’t want to hurt you but I probably will because I don’t know how to talk about it except as a man of my generation, a son of one of the poorest counties in Alabama.

“I don’t understand how flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood could live with a black man as with an equal. At first I thought you might have chosen a black man so that you could feel superior, and I knew that could not be healthy for either of you. Then I feared you might think yourself as inferior because of being gay, and therefore chose a black man. Yet I have listened and listened and I have found no evidence that either has happened.

“And Son, something about you has changed. I loved you before you were ever born. I remember seeing you in the maternity ward with one foot out from under the cover the way I sleep, the way your grandfather slept, the way your great grandfather slept. I remember my joy the first time that I heard in your laugh your mother’s laugh. But son, up until now, something about you has always been incomplete. That’s not so anymore. I am not ready yet to meet Ernest, but you must go home and tell him that I love him, because he has given my son back to me whole.”

We often were amused that neither set of parents could recognize us when we answered the phone. Apparently we have the same answering style. Six years into our marriage, I answered and Dad said, “I’d like to speak to my son, please.”

“Dad,” I am your son, I laughed.

“No, Louie, I want to speak to my other son.”

This one’s for you, I whispered.

He told Ernest, “We are Christians, but we have not behaved like Christians. Will you forgive us, and will you and Louie come spend this weekend with us. We have invited all our friends to come and meet you.”

I believe in the Holy Spirit. I have seen the Holy Spirit happen.

I know that's a long excerpt, but there really is a lot more to the sermon, and I recommend reading the whole thing. Especially if you're interested in learning more about the current issues faced by the Epicopal church. But the story above brought tears to my eyes today, and I thought, "This is exactly what it looks like when the Spirit is at work in people's lives.

At the beginning of this post I mentioned the General Convention, which took place in Columbus last June. It was during that week that I attended the Integrity Eucharist, and had the opportunity to hear Bishop Gene Robinson preach. Here's what he had to say about the Holy Spirit

It's that part of God which refuses to be contained and confined to the little boxes we create for God to live in--safely confined to the careful boundaries *we* set for the Holy Spirit.

The problem is, and the miracle is, and the gift is, God just won't stay put! And God won't let you or me stay put, content to believe what we've always believed, what we've always been taught, what we've always assumed. But change is not just something to be wished upon our enemies, but it is something God requires of us as well.
You can read the rest of Bishop Robinson's sermon here.

One thing I've heard a number of times is that the good news Jesus taught was good news for the poor, the outcast, and the disenfranchised. It didn't sound like such good news to the political and religious leaders of the day. Two thousand years later, things don't seem to have changed much in that regard.