Bringing the Bad News to the Church

by Louie Crew

First appeared in Insight Fall-Winter 1978: 6, 11.

© 1978 by Insight; © 2004 by Louie Crew

We lesbians and gay males who are religious have many spiritual blessings to celebrate, some of them public, others private. For one, we celebrate the Creator's affirmation of us, our bodies inseparably from our souls, as complete persons. For too long religion has ignored the witness of Genesis that we mortals are made in the image of God and that looking upon Creation "God saw that it was good"! (2:25).
...when we knock at the doors of the temple or the Church, we come not as secular strangers, but as occupants who already know God's affirming love; and it is precisely because we care for our faith that we are able to say to the non lesbian, nongay members, "You hurt us!"

We lesbians and gay males also celebrate our love for God's Church. In September of 1976 when the General Convention of the Episcopal Church met in Minneapolis, it passed several resolutions supporting lesbian and gay male Christians. Significantly, the preamble to those resolutions sated: "We make grateful recognition of the substantial contribution which homosexual persons have made and are making to the life of our Church and society."

Indeed, for centuries we have supplied all of the temples and congregations with a good measure of their strongest witnesses and prophets. Our fingers have knitted and sewn some of the finest vestment; our hands have carved some of the most significant ecclesiastical memorials; and our lungs have sung the anthems which others of us have written. As theologians, preachers, and teachers for centuries we have lovingly instructed whole generations in religious service. Of course, our ministries have often forced us to be incognito, even as many still feel that they must be.

Nevertheless, when we knock at the doors of the temple or the Church, we come not as secular strangers, but as occupants who already know God's affirming love; and it is precisely because we care for our faith that we are able to say to the non lesbian, nongay members, "You hurt us!" It is in our celebration of the fullness of God's love for all persons that we speak to end the centuries of abuse heaped upon God's lesbian and gay male children.

Ironically, in many ways it is easier quietly to forgive our oppressors than it is to ask them to repent, to stop their abuses. For centuries we have found it safer to serve in painful silence than to acknowledge, "We hurt!" In so doing, we run the grave danger of using our religion as an opiate rather than as a means of salvation.

We do hurt! We lesbians and gay males share a common heritage of . pain. For centuries we have survived mainly as isolated persons. The biggest threat that we have posed for many non lesbians and nongay is the specter of our visibility as whole persons, not just the genital ogres of their imaginations. We have not always ourselves learned well how to help one another. We have not yet learned well how to love one another. We have not even been encouraged to do so.

Recently I received the following genuine reply from a bishop whom I had asked to support lesbians and gay males within our Church:

Although I have a true concern for the individual homosexual person and his [sic] pastoral needs, and am committed to the positions taken by the General Convention..., I must in honesty say that the Gay "movement" is not one that would have priority in giving from my discretionary funds.

Wouldn't it be beautiful for the religious institutions to be so fully and genuinely committed to individual homosexual persons that our collective witness and support of each other would be redundant?! Wouldn't it be beautiful if each lesbian and gay male could be assured of encouragement from her or his rabbi or minister in becoming the best lesbian she might hope to be or the best gay male he might hope to be?

Other oppressed minorities within the Church (e.g., blacks and women) waited in vain for centuries for their opposing majorities on their own to amend their ways, only to learn that no significant and lasting change would occur until as a group each minority took on the tedious chore of saying, "We hurt!"

Typically those who hurt lesbians and gay males do so not for our individual differences, which all persons rightly treasure, but for the homosexual identity we share in common. Again and again many of us have heard, ostensibly as compliments, "But Bill(or Ellen or Dick or Julie), you're not my idea of the typical homosexual; you're special." We must learn to celebrate the welcome truths that there is no such person as ''the typical homosexual" and that we are all special!

One of the chief tactical problems of testifying about a group's pain is that the very act of telling often cannot be synchronized with the actual experience of the pain. Thus, the witness, because it is rehearsed, can seem to be merely a theoretical exercise. The night one of us gets to talk to a vestry or some other religious body might be the night we don't feel like rehearsing our experiences of any kind; it might be the night that we would rather be reading a book or going to a symphony. Furthermore, when we go before such bodies, we frequently find that they are more prepared to pity us than they are to see us as the whole human beings that we are. At times it seems that we are asking the religious groups to take our religious commitments more seriously than the heterosexuals in these groups take their own commitments. Too many people long ago stopped believing in Communion as anything more than a metaphor. To educate heterosexuals to take seriously either our joy or our pain is to ask them to rediscover the Church or the Temple as living communities of believers instead of social clubs or a form of burial insurance.

Admittedly, the education of heterosexuals is tedious, and the task within religious institutions is enormous indeed. Still, the love which we have for these groups must be actualized by our willingness to persist in these efforts.

Frankly, we need more laborers. In many ways we lesbians and gay males are not ourselves always aware of the extent of the injustices our people have endured. Many of us have looked, as we have been taught to look, only at our own personal experience. Five years of steady contact with hundreds of other lesbians and gay males have taught me how very much we need to develop a sense of community, how very much we are needed by one another, not to mention how much the next generation of lesbians and gay males needs to find the world and the religious institutions safer places than we have found them.

For me personally, the Christian context blesses us with hope. Unlike our secular friends we do not work on a sociological or a political timetable. Once and for all at Calvary Christ has accepted us, redeemed us, make us complete. We need only to ask, to experience the immediate and ever-accessible grace of God. Ironically, the Church is often more ready to serve us with warmed over psychology or politics or sociology: we must insist lovingly on nothing short of the Church's only unique and authentic dispensation--viz., the Gospel of the indiscriminate love of Jesus Christ.


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