First appeared in Integrity Forum 6.1 (1979): 8-10.
© 1979 by Integrity Forum; © 2004 by Louie Crew
Let the word go forth: God loves us!
I am talking the same revolution that began in Judea, moved to Samaria, and now threatens to engulf the whole world, especially, some would say, if we get involved.
God loves us is not an innocuous platitude but a serious faith statement which affirms that the creator of the universe, contrary to an ancient consensus, does not come down to an assembly line, look squarely into the eyes of lesbians and gay males, and say with disappointment, "I suppose that I am entitled to a few mistakes." God does not make rejects. God does not redeem persons only to say that they were not worth redeeming. God loves us.
Recently a bishop told me that lesbians and gay males are upsetting the Church primarily by our bad form: the issue is really one of etiquette, he suggested. "If a priest whom I invited to bring a spouse or an 'intended' to my dinner party were to call to inquire whether the dinner companion might be a member of the same sex, I would have to say, wouldn't I: 'Well, frankly, I don't know how I would arrange the seating. I'm sorry, but you know how these things are -- a male, then a female, and so on, and so on."
By contrast, our records show clearly that God's etiquette required God to leave the ninety and nine to fend for themselves (presumably as sheep they weren't terribly fastidious about Emily Post or Amy Vanderbilt) while God searched for the missing one.
God loves us. It is a false report which suggests that God operates heaven as either a heterosexual club or a Nazi laboratory. God does not require us to wear pink triangles, and St. Peter is not a macho bouncer for the American Legion. We must expose these heresies as such as quickly as possible.
"But, Louie," another bishop once implored. "I don't know how to minister to you!" And indeed he did not know and did not minister to me. He worried about what others would think were they to see him casually in my company, and he pointedly spurned all invitations to be the guest of known lesbians or gay males. Even in public, he is wont to proclaim his "love" for lesbians and gay males with periodic beeps in which he labels us as victims of "character disorders." (Lepers bells these days seem to be audible only at such ultra high frequencies.) One wonders how our Lord would ever have gotten close to prostitutes and other street folk had he similarly whipped up the public sentiment against them. Is it any wonder that most of the lesbians and gay males who dare to come near to such members in the hierarchy do so only incognito, as in ecclesiastical drag?
Knowing how to minister to anyone requires very little specialized information. The Good-Samaritan demonstrated clearly that we minister to one first by not ignoring the person needing our ministry. We go to the victim, we bind up the victim's wounds, we place the victim in a healing environment, we pay the victim's bills, and we check up later to determine the victim's progress.
Notice that the Samaritan did not first take a consensus to determine what to do -- whether the hasty and allegedly moderate consensus of modern sexuality commissions or the deliberated and vigorously homophobic consensus of the heterosexuals who have always monopolized western Judeo-Christian civilization. Rather, the Samaritan went immediately about the process of helping, without a whole lot of questions.
Nor was the Samaritan concerned about the endorsement implied in the ministries. The endorsement is always perspicuous: This victim has worth. Full stop! Very revealingly, in Christ's story the image of the minister is that of one who is also an outcast. Christ did not seem overly concerned to protect God Almighty's reputation but identified the actions and concerns of God with those of a despised Samaritan. Nor did the Samaritan try to change his Jewish victim into a Samaritan, as attempt many heterosexual "ministers" who approach us.
I strongly urge us to give very little heed to most of the talk that characterizes the Church's response to homosexual persons right now, even as Christ would not have us measure God's intentions toward the Jewish victim by the behavior of the other Jews, the priest and the Levite, who ignored him. Behind the report of the Spears' Commission [Joint Commission on Human Affairs and Health] in the Episcopal Church and similar reports for other bodies is much too much concern for what the world will think and barely a sugar cube full of the loving ministry we need in the lesbian/gay male community. In entertaining even the possibility of denying the sacrament of Holy Orders to us as a class, the Church blasphemously mocks God for loving the whole world. Those who rush to protect the Church's "good name" from foul associations with the likes of us "faggots and lezzies" need to attend the mass more closely, wherein we perpetuate Calvary's memorial of what God thought of a good reputation. Literally, God is too busy loving us to give a damn.
When we say "God loves us" us means anyone and everyone, but for a moment let's focus on God's love for us as the community of lesbian and gay male Christians. I strongly suspect that among ourselves we will find the greatest unbelief in the gospel at this point. Some of us jump to violate our integrity by saying: "Of course, God loves me as a musician: of course God loves me as a priest or a teacher; of course God loves me as a mother, father, sister or brother; but what has my sexuality to do with God's love? I control my lust as best I can, and that's the end of that."
Others of us have worked hard at feeling guilty about matters of the least consequence, sometimes even for feeling simple affection for another human being, while at the same time we tolerate in ourselves the severest judgments against other lesbians and gay males. Even if heterosexuals were to go to another planet for a full decade, they could go with strong assurance that already sown in our community are seeds of dissension and distrust.
Right now, all across the Church are many thousands of lesbians and gay males who are far more intimidated than would be most heterosexuals by our assembling as lesbians and gay males. To divert attention from their sexuality, many of our sisters and brothers have collectively purchased for the Church literally tons of stained glass and enough organ pipe to stretch from coast to coast.
Perhaps St. Paul may not have been altogether wrong when he speculated in his letter to the Romans about the etiology of some homosexuality suggesting that some of us follow a pattern of refusing to glorify God as really God, as one really able to love us as full persons with our sexuality integrally a part of our wholeness: "Hence all their thinking has ended in futility, and their misguided minds are plunged in darkness. They boast of their wisdom, but they have made fools of themselves."
I remember after my own "conversion" from a Baptist closet to an Anglican
one, in 1961, how very shocked I was to find in The Hymnal 1940 the same
old haunting, but ultimately saving truth that I had hoped to escape by
taking up incense and vestments, No. 409:
|Just as I am, without one plea.
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd'st me come to thee,
O Lamb of God, I come.
Just as I am: thou wilt receive;
Strangely, God loves us more than often we love ourselves, perceives worth in our chemistry and our relationships which we have been schooled to devalue. Sometimes I think that St Paul would recast his advice for gay males and lesbians to read: "Do not think of yourselves more lowly than you ought to think." Our learned attitudes die hard. Even after more than a dozen years of relative openness I am amazed to discover my own capacities to long for the fleshpots of Egypt rather than boldly to assume the responsibilities of my freedom. Last month when Ernest and I first got shut of Georgia (and Georgia got shut of us), I found by the Wisconsin River opportunities which I had not enjoyed for the six years in the peach orchards. In my first visit to the parish, no one knew. I had the option of sneaking back into a closet for a few days' respite. Likewise, in my classes I have had my first chance in years to be seen as a professional before being prejudged as a queer. This fleeting whiff of closet fumes has been intoxicating, if artificial. St Peter knew as much before the rooster set up such a racket; strangely, it always seems to be just the nondescript supernumeraries -- a serving girl saying, "Thou also wast with Jesus of Galilee;" a woman at the parish coffee hour saying, "Is your wife coming now or later?" -- who want to ask us the questions which would in effect expose us as part of that crowd busy upsetting the world.
Of course, individually and collectively we must break our silence if the world is to experience our revolution: God Loves Us. God has no other voices but ours; only in human countenances can God's be seen. While the Church would prefer to respond to lesbians and gay males, if at all, as to an awkward interruption, a breach of etiquette, God always visits only on the time-table of someone's need. Gay need is a major instrument for God's presence in the whole state of Christ's church today. As surely as it is more blessed to give than to receive, we are instruments of God's blessings to the heterosexual populace as well. Many a person, gay or nongay, will never see God's face or know God's love if we hide from our clearest opportunities to be thus used by God.
Let us not underestimate the urgency of our mission. Homophobia is no garden variety blight, but a major pestilence, always serious and sometimes lethal. Only God keeps statistics on our community's suicide rates. By a fierce paradox, our own scholars seem compelled to speak of positive aspects of our life to the near exclusion of computing the price we have to pay in our being oppressed. We need hard data on our real problems, the better to attack them. At every moment, lesbian and gay male youngsters are being taught self-depreciation so vigorously by every aspect of our culture -- but most especially by our schools, our homes, and our churches -- that most of them will have little chance later to appropriate more liberating information. Mental hospitals and prisons already house far too many of us who have oppressed ourselves by fulfilling grim heterosexual prophecies about us. Alcoholism, depression, fear, and loneliness daily ravage our community. If you are saying, "Not my part of it," or, "God, deliver me from that part of the gay community," please be prepared to take responsibility for those prayers. It is easy to love our neighbors if we can pick and choose them. Even the unbelievers do that very well.
We lesbian and gay male Christians must not let Pharisees set our agenda, as so often they have done in our dealings with the Church. We are called to forgive the Pharisees, but they must not distract us from urgent priorities. Those who control most Sees and Cures in the Church have not dwelt among us closely enough to shepherd us wisely; and often a campus minister or a parish priest is a healthy hazard for a babe in Christ within our community. We lesbian and gay male Christians must be especially strong lest we be led through much show of piety to hide from our responsibilities to those in need. Perhaps we are lucky in that our precarious position within the hierarchy forcibly reminds us that true religion is not so much a matter of how we behave towards one another. As one priest and friend wrote me recently: "I more and more agree with (our unchurched friend) that the games we play with the leadership of a dying spirituality are not worth the candle. 'Our friend' has more godliness in his peach preserves than they have in all of their theological stances. And God told me that."
Like members of other minorities, lesbians and gays are under steady pressure to validate ourselves by external criteria -- how successful we are, how stylish we are, how quantitatively intelligent we are. As Christians we must never forget God's advice to Samuel: "People judge by appearances, but the Lord judges by the heart" (2 Samuel 16:7). And the Lord has judged us already, in advance. The verdict is in: God Loves Us. God is still in the business of working miracles. God wants to take your life and mine and make us ministers of that love here, and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
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