Where Are We Going?

by Louie Crew

First appeared in Integer 42 (1983): 6-7.
© 1983 by Integer; © 2004 by Louie Crew

The Washington Blade in an article released by Integrity reported that Integrity moderated lesbian and gay demands in New Orleans. The General Convention Daily for September 6, 1982, reported the analysis of Integrity's outgoing president, that in the past "pastoral concerns have been obscured" while "the church has focused on issues such as ordination."

The DC chapter's newsletter rejoiced after General Convention, characterizing the shift as turning from freestyle leadership of people with largely "personal agendas" to leadership that knows how to work effectively with the real worlds of bishops and other religious administrators.

Apparently gay relationships are themselves also too hot as an issue to name in good Episcopal society. Consider the case of Integrity in Albany, New York, in conflict with the Rt. Rev. Wilbur E. Hogg and Father D. S. Ball, dean of the diocesan cathedral. The two administrators denied Integrity access to the cathedral for chapter meetings, specifying that they were disquieted about Integrity's "objective to commend the homosexual life as an acceptable alternative to Christian marriage." The convener of the Integrity chapter jumped to reply: "In fact, Integrity has no such objective."

I understand that our leaders are seriously considering at meetings of the Integrity executive committee to junk Forum, replacing it with a trendy magazine modeled after People, something of a narcissistic celebration of the private lives of those of us who are gay and Christian rather than the bold discussion of issues that Forum has always attempted, even sometimes in failure. Billy Graham's Decision Magazine might model just as easily. Are our egos all that malnourished? Is profiling our most redemptive posture? Are we to give up on speaking to the whole state of Christ's church and instead to speak only to the converted? And the converted to what? I prefer traditional limits to gay celebrity -- viz., quean, yes, but only for the day, honey!

In 1942, if parents who were Episcopalians discovered that they had a gay or lesbian child, most bishops and other clergy would have commiserated privately as they advised therapy and a very low profile for the sick child. If the parents accepted this prescription, they could remain paying customers in good standing, and the gay child might, in the ideal circumstances, "adapt" heterosexually or, failing that achievement, still might direct the choir or lead the altar guild if the child kept a tight lip.

In 1982, little has changed. Admittedly, in a few places people now actually admit that Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse's style of "therapy" rarely works, though she remains the faggot healer for the House of Bishops. Now a small minority of "enlightened" church officials secure basements in some parishes, even in some drafty cathedrals, for lesbians and gays to meet. A few even speak out against the ways that nonchurch folks persecute lesbians and gays, but rarely do they acknowledge that the Church taught the unchurched to single us out in the first place, and rarer still do they acknowledge their own continuing discrimination against lesbians and gays in ordination, marriage, and dozens of other ministries. Although it is no longer polite in most parish meetings to refer to us as sick, the Church italicizes its real views of us when it refuses to ordain qualified lesbians and gays who are honest and when it refuses to encourage all of us to develop homo-loving sexual relationships. "God may allow them in heaven, but there's no way on earth for the Church to risk heaven's scandal of loving everybody!" the officials seem to say.

Thus the Church drives many of us, especially those of us foolish enough to entrust the Church with our soul's safe-keeping, into the safer bushes, adult bookstores, rest stops along the interstates....almost anywhere free from the risk of making whole and personal contacts. Thereby we at least don't compete with the hetero flirtation that characterizes most parish coffee hours.

For almost two millenia the Church has not been very concerned when it has guessed that scores of bishops and other clergy are gay. Being gay doesn't scare the Church; being honest about it does. At stake in all of this is gay affirmation and gay wholeness. Those, incidentally, are always "personal agendas"; salvation is always personal.

Wayne Olson, UCC chaplain to campuses in Indianapolis, has recently analyzed every major denomination's statements on homosexuality. Every one, he reported to the Gay Academic Union convention in Chicago in October 1982, manages to say "no" by pretending to say "yes." Liberal groups -- such as UCC, the Unitarians, and PECUSA differ from the more conservative and evangelical mainly in the liberals' relative lack of candor. Rejection is constant, even where masked.

Religious people inherit long traditions of word-wizardry. We lesbians and gays who are religious are not immune. About four years ago I started rigorously replacing the word organization with the word ministry whenever I referred to our movement. Ministry properly stresses the religious character of much of our work in ways that the secular term organization ignores -- so I reasoned. But I did not notice some of the less-affirming ways that ministry plays better at 815 and in most rectories. The patriarchy has prepared people to minister without sacrificing in any way their sense of superiority. Furthermore, ministry lacks the sting, the confrontation implicit in organization. The Rev. Dr. Anne Garrison stresses most forcefully, "The pastoral approach to the disturbed homosexual is a cop-out in the face of structural and systemic injustice to gays."

Back in 1976 Jim Wickliff, Bob Herrick, Clinton Jones, Richard Younge and I met in an Atlanta motel to advise a commission of General Convention chaired by my former bishop, the Rt. Rev. George Murray of Central Gulf Coast. Later General Convention adopted the Commission's affirmation that "gays are 'Children of God' and are entitled to the full pastoral love and concern of the church...." When I initially proposed the wording Children of God, I felt a bit silly, as if I were asking the Church to ratify Calvary, not the real way, whereby Calvary ratifies the Church. I was naive. A couple of years later, when the name "Child of God" seemed to win me no more respect, an atheist colleague helpfully explained, "Oh, Louie, that's the way the religious always do it. India recently outlawed naming anyone `untouchable'; the religious had no problem. They simply started calling the same people 'Children of God,' and felt no qualms about continuing to treat them the way they always had!"

Call me "scum" if that's the way you treat me, please.

Millions of lesbians and gays are being daily maimed by these hypocrisies. We monopolize suicide and alcoholism; and in scads of other ways we hate ourselves as we are taught to do. No official in all of Christendom is saying loudly and clearly the simple Gospel: "Gays, lesbians, God loves you. We God's people love you. Love one another."

Letting us meet in a few basements does not say that, especially if the permission buys off your conscience.

Forcing lesbian and gay seminarians to lie to enter a priesthood of Respectability rather than Responsibility, does not speak the Gospel.

Letting Integrity at last have an ad in The Episcopalian after seven years of censorship doesn't really speak the Gospel either. The God whom that publlicatton proclaims has no more spine than a puppet who gives safe entertainment. Our proper company as Christians surely is with the poor and all of the others whom The Episcopalian routinely casts out.

Letting us chat with a few bishops doesn't in itself speak the Gospel either, especially when those bishops routinely use their cheap sociability to buy time indefinitely from having to support us more substantively.

We need vision, not just the view outside the Presiding Bishop's office. The only honor that Church officials can hope to bring to anyone is the kind of Integrity, wholeness, and honesty that outcasts can bring to them. I am glad that some of our leaders are getting access, but please do not default on our obligation to speak the whole, hurt-giving, healing truth. Half a Gospel is no Gospel at all, and please don't try to silence complaints about such perversions. Most importantly, I beg our leaders to approach the authorities fully aware that God alone is our liberator. Grace is not the Church's to give or to deny. Do not even for a moment suggest to any of us that you can do our liberation for us, and do not for a moment assume that you are our liberators: rather call us to the harder task of claiming that liberation from God directly. I realize that you cannot say everything at once if you hope to make sense. "Be sharper than a serpent, as gentle as doves." God be with you. Amen.


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