At the Cathedral of St. James
I knew enough of English literature and of the rumor of the malade Anglais to know that England would be an appropriate place in which I could burst out as a sinner, especially after the Wolfenden Report, so I took off to London. But it was in New York City, before I ever got there, that I had the first of a series of revelations that have continued to lighten my darkness through an experience that gave me just an inkling, but a very important one, of what I have felt and heard here at the first national convention of Gay Episcopalians and our friends.
About ten of us crowded into a small underground room of a Harlem subway station, all strangers, of diverse races and classes. Even I considered ours a criminal setting, with danger ubiquitous midst the two stalls for standing and maybe three for sitting; but the five minutes we had all been standing there were enough even for me to know that I was safely with my own.
We heard silver dime slash the metallic slit. All of us in a body inspected the newcomer meekly, self-effacingly, as only Gay people can in such suspended moments, but no one made the slightest move to leave.
The intruder estimated us instantly and blanched, fumbled in his pockets as if for an unneeded exit dime, and rushed from our room.
Someone chuckled. Everyone smiled. Then, for what seemed like an eternity, laughter flooded that room, joyfully, not raucously: Happy are the meek, for we will inherit the earth!
The verb of our inheritance, if not of our happiness, is in the future tense. We need no prophet to remind us that we have not inherited the earth yet or to tell us who now owns the land promised to us. Like twenty million Moseses we have all been hidden by our mothers in the houses of the ruling homophobes. Most of us here tonight know as much about passing unnoticed and rewarded through the comfortable corridors of Pharaoh's house as we know about body language in our ghettos. Yet tonight, even in this place where our homophobic rulers are wont to come to be oiled with feelings of righteousness, we are meekly gathered as corporate outcasts, not only to celebrate our secret joy, but also to question how best to demand of Pharaoh, "Let our people go!"
Anyone risking exposure just by being here is a witness to a major dilemma we Gays and our friends regularly face: can I save myself by continuing to hide among those who would hate me if they knew whom I loved, or must I sell all to begin a tedious 40- year journey across the wilderness with my people, possibly never to see the promised land myself except from afar?
From one perspective, our having a potential of twenty million Moseses may be more of a curse than a blessing for our Gay community. The Israelites had trouble enough trying to rally around just one Moses, who had some fairly unambiguous claims to inside information from the Almighty, with twenty million Moseses it often seems easier not to leave Egypt and not to stand together with our more vulnerable sisters and brothers in the brick-making ghetto. Even in the ghetto itself many of the Moseses seem to treasure their individuality more than they treasure one another. It is as if the Pharaoh of old had acted with better riot training, allowing one group of Israelites to continue making bricks with straw and establishing thereby a hierarchy of the straw and the strawless brick-maker.
At the risk of seeming to set yet another rival ideology, I assess our most urgent need as Gay people, and not just as Gay Episcopalians or even just as Gay Christians, to be the need to love one another. Unquestionably we will require the Grace of God, but until we shed our own homophobia learned in the parlors of Pharaoh, and welcome instead rich Gay catholicity, Gay diversity, I see Gay people trapped in Egypt forever.
One does not have to give up her individual tastes before being able to welcome as sisters and brothers persons with different tastes. My faith is not very mature if I require about me only those who share or never challenge my beliefs. Yet again and again I pick up in us such insecurities, often used to justify our not supporting a sister or brother Gay in time of need. One person is embarrassed by another's effeminacy. Another of us is embarrassed by a sister or brother's views on the ordination of women. Another person is embarrassed by another Gay person's personality or by her/his social credentials. Surely our masculinity and femininity are variously important to each of us, as are our views on the ordination of women, our individual styles, and our social credentials or our desire to be free of same. But if before we as Gay people will stand by our Gay sisters and brothers we require waiting until our catholicity has become a uniform identity, ideology, style, or whatever, then we will never be blessed of God meekly to inherit the earth.
I dream of a time when the catholic needs of the least of these our Gay sisters and brothers will be of more concern to us than they seem now. I look forward to the day when we will be more embarrassed by a Church which shuts up or shuts out our lesbian sisters than we will be embarrassed by those whose views differ from ours on the ordination issue; when we will be embarrassed more by a Church which gives Gay young people no place to meet one another for healthy social and spiritual communion than by a brother who seems prissier than we see ourselves or by a sister who seems more militant than we would like her to be; when we will be embarrassed more by a Church which refuses to support any Gay relationship striving to be responsible than by a Gay couple that seems to us too promiscuous.
I look forward to a time when we will be embarrassed more by our pleasure in guilt itself (ooh! I'm so wicked!) than by any one of our sexual experiences that for whatever reason did not meet our expectations.
Surely there is much that is wrong about Gay people, much that we will want to change. But as Christians we are right to demand that first we emphasize what is right with us, the Gospel itself, viz., that God loves us ALL as we were made, with our affectional orientations intact! It is perverse to do penance for who we are! From what does that leave us to be delivered as temptation? The myriads of temptations which face all persons face us, to be less than complete, less than responsible, less than loving.
I believe that the Gay community, particularly when we are alone and with friends, is advanced enough to be very honest about some of our internal problems. Only by being secure enough to admit problems are we going to be in a position to effect any solutions. We need a bold honesty, not just the public relations of our homophobic rulers. We also need good sense.
I remember in the early sixties bragging to a friend in the NAACP about my refusal to indicate my race in the space provided by the whites at Delaware's chest X-ray center. "Man, you're wrong," he countered; "Black folks have more TB than white folks, and how we gonna persuade white powers to do anything about it if you mess up the statistics?"
What about the incidence of VD among us Gays, or of crimes by us, or of neurosis in our community? Of course we are right to counter the stereotypes that we are always diseased and neurotic criminals, but at the same time a minority's oppression is measured precisely by the monopolies of VD, crime, and neuroses the ruling majority thrust upon it. While there is no sexual orientation to disease, crime, or neurosis, there is a sexual orientation to those who control access minorities have to remedies.
Gay apologists, for example, are always reminding the public that 85% of all persons in prison for child abuse are heterosexual, but if Gays represent only 5 percent (admittedly a conservative estimate) of the population, then our 15 percent of the child- abusers is three times our share!, regardless of extenuating circumstances. I would bet, too, that we have more than our share of suicides, and I would like to see the nonGay power structure fund studies designed to identify our needs rather than, as in the past, to identify our persons, the better to inflict capricious penalties.
It is time for us to alert the homophobic majority to the evil that is institutionalized against Gay persons, demanding from them healthier spaces in which we can grow in this culture. It's time that we spoke honestly about the dangers of their own marrying one of us if they cannot make the world safe for us to know and love ourselves.
I confess personally very readily that as night after night I jog through the Georgia summer heat, literally spat upon by children on bicycles, 8-, 10-, 14-year-olds, who shout their obscenities (cocksucker, homo, fag ... ) to the pleasure of their parents on porches, I am often amazed that our Gay retaliatory crime rate is not higher! Our Church, instead of offering support, has mocked our experience of holy Christian relationship, a mockery which effects our defacto excommunication, with no parish in the area willing to welcome us on a par with heterosexual sinners.
Of course, if we would just cooperate, acquiesce, keep our mouths shut, and quit trying to integrate our neighborhood, the pressures would cease, as clearly as if we were dead. It is no consolation that the pressures come only when you stand tall; the only alternative, simply not to stand, is a violation of the worst order.
And we hear these children innocently venting their parents' homophobia, as we answer the hate calls, often from faraway clergy, and hate mail, typically from colleagues in college English departments across the country, I have learned fresh meaning from the Scriptures, particularly from the Psalms, which to my earlier consciousness in Pharaoh's closets had seemed more or less maudlin, self-pitying, even ghetto-ish. Now it is refreshing, illuminating, to discover that for us as Gays the world really does at least on some major issues polarize into the goodies and the baddies, into us and our enemies. The Psalms and the subversive Gospel narratives (turning out money changers, teasing the powerful, bringing restoration to the profane ... ) are refreshingly free of much that for the powerful passes as sanctimonious, lukewarm moral ambivalence, as in the typical sermon in any liberal parish in America next Sunday. Deliver me, O Lord, from mine enemies! becomes a healing liturgical means of spitting out the homophobic poison fed us as an hourly diet by the rulers of this society.
Working for Integrity, I am learning much about our church, with its few oases for Gay persons, and its many deserts. I grow angry watching many of its Gay persons -- women, priests, street queers -- drop quietly into the oblivion of a nervous breakdown, a police arrest, unemployment ... victims of the Church's lovelessness. Often there is no one with whom to share the suffering, no one to whom the protests can be made. Even were we to be free of every homophobe at this moment, we would have years of work to do to remove the institutionalized ways in which we are oppressed into thinking more lowly of ourselves than we ought to think.
I have gone to bed restless and bitter, aware that some bishop has just conned me into thinking that he had honored my people merely by taking the time to speak unctuously and ill-informed against us.
I have been frustrated by having to apologize for just rage, so that some scared "liberal" won't go running away as from a "screaming sissy" when there is so much that really needs to be screamed about. Praise God for the love and the prayers that Ernest and I have been able to share as we have made it through these nights in each other's arms!
For me, before this year it was easy, at least when I thought of the Church, to think that somewhere "out there" a few good persons in power, if only they could be found, are actively working to right these wrongs and bring justice. But I must report, I have not found enough of such persons to give much hope at all, surely not enough for the jobs that must be done. Most people "out there" are jealously fighting to protect whatever power they have, and certainly they have no time to give to the lepers into whom they have made us. It is now my belief that if you want to find healing, love, and strength, you will never find it "out there," but only within yourselves, in the living ministry of the Holy Spirit. I believe that our real liberation comes only as one by one we tap this spiritual energy and then take seriously the commission to tell others about its unconditional availability. I believe that God is calling Integrity to this kind of ministry.
Too many persons think the word integrity means "having the respect of the community," but it means, rather, "having all aspects of yourself together as of one piece." Integrity is a prerequisite for health and for strength. Our sexuality is but one of many parts of our own wholeness, but it is a part that we Gay people are systematically taught to deny, detest, or otherwise abuse. I believe that until one has experienced the joy of divine presence in loving sexual union, that person has been deprived of one of the most fulfilling revelations of God.
But why then bear this name, gay, which to many threatens wholeness by seeming to be obsessively sexual and one- dimensional? As soon ask Moses, "Why forfeit your fully secure, multidimensional life with Pharaoh and bear this newly discovered name 'Hebrew'?" Maybe some Gay people ought to stay in Pharaoh's house, at least until they discover the energies our tribe is going to need in the wilderness. Each will know in her own time.
As I watch us timidly, meekly, coming together in the very place where we have been outcasts for almost two millennia, I am sensitive to the reality that our very presence here is just cause for hope in the hearts of many of our Gay sisters and brothers who could not possibly, at this time, make the step of being with us. At last the Church has an opportunity to recover the spiritual climate of the Catacombs; at last the despised and the rejected with whom our Lord cavorted most freely have been invited.
David, in eating the temple bread, and Christ, in feeding on the Sabbath, demonstrated conclusively that buildings and places do not bring dignity or holiness to persons; persons must bring to buildings and places any dignity or holiness that they can have. Merely by being here we are giving brick and mortar in this, and in other places like it around the world, a long overdue chance to serve our genuine spiritual needs.
At present, we are but a small leak in the dam of the Religion of Respectability, a dam perversely making God's love and mercy inaccessible to twenty million Gay Americans for whom Christ died. Our being the small leak in that dam is not merely fortuitous happenstance. In a paraphrase of that most Anglican of insights, "God moves in just such mysterious small leaks true wonders to perform." Our subterfuge of the Religion of Respectability by bringing holiness to this place signals the living ministry of the Holy Spirit. We await impatiently for the flood of true religion, the Religion of Disrespectability, as revealed in Christ Jesus, in Whom God so manifest love for ALL persons that Christ was made to suffer the ultimate ignominy of the cross as a ransom for us all.
We will inherit the earth.