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Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book . Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:
A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
A Child of God: Why I Believe the General Convention Should Rescind B033 and Authorize Rites for the Blessing of Same Sex Unions
In the Epilogue of George Bernard Shaw’s play ‘Saint Joan’ the following sequence of lines appears.
De Stogumber, the Chaplain, - argued for the burning of Joan of Arc, but after witnessing the event, he is shaken to the core and says:
“If you only saw what you think about you would think quite differently about it. It would give you a great shock. Oh, a great shock.” ..”.you see I did a very cruel thing once because I did not know what cruelty was like. I had not seen it, you know. That is the great thing; You must see it. And then you are redeemed and saved.”
Cauchon, (the Bishop of Beauvais responds:) “Were not the sufferings of our Lord enough for you?”
De Stogumber: “No. Oh no; not at all. I had seen them in pictures and read of them in books, and been greatly moved by them, as I thought. But it was no use; it was not our Lord that redeemed me, but a young woman whom I saw actually burned to death. It was dreadful; Oh, most dreadful. But it saved me. I have been a different man ever since, though a little astray in my wits some times.”
Cauchon: “Must then a Christ perish in torment in every age to save those that have no imagination?”
My object in this paper is to inform the imagination.
When the story of Matthew Shepherd, the young man who was lynched near Laramie Wyoming in 1998, appeared in the news, I recall reading a comment by a seminary classmate, Bill Swing, then the Bishop of California. He was quoted as saying that the church could not pretend to be horrified by that act and at the same time fail to disavow Leviticus 20: 13, since what it commands is what Matthew Shepherd’s murderers’ did. (Lev 20:13 “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death, their blood is upon them”)
Much of what follows derives from my personal experience or from what I have been able to observe.
I began life in these United States as the involuntary member of two minorities. Early in life, I discovered that I was black and I was gay and I have learned much from both those experiences. I know both conditions from the inside. One of the things I have learned is that while every minority group is different and therefore experiences life differently, still most if not all minorities have a great deal in common as a result of their minority status.
Being black aligns me with a racial minority and that group’s history particularly in the US. Being gay aligns me with a sexual minority and the whole history of sexuality in the west in general and in the US in particular.
Secondly, minorities are defined not by themselves, but by the majority. Their identities are given to them from outside by those least informed about their interior lives. Blacks were called blacks, niggers, coons, etc. by white people to distinguish them from the majority. Homosexuals were called homosexuals, queers, faggots etc. by heterosexuals in order to distinguish them from the majority. These definitions are not objective but value judgments and usually negative. They exist to confirm the value of the majority and to disadvantage the minorities. The majority is the in-group. The minorities are the out groups.
When minorities begin to assert their internal sense of identity then they begin the struggle for equality and inclusion and against their societal disadvantage.
But the first and most “normal” response of minorities is to accept the majority’s definition and to try to minimize the differences. It is important to realize how much we are shaped by the society into which we are born. Once, black people who were light skinned often passed, that is to say they defined themselves as white and slipped across the color line. Black beauticians used to sell bleaching cream intended to lighten dark skin, so that even if you could not pass, you might aspire to being a light skinned negro which was perceived to be less objectionable to the majority than dark skinned negroes. The motivation for many blacks to get an education was in part to enter into the majority society and to thereby escape at least some race based handicaps .
I have read that some asians have eye operations so that they look more european and so pass or at least draw less attention to their minority status. Gay people stay in the closet. That is they behave like heterosexuals sometimes even marrying and having children, while of course remaining gay. The object of all these actions is to reject what society rejects and to change the objectionable self into a socially acceptable self. All of these “normal” responses come at a cost. I call them “normal’ because it seems normal if possible, to want to avoid unnecessary social pain such as actual discrimination or even difference, which almost inevitably means being reckoned worse in some way than the majority.
The “normal” response assumes that minority people at some level accept the majority’s description of them. Black people who pass are perceived by other blacks as putting down the race. They seem to have internalized the contempt of society and they also live in fear of discovery and exposure. Back in the forties and fifties there were several movies made about the psychological stresses sustained by people, who passed. Of course passing is not an option for the great majority of black people. Their race is written on their faces. But gays are not only tempted to pass, most are born passing. Some years ago, I recall a black gay man observing that he did not have to tell his mother that he was black. The implication of course was that he did have to tell her that he was gay. He knew what her response was to his blackness. He didn’t know what her response would be to his gayness and he was apprehensive about it.
And here is a difference. Black people are born into black families and into a black community, a community with some kind of sense of self which it may pass along to its new members as a counter to the judgment of the majority. Gay people are born into straight families. They are isolates, born in the closet. If they come out, most must choose to come out. They do have to tell their mothers. And it is likely that those gays have heard as you have heard, of mothers or father who disowned their gay children, threw them out of the house and out of the family or if they didn’t throw them out, subjected them to social, psychological or religious pressures to change. The streets of Hollywood still play host to homeless gay kids rejected by their families who sometimes fall into prostitution or petty crime.
So while few blacks have the option to pass, most gay people do pass, that is hide, stay in the closet, at least until they move out of the house. That means they lie to or hide from, the people they love the most. That means they fear rejection by those they should be able to trust or they fear to injure those whom they love. They lead a double life and for this they pay a psychological price. But worse of all, it means that gay people are not born into a gay community. Each individual discovers their gayness alone and initially has to decide what to do with it or about it alone. For most, the first input they have is that of the general society and of the church both of which are negative.
Many, discovering their gayness do not know were to turn. Some still think they are unique and the butt of some monstrous biological joke or afflicted by a terrible disease. They quickly learn it is not safe to reveal the secret generally because while society is more open now than it once was, it is still not truly accepting. The debates in church and society make that clear. So some continue to hide. Fear motivates them. Some are afraid to investigate the gay communities or venues they hear about for fear of giving themselves away and earning the contempt of church , family and friends. These same people cannot establish a gay relationship because to be seen with the same partner over time will raise questions or give them away. So they are condemned to an anguished celibacy or casual or anonymous sex which fits right into society’s image of gays and becomes a self fulfilling prophesy. The same society which denies gays the option of marriage condemns them for not establishing stable relationships in the absence of societal support. Anger and frustration are the usual products of this catch 22.
Those who do exit the closet risk becoming the victims of social discrimination in the family, on the job, in the church and in society. People who are not accepted by society not only experience anger and frustration, but sometimes see themselves as free from society’s other norms.
Adrienne Rich, a lesbian poet writes;
We’re out in a country that has no language
The internalized contempt of society becomes self hatred and the result is that people often act in self destructive and alienating ways. They take drugs. Meth amphetamines especially, are very popular in the gay community. Gay bars have served as social centers when there were few other available meeting places, but they have also served as avenues into alcoholism. Perhaps the most distressing current aberration is ‘bare backing’ and ‘bug chasing’. Safe sex requires a condom. Bare backing is unprotected anal intercourse which in the era of AIDs amounts to “bug chasing” which refers to negative men having unprotected anal intercourse for the purpose of catching HIV. I have no idea how many people are enamored of this idea. I hope not many, but I have reason to believe there are more out there than there ought to be. This predilection illustrates how far the internalization of societal contempt can go and its cost.
The recent case of Senator Larry Craig of Idaho brings to mind another result of societal contempt which we have seen before. I do not know if Craig’s claims of innocence are true or false, but if false, this would not be the first example of a gay person who took a stand against gay rights. To my mind it is another instance of a person trying to distance himself from society’s contempt Denial is not a river in Egypt. It is a means of immunizing oneself against the suspicion of the majority that you are an undesirable. St. Paul says no one ever hated his own flesh ( Ephesians 5:29) and the good Saint was wrong again. Hypocrisy is the price many have paid to escape the weight of social ostracism and earned the contempt of the members of their own group. They are sleeping with the enemy and that cannot be a happy or a healthy experience. And as this case may show, it does not work for ever. The truth may come out and even if it doesn’t, the person lives with both the fear and the desire.
Again, a gay person may seek to escape this orientation all together. The ex Gay movement is postulated on this denial of self utilizing prayer or some other form of manipulation. Before the American Psyciatric Association changed its mind, psychiatrists couches were regularly populated by gays suffering from the neuroses and perhaps psychoses generated by the irreconcilable conflict between the self and society and who committed to years of therapy in an attempt to bring their sexual desires into line with the expectations of the majority. Certainly many entered the Roman Catholic Ministry on the erroneous assumption that that church had methods for supporting celibacy and eradicating or at least suppressing sexual desire.I also suspect that there are some who oppose this church’s current acceptance of gays because they have bought our previous stand on homosexuality and labored long and hard to quash it in themselves, only to find that same church now saying “We were wrong. God accepts you as you are”. Sexually crippled or distorted, they find it hard to think they committed themselves to a life of abstinence or loneliness for no reason. But, I suspect there will be many more faithful people who have greeted this church’s change of mind with relief.
Some gays will have married as I said earlier, and had children in the expectation of overcoming this desire. A few will succeed in having a happy life. Most will have a secret parallel existence, a double life, which will strain or rupture the marriage which they may have embarked upon faithful to the expectation and advice of the church and the community. Their spouses will be surprised, frustrated, angered and or abandoned and the marriages will end in separation or divorce.
Historically, our society has declared black people inferior to whites, inferior in intelligence, morals, character and physical appearance. Citing Aristotle, and the curse of Ham, it concluded that, we were born to be slaves. Law and custom were marshaled to keep blacks “in their place”, ie. present but subordinate. Subsequent to the Civil War, the subordinate state of slavery was modified to legal and customary segregation. From having “No rights a white man was bound to respect”, we became citizens, but second class citizens, which meant that the majority had modified, but not abandoned their original judgment. Law and custom restrained our interaction. Blacks were still less and therefore not fit to associate on equal footing with the majority. The miscegenation laws were some of the last to go, forbidding the intimate mixing of races as they did. Black is beautiful was the motto of the ‘60’s, rejecting the majority’s judgment that black was ugly. Black power was claimed in the face of the majority’s determination that blacks should be powerless.
If blacks were charged with inferiority, gays were charged with sin and the guilt that goes with sinning. Gays were perverse, deviants, sex maniacs. Unlike blacks, they were often invisible, but that did not stop the majority from outlawing them. Just as the miscegenation laws fell only a few decades ago, so only recently have sodomy laws been struck down. Blacks were seen as essential to the economy so they were to be kept, but in their place. Gays were in no way essential, so the intent seems to have been to stamp them out. Gays were to be forced underground, jailed, beatened or lynched. As King George VI, the current queen’s father was once quoted as saying,”I thought men like that killed themselves.”
Both church and society told us to hate who we were because God and society hated us. How does one escape that kind of guilt trip, when everyone agrees that the attraction you feel is contemptible and that you are worthy of imprisonment or death, and when the only way to escape either fate is to stop being who you know you are?
“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’” was the christian community’s contribution. But if God didn’t make Adam and Steve, who did? “Love the sinner, hate the sin” the church said, to which one lesbian replied, “I don’t do Lesbian, I am lesbian.” When Anita Bryant marched in her “Save the Children “ campaign, implying that gays recruited the young, a group of gays hung a banner along her announced parade route which said simply, “We are your children”.
Socially induced guilt is something every gay person has to struggle with. Gene Robinson is quoted as saying that he struggled with his homosexuality, which I believe means his guilt and shame, for 39 years.
Just as blacks rejected society’s claim of inferiority, the gay community has rejected the accusation of guilt from the church and the society . In order to live we have had to affirm who we are. The other choice is suicide real or figurative, and of course throughout history some have chosen that literal route. Every year we are told some young people especially, still do because they cannot stand against the condemnation of society. Yet, if God made Adam and Steve no less than Adam and Eve then gay too is good.
But the rejection of the guilt trip society lays upon gays, for many gays, has also led to the rejection of the society that laid the guilt on. If they are wrong about me what else are they wrong about? So heterosexual society is regarded with fear and suspicion in much of the gay community.
In addition to the frustrations and stresses gay people may expect to sustain psychologically, there is overt discrimination in employment, adoption, marriage etc. and the hatred of many in society which leads to assaults similar to those experienced by blacks because of difference.
Hatred brutalizes society. It brutalizes the victim and it persuades many in society that brutality is legitimate. The case of Matthew Shepherd, as Bill Swing said, is a logical, if extreme outcome of the church’s past position following Leviticus 20: 13. Since gay people cannot change, many of us have set out to change the majority’s opinion of us.
My goal so far has been to inform the imagination. Bishop Bruno, following the last HOB meeting declared that by issuing their statement the Bishops were not throwing gays under the bus. The trouble with that image is that gays are already under the bus, They have been under the bus for millennia. It seems to me that the church’s job, as far as it can, is to help get the bus off of them.
We as a church already acknowledge complicity in discrimination against gays. What I have tried to describe is the kind of situation that discrimination has created for gay people.
As recently as June of 2006, the 75th General Convention meeting in Columbus, Ohio reaffirmed the Episcopal Church’s support of Gay and lesbian persons as children of God and entitled to full civil rights; it reaffirmed the 71st General Convention’s action calling upon all levels of the government to give gay and lesbian couples the same protections afforded non-gay married couples; and opposed any state or federal constitutional amendment that prohibits same sex civil marriage or civil unions. Further, that Convention reaffirmed that gay and lesbian persons are by baptism, full members of the body of Christ and of the Episcopal Church; it reiterated its apology to its members who are gay or lesbian, and to lesbians and gay men outside the church , “for years of rejection and maltreatment by the church”; it pledged to include openly gay and lesbian persons on every committee, commission or task force developed for the specific purpose of discussing issues about sexuality and requested the same of our sister churches in the Anglican Communion.
Finally, it declared efforts to criminalize homosexual behavior incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
These are all words. Important words, but words. When a previous Convention confirmed the election of Gene Robinson that was action. We acted on the conviction that gay sex is legitimate behavior for gay christians, confirming in the episcopate a gay priest in an active sexual relationship with another man. Then we did throw gay people under the bus by passing B033 and calling our previous action into question.
This church is unable to directly effect state or federal legislation, or court opinions with respect to civil marriage or civil unions. What we can do directly is to officially authorize rites to bless such marriages or unions, reversing the behavior and the prejudice of centuries. Words alas are only words. Actions pursuant to words demonstrate that we mean what we say.
This issue in the church and in society has come down to the issue of marriage because this is the institution which domesticates and socializes the sex drive in our society. It has become the symbol of acceptance precisely because that is what heterosexuals withhold to mark the difference. Homosexuality is about sexual orientation and sexual behavior. Such behavior has been decriminalized in the US, it has not been accepted. To use a parallel metaphor, slavery has been abolished. We are in the era of segregation. Gays are citizens but of the second class.
I have tried to show how gays like black people, have been negatively impacted by their rejection by the majority culture. Much if not most of the pathology found in both groups, derives from this rejection. Being a member of a minority not only distinguishes you from the majority, but makes your life and worth questionable in a dualistic culture. In such a culture difference inevitably raises the question of value, better or worse, good or bad. Rejection by that culture makes that vulnerability an injury.
For most of its life the christian church has argued over orthodoxy or right belief. We have fought wars and burned heretics at the stake until some of us have concluded that fallible human beings will never know who is right, but we can discern who is trying to be faithful to the gospel as they have the light to see it. That is the source, I believe of Anglican comprehensiveness. We still argue over theology and likely will continue, but human injustice is much easier to perceive than the comprehension of the divine. That being the case, it seems to me that an overarching theological imperative for christians is to address injustice wherever it is found and regardless of the theological tradition. That is what we have concluded about racial discrimination and that is what I believe we will conclude about discrimination based on sexual orientation.
I am persuaded that the acceptance of gay people by the majority and the withdrawal of sanctions against them is necessary to their mental health. Exclusion of their relationships from the possibility of marriage is to maintain the separation and confirm their second class status as persons, licensing continued social scorn and all that follows from it. Anything short of full acceptance is “separate and unequal ” which we should know by now simply does not work.
This Church has confessed years of “rejection and maltreatment of gays”. But the sacrament of penance requires not only confession, but sorrow for sin, the intention not to repeat the sin and restitution where that is possible. We are required in some fashion then to “restore the years that the locust have eaten”. And restitution always costs the penitent.
The rescinding of B033 and the authorization of rites for the blessing of same sex unions by this church will not eliminate prejudice in the larger community or the pain in the gay community, but it will be a significant step in that direction. It will also bring our actions in line with our profession. This church will have shown the general community, and gay people in particular, that we are serious and prepared to pay the price. We will have moved our bus off the backs of gays, opened its doors and admitted them to take any seat available, not just in the back. As for taking no action,’justice delayed is still justice denied.”
We know this action will be seen as serious because it has already generated both rejoicing and dismay. In this regard, I came across this comment online by a former priest of this Diocese, Kirk Smith, who is now the bishop of Arizona. He uses an image from the movie “Sophie’s Choice” in speaking of the HOB. I quote:
I've actually used that "Sophie's choice" metaphor myself in the past to describe the place we find ourselves in the Anglican Communion: that we're being forced to choose between the gay and lesbian baptized and our Anglican Communion brothers and sisters.
And someone talked me out of using it anymore by saying, "In order for it to be a Sophie's choice there have to be Nazis with guns pointed at you. And there aren't any. There are just people who are trying to make you think there are."
And they were right. The only "guns" out there are threats by Primates who insist on the exclusion of the LGBT faithful as the criterion for their inclusion at the table. The only weapons being deployed are the intercontinental ballistic bishops being consecrated and launched as weapons of mass discrimination against the American Episcopal Church.
There is, I am convinced, an ontological difference between feeling excluded because you're disagreed with and being excluded because of who you are. Watching brothers and sisters walk away from the Episcopal Church because they've been disagreed with is a painful thing. The Episcopal Church walking away from the gay and lesbian baptized to preserve the unity of the Anglican Communion is a sinful thing.
As hard a choice as it is it is not a Sophie's choice. It is a Gospel choice and it is time for the bishops to make it.
Four parishes have withdrawn from this diocese and are litigating the issues of property. The diocese of San Joaquin has voted to leave this church and join the Diocese of the Southern Cone. The Dioceses of Fort Worth and Pittsburgh have embarked upon similar withdrawal procedures. None of those who disagree with this church’s stand seem to have been given pause, let alone been convinced or fooled by the passage of B033 or by our failure so far to create liturgies for the blessing of Same Sex Unions. Nor have overseas provinces of the Anglican communion been thereby deterred from accepting those who have seceded from us. The Archbishop of Canterbury has informed this church that almost half of the other provinces of the Communion do not find our response adequate. On the other hand, gay men and women who are aware of our church’s actions have been puzzled, exasperated or angered by the passage of B033 and our failure to implement our protestations by authorizing the Blessing of Same sex Unions.
If that were not enough, we should remember that the The Windsor Report to which our action on B033 was a response, also proposed the creation of an Anglican Covenant designed to prevent any province of this communion in future from departing from the received tradition as this province has done in the ordination of women and the inclusion of sexually active gay people in the fellowship and the hierarchy of the church.
Scripture says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22) I take that to mean that repentance is costly, that the gospel is costly. That is what we as a church are discovering. Since we follow a crucified savior that should not be a surprise. Kirk Smith says our choice is a gospel choice and it is time for the bishops to make it. I would agree that it is a gospel choice and insist that it is high time for the whole church to make it.
Bill Moyers in an interview, asked Desmond Tutu, “What was the worst thing about aparthied” and Tutu replied,”It makes you doubt that you are a child of God.”
Madres and Padres
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