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What Lambeth Means: One Gay Christian's Perspective
[On the Integrity discussion list, a gay clergy friend asked for
feedback about the kindly response that he had received from a clergy
brother. That request promised this meditation, which may be of
interest to a wider audience. -- L.]
Jim, your friend reminds me of the many good white people who lived in
Alabama during segregation. They too felt that issues of race were
blown out of all proportion. They too responded kindly at the personal
level to black persons whom they knew, and they too avoided getting
involved in the more strident defenses white privilege. They rejected
the virulent racism of the Klan and the White Citizens Council. Yet
almost all of them pitied black persons, and many shared the common
belief that blacks had experienced the curse of Ham. Only some great
sin, they reasoned, could have caused God to set up the system so
solidly against blacks. Of those who felt kindly towards blacks, few
indeed would have been happy for a family member to marry a black
person, lest the entire family inherit the curse.
It is not surprising that your friend cannot imagine a happy gay
person. Probably there is little you can do to convince him otherwise,
especially if you try. His world has structured you and me as the
victim, as surely as slavery and segregation victimized black folks.
These systems assure that those who inherit white privilege or hetero
privilege feel no need to take personal responsibility for blaming the
victim, yet that is exactly what your friend is doing.
Racism and heterosexism also succeed in assuring that many victims
behave like victims. Your friend would probably understand the dynamic
better if he stopped trying to imagine what it would be like to be gay
and imagined instead what it would be like to be straight in a world
which lesbigay orientation dominated as unrelentingly as heterosexism
dominates ours. Would he take the risk to love the forbidden
heterosexual object if all who knew and loved him considered such
attractions unnatural, sick, or sinful? And even if he did take the
risk, going to the few places where heterosexuals were allowed to
congregate (never at a church, mind you), would he altogether escape
internalizing that he had done something rather filthy? Would he dare
to tell those in the controlling majority of these assignations, or
would he remain severely closeted? Would his heterosexuality be, as he
was taught, only something he did in the dark, or would he integrate
it in a healthy and open way with all else that he did, even though to
do so were to live 'in your face' to his family, church, and culture?
For me the greater wonder is not that many lesbigays live down to the
culture's expectations, but rather that so many of us manage -- by the
grace of God and the love of one another -- to be quite strong and
healthy while living in a world-wide hetero-dictatorship.
Make no mistake about it, for every strong African American you meet
-- and my African American colleagues for the most part seem much
stronger than those of us who did not have to jump through the hoops
they did -- there are a dozen more who were permanently damaged by
systemic white privilege.
That's the way systems work. Racism and heterosexism are efficacious.
Otherwise those who benefit from them would have abandoned them of
their own accord.
Lambeth manifests hetero privilege quite boldly, with few (but
precious) apologies. 1998 is the Summer of Virtue. His voice, which
heretofore has made our enemies sometimes wince, is THE voice of the
Lambeth Conference. His point of view is at the heart of what the
press has reported. His point of view closely mirrors that of the
majority of the bishops assembled. While David is more candid and less
diplomatic, the archbishop has said little that differs in substance.
It is not surprising that Kim reports that Andrew Carey hangs on David
Virtue's every word.
It is extremely important that we not try to determine God's response
to us by looking to such systems or to those still invested in the
privileges of those systems. God has come to lesbigays directly with
immeasurable love in our Lord Jesus Christ. We are here not to receive
that light from Lambeth, but to bear witness to that light in lives of
service even to these who in ignorance style themselves as our
enemies. They need our love now as never before, and our patience. Not
shuffling, not obsequiousness, but our understanding -- understanding
which we can manifest only as a spiritual gift. Expect that gift. If
it is slow in coming, wait patiently for it.
During Lambeth, many bishops who have dealt kindly towards lesbigays
have been re-baptized, by immersion, in older, more familiar
homophobic support systems, as have all who have watched the
Conference from near and far. Do not be surprised if many begin to
look at us through those lens. Do not be surprised if they begin to
define us by any failings we manifest. That's the way that
pre-judgment operates. Every pinkie and every hint of a lithp will for
a while be suspect in males not the master of a female, as will every
strong voice of assertion in a female not subservient to a male.
From a win-or-lose point of view, Lambeth is David Virtue's. Shield
the joyous during its fleeting glory. From God's point of view,
Lambeth demonstrates an enormous Gospel opportunity, for God loves
heterosexuals exactly as much as God loves us. Pray that they will
learn to hear the Good News in that.
Meanwhile, love one another. Tend the weak. Care for our sick. Nurture
the young. Neglect not the poor. And as you look your enemies in the
eye, smile gently and forgive them even before they ask.
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