The Church and the Gays

by Louie Crew

First appeared in Christianity & Crisis 40.1 (February 1980).

© 1980 by Christianity & Crisis ; © 2004 by Louie Crew

"Will the Church accept gays?" This question is typical of the way the issue of homosexuality is stated in the Church; and the question is put all wrong. In the first place, the acceptance of importance to Christians is Christ's acceptance, and Christ accepted all believers at Calvary. Secondly, the Church already has gay members. The issue is not whether gays will be accepted, but how their long-term membership in Christ's Body is to be acknowledged and affirmed.

Similarly, the issue is not, as many would have us believe, whether gay Christians should be or will be ordained. Gays have already been ordained as priests and bishops for centuries, and people in the Church have long known as much. Bishops in even the most illiberal dioceses have repeatedly confided to me that of course they have ordained and will again ordain homosexual persons who keep their orientation a secret. The vital gay ordination question is whether such gay clergy are now to be allowed the privileges of candor and self-affirmation accorded the heterosexual clergy.

Or is the issue whether gays should be permitted to marry. Theologically and legally the Church has never married anyone. A marriage or a wedding is a union accomplished by the married people themselves. Both the courts and the Church have routinely said marriages not thus consummated risk annulment. What the Church and the civil officials do is to perform "Solemnization of Matrimony" (Book of Common Prayer, 1928 edition). To solemnize means simply "to perform with pomp or ceremony." Many gay Christians have been marrying each other and otherwise performing unions in the privacy of their homes and in the presence of the Holy Spirit for centuries without the benefit of the Church. The current divorce rate of nearly fifty per cent among heterosexual Christians suggests that too many of them have trusted the Church's pageantry magically to perform a marriage to which they have not made much commitment of their own energies. Many gays may wonder whether the Church's ceremony would possibly be more of a curse than a blessing.

When the very questions which heterosexuals raise about gay Christians are improperly focused, none of the conclusions is likely to be trustworthy. More dangerous though, is the risk that gays will not hear the Gospel itself: God loves gays right now! Grace is immediately available. For admission to Christ's kingdom, one does not have to wait until the National Council of Churches or one's own ecclesiastical assembly passes a mystical number of supportive resolutions.

There is danger when a gay person is taught to bang on the church door saying, "Accept me, accept me!" Most churches right now are not enough in touch with the Gospel to have someone standing inside to open the door and to speak the saving truth: "You have been accepted already! At Calvary! Enter into the joy of Christ!"

Current practice to the contrary notwithstanding, Christ clearly did not intend to establish a heterosexual club. Those heterosexuals who talk about the Church as "us" and about gays as "them" clearly forget that Christ died for all people. Such heterosexuals arrogantly presume to tell God whom God can or cannot love.

The "Prayer of Humble Access" begins: "We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies." It is difficult to fathom the heterosexual presumption of coming to the Lord's Table trusting in genital superiority. The posture of such pride profanes the very idea of Christian communion.

Of course Christ's affirmation of sinners in no way affirms their sinful behavior. Christ loves those heterosexuals who by the millions annually desert their children or drive their children to run away, as well as the millions more who physically abuse or otherwise fail to love the children whom they keep at home; but of course Christ does not affirm these destructive heterosexual behaviors.

Gay people have just as much obligation to be responsible gay people as heterosexuals do to be responsible heterosexuals. I have little or no choice in who arouses me, but every choice and responsibility to act on or to contravene that arousal in loving ways. It is not given me to be someone I am not, viz., a heterosexual.

The principal sins of gay Christians are no different from those of our heterosexual sisters and brothers in Christ, namely our failure to obey the summary of the law in the first two commandments. Our sin is not that we love one another, but that too often we do not love one another enough, i.e., as much as we love ourselves.

An important development for the last few years has been the creation by gays of social settings alternative to the underworld to which we had previously been restricted. We now have caucuses in at least two dozen profes- sional organizations and the support groups within various established churches --Dignity (Roman Catholics), Integrity (Episcopalians), Affirmation (Methodists), Evangelicals Concerned, Lutherans Concerned, Presbyterian Gay Caucus, 'United Church of Christ Gay Caucus, Unitarian Office of Gay Concerns, Gay Mormans, Gay Moravians, et al. Great numbers of other gay Christians have the been unable to cope with the oppression and insensitivity within established churches and have broken away to form religious congregations with more specific outreaches to the gay community, such as numerous groups of 01d Catholics and most especially the largest "gay Church," the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (FMCC). Of course, Christ's Church is one and can experience no wholeness if it excludes any of those whom Christ loves.

General Convention in Minneapolis (1976) affirmed that gays are "Children of God"; yet we church people have a bad habit of denying the efficacy to such statements of faith. Face to face with gays, heterosexual Episcopalians often still use psychological, medical, or legal terminology more readily than the spiritual terms used in Minneapolis. Anyone's claim to be a "Child of God" is revolutionary, the revolution of the Gospel itself.

The real test facing the Episcopal Church is whether the Church will behave towards gays as towards Children of God. In the earlier civil rights movement, the adult white members of my hometown in Alabama went to their kneeling benches to pray that the Freedom Rider Bus would go away while the unchurched and otherwise powerless rednecks did their dirty work for them by burning the same bus. Only when the pious left their benches and kneelers and escorted later buses safely through the town did the Freedom Rider buses actually go away. When nonviolent heteroChristians say that gays are "immature" or "ill" or "special sinners but still "need to be treated kindly," they merely fuel the more violent to act out these judgments more viciously. Tot until the heterosexual majority will stand together with us as sister and brother Children of God will the hooligans cease their abuses of us.

I believe that by thus embracing us, heterosexual Christians can joyfully join us in our rediscovery of Christ's unconditional love. We who have experienced that love attest that it is more to be treasured than all forms of respectability.


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