Integrity Dialogue Hopes Thwarted

by Louie Crew

First appeared in Witness Magazine 72.9 (September 1989): 22-23.
© 1989 by Witness Magazine; © 2004 by Louie Crew

The Old English word hal yields three words in modern English, whole, meaning `complete'; hale, meaning `healthy,' (heard often in the collocation "hale and hearty"); and holy, `sacred.'

I sometimes wonder whether liturgists purposely reserve for the middle of Trinity (when they know many Anglicans take a vacation from church) the stories of Jesus the miracle worker, who as he heals, says time and again, "I make you whole." Hard stories. Many of us who like even incense, miters, and beeswax privately fret about the possible Superstition in these holy stories. Miracles? How more anti- intellectual can we get?

My educators equated Holiness with Respectability. As a child, I thought I could experience holiness if I practiced good manners, sat in my parents' pew, did not wiggle, kept my feet on the floor, and focused on pulpit, with the organ in full tremolo for "Sweet Hour of Prayer...."

When puberty intruded, I did not imagine that holiness could have anything to do with my body, with the involuntary fluids and powerful desires which my educators described as "nasty"--necessary maybe, but only under strict regulations, and Nasty.

Beowulf's Christian band could not have divided reality prudishly even if they had wanted to. Old English itself did not allow them to; it would not divide holiness from wholeness or from health. Health, Wholeness, and Holiness still are the same.

When I named Integrity, I had only an inkling of how big a truth had found Ernest and me. We had united our lives almost a year earlier.

My parents, both born in 1905 in rural counties of Alabama, found it less difficult to adjust to my sexuality than to Ernest's color, a deep and rich pecan. Ernest insisted, against my will, that we respect their wishes that he not visit them. "But you go, and often," he insisted; "I did not marry them, but you. Besides, you couldn't love me if they had not loved you, so I have the best of their love anyway."

On my third or fourth lonely visit home my father said, in the prayer time he, Mother, and I always shared before sleep, "Son, I cannot understand how a child of mine can love a Colored Person as an equal. Forgive me. Remember, I come from a different place. But I can see that you do love Ernest as an equal. I rejoice. Anything less would indicate bad health.

"Parents always know things about our children that they themselves will never know," Dad continued; "You will never be a parent, and you'll just have to take my word for it. Your mother and I held you and bathed you when you were only hours old. Day after day we watched you form a personality. We watched you grow.

"Son, I've always loved you, and for a long time I have worried, especially after you became an adult, that somehow you never seemed complete. I can't say what was missing. You did not try to deceive us; that's not what I mean.

"But since you joined with Ernest, this man I cannot bring myself to meet, you are obviously complete. I don't pretend to understand it. Especially with a colored man. I come from a different generation. Forgive me.

"But you tell Ernest when you get home, that I have to love him, because he has given me my son, whole."

Integrity. Abundantly available even for tacky old queans like me.

For a decade and half others by the hundreds, by the thousands have reported similar grace through Integrity.

My educators taught me that integrity equates with honesty and establishes `a good reputation.' Used car salesmen boast huge quantities of it. Even bishops like others to ascribe integrity to them, as if Integrity is Respectability's Gold Card.

The word integrity relates instead to integrate. An integer is a `whole number.'

"How absurdly they name themselves!" our critics sometimes mumble when they think we are not there. "What h-o-m-o-s-e-x-al could have `Dignity'?"

True, many of us go through a period of life when we think heterosexuals monopolize Dignity. I did. I feared that someone would discover my identity and associate me with the undignified people I heard described as h-o-m-o-s-e-x-uals.

"And what h-o-m-o-s-e-x-uals have `integrity'? We despise them. How could we respect them?

So too with the words Affirmation, Reconciliation, and even Concerned, as in Lutherans Concerned and Presbyterians Concerned. "My word!" the Respectable ask, "Who wastes concern on such people? Who reconciles with them, or affirms them?"

"God does."

The casters-out bless us unawares. In bringing us to our knees, they bring us to God. As Archbishop Tutu says, "If god loves you the most, God shows the love: God puts you on a cross!" In the indignity of Calvary, true Dignity manifested itself for the sins of the whole world.

The Church desperately needs to restore its own integrity. Our experience reveals many ways the Church violates its wholeness.

Why do commissions discuss us, yet exclude us as members? When I asked the Presiding Bishop, who has proclaimed "There will be no outcasts in this church," he explained to me, gently, that he lacks the authority to appoint lay people to the Commissions. He did not add that Dean David Collins does that.

Long before the Emancipation Proclamation, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas spoke to the white abolitionists. Every year each diocese in our church convenes and has at least one guest speaker. In the 15 years of Integrity, our 150 dioceses have invited 2,250 guests to speak at diocesan banquets, but not one has featured a lesbian or gay male Christian speaking to our issues. Few hear about us; almost no one hears from us.
 

RESOLUTION D-120

RESOLVED, That this [69th] Convention [meeting in Detroit], responsive to the call of the Standing Commission on Human Affairs and Health "to find a non-judgmental occasion to listen and talk," and in the spirit of the Presiding Bishop's statement that "there will be no outcasts in this church," strongly urges each diocese and congregation to provide opportunities for open dialogue on the subject of human sexuality, in which members of this Church, both heterosexual and homosexual, may study, pray, listen to and share their convictions and concerns, their search for stable, loving and committed relationships, and their journey toward wholeness and holiness.....


Notice two of our words there, wholeness and holiness. Do they hear us at last?

To test this resolution passed in 1988, I wrote to every parish in both dioceses of South Carolina where I lived this past year:
 

General Convention has asked all congregations to listen to lesbians and gays tell our stories. Please suggest some dates which would be agreeable for you to receive us.

We can accommodate a variety of formats. Please advise us about what best engages your people. General Convention Resolution 120 stressed that you should provide nonjudgmental space. Do not be put off if that is impossible for some of your people.....
 

Results: Not one invited us. Most did not answer their mail.

Five or six priests in each of the two dioceses wrote to admire my courage. Two said that they hoped they might have their congregations ready for dialog within couple of years. One even bragged that as chaplain he had already arranged such dialog, but the chaplain would not even chat with me when I called for followup, perhaps because in the same post with his bragging letter came a warning from his bishop, the Rt. Rev. William Beckham:
 

May 2, 1989

FOR: THE CLERGY
FROM: THE BISHOP
SUBJECT: "Integrity" 

I have learned over this past weekend that you have received a letter from Dr. Louie Crew of Orangeburg on the content of General Convention Resolution120. Some of you have called the Diocesan Office somewhat dismayed by the letter, its expectations and even its tone. 

Please know that, while we certainly urge study and discussion on a Christian response to the whole subject of human sexuality, we are not sponsoring Integrity nor even requesting that you invite gays and lesbians to come in and make a presentation. In fact, we don't think that the resolution (enclosed) calls for this. Failure to invite "special guests" does not do violence to inclusiveness. 

Rather, what is called for is open and honest dialogue within the Christian Community in a manner which enables us to share concerns and hear those of others. 

Note also, that Resolution 120 affirms the Biblical and traditional teachings on chastity and fidelity. 

Admittedly, this is an explosive issue which can do much to divide us. 

For that, and for many other reasons, do what you think best and in such a manner that does not alienate parishoner [sic] from parishoner nor any from you. 

Human sexuality is certainly important but it is not the primary issue of the Church nor does Resolution 120 intend it to be. 

WAB/jb
cc: Dr. Louie Crew

They often go for your style or your tone. Mother taught me always to say `please' and to respect people's right to say `no' or, preferably, `no thank you.' I had said, "Please suggest some dates which would be agreeable for you to receive us."

Mother also taught me what men, and she did not mean that pronoun generically, mean when they say "For that, and for many other reasons, do what you think best and in such a matter that does not alienate...." Among good ole boys down home in the South, that translates as "Take him out back and beat the bejesus out of him (preferably physically, but spiritually will do) if that pleases you but don't dare get caught or say I told you to."

I sent a copy of my letter and of Bishop Beckham's response to all bishops on Integrity's honor roll, those who have said that they cannot abide by the House of Bishop's resolution asking them not to ordain lesbians and gays. One bishop replied,

I really was not surprised to read the contents of Bishop Beckham's letter. I'm afraid that he conveniently missed the point of GC Resolution 120. You are absolutely correct in your interpretation of it. I hope you favor the Presiding Bishop with copies of the materials you sent me....
The letter penetrated the underwhelming silence of most others. But notice what the bishop does not say. He does not say, "I deplore Bishop Beckham's interpretation and have called the Presiding Bishop to say so. I will ......"

Nor does the bishop write, "Obviously Bishop Beckham has not delivered the House's promises." Instead, he says, "I really was not surprised."

Did any other bishop think that the Church would heed Resolution 120?

The secular world judges harshly those who knowingly write bad checks.

Another friend, a gay bishop, replied:

The bishop's response to your letter...is, I expect, representative of all too many Episcopalians. And, God bless you for continually creating the clearing [which] makes it possible to see the nature of the soil in which we hope to plant a fresh crop of life. I am increasingly aware of the work that is before us if gay men and lesbian women are to have the possibility of growing to fullness of stature as God has created us [italics added]. What I experience is more like being under a heavy blanket of wet leaves and having to push through--maybe I'll make it and maybe I won't and in any case I'm twisted, stunted and discolored and lacking typical blooms.....
 
I'm twisted, stunted and discolored and lacking typical blooms.....!

She that has ears to hear, let her hear what the Spirit says to the Churches: Twist and stunt resemble disintegrate, not integrate. The Church, the gay bishop implies, conspires to violate his integrity.

Do not romanticize oppression. It oppresses! For every black lesbian who has proved herself stronger than all the rest of us, 100 rock on front porches of the world, washed out .....

Bishop Beckham's diocese has sponsored several forums for AIDS, yet made no effort to inform Integrity/South Carolin of these. "We want a reputation for compassion," such policies make clear; "why don't you decently go on and get AIDS? Then we will show you how properly we can love you."

I raised this point at conference at Trinity Cathedral in Columbia. Many in the audience gasped audibly, but at the eucharist, Methodist Bishop Melvin Wheatley, much more experienced in such matters, nodded to me directly saying, "He's right. Before we can talk about healing, we all have some guilt work to do here, in facing our sin of homophobia, our sin of exclusion." Two of the canons at the cathedral would not even speak to me.

On May 7th I sent the following message by EPINET, the electronic mail service of the Episcopal Church, to The Rev. Wayne Schwab, Director of the Office of Evangelism Ministry at the Episcopal Church Center.

Gentle Father Schwab,

Can you give me a statement regarding your office's work to evangelize among lesbians and gays?

I am preparing my address for the Integrity convention this July, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. I will note Integrity's own mission to over 20,000 persons during our first 15 years. Am I correct that this makes us the largest new ministry within the Episcopal Church during that period?

I want to applaud others in our church who have evangelized among lesbians and gays. Please help me document that work, especially efforts by your own office.

For example, when Father Ken Harmon and others stigmatize you and our church for not even knowing what evangelism is, and when people harp about the numbers leaving, does your office ever point to those who are coming in, or returning?

I have a hunch that "THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH WELCOMES EVERYONE" has been one of our Church's strongest appeals, even where we should emend the claim to "--well, almost everyone." I take great pride that the Church most identified with the powerful actually tries, at least in some places, to embrace the lowly, that in our church sometimes the last are first and the first last.

I would appreciate your reflections in these regards.

Thank you.

Warmly,

Louie Crew Founder of Integrity EPI193

Copy to:

EPI013 BROWNING.E, Presiding Bishop
EPI032 MENUEZ.BARRY, Integrity's Liason at ECC
EPI070 Integrity
EPI166 HUNT.G, Bishop of Rhode Island, Chair, Commission on Human Affairs

The purpose of E-Mail is to speed responses. Not in our church's official office of Good News, which to date has never replied.

Daily I gain new respect for our lineage:

Let us now praise caustic Christians,
the champions of justice in all generations,
through whom God has restored the flow of mercy.

Some have nailed theses to the church door
with prophetic power.
Some have started new universities to
challenge the prevailing notions.
Some have overturned tables at the temple,
demanding alms for the poor, the sick,
and the destitute before we buy organs
and stained glass.
Some have worn dresses to be priested for gender justice.
Some have yanked off masks to proclaim their loving gay unions.
Some have demanded of the white authorities, "Let My People
Go!"
Some have marched through tear gas and police dogs,
defying orders from prelates and judges.
Some have destroyed draft files
and burned plans for nuclear destruction.
Some have organized unions and cooperatives.
Some have fought to redistribute God's bounty justly.

All these won notoriety in their own generation
and were the scandal of their times.
Many have sat in jails rather than to recant
or to say that the earth as we know it
is at the center of the universe.
Others have died.
Many there are who have left behind them no name,
but a legacy of hope restored, conflict resolved,
injustice rectified, lives redeemed.
Their victories are the inheritance of future generations.
Their line will endure for all times.


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