Gays Are Joint Heirs with Christ!

by Louie Crew

First appeared in The Living Church vol. 173, no. 5 (August 1, 1976), pp. 8, 1-12
The Living Church gave it the title "Homosexuality: An Integrity Leader's View"
© 1976 by The Living Church; © 2004 by Louie Crew

Over Thanksgiving in New York City about thirty gay women and men, bundled up and seeing our breaths, huddled near a baptismal font to participate in the inclusion of a gay young man into the full life of our church.

In a nameless city an unnameable gay bishop recently confirmed a young person who is the convener of a local chapter of gay Episcopalians.

In Milwaukee last summer a nongay priest quietly conducted for two gay persons a "Service of Gay Union," which had been written by an Episcopal deacon, not to be the same as "The Solemnization of Matrimony" but to provide a way for the church to respond supportively to gay relationship.

On a bright day in December with no great aplomb a bishop knowingly ordained as a deacon a young lesbian who has been a leader in organizing gay Episcopalians.

Daily, gay persons are entering confirmation classes, returning to church, or otherwise revising our commitments to the church. We are coming from the catholic range of theological and liturgical expression in our church, even as we represent the full range of the political, economic, and social spectra of our society. What gay Christians are witnessing to each other is what our Church is commissioned to witness to the uttermost parts of the earth: "God loves you just as you are: believe and become a joint heir with Jesus Christ!"

Moral Choice--Real and Imaginary

Much of the church' negative response to gay people is informed by an inaccurate view of the dynamics of homosexuality. Most critics wrongly assume that people choose to be gay and are therefore accountable merely for being gay. By contrast, almost all researchers agree that human beings have very little individual choice, that we are all basically gravitating more towards one than towards the other pole, homosexual or heterosexual, by about age 5 or 6--that is, long before even trained adult observers could make fool-proof predictions of these realities, much less change them, and very long before the human personalities in question are capable of anything like a moral sensibility.

The vital question is not whether one should choose to be homosexual or heterosexual, but rather whether one is homosexual or heterosexual.

Jesus gave one of the best ways of finding the answer to whether one is homosexual or heterosexual: "As a person thinks in the heart, so is the person." A beautiful fact about human sensuality is that arousal, genital and spiritual alike, is gloriously involuntary. For reasons about which no one is absolutely certain, all but about ten percent of the population seem to experience a majority of their involuntary arousal heterosexually. That still leaves the possibility of about 213,000 gay communicants in the Episcopal Church, as well as their over 400,000 nongay parents.

What About the Cure? Occasionally people claim that persons have been "cured" of homosexuality and that all other homosexuals must therefore trust in God to perform such "cures." I suggest that disparate sets of dynamics are often lumped under the heading "cure." One set of dynamics that I might respect is the situation in which some basically nongay persons, traumatized by brief experimentation with gay sensuality, discover, by God's help or a therapist's, that they are much more basically and predominantly nongay. While cure is not the most accurate description, surely all revisions of one's self- understanding are to be applauded when those revisions constitute an honest account of one's biology and personal sensibilities. One of the things the gay Christian movement is promoting is the encouraging of such openness and self-understanding for everyone

A set of dynamics that I cannot respect is that of repression. Many priests and other counselors actually encourage repression by rewarding counselees who claim that they have removed all evidence of homosexual arousal. Such claims are particularly incredible when the persons have been predominantly gay and then claim an absence even of homosexual fantasies. Another part of the same set of dynamics is the counselor's encouraging the counselees to go out and prove their heterosexuality. Person thus counseled are potentially dangerous, not only to themselves, but also to the person(s) who must serve as the proving ground. How else can the heterosexual partner function except as a merely sexual object? Surely in these dynamics the counselor thingifies the counselee, and the counselee thingifies the heterosexual partner. Norman Pittenger has elaborated on the sin of thingifying in his book Making Sexuality Human.

We love whole persons, not jut their genitalia. The blindness of my church to the contrary notwithstanding, the most important fact about the statements "Louie loves Ernest" and "Ernest loves Louie" is not that they are homosexual affirmations, though they definitely are, but that they are Christian affirmations of our whole personhood. Were our relationship deigned merely to prove ourselves to be homosexuals, we would frightfully confuse our being with our becoming and would head in the opposite direction from the Kingdom of God.

It must be stressed that most gay are not trying to recruit more people to be gay, but rather to encourage people who already accept their gayness to devote their talent to the creation of a climate of openness and honesty. It seems to me that all Christians, and gay Christian particularly, have an obligation to make it easier than it now is for all persons to have the pace for the major spiritual priority of integrating sexuality with all other aspects of personhood. That is why gay Episcopalians use the word integrity as the name of our organization.

Of God or of Satan? Many nongays often debate whether there can be any such thing a a "gay Christian," as if the two word are mutually exclusive. Their usual ploy is, "Surely God loves you, but only if you turn from your wickedness, even as he require heterosexuals to turn from wickedness." There is a double standard here. God does not call heterosexuals to turn from heterosexuality, only from the sinful uses of it; yet the critic insists that homosexuals must turn from homosexuality altogether.

Who peaks with Authority? The ignorance which is most damaging is the ignorance of those who make their living in professions which require their making judgments that radically affect gay people, as in counseling, be it religious or secular. Few people in our own church charged with responsibilities towards gay people have ever knowingly sat down for an evening with gay peers in their own professions. Few have bothered to read any of our literature except our pornography. Still fewer make even the slightest efforts to make their own neighborhoods or homes safe and comfortable places in which we could freely share some of the main facts about our day-to-day lives, such a the simple fact that a lover just got her promotion or a boyfriend has the flu. Of course, the smokescreen of debating whether we are even part of the human race, the church, or the "healthy society," makes it impossible for people to get around to precisely these more casual and more pervasive aspects of our experience. Often even our families do not know us. I learned last week that one of the bishops who has roundly and repeatedly opposed our ministry from his position of total unexposure to us himself has a grandson who is gay: one trembles for that child's safety in such an unloving and genitally arrogant atmosphere

When several gay Episcopalians, including mainly gay priests who are not otherwise able to be open, ended a marathon weekend with the House of Bishops' Task Force on Homophiles and the Ministry last March, our host himself A psychiatrist and a member of the Task Force, said very feelingfully, "Louie, this has been a great experience for me. I see gay people as patients frequently, but this is the first time I have knowingly been with openly gay peers." I WA momentarily flattered to be among his first, but I was also worried, thinking how dangerous it is to have one seeing gay patients at all without having more knowledge of the gay community Still, this heterosexual psychiatrist had the courage to take the first step of acknowledgment, and I respect him.

Recently a very warm bishop told me: "This is the first time that I have ever sat talking openly with a gay Christian who was not in some dire situation, such as having been arrested and needing my help." This bishop for years was bishop to perhaps more closeted gay priests than any other bishop in Christendom. Did he have so little knowledge of his people and so tentative a rapport with them as to make impossible any communication with them about the fundamental part of their Christian wholeness? What kind of a pastor could he hope to have been to them? How distorted were his views of them when they did finally have to come to him with a case of dire emergency?

"But you could be celibate," the critic hastily adds. Again, there is a double standard heterosexual celibates have a choice, and for them celibacy is a vocation. They choose either to be celibate or to enter a Christian noncelibate relationship heterosexually. The standard is the same only if gays have the choice of being celibate or of entering a Christian noncelibate relationship homosexually. Heterosexuality is not an alternative at all for vast numbers of gay persons, even as homosexuality is not for vast numbers of nongays.

Salvation for gays is simply no longer negotiable, hut was negotiated for us a. for all persons before the foundation of all worlds and most specifically at Calvary. People suppress this good news at their peril.

What About the Bible?

Among those who oppose gays from within our church I have found what seems to be a special breed, the Episcopal Fundamentalist. Unlike her or his Protestant counterpart, who usually genuinely believes that if the fabric of the Bible has only one false stitch, the entire cloth is worthless, the Episcopal Fundamentalist freely pick and choose capriciously isolated parts of the bible to enjoy this status of being divinely inspired, as if by a flawless heavenly Dictaphone. Hence, while the Episcopal Fundamentalist will marshal cultural evidence to show why we do not have to follow Old Testament dietary or sanitation laws, the same person will not admit evidence to explain that we do not have the same urgent needs to populate the planet as prevailed in the times of Moses. Similarly, while few of the Episcopal Fundamentalists would use the writings of St. Paul as a marriage manual, they advocate with a vengeance elaborate and unscriptural behaviors towards modern gay people merely on the evidence of St. Paul's views about homosexual rituals in the pagan world, taking Scripture out of context to condemn over twenty million Americans certainly seems a wrong use of the name of the Lord our God in violation of the third commandment.

By contrast, consider Bishop McGehee in his important speech on homosexuality to the Convention of the Diocese of Michigan. "The Bible is God's word to us, and yet it is also man's word because it was written by men--men who are not perfect, men who have weaknesses and who have made mistake so it is understandable why the Episcopal Church does not view the Bible as infallible. We look to the Bible for general inspiration and as; the record of God's revelation of himself to the world."

I have the strong impression that the Bible arguments are brought forth again and again really not for their own sake at all, but so that one will never have the chance to get even close to the more fundamental reality of gay people as people. These are merely smokescreens to avoid coming to terms with our own humanity, and worse still, to avoid coming to terms with gays as joint heirs with .Jesus Christ. Joint heirs just should not be treated in this sinful way.

Those who believe that out there someone else is taking care to see that the church is dealing pastorally with gay people and sexual issues are mistaken. A few persons have begun, almost always under prodding, to raise some elementary concerns, but the Church, in the main, provides virtually no lasting care, much less evangelical concern, for the lesgay community. In fact, it is clear at almost all encounters that gay people are an embarrassment and are very threatening to the self-concepts of otherwise seemingly stable persons in our church. I certainly cannot ask a male for a date at the coffee hour in the same way that I can ask a young female; and introducing a person of the same sex as "my date" at most parish occasions would be taken as a political rather than a simple social act. The church is not even prepared to pray for gay people as such.

Nongay Christians have much to gain from being in love and charity with their gay neighbors. One woman who attended our first convention in Chicago came thinking it was to be "about human sexuality" and almost went home in anger when she discovered her bishop had not told her that Integrity is an organization of gay Episcopalians and our friends. Yet someone persuaded her to stick around just for a day. She stayed for the whole conference. She told me one evening at supper "It was shout "human sexuality"! About my sexuality. Here for the first time in m life outside a paid counselor's office I was able to talk openly as a Christian about sexual experiences both my husband and I have had outside our marriage. Our responsibilities of leadership in our diocese would go by default if we ever dared to be this human at home!" Note that she was bragging not about her adultery, but about her newly discovered way to counter hypocrisy.

A friend at a diocesan commission shared with me recently "You people are threatening to all of us because if we're really going to be honest and public with you, we're going to have to be honest and public with some very troubling areas in our own lives It's simply easier to make you gays our scapegoats. Why, almost everyone here has some sexual skeleton of her or his own that you conjure up!"

I hear some people, often nonChristian gays, missing the point of the gay Christian movement, saying, "Oh why bother? The Church is not going to accept us anyway!"

We are not properly about the task of "getting respectability" anyway, even if the church had any genuine respectability to give. And we are not asking for acceptance. We already have it! Christ accepted us, gays and nongays alike, at Calvary, without genital conditions! Without any conditions!

Gays' message to the church is not "Accept us!" but far more important, "Accept the Gospel itself!" We dare the church to experience a rebirth, becoming in deed as well as in word, the community of all believers.

In Chicago after the first Integrity convention, one of the 19 priests who had concelebrated with Bishop Primo hugged me fiercely in the vestry. With tears streaming down his face he said, "Louie, I have said Mass every day for 40 years, and I will retire soon; but today was the first time I have ever felt that the mass was really said for me!"

It really is said for us all. The Holy Spirit is alive and well in the lesgay catacombs, calling us to share this good news with the whole church. Thanks he to God.


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