Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Personal Manifesto

The Diocese of California is a place within the Church -- not alone, but prominently -- where gay and lesbian people have been freer to offer their gifts: Both professional gifts and those of lay and ordained ministry. As a result, the Diocese of California has been immeasurably enriched.

- from the Shrove Tuesday, 2007, response to the Primates' Communique
by The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus


Flinging all decorum to the winds, I want to put flesh on Bishop Marc's most excellent words, which salvaged what only can be most charitably described as a disappointing day in my life as an Anglican and as a priest in the Episcopal Church.

My journey in these matters began in the Midwest 32 years ago, growing up in small, rural, conservative towns where the only place sexualities other than heterosexual were discussed were in boy's locker rooms and where the word "fag" was a plain put-down and suggested some thing thoroughly disgusting and unholy.

I grew up, like most Christian kids, with a lot of worry about my sexuality. I was straight. I knew that from at least the 2nd grade, because I liked girls. But I was being infused with a hearty dose of American puritanism, so I was taught in the cultural waters to be suspicious of sex-in-general, even if the 1980's were more enlightened than previous decades in teaching the basic anatomy, etc., when we started to approach puberty.

I went to college sure that straight was the only way to be. My first conscious meetings with gay and bisexual people happened quite by accident, when friendships developed and I learned about their struggles on a relatively conservative University campus with flirting with the threshold of the closet. Knowing nothing about the "ex-gay" movement, I nevertheless encouraged them to seek help, believing their sexuality to be a disorder that was rooted in other emotional problems. I thought it was the right thing to do for God.

Then, at a summer music camp, I met Andrew, a wonderful pianist and teacher. After a piano lesson, I realized I wanted to study with him and was willing to pull up stakes and transfer to the school where he taught. Only after this (and even well after meeting his partner!) did I discover he was gay. My desire to study piano with him won the day, except now I'd call it God's grace that overcame my environmentally cultivated heterosexism.

In three years of study, I learned from Andrew much about what it means to be human. He was unassuming, full of humor, a great artist, and absolutely committed to his students and my development as a pianist. He was not a Christian. But he was a profoundly spiritual man whose devotion to compassionate life taught me a great deal about what was best about my own faith tradition. We never really discussed his sexuality at any length. But through his witness in our teacher-student relationship, I went from believing homosexuality was a perversion; to seeing it as a disorder; to believing it was a choice that I didn't need to support, but I needed to respect; to seeing it as a fully human and God-given characteristic that could be lived into through love and covenant.

Meantime, I had joined a small, loving Anglican community on the University's edge. A gay couple there, whose partnership had been blessed there, befriended me. We had dinner together every several weeks, enjoyed great conversation on everything from science fiction to theology. Mark & Wayne showed me what a healthy, covenanted, and committed relationship looks like from the inside. Meanwhile, I began coughing up every puritanical belief I had ingested, and found warm and loving Christians ready to help me see the Gospel with fresh eyes. And it came to life for me.

My friend and roommate at the Aspen Music Festival one summer, a committed Episcopalian and partnered gay man, was an enormous help to me through our friendship as I went through personal and professional upheaval over nine weeks. I found myself wishing one day for a spouse (I knew it would be a woman, of course) who would be like Randy was for me that summer. And this is to say strong, abiding friendship marked by truth-telling and heartfelt honesty. Both strike me as hallmarks of any healthy covenanted relationship.

When I came to the Bay Area for seminary, I was nurtured, buoyed, supported, mentored, and be-friended by countless gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians -- many of them in committed relationships. They loved the heterosexism out of me even while knowing that I, a young, straight, white dreamboat of most parishes in the Episcopal Church could, simply by virtue of the cosmic accidents of biology, cultural, and theological bias, go much further in the Church than they could.

An openly gay priest living in a beautiful, committed relationship and raising two daughters, counseled Hiroko and me for marriage. It was his generous listening and warm-hearted humor that taught me to let go of the last remaining puritanical notions about my own sexuality, freeing me to live more fully into my marriage. Hiroko and I have been happily married now for nearly seven years. We've had our ups and downs. But I owe the health of our relationship and the friendship in which it is rooted in great part to all the LGBT Christians and non-Christians who supported me and us in our shared journey. And now we have a three-year-old son. It all works. I'm still straight as they come. And yet I have wonderful LGBT friends and colleagues. Go figure.

I have seen ministries wrecked by homophobia. I have seen the scars born by LGBT clergy who have made pilgrimages into the unknown as they escape hostile dioceses. I have sat with them as they listened to subtle, patronizing bigotry couched in gentle, "pastoral" voices. I have watched them get sliced and diced online and in person, told to return to the closet, and seen in print how they are regarded by some merely as abominations. I have watched them react with heartfelt sympathy to those who conscientiously cannot find their way out of the theology that prevents them from accepting sexuality other than that between a man and a woman. I have seen them persevere through elections, searches, and discernment processes where they knew, at the end of the day, they were being rejected simply because of their sexual orientation.

They have taught me healing ministry. They have taught me how to cry and be honest about who I am. They have loved me while even knowing that I could walk away from them because of their sexuality. . .that I could walk away at any moment with impunity as far as the greater society and Church is concerned, because I have that privilege. I have betrayed them in word and deed as an ordained priest. I have sold them out to chummy up with people I fear. I have dismissed and abstracted them away in my writing and preaching. And, yet, they continue to love me and call me back again and again to my full humanity in community and communion. And what is more Christ-like than that? Does not Christ love us most visibly and without reserve when we betray him? Is that not what the gospels and our greatest theologies about salvation teach us?

I have seen the face of Christ most in the wounded, loving, caring, and compassionate gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered Christians of this Church, lay and ordained. I am who I am because of who they are, and who God in Christ has been through them. They have become a part of me, and an integral part of my spiritual journey into the heart of God in Jesus Christ.

So, to the Primates I now say, as a priest at the growing edge of the Anglican Communion, and with no intended reproach towards those who strongly disagree with my position on human sexuality:

Wherever my brothers and sisters are damned, I am damned as well.

Lambeth Resolution I.10, lectures and grand, bellicose, and eloquent statements by bishops and archbishops, and even the Windsor Report and the Primates' Communique all put together, and even the weight of 5,000 years of theologizing on why LGBT are "bad" people have taught me next to nothing about marriage or true relationship. . .nor do they hold a candle to what God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ have given me and my family through my LGBT sisters and brothers by way of many friendships, generous mentoring, companionship, solidarity, and definitive Christian love.

I stand with them now. And I will fall with them if I must.

May God only give me courage where it is needed.

This is my Lenten discipline of fasting and self-denial.


23 comments:

Jared said...

Richard,

I'm not sure how to begin to express my gratitude for what you written here. I'm not writing on my blog today, as an Ash Wednesday fast, but as soon as tomorrow rolls around, I'm posting a link to this post.

Thank you for your witness. Thank you for calling me to a higher standard, for taking my hand and quietly whispering, "Look at this: Do you see?"

As a straight nominee to the priesthood who has gone through a similar conversion experience over the past couple of years, this post calls me to greater faithfulness and is a powerful message with with to begin Lent.

Thank you.

Mike in Texas said...

Richard, I have known you for short time in another area of the web and have come to admire your fine mind and big heart.

This time you've really outdone yourself.

Thank you.

Res Publica said...

You smacked this one right out of the park. Way out. Thanks for this...it means a lot to hear some sane and compassionate voices in such a raw time.

Jane Redmont said...

Dear Richard, thank you for this and for your blog in general -- but most especially for your words today. I send you love and prayers from your old home at St. Mary's House, where we continue our commitment to live in love for all in the spirit of Christ.

Blessings for Lent, and always,

Jane

Anonymous said...

A beautiful story, Richard. My story of recovery from homophobia has to do with being loved out of it also. My recovery is not finished; that's why I still call myself a recovering homophobe. It keeps me humble, too.

Grandmère Mimi

Mary Sue said...

You made me cry at work. :P
Thanks for your words.

Lisa said...

A mere "thank you" and "God bless you" doesn't even begin to express my gratitude for this. You made me cry, because you have deeply touched my soul.

KJ said...

Tears.

Your story affirms my belief that most of what we experience truly has much more to do with helping us to be Christ to others than it all being about ourselves.

Freedom Bound said...

Through tears on this Ash wednesday - it doesn't seem enough but Thank You......

Aghaveagh said...

What Jane said.
What Lisa said.

Thank you and bless you for sharing this.

Dennis said...

thank you

Darkrose said...

Richard,

For the past couple of months, I've been giving thought to giving Christianity and the Episcopal Church another chance. The news Monday came as a bit of a shock, especially because of what sounded an awful lot like gloating from some quarters. Given how unhappy I was just yesterday, I can't quite find the words to describe how reading your post made me feel, except that it gave me hope--and that I wish I was closer to the Bay Area.

Thank you.

Caminante said...

Thank you for your words, my brother priest. Yes, it is seemingly so much easier for you as a white, heterosexual male, though you will also have your struggles. Butyou have the courage to recognise your privilege, name it, and own it. Thank you for your example.

John said...

A heart-warming and prophetic message, Richard. It is surely time for the Episcopal Church to say, "Enough!" Words like yours show the way.

Joseph + said...

"I stand with them now. And I will fall with them if I must. May God only give me courage where it is needed."

Amen, My friend! I am also with them and you! And you prayer is my prayer.

Merseymike said...

Thank you for your support.

But there can only be one answer, and that is to leave the Communion.

Anonymous said...

Like your other commenters, I am grateful for this post.

But what sticks with me is that word "dreamboat." You wrote:

"I, a young, straight, white dreamboat of most parishes in the Episcopal Church could, simply by virtue of the cosmic accidents of biology, cultural, and theological bias, go much further in the Church than they could."

I've never seen this phenomenon from your side, only from mine, as the one who didn't get hired.

So let's not forget, amid all the theological ranting surrounding us, that bigotry is about money, privilege, power: what kind of house we get to live in, what kind of car we drive, what our retirement turns into: fixed income? The early-bird special at the cafeteria? Figuring out which prescriptions to pay for and which to defer?

One of the less-remembered triumphs of Martin Luther King's career was the day he got retail stores in Montgomery to agree to hire Black folk as cashiers. It's not a very high prestige job, but all the Black women in town were shut out; they had to mop floors instead.

The current campaign against same-sex marriage isn't about the sanctity of a foundational institution; it's about a system of financial privilege and heterosexual supremacy. Every two weeks a part of most workers' paychecks gets confiscated by the government and placed into a Social Security trust fund, where it's available to support heterosexual widows but not homosexual ones.

Let's see, the diabetes pill or the blood thinner?

My only request to you dreamboats is that you sail responsibly and toss a ring to any distressed swimmers in lifejackets. But an annual sermon in support of universal swimming lessons would be appreciated too.

Good job, Richard!

Josh Thomas

GKElliott said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you. You see people rather than abstractions. As a result, I feel less alone and more known. And we're both more free to be the Church.

Kathryn said...

Another straight priest, in another part of the Anglican "communion", praying that I might have your courage, and grateful for your words.
Blessings

Leonardo Ricardo said...

You know Richard, until you spelled out your heterosexual/personal story about REAL LIFE amongst LGBT people I had forgotten how the "we's" actually do impact the lives of our families, lovedones, friends, coworkers and some people we will never ever see/know...I'm always so focused on trying to halt or keep strict FOCUS on the dangerous lies and gross injustices PREACHED against people like me (especially dangerous hatemongering against LGBT in Nigeria/Uganda) that I've forgotten (or simply taken for granted) that many of us are already accepted, appreciated and LOVED abundantly!

As we STAND FIRM (the LGBT division) in our Episcopal/Anglican lives and carve out a open places of "integrity" with and before those around us we do impact one another positively!

I often forget the greatest power of change in Gods everyday world comes from the quiet demonstration, through example, as one lives their life.

In my everyday life I know few LGBT people (most of my close LGBT family/friends have died) but I am surrounded (one might say engulfed sometimes) by loved ones and dear friends who are heterosexuals like you!

I keep forgetting to thank God for the emotionally/spiritually HEALTHY heterosexuals who are like you and accept and include the homosexual me in your spiritually centered and everyday Church life.

Thank you Richard!

Padre Wayne said...

Blessings, my brother. I've shared this with a whole bunch of people.

R said...

Thank you, all, for your most generous and loving responses to this post. Makes me feel rather spoiled, especially as it is Lent.

Our personal witness, it seems to me, has never been more critical, particularly in an atmosphere where we tend to continue to treat our sisters and brothers as abstractions. Let us hold to that together.

++KJS made note of this, too, in her briefing to the staff at the Episcopal Church Center. While sobering, it is not without hope, particularly as the more bellicose voices mask an important movement that is beginning all over the communion regarding human sexuality. I think we are a tipping point, and at such times, we must remain in solidarity.

I am also encouraged by the several published reactions from some of our bishops, who are clearly not ready to sell some of our members for what MLK called in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail "a negative peace."

Be of good courage.

Yours in Christ.

Kathi said...

Richard, What you have written here articulates well many of the emotions and thoughts that have been swimming around inside of me, and I thank you. I am a seminarian and "wanna-be" in the Episcopal Church. I have been blessed with many GLBT friends over my life, and came to a point in my own spiritual awakening when I realized that I needed to make choices that were consistent with my beliefs. That was not long before Gene Robinson became bishop; I was so proud of our Church when he was consecrated. I hope/pray/desire to one day be a priest in this Church. I hope so much for the Church's prophetic voice; yet, these broader politics seem to have a life of their own... More than any of this, I've read the comments here, and the emails going back and forth in my own convocation...not to mention what is in my own heart...love, pain, fear, betrayal, wishes for reassurance. And vulnerable loving people praying that they will not be abandoned and rejected by the Church in which they have placed their hope for full inclusion. I believe that for our Church to do anything less would be to deny the imago dei of our LGBT brothers and sisters.

I, too, stand with them now. And I will fall with them if I must.