© 2004 by Louie Crew
A friend recently asked me two irenic but troubled questions:
One may express welcome and compassion without endorsing a new view of scripture, but the proof is a genuine spiritual welcome and compassion. Let me illustrate with another issue altogether. Back in the 1960's when I was a teacher at the University of Alabama and working on my doctorate, a friend of mine had a baby out of wedlock. The father, as Tennessee Williams would say, "fell in love with long distance," and the mother, penniless and in great need, became the girlfriend of a young reporter who was the black sheep of his prominent local family. As outcasts they occasionally dropped by for dindin in the Queer's one-room apartment (you get to meet lots of pilgrims when you don't have to keep up appearances!). Since they knew that I was an active Episcopalian, they shared their amazement that my rector moved through their lives without judgment but with active concern that formula was available in abundant supply, that food was in the pantry.... They kept waiting for the great "But....." to fall. It did not. It never did.
In order to be welcoming and compassionate does that mean that the Church must accept same-sex unions when scripture says same sex unions are not of the kingdom? I treasure the scriptures and I actually believe what they say for life in the kingdom and try to live by them.
Nor did it ever fall on me. Yet this rector, still regularly contributes to The Living Church, and probably disagrees with my choices as with theirs. Yet, he LOVED us, and he showed his love towards us by behaving towards us lovingly. Nor did Jesus scold my Samaritan ancestor. He quenched her thirst, and even talked some theology with her that won't cut it even in most religious legislative bodies today: "God is a spirit, and those that worship God, worship in Spirit and in truth [full stop]"
I wrote about this rector in "Evangelism: How to Do It, How to Stifle It," which appeared in the last issue of The Episcopalian [155.3 (March 1990): 26] before it was renamed Episcopal Life. In that article I noted that the reporter married his girlfriend. After a few years, the two converted and have for almost two decades been active communicants in the parish.
The rector sees me often at many church events, and he always makes me feel like he has had a splendid treat in being in my presence. When I see him, I know that I have been with Jesus.
Has he endorsed my faith choices? Certainly not. Has he hit me over the head with his different point of view? Never. Has he made his point of view available? Of course. He knows that I can and do read. Does he intimidate me and my beloved with public comments that would degrade our commitment of over two decades? Absolutely not. Though he has never met Ernest (who rarely travels with me) he often asks about him. And he always brings me greetings from my former colleagues.
Am I vindicated? Of course not. You see, we are fellow pilgrims. He has made faith choices and so have I, and we don't go around trashing each other.
Am I right or is he? Only God knows, and She's not likely to tell us till we come into her queendom. But She has given us a huge clue: "By this shall people know that you are my disciples: that you love one another." At God's judgment day, I would not dare plead to get in based on my own merits, but on God's manifold and great mercies. Jesus has paid it all: all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.
Father Castle (St. Mary's in Harlem; played the father in the movie Philadelphia) preached at Integrity last week and noted the temptation Jesus faced: "If you are the son of God, throw yourself....." We too are sons and daughters of God, Bob, reminded us; and Satan comes to us as to Jesus, saying "Prove it!" You can hear Satan say that time and again to lesbigay pilgrims here in almost any parish in the entire Anglican communion. We must, as Jesus did, resist that temptation, even if in resisting, some folks don't get the proof they think they need.
I don't know whether that makes sense to straight pilgrims; but I can't imagine a lesbigay pilgrim who fails to hear the Good News in Jesus's resistance.
God's grace is not cheap, it does demand sacrifice as we attempt to live out the walk of God's grace in the world, and is not sacrifice relative from person to person? Often the thing we are called to sacrifice as we follow Christ is usually at the place where we are the most needful. Perhaps the sacrifice the homosexual person is called to make is in the living of the celibate life according to scripture in the same manner the rich man is to sacrifice his riches and give to the poor.
Answer: Perhaps, yes; perhaps, no.
Every lesbigay Christian I know has struggled with this, many of us for decades of our lives.
The way of the Cross is for every pilgrim indeed a way of sacrifice, no less for the lesbigay pilgrim than for the straight one. Until I was 28 years old, I too understood my sacrifice to be that of a non-sexual life. I lived in fear of who I was, even though I was not acting out that identity with anyone else, and I drew farther and farther into myself. I could not live candidly, so I lived furtively, in extreme loneliness. So busy was I trying to be someone else, that I horribly devalued the person whom God had made. I thought myself the only person plumbed this way, and I envied every man I met. No news I had was Good, all my protestations to the contrary notwithstanding.
Finally the pressure valve burst. I cursed this cruel God, left the church, even left America for a year, so that I could sin in a foreign land, with less risk of embarrassing my prominent family were I to be arrested, as surely I expected to be....
Several years later, back in America, one night in a YMCA in Atlanta after I had spent an extremely prodigal weekend sexually, at about one in the morning, a man got off the elevator, smiled a most mysterious smile that spoke to needs far more comprehensive than any of the earlier "numbers" could have addressed, invited me to Room 627, and asked me to give him 15 minutes to tidy the place. "My name is Ernest," he said.
I was convinced he must be a vice squad cop, but with that loving smile? I went to Room 627. One of the lp's I remember from that night was Nina Simone's "If ever I should leave you..." We courted for five months, then married, using the BCP (1928, since that was only Feb. 2, 1974). He's about to leave for work in a few minutes. We now live in Apartment 204, in Newark, NJ, having lived together in Georgia, California, Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Hong Kong, China, and New Jersey on our wondrous pilgrimage together since we met on Labor Day weekend, 1973.
For a long time when friends asked us where we met, Ernest would say "at the shopping mall," and look at me with the same look Mother used to give when I wiggled in the pew on the second row of the Parker Memorial Baptist Church. Ernest is an Episcopalian now (after testing it out for 20 years!), and no longer frowns when I tell the true version.
God is indeed a Spirit, and is everywhere, especially where people are hurting and in need of redemption, even by the elevator next to the sixth-floor tearoom of a broken-down old YMCA deep behind the Cotton Curtain. God seeks such people to worship Him.
Or if you prefer to say it in Anglican fashion: Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est (the motto Integrity adopted in our first year, at the suggestion of theologian Norman Pittenger).
Here was the first person in the world who ever loved me who in no sense had to. For the first time I began to understand almost all the terms of my faith. That we are able to love because God first loved us. That God really loves Sinners; that God gave his only begotten son to save not the Righteous, but Sinners.... "If a mere mortal can love me this much, what does it mean that God loves me too?" the Holy Spirit prompted me to ask myself.
I had known Scripture. Through God's infinite love, for which Ernest's love was a catalyst, I was beginning to encounter the Lord of Scripture. The Word of God as Jesus enfleshed yet again. The pieces of my life began to fall into place:
"Louie," my father said, a few months later, "you'll have to forgive me as I was born in one of the poorest counties in Alabama in 1905 and I cannot understand how a son of mine could love a black person as an equal. I know that offends you, but bear with me. I feared at first that you might love Ernest because you felt, as I do about black people, that he is inferior. But as I have listened, I perceive that you have no such notions, which would have led to a very unhealthy relationship. And then I feared that maybe you loved him because you thought YOU were inferior, and given how hostile the world is to homosexuals, I can well understand how you might have thought that. Indeed, before you met Ernest, you never seemed to appreciate your own worth. It would be terribly unhealthy for you to live with a person only because you felt yourself unworthy of someone better: but clearly that is not at work. And I don't understand what has happened.
"As a father, and since you won't likely be one you'll have to trust me on this, you know things about your child that no one else can know. I have loved you from the day you were born, have watched you learn to move your fingers, have heard your first giggle..... And I have loved you more than you will ever know. But, son, all your life, you seemed, somehow... how shall I say.... incomplete. Something about you, and I loved you, don't get me wrong, something about you was always tentative. Not once have you been tentative since you met that man. And I don't understand it. I don't understand him. I respect him for honoring our request that he not visit even when you tried to insist that he come. My own feeling about black people would not let me respond to him as he deserves to be treated. But will you please tell him when you return home that I have to love him, because he gave my son back to me whole."
Newly baptized in God's love, I began to realize the truth not just of the first childhood hymn I learned, that "Jesus loves me," but the truth of the second, learned even in apartheid Alabama in 1942 when I was only six: "Jesus loves the little children of the world...." That Good News cannot be hid. That Good News is worth every risk in telling. And that's where my own Cross comes in. What a privilege to suffer the scorn of the world merely for telling a simple and ancient truth, God loves the world--absolutely everybody! Some won't hear that God loves them until they see that God loves even a tired old quean like me.
I do not offer this sacred part of my holy pilgrimage here to invite judgment. I shall stand before God my maker for that. I offer it instead to give you the candor you have lovingly, gently requested. If others rail and wish me dead or burning in hell, my Shepherd will still feed me in their presence.
Don't pray the serenity prayer unless you're prepared for some surprises. I got the answer I would never have requested. I got a cross, but not the cross that I asked for. The one I asked for was the fortitude to live down to others' expectations of me and keep my respectability in the world. The one I got was to become a pariah, a lesbigay prophet, calling the church to love my people as God does, not just to make the world safe and quiet for Louie. But this strange cross often seems as light as any of my asbestos gowns.
Quean lutibelle records his own eulogyI got a vision of who I might have been
had I not declared myself
one of my Church's queers
or a house faggot for the English profession:
A quiet, arthritic Episcopalian winked at me
from his pew where he knelt before Mary,
having come from tea after his lecture
on the Rhetoric of Bleak House.
I thanked him for affirming my sacrifice,
my shrill declaration that kept him from ever
being more than a figment of my imagination.