Closetry & Ordination

Closetry & Ordination

by Louie Crew

First appeared in Outlook March 1995: 15-15.

© 1995, 2004 by Louie Crew

Except in the grimmest of dictatorships, it is spiritually dangerous to say one thing but mean another. I can think of very few places that one can do that without paying huge consequences, and if one does it, one should do so as a very intentional act of conscientious objection, aware of all the attendant risks even so.

We live, as Christopher Isherwood pointed out, in "a heterosexual dictatorship." Heterosexuals blind to most lesbigay reality have long controlled most access in our culture and in our church. But as that blindness begins to disappear, lesbigays ought, I think, to lead the way in speaking the truth. That's what integrity is all about; there can be no wholeness without truth.

Lying gets to be easy once one gets the knack of it, especially if one learns how to make a lie seem to serve "a greater good." I've committed that same sin often enough to know it much too well. I grieve when I recall the integrity that I have lost in the process. Once you get really good at it you can know just whom to call to ratify you on your latest specific compromise! So much is that so that one of my first signs of a true friend is when a person cares enough to speak against me when she thinks I am wrong (even if at the time and later I feel that I was right on the specific issue challenged). Only people who love you can dare call you into your best self.

I believe that we need to ordain no more closet priests. I honor those who have come through the door that way, but I firmly believe that the day for closetry is over for anyone now to begin the ordination process. Were I on a commission on ministry--as well I might be someday--I would categorically oppose the ordination of any closeted homosexual. I would do that openly, and I would call for the any priest to be deposed who was later discovered to have lied to us.

I feel this is true in lay ministry as well.

Does this mean that I dislike or dishonor those who have already made that choice? Absolutely not. As Maya Angelou says of the Uncle Toms and the shufflers about whom at first she was wrongly embarrassed, "They kept my race alive!" Indeed, closeted lesbigays still have that vital function to play, especially in certain geographic areas. But certainly not in the Episcopal Church, whose closet runneth over.

Make no mistake about it: the closet exacts fierce vigilance and energy and talent which are drained from other compelling needs. Thousands of lesbigays will commit suicide because very talented lesbian and gay professionals had more invested in protecting their closets than in risking all to dismantle the evil system. Millions of people will die of AIDS because homophobia drives into sex of desperation (the most lethal sex of all) precisely those who would otherwise be best poised to re-educate our world.

I think for example of the enormous and prophetic witness of my friend David Allen White, who said several months ago that for a long time he knew that he was called to priesthood, only to discover that he was really called to the ministry of one rejected for priesthood! Hundreds of persons would never know the joy of salvation had David Allen White invested all in becoming yet another safely closeted Anglocatholic priest! Thanks be to God that David listened closely to the calling he really did receive.

Dr. King used to say, "There comes a time when those who go to the back of the bus deserve the back of the bus."

Please read that sentence until its prophecy, its prescription, sinks in. Remember that he said it when there still was a back of the bus, and many in his audience preferred its safety!

For me that time has come. And yes, this is "jedgment." I pronounce it the same way a black woman did when daily she foraged for her lunch from what my white family in Alabama threw into the alley. She dared not look the little white boy in the eye that watched her closely time after time. She faked being "crazy" so she could get away with her truth, but God the Holy Spirit was alive and well in planting that message, yesirree bob! "Jedgment, jedgment!" I can attest to that as that white boy, who could never rest until I had personally committed myself to the life-long struggle her holy prophecy called me to.

Do I point my finger at those who have not, do not, or will not choose as I have chosen? Absolutely not. I am a voice crying instead into the wilderness: make lesbigay a pathway for God!

There are multiple ways to do that. I know many closet militants who live out the responsibility of that ministry far more rigorously than some glib and outspoken activists. Underground railway stations are just as venerable as public lesbigay centers. They also serve who stand in the corner and lick their wounds.

But I prophesy that the time has long passed for anyone with the luxury of making a decision (which many, many have no will or capacity left to do)... the time has long passed for anyone to decide on any purely personal and private basis, whatever the person decides.

Suppose Professor Deirdre Good and her life partner Julian Sheffield had chosen to lie, had chosen to slink away from the risks. Suppose Ellen Barrett had. Suppose David Norgard has. Suppose Carter Heyward had....... Since we are encompassed about with so great a crowd of witnesses, let us with courage and candor run the race that is set before us, looking not to Mother Church for our salvation, but to Jesus, who wants desperately for us to bring this same good news to Mother Church.

Lesbigay persons not working for justice, are working against justice. Any peace and quiet bought at the expense of not working to end the injustice is no peace at all.

All the pressures imaginable conspire to say, "Put it off." Wait until you graduate. Wait until you leave home. Wait until you get a job. Wait until you get tenure or that promotion. Wait until your father dies. Wait until your sister has her baby. Wait until your mother dies. Wait until you have paid off the mortgage. Wait until you go around the world. Wait until you retire. Wait until you no longer wonder what it is you're waiting for, because life has passed you by! Let the dead bury the dead.

Our invisibility makes it possible for us to choose NEVER TO BE. Gay brother James Baldwin said, "The world is filled with brilliant people who are irrelevant." There's not comma after ~people~ in that sentence: he's talking not about a given but about a choice. Why else do we have brilliance, why else do we have talent? why else..... To put it under a hetero disguise? Heaven forbid!

Let our lesbigay light so shine before the world that people may see and glorify God.

I am aware of the profound arrogance of my preaching. I was aware of it when I was one of only ones saying "God loves us." I am no less aware of it now, with thousands saying it much more forcefully and cogently than I can. Unless you know that the God of heaven & earth profoundly loves YOU, don't you dare heed or act on what I am saying. If you are aware, even with an inkling, you already know why it is so urgent to share this good news with every living soul. "Go, sell all, give to the poor, and come follow me."

Joy to you and peace in this marvelous Savior. AMEN


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