First appeared in Christianity & Crisis 48.4 (1988): 79-80
© 1988 by Christianity & Crisis. © 2004 by Louie Crew
"Homosexuality is the litmus test of spirituality in the church today," a priest recently said to me after a mass in the Gay community.
"Oh no!" I replied.
"Why not!?" he queried, in disbelief.
"Because thousands pass that test--treat their gay neighbors lovingly--and still fail other important tests."
"A fair distribution of the world's wealth. Gender justice. Racial justice. A tangible concern for the victims of U.S. aggression in Central America......"
Now that more people dare to minister to gays qua gays, many distress me by what they preach to us. For example, some tell us how wrongly the Church and society have treated us. Although we in the pew could write (and have written) books on that theme, too easily we lesbians and gays sit right through those sermons feeling marvelously sorry for ourselves and excessively grateful for the visiting missionary.
Some preachers, not just the gay ones who, stunned by their own bouts with homophobia, may need a few more repeats before they come back to their senses, but straight priests too dare to preach to lesbians and gay males our own glib heresies: "Gay is good!" "It's okay to be gay!" Whew! Does anybody need Calvary?
Is gay good when a lesbian does not love her lover as she loves herself? Is gay good when a gay male uses his greater disposable income to buy one hedonistic bauble after another? ....
Do these preachers preach in ignorance or cowardice? We may more easily play on an audience's self-pity than call them to a full, mature share of God's agenda. But should we do less?
When I taught black students in my native South, for a while I let them get away with cliches in their papers, "Black is beautiful!" "White people oppress me!" I retreated into white guilt about the unfair privileges I enjoy until some black colleagues scolded, or I might have cheated the students out of a teacher as wellbrought me to my senses.
I learned to say, "Prove it! Find a fresh way to say `Black is beautiful' and `White people oppress me'; or shut up. Gather some new evidence down this street, in this neighborhood. Expose specific examples! And after you do that for a while, gather related evidence on the other side of the world. Then explore how to build alliances that will make a difference."
When I taught in Beijing several of my students copied essays and then pretended that they had written them. Caught, some defended themselves: "But foreign teacher, we copy other people's ideas because we're learning English as a second language. Copying is a venerable part of Chinese tradition....."
Should I have retreated in guilt at the still unrequited injustices with which my government privileges me at the expense of China and Chinese people? Should I have bowed my head in shame at the money Americans and Britons made out of forcing the opium trade on China, or at the exorbitant prices we charge to export our technology....?
"Where," I asked them, "did China find the inventions to copy as it led the world for almost 4,000 years?"! In the past three years in my classes alone, I met students with enough talent that China could lead again, if....
No one needs to cultivate the virus Self-Pity in any community. It thrives much too well on its own, everywhere.
Christians should know how to test prophecy. Those who tell anyone "You're okay" falsify the Gospel.
Of course we should oppose sexism, racism and homophobia. Like all other idolatries, they too privatize the gospel. Minimally, those who minister to victims should seek to empower the victim, not just to teach the victim how to whimper. But empowerment alone will not suffice: Most people, especially when empowered, want a better life. Too few people want a better world.
They're not the same thing.
If you want a better life, you try to get an education, a meaningful job, a decent place to live, a nourishing diet, competent health care, leisure to think.....
If you want a better world, you try to get for everyone equal access to an education, a meaningful job, a decent place to live, a nourishing diet, competent health care, the leisure to think.....
"Gay people have come of age during the AIDS crisis," priest after priest now says to us. But Jesus clarified how God will judge: Did you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the dying....?
As of this writing I cannot find a single American group, not even in the gay community, dedicated to helping those hardest hit, Africans, the poorest of the poor. The few who ever mention African victims in the gay male press, emphasize: "See, heteros get it too!," not "Behold, embrace our family!"
When I grew up in the 1930s and '40s in a small Alabama town, my family's Baptist preacher would work himself into a great sweat, especially on Sunday night, to convert another sinner to Jesus, even when the only stranger in the audience might be a boyfriend or girlfriend from a Presbyterian or Methodist family. The familiar fervor and the predictable altar call engaged us. The preacher dared not meddle with deeper spiritual needs--needs not just of the people in the audience, but of the people from whose labor our privilege derived. That Alabama congregation supported a mission in Nigeria, but Nigerian converts could not have sat in the "sanctuary" had they visited. Nor could the maids, whom many in the congregation paid less than a living wage.
For page after page after page the gay male press flaunts flagrant consumerism. Secular gays rejoice to point out that Wall Street has accepted us. In city after city developers rally gay males to gentrify neighborhoods, not to reconcile them. Has the Church nothing better to offer than a place at the coffee hour and a few points to help us get into the social register?
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