Real Live Monkeys, Queers, and Angels

Louie Crew's Witness before the Standing Committee
of the Diocese of South Carolina
Charleston, SC, April 6, 1989

Appeared in Second Stone Issue #6 (September/October 1989): 7, 11.
© 1989 by Second Stone; © 2004 by Louie Crew

The Lord Be With You.......

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen

Fellow and Sister Deviants,

It's always a treat to address Christians, who understand what it is to deviate from the standards of this world.

It's also extremely important to keep a sense of humor lest we lose sight of the joy for which you and I were made. Let me illustrate again:

Recently Kalen, Father Ramcharan's granddaughter, about 6 or 7 years old, came to him with a teasing smile. "Do you want to see a picture of a real live monkey?" she asked him.

"Do you have such a picture?" Father replied.

"Yes. Do you want to see it? Here," she said, and handed him a mirror.

Father Ramcharan looked carefully. "But I don't see a picture of a real live monkey."

"Yes, it's right there," Kalen said, curling her finger over the top of the mirror, careful to keep the mirror pointed towards her grandfather lest he tilt it back to her.

"No, I see something else."

"What?" she said.

"I see a beautiful young angel."

"No," she insisted, "it's a real live monkey."

"It's a beautiful young angel, see!" Father handed her the mirror.

She looked carefully for several seconds and replied softly, "Yes, I see."

"Unless you come as a little child, you shall in no way enter the kingdom of heaven."

I remember meeting early in 1976 with a Commission chaired by George Murray, who had been my own bishop in Alabama. In a motel at the Atlanta airport several of us helped his Commission to word a document by which the Church could speak the love of Christ to lesbians and gay men. "H-o-m-o-sex-u-al persons," we began tediously, and then cleared our throat, "are Children of God and ....."

Not real live monkeys. Not "queers" and "fairies," but "Children of God!"

"...and are entitled to the full love, care, and pastoral concern of the Church."

What we said seemed to me then, and still seems to me now, a bit presumptuous, rather as if a small group of ordinary folks had decided to ratify Calvary. It was as if we dared to say, "Well, Jesus, you do have a way of loving everybody, don't you? And I suppose we'll have to go along."

The Episcopal Church passed that resolution, and dozens, maybe scores of heterosexual Christians have joined us in trying to get the good news of God's love to all lesbian and gay people. Those of you who attended General Convention last summer undoubtedly noted a very different Episcopal Church from the one you had seen at previous General Conventions. Hundreds of deputies wore pink triangles, or rainbow ribbons, or both--the pink triangle to show solidarity with lesbians and gays, the rainbow ribbons to show solidarity with AIDS victims.

Over 20,000 people have been active in INTEGRITY in its nearly 15 years, many of them new converts, many more of them people who had left the Church in despair only to return when they heard the good news that they aren't "real live queers and lezzies," but "Children of God."

But those numbers are too small, given the millions of lesbians and gays who who have not heard or have not believed God's love. As you heterosexual Christian deviants know, it's hard to get people to accept good news, hard to get people to see the beautiful young angel: it's much easier to settle for being the victim, the real live monkey.

And sometimes our witness sounds so feeble.

Last year Christmas caught me by surprise, and I dashed off a card to my friends that frankly embarrassed me by its doggerel, especially when I compared it with the beauty and power of the model. I felt as if I had hung up faded decorations alongside my neighbors' fresh ones. I wrote my card to the tune of "Greensleeves," and it began,

"Why hang AIDS bells on our green tree?"
the State the leper is asking.
"I dare to claim that God loves me
and in this hope I'm basking."

This, this is Christ, the King
whom peasants guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring God laud,
The babe, the child of Mary.

Silly, I thought, and much too grim for such a holy and peaceful season. "Why must I politicize Christmas!?" I asked myself. Yet I did. I even managed to drop a reference to this silly card into my first conversation with Bishop Allison, just before Christmas. I told him how my friend Allen Hess, a man with AIDS, had called me a couple of days before from his hospital in Milwaukee to sing my silly card to me.

"You said you weren't demented yet!" I teased Allen when he sang off key!

Allen called me again after I got back from Charleston. "Louie," he asked, in a moment of absolute seriousness, "Do you really believe God loves me?"

Everything in Allen's voice said, "Sugar, God could not possibly love me. I'm tacky. I'm angry. I'm sick. I'm dying. I'm queer!"

"Allen, honey," I said with all the power of Calvary behind me, "of course, God loves you. God is not god if god's promises are false!"

My good friend Dick Bradley, Warden for the Bishop of Milwaukee, met with Allen many times in the last three months. A priest prepared Allen, and he was confirmed. An atheist friend was the first to call last Saturday night, to tell me that my lover Ernest Clay and Dick Bradley got to Allen's bedside just after Allen had received his last rites. Ernest and Dick reported that Allen died certain that God loved him. Allen was buried night before last. He had spent most of his life quietly affirming other people, especially the poor and other outcasts; hundreds packed the small All Saint's Cathedral. All saints indeed.

I have another dear friend dying of AIDS 15 blocks from this cathedral, but I don't know anyone in this diocese whom I can call to prepare him for confirmation. He has already heard you, but not a word about the good news at the 1976 General Convention, much less about the healing at the 1988 General Convention. My friend in Charleston, like Allen in Milwaukee, has given substantially to the life of his city. I owe so much to him personally. Sixteen years ago my friend lived for a summer in my home in Orangeburg. He was the first person ever to show me that you can be gay and be whole too. I remember the afternoon during that distant summer that I discovered to my shock, that integrity means `wholeness,' and not `respectability' as Used Car dealers and other church folks had tried to make me believe.

After I met with Bishop Allison last December, my friend with AIDS and I went out for seafood. He explained that he is finding his major spiritual help from Voodoo.

In February I wrote to every parish in the diocese offering to help as we try to act on Resolution-120. Only five persons (The Dean of the Cathedral, Father Houghton, the Rector of Old St. Andrew's, the Rector at Cherow, and Father Snow at Redeemer) have responded, one bluntly, the others kindly, not one with an invitation. The silence of the others underwhelms.

I have heard in greater numbers from lesbians and gays who spotted our tiny notice for INTEGRITY in Jubilate Deo. Some of them who are on vestries in this diocese report that they hear us called queers right on church property. The few who report that they have found a sympathetic priest, uniformly say that they cannot expect the priest to speak out compassionately in this diocese.

The priest and the levite did not grow snouts: they were not comic book villains, but just too busy with Church Work to see the victim in the ditch. Only the despised Samaritan saw, bound the wounds, took the victim into a hospice, and paid the bills.

Ours is the strangest religion on earth, a religion which welcomes bad people more than good people, prodigals more than elder brothers like you and me.

When I grew up, people told me lots of lies about gay men, that we always hold our fingers out straight to view them like women, that we wear green on Thursdays, that our pitches are always high, that all of us can cook....but one that most missed the target with me was the lie, "Gay men can't whistle." I admit that I can't hail a taxi properly, but I can carry a tune:

[Whistle a verse of Greensleeves]

This, this is Christ, the King
whom peasants guard and angels sing:
Haste, haste to bring God laud,
The babe, the child of Mary.
May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, and light perpetual shine upon them. Amen

Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen


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