First appeared in En Theos #2 (February 1998).
© 1998 by Trinity Asbury Park; © 2004 by Louie Crew
[Louie began our session with prayer]:
The Lord be with you. Let us pray. Merciful, mysterious, marvelous creator, we thank you for our bodies, for the cells in those bodies, the blood, the pain capacity, for the coldness and for all those things we're not supposed to talk about. Especially for the mystery that you took on just such a body and suffered for us and for our salvation. Amen.
I'm not a theologian of a trained sort. I think all of us do theology and I probably do it sloppily because I'm not of the trained sort. I would like to begin by suggesting that sloppiness is not a bad thing. Last week a statement came out from the Roman Catholic Church [enjoining pastors and parishes to be sensitive to the often suicidal suffering of gay and lesbian teens]. Some find it sloppy; but it's love, so don't worry about the bad theology.
Let's love our gay and lesbian children. Don't let our theology get in the way of our love. That's a profound about-face for that community, which is our community, as one, holy, catholic Church. I hope we will do the right thing even it seems like the wrong thing sometimes. I think that then we'd get there much faster.
I have a friend who is a psychologist and I remember back in the 60's going away on an encounter weekend and she shared the fact that she'd been brought up as Church of Christ. We all know about the Church of Christ &emdash; a very, very rigid group that doesn't even allow organs in worship because the Bible doesn't know about organs. She was one of the most grace-filled human beings that I ever met, full of generosity and joy. And I remember asking her how did she rewire all the circuits. She said, 'I didn't. I walked into another room.'
That is the modern way of saying what Nicodemus was asking. How can I be born again; how do I go back in the womb? You don't. Get a life, to use one of my favorite of my students' phrases. Get a life, a new life, a life that's worth living. I think that really is what all this stuff is about. It's an invitation to everybody to look at what gender means, what commitment means, what relationship means.
Sometimes we move there faster by doing some things than just talking about them. Because we are Anglicans and we can move there and begin to do.
One of my favorite things I've been trying for years to get Integrity to do, and I wish I were an artist or a wealthy person to fund an artist to do it, but I'd like to commission two paintings, one of two gay men being married and one of two lesbians being married, and caption them, "Would you really like your son to marry a lesbian?" "Would you really like your daughter to marry a gay male?" Integrity is for everyone!
The painful side of this that you know and I know, among your friends, in the Church, you know dozens of people who didn't ask that question. We're still living Genesis: give those holy men your daughters. I've just known so many women who have had a horrible experience being married to a wonderful person who was the wrong person for them. They would never be the center of that marriage. I know so many more of those [women] than the reverse. I know some who have been married and building a wonderful family with someone for whom they would never be the central person in their heart or their fancy.
This has hit everybody. It's going to take a long time to face all this, but it is for everybody. It's to make the world safe. Because it's hard enough to build a relationship, but it's a wonderful job. Doing it with honesty, free to be ourselves and not at odds with what we'd like our life to be, or at least not radically at odds.
I also urge us, as we lift up the issue of same-sex unions, to deal with marriage as a metaphor. Marriage as a word is a metaphor: it's what carpenters do to two boards. It's glue. We don't want to literalize that. Noone wants to stay stuck! It has always been a metaphor to talk about something else because language can't quite do the job. It is healthy to begin there.
The biggest risk I see in dealing with lesbian and gay relationships is that we want to change what we've been talking about. We now try to turn it into icons. With an icon you've got to live up to some role. We don't think twice about the state blessing everybody that comes along; the state ought to make it possible for people in prison. People in mental hospitals can get married. Teenagers who have just known each other for three hours can get married, if they can pass the test. I'm not recommending that. But marriage as an institution is to allow for all people to make a commitment. To make a bond.
It isn't fair to say that lesbian and gays really ought to be model couples. That's the biggest pressure I find in being in the 24th year of a committed relationship, especially with a call to have a public life about these issues. It is a struggle, ignoring that my witness be out of that relationship and also to preserve for that relationship some places just to be plain old me, which isn't always nice.
The thing that I find myself so disturbed about as I talk about marriage, especially in the context of what can we bless, is that the things that are most blessed in our relationship would never fit. The thing that I know , beyond a shadow of a doubt, about God's presence in my marriage is that when I am my least likeable person, and I do have some of those moments, my most selfish, most petty, most immature, I am forever and profoundly loved. When my spouse has really been at a point that you could almost say we ought to end it, that's when I know we never want to end it. That's when he most needs me. And I can't account for that, because there's nothing in my character that's that good. That's God's grace.
The good part is that God chooses to live in somebody like me. I'm so afraid of the Bride's Magazine notion of marriage. The sense that somehow let's make it all look right; people get so caught up in proving they're just as good. That's an act; those are human beings caught up in an act. I'm really concerned about that. It's one reason that I waited a long time to get on the bandwagon of supporting the formal blessing of gay and lesbian unions.
We've [Louie and Ernest] been enormously blessed by a lot of people saying it will never last; I think we work harder at it knowing that it might not. We do not assume some things that I see a lot of people assuming. I do not argue against the blessing of gay unions, but I think it's important for reasons that are not just an imprimatur on something; it's important for wholeness.
So much of the discussion of marriage is the discussion of the honeymoon, the initial stage. That's one of the reasons marriages of all sorts don't last very long. We don't teach anybody much and it's hard to work against a culture and teach about a relationship that grows and changes. Everything changes and even falls apart, if you're lucky and live long enough.
Security is enormously important. It's been very hard for me to ask in my life for some of the things that are most needed in a relationship. I am now in a lawsuit with Rutgers University and sit on the Board of Governors, without vote. I'm suing for the security of benefits which we now have in the Episcopal Church. It's hard for me not to equivocate that Ernest has a job and insurance, I have insurance, why should we worry. But it's only this last week in his new job that Ernest is covered. Last year between jobs Ernest had a root canal that wasn't covered: a walletectomy! Five couples at Rutgers are suing. One of these couples has lost a partner to AIDS; he would have lived another ten years if he had the coverage for the necessary drug treatment. The system murdered him. We're not talking about trivialities.
Micah's short list is my favorite: do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.
If you're gay or lesbian you don't have any choice about knowing what the last one means. Humility is dirt, humus. Do justice : we spend our lives trying to learn.
Just think a moment about "love mercy," going back to what the Catholics did. How many people that you know could you say really love mercy? I know some people who are merciful; finally we are pushed to be merciful. But love mercy? I don't know a person I've ever met who loves mercy, for whom being merciful is at the heart of their existence. I do the mercy I can manage, but it's more often out of concession.
If there's any compelling command for treating others, not just lesbian and gays, this is it. The next major battle before us is the poor; there's no option for mercy in this culture, which allows us all to get our own before we get anything. It is a wild culture we live in where people are allowed to be homeless, that allows children to grow up without the possibility of absolute nurture. But I think a message is in this, if you can have mercy to the most despicable people in the culture [gays and lesbians].
It's very important to remember that it's not primarily about sex. But we have a culture that inherits from scriptures a very erotophobic language and if there's anything that straight people welcome about the opportunity in talking with gay people is the opportunity to get back to talking about sex. Maybe if we can be less phobic about "them," we can be less phobic about ourselves.
I asked my class today whether they had heard that sex is nasty, save it for marriage. This outlook causes a great deal of dysfunction in marriage, because you don't just suddenly change on the wedding day. It is a great contradiction in our scriptures to say that God loved the creation (Be fruitful and multiply, honored perhaps more by rabbis than the ascetical Catholic tradition) and that sexuality is not always blessed.
The biblical witness is going to be a hard thing still for everyone and I hope it will be, because I take the Bible very seriously. I am frankly not persuaded by all the revision; I think the Bible is very hostile to the homosexuality that it knows. The only promising thing is that they do not really know what we're talking about.
I'm prepared to take the Bible seriously, but this includes looking at the Genesis passage and taking justice seriously. You've got to have that text whole or not at all. The gang rapers want the angels of God, so give them your daughters. That's what we've been doing. You get converted and here's my daughter. If we're going to be honest about the Bible, let's be real honest about how little it says about marriage as we tend to think of it.
Jesus does not have relationships with women; there's nothing that's affirming in Jesus as an icon of sexuality. I think that's a real problem, frankly. It's not surprising that we've kept that played down a lot. At a crasser level, I think it's perfectly all right to ask did Jesus have a wet dream?
I'm now reading a book on the sexuality of Jesus; it's by a medieval art historian who has gathered pictures of the baby Jesus with an erect penis and the B.V.M. or St. Anne are touching it. Joseph is looking over the wall and spying in a way that to us would be nasty or dirty. The scholarship shows that the mind-set is totally different; the thing that is being marvelled at is the humanity of this God-Man; they are sure he is God; but he is also a real little boy, a human baby.
It's a shame we live in a culture that can't do that. Even monks and nuns know that they're not trying to dry up something; they have a calling to channel that energy, not deny that energy is there.
The pledge, the commitment to 'death do us part' in a commitment service: I'm in a minority in the gay and lesbian community. I would hope we'd keep in this pledge.
It has been explained that many want this eliminated because it is oppressive;
many people have made that vow and then the relationship has died. On the
other hand, and I have been divorced in a heterosexual relationship, I
have found it enormously helpful not to think of myself or be encouraged
to think of myself as a butterfly. One of the reasons my divorce was so
extremely painful was that we were committed to staying through the rigor
mortis. It's very important to make a commitment that is not holding back.
In a certain sense, we all hold back. That's the reason commitment is so
important, to make it and then to try your darndest to live into it. I
figure we're living into it every day, to get enough honesty and candor
for the problems that we do have, so things won't fester. I have found
it enormously helpful to know that I made that kind of commitment. I urge
blessing of same-sex unions for that reason, primarily.