First appeared in Philia Summer 1993: 1-8.
© 1993, 2004 by Louie Crew
First preached as a sermon for Integrity at St. Thomas's Church, Dallas, May 17, 1992
This sermon is at least in part about biblical sexuality, so I warn you that I rate it "R", and I ask that you join me in seeking some parental guidance. The Lord be with you....
Our father, we thank you that we can pray to you all of our x-rated thoughts. We thank you that we can say to you all those things we are not supposed to talk about. In this holy space, we thank you for the wonderful gifts we have never been allowed to pray for in places like this. For the way light goes across the forehead of somebody we love. We thank you, O God, creator of all of these wonderful juices, and this thing called skin. We thank you for the first person who kissed us with his mouth open. We thank you for the angels we have entertained unawares. We thank you that you are not afraid of creation, that you like sex. And, O God, we thank you for making it. With all of these wonderful gifts, O God, help us to use them to love one another. In the name of the one who was the promiscuous lover of the whole world. Amen.Ours is not the first holy war about sex in the Christian church. It's important to remember that. The first holy war was about whether you should be cut or uncut. We today in most Episcopal churches could never even say that. But they not only said, they fought wars about it. It was the biggest war the early church had. They didn't have many doubts in their congregations what the answer was. You'd better be cut. Now one of them got a vision (because you are also not supposed to eat pork) of this sheet coming down with this dreadful, icky-poo food on it--like a Gwailo (Cantonese for 'foreigner'; literally, 'a white ghost') looking at dog to eat or snake. So they let the pork-eaters come into the church. They were the uncut Christians and they were called precisely that, the uncut Christians.
I'm sorry, Quean [sic] James got it all wrong in the translation; he used a fancy Latin word. But in the original it was the uncut Christians. They had a holy war about it, because if you let these people in; first thing you know they're going to outnumber us and take over.
Now you must remember that at the beginning every Christian was cut. Our Lord, Jesus Christ -- we don't know much about him -- but you can be darn-tooting sure he was cut. We've got a whole service about it. All twelve disciples were cut. (There is a question about one: he may have been one of those uncut Christians. My bishop thinks he was-- namely the disciple Mark, who seemed to have a whole lot more concern for uncut people than any of the other biblical writers did for an awful long time.) Now in the church everybody was cut, and you had a place you could go if you were uncut and worship God with your mind. (Don't you love that commandment. That's the part that nobody ever seems to hear: 'Love God with your mind' is the first commandment, and everybody hears just the "love God" part. I have the only bishop in the church, sometimes I think, who loves God with his mind, who loves using his mind. That's how I became a recovering Baptist. Like alot of others, I joined the Episcopal Church so I could use my mind. But I wonder sometimes whether we still do.) This early church, these people, came to this space, and they didn't have any doubt about it. Let the people in because we've been told that God loves them all -- I don't know why. But the idea was certainly that if they are going to become Christians they should have to have a little radical surgery. Most of them did not have to have that much cut off, but just a little bit. St. Paul was cut. You know he was cut: he talked about it all of the time. But everyone did. Nobody was a closet cut person. Only the uncut people stayed in the closet. (That's why we're not sure about Mark.) No member of the First Church of Christ, Main Street, Jerusalem, was uncut.
It was perfectly obvious, too, that things should stay that way. How in the world would anyone be able to tell us as Christians? As religious people? I mean, this is even bigger than Christianity. This has been going on forever. You talk about Anglican tradition: it's only four hundred years old. We are talking about (by the time Jesus was living) two thousand years of cutting. Not a single, nary bit of diversity. Why, if we start letting uncut people in, how are we going to understand the story of Samson? I mean, he was this big, macho character who was smiting all of our enemies. But we weren't always sure he was fighting enemies; he brought back so many reports about how big his battles were. So he devised a very good way to show us he had killed the enemy. he brought back great big coat bags full of proof. (In Newark, they call the uncuts "pop tarts." In the teenage showers. So I'm told, third-hand.) I mean, what are you going to do?
The Bible says heaven has a sapphire throne. If you ever have any doubt about whether gay males are going to go to heaven, forget it. There's not a straight person, male of female, in the entire creation that would know where the antique store is that has one. We've got to go to heaven, or God won't keep Her word. But let me tell you, a far better bit of evidence we'll be among those in heaven: Can you imagine a straight person you've ever known as the accountant when Samson arrived with his tote bag?
This is biblical sexuality, with a capital 'B' and a capital 'S.' 'BS' indeed. After all, they reasoned, the bible says that Samson did it.
Seriously, I know it's very hard to get worked up about ancient holy wars. They're much nicer when they are contemporary. Wars closer to our time don't sound silly. Or worse, primitive. I made the mistake of reading the whole Revelation passage assigned for this morning. When you read the lectionary and it says verse one and then verses four through ten, you should always read the parts that were cut; then you find out a lot about lectionary makers, especially about heterosexual lectionary makers. Although there are not that many heterosexuals on the Episcopal liturgical committees, lay or clergy, I am convinced that the heterosexuals won out on this one, because they cut the part about a whore. They weren't talking about male whores. Had the bible talked about male whores, be sure, they would have left it in. We know. We've had Romans 1 tossed at us often enough.
When I went to Baylor in 1954, I went early to the retreat center for freshman orientation, and they put us in little huts with screens so that we would not be eaten up by the mosquitos. We had intense arguments, because many, like me, were studying to be Baptist preachers. (Some say I've never stopped.) We were really into discussing what God's will is. The big argument was whether you could have "mixed bathing." I was from Alabama and was shocked that these Texas could even consider such! I mean, do Texans really get in the bath tub with each other?
"Mixed bathing" does not have the meaning in Alabama that it has in Texas. I was really quite upset. For four years they argued so much about whether they could have mixed bathing. Maybe in Waco they still argue this issue? Meanwhile we lived with segregation and never talked about that at all! We lived in a world where Mr. McCarthy up in Wisconsin and an organization called HUAC in Washington were giving the most miserable kind of non-entity status to the few thinkers we did have who would dare get anywhere near Washington. Thousands lost their jobs. One friend of mine became a farmer, and was so incompetent as a farmer that he fell off of his tractor and it ran over him--all because he would not sign a loyalty oath to his state. Our nation had a rage of madness going on, yet took its brightest young people and put them off at a university -- now it's not quite fair to say that every university is as bad as Baylor, but many were -- and got them worried about a moral question of humongous proportions: Whether we can go swimming together. Or dance together. (Baylor would let us dance if we did not called it a "function" instead of a "dance." They even let us argue about whether as Christians we could drink a beer. Most people learned to wear a button saying "I buy dry"; then they could order a beer by asking for "Baptist tea." Restaurants served it with lemon and mint on the side.
I mean, fill your life with trivia like this, and you won't have to deal with substantive issues. Our cities are falling apart; our education system is in shambles; justice is gasping for breath with every bludgeon on the top of Rodney King's head. Yet what stopped General Convention?: "Well I'm not sure whether we can let any of these uncut people come here. I mean they're in here, and there are more of them here in Phoenix than I have ever seen before. But you really have got to draw the line somewhere. We can't be blessing them. Much less, saying that they can be priests. Why, the next thing you know, there will be other uncut people living in the rectory with them."
My mother sat silen a long time and then, trying to be a loving a possible, said, "I understand that they have an operation for that."
"No way, mother!"
No we don't have to change. We've known that. Your genital type and where you want to put it are not marks of your faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
It's difficult now to understand now how anyone would have thought that circumcision could be a mark of faithfulness. Absolutely impossible. You could speculate in a college classroom about cleanliness and all that. But really, to make circumcision a mark!.... You can sure that Jewish women did not have much to do in shaping that "ideology." I dare not call it "theology" because theology has God in it. To image that a few centimeters of male foreskin could be a mark of heathen unfaithfulness--"Well yes, the pork-eaters, we'll have them in. I guess that's all right. They can give to the collection plate, they can buy pretty stained glass windows, they can get our organ fixed. But nobody's going to be able to tell the difference between us soon. You've got to keep some mark, at least in the priesthood, to show"--this is the nonsense we're caught up in. It's hard to change.
I declare in this place with absolute faith that the day is coming and it's not very far away when no one in the world would ever again think of the church as heterosexual.
When I say "Jew", who thinks of Christian, unless you are playing a game of opposites? When most people read the section of Acts dealing with this holy war, you must remind people that the "Jews" they are talking about are not the Jews who killed Jesus. We are talking about Christians. We must put a gloss on it. Don't you look forward to the day when they must put a gloss in to explain what a pink triangle means? Don't you look forward to the day when "lezzie" means "courage"? When "quean [sic]" means "I want to be one too"?
There is a day coming when the world will not think of the church as heterosexual. And, praise God, there is a day coming when the world will not think of the USA as white. Neither has been true for a long time, in case you have not noticed. Even excluding the natives, most of whom we exterminated, the country has not been white since 1619.
Jesus said: The time is coming when you will not see me, or you will see me and I will disappear. The only way you will know that you have seen me is to see me in someone else. There will be a test to see if you are following this new law of love. The test is: "Do you love?" not "Are cut or uncut?" not "Are kosher or Gentile?" not "Are you slave or free, red, yellow, black or white, male priest or female priest or lesbigay priest?" They'll know that you are my disciples when they see your love.
Notice that Jesus said, It's not my love, but your love. Your love is the only way others will see God's love. God tells us here and now, even as you hear this or read it: I am doing a new deed in your days, a new deed which even you will not believe when you are told about it. It's happening right here.
That's the part for tweaking heterosexuals. Now it's time to look at ourselves. St. Aelred whom we honor as Integrity's patron saind was a monk at Riveaulx. Jack Spong made certain the House of Bishops knew was gay when they voted him into the calendar. He did not let our church canonize Ailred undercover. Aelred is one of the most powerful writers on love we have. It is clear from his texts that the person he fell in love with the most did not return it. The beloved was another monk who did not requite Aelred's affection.
The gospel writer prefaces Jesus's litmus test of being a Christian with the little phrase: "and after Judas had gone out." Tests come when you are persecuted. The climax of Jesus's passion week had just slipped into gear with full force. What does Jesus offer? Not revenge, not political takeover, but love.
I don't know about you, but I've had a hard time over the recent events in Los Angeles in the acquittal of those who beat Rodney King. Most of the members of my family are black. I don't usually keep my mouth shut, but this time I decided to, for a few days. For about a week and a half I realized I was listening to a funeral. My husband is not a militant. His anguish did not manifest itself in loud rhetoric. I heard instead the funeral for a dream. I listened to my sister Rose talking to my cousin Rachel about sister Anne. Their reaction was of the kind reserved for second cousins killed in a school bus accident. It was that close. Ernest would call me from work ostensibly to tell me to put his quiche into the oven and would add that he had just talked to Anne...
I have never watched television as closely since the Kennedy assassination! What was happening was a funeral for a dream. You can take Louie Crew and kick him out of his job at Rutgers, and Chalwood Studios, who made the vestments for Barbara Harris, will make the drapes for my hovel when I'm a bag lady. You're not going to defeat me. But when you take someone like Louie Crew and televise to the whole world someone beating him on the head and call the bludgeoning "Justice"..... I think I know what it would feel like to want to burn down your buildings.
I went to the Diocesan Council soon after the riots. Bishop McKelvey, who was serving as bishop while my bishop was at Cambridge loving God with his mind, had written a wonderful pastoral asking the entire diocese to deal with the racism in our own hearts and our baptismal commitment to love and respect the dignity of every human being. We shared around the table the experiences we had when Bishop McKelvey's letter was read in the parishes. People talked about their fear. A manager of Macy's told how he felt when he got a call on Friday afternoon after the verdict had come down. A buyer told him that someone had been shot on 42nd Street. There was a panic.
A woman on told us that she had been on Wall Street and left the offices at 1:30. Everyone left New York by 2:00. Huge fear filled the undertunnels where minibuses fetch suburbanites from midtown Manhattan. Everyone from Wall Street to Harlem left. They feared that all of Manhattan would burn down.
But I did not hear anyone say that America had been burned down. America was gone, the America I want to live in, yet still I must live here.
I understand the injustice. I understand wanting to burn, baby, burn. But it won't work. How do you respond to a dream deferred, forever? No, you can't dream anymore; this is injustice. How do you respond?
Bayard Rustin, one of the great gay men of all time and the leader of the civil rights march on Washington in 1964 (it would have fallen apart if he had not been there as a sissy to keep it all together), was standing in an elevator in Wall Street before the march, going to the office of an executive liberal enough to give money. Bayard Rustin--a dignified, tall, beautiful, black, gay man--got on the elevator with a wealthy stranger who spotted him, or actually, spotted a patch of Rustin's skin, or perhaps some foreskin, and handed Rustin fifty cents. "Boy, please shine my shoes."
Rustin reached into his own pocket, took out a cotton handkerchief, knelt on the floor on the elevator, and polished the man's shoes. The man still held out the fifty cents. "Boy, you forgot your fifty cents." That was a lot of money in those days when it was supposed to be fifteen cents.
Rustin said, "Thanks, but I do it only for love, not for money."
Once a brought to Gandhi his anguish. You saw it in the film: the man's child, his only son had been killed by the Muslim enemy. "I will live my whole life until I find that man and kill his son," the Hindu father exclaimed.
Gandhi, the supreme Hindu, looked at the rage and the contortion of his face and said, "You cannot live like this. You are dying, but I know how you can be healed. Go find an orphan child, a boy the same age of your son, who is from your enemy's community, and raise that boy as your own son, but as a Muslem, not as a Hindu."
A women in this parish [St. Thomas's, Dallas] came to me today and hugged me and thanked me for being here and for everything Integrity has meant to this congregation. She said that her grandson was one, but that she had learned to love these people even before she had found out about one in her own family.
The heterosexual community needs to know that if they are going to learn to love gay and lesbian people, they need to go to the meanest, raunchiest, gay bar, one where you can get only Thunderbird. There they must find the meanest, toughest bull-dogger dyke, whose mad at the whole world because her motorcycle is broken down... They must needs sit down with that Samaritan by the well and say, not "Ooh, you're living in sin!" but in high camp say, "Ah yes, you're not married with that woman you are living with. You've really had some lovers, haven't you, girl?"
We have something more than guilt or ugliness or hate to spread. We have eternal water. That's what the straight Christians must start to do or they are going to be as obsolete in Christianity as are Jews. They're going to have nothing to do with Christianity. It's not that I want to see them leave; I want to see them redeemed. They must be redeemed. We must get on television and tell them so. We must get in the magazines.
I remember the wonderful love in the early stages of my relationship with my spouse. I mentioned last night how we stopped traffic in Atlanta back in 1973 chasing him each other down Peachtree Street. That was much fun. But there was one very ugly scene early in that relationship that I'm embarrassed to share with you. I do so to keep myself honest. We're not supposed to be icons. Instead, I tell you about a savior.
I went away for a trip. We had at that time been going together for six months, and had been living together for three months. While I was gone, I had the most horrible fantasy, an absolutely awful fantasy. I was so embarrassed. In my fantasy, I saw myself returning, and everything I owned (which was not much) was gone. Ernest was gone.
Where in the hell, I said to myself, does this fantasy come from? Nobody in the whole world has ever loved me as Ernest does. My mother had to love me, and my father, he did not even have to. I felt awful.
I managed to suppress my anguish, because otherwise it would just grow when I thought about it. I got home. Ernest met me at the airport--late as always--so I reacted to his tardiness, hiding my real fear. Maybe my fear will go away, I thought. But as we walked into the apartment, Ernest said to me, "Well, you see it's still here."
I sat on the sofa and cried. I said, "How did you know? Who told you I feared that? I have told absolutely no one."
He said, "It's no big deal."
"But it is a big deal," I insisted; "you have no business living with someone like me. It's unhealthy for you to put yourself into the position to live in the intimacy we've been sharing with somebody who can think evil of you just because of your skin color or because of what I was taught while growing up in apartheid Alabama and going to segregated Baylor. This is completely..."
"Come off it," he said. "Crybaby, don't you understand anything. I love you, man. I love you. Of course you're white. You don't really think you feel all those things, do you?
But I love you! It's the only way, absolutely the only way. It's how I know that Ernest is a Christian. He doesn't have to be a member of the church. He loves.
Sex is easy to find, even for a fat old man. I got cruised last night. Someone said, "Ooh, you have such a splashy shirt." It was wonderful to be cruised. God made sex, and She must like it--to paraphrase Auden. But sex would never have held Ernest and me together for eighteen years, through better or worse, pounds upon pounds, and thin upon thin. No, love does.
It is for this love that I have been threatened with excommunication in three parishes. When the bishop of Atlanta called me in for discipline I thought that I should get some help with my leather drag. For this love I don't know how many job applications have been rejected. On one occasion my application was used as a departmental dart board in the early 1980's. But none of that matters. I am not crying. I don't care. I cannot imagine living in fear over such things. Because I have experienced this profound love. As God usually does, God chose a human beings face to be Her own, Ernest's face. Through Ernest, God first taught me about this new law of love. Yet the House of Bishops is so concerned only about what he and I do in bed.
The loving people who are uncut are becoming the new order. The time is coming soon when the world won't even know that you're kosher, won't even notice that. If you want to survive as a Christian, you'll have to live a Christian life.
As I speak, eight men kneel in a prison in New Jersey, praying for you and for me. I am supposed to be with them right now. It's a regular monthly bible study group there, and we'll meet next week. But they decided to meet tonight as well, to pray for us. I told them they had better pray for a long time, because I preach a long time. I want you to pray for them. The combined years of ministry of the Protestant ministers in that group is forty-seven years, and it's a group of eight people with three ministers. All of them there are struggling with demons, especially the demon of pedophilia. One of the ministers abused his own eleven-year-old child.
I go there for my major spiritual nurture, just as Jesus found nurture from the guy on the next cross. One of the men abused many young girls, talking dirty and threatening them. No one can be in this particular prison who was physically violent, but the seduction pattern was pretty severe. He tried hard to be heterosexual. I'm not all that glib and flip, and there are lots of complications. But when I want to find Christianity, when I want to find love, I listen to these men. Their lives are filled with inspecting themselves, looking again, and trying to wrestle with wholeness. Ubi caritas et amour, Deus ibi est. Whereever love and charity are, there God is.
I have drunk from the well of the Samaritan woman, and you have too. That is why we work in this ministry. Thousands and thousands of gays and lesbians want to drink from this well. We must find better ways to reach them.
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