Beautiful

A Personal Manifesto
Tuesday, February 20, 2007 Posted by Father Richard
The Diocese of California is a place within the Church — not alone, but prominently — where gay and lesbian people have been freer to offer their gifts: Both professional gifts and those of lay and ordained ministry. As a result, the Diocese of California has been immeasurably enriched.

– from the Shrove Tuesday, 2007, response to the Primates’ Communique
by The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus

Flinging all decorum to the winds, I want to put flesh on Bishop Marc’s most excellent words, which salvaged what only can be most charitably described as a disappointing day in my life as an Anglican and as a priest in the Episcopal Church.

My journey in these matters began in the Midwest 32 years ago, growing up in small, rural, conservative towns where the only place sexualities other than heterosexual were discussed were in boy’s locker rooms and where the word “fag” was a plain put-down and suggested some thing thoroughly disgusting and unholy.

I grew up, like most Christian kids, with a lot of worry about my sexuality. I was straight. I knew that from at least the 2nd grade, because I liked girls. But I was being infused with a hearty dose of American puritanism, so I was taught in the cultural waters to be suspicious of sex-in-general, even if the 1980’s were more enlightened than previous decades in teaching the basic anatomy, etc., when we started to approach puberty.

I went to college sure that straight was the only way to be. My first conscious meetings with gay and bisexual people happened quite by accident, when friendships developed and I learned about their struggles on a relatively conservative University campus with flirting with the threshold of the closet. Knowing nothing about the “ex-gay” movement, I nevertheless encouraged them to seek help, believing their sexuality to be a disorder that was rooted in other emotional problems. I thought it was the right thing to do for God.
Then, at a summer music camp, I met Andrew, a wonderful pianist and teacher. After a piano lesson, I realized I wanted to study with him and was willing to pull up stakes and transfer to the school where he taught. Only after this (and even well after meeting his partner!) did I discover he was gay. My desire to study piano with him won the day, except now I’d call it God’s grace that overcame my environmentally cultivated heterosexism.

In three years of study, I learned from Andrew much about what it means to be human. He was unassuming, full of humor, a great artist, and absolutely committed to his students and my development as a pianist. He was not a Christian. But he was a profoundly spiritual man whose devotion to compassionate life taught me a great deal about what was best about my own faith tradition. We never really discussed his sexuality at any length. But through his witness in our teacher-student relationship, I went from believing homosexuality was a perversion; to seeing it as a disorder; to believing it was a choice that I didn’t need to support, but I needed to respect; to seeing it as a fully human and God-given characteristic that could be lived into through love and covenant.

Meantime, I had joined a small, loving Anglican community on the University’s edge. A gay couple there, whose partnership had been blessed there, befriended me. We had dinner together every several weeks, enjoyed great conversation on everything from science fiction to theology. Mark & Wayne showed me what a healthy, covenanted, and committed relationship looks like from the inside. Meanwhile, I began coughing up every puritanical belief I had ingested, and found warm and loving Christians ready to help me see the Gospel with fresh eyes. And it came to life for me.

My friend and roommate at the Aspen Music Festival one summer, a committed Episcopalian and partnered gay man, was an enormous help to me through our friendship as I went through personal and professional upheaval over nine weeks. I found myself wishing one day for a spouse (I knew it would be a woman, of course) who would be like Randy was for me that summer. And this is to say that there was nothing sexual or in any way inappropriate between us — only strong, abiding friendship marked by truth-telling and heartfelt honesty. Both strike me as hallmarks of any healthy covenanted relationship.

When I came to the Bay Area for seminary, I was nurtured, buoyed, supported, mentored, and be-friended by countless gay, lesbian, and bisexual Christians — many of them in committed relationships. They loved the heterosexism out of me even while knowing that I, a young, straight, white dreamboat of most parishes in the Episcopal Church could, simply by virtue of the cosmic accidents of biology, cultural, and theological bias, go much further in the Church than they could.

An openly gay priest living in a beautiful, committed relationship and raising two daughters, counseled Hiroko and me for marriage. It was his generous listening and warm-hearted humor that taught me to let go of the last remaining puritanical notions about my own sexuality, freeing me to live more fully into my marriage. Hiroko and I have been happily married now for nearly seven years. We’ve had our ups and downs. But I owe the health of our relationship and the friendship in which it is rooted in great part to all the LGBT Christians and non-Christians who supported me and us in our shared journey. And now we have a three-year-old son. It all works. I’m still straight as they come. And yet I have wonderful LGBT friends and colleagues. Go figure.

I have seen ministries wrecked by homophobia. I have seen the scars born by LGBT clergy who have made pilgrimages into the unknown as they escape hostile dioceses. I have sat with them as they listened to subtle, patronizing bigotry couched in gentle, “pastoral” voices. I have watched them get sliced and diced online and in person, told to return to the closet, and seen in print how they are regarded by some merely as abominations. I have watched them react with heartfelt sympathy to those who conscientiously cannot find their way out of the theology that prevents them from accepting sexuality other than that between a man and a woman. I have seen them persevere through elections, searches, and discernment processes where they knew, at the end of the day, they were being rejected simply because of their sexual orientation.

They have taught me healing ministry. They have taught me how to cry and be honest about who I am. They have loved me while even knowing that I could walk away from them because of their sexuality. . .that I could walk away at any moment with impunity as far as the greater society and Church is concerned, because I have that privilege. I have betrayed them in word and deed as an ordained priest. I have sold them out to chummy up with people I fear. I have dismissed and abstracted them away in my writing and preaching. And, yet, they continue to love me and call me back again and again to my full humanity in community and communion. And what is more Christ-like than that? Does not Christ love us most visibly and without reserve when we betray him? Is that not what the gospels and our greatest theologies about salvation teach us?

I have seen the face of Christ most in the wounded, loving, caring, and compassionate gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgendered Christians of this Church, lay and ordained. I am who I am because of who they are, and who God in Christ has been through them. They have become a part of me, and an integral part of my spiritual journey into the heart of God in Jesus Christ.

So, to the Primates I now say, as a priest at the growing edge of the Anglican Communion, and with no intended reproach towards those who strongly disagree with my position on human sexuality:

Wherever my brothers and sisters are damned, I am damned as well.

Lambeth Resolution I.10, lectures and grand, bellicose, and eloquent statements by bishops and archbishops, and even the Windsor Report and the Primates’ Communique all put together, and even the weight of 5,000 years of theologizing on why LGBT are “bad” people have taught me next to nothing about marriage or true relationship. . .nor do they hold a candle to what God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ have given me and my family through my LGBT sisters and brothers by way of many friendships, generous mentoring, companionship, solidarity, and definitive Christian love.

I stand with them now. And I will fall with them if I must.

May God only give me courage where it is needed.

This is my Lenten discipline of fasting and self-denial.

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