Tuesday, February 27, 2007

I recall a scene from a movie, maybe Mississippi Burning, where an older white man is explaining to a younger white man why the white people hate the blacks. Seems a neighboring black farmer got a tractor before the white farmer did. It made my daddy so mad, he said. "He shouldn't have that," the older white farmer had said. "But why did that make him so mad?" asked the younger man. "'Cause everybody needs somebody they can look down on, somebody they're better than, to feel good about himself."

I'm beginning to wonder if this whole controversy surrounding LGBT people is not a case of "everybody needs somebody they can look down on, somebody they're better than, to feel good about himself."

To focus on one thing they will never be accused of, to point a condemning finger at another does divert attention away from the accuser for a short while. It's a marginalized group of people who are not powerful enough by themselves to turn the tide of public opinion in their favor, so the majority (who happen to be heterosexual) condemn the minority (who happen to be homosexual) and thereby, elevate their own feelings of moral superiority. Erich Fromm, the noted psychologist and ethicist, said that
one of the marks of the mental and moral health of a society is how it treats its minorities.

Claiming that sexual orientation is a choice is, I believe, one of the most pernicious lies ever perpetrated. I have vivid memories of realizing my sexual attraction to the opposite sex. I was 12 years old in Harlingen, Texas. I had made a 2-day train trip with my grandmother Deedo to visit her sister Emma. She had two of the cutest grandsons, Robert, 16, and Clyde Lee, 14, and I spent a good bit of my time while there daydreaming about getting very physical with them. I was infatuated with Robert one day, and Clyde Lee the next, whichever one showed up at their grandmother's house, either one could have had his way with me if he'd been so inclined. I didn't know anything about sex, no more than what I'd seen of my own parents' G-rated affection for each other, or teen-aged sweethearts in the movies, maybe Doris Day and Rock Hudson, but the idea of lying on the sands of Padre Island, being held and kissed by one of them was very appealing to me. Thank goodness, they already had girls, other than their skinny cousin, to admire.

Straight friends have told me of similar experiences. It wasn't something they consciously chose, it just happened, usually during adolescence. My lesbian and gay friends tell me their initial realization of their sexual orientation was similar to the one I had with the boys, except they had desires for physical intimacy with people of the same sex. Most tried to deny it, to change it; they prayed, they cried, they suffered in silence. They had some idea that it wasn't natural, it was wrong, sinful, shameful, they feared the very fires of hell if anyone ever found out. They heard the epithets, the hate speech, and saw how "fags" and "dikes" were ostracized. They closeted themselves, and hated themselves, and some attempted suicide. If it were a chosen trait, NOBODY would choose it, they tell me.

When research in the 80's began to show that sexual orientation may well be genetic, or influenced by prenatal factors, they became less afraid, less ashamed, more open and honest about who they really were. And the people who hated their openness and honesty the most? The church! They were told, "You cannot be queer and be Christian." Most still teach that, and back it up with the Bible.

The Episcopal Church engaged this group directly and accepted the scientific research as liberating. Their reputation of tolerance and inclusion of the other was well known. Most Episcopalians accepted the bold move and kept on keeping on. Now here we are, several years down the road, and the minds of TEC are divided along these lines (thanks to ggritter for posting this elsewhere):

  1. There is a relatively small portion of TEC who are militant about the permanence and literality of Scripture, they are intensely anti-glbt, they are vigorously planning a temporary series of secessions of parishes and dioceses from TEC in order to form a ‘parallel Province’ which will eventually replace TEC within the Anglican Communion, and they are actively cooperative with "pastoral" intrusions into TEC by other Provinces led by Nigeria.
  2. There is a portion of TEC who, although less militant, are inclined to support literal Scripture, are not supportive of further ordination of gay bishops or blessing of same-sex unions, but are definitely not interested in secession, and are not enthusiastic about alien intrusions into TEC.
  3. There is a portion of TEC - difficult to identify precisely, but apparently substantial -- who are somewhat isolationist, regarding neither the Scripture issues, nor the glbt issues, nor the Anglican Communion itself as crucial enough to fight about, pleading ‘why can’t we all get along together?’
  4. There is a relatively small portion of TEC who are militant about progressive evolution of theology and Scripture, they are intensely insistent upon full participation of lgbt Christians in all aspects of TEC as a baptismal and justice issue, they are vigorously opposed to secessions - especially if they involve claims about ownership of property, and they are highly indignant about intrusions into TEC by other Provinces, especially Nigeria.

I'm somewhere between 3 and 4, and leaning more toward 4 all the time. I don't want to be intolerant like the first group. Devout, sincere Christians believe the way they do about this issue, and I cannot bring myself to condemn them for it. I just don't happen to believe that our sexual orientation is any more a matter of choice than whether we are right or left handed, or blue or brown-eyed. We are the way we are and should make the most of whatever physical characteristics we inherited at birth.

I don't think we should endow those who want to separate with the millions of dollars worth of real estate they want to claim with secession. If they want to start a new Communion, then they need to start from scratch. They have broken their vows to serve the Episcopal Church and uphold its canons and constitution. And they have betrayed their heritage of the Via Media, or middle way. They "put their hand to the plow, but then turned back." I don't think they should be rewarded by the organization they renounce.

Where will all this lead? I don't know what the future holds, but, as the old song says, "I know who holds the future." And I do believe that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord and are called according to His purposes.

Remember us in your prayers.

1 comment:

C J Garrett said...

This came in my email right after I finished today's post, not in response to this post, but still relevant. Thanks to JB:

We may face schism in the future, a serious possibility I now take seriously. However, the reason will not be Gene Robinson - or the blessing of same-sex relationships. It will be the result of an ecclesiastical grab for power in parts of the Anglican Communion relatively new to the faith.

We must all remember that no where else in the world does every significant act of The Church arise from the consensue of lay people, bishops and priests. In that sense, our communion is unique. It is the reason why women are priests and bishops; it is the reason why gay people are included in the full fabric of church life. Not all is well in all places - but enough is well in so many places that we certainly have hope for the future in TEC.