Sermon preached for Dignity-Integrity on the 16th Sunday after Pentecost at the Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene: Philippians 3:4b-14
Thirty-six years ago. 1975. Where were you? I was in Avoca, beginning my freshman year in high school. And I was just beginning to wrestle with the fact that my attitude toward girls was very different than my friends. I had no language for it at all, but I knew it was bad news.
Just a year before, in the fall of 1974, a remarkable man by the name of Louie Crew started a newsletter from his home in rural Georgia. It was called Integrity: Gay Episcopal Forum. The impetus for this newsletter, Louie says, was his marriage (that’s what they always called it) to Earnest Clay in February of that year, and their arrival in Berkeley, California where Louie had a fellowship for the summer.
Louie tells it this way:I called Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to inquire, "Where can my gay spouse and I meet other gay Episcopalians while here?"
For a moment the full switch-board seemed to short-circuit. Giving one inane excuse after another, each secretary transferred the call to another, so that everyone could relish the occasion.
I expected such silly run-arounds in rural Georgia where we had lived openly as a gay and racially integrated couple, but not in the city most famous for its large gay population, and not in the most liberal of all Anglican houses, and not five years after the purported beginning of gay liberation....
The Holy Spirit used their highly placed tittering to prompt me into taking responsibility. I knew that God promiscuously loves everybody! All lucky enough to know that, share an obligation to tell the good news. When I returned to rural Georgia, I took out ads in church and gay papers announcing a new publication, called Integrity.
By July 1975, Integrity was chartered as an organization and it held its first convention in August 1975. Dignity, meanwhile, had been formed in 1970 and had its first national convention in 1973.
Thirty-six years is a long time, although in the greater scheme of things, not very long at all. And we lesbian and gay folk have come a very long way. In 1975, at least where I was living, the notion of two men getting married would have been either a good joke or a nightmare. The number of people who believed it would happen in their lifetimes would have been hardly worth counting.
We can give thanks for the way we have come in both church and state. Yet there is clearly more work to do. The church’s theology of marriage is still nothing but heterosexual, and the prospects of that changing in either of our churches in the foreseeable future are poor. John and I are blissfully wed, but still single in the eyes of the United States government, including, of course, the IRS and the Social Security Administration. There is work to do.
More importantly, it is still traumatic and even dangerous for most young people to come out. Bullying is rampant. Hate crimes flourish, particularly against our transgender sisters and brothers. Suicide rates among gay and lesbian youth remains stubbornly high, despite all our advances. And my experience is that our heterosexual brothers and sisters are nearly blind to how heterocentric the world is and the real damage that does to kids growing up. Yes, there is work to do.
We are not use to taking comfort from St. Paul, but there is far more to him than Romans 1:26-27. There is, for instance, the reading from Philippians that we just heard.
Paul admits to his zealot past. In one sense he is clearly proud of it. He is not ashamed to own up to it all. But, he says, my relationship with Jesus changed everything. Everything I thought was important, everything I did to uphold my obligations to God, everything I thought gave me identity in this world that really mattered, I discovered was rubbish. Now all that I have is Jesus, a relationship with him and the chance to live in his death and resurrection.
This is one of those passages in the Bible that I have always wanted to sit down and explore with our zealous detractors. And I want to ask, “Isn’t it possible—just possible—that your well-meaning, zealous condemnation of gay and lesbian people is not like Paul’s well-meaning, zealous condemnation of Christians? And if what he learned is true, could it not mean that relationship with Jesus really is all that matters?”
Well, I, for one, believe that it is. It is all that really matters. Dignity-Integrity Rochester has been witnessing to that message for 36 years, and, although you are few in number now, I hope you keep in memory the hundreds, if not thousands, of people who have come through those doors on Sunday evening at 5 pm and heard that message for the first time in their lives.
I know you have frequent conversations about your future, given your reduced numbers. I won’t pretend to offer you any advice in that, except to say that whatever you decide, Two Saints will be there to support you. We are proud of our 36 year relationship and ready for it to continue.
What I can say is this: what Paul said his life was about after he came into relationship with Jesus. He said, “I press on. I press on being faithful because Jesus is faithful to me. I belong to Jesus, and that is the only thing I need to know. I can forget everything that is in the past, and I can have the courage to keep moving forward. I press on for the prize.”
What is the prize? Louie Crew put it this way in the June/July 1975 issue of his newsletter:
So much is sex a part of the whole person that it is fair to say that anyone who denies or suppresses his God-given sexual identification cannot make many steps towards health or holiness. Hence, my God-designed homosexuality is not a definition of my sickness, but a potential ingredient of my health; it is not a mark of my sin, but a requirement of any holiness and salvation that I may experience.
Let us press on, my sisters and brothers to this holiness and salvation.