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Spilling beyond the parade route, shaking hands, waving and dancing a sea of purple shirted volunteers, the St. Paul’s Cathedral contingent, made their way down University Avenue in the Pride parade. The message was clear: God loves you, and this church supports the full inclusion of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender people.
It was a particularly salient time for the message. The Episcopal Church passed two resolutions this last week at General Convention. The first declares that our ordination processes are open to all baptized Christians regardless of sexual orientation. I was really inspired by my Bishop’s words on this one. He framed them with a joke:
“Do you believe in infant baptism? Believe in it? I’ve seen it!” I too have seen and affirm the ministry of All who God calls to ministry.
The other resolution called for Bishops to exercise “generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church” which basically means that more dioceses will allow for the blessing of same sex relationships. I had the dubious honor of ending up in both the Washington Post and the Boston Globe talking about how I am “relieved” that I will be able to celebrate the unions of my gay friends when I’m ordained.
I am proud of The Episcopal Church this week. I am especially proud to be a part of the church in San Diego which has worked so hard to keep everyone at the table while we move forward. A lot of what I talked about in the interview with the Washington Post didn’t make it into the article. I expressed frustration at some of the triumphalism exhibited by some of the more extreme advocates for LGBT people at convention. The interviewer asked me at one point if I was relieved that so many of the conservatives had left the Episcopal Church. I responded that I was saddened. It is always sad when people choose to walk away.
I am also incredibly concerned that the actions the Church took will be characterized as attempts to break with the Anglican Communion. Ian Douglas of Episcopal Divinity School and Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies, both characterized these two resolutions as very concerned with the future of the Communion. Indeed they both include a great deal of language about desiring ongoing relationship. Anderson and Douglas said that the resolutions were about being open and honest. I think they are about coming out.
When an LGBT person comes out, they do so not to hurt the person who they are telling. So many of my gay and lesbian friends’ parents asked the question: “How could you do this to us?” Coming out is about wanting to be in a better relationship. If I am going to truly be in relationship with someone, they have to know who I am. If I hide a part of myself because that part is viewed as inconvenient or “messy,” than I am not bringing my whole self to the table. The Episcopal Church essentially came out this General Convention. I am proud.
The past few days have been the commemoration of the martyrdom of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., here at the seminary. We’ve been talking a lot about race, gender, sexual orientation, and other things that divide us.
We’ve been wondering whether we live in a “post-racial America.”
One of my favorite professors here, Dr. Judy Fentress Williams, said that she hadn’t “gotten the memo” that America had become “post-racial.” It seems what we want to find is the end of racism, sexism, homophobia, all forms of discrimination, but we are not there. To pretend otherwise is folly.
I heartily agree. I’m continually frustrated by the divisions we continue to construct, knowingly and unknowingly. I’m angered that the construction of the border fence (read “border wall”) continues.
I’m frustrated that I am still caught of guard by my own and others’ attitudes, assumptions, and hesitancies. It is so hard to move from “us/them” to “I/thou.”
At the same time I hear in “post-racial” and especially “post-gay” an attitude of hope. While both words could admittedly be used to awful ends, saying that someone has been “cured” of their sexual orientation or that we are “color-blind,” I think there is some value to the conception that we have moved into a new period of identity politics. Is there more room to talk about the DIVERSE experience of African American people, now that we have Barack Obama for President? Is there more room to talk about the diversity of experience for those whose sexual orientation or gender expression differ from the norm, now that even Iowa has approved gay marriage?
Where I worked the past two years, at the University of California San Diego, I became a convert to “queer” terminology. Students at UCSD from the LGBT community often preferred the term “queer” to any label of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or otherwise. They found an inclusiveness in “queer” that the other labels didn’t satisfy. Perhaps they were predominantly attracted to people of the same sex, but not exclusively, and thus didn’t feel lesbian or bisexual fit their experience.
Asserting this identity also means that same sex attraction and gender ambiguity must be viewed as natural, normal, even blessed. Though the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from it’s list of disorders in 1973 (for a fantastic This American Life on that history click here) we still seem to behave in society and the church as if people are deficient. The attitude of tolerance seems to be just that. “Because you are, sadly, oriented ONLY to members of your own gender I guess we will accept you. We’re all sinners.” Could “Post-gay” or “Queer” mean moving past this “tolerance” toward embrace, toward seeing same gender love as a blessing? (It sure surprised Oprah when Ed Bacon said homosexuality was a blessing.) Would this allow us to wonder if more people experience same-gender love than are able to claim this natural and blessed part of their identity? Would this allow more people who are predominantly attracted to members of the same gender to accept that they also experience some attraction to people of the other gender without compromising their sense of identity?
So often our identities are constructed for us. The other, is defined by those who “other” them: Sambo and the Poof, Aunt Jemima and drag queens. At the same time communities can gather to determine and claim their own identity. Last night the Howard Gospel Choir performed at Virginia Seminary, and we had some church. There is no doubting the presence of God in the culturally rooted, liberative, expressive, identifying music of Gospel. The music AFFIRMS the goodness, the createdness, the beauty of the people who sing it and of the culture that birthed such exquisite praise.
All identity is construct. The trick seems to be learning to develop identies which we value for their distinction and beauty, in which we glimpse the diverse character of the face of God while following the Christ who breaks down the walls that divide us. Moving to a place where our identities are no longer political, a truly post-racial and post-gay place because racism and homophobia are not the determining factors for the identity of black and queer Americans. A place where culture and relationship are expressed robustly. I think this is what Paul had in mind when he said, “There is no longer Jew nor Greek, Slave nor Free, Woman nor Man but all are one in Christ.” Not that our distinction would disappear, but that we would learn the value of our difference for drawing us more fully together in the diversity of God.