Is God Not Love? Celebrating National Coming Out Day, Rev. Arthur G. Severance

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 The mother of a 17-year-old girl was concerned that her daughter was having sex. Worried the girl might become pregnant and adversely impact the family's status, she consulted the family doctor. The doctor told her that teenagers today were very willful and any attempt to stop the girl would probably result in rebellion. He then told her to arrange for her daughter to be put on birth control and until then, talk to her and give her a box of condoms.

        Later that evening, as her daughter was preparing for a date, the woman told her about the situation and handed her a box of condoms. The girl burst out laughing and reached over to hug her mother saying: "Oh Mom! You don't have to worry about that! I'm dating Susan!"

        We celebrate National Coming Out Day this Sunday though it is officially next Saturday, October 11. It was  started  by Dr. Robert Eichberg and Jean O'Leary in 1988, in celebration of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights in which half a million people marched on Washington, DC, United States, for gay and lesbian equality. National Coming Out Day events are aimed at raising awareness of the LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) community among the general populace in an effort to give a familiar face to the LGBT rights movement. It is ironic as well that this is the 10th anniversary of the terrible hate-crime murder of Matthew Shepard, of which I will speak more of later.

         I hope to make this a yearly tradition here at East Shore like it had become at First UU Church in San Antonio where I served previously, because I believe it is important that we stand up for the LGBT community among us and for those who are looking for a community where they will be welcomed. We are an official Welcoming Congregation, which means, that this congregation has gone through a process and a program and had taken an official congregational vote to accept people of all races, genders, creeds, sexual orientations, classes, education, and other ableisms into membership. I have heard story after story about how we have literally saved the lives of people because of that, especially of youth who have come out to their families, and friends and been rejected.  I have been enriched by developing friendships with other UU ministers who are openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered, and have seen many of them minister very successfully in various sized churches around the country. Notice I said openly, because all denominations have ministers of various sexual orientations, just as the military has always had gays and lesbians; the difference is the word open.  Or lets the substitute the word honest.  In our denomination we have the permission, even encouragement to be honest about our sexual orientation.

        Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie is Senior Minister at the historic Arlington Street Church in Boston, of all places, who called her some years ago as the first woman minister, to say nothing about the first lesbian, in the close to 300 year history of the church.

        I have been extraordinarily lucky. In living my life as an openly lesbian woman, I have gained far more -- infinitely more -- than I have lost. One factor tips the balance. I was raised as a Unitarian Universalist. I was raised with Sunday School lessons that taught the beauty of difference, in a faith which nurtures self respect, dignity and courage. Most of all, I knew and continue to be affirmed in the truth that no matter what I lost or will lose in coming out, I wont lose my church. I know I am loved not in spite of who or what I am, but because of who and what I am. And that has made all the difference.

        Another  colleague, Rev. Dr. Tony Larsen, minister of the Olympia Brown UU Church in Racine ,Wisconsin: I have been a minister for over 15 years in the same UU congregation, and my church has been very supportive of my partner and myself. They understand that relationships are relationships, gay or straight. What I really like about Unitarian Universalists is that when they find out you�re gay, lesbian, or bisexual, they don�t react with shock or horror, sympathy or pity, but as if its the most natural thing in the world. Which, of course, it is for us.

        In many Native American traditions, homosexuality is prized as a special gift of the Spirit to be both sexes in one. It is considered natural, and one might question the Freudian view of homosexuality being caused by a domineering mother or passive father in relation to the Native American experience. Indeed, studies have begun to support the long-held viewpoint by many that biology and genetics determine ones sexual orientation. I hope a lot of mothers can sleep better knowing this! It really has been only relatively recently that objective studies have been undertaken, and that those studies led  eventually to the decision  by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 to drop homosexuality from its registry of mental illness. I believe, as do many others, that one does not choose their sexual orientation. I do not remember consciously choosing to be sexually attracted to women as a heterosexual, though that is the common view of society. If we are heterosexual, try to imagine what it would be like if we found ourselves attracted to our own sex. If homosexuality were simply a choice, who in their right mind would choose it? Who would consciously choose to have to sneak around, live a lie, to be ostracized, hated, discriminated against, perhaps even killed in a gay-bashing hate crime? And if homosexuality were unnatural, or even a form of mental illness, why would it continue for thousands of years and in all societies?

        In his best-selling book, A More Perfect Union: Why Straight America Must Stand Up for Gay Rights, published by our own Beacon Press, Richard D. Mohr says that a study by the American Bar Association  in 1988 found that 8 to 10 million children are currently being raised in 3 million gay and lesbian households. This statistic, in turn, suggests that around 6 percent of the US population is made up of gay and lesbian families with children. Other estimates of the percentage of the population who are gay or lesbian range from an ultra conservative 2 % (which would  mean in a population of 250 million -- 2 and a half million -- to 10% - -or 25 million!

        Sidney Abbott and Barbara Love write in Sapho Was a Right On Women: If lesbians were purple, none would be admitted to respected places. But if all Lesbians were suddenly to turn purple today, society would be surprised at the number of purple people in high places. The other important element in Coming Out Day is just that, that if all LGBT folk were purple there would be so many that those of us left a dull color would be not only shocked, but wondering how so many people could be considered UNNATURAL! We would also, of course, quickly notice many friends, relatives, teachers, preachers, famous people and no doubt, former lovers!

        Mohr also points out the price to teens who discover they are gay or lesbian, that 1/3 of all teen-age suicides in this country are lesbian and gay youth, that 1/3 of all lesbian and gay youth attempt suicide, and that 1/2 of gay male teenagers who show up at urban public health clinics are infected with the virus that causes AIDS. And even if the figures are wrong, how many teen suicides could be averted if gays and lesbians had equal rights?

        So why the horrible discrimination over the centuries, remembering as well that homosexuals were part of the holocaust, put to death along with the Jews. And even more importantly, why the discrimination today in this country where the Supreme Court still refuses to recognize the rights of gays and lesbians to basic things like marriage, housing, jobs, military service? It is partly, no doubt, because the majority view of heterosexuality is threatened by homosexuality, fearing stereotypical behaviors, even before the AIDS crisis. Perhaps we could ask that question in a different manner to get a different perspective -- let�s ask it this way to see if it makes better sense. Why the horrible discrimination against African Americans, subjecting them to slavery and unbelievable cruelty? To the Native Americans, Hispanics or other ethnic groups? Or against Jews over the centuries? Or against freethinkers during the Inquisition? Or against women? Or against the mentally ill? The handicapped?

        In the book Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America  by Michale Nava and Robert Davidoff, the authors talk of a changing of the times and the need for civil rights for those with a different sexual orientation than the majority:

The core of this book, they write in the preface, is:

The purpose of American constitutional government is the protection of individual rights.

Gays and Lesbians, as American citizens, are entitled to the exercise of those   rights.

Demonstrably they are denied free exercise of those rights.

The grounds given for denying gays and lesbians their rights are rooted in ignorance and bias.

The organized opponents of gay rights, who exploit this ignorance and bias, would substitute sectarian religious morality in place of constitutional guarantees that allow individuals to determine how best to live their lives.

These forces are using the issue of gay rights as a test case in order to promote a broader agenda, the purpose of which is to limit individuality itself.

        It is our intention in writing this book to address these arguments to the great majority of our fellow Americans, who, we believe, would support the cause of gay rights if they understood that we are not seeking special privileges but the ordinary rights that all Americans enjoy.

        And finally, the authors reminds us that: ...the price you must pay for the enjoyment of your own liberty is the recognition that other people with whom you may not like to identify, have an equal claim to the same liberty. America requires an allegiance to a stern principle of individual liberty. This is the reason gay rights matter to Americans generally and not just to lesbians and gays.

        Many of the traditional scripture based religions cite the Bible for their reluctance to accept homosexuality, citing the clear cut condemnation and citing abomination! Read those ancient laws in the book of Leviticus and youll find that it is an abomination to eat lobster! Dont ever let anyone tell you they take the Bible literally; everyone has to interpret it! Partly because it often contradicts itself! It was written over generations, hundreds of years, different languages, places, times, reasons.

        You have heard Im sure about the method  in search of religious guidance by opening the Bible and putting ones finger at random on a verse. But the Bible, of course, says many things to many people. So one day a devout practitioner of the random bible verse guidance system opened the Bible and his finger revealed this message: And Judas went out and hanged himself. (Matt. 27:5)  Obviously not pleased, he tried again, and  this time happened upon Luke 10:37, Go and do likewise.

        Simply put, while most who consider themselves Christian think that they know the Bible, what they often remember are the Bible Stories from Sunday School when they were children, which often left out the gory details of God commanding the Jews to slay men, women, and children, and everything that breathed because the promised land was already occupied. Pity the poor Canaanites. Think about how easy it was for the European Christians to rationalize doing the same thing to Native Americans since this was obviously their/our promised land and the Bible told us to! In the 1960s my mother even found a verse in Paul s letter to the Corinthians which forbade men to have long hair!

        Rev. Peter J. Gomes is the Episcopal chaplain at Harvard and a Republican. Did I mention that he is also a gay black man. He came out after some years and was still supported and kept his position. He wrote a best-selling book about the Bible called, THE GOOD BOOK, and in it he speaks to how the Bible has been used for anti Semitism, sexism, racism, and homophobia.

        He tells the story that was told by African American Theologian Howard Thurman about his grandmother, who had been raised in slavery. She had learned to read and taught Howard much about the bible. When he got to seminary, however, he noticed that she had never mentioned the apostle Paul and his writings. He asked her why, and she told him that when they were slaves and a black minister came to preach he would always speak of Moses and the teachings of Jesus, but when a white preacher came, he would quote Paul�s letter to the Ephesians 6:5, where St. Paul says, Slaves, be obedient to those who are your earthly masters, with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as to Christ.  When she finally learned to read, she cut out all of Paul�s writings because she felt they were inconsistent with the teachings of Jesus.

        The legitimization of violence, writes Dr. Gomes, against homosexuals and Jews and women and blacks, as we have seen, comes from the view that the Bible stigmatizes a prejudice, then it certainly cannot be wrong to act on that prejudice.  This, of course, is the argument every anti-Semite and racist has used with demonstrably devastating consequences, as our social history all too vividly shows.

        Some years ago in San Antonio, I was asked by one of our lesbian members be the clergy representative at a counter demonstration at the Central Library when a group were picketing the library for letting a Gay, Lesbian, Bi and transgendered group use a public meeting room. So I brought along my own little sign that quoted scripture, though Ill have to admit, I didn�t look up chapter and verse; it just said simply, Jesus said: Love One Another!

        The virulent hatred by some of the picketers was frightening and terribly ironic since they were carrying biblical quotes as Good Christians. I engaged one woman in conversation and asked her if she really believed everything in the Bible literally, and she said she did. I asked her if she was married and she said she was. I said that the apostle Paul says in the Bible that it is better not to marry. I asked her how she justified being married under those circumstances. She had no ready answer so I asked her is she shut herself in a room and avoided all contact with men for 7 days around her menstruation as it also says in the Bible. I asked her if she thought that adulterers should be stoned to death as it also says in the Bible. I asked her how many clergy she knew that had been divorced and remarried, since Jesus is very clear that that is sin. I asked her why she thought that society has somehow been able to liberalize both divorce laws and the old stigma of shame, and perhaps if we could find a way to interpret something that Jesus was very clearly against, we might find a way to give equal human rights to Gays and Lesbians, who Jesus never mentions. Indeed, we believe that times have changed and some of the old ways have to be changed, even if they�re in the Bible. We come from a tradition where it was believed that Gods revelations were not sealed and done, that there was more wisdom to break through.

          From all the evidence I�ve seen, homosexuality is as natural as heterosexuality, just  not as common.   In Native American cultures, homosexuals were seen as gifted with two spirits, in other words both sexes. They were called  berdache, and even seen as special, spiritual, and even superior. Native Americans saw four genders rather than just two. As one Native American said, We don�t waste people the way white people do.

        The famous sex-researcher and biologist, Alfred Kinsey, found that mammals and other animals routinely have homosexual relationships: The impression that infra-human mammals more or less confine themselves to heterosexual activities is a distortion of the fact which appears to have originated in a man-made philosophy rather than in specific observations of mammalian behavior.

And lastly, the 10 anniversary of the brutal hate-killing of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, October 6, 1998. Im not sure exactly why, was it that he looked so innocent, so young, and was killed so brutally for the the crime of his sexual orientation, did he remind me of someone I know? Was he everyboy? For some reason, Matthew's death, his literal crucifixion, struck chord in the heart of millions and still does. Last week in the NY Times:

Laramie Killing Given Epilogue a Decade Later By PATRICK HEALY

        If Laramie has struggled with this onus, young gay men here have also reckoned with the fact that Mr. Shepard�s death did not change much for them. Nor, they say, did the success of the 2005 movie Brokeback Mountain, about two gay ranch hands in Wyoming.

         If you walk around campus holding hands with another guy, you have to know that people are going to holler and yell at you, Iain-Peter Duggan, a junior at the University of Wyoming, and who is gay, said in an interview. You just have to be smart.

        From 2001 This from a Catholic magazine:

A Rereading From Psalm XXXI (RSV/NE/SE)

Covered with blood, save where the tears ran down,
that's how the officer who found him described him.
More scarecrow than human.
Hung on a cross.
Left to die.
Despised. Rejected.
The object of ridicule, oppression and hate.
The Passion of Matthew.
Echoes of Isaiah.
(from Maryknoll Magazine, March, 2001)

        My friend and colleague, Gene Navias, retired now from many years as director of the Religious education department talks of his life as a gay minister who had to keep his love style secret, and when he was finally able to come out of the closet, he finally feel whole. He worried when he applied for the Directorship of the Religious Education Department, but felt affirmed when he got the job. Finally out of the closet, he writes, I could finally put the divided parts of my life together... He goes on to say in the UU World magazine: I believe that when the world is safe for gays, lesbians and bisexuals, then it will be safe for women. And if it is safe for women, it will be safe for children. And when it is safe for children, it will be safe for everyone. I pray and I will work toward that day.

       There used to be a pledge card to help end the hate violence handed out on Coming Out Sunday and this was the pledge that I took:

       I pledge: I will work for civil and human rights for all people, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. Civil rights are not special rights.

       I will seek to stop jokes and unkind language about anyone, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, when spoken in my presence. Words that hurt and bigotry are not funny.

       I will speak out against any slander, debasement, lies or dehumanization of anyone, including gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, including when spoken by political or religious leaders. Violent speech leads to physical violence.

       I will work to stop physical violence against anyone, including violence against gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders. Violence against any person is violence against all people.

        Please, let us spread the good word and the good word is love. The deep universally religious compassion which is love drives out hate; it gives meaning and hope for the future. It answers the questions.  It touches what is deeply important in our lives, relationships.  But love does not mean passivity; it does not mean just taking it. No, Love is a religion, a responsibility which calls us to act in a certain way in the world. Sin is not loving, not being loving. Hate is sin; and cynicism, being negative or cutting,  is sometimes the biggest sin of all.

        Surely, we must know by now that there are more than just 2 genders, and there are no opposite genders; we are all a bit of each.    May we have the courage to love freely, to welcome all inside these walls, to work for love and justice in the world, staring in our own corner. May we live religiously, living love.

                                                        Amen, Shalom,

(Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum(may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. Vaya con Dios is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is Go with God, SO I adapted it to say Vaya Con Su Dios, Go with your idea or interpretation of God.

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