Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

October 10, 2010: “Standing on the Side of Love: Welcoming all Love Orientations, Coming Out Sunday”

A sergeant and his private sat in a small compartment on a train as they took a trip together. Facing them, in the same compartment, sat a grandmother and her lovely granddaughter. As the train entered a long, dark tunnel, a long, joyful, wet kiss was heard, followed by a loud slap. The grandmother thought, “That young private kissed my granddaughter and she slapped him.” The granddaughter thought, “Why, that sergeant kissed my grandmother and she slapped him.” The sergeant, puzzled by this, thought, “That private must have kissed that young lady and she thought I did it, so she slapped me.” The private thought, “It’s not every day a gay private gets to kiss the back of his hand, slap his sergeant and get away with it.’

        I guess that's what happens when one assumes everyone is heterosexual. I will admit it; I am a heterosexual, and yes, I brazenly flaunt it. I often talk about my marriage, my wife, and my children, in my sermons, and sometimes my wife kisses me in the receiving line after church. We often hold hands in public, and I frequently put my arm around her at the movies.  You see, I don't have to flaunt my sexuality, but I do. Most of my friends are married heterosexuals, and they too flaunt their sexuality in public, even in church. Homosexuals are welcome here as long as they don't try and act like the heterosexuals do and flaunt their sexuality in public!  When you considered calling me to be your minister you probably didn't worry that I might talk about heterosexuality too much. (This is supposed to be obviously sarcastic, by the way.)

        Today is 'Coming Out Sunday;' well, probably not at most churches!  October 11 is 'National Coming Out Day', sponsored by different organizations, started in 1988 to support gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender youth especially in feeling supported enough to be able to come out of the closet of secrecy, of shame, of hiding, and announce who they really are, who they really love. The love that has been described as, ironically,  'that dares not speak its name.'

        Nobel prize winner, South African Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu: writes "We struggled against apartheid because we were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about. It is the same with homosexuality. The orientation is a given, not a matter of choice. It would be crazy for someone to choose to be gay, given the homophobia that is present."

        'The Bible' another Anglican prelate writes, 'will always be definitive for the Church's faith, but in the Anglican tradition Holy Scripture is open to what scholars call "hermeneutical" treatment. Hermeneutics means "informed and reasoned interpretation".  In other words, the Bible is not self-authenticating. It needs to be seen in all the light that every new era of history and scholarship can provide.'

        In many native American traditions, homosexuality is prized as a special gift of the Spirit to be both sexes in one. One is gifted instead of cursed! Indeed one native American was supposed to have been puzzled by our treatment of homosexuals saying he didn't understand why we white people wasted perfectly good people just because they different.  It is considered natural in much of native American culture, 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 one's 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 know that I don't 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. Then there's the confusing question of gender and stereotypes like the 'opposite sex.' 

        Friends, I am here to tell, there is no such thing as the OPPOSITE sex! There is a continuum of sexuality, more than two genders, and no doubt, that's why there's all this confusion! Add to the confusion, the secrecy of everyone's sexual thoughts, desires, fantasies as well as activities, and well, let's just say it's pretty difficult to keep track of all the players.

        Rev. Peter J. Gomes is the Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard Divinity School 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.'

        We're back to how the Bible and Christianity has been used or, more accurately, misused, even perverted, to keep a minority oppressed by a majority for no apparently rational reason. One of my favorite science fiction writers, Arthur C. Clarke, wrote, 'One of the great tragedies of mankind is that morality has been hijacked by religion."  Why does gay marriage threaten the so called sanctity of heterosexual marriage, but Las Vegas drive thru Elvis Weddings when drunk don't? I've quoted extensively from the Bible the absurd verses about marriage and concubines or multiple wives or stoning to death brides who aren't virgins, etc., yet there are those who will always see things that they truly believe God has said. Indeed, some of them will become terrorists in God's name, but that doesn't make it God's fault, who or what ever you believe God is or represents!

        I am continually asked when I try to describe UUism to someone who is unfamiliar with us, 'Well, you DO believe in God, don't you?' As if that will somehow reassure them that no matter what other crazy stuff we might do or say, at least we believe in God, which of, means to them, the same Judeo Christian God they think that they believe in.   How often we think there's a different God preached in the Jewish Bible, what the Christians call the Old Testament, and the New Testament. We often talk about the Old Testament God as one of Judgment, Anger, of Law, and the New Testament as one of Love, personified, even incarnated in Jesus!  Yet, by monotheistic definition, He (in traditional language) must be the same God, or He is no God at all.

        We all know what the Old Testament God says about homosexuality; He's against it. He's also against women especially when they menstruate; they should be set apart until they stop and a variety of other laws. 

Then there are the dietary laws and so on. Oh and marriage in the Old Testament is not what we’d want to encourage either, by the way- lots of polygamy, adultery, and many, many concubines. But Jesus brings us a New Testament, a new Covenant and the dietary laws are done away with as are many of the old laws of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Jesus does say, however that divorce is wrong, unlike the OT, when actually that seemed OK! He’s very clear about that. Jesus says nothing, however, about abortion or homosexuality though he does emphasize love over law, as does Paul and other writings in the NT. Indeed, I would think that Jesus would seem much too liberal for most conservatives!

        George Lakoff is Professor of Linguistics at University of California and Berkeley and in his great book, Don't Think of an Elephant, helped me understand how conservatives think. When George W was running for reelection, I was truly mystified at how people could come to such opposite conclusions from me, until I read his book.   Many of us have been spoiled by hanging around with primarily liberal UUs, but we know not all of us are, so we need to keep reflecting that. But Lakoff, (as described in Wikipedia) argues that the real 

differences between liberals and conservatives that they start with two different metaphors about the relationship of government. Both, see it through metaphors of the family. Conservatives basically subscribe to a “strict father model” with a family structured around a strong, dominant “father” (government), and believe that the “children” (citizens) need to be disciplined so they will grow up to be responsible “adults” (morality, self-financing). Once the “children” are grown up, however, the “father” should leave them alone: the government should stay out of the business of those in society who have proved their responsibility. On the other hand he says liberals use a model of the family, that is the “nurturant parent model”, based on “nurturant values”, where both “mothers” and “fathers” work to keep the essentially good “children” away from “corrupting influences” (pollution, social injustice,poverty,etc.).’ He says that conservatives often follow the Old Testament God model while the liberals often follow the NT God model as obviously an over generalization, but that it goes back to that idea of strict adherence to the rules vs liberal interpretation to be inclusive.

        Think for a minute if we truly could separate church and state- is there any practical reason for two adults of the same so called gender who are willing to make a legal commitment not to marry? We know that there have been same gender coupes living together either secretly or openly for years, but they have not had the same rights as married couples. Other than religious reasons, why? Reproduction? Surely not today.

        The only reason I can think of is that it would make some people uncomfortable, just as interracial marriage did as little as a two decades ago. I think it comes down to fear and awkwardness, and the inability for people to respect other people's beliefs. Yet divorce has become completely acceptable even among the most conservative and Jesus is very clear in scripture in condemning it!  Why? Because no one is threatened by divorce and too many people are getting divorced, including pastors! I charge hypocrisy!

        According to an article from Religious Institute- Mourners at Rutgers University honored the memory of Tyler Clementi, whose death last week was one of five suicides by gay teenagers in the last three weeks.             Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge Tuesday, days after his roommate allegedly posted video on the Internet of him having sex with another man.

         The recent eruption of gay teen suicides has been across the country, from the East Coast to Indiana, Texas to California, where 13-year-old Seth Walsh, who recently hanged himself, was memorialized Friday night. Walsh, whose family said he was harassed by bullies for being gay, died Tuesday, after being in a            coma for nine days. "The harassment and the teasing and the taunting just became too much," Seth's grandmother, Judy Walsh said Friday night at a memorial service in Tehachapi, Calif.

         Police interviewed some of the young people who taunted Seth the day he died, but determined that their actions do not constitute a crime.

         In Clementi's case, the young man's roommate, and another classmate, face several charges of invasion of privacy for what prosecutors say was a surreptitious filming of Clement in his own dorm room, a recording that they then allegedly broadcast live on the Internet.  New Jersey law enforcement officials have said they are still investigating the case, trying to determine whether they can pursue more serious charges against Ravi and Wei.

         In another recent case, an openly gay 19-year-old student at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., hanged himself in his dorm room. While his brother told ABC News that it was not brought on by bullying, his suicide has sparked further debate on the nature of support for gay teens and gays on American campuses.

         "It is important to allow young people to come out and to find support and to realize that once you do come out you're not alone," said Shane Windmeyer, the executive director of Campus Pride, an organization focused on building safer and more LGBT-friendly campuses.

        The deaths have provoked nationwide introspection about bullying, and how gay teens are treated, from the heartland to Hollywood.

        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.

        Someday the closet will once again be only for clothes and all love will be able to speak its name. We welcome all love. We love all. We love one another. May we continue to build up this community of welcoming all beloveds, of teaching love and doing service and working together to transform ourselves as well as the world. May we behave like we love one another as well, thinking of how our actions might impact other people feelings. Let us balance our individualism with the desire to be in community, and let love be our guide. Love is the answer.

Amen, Peace, 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 with me greets the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and 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.’

Peace, Love, Shalom, Salaam, Blessed Be, Namaste, Abrazo a Todos,Vaya con su Dios

On Being an “Issue”

Sue Phillips Keene 2005 Skinner Sermon Award Winner

Our newly-elected Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President, the Rev. Peter Morales, expresses it with these words: ‘There’s no difference between spiritual values and social action,” he observes. “They’re two sides of the same coin. When we experience our connection with that which transcends us and with other people, we become compassionate. We suffer with, not separated from the other. That’s a deeply spiritual experience… Standing on the Side of Love… is simply a way in which we can act upon our deepest religious passions.”

As I begin, I must say that it is very strange to be “an issue,” to have an essential part of my identity debated as a public policy question. Listening to late- night pundits debating the morality of my “lifestyle” is both absurd and offensive. The truth is, I’m not even sure what a “lifestyle” is, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have one.

If something terrible happened to my partner Jennifer while we were at home in New Hampshire, there is no guarantee that I would be allowed to see her in the hospital, despite all the legal papers we have drawn up. If I died, Jennifer would not have an inherent legal claim to my property or my pension. We don’t receive any joint income deductions or special tax breaks for couples. If my children John and Mariah lived in New Hampshire, I would not have an automatic right to pick them up from school, or confer with their teachers, or even sign field trip permission slips. John and Mariah live in Massachusetts, thank God, where these rights are protected. There are more than a thousand federal laws offering benefits, rights, and privileges based on marital status. I don’t have access to any of them. And so you can see why gay marriage is not just an “issue” for me and my family.

In my home town of Northampton, Massachusetts, last spring, on the first day that the town clerk was able to sign licenses, people celebrated in the streets. A man and a woman who refused to get married until the right was extended waited in line side by side with a lesbian couple to apply for their marriage licenses. All of them were UUs. And when they weren’t sharing a line they shared the same pew.

That is just one of the reasons I have never been prouder to be a Unitarian Universalist. I am so proud of our little ragtag religious movement and the national leadership we have shown in our prophetic call for gay and lesbian rights.

As early as 1984, our General Assembly passed a resolution affirming the practice of UU clergy performing services of union. In 1996, the UUA Board of Trustees passed a unanimous resolution calling for civil marriage. In the months before the Supreme Judicial Court decision, our ministers in Massachusetts placed a full-page add in the Boston Globe declaring their support for same-sex marriage. The page was covered with hundreds of names in tiny print, the ministers’ parishes listed after their names in a proud litany.

Many of you know that the headquarters of the Unitarian Universalist Association is at 25 Beacon Street in Boston, immediately next to the State House on Beacon Hill. All last year a huge banner hung outside the windows of UUA headquarters declaring that “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right!” Right there, right next to the doors that legislators use every day, our movement took a clear stand. Four of the seven couples involved in the lawsuit that established the constitutional right to gay marriage in Massachusetts are Unitarian Universalists.

As I eagerly watched the national news the first day gay marriages were legalized in Massachusetts, I saw footage of Kim Crawford Harvie, the minister of the Arlington Street Church, marry two men who were plaintiffs in the lawsuit, even as she was married to her partner earlier that morning. And I saw the lead plaintiffs in that historic case, Julie and Hillary Goodridge, as they were, at long last, legally married by UUA President Bill Sinkford at 25 Beacon Street. Just outside the windows of that very room, the banner still hung, “Civil Marriage is a Civil Right!,” at last a statement of truth rather than a dream.

How can I describe to you what I felt seeing those images? As I sat with my beloved late that night, weeping with joy. We have become so accustomed to losing political battles, to being left out. There have been so few victories to celebrate. This history makes the celebration even sweeter, especially because support for gay marriage in Massachusetts came from such diverse places, from organized labor, to legislators from working class communities, to mainstream religious groups. Watching all those beautiful, happy people walking up courthouse steps hand in hand brought out all the grief of previous losses, and all the relief of this victory in one jumbled torrent.”