Monday, June 2, 2008
Same-Sex Marriage—Same song, second verse.
After I wrote the article of May 26th, the Governor of New York agreed that he would work for the acceptance of same-sex unions in the state. It makes marriage for Gay and Lesbian persons a reality in this state—something that I did not expect for some years. I am sure that the ultra-right will file injunctions and other legal efforts to continue putting their heads in the sand.
The lives of LGBT folks are now beginning to make an impact on communities all over the nation. It is not surprising that much of the LGBT energy has happened in the cities to which many gay folks fled in the 50’s and 60’s. In the early 80’s I remember Bishop William Swing, then the newly consecrated bishop of California, spoke at a Clergy Conference in CNY about why San Francisco had become such a haven for gay folks. “It is because those in the small towns all over the country are not doing their ministry to and with gay folks that San Francisco has become the center for gays.”
I had not been to San Francisco at that time and supposed it to be the Sodom or Gomorrah that religious leaders said it was at the time. Some years later when I did live in the Bay area, I found San Francisco to be the same kind of city as Dallas, St. Louis, or Chicago. There was, however, a better acceptance of LGBT people and the violence toward gay folk was not tolerated by the populace and therefore, not tolerated by the officials.
Bishop Swing’s words have echoed in my mind ever since. If the Church in upstate NY is doing its job by accepting people according to the Gospel, then the congregation of LGBT folk in large cities such as San Francisco, Dallas, NYC, etc. is not necessary.
One of the things I am seeing in the small communities in the Southern Tier is the beginning of accommodation of LGBT couples and families. We see, if the churches are doing their jobs, gay folk being welcomed in our communities of faith, using their considerable talents for the furtherance of the message of God’s love for the world.
I was surprised, then, when at a recent clergy meeting that one of the local pastors asked if there were any churches that would accept a gay couple who had come to speak to her. Only I was able to speak up and say yes. “My church is too old” said one pastor. “I think it is an abomination” said another. “My parish isn’t ready to deal with that issue,” said another. I felt like the little red hen!
One thing that current strife in the Episcopal Church has done is make us address the issue of gay folk in our midst. Some have rejected us. Some are welcoming and others still others say “We don’t have people like that in OUR church, town, or community!”
Now, I don’t know of any parish of any denomination in the upstate area that can afford to be choosy about who presents themselves to worship among them. Part of the charm of small church ministry is that we have to accept who comes to us, with all their foibles and faults and make community with them. It is this kind of hospitality that is essential to small town –small parish ministry.
If any change has taken place since Bishop Swing spoke to the CNY clergy is that country and small town gays are not scurrying to San Francisco to live. More and more, LGBT folk who are from small communities are staying in their areas, or like many down-state folk are recognizing, that you can’t take the small town values out of folks. Gay folks are staying put in their communities or moving back to small towns and want to be accepted in their churches just as surely as they were in the cities.
Churches need to be ready to welcome LGBT folks. And by that I mean, straight Christians need to have worked through the “ick factor”—that feeling of fear of the different that gives rise to the prejudice that so characterizes relationships between straight folk and LGBT folk. Gay folk, too, need to tone down some of the ‘in your face’ exaggerations of gay life that makes straight folk uncomfortable. It is time for us all to be about making life real and caring for one another.
Gay marriage is upon us. As yet neither the Lutherans nor the Episcopalian leadership knows what they are going to do when gay folks present themselves for marriage. We must be prepared if we are going to stand for justice in the present age.