Saturday, October 30, 2010


At the Lambeth Conference in 2008 this presentation was made to the gathering of Anglican bishops by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sachs, Chief Rabbi of the UK. It is a remarkable article on Covenant: what a covenant is, what it is not. It is a worthwhile read not only because it is appropriate as the conversations develop around the Anglican Covenant, but it reminds us that is through covenant that God first called humanity into relationship in the Judeao-Christian tradition.

I was also appreciative of the rabbi’s explanation of what contracts are, the contracts of power and the contracts of wealth that bring order into governance and economics. Sachs states:

The state is about power. The market is about wealth. And they are two ways of getting people to act in the way we want. Either we force them to – the way of power. Or we pay them to – the way of wealth.

But there is a third way, and to see this let's perform a simple thought experiment. Imagine you have total power, and then you decide to share it with nine others. How much do you have left? 1/10 of what you had when you began. Suppose you have a thousand pounds, and you decide to share it with nine others. How much do you have left? 1/10 of what you had when you began.

But now suppose that you decide to share, not power or wealth, but love, or friendship, or influence, or even knowledge, with nine others. How much do I have left? Do I have less? No, I have more; perhaps even 10 times as much.

How simple an explanation! I am so thankful for those who can succinctly illustrate how humanity functions.

In my move to TX, I have come up against “the free market society” writ large. I have spent weeks trying to find a doctor who will take Medicare. It is genuinely scary because I cannot find a SINGLE doctor who will take new Medicare patients. It as if there is a collective idea here that if doctors do not take any new Medicare patients, they can ignore how broken the whole Medical industry is in Texas. They have allowed the Market to dictate the laws of medical practice to the detriment of society. The once noble profession of medicine and its emphasis on healing and caring has been lost to the power and wealth dictates of state and market.

There is a disconnect between the state and the market that only serves those who have opted out of Medicare sometime in their work history. And as I am the last of the “pre-Boomer” generation, the situation of health care in this state is going to get critical very quickly. We, in our nation, and in our world have so dichotomized our existence between state and market that we have forgotten the glue that keeps us from being sterile as a humans.

It is that third way that is at the centre of who we are as human beings that is being left out in the name of free market economy, or orderly governance and it is that third way of caring—the most marked way that makes life worth living, and lifts us from the place of being mere animals to the place where there is nobility to human race.

It is that covenant—that sense of being willing to love that gives purpose to living. Neither the state nor the market has room for love. The political and economic realms cannot entertain such “fuzzy thinking” as caring and sharing. The mechanisms that make them work cannot include the human or the humane simply because we have made science of them both.

It is the third way of faith, whether it is faith in God or in Creation or in humanity, that provides a way forward, a way that does not sterilize that unique quality of humanity, the ever-changing dynamic of Creation or the constantly breaking in of the Holy.

I am unwilling any longer to say that Church (with a capital C) is the way to promulgating love. I have seen the institutional Church depend upon the mechanisms of political power and market economy so completely of late that we have lost our ability to speak the words of Love, Caring, Sharing and Faith. It is as if the church has failed to read its own Scripture when it comes to managing itself and can only use the “world’s” ways. This does not mean that I would abandon the Church. I have been too long a person of her creation that I could not desert her. But at the same time, I cannot find in her the conversations that speak a faith in God, humanity or Creation that can call down that Third Way—those conversations of love that call humanity to its humanness, that calls people to find something beyond power and wealth that gives life to what it means to live in joy and respect with others.

‘The Anglican Covenant’ as it has been promulgated by the Archbishop of Canterbury is a document of governance, not a proclamation of a common call to relationship in the name of Christ. At best it is an attempt at ecclesial posturing and power. It does not speak of relationship and journeying together. It speaks of who may have voice and who may be in communion with us. It is a disciplinary tool rather than a celebration of how God interacts with us and how we share God’s life in the face of state and market.

If the Anglican Communion is to continue to have any on-going conversation with the issues that face our world, we must be free to embrace the issues and speak to the issues that are raised in the particular environments in which we live. Our responses in love that remind us of how God has loved us need to be flexible enough to address the inhumanity of political and market structures in the name of Christ. It is the only way that the Anglican Communion can even hope to be supple enough to meet the new era that is upon us in religion.

Friday, October 29, 2010

It DOES get better!

Once again my friend Elizabeth Kaeton has prompted me to speak.  That is what a good preacher does, she compels you to speak your own truth. And it has been several weeks of hearing “It gets better” from folks all around that has inspired this, my version.

I have known since my youth that I was lesbian. I laugh about that because I didn’t know the word lesbian until I went to college. In TX in the late 50’s and early 60’s I we didn’t use words like that. I don’t even remember when I learned what the F word meant. I certainly was older than all the other kids because they laughed when they used it. I just looked blank. I just avoided the topic of sex altogether. And in a sex-suppressed world of the bible-belt, those of us who were questioning as teens had nowhere to turn for answers. The only sex education was “health” classes and NO ONE was going to say anything there.

I knew about “fairy” boys, those effeminate souls that I met in music school but I wasn’t sure what it meant. I knew that I liked being around other women. I liked their company; I liked their energy. And in college I saw women who were independent from their husbands, who thought independently from the men in their lives and I liked that.

But my images of women as a girl were not images I aspired to. The wives, the mothers, the women of my neighborhood were not women I wanted to be. And it wasn’t until I met the Ursuline Nuns that I finally met women that intrigued me and challenged me to be more than I was. I aspired to be an independently thinking woman like them. But sex was not part of their equation. So as my faith life developed, my sexual awareness did not. I ignored who I was as a sexual being. I knew it was safer somehow. But I missed a LOT!

I never felt “bad” about being attracted to women. For some reason I felt “bad” about being identified as being ‘queer’, bad about being different. That is what society does: It makes one feel bad about not being just like everyone else. But my mother was one of those mothers who didn’t fall for “everybody else is doing it” excuses. “You don’t have to be like everybody else,” she would say. But that did NOT have anything to do about sexuality. We just did NOT talk about it. She would try to tell me things, but I would not allow her to talk to me about it because her experience did not relate to mine.

Once, when I was young, I heard my father say to a bunch of other men who were talking about “queers”, that “if I had a kid like that, I would take him out and drown him.” It is the kind of talk that men of a certain generation did. But it made me quite aware that issues of human sexuality were not safe issues to talk about at home—or anywhere else in TX at the time. I didn’t know other lesbians. Coupled women were not visible in the world that I lived in.

My experience as a novice among the Ursulines acquainted me with women who could think independently. They helped me articulate who I was and how I could live a life of faith without having to be married. It was an important part of my development. Celibacy was a given—it is what supported community. In women’s communities I did not hear the rhetoric about giving one’s sexuality as a gift to God as I think was preached to Roman Catholic men. Celibacy was the foundation for community and so it was seen in a much more positive light. It was less of a notion of abstaining or denying the flesh as it was that celibacy and sexual abstinence contributed to people living together well. And so, when I left the convent, I did not look or long for a sexual relationship, but I longed for that sense of friendship and camaraderie that supported my work, my ministry and my emotional health.

By this time, I knew I was lesbian, but I did not want to identify that way not so much because I feared being gay, I feared that it would keep me from doing the things that I wanted to do in my life. When my friendship with J. developed, we recognized that this relationship supported what it was we wanted to do with our lives as clergy. But the love we had for each other grew.

J. is straight. And we have lived together for 32 years. We are not lovers. We do love each other profoundly. Somewhere I knew that I have been ‘loved into being’ as a person. And each lgbtq person I know has been ‘loved into being’ who they are. And I believe that the healthy straight folks I know have been ‘loved into being’. J has loved me into being more that I was and I believe I have loved her into being more than she was.

Through the early years of our living together when our relationship was mainly economic (we couldn’t afford to live alone) into the years when we need the emotional support to sustain our ministries we have come to have a deep and abiding love for one another. It has gotten better. It has become a relationship full of God’s grace and commitment. That love has transformed us. We have through the years become people that we like and respect. We have become women who have a profound respect for the journey that each person makes to become real and whole and satisfying.

As the reality of same-sex marriage was being discussed in NY I laughingly asked J if she would want to be married. “Yes!” she said unequivocally. I was stunned. “You know that you would be indentified as gay, don’t you?” I said. She said, “That I don’t mind, and our relationship wouldn’t be any different than most married couples our age.” We both laughed. So for the first time, this year I have been referring to J as my ‘partner’ instead of my ‘roommate’ or my ‘colleague.’ This appellation doesn’t quite describe the relationship we have, but it is enough to help others recognize that we are coupled in some rather inadequate way and look to each other to nourish us as we grow older.

The move to TX has made us much more aware of the issues that face lgbt people because there are few rights for lgbt people here. We know that unless we hire a lawyer and make our relationship clear legally, that our common life can be infringed upon by the state. We know that unless we make some clear decisions about what it means to be family, we may not be able to support each other in hospitals or have any say in each other’s health proxies. These are issues that my straight friends do not have to pay attention to. But there are ways to address them even here in the bible-belt. This too has gotten better.

And when I see how many lgbtq folk are out and proud even here in TX after all these years, I KNOW it has gotten better. I am still careful and my bishop still wants me to be careful about how I address others on lgbt issues. But at least I can claim who I am without fear of rejection. I can practice the ministry that I have been called to. And I have certain clarity about those who I wish to make ‘uncomfortable’ with my presence for the sake of the Gospel. It has gotten better and continues to get better.

And to anyone who has become discouraged about being lgbtq: when you find yourself so fearful of life that it has become unbearable, find another gay person or someone who understands what it means to be different and talk. Share what you feel. Listen to those of us who have lived this life in faith, by whatever lights we have walked it. We are here. I am here. It has gotten better. It continues to get better and we would like to walk that journey with you. It does get better.

Sunday, October 17, 2010


I have been going to a number of conferences lately. Some have to do with LGBT issues and some have to do with the Emerging Church. All of it has to do with CHANGE. And change is what I try to facilitate as a pastor/priest—the change that comes as a result of being loved by a God who calls us to be better each moment.

While I was still functioning as the pastor of a parish, someone accused me of being a “gay activist”. I was startled by that. I felt that I had been fairly low-key about being lesbian in a congregation. I didn’t demand that the church fly the rainbow banner. I didn’t call for registry with the ‘affirming’ parishes. While a parish priest or a pastor, one cannot, in my mind, be a one-issue person. The demands of serving a parish require what used to be called a “Renaissance Man” or a person who could address a multiplicity of issues. But LGBT issues have been in the view of the Church of late and what I included in sermons was appropriate, I thought, to address the zeitgeist.

But the events of the past couple of months, with the coming to light of numerous deaths by suicide by young gay teens calls for something more than a passing comment in a sermon, or prayers “for those who are alone.” It requires speaking out like the Ft. Worth Councilman Joel Burns and Bishop Gene Robinson have done to preserve our young people who find that they are different.

LGBTQ teens are 4 times more likely to commit suicide than their straight peers. Mostly this is due to just not being able to ‘fit in’. The demand for the young to be acceptable to their peers and/ or their families is often so overwhelming that young people do not know what to do if they find that they are attracted to those of the same sex. Add to that the bullying that is so prevalent in our society (not just in our schools) and the demand by schools and parents that the “gay agenda” be kept from our young, means that LGBTQ kids never get to see good and wholesome LGBT folk to emulate.

Kids know that it isn’t just getting through school. Being gay or lesbian is a life-long recognition that you will always be a minority, that you will never ‘fit in’ and that is crushing to adolescents whose only goal at that point in life is to be just like one’s peers. I have not checked the statistics but I would imagine that the level of depression among LGBT kids is much higher than the average population. I know that my own bouts of depression were often rooted in my identity and my inability to embrace my own sexuality. They began in 7th grade and did not stop until I came out.

But it is the culture of bulling that most disturbs me. Trash talk is considered de rigure these days. Sit coms are full of it. Even when there are gay-friendly shows, the humor is still about being different, being on the fringe. We use bullying in sports so that we can win. We use bullying just to get the basic needs from institutions in order to get what we want or need. The police bully the ‘bad guys’. Our political candidates resort to smear campaigns and bullying rhetoric. We resort to lawyers who bully to maintain our rights from other bully lawyers and we bully nations as a normal foreign policy.

An adult gay couple of my friends had to move just this week because their neighbors threatened them and the police would not do anything even when there were witnesses to the harassment. I am leery about putting a rainbow ribbon on my car here in TX or fly a rainbow flag or wear rainbow earrings in this environment where macho still reigns.

The problem with bullying is that the only way that bullies will stop is to ‘bully back’. “Might makes right” is learned early on the school ground and is carried on throughout our lives. Personally I am not easily bullied, whether due to size or sharp tongue, I am not always clear. But I do not like when I must “bully back” just to be heard, or just to get what is just or safe. I do not like what I must become to live peacefully in this world.

Christ was not a bully. Even in the anger he displayed in the cleansing of the Temple, Jesus was not a bully. He called people to hear a radical message in which manipulation and force were greeted with humility and generosity—difficult tools in this post-modern age.

Yes, I am an activist in my retirement. I am an activist that says that LGBTQ kids do not have to abort their lives in their teens because there are those who interpret some scriptural passages wrongly and heap it on youngsters grappling with their own image. As a person of faith I must be willing stand against those whose religion says that they can demonize people who are different because they manipulate some 7 passages of Scripture to ostracize those who march to a different drummer.

I live now on the ‘Buckle of the Biblebelt’ and I must be willing to say to the bullies of the religious right that the time has come to say NO to religious exclusivism for the sake of the Gospel.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why Anti-Gay Bullying is a Theological Issue

• Cody J. Sanders

Cody J. Sanders is a Baptist minister and Ph.D. student in Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, TX. Cody was a Fellow in the inaugural class of the Human Rights Campaign Summer Institute for Religious and Theological Study and is a participant in the Beyond Apologetics symposium on sexual identity, pastoral theology, and pastoral practice.

• When I heard about the death of 15-year-old Billy Lucas early in September, I was terribly saddened. It is a tragedy when a young person completes suicide in the aftermath of daily torment and harassment. After this, I sat in stunned silence in front of my computer screen as news stories continued to appear about the suicides of 13-year-old Asher Brown, 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, 13-year-old Seth Walsh, and 19-year-old Raymond Chase. Today, it is very clear to me that profound sadness and stunned silence is no longer a suitable, appropriate, or adequate response.

From Lamentation to Indignation

My sadness began to change into something different with each successive news story about another gay teen hanging himself, shooting himself, and jumping off of a bridge. As I saw the faces of these young victims and imagined the family and friends left to cope with the chaos of their suicides, my lamentation began to morph into an indignant fury.

My indignation grew as I shifted my gaze from the individual acts of suicide to the contexts in which these suicides are set. Suicide happens for numerous reasons. Some seek relief from enduring physical and psychological pain that seems infinitely unrelenting and others after severe bouts of depression. These teens, however, were not seeking relief from some persistent, internal state of depression or physical illness. The pain they faced had an external source: the cruel, unremitting, merciless pounding of daily humiliation, taunting, harassment, and violence.

And all of this pain visited upon these young lives because of one thing they had in common: they were not heterosexual.

These suicides are not acts of “escape,” or a “cop-out” from facing life. When LGBT people resort to suicide, they are responding to far more than the pain of a few individual insults or humiliating occurrences. When LGBT people commit suicide it is an extreme act of resistance to an oppressive and unjust reality in which every LGBT person is always and everywhere at risk of becoming the target of violence solely because of sexual orientation or gender identity. They are acts of resistance to a perceived reality in which a lifetime of violence and abuse seems utterly unavoidable.

The landscape upon which LGBT teen suicide is set calls for far more than our sympathy and sadness. There are times in which it is important to be guided to action by our anger. This is one of those times.

From Interpersonal Violence to Group Subjugation

Our response to bullying is a response to violence. Beyond the inflicting of individual pain, violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people has effects far beyond the individual target. This is what Iris Marion Young terms “systematic violence” in her famous “Five Faces of Oppression.” It is a violence of instrumentality—violence with the effect of keeping an entire group subjugated and in a state of oppression.

Young argues, “Members of some groups live with the knowledge that they must fear random, unprovoked attacks on their persons or property, which have no motive but to damage, humiliate, or destroy the person”.* The only thing one must do to become victimized is to be a member of a particular group (e.g. to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender). We must widen our perspective from individual acts of bullying and violence to the instrumental purpose these serve in subjugating LGBT people to particular religious and cultural ideologies in which reality is defined from a strictly heterosexual perspective — and gay and lesbian people become non-persons.

As more churches and denominations ordain gay and lesbian clergy, more gay and lesbian people are featured in media, and more medical, psychological and psychotherapeutic organizations reject notions of the pathological in sexual minorities, dominant religious and cultural ideology is in a state of crisis. It is no longer an unquestioned assumption that heterosexual experience represents the definition of reality for all people. The power to define reality for the masses is at stake and this power comes with all manner of political and ideological implications. Thus, there is a vested interest on the part of the religious and political right in keeping LGBT persons silent and subjugated.

Whereas political rallying on issues like same-sex marriage and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell serve to maintain some ground on the preservation of anti-gay cultural ideology, the intermittent reinforcement of violent attack is an even better tool to ensure the silence (and suicide) of LGBT people and their subjugation to the closet.

While a majority of LGBT people may avoid ever becoming the victim of a violence, none will be able to avoid the psychic terror that is visited upon LGBT people with each reminder that this world is one in which people are maimed and killed because of their sexual and gender identities. It is this psychic terror that makes life so difficult for many LGBT people. It is this psychic terror that does the heavy lifting of instrumental, systematic violence. It intends to silence and to destroy from within.

While most of us will never be physically attacked by another human being, all of us know we are targets.

A Theology of Anti-Gay Bullying

Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it has a theological base. I find it difficult to believe that even those among us with a vibrant imagination can muster the creative energy to picture a reality in which anti-gay violence and bullying exist without the anti-gay religious messages that support them.

These messages come in many forms, degrees of virulence, and volumes of expression. The most insidious forms, however, are not those from groups like Westboro Baptist Church. Most people quickly dismiss this fanaticism as the red-faced ranting of a fringe religious leader and his small band of followers.

More difficult to address are the myriad ways in which everyday churches that do a lot of good in the world also perpetuate theologies that undergird and legitimate instrumental violence. The simplistic, black and white lines that are drawn between conceptions of good and evil make it all-too-easy to apply these dualisms to groups of people. When theologies leave no room for ambiguity, mystery and uncertainty, it becomes very easy to identify an “us” (good, heterosexual) versus a “them” (evil, gay).

Additionally, hierarchical conceptions of value and worth are implicit in many of our theological notions. Needless to say, value and worth are not distributed equally in these hierarchies. God is at the top, (white, heterosexual) men come soon after and all those less valued by the culture (women, children, LGBT people, the poor, racial minorities, etc.) fall somewhere down below. And it all makes perfect sense if you support it with a few appropriately (mis)quoted verses from the Bible.

With dualistic conceptions of good and evil and hierarchical notions of value and worth, it becomes easy to know who it is okay to hate or to bully or, seemingly more benignly, to ignore. And no institutions have done more to create and perpetuate the public disapproval of gay and lesbian people than churches.

If anti-gay bullying has, at any level, an embodied undercurrent of tacit theological legitimation, then we simply cannot circumvent our responsibility to provide a clear, decisive, theological response. Aside from its theological base, anti-gay bullying is a theological issue because it calls for acts of solidarity on behalf of the vulnerable and justice on behalf of the oppressed.

But this imperative to respond reminds us that the most dangerous form of theological message comes in the subtlest of forms: silence.

The Longer We Wait, the More Young People Die

There is already a strong religious presence in the debate around anti-bullying education in schools. Unfortunately, it is not a friendly voice for LGBT teens. There is also no lack of rhetoric on sexuality stemming from theological sources. But the loudest voices are not the voices of affirmation and embrace. In a recent article, I urged churches that rest comfortably in a tacitly welcoming or pseudo-affirming position to come out and publicly proclaim their places of worship as truly welcoming and affirming sanctuaries for people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard well-meaning, good-hearted people respond to this appeal, saying, “Things are a lot better for gay people today than they were several years (or decades) ago. In time, our society (or churches) will come around on this issue.” To these friends and others, I must say, “It’s time.” For Lucas, Brown, Clementi, Walsh, and Chase the time is up. For these teens and the myriad other bisexual, transgender, lesbian and gay youth lost to suicide, the waiting game hasn’t worked so well.

As simply as I can state the matter: The longer we wait to respond, the more young people die.

If this were a hostage situation, we would have dispatched the SWAT team by now. And in many ways, it is. Our children and teenagers are being held hostage by a religious and political rhetoric that strives to maintain the status quo of anti-gay heterosexist normativity. The messages of Focus on the Family and other organizations actively strive to leave the most vulnerable among us exposed to continuous attack. The good news is that we don't need a SWAT team. We just need quality education on sexuality and gender identity in our schools and more faithful and courageous preaching and teaching in our churches.

Catholic theologian M. Shawn Copeland offers profound words to any individuals and churches seeking to wash their hands of this issue. She states,

“If my sister or brother is not at the table, we are not the flesh of Christ. If my sister’s mark of sexuality must be obscured, if my brother’s mark of race must be disguised, if my sister’s mark of culture must be repressed, then we are not the flesh of Christ. For, it is through and in Christ’s own flesh that the ‘other’ is my sister, is my brother; indeed, the ‘other’ is me…”

If anti-gay bullying is a theological issue, perhaps what is called for is a creative theological response. A theological response that challenges the systematic violence that upholds an oppressive religious and cultural ideology will not be a response through which we can hedge our bets. It will be a full-bodied, whole-hearted giving of ourselves to the repair of the flesh of Christ divided by injustice and systematic exclusion.

Ministers who remain in comfortable silence on sexuality must speak out. Churches that have silently embraced gay and lesbian members for years must publically hang the welcome banner. How long will we continue to limit and qualify our messages of acceptance, inclusion and embrace for the most vulnerable in order to maintain the comfort of those in our communities of faith who are well served by the status quo?

In the current climate, equivocating messages of affirmation are overpowered by the religious rhetoric of hatred. Silence only serves to support the toleration of bullying, violence and exclusion. In the face of what has already become the common occurrence of LGBT teen suicide, how long can we wait to respond?

Comment: I found this article on Facebook today and received permission from my brother Cody to post it. It is a message that needs to get out. I am gratified to find a Baptist addressing this issue especially here in TX. But at the same time I weep for those who have had to respond to the hatred that wrong-headed theology and wrong-headed Scriptural interpretation by taking their own lives.

I attended the 48th reunion of my high school class recently and then spent some time with a classmate going over our yearbook with that “where is s/he now?” thing that all of us of a certain age tend to do. I was saddened to find that several had succumbed to suicide. Several had died of AIDS. They were wonderful guys___Sweet men who were creative and capable and had so much to offer the world. This is not a new issue. It is as old as time itself. To be different is to invite such ridicule, such animosity and even the Church contributes to the maligning. The religious establishment is going to have to admit its complicity in the degradation of those LGBT persons and their deaths. We as Church must repent and return to learn a new way of being Church by including those who have been cast out.

If the Church were as proactive about condemning bullying as it is about rooting out sexual sin, we might find more people in our pews. If our theology spoke as passionately about loving those who were cast down as it has about “standing firm” for Jesus, the media’s image of Church and clergy might be a bit less vituperative. And if we as Church began to express our repentance for excluding those who merely want to live out the integrity of how God made them, then we would have a Gospel message to pass on to the future generations about salvation, renewal and resurrection.