Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Witness and Gamaliel

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 -- Week of Proper 14, Year Two
Laurence, Deacon and Martyr at Rome, 258
More about today's commemoration at our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 979)
Psalms 97, 99, [100] (morning)       94, [95] (evening)
Judges 13:1-15
Acts 5:27-42
John 3:22-36

Many years ago I was on a national committee for a church organization.  The organization proposed a resolution forbidding gay people from exercising leadership in the group.  I argued against the resolution, but it passed.  Those who prevailed in the debate that day believed they were following God's will and the mandate of scripture. 

When we met again, two gay leaders in the movement came to visit with us.  One was a woman who had been an exemplary and significant leader for the organization in Atlanta and in Georgia.  Her work spoke for itself.  She had showed herself to be the kind of leader our group hoped to raise up in the church.  She was a lesbian.  The other was a man, a priest from New Jersey.  He also had been committed to our organization, but in a more local capacity.  He was gay.

The gift that the gay priest offered to us was his witness.  He told us his story.  For many of us on this national committee, it was the first opportunity to hear the testimony of a gay Christian.  It was a very common story I now know.  He had grown up in the church, loving God and following Christ as best he could.  His own experience of his sexual orientation had been at odds with what he had been taught in the church and by what he had been guided to in the scripture.  He resisted his natural inclinations, believing them to be sinful and wrong. 

When he was in his 20's, he did like so many other gay men, he married his best friend.  He had been open with her about his attraction to men.  She loved him and he loved her.  She was sure, and he hoped, that with God's help, they would overcome his tempting feelings, and they would become a loving, traditional family.  In fact, they were a loving, traditional family.  They maintained a constant and deep affection, though their was little sexual passion.  They raised their children in a loving, nurturing household.  But deep at the core of their relationship, and deep at the core of his being, something true was being denied and repressed.

When he finally faced and accepted his sexual orientation, he and his wife agreed to a divorce.  She wanted more from her familial relationship than he could give her; he wanted to love fully and completely as he knew himself created to love.  They remained dear friends.

He met someone with whom he could commit himself as a life partner, and they had been together for many years.  They were loved and accepted as a couple by their family and by their church.  But now, this organization that had been an important part of his service and ministry was telling him that he had no place of leadership in the group.  He was deeply grieved, and he asked the committee to reconsider its decision.

I'll never forget his final plea.  He cited the words of Gamaliel in this passage from Acts.  Gamaliel spoke to a religious council, a group who was certain that condemning and persecuting the followers of Jesus was to obey God's will and the mandate of scripture.  Gamaliel urged caution in that condemnation.  He cited two other messianic movements that had fizzled after making great claims.  "So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them -- in that case you may even be found fighting against God!"

"Please," the gay priest gently urged our committee, "just leave us alone.  Don't throw us out."  He asked that he and other gay Christians be judged by the fruits of their lives and ministries, not by their relationships of love.

Our committee adjourned for noonday prayers and for lunch.  It was our practice to read the second reading of the Daily Office during our noonday prayers.  As it so happened, this passage from Acts was the lectionary assignment for that day.  (This passage is read exactly three times over the course of the two year lectionary cycle.)  As we heard again Gamaliel's words, "...let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them -- in that case you may even be found fighting against God!" ...there was a hush and a chill in the room.  I saw a tear form in the eyes of he priest who had offered his witness to us so humbly and vulnerably.  I'm sure he felt blessed by God and by God's Word that day.

Later that afternoon, our committee overturned the resolution barring gay Christians from leadership in our organization.  That was nearly twenty years ago.  Since that time, more and more gay Christians like that priest have shared their witness, and more and more Christians have seen the fruit of the spirit manifested in the lives of our LGBT brothers and sisters.  The church is still discerning, but it seems to me that the witness of our gay neighbors is being recognized more and more as a movement of the spirit, not unlike the recognition of the full and equal humanity of slaves and of women in previous generations.

Today is the feast of St. Laurence, one of the early martyrs of the church.  The word "martyr" means "witness."  We give thanks for those who have witnessed to the love of Christ, especially in the face of threat, oppression and even violence.  Their courageous commitment to truth is the seed of new faith.  The priest who witnessed to our committee that day many years ago planted many seeds, including some that have come to fruitfulness in my life.  I remember his testimony today with deep gratefulness and respect.



Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 11:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


LGBT? Ok, PLEASE help me understand this. I am so confused, seriously.

Lesbians and Gays can now marry because prop 8 is overthrown.

You believe this is wonderful because as you say it is their "natural inclination".
I have to assume then that they Bi and trans are also "naturally" inclined.

When will they be allowed to marry?


At 8:21 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Yes, HH,

I don't know about you, but I find that I am sexually attracted to many women. Exclusively attracted to women; don't have the same feelings about men. It's been that way for me since sometime around kindergarten. Thirty-five years ago I pledged my faithful love to one person, and I have been exclusively intimate with her, despite my continued appreciation for the beauty and attractiveness of other women. Seems to work for me.

I know many people who are exclusively attracted to persons of the same gender; they don't have the same feelings about people of the opposite sex. Many have told me that it's been that way for them since some time around kindergarten. Many of them at some time pledge their faithful and exclusive love for another person and remain exclusively intimate with that person for life. (I've met more than one gay couple who have been together for 50 years or more. That's something I want for myself and for Kathy -- a 50th anniversary.)

I've also met a few persons who know themselves to be attracted to persons of either sex. Many of them find that one person with whom they offer their lifelong commitment of fidelity and love, and like me, they forsake acting on any continuing appreciation for the beauty of others.

It's really pretty simple. And it's really about love.

Because the law and the church gives privilege to me and gives prejudice to those others, I was allowed to marry. Now the values of justice and equality are beginning to raise themselves, and some couples who have been together even longer than Kathy and I have been are being allowed to marry just as we did when we were kids. (Not unlike 1964 when some black citizens were finally allowed to vote just like us white folks always could.)

Thanks be to God who continues to open our eyes to love and grace!


At 2:59 PM, Blogger HumbleHumanity said...

I still don't think that answers my questions about bisexuals and marriage, unless you are saying that in another 26 years they too will be able to marry.

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Bisexual people have been marrying for centuries!!!

As long as someone who is bisexual marries someone who is of a different gender, the church and the state has blessed their union.

In a growing number of nations, hopefully in ours soon, that same freedom will be given to someone whose union is with a person of the same gender.

It's all about love, commitment, faithfulness and equality. Good things.


At 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Now I've warm fuzzies.

At 7:58 PM, Blogger erin said...

Michael Rood has earned his reputation as the Messianic matador who waves his tattered red cape in the face of the religious “bull” of his generation. Michael’s television series: “Prepare for A Rood Awakening! from Israel” has been heralded as the most energetic exposition of Scriptural truth to come out of Israel in over a millennium. Accused of "fishing with dynamite" Rood's 'no hold barred" approach to the biblical messianic movement leaves the agnostic and atheist begging for relief.


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