June 2009
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Episcopals and Homosexuality

I have been, for a very long time now, quite fascinated with how certain organizations and people respond to the idea of homosexuality. I am also quite interested in religious belief. So when the two intersect (with the usual fireworks) I can’t possible ignore it. When I heard (through the LGBT center at UCI) that St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Long Beach was holding a forum on “Coming out to God”, I knew that I had to attend.

The panel wasn’t quite what I was expecting. A normal sized room, with about a dozen people in the audience (one gay couple together for 33years) and 4 people (2 lesbian, 2 gay) on a panel. They simply shared their life’s testimony, and then answered a few brief questions from the audience.

A couple of them had come from a traditional, highly conservative, Catholic background. When growing up, the most powerful aspect of Church doctrine was the “Sin, Confess, Absolution” cycle. God was portrayed as a judgemental god, and required that all his followers repent for their redemption. In this type of environment, being a homosexual is not something that one confesses without horrible social repercussions. So they remained closeted for quite awhile. When they finally did (internally) come to terms with “how God felt about homosexuals” they were able to bear some of the traditional ostracism, by drawing support from a different community: Episcopals.

A couple of the panelists also struggled for a very long time with their personal identity. They were under the impression that God wouldn’t love them unless they were straight. They couldn’t figure out wether the feelings they felt toward the same sex, and the lack of feeling towards the opposite sex, were fixed. One kept hoping for change, the other kept questioning. The text of the Bible didn’t initially help out very much, as it speaks sparsely on the issue (more about this next week). But over time, reality endured, the feelings didn’t change, so the understanding of the Bible did. Each finally came to the understanding that, on the whole, God sides with the oppressed and outcast, the second-class citizens. Each person also came to an emotional realization that God == Love, and that this love is channeled through the support of friends and the community. [St. Luke’s in particular has been very active in pro-gay-marriage parades, and an active tightly-knit pro-homo ministry.]

The most interesting thread, that all panelists shared, was that they felt lost without a personal relationship with God, and were afraid of revealing their internal feelings when they conflicted with what is socially right and proper. Having been through an identity search myself, I can relate to this issue. It isn’t something that you willingly share with friends and family, and you can carry the burdensome questions about yourself for a quite a long time (years). Because almost everybody (with varying degrees) has a similar tale (and who wouldn’t during the adolescent transition to adulthood), and nearly everyone is going to have psychological crutches that they use for support during such a time, I can see why the need to have a relationship with God would become reinforced through the resolution of the personal crisis. Especially so when the issue is as deep as coming to terms with yourself as a homosexual, in a society which doesn’t always approve.

In America, the Episcopals have carved out for themselves a niche here. They embrace the plurality, with extended ministries of compassion and love; providing a safe, inclusive haven for the homosexuals outcast from other religions. (One of the panelists effectively lost his friends because they refused to be seen with him in public after he came out). For those that have a religious understanding of the world, the Episcopals have a wonderfully supportive community.

I actually attended so that I could hear the rationalizations that they have to go through to believe in a God that loves them in spite of the literal text in the Bible. But this will have to wait until next week, when one of the panelists gives a speech about what the Bible says concerning homosexuality. So next time, it’ll be back to logical argument; rather than observations about the emotional and psychological support that an inclusive, compassionate, religious community provides.

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