Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Opening Pandora's Box - Part Two

Though our movement was serious, we had a lot of fun along the way!
With James D. Anderson, editor of our newsletter, and Sandy Brawders, 
a candidate for ordination who came out at the 1978 General Assembly.
In those days, newsletters were the lifeblood of the LGBT Christian movement.
Photo by Mark Sick.

In honor of Pride month, this is the third of four posts adapted from a Meekhof Lecture I gave at Newport Presbyterian Church in Bellevue (WA), January 11, 2014, regarding the meaning of the LGBT movement for the broader church.

When the LGBT movement first blessed the church decades ago, churchgoers feared opening “Pandora’s Box,” which, in Greek mythology, was really a jar that contained all kinds of human evil, which I prefer to call “challenges.” But it also contained Hope with which to face the eight challenges represented by our movement. I wrote of four last Wednesday: xenophobia, inertia, erotophobia, and pleasure. Today I write of the final four.

Our fifth challenge: progressive interpretations of scripture. During most of the 20th century the progressive Christian movement was less defined because, I contend, mainstream-established Christianity was itself progressive.

Only as biblical literalists and fundamentalists and evangelicals grew in influence in society and in the church did progressive Christianity appear to be a minority position, I believe.

You can’t read Fosdick, Evelyn Underhill, Bonhoeffer, Tillich, the Niebuhrs, Teilhard de Chardin, Dorothy Day, John Robinson, Pope John XXIII, Hans Küng, William Sloan Coffin, Gustavo Gutiérrez, Mary Daly, Rosemary Radford Reuther, James Cohn, Letty Russell, Desmond Tutu, Joan Chittister, Henri Nouwen—just to give multiple examples, and not recognize them both as progressive and influential in the 20th century church in America.

The problem was, though, that out of compassion or for the sake of job security or simply because of sheer sloth, much of what we learned in seminary did not get communicated from pulpit to pew. I would say that’s why Bishop Spong is such a lightning rod in the broader church: he’s spilling the beans about what most of us learned in seminary!

Our sixth challenge was gender dysphoria. Some of you may know that for a long time those whose understanding of themselves did not match their designated gender were diagnosed as having “gender dysphoria.”

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “dysphoria” as “a state of unease or discomfort; an unpleasant state of mind marked by malaise, depression, or anxiety.” I would say that now describes much of the church in relation not only to its transgender and intersex members, but to all who do not neatly fit gender expectations, such as lesbians, gay men, bisexual women and men, and ever more contemporary women and men who are shaking up gender roles.

Our seventh challenge revolved around ordination. I used to joke that trials for ordination virtually replaced heresy trials! That was when we often determined what is orthodox in our beliefs and behaviors.  Now of course there are more church trials, and most of them seem to be about our differing views on homosexuality.

But what does ordination mean when all Christians are called to be ministers? Are ordinands to be “holier than thou”? Do the sins of the celebrant affect the sacraments offered? (Calvin said “no.”) When a governing church body discerns that gifts for church leadership are present, shouldn’t that be enough?

Our eighth challenge was marriage, which, as some pointed out, should’ve been discussed before the question of ordination. In the discussions on homosexuality and ordination throughout the church, there would be audible gasps if someone even suggested the possibility of same-gender marriage. We’d be talking about ordination to our spiritual leadership, but marriage was untouchable.

When the 1991 Presbyterian Study on Human Sexuality questioned heterosexual marriage as the paradigm or model for all sexual relations and instead suggested an ethic of justice-love that would govern sexual relations including those of marriage, much of the denomination went ballistic. I was at the Baltimore General Assembly that discussed the report, and the feeling among some delegates seemed to be, “We’ll give you ordination, just give us back marriage”!

So what is the Hope left in “Pandora’s Box”? Find out in next week’s post!


I urge you to make a donation to and/or attend these once-in-a-lifetime ingatherings of LGBT saints and allies:

Oct 31-Nov 2, 2017
St. Louis Airport Marriott

Sept 8-10, 2017
Kirkridge Retreat & Conference Center

To support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Opening Pandora's Box - Part One

With Ginny and Davie Davidson at the 1978 San Diego General Assembly. 
Virginia West Davidson ably chaired the Presbyterian 
Task Force on Homosexuality and Ordination (1976-1978).*

In honor of Pride month, this is the second of four posts adapted from a Meekhof Lecture I gave at Newport Presbyterian Church in Bellevue (WA), January 11, 2014, regarding the meaning of the LGBT movement for the broader church.

When I served as the only openly gay member of the former United Presbyterian Church’s Task Force on Homosexuality and Ordination in the late 1970s, many people testifying during our four regional hearings expressed their fear of homosexuality by appealing to the example of a Greek myth. They were afraid that homosexuality would “open a Pandora’s box.”

You might remember the Pandora of Greek mythology who opened a jar, which Erasmus mistakenly translated later in Latin as “box.” She opened the jar or box simply out of curiosity, unwittingly unleashing all the evils and ills of the world.

You could say it’s another misogynistic blaming of a woman for all of our troubles, like what happened to Eve when she ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Pandora was also considered the first woman in Greek mythology. What is forgotten in the popularization of this myth is that the jar also contained Hope, and Hope did not escape but was preserved in that jar.

So what were the evils and ills and demons that came out of the particular Pandora ’s Box of homosexuality? In the view of many at the time, their name is Legion, but I will round them to eight in number, as eight on its side represents infinity!

Rather than describe them as demons, evils, or ills, I prefer to refer to them as challenges the church faced. In Part One of “Opening Pandora’s Box” I list four of these; in Part Two, the remaining four. The final post will reflect on the Hope for the church’s reformation that remains in Pandora’s jar.

Our first challenge as a church was xenophobia. That’s the umbrella concern that plagues most of us: fear of the stranger. In Christian tradition, the stranger is the very person we are to greet, to welcome, to offer hospitality, to visit, to provide for, as in “the least of these.”

“All are welcome” has become the church’s marketing catch phrase, but in a workshop on church inclusiveness, those attending were able to come up with a list of more than 40 categories of persons they would prefer not to have sitting next to them in the pew!

Our second challenge as a church was inertia, the tendency of an object following a certain trajectory to continue moving in that direction or, if not moving, to remain at that point. A huge amount of energy must be expended to change an object’s course or position, what our tradition calls metanoia, repentance, an about face, a transformation, a Pentecost, a Reformation.

The church had difficulty even imagining ourselves wrong when it came to homosexuality, let alone change our collective mind.
 
Our third challenge was what theologian Carter Heyward named erotophobia. Despite the body-affirming myths of creation, incarnation, and resurrection, historic and contemporary Christianity has had “issues” with the body, with sensuality, with sexuality, with our earthliness.

Can sexuality be a good created by God for pleasure and relationship, or must it always be tethered to procreation and marriage between a man and a woman? Could we even talk about sexuality within the church—isn’t sexuality in opposition to spirituality?

When a possible change to the denomination’s Book of Order would have added the line “Governing bodies may ordain church officers regardless of sexual orientation,” my then presbytery voted a tie—and I couldn’t help but see God’s sense of humor when that tie was 69 to 69.

But the moderator of the meeting felt compelled to cast a tie-breaking vote, and after showing much discomfort, voted against the amendment because, he said revealingly, of three little letters at its heart: S-E-X!

Our fourth challenge, particularly for those of us who were Calvinists, was pleasure. Can pleasure itself be a good created by God for our delight? I wanted to title my first book of meditations “Biblical Pleasures,” because it contained reflections on biblical quotes. But the very term “pleasure” was considered spiritually suspect.

In a book of prayers entitled Coming Out to God, I wrote of prayer-making as pleasurable, and before publication I was asked to justify this notion, as apparently “pleasure” is automatically associated with Hedonism, the pursuit of pleasure at all costs, and associated with the body—which is seen somehow in opposition to the spirit. 

Body theologian James B. Nelson scandalized the church by declaring that “pleasure is the strongest argument for the existence of God.” In the first congregation I served after seminary there was a church member, a gay chef, who, when offering grace before a meal, would give thanks to God for putting nerve endings in all the right places!

Each of these alone—xenophobia, inertia, erotophobia, and suspicion of pleasure—was barrier enough to prevent the welcome of LGBT Christians in the church, yet there are four others to be described in the next post.

The hope that remains in Pandora’s Box is that each of these challenges will contribute to the reformation of the church.

*I searched through hundreds of my photos but failed to find one I have of the task force that demonstrates it was multi-racial, gender-balanced, and of a variety of ages.

I urge you to make a donation to and/or attend these once-in-a-lifetime ingatherings of LGBT saints and allies:

Oct 31-Nov 2, 2017
St. Louis Airport Marriott

Sept 8-10, 2017
Kirkridge Retreat & Study Center


The LGBT Religious Archives Network updated my bio on its site earlier this year:

To support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Truth below the Truth

Rev. Bill Johnson was the first gay minister I met,
and he became a role model for me.
I took this photo in San Francisco in the fall of 1972.

In honor of Pride month, this is the first of four posts adapted from a Meekhof Lecture I gave at Newport Presbyterian Church in Bellevue (WA), January 11, 2014, regarding the meaning of the LGBT movement for the broader church. You will notice some references I’ve used before on this blog.

One of the members of Newport Presbyterian Church has written a remarkable “coming out” memoir, The Last of the Good Girls: Shedding Convention, Coming Out Whole. In it, she quotes poet Judith Barrington: “The poet’s job is to write the truth. And then write the truth below the truth.” And that’s what Mary Ann Woodruff has done in lyrical prose and occasional poetry.

I believe that was the job description of the biblical writers, “to write the truth below the truth.” And I believe that’s the job description of preachers, prophets, and professors, “to write or tell the truth below the truth.” And that’s what I hope to do in this and the posts that follow: to talk about the underlying truths regarding the LGBT movement within the church.

Now, trying to tell the truth below the truth led in my seminary days to demythologizing, and in today’s seminaries it has led to deconstruction. That’s well and good if you have someone like the late Joseph Campbell, who could take a myth apart and put it back together again in such a way that its meaning is enhanced rather than diminished.

In the words of Kathleen Norris, “Human beings, it seems to me, require myth as one of the basic necessities of life. Once we have our air and water and a bit of food, we turn to metaphor and myth-making,” she writes. To me, myth is not a story that is untrue, but a story that carries a deeper truth that draws us in. As a 5-year-old once said, a myth is a story that is true on the inside. (Gertrud Mueller Nelson tells this in Here All Dwell Free.) Within the words is a Word with a capital “W.”

So for me, this is an opportunity to find the deeper truth of the LGBT Christian movement, and because I have devoted my life to that movement, it’s very personal—it’s about the meaning of my own life. And because the church has wrestled with the LGBT Christian movement over the past forty years, it’s very personal for the church as well, it’s about the meaning of church life.

What is the inside truth? What is the truth beneath the truth?

Nelson Mandela’s death reminded us of a segment of the South African population known as the “born freers,” those born after the end of apartheid, who have little idea what separation of the races meant, how oppressive was the domination of the white race.

It reminded me of the last book my mother was reading before her death at age 84, Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation, a book lauding my parents’ generation for enduring the hardships of the Depression and then World War II.  I had sent her the large print edition of the book for Valentine’s Day because she had watched Brokaw’s television special of the same name, telling me over the phone, “I’m glad our generation is finally getting the credit it deserves.”

Timewise, I was in a like place as South Africa’s “born freers,” having been born five years after the end of World War II, having no direct experience of what my parents went through: separated by the war, living on my father’s army pay, having goods rationed, losing friends and family in far off battles or having loved ones return home with physical and psychological wounds.

And now I have a similar experience, along with today’s church, witnessing young people, “born freers” who will never understand why we struggled so over homosexuality, why it seemed so important, why the church resisted full membership and society resisted full citizenship, why the church refused the ministries and marriages of its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender members, and why, when so many gay men were falling to a pernicious disease, there was so much resistance to helping persons with HIV and AIDS.

Younger people who watched this year’s television series about the secular LGBT movement, When We Rise, remarked their surprise at what earlier generations endured. “I had no idea what you went through,” one millennial told her mom.

This post will be the first of four segments for LGBT Pride Month, not so much describing “what we went through” in the church as much as discerning the “truth below the truth.”

What did it all mean, for God’s sake?


I urge you to make a donation and/or attend these once-in-a-lifetime ingatherings of LGBT saints and allies:

Oct 31-Nov 2, 2017
St. Louis Airport Marriott

Sept 8-10, 2017
Kirkridge Retreat & Study Center

Btw, the LGBT Religious Archives Network updated my bio earlier this year: https://www.lgbtran.org/Profile.aspx?ID=4

To support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Saturday Night Massacre

Our dog chewed on Henri's words.

Recent events in the United States regarding President Trump’s firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey have prompted comparisons to the so-called “Saturday night massacre” in the fall of 1973, when then-President Nixon ordered the firing of the special prosecutor of the Watergate affair, prompting the resignation of the attorney general and the deputy attorney general rather than comply. A newly-appointed acting attorney general then fired Archibald Cox.

That weekend I was taking a personal retreat at Mercy Center along the Long Island Sound. One of the Sisters of Mercy that ran the place confided to me that she thought the only thing left for Nixon to do was commit suicide.

I was there because I had just arranged and hosted the first openly gay speaker at Yale Divinity School: the Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Churches. It was the most “out” thing I had done as I became the first openly gay activist on the campus.

The student body president had fought to prevent Troy’s appearance, telling me that “It’s time we remembered that most of the student body here are white, male, and straight,” apparently also miffed that women and racial minorities were getting attention.

I was warned by others that attendance at the lecture would be slight; as it happened, the large Common Room was packed. Henri Nouwen was the only faculty member I could identify at the gathering, and, as I recall, he asked the most penetrating question. Rev. Perry seemed to please his audience with his genuine faith and passion, as well as his sense of humor.

My book, Uncommon Calling, described my feelings arranging the visit as being like birth pains, and I was exhausted. As a student in Henri’s course (whose lectures became the book Reaching Out), we had been encouraged to take personal retreats, and so I opted for one that weekend at Mercy Center. That fall had been spectacularly colorful in New England: bright blue skies contrasted with the vivid autumn colors of the leaves just beginning to descend from the trees. I could hear the gentle lapping of the Sound on the shore.

It happened that Henri was also spending the weekend there, preparing a sermon, one of a series of three for the university’s Battell Chapel. He gave me the manuscript and asked me to take a look at it, offering feedback. I was thrilled to do so. Henri frequently sought advice from others on his writings, including his students.

When we met to discuss the sermon, we were outside, and as I recall, sitting on big boulders, but this could be my memory playing tricks on me. A comment I made to Henri found its way into what became the book, Out of Solitude: 
A student from California who had to leave many of his good friends behind to come to school at the faraway east coast recently said to me: “It was hard to depart; but if the good-bye is not painful, the hello cannot be joyful either.” And so his sadness of September became his joy at Christmas time. 
Tears are in my eyes as I write this sentence, because to quote the book accurately, I have opened my mother’s copy and saw for the first time that she had written beside the text, “Chris was the student.”

Quite a different “Saturday night massacre” occurred when our dog Calvin ate much of my copy of the book, apparently jealous I was spending so much time with Henri’s books as I prepared my first retreat on his life and writings after his death in 1996.

It was in our conversation about the sermon that I asked Henri what he thought of Troy’s talk. Hesitant to be critical, he finally said that he was looking for something more—how Troy’s spirituality strengthened his resolve to affirm his sexuality. It didn't occur to me that Henri’s wish for more might be personal.

But it did tell me that my own spirituality had to “come out” alongside my sexuality, and that is why my talks to advance the inclusion of LGBT people over the past 40+ years have always included spiritual dimensions. I’ve gone so far as to write that spirituality is the final frontier of intimacy, and that the failure of the church to be inclusive of LGBT people was a spiritual rather than sexual problem.

Beginning next Wednesday, I will be offering four posts during Pride month (June) speculating on what the LGBT movement in the church meant, for God’s sake!

I’ve joked that if the church had not been so concerned with my sexuality, it might have been more troubled (or perhaps more blessed) by my interest in progressive theology and contemplative spirituality!  I sometimes feel as if I’m trying to make up for lost time writing this blog.

It is said that at the height (or depth) of the Watergate affair, Nixon prevailed on Henry Kissinger to kneel with him in prayer. Such a humbling posture could make for better leaders as well as better activists.

View from Mercy Center, October 1973.

To support this blog ministry: 
Be sure to scroll down to the donate link below its description.

Or mail to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2017 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.