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:

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

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