The Center for Progressive Christianity supports lesbians and gays in their quest for justice in the church and in society. Some of our members feel so strongly about the issue that they have declared their readiness to break ecclesiastical and civil laws that they find to be unfair and oppressive.
Although not all of the people affiliated with the organization may be interested in upholding their commitment with acts of disobedience, I think that everyone who has joined in our network of progressive Christians understands that denial of equality to gays and lesbians constitutes a betrayal of the Gospel. Some of us, perhaps, would rather not be involved in the current controversies surrounding suitability of homosexuals for ordination and the blessing of same sex couples, but we are driven by our principles to accept gay and lesbian people as equals without demanding that they first must change their sexual orientation.
If you look through the eight points that define what we mean by “progressive”, you will see that omitting a concern for these people would leave us with a glaring inconsistency.
Although I am now convinced that a progressive approach to Christianity must by its very nature include a commitment to stand solidly with our lesbian sisters and gay brothers in their quest for justice, such was not always the case. Over the years my attitude has evolved from hostility to indifference to fervent support.
In 1977, when I was indifferent on the issue, I served as a member of a diocesan committee charged with recommending policy on “Homophiles and the Church”. My particular task on the committee was to review what the Bible had to say on the subject. In the entire collection of documents that we revere as Holy Scripture, I could find only five verses clearly related to the subject of homosexuality. These verses were so few in number that our committee concluded that most of the people who produced the Bible must have been indifferent toward people who were attracted to those of their same sex. The committee, which was chaired by a gay clergyman, decided that hypocrisy had served the church well for almost two millennia and that the diocese should continue with that policy in regard to homosexuality. In our opinion, the less the church said about the subject the better off we all would be. At the convention we filed our report by title.
A series of experiences gradually convinced me that indifference toward gay and lesbian people was not a defensible position for a follower of Jesus to take.
The first experience that unsettled my indifference was an acquaintance with a growing number of same sex couples living in committed, stable relationships. These couples, one of which had been together for over forty years, were some of the most responsible and caring people I knew. They were a credit to our congregation — St. Mark’s on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. — and upstanding citizens in our community. I came to realize that the wisdom found in the book we call Ecclesiastes applied to them as well as to heterosexuals: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone?” (Eccles. 4:9-12)
Then came the week when our worship task force insisted that I use my Sunday sermon to confront the AIDS epidemic. As I thought my way through the subject, I realized that sexually transmitted diseases among heterosexual people have been kept in check through monogamous relationships. Promiscuity can be physically as well as emotionally dangerous. Long ago the church in its wisdom decided to support marriage for practical reasons. One reason the 1662 Book of Common Prayer cites for matrimony is that “It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.” So what has the church offered homosexual people who “have not the gift of continency”? Nothing. We have long realized that celibacy is a vocation to which few heterosexual people are called, so how can we assume that God has somehow given all gay and lesbian people this gift? Instead of encouraging them to settle down with one partner, society has done everything possible to encourage promiscuity, brief encounters with strangers under cover of darkness. As I came to the conclusion of the sermon, I said: “Perhaps we can find a better reason for blessing homosexual partnerships than offering a method for curbing promiscuity and the spread of disease, but the rationale was good enough to get the church involved in promoting heterosexual marriage. To do less for our gay brothers and sisters would be less than loving.”
The experience that finally turned me into a fervent supporter of equal rights for gay and lesbian people was my testifying before a committee of the House of Representatives that was considering the possibility of overturning the recently enacted District of Columbia domestic partners act. Although I had the support of my two church wardens, both professional lobbyists, I was not prepared for the hatred and vitriolic denunciation of homosexual people that I found in that committee room. From the way a southern congressman attacked me for my support of the domestic partners act, I gathered that lesbians and gays had now replaced communists as the people to hate.
When members of the St. Mark’s vestry learned of the verbal abuse that the congressman hurled at me, they drafted a letter to him supporting my position. One paragraph of that letter, when the language is expanded to include more than one congregation, can explain why The Center for Progressive Christianity finds that it must support equal justice for gays and lesbians:
“To discriminate against some members of our congregation is to discriminate against us all. We choose to stand together. Since some of our members are homosexual, so are we all in the face of discrimination. Since some of our members are Jewish, so are we all in the face of discrimination. Since some of our members are children, so are we all in the face of discrimination. We are mothers, fathers, single, married, gay, straight, old, young, African-American, handicapped; we are many faces of humanity. As a congregation, however, we are one.”
As progressive Christians we are one. We will stand along side any of our sisters and brothers who have a legitimate appeal for justice in the church or in society at large.