I make that statement, not just for me, but for the rest of the panel as well. That's the best way I can describe this forum called, "Love, Marriage, and Same-Sex Blessings." It's part of Tallahassee's Village Square's monthly program, "Faith, Food, and Friday," where progressive and conservatives discuss issues of the day from a theological place. The room at Temple Israel was packed for this event. I remarked to one of the co-panelists, "That's because they put 'sex' in the title!"
Fran Buhler, a Baptist associate pastor, sat next to Rabbi Jack Romberg, with the rector of my Episcopal Church playing the role of moderator in the center seat. On Father Dave Killeen's left was a United Methodist minister, Betsy Oulette. Bill Mattox, of the Village Square's board was next to her, representing the more conservative--"traditional"--outlook on marriage from the laity.
And then there was me; the "lay gay." The only person not present was an African-American pastor who sent his regrets due to a work conflict. As I said in the previous post, I believe my presence on this panel came about because I screamed at God, and God decided to give me a seat on the panel rather than letting me mouth-off at my ceiling.
The introductions went well, and were very good-humored. When it was noted that I am a member in good standing at St. John's, despite being a Boston Red Sox fan and refusing to repent my allegiance to the New England Patriots (all appropriate wording from my rector, the Yankees/NY Giants fan), my co-lay panel member turned to me and said, "I'm a Red Sox fan!"
"Well, ya see," I said, smiling, "We DO have something in common!"
"I'm a Red Sox fan, too!" said the Methodist.
I leaned into the microphone. "Repent, Dave! Repent!"
Instead of repenting, Fr. Dave threw a curve ball to the assembled crew with his first question:
"What's sex for?"
A great starting place. A good way to get us away from launching into tired arguments over Scripture. And what a thing to do to me, the super introvert, who needs a few minutes to digest and mull and ask for wisdom. All I could think was: "How do I answer this question before a very packed room of predominantly straight people?"
Easy: let everyone else take a stab at it, and listen. I heard words and phrases: "procreation," "enjoyment," "within the bonds of marriage." When it got to me, I noted that I believe sex can happen outside the bonds of marriage because it does, right now, with the LGBT community. Because... we can't get married in Florida. And then I went to the place I wanted to go:
"I believe sex, and our sexuality, is a gift from God. It is the way for us to be intimate with another person. And my sexual orientation is a gift from God. And that's all I've got to say about that."
Moving right along... our next question was to answer what marriage is for. And, again, there were the words "stability," "children," and the Rabbi noted that throughout history it has been done as a legal contract to allow two men to make the financial arrangement of a daughter betrothed to a man. Fran, the Baptist, expressed concerns about things in the world that are placing stresses on marriage, and causing problems for marriages.
Me? Well, I had to acknowledge to the group that many of them said things I could understand, but I couldn't really speak to what marriage is for because I am not allowed into that institution. And since I'm not allowed in, I can't assist, and won't assist, the straight community in figuring out what they've done to the institution of marriage.
I think I might have heard a collective gasp and gulp from the audience.
As this panel went along, I was waiting for the "clobber" passages to get trotted out. Interestingly, no one on the panel dared to repeat them. The favored Bible passage was from Genesis 2, the second creation story, with Adam and Eve...not, well, y'know... Having Rabbi Romberg on the panel was my relief and back up on all things coming from the Hebrew Scriptures. What many don't think about, because they simply aren't taught this about the Hebrew words used in the Genesis story, is that the one who is called "Adam", the supposedly male figure, is really named "adamah," which means, "human." There is NO single gender in that being. And as Rabbi Romberg told me later, there is Jewish midrash to say that, in fact, the first human was a hermaphodite, and was split then into the male and female who we have come to know as "Adam and Eve."
The main passage of Scripture that I went to during this discussion was from John 16, where Jesus is giving his last will and testament to the disciples. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, "There are many things I want to tell you, but you can not bear them at this time." That, to me, should tell us that there would be evolution of thinking as time moves forward, and that with each generation, the Holy Spirit is unveiling new understanding to us.
"I mean, people in First Century Palestine didn't know that if you got on a boat and sailed west, you'd hit some place called 'America.' They thought that the earth was the center of all the universe.... And this is what I believe is happening right now. We are coming to an understanding of human sexuality."
Perhaps the most difficult and emotional moment for me, personally, as I sat on this panel was when my fellow lay person wanted to talk about the importance of diversity in relationship. And the reason that marriage needs to be one man and one woman is for that diversity that you can't get with "same-sex or even same-kin."
I have certainly heard many rotten things said to me or about me as a gay person. I could not believe that someone sitting next to me would have the gall to equate my adult relationship to incest.
"You don't know how incredibly hurtful that statement is for me to hear," I said, doing everything in my power to keep from crying. As a reporter, I learned the valuable skill of masking my emotions when engaging with people in public. It is not a skill I enjoy having to use, but it is a skill that has come in handy many times when people would say ugly things to my face and I had to maintain that aura of the"objective reporter." In recent years, and especially as I've been journeying with God, I have removed that mask and allowed my emotions more free reign. This was one of those hybrid times where I knew I needed to keep from crying, and yet I had to let at least the presence of those tears show up in my eyes because that was real.
Being real was what this panel was about. So I was my authentic lesbian self. I shared what happened on the night that Florida elected Barack Obama to the presidency in 2008.
"That same night, 61.8 percent of the people of this state made me a second class citizen." This was a reference to Amendment Two, which defines marriage "or the substantial equivalent thereof" as being for one man and one woman. I told the story of what happened the next day, how I could no longer look anyone in the eye because I didn't know who on earth, that is, I could trust. And I shared the event that happened that Wednesday after the election, how I was sitting with my friend, who was consoling me and letting me vent, and this woman approached us.
"Excuse me," she said sweetly and innocently, "I see that you're upset. I would like to give you this."
The "this" was a pamphlet. The author of the pamphlet was Dr. James Dobson, infamous homophobe and head of the Family Research Council. I was horrified.
"Oh, honey," I said, not wanting to be cruel. "I really don't want this. Thank you!"
And what she said next was amazing:
"Oh. You're not a Christian?"
The room had been silent as I related this true life drama about the Day-After-The-Election 2008. But the suggestion that I wasn't a Christian because I didn't want a pamphlet from a hatemonger seemed to really strike a nerve in people.
As this panel went along, I found myself feeling more and more willing and able to provoke the others:
"Why do assume that the gay and lesbian community is going to come to your church and want to be married in it anyway? The church has done such a fine job of telling them they're an abomination and aren't welcome that they've written you off. That's sad!"
"Seriously, the LGBT community probably thinks the Bible only has about six or seven verses because those are the only ones they ever get to hear! They never get to hear about the love. They never get to hear, 'Remember I will be with you always to the end of the age.' "
"Why is it that the church has such a problem with sex and the body?" (I never got an answer to that.)
My lay conservative counterpart kept likening marriage to the metaphor of the church being "the bride of Christ." When the clergy people refused to answer this metaphor with the required reason, I stepped in.
"That metaphor is about the Church remaining faithful to Christ," I said. "So, my question is: how is the Church remaining faithful to Christ when it stands in the way of me achieving my full civil rights?"
When it was over, people wanted to talk to me more, tell me I was brave. I suppose it is brave to preach the Gospel, especially when you are from a group that has historically, and still is in this diocese, denied that place and is deemed "incompatible" with the very book that contains the stories of Love and life everlasting. For those who spoke to me, I believe what they heard as bravery was the Gospel, and the call to us from the Holy Spirit to quit trying to find fault with each other and decide who's in and who's out and get back to the Source.
My way of staying with that Source was by having in my back pocket a copy of Hymn 379, "God is Love, Let Heaven Adore Him" which I reviewed before heading to the forum. The second verse often grabs me:
"God is Love; and love enfolds us,
all the world in one embrace:
with unfailing grasp God holds us,
every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking
under sorrow's iron rod,
then we find that self-same aching
deep within the heart of God."
I know for some what I had to say may have been heartbreaking. For some, the break is for my plight of being a person unable to marry my partner. For others, it is the breaking over realizing that the certainty they thought they had with marriage is not so certain any more. For others, I believe I posed a quandry for them as I put forth my true self as a lesbian daughter of Christ. The Baptist pastor, who was holding as tight as he could to the idea that marriage is for one man and one woman, has a gay sibling. I can only imagine what it must be like to cling to a belief that it is OK to deny civil rights to your sibling.
The Methodist pastor, who had started out very ambivalent about the topic, was starting to see things differently. Now, she must wrestle with her denomination's insistence on standing against the LGBT community while claiming to affirm its love for all people. The risk for preachers who step out against their church's hierarchy or official line is great. And yet there is the dilemma of a Jesus who demands that we lay down our illusions of safety if we are to spread the word that God is Love.
That's no small task for any of us to contemplate in this season of Lent.