The Cross and Joy of Love
Nearly twenty years ago, I was the director of the Maine Women's
Lobby, which meant that Bean's didn't have the only double-L in the
state: I was a Liberal Lobbyist. One of the groups that I represented
was the Maine Lesbian and Gay Political Alliance. Its founder gave me
this stole when I was ordained, and I wear it proudly for every wedding
that I perform.
In 1985 my lobby had a bill before the legislature to guarantee
equal employment rights to gays and lesbians working in public schools.
It was pretty basic but also controversial. When the hearing day came
for the bill, the Christian Civic League bused large numbers of
conservative activists to the state Capitol to pack the public review
session. I testified in hearings on a weekly basis, usually to a group
of about twelve. On this day there were hundreds in the room, which
happened any time a similar issue was raised. But I remember that
particular day with visceral clarity.
In the beginning I stood to face the committee and its chairman for
my testimony. After I followed form and gave my name, group, and then
spoke the words "I am here in support of this legislation,"
audience boos began. And all of a sudden I felt very vulnerable with my
back to an angry group. As I went on, some in the room began to hiss
and gesture at me, and I can still feel the feeling of being covered
with goose bumps and tense with fear due to the movement behind me and
the requirement that I face forward. Finally, my testimony done, I
left, shaken by the way
I felt exposed in that place.
I usually left the Capitol around 6 or 7 at night, by which time it
is pitch black during Maine winter. As I walked along the street to my
garage, I realized that I was being followed by perhaps two people.
When I turned, they turned. Where I went, they went. When I sped up,
they did too. My locked car was in the dark. We didn't have those
buttons to push on key rings in 1985. But I jumped in and raced away
from the garage, and no one followed. I would testify many times more
on this same issue and also face opponents in its debate, and blessedly
I never had a similar experience. But that day and night, as Carol
Jensen said to me, someone was trying to terrorize me for my beliefs
and commitments, my associations, in a way for my identity. And it
This second week of our fall program year, I wanted to talk about
recent events in the news - what we learned this summer from the
various struggles of the Christian Church and its Christians in Boston,
New Hampshire, Alabama, and beyond. And in keeping with the startup
sentiment, I wanted to keep it light. But some more recent news has
pressed itself onto my heart and into our parish. This past week the
church office received three threatening telephone calls, saying that
we would "get it" for "what we had done." And then
sometime Friday night, the banner which advertised the appearance
of the Gay Men's Chorus next Saturday was torn from the fence over the
"T" tracks two hundred feet from where we sit. Yes, the
police have been informed. But somebody is trying to terrorize us for
our beliefs and commitments, for our associations if not our identity.
They tore down our rainbow signs several months ago. They disrespect
our property, and they attack our piety. And this is another of the
current events in our news, although it is not a new story. And it
weighs very heavily upon me as I embrace this good people and this good
as I quest for freedom from terror for persons of every identity and
I was in a great mood yesterday morning, as I began preparing my
sermon on the feminine images of God in the wisdom tradition of
Proverbs and in Christology. I wanted to talk about The Da Vinci
Code. I had been to a wonderful Red Sox game Friday night (they
won) and had eaten blueberry pancakes with my family before coming over
to the work day at church. I was still high from the Fenway and reading
some feminism. Then Randy Ellis came in and told me about the banner,
and I felt my eyes get heavy and my countenance drop. I felt that
feeling of another nail in the cross with which we crucify some
Christians. And I didn't know how to change my sermon, so I walked down
the street to see the empty place on the fence to prove to myself that
the banner was gone. And it was. And I touched the fence and said a
prayer. And I went home for a minute. And then I came back to my desk
The Christian Church and its Christians are in the midst of an
internal examination and a culture-wide consideration of who belongs,
who is good and evil, what we hold as the responsibilities of faith. We
are asking whether we will find the answers to our questions by looking
backward or looking forward. We are living in an era when belief is
often engaged as a consumer issue: what do we want to make us
comfortable? We are living in an era of fear. We are living in a time
when we are alienated from creation, from God, from one another, from
ourselves. And we are living all of this in a hurry with our cell
phones and Blackberries and deadlines.
One of the characteristics of this troubling list of challenges is a
propensity to identify enemies, problems, exiles. Although throughout
history, we've done all that without our present challenges
At this junction and in this moment, some have identified gay men -
rarely lesbians - as somehow part of the problem and, if exiled,
somehow a part of the solution. Gene Robinson, Episcopal bishop-elect
in New Hampshire, now lives with at least two bodyguards and often
wears a bulletproof vest in his ministry. His life is regularly
threatened. Our rainbow signs and advertising banners hardly compare to
his plight. Or the plight of Matthew Shepherd, literally crucified on a
fence in Colorado for his identity, or Charlie Howard, thrown off a
bridge in Bangor, Maine to drown for his.
Based on approximately five Biblical phrases, usually mistranslated,
that appear to condemn homosexuality, we have this modern tragedy.
Leviticus has two chapters on skin diseases and two phrases on same sex
behavior; Paul renounces gossips, liars, and general acts of
infidelity, and then same sex relationships in passing, but when have
we seen a movement to isolate those with skin problems or the inability
to tell the truth or keep a secret? Why do I tell you this? So that you
know: the Biblical ark of specific condemnation for homosexuality is
empty. That cupboard is bare. In fact, that word didn't even exist in
the ancient world, and our modern condemnations are generally just
that: modern. So
how do we respond to them?
Please educate yourselves and your friends. Discover what our Bible
does and doesn't say about these issues. Know that any religious
critique of homosexuality is an interpretation, not a direct word or
literal translation of some scripture. If someone beloved has personal
moral or philosophical concerns with gay or lesbian persons, let them
be just that: personal and respectable but not grounded in God's
message or the Church's way. And furthermore, know that no critique of
any behavior in the Bible - lying, gossiping or even blasphemy -
includes a call to condemnation. Our scriptures do not rally crusaders
to conquer but inspire new ways of living in relationship to God and to
one another. Didn't Jesus call off the stoning of a woman until
everyone was sinless in their own lives? Violence and terrorism are not
the fruit of God's Spirit. Inclusiveness is.
There is a powerful synchronicity in the scriptures for this day.
Wisdom, called both hokmah and Sophia in the Bible, is
with God at creation, says Proverbs. She, yes "she," becomes
manifest again as the Gospels suggest because Jesus is "the wisdom
of God." The purpose of wisdom is to teach us how to live, how to
conduct ourselves. And the central message of this cosmopolitan,
intellectual perspective is to foster "the fear of the Lord,"
which means a full relationship with God that doesn't claim the divine
responsibility for ourselves. That is, revere God, and don't be God.
But be compassionate or merciful, wise (it says) even against the
trends of culture.
The Gospel offers a heavier text today. One commentator says that it
shows how revelation and misunderstanding live side by side. What God
shows us and how we interpret it are different. But it doesn't take any
commentator to read the lines within, the lines that say if you want to
be part of my fellowship, you will have to deny yourself and take up a
cross to follow. To which Peter says, isn't there an easier way? There
must be an easier way! And Jesus calls that perspective evil. For God
knows that good news is also hard work.
Our culture, our community, has not come to a final insight on the
issues of gay and lesbian identity. But this church has pledged to
follow Jesus' spirit by being Open and Affirming,
even when it is hard work.
Our era, like Lot's wife, is often confused about whether we will
find divine insights by turning backward or by looking forward. Lot's
wife turned to a pillar of salt when she looked only back. We embrace
something risky and unknown whenever we go forward, yet like the
disciples moving on from the cross, that is what Jesus calls us to do. Even
when it is hard work.
Now it is time for us to learn our foundations, such as the
scriptures and to determine if we will continue to seek the way that is
wise, even in its humility, and the way of new life, even if it means
some measure of suffering and even crosses. That is, will we be among
those who exclude others or among those who work to embrace all God's
I was very hurt yesterday, and angry, that some fool is harassing
us. No one I know supports this type of hidden and destructive
behavior. Yet I realize that my pain and anger are still called to the
behaviors of love. As Joseph Campbell says, the most radical core of
our faith is to love our enemies. And Jesus says to pray for those who
persecute you. Which I do not characteristically like to do. But it is
the solution here. It is the way out of this cycle. It is the good news
for this day. It is a new way to heal brokenness. A new way to mend
what is torn. It is a look forward, not back. So it is my only option.
And it is the way of the cross.
Even this morning as we gather at church, a group here will prepare
a new banner to proclaim the good news of our concert. A banner to be
raised up in another hour or less. As we wrestle with our experiences,
we will continue to hold a variety of insights and perspectives,
interpretations even, on all of the issues at hand. But I pray that we
will be unified in our critique of destructiveness and terrorism and
unified in our effort to meet them with love. As I've encountered this
event I've asked, "What is God able to reveal to us here?"
and I answer "a renewed call to go deep, to work hard, to
Love is patient and compassionate. It does not rejoice at
wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all
things, hopes all things, and endures all things. It is good news. It
will get us through today and this week and this life. Thank God.
Copyright © 2003 Kenneth F. Baily. Used by