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Interfaith Working Group Supporters' Pulpit

The essays, sermons and letters on this page (and linked from this page) are the work of individuals who were supporters of the Interfaith Working Group (IWG) prior to May 2005. The opinions expressed are those of the individual authors, and should not be construed as official IWG statements. You may also be interested in reading our online collection of IWG services.


Straight Folks Have Closets Too
by Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale
Executive Director, Christian Association
University of Pennsylvania
Published in The Daily Pennsylvanian, Tuesday, Oct.22, 1996
Copyright 1996 Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale. Posted with permission of the author.


As the gay, lesbian and bisexual communities press the importance of 'coming out' of the closet, they rightfully focus on the closet of sexual repression, closets where one can hide one's sexual orientation and pass for a heterosexual. The freedom to be oneself and to live with integrity eventually compensates for any trauma experienced in coming out. However straight folk have their closets too. The rest of the community would do well to ask "Are we out of our closets too?"

Ever hear of a student who has one personality at school and a second one, totally different at home? Then there are the students who pursue a particular career path because that is what others want them to do even though they know their interests lie elsewhere; the doctor who wanted to be an artist, the lawyer who wanted to teach children. There is the student who brown-nosed an exploitative uncle for most of his adult years. He chose to be the nephew his uncle wanted him to be rather than who he really was because there was a substantial inheritance he stood to gain. Never bothering to ask "What do I really want in my life? What will make me the happiest in the long run?" we simply choose the nearest closet, sell our integrity and let others define us.

On the train to the suburbs I observed a young woman with a really punk hair style. As she approached her stop she unfastened the perky little pony tail on the top of her head and brushed this smattering of hair to cover the punk style completely. Now perhaps this was a compassionate action to placate parents who already knew of her hair and her very non-suburban lifestyle. More likely however, she was making a conscious choice to avoid letting her parents know just how different and unique she really was. Quite possibly she was returning to the suburbs to assume an identity they wanted her to have. If that is the case she wasn't just returning home, she was returning to a closet.

I remember when I couldn't understand why gays and lesbians just didn't stay in the closet where it was safe, where they would not be open to criticism and where they wouldn't be bashed. It seemed a logical choice to me. That was before I realized I was living in my own closet.

One day after taking a number of sociology and feminist theology classes, I realized I had sold my soul to play societal roles. I had not acknowledged or developed my own person, my own skills, or talents. I had not really become Me. Instead I was living the way others wanted me to. I was 'passing' for someone else. And, I felt like I was dying on the vine. It was a slow spiritual death. At that realization I knew my life lacked integrity. I had to come 'out of the closet' if I was to grow. Nothing grows for very long in a closet except mushrooms.

Coming out of a closet means choosing to come into the open, into the sunlight. It means saying, "Here I am world. Now deal with it," a stance not unlike the attitude taken by Denis Rodman, a man who continually keeps the media in a tizzy because they can't pin him down to a simple category.

There are always those who don't like who we are and who we are becoming but this is true whether we live in the closet or not. Wherever we sell our soul for others' approval or their affirmation, for financial or political reasons, we are living in a closet.

Further there are always people in our lives who are willing to control or manipulate us into their own image, especially if we abdicate responsibility for defining ourselves. Mothers. Bosses. Professors. Mentors. Preachers. Rabbis.

Coming out of the closet is a choice to live with integrity, to live a life we have defined as appropriate for ourselves, to live a life that offers us plenty of breathing room and growing space. Billy Joel has it right when he writes "First they tell you can't sleep alone in a strange place. Then they tell you can't sleep with somebody else. But sooner or later you sleep in your own space. Either way it's ok if you wake up with yourself." (My Life)

Because if I can't wake up with myself, then whose life am I living?


Starting to Learn the Ugliness of Racism
by Rev. Katie Day
Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia
Published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sunday, October 26, 1997
Copyright 1997 Rev. Katie Day

This summer, while on vacation at the Shore, I took my daughter up to the boardwalk for a trip to her favorite establishment, the Dollar Store. Guided by an instinct peculiar to 5-year-old girls, she made a beeline to a back wall that displayed an assortment of Chinese-made Barbie-wanna-bes. We stood beside another woman with her granddaughter, slightly older than my daughter, but with the same wide-eyed adoration for the icons with impossible figures. No Dads in this part of the store; it was one of those female bonding moments.

Finally, my daughter made her selection - a dark brown doll in a snazzy outfit. Immediately, the other little girl said "A black doll - ULCH!" Her grandmother, almost in panic, said to my daughter, "Oh honey, you don't want a black one. Look at all these pretty white Barbies."

I was shocked, not only at the blatant racism but at their presumption that this was more than a gender-bonding moment, but a race-bonding moment as well - all of us were white. That seemed to signify to the other woman and her granddaughter that we shared the same racist beliefs and that they had permission to correct us if we strayed from their sense of the norm. Racism is a powerful social force that leads us, sometimes compels us, to feel comfortable crossing boundaries of tolerance and social protocol.

I quickly led my daughter away, feeling protective of her in her obvious confusion. She is, after all, a Mount Airy kid - her social world has been a rainbow. She does not see the world in black and white, but carefully describes her friends to me in terms of their personalities, dress, hair... and sometimes skin ("tan," "chocolaty," "honey-colored," "freckley"). She is just beginning to know that some people are unfair to others because of their skin color, but that seems absolutely arbitrary, illogical and, well... unfair.

The fact that a stranger would not think her Barbie was beautiful mystified her and broke my heart. She has a lifetime ahead in which to learn the ugliness that is racism and how to confront it. The journey just started sooner than this mom had hoped it would.


AIDS and Homophobia
The Rev. Benjamin Maucere
Sermon Preached October 19, 1997
At the AIDSWalk Service
First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia

Several years ago, actress Jody Foster began her Oscar acceptance speech by saying, "I'd like to thank all my tribes who have brought me to this day." We who are here today represent many tribes as well. We are young and old, and gay and straight, and many colors together. Brought together today by threat and by promise.

The threat is AIDS. We've all been touched by it. As they say, "uninfected does not mean unaffected." We've lost too many people: friends, and lovers, brothers and sisters, actors and artists people who have touched us and people who have touched the world no one is unaffected.

AIDS is an equal opportunity destroyer. Worldwide, the death count is around 6,400,000 people. Today, approximately 22,000,000 people are HIV positive.

World wide, 75% of all HIV transmission is heterosexual. It is recognized as one of the leading causes of death in adults 25 - 44 years of age in men and the fourth leading cause in women.

Minorities, primarily African Americans and Hispanics, now constitute 54 percent of the more than 500,000 cases of AIDS reported in the US since the epidemic began in 1981. AIDS is the number one killer of African American men and women ages 25 to 44. Hispanics make up less than 10 percent of the U.S. population, yet they accounted for 19 percent of the AIDS cases reported in 1996.

And the tribes have responded. Communities of memory, hope, and struggle. There are Interfaith, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim groups. Groups for women and men, gays and straights, all colors and classes, children and the elderly.

It was in 1981 that the US Center for Disease Control first noticed that something was happening. First they called it "gay cancer," then GRID or "gay related immune deficiency. 128 people died of the disease that year.

The next year the term AIDS was used for the first time. It took six years, and almost 40,000 deaths in this country, before President Ronald Reagan first used the word in public. Coincidence? I don't think so. That same year, Vice-President George Bush was heckled when he proposed mandatory AIDS testing.

In this country, the phenomenon of homophobia been an integral part of our reaction to the spread of the disease. We who care about these issues may be a gentle people, but we are an angry people as well. AIDS is a disease. So is homophobia. It may not kill as many people as AIDS, but it takes its toll. I'd like to speak to the issue of homophobia from a religious perspective.

First, and most blatantly, homophobia causes physical violence. Because the FBI does not keep separate records for hate-crimes based on sexual orientation, it is difficult to find out just how pervasive such violence really is. One survey conducted by the San Francisco Examiner estimates "over one million hate-motivated physical assaults take place each year against lesbians, gays, and bisexuals." A survey conducted by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in 1984 found that 94 percent of all lesbians and gay men surveyed reported being physically assaulted, threatened, or harassed in an antigay incident at one time or another. The great majority of these incidents go unreported. (Blumenfeld, p159.)

And what about the threats of violence? The subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle intimidation that keeps us in rigidly defined gender roles?

It is worst in adolescence. One gay member of this church told me that "without a doubt, high school was the worst experience of my life. Nothing has been as bad as high school," he said.

A similar statement comes from Mary Griffith, a leading member of the support group PFLAG - Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. She speaks of the pain experienced by her son, Bobby Griffith. High school was the worst experience for him, as well.

From about the age of three, Bobby had seemed "different." He preferred playing inside, liked flowers, asked for a doll at Christmas . . . . As he grew up, Mary feared that he might be gay. But as a good Christian, she couldn't believe that Bobby could be "that perverted and evil." As a good Christian, neither could Bobby. He tried counseling, first to try and change. When that didn't work, he tried counseling to try and accept himself.

He lived through the pain, the ostracism, the doubts and confusion and despair, only to commit suicide at the age of twenty, in August of 1983. Mary now speaks, and writes, and "tries to imagine what it must feel like for young people to be convinced that no one accepts them, not God, not society, not even their own parents." She asks, "How would such children feel?" (Blumenfeld, p84.)

It comes as no surprise to me to read that 1/3 of all teen suicides are associated with the question of sexual orientation, and that homosexual youth are from 2 to 6 times more likely to attempt suicide. (Blumenfeld, p79.)

Thinking and reading and writing on this topic brings back my own struggles in adolescence. I remember the social pressure around gender roles. I liked girls, in fact, I preferred the company of girls. I liked to cook, I didn't like sports, I liked to read, I wasn't into fighting. Where did I fit in? Was I a "real" man? The worst insult anyone could use was "sissy" or "fag!" Whatever it was, I didn't want to be one. I felt different enough as it was - I don't think I could have handled being gay as well.

Gays and lesbians who live through such pressures are affected by more than the humiliation and ostracism. The socialization of their sexuality is inhibited. In adolescence we learn about dating. We learn to connect our sexual feelings to our romantic feelings - to understand desire within the context of relationship. Non-heterosexuals are forced to conceal their sexuality; to explore it in secret; to separate it from their relationships. Further, they are denied role models - older women and men in long-term same-sex relationships. As Adrienne Rich puts it, two women together is a work nothing in civilization has made simple.

Where does homophobia come from? Several years ago, this church offered a workshop based on based on the Unitarian Universalist Welcoming Congregation curriculum. One of the exercises asked us as participants to consider what we know about homosexuality and where we learned it. Of course, we learned a lot of stuff that just isn't true, and we learned it from the playground, the streets, from our parents... and from the church.

The Bible has been used in our culture to condemn homosexuality. A frequently used text is Genesis, Chapter 19. It reads, The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gateway of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to greet them, bowing his face to the ground, and saying: "If you please, sirs, come over to your servant's house to pass the night and wash your feet; in the morning you may rise early, and go on your way." But they said: "No, we will pass the night in the open." He pressed them so strongly, however, that they went over to his house, where he prepared a feast for them, and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house and they called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, so that we may know them." Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said, "I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof."

Sodom, of course, is the word from which sodomy is derived. It isn't really clear what the people of the town intended to do to the two visitors. "Bring them out to us, so that we may know them," they say. The Hebrew word yadha is translated here as know. It sometimes has a sexual meaning - out of the 943 uses of yadha in the Hebrew Bible, it is used ten times to denote a sexual act. It does seem clear Lot intends the sexual meaning in his unusual offer of his daughters. The misogyny of his offer is clear. Male guests are to be protected. Women - even women family members - are expendable. This story does not suggest a moral precedent that we should be following.

There are several other condemnations of homosexual practice in the Bible. Those who would claim to take the Bible literally and follow its precepts to the letter should read it carefully. In the Hebrew Bible, or what is commonly known as the Old Testament, the condemnation of homosexuality is only one aspect of a wide range of legal prohibitions. From Leviticus, we learn that we should not trim our beards, and should not masturbate, for both are condemned. The death penalty is required for adulterers and psychics. Take that, Psychic Network! The eating of rabbit, oysters, clams, shrimp, pork and certain insects is also condemned. But, you will be glad to hear, if the insect has jointed legs above the feet, like grasshoppers, crickets and locusts, they are ok to eat. I could go on about Leviticus, but you get the idea.

Elsewhere the Hebrew Bible requires the death penalty for bankers, for they lend money at interest. (Ezekiel 18:5-18, Deuteronomy 12:19-20)

And, in Christian scriptures, the apostle Paul is a wealth of information on how to run a society. He tells us not to resist unjust laws - which means this country would not have been founded - for he says that "governing authorities are instituted by God." (Romans 13:1.) He tells us that slavery is acceptable, for it is written, "Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be blasphemed." (1 Timothy 6:1.) He tells us that "women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home." Tell that to Anita Bryant, or to Phillis Schlafley! Or my wife and co-minister, the Rev. Dr. Holly Horn!

The Bible is a book. The stories come out of the cultures in which the storytellers lived. Our culture is different, and we have rightly learned to move beyond the laws and rigid rules to get at the larger truths. The Bible contains much of value, for it is the record of the striving of people to understand their world, their conduct, and their relations to one another and to the holy. Yet it is only one record of these strivings. It must be tempered by reason, by common sense, and by other sources of religious insight.

Those whom I call the "irreligious right" use the Bible selectively, to condemn people on the basis of race, or religion, or sexual orientation. We must expose them for the hate-mongers that they are. They are acting contrary to the overriding tone of the Bible, which, in spite of its anomalies and contradictions, affirms love, hospitality, and kindness. It is simple, said Jesus, when asked which commandment of the law is the greatest. "You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (Matthew 22:36-40.)

What are we called to do? We are called to love one another, and to fight for the rights of everyone to be treated with dignity and respect.

We are also called to confront our own homophobia and heterosexism, and move beyond them. For close to twenty-five years, the Unitarian Universalist Association has unambiguous in its support of non-heterosexuals. In 1970, the General Assembly, our annual meeting of representatives of churches from across the continent passed their first resolution opposing discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals. The Association formed the UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST Office on Gay Affairs in 1973. In 1980 we developed educational programs to help congregations deal with their reluctance to call non-heterosexual ministers, and several of my gay, lesbian, and bisexual friends are now serving UNITARIAN UNIVERSALIST churches. We affirmed gay and lesbian services of union at the 1984 General Assembly and voted to support gay and lesbian weddings in 1995. Our publishing house, Beacon Press, has sent copies of the book Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price to public libraries across the country and to members of the Armed Services Committees.

Some would accuse us of "pushing the homosexual agenda." I am proud that we can plead guilty to such charges. For what is the homosexual agenda, but a human agenda? An agenda that affirms the right to love whom you chose - isn't this a basic human right?

Most of us don't like the concept of confession. We haven't done anything wrong, we protest. But I'm not talking about feeling guilty. We may not have done anything wrong. But we can't help but be homophobic - we grew up in a homophobic and racist and sexist culture, and we have absorbed its prejudices.

Beyond examining and changing our attitudes, heterosexuals are called to be allies - to stand with and fight alongside those who are oppressed due to their sexual orientation.

What does it mean to be an ally? The Welcoming Congregation Handbook suggests some ways:

"Assume that, wherever you go, there are closeted gay people who are wondering how safe the environment is for them. Provide safety by making it clear that you accept gayness."

"Challenge heterosexism whether or not gays are present; do not always leave it to gays to do it."

"When speaking of your lover or partner, point out that s/he is of the opposite sex, implying that s/he need not be. Or, in those situations where it is unclear whether you are loving a woman or a man, leave it that way."

"Do not assume that you know it all. Listen to gays. Read... and learn about the reality of gay oppression."

This story is told in the Handbook:
A young friend of mine came up to me . . . and asked if I would read something he had written. When I said, "Sure," he explained that he had been elected the leader of his Boy Scout patrol and had written up some rules for the behavior of the group. I wondered why he had chosen me - until I got to rule number five, which read something like this: "No one in this patrol is to call anyone else a faggot or queer because these words are insulting to gay men, and gay men are some of the best people in our society." He looked at me anxiously and asked, "Do you think that's firm enough?" Whew! I was blown away. And to think that all that time I had been worried about his response to my lesbianism! I told him the statement was great and asked why he had decided to write it. "Well," he explained, "I know that you're gay, and George and Bill are gay, and Rick is gay, and you're all really neat people, and I just didn't think it was fair." (From The Welcoming Congregation: Resources for Affirming Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Persons. Edited by the Reverend Scott W. Alexander. Boston: The Unitarian Universalist Association. 1990.)

We are called, in regard to homophobia as with all injustice, to make common cause with those who are oppressed. To affirm that when anyone is threatened, we all are threatened. To know that when anyone is attacked, we are all attacked. We are called to work for the day when all men shall be brothers, and all women shall be sisters, and all children shall be children of us all.

Which is what we do today, together.

May it be so. AMEN.


Defiant Joy
Nehemiah 8:1ff and Luke 4:14-21
Preached at Tabernacle United Church January 25, 1998
by Rev. Patricia Pearce

Say the word religion and see what comes to mind for most people. The word will probably conjure up for many people experiences of being judged, feelings of guilt and fear. It brings to mind images of pursed lips, disapproving glances. Religion for many has come to be seen as a constraining straight jacket that chokes out the joy of living.

One of the biggest drawbacks to being a publicly religious person is dealing with other people's expectations of what that means. I remember when I was in Tucson doing my internship during seminary I went to the driving range to hit a few golf balls. I've never been a very good golfer, but the driving range can be therapeutic at times. There was a person there selling golf clubs and he let me try some of them out and he was giving me a free golf lesson at the same time. And his speech was rather, shall I say, colorful at times. We got to talking and he asked me what I was doing in Tucson and I told him I was interning at a church. His demeanor suddenly changed. He became suddenly so . . . respectful, so self-conscious. A wall instantly went up and his interaction with me became stiff and cautious. And something in me sighed.

That type of scenario has repeated itself time and time again and it has convinced me that we've gotten it all wrong. In spite of our impressions of it, religion is meant to be first and above all an expression of joy. Not an excuse for inflicting judgment, not a weapon for inducing guilt. Worship is meant to be an expression of the joy that overflows from within us when we grasp the truth of God's love for us. When we touch the wonder of life, How, as the song says, How can we keep from singing?

Ezra read the law to the people and they wept. And he told them, Stop. Stop your weeping because this day is sacred to God. Stop your weeping and go prepare for yourselves and for others a feast. If you want to demonstrate your devotion to God do not do it with tears. Do it with laughter. Do it with celebration. Do it with joy.

Joy is not to be confused with happiness because it does not depend on circumstances. It is not a flighty feeling that comes and goes depending on whether or not we are having a good day. Joy goes deeper than our circumstances. It goes deeper than anxiety or grief. In fact, it is not so much a feeling as it is a deep understanding of life. It is an understanding that God is always with us in good times and in bad. It is the knowledge that ultimately God's purposes cannot and will not be defeated. How else to explain the apparent paradox that the more oppressed a people are, the more joyful their worship? There is a profound thankfulness simply for being alive. The presence of God is real.

Last week the choir sang a song from South Africa called "Siyahamb' ekukhanyen' kwenkos" "We Are Marching in the Light of God". Let me tell you a story of that song. A couple of years ago when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church met in Albuquerque they passed, by a narrow margin, what was known as Amendment B, which prohibits the ordination of "unrepentant" homosexuals. After the vote hundreds of people who were opposed to the amendment stood up and in silence moved down to the floor of the assembly.. They walked side by side, following a cross that was carried before them, they grieved, they cried, and then they began to sing. And they sang "We are marching in the light of God, we are marching in the light of God." And out of the anger and out of the tears, joy began to well up, the joy that comes from the Spirit, the joy that comes from knowing that God's love will prevail.

Joy is power. Joy breaks the chains around the human spirit. Joy renders people unconquerable. When our religion becomes joyless it becomes powerless as well. Without the joy that comes from God's Spirit we become vulnerable to paralyzing despair, we become fearful and unable to embody boldly the compassion of Christ. The power of Christianity is in its joy, a joy that comes from realizing the indestructible nature of God's love and the unavoidable reality of God's shalom.

Another story. It has been nearly 10 years now since the Jesuit priests and their housekeeper were killed in El Salvador. I was attending seminary in the San Francisco area at the time. Several priests in the area organized a protest at the Federal Building in San Francisco to oppose our government's ongoing support of a murderous military in El Salvador, and several students from many of the seminaries in the Bay Area decided to join our Catholic brothers and sisters. We arrived in the morning all dressed in black. We had a prayer vigil on the sidewalk, and then we moved around, encircling and blocking entrance to the building. Then we knelt down and we began singing a chant. The riot police were there, their heads and faces hidden behind helmets and face guards, clubs hanging at their sides. After a few minutes the arrests began. The singing to my right became fainter and fainter as people were handcuffed and taken inside to the jail. Then I felt strong arms pull me up from behind and I felt the handcuffs fasten tightly around my wrists. We were herded to an elevator and taken up one load at a time. When the elevator doors opened and I stepped out I was jarred by the sight of seeing dozens of priests locked behind bars. But the thing that I remember most vividly is that the whole place was reverberating with song. Cell upon cell of people were singing "Digo 'Si' Senor en tiempos buenos y en tiempos malos. I say 'Yes' my Lord in all the good times, in all the bad times." In that moment I knew that joy was power. I heard the cell door close behind me, and I felt free.

And Jesus stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. And he unrolled it until he found the place where it said, "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. God has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's jubilee."

Do not mourn. Do not weep, for our strength is in the joy of God which breaks the chains around the human spirit and rolls away the stone from the tomb. Sing for joy because Christ is with us. Sing for joy because hope is alive.


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