I’ve always loved the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So many things he said resonate with truth in my spirit. The timelessness of his cries for freedom and his insights into the nature of oppression give me strength for my own journey as a lesbian Christian.
In Letters from a Birmingham Jail, he addresses the well-intentioned hell-pavers who would tear at his resolve by saying, “You have the right idea, but it’s just not the right time. If you’d only be a little more patient, give people more time….” But Dr. King’s answer was always the same, “Never let the oppressor choose the time for freedom.”
I’ve thought about how that might apply to my own community. We’re not waiting, right? We’re marching, campaigning and voting for gay rights. So how does this apply to us? I have to learn to be careful when I ask questions. The answers do come.
It was a Sunday afternoon. I had done a Sunday morning concert at a budding independent gay church in the Pacific Northwest, encouraging people to renew their commitments to Christ and to truth in their lives. It seemed well-received and I talked and prayed with several before heading off to attend a concert by a mainstream gospel artist.
The concert was held in a straight Pentecostal church and the very air held memories for me. I had sung in a hundred churches just like it before I came out. My lover and I sat quietly, our hands touching, but I didn’t lean on her shoulder as I might have in another setting. The artist sang and shared. A talented songwriter with tender and refreshing perceptions, and a friend I hadn’t seen in years, his performance was touching….’I am a life that was changed…with all my strength, with all I am, I will learn to follow God’s command…what if I give all I have, what could that gift do?’
Since I knew the type of preacher who would close this evening in a church like this, I nudged my lover to leave when the singer was finished. Then my eye caught a lesbian couple who had attended my concert that morning, sitting up in the balcony, and some sense of loyalty made me feel I should stay. Sure enough, hell-fire and damnation was preached. The preacher literally screamed for half an hour.
Finally, blessedly, hoarse, he closed with an altar call. “With every head bowed and every eye closed. I want to see the hands of those who want to be saved tonight…who don’t want to go to hell.” Then the prayer was done. “Okay, if you raised your hand tonight, I want you to stand up and come forward to pray with these men at the altar.” An usher reached across my lover to nudge a boy, who couldn’t have been over 12. The usher said, “I saw you raise your hand. You get up now, like a man, and go up there.” The child slouched down in the pew and my lover shot a ….don’t you touch that child!!!….look, like only she can. The usher wandered off.
Then I saw one of the women from the concert making her way forward. I was on my feet in a shot. If I could beat her up there, I could at least make sure they didn’t try to cast any demons out of her. People were all around me kneeling, praying, crying and talking in hushed tones. The organist played, ‘Just As I am’. The artist we had come to hear had a line of folks waiting to talk to him. I said hello and he gave me a hug. “Marsha, what are you up to these days?” he asked. I smiled, thinking, ‘This is not the time to go into it.’ I responded, “Oh, loving Jesus! We can talk later.” Of course, I knew we would do no such thing. Does anyone ever really get good at coming out?
My eyes never strayed far from my lesbian friend. She got into line to speak with the singer. I felt better. It was probably fine. She just wanted to tell him that she liked a song or that something he said had touched her. I moved off 10 or 12 feet into the crowd, singing quietly along with the organist and entering into the praise going on around me. Finally, I saw her get her “face time”. She spoke earnestly in hushed tones that I could not hear. Tears filled her eyes and I saw him take her hand. I tensed, not really sure what I would do to rescue her if she needed it. I heard her say, “I love Jesus!”, and then the organist started a new song and I lost her voice again.
Just as the organist hit a quiet moment, she turned and spoke in a forceful, unmistakable voice, “And I am a lesbian and so is she!” She was pointing at me. Penitents rose from their knees, weepers turned from their tissues, the organist faltered. Her teary brown eyes caught mind and, realizing the scene, flashed a sudden doubt. Was I upset with her? Had she embarrassed me?
I couldn’t help it. I laughed out loud! Never let the oppressor choose the time for freedom!