When Our Number Comes Up

What do we do when our number comes up? Waiting, after all, is not an end in itself; we wait because one day – at least theoretically – our number will be called. It will be our turn. Then the wait will be over, and it will be time for action.

In the Phoenix area, where I live, an LGBT Christian media group is now forming. I’m interested, because I’m a lesbian Christian writer. I want to contribute to any effort that might bring Christ’s love to LGBT people, or to reconcile straight believers with those who are sexual minorities. But early on, I’m concerned with the direction it seems to be taking. It appears to be mired in an attitude of long-term waiting.

This was understandable, back in 1980 or 1990. But this is 2013. We must probably wait a while longer, but the numbers are ticking down to ours. We haven’t long to wait now. Are we ready to take action?

Advent doesn’t last long. Every year, I’m astonished at how the season flies by. Four little weeks – four candles on the wreath. Then all at once, we wake up and it’s Christmas morning. The wait is over, and a new season is here.

I attended the initial meeting of the media group with some friends from the local chapter of the LGBT Catholic organization, Dignity. I’ve since converted to Anglo-Catholicism; I’m still very much a Catholic, but an Episcopalian one. But the folks in Dignity were my earliest friends in the community. They welcomed me then, they still welcome me, and I have a special, enduring affection for them. And I understand that while nobody is more accustomed to waiting than gay Catholics, they are getting mighty tired of waiting.

My Dignity friends, one of whom is a priest, chafed at the let’s-wait mentality of the media group. They saw the folded letter to a homophobic preacher, a copy of which greeted us on each of our chairs when we came into the meeting room. Their reaction was the same as mine: not again. Not still. Not even now.

I’m not ready to give up on the media group, but neither am I ready to commit to it. I won’t waste one more minute trying to persuade homophobic preachers to accept us. That approach gets ahold of entirely the wrong end of the stick. It has become very clear that the Holy Spirit isn’t working by convincing the leaders, who would then persuade the people in the pews. God is working from exactly the opposite direction.

Fine and dandy if a preacher sees the light about us, and bravely stands up to tell his or her congregation the good news. If too many of the people in the pews are not ready to hear it – if they throw temper-tantrums and threaten to fire the preacher – that good news goes nowhere. If a sufficient number of the people, on the other hand, have seen the light, then their pastor may mulishly rant and rail against it, but he or she will soon be out of a job. Homophobic preachers will eventually find themselves standing on park benches, ranting and railing to the pigeons.

Dignity has discovered the same thing many conservative evangelicals have yet to learn. The organization was originally conceived as a means of convincing the leadership to accept sexual minorities. That has gone nowhere, because leaders are the last to change. They’re leaders; why should they change, when they are fawned over, and treated as if they’ve got a direct line to God? Or when changing might mean throwing away their livelihood?

Roman Catholic bishops have been chucking Dignity chapters off Church property right and left. This has been regarded as bad news, but in an authoritarian, top-down body like the Church of Rome, it is only to be expected. Those with authority, vested with power, will do all they can to hold onto it. If we wait on them, we will be waiting forever.

Our Dignity chapter now holds its masses in a United Church of Christ chapel. The UCC is definitely not a top-down body. Individual congregations are perfectly free not to accept gays, but when they try to pressure their fellow congregations into complying, they are told to go pound sand. Temper-tantrums by backwards church members don’t work very well when the leadership doesn’t have much power to be taken away.

Sometimes I think LGBT Christians have become too patient. We’ve gotten so used to waiting that we’re almost comfortable there. Like the children of Israel, we’ve been wandering in the desert for so long, we’ve come to think of it as home. The Promised Land beckons, but it’s unfamiliar territory. And the unfamiliar can be very scary.

In the heady days after Stonewall, the LGBT rights movement’s slogan was, “We’re here, we’re queer … get used to it!” I don’t think that even now, many sexual minority Christians have made that battle cry their own. Both religious conservatives and secular liberals treat us as if we don’t exist. As if in one corner there are the Christians – all of whom are straight and anti-gay – and in the other LGBT folks – all of whom are either non- or anti-religious. We see that limited mentality reflected even now, in the mainstream media’s coverage of the marriage-equality issue.

On one side, the official opinion-shapers say, are “the Christians” – who universally disapprove of same-sex marriage. On the other, “the gays” – who don’t need religious sanction for their unions. Gay Christians are simply assumed either not to exist, or to be of negligible importance. Churches and straight Christian allies who support same-sex marriage are brushed aside and ignored as irrelevant.

But even a majority of American Roman Catholics, as poll after poll now shows, are supportive of same-sex marriage. And a new coalition of evangelical allies, inspired by a challenge from columnist Dan Savage, has formed to stand for equality in the Body of Christ. They call themselves NALT – an acronym for “Not All Like That” – because they want the world to know they refuse to conform to a stereotype that paints them as anti-gay.

Our number is almost ready to be called. Are we ready to stand up and walk proudly to the head of the line? Very soon there may be nothing keeping us in the desert except for our own timidity and complacency. Before we can take occupancy of the Promised Land, we must be prepared to call it home.