After my first column back in February, the first response to it came from Rev. Wayne Bradley of The First Congregational Church of Forest Glen U.C.C. Though I had not met Rev. Bradley, he seemed to understand intrinsically my charge and challenge to us as a community to throw aside our fears and reclaim our spiritual life and our faith. He agreed that our community needed this type of forum to empower us to take up our place in a life of worship and faith. But many of us feel there is no place in the church because of our sexuality, so how do we claim our place? Living openly as gay men or lesbians in our homes of worship is not something we can imagine. At best, even if we live openly with our friends within our religious home we are closeted.
And yet the more closeted we are, the more we may need a source of faith and spirit to feed and sustain us. But maybe there is a way to dip our toes into the divine water and create change. Can we find the strength to get close and then open ourselves by living through faith?
We are Three
By Rev. Wayne Bradley
It is my belief that all human beings have three parts to them: Body, Mind, and Spirit (or Soul). I further believe that if we ignore any one of these, we are not whole and complete persons. For example, if we ignore our bodies, we can have all kinds of health problems; if we ignore our minds, we don't learn; and if we ignore our spirits, we become self-centered and fearful.
All religious traditions believe that part of us lives on after physical death. Eternity is a lot longer than our lifespan, so shouldn't we take even better care of that which will continue forever?
I realize that many people in our community have been disenfranchised by various faith traditions and turned away from worship or complete participation because the religious authorities refuse to ordain us, perform wedding ceremonies for us, etc. Of course, just like all people, there are many of us who have never been interested in worship. I've had some folk say to me, 'Well, I'm spiritual but just not religious.' I don't know how that's possible. Every faith teaches that one should pray/meditate alone, but also that corporate worship is an absolute necessity. This is important for mutual support and encouragement.
Quite a few of us are active members of a congregation/religious community, but for a number of reasons we have to remain closeted there. Perhaps we would be immediately thrown out or, if not, treated as an outcast and shunned or shamed by others or even verbally harassed from the pulpit. God remains our only confidante, because we've come to realize that the Creator of the universe has also created each of us. I just love the statement that some use against those of us in a committed relationship who want to get formally married: 'God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!'
Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that the best way to influence someone is not in a group setting, but one-on-one. If we as LBGT people really want to make a difference, we must insist on the respect and inclusion in various faiths. Yes, there is a place and time for group protests, such as the Rainbow Sash demonstration at Holy Name Cathedral. However, what would happen if we quietly (at least at first) 'infiltrated' a church/synagogue/temple, etc. and slowly got to know people, possibly even officially joining the congregation, and then eventually coming out to them or even just wearing a small rainbow pin? I know this would be very difficult in very conservative and homophobic settings, but it would also be an 'in-your-face' way to confront them.
To paraphrase a contemporary Proverb: 'Don't let someone's dog-ma run over your kar-ma!' A few months ago a pug puppy came into my life. 'Chang' follows me everywhere and wants to be as close to me as possible. Right now, even as I write these words, he is lying on my feet. I'm not sure if it's a coincidence that in English dog is God spelled backwards. Like Chang, God wants to be as close to us as possible.
Peace & Joy, Wayne
The Rev. Wayne Bradley is a co-pastor of The First Congregational Church of Forest Glen U.C.C. He is currently a student at Chicago Theological Seminary in Hyde Park. Wayne has been on a number of talk shows, discussing various topics and was also interviewed by National Public Radio. He and his spouse, Rick Peterson, recently celebrated their 20th Anniversary