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Gamaliel

Gamaliel

Tuesday, June 21, 2011 — Week of Proper 7, Year One

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 972)

Psalms 97, 99, [100] (morning) 94, [95] (evening)

1 Samuel 6:1-16

Acts 5:27-42

Luke 21:37 – 22:13

Twenty years ago I was on the Cursillo National Committee. There was a resolution proposed to exclude non-celibate gay Episcopalians from positions of leadership in Cursillo. I argued in vain against the resolution. A majority of the committee believed that homosexual love was sinful and that leaders with such a character defect would be flawed leaders. They believed they were following God’s will and the mandate of scripture.

When we met again, two gay leaders in Cursillo came to visit the committee to ask us to reconsider our decision. One was a woman who had been an exemplary and significant leader in Atlanta and in Georgia. Her work spoke for itself. She had showed herself to be the kind of leader Cursillo hoped to raise up in the church. She was a lesbian. The other person was a gay man, a priest from New Jersey. He too was committed to the Cursillo method — its principles of evangelism and spiritual growth — but he exercised leadership in a more local capacity.

For many on this committee, this priest’s witness was their first opportunity to hear the testimony of a gay Christian. It is a common story. He grew up in the Church, loving God and following Christ as best he could. His own experience of his sexual orientation has been at odds with what he had been taught in the church. He resisted his natural inclinations, believing them to be sinful and wrong.

Like so many other gay men, he married his best friend. He had been open with her about his attraction to men. She loved him and he loved her. She was certain, and he hoped, that with God’s help, they would overcome his feelings, and they would become a loving, traditional family. In fact, they were a loving, traditional family. They maintained a constant and deep affection, though there was little sexual passion. They raised their children in a loving, nurturing household. But deep at the core of their relationship, and deep at the core of his being, something true was being denied and repressed.

When he finally faced and accepted his sexual orientation, he and his wife agreed to a divorce. She wanted more from her spousal relationship than he could give her; he wanted to love fully and completely. They remained dear friends.

He met someone with whom he could be committed as a life partner, and they had been together for many years now, loved and accepted as a couple by their families and by their church. He had experienced Cursillo as a profound blessing in his life, and he felt deep hurt that he was being told to give up his leadership in the group.

With a poignancy that bordered on despair, he closed his testimony with the argument from Gamaliel that we read today from Acts 5. The church is in a place of disagreement and discernment, he said. I tell you that I love Jesus Christ, and I follow him as my Lord and Savior, he said. I do so as a gay man in a committed relationship. I find Christ manifest in my loving relationship with my partner and in my ministry in Cursillo. I realize that there are others who say that my relationship is a sin, but I experience it as grace from God.

The priest cited the words of Gamaliel addressing another religious council, addressing a group who was certain that condemning the followers of Jesus was to obey God’s will and to follow the mandate of scripture. Gamaliel urged caution, citing two other messianic movements that had fizzled after making great claims. “So in this present case,” Gamaliel said, “I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them — in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” (Acts 5:38-39)

“Please,” the gay priest gently urged our committee, “just leave us alone. Don’t throw us out. Wait and see. Watch us; watch me and my relationship and my ministry. If we are not of the Spirit — if we are not of God — we will fail. We will fall of our own weight. But, if we are of God…” His words faltered as he struggled to keep his composure. “Just leave us alone. See what God will do. Let God be the judge.” It was a moving testimony.

We broke for noonday prayers and lunch. It was our practice to read the second reading of the Daily Office during noonday prayers. The lector began to read. It was this story from Acts 5, the story of Gamaliel. Chills went up my spine.

I glanced back at the priest who just a few moments ago had been speaking these very words. His eyes were closed. A gentle smile of thanks came to his mouth. He tilted his head up as though gesturing thanks to God. When he opened his eyes, he blinked back tears. So did I. A woman across the aisle from me let go a little gasp. The Word of God had spoken to us that day.

That afternoon our committee reversed the policy.

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