Last Thursday Louie Clay (formerly Louie Crew) was our guest speaker at the “Welcoming the Stranger” Lenten forum. Louie is the Founder of Integrity: the first ministry of the Episcopal Church to Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual people, established back in 1974. That Louie started this organization over forty years ago remains astonishing to me. A mere twenty years ago saying the word “gay” in public at Princeton Seminary could have brought an entire classroom to stunned silence. (I only know because I was there.) So imagine Louie- spit on, called unspeakable names, threatened and reviled throughout much of the Anglican communion for decades and in many Diocese up to this very day.
How’d he manage it? Why didn’t he leave the church? We asked him this question last Thursday night.
The way that Louie received the Gospel in the 1950’s in the Southern Baptist Church in Alabama where he grew up reminds me of how the Mars Rover looked like one thing in space but was entirely different upon touch down. As the Rover penetrated the planet’s atmosphere its heat shields burned away and then its protective aeroshell fell off. A couple miles from the ground, thrusters fired up to stabilize it and a finally a parachute deployed to break the fall. By the time the actual probe landed it looked entirely different because everything that was not the Rover itself had burned up, fallen off or blown away.
The Sunday Sermon Louie heard as a child might focus on the topic of hell and who’s going there, but Sunday School would finish with the whole class singing “Jesus loves the little children, all the little children of the world…” This kind of incongruity made him start to wonder if there was more to Jesus than he was being told about directly. The answer immerged over many years of Bible study and private prayer and public worship. It was a resounding “yes”.
Same thing with the texts in Scripture denouncing homosexuality. On Thursday night Louie talked a little bit about understanding them in their historical context but he didn’t spend much time trying to explain them away. Instead, he spoke lovingly about one of his favorite pieces of Scripture: “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Louie said after decades of study he understands all of the requirements in scripture to boil down to this and he noted, with a grateful smile, “Acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly is something I know how to do.
”It’s remarkable to me how when the church has used the Bible to keep some people out, those very people often wind up, with the church’s accidental help, finding a God who loves them and even invites them to challenge the church itself. That’s Louie’s story, Martin Luther’s story, Absalom Jones’ story (the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church) and maybe even yours too. The Gospel is a contagion. Sometimes the Church tries to contain it and keep some people quarantined, but then someone teaches you to sing “Jesus loves the Little Children” and the cat’s out of the bag: you are the one Jesus loves. He gets his hooks into you and the Gospel spreads anyway. Come, holy infectious love of God.: continue to work out your Kingdom through us and perhaps just as often, despite us.
The Rev. Laurie Jean Wurm