Monday, April 18, 2011

Orientation and Faith

I went to Chicago to integrate my training in psychology and pastoral counseling. I went to learn and to net work. I also had an additional goal of using my personal time as a pilgrimage. I was going to worship in a variety of ethnic churches that represented the diversity and scope of the Church, the Body of Christ. I worshiped at churches made up of Assyrians, Copts, Roma, Norwegians, Chinese, Native Americans and Africans. I also attend the houses of worship of other faiths. This included Vietnamese and Tibetan Buddhists, Moslems and Jews. Between my work at Emmaus, teaching at Adler and my pilgrimage my time was full. I was not looking for yet another focus. However life is not that simple and I was introduced to yet another journey, I was to visit GL BT churches and churches that welcomed GLBT Christians.

I taught “ Introduction to Adlerian Psychology” at the Adler School of Professional Psychology on Mondays. After class I would attend Mass at St. Peter’s in the Loop. One Monday I walked over to Daley Plaza. Across the street was the Chicago Temple. It is a church of the United Methodist Church. It is the tallest church above street level in the world. I walked over for a tour. I have already described the church and my experience there. However, on my way out of the church I was reading material about the UMC and discovered that it was a welcoming church. It had made the decision to be inclusive and accept homosexual members into its congregations.

The Chicago Temple: United Methodist Church

It made me think of our guys. Many of our guys were raised in the church and have strong religious convictions and yet feel unworthy of attending churches or unwelcome to attend. Some feel the invitation is conditional, the condition being they become straight. I wondered how their spiritual needs were being met. I decided to attend a GLBT church.

This was not an impulsive decision. When I first came to Emmaus Ministries I was afraid they would be homophobic. As usual, the clash between my training as a psychologist and my Catholic faith presented me with some challenges. APA is clear, it views conversion or reparative therapies as ineffective and possibly unethical. However, the APA acknowledges that some homosexuals with strong religious convictions may feel so strongly about their sexual identity that they cannot be happy as a self-accepting gay man or lesbian. In those situations being a non-practicing homosexual may be viewed as preferable to self-hate or participating in treatments that are viewed as ineffective and possibly heterosexists. Emmaus Ministries is clear that it is consistent with Catholic teaching on homosexuality. It believes marriage is between one man and one woman. It believes that homosexuality is inherently disordered. It also believes that homosexuals cannot be discriminated against and that gay men and women must be treated with respect.

For me, the way I was able to navigate this very real challenge in views was to watch the workers and volunteers at Emmaus in action. Their love was not conditional. The guys could change or not change, they could continue to hustle or they could stop. None of that stopped the workers and volunteers from caring about the guys. Additionally, there was a clear understanding that we are all disordered or in varying degrees of brokenness. That being the case we were called upon to care for the guys and take care of our brokenness. Still, I was curious to see how our guys who identified as gay men found places to practice their faith.

The first church I went to was in the Center on Halsted. The Center is the largest GLBT community center in the Midwest. It is huge and offers a variety of services. It also provides a home for the Metropolitan Community Church.

Center on Halsted Roof Top Garden

The MCC church is in the theater of the Center on Halsted. What most of the members have in common is being outside the mainstream of society. The members are mainly gay, lesbian, transgender and questioning folks. What they also have in common is a Christian background and faith. However, they come from various Christian faith traditions and the service reflected this. The service included elements of a Catholic Mass or at least high church Protestant, of Evangelical traditions, as well as charismatic.

People actively participated. They supported one another. They prayed and sang and laughed. The congregation appeared to welcome upper and middle class members as well as the poor and homeless. It was clearly a faith community and home to many people.

Metropolitan Community Church of Chicago: altar

After the service I met with a number of members. They readily welcomed visitors and allies. I then met with one of the pastors. Like the other ministers at the church the reverend had attended seminary. He was ordained and left a mainline church to meet the needs of “his people.” He was compassionate and very likable.

Interview with MCC Minister

One evening I got a call from some former Kaio folks who invited me to go with them to Roscoe’s. Roscoe is a big GLBT bar on Halsted. I walk past it all the time on outreach but had never been inside. I asked why they were going. They were going to hear Tony Compolo speak. It turns out that Roscoe participates monthly in a program called “Living in the Tension.” It is a program in which folks of differing viewpoints are brought together to find areas of common ground while not denying heir real differences.

On this particular night Andrew Marin was sponsoring the event. Andrew was a conservative Evangelical Christian who had three friends come out to him. He responded by praying and listening and then developing a ministry that brings conservative Christians and members of the GLBT community together to finds ways to listen to one another and respect one another.

Andrew Marin discusses his book, "Love is an Orientation"

I was impressed with the work Marin and the Marin Foundation were doing around the country and in Boystown. Then Tony spoke. He is a retired sociology professor and a Southern Baptist. His search for finding common ground has turned him into a lighting rod, people either respect him or they hate him. I was very impressed.

Campolo: Christians & Gay Rights

So I spent an evening at Roscoe. I was in a big gay bar with a disco ball over my head, a free beer in front of me and surrounded by gays and conservative Christians all talking about Jesus. Yep, it was clear I was not in Fort Wayne!

Next I decided to attend a church that was not exclusively or even predominately GLBT. Rather, I wanted to attend a church that was welcoming, to all members. I went to the Urban Church. The Urban Church is a United Methodist seed church. It is in the Spertus Museum of Judaica. The church includes straight and gay couples, families and definitely hippsters. The service was moving. The ministries the church is involved in is impressive. The church had two ministers, one straight and one gay.

United Methodist' Urban Village Church

I found the church to be very friendly. It was also focused on living your faith in community, or “faithing’ on the streets by caring for the poor. It would be a mistake to dismiss this church as simply trending, it was a church with substance. Clearly a Christian with a traditional reading of Scripture would have problems with this approach. However, hopefully they would also be aware that there is a need being filled here. After the service I met with one of the ministers. Again, I found him welcoming, authentic and open to dialog.

A Blessing from Urban Village Church

Emily, my adventure partner in Kaio and I then went to Lakeview Presbyterian Church. I had always wanted to go to this church. It was this massive wooden church that dominated a corner. We saw it whenever our outreach walks took us to Broadway. It was across the street from the Salvation Army Officer Training School. It was in the heart of Boystown.

The church was welcoming, to everybody. It was part of an association of churches that made a point of being welcoming. However it’s focus was on Jesus and on Jesus in action.

Lakeview Presbyterian Church

We watched a Skype interview with a member serving in Africa. We were told about the candle display in the front of the church. Every time a youth was killed in Chicago a candle was lit to remember him or her. Today another candle was lit. As we said our prayers and sang our songs a photo of the young man was projected onto the sanctuary wall, he became real.

Lake View Presbyterian Church II

After the service Emily and I lingered a little and spoke with a few of the members. However, it was a busy place and we also had busy schedules. Emily and I walked back to Uptown while discussing finally getting inside this beautiful church. We spoke of the balance of caring about and acting for social justice and of having time simply to worship. Seems to me both are important and the experience of worship would be empty if either were completely missing.

Lake View Presbyterian Church: outside

I also taught at Adler. One day a student approached me and invited me and the Kaio community to attend an event at the school during the evening. Two student groups, the Adler Jewish Union and Adler Pride was sponsoring the showing of “Paragraph 175.” It was a documentary of the Nazi attempt to rid itself of its homosexual citizens. It was a powerful movie and it showed the ultimate price of intolerance. Afterwards the Kaio community processed what it had watched. I thought of the film often as I continued my new pilgrimage.

I took a detour from the churches and visited Congregation Or Chadesh. I had been to other synagogues in the city and I attended a Jewish Drum Circle. However, this was different. This was a GLBT synagogue.

Congregation Or Chadesh II

I described my visit to Or Chadesh earlier in my blog. This was one of two Jewish congregations targeted by terrorists in Yemen. It was also a reminder of how powerful the need to belong is and how this need was met in this congregation. I was there during the International Transgender Day of Remembrance. That meant I learned even more about the price of intolerance. It also meant I got to see a supportive congregation in action. If my time was not running out I would have visited this congregation again. It was a powerful way to celebrate the Sabbath.

It Gets Better -- Adler School

So my journey continued. I was very aware that I lived in a conflicted world. I taught at a university that unequivocally supported Catholic teaching on homosexuality. However, that teaching also meant an unequivocal stand against discrimination and an emphasis on respect. That included not letting gay slurs pass in classrooms, that meant providing a forum for training for staff, students and faculty on issues related to gender, sexuality and respect.

I was doing my sabbatical at a place that also endorsed Catholic as well as other mainline denominational teachings about homosexuality. However, again, there was nothing black and white about the approach. This was not a place that “Loved the sinner and hated the sin.” Instead it was a place where the workers attended to their own brokenness, articulated their positions on homosexuality when asked and when appropriate and simply loved and served their brothers.

Finally, I was teaching as an adjunct instructor at the Adler School of Professional Psychology. This was a school that had experienced a transformation addressing this subject. Adler had described homosexuality as neurotic behavior. I spoke with Kurt Adler, Alfred’s son. He explained that during his father’s days in Austria homosexuality was a crime and Adler’s position actually was more humane. Today the president of the school is openly gay, there is an active Pride Group. It is also a school that consistently attracts clergy because it is a value-laden school.

I was reminded of Andrew Marin who did not call for Christians or members of the GLBT community to abandon their positions but rather to actively listen, to stop yelling and to search for areas of common ground. That seems very reasonable to me.

As my time was running out in Chicago I found a twofer. I went to an Arabic-speaking Lutheran church in Edgewater. It was a great experience. However, I also learned that the church was using the space of Immanuel Lutheran Evangelical Church. This was a welcoming church. So I went back for a Lutheran service and to tour the church.

Immanuel Lutheran Evangelical Church

I know my friends in the Missouri Synod would have problems with this church. I suspect they would also acknowledge that a need for belonging, for having a place at the tale is being met. The church is not neutral on its position toward its GLBT members. It states “Grace is for everyone or it isn’t Grace.” That is a pretty bold statement.

Immanuel Lutheran Evangelical Church: Chapel

The service seemed very familiar. Much of it reminded me of the liturgy I participate in. Again, the focus was on the Good News and not hugging a rainbow or emphasizing a social issue over theology. What that meant in action however is that faith that says we are to love one another is lived in doing just that. There was no talk of abomination just of loving fellow children of God.

I spent my free time going to ethnic churches and GLBT churches. However that did not mean that I stopped attending Mass. So occasionally I would find myself on Sunday evening looking for a Catholic Church to attend. The University of De Paul was my default church. However I found out that Our Lady of Mount Carmel had services on Sunday evening at 7 PM. I had always wanted to attend this huge Catholic Church in Lakeview.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel: Chicago

Imagine my surprise when I walked in and there were about 450 gay and lesbian Catholics participating in Mass. The service was beautiful, the music grand and people were happy, often moved to tears. During the Lord’s Prayer everyone came together and held hand as they recited the prayer. There was an a real sense of enthusiasm and belonging.

More of Our Lady of Mount Carmel: Chicago

After the service we all met for coffer and snacks. I had so many questions. The group was not part of the local church but rather used it, for the past 20 years. This was AGLO or “Archdiocese Gay and Lesbian Outreach.” AGLO has been meting for 22 years. There was been over 200 Masses celebrated. Members participate in the choir, as Eucharistic Ministers, as lectors and they lead retreats. The archdiocese provides ten priests who rotate throughout the year. Both Cardinal Bernardin and Cardinal George have celebrated mass with AGLO.

I was confused as to why this group was acceptable when Dignity was not. It turns out the group started as a Dignity group. Following the position articulated by Pope John Paul II the church stopped recognizing the group and stopped allowing Mass to be said. After a long negotiation, in which the members resigned from Dignity AGLO was formed. It is recognized as a ministry to the Catholic GLBT community.

Finally the last church I attended was St. Peter’s Episcopal Church for World AIDS Day. By then I was no longer surprised at all of the mainline churches that had struggled to find a way to meet the needs of its gay and lesbian Christians. I did find myself thinking of Andrew Marin and Tony Campolo often. I agree that real respect cannot come in the form of people denying the teachings of their faith to accommodate others. There must be an effort to then look beyond this for common ground. If we are called upon to love one another than surely this must be worth the effort. So that was my additional, unanticipated pilgrimage.

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