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Blog: We Need Allies - A Sermon in Honor of National Coming Out Day!

This sermon was presented on October the 14th in Honor of National Coming out day (Oct. 11th). This addresses the need for our families, friends and coworkers who support us to speak up.

Coming Out Litany

Resource Author: Bill SmithSusan Willm

October 11, 2008

National Coming Out Day Worship

One: In the beginning God came out

All: through the heavens, the earth, and all of creation.

One: The Children of Israel came out of the bondage of Egypt

All: into the land of God's promise.

One: God came out of a closet of laws and commandments

All: through the door of love in the person of Jesus.

One: Today God comes out in the voices and stories of the poor,

All: the displaced, the oppressed in our midst.

One: Today we worship this out God who loves us boldly and accepts us gladly.

All: Today we come out to praise our God and speak our love for one another.

We all have heard the saying, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” We have all grown up hearing children’s sermons or Sunday school lessons that describe the Christian life as a journey to heaven. It’s as if heaven is some place “out there,” out of our reach or experience, but if we live good lives and are not bad boys and girls, when we die we will go to heaven.

The man in Mark’s story is not talking about going to heaven. He’s interested in how to experience eternal life in the here-and-now. Perhaps in exploring his profound question, we can lay to rest the notion that heaven or eternal life, whichever expression we choose, is a “place” or something outside and unreachable through human experience.

We are all conditioned by our environment. What have we kept since we were little children? As adults, we bring our histories, circumstances, and experiences with us. Our outlook on life is tied to this conditioning. Parents, teachers, friends, neighbors, work associates, and enemies have

all contributed to who we are, what we think, and how we live. The man in Mark’s story was also conditioned by such influences. He never murdered anyone, didn’t run around, never stole anything from anybody, never told a lie, had not defrauded anyone, and had honored his parents. Wow! This fellow could be described as the preeminent community example of integrity. Now here it would be said that his possessions had a hold of him but here I put forth something different may have actually had a hold of him his true life, his authentic life.

October 11th was National Coming Out Day.  It celebrates the moment when individuals came out of the closet as Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Questioning or as an ally. It’s an important day worthy of celebration because coming out of the closet is not easy.  There are repercussions and as we see from the stories in the newspapers—these repercussions can be deadly.  On National Coming Out Day we celebrate the boldness and bravery it takes to come out of the closet and we also celebrate stories—our coming out stories—stories that tell of those moments when we came out of the darkness and isolation of the closet and told the world who we really were as a Gay man, a lesbian woman, as transgender, as queer, as questioning or as an ally. 

In this day and age my heart breaks when I hear that LGBTQI youth have the highest suicide rate than any other teen or young adult. Researchers have found that suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender youth is comparatively higher than among the general population. LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of suicide attempts. According to some groups, this is linked to heterocentric cultures and institutionalized homophobia in some cases, including the use of LGBT people as a political wedge issue like in the contemporary efforts to halt legalizing same-sex marriages. Depression and drug use among LGBT people have both been shown to increase significantly after new laws that discriminate against gay people are passed. Bullying of LGBT youth has been shown to be a contributing factor in many suicides, even if not all of the attacks have been specifically addressing sexuality or gender.

So why come out?  It may have been better if we all just stayed in the closet…no one would know about us, no one would be talking about us and definitely no one could bully us., right?  You know something I was bullied and picked on until I went to college.  When I was little I was born with muscles to short in my legs and they pulled up on my heels so I walked on my toes, my ears were too big, I couldn’t play baseball, I was very socially oriented to kids of my age…whatever  kids will find excuses to tease and or bully.  No one ever called me gay or teased me for it, but I did see them do it to other kids.

National Coming out Day was founded in 1988 by Robert Eichberg, a psychologist from New Mexico and founder of the personal growth workshop, The Experience, and Jean O'Leary, an openly-gay political leader from Los Angeles and then head of the National Gay Rights Advocates. The date of October 11th was chosen because it was the anniversary of the 1987 National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights.

The first headquarters was located near here in West Hollywood offices of the National Gay Rights Advocates. 18 states participated in the first national coming out day, which was covered in the national media. In its second year, the headquarters moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico and participation grew to 21 states. After a media push in 1990, national coming out day was observed in all 50 states and seven other countries.

Right now there are 28 states in which you can be fired just for being gay and  34 if you are transgender.  There is no federal protection.

Alabama, Florida, Idaho, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah still have yet to repeal or strike down their state's sodomy laws, although unenforceable due to the Supreme Court ruling they remain on the books.  Hopefully in the not too far future they will be seen as silly laws such as it is illegal to tie your pet alligator to a fire hydrant in Detroit.

This is why it is important to come out.  When we come out our family, friends and acquaintances now us, love us, and are not threatened by us.  People do not change their minds on how they feel about civil rights by watching an add on tv, some may but statistics show it is because they know someone and know their story and care for that person that minds are changed.

Chris Glaser says in coming out as sacrament; “That coming out is our unique sacrament, a rite of vulnerability that reveals the sacred in our lives – our worth, our lovemaking, our beloved, our community, our context of meaning and our God.”[1] Our coming out is a sacrament in which we come into a wholeness, a holiness of who we are called to be.  We do this in community and those who accept and welcome us participate in the grace of the sacrament of coming out.

But we are not the only ones who have to come out, those who support, love and care for us must come out.  They are the voices that add to the chorus calling for the recognition that we are all created by love, through love and we are all loved by God.

I want to share with you a gentleman’s blog post.  Let me tell you a little about him. His name is Brian McLaren.  Brian is an author, activist, and public theologian.  Brian’s writing spans over a dozen books, including but not limited to Naked Spirituality, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope and why did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed cross the road? Christian identity in a multi-faith world. Brian McLaren is also a trustee at Claremont School of Theology. On October 8th he made the following blog entry…this is all his and I had to share this;

A "farewell, Brian McLaren" moment, or not

I recently received this note from a reader of my books, someone I had met on a trip to Asia a few years back:

I read recently about your recent stand on homosexuality ... Don’t know if everything is correct – but this was my comment on that article:,

“I have regarded Brian as my mentor in coping with expressing my Christian faith in the postmodern world but now I have to break ranks with him - it leaves me devastated. "Neither do I condemn you - go and sin no more" the words of Jesus in the situation of the woman caught in adultery gives me guidance on this issue - "not to condemn" is not the same "it is not sin". To use a supra concept of "Loving God and Loving Neighbour" to excuse what is clearly sin in the Bible is to dilute the fundamental of obeying the Bible for its teaching authority in our lives in defining ethical behaviour - what else will happen next?



Brian my dear friend, thank you for journeying with me and opening my eyes to see my faith being worked out in a post modern world - your journey has taken you in a different direction from where I want to go - I feel lost as to who will be my next guidepost, but I will carry on this journey with Jesus as the author and finisher of my faith ...”,

I met you when you were in [Asia] some years ago. If you get to read this and would like to respond it will be great but otherwise it’s ok. God bless you brother.

Thanks for sending me your comment. I appreciate your warmth and feel your sadness in needing to (as you say) break ranks with me. There is a lot I'd like to say - but I'll just offer three (actually four) brief comments.

First, as you probably know, I'm not a "we have to keep ranks" type of guy. One of the characteristics I most appreciate about "a generous orthodoxy" or "a new kind of Christianity" is the freedom to stay unified and stay in fellowship even when we disagree. In fact, if we only "keep ranks" with those with whom we agree, it pretty much guarantees we won't be challenged to think new thoughts and grow into new areas. So, it's important for you to know that if you hold a different view than I do, whatever the issue - I would not want to "break ranks" with you. In fact, I am continually enriched, instructed, and challenged by people who differ with me on this and other issues - and I hope the reverse could be true.

My view on human sexuality has indeed changed over a period of thirty years, and actually, the views of most conservative Christians have also been changing over that period. It wasn't too long ago that the only conservative position was, "It's a choice and an abomination." When that position became untenable due to increasing data, the conservative position evolved to "it's a changeable disposition, and we know how to change it." When fewer and fewer people who claimed to have been reoriented were able to sustain the reorientation, the position shifted to "it's a hard-to-change disposition, but it can be done with great difficulty." More recently, I hear conservatives say "the disposition may be unchangeable but the behavior is a choice, so people may choose to live a celibate life or a heterosexual life, even against their orientation." All that's to say that it would be unfair of me to break fellowship with people who are themselves on a journey, just because they aren't where I am at this point.

So I'm glad that difference doesn't need to mean division. Which brings me to a second comment ...

In many settings - some cultural, some multi-religious, some denominational, not taking a firm anti-homosexuality stance can cost you your reputation, your job, and even your life. Because you have been an outspoken supporter of my work in the past, I can see how my public stand would put you in a terrible position. If you don't publicly break ranks with me, people may practice "guilt by association," branding you a "friend of sinners," or worse - someone in ranks with a heretic. Those costs would be very high. So be assured - I don't criticize you for breaking ranks with me - and doing so in the most public way possible. I can see how even if you privately agreed with me (and I know you don't), it would be almost impossible to do otherwise than break ranks, as you say. Many of my friends have been in a similar position. I'm deeply sad about this - for both sides - but understand it.

Finally, this issue is not going to go away. A significant percentage of people are gay - I would guess around 6%. This percentage seems to be a remarkably consistent feature of every human culture and population, every denomination, every religion, including those who deny it exists among them. If each gay person has two parents, the issue affects 18% of the population. If each gay person has one sibling and one friend, we're up to 30% who are directly affected by the issue.

It's much easier to hold the line on the conservative position when nearly all gay people around you are closeted and pretending to be other than they are. Eventually for some, the pain of pretending will become greater than the pain of going public. Whenever a new son or daughter comes out of the closet, their friends and family will face a tough choice: will they "break ranks" with their family member or friend, or will they stay loyal to their family member or friend - which will require them to have others break ranks with them?

In my case, I inherited a theology that told me exactly what you said: homosexuality is a sin, so although we should not condemn (i.e. stone them), we must tell people to "go and sin no more." Believe me, for many years as a pastor I tried to faithfully uphold this position, and sadly, I now feel that I unintentionally damaged many people in doing so. Thankfully, I had a long succession of friends who were gay. And then I had a long succession of parishioners come out to me. They endured my pronouncements. They listened and responded patiently as I brought up the famous six or seven Bible passages again and again. They didn't break ranks with me and in fact showed amazing grace and patience to me when I was showing something much less to them.

Over time, I could not square their stories and experiences with the theology I had inherited. So I re-opened the issue, read a lot of books, re-studied the Scriptures, and eventually came to believe that just as the Western church had been wrong on slavery, wrong on colonialism, wrong on environmental plunder, wrong on subordinating women, wrong on segregation and apartheid (all of which it justified biblically) ... we had been wrong on this issue. In this process, I did not reject the Bible. In fact, my love and reverence for the Bible increased when I became more aware of the hermeneutical assumptions on which many now-discredited traditional interpretations were based and defended. I was able to distinguish "what the Bible says" from "what this school of interpretation says the Bible says," and that helped me in many ways.

So - many years before I learned I had members of my own close family who were gay - my view changed. As you can imagine, when this issue suddenly became a live issue in my own family, I was relieved that I was already in a place where I would not harm them as (I'm ashamed to say this) I had harmed some gay people (other people's sons and daughters) earlier in my ministry.

I know this won't be convincing to many people, but it's an honest though brief accounting of my story. I express a similar thought in my new book (p. 52). I'm addressing the issue of hostility toward other religions, something many people feel they must uphold in order to be faithful and orthodox Christians:

I think of a friend of mine from the same background of Christian fundamentalism I hail from. When his son came out, he had no support to help him accept the possibility that his son could be both gay and good. With deep ambivalence, he stood with his tradition and condemned his son. The cost -alienation from his son - was high, but it grew unspeakably higher when his son internalized the rejection and condemnation of his community and took his own life. Or I think of another friend, the mother of a gay son, also from my heritage. She came to me in secret to talk, knowing that one of my sons had come out around the same time as hers. Through tears she said, "I feel like I'm being forced to choose between my father and my son. If I affirm my son, I'm rejecting everything my father stood for. If I stand with my father, I'm rejecting my son."

In religion as in parenthood, uncritical loyalty to our ancestors may implicate us in an injustice against our descendants: imprisoning them in the errors of our ancestors. Yes, there are costs either way.

I want to add one more brief comment. You ask, if we change our way of interpreting the Bible on this issue (my words, not yours) "- what else will happen next?" Here's what I hope will happen. After acknowledging the full humanity and human rights of gay people, I hope we will tackle the elephant in the room, so to speak - the big subject of poverty. If homosexuality directly and indirectly affects 6 - 30% of the population, poverty indirectly and directly affects 60 - 100%. What would happen if we acknowledged the full humanity and full human rights of poor people? And then people with physical disabilities and mental illnesses and impairments? And then, what after that? What would happen if we acknowledged the spiritual, theological, moral value - far beyond monetary or corporate value - of the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, of seas and mountains and valleys and ecosystems? To me, Jesus' proclamation of the reign or commonwealth of God requires us to keep pressing forward, opening blind eyes, setting captives free, proclaiming God's amazing grace to all creation.

So - thanks for your note, for the warm spirit in which it was written, and for the invitation to respond. No need to be devastated. You will be fine. God bless you too, my brother! I hope our paths cross again soon. In friendship, as always – Brian

http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/i-read-recently-about-your.html

In Mark 17 10:21 “Then Jesus looked at the person with love” not sadness or anger for Jesus knew where his heart was at in his own process, “and said There is one more thing you must do.  Go and Sell what you have and give it to those in need.”  When we risk everything and come out we gain a world where we are authentic and comfortable in who we are.  As LGBTQIA people we have an opportunity to continue to share what we know with those in need.  We have an opportunity to continue to educate and stand up for those who may not be ready to stand up for themselves yet.

As Brian said; “What would happen if we acknowledged the full humanity and full human rights of poor people? And then people with physical disabilities and mental illnesses and impairments? And then, what after that? What would happen if we acknowledged the spiritual, theological, moral value - far beyond monetary or corporate value - of the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, of seas and mountains and valleys and ecosystems? To me, Jesus' proclamation of the reign or commonwealth of God requires us to keep pressing forward, opening blind eyes, setting captives free, and proclaiming God's amazing grace to all creation.”  What would happen next….I can’t wait to see.  Amen

 

 

 

[1] Chris Glaser, Coming Out as Sacrament (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1998), 9.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

David Rivers November 09, 2012 at 06:30 AM
This election showed that the tide has turned. 4 out of 4 voted for marriage equality. Kinda a long post.....

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