Today I thought to myself, “What’s a nice Jewish Lesbian like me doing in the pews instead of the streets for the Pride parade?” Until today I hadn’t taken a conscious look at my dwindling interest in the Pride parade. I knew it was partly based on not being able to stand the crowds and heat. But when I woke up today and chose Church over Pride, I had to wonder what else was going on. As usual, Mother Melissa’s sermon struck many personal chords. When she described Peter and Paul as “the one who denied Christ and the one who persecuted Christians” and asked “how we allow their stories to inform our stories,” I started to scribble down my thoughts.
Part of why it is remarkable for me to choose church hymns over political chants is that I have been a Lesbian/Feminist, Leftist and Jew long before I dreamed of stepping foot into church. My ancestors fled the Eastern European pogroms, and crosses were almost as scary to me as vampires. I grew up with no knowledge but many prejudices—about the Christian faith and the people who I thought were strange enough to believe in it.
Hearing Carter Heyward speak in 1980s Boston was for me a huge cognitive dissonance. She was a progressive, a lesbian, and… a PRIEST! But I didn’t think of her again until years later. I thought she and the nuns who lived among and were murdered along with the poor and oppressed in El Salvador were exceptions to what I perceived as monolithic, narrow-minded Christianity.
In 1991 or so I visited St. Paul’s with my partner Marilyn. While I still had barely one toe in the door, the music, mystery and warmth here began to slowly wear down those steel gates around my heart and imagination. I soon realized that I was not welcomed at St. Paul’s in spite of who I was, not judged or made an exception for. Rather, I was invited to bring every facet of myself, and to become—at my own pace and with all my insecurities and misgivings—an integral member of the patchwork community of faith. Feeling at first like a foreigner, I began to humbly realize that, just as I knew that Jews are not a homogeneous group, Christians came in many stripes (even rainbows), and that the ones at St. Paul’s had open minds and welcoming hearts! The scales fell from my eyes.
As mental and spiritual barriers began to dissolve, I realized that my politically correct community in college, always on the alert for ways to overcome prejudice and make a better world for all, was far more scrutinizing and narrow-minded than the folks at St. Paul’s. To this day, being out as a Christian is far more difficult among lefties, liberals and other Jews than being out as a Lesbian. And I understand where they’re coming from, since it’s where I came from. (And the mainstream image of Christianity is still something I’m loathe to associate myself with.) There’s my Peter.
And how does this relate to Gay Pride, and prejudice? So often society bases its fears and judgment about the “gay lifestyle” on the images we see in the media from the flamboyant Gay Pride Parade—the most over-the-top expression of who we are as a people. Just as the images of scantily clad leather daddies with whips, or drag queens dancing in high heels at Pride do not describe most GLBTQ people, what I thought I knew of Christianity was also the most extreme and superficial expression of it. Many of my assumptions about Christianity were learned from observing televangelists, Anita Bryants and Jerry Falwells. Just like Paul, I severely judged the very people I ended up breaking bread with.
We are all much more than our sexual orientations or belief systems. Being a Lesbian, a Christian AND a Jew means I end up feeling pulled between alliances and unsure how to blend my identities on Sundays (and every other day of the week). But what continues to astound me is that I know with deep certainty that coming to this church grounds me in who I am and connects me with a loving God more than being anywhere else.
Today, after church and the Parade, I went to the Pride Festival with Denise Minard, who I met on Palm Sunday many years ago. She coined the description “EpiscoJewLesbian” for me. As we pinned on rainbow crosses with pink triangles, I half-seriously said, “But people will know we’re Christians!” We visited information tables, sat in the sun, then walked back to the parking lot at St. Paul’s, where acceptance is so taken for granted that it’s barely worth mentioning.
Being all of who we are, sharing our joys, longings and struggles with one another, and not limiting our identities with names or assumptions may well help usher in an age of liberation that surely disciples of all faiths (or no faith) would welcome.
Barb Levy is webmaster at St. Paul's and has her own graphic arts business.