I was in Hell

IN 2000, Bishops of Singapore and Uganda consecrated two men as bishops of the "Anglican Mission in America". Knowing that they had set them selves up in opposition to folks like my Home Parish (St Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco) and knowing that I, a sexually active gay man who wanted to be an Episcopal priest, was on their list of "enemies", I prayed for them: St Gregory's church was big on praying for enemies, you should have seen us on 9/11. One Sunday, I stood vested as a deacon in the morning liturgy and raised my hands upward, and mentioned the AMiA Bishops and clergy (as we then knew them) all by name and asked the congregation to pray God's blessing and guidance on them - meaning "if they're wrong, God help them, if they're right, God advance them.". At that point the congregation normally replied "Lord, Have Mercy." Instead, a priest, one of the two rectors of the parish, stepped forward to the middle of the room and prayed loudly "and for their conversion!" To which the congregation said, "Lord, have mercy."

In an extended email conversation among the liturgical staff after that event it was evident that he thought my prayer misguided and that they were wrong and we were right. No other view was to be accepted in the liturgy at his parish - he, a man who had just come out to the parish and had, obviously, swallowed the party doctrines, hook line and sinker: these AMiA folks wanted to send us all back to the dark ages and we needed them to be enlightened. We were called to enlighten them.

5 or 6 years earlier, talking to my then supervisor at the Episcopal Church Center about the (then) American Anglican Congress and its predecessor the Episcopal Synod of American - especially in terms of one of member of those bodies (Bishop Wantland) that worked closely with my boss, a support person for Wantland's diocese and also a gay man living with his clergy "spouse". The question was how can we as gay Christians make room for those who disagree with us: St Paul says not to scandalize each other, shouldn't we as gay folks side with Saint Paul and stand down our new morality so as to keep from scandalizing those who held an opposing view? The answer was a clear, "No." There was no room for people like that in the Church - the time to insist was now. In the words of Barbara Harris, "let them go." Or, "Good bye and don't let the door hit you on the way out."

One more time leap: A few months after my prayer was "edited" by another gay man, as noted above, I met with the other rector of our parish who asked me, point blank, why it was I wanted to be in communion with those folks who didn't want to be in communion with me - and why I was willing to ignore folks who wanted to be in communion with me. The problem was not that I was rejecting those folks - old friends, comforting faces. The problem was they were rejecting me: not for my sexuality but rather for the heresy (in liberal eyes) of believing in the Bible and the created order of things, of believing in a bodily crucified and bodily resurrected Christ; the heresy (in liberal eyes) of being a mostly (small o) orthodox Christian. A quote currently making the rounds - "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying: 'You are mad, you are not like us.'" - Abba Anthony of Egypt. I was mad in their eyes.

Yesterday (when I wrote the essay), an openly noncelibate gay man was confirmed in his election as a Bishop in the Episcopal Church. The key word here is not gay, I think, but rather non-celibate. He intends as Bishop to live with his sexual partner in the Bishop's residence. This event is predicted to cause schism and turmoil - a nullity of convention has been declared already by the Bishop of Pittsburgh, a chaos resulting from lack of leadership and intervention from overseas bishops. Yet Monday morning Canon Robinson set on national TV and said his election would bring hundreds into a church that now saw that church as welcoming and inclusive.

And, I want to admit - he may be right. The chance to attend a rite with one's lover, to sit there and enjoy the music, to be told God loves you, and to hear a sermon about "green ecology" and "social justice" and "liberal politics" would be a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning - and to be followed up by coffee and maybe brunch with friends at some local eatery. We'd all go home and feel much better. It would help so much.

Why then, was a woman crying in the corner of the room at Canon Robinson's election - lamenting that her church had departed from the faith? Why then are thousands of Anglicans around the world prepared - as never before - to get out a can of whoop-@55 should this event come to pass? Why are soon-to-be-exEpiscopalians (at least one family of them) already showing up at my Orthodox parish's door? Because, "Salvation", as Fr. Schmemann says, "...is not only not identical with help, but is, in fact, opposed to it."

Modern psychology and the obvious advances in culture and education which have brought us the freedom to show full frontal nudity to teenagers and to teach them condom use, have also taught us that ancient cultures were horribly backward in their understandings of sex and sexuality. It is so painfully obvious that the aberration of Judeo-Christian ethics must be stopped that some folks will go so far as to imply that such morals are not part of the faith at all - never intended to be included in the "enlightened" teachings of Jesus.

There is, however, another view:

Eugene Rose, a gay man living in San Francisco in the 1950s and 60s, wrote,
"...my mother has discovered, rather illegitimately (I shall tell you of it later) that I am homosexual; if you have not surmised the fact already, it is time you know of it. I have not quite been kicked out of the house, but I probably shall not return after September. My mother was quite hysterical, but my father persuaded her that I am only 'sick.' I have agreed to go to my friend's psychiatrist in S.F., which I was rather interested in doing for other reasons, at parental expense.
"I suppose you have also surmised by now that I shall live this summer, and sleep, with a young man I love, and who loves me."
(letter dated June 1956, quoted online.)
Later we learn,
It was Rose's gay partner in San Francisco who introduced him to the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. But while Rose was immersing himself in the mystique of ancient Orthodoxy, his partner, who had written a book about the Church, was losing interest in it. Soon the Church took Rose wholly, and he and his partner split up.
A social doctrine adopted by the Council of Bishops of the Moscow Patriarchate last year describes homosexuality as "a sinful injury to human nature" to be "treated by sacraments, prayer, fasting, repentance and the reading of the Holy Scriptures."
Referring to his young adult years before he became fully involved in the Orthodox Church, Rose once said: "I was in hell. I know what hell is."
I was in hell. I know what hell is.

I stand by those words of Fr Seraphim. This Hell is being driven by one's hormones and knowing that to deny them is unhealthy. Hell is being driven by one's desires and fantasies and knowing that to deny them is to deny the only joy there is, the joy that defines your whole being. Hell is a fine San Francisco morning standing in one's bedroom while an orgy takes place in the hallway outside. Hell is a foggy San Francisco afternoon standing in a room full of men involved in various actions with each other - and somewhere a voice tells you it's all wrong, but you don't know what to do. Hell is a balmy SF evening on a back porch listening to ten gay men in the middle of the most liberal Episcopal Diocese in the country insist that all churches are homophobic and evil. Hell is being told in a Sunday sermon that Jesus died in 1st century Judea, that Jesus isn't alive, that Jesus isn't coming back, and that he would want that you should "follow your bliss" to find the will of God in your life - all of this when you know now that your "bliss" makes you more depressed every time you indulge in it.

Hell is a "Pride Parade" where no one looks at you, where know one returns your compliments where no one bothers to notice you - on a day when egos are supposed to be full and fluffy, hell is having one's ego bashed. Hell is knowing that at this point someone reading this essay will say "Oh, he's ugly and bitter, that's all." Hell is watching your friends die for the sake of their own freedom to damn themselves - and hearing them cry "I didn't do anything to deserve this... God is hateful."

Hell is knowing that there is the slightest possibility that these "Jesus Seminar" folks and these other "new theologians" are wrong. That 2000+ years of orthodox Christians are right: what if gay sex is evil? Equally hell is standing next to those who end that conversation by saying "Oh, shut up." Hell is being told that all the Gospel is wrong - millennia of your brothers and sisters in the faith were wrong - that Jesus loves you just as you are and no change is required, we'll just throw out everything that disagrees with that. Hell is being told that this nihilism and denial of any and all truth is exactly what church is supposed to be - liberating us from the dark past of sin and law.

Hell is finding out that no one really wants "a relationship" no matter how much they want it blessed or accepted; rather just the ease of sex, the right to demand acceptance of their neighbors and the ability to collect insurance. They'd also like it to be open, please, not monogamous, with a don't ask don't tell policy and weekends free to "play around." And don't judge us, please.

Hell is standing in the middle of the most gay-friendly city in the country - perhaps the world - and knowing that, please God, there must be something more than this.

Or maybe Hell is belonging to a church that just pats you on the head and says, "That's ok, dear."

Hell welcomes you in from the cold by leaving all the windows and doors wide open and turning off the heat (too great a change can be a shock, you know). No change is required. No shift in vision. "We value every person and support a widely diverse community" means we have no standards, there is no difference between church and Denny's.

There is a way out.

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