Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Living a Lie

Beloved has a small number of friends, as I mentioned in the last post, who know about us. I learned this week that one of those friends has issued a judgment upon me, of sorts.

Beloved was inviting L. (who is also her colleague) to come to my church. She and another friend have decided to come for a visit (she has done this just once before). L said, "I can't do that." Beloved pressed her, saying, "If I can, you can," referring, of course, to the fact that Beloved identifies herself as an atheist (though I've spoken of how complicated and surprising that label is, given some of her life experience). L persisted, saying, "I can't do that," with increasing vehemence. Beloved didn't give up (she tends not to). L finally burst out with, "She's living a lie!"

Well. I suppose that's true. Or perhaps I'm simply trying to live, trusting that the visibly true things about me... my love of God, my family, my Beloved, my ministry... are the important things, and that anyone who sees the whole picture will understand why I've chosen to try to walk this slender thread of a line.

When I was in my 20's, long before a life in ministry had ever occurred to me, I was invited to participate in a conference called "Women and the Word." The keynote speaker was the astonishing Virginia Ramey Mollenkott. She is the author of "Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?" as well as "Women, Men and the Bible," and "The Divine Feminine: Biblical Imagery of God as Female." She described herself as a radical lesbian, Southern Baptist, feminist evangelical minister. Her keynote was riveting... it was about liberation, of women, of gays and lesbians... and, as they say, "the Spirit fell." It was amazing. I was mesmerized. It opened a door in my heart.

During the plenary a young woman rose to ask a question. She said, "What you are saying feels absolutely true. But if I said one tenth of what you are saying to my denominational committee, they would never ordain me. What do I do?"

Without a pause, Mollenkott said firmly, "Lie." The room exploded... with shouts, a smattering of applause and calls for quiet, laughter... the sound of shock, the sound of truth hurtling home like a dart into the heart of every person in there. When quiet was restored, she said, in an even louder voice, "Lie. Lie, like the Christians who hid the Jews in their basements so that the Nazis wouldn't find them. Lie, because the truth of the gospel must be given a chance to get a toehold. If what I've said is true, it must find its way into the power structures somehow. Lie, and then work like hell for change once you're in there."

Of course, this is a reconstruction based on a memory nearly 20 years old by now. But this is the core of what she said. I've never forgotten it. So, I guess I am living a lie, in the cause of a greater truth.

(As for L, Beloved looked her dear friend in the eye and said, "You self-righteous son of a bitch." Which, I have to admit, warms the cockles of my heart.)


Barbara said...

Sadly, I believe, "anyone who sees the whole picture" will judge you not on the "visibly true things" about you, but on their own prejudices and sense of right and wrong. I feel the precariousness of your position. Eventually you are going to be forced into the open. Be strong, Celia, there are many of us out here praying for your happiness.

Cynthia said...

Love this! and your Beloved's response to her friend.

Unknown said...

I've come back to this post a number of times today, with the intent of commenting. But I can't decide what to say, or how I feel... I just want you to know that I am thinking about you.

Cecilia said...

Thank you all... I know this is a difficult place. In a way it goes against everything we claim in the gospel. I blog it because of my uneasiness with it, as I'm sure you understand. But I value all your comments... even the ones that don't get posted. I value this community.

Pax, C.

LittleMary said...

self-righteous son of a bitch is right.

lauraj said...

Cecelia, I love this post. I understand Beloved's friends' feelings, but I adore B's response! And you are doing what you need to be doing at this moment in time and history. The Mollenkott story is wonderful. I can just hear her saying it, too.

Truth is not always as straight-forward as we would like to think. "Tell the truth, but tell it slant ..."

June Butler said...

Cecilia, I don't know what to say either. I know that for too many years of my life I was homophobic. It took me a very long time to change, so how can I point the finger at someone who takes time to get to a certain place. Peace to you.

BTW, I call myself a recovering homophobe, lest I forget what I was.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This is incredibly powerful. I found your blog a few months ago when you posted the lyrics to Susan Werner's "Why is Your Heaven So Small" (I'm also a big Susan fan, so I have Google alert set for her name so I catch all news articles and blog entries about her -- and your post came up in that).

I am a 26-year-old Episcopalian woman considering ordained ministry and I feel such a sense of connection and solidarity with you... having just spent the past 9 months in an ministry internship and talking about all the various things you can and can't be "publicly" when you are ordained -- whether an extreme case like yours and what you have to hide about your very existence, to smaller things just about your appearance, language use, etc. Such tough issues... and reading your blog really speaks deeply to me. I would love to be able to have further conversations with you about all this. (Check out my blog for some of my own thoughts... mostly just old sermons from last year, but I hope to start updating it more frequently...)

BooCat said...

Cecilia, It is not you who is living the lie. It is the segment of society that says that your sexuality is a choice, that your relationship with Beloved is a sin and not holy and blessed by God, it is the "godly Christians" who would destroy your life without thinking twice about it who are living the lie. You are in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

Ah, isn't THAT a breath of fresh air? It's a do not ask, do not tell world, alas, and the cost of "being open" is often WAY too high. And it is certainly not up to anyone else to tell us or force us to pay that cost. What arrogance.

Of course we lie. we lie all the time. We live in a homophobic society. When we don't lie, we sometimes pay enormously big costs. or sometimes just suffer the small cuts that add up to bleeding all over. (I am still rankled by an immigration officer in DC earlier this summer who insulted us as a ocuple and made me for the first time really HATE my country. I am seriously, seriously starting to think about leaving, except I ahve been an expat before and that is lonely in a different way.)

I am so tired that being open about who I am is magnified into Making a Statement. No, sometimes I don't want to. And sometimes I won't do it.

And it comes up over and over. Right now I am away from home at a professional conference where I don't know anyone. There's that constant care in the back of my mind: do I allow the gendered pronoun to sneak out in conversation if I mention my partner? Do I know this person well enough to judge whether it will be an issue to him, whether it will tag me as "that lesbian", whether he has a bias that will sneak out when he anonymously reviews my publications, or my grants (which are my livelihood).

Generally I don't tell male colleagues because most of them do not react well to lesbians. Scientists are very macho and VERY closeted, I know only a few who are out.

My BP is a Catholic who sings in the choir of her church. She has not "come out" to Monsignor about her divorce or the reason for it. She anticipates with dread that he will tell her to stop singing in the choir, and deny her communion, and take her religious family away from her. Though I;m sure he will still expect her to tithe; that's what he did to the divorced woman who remarried. And if he does this to my BP, it will take a lot of willpower for me not to go to the rectory and yell at him.

Of course we lie.


Anonymous said...

I, too, am living a lie right now. I feel so schizophrenic some days!

But to be honest would put not only me, but my own Beloved as well, at risk. I pray for the day when real, faithful, life-giving love will be honored no matter who practices it.

I wish I could sign my name, but it would be too dangerous. Just know that I am praying for you, and for all of us who are forced to violate our consciences because of other people's prejudices.

Davis said...

Peace be with you, friend.

Kate said...

What Boocat said, pretty much. Also, *hugs*.

johnieb said...

Everyone has been eloquent, especially you, Cecilia; your stories (and link to Mollencott) were especially vivid.

How do we best resist the lies of a heteronormative patriarchy which silences us, belittles us, and attempts to grind us to nothingness? I believe we do so in the places to which God calls us, to which you all bear a most graceful witness.

Freedom Bound said...

My bishop told a colleague this week that he thought I was doing a great job.....

He'd dismiss me without a single thought if he knew whom I sleep with every night.

That is the lie. That he could forget everything else because of whom I love. I wonder how many lies he has to tell himeslef to stop him doubting the first lie?

Big hugs.


Anonymous said...

Also closeted, this male priest can only say "Amen" to the injuction to Lie, and then work for change once in place. Twenty years into ministry and still not able to be open about it, but at least I'm now being more challenging about the church's blinkered vision from the pulpit.

Anonymous said...

Dear sister,

I'll be honest.

Virginia's advice does not sound too righteous or wise to me. How are we going to work for change if everyone is hidden, and living a lie?

I understand, Cecilia, that you have to do what you're feeling is right for you, how God seems to be leading in your life.

But, truly, I can't help but think that living a lie, and leading a double life is bound to take an awful emotional, and spiriutal toll, and eventually lead to terrible heartbreak.

I also can see in certain ways, in the case of your partner's friend, how it might compromise your Christian witness, and ability to minister.

It all definitely would not be for me. But, I know that your situation is very difficult, and heartbreaking. I'm sure I can't even imagine it.

Hugs and prayers, Cecilia. Our Lord guide and direct all your steps. I appreciate all your honest sharing here.


Cecilia said...

I suppose I knew this post would generate some discussion... but I am very, very grateful for the extensive and honest sharing... both by people in similar circumstances to me and by people who are reaching out in empathy, though mine is not their story.

Thank you, all.

Pax, C.

Anonymous said...


I've been reading your blog for some time, constantly moved by your writing and your struggle but have never had the courage to approach a complete stranger until now.

I'm a typical white male in the majority of my denomination, with several "out" friends and a few not-so-out, and it hurts knowing that while their gifts are welcome in my denomination, they can not at this time be ordained, unless like yourself they are very selective with whom they reveal the fullness of their lives with.

Your encouragement to "lie" so that truth can gain a toehold is a radical shift in my vision of how the Church can change. I'm so used to our resistance to conservative elements being overt actions against the current unjust rules that somebody suggesting another path to change is refreshing.

Keep speaking the wonderful, painful truth that is your life. Hopefully soon all in both yours and my denomination are able to reveal the fullness of who they are, as God saw them in the womb.

Anonymous said...

That bit about Mollenkott reminds me of another story told by a Methodist minister at his retirement (actually, at a Pride service held by the MCC that rented a sanctuary from his congregation, the church having two sanctuaries). Now, I can't say that anyone should have been surprised about him, as he'd set off even poorly working gaydar. But he had been closeted for his 40 year long career as a minister.

As a seminarian, when he was coming to grips with the implications of his identity (and this was before Stonewall), he sought counsel from one of his wise teachers. The teacher told him to lie, and follow his vocation, because he was needed and was fine just the way he was. So that's what he did.

Just as an example of what he did that was useful to LGBT: he rented MCC worship space at a time when they had outgrown house-church status and needed space, but no one would rent to them once they found out what MCC was. This city was one in which the church house had been torched in the 1970s, and a lot of the same attitudes remained in the early 1990s. This was a MAJOR service to Christian LGBT in this town. He also rented office space to controversial groups needing cheap space, eg Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.

This minister told his life story at the MCC Pride interfaith service, which happened also to be the week of his retirement. We gave him a standing ovation. He has retired to another state, and can be as out as he likes, without causing any turmoil to his previous conference.


Catherine said...

Cecilia, I have been away but got the feed that led me to read your post. We can thank MadPriest...

Oh my sister...my beloved sister...if I were your friend and I were there, I would sit quietly beside you and hold your had in the comforting silence of understanding and compassion, of mercy and Christ's love.

You are loved, Cecilia, and thanks be to God for Beloved standing by you as she does.


Anonymous said...

Well, I'm sad to have been out of the loop this week - missing these posts until now.

The lie is ubiquitous. But it is also dangerous.

I had lunch last week with a friend whose congregation is in great upheaval because of The Lies. Closeted pastor just left, feeling betrayed that the congregation she was called to serve has identified itself one way but was actually not like that at all.

Congregation was hurt because (for some) there was something about their pastor that didn't quite seem relaxed -- the ones who didn't know, and (for others) there was such a burden of helping her hide her true self - and her partner -- the ones who did know.

Authenticity is crucial, and it's hard to be free until we are real. (Easy for me to say as a white, hetero, married, woman with healthy kids.)

You are clearly a great pastor, Cecelia. My prayer is that a day will come (My own I HAVE A DREAM SPEECH) when you and your beloved can go to potluck dinners in the church basement hand-in-hand, that her photo can be seen in a prominent place on your desk, that her picture and name can appear on the church's web site in the "Meet our Pastor" page.

One day . . .

Joe said...

Um...wow. I am a every now and again reader and I liked this post very much.

I understand that you aren't encouraging people to lie but living openly comes at a cost and that cost is dangerous to those we love and it can ruin our hope for change.

Lie. It's not always a bad thing. I am going to remember your story for a long time.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

May perfect Being endow you with the strenght to be -- may perfect Love help you love even when faced by hate -- may holy Widsom enlighten the hearts of darkness -- and may all be well, at last, in perfect peace.