Spreading the Miracle
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
30 July 2006
Back in the 1960’s Bruce Lowe was a pastor in Louisiana at the height of the Civil Rights movement. When Bruce took a stand in support of integration, the result was that he had to leave his pastorate; many were not prepared to hear a prophetic voice. Bruce then spent the rest of his working life as part of the federal government’s effort to integrate hospitals in the South. Bruce would make sure that African-Americans were receiving the proper medical care.
In his eighties, retired and enjoying life, Bruce, who had already worked tirelessly for civil rights, encountered a new issue. His friend Louise was concerned that her gay brother would go to hell because he was gay. Bruce’s initial reaction was that homosexuality is a sin, condemned by scripture. However, his wife Anna Marie was the one who said that surely Louise was wrong. Anna Marie’s compassion and Bruce’s commitment to civil rights, led him to study this issue. Now, I ask you, how many folk who are in their eighties would read sixty volumes of scholarship on a particular issue to make sure that they have an educated understanding?
As a result of his research, Bruce came to the opinion that instead of condemning same-sex relationships, there is actually biblical support for the blessing of such relationships. But Bruce didn’t stop there. I think if the story ended there it would be impressive enough, but that’s only the beginning.
Bruce wrote an extensive letter to his friend Louise arguing for the biblical support of same-sex relationships. Friends encouraged him to post the letter on-line, which he did at the website godmademegay.com. Since posting the letter, Bruce has received over 3,000 responses. He’s had folk inform him that his letter kept them from committing suicide. He’s received e-mails from around the world from people seeking help and advice.
I know that there are a number of folk in this congregation who have read and been encouraged by the Letter to Louise. Over the last year and a half, you have shared these stories with me. I was very interested by Paula Sophia’s. When I recommended that we honor Bruce as our first Hero of Hope recipient, she was quite excited and enthusiastically supported the idea. Then Paula told us a story about the Episcopal diocese of Oklahoma. When Bishop Moody was trying to decide whether to support Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Moody read the Letter to Louise. Bruce’s work convinced the bishop to support Gene Robinson. Not only that, when Bishop Moody informed all the parishes in the state about his decision and why he had made it, he also sent along a copy of the Letter to Louise to every Episcopal parish in the state for them to use in their dialogue on the issue. I’m not sure that Bruce knew that story before today.
In my own life there is a curious connection. After I had come out to my mother, she called her good friend Carrie Oertlie, the chaplain at Baptist hospital, to talk through the issue. Carrie gave Mom a copy of the Letter to Louise to read, which Mom found incredibly helpful. A couple of weeks later Mom mentioned to me that there was this great document that I should read and when she told me what it was, I told her that not only did I know about and had read it, but that Bruce and Anna Marie were dear friends of mine and members of the church I was serving at the time.
I first met Bruce and Anna Marie at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Atlanta in 2001. Our denomination was debating homosexuality for the first, and so far only, time. I was serving my church in Fayetteville, Arkansas and had no clue that I’d eventually be Associate Pastor at Royal Lane. During the debate on homosexuality, I sat with a group of Royal Lane members, including Bruce and Anna Marie. I remember being quite encouraged that this elderly, respectable couple were so strongly on the side of gay equality. I regret that Bruce never gained the floor during that debate, because he would have spoken eloquently and passionately in support of gay people. I count it a great fortune in life that I subsequently came to serve at Royal Lane and become close friends with Bruce and Anna Marie.
Bruce has worked tirelessly on behalf of gay equality in Baptist life. He writes letters and speaks with Baptist leaders regularly. He has organized discussion groups and has worked to get more dialogue going. Many of his efforts have not been realized, because there is a lack of courage on the part of many of my former colleagues to publicly state what is their personal opinion. But Bruce is still there kindly and gently nudging and encouraging them. Bruce is now 91 and keeps up with his efforts to improve life for those of us in the GLBT community.
Allow me one tangent. Probably the most courageous thing that Bruce and Anna Marie ever did for me is that they agreed to become high school Sunday school teachers when they were in their late eighties. Though they only served with me in this capacity for a few months, I know that they touched the lives of young people who got to learn from this courageous, prophetic, and compassionate couple what it truly means to be a Christian.
Over the course of this month I have been preaching about the miracle that is the Christian church and specifically the miracle that is the Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City. We have a powerful and important ministry to reach out and touch the lives of people in this community and in this state, and because of our connections with the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, our ministry is national and international.
The message we proclaim is the radically inclusive message of Jesus, who welcomes all people to participate in the life of God. It is a vision that comes from Jesus, who defied the religious traditions of his day in order to include those people who would otherwise be excluded.
These gospel texts today are simply representative of what we’ve seen throughout the Gospel of Mark this year. In response to the stubborn dogma of the Pharisees, Jesus proclaims
Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.
In 2006 disciples of Jesus still must utter those sentiments against religious institutions who would deny equality to those Christ is closest too. The church universal continues to participate in racism, sexism, homophobia, and the oppression of immigrant workers. True disciples of Jesus, however, understand the liberating, compassionate vision of Jesus and live into that reality in their daily lives. Our mission, the miracle we have to share, should occupy us every day.
And it isn’t simply the message that it is okay to be gay and be a Christian. Yes, there are many people who need to hear that message. Many of the folk in this room have powerful stories about how they struggled with being gay because of their commitments to Christianity. Just today Michael Bratcher was talking with a new friend of his and told him that he would be going to church tonight and invited the friend along. The young man was shocked to learn that there was a church for gay people. A place like the Cathedral of Hope or a person like Bruce Lowe is a witness that faithful, committed Christians can be gay or straight.
But in the last year we have come to realize that our vision is not limited to this important aspect of our ministry. I would remind you of the slogan that Judy Hey coined for us, “The gay church where it is okay to be a Christian.” Our vision has always been one of reclaiming Christianity, and I think that needs to be our challenge as we approach our sixth anniversary. More often then not when I encounter people out in this community gay and straight, they are more shocked that I’m a minister than that I’m gay. Many people think that Christianity is irredeemable -- that the church has hurt too many people and been too much a source of destruction and harm. The evidence is overwhelming, especially in this state where right wing religious zealots have abused positions of political power in ways that oppressed instead of liberated, that destroyed people instead of showing compassion, that robbed people of hope and instead fostered despair.
I think our challenge is to reclaim what it means to be a Christian. It’s not about a bunch of rules and purity codes. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a radical participant in a community of liberation, compassion, and hope. And we’ve already seen encouraging signs of how that vision is getting out there. Gwen and Philip O’Brien have joined this church because Philip realized one day that he could no longer be a part of a church that excluded people.
So our challenge in the next year and coming years is to take the message of Jesus out into our community. Not just to the library commission when they segregate gay themed books or to the school board advocating for the protection of GLBT students. We need to be there alongside our Mexican sisters and brothers when they are standing up for their basic human rights. We need to walk with our African-American sisters and brothers when they commemorate their civil rights movement and remind all of us that racism is still a serious problem. We need to be there with the poor when minimum wage reform comes up for debate again. We need to advocate for better health care for our senior citizens. We need to encourage the government to do right by our veterans and service people and quit treating them as expendable for a political cause instead of as human beings of sacred worth.
Today we honor someone who stands as a symbol of courage and hope. Not only that, he stands as a symbol for what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It is an adventure that never stops, no matter what our age, health, or situation. Let him be an encouragement to us as we live into our vision as the Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City.
So, I present to you my good friend and role model, the Rev. Bruce Lowe. When I first e-mailed him asking him to accept this award, this is the response he sent to me:
Scott, I have just read your incredible message, and all I can think of is that I have no business accepting a "Hero" award. Anna Marie is lying down at the moment, so she doesn't know about it yet. Without question, she will agree that I don't deserve it.
But your kindness and the support others have given you about this make me think I would be an ingrate to decline it. And I suppose Anna Marie would agree with that. So unless she vetoes it, I shall, with much gratitude, accept.
Scott, this is one of the biggest surprises I have ever had, and I can't thank you and your people enough. The Lord's richest blessings be on you and your work. Bruce