Jim O'Leary

Waverly Star

By Jim O'Leary

An e-mail newsletter for and about Waverly people, used with permission in the HLW Herald and on this web site.

 Sept. 8, 2003

What a truly open society should look like

A good man named Charlie had been one of my friends and co-workers almost 40 years ago. One day in the lunchroom he told me this story:

For as long as he can remember, Charlie had been teased about being a sissy.

The first summer out of high school he had a job with a construction crew moving around Minnesota. The other crew members razzed him all the time.

One evening after work Charlie was up in his room reading while the rest of the crew were down in the hotel bar. (Charlie never took to tobacco or alcohol.)

A rather pretty girl knocked on his door and told Charlie that his friends down in the bar had paid her to go up and see if Charlie wanted a "party." Charlie invited her in and after talking with her for a while, he invited her to go for a walk.

On the walk, Charlie bought her an ice cream cone and when they sat down on a park bench to enjoy the ice cream, the young lady started to cry.

When Charlie asked her what was the matter, she said, "You're the first guy in as long a time as I can remember who's treated me like I was a human being."

I was able to stay in touch with Charlie right up until his death. He had had an excellent career as a social worker, mostly dealing with troubled teen-agers who had been adjudicated as delinquent and locked up.

As a social worker myself, I had the privilege of working with many other men and women like Charlie who were often regarded by ignorant people as somehow their inferiors.

The reason I bring this up is because of the fact that so-called "gays" have been in the news lately and the issue of so-called gay rights is being politically exploited.

The recent decision of the Episcopal Church at their national convention in Minneapolis to accept a gay man as a bishop is an example.

I applaud this decision because I consider it a courageous decision arrived at in a democratic fashion and something of which the Episcopal Church can be proud.

The Episcopal Church in the United States has 2.3 million members and it has put itself at risk of being misunderstood and vilified, even by some of its own members. The Religious Right is likely to interpret this decision as endorsing sexual license.

I am sick and tired of the homophobia I see all around me. I hate to see decent high school students like Charlie once was, called names such as "faggot" or "lesbo" because they are different.

I have known too many decent men and women who had to live in a "closet," suffering all their lives for a human condition they couldn't help.

Most of them led chaste lives so far as I knew, and it was none of my business in the first place whether they did or not.

The gay rights issue isn't about "marriage" at all. Nor is it about sexual misbehavior. It is about fairness, respect for human dignity, tolerance, and understanding.

I had the privilege of workingwith some wonderful human beings who accepted me as I was. Why can't I do the same for them? If they have "partners" in loving relationships, why can't they be treated like anyone else and why can't their partners, who may tend them in their last illness, have the same rights as the rest of us?

Rev. Harvey Cox, a Baptist theologian on the faculty of the Harvard Divinity School, wrote about this in the Aug. 12, 2003 issue of The Wall Street Journal.

Dr. Cox said, "The Episcopal Church has done the other denominations a great favor. It has boldly stood up to a difficult issue. The opponents of Bishop Robinson's confirmation quoted Bible verses. The only trouble with that is that one can quote Bible verses that condemn eating any pork product.

"The trouble with flinging out texts is that everyone is selective about what to quote and what not to. Not only did St. Paul tell women to be silent in the churches, he also told slaves to obey their masters.

"Reason also has a role to play, along with experience. In the last decades many gay and lesbian people, including good Catholics and Protestants among them, are now part of our lives. They fix our TV's, teach in our schools and colleges and write the books we read.

"The vast majority of them shun the 'gay world.' They are too busy doing cancer research and taking care of our very lives as our physicians and nurses.

"Most of us would prefer to be in the hands of a skilled gay brain surgeon or airline pilot rather than to be left at the mercy of a straight one who is just learning the ropes.

"For years now many local churches of different denominations have identified themselves as 'opening and welcoming' congregations.' So? Gays do not like to be singled out as different, nor do they want to belong to 'a gay church.'

"They want to be treated as we all do, while they try to meet their own spiritual needs and follow the teachings of Jesus (who never once uttered a syllable about homosexuality) to care for the wounded, feed the hungry and show compassion to the broken-hearted."

No, I am not becoming an Episcopalian, nor am I going to tell you whether I am straight or gay.

I am going to tell you, though, that all of us owe a big thank you for the tough struggle the Episcopalians endured in trying to do the right thing.

They did what I think was the right thing. They made this a better country by showing all of us what a truly open society should look like.

And, dare I say it? They have shown us also what the Kingdom of God itself should be, a place where all are called and welcomed.

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