A few years ago, I went to All Saints Church in Pasadena and heard a sermon about a young, gay man who’d recently been bullied.
He’d been beaten up for the simple reason that he was gay.
According to recent studies, gay people are even more at risk than the disabled when it comes to bullying: they are 28% more likely than the disabled to suffer physical and emotional abuse in their lives.
All Saints has a strong presence of gay folks. LIke Desmond Tutu, who recently said he would “not worship a God who was homophobic,” All Saints is inclusive, refusing to honor or promote closets of shame.
That Sunday there was so much support for the gay man who’d been bullied, and the compassion in the community was palpable.
It was a profound experience of the energy of collective compassion.
Thich Nhat Hahn, a Zen Buddhist Monk I’ve learned so much from over the years, often talks about the importance of having a sangha, a community where compassion and understanding are practiced.
In a talk he gave at Stanford, he suggested that scientists might one day be able to measure the collective energy of compassion, and help us to understand just how strong a force it is.
Several weeks ago, I talked to a cousin of mine who’s getting her degree in theology and disability from a seminary in Seattle. My cousin has a boy with down syndrome, and feels called to ministry in this area. She’s especially sensitive to bullying, and the negative attitudes many people have toward the disabled, since her own son is at risk.
We talked that day about the prejudice the disabled in our society have to overcome — the perception many people have that they are less than other people, and because of their disability, inferior. And we also talked about the prejudice that gay people have to face.
Like many people, I told my cousin, I grew up thinking that gay people were strange, and different from me; but, over the years — mainly from contact with gay people — I’ve learned that we are not fundamentally different. We are the same. We are different only in sexual orientation.
For a while, I was active in musical theater. In one of the productions I was in, it happened that most of the dancers were gay. I used to listen to their conversations when we were in rehearsal, and waiting on the stage for direction.
One day I heard one of the young men complaining to a friend about the fact that he gave his lover a present for Valentine’s Day, but his lover didn’t reciprocate.
Wow, I realized, he sounds exactly like me; he’s not different at all.
If I had any homophobia in me, that experience cured me of it.
That morning at All Saints Church, I was sitting next to a gay couple in their 30s.
During the passing of the peace (the part of the service where everyone turns to their neighbor and greets them), the couple embraced, and shared a sweet, short kiss.
When I felt the love and respect they had for one another, the fact that they were gay no longer mattered.
I enjoyed being with them, the same as I enjoy being with heterosexual couples who are happy, and in love. They give me energy, and hope.
That Sunday, no religious dogma was preached, and no religious answers were given to the problem of bullying. Still, I went away wishing that what I’d experienced that Sunday could be bottled and distributed worldwide.
Since then, I’ve become convinced that the world would be a much better place if we didn’t try to prove our strength by dominating and humiliating others.
Along with Desmond Tutu, I feel strongly that God’s arms are wide enough to include everyone — rich and poor, gay and straight, the beautiful and the not so beautiful, the disabled and the physically strong.
We are all precious in God’s sight. Everyone counts. No one is less than.
If that’s not the case, and I have to go to a homophobic heaven and worship a homophobic God, I will join Bishop Tutu in the other place.