Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Location: San Francisco, California, United States

Monday, June 27, 2011

GAY RIGHTS-FAG PRIEST

Gay Rights

Here is a brief history of my involvement in the Gay Rights Movement.

In March of 1963 I preached a sermon at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco about homosexuals. The Gospel for the day spoke of the Christian concern for the outcasts. Homosexuals were not only outcasts but also invisible. I pointed out that they were a silent minority in the church, ignored except as financial donors. If the sexual orientation of a priest became public, it was thought necessary to have him removed from his position.

I was interviewed on the radio and in the newspapers and suddenly I was a queer lover as well as a nigger lover. That sermon of mine was patronizing: I naively suggested that homosexuals needed psychological help, but I did call for love, compassion and forgiveness.

In 1966 I participated in a weekend conference for clergy and homosexuals. It was a dialogue set up to discover our mutual humanity. Gay and lesbian leaders felt the clergy could be valuable allies in the gay rights movement if we got to know each other. We listened to each other’s stories, our lives, goals and ambitions.

As I heard of the pain and oppression, as well as the joys and gaiety of homosexuals, I realized here was another oppressed minority, another group of people deprived of their full humanity “in the land of the free and the home of the brave.” I realized that gay rights were a civil rights issue also.

Together a group of clergy and gays founded the Council on Religion and the Homosexual. Our purpose was to develop dialogue between straights and gays in local churches. We felt that if church people could meet openly gay men and women speak with them, discover their humanity, reconciliation and communication would result.

In 1966, several gay groups sponsored a New Year’s costume ball with proceeds to go to the council. The police were outraged. The vice squad advised us that the gay community was using us clergy. One asked,” Aren’t your wives going to be upset by your hanging around with homosexuals?” They even asked us about our theology. The police warned us that we were being used by the gays. They assured us they would make sure that the laws about dinking and unlawful sexual conduct were obeyed.

When we arrived at the event, police photographers took pictures of the 500 people who attended as they were going into the party. The police entered the party looking for lawbreakers. Our lawyers tried to block their entrance, saying it was a private party. Two lawyers were arrested for obstructing justice. When we clergy tried to block the police entrance we were brushed aside and they would not arrest us. Once inside the police arrested two partygoers for disorderly conduct.

Now we clergy were outraged. Seven of us called a press conference denouncing the police and their discrimination against gays. They would never invade a debutante’s ball or Elks Club costume party. We witnessed clear anti-gay discrimination and we decried what we had seen. Later a judge admonished the police for their action and all charges were dropped against partygoers and lawyers.

I performed a same sex wedding for a young lesbian couple at St. Aidan’s Church in the fall of 1968.

Ministry to Homosexuals was the name of an article I wrote for The Living Church, an Episcopal weekly magazine, sometime in 1964.

I lead a Gay-Straight Support Group in 1970.

I didn't make a big point about my intention to have a ministry with gays and lesbians as I was applying for the job at Trinity. In 1981 that would not have been a strong selling point for me.

Then because I was single, the question arose that I might be gay. Since I had been a gay/lesbian rights advocate publicly since1964, many people had wondered about my sexual orientation. It had always delighted me to know that people worried about my sexuality. The fact is that I am an incurable heterosexual. My real sin was not “homosexuality” but promiscuity. In any case, the discussion was put aside quickly as the committee contained one lesbian and one gay man who were quite open about themselves.


I gave some talks to gay groups. One was the Gay Lesbian Historical Society. I spoke about the early days of the San Francisco gay rights movement of which I was a part. I then invited people to “Try Trinity.” I spoke to a group of parents with homosexual children, and to another group of federal employees who were gay and lesbian. My friend and parishioner John-Michael Olexy, a confessed heterophobe, got me invited. Again I invited the audience to try Trinity.

Chuck was a good example. He came reluctantly at first to Trinity brought along by his partner Bob. Chuck came from a fundamentalist background where he was told homosexuality was bad and wrong and sinful. The words of the Bible were to be taken literally and anyone not baptized in the spirit was going to hell. Well educated and involved in theater, Chuck had no truck with such teaching. He was astonished and delighted when I told him and the class that there were many Christians who were homosexual and many others who believed that gayness was the natural and normal way for some large percent of the population of the planet.


The issue of same gender marriage came up. A male couple came to me and said they wanted to have a service of blessing their relationship in the church. I said OK, let’s do it. I felt, and still strongly feel, that homosexuals who want a marriage or blessing of their relationship should certainly have one. In 1982 this was an emerging issue for the church to face. The church on the national level is still moaning and groaning about it.

I saw this service as a quiet ceremony with just a few of their friends. The couple sent out invitations that announced their “wedding.” It was one of those already-printed kind. They were not tidy about the distinction between a wedding and a marriage. I failed to see any difference either.

Some kind soul sent one of the invitations to Bishop Swing. He wrote and told me not to perform such a service at Trinity. At this point choosing not to alienate the Bishop further, I allowed the young men to have the ceremony in the courtyard of the church just outside the church doors.

The Rev. Professor Norman Pittenger, retired from the General Theological Seminary, was giving some lectures at Trinity. He agreed to conduct the service, as he was leaving for England the next day.

The service went fine. A spy from the Bishop’s office was present and reported that I had obeyed the letter of the law. This was the first of our three major skirmishes on this issue.


Pope's Visit to San Francisco

In late 1986 it was announced that Pope John Paul 11 planned to visit San Francisco as part of yet another tour of the United States. I wrote a strongly worded article printed on Forum in the San Francisco Chronicle, December 13, 1986. In it I pointed out that the Pope had said, "When civil legislation is introduced to protect behavior to which no one has a conceivable right, people should not be surprised when irrational and violent reaction increase." This seemed to others and me a call allowing people to bash gays and Lesbians. The pope had also said that homosexuality threatens the lives and the well being of the public because it leads to AIDS. He seemed to forget that the worst spread of AIDS was among straight people in Africa.

I went on to say that "the Roman Catholic church is a magnificent church. Its care and concern for the poor is unequaled anywhere in the world. Its constant call for peace and justice and an end to the nuclear arms build up is wonderful. The challenge of the Roman Catholic Bishops to the consumer economy in the United States is outstanding. The role of the church in central and South America as a force for peace and humanity is glorious."

"But the church's role in human sexuality is abysmal, its teaching on homosexuality is cruel" and its stand forbidding birth control by artificial means is unconscionable in an over-populated planet.

I concluded by saying "Pope, stay home, don't come to San Francisco and wreak division on a community struggling for reconciliation and mutual caring."

The Chronicle wrote an editorial condemning my views; I got a lot of negative mail. Paying no attention to me whatsoever, the Pope came to the city, got a small turn out for his motorcade, said mass at a packed Candlestick Park event, faced hostile picketers and left after getting caught glancing at his watch as he was kneeling in prayer.

Project Open Hand.

Ruth Brinker was five feet five, a bit chunky, not inappropriate for a woman in her sixties. Her gray hair surrounded sparkly blue eyes. Her even features broke into an easy smile. She dressed tastefully in pretty dresses and sometimes in suits, even when she cooked.

"Hi, Robert,” she called out as I walked through the basement hall of Trinity. The walls were tan with a greenish border. The high ceilings gave a sense of space without being cold. In fact I'd say the hallway was warm and welcoming. Close to the wall and high up were large round pipes carrying the heat.

Ruth greeted me coming out of the kitchen. "Hello yourself, Ruth. How's it going?"

"I've been thinking. I know a number of gay guys with AIDS. They tell me they have trouble preparing meals. They're too weak. I've been bringing some dinners to two of them." Ruth had been preparing food for Meals on Wheels taking food to the elderly. No one had yet thought about the men with AIDS.

"I think we should start getting food to these sick guys."

I said I thought it was a good idea. "Why not use the Trinity kitchens? Let me know how you make out." After starting project Open Hand in her kitchen in North Beach, she moved the operation to Trinity and it was there for four years.

Funerals and AIDS

We at Trinity began to learn of members of the parish who had also contracted the disease. We began to get requests from people in the neighborhood and wider community for one of the clergy or me to come and visit sick men at home or in the hospital. Many of these requests were from men who had long ago left the church but now were sick and wanted a return to their religious roots. Traditional religious teaching, especially, in the Roman Catholic and fundamentalist churches, were sex negative, that is no sex outside of marriage, and extremely condemning of homosexuality.

The AIDS epidemic rocked gay people all over the world, especially in major American cities. San Francisco suffered horribly and so did Trinity. From 1983 until 1990 we had 72 memorial services for men who had died of AIDS. Of those, fifty were members of Trinity. Many of their names are mentioned at the end of this section.

The clergy and lay people of the congregation ministered to the sick persons. We brought them communion, healing oil and healing hands, food, trips to the hospitals and doctors.

It also meant we ministered to the patient’s lover, his parents, sometimes to grandparents and sometimes his children. Talks, visits to hospital and homes and planning and conducting memorial services filled our days.

1990’s

During our stay in Oxford in 1988, I wrote by hand with a ball point pen 199 pages of the first draft of my book which became “In God’s Image: The Need for Gay/lesbian Equality in the Eyes of the Church.” Ann and I were in Oxford for a month while Ann was a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar. I went along for the ride.

I ran into Bert Hermann, owner of Alamo Square Press, in the Post Office. I told him of the manuscript. He took a look at it and said he would publish the book. I was very excited that some of my work would turn into a book

After editing and additions “In God’s Image” was published in 1992. I felt immensely proud helping the publisher unload the boxes of books from the delivery truck. I looked at the green and gray books with my picture on the front cover and felt a keen sense of accomplishment. I was proud of my work and delighted this part of it was now in printed form.

The book was reviewed favorably in the San Francisco Chronicle and in a number of other places. I did readings in San Francisco, Boston and New York. The 5000 copies sold and there are just a few left, which I purchased from the publisher. I call the book my PhD thesis. It is a summary of my involvement in the lesbian/gay and AIDS crises at Trinity and in San Francisco.

Financed by a Texas Episcopal gay man of some means, I sent it gratis to all the Bishops of the Episcopal Church and many of the Deputies to the General Convention of the Church that meets every three years. Our hope was to influence the church leaders to make it legal for homosexuals to be ordained in the church and to allow same gender couples to marry in the church. Debate on those issues still goes on at the high levels of church politics.

We sent out 300 copies of the book but only five Bishops or deputies wrote a note of thanks or reaction. Was it bad manners? Were these folks inundated with unsought reading material? Was the subject matter too controversial? Perhaps all three are the reasons why. My job was to send out the book. Their job was to respond – or not. Most didn’t.

However, as a matter of fact, gay ordinations and marriages now go on in local areas especially in the big cities. The dioceses in the conservative parts of the country still have bans restricting the lives of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered Christians. The consecration of Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of New Hampshire is an example of the persistent movement of lesbians and gays into full and equal status in the life of the Anglican Communion. Many church people differ on what is justice for homosexuals but the gradual movement for full integration is taking place. The older and conservative leadership will evolve into a more humane and caring position.

It was enormously satisfying to have the book published. It gave a certain dignity and legitimacy to my work, at least in my eyes. People seem delighted and surprised that I had published a book about my work. I received letters from all over the country saying it was helpful. One writer said that the book had helped him come out to his parents. Another writer said he had given it to his fundamentalist mother who looked at gayness in a new way. A liberal San Francisco, doctor friend said he was ashamed to admit that he knew so little about homosexuals.

I got the usual criticisms that my book contradicted the word of God as found in the Bible. Others said my ideas were perverting the minds of the innocent. Still others accused me of being gay and only pushing the homosexual agenda. Nothing new there.

In the 1990s we performed a number of marriages/blessings of same sex couples. One of which was televised nationally.

One of the nicest things the late Robert Kitzman ever said to me was that I was a fine Biblical scholar. ‘No matter what the Biblical text, Cromey can always turn it around to be a sermon on gay rights.”

2 Comments:

Anonymous bryan farley said...

I have been fortunate to know you. You are a wonderful role model and mentor. Just a wonderful man.

We have also committed some of the same sins, and been insulted similarly. Of course, I don't really know The Bible, but there was a time when I could relate almost anything to a discussion about gender.

I have always wondered why more straight people do not support gay marriage just out of self interest. Marriage is difficult enough if you start out with someone who is attracted to you.

Why start a marriage if you know (or suspect) your wife or husband can never be attracted to you?

1:20 PM  
Blogger Bryce Thomason said...

Religious freedoms and the "gay agenda are on a crash course in America and this is a speeding train no mere earthly can stop.

7:22 PM  

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