Friday, May 21, 2010

Repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

On June 11, during gay pride weekend in Washington D.C., I and two other gay veterans of WWII, Dr Frank Kameny of Washington D.C. and Jack Strouss of Atlanta, will have the honor of placing a wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery. We have been invited by Danny Ingram, National President of American Veterans for Gay Rights (AVER) on its twentieth anniversary. This certainly will be one of the greatest honors I have experienced in my long life.

While still 17 years old I enlisted in the army. Aware of my gayness I was proud to serve my country. I did my service as a combat infantryman with General Patton's Third Army, 87th Infantry Division. I went into combat in the Alsace Lorraine. We were the first infantry to penetrate into Germany. After a fierce battle we were surrounded by German tanks and I ended up a kriegsgefangenen, a prisoner of war.

After I was liberated from prison camp, I felt called by God to religious life and in 1948, I entered the Society of Jesus and spent the next fourty years as a Jesuit priest. While doing PHD studies in philosophy at Louvain University in Belgium, I spent my summers as a substitute chaplain with the American armed forces in Germany. I became very aware of scores of gay men serving in the medical corp of the army who provided sensitive and compassionate service to their fellow GIs. But they universally reported living in daily fear that by some accident their gay identity would be revealed and they would face dishonorable discharge.

Once again I felt called by God to bring the message of God's love to my GLBT brothers and sisters. On my return to the United States, I undertook a two year study of homosexuality from psychological, theological and scriptural perspectives. Convinced that the traditional Catholic understanding of homosexual was based on misunderstanding of both scripture and psychology, I published the result of those studies in my book: The Church and the Homosexual in 1976. I helped found the New York City chapter of Dignity, as a spiritual home for Catholic gay men and lesbians. For almost 45 years I have been involved in a ministry of compassion to my gay bothers and sisters. During those years I have published four books on gay maturity and spirituality (Taking a Chance on God (1988), Freedom, Glorious Freedom (1995), Both Feet Firmly Planted In Midair; My Spiritual Journey (1998), Sex As God Intended (2008)).

I am intensely aware that the primary basis for the armed forces policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell is the sincere, but ultimately false belief, based on misguided interpretations of scripture, that all homosexual activity is contrary to God's will and, therefore immoral. The homophobic misinterpretation of scripture has been spread by evangelical preachers to Africa. Uganda is planning to pass a law calling for the execution of gay men. And Malawi has just sentenced two gay men who announced their engagement to fourteen years at hard labor. Both nations are under the false illusion that they are acting in conformity with the revealed will of God.

What does scripture have to say about homosexuality? The central message of Christ in the New Testament is God's universal unconditioned love for all humans, whether black or white, gay or straight. Humans with a gay orientation are an integral part of God's creation! Where scripture can be read as condeming gay activity, as in Romans 1, it presupposes that that activity is undertaken by heterosexual men for motives of lust. Wherever sexual activity is between two lovers, there is no condemnation. The prime example of that is to be found in the story in Luke 10 about the Roman Centurian and his "beloved boy". The boy is ill and in danger of death. Because the Centurian loves him, he humbly goes to Jesus to ask for a miracle. The original Greek text refers to the boy as "intimis pais" which was a clear statement of a gay love relation. Subsequent translations hid the implication of a gay love relation by changing the translation to servant or slave. When the Centurian asks Jesus to heal his beloved boy. Jesus asked him to take him to his house.

The Centurian replies with the famous statement: "Lord! I am not worthy that you should enter into my house. Only say the word and my beloved boy will be healed". Jesus exclaims "Greater faith than this I have not found in all Isreal. Go! your beloved boy is healed!" At every Catholic mass at communion time we repeat these words of the gay Centurian: "Lord! I am not worthy that you should enter into my soul Only say the word and my soul will be healed!"

Recently, while I was at the Veteran's clinic in Hollywood, Florida, the effort to repeal Don't Ask Don't Tell was being reported on television in the waiting room. A veteran spontaneously offered this opinion: "If it was up to me and we were charging up a hill together with those guys (openly gay soldiers), it wouldn't be the bullets coming from in front of them that they would have to worry about!! Ha! Ha! Ha!" Should this man's homophobia, and others like him, control the policy of the armed forces?

By repealing Don't Ask Don't Tell we have a God given opportunity to liberate not only our gay servicemen from unjust prejudice, but also we would set a model for the liberation of LGBT people from persecution everywhere in the world.

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