Sunday, November 30, 2008

Disarming the Weapons Within

On the first Sunday of Advent four years ago, I had the honor of delivering the following sermon to the community of Spirit of the Lakes United of Christ Church.


Disarming the Weapons Within
A Sermon by Michael J. Bayly
Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ
November 29, 2004

Some of you may have heard about the recent incident at the Roman Catholic cathedral in St. Paul involving an individual or group of individuals splashing oil on the exterior stone work in an attempt to re-consecrate the building after a group of gay Catholics – wearing rainbow sashes – attended Mass and received Communion.

According to cathedral staff, several thousand dollars in damage was done to the building as a result of what some have called an “anti-gay exorcism” – an event that has caused somewhat of a stir in the local media.

I wasn’t at the cathedral on November 7 when the Rainbow Sash action and subsequent “exorcism” took place. Still. As executive coordinator of the Catholic Pastoral Committee on Sexual Minorities (CPCSM), I was interviewed this past week by both the Star Tribune and KARE 11 News about this incident.

As most of you know, CPCSM advocates for LGBT Catholics and their families. We’re a 25-year-old independent, grassroots coalition with no official ties to the archdiocese. For just over a year now we’ve had our office here at Spirit of the Lakes.

When I was called by Brad Woodard of KARE 11 and asked if I would be willing to talk about the so-called “exorcism” at the cathedral, I readily said I would. Riding on the Lake St. bus to Spirit of the Lakes – where we had agreed to meet for the interview – I started thinking about what exactly I would say.

Years as an activist in the anti-corporate globalization and anti-war movements have taught me that most mainstream media outlets prefer the quick sound bite. Yet I’ve also learned how important it is to go beyond knee-jerk reactions to seemingly isolated events and to attempt to identify and articulate the underlying systemic dimension of such events.

I soon realized that I couldn’t just talk about and condemn what the cathedral staff was referring to as actions of a “deluded individual.” It was bigger than that.

What happened at the cathedral was bigger than the actions of a single individual or fringe group. The hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church itself could not be absolved from its own complicacy in the anti-gay incident that took place at the Cathedral of St. Paul on November 7.

Some of you present may have been raised Catholic. Along with others, you are no doubt familiar with the language that the hierarchy, the so-called leadership of the Church, uses when talking about homosexuality; when talking about the innate desire og gay and lesbian people to build loving and committed relationships. The Roman Catholic Church labels such basic human longings as “intrinsically evil” and “objectively disordered.”

In my interview with KARE 11, I declared that this type of language and the thinking behind it is part of the problem, and thus a contributing factor to the recent events at the cathedral. We should not be surprised, I said, when irresponsible language encourages irresponsible acts.

To its credit, KARE 11 did give air time to my attempt to identify and name the systemic homophobia of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy and the way that it fuels and indirectly justifies hurtful and dangerous anti-gay behavior.

Now you may be wondering what any of this has to do with the First Sunday of Advent. Well, our readings today are all about transformation – of beating swords into plowshares, of letting go and being open and vulnerable to God’s transforming love within and among us. Reflecting upon these readings I’ve come to realize that weapons not only come in the form of guns and bombs, but also in the form of words.

I’ve lifted up for you this morning the bigoted words of my own Catholic tradition in relation to the issue of homosexuality.

They are words that hurt and devastate many individuals and families.

They are words that reflect a rigid, narrow, and ultimately Spirit-denying way of speaking about God – present and active in human life.

They are words that do not reflect the lives and relationships of LGBT people open to God’s transforming love.

They are words that deny the reality that God is still speaking.

In countering such words it’s very easy to craft one’s own sharp reactions and retorts – words and arguments that could also lash out and hurt others like weapons.

In the progressive and activist circles I work within – both secular and religious – I’ve seen such weapons being employed against those who use them against us. At times I’m tempted to use them myself. Yet I’ve also seen how dangerous and useless they are as, ultimately, they sere merely to isolate, harden, and polarize people.

As peacemakers, as followers of the Prince of Peace, our words should not be used as weapons. Rather than polarize and deaden ourselves and others, our words should invite and encourage dialogue, bridge-building, and hope. I’ve often found that careful yet incisive questioning can achieve such things much more effectively than self-righteous statements – which so often can come across as smug and elitist.

There are times, of course, when our words must challenge and speak truth in the face of fear and bigotry, but they should do so in a spirit of compassion rather than in hateful condemnation or condescending preaching.

We’re living through difficult and dangerous times – with wars and rumors of war, threats of terrorism, and rising fascism at home and abroad. People – Americans in particular – are fearful. And this fear is purposely being cultivated and projected outwards to “the other” – to those who threaten a very narrow understanding of “the American way of life.”

Not surprisingly, the majority of Americans have retreated into a false sense of security – one bolstered by militarism and reactionary politics. As a result, there’s a cultural backlash against gay people and the idea of gay civil rights – as demonstrated by the recent passing of gay marriage bans in eleven U.S. states.

In light of all of this, is it any wonder that the FBI now reports that sexual orientation-based crimes are now the second highest category of reported hate offenses?

How as LGBT people, as followers of a God of peace, are we to respond to such things? What will it take for this great yet fearful nation to change course? And what words are we called to speak? What role are we called to play in the transformation that is needed?

These are some of the critical questions of our time. And like you, I grapple with such questions and with how it is that I as an individual and as a member of various communities can respond to them in truly authentic and life-affirming ways.

One thing’s for sure: before I think globally, I have to think personally. If I’m going to denounce and challenge U.S. weapons of steel and fire raining down on Iraq, I also must denounce my own weapons of negative and hurtful attitudes and words that can rage within my own heart.

In a recent article posted on, gay activist and author Jason Victor Serinus reflected on these same types of questions I’ve shared with you this morning.

In his piece entitled, “Marriage and the Electorate,” he writes: “What it will take for Americans to change course, short of another holocaust of global proportions, I do not know. But I do know that if we continue to treat ‘them’ as the ‘enemy’ – as the ‘other’ – if we continue to treat ‘them’ the way they treat ‘us’ [as gay people, then] the dichotomies will only intensify. Four more years of [George W.] Bush jokes will not a free America make.”

Serinus goes on to say: “Rather than present a phony quick fix, a magic bullet alternative to our government’s delusional promises of safety from external and internal terror, I offer a rainbow affirmation.”

“Every time we affirm the human connection that transcends gender, race, sexual orientation, and nationality; every time we nurture ourselves and our friends; every time we take responsibility for our lives and own the parts of ourselves that we dislike as well as those we like, we live the alternative that this country so deeply needs. When all is said and done, we are part of the solution. Gay, straight, or whatever, this is no time to run and hide. It is time to express love to the fullest.”

My friends, as we begin our Advent journey, let our every word and action express the challenging, transforming love of our God. Only such words and actions will light our way to the ultimate goal of our Advent pilgrimage – that being the birth of Christ, God’s Spirit of compassion and consciousness, within the brokenness of our own lives and the life of the world.

It is this embodiment, this incarnation of consciousness and compassion, to which we are called. The striving to daily embody this consciousness and compassion, this Christic state of being, is our highest and noblest calling as human beings – or, as some have named us, human becomings.

So let us become Advent people – this Advent season and at all times of the year. Let us journey together as we grow in awareness and compassion. And let us ensure that our words and actions do not serve as hurtful and divisive weapons, but as vessels by which we carry and share with one another our God’s transforming love.


Michael Bayly
November 29, 2004

For other homilies I’ve delivered, see the previous Wild Reed posts:
A Homily for the Feast of the Epiphany
Praying for George W. Bush
On the Road with Punk Rockers and Homeless Mothers
Something We Dare Call Hope
Soul Deep
The Harvest Within the Heart
Somewhere in Between
Dispatches from the Periphery

See also the related Wild Reed post:
My Advent Prayer for the Church

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