Sometime in the 1970-71 church year, I believe in Autumn of 1970, I preached a sermon to the Unitarian Universalist congregation I was serving in Jackson, Mississippi, addressing gay rights. The sermon was preached from notes rather than a full manuscript and so what I have given below is my best current rendering of what I said about fifty years ago, as reconstructed from those notes.
I winced as I typed some of the wordings and ideas, but I tried to tamp down the temptation to “clean it up.” It is certainly not the sermon I would give today, almost 50 years later, but it’s what seemed important and appropriate to say in 1970.
And please read my note at the end.
Gordon Gibson, March 30, 2020
The Sadness in Gaiety
I have counseled people dealing with homosexuality, and homosexuality has become a topic of conversation within Unitarian Universalism.
At this year’s Unitarian Universalist General Assembly a resolution, which I supported, was passed on the subject. This is what that resolution said:
- A significant minority in this country are either homosexual or bisexual in their feelings and/or behavior;
- Homosexuality has been the target of severe discrimination by society and in particular by the police and other arms of government;
- A growing number of authorities on the subject now see homosexuality as an inevitable sociological phenomenon and not as a mental illness;
- There are Unitarian Universalists, clergy and laity, who are homosexuals or bisexuals;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That the 1970 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association:
- Urges all peoples immediately to bring an end to all discrimination against homosexuals, homosexuality, bisexuals, and bisexuality, with specific immediate attention to the following issues:
- private consensual behavior between persons over the age of consent shall be the business only of those persons and not subject to legal regulations;
- a person’s sexual orientation or practice shall not be a factor in the granting or renewing of federal security clearance, visas, and the granting of citizenship or employment;
- Calls upon the UUA and its member churches, fellowships, and organizations immediately to end all discrimination against homosexuals in employment practices, expending special effort to assist homosexuals to find employment in our midst consistent with their abilities and desires;
- Urges all churches and fellowships, in keeping with changing social patterns, to initiate meaningful programs of sex education aimed at providing more open and healthier understanding of sexuality in all parts of the United States and Canada, and with the particular aim to end all discrimination against homosexuals and bisexuals.
In some sense this resolution shouldn’t be of much concern to me, a happy, monogamous heterosexual. But from my experience in counseling and from reading I’ve done, I know that discrimination against homosexuals is a real issue, a real concern.
You may disagree or want more information. I would understand that, but I hope that we can discuss this issue soberly and informally.
What are some of the present social attitudes about homosexuals and homosexuality?
Homosexuals refer to themselves as “gay.” One can say that this is hardly justified, because many are saddened by the obstacles they face.
The legal system is notably repressive of homosexuals. Laws dealing with sexuality tend to be silly. For example, by law, there is only one permissible position for intercourse in Mississippi. But laws against homosexuals, silly or not, tend to be enforced more than most other sexuality laws. These anti-homosexual laws are in place although the behavior they regulate harms neither state, property, nor persons.
Due to fear there is widespread repression of homosexuals and homosexuality. Such fear is unwarranted. Homosexuals are mostly less aggressive than heterosexuals. Homosexual rape is not just distasteful but wrong, but it is not fatal psychologically. And fear is often fear of self — a repression of latent homosexual feelings. Fear often grows from ignorance; I have found both the straight and the gay world often ill-informed.
So, if lack of information is a problem, what is known?
It is often claimed that homosexuality is “totally unnatural.” That’s not so. In nature, if we look at animal behavior there are examples of what we might call “animal homosexuality.” In some primates same sex interaction is sometimes clearly chosen over interaction with the opposite sex.
In human history some societies have clearly accepted, even encouraged homosexual behavior, with all males having some homosexual experience. One thinks of the Athens of Socrates and Plato.
In contemporary America the Kinsey Report found that 16% of white males had at least as much homosexual as heterosexual inclination, and 37% had some homosexual experience.
What are the causes of homosexuality? The answers here are somewhat speculative. There are still many different theories. I’ve consulted three different books, and they offer three somewhat conflicting theories.
There are psychological explanations. They often suggest that there are elements of homosexuality in all of us. Some psychologists and doctors see homosexuality as confirmation of mental illness. I think it can be an indicator of problems that have developed into illness. However, a homosexual is not necessarily “sick,” nor is a heterosexual necessarily “well.” And all of us are apparently a balance between homosexual and heterosexual.
Some psychologists say that the roots of fixated homosexuality appear to lie in the family relationships of childhood. Some speak of mother-father interactions. Some look at parent-child interactions, especially focusing on mother-child interactions, but there’s a great deal of professional disagreement about this idea. Psychologists see these factors working on both males and females, but females are less studied. I note in passing that female homosexuals are more accepted, less hassled, and therefore healthier.
Those offering psychological explanations of homosexuality say that the critical point appears to be maturing through adolescence. All people seem to reach a phase of predominantly homosexual relationships. This is normal and not always sexual. Many people have incidents or a period of acting out sexual tendencies. They say that this is apparently not harmful if it is passed through.
There are also sociological factors which are cited as affecting sexuality. We are now discovering how age, class, religion, and work condition what sexual outlets are available. Some outlets are not acceptable to social mores. Some outlets are not accessible to some people. It seems clear that some environments foster the choice of sex object. Among these are single sex boarding schools, the armed forces, camp, and prisons. A heterosexual milieu encourages breaking the ties that may be created in such single-sex environments.
Sociologically we also need to look at the effects of present repressive, fearful social attitudes which place pressures on homosexual relationships. Such social attitudes makes homosexual relationships furtive. Opposition to “queer couples” adds to promiscuity. Having to compensate for negative pressures may also add to promiscuity by making it just that much harder to live up to needs. It may be that under these pressures homosexual relations are more competitive than complementary.
It is difficult for a homosexual to escape stigmatism. Psychologically any feelings of guilt or worthlessness involved in problem homosexuality would be reinforced by society. We are now seeing a “gay” subculture being built for self-defense. There is an interesting growth of assertiveness and visibility. This type of reinforcement and isolation is probably unhealthy.
If we are to reform personal and social attitudes what standard do we use? I suggest that we use the standard of love.
Negatively this means not “using” another person. Not using a person by lacking feeling for the person as a person, creating an “I-It” relationship. Not using a person by exploiting their foibles, weaknesses, inclinations. Both heterosexual and homosexual relationships can have these problems, and they can happen both in and out of marriage.
Positively we can strive for love, a relationship that enhances both parties, an “I-Thou” relationship. It is not a bond, but what Khalil Gibran called “a moving sea between the shores of your souls.” In marriage a loving relationship is not acquisition but sharing.
Society and the church cannot call such relationships into existence. But society should seek to make possible whatever love-relationship a person is capable of. Within limits that protect the social fabric and vulnerable individuals, let each individual choose his own love-relationships. Some individuals may be psychologically capable only of homosexual relationships. Some individuals may be psychologically capable only of heterosexual relationships. Both should be allowed under conditions that are not threatening or punitive.
This seems a long way from the teaching of the Christian church. When the teaching of the Christian church results in repression and the accentuation of guilt it must be called into question.
In contrast, emphasizing responsible love over sometimes punitive rules is in the best tradition of both Jesus and secular humanism.
In the Jackson congregation there was always some time devoted to a discussion of the sermon. On this day in the discussion an occasional visitor asked me (approximately), “Given what you have said, would you officiate a marriage for two people of the same sex?” This was a step beyond anything I had thought about. I cleared my throat at length and assembled my thoughts as best I could. I think I said something along the lines of “probably not, out of concern for the reputation of the congregation in the community.” His response was (verbatim), “You are a straight chauvinist pig.”
I don’t know if my sermon was of any help to anyone who heard it, especially as I look back at it today and wince at my perpetuation of some offensive attitudes and bad information. This exchange in the discussion after the sermon aided substantially in my subsequent growth and change. It was uncomfortable in the moment, but very important in the longer term. GG