A sermon preached at Mornington and Glenaven Churches, 24 ApriI 2005
I want to tell you the story of three boys. We’ll call them Bruce, Graham and Karol.
Bruce was the second child of a postman and his wife, both of them very ordinary, decent people, with no interest whatever in the Christian faith. Bruce and his older sister went to a primary school and later a High School.
But Bruce had a health problem: his right arm was permanently twisted, his sight was poor and he suffered from occasional epileptic fits. Yet he was a cheerful little boy who enjoyed playing with other children, who learned to help him when his body suddenly doubled up and he needed something in his mouth to prevent him hurting himself. Bruce was unable to enter the work force and for many years he lived in the loving, protective, secluded environment of his parents’ home.
He kept his mind employed as best he could: he became fascinated by the thought of space travel, and when computers and video players were developed spent hours with the films and information he obtained from the American space programme at Cape Canaveral. But of the usual social life of a teenager or young adult he has had virtually none. His life took on no special significance; few people knew of his quiet narrow existence or of his silent acceptance and endurance of the physical limitations which crippled and restricted his life.
Graham was the healthy intelligent son of evangelical parents engaged in missionary work in Africa. They were about to return to New Zealand at the time, and took up residence in a South Island town, sending their son to a Christian school there. He was a fine looking lad who took the faith commitment he had inherited from his parents very seriously.
As a teenager he was haunted by the disabling sense of sinfulness and inadequacy promoted by his church; his definition of a Christian was ‘a person who knew that they didn’t have any hope or future and were completely dependent on someone to stand in on their behalf’that someone, of course, being Jesus.
He joined a social support organisation and his work showed him a side of life he might never have otherwise encountered. Later he was to speak of the revelation of the hurts and difficulties he observed in poor and dysfunctional families; he became determined to enter the ministry, like his own parents, and studied overseas for a bachelor of divinity.
On his return to New Zealand he became the pastor of an evangelical church; he married and went on to have seven children whom he brought up in the strict fundamentalist tradition he had learned from his own parents.
He was a natural leader, who let the world know his strong belief in the importance of the family unit and traditional moral values. His views on poverty, health, education, welfare and moral issues were given public prominence when he became leader of a newly formed Christian political party and stood for parliament. Like Patricia Bartlett before him and selfdeclared ‘Bishop’ Brian Tamaki of the Destiny Church after him, he became a moral crusader, taking upon himself to speak in the name of the whole Christian faith. He repeatedly denounced gay people as fornicators who had no place in the kingdom of heaven, and thundered against what he saw as obscenity in art and permissiveness in social legislation.
He completed a law degree, and after giving up the leadership of the political party worked for the police force; in what seems now a natural (and ironic progression), eventually becoming a police prosecutor.
Karol was born in a small village in Poland, the second son of a retired Polish army sergeant and a Lithuanian mother. He lost all his immediate family under the Nazi occupation and it was during that time he decided to become a Catholic priest, and studied in secret for his ordination. After the war he was ordained and, having shown signs of great leadership skills and intellectual brilliance went on to complete his theological studies in Rome.
His strong personality and obvious ability led to his rapid rise through the hierarchy of his church. He became an Assistant Bishop and six years later, an Archbishop. Three years later he was made a Cardinal of the Church. In 1978 he was elected the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. He died three weeks ago, after ruling the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world for twenty-seven years.
This year, Bruce decided on a sex change. He grew his hair long, he took up wearing skirts, he sought medical treatment, he embarked on a new personal relationship, finding for the first time someone who could offer him a close, and loving partnership. He found, too, a warm and sympathetic environment among the gay community here in Dunedin; just as well, because his family, both his immediate family and more distant relatives, reacted with horror and dismay, unable to comprehend or to accept the new person he had become. Yet, as he talked to us, Bruce seemed relaxed and assured; very much the ‘old’ Bruce we had had known when he was a child. He told us he was happier now than he had ever been in his life, and we could believe him.
Graham, this year, gained public notoriety to a degree Bruce will never claim. Beneath a newspaper front page that featured 28 photographs of Karol Wojtyla, now better known as Pope John Paul II and mortally ill, there appeared a single large picture of Graham, with the banner headline ‘Disgraced Capill faces jail’. The moral crusader had been found guilty himself of child molestation. Graham’s future is likely to be harsh and painful. Already he has been assaulted by a member of the public; he faces a possible 10 years in jailand other prisoners are not likely to treat him well.
As for Karol, after a lying-in and funeral of unimaginable splendour and popular adulation, he is receiving a remarkable degree of posthumous honour and fame. He may be given the title ‘John Paul the Great’; almost certainly he will be named a saint of the Catholic Churchevidence of the necessary miracles is even now being gathered. He leaves behind him a legacy of many good works; but he also leaves the Church he ruled so tightly strangled by a harsh and puritanical attitude to sex and gender. He forbade the use of modern contraceptive devices which might have reduced the numbers of the teeming millions in poor Catholic countries and protected them against the plague of aids. He prohibited abortion for any reason; he denounced homosexuality as a sin, he flatly refused to allow priests to marry, he excluded women from priestly ordination and any participation in the higher levels of church life. At his funeral, his cortege included only six womenPolish nursing sisters among hundreds of male cardinals and bishops and priests (and let it be said) male world leaders, who followed his coffin.
In a month when for the first time in New Zealand civil unionsnot yet marriagewill be allowed for gay and lesbian as well as de facto couples, it is perhaps as well to reflect on the lives and fates of these three boys, Bruce, Graham and Karol.
For each of them their own sexuality has played its usual powerful, even overwhelming role. It has driven Bruce to make a new gender choicedespite the opposition of his family and the social difficulties of his new role. It has driven Graham to criminal behaviour and public disgrace. It brought Karol to impose on millions of Roman Catholics the rigid sexual controls and social conservatism that marked his own life and religious beliefs.
Jesus left no comprehensive teaching about sexuality; in its absence, the puritanical codes of the old Jewish male priesthood were taken over by the new Christian Church. Resultant church doctrine and morality, reflected in the ingrained prejudices and fears of the wider community, has damaged and skewed the experience of each of these boysin the case of Graham and Karol disastrously. They are not alone in this.
Bruce is facing up to his new life courageously and openly, pretty much on his own. Graham may emerge from his purgatory with less arrogance about other people’s behaviour. A new Pope might just wind the clock on for the millions within the fold of the Roman Catholic Church. There is always hope.
But for that hope to become any sort of reality, we must think freshly about the theology of what it is to be human, what it is to be physical bodies and spiritual beings. And what we can do to liberate the minds and souls and lives of people like Bruce and Graham and Karol to the freedom of Christ.