“For many years I was in a Roman Catholic order and they decided they knew something I did not know so long ago and so far away. They told me if I went out of the order and found a ‘nice woman,’ ‘it’ would all go away. I thought ‘it’ was that terrible thing that troubled my life: masturbation. Well, I was an obedient Roman Catholic, and I went out and did find a most wonderful and beautiful woman who became the best mother in the world to our precious gifts from God. But ‘it’ did not go away, and I found out ‘it’ was not masturbation and ‘it’ was with me to stay,” recalls Fr. Richard Mickley, OSAe, Ph.D., Abbot of the Order of Saint Aelred. “In 1971, I met members of the Gay Liberation Movement (GLM) in Detroit, where the movement had spread from New York after the Stonewall riots in June 1969. I joined the left-leaning GLM, I began to burn with zeal for the cause that I was so closely identified with internally, what I gradually had to recognize as my same-sex attraction.”
Mickley’s spirituality didn’t become a casualty of his coming-out, however. Still in 1971, he joined “a group that was planning a ‘gay church’ in Detroit. We listened to a tape-recorded speech by Rev. Troy Perry. I knew then I could reconcile the psychological reality that was me, with the spiritual reality that was me. I could be a ‘gay Christian,’ and I became a minister in Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Detroit.”
Mickley adds: “And that has been the path the Lord has led me forward on. For the past 37 years, I have been advocating the rights of GLBTQIA people to ‘liberation’ from societal restrictions on our human rights and liberation from (read: breaking the shackles of) moral slavery.”
And that, too, has been how Mickley has been making an impact to the Filipino GLBTQIAs.
Along the way, Mickley recalls numerous challenges, foremost of which “was the bitterly sad separation from the ones I loved most in this world, and their incomparable mother. And that brought me to psychological counseling, which led me eventually to acquiring masters and doctors degrees in psychology for my own understanding and coping, and for training to help others in similar circumstances,” he says.
But Mickley is the first to say that “the challenges cannot be dismissed in a few words or paragraphs.”
In establishing a “gay church,” for example, poverty was, and still remains a big challenge. “There were only a few large and financially stable GLBTQIA congregations in the world. Where I was called to work in the ministry, the congregations were small and struggling, but sincere in their hunger for reconciling their spirituality and their sexuality,” he says.
Mickley once worked as an assistant pastor of an MCC church in Chicago full time at a half time salary; worked as a janitor prior to prison ministry work in Phoenix; director of publications while teaching in the denomination secretary, supplementing his salary by serving as a waiter; and pastor in Auckland, New Zealand, “where I asked for nothing more than a bowl of soup and a bed. Before long they were able to pay a salary and provide a nice house, and I even had a car. But I also had, by then, a strong and reliable staff, a priest who had been a missionary for 14 years, two very competent and spiritual deacons, and a responsible board of directors.”
And then came the “challenging call to the Philippines.”
“When is MCC going to come to our country?”
“I have been rejected by my church. There is nobody in this whole country who is sticking up for us gay and lesbian Christians.”
These were what Mickley heard from a Filipino gay Christian who wrote to him, and since “my church in Auckland was (already) growing and well-staffed, that letter from Manila was indeed a challenge to my complacency,” he says.
Mickley borrowed “enough money to check out the challenge,” flying into the country in May 1991, “not knowing even one person here. I had a couple of phone numbers, and the address of the letter-writer. They call it networking, but I saw the hand of God just keeping on opening doors that led from one person to another.”
On June 26, 1991, the first Pride Mass was celebrated in the Philippines, at the high altar of the Cathedral of the Holy Child, with 50 people in attendance. “I gave the first Troy Perry-type pride sermon. A few days later 40 some people gathered for my despedida (farewell party). They signed a petition for me to come back. They promised me food and a place to sleep. I accepted, went back to New Zealand, turned the pastoral responsibilities over to competent members of my staff, gave up my house, salary, car, and came to Manila September 7, 1991 to face the challenge.”
Mickley has never looked back since, having faced “17 years of wonderful challenges in the Philippines,” so that he now proudly calls himself a Filipino (“Filipino na ako,” he says).
THROUGH THE YEARS
“I am forever grateful that in the face of many obstacles and challenges, God made it possible for MCC Philippines to come into being in 1991, and bring the message of God’s unconditional love to GLBTQIA people from that day until this day,” Mickley says.
Among the promising moves he notes are the “telling of the story of God’s love in Quezon City for well over two years now” of Rev. C. J. Agbayani and faithful friends; and the “learning to hold their heads high, throw off the shackles of moral slavery, and accept God’s wonderful friendship” of “more and more gays and lesbians.”
“One person told me: ‘That’s the kind of God I come to MCC Quezon City to praise and worship. Our God is not always saying, ‘no masturbation, no condoms, no sex.’ Our God is reaching out to us with open arms, ‘Come to me, all, and I will give you rest,’” Mickley says.
It can be said that Mickley has been witness to gay history – having been involved in the longest Pride March in history from Tucson to Phoenix, the huge marches in Los Angeles, and more in Auckland; and having seen the spread of HIV and/or AIDS even before HIV was named (by the time he finished his doctoral studies and was able to work as a clinical psychologist, “AIDS was widespread and my friends were dying left and right, as many was 50 of them before they ever knew what was causing AIDS, since HIV was not discovered until 1983. Friends and strangers alike needed care, bedside care, down to earth basic bathing, cleaning, and care,” he recalled.
A big source of pride, however, is “being part of the first Gay and Lesbian Pride March in Asia. I had set up the first openly gay and lesbian Christian activist group in the Philippines in 1991, and Pro Gay Philippines became the first openly activist organization for gay and lesbian rights in 1992. Oscar Atadero, a board member of MCC and an officer of Pro Gay Philippines, and I, pastor of MCC, talked in early 1994 about the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. He obtained the approval of Pro Gay to sponsor a Pride March in Quezon City on June 26, 1994, and I obtained the approval of the Board of Directors of MCC Manila to co-sponsor the march which turned out to be not only the first in the Philippines, but the first in Asia,” Mickley says.
In 1995, Mickley retired from MCC because of church age rules. But his advocacy didn’t stop, as he “set up the Order of St. Aelred to carry on sex positive ministry in the battle against moral slavery and FOR human rights, FOR freedom of conscience, FOR responsible religious freedom. I did not want to set up a ‘parish’ to compete with MCC, but a religious organization to contribute to the continuation of the work of ‘liberation’ I had started,” he says. “People have told me that there was no one openly speaking out for the rights of gay and lesbian people before I came here. I wanted to continue the work.”
“From my perspective, religious prejudice is the root of all the homophobia we face. From it flows the legal and societal discrimination,” says Mickley, who, after hearing Hugh Heffner remark on television that “he would be happy to be remembered as the one who brought sexuality out of the closet, that got me to thinking – I think I would be content to be remembered for bringing sex-positive theology out of the closet.”
For Mickley, this means “that I don’t claim to have invented sex-positive theology. There are many, many renowned theologians who have written well on the subject. My work was to synthesize them, and perhaps put their thinking in everyday language. What I have done is to write about it, speak about it, and promote it. So, in a summary, ever so short, I’ll just point out that the tone is set by the starting points, the mindsets or frameworks from which sex-negative pronouncements are made, and from which sex-positive thinking blossoms.”
The starting mindset for sex-positive theology can be summarized in the teaching of theologian Father Norman Pittenger, who says that all sex is GOOD if it is not harmful or forceful. Meanwhile, the mindset of St. Augustine sets the pattern for sex-negative theology, since, for him, all sex was BAD except for married couples, once a year, under the blankets, with the clothes on; get in their fast and make the baby, and get out fast, and don’t enjoy it.
“The Vatican, under the last two popes, has insisted that the dignity of the person is basic to all questions of morality. To me it is clear that the human dignity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex human person takes precedence over rules, rules, rules that rob them of the dignity and privileges of being human. Examples are ample of sex negative rules: no masturbation; no condoms; no sex except for married heterosexual couples (for making babies); no sex ever, in any way, in the whole lifetime of those who have same sex attraction. The point that I have tried to get across is that human sexuality is not about no, no, no, don’t, don’t, don’t. It’s a beautiful gift from an all-loving Inventor-God which is best used to express adult human love. The dignity of the Giver and receiver of this wonderful gift surely merits that sexuality that is not harmful or forceful is yes, yes, yes, thank you, thank you,” Mickley says.
Mickley adds: “In short, I think I can say (a la hugh Heffner) that I am thankful I had an opportunity over the last 17 years in our country (and 37 years in all) to help bring sex-positive theology out of the closet.”
For the GLBTQIA community to be fully accepted, “we need confidence, cooperation, and perseverance in facing prejudice, discrimination, and all forms of homophobia,” Mickley says.
These are needed because of the “sheer uphill battle to stand up to discrimination effectively. But how can we? How can we fight the power of the Catholic bishops, who, when Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, for example, introduced a gay and lesbian rights bill into the House of Representatives, collected tens of thousands of signatures at Sunday Mass opposing the bill. How can we effectively fight a Protestant bishop, who, through parliamentary maneuvers, blocked the House of Representatives from passing an anti discrimination bill, introduced by the intrepid Rep. Etta Rosales, which has languished in limbo for a decade because of various hijackings in the House and Senate? How can we? What can we do in a society where we are overpowered by the influence of the Catholic bishops on the lawmakers?”
But Mickley is optimistic, inspired by the “undaunted fighting spirit of so very many leaders in the fight. It’s a danger to mention any names in the fear that haste will cause the omission some of our very wonderful, and dear, dear activist friends – people like Danton Remoto, Anne Lim, Oscar Atadero, Ging Cristobal, Angie Umbac, Germaine Leonin, Jonas Bagas, Sass, Neil Garcia, Clara Rita Padilla, Mick Tan, all those who have headed and worked so hard in Task Force Pride over the years, such as Paulo Fontanos and Bruce Amoroto, and so many others this year,” he says.
Even as he continues with his work, though, Mickley is looking forward to “a graceful exit when I am approaching 99, knowing that the work is in good hands,” he smiles, asking for “God’s blessings (for the) fruits of the labors of (advocates to) bring a better world for GLBTQIA people in our country.”