High-Church rites in Queens

HighHeelsYes, yes, yes, your friends at GetReligion got all the emails. We know that you saw Corey Kilgannon’s story in The New York Times about the Rev. Louis Braxton Jr. and his ministry to the “tranny” streetwalkers of Astoria, Queens.

We know that you want to know what we think.

Forget the religion beat, this is the brave new world of pronoun-challenged journalism.

The setup in the story is blunt and to the point. The key statement from the Times and the writer is clear: This is a religion story, right from the good-morning wakeup call at the top of the piece.

The groggy young adults reach for their makeup kits and fight for the lone bathroom. Once their makeup, hair and clothes are just right, they trudge into the living room, holding handbags and teetering on high heels, and sit facing an altar set up by Father Braxton.

An Episcopal priest, he says Mass and prays for their souls. He makes passing references to sins of the flesh, appropriately enough, since his flock has spent the previous night working as prostitutes on the “tranny stroll” near Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, where men go for quick sex with men who look like women.

These worshipers — Princess, Kelly, Michelle, Skye, Gianni and Terry, all teenagers or in their early 20s — are slender, stylish and soft of voice, and will smack anyone who questions their femininity or asserts that, biologically, they are still males.

One more paragraph a few lines later deserves special notice:

Father Braxton strongly disapproves of the prostitution, but he says kicking residents out for peddling their bodies would only make things worse. So as they leave the shelter dressed in skimpy outfits, he reminds them that the shelter door is locked from 2 a.m. until sunrise and leaves them with his standard parting wish: “I hope you get arrested.”

The problem, for me, was not the subject material of the story. The problem, for me, was that this piece tells us the stories of several of the young men, but doesn’t tell us much at all about their priest and how he makes sense of his ministry and the myriad moral and doctrinal issues involved in it. Then there is another issue: Is there anyone, anywhere, in his diocese who has any questions about the wisdom of his strategy?

Meanwhile, let me note two other things I have received an email or two about.

First, there are many, many Episcopalians — especially high-church, Anglo-Catholics — who use the term “Mass.” The usual term is “Holy Eucharist,” but it is not a mistake for the Times to say that this Episcopal priest is saying “Mass.”

Also, the Episcopal Church practices open Communion, so there is no connection between the trade being practiced by these young men and their ability to receive Holy Communion. Are Confession and repentance issues for the priest and for them? The story does not address that question. As you would expect, there would be fierce debate within Episcopal/Anglican circles about whether that question would even be appropriate.

P.S. Note that the priest is called “the Rev. Louis Braxton Jr.” on first reference and then “Father Braxton” on second. So this policy of religious leaders going by name only on first reference (click here for context) and then by their appropriate titles on second reference only applies to bishops and archbishops? And again I ask, what about other churches? This is confusing.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jerry

    Is there anyone, anywhere, in his diocese who has any questions about the wisdom of his strategy?

    That sounds like a clearly rhetorical question to which you presume the answer is of course and there should be a fight about his actions. That would turn the story into a classic (media) fight.

    I think the real story is well represented in that article. It’s not fashionable in some circles, but that sounds like a classic “love the sinner, hate the sin” story. The story makes clear that the minister does not approve of the sin and makes that plain to the people he’s ministering to.

    From your comments, it sounds like you assume that church doctrine might call for some to be ‘cast out’ for their sins . And that might indeed be the case. And if so, I do agree that it should be in the story so people could compare Church doctrine with Jesus’ words.

  • Ralph Webb

    Terry,

    “Also, the Episcopal Church practices open Communion … ”

    I’m sure you’re aware of this, but the Episcopal Church still does not officially sanction open Communion. Many parishes do practice open Communion, however.

    Ralph Webb

  • http://raphael.doxos.com Huw Raphael

    I would have appreciated a connection with traditional Anglocatholicism in England: the story sounds *exactly* like the Victorian clergy who worked with Ladies of the Evening in London. That connexion would have made historical sense in the Diocese of Long Island, traditionally an Anglo-Catholic sort of place.

    BTW, as Ralph said, Open Communion is not the official teaching of ECUSA, but also Open COmmunion has nothing to do with confession, etc (which is not required in ECUSA): if these people have been baptised, they can commune.

  • http://www.geocities.com/frgregacca/stfel.html Fr. Greg

    P.S. Note that the priest is called “the Rev. Louis Braxton Jr.” on first reference and then “Father Braxton” on second. So this policy of religious leaders going by name only on first reference…and then by their appropriate titles on second reference only applies to bishops and archbishops? And again I ask, what about other churches? This is confusing.

    Hmmm….

    Same newspaper, different reporters. My assumption would be that the Times has no set policy in the matter.

  • Caelius Spinator

    There appears to have been a shift in the meaning of the term “open communion” since the 19th century, when Charles Frederick Schaeffer could use it in the context of Lutherans communing non-Lutherans baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The rule in the Episcopal Church is that no unbaptized person can receive Holy Communion (Canons I.17.7). The best term for violating this canon (as done in my own parish to my chagrin) is “communion without baptism,” which people seem to call “open communion,” an unfortunate liberalization of language.

    I agree with Huw Raphael about the Victorian parallels.

  • Larry Rasczak

    “but doesn’t tell us much at all about their priest”

    Wouldn’t “enabler” be a better word?

    Admittedly that can be a fine line at times, but I’d be more interested in knowing about how and where he draws that line.

    How exactly does he feel that allowing the men he is supposedly helping continue to be transvestie prostitutes helps them? What is the “worse” that would come about from tossing them out for prostitution? I’d like to know. (If he really hopes they get arrested, why doesn’t he call the cops?)

    Does he feel that prostitution is immoral (as opposed to just a danger)? Does he feel that transvestites are people who have problems but are capable of normal healthy sex lives, or that they are “different” and “unfixable”? Does he even feel that homosexuality is a sin? What about the souls and sins of the “johns”?

    What is his goal here, to simply get them off the street or to simply get them to become aware of Christ in the hopes a relationship will spring up, or something more? Obviously the religion “ghost” is going to determine that. A Catholic priest on such a mission would have a rather more lofty goal in mind for these men than a liberal Episcopalian would. Perhaps a higher goal than they feel they can aspire too. Is he simply taking it one step at a time or is he bringing Wild Turkey to the AA meeting?

    I’d like to know those answers.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Yes, yes, yes, your friends at GetReligion got all the emails. We know that you saw Corey Kilgannon’s story in The New York Times about the Rev. Louis Braxton Jr. and his ministry to the “tranny” streetwalkers of Astoria, Queens.

    This a day after Wall Street Journal‘s “OpinionJournal–Best of the Web” mentioned this story–perhaps a number of coincidental readers?

    The story seemed to dwell on the “parishioners” more than on the priest. Taken by itself, the priest comes across as heartless, cruel, whatever. He wishes his charges “get arrested” and he seems not to care about the path these unfortunate young men are going down. Does he talk to them about HIV/AIDS? The safety risks? Risks taking drugs? Someone mentioned actions vs. Jesus’ words. What do you do with Jesus’ words about repentance and being accountable for sin? Yes, there is grace and forgiveness. There is also recognizing sin and owning up to it and working at avoiding it.

    I suspect there may be more to the story that didn’t get told. I mean, it makes for a nice piece on GLBT issues, no? And Sunday’s New York Times did have another same-sex civil union in the “Styles” section. Maybe someone in NY can fill us in on more about Father Braxton’s ministry. It is all too easy to sit in judgment when someone else fees you the story and may select what to tell you.

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  • Michael

    Taken by itself, the priest comes across as heartless, cruel, whatever. He wishes his charges “get arrested” and he seems not to care about the path these unfortunate young men are going down. Does he talk to them about HIV/AIDS? The safety risks? Risks taking drugs? Someone mentioned actions vs. Jesus’ words. What do you do with Jesus’ words about repentance and being accountable for sin? Yes, there is grace and forgiveness. There is also recognizing sin and owning up to it and working at avoiding it.

    Those who do the hard work of urban ministry like this realize that offering grace is often the first step. You don’t demand people renounce their sin before you offer them lunch. You don’t condition a safe bed on repentence and accountability. You just offer grace to young people who have no where else to go and provide safety for just one more night.

    I think the story is quizzical because the priest is a bit of a mystery, although hoping his guests get arrested is actually a fairly natural response to the desparation these folks are experiencing. But the police can’t do all of the work, so offering a safe space for them to sleep and eat is a very spiritual act.

    As for the pronoun confusion, it’s actually pretty simple. You call people what they call themselves. Just like with “Fundamentalists” and “Evangelicals,” if someone insists they aren’t a Fundamentalist despite all evidence to the contrary, good style says you don’t label them “Fundamenetalist” and instead allow them to choose their label.

    Same with transgenders, if they live their lives as women despite physically beign male, you use a female pronoun and a female name. In other words, you ask them.

  • Michael

    One last thing, this ministry in in Jackson Heights, not Astoria. The “tranny stroll” is in Jackson Heights too. It may not matter much to most people, but if you’ve been to Queens you realize the difference between Astoria and Jackson Heights is vast and the context of the story isi quite different.

  • http://www.geocities.com/hohjohn John L. Hoh, Jr.

    Those who do the hard work of urban ministry like this realize that offering grace is often the first step. You don’t demand people renounce their sin before you offer them lunch. You don’t condition a safe bed on repentence and accountability. You just offer grace to young people who have no where else to go and provide safety for just one more night.

    I think the story is quizzical because the priest is a bit of a mystery, although hoping his guests get arrested is actually a fairly natural response to the desparation these folks are experiencing. But the police can’t do all of the work, so offering a safe space for them to sleep and eat is a very spiritual act.

    Yes, you are right–grace is a tightrope walk. There is a fine line between sharing grace and encouraging a new walk in faith. It takes patience–and that patience on the part of Father Braxton may have very well been short-changed in this piece.

    And I realize saying some things and leaving others out can serve an agenda to promote LGBT agendae and maybe make Christian (clergy) look helpless or heartless or cruel, etc. The piece focuses on the “trannies” more than the priest himself.

  • http://auspiciousdragon.com/wp/ holmegm

    From your comments, it sounds like you assume that church doctrine might call for some to be ‘cast out’ for their sins . And that might indeed be the case. And if so, I do agree that it should be in the story so people could compare Church doctrine with Jesus’ words.

    Or perhaps with the Apostle Paul’s words

  • Eric

    How does it happen in this post and in the comments that no one makes the connection that Jesus was often chastised for haging out with sinners? His answer to the self-righteous: “Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the Kingdom of Heaven before you.”

    Prostitution is a relatively minor offense compared to what some proper Sunday worshippers do during the rest of the week. Didn’t Jesus have something to say to people who once wanted to stone a prostitute? Yes, yes, he also told her to sin no more, but is that where he began? He first defended her in public, and then in private counseled her. The paper and the readers are not privy to what Fr. Braxton says in private, one-on-one, so we should not be so quick to question him on what he does in public.


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