Rev. Amy Delong, tried by Methodists for being a lesbian, to preach at Bering Memorial Methodist Church

Rev. Amy DeLong

Paperwork can be the bane of any job. For Rev. Amy Delong a simple annual report catapulted her into the maelstrom of the United Methodist Church’s debate on accepting LGBT people. DeLong visits Houston’s Bering Memorial United Methodist Church (1440 Harold) on Sunday, Feb. 12 to preach at both the 8:30 and 10:50 service.

In 2009 DeLong was approached by two women who wanted to get married. After conducting premarital counseling with the couple Delong agreed to perform the ceremony. As a clergy person, DeLong was required to report on her activities at the end of the year, including any weddings she had performed. She knew that the Methodist Church did not allow same-sex marriage but thought “I don’t know if anybody even reads these.” Boy, was she wrong!

With-in three days she was hauled into the her boss’s (the bishop) office. DeLong’s relationship with her partner Val was well known to her colleagues. “I’ve never had a bishop or a leader in the church or a pastor who didn’t know that I was gay,” says DeLong. “Everyone knows Val.” But the church was determined now to make an example of her, and DeLon’s relationship would now be an issue.

In 2011 DeLong was tried in the church’s court with violating the Methodist “Book of Discipline” by being in a same-sex relationship and by performing a same-sex wedding. During the trial she refused to answer pointed questions about her and her partner’s sex life. “No heterosexual couples are ever asked if they
still engage in genital contact in their marriages,” says DeLong. That refusal left the court with no evidence against her on the first charge.

She was convicted of performing the wedding and suspended from ministry for 20 days. The court also required DeLong to work with a group of ministers to prepare a statement on how to “help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant, create an advesarial spirit or lead to future trails.” “This sentence is complicated,” says DeLong. “It doesn’t lend itself well to media soundbites. So a lot of folks have been saying to me ‘I can’t tell, is this penalty good?’” DeLong responds with a resounding “Yes!” Saying that she welcomes the opportunity to write, teach and study on a topic dear to her heart.

DeLong recalls that during that initial meeting in the bishop’s office one of the bishop’s assistants referred to her as a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” To which she responded “Val and I aren’t practicing any more… we are pretty good at it by now.” The assistant laughed. More than anything that is the impression one gets of DeLong: someone with a lot of humor and aplomb who is unwilling to back down from a fight for justice.

After the jump watch a clip of DeLong talking about her experience.

—  admin

BACH for the holidays …. and beyond

Volunteer Wanda Brown helps get ready for the Breakfast at Cathedral of Hope on Chirstmas Eve

I have been out of the office, on vacation, since Dec. 22, and when I got back to work today and started wading through the thousands of emails in my inbox, I found one from Hank Henley, asking if we could include some information in Dallas Voice about BACH, the weekly Breakfast At Cathedral of Hope program in which church volunteers prepare and serve breakfast to the homeless.

So I am including Hank’s write-up about BACH’s Christmas Eve event here on Instant Tea, just as he sent it to me:

Use the words “Bach” and “cathedral” in a sentence this time of year, and most people will picture the “Christmas Cantata” or “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” But at a certain church in Dallas, BACH stands for “Breakfast at the Cathedral of Hope,” a program that just celebrated its four-year anniversary in November. On Christmas Eve morning, while most of Dallas was nestled all snug in their beds, a small army of volunteers was in the kitchen at the Cathedral of Hope whipping up a hot and hearty breakfast for the homeless and needy that would be coming through their doors by 7:30 a.m. Under the direction of Rev. William Baldridge, Associate Pastor for Community Outreach, this weekly breakfast has grown from serving just 11 guests at the first meal to an average of 200 guests each Saturday morning.

And guests they are: receiving a hot meal served on china plates and with silverware and glasses. The guests may also receive a haircut after they eat, if they so chose.

This week, in addition to the usual food and drink, each guest received a bag with a blanket, hat, gloves, toiletries, water and food coupons. The gift bags were the result of the generous work of Jan Okerlund and Leslie Frye.

Leslie Frye, one of the volunteer coordinators, when asked how the volunteers feel about the work they do, said, “The real blessing is in the cooking for and serving those less fortunate, not only during this Season, but all year long.”

This Saturday’s volunteers included members of the church community of the Cathedral of Hope, members of the Turtle Creek Chorale and a group of 14 students from “I-CERV,” the “Ismaili Community Engaged in Responsible Volunteering.” They are here once a month, all year long. Kenneth Campbell, the Interfaith Services Director Volunteer Coordinator of the Memnosyne Foundation, brought these energetic and focused youth.

The Memnosyne Foundation is a wonderful organization whose mission is “to help a diverse people of the world consciously encourage an evolution of themselves and for future generations by providing the means to encourage positive, peaceful global collaboration.” The diverse crowd of leaders, volunteers and guests were certainly doing that on this morning.

And one guest, who guest shared his story quietly and privately with tears streaming down his face, personifies the spirit of sharing and giving. This time last year, he was on the street, living under a bridge and depending on the generosity of others to survive. He told me he could always count on a hot meal and being treated with respect when he came to BACH. This year, he is able to draw social security and is donating $25 a month to BACH. “They always fed me and helped me get through. Now I want to give back whatever I can. God blessed me and it’s what I want to do.”

Across the room, his hands deep in a bucket of soapy water, volunteer Jamie Rawson, spent the morning scraping plates and glasses, getting them ready for the dishwashers.

“There a few things a person can do which so clearly put Christmastime in perspective as doing something to help others. It is has been said so often as to become a cliché — but it is no less true for being a cliché. It is heart-warming to see so many people gathered to help provide for those in need. It is especially affirming to see so many young people from such a diversity of backgrounds. This has been the most fitting and rewarding way to truly start my Christmas.”

When the guests were finished with breakfast, finished visiting with friends and volunteers, finished with their haircut, and picked up their bag of supplies for warmth and comfort, they left the cathedral and headed back into the rain and the street.

As they left, Richard Boule greeted each of them and wished them a Merry Christmas.

“As I watched those people leaving the Cathedral after breakfast this morning, I could not help wondering where they were going and what each one of them had to look forward to this Christmas time. But I had the feeling that they were grateful for the humanity they were shown, so many left with a smile. May they be blessed.”

If you would like to help with BACH, please call Rev. Baldridge at the Cathedral of Hope at 214-351-1901.

You can see more photos from the Christmas Eve Breakfast at Cathedral of Hope after the jump.

—  admin

‘Perform or provide’

DADT repeal gives progressive chaplains a chance to counter evangelical clergy in the military

IMG_5132

CATCH-ALL CHAPLAIN | Chaplain Chris Antal (Lt.) attended the meeting of the Forum on Military Chaplaincy at Cathedral of Hope in October. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com
When a soldier recently came to Chaplain Chris Antal, a lieutenant in the Army National Guard in New York and a Unitarian Universalist minister, and asked if he’d pray with her even though she was a pagan, he said he replied, “Of course I will, but you’ll have to show me how.”

Several weeks later, when he saw her again, she told him that the day she had come to visit him, she had hit rock bottom. He had, she told him, saved her life that day.

But Antal said he was only doing his job — helping any soldier who comes to him.

“I’ve earned the nickname, the Catch-all Chaplain,” he said, explaining that it means he takes everyone the other chaplains don’t want to deal with.

Carpenter.Dodd

Capt. Tom Carpenter (ret.) and Col. Paul Dodd (ret.)

Being there to help a soldier in need is what it’s all about for a military chaplain, said Col. Paul Dodd, a retired chaplain who now lives in Austin.

“The duty of a military chaplain is to perform or provide,” said Dodd, adding that he once sponsored an Islamic conference.

Dodd said that no chaplain can perform every service needed by every member of the military. But if a chaplain can’t perform the service requested, he or she must provide that soldier with a referral to someone else who can.

Antal said that chaplains who enlisted knew what they were getting into — to some extent. But none of them really expected the repeal of the military’s anti-gay “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. And for many, that repeal was a game changer.

In October, a group of active and retired chaplains and military personnel and other people of faith, such as the Rev. Steve Sprinkle from Brite Divinity

School in Fort Worth, met at the Interfaith Peace Chapel at Cathedral of Hope to begin looking at ways of addressing the issues that arose for military chaplains around DADT repeal.

Dave Guy Gainer said The Forum on Military Chaplaincy is not exactly new. It formed in 2005 as a project of Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and worked under the radar until DADT was repealed.

Sprinkle said people in the Pentagon, up through Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, knew about their work and considered their statements throughout the DADT repeal process.

And now, with repeal complete, the group met to “come out.” At their meeting in Dallas, forum members considered ways to become an independent organization helping to ensure newly out service members receive the pastoral care they need while serving in the military.

Susan Gore, principle of The Mentor Group and editor of the book Coming Out In Faith, moderated the Dallas conference. She said the group started with several retired military officers “who wanted to push back against the far-right skew.”

Sprinkle has been part of the forum for four years and said he was recruited to participate because of his work on hate crimes.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Sprinkle said, more and more members of the Chaplain Corps have come from just one school — Liberty

University, founded by far-right evangelical Jerry Falwell. Today, Sprinkle estimated, one-third of military chaplains come from Liberty University.

“They instituted a program that barely meets minimum requirements,” he said of the evangelical school. “It’s an online course.”

And, Sprinkle said, Liberty University’s goal is to take control of the Chaplain Corps and use the military as a pool for religious recruits.

“This is fertile ground to bring people to Jesus at taxpayer expense,” said Tom Carpenter, a retired Marine captain and one of the forum’s founders.

“I’ve heard stories of them holding the hand of someone who’s dying and trying to bring them to Jesus.”

And although such actions contradict military policy, no one in the corps has been disciplined or dismissed for it.

“They give chaplains a lot of leeway,” Carpenter said.

Gainer said the military is looking for well-rounded ministers who bring experience with them to the military.

According to the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School in Fort Jackson, S.C., candidates must be endorsed by their denomination or faith group and be “sensitive to religious pluralism and able to provide for the free exercise of religion by all military personnel, their family members and civilians who work for the Army.”

But Sprinkle said that Liberty University is transparent about its goals, and those goals do not line up.

“They’re not committed to pluralism or serving all the troops,” he said.

Gainer said that the greatest opposition to repealing DADT came from the Chaplain Corps because military chaplains answer to two groups — the military and their denomination. Those chaplains that didn’t adhere to a strict stance of maintaining the ban on gays and lesbians were threatened with losing their accreditation from their endorsing religious body — and with it their livelihood and their pensions.

But that contradicts the stated goals of the Chaplain Corps.

“Someone has to say, ‘Either you comply and serve all the troops all the time or get out,’” Sprinkle said.

Gore said that one of the goals of the newly public forum is to “rebalance the Chaplain Corps by bringing in more mainstream faiths.” She said that for many who come from more liberal traditions, questions of what’s a just war make it hard to serve in the military. Antal, for example, is one of just four Unitarian Universalists in the Chaplain Corps.

During its push for repeal of DADT, members
said, the forum had several successes working behind the scenes.

Despite the assumption of confidentiality between parishioner and clergy, that wasn’t always the case between gay soldier and chaplain. Dodd said that a number of discharges under DADT occurred after a soldier talked to a chaplain and the chaplain turned them in.

In fact, he wrote a white paper on the practice. After he submitted it, the military tightened up on chaplain confidentiality, Dodd said.

Carpenter, an attorney, wrote an amicus brief for the Log Cabin Republicans’ lawsuit against DADT. The court found in favor of declaring DADT unconstitutional, but Congress repealed the law before the decision could be enforced.

Carpenter said that the repeal allows gays and lesbians to serve with no protection. The legal decision, had it not been vacated upon repeal, would have allowed gays and lesbians to serve equally.

Now that DADT is gone, the forum is examining how to ensure LGB personnel receive the same services as other troops from chaplains.

Dodd said that right-wing chaplains charge that allowing gays and lesbians to serve in the military will force them to act in ways that go against their beliefs. Some have said they would be required to perform same-sex weddings.

Dodd called that ridiculous. Chaplains are never asked to perform duties that go against their religious beliefs, he said.

“I turned down weddings,” he said. “An officer came to me who wasn’t divorced.”

He said the officer tried to pull strings and force the issue, but Dodd wasn’t going to discuss marrying someone who was still married to someone else.

“But we’re insisting chaplains have the authority, if it’s in keeping with their faith, to marry same-sex couples,” he said.

Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the repeal provides no family benefits. For some issues, Dodd and Carpenter suggested work-arounds.

Issuing ID cards would be extremely helpful, especially to same-sex couples with children, Carpenter said, noting that “That way either parent could get on base to get a child to the hospital.”

In another example, joint assignments can be offered at the discretion of a commanding officer, and married couples are often assigned together when they both qualify for positions that are available at the same base. Same-sex couples could be given the same priority.

As the forum looks ahead, rebalancing the Chaplain Corps with members from a more diverse background to reflect the membership of the military is a priority.

“And we need to take care of our trans brothers and sisters,” Carpenter said.

The repeal of DADT did not address any transgender issues and does not allow transgender men or women to serve in the military.

Gainer believes representatives of the forum need to sit down with far-right members of the Chaplain Corps and agree to disagree. He said that before the repeal of DADT, they talked to people at Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion. While both groups testified against the repeal, they met with some success.

“The president of the VFW in Pflugerville said it was the right thing to do,” Gainer said.

That dialogue, he believed, would help chaplains perform or at least provide a useful referral, rather than doing more damage to a soldier seeking help.

Gore thought that the focus of discussion should be with the majority of chaplains “who want to do a good job and are part of the moveable middle.”

“We have to convince administrators and educators in divinity schools to encourage some of their best and brightest to serve,” Sprinkle said. “So many schools dropped what they were doing during the Vietnam era.”

Antal thinks that gays and lesbians will gain more acceptance as they tell their stories in non-confrontational settings and others see “their identity as professional service members is primary.”

While the work of the forum will concentrate on helping LGB military personnel, creating a more diverse Chaplain Corps may help a majority of service members. Recent polls show that a majority of troops find the chaplaincy irrelevant.

Sprinkle called the work of the forum a gift from the LGBT community to the nation.

“You wouldn’t think we’d be the ones opening the doors so that all troops will be served with dignity, integrity and respect,” he said.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 4, 2011.

 

—  Kevin Thomas

WATCH: Houston megachurch Pastor Joel Osteen equates being gay to having an addiction

Houston mega-church pastor Joel Osteen spoke to Sally Quinn of the Washington Post  as part of the media tour hyping his new book Everyday a Friday: How to Be Happier 7 Days a Week. Quinn steered the conversation towards Osteen’s recent appearance on Piers Morgan, and his statement that he would attend a same-sex wedding, but not perform one.  Osteen has gotten a lot of flack from the religious right for his willingness to attend attend a “homosexual wedding,” and it must be said that, in the world of mega-church leaders, his position is remarkably tolerant.  Unfortunately, Olsteen’s attempt at a middle-of-the-road response to Quinn’s question quickly steered toward the absurd:

“Somebody that maybe had this certain difficulty now, maybe in five years they’re not if we will love them. You know, I think one of the messages I speak on sometimes is, you know, we can love people back into wholeness. But sometimes we want to beat them down — you got this addiction and you shouldn’t have that, or you did this — I just don’t think that’s the best way.”

Yes, because being LGBT is just like having an addiction. Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t hear much of a difference between “love away the gay” and “pray away the gay.”

—  admin

What’s Shakin’ – ‘Our Time in Eden’ at EVO Lounge, voter turnout still weak

Our Time in Eden

It's Ava and Eve, not Adam and Eve.

1. Say “Garden of Eden” and most people will conjure an image of a naked (white) man and woman frolicking in a surprisingly well-tended arboretum,  but the people at Ultraviolet Productions envision an Eden where the strict binary of Adam and Eve is smeared across a blazing tableau of gender, sexuality and race. “Our Time in Eden,” a variety/drag show exploring what paradise means in a world free of labels, struts the stage tonight at 8 pm at EVO Lounge, 2707 Milam.  For a $5 cover you can check out the best drag kings, queens and gender performance artists Houston has to offer.

2. Early voting in Harris County continues through Nov 3 at all early voting locations. Voter turnout continues to be low. On Tuesday, 2,599 people voted in person, versus 4,206 who voted on the second day of early voting during the last municipal election in 2009.  Overall, there’s been a 24% decrease in voter turnout from 2009.  The upshot of which is that each vote is 24% more powerful. So grab three friends and get to the polls, together the four of you almost get an extra vote.

3. Rev. Pat “God-sends-hurricanes-to-punish-gay-people” Robinson, founder of the Christian Coalition and former Republican Presidential hopeful, warned his 700 Club audience that pushing the current crop of GOP frontrunners too far to the extreme right will hurt their chances in the 2012 general election. When the man who said that the Haiti earthquake was caused because the nation made a pact with the devil thinks you’ve gotten too extreme that’s saying something!  Right Wing Watch has more.

—  admin

Leadership through listening: Rev. Dr.Melvin Woodworth, First United Methodist Church of Tacoma, WA

With about 8 million members in the United States and 3.5 million more in Africa, Asia and Europe, the United Methodist Church is the second largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

Like many denominations, UMC continues to experience painful internal conflict with respect to its treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) members and clergy.  Being a fairly democratic institution, changes in the denomination’s official stance on LGBT people can only happen at a pace and to a degree reflective of changes in the attitudes of church members and clergy themselves.

As you well know, changing the attitudes of friends, family and community members on LGBT issues is possible but it often requires great patience and a willingness to tell our own stories.  But empowering LGBT-friendly people of faith to come forward and bare witness to their allyship as people of faith also requires something else: the ability to listen.  This is something I learned last week during an interview with Rev. Dr. Melvin Woodworth, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Tacoma, Washington.  

Many people call themselves “pastor”, but I think once you read what he has to say you’ll agree that Rev. Woodworth truly embodies the title.  Please join us after the jump for a wide-ranging conversation touching on an array of topics including civil disobedience within the UMC, listening circles, world church politics, cell phones, colonial legacy, and simply liking people.  Yes believe it or not it’s all LGBT-related!

Related:

* Conversation with a straight Presbyterian ally
A note on where LGBT people stand in relation to UMC

The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, the denomination’s book of laws, is largely silent regarding transgender people, although a resolution “Opposition to Homophobia and Heterosexism” was adopted in 2008 which stated in part “Therefore, be it resolved, that The United Methodist Church strengthen its advocacy of the eradication of sexism by opposing all forms of violence or discrimination based on gender, gender identity, sexual practice, or sexual orientation.”  However the denomination has not yet outlined a policy on specific issues like eligibility for membership, marriage or ordination for transgender people.  

While Rev. David Weekly has remained a pastor in good standing despite recently coming out about his FtM transition of 35 years ago, other transgender clergy are not necessarily lovingly supported by the denomination.  For example Drew Phoenix transitioned on the job and was reappointed in 2007 by his bishop to continue leading his congregation of St John’s in Baltimore.  In 2008 however Rev. Phoenix took a voluntary leave of absence from that post and has not returned.  This despite a very supportive congregation which still maintains web pages about “our pastor”.  Other transgender clergy have been pressured to take a leave of absence from the ministry.

The Book of Discipline directly addresses gay and lesbian people and homosexuality, albeit in contradictory passages.  It states that while “all persons are of sacred worth”, when it comes to the ordination of clergy “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”  

Despite the adoption of the “Opposition to Homophobia and Heterosexism” resolution quoted above, the denomination officially condones discrimination against gay and lesbian couples in civil marriage.  The Book of Discipline states “We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”  However, the UMC’s statement Equal Rights Regardless of Sexual Orientation would seem to leave room for the support of civil unions or domestic partnerships.  Within the church itself, the sacred celebration of gay and lesbian unions is forbidden: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”

Reconciling Ministries Network “is a growing movement of United Methodist individuals, congregations, campus ministries, and other groups working for the full participation of all people in the United Methodist Church.  RMN grew out of Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns.”  RMN helps lead congregations through the reconciling process and maintains a list of reconciling congregations.  Such a lits is necessary because despite The Book of Discipline‘s statement that all persons are of sacred worth, UMC pastors are still allowed to bar LGBT individuals from membership in their congregations.  

My conversation with Rev. Woodworth

Rev. Woodworth began our conversation by suggesting that he may not be the best person to speak with.  I asked him why.

There are a lot of clergy and laity who really have been intimately tied to the struggle in the United Methodist Church more closely than I have been, who know a whole lot more than I do.  I’m identified as the pastor at the Annual Conference who always is bringing up gay agenda, but I don’t know as much as a lot of people.  (Lurleen’s note: The Annual Conference is the basic regional unit of organization in the UMC.  Rev. Woodworth’s congregation is part of the Pacific Northwest Conference.)

First UMC of Tacoma is an affirming congregation, is that the right term?

In the United Methodist system we call them reconciling congregations. And awful term, but that’s what somebody decided upon.

Did you start that at this congregation?

No, I didn’t.  I’ve never succeeded in helping a congregation through that process.  I’ve been pastor of three congregations that would call themselves reconciling congregations, though one of those was back before that category had been invented.  But they were all reconciling before I got there.  And those that I’ve been appointed to were not reconciling congregations have not become reconciling congregations while I was there.

Was that because you chose not to work on that, or the congregation wasn’t interested?

I’m a very passive kind of a pastor.  I don’t push my agenda.  I walk into a congregation and try and discern where they feel led by God and help them do that well.  I would say in each of the congregations I’ve served, I’ve helped them broaden their thinking in terms of sexual minorities but I haven’t imposed my desire on them that they would be a reconciling congregation.

Do UMC congregations get to interview and choose their own pastor, or are they assigned?

No, we’re appointed by the bishop.  We have a bishop located in Seattle which is in charge of all the United Methodist churches in Washington and northern Idaho – I’d say maybe 250 churches or something like that.  And every year he or she appoints the pastors to the churches that they’ll serve.

So you could be moved any time.

I could be moved any year.  In reality it’s a pretty consultative process.  The bishop has a cabinet of six district superintendents.  The superintendents work with the churches and clergy in their districts, and unless a pastor requests a change or a church requests a change, a pastor is likely to stay put for a long time.  In most of my moves I haven’t asked for a change and the congregations haven’t but there’s been an opening that the Annual Conference would be a good fit for me, and so they’ve asked me to move.  I’ve never refused to take an appointment they’ve offered me.  And theoretically I can’t refuse, but in reality they rarely force somebody into a situation they don’t want to be in.

To me that’s an interesting factor in how the denomination works.

Well it makes it pretty complex, because you get reconciling congregations and ministers who are accepting, and ministers who aren’t accepting, and the cabinet has to ask: now do we want to send a pastor in who doesn’t exactly fit the congregations to help the congregation move in a particular direction, or do we want to give them matching that are going to feel more comfortable?  I’m glad I’m not the bishop!

You’ve been here at First UMC Tacoma for how long?

I’ve been here 3 1/2 years.

And when you got here it was already a reconciling congregation?

Yep, it makes me very happy!

CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE WITHIN THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

But you said you’ve maybe still helped broadened views a bit?

I’ve certainly encouraged us to grow in the ways in which we live that out.  Since I’ve been here we’ve been much more visibly open to the larger community, in the larger community, developed a very strong relationship with the Rainbow Center which is just a couple blocks away.  When we have functions that are particularly LGBT-friendly we try and get our posters up the gay bars, and try to be in touch with PFLAG and the GSA groups on area campuses and so forth.

The other thing that we did a year and a half ago, in our denomination clergy are not allowed to officiate at gay marriages, and congregations are not allowed to have their buildings used for gay marriages.

Our congregation went through a 6 month process of studying our Book of Discipline, praying, tuning into the spirit of God moving us and concluded that the Book of Discipline requires us to provide ministry equally for all persons but asks us to be inequitable in that regard.  And so we formulated a statement and published it saying that we chose to support the greater law of the Discipline and violate the lesser law.  And so we are on record as encouraging clergy associated with our congregation to do gay marriages and allowing our building to be used for those. (Lurleen’s note: Rev. Woodworth is referring here to holy matrimony, not to the solumnization of a legal marriage.  Washington state law barres clergy from solumnizing legal marriages for gay and lesbian couples because such marriages are proscribed by state law.)

Adopted by the Church Council June 2009

Same Sex Holy Matrimony at First United Methodist Church of Tacoma

As United Methodists we affirm with our Constitution, that all persons are of sacred worth, created in the image of God, in need of the ministry of the Church, and eligible to attend worship, receive our services and upon baptism and declaration of the Christian faith, to become members of our congregation. (1)

As United Methodists we affirm with out Social Principles that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons, that basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons and that we are committed to supporting these rights and liberties for all, regardless of sexual orientation.  We support efforts to stop forms of coercion against all persons regardless of sexual orientation. (2,3)

We find these central demands of our constitution and Social Principles to be at irreparable odds with the subordinate disciplinary statute that, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.” (4)

Therefore, we of First United Methodist Church of Tacoma pledge our fidelity to the Constitution and Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, committing ourselves to affirming the sacred value of every individual, inviting all persons into fellowship with the Church of Jesus Christ, and offering to each person the full breadth of ministries offered by our congregation.

To fulfill this pledge we establish that it is our policy and practice to share the use of our facility and sanctuary to celebrate relationships of love for couples without regard to sexual orientation.

We support clergy appointed to or relating to our congregation who carry out the solemnization of holy matrimony equally for all persons, regardless of sexual identity in accord with the best theology and values found in the Constitution and Social Principles of the United Methodist Church.  We encourage them to conduct such ceremonies as they feel called to do. (5)

_________________

1. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church — 2008 para 4 p. 22

2. Author suggests “gays and lesbians” rather than “All persons regardless of sexual orientation.’

3. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church — 2008 para 162.J p. 111

4. The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church — 2008 para 341.6 p. 253

5. We do this knowing that this may involve their being in violation of para 341.6 of the Book of Discipline

Can you tell me more about the 6 month process, and the response of the bishop and the congregation?

The process went very well.  We had a series of 3 weekly listening sessions.  In our listening circles we invite anyone from our congregation who wants to come to sit in a circle, and we go around the circle and let each person express their views.  They’re not to respond to the views of other people.  They’re only to express their personal perspective.

We had a series of scriptures and a series of statements from the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church that we threw out and let people respond to.  So we did that 3 consecutive weeks, and I was certain that the congregation would come out pretty much where they did.  I mean there was little doubt in my mind, but I wanted to make sure there was no sense that anyone had been coerced into any position that they were uncomfortable with.  At the end of those 3 weeks we wrote this statement and distributed it to the congregation at large and asked people to spend several months prayerfully considering it.  Then we came back together and had another listening circle.  And then we had it approved by our church council and it became a policy of the congregation.

What was the congregation’s level of participation in this?

It was very good.  Our average attendance is probably around 70 people on a Sunday, so we’re a small congregation, but we were getting probably – I doubt if there was a week that we had fewer than 40 people.  So that’s very good turnout. People were very excited about it.

The conversation never revolved around whether we would do this or not.  The conversation centered around what’s going to happen if we do this and he (Rev. Woodworth) gets in trouble?

But you caught me without my homework finished!  The district superintendent knows about our statement and has had access to it.  I have committed to share it with the bishop and I just haven’t done that in over a year and a half.  I do need to do that.

The district superintendent, how does that person relate to the bishop?

The bishop has 6 superintendents that are his cabinet.  One is assigned to this district, and her office happens to be in this building and she happens to be pretty supportive of what our congregations has done.  But I think she’s a little nervous about it.

In our system, if a clergy person or a congregation does something against the Book of Discipline and somebody is upset by that, they bring a grievance to the superintendent.  Nobody has brought a grievance against me or the congregation.  As far as we know, passing this kind of a statement is not a violation of the Discipline in any way.  Acting on it would be considered a violation of the Discipline and so far, nobody who knows anything about our acting on it has brought a grievance.  And we’ve had lots of people at services.

So the congregation has acted on it then.

Yes.  

This is a friendly interview, so tell me at any time if you don’t want to ‘go there’.

I think I’m out!  I can’t in good conscience perpetuate an injustice.  I can’t get around the injustice of the state law – I don’t have power over that.  But I can get around the injustice of the church law, and I’m doing that.

Who would have the standing to bring a grievance?

Anybody.  You could bring a grievance.  Pastor Phelps from Kansas, a Baptist could bring a grievance against me.  Anybody could bring a grievance.

Has anything similar been done in other congregations, and how has that worked out?

There have been several United Methodist pastors who have done same-sex marriages or unions publicly.  At least two have been removed from the ministry because of that.  There was a very notable case a few years ago in Sacramento where 60 some United Methodist pastors (the “Sacramento 68“) as well as some other pastors officiated at the holy union of two women.

They were making a little bit of a statement?

It was very much a statement.  Charges were brought against them, and I don’t know the details too precisely, but in our system when a grievance is filed if it looks like it has merit it’s given to a committee on investigation. That’s like a grand jury.  And if the committee on investigation decides there’s enough evidence to bring charges, if reconciliation between the opposing parties can’t be found then it goes to a trial.

For whatever reason, the Annual Conference in California that had responsibility for that did not take it to trial, did not bring charges against any of those clergy.  That was a controversial act and it has stood.  I believe it was appealed to the judicial council which is the supreme court of the church.  I don’t remember the details, but Don Fado was the primary pastor who pulled together that event.

You were asking about other congregations doing similar things.  There have just been two congregations on the east coast — one is Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. and I don’t remember off the top of my head the other one — have come out with statements similar to this very publicly, and have done that with the understanding that they would be brought up on charges and it would go to a church court.

As our congregation was involved in this process I made e-mail contact with a number of reconciling congregations in different parts of the country, particularly California because that was at that delightful time when marriage was legal for a moment.  Which put United Methodist pastors in a horribly awkward position.  Here are unions that are legal in the state of California and our Discipline says they can’t celebrate them.  Come on!

So I was in contact with a number of people including Foundry United Methodist as we went through this and shared with some of those our statement after we finished it.  But it’s just been a few months since Foundry and this other church came out with their statements and as far as I know nobody has brought any charges up to this point.

That really does put clergy in a very precarious position.

Terrible position.

Does it also put members of the congregation who celebrate their marriages in the church in a similar position?  Are they at risk of being defellowshipped?

Probably not.  The Discipline doesn’t say couples can’t get married in the church.  It says the pastor can’t do it and it can’t happen in the church.  I suppose if someone really wanted to stretch it they could try and bring charges against the couple, but the pastor’s the most vulnerable.

In our Annual Conference, there’s a little piece of me that would like to be brought up on charges.  Most of me does not want that, at all.  But a little piece of me does because in our Annual Conference I can see several possibilities.  One possibility would be that similar to the case in California someone would bring a grievance and the committee on investigation would conclude it didn’t justify a trial.  What I almost would like to see happen would be to have it go to a trial and have me found guilty.  Because then the trial court is responsible for deciding what response they will give.  And there is no required response.  So they could say, “yes he’s guilty and we’re going to do nothing.”

There’s another Annual Conference I’ve heard of that if rumor is correct passed a piece of legislation a number of years ago saying that the Discipline says that pastors can’t do same-sex marriages, the clergy of the Annual Conference is responsible for enforcing any matters concerning our clergy, and so we suggest that if any clergy in our Annual Conference are found guilty of this, they should be suspended from the ministerial orders for a period of 24 hours.  Which is basically saying, you do one of these we’re going to make you take a day off, so there!

I see it as a very real possibility in our Annual Conference that either a person would not be brought to trial, or if they were brought to trial they would be found not guilty, or if they were found guilty that there would be no punishment imposed.

Would such a decision have the weight of precedent?

We don’t do as much with precedence in the United Methodist Church as the civil courts do, but it certainly does add some weight to that position.  What it would do is send huge ripples through the whole denomination and those who are opposed to same-sex marriage would be at our next General Conference trying to revise the Book of Discipline to have forced removal from ministry or something else imposed.  It would be fun to see what happened.

But at this point no one that I know of has come up with a statement like this and then had that tried in the courts of the church in any way.

GENDER IDENTITY

In preparation for this interview it was easy to find references to homosexuality in the Book of Discipline but not to gender identity or expression.  Where do transgender people stand in relation to the denomination?

The United Methodist Church has a Book of Discipline that is revised every 4 years when we have our General Conference, which is a global gathering.  We were the first, I think, major Protestant denomination to deal with homosexuality in a major way after Stonewall, which changed the whole universe.  In 1972 we put in the schizophrenic language that homosexuals are of sacred worth and deserving of the ministry the church.  And we also put in the language that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.  And we haven’t been able to figure out how to live with those two statements since then.

Because we got into the issue earlier than some of the other denominations, we may be the last ones to get out of it.  Because what we did is we polarized our denomination so much that we’re really conflicted.  Terribly conflicted.  But because we function every 4 years, it’s common for us to be behind everybody else.

With transgender issues, I don’t think that has ever been a major issue at General Conference.  The case in Baltimore (concerning Rev. Drew Phoenix, a pastor who transitioned on the job) was the first time that I’m aware of that the church really had to question it.  We haven’t passed any legislation at General Conference that clarifies what our position is.  And I think that is going to test the church in the extreme.

In our congregation we have at least 3 transgender persons, and I think more.  I don’t ask people those sorts of things, so I only know those who’ve talked to me.  We’ve had others attend, and the congregation in general is pretty comfortable with transgender persons being here.

Where from a legal point of view I think it will become very problematic for the denomination is, we say that homosexuals cannot be ordained clergy and serve churches in our denomination.  Is a transgender person their birth gender or their assumed gender?  If it’s their assumed gender and they’re in a relationship with a person of their birth gender, then is that heterosexual or is that homosexual?  We haven’t worked out the language and the theoretical categories to deal with that.  It’s going to be a real interesting challenge.

So at the moment for transgender clergy is it up to the bishop whether they can serve?

I would say that each Annual Conference’s bishop will have to decide how to respond to it.  As far as I know we only have the one case to look at.  And in that case the clergy person was not removed from ministry.  

In our system there are several kinds of leaves of absence.  There’s a voluntary leave of absence, and in our Annual Conference we have at least 3 clergy that are out of the closet that are fully ordained United Methodist clergy.  One is serving a church, two are on leave.  I think in both of those cases the clergy requested to be on leave, but the request is of course linked to the stress and trials of being in an inhospitable environment.  There’s voluntary leave, there’s involuntary leave and a bishop or Annual Conference can’t put a pastor on involuntary leave without having a reason for doing that and going through a due process of some sort.  So I don’t know what the situation there is.

Your congregation was already “there” on so many things, so you’ve never had to deal with the hysterical “eek there’s a man in a dress in the bathroom” sort of thing?

One of the nice things about this building is we just moved in 2 1/2 years ago, and we have private restrooms on each of the floors that the congregation uses.  And so it’s real easy for anyone that has any questions about how they’d be received to find a restroom where that’s not going to be an issue.

Or also someone who is afraid of going into a restroom knowing that there are transgender people in the congregation could segregate themselves in a private restroom if they want to.

That’s right.  One of the things that some congregations have done is get away from the group restroom thing all together.  It’s becoming increasingly common to simply have solitary use restrooms and just avoid all of that stuff for everybody.  But no, I have never had that be an issue in one of my congregations.

THE WORLD CHURCH, CELL PHONES AND THE COLONIAL LEGACY

What’s your take on the international dynamic going on now in the UMC?  I’ve read that American membership is down, African membership is up and that the African congregations tend to be more conservative on matters of sexuality and sexual minorities and that that was a factor in the last General Conference.  Do these power dynamics affect the willingness of American congregations or Annual Conferences to take more moderate positions on social issues?

The United Methodist Church has not done a graceful job of transitioning from the colonial period to the 21st century.  We had what we called Central Conferences that were different than Annual Conferences.  They had a little more latitude in how they structured and administered themselves, and they did not have equal representation at our General Conference.  Our African conferences were all Central Conferences, and they did not get representation proportionate to the number of members in relationship to the U.S. church.  

God has an amazing sense of humor and can use our sins against us.  The most hierarchical, legalistic, racist, homophobic parts of our society worked hard to maintain the Central Conference system and to inflict an injustice on the people of the Third World.  And then along came the gay issue and that same group of people saw that they were losing control of the gay issues.  

So 6 or 7 years ago at a General Conference they implemented a plan for incrementally giving more equitable representation to the Third World.  The Third World tends to be conservative on sexual issues, and so they thought this would settle the gay issue — we’ll just get all those Africans to come in here and vote against gay folks.  

As soon as they did that, the part of me that wants justice for sexual minorities grieved, but the part of me that wants justice for the Third World rejoiced.  Because the Third World is much more liberal than (the hierarchical, legalistic, racist, homophobic) segment of American Methodism, and I thought that group will have lost every other issue except the gay issue.  They’ll have sold everything else to get this one issue!  

That is fascinating.  What issues are they more liberal on?

Mostly economic justice, world trade, employment rights.  In Korea they have two sets of laws.  They have one set of laws for the country and one set of laws for these little enclaves of U.S. businesses that are allowed to set up and not have fair labor practices under Korean standards.  What?!  The United States, the ‘champion of the people’…I could go on and on forever.

So the Methodist churches in places like that are really pushing for social justice, is that what you’re saying?

For economic justice, definitely.

And so we came to the last General Conference in 2008 with people afraid that the increased African representation was going to grossly skew the vote on the gay issue.  Those who advocated for retaining the current language had, for a couple of General Conferences, offered free breakfasts to General Conference delegates who wanted a free breakfast.  And most of your Third World delegates are living on a shoestring and they’ll take a free breakfast if they can get one.  That became an opportunity to give them a pep talk on how to vote.

What happened was the bishops became aware of this and decided this wasn’t a good plan.  So the bishops arranged for a lot of the African delegates to be housed in the same hotel with them and to get breakfast with their housing.  Suddenly the conservatives didn’t have access to this lobbying opportunity, so they passed out free cell phones.  And started sending messages to the recipients telling them how to vote.

Well you know, Africans aren’t as dumb as Americans would like to think they are.  So despite the fact that there was much larger African representation at the General Conference, the vote for changing the language in the Discipline to something more accepting was even closer than it had been at the previous General Conference.

At every General Conference since 1972 there has been legislation to remove the “incompatible with Christian teaching” language, and every General Conference it’s come closer and closer.  

I presume some of the change in the vote is due to changing attitudes in American congregations too, but you’re saying the African congregations as well?

The African congregations did not make the difference that people expected.  Now at our next General Conference there’s going to be an even bigger shift towards African representation.  And it may make a difference.  The conservatives in the U.S. are working very hard and in Africa some very ugly stuff is going on there.  Homosexuality may become a capitol crime on some countries like Uganda.  There are places in Africa where homosexuals are killed currently, and that would not be a huge shift in some areas.

But the conversation is going on in Africa.  I was in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2001 and talked about homosexuality to a friend of mine there who was in his early 30s.  I brought the subject up — he really didn’t want to talk about it.  It doesn’t exist, it isn’t excepted.  When I was back and talked with him in 2005 he was a student at Africa University in Zimbabwe, and he said it was quite a topic on campus.  There was a lot of discussion on it.  And when I was there in 2007 and talked to him, he was even able to share that in his own thinking he’s weighing whether this is acceptable in the eyes of God.  

So Africans are having the same conversations Americans are.  They’re a little bit behind chronologically, but my guess would be that they may make the transition faster than Americans did because in general they have a better developed sense of justice.  The whole experiences in Uganda, in Rwanda, in South Africa — they’re really leading the world in terms of thinking about how to live out justice and how to get past one’s history.

Ugandan backers of the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill falsely claim that homosexuality is a colonial import.  And these are Christians, whose religion is itself an import.  I don’t hear anyone publicly addressing the pot calling the kettle black.

There are those in the Third World who get really angry with the church, and I think rightfully so in that the vitriolic condemnation of homosexuality was largely a Western import.  And now all of a sudden we’ve changed our mind and we expect them to change their mind along with us, and they’re saying “wait, who said we wanted to dance the Foxtrot, we’re really into the Watutsi”.  There is some self-conscious awareness of the fact that they’re getting jerked around.  

One of the moves in the United Methodist church which I think may be a healthy one, is that there’s talk about loosening up our Book of Discipline so that there can be regional differences.  So that the African church can be the African church different from the way the American church is the American church.  It’s kind of re-instituting what we did with Central Conferences.  We always allowed them a flexibility we didn’t allow the Anglo-American conferences.  It might be a good thing to implement where there can be more regional difference.

Might that be instituted at the next General Conference?

Not likely at the next General Conference.  I’m hoping we eliminate the bad language at the next General Conference.

You think that’s doable?

If it weren’t for the increased Third World representation I would think it would be.  Well, and there’s another factor.  Allocation of representation at General Conference is based on membership, and the western and northeastern United States have declining membership.  Which means we’re going to have fewer representatives.  Our Annual Conference used to send I think 5 clergy and 5 lay delegates, and now we’re down to 2 or something.  That’s been over several decades but we’ve really been cut.  It means the more liberal parts of the denomination have less representation.  I don’t know how that will affect the vote.

But the southeastern U.S. which has been most adamant about keeping that language has been transitioning like everyone else has.  They’re becoming much more accepting.  A lot of the southeastern bishops made the shift a decade or two ago.  More and more of the clergy are.  Just how long will it take…

So now is the system fully democratic in terms of the Third World churches being able to send representative numbers of delegates?

I think that in 2012 it’ll be fully equal — I’ve never looked at the equalization plan — which should give lots of extra votes to particularly Liberia.  The Methodist Church in Liberia has been growing like crazy.  The Democratic Republic of Congo also has a huge membership.

LEADING BY LISTENING

What haven’t we talked about that we should talk about?

I think that early in the movement for justice, we made some mistakes.  We pushed too hard in the wrong directions.  We pushed legislatively within the United Methodist Church.  And it may be that we never could have gotten the social push without the political push.  The political push opened the conversation.

But where I see lives being changed over and over and over again is in interpersonal conversations.  Before Stonewall nobody talked about homosexuality in the church.  After Stonewall somebody had to talk about it.

I had an experience in the church a number of years ago.  I was following a pastor who was fairly rabidly anti-gay.  Right after I got appointed there I was asked by the head of the United Methodist Women to come speak to the women at her home about homosexuality.  And I thought, oh boy am I in trouble now!

Sometimes I listen to the Spirit of God and it always tells me to shut up, and when I follow that advice it’s always good advice.  I went to that group of 14 or 16 women, and instead of giving them my spiel on homosexuality and the scripture and all of this stuff, I asked them 3 questions, and we went around the circle.

First, when did you first hear about homosexuality?  What is your first memory of that as a subject?  Secondly, who was the first gay person that you knew?  And third, who is the gay person who’s been closest to you in your lifetime?

So it was very personal.

It was astonishing.  Everybody knew that this one woman in the group has a niece who was a lesbian, and she loved her niece who was a lesbian. And everybody kinda, oh poor so and so, she lives with this burden.  But by the time we were through everybody in the circle had shared somebody who was very close to them.  All but one — there was one woman who as far as she knew didn’t know a gay person and never had.  But everybody else in the room had known gay people, and every one of them had somebody who was emotionally important to them who was gay.

And so as we left that room, these people suddenly knew they could talk to each other.  They could own up to who they were, there were other people who liked gay folks too.  Holy moley does that change your congregation in a hurry!  

As far as they knew going into the meeting all they knew was the topic was homosexuality and they thought I was going to try and convince them.  And if I’d tried to convince them they probably all would have gotten rigid and I would have been ridden out of town on a rail.  But when it was their story, and their friends’ story, it really made a huge difference.  That’s why in the United Methodist Reconciling Ministries Network we’re talking about telling our story.  Just encouraging people to be more out.  Gay people be more out.  Gay parents be more out.  Gay friends be more out.

I’ve always within my first couple of months at a new church made sure that the terms gay or lesbian or homosexual made it into my sermons a couple times. It was a way of saying to people, I know these words, if you’ve got an agenda come talk to me now.  And I usually smoked out gay folks pretty quickly.  ”You mentioned thus and so, how do you feel about that?”.  So for my clergy friends who say “How can you know all these gay folks?  I don’t have any gay folks in my church” I say, you don’t offer them the opportunity to be themselves.  If you give them a chance, you’ll find them.

I really think if we’d spent more time with the story telling early on and less time with the legislation it would have been an easier transition.

When you’re saying “early on”, when do you mean?

In 1975 I presented legislation for full membership rights, full ordination rights, marriage rights for gay folks.

You were ahead of your time!

That’s what I’m told.

How did you get there personally?

Who knows.  I was raised by some truly wonderful parents who just taught me to like people.  And I’ve always just sort of liked people.  So I had a friend in high school who everyone said was queer, but you know I really liked him.  I got to college and I had friends who were gay and lesbian.  I just sort of liked them.  Then I found out I wasn’t supposed to like them.

As soon as I was out of seminary I got appointed to Capitol Hill United Methodist in Seattle (Lurleen’s note: Capitol Hill is Seattle’s gayborhood.) which at that point was sharing its building with Metropolitan Community Church.  So I was working with the gay counseling center and the gay community center and the womens coffee club coven and all of those great groups.  Lesbian Resource Center.

In seminary I needed to choose one of three case studies to do an analysis of.  One of the three that was presented was a congregation trying to decide whether to share their building with a Metorpolitan Community Church.  Since I knew at that point I was going to be appointed to Capitol Hill I though, this is a natural!  I studied the scripture and I studied all of that stuff and could find nothing in scripture that led me to think that God related to gay folks differently than anybody else.  So I went to Capitol Hill and I treated the folks there like I treated anybody else, and it worked.  

In 1972 I went to the General Conference of our church in Atlanta and that’s when they passed the really awful language.  I met Gene Leggett from southwest Texas who had been removed from Methodist ministry when he came out of the closet.  He and the gay caucus were there trying to get some pro-gay language in.  It was in response to that that we got the negative stuff.  

Hating anybody has just never made sense to me.  It doesn’t do good things to my mind.  It doesn’t do good things to my body.  It doesn’t do good things to my relationships.

So in 1975 we were preparing to go to this 1976 General Conference and so I presented legislation to our Annual Conference for rights of membership, ordination and marriage.  And it didn’t pass.  But I’ve presented it a number of times since then.  Not every 4 years, but most of them.  Each General Conference it’s been closer.  It was very close the last time.

I’ve known for 20 years that the United States has made the shift.  once you get Will & Grace on television and advertising — the thing that first tipped me off that we’d made the transition was when I started seeing t.v. ads for gay couples.  I thought, when we’re marketing to them, they’re in.  It’s a question of how long is it going to take the rest of us to figure out they’re in.  So I have great hopes for the 2012 General Conference.

It has become increasingly difficult for me to serve any church where I thought any member of my family would not be welcome.  So when they asked me to come to Tacoma I was a very happy camper.  Never served a church that doesn’t have gay or lesbian members.

One more question.  I’m just curious how your congregation responded to Referendum 71 or other LGBT legislation.

The phone bank was in this building!  We have what we call the Micah Project which is our peace and justice group.  The woman who was our director of the Micah Project at that point was a major organizer for R-71.  We had a rally against Prop 8.  I’m involved in the Religious Coalition for Equality that has a meeting later this month.  I don’t know how many we’ll get from the congregation, but we’ll probably have a few there.

So the congregation sees working on these issues as something they come to from their faith?  Their social justice calling?

Absolutely.  What part of “love your neighbor” do people not understand?  It’s pretty simple.  John Wesley the founder of Methodism believed that love was the core of God, that all of the little things that divide us are peripheral.  The unconditional, unquenchable love of God for human beings was at the core of his faith.  This congregation I think does a good job of living that out.
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Guest post by Rev. Patrick Cheng – The Truth Will Make Us Free: A Queer Year in Review

Give a hearty coffeehouse welcome to Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at

Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The author of
Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology, he shares a year-end piece for discussion. –Pam


The Truth Will Make Us Free: A Queer Year in Review

By Rev. Patrick S. Cheng, Ph.D.

Follow on Twitter @patrickscheng

Anti-gay Christians love to quote John 8:32, which says that “the truth will make you free.” According to them, if only lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people would simply accept the truths of the Christian faith, we would discover the error of our ways, repent of our sins and miraculously change our misdirected sexual orientations and/or gender identities.

As an openly-gay theologian, ordained Christian minister and seminary professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I agree that the truth will make us free. However, the anti-gay Christians have it backwards. As the groundbreaking events of 2010 have demonstrated, it is actually the truth of the fundamental goodness of LGBT people and our lives that will make us free. Ironically, this truth also will free anti-gay Christians of their own heterosexist prejudices and theological blind spots.

What were some of the truths about the goodness of LGBT people and our lives that were demonstrated in 2010? In August, the first fully-litigated U.S. federal court trial about same-sex marriage concluded that there was no rational basis for prohibiting LGBT people from entering into civil marriage. The trial court struck down California Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot initiative that stripped LGBT people in California of the right to marry. Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s ruling demonstrated the truth that LGBT civil marriages are grounded in the same ethical values of love, mutual caring and commitment as non-LGBT civil marriages.

In September, after a rash of horrific suicides by young gay men across the United States, the openly-gay author and syndicated columnist Dan Savage and his husband Terry Miller started the “It Gets Better Project.” This project has resulted in more than 5,000 Internet videos of LGBT people and our allies, speaking directly — and giving hope — to suffering LGBT young people around the world. Each video tells the truth about how even though many of us suffered at the hands of bullies and bigots while growing up, our lives ultimately have become better in the process of coming out and speaking the truth about our lives to the world.

More below the fold.

In December, the U.S. Congress authorized — and President Obama signed into law — the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell statute that had prohibited openly lesbian and gay soldiers from serving in the U.S. military for the past 17 years. The repeal was based upon overwhelming evidence that allowing lesbians and gays to serve openly in the military would have no adverse consequences to national security. In fact, the evidence showed that encouraging truth telling by lesbian and gay soldiers would actually enhance the effectiveness of our armed forces. As most of us learned from an early age, telling the truth is a virtue and not a vice.

There were a number of other encouraging examples in 2010 of speaking the truth about LGBT people. For example, in September a Florida state court struck down an anti-gay statute that expressly prohibited LGBT people from adopting children in that state. Shortly thereafter, the Florida Department of Children and Families declined to appeal the decision, thus conceding the truth of that ruling.

In December, the United Nations spoke the truth by voting to protect LGBT people around the world from extrajudicial killings and arbitrary executions, notwithstanding the strenuous objections of a number of member countries. Even Pope Benedict XVI, in a recent book-length interview with a German journalist, took a first step toward speaking the truth about LGBT people by saying that the intentional use of condoms by a male prostitute to prevent HIV/AIDS infection could be the “first step in the direction of moralization.”

Interestingly, anti-gay Christians love to cite over and over again the half-dozen or so verses in the Bible that purportedly condemn same-sex acts as sinful. However, they ignore the nearly 200 verses in the Bible that emphasize the importance of truth-telling from a theological and ethical perspective, not to mention the explicit prohibition of bearing false witness against one’s neighbors in the Ten Commandments.

These anti-gay Christians would do better to heed the stern biblical warnings against bearing false witness. Recently, the venerable Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) officially designated 13 anti-gay Christian groups — including the American Family Association, the Family Research Council and the Traditional Values Coalition — as “hate groups” for spreading “known falsehoods” against LGBT people. Another five groups — including the Concerned Women for America, Liberty Counsel and the National Organization for Marriage — were cited for their use of “demonizing propaganda” against sexual minorities on the SPLC’s website.

Anti-gay Christians, including those who are affiliated with the above groups mentioned by the SPLC, would do well to read more closely the first chapter of letter of St. Paul to the Romans. In particular, they should read Romans 1 as applying to themselves. Often that chapter is used solely as “proof” of the sinfulness of LGBT people. What anti-gay Christians seem to forget, however, is the traditional doctrine of original sin, as articulated in Romans and interpreted by theologians such as Augustine of Hippo onwards, applies to all people — including themselves!

What if the warning of Romans 1:18-21 against the “ungodliness” and “wickedness” of those who “suppress the truth” — and those whose “senseless minds” are “darkened” — actually referred to those anti-gay Christians who fail to acknowledge the truth and empirical evidence about the fundamental goodness and loving nature of LGBT people and our relationships?

What if the “lusts,” “impurity” and “degrading” actions (including “exchanging the truth about God for a lie”) as described in Romans 1:24-25 actually referred to the lust for political power, wealth and idolatrous self-worship as exhibited by many anti-gay Christians, some of whom scapegoat LGBT people as a convenient way of diverting attention from their own sexual sins?

What if the condemnation of the “shameless acts” committed with “one another” and the “debased mind” described by St. Paul in Romans 1:27-28 actually referred to the brutal gang rape (metaphorically speaking) of LGBT people by anti-gay Christian hate speech – hate speech that has resulted in numerous queer bashings and suicides by LGBT people, including innocent young people whose lives were tragically cut off before reaching their prime?

Although admirable progress was made during 2010 with respect to basic human rights for LGBT people, much more needs to be done. In particular, the rise of state-sanctioned anti-LGBT violence in other parts of the world, including the Middle East, Asia and Africa, is frightening. For example, the upcoming vote by the Uganda legislature on its “kill-the-gays” legislation is one example of this state-sanctioned violence that must be condemned by people of faith everywhere.

As LGBT people, we must remain ever vigilant and hopeful that the truth of the fundamental goodness, and holiness, of our lives and relationships will free us from the sinful bondage of homophobic and heterosexist oppression. However, LGBT people are not the only ones who will benefit from this truth. The truth will also free anti-gay Christians from their own heterosexist prejudices and theological blind spots — shortcomings that would otherwise prevent them from entering fully into the reign of God.

Other year-ender items to click over to:

* Truth Wins Out – Year in Review — LGBT Top 10

* Michigan Messenger – Year in Review: LGBT issues figure prominently in 2010

* Ranker – Top 10 People Out of the Closet in 2010
Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Some blatant gay bashing from Rev. Moon’s bankrupt rag

The Washington Times has become a joke. The paper should never have been taken seriously. It was the creation of a Korean cult leader who wanted a say in the conservative agenda. Conservatives gladly acquiesced. Now, it’s on the verge of collapse, facing an “involuntary bankruptcy.” But, the paper is still spewing it venom. And, the Washington Times has always hated the gay:

Pentagon officials have been pretending that they have not already made up their minds on this issue. Generals have issued blanket denials that the conclusions for the forthcoming working group report on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” have already been decided. It appears that as the White House rams its radical homosexual agenda through the military, too many generals and admirals are willing to sell their brothers in arms down the river if it means they can keep a shiny set of stars on their epaulets.

The destructive force unleashed by the Pentagon’s collaboration with the leftist agenda is apparent from the circus created when homosexual activists like Dan Choi sashayed over to the Times Square recruiting center to make a political point in the short period in which the Phillips order was effective. Leftists are only interested in political points and symbolism here. Providing defense to the nation in the most effective way possible is the furthest thing from their mind. Treating military recruitment primarily as a diversity issue opens up a closet full of absurdities. On what basis, then, would the military discriminate against the elderly? Why can’t grandpa become a paratrooper? Should the military not reject someone merely because he is handicapped? Why not a wheelchair-bound infantryman?

“Sashayed”? The thing speaks for itself. Yes, it’s blatant homophobia. It’s important to know what the other side’s warped arguments are. Cause we’ll be hearing a lot of this anti-gay rhetoric when the Pentagon report comes out and if DADT does come up in the lame duck.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the next gay-themed editorial from the Washington Times encourages anti-gay bullies.




AMERICAblog Gay

—  admin

Rev. Irene Monroe: Re-introducing lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women of African descent

Re-introducing lesbian, bisexual, and transgender women of African descent

By Rev. Irene Monroe

With October being Coming Out Month, I thought I would re-introduce a subgroup in our LGBTQ community that is too often forgotten and/or ignored — lesbians, bisexual, and transgender women of African descent.

I want to re-introduce this group because a groundbreaking study in July came out titled “Black Lesbians Matter” examining the unique experiences, perspectives, and priorities of the Black LBT community, and sadly little is known about it.

This report reveals that LBT women of African descent are among the most vulnerable in our society and need advocacy in the areas of financial security, health care, access to education, and marriage equality.

The study is akin to a census conducted over several months in 2009 – 2010 where 1,596 LBT women from regional, statewide, and local organizations in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, and Denver, and also through an on-line survey participated. The study focused on five key areas: health, family/parenting, identity, aging, and invisibility.

More below the fold.

Key findings of the survey revealed the following:

? Health – There is a pattern of higher suicide rates among us. Scholars have primarily associated these higher suicide rates with one’s ability to deal with “coming out.”

? Family/Parenting – 45% of Black female same-sex households include a biological child of one of the partners in their household. Anti-gay parenting policies in the United States will disproportionately affect Black LBT parents, or would-be parents.

? Identity – In the 18-24 age group 69% are least likely to identify as lesbian. Mostly identify as queer.

? Aging – 25% over the age of 50 live alone and fear poverty and homelessness.

? Invisibility – 48% have been rejected and discriminated against, disclosing one’s identity in the workplace leading to exclusion from company events, and even termination.

It’s clear the survey brings to the forefront information from a traditionally marginalized group, highlighting the needs and concerns defined by the community. But Zuna is the first to gather the data on us.

Although Zuna Institute has been around since 1999, people still ask who they are.

In the inimitable way that black women’s kitchens function as “think tanks” on social justice and civil rights issues, birthing numerous organizations, is also how Zuna Institute was founded. Zuna is the first of its kind in becoming a national organization providing services to the Black LBT community. Believing that the development of a healthy Black LBT identity can only come about by advocating specifically for LBT of African descent on a national level, and it would effectively eliminate the stigma and the barriers of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation discrimination we face daily, Zuna aims at bettering our quality of life by holding national conferences providing relational/social and educational resources to use for health care, political, and economic advocacy.

Since the 1970s there has been nearly a twenty-year hiatus since the country has seen collective black LBT activism on a national level.

However, back in the 1970s LBT women of African descent had a more prominent and visible role in queer and feminist politics. Two of the hot spots were New York and Boston.

In New York the “Salsa Soul Sisters, Third World Wimmin Inc Collective” was the first “out” women of color organization and oldest black lesbian organization in the country. Today the group is known as “African Ancestral Lesbians United for Social Change.”

And in Boston the “Combahee River Collective,” referring to Harriet Tubman, Conductor on the Underground Railroad, who freed 750 slaves near the Combahee River in South Carolina in 1863, was an active black feminist lesbian organization from 1974 – 1980. The group is most known for “The Combahee River Collective Statement,” a key document in the history and shaping of black feminist thought. The document presented a new paradigm to look at oppressions by not ranking them, like race, class, gender and sexual orientation, on a hierarchy of oppression, but rather to look at them all from a multidimensional analysis, recognizing them as interlocking oppressions.

Today here in Greater Boston the ethos of the “Combahee River Collective” is continued with “Queer Women of Color and Friends” (QWOC+ Boston), a grassroots organization dedicated to creating a diverse social space for LGBTQ women of color.

Deceased African-American poet and activist Pat Parker, in her book “Movement in Black,” wrote about how society did not embrace her multiple identities. “If I could take all my parts with me when I go somewhere, and not have to say to one of them, ‘No, you stay home tonight, you won’t be welcome, because I’m going to an all-white party where I can be gay, but not Black.’ Or I’m going to a Black poetry reading, and half of the poets are anti homosexual, or thousands of situations where something of what I am cannot come with me. The day all the different parts of me can come along, we would have what I would call a revolution.”

After nearly two decades of LBT women of African descent’s invisibility on a national level Zuna is causing a revolution by taking the bold step in this era of single-issue queer politics to remind us all we, too, matter.

Pam’s House Blend – Front Page

—  admin

Presbyterian Church: Rev. Jane Adams Spahr Violated Constitution With Gay Marriages, But We Love Her Anyhow

The Rev. Jane Adams Spahr was totally out of line when she married 16 gay couples back when California legalized it for 12 seconds. So says the Presbyterian Church, which took Spahr to church court or whatever, concluding she violated the church's constitution in officiating the unions.

CONTINUED »


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Queerty

—  John Wright