Thinking 2 steps ahead

Theologians, ministers gather at Brite for ‘Beyond Apologetics’ discussion on LGBTs’ future role in religious communities, efforts

Tammye Nash  |  Senior Editor nash@dallasvoice.com

Joretta Marshall and Stephen Sprinkle
Joretta Marshall and Stephen Sprinkle

FORT WORTH — Where do we go from here? That’s the question at the heart of a project called “Beyond Apologetics: Sexual Identity, Pastoral Theology and Pastoral Practices,” an ongoing symposium with its next installment set for Thursday, Oct. 7, at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth.

The event will feature six scholars and pastors, representing five different schools, talking about new ways of thinking about ministry with LGBT people after the battle for acceptance is over.

“Originally, this project was organized to do two things,” explained the Rev. Joretta Marshall, openly lesbian pastor of theology and pastoral care and counseling at Brite and co-director of the project.

“The first thing was to bring scholar practitioners together for conversation to try and answer the question, ‘What would we be talking about if we didn’t always have to focus on gaining acceptance of TLGB people” in churches, Marshall said.

“We want to go beyond defending TLGB people in the churches and start figuring out what those next conversations will be about. For instance, I am hopelessly involved in the United Methodist Church. It is in my blood and in my bones. But there is still a debate within the UMC over whether we [LGBT people] should be welcomed into the church. We want to get past that so that we can work on transforming the world, on bringing justice to the larger community.”

The second piece of the equation, Marshall said, was equally important: “Educational institutions should make a difference in the places where they live. We wanted to invite the community in to participate in these discussions and to let them know that Brite is a place where we talk about these things.”

For the Rev. Stephen Sprinkle, the openly gay associate professor of practical theology and director of field education and supervised ministry at Brite, the idea that a theology school in Fort Worth, Texas is host to such a discussion, is an amazing accomplishment.

“We’ve never had a gathering of LGBTQ scholars of faith in Texas before. Not like this,” said Sprinkle, one of the six speakers participating in the Oct. 7 discussion.

“This is the first meeting of its kind here, but it won’t be the last. That was the experience that we had in Oklahoma” last February when the first discussion in the project was held at Phillips Graduate Theological Seminary in Tulsa. He explained that the project was first conceived as a partnership between the two sister seminaries — Phillips and Brite — and six speakers participated in a public event held at Phillips that followed the same format to be used at Brite.

The whole idea, Sprinkle said, is to plan for the future and prepare pastors, churches and the public for the day when LGBT people are already part of the church and can truly give their own unique gifts to its efforts.

“We are thinking two steps on down the road. We’re thinking outside the box, to use the cliché. The question is, if we are not having to constantly think about creating space enough for the LGBT community to be accepted, then we can think about how to move the LGBTQ community into a richer, more whole position to contribute to the church’s work.”

The term “apologetics” refers to advocacy, Sprinkle explained. In thinking “beyond apologetics,” he continued, “what we are saying, as LGBT scholars, is that congregations and nonprofits already have everything they need in order to include LGBT people. They already have the know-how, the theology. We believe the arguments for inclusion have already been made, and made very well. The question now is, what do we do to take things to the next stage of development?”

In his part of the discussion, Sprinkle will focus on his work in documenting anti-LGBT hate crimes and in advocating for the passage of hate crimes laws that include protections for LGBT people. He used his own work and its future direction as an example of the focus of the project overall.

“We argued for years and years for a hate crimes law. We’ve got that now. But the reality is, we are still being killed. So what are we, as an LGBT community, going to do to understand who those dead are to us? How will that shape our identity?” Sprinkle said.

“We have to move beyond being just a loose association of people with a variety of concerns on a variety of issues to become a real people that remember and honor our dead. That is what a community does,” he continued.

“African-Americans can list their people who died in lynchings. Jewish folk have never forgotten the 6 million lost in the Holocaust. Japanese-Americans remember those who died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But we as an LGBT community seem to have a hard time even acknowledging that members of our community are still being killed. So what I am trying to do is to think down the road about how we can strengthen this community by remembering the thousands who were murdered because they were just like us.”

Another member of the project — although one who won’t be at the discussion next month at Brite — is Darnell Moore with Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. He is, Sprinkle said, “one of the most dynamic and most original thinkers I have ever seen.”

Moore’s focus, Sprinkle said, is finding a new way to think about coming out.

“People are often afraid to come out because it compromises them and they are vulnerable. What Darnell says is that it is time that we begin to invite people in, really invite them in, and have something to invite them in to. What would it really mean to say to the majority culture all around us, ‘Stop being tourists in our lives. We will share with you what we have, but you have to come to us.’

“Now we’re talking! Now we’re really thinking!” Sprinkle continued. “From now one, there won’t be just one National Coming Out Day a year. There won’t be one day of silence in the schools. From now on, the LGBTQ community can be seen as a powerhouse of innovation and creative thinking. We approach that already in the arts and entertainment. But we don’t seem to be secure enough or understand ourselves well enough to be confident doing that in other spheres.”

For Marshall and Sprinkle, the idea that such new ways of thinking are being birthed here in Fort Worth is reason for celebration, and for hope.

“I came here in 1994, and I was open and out [as a gay man] from the time I first showed up,” Sprinkle said. “But it has been a fight. Then when we decided to invite Joretta [to join the faculty] and she accepted, I knew we were turning a corner.

“This project represents a new era at Brite. Fort Worth is the reddest of the red in a red state. And here we are, co-hosting this powerhouse event, this first-of-a-kind academic gathering of people of faith, right under the nose of the Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary!

“It’s unbelievable in a way,” he said. “I still have to pinch myself to believe it’s real. But it is real. And it is a sign that the time is right to take these next steps.”

……………………………

‘Beyond Apologetics’

The Beyond Apologetics Project will hold a public symposium Thursday, Oct. 7, beginning at 7 p.m. in the Robert Carr Chapel at Texas Christian University, 2855 S. University Drive in Fort Worth.

The event is free and open to the public.

Scholars and pastors presenting their preliminary work at the discussion will include Duane R. Bidwell of Claremont School of Theology and co-director of the project; Kathleen Greider of Claremont School of Theology; Benjamin Reynolds of Chicago Theological Seminary; Jeanne Hoeft of St. Paul School of Theology; David Mellott of Lancaster Theological Seminary and Stephen V. Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School.

Other participants in the Beyond Apologetics Project are John Blevins with Emory University; United Church of Christ minister Malcolm Himschoot; Joretta Marshall of Brite Divinity School; Darnell Moore of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; Jason Hays of Brite Divinity School; Cody J. Sanders of Brite Divinity School; and Leanne Tigert of Andover Newton Theological School.

For more information e-mail j.marshall@tcu.edu or cody.j.sanders@tcu.edu, or go online to BeyondApologetics.wordpress.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 17, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Talking about gay clergy in the UMC

This just in from Fort Worth: The Texas Wesleyan Gay Straight Alliance will be host for a presentation featuring a representative from MoSAIC — Methodist Students for an All-Inclusive Church — who will talk about giving full clergy rights to openly gay and lesbian clergy candidates, and Dr. Bruce McDonald, a religion professor at Texas Wesleyan, who opposes such action.

Organizers stress the event is NOT a debate but is simply an effort to “educate all those who attend on one of the most sensationalized dilemmas facing the UMC today.”

The event will be held at noon on Friday, April 25, on the first floor of West Library in the Orientation Room.

The university is at 1201 Wesleyan St. in Fort Worth. You can get directions at the Web site, www.txwesleyan.edu.

—  admin