Category Archives: Church

Gay Christians: We’re Not Just In the Pews…

…some of us are in the pulpit, too.

The Huffington Post just published a pretty nifty list of “15 Inspiring LGBT Religious Leaders.

Reflecting and shaping the culture in which it is embedded, religion has historically been hostile to LGBT-identified people and communities. However, over the last three decades more denominations, congregations and individuals have come out in support of honoring the full humanity of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people. Today, hundreds, if not thousands, of religious communities are truly places of celebration, healing and hope for all people.

This initial list of 15 ground breaking individuals is just a sampling of the many LGBT religious leaders who have reclaimed religious traditions and communities.

The list includes Christians, Muslims, Jews, and spiritualists from across the globe.

Of course, not all of us can be great faith leaders… but being a dedicated follower is as important as being a passionate leader.  I pray that the doubts, fears, and injustice often experienced by our community don’t keep us from being committed people of faith.

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“I listened”: A Straight Pastor Talks About Loving the Gay Community

Like thousands of other southern gay guys, shortly after I “came out” I moved to New York City.  But even though I ran away from home, I didn’t run away from my faith.

In Brooklyn I found Christ’s Church for Brooklyn, a small community that opened every worship service by saying:

Welcome to all who have no church home, need strength, want to follow Christ, have doubts, or do not believe. Welcome to new visitors and to old friends. Welcome to grandparents, to mothers, fathers, to couples and to single people. Welcome to people of all colors, cultures, economies, abilities, and sexual orientations, to old and young, to believers and questioners – and welcome to questioning believers.

I had found a new home.

Joe, the pastor of our island of misfit toys, became a source of spiritual sanity for me.  He patiently walked with me though several difficult transitions: from being in the closet to being out of the closet… from having a career as a minister to floundering through under-employment… from enjoying a secure southern home to navigating the pressures of life in New York City.

Although our congregation at Christ’s Church for Brooklyn was friendly to boys with boyfriends, our denomination was not — a dynamic that must have been quite difficult for Joe.

Below are a few of Joe’s reflections about how he came to understand and believe that God is for gay people, too.

I listened.

– Joe H.

When my more conservative friends ask me how I got to where I am with homosexuality; when they grill me on How in the world can you support the rights and lifestyles of homosexuals? Why is it that you help them realize that God loves them the way they are? Why do you tell them that to be fully human they must, THEY HAVE TO, embrace their created selves so that they can fully glorify God? I simply reply with, “I listened.”

I started listening while at seminary preparing to be a minister. A dear friend of mine who I knew while we both studied ministry at a conservative Christian college enrolled at the seminary where I was doing graduate work. One day at lunch, my friend sat me down and said, “Joe, I’m gay.” This was news to me but I tried to act cool and collected. So I responded with, “tell me your story.” He graciously did so. I listened and as I did, I’m sure my friend waited for a response but I gave none. I just listened.

His story was intense. I felt for him, for the secret life he lived since he was a boy coming of age but I was confused. I was confused and conflicted. So I didn’t deal with it. I stored his story in the back of my mind not thinking that I would ever need to call upon it again. After all, I was trying to make my way as a minister in the conservative denomination in which I grew up. I figured I wasn’t going to be meeting very many gay men or gay women at the churches that I would serve.

A few years passed and my family moved to New York City. We planted a church and it became evident rather quickly that my friend from college/seminary had a story that many shared. Bill, a guy in our church plant, came to me with his struggle with homosexuality. My response was the same with Bill as it was with my friend from seminary, “tell me your story.” As Bill shared his story, he cried. His pain, the hurt he experienced was excruciating. Once again, I just listened.

This time I couldn’t ignore the story. I wanted to deal with my confusion. I went home and started reading. I read just about everything I could get my hands on. I started with the Bible and found the six verses that explicitly mention homosexuality. It didn’t take long to realize that the verses were often misused and misunderstood. I read pieces of literature from people against homosexuality and from people for homosexuality. I read and read and read. And I prayed. A lot.

I met up with Bill again and listened some more. As he sat in front of me, he told me how hard it was for him to live as a heterosexual. He just ended yet another relationship with a girl. But Bill was convinced that he had to do this; that he had to live as a straight man. As he sat there falling quickly into a state of depression, it hit me: to fully glorify God, to give yourself fully to God, to serve God fully, you need to embrace your orientation and move on with life.

He was stuck and he didn’t have to be. I said these words to him and as I did, as they came out of my mouth, I felt free. I felt liberated. And if I felt free and liberated, I’m guessing my friend felt even more of it. I ended up saying these words to many others and witnessed time and again as people started living life to the fullest.

As I said those words to my friend, I felt a new call in my life. The church in Brooklyn became a safe place for all people to share their stories. It became a place where gay and straight people could worship without fear of retribution or scorn. It became a place where all could fully glorify God, where all could fully serve God.

Of course, I was doing this while still serving in a denomination that condemns homosexuality so you can imagine how the rest of the story goes for me. I’m no longer serving as pastor but I still look for people who might be willing to hear the words: you must embrace your created self so that you can fully glorify God.

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Christians and Gay Teen Suicides

Experience satirical wonderfulness below….

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Church’s Response to LGBT Youth Suicide

Yesterday I posted a few thoughts about Jamey Rodemeyer’s suicide and a link to a great open letter to Christian parents of LGBT youth.

As a quick follow-up, I thought you might want to see this pic I just found of a church’s response to Jamey’s suicide…

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Church Bullies?

A few days ago, a friend of mine on Facebook posted the following update:

“Today, I’ll try not to track down a bully, take a 2 by 4, sharpen it, & pound it up his rear with a croquet hammer. For I’m a man of peace. I will, however, rattle a few cages of some elected representatives who create anti bullying websites with NO ADEQUATE LAWS to back it up.”

My friend obviously isn’t Gandhi… but can you blame him?  Wouldn’t you also be tempted to find a few creative uses for a croquet hammer if a kid at school was making your kid feel like his life wasn’t worth living?

It’s been almost a year since the suicide of Tyler Clementi – a Rutgers student who jumped off of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate posted a live internet video of him having a sexual encounter with another man – brought increased national attention the “problem” of bullying among LGBT youth.

Those of us who work with (or are) LGBT youth didn’t need the death of Tyler Clementi – or any of the dozens of other youth who commit suicide due to bullying every year – to remind us that words can be even more dangerous than sticks and stones.  Dozens of studies – including this report from the Journal of Youth and Adolescence – report the effect of discrimination and harassment on LGBT youth:

40% of youth who reported a minority sexual orientation indicated feeling sad or hopeless in the past 2 weeks, compared to 26% of heterosexual youth… [the data] also showed that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely as heterosexual youth to have considered attempting suicide in the past year (31% vs. 14%).

Adolescence should be a time of hopefullness, not hopelessness.  The church – one of the primary vehicles God has given us to communicate His hope to the hopeless – should stand as a sanctuary of peace and safety for LGBT youth.

Does yours?

Our friends at Lutherans Concerned/North America have developed a super anti-bullying curriculum that’s designed for churches who want to make both their congregations and communities safe(r) places for LGBT folks.  According to the promo literature, Where All Can Safely Live “was developed with the help of the staff at the Pacific Violence Prevention Institute, from the pioneering research on bullying by Dan Olweus, and materials created by the United States government.”

Interested?  Download a free copy of the anti-bullying curriculum (“Where All Can Safely Live”) here.

Reference:

Almeida, J., Johnson, R., Corliss, H., Molnar, B., & Azrael, D. (2009). Emotional distress among LGBT youth: The influence of perceived discrimination based on sexual orientation. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 1001 – 1014.

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Hurt by church? Get a Str8 Apology.

Kathy Baldock – a straight woman – has attended the past three San Franscico Pride festivals wearing a homemade t-shirt that reads “Hurt By Church?  Get a Str8 Apology Here.”

I had the pleasure of talking with Kathy earlier this week… hearing her passion… and learning about how she’s walking alongside LGBT folks.  When I hung up the phone, I felt like I had been to church (in that “God, that was sooooo good for my soul” way, not the “sweet lord, that was the most boring hour of my life” way).

Kathy’s good people.

You need, Need, NEED to take 3.31 minutes to watch this video about Kathy’s experiences offering “straight apologies” to LGBT men and women for damage done to them by the church.  Watch this video and hear Kathy’s response to a 70-something year old man who said:

I was kicked out of churches when I was young and I loved God and I completely lost all that… I’ve been waiting for about 60 years for someone to just they they’re sorry — that God never meant that.  Would you just say you’re sorry?

Kathy’s doing incredible work.  Learn more about Kathy Baldock and Canyonwalker Connections here.

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Summer Camp for LGBT Christian Kids

I know it’s a little early (or a little late) for my regular Tuesday update, but…

I just read a fantastic article about Rev. Patty Fox, a minister who wanted the LGBT youth at her church to have a summer camp experience designed specifically for them.  Next week she’ll take a group of queer kids into the woods for four days of summer camp fun…

The church’s handful of gay teens wanted to have a summer camp of their own where they could identify with each other and help foster spirituality, Fox said.

“It was the first time I’d ever seen a Christian-based camp program geared to gay and lesbian teens,” the pastor said. “They asked, ‘Why can’t we do this?’ I decided there was not reason not to.”

As someone who’s spent literally thousands of hours playing, speaking, swimming, hiking, laughing, teaching, and worshiping with kids at camp, this makes me incredibly happy.

Pray for Patty and her kids as they get ready for camp next week…

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Chained to the Church

Last spring, during a stroll through Mid-town Manhattan a few weeks after Easter, I found a small church snugged between two skyscrapers.  On that particular May morning, the cross outside the church was still wearing its Easter outfit; a shroud draped across its shoulders… and a chain securing it to the street.

The image still haunts me.  I know what the chain says about my city, where both bicycles and icons (apparently) need the same pad-locked protection.  But is the chain also a symbol of the way many LGBT people feel about their faith?

At some point in our life, many of us willingly entered a relationship with God – a relationship that gave us purpose and filled us with hope and peace.  But then, somewhere during our sexual awakening, we realized that our preachers and Sunday School teachers were talking about us when they used frightening words like “abomination,” “hell,” and “homosexual.”

Suddenly we felt drawn to God, but also terrified of Him.  We loved Jesus, but also felt chained to him – unsure of what the cross says to people like us.

In his book “Taking a Chance on God: Liberating Theology for Gays, Lesbians, and their Lovers, Families, and Friends,” John McNeill says:

For many gay people, dealing with the church is like dealing with parents.  Even if we seriously disagree with them and see what they have done to us as truly destructive, we still love them and are grateful for what they have done for us and given us.  But that love does not negate the fact that we have been wounded by them, and as long as we remain wounded, there is unavoidable anger.  The only healthy way to let go of that anger is to heal the wounds of self-hatred and self-rejection and strive to achieve an attitude of positive slef-acceptance.

The chain that binds LGBT people to the church shouldn’t feel like a burden — it should feel like a lifeline.  After all, Christ has liberated us from judgement, not tied us to it.

And so, if you feel the need to separate yourself from a condemning church, I hope you don’t also separate yourself from an accepting God.  After all, the cross says the same thing to us that it says to everyone else…

Freedom.

(PS – There are hundreds of God-loving churches filled with beautiful people who enjoy having LGBT men and women as part of their church family.  Trust me.  I’ve been to bunches of them.  If you need help finding one, check out this church directory by the Institute for Welcoming Resources – a group that’s doing great work to make the church more welcoming to LGBT people.)

(PPS – As of yesterday, there’s one more denomination that will allow LGBT folks to serve as clergy!  Read more about the Presbyterian church’s vote to allow openly gay and lesbian clergy here… and then say hooray… and then remind yourself that not everyone’s against us. )

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