Today there are two for the price of one! If you cannot see them both, scroll to read one by Julie Richardson Brown and Morgan Holt!
Easter Article Day 29
By Julie Richardson Brown*
I was eleven years old the first time I had a conversation about homosexuality. It was at the family dinner table, and for whatever reason, my parents said the word “gay” in front of me for the first time. I piped up, “What’s that mean?” and my dad proffered an explanation. ”I don’t know anyone like that!” I said, all earnest insistence.
And Dad said, “Yes, you do, Julie. You just don’t know it.”
Perhaps it is precisely because of this that the issue of who someone loves, or is attracted to, has never been, for me, an issue at all. Intentionally or otherwise, my parents never made it anything to get wound up about. And because I was consistently surrounded by messages of grace and love when it came to church, it never occurred to me that God would take issue with someone being gay either.
I was in high school before I heard the horrid word “fag.” I was sixteen about the time I heard rumored whispers about my friend Steve, my very favorite vocal duet partner at church. My freshman year of college one of my roommates transferred to another school because she’d been labeled “lesbian” and couldn’t take the heat that came with it. My first year of seminary, Matthew Shepard was tied to a fence and beaten to death. Not long after that I saw, firsthand, the angry signs of the infamous Westboro Baptist Church.
And for the last several years, I’ve watched the Church I love struggle mightily with what seems to be a lack of ability and/or willingness to have honest, open, informed conversation about our brothers and sisters in faith and creation who also happen to be gay. I’ve often equivocated when asked, “Do you believe being gay is a sin?” fearing my job would be on the line otherwise. I’ve found ways of talking about God’s love for those who identify as part of the GLBT community such that it would be easy for congregants to ignore my words if they didn’t agree with me. I’ve held my tongue when those around me held forth on the great sin of homosexuality, not wanting to enter the fray of conflict.
I will not be silent or vague anymore. Because here’s the thing: I love my friend Doug fiercely–he is a shining example of what it means to love God and follow Jesus. And my friends Rob and Joe? Their 35-plus year commitment to one another is one of the finest testaments to love I’ve ever seen. And between these ones I can name, and the other friends and family I cannot name (for their own emotional and professional safety and stability), I have come to the conclusion that those of us who stand with “them” ought probably say something about why we do.
And so here’s why I do….
● I stand with them because there is a whole lot in this world I will never understand, but I do understand that it is never okay to judge someone outside the love of God. Ever.
● I stand with them because I know the hearts of some of them and they are hearts full of goodness and truth, and I cannot believe that any one of them would choose the misery, judgement and exclusion that has been present in their lives–I believe they are simply trying to be who they are, even if who they are isn’t appreciated, understood, liked or affirmed.
● I stand with them because the Bible says very little–IF anything at all–about what we know in this day and time as homosexuality. It’s really rather nebulous. But the Bible is very clear about loving your neighbor. About taking care of those who are left out. About caring for one another as we have been cared for by the One who created us. (And yes, I’d be happy to provide some materials for study and consideration on this.) We Christians used to use the Bible to justify slavery, the subjugation of women, too–for these atrocities we have begged pardon. Maybe one day….
● I stand with them because I believe it is the right thing to do.
● I stand with them because there is a great deal God and I will have to reckon with at the pearly gates. I’d rather the judgement and ostracization of another human being not be added to the list.
Someone once said to me, “Julie, your thoughts on this are all well and good. Kind-hearted and compassionate, even. But unfortunately God isn’t always about being kind-hearted and compassionate. You have to make room for judgment.”
Maybe. But the thing is? The faith I was given, the stories I read about God and Jesus taught me that we are, each of us, loved beyond our wildest imagining–no matter what–and that it’s the ways we mistreat one another that most often break God’s heart. Rampant hunger, homeless children, war-stricken countries, generations of poverty, unchecked disease–these things, yes, I think they probably warrant some wrath and judgement from our God. But the love Rob and Joe have for one another? It mirrors God’s love, as opposed to acting against it.
I know and love more than a few folks who do not agree with me and who would, at best, call me misguided. And my only answer for them is the unwavering faith I have in a God who loves–so much bigger and broader and wider and deeper than we ever know. A God who calls us into life together and pronounces that life very, very good.
The judgement, the bullying, the pronouncing some of God’s children as less worthy than others, the name-calling, the leaving-out, the hatred, the fear, the insistence on naming the supposed of sins of others--I cannot believe any of this is what God intended. And I believe we can do better.
A couple of weeks ago, the my five year-old daughter told me she was going to marry her best friend, Caroline. I told her that was fine, but asked her why she wanted to. She told me about another friend at school who has two mommies–”So it’s ok, Mommy, right?” I smiled, hugged her tight, and told her, “Yes, baby. It’s okay that Eric has two mommies.” She doesn’t know any different. All she knows is the love she has for her friends and how happy they all are together–no matter how all the relationships shake out in the end. Lucky girl.
Maybe a little child–yours, mine, ours–shall lead us all into such generosity of friendship. Such adamant insistence on loving each other. Such grand and hopeful welcome.
* Rev. Julie Richardson Brown is Team Minister for Youth Ministry, Christian Church in Indiana and Founding member of nPartnership (organization dedicated to best practices in youth ministry). She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Easter Article Day 29
Loving As God Loves
By Morgan Holt*
I grew up in a small, rural Presbyterian church. The sort of place that reinforces all the stereotypes of small, rural churches – conservative both theologically and socially. During my teen years, my growing passion for a deeper understanding of my faith was fostered by our minister. Under his guidance, I obtained a lifetime ordination as an Elder in the church for a youth term of one year. Just prior to my ordination, the comedian Ellen Degeneres, came out publicly as gay. An ugly, hate-filled editorial to our local newspaper followed. I wrote a passionate, if not profound, response in her defense and two days after my ordination, my letter to the editor appeared in the paper. Suddenly, my parents' telephone was ringing with angry calls from congregational members and I was sitting in Session meetings where letters were read detailing my religious education gone wrong. My “indiscretion” was used by the growing body within the congregation who sought the dismissal of our minister as further evidence of his being unfit to lead the church. He was gone shortly after.
Despite this hurt, I entered college with the intent of pursuing a career in ministry. I majored in religion and philosophy and during the course of my studies I became increasingly concerned with the wide disparity between my experience of church and social justice issues. I gradually determined that I could no longer call myself a christian. I formally rescinded my ordination and terminated my membership with the Presbyterian church. Having spent most of my life attending church, I began to miss the sense of community that church provided and sought alternatives that would meet my spiritual needs in an inclusive environment. My experience of church led me to believe that an absence of exclusion, particularly with regard to the LBGT community, could not be found in a christian church. I therefore began attending and eventually joined a Unitarian Universalist congregation. My husband and I were later married by that church.
After moving to Lynchburg, my husband and I stopped attending regular worship. The local UU church was, at that time, not a good fit and we did not believe any other church existed locally that could meet our needs. Our first child was born a few years later and as a new parent, I began to crave a community of mindful parents. I did not expect to find the sort of inclusive congregation that I believed only existed in fantasy. I only hoped to find a place that would love and support us while hopefully staying quiet about the areas in which their views differed from ours. We visited several churches that were known to be “liberal”. During these visits, when we shared what our ideal church would look like we were consistently told that First Christian Church Lynchburg was where we needed to be. We visited and, while we were hopeful, we were also skeptical. Churches don't often want to admit to their bigotries. We were waiting to learn the “catch”. While we believed we'd found our place for limited participation, we never took communion and never planned to join.
We were visited by David Cobb, who had recently become pastor of the church. He talked about Christianity in ways that I'd never heard. He spoke of the limitless love of God and of communion as an act of community and of what it truly means to “welcome as God welcomes”. We began to believe that FCC truly practiced what it preached and I gradually understood that I could, in fact, call myself a Christian. My husband was baptized and we joined the church.
As our involvement in the church deepened, our relationships with other folks in the church became richer and fuller. Some of our most dedicated and passionate members were of the LBGT community and it was clear that our church life was so much richer by virtue of their involvement. Their presence was a gift to us. These people became family to us and we to them. Most importantly, our children were loved by all and reciprocated in kind. When our daughter was a toddler, she wandered to the front of the sanctuary one Sunday during children's worship. Having the attention span of the average toddler, she soon wandered back down the center aisle. However, along the way she stopped pew by pew to give and receive love from those people who were like family to her. There were many stops.
As a white, heterosexual, “traditional” family, we believed our church affiliation provided us the opportunity to be accepting. We wanted to welcome and we wanted to be inclusive and we wanted to love unconditionally. We worked to extend our goodwill outward. It took us longer to understand the importance of being welcomed and included and loved ourselves.
When my son was four, he decided he wanted a pink dress. I waited to see if his interest was as fleeting as most of his interests at that age, but he persisted. Together we shopped for and selected the perfect dress. But having the dress wasn't enough. To him, his dress was beautiful, he was proud of it and he wanted to wear it out. I worried. I had no objection to him wearing the dress. I loved that he loved it and that he wasn't bound by gender stereotypes. I wanted his experience of wearing the dress in public to be positive and the thought that he might receive negative or hurtful feedback frightened me. I knew he couldn't wear it to preschool and come out unhurt. Likewise, I couldn't imagine a trip to the library or grocery store or even to visit the in-laws that wouldn't result in unkind things being said. Finally, I agreed that he could wear the dress to Sunday worship. If any place existed where my son could be loved while proudly wearing a pink dress, FCC was it. Still I worried. Would FCC be what I believed it would be? I packed a change of clothes just in case. My heart was in my throat when we walked through the doors that Sunday. I looked to the faces of my church family and saw nothing but love and acceptance. My son was complimented on his outfit time and time again. He never asked to change his clothes, was never humiliated or laughed at. After worship he played with his friends on the playground, swinging high with his pink skirt flying.
If the acceptance of my son wearing a pink dress to church meant so much to our family, I can only imagine what that level of acceptance and love means to the LBGT folks who bless us with their presence. I was initially inspired to write for the GLAD project by my observation of the profound normalcy of my children's experience of Open and Affirming worship. Then I began to doubt myself. Was it appropriate for me, a straight, married woman, to speak to this? Or was my “outsiders” perspective presumptive and offensive? But then I realized that this is about me. It's about me and my family having the opportunity to love without limits and receive that love in return. It's about loving, and being loved, as God loves; welcoming, and being welcomed, as God welcomes. I feel profoundly grateful that I belong to an Open and Affirming church. The opportunity to worship with all Christians is a gift both given and received. Together, we build God's kingdom on earth more completely than we ever could apart.
* Morgan Holt is a member of First Christian Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. She can be reached at email@example.com