I’m writing this in response to the Nashville Statement, a pernicious manifesto issued today by a coalition of conservative Evangelical Christians. In a season when the church could be speaking out against White supremacy, agitating for peace in a troubled world, finally getting some clean water for Flint, and mobilizing to help after Hurricane Harvey, they felt it was instead the time to reiterate their condemnation of LGBTQIA+ people and to be particularly specific in their disdain for trans* people.
Now, my Church people, some of you make space for your LGBTQIA+ siblings; we can really be part of the body of Christ with you. Some of you think you do it, but maybe you stopped at making a statement without doing any further work to figure out what might make us feel welcome to do things beyond coming to worship, or worry that if you have a rainbow anywhere on your premises, people will think you’re “the gay church.”
Meanwhile, our Evangelical cousins, empowered by the political success of the right, have doubled down on theology that is exclusive and cruel. They’ve affirmed their own superiority, denied the full humanity of LGBTQIA+ people, and declared that anyone who doesn’t agree and come over to their side of the line they are drawing is not a faithful Christian.
For Jesus’s sake and in Christ’s name, mainline pastors and leaders, have the conversations you’ve been putting off. I say these things with all love. Get clear about what it means to be welcoming and affirming. Fix up the forms parents fill out at Sunday School; why do they need to be gendered? Consider new signage for your bathrooms. Be ready when one of your young people comes out to you, ready to love and embrace that young person instead of setting them on the path of rejection. Have a Bible study and discuss alternative interpretations of scripture used by others to condemn, equipping yourselves for larger conversations in your neighborhoods.
Maybe even buy that rainbow flag for the outside of your church, so we know it’s safe to come inside.
I am the older sister. I grew up taking blame for naughty things my brother did, and taking the spankings, too. At least, that’s how I remember it.
“Memoir is not an act of history but an act of memory, which is innately corrupt.” Mary Karr, The Art of Memoir
I’m reading Mary Karr’s book, and I’m noting how one-sided all our stories are, and impressed by how generous she tries to be when recalling stories about other people. So I will confess I know there were times the spankings were related to my behavior. I know I was far from perfect; in fact, I spent quite a bit of time in the office of the head of the lower school at St. Agnes in my 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade years. A core unrest whipped me around and around; I climbed out a window, and I kicked my teacher, and I pulled a fire alarm, or so they tell me. I think I am innocent of that last one. But who knows?
By adolescence, I had learned how to control myself a little better – or to pretend to, to pretend to be that professional good girl an older sister and first-born ought to be. As my brother got involved in typical teen-age shenanigans, I became pious and careful. I might disappoint my parents (I did), but it wouldn’t be on account of sex or drugs.
“Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing.He called one of the servants and asked what was going on.The servant replied, ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in… (Luke 15:25-28, CEB)
I think in the church we’re very likely to identify ourselves with the older son, to convince ourselves that we’ve always been well-behaved, loyal, hard-working, all the ideals of this American culture. The truth about me is that I have been all those things, but I’ve still managed to leave home, worry my parents, shock everyone who knew me by (1) going to seminary, (2) getting divorced, (3) getting married again, (4) getting divorced, (5) coming out, and (6) getting married again. To my family back home in Virginia, who thought of my brother as the imp and me as the nice girl, I have engaged in a complete role reversal. My brother is the steady one, long-married, established. I am the rogue, the prodigal, the sinner.
When I read this chapter now (Luke 15), I read it differently than at other times in my life. I can only read it as myself. We are all corrupt this way.
I read it as a person whose whole life is viewed differently, as a woman whose choices are well outside the realm of youthful sins, errors or peccadilloes. I read it as a woman whose marriage is considered suspect not because it’s #3 but because my spouse is a wife. I read it as the niece who was not welcome at a funeral, as the sister whose brother would not come to the wedding. I read it as a pastor’s wife subject to never-ending micro-aggressions not only from the people who question our “lifestyle,” but from the people who claim to support us. I read it as a pastor whose employability in a progressive denomination plummeted just for being queer.
When I read these stories now, I am grateful for these stories and Jesus’ assurance that God loves us, and seeks us, and returns us to the fold.
It’s only in some human eyes that I ever left it.
Holy God, sometimes we get lost in the wilderness of judgment, in the dark corners of oppression, in the foreign land of inhospitality. You nose us out, search for us, welcome us home, and in every case, rejoice when we are together again. Thank you for that. Amen.
Jesus always seems to be encouraging us to persist, because persistence will get God’s attention. No parent is going to give a child a scorpion instead of an egg, and if your neighbor is already in bed and won’t give you some extra bread out of hospitality, he might do it out of annoyance to get you to go home, already. Later we’ll get a widow practically stalking an unjust judge. Don’t give up, he says.
And I tell you: Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.Everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. To everyone who knocks, the door is opened. (Luke 11:9-10, CEB – I read Luke 11:1-28 today)
I hear you, maybe we didn’t get what we asked for in the form we expected. Etc.
I would simply ask those who embrace that interpretation to consider whether or not they are speaking from some naive or even smug privilege.
In my denomination, we’ve been ordaining women practically forever, but there remain churches who see women as second-class candidates. We were the first Christian denomination to ordain gay and lesbian people, and we’re nominally open and affirming to all LGBTQ+ people now, but the situation on the ground is more complicated. Queer and trans clergy and candidates for ministry are knocking, seeking, asking, and we can get through the hoops right up to the point of receiving a call to a church. Then it’s in the hands of a small segment of a local congregation, a group of volunteers, certainly taking their responsibilities seriously and perhaps worried about getting it wrong and being blamed if the church suffers due to the choice they make.
And as we wait for emails or phone calls, as we are turned down by committees, as months become years, our knuckles bleed, our hearts hurt, our spirits flag.
I haven’t searched for a settled call since I came out, so I am speaking for others here, but it’s honest to say that I’ve considered the possibility of searching and decided I don’t want to risk myself. I’ve pieced together other work, much of it speculative. I don’t earn a full-time salary even by combining the other work, and I rely on my spouse’s employer for benefits such as health care and even life insurance. I wonder if I could ever earn those things again in the work for which I was trained.
Other doors have opened, of course. Other requests were granted. The love I sought for all my life was found. I write this not because I am disappointed in my life but because I wonder about my church, and other varieties of church, that make statements in forums that have limited bearing on actual employment for people like me and think that’s enough.
I hope what we need is merely time, that this will change, but the truth is that people who are genuinely called by God are languishing, wondering if they got the message wrong, when maybe they were just more open to the Spirit than the rest of church world. My heart hurts for them.
Holy One. We are still knocking. Please, open the door.
When a disaster occurs, or a terrible thing happens in the world, when a bomb goes off on the sidelines of a marathon or a shooter unleashes hatred in the form of ammunition at a political event or an elementary school, we all shudder, and as we listen to the news stories or read the follow-ups in the paper or online, it’s human nature to look for a story, for a person with whom we identify.
For me, that person, this week, was a young man named Luis Vielma, one of the first faces I saw when photos of the victims in last Sunday’s Orlando shooting began to circulate online. There were so many of them, 49; for some reason I attached myself to this one.
Luis Vielma was an Emergency Medical Services student at Seminole State College and was enrolled in a CPR class this summer.
The college president, Dr. E. Ann McGee, released a statement on Monday saying, “We are saddened by the tragic events this weekend and the loss of one of our own, Seminole State student, Luis Vielma. We continue to think of, and pray for the victims, their families and friends, the LGBT community, the Hispanic community, our students, and all of Orlando. These events have truly shocked and saddened the Central Florida community.”
Mr. Vielma also worked at Universal Studios at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. His high school friend Eddi Anderson told the Tampa Bay Times that Mr. Vielma loved his job there.
J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter book series that spawned films and the theme park, mourned Mr. Vielma’s loss on Twitter, posting an image of the smiling young man in a Hogwarts costume.
He’s young, smiling, pretty adorable, wearing a grey v-neck sweater vest and a white collared shirt and a Gryffindor tie. That’s gold and burgundy, in case you don’t know your Harry Potter house colors.
Lucy was in the fifth grade when she wanted to dress as Hermione for Halloween. That child is a planner, so we started in August collecting the pieces of her costume from various catalogs and stores. The piece de resistance was a Gryffindor scarf I made for her, like the ones the kids wear in the first Harry Potter movie.
I braided her thick straight hair the night before, into dozens of tiny plaits; when we undid them the next morning she had a huge head of wavy hair more like young Hermione’s – as seen in the movies – and she went off to school delighted.
At recess, kindergartners ran up and asked to hug her.
I’m telling you all this because I love my girl and don’t want anything bad to happen to her. Lucy turns 21 today.
Luis Vielma was 22. His funeral was yesterday. Somewhere his mother, Tina, is still weeping.
Whose story touches you?
At a vigil service outside my wife’s church this week, we read all 49 names, with a little bio of each. Many were Hispanic, about half of Puerto Rican background. Some were parents who left young children behind. Some were couples; a double funeral will replace a wedding for some. Some were successful in their work and others were just trying to get their lives together. They were executives and hairdressers and pharmacy technicians. One was a mom who went to the club with her son, because she loved to dance salsa. It was Latin night, you see, and the people who gathered at Pulse felt safe to dance and be together, in a nightclub they saw as a kind of sacred space, a sanctuary.
As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng, and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
A multitude, keeping festival. That’s Psalm 42, verses 1-4, from this week’s lectionary. Here’s the thing. No matter what year we live in, no matter what country, no matter what our native tongue, these ancient songs of lament and hope, of question and steadfast belief, have something to say to us, to say for us. They remind us that people don’t change all that much. We celebrate and we grieve. We sing and shout, we weep and mourn.
We’re more alike than different. Luis the soccer player and Lucy the singer, one a Catholic boy and the other a Protestant girl, both confirmed in high school, both their mothers’ beloved children, their fathers’ talented darlings, with friends and classmates who would say kind things about them, and teachers who would praise them, and pictures taken dressed up like students at Hogwarts.
They are more alike than different, except for one thing. I can call my daughter on the phone today, or FaceTime with her, send her text messages with birthday cake emojis. Luis Vielma’s mother can only weep and pray.
By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
I say to God, my rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?”
As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, “Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God. (Psalm 42:8-11)
All week I’ve been thinking about how terrifying it must have been, hiding in a dark nightclub, wondering where a murderous person with a gun had gone or held hostage by him, wondering if anyone would care enough to help. Lots of them called or texted their mothers, some who would die from deadly wounds in their bodies.
And here’s a thing that is hard to hear as a Christian, hard for me to hear from my UCC colleagues who are there in Orlando as trauma responders: some of the survivors don’t want to talk to religious people. They don’t think we really care, or that if we do, it’s only in the service of changing them to be more like us.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:27-28)
In his letters to young churches, Paul writes something like this on three occasions. It’s nothing new for human beings to be obsessed with their differences, with finding ways to collect themselves in groups based on their characteristics, their language, or their names for God. He wrote to the Galatians because other evangelists had come among them, from a group called the “Judaizers.” The Galatians were suddenly thrust into a huge debate among the early Christians that applied only to men. On one side, the Judaizers wanted all followers of Jesus to live by Jewish law, and that included circumcision. Gentile converts wanted to follow Jesus, but they didn’t want to fulfill that particular expectation if it wasn’t absolutely necessary. Paul thought it wasn’t. He wrote to assure them that through the power and grace offered of Jesus Christ, they were all one.
Paul writes something like this in three epistles, but this is the only time he mentions gender, what people in his time would have understood as one noticeably obvious and definable marker of difference. We have a much longer list of differences today, related to orientation and identity. Yet Christians have mostly been on Team Tradition with their definitions, and we have used those definitions not only to exclude but to persecute people who don’t match them just the way we like things to be. We may look back at our first century ancestors and say, “Why were they worried about something so unimportant?”
I ask you, “Why are we?”
Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, Luis or Lucy: we are many kinds of people. We could define ourselves solely by our differences. Lots of people do, because it makes them feel safe, because it makes them feel righteous, because it makes them feel right. The people preaching circumcision wanted everyone to commit to the thing they believed mattered most.
When we are ready to condemn others for their differences, to define them as outside the circle of human consideration and divine love, we create a climate in which hatred and prejudice seem natural and sensible. When we combine this evil spirit of condemnation with the ready availability of semi-automatic weapons, we sentence ourselves to the kind of fearful scenes that played out in Orlando and the aftermath of suspicion and despair that continues.
It’s too easy to attach that evil, hateful spirit to one particular religion. We can find it in any religion and no religion. We can find it in the Orlando area churches now expressing sympathy for the very lives they have reviled in the past. We can find it closer to home, too, anyplace we convince ourselves that we are the only ones Jesus would care about, the only ones Jesus would want to save.
You see, Jesus went to places and ate and drank with people who the religious authorities disapproved. We’ve got him all wrong if we try to turn him into some kind of elitist priss-pot. We’ve got him wrong if we prioritize any characteristic above his love for humankind, for all kinds of humanity.
My prayer for the church and for our country is that we might embrace the idea that Paul teaches in his letter. Jew or Greek, slave or free, we are all one in Christ Jesus. Paul made it clear, not once or even twice, but three times. The culturally insurmountable conditions of his time made not one bit of difference in the eyes of God.
May it be so in our time as well.
We are many, but we are all one in Christ Jesus. Amen.
We pray for the queer community,
frightened by the massacre in Orlando,
wondering why living their lives
as the people you made them to be
put a target on their backs.
We pray for our queer children,
gay, lesbian, bi, trans,
already afraid, careful of danger,
some suspicious of religion,
doubtful of us and of you.
We pray for the Latino community,
reeling from the loss of so many of those killed,
coming to grips with the double bias
suffered by queer people of color,
haunted by the shooter’s choice of Latin Night for his attack.
We pray for the survivors of the shooting
for their healing,
and for a sense of your presence,
and for the friends and families
grieving a terrible loss.
We pray for your church,
that we might all come to grips
with the way we have treated others,
that we might not be silent but instead
speak against hate and proclaim your love
and enact your justice.
Forgive those who will not speak
because they are afraid.
Forgive us when we are afraid.
Bring us to a new understanding:
all your children are precious to you.
Prevent us from categorizing others
in ways that give us lenience
to look the other way.
Help us, Lord, to see the world through your eyes,
to recognize that your kingdom is right here and right now,
to live in your love in our relationships with all we meet.
Remind us that wherever we live,
however we pray and whoever we love,
we are yours. Amen.
(This prayer was composed for a Vigil Service
at Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church.)
My wife and I are in Maine for a memorial service celebrating the life of the grandfather of my children, my beloved father-in-law from the first go-around. The collection of his children and grandchildren, and his wife’s clan of three generations, includes a handful of other LGBTQ people. It’s been a wonderful experience, living into the way we’ve all worked so hard to make our two household-family work for 20 years now. We’ve visited favorite outdoor spaces and eaten favorite local foods. We’ve cried and laughed and worshipped God and said goodbye to Papa.
And in the midst of all this, my wife and I have had the odd experience of feeling both safe with the family and safe in the Portland area, safe enough to touch each other in public, even to exchange a restrained kiss or two.
I’ll confess, the first moment in which we relaxed our guard this weekend, I thought, “I wonder who is looking?” We watch ourselves at home in Pennsylvania, where we always watch how we interact with each other, where we both work in churches where some people disapprove of our “lifestyle,” where we know we are not safe, not really.
Here, though, I felt safe. Sort of.
What I failed to wonder about is the impact of our actions on other people. When you feel moved to kiss the person you love, to act out your affection in a quick motion, do you think about who you may be setting off?
Since my last experience trying to phone my primary care doctor’s office and get a refill amounted to a series of voice mails left by me, which received no answer and led to no renewed prescription, I took the doctor’s advice and today registered for their Internet portal. I looked over my records online and after scrolling down through “conditions” now deemed “resolved” was surprised to see the following category of “active” items:
Personal Health Conditions
The first listed was “never a smoker.”
That sounds legit.
The second listed was “Homosexuality.”
I wonder if my straight friends who are patients there would find a note proclaiming their Personal Health Condition of “Heterosexuality?”