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David Lohman, Faith Work Coordinator

Affirmative Presbyterian vote stands on the shoulders of years of faithful work

By David Lohman, Faith Work Coordinator,
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources

It was eighteen years ago in 1993 that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) called for a three-year period of dialogue on the issue of human sexuality. The church called upon lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Presbyterians to come out and tell their stories to the church. Only three brave souls chose to answer that call — the Rev. Martha Juillerat, her partner the Rev. Tammy Lindahl, and the Rev. Merrill Proudfoot. The three of them committed themselves for the next two and a half years to this work, participating in dozens of dialogues throughout the central states.

With so few of them able to share their stories with churches in their region, it was easy to dismiss them. They began seeking ways to share the anonymous stories of those who were closeted and still serving the church in a wide variety of capacities.

Despite the fact that the PCUSA had invited clergy to come out, no guarantee was made that there would not be repercussions. By 1995, the church was moving ahead to defrock Rev. Juillerat. So, no longer able to work in the church, she chose to voluntarily set aside her ordination. It was important for her and Tammy to impress upon their presbytery the fact that they were only two of hundreds of LGBT people of faith who were active in the life and ministry of the church. At the annual meeting of Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns that summer, they asked LGBT friends and colleagues to send them a stole. Martha wanted to have the stoles with her when she stood in front of her presbytery to speak and set aside her ordination. They were hoping to receive a couple dozen stoles; instead they received 80 almost overnight.

A sample of the Shower of Stoles, a collection of over a thousand liturgical stoles and other sacred items representing the lives of LGBT people of faith, serves as background at the opening worship for Believe Out Loud.

After that presbytery meeting the stoles kept coming in, along with cards and letters. By the following spring they had 200. They bought suitcases at thrift stores and took them to a meeting of the More Light Churches Network in Rochester, N.Y. Seven weeks later the stoles now numbered over 350. By then, they realized that they had a sacred trust, and they committed themselves to finding a way to share this collection — and all of these stories — with the church. This sacred trust became the Shower of Stoles Project, which now includes over 1,100 items from people of faith from over thirty denominations and faith traditions. The collection celebrates the lives of LGBT people who serve God in countless ways, while also lifting up those who have been excluded from service because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The project bears witness to the huge loss of leadership that the Church has brought upon itself because of its own unjust policies.

Rev. Juillerat went on to spend the next ten years of her life traveling with the collection — logging over a half million miles on the road and almost a quarter million in the air, while overseeing about 1,500 exhibits. In 2006, she retired and gave the Shower of Stoles to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s Institute for Welcoming Resources. The stoles continue to be exhibited across the country and online.

We at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force have been deeply moved by and grateful to Rev. Juillerat for entrusting the collection to us, and for the courage she had to sacrifice her vocation and her career in the hopes of helping to create a more extravagantly welcoming Church. The Shower of Stoles Project has been a profound gift, not only to the Presbyterian Church, but to the entire ecumenical and multi-faith Welcoming Movement.

On this day, when we are celebrating the long-awaited change in ordination policy in the Presbyterian Church (USA), we must look back. We must remember, honor, and thank those who have blazed the trail on which we now faithfully and joyously walk.

Martha, for all the ways that you have played a part in making this day possible, a grateful movement thanks you.

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Rev. Rebecca Voelkel

Which side of history shall we stand on?

By the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Faith Work Director

Have you ever had an experience when you know you’re on the right side of history? I had one last night when I heard the news that the Twin Cities Presbytery became the 87th presbytery in the Presbyterian Church (USA) to ratify an amendment that ended ordination discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons. Their vote means that the majority of presbyteries have now approved this change that was started by the vote of the General Assembly which met here in the Twin Cities last July.

It comes on the heels of the August 2009 vote in which the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, meeting at its Churchwide Assembly here in Minneapolis, took similar action when it removed any barriers for ordination for LGBT persons. And the vote by the Episcopal Church USA at its General Convention meeting here in 2003 in which it confirmed the election of Bishop Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in that denomination.

For those of us who are religious — I’m a pastor in the United Church of Christ — and are related to the LGBT community — I’m a lesbian who is partnered and has a young daughter — and who live in Minnesota — I live in Minneapolis — there is a sense of gratitude and pride that all of these momentous, world-changing events have happened here.

It is partly because of this gratitude and pride that the decision by the Minnesota state Senate to put forth a constitutional amendment aimed at hurting me, my family and those I love comes as such a kick in the gut. I spent several hours last night praying and talking with friends and family (my family comes from good Scottish Presbyterian roots) and chosen family about the joy and gratitude to God for the Presbyterian vote. And just when the movement of the Spirit, the celebration of the extravagant welcome of God is palpably present, the forces of fear and meanness seem to have stepped up to the plate.

The irony is not lost on me that just as the Church takes one step forward in following the path that Jesus laid — one of ever-expanding circles of justice, love and inclusion — my state seeks to take several steps back by banning me and my partner from forming covenant, celebrating love and protecting our daughter. WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do?)

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Rev. Rebecca Voelkel

My Take: Let's aim for respect in post-election America

By Rev. Rebecca Voelkel , Special to CNN

Two simultaneous and seemingly competing responses are evoked from this election cycle: deep disappointment and clarity about the desperate need for respect.

The disappointment is not a partisan streak, but rather springs from the reality that an electoral winner this week was the radical religious right. While much of the credit was given to the Tea Party movement, the reality is that the political victory went to those whose stated goal is the creation of a “Christian Nation.”

As a Christian pastor, I am clear that this goal is dangerous — to the heart of Christianity, to this nation and to anyone who doesn’t fit the mold of the “right kind” of citizen.

When U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a Christian Nation proponent who won by large numbers, declares during campaigning that gay people and single mothers shouldn’t be school teachers, we are in danger.

When U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), who won the most expensive House race in the country, supported insertion of “Creationism” and “12 Christian principles” (akin to the Ten Commandments) in the curriculum of a public charter school whose board she served on, we are in danger.

And when Christian Nationalist thinking and rhetoric attempt to become the law of the land (which these candidates have promised they will attempt to do), we are in danger.

It is corrosive to Christianity to be used to deny the humanity and civil rights of anyone. And it is detrimental to a democracy built upon the values of liberty and justice for all to qualify who the “all” is.

But as a Christian pastor, I am equally called to nonviolence and deep respect for the humanity of all people. This is a paradoxical impulse given what I believe is at stake. But, perhaps, it is not at all paradoxical.

Especially in these times, we desperately need voices — religious voices — to speak on behalf of respect, pluralism, civility and nonviolence. When rhetoric of a qualified justice, a qualified humanity fill the airwaves, religious voices of unqualified justice, unqualified love, unqualified respect must be raised in song, in prayer, in preaching, in politics.

It is these voices that give me hope today.

Like the United Methodist pastor from Bowling Green, Ohio, who refused to let the campaigning lie that transgender people were a threat to the community go unchallenged, but who, instead, stood before a press conference and declared the beloved humanity and gift to this country of its transgender citizens.

Or the Roman Catholic nun who consistently and passionately speaks of the sacredness of the lives of those who are undocumented workers living in Arizona.

These voices must be raised even as we must affirm the full humanity of those whose words and actions seek to lessen the humanity of others. It is these that challenge me this day: clarion call for unqualified justice and paradoxical plea for respect. Yet, our democracy requires nothing less.

Read and add comments

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Rachel Harvey

July 20, 2010

Prayers for Josh and the Beloved Community

I just received a new blog entry from one of our board members Josh Noblitt which I thought I'd share with you. Over the July 4th weekend, Josh and his boyfriend were having a picnic in a public park in Atlanta when a group of males ranging in age from 13-19 approached them with one question - "Are you gay?" Josh and Trent sent them away but the group came back with a stick and began to attack them. Josh and Trent fought back and called the police but one of the men pulled out a gun and robbed them. The police arrived and arrested most of the boys/men. Josh and Trent are alive and nursing bruises and a cracked rib. They are supported by friends, family and St. Mark's UMC where Josh is a minister.

Please keep Josh in your prayers as this unfolds. Six of the attackers have been arrested including the one with the bat and the one with the gun. No determination has been made whether or not to pursue this as a hate crime. The attackers first words were "Are you gay?" and not waiting for an answer "We should beat you for that."

Josh organized a picnic which took place this past Sunday in the same park where he was attacked…150 people showed up to move from paths of fear to ones of love as they build the beloved community together. Other solidarity picnics have taken and are taking place across the country seeking safe spaces for all God's children.

Here is a link to Josh's blog entry about the picnic: http://seekingbelovedcommunity.blogspot.com/2010/07/glimpse-of-beloved-community.html

Seeking Sophia,

Rachel Harvey
Associate Executive Director
Reconciling Ministries Network

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Rev. Deborah Lee

June 16, 2009

Why I Chose to Get Arrested

Rev. Deborah Lee

Rev. Deborah Lee and three other Pacific School of Religion staff people were arrested in act of civil disobedience on May 26, 2009, following the California Supreme Court's decision to uphold a constitutional amendment that denies the full equality of same-sex couples under the law. (Photos and other news reports online here.)

I wanted to thank so many people for your messages and for the encouragement and support over the civil disobedience last week. Now I know who to call, next time I'm in trouble or need to be bailed out! It was truly a humble privilege to stand there on behalf of so many you who could not, but who shared my sentiment and convictions. I think of the many times when I wanted to, but couldn't get arrested. And of those who have stood on my behalf, in my lifetime and long before it.

Given all this, I'd like to say a little about why I chose to get arrested last week.

Before we marched down Market Street early that morning, there was a beautiful worship service held at St. Francis Lutheran Church in the Castro. Brother Lawrence, a dharma teacher in the Spirit Rock tradition, gave us an inspiring message in which he said "gay marriage is necessary, but insufficient," meaning it is necessary to fight for the equality and full dignity of all people under the law as symbolized in this moment by marriage, AND that there is much, much more work of justice in this world we also must do. There are so many more situations where equal treatment and dignity evade us. Lives and communities in Richmond, California or among the poor sectors of the Philippines are not treated with equal justice, nor the full dignity that is afforded to others. The horrendous cuts being proposed in the new budget are not being shared equitably across the=2 0socio-economic strata of our society. Indigenous rights to land, acknowledging historical injustices & reparations, and end to the state of permanent war spending so that we can have the funds to build and live the life we want for our friends, families and communities – based on access to healthcare, education, good jobs, transportation, culture and sustainability. These are just a few that ache my bones.

"It was necessary, but insufficient." That's my take on participating in the civil disobedience last Tuesday. As we were sitting in the holding pen, one of the other women asked out loud, "Why are we doing this again?" Yes, part of it is to create so much trouble, an administrative hassle for the City, to send a message to the courts, to the people, to be on record saying "No- that is not right. And we won't stand for it."

When the decision was rendered to uphold Prop.8, and I could see that there were hardly any Asian clergy there, I knew I needed to put my Asian face and Asian body on the line- at least for the Asian folks I saw in the crowd, or those who might see a newspaper clipping, to the white folk and other people of color, to know that there are API people who stand with you and support you. I needed to put my Christian collar and robe on the line and under arrest too– because for most people who are against same-gender marriage, their (mis)understanding of Christianity is a top reason or justification. As a Christian clergyperson, I felt that it was so important for the world to see that some Christian clergy believe that this court decision is wrong. It didn't matter if it was one or one hundred and sixty. Somebody needs to stand there and get arrested as a symbol that this is not right, to educate others that what was done was serious.

I wasn't planning to, but let's say the moment and the Spirit overcame me. It's not the first time I have been intentionally arrested for civil disobedience. But it is the first time since becoming a mother, and it does make the decision more difficult. Who will pick the kids up after school? Will I be in jail overnight? How will I explain this to them? How will I comfort them so they won't be scared? (Many thanks to my partner Michael and friend Lauren for being my practical outside support.)

Still, we were treated 100% better than most people who break the law. I couldn't help thinking about Oscar Grant with all those armed police around us--- and how he hadn't even broken any law--- just riding the BART train. We were certainly treated as a different (higher) class of prisoners/offenders. Not like those arrested for drug possession, selling, and a whole host of other crimes of poverty and this messed up economic/racialized system--- who don't get treated the way we were, who languish for months upon months in jail without a co urt date, who are mostly poor and black or brown. How their parole terms are often so ridiculously impossible--- "must continue legal employment" (which is almost impossible to find once you have a record--- plus, in this economy?), "must not be outside after 8pm curfew" (including your own back or frontyard)--- for 5 years! Or you get sent back with a longer term.

In contrast, I was treated respectfully--- no food or water, but at least we were allowed to pee (thank God).

And, of course, it was nothing like the Philippines or in so many other countries. I couldn't help but think about the pastors and activists in the Philippines who are being arrested without trial, disappeared and even ambushed and assassinated by the Philippines military (nearly 1000 in the past 5 years)--- funded by the US War on Terror. Or the folks in Burma--- who cannot organize or gather at all inside their country. The only place had been the Buddhist temples, but when the monks protested in 2007 (the "Saffron Revolution"), many monks were jailed and killed. The people still wonder, where are the monks? What has happened to them? Our context and this situation was nothing at all like that.

Don't focus too much on me, or the protesters, or even this letter. Focus on the many people who are hurt by this Supreme Court decision and by the countless homophobic/heterosexist things that happen everyday. Focus on the issues that never even get a protest organized or someone willing to get arrested for it.

Keep struggling, making noise, connecting the dots, taking a stand.

Love, Debbie

Rev. Deborah Lee, is program director of Pacific School of Religions's PANA Institute (Institute for Leadership Development and Study of Pacific and Asian North American Religion.

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Barbara Satin

May 15, 2009

Progress Comes in Small Steps But It Moves Us Forward

Barbara Satin

One of the biggest challenges faced by transgender people is how to gain acknowledgment and affirmation of their identity when dealing with the public.

Seldom if ever do application or enrollment forms or questionnaires ever give us the opportunity to state that we are something other than the traditional binary gender code of male or female.

That is why I was thrilled to read the following newspaper article this past weekend - as much for the fact that someone recognized the situation being addressed and wanted to share it with others as for the actual progressive action a health care provider has taken in acknowledging that there are more than two genders.

Bulletin Board — St. Paul Pioneer Press — Saturday, May 9, 2009 — Pg. 8B

Our Times

From: Katherine With One Dog Only:

"I went to NowCare Urgent Care in Roseville, MN on Wednesday.

"I've filled out a lot of forms in my life - but the NowCare patient form was the first time a form offered me three gender choices to select from: Male Female, Other.

"After a bit of blinking at it, it occurred to me that the Other was meant for transgendered persons. Personally, I wouldn't be pleased to be given the label of 'Other'. It sounds insulting. I think the form should say 'Trans" instead of 'Other."

But putting that side, I am wondering if this form that was merely startling to me has been or will be a source of joy to some other patient. Or triumph. Or relief. I wondered if someone in another chair at the clinic held a pen poised over the clipboard and was thinking: 'Finally!'"

For those of you who don't know, Bulletin Board is one of the most popular interactive newspaper columns in the St. Paul/Minneapolis area, something akin to a series of mini-blogs. Readers can touch on a myriad of topics and they tend to be older and often more conservative in their views, so the positive tone of this perceptive posting is all the more blessed and valuable.

As we work tirelessly within the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the broader GLBT community for a fully inclusive Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA), it is refreshing to see that some people and organizations are already on board and looking to support equality for all of us.

Yes, progress often comes in small steps but those increments move us steadily forward.

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Pedro Julio Serrano

April 6, 2009

Reflecting on the Power of Religion

Pedro Julio Serrano

An 11-year-old child commits suicide because his schoolmates bullied him for his perceived sexual orientation using religion as an excuse. An openly gay man becomes the first person to be consecrated bishop by a religious denomination. That's the power of religion. It can be used for good or for bad. During a period in which Christians celebrate Holy Week, Jewish people commemorate Passover, some Muslims celebrate Milad un Nabi, and Buddhists mark Magha Puja Day, among many others, we should reflect on the power that faith has either to construct or destroy.

Homophobia is ingrained in many religions and is used daily to justify the prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. These children that threatened, harassed and humiliated Carl Walker weren't born with this prejudice in their minds, much less in their hearts. They learned it from their adult family members, in their churches, from society. Prejudices are not born with a human being, they are learned. Just a few days ago, this sixth grader, Carl, committed suicide; reportedly he had long been taunted and bullied by his schoolmates that were using the Bible as an excuse to denigrate him, to humiliate him because of his perceived sexual orientation. When will this end?

Fortunately, there are many people of faith that are making a difference, living their faith with love. The Episcopal bishop of the New Hampshire diocese, Gene Robinson, is among those people who have persevered in their faith to move their denominations back to their values of love and inclusion. He received death threats and had to use a bullet-proof vest the day of his ordination, but he persevered. Even when the controversy - brought by a fundamentalist sector of his denomination - threatens to divide the Anglican communion, he knows that he's on the right side of history. He's confident that at the end of the road, his church will not only embrace his ordination, but will open its doors wide open to LGBT people, because love always prevails.

Let's take this time to reflect on the role of religion in our lives and in the society we want to become. Let's ask ourselves: Will we allow other youth to commit suicide because of religion-based bigotry? Will we permit more youth to bully others for a perceived or real sexual orientation or gender identity? Will we allow those who want to have an encounter with their faith to live openly as LGBT within their denominations? Will we open all faiths to embrace LGBT people, recognize their humanity and celebrate their relationships and their families?

Are we going to repeat the sad and tragic history of the countless times when religion was used to persecute, humiliate and violate human beings? Or are we going to use religion for the good, to construct, to love?

I bet on love, I bet on humanity. For the well-being of everyone, let's follow that commandment, that human maxim: love one another as we love ourselves. It's the least we can do.

Pedro Julio Serrano is the communications coordinator for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. www.theTaskForce.org.

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Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, IWR & Faith Work Program Director

February 24, 2009

Immigration, Queers and Justice — It's All About Hospitality

by Rev. Rebecca Voelkel
IWR and Faith Work Program Director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

The Jewish rabbi rose and read from the Psalms and talked about the importance of joy in the midst of suffering-not in an out-of-touch sort of way but joy rooted in the knowledge that God does and will bring justice. He followed his words by teaching us all an Alleluiah song.

The Muslim imam stood and explained the central role that hospitality plays in Islam-particularly in the story of the spread of Islam from Mecca to Medina-- and that both the offerer and the receiver of hospitality receive blessing by it. He then chanted from the first chapter of the Qur'an.

The Roman Catholic nun spoke of the story of Jesus and how his parents had sought shelter in Egypt-relying on the generosity of strangers for safety and survival. She then prayed for and with the gathered body.

All of it happened in a United Church of Christ sanctuary surrounded by candles which had been lit in honor of those killed by unjust immigration policy, by stories of those whose lives had been torn apart in Postville, Iowa by ICE raids, by music sung in Spanish and English.

I participated in the Minneapolis worship at Lyndale UCC which coincided with many such services across the country, urging our government to implement just immigration policy. I came as a Christian, a pastor and one who primarily practices her ministry in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (lgbt) community. And I was struck by at least three things.

The first is that gathering to worship and pray and dream and grieve and lament and mourn is important work. It gives voice. It empowers. It challenges and it inspires for the journey.

But, perhaps more importantly, I was struck by the power of multi-faith prayer and worship. In a world where the mention of the Spanish Inquisition, Bosnia, the Middle East, Darfur, pogroms, the Holocaust and countless others, brings to mind the hatred, torture and death that religious bigotry can create, to pray together as Jews, Muslims and Christians is embodying the world we seek to create.

And, finally, as one who ministers within the lgbt community, I was struck by the central message of the whole service-to be a genuinely just and loving community requires us to offer hospitality, to recognize the full humanity of others and to work so that our systems, not just our individual attitudes, reflect justice and equality. The core of this message-reflected in all of our religious traditions-is the basis of equitable immigration policy. It is also the basis of just and equitable treatment of lgbt persons in our religious institutions and our society.

As the Jews United for Social Justice prayer that we read says in part, "give us the will to leave behind the safety of our sanctuaries to become your living sanctuary; and claim our place in the movement to transform creation; that our voice, our heart, our spirit will join the voice, heart and spirit of all who demand to live with respect, justice and peace."

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Barbara Satin

February 18, 2009

Making churches transgender inclusive

by Barbara Satin
IWR and faith work associate, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

As a transgender Christian who has visited numerous churches throughout the country, I know first hand the need to make religious institutions welcoming and affirming of transgender people but have seen time and time again that the congregational-based resources are not there yet. I have heard the anger and frustration from many of my transgender brothers and sisters as they relate how they have been met with hostility and fear upon entering a church to attend worship services.

This "exclusion" many times comes from faith institutions that have publicly identified themselves as "welcoming" to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) folks. However, when "push comes to shove," these congregations find themselves completely at a loss as to how to respond.

Too often transgender people looking for a place to worship can't find one to call their spiritual home because most congregations and religious institutions are not ready to welcome them as their companions in faith. Yet, many transgender people of faith are searching for the same things that other believers want: a loving community where worship and working for equality and justice are the focus of their faith experience.

The need for such educational materials is apparent to many faith leaders as well. So, how do you write a compelling education piece that will help people of faith understand and, more importantly, welcome, transgender people into their congregations?

Part of my work over the past months has been to develop and write such a curriculum for the Institute of Welcoming Resources (IWR), a program of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. IWR works with denominational groups that have programs that are welcoming to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

transACTION is designed to help religious institutions address this issue of understanding and welcome by providing step-by-step training about the needs, apprehensions and fears of transgender people - as well as the wealth of gifts and graces they bring - while responding to the concerns of the religious institution.

There are a lot of transgender 101 materials available that do a good job of explaining and defining the many elements of being a transgender person. But most don't go beyond the surface to address the deeper needs and spiritual desires of transgender people.

The program can be used in three sessions: How Do We Get to Understanding, How Do We Get to Acceptance, and How Do We Get to Welcoming. All sessions include discussions and activities to go along with the information provided in the curriculum.

When writing this resource, I tried to make this a learning experience that would go beyond just the basics of gender identity and gender expression in order to give participants an understanding of the issues and concerns that transgender community members have when trying to express their faith and spirituality in a church or any religious setting.

One of the elements of the curriculum is a series of scenarios that tell compelling stories about how transgender people have been treated in faith settings. Examples include the case of Maureen, a transgender woman who goes to a church that supposedly embraces LGBT people; but as soon as she arrives, however the pastor suggests to Maureen that a nearby church which has a transgender congregant might be a more suitable place for her to worship.

The goal of anecdotes like this is to establish situations around which small groups of congregational participants can analyze what happened and how such a situation could have been avoided. These are also designed to give the congregations some guidance on what attitudes and policies should be in place to be sure faith institutions can avoid similar situations.

Another helpful part of the curriculum is the resources section which gives participants a variety of written and visual materials that can aid in broadening the congregation's understanding of transgender issues and concerns.

I sincerely hope it will encourage congregations and other groups to take a first step toward understanding the beauty and depth of my beloved transgender community - and the gifts they can bring to those churches and religious institutions that provide them welcome.

transACTION is available for download from the Institute of Welcoming Resources Web site at www.WelcomingResources.org.

To learn more about the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, visit www.theTaskForce.org.

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Carol Wise

February 4, 2009

Prayers for Bobby

Guest commentary by Carol Wise

"Prayers for Bobby" is a new TV movie based upon a true story of a mother whose inability to accept her gay son contributes to his eventual suicide. In her grief, she reevaluates the religious ideology that fueled her fears and, through the help of PFLAG and a compassionate yet challenging MCC pastor, emerges a strong lgbt advocate. The movie has been met with enthusiasm, particularly among those in the welcoming movement.

I had a chance to view the film and thought it offered a helpful portrayal of the potential harm that a rigid adherence to biblical literalism can have upon the life of a family. While we could rejoice at the growth within the mother and celebrate her transformation, there remained the ugly realization that it took the death of her son to move her in that direction; far too high a price to pay.

While I could appreciate this sadly too familiar story, still there was something about it that was disturbing to me. After spending some time thinking about this, I realized that was bothersome was the predictability of the plot. Though it is a powerful piece with a strong emotional impact, "Prayers for Bobby" reflects some fairly comfortable and well-rehearsed themes that are growing tiresome. First it reinforces an idea of lgbt people as weak, self loathing and confused, who often resort to suicide as a solution to their suffering. Then it promotes the understanding that the main problem lies with those who hold very conservative or rigid theological structures that cause them to respond with fear and use coercion, useless reparative therapies, public humiliation or threats of hell to set queer people straight. Finally, it suggests that when these views are shattered by tragedy, then these same players can be released to become powerful heroic advocates for new generations of innocent and struggling lgbt youth. It is a compelling tale, but one that I would suggest is rather limited in scope.

The usual portrayal of gay and lesbian people as struggling and desperate in their desire to be heterosexual usually allows escape from suicide or tragedy only through that young gay or lesbian person (and her or his family) coming to an awareness that they are just "born that way," "can't help themselves," or are worthy of love "in spite of " their homosexuality. This analyses, popular in many congregations and denominations who claim to "welcome gays and lesbians" but not necessarily "condone their lifestyle" (huh?) makes welcome an act of cheap charity on the part of a heterosexual majority, who get to hold fast to the idea that heterosexuality is indeed superior and our corporate theologies and social structures basically fair. In this setting, lgbt people are expected to be patient, grateful for any morsel tossed in our direction and primed to share our stories of woe and pain before any interested audience. It is assumed that we will be compassionate about how difficult it is for "personally supportive" non-lgbt people to publicly acknowledge their support or voice any concerns about repressive theologies. We are supposed to nod and be understanding when straight, white men (and even some women), with decades of experience in church leadership, the respect of their peers, and fat retirement accounts (okay, maybe not so fat at the moment), wring their hands, and with grimaces of pain, declare their powerlessness before church policies and practices that brazenly discriminate against lgbt people. What??

The familiar story line is starting to fray. I'd gently suggest that it is time to get over the tears and the hand wringing and the storytelling and the despair and the blaming of everything on religious fundamentalists, and just start doing the hard work of creating change and redeeming our religious traditions. This means letting go of romanticized notions of what it means or doesn't mean to be lgbt. It means focusing upon developing strong, unrepentant lgbt and allied people who don't feel the need to rationalize or apologize for our very existence. It means very vocally challenging the rightness and goodness of heterosexual supremacy and evaluating its sinful pervasiveness in our lives and in the church. It means taking responsibility for the interpretations that we bring to our sacred texts and insisting that others do the same. It means taking steps to dismantle and defy structures and attitudes that do harm and actively discriminate. It means taking responsibility for the privileges that being straight confers and making careful use of that power. It means giving up the "personally supportive" but publicly silent split that has become so pernicious. It means not only insisting upon more from our leaders, but also doing our part when and where we are able.

"Prayers for Bobby" has its place and is an important story. But we don't need a tragedy to do what's right. As one of my favorite talents, Dolly Parton, once said, "Get off the cross, honey...somebody else needs the wood." It's time.

Carol Wise
Minneapolis, MN

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The Rev. Dr. Anita Bradshaw

Dec. 18, 2008

A little something for everyone

Guest commentary by the Rev. Anita L. Bradshaw

As a child, I became very used to the fact that whenever we had a meal at my paternal grandmother's house (which was nearly every Sunday and all holidays), there would be a table laden with food. Three types of meats, four or five vegetables, and two or three desserts - always something on the table of each type that my grandmother knew was each person's favorite or at least something each of us liked. It would have been a disaster of a meal for my grandmother if anyone had to eat something that was not her or his favorite.

When the Obama team recently announced that Pastor Rick Warren had been invited to give the invocation at the presidential Inauguration, my heart sank. Warren is on record as being exceedingly anti-LGBT and a host of other commitments, which defy the public positions of the soon-to-be Obama administration on LGBT rights, abortion and other social issues. I was also reminded at the announcement of my grandmother's table - a little something for everyone.

Indeed, Obama has consistently worked within the framework of his training as a community organizer - make friends when you can and be enemies when you need to do so. Even his comments at a recent press conference confirm these commitments: "A couple of years ago I was invited to Rick Warren's church to speak despite his awareness that I held views that were entirely contrary to his when it came to gay and lesbian rights, when it came to issues like abortion," he said. "Nevertheless I had an opportunity to speak, and that dialogue I think is part of what my campaign's been all about, that we're not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is to be able to create an atmosphere where we can disagree without being disagreeable, and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans."

So Warren is there to appeal to folks who probably didn't vote for Obama. My grandmother's table came back again when I heard who is offering the benediction at the inauguration: the Rev. Joseph E. Lowery, co-founder of the Southern Leadership Conference, retired United Methodist minister, pillar of the civil rights movement and supporter of LGBT civil rights and marriage equality for same-sex couples. A little something for everyone, it would seem.

I find it fascinating that the Rev. Lowery has been almost entirely overlooked in the media coverage of the inauguration announcement. Is the fact that he is more in-line with Obama's commitments making him uninteresting? Is it that Warren is sexier for the media and a clear disappointment to progressives that make him more interesting? Is it that civil rights is old-hat to the media and therefore, Lowery is just a ho-hum? Or is it the ever-present racism in our country and media that make Warren, a white, wealthy evangelical, more appealing than a retired African-American, mainline pastor and civil rights veteran?

Whatever the cause of the media's lack of attention to Lowery, the fact remains that Obama is spreading a feast for all at his inauguration. My grandmother was smart enough to keep a fairly diverse family together, at least in our cuisine preferences. Maybe this more of Obama's good strategy and a way to hold a diverse nation together or at least I am hoping and praying so.

But I tend to agree some of the sentiment that has been put out there that maybe having Lowery do the invocation and Warren the benediction would have been the wiser move and a stronger symbol. Then again, by the time we get to the Rev. Lowery, maybe we will have forgotten the bad taste for those of us in the LGBT community of Warren's words and presence. Maybe leaving us with a true hero from the faith community who believes in God's love for all people will send us from the inauguration with hope for a different world and the change Obama has promised.

A little something for everyone in the name of keeping us together, maybe my grandmother was very wise, after all.

The Rev. Anita L. Bradshaw, Ph.D., is the National Field Organizer of the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists; the Brethren-Mennonite Coucil for LGBT Concerns; Open & Affirming Ministries of the Gay, Lesbian & Affirming Disciples; and Welcoming Community Network.

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Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, IWR & Faith Work Program Director

July 28, 2006

Washington and New York Supreme Court Rulings
on Marriage Equality latest Galileo struggle

Several months ago, the Minneapolis StarTribune ran an editorial which juxtaposed two worship services occurring only blocks from one other. One church, the Basilica of St. Mary, did a wondrous thing-they issued an apology on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church for its treatment of Galileo. They stated clearly and humbly that the church was wrong in its interpretation of the cosmos and Galileo was right. Nearby, the Hennepin Avenue Church met to grieve, protest and lament the United Methodist Church's decisions to take away ministerial standing of a talented, spirit-filled openly lesbian pastor while reinstating ministerial standing to a pastor who had previously been suspended for denying membership to a man solely because he was gay. The editorial begged the question of the symbolic connection between these two very different services.

As a pastor who assists churches, including the United Methodist Church and seven other Christian denominations in becoming "welcoming and affirming" of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, I find the symbolic proximity of these two services telling. I am certain that in years to come we will be apologizing for our refusal to see that we are all children of God no matter our sexual orientation. Just as recognizing that the earth revolves around the sun does not take away from the splendor of God but highlights the greatness and awesome nature of God's creation, we will surely come to understand that our sexuality and gender identity are gifts from God. Our sexuality is an expression of our capacity to love and as with healthy heterosexual relationships our ability to love and be loved is a life-affirming expression of God's love of all of us.

In the past two weeks, the New York Supreme Court and now the Washington State Supreme Court have come down with close rulings denying the rights and privileges of marriage to same-sex couples. In both the majority and minority opinions, it is clear that the question of marriage-who can do it and who is barred-is rooted in theological understandings that are as anachronistic in this conversation as the Roman Catholic hierarchy's were in the original conflict with Galileo.

Despite the fact that, in Christian understanding, God's Revelation happens not only in the person of Jesus Christ, but in the movement of the Holy Spirit AND in the witness of Creation, many view Science as the enemy of faith-especially in the dialogue around sexuality issues. But, as a Christian pastor and one for whom my faith is central to my life, good science-especially when it comes to sexuality-can be deeply revelatory. And there is A LOT of good science that says homosexuality, bisexuality and transgender identity are natural, normal, God-given ways of expressing one's created self.

My prayer is that those of us in the Church, and those of us in the Courts and Legislatures, will choose to hearken to the power of God's on-going Revelation and not root ourselves in arcane and erroneous understandings.

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