Category Archives: Pastor’s Corner

Dear Washington: Leave the Praying to Me

One of my pet peeves has always been the improper lane change — you know, that everyday driving move where you slide into the next lane without hitting your turn signal — which is a total moving violation and completely worthy of a traffic ticket. Or worse, hogging two lanes by making that sliding move (probably still not using your turn signal) nice and slow, almost as though you’re not fully committing to the new lane or abandoning the old one — perhaps while texting — which is another illegal move.

So I find it almost poetic that the admonishment to “stay in your lane” has entered today’s pithy social-media-powered vernacular as a way of signaling that someone is publicly engaging on a topic where they may not have credibility to speak. The corollary being that when you’re solidly “in your lane”, you’re speaking on something where you have enough credibility not to embarrass yourself.

Some examples of being out of one’s lane: When a white person, no matter how well-meaning, tries to sound off on the experiences of minorities in America. Or when a man, perhaps not so well-meaning, tries to make a pronouncement about women’s lives. Or when cisgender people vocalize their inability to understand how a person can spend every moment of their existence feeling as though their own body is alien to them.

In other words, the motive for the lane-change doesn’t matter; what matters is the credibility gap between the speaker and their chosen topic.

For me, that might look something like walking into Congress, taking the podium and pontificating about what laws our elected politicians should be passing. If I did that I’d be way out of my lane, and widely so — maybe even embarrassingly so. Which is why I’m not in Washington right now. Instead I’m in Georgia, having a day of study and prayer, getting ready for the day we’re about to have in our little church. Today, as with most days, I have plenty going on in my lane as a pastor to keep me more than busy.

Which is why I find it confusing and maybe even a little maddening when our nation’s leaders suddenly start swinging into my lane at critical moments when they seem to have plenty going on in their own lanes. Like when they suddenly believe their role is to act as prayer leaders, not political leaders. They did it again this week, in response to the slaying of 17 people in Parkland, Fla., at the hands of a teenager wielding an assault rifle he’d purchased under his own name.

When something like that happens, I expect to turn on my TV and see our political leaders standing at podiums in front of microphones and cameras, telling us what they’re going to do in their lane of policy and legislation to prevent another tragedy like this. I expect to hear a belief in our nation’s ability to protect its citizens from harm.

But instead I hear a suddenly profound belief in prayer instead of policy, prayer instead of laws. And this confuses me. It confuses me because I expect to hear a call to prayer from an actual prayer leader — you know, like the intercessory prayer leader who just joined our church and is currently leading a Lenten study on the nature of prayer. What she’s doing makes perfect sense to me; she’s in her lane as a churchgoer and a prayer leader.

But as I saw one politician after another express the fervent need for prayer in the aftermath of the Parkland tragedy, I noticed something: The day after it happened, President Trump managed to speak for seven minutes about the tragedy, without mentioning guns. Not once. Bit of an oversight, right? Until it hit me that maybe he couldn’t see his way to addressing the role of an AR-15 assault rifle in the Parkland shooting because the National Rifle Association’s $30.3 million contribution to his election campaign was blocking his view.

And the president wasn’t alone: According to The Independent, the roster of politicians whose view was similarly blocked includes:

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (who received $3.3 million from the NRA and likes to pepper his Twitter feed with Bible verses), who tweeted in the moment:

Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner ($3.8 million from the NRA), who said:

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman ($3 million), who said:

Louisiana Sen. Bill Cassidy ($2.8 million), who said:

North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis ($4.4 million), who said:

Colorado Rep. Ken Buck ($800,544), who said:

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying politicians must be 100 percent secular or deny their own personal feelings in their response to tragedy. The correct response to tragedy is always sympathy and compassion — and if that includes a notation that the person speaking is holding the victims in their thoughts and prayers, that’s part of the natural human response.

But would you like to guess how many of the Twitter feeds of the politicians above have mentioned our national fetishization of guns in the days since the Parkland tragedy apparently compelled them to become self-anointed national prayer leaders via social media? Go look for yourself. (Spoiler alert: The number of those tweets currently shares the same shape as a goose egg.) Yet many of them have found plenty of time since their prayer-tweets to be vocal on an array of other issues they apparently found more pressing. Seriously, take a look for yourself; it speaks volumes.

And here’s why: The just-add-water cyber-call for prayer is a distraction tactic, and one they’ve all mastered: Hide behind Twitter, with one’s head digitally bowed in prayer. It buys time, because they know how the news cycle works. They know that if they can buy themselves 24 hours, the heat is effectively off at the end of it. So they do it with prayer-shaming. They say the equivalent of “Now’s not the time to talk about gun legislation; people are mourning.” But then the right time never seems to come.

And while the politicians may be smart enough not to overtly name this as the game, their fandom isn’t always; here’s a tweet from conservative Fox News commentator Tomi Lahren that makes it plain:

Alternatively, here’s a list of policy areas where our fearless leaders in Washington apparently didn’t need the help of prayer warriors. Instead, they stayed in their lane and acted:

  • Slashing the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent
  • Repealing the individual mandate on Obamacare
  • Cutting 22 regulations in 2017 for every new one enacted
  • Enacting a ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries
  • Declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel
  • Withdrawing from the Paris climate accord
  • Pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership
  • Rolling back some of President Obama’s Cuba policies
  • Moving to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules

I mean, when was the last time you heard a politician call for us to pray over Kim Jong Un’s nuclear saber rattling? Or over the problem of illegal immigration? (I’ll save you some time: Never.) Instead, the condemnation and the subsequent prescription for action come swiftly: We’ll unleash “fire and fury” on North Korea. We’ll build a wall between us and Mexico. No need to let a moment of prayer slow us down.

Or how about this: When was the last time you heard of someone calling to report a burglary in progress, or a house on fire, or a massive car accident, only to be told by the government we all pay taxes to: “We’re praying for you, and we ask that your neighbors do the same.”

But wait, why is a pastor appearing to get pretty darn political while admonishing politicians for over-invoking religion? Well in a nutshell, it’s because those very same politicians have forced us into the Upside Down: Because they’re using prayer as a shield, they’re forcing pastors like me to call foul. Once they stop throwing prayer-grenades at a constituency that is sincerely waiting for answers, we can go back to our regularly scheduled programming — and I for one can return to being a street pastor focused every day on what’s in my lane: Helping to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned. Because trust me, that’s really how I’d rather spend a day. I don’t need my turn signal to do that.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that day will ever come. And the way I think I know that is because the idea of pastors veering into the political is nothing new: My idol and inspiration for pursuing ministry, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was preaching five decades ago something called a “social gospel” — a venerated church tradition made necessary by the fact that the political powers-that-be of the time shirked their responsibility to avert the grinding oppression and stark brutality that were regularly visited upon the flock sitting in the pews.

Yet here we are, a half-century later, finding that our political leaders still fall well short, and people still suffer — and all too often, they still needlessly die.

And why is that? Because our political leadership, while professing to be beholden to God, are actually too beholden to the almighty dollar — in this case, millions of them — to do what is right. To stay in their lane and use the tools we elected them to use — policy and law — to make our lives better. And if not better, at least safer. And if not safer, at least not outright dangerous.

So yes, I’m out of my lane. It’s not where I’d like to be. But until our politicians realize that we elected them to enact laws and policies — not to be prayer leaders acting naive about their role in making tomorrow different from today, the answers will continue to “blow in the wind” — which is to say they’ll stay right in front of us, tantalizingly in plain sight, but also tragically just outside our collective grasp.

Yes, ‘n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry
Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

But I can see what’s in the wind. As a sworn protector of souls, I’m issuing a pastoral admonishment, a clarion call to all the mealy-mouthed, disingenuous dollar-worshipping politicians who would cloak themselves in religion to distract us while they vacuum up cash from the protectors of those who heartily profit while the blood of innocents is spilled. Stop pretending you can’t see what we all see.

Stay in your lane. Use the tools we reserved for you. Do the job you were sent to do. Protect the people who elected you.

I’m praying mightily for it to be so.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

If Only This Were Fake News, But It’s Not Even Alternative Facts

You’ve probably heard some variation of the joke about how different news media outlets would handle the news of the end of the world. I read some examples during a recent sermon; here are some favorites:

  • USA Today: We’re Dead.
  • The Wall Street Journal: Dow Jones Plummets As World Ends.
  • Sports Illustrated: Game Over.
  • Readers Digest: ‘Bye.
  • Ladies Home Journal: Lose 10 Pounds by Judgment Day!
  • The New York Post: The End.
  • The New York Times: Armageddon Likely Tomorrow; Third World Hit Hardest.

My congregation howled at all of them except the last one — mainly because it wasn’t on the list I read that day in church. I’m adding it here because I was reminded of it by a recent column by the Times’ own Nicholas Kristof, who is arguably a poster child for that organization’s unabashedly global point of view.

That column was an end-of-year piece where Kristof noted that his least-read columns had attracted only 3 percent of the audience of his best-read* ones. And what were those columns (and one video) about? “Overseas news”, as he calls it. Sample topics:

  • China’s inexcusable treatment of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo during his dying days.
  • A 14-year-old Honduran refugee girl who had been forced into a relationship with a gang member at age 11.
  • An easy (as in, inexpensive and effective) treatment for clubfoot in Liberia.
  • The security threat posed by Ebola.

Conversely, with a couple of exceptions, Kristof’s best-read columns were generally about President Trump.

The contrast couldn’t be more obvious. The most powerful human being on the planet gets more than 30 times the attention of intelligent humans than do the most powerless, voiceless and oppressed who share our planet — or as Jesus referred to them, “the least of these”.

I say “intelligent humans” because it’s hard to argue that people who willfully consume (mostly) written news by one of the most serious columnists at the flagship American arbiter of stodgy eat-your-spinach mass journalism are exactly the dilettantes of the content-consumption economy.

I’m underscoring this because I can’t even imagine what it says about the rest of us. After all, a New York Times reader doesn’t exactly represent middle America. I don’t need to see a Times media kit to know that one of their headlines generally goes straight onto the radar of the 1 percent, the business and opinion leaders, the captains of industry, the political elite, the global elite, the oligarchs, the intellectuals, the universities, the heads of foundations, royalty, the independently wealthy, the charitable elite — and a great deal of the upper middle class. It’s a bankable, almost mathematical certainty.

So if the most educated / moneyed / powerful people on the planet can’t be bothered to even read about the powerless, the forgotten, the poor, the ignored (again, “the least of these”) — how could we even hope to find a single entity focused on them? Much less a powerful entity. One that spends every day with them. And whose reach extends into every corner of the globe.

Actually, there is just such an entity. And it’s thriving at a rate that any single private or public organization could envy. It rolls around this big blue marble we call home without regard for national borders, race, color, religion, creed, national origin, ancestry, gender, age, ability, ethnicity, education, citizenship or socioeconomic status.

That entity, brothers and sisters, is the human immunodeficiency virus.

It’s straight out of science fiction, if you really think about it. And apparently it’s a narrative we just can’t get enough of — as long as it’s make-believe. We read books and watch movies all the time that are variations on a theme that could have been ripped from the HIV/AIDS headlines of the last 40 years. We can’t get enough apocalypse/pandemic/zombie fiction in our lives right now. But let a New York Times columnist write about actual human devastation and, well… yawn.

So here’s some current global nonfiction about the 36.7 million people that HIV/AIDS has wrapped itself around in my lifetime:

  • 2.1 million children (<15 years old) are living with HIV and were mostly infected by their HIV-positive mothers during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.
  • It’s estimated that 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV in 2016 — about 5,000 new infections per day. This includes 160,000 children. Most of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa, the most affected region, where there were an estimated 25.6 million people living with HIV in 2015 — and where about two-thirds of new HIV infections occurred in that same year.
  • Only 60 percent of people with HIV know their status.
  • 1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2016.

Having said that, the picture in the United States is a bit different. From 2010 to 2014, the annual number of new HIV infections in the U.S. actually declined by 10 percent. And yes, gay and bisexual men still account for more than two-thirds of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S. — but here are some new HIV facts that might not be on your radar:

  • The majority of men who contracted HIV via homosexual contact are black or Hispanic/Latino. The next-largest group after gay/bisexual men are black heterosexual women.
  • Almost a quarter of newly diagnosed HIV-positive Americans is heterosexual.
  • Youth age 13-24 accounted for 22 percent of all new HIV diagnoses in the United States in 2015.
  • People 55 and older now account for 23 percent of HIV infections in the U.S.
  • At least 1 in 8, if not 1 in 7, Americans with HIV don’t know they have the virus.

Unfortunately, the picture in the South is decidedly bleaker:

  • The CDC estimates that the South, which is home to about a third of the U.S. population, is also home to 44 percent of all Americans living with an HIV diagnosis.
  • People in the South are three times as likely as other Americans to die of HIV — and of course, they’re less likely to know their HIV status.
  • African Americans represented more than half of new HIV diagnoses in the South in 2014 — more than a third of them heterosexual.

And you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to guess what the frontline professionals are naming as some contributing factors: Stigma, poverty, inaccessible healthcare. HIV may need a single living host in order to survive — but in order to really thrive, the virus needs an environment of fear, poverty and neglect.

What makes this even sadder is that, while there’s no known cure yet for HIV, the advances that have been made are so significant that living with HIV can be as non-threatening as living with any other chronic and manageable illness (diabetes is a good example) — so much so that there are HIV-positive people whose viral load is literally undetectable. Combine that with proper medical care, and a person with undetectable HIV is essentially incapable of transmitting the virus to another person.

Not only that, but allow me to add these two terms to your vocabulary:

  • Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP): As a way of reducing their own risk of contracting the virus, a person can take the same type of medicine that HIV-positive people take.
  • Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP): As a way of preventing HIV infection after a recent possible exposure to the virus, a person can take the same type of medicine that HIV-positive people take.

Sound too good to be true? It’s not. It’s science fact, not science fiction. It’s the world we live in today. Well actually, it’s the world that some of us live in today — the critical ingredients being a First World-worthy combination of education, empowerment and access to healthcare.

So in summary, the reason HIV is still with us isn’t because governments, science, medicine or nonprofits haven’t provided the tools. The tools are there. They exist. They work. They’re working. They’re just not everywhere they need to be. Not by a long shot.

That’s because HIV’s most powerful adversary on the planet still hasn’t been unleashed. And that adversary is the single individual. It’s us. It’s me. It’s you.

The recipe is this:

  • Know your HIV status. If you’re sexually active, get tested at least once a year. I promise it will change your life. This is the role of knowledge.
  • The next time you see something about HIV/AIDS, read it. I promise it will change your life. This is the role of education.
  • Pray for those affected by HIV/AIDS. I promise it will change your life. This is the role of prayer.

And while you’re praying for those affected by HIV/AIDS, be realistic about who you’re praying for: People of color, youth, the elderly, women, the under-educated, the mis-educated, closeted LGBT people, out LGBT people, the poor… and the people of the Two-Thirds World. And be realistic about why: Stigma, poverty, inaccessible healthcare.

If you do this, I promise that before you know it, the scope of your focus on your brothers and sisters around the world will go far beyond HIV — because HIV’s hegemony is just a symptom of what’s really going on. It’s just a symptom of what’s really broken about the world. It’s just a symptom of all the human woes we allow to persist in the face of the greatest expansion and accumulation of wealth in our collective history.

And who knows? Maybe your prayers will help change the progress of HIV/AIDS as well. Let’s meet here a year from now and compare notes. But if you’re the only one who is changed by this prayer, that’s good enough for me. That’s the job of prayer. That’s the role of God in your life.

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Where Christ Belongs

Rather than “putting Christ back in Christmas”, I’d settle for putting Christ back in Christians.

The above is a variation on a statement I saw on Facebook that really spoke to me — and apparently to more than a few of my Facebook friends, because my reposting of it went “viral” — at least as much as you could use that term to describe the reaction to something I’ve posted there.

This is in comparison to what I normally post on Facebook, which generally doesn’t raise eyebrows because it’s either “For The Day’s Journey”, my daily posting of a thought-provoking or at least inspirational quote from someone more eloquent (and renowned) than me, or “Welcome to the New Week”, my weekly Bible verse — or maybe just a rundown of the night’s dinner menu courtesy of my husband, who rules our kitchen and swears to me that it’s more than just where the coffee pot lives.

But back to that Paul-viral Facebook post. Had I struck a nerve? Had I tapped into a vein of social sentiment? Had I accessed the zeitgeist? I think so. I think a lot of people — not just my Facebook friends — are tired of the hypocrisy of “traditional”, conservative, “evangelical” Christianity.

I think people are tired of opening their Facebook feed to see what their friends are up to and instead slipping on the social media equivalent of a floor smeared with equine fecal matter in the form of such heartwarming fare as proclamations by none other than Roy Moore, Alabama’s self-proclaimed defender of the 10 Commandments, who pompously claims to have God’s ear when it comes to what is wrong with America — and who, despite losing his Senate race, still got 48 percent of the vote despite being generally a horse’s ass and specifically accused of (basically) pedophilia.

I think people are tired of seeing evidence all around them that their fellow man continues to act in such a short-sighted and self-absorbed fashion when confronted with situations where our instruction from God is actually, I believe, rather clear: Act justly. Love mercy. Walk humbly with God.

Here in Atlanta, just in time for Christmas, we’re ignoring that instruction as it concerns our homeless brothers and sisters. Here in Atlanta, we live in a city where the establishment fought shamelessly for the better part of a decade to shut down the city’s largest homeless shelter — which just happened to be situated on some seriously prime real estate.

Here in Atlanta, there was apparently no plan being made during that decade-long fight to account for how the 700-800 people the Peachtree-Pine homeless shelter was serving daily might survive with some semblance of human dignity.

Did I mention that every other shelter in town is already full?

But instead of focusing on how to get homeless people off the streets as winter approaches, your local government has determined that the best thing they can do for the homeless right now is to keep you from offering them food.

Yup.

There’s apparently a local ordinance that prohibits the distribution of food in an organized way to, basically, strangers. And your local law enforcement is now hellbent on enforcing it.

Here’s what it says, according to a pamphlet that’s been proffered to yours truly on the streets of Atlanta by well-meaning law enforcement personnel (prefaced by a mealy-mouthed preamble in said pamphlet):

We sincerely thank you for your interest in serving Atlanta’s people in need. As providers of services to these groups 24/7, year-round, we are committed to helping them in ways that lead to changed lives and lasting self-sufficiency.

In our experience, the best way to assist people in need is through places with sanitary kitchens, safe shelter, and services that help them address their problems and move forward in their lives. By contrast, feeding and donating to people on our streets is not a long-term solution.

… Public Safety’s goal is to increase police visibility and improve the quality of life within the City of Atlanta’s Government District. This will be accomplished through the Enforcement of City Ordinances and State laws and Partners for Home and Atlanta Continuum of Care to address the homelessness…

Did you know a Permit is required?

(Fulton County) Sec. 34-152. – Permit requirements

(a) Permit required. A valid permit issued by the board of health shall be required prior to operation of a food service establishment. Such permit shall be obtained in compliance with the rules and regulations of the State of Georgia governing food service, GA. Comp. R. & Regs. 290-5-14

(b) Rule 511-6-1-.08 Special Food Service Operations

Rather than feeding or donating to individuals on Atlanta’s streets, please consider directing your generosity to one of the great organizations working tirelessly to improve the lives of people in need in our communities

The arrogance continues with a list of 10 organizations that the pamphlet recommends should be the real focus of our energy, we who so inadequately seek to serve the homeless. And let me be clear: I am not disparaging the groups themselves — which are for the most part reputable, worthy and doing good in the community. Rather, I’m pointing up the city’s sleight of hand in making it seem that these 10 points of light are adequately filling the gap in homeless services left wide open by the closing of Peachtree-Pine.

But that isn’t even remotely true, and here’s why:

  • Most of these organizations close by 5pm. There are a couple that are open until 8:45pm and one that is 24 hours — but this last one serves homeless youth only.
  • There are no purely family shelters.
  • None of them provides ongoing meals.
  • These organizations are spread out all over the city… making it extremely difficult for their clientele to access the services they do provide.
  • Many organizations have a cutoff as to how many clients they can service at a time. People can find themselves waiting in long lines for hours or more and still not making the cut.
  • None of these organizations is willing to work with transgender folks.
  • Many of these organizations require a tuberculosis test before one can get housing or services.

So please tell me how, in all that is holy, are these people who are without resources or transportation, who are hungry, who can also be dealing with addiction or mental illness or disability — how are they supposed to access what the mealy-mouthed pamphlet blithely refers to as a continuum of care? How long should they wait? How far should they walk? And let’s be honest: Whose way should they stay out of?

And I’m so not done here. Because on top of all of this is the criminalization of homelessness. Here’s how it starts: In the state of Georgia, you cannot get a driver’s license or state ID without a birth certificate, Social Security card and two pieces of mail sent to your residence.

Yes, you read that correctly: Two pieces of mail to your residence. Good luck, homeless people!

Plus it doesn’t take longer than a couple of weeks for a newly homeless person to have lost whatever they might have been carrying all this documentation in to a beat cop who confiscated it, a fellow traveler who stole it — or simply to “the shuffle” of constantly being on the move and eventually losing track of almost anything.

The last time I went to renew my driver’s license, I had to mail $50 to New Jersey to get my birth certificate. How many homeless people can manage that?

Anyway, the next step in the criminalization of homelessness is that once you’ve pretty much lost the ability to prove who you are, you’re eventually going to find yourself arrested for loitering, trespassing, shoplifting, vagrancy, public urination, public intoxication, indecent exposure or any number of other petty crimes that happen along the way when you’re just trying to survive on the streets.

The result being that the city’s jails double as unofficial homeless shelters. So one of the badges that goes along with being homeless is the Unemployability badge, because you now have a criminal record thanks to your inability to find a place to live, stay out of the way, prove who you are or pay a bond or a fine.

And of course, the only thing the average homeless person is actually guilty of is generally addiction, mental health issues, or a disability of some kind. They end up on the streets because they can’t get the help they need.

Or they can’t find work that pays a living wage — a situation that’s happening in my own household, where my 62-year-old husband, a proud Army veteran who has worked in the computing field for the better part of four decades suddenly finds himself laid off and interviewing for a job at Wal-Mart that pays $9 an hour with no benefits. Which adds up to $360 a week, with no health insurance, before the Federal government takes their pound of flesh.

So let’s just say that when I contemplate what it must be like for someone to slide into homelessness, I can empathize from a very real place right now.

In conclusion, this Christmas, could we try to take seriously what our faith teaches?

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor. (James 3:17-18)

But he’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously. (Micah 6:8)

When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Humanity will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right, “Enter, you who are blessed by my God! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.” (Matthew 25:31-40)

To solve this challenge, we as a people of faith need to start practicing what we say we believe. We need to get to the root of what causes homelessness and do as scripture teaches us. These folks are not numbers or statistics… they are God’s children, and we will answer for what we do for and with these precious creations of God. So tonight, tomorrow morning and in the days ahead let us set aside the soundbite-friendly distractions of sideshows such as “putting Christ back in Christmas” and instead fight for something that has the potential for lasting impact.

Let’s put Christ back into what it means to be Christian.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

When In Doubt, Err On The Side Of Love

On Thanksgiving Day 1977, my husband’s father died of a massive heart attack, leaving behind a wife and 12 children — six boys and six girls. The family was Episcopalian, attending St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newport, Ky., where the Pabst family tithed and the children were baptized and married.

Because of the family’s size, Mr. Pabst had to work two jobs to keep food on the table, clothes on everyone’s backs and the mortgage current. Decades before Uber and Lyft made it cool to moonlight as a driver, Mr. Pabst drove a taxi on the weekends in the Cincinnati metro area to supplement the income from his day job. This of course meant long hours well into the night on Fridays and Saturdays, and even into the early morning hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Consequently, he missed a lot of Sunday church services.

When he died and Mrs. Pabst contacted the church to make plans for the funeral, she was told flatly that there would be no funeral at St. Paul’s for her husband because his lack of attendance caused him to not be an active member.

What the… ?

Isn’t it the church’s responsibility to provide for the surviving family a place to grieve, to be consoled and affirmed in the unconditional love of God? I thought so too. And sure, there are those who say that churches have rules and protocols, creeds and dogmas that demand to be followed — and not only are they correct, but they are naming the very reason why so many individual mainline churches are empty, closing or closed.

One person who’s not swayed by this trend is the Roman Catholic bishop of Springfield, Ill., Thomas Paprocki. Forty years after St. Paul’s snubbed the Pabst family in their hour of mourning and spiritual need, Bishop Paprocki has gone to extraordinary lengths to show God’s people that the church can be just as cruel today.

In set of guidelines titled “Same-Sex Marriage Policies Decree 6/12/2017”, released earlier this month, Bishop Paprocki went beyond the usual garden-variety dictate that people in same-gender marriages be denied communion and other outward signs of God’s love and grace to also say that they should be denied funeral rites, to wit:

Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites. In case of doubt, the proper pastor or parochial administrator is to consult the local ordinary [bishop], whose judgment is to be followed (cf. c. 1184).

Yup.

The document goes on to prescribe the usual waterproofing of the church, its blessed objects and its pastoral ministers against any association with same-gender marriage, all of which you can read about here. But for now let’s stick with the funeral question, since it has personal resonance for me.

Reading about the full impact of Bishop Paprocki’s guidelines, it’s hard for me to believe he’s a member of the same church that includes Pope Francis. And although I know he’d never do it, I wish I could recommend that the good bishop read Chuck McKnight’s blog on the topic of LGBTQ Christian acceptance.

In the meantime, the old-school hidebound, rule-bound church that puts God’s people second is forgetting that this whole Christian movement was never intended to be about institutions but about the children of God first and foremost. The mainline churches are forgetting that it’s not their job to define an individual’s relationship with God, or to determine the validity of that individual’s belief or faith.

In other words, they’re forgetting that it’s their to job, as stated in the Bible and translated from Aramaic into plain English, to do this:

I give a new commandment to you: “Love one another; just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” (John 13:34)

They’re forgetting that nowhere in Jesus’ ministry did he indicate that it was okay to not give honor to those who had died and hope to those who remained.

McKnight puts it this way:

… The thing is, at the moment when I first made the switch to fully affirm my LGBTQ friends, I still wasn’t 100% certain about it. I still had lingering doubts. But I realized that I was causing much greater harm by withholding my affirmation than what I risked by becoming affirming.

I may only be a very simple pastor who is not famous, much less is the shepherd of a megachurch, nor is really even someone who commands a particularly large audience at any given time. But I do know that what the church needs to be teaching, promoting and acting on is pretty simple. It can be found in these seven scriptures that my church refers to as our Core Beliefs.

I would love to see Bishop Paprocki explain how these verses are about anything but love — and lots of it. How his misguided understanding of same-gender love doesn’t fit within that definition of love. And how he can write such spiritually violent “guidelines” in seeming ignorance of how that sense of overwhelming love commands us to treat one another.

Mr. Pabst got a Christian burial. Forty years later, same-gender-loving Christians are getting the Christian burials they desire and deserve. The institutional church, and people like Bishop Paprocki, aren’t stopping that — they’re only getting in the way. They’re rocks in a stream whose water is the love that goes right around them as though they’re not even there. And no matter how slowly those rocks smooth their rough edges, that glacial progress is a distant concern for the water that flows by unaffected.

Love won at Calvary. It wins today. Love will continue to win. It always has, and it always will.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

After The Dust Settles, A Call To Re-Focus

Ladies and gentlemen, in the left corner of the ring — representing the liberal, progressive, “hate everything that is not liberal or progressive by their own definition” end of our current political spectrum — is Kathy Griffin, the self-styled “D-list” comedian figuratively holding the severed head of President Donald Trump. And in the right corner — representing the conservative, alt-right and “hate everything that is not alt-right or conservative by their own definition” end of the spectrum — is Ted Nugent, a one-hit-wonder rocker figuratively holding a gun to the head of former President Barack Obama.

What is left in the middle of the ring is all of us who were taught to treat people with dignity, respect and civility. Anyone who was brought up in the same Christian church as me was likely also taught to ask of themselves, “What does the Lord require of you?”

The answer being, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 MSG) We were also told repeatedly that the most important biblical teaching from the Gospels is from John 13:34-35 (MSG): “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

So what happened? Why is the noise coming from the extreme left and extreme right so loud, so overpowering? Why do we have to read and listen to justifications for the total idiocy coming from the extremes, and why is it not drowned out by the voices in the middle?

Can we not clearly see that Kathy Griffin and her ilk are way out of line when they appear to call for the death of the President of the United States?

Can we not clearly see that Ted Nugent and his ilk are way out of line when they appear to call for the death of the President of the United States?

Can we not clearly see that a political point of view does not require a lifestyle or geographic location?

Many of those from the extreme right on the political spectrum say that because I am proudly and openly gay, don’t own a gun and advocate for the homeless, I am somehow also a huge liberal who is advocating a communist takeover and ultimately will go to hell for being a fag who doesn’t preach biblical truth. They truly do not know what they are talking about and are painting with a wide brush.

Yes, I am open and proudly gay. I have had only one marriage that will celebrate its 35th anniversary on the 25th of this month — a milestone that I would like to see how many of my homophobic accusers have achieved.

I don’t own a gun, because I really fear I would use it, which doesn’t mean I don’t think those who want a gun shouldn’t get one. Although I do think one needs to show they have mental stability before ownership of such a weapon is allowed.

I advocate for the homeless because that is what Jesus said was the biggest concern to our God and therefore a key to eternal life.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Creator, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ “ (Matthew 25:34-40 NRSV)

Many of those from the extreme left on the political spectrum see those on the right as racist, misogynist homophobes who are advocating a theocracy, and who will not be happy until we on the left are all dead. This, my friends, is an equally ridiculous view point that is just as dangerous to our survival as a country as the aforementioned stupidity coming from the right.

We in the middle must take back the conversation. We must loudly call for justice and mercy. We must advocate in all that we do for non-violence and forgiveness and all that this means. The words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King need to be at the forefront of our minds: “Violence is not only impractical but immoral.” Our actions, our lives, our relationships need to reflect this not philosophically, but in the reality of our day-to-day lives.

We must take seriously the teaching from Jesus, “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” (John 20:23 MSG) We must understand that forgiveness is about our own lives and having a healthy personal outlook, rather than about the one we are forgiving.

If we are to survive as a world, then we in the middle had better wake up and find common ground with our sisters and brothers to the left or right of center before someone from one of the extremes does something that is not correctable and destroys any chance we have of continuing to claim, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all… are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

This Generation Has a Purpose

“How does it feel to be the first generation to not have a purpose?”

These words were the equivalent of a slap across the face to me. They were coming out of the TV, out of the mouth of an actor playing Cleve Jones, a lion of the TLGBQIA movement who was a contemporary of Harvey Milk and who conceived the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (which by the way has become, at 54 tons, the world’s largest piece of community folk art).

In the scene, Jones is an obviously tired, frustrated and angry activist confronting the reality of a modern queer generation whose equality at this point might feel as though it had been handed to them on a silver platter. The scene is from the third installment of the miniseries “When We Rise,” Dustin Lance Black’s attempt to create a somewhat star-studded documentary/biopic chronicling the modern queer movement from Stonewall to the present.

(Black, you’ll recall, wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Milk”, the biopic about Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn, who also won an Oscar.)

“No! No, it is not over! We cannot give up now… We have got to remember who is not with us!” I blared this at my equally tired, frustrated and angry husband — who is, for better or worse, accustomed to these outbursts from me.

Let me explain.

At 62 years old I have been out of the closet for 49 years now, since I was 13.

I have only been in two long-term relationships. The first started in college and ended when he was killed by a drunk driver who ran a red light — a driver who’d been drinking because his wife was divorcing him for having slept with a man.

My current relationship, as of June 25th of this year, will have spanned 35 beautiful years. And while we were legally married on November 21, 2015, we still celebrate June 25th as our anniversary and probably will for the rest of our lives. It’s a quirk of second-class citizenship.

For 31 of the years we’ve been together, I’ve been a pastor — almost 19 of them as the founding and senior pastor of my current church.

In those 31 years I’ve lost track of the number of funerals and memorials I’ve officiated for those who have died as a result of the AIDS plague. Because if you do the math, those 31 years began in 1986. However, I do remember clearly and can still see the faces of the 14 very close friends — including my best friend from my hometown of Chicago who didn’t live to see his 45th birthday — whom I’ve survived, HIV-negative and still feeling the multi-ton weight of survivor’s guilt all these years later.

I share all this as a way of elucidating why Black’s miniseries has been more than a bit difficult to watch. I lived all that. Even though the miniseries is set in San Francisco and I am from Chicago, I could have been one of any number of the characters it depicts. So the whole thing just rests so heavily on my heart.

There’s more.

I was also rejected by my family. I was the victim of sexual abuse. I was threatened with psychological treatment. I was the victim of hate crimes. I was rejected by the education system and the church of my childhood. I was denied housing. I was threatened with violence.

And to this day it’s never been lost on me the threats and dangers I’ve faced as an out and proud gay man living in the South for the last 23 years.

So to borrow from the words of the familiar hymn, this miniseries is my story, it is my song. It’s also the story of countless thousands in the TLGB community — and because it has been our story, it has become the story of countless thousands of QIA folks as well.

Having not yet seen the final installment of this four-part series, I don’t know where it’s going to go our how it’s going to end up. But I can guess. The legal granting of our marriage equality is a great victory. The movement and momentum toward job protections, our assimilation into society, the normalization of our relationships — these are all things we can celebrate and be proud of. We need to hold the s/heroes of these hard-fought advances close to our hearts and always be grateful for their stamina, creativity and courage.

However, we also need to remember something else Cleve Jones has said: “A movement that seeks to advance only its own members is going to accomplish little”.

What does that mean?

It means the current generation does indeed have a purpose, and a great one. While the people whose lives are represented by the T in TLGBQIA have been in this movement from the beginning, they have been treated with disdain, been trivilialized, been the butt of jokes, been afterthoughts — and on our worst days, been part of the sacrifice made in the march toward everyone’s equality.

So what is the purpose the current generation needs? It’s to ensure that bathrooms are safe to be used for their intended purpose — and not as a political football. It’s to secure job protections, insurance coverage and a relief from the violence that is aimed so specifically and savagely at transgender people.

In that vein, these words of Dr. King could not be more relevant to this current generation:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Need more evidence?  Look no further than here: Christian conservative TX mom becomes “accidental activist” after child comes out as transgender

Or here:


This generation must remember the lesson from this story. These accomplishments have only come about because we came together as a community. Remember that during the start of the AIDS plague the world was willing to let us die. It was only when we came together that we found ways to live!

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t supply relevant inspiration from the bible, so here it is (Philippians 2:1-4):

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.

This generation’s purpose couldn’t be clearer, and there’s a fully modern way of expressing it. It’s to help the world see that:

  • Trans lives matter.
  • Black lives matter.
  • Muslim lives matter.
  • Women’s lives matter.

… and all that it means in the fullness of the Creation and of life on this earth.

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with Me

It’s 2017, and if anything is clear at this point, it’s that we absolutely must change the way we conduct ourselves. In other words, we need some powerful collective resolutions – yes, resolutions – to help us change the way things are and the way they might be.

But groups of people don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, do they? When groups of people resolve to do things, those resolutions have different names – laws, proclamations, constitutions.

So what we’re left with is what we can do on a personal level to impact how we as a society do business – in other words, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, to be the change we wish to see in the world.

In this endeavor the bible actually has something elegantly simple and clarifying to say on the subject:

God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

With that in mind, I was re-reading Jim Wallis’ 10 Resolutions for 2015 and realized that I could classify each of his 10 proposed resolutions according to the three main areas of focus God calls us to in Micah 6:8:

To act justly:
• Extend who our neighbors are; whom we are also called to love.
• Love hardest those who are the closest.
• Always ask, “What does this mean for the poor and vulnerable?”
• Support and empower women and girls.
• Question every act of war.
• Question calling any person of faith a terrorist.
• Make sure we know what terrorism is

To love mercy:
• Build racial bridges.
• Practice presence.
• Embrace hope and joy.
• Forgive as fully and as completely as god has forgiven us.

To walk humbly with your God:
• Love God with all your strength, heart and soul
• Stand up for the reality of climate change.

To which I will add: This idea of real forgiveness. Think and pray about, and then practice, living in a judgment-free zone where your inner voice is a voice of wisdom rather than judgment; a voice of compassion rather than judgment; a voice of real love rather than judgment. Because if there is no forgiveness, there is no life. When you refuse to let go and move on, what exactly are you hanging on to, and what exactly is it worth to you?

So there you have it, the start of a path for 2017 that can actually change the way we think, the way we do business. The challenge to this is: It is not about the waiting for the world to get better. It’s about each of us committing to be better, to do better, starting today – starting right now.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Taking the Bullets out of the Gun

In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. (Martin Luther King Jr.)

In the days following the Orlando massacre, it’s become painfully clear to me that there are people out there who really don’t get it. They really don’t. They don’t get that LGBT people like me feel connected to what happened at Pulse. They don’t get that it touched a nerve with each of us individually. They don’t get that we LGBT people live our lives carrying around a keen sense of vulnerability that not everyone can relate to. They just don’t get it. And it’s so disappointing.

Perhaps worst of all, these people don’t get that this is the wrong time to exercise their heterosexual privilege and make excuses for why they couldn’t be bothered to express sympathy for how LGBT people are feeling in the wake of Orlando.

If you think I’m generalizing, I can assure you that I’m not. And if this particular shoe fits you, then by all means I encourage you to wear it. Walk around and see how it feels. If it’s uncomfortable, read on. If it’s comfortable, read on.

It’s because that particular pair of shoes still exists that we have so-called “Christians” taking full advantage of this moment to widen the divisions and hatred in our society. They’re hiding behind an illusion that theirs is the one true faith (thereby implying that they’re speaking for God). They’re hiding behind “morality” and “values” — evangelical/fundamentalist code for opposition to reproductive freedom, marriage equality, and any limits whatsoever on the sacrosanctity of American gun rights.

Well, guess what else is included in that code: That if you’re not “Christian” by their standards, there’s no mercy, compassion or place for you in their America.

In other words, it’s okay for someone to kill you.

Eliel Cruz, executive director of Faith in America, puts it this way:

We also have to examine how specifically Christian evangelicals, the right, have exported their homophobia. I mean, let’s really look at Christian evangelicals who have influenced legislation abroad in many countries in Africa, and in Russia, that have led to LGBT people being killed.
There are specific ties to these individuals.

The same messages that are being preached in the pulpit are the same messages that are being preached abroad, and it’s being translated to understand that they believe this… is okay because these white missionaries told us it was. And that, because of what scripture says, it’s okay to kill these individuals as well. Whether or not that is your intent, that is the impact.

And in case you think this is just hyperbole, allow Rev. Roger Jimenez of Sacramento’s Verity Baptist Church to disabuse you of that notion (the following being from an hourlong sermon):

Hey, are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? No… I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida’s a little safer tonight.

… It is unnatural for a man to be attracted to another man.

… The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die.

Or allow Congressman Rick Allen to assure you that LGBT people are worthy of death.

Statements like these are so far apart from my morals and values — and my Christianity — that I find it hard to believe they draw breath on the same planet as I do.

There have always been Christians who take an exceptionalist view of their faith — i.e., that there’s one road to heaven, and they’ve got the map. But the religious right (and political right), the fundamentalists, the zealots, the anti-intellectual evangelicals and the end-of-times crowd have a lot of nerve trying to claim their narrow brand of Christianity is the only one to be practiced.

Why is this stuff so dangerous? Because as a society shifts toward acceptance, those who oppose it are likely to become more radical, according to law and psychology experts interviewed by the New York Times for an article stating that even before the Orlando massacre, the LGBT community was more at risk for hate crimes in America than any other minority group. According to FBI data cited by the Times:

  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are the most likely targets of hate crimes, with LGBT people being twice as likely to be targeted as African Americans.
  • In the past 10 years, the rate of hate crimes based on sexual orientation has surpassed that of crimes against Jewish people.
  • Of 5,462 single-bias hate crimes reported in 2014, nearly one-fifth were because of the victim’s perceived or actual sexual orientation.

In other words, being out and LGBT is simply dangerous, as a friend recently shared. I agree. When it comes to my husband and me, there are places we don’t go. We instinctively scan any room we enter. We have a plan in place in case we run into an aggressive homophobe. When someone walks into a restaurant where we’re seated and gives us “that look”, we tense. Partly because at one time we were literally on the receiving end of threats, we don’t ever assume we’re safe.

But then there’s Robert Lynch, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla. Writing about Orlando in his blog, he said:

Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that… Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.

Meanwhile, the political right was in a hurry to connect the massacre to Islamic terrorism, with the shooter’s Muslim identity breathlessly noted.

Yet before we allow the Christian/political right to label every Muslim an extremist and every Syrian refugee a terrorist, let’s not forget that it’s the message of the Christian extremists and terrorists in our own nation — those who organize their own militias, who wear white sheets and burn crosses, who bomb abortion clinics, who kill and kidnap in the name of God, who refuse to recognize homosexuals — who might as well have been bullets in the shooter’s gun.

Has anyone noticed that these Christian exceptionalists never talk about what Jesus did or said, opting instead to go immediately to their own twisted version of the Old Testament to justify their fear, their hate, their grab for power?

Throw in a spoonful of the writings from Revelations, and Christian-identified American exceptionalism blesses the carpet bombing of a country into submission, or the injection of needle full of poison into the arm of a man or woman the state has determined is expendable.

By the way, do you really think someone who has been married 3-4 times has any morals or values to offer up to a same-gender couple who have been together for 34 years? Or that an institutional church that has made a century-long practice of hiding pedophiles has any moral grounds to be worried about who a LGBTQ person chooses to marry?

Do you really think that a person who calls themselves a “right to life” Christian yet allows the state to murder someone in their 30’s or 40’s has any moral compass from which anyone else could take direction?

My editor likes to call me “Pastor Angrypants” when I get worked up about these glaring hypocrisies. Well then, so be it. I am tired — and maybe even a little righteously angry — that my religion has been hijacked, repackaged and returned to me as something I should swallow whole or risk burning in hell.

I resent that in today’s environment, I am expected to rent my faith from the institutional church rather than owning it for myself.

I am tired of counting the angels dancing on the head of a pin while our culture collapses around us. I am tired of watching my tax dollars being spent on a false war on Christmas while thousands of souls are left on the streets without shelter, food or decent clothing — and with little hope of that changing in the foreseeable future.

I am tired of these so-called Christian leaders taking front and center on moral talk and then encouraging people to go get a gun.

I am more than just a little tired of having to give comfort to those grieving in my community because it seems that every other day we are gunned down, knifed and beaten beyond recognition because of who we love or what public restroom we use.

It is time for the “followers of Jesus” to speak up and remind the world that “Christian” means someone who follows the example and teachings of Jesus. Not someone who will swallow whatever a power-hungry and opportunist pastor tells them.

Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. As a matter of fact, Jesus very seldom talked about the “thou shalt nots” of what we’re not supposed to do. Rather, his moral compass, his teaching, was much more concerned with what we’re supposed to do. He was always crystal clear about the “thou shalts.”

So here’s a “thou shalt”: It is time for our family members whose silence has have been deafening to stand up! And to our other (largely straight) allies, hear us when we say this: We need you to stand up with us. We can do a lot by ourselves, but this won’t end without your help. When you hear a gay joke, or someone saying “that’s so gay”, or someone being called queer (or worse), or a clergyperson demonizing gay people, say something. Stand up for us. And if you know us, stand up for us. Stand up for my family.

We need your help emptying the bullets from the literal and figurative guns that are killing us.

Here’s another “thou shalt”: It is time for us to really walk with Jesus. Feed the poor (in America alone there are 12-15 million souls who worry daily about whether they will have food); visit the sick and imprisoned (and advocate for their humane treatment); accept the outcast (the queer, the single mom, the street person, the Muslim, the mentally challenged); shelter the homeless (and stop creating more of them); be good stewards and shepherds of Creation (and stop raping the environment); depend on God rather than on wealth (and stop collecting it at the expense of the poor); treat others as you would have them treat you. And if you’re going to fight, fight for justice!

And it is far past time for the “followers of Jesus” — those who believe in and actually attempt to live the teachings of Jesus — to reclaim the name “Christian”, to reclaim the faith, to reclaim the discussion… to stop being co-opted by persons and politicians who have little knowledge, understanding or practical application of Christian principles in their own lives.

Let us today reclaim this definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Let us reclaim this theme of the Old Testament (Micah 6:8):

But God has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.

Let us reject the repackaging of today’s Christianity into silly self-righteous proof-texting of the old Hebrew scriptures whose byproduct is real spiritual violence in service of a naked power grab by which the institutional church dominates and controls people.

Murder and violent aggression are immoral. Allowing people to wallow in poverty is immoral. Raising children to hate others for any reason is immoral. Rewarding the rich and greedy is immoral. Lying is immoral. Suspending basic human rights is immoral. Torturing prisoners is immoral.

Insecure (and all too often power hungry) preachers and politicians feed on people’s fears. They prey on the weak, they divert our abundance away from the poor to build a building or win an election, and they threaten believers with hell on earth at the hands of weapons of mass destruction. That is not congruent with my faith, nor should it be with yours.

It is now more than past time to leave behind the preachers, priests and politicians who have proven themselves to be a badly behaved bunch of hypocrites. It is now more than past time to abandon the churches that are temples to greed, self-indulgence and self-righteousness.

And finally, it is time to take seriously this urging of Martin Luther King Jr., who said:

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

To which I would add: Let us not be bullets in the gun of hate and despair.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

What the Whole World Could Learn from a 15-Year-Old Girl

I thought I’d sit down today and get indignant about the crass politicization of a complete non-issue.

No, I’m not talking about Benghazi, or private email servers, or whether or not Donald Trump actually knows how to run a business. I’m talking about something that actually has everyday people acting as though they’ve lost their minds: The issue of which public restroom a person chooses to use.

I know why people are freaked out on a personal level. And I also know why their fears around this issue are being manipulated by the political and religious classes. The first “why” has nothing to do with the vaunted right to privacy or fears of molestation that the foamers are serving up to the media as the reasons.

Instead, it has everything to do with gender itself. Gender being the actual third rail of our society. When people step outside the accepted gender norms of their time and their society, the people around them really lose it. History is littered with examples: Women’s liberation, gay equality… and now transgender people.

If you don’t believe me, Google “Transgender Day of Remembrance” and see what you get. It ain’t a party, a parade, or even a crystal staircase. It’s how transgender people and their allies solemnly remember, every year, just how deadly it can be to step on today’s third rail of gender nonconformity and declare for yourself that your gender and your biological sex might just be misaligned.

So God forbid you should walk into a public restroom designated for use by those who share your gender identity. People will lose their minds. And other people will exploit that. And it will all be a backlash against something only tangentially related to your individual life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ll start with what I know. The Atlanta metro area has approximately 11,000 homeless people — a ridiculously high percentage of whom are veterans and kids. Those kids are on our streets.

Now, I have marginally more experience to write about the problem of homelessness than about America’s new war on restroom choice. (Not to mention that if the issue of homelessness captivated the public imagination as much as the restroom issue appears to have, who knows? We might actually have a shot at meeting the challenge of homelessness in a relatively short period of time.)

I say “marginally” because, while (compared to most Americans) I have an ocean of experience relating to transgender people as friends, community members and parishioners, I have to admit that I am limited in just how much I can claim to personally relate to their plight in this world.

I was born a biological male and reared as a male, and in the six decades I’ve lived as a male, I’ve never experienced a moment of struggle over the connection between my biological sex and my gender identity.

Of course, my sexual orientation was another matter entirely, at least according to society in general and the church in particular. However, even that was never really a question for me personally. Deep in my soul I have always known that God had not made a mistake with the gene(s) that caused me to be attracted to people of the same gender as me.

Yet I do find it somewhat awkward to address the restroom-choice issue because I don’t feel that I can truly relate in my mind, in the deepest parts of my person, to the incredible struggle and inner turmoil my friends from the transgender community must deal with on multiple fronts. If I’m totally honest with myself, I have to confess that I come up short on true empathy (look it up, it’s not the same as sympathy) with what it must be like to feel “born in the wrong body” biologically.

I have no real clue what it must be like to look in the mirror see my body and think to myself, “This is not who I am. My body is not put together in such a way as to match my mind and/or soul.” I have no idea what it’s like to not be comfortable in my own skin.

As a student of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — the man I credit with singlehandedly inspiring me to go into ministry — I can relate this gap to an even bigger, more enduring and more perplexing one: The awkward sensation for white liberals of knowing that we will never truly understand, in bones-deep authentic way, what it really is to be black in America.

God knows I’ve spent a lifetime trying to explain what it is to be gay to my straight friends — and while there has been a certain level of understanding reached, eyes still roll and faces blush when I kiss my partner in front of them or refer to him as my husband. So there’s that.

Given all these things, what can I claim to know about the transgender community and the bathroom issue?

First of all, I know several things from a Christian perspective. Those things that I know are rooted in a very clear understanding of Matthew 22:40, where Jesus said, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

So here’s what I’ll hang off those two commands:

  1. I know that transgender folks do not wake up one day making a choice to change their gender identity so they can go to a different public restroom.
  2. I know that to change one’s biological gender requires ongoing and long-term consultations with psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors, support groups and personal therapists.
  3. I know that each of these folks is in fact a child of God.
  4. I know that by the time a transwoman (i.e., a male-to-female transgender person) walks into a women’s restroom, she is a women, her biology notwithstanding.
  5. I know that by the time a transman (a female-to-male transgender person) walks into a men’s restroom, he is a man.
  6. I know transgender folks have been around and using public restrooms in relative peace for a lot longer than this “issue” has been politicized.
  7. I know that this “issue” is part of a backlash against my not-even-one-year-old right to get married — i.e., the political right and religious fundamentalists need another target to wax hysterical about.
  8. I know, based on Jesus’ teachings, that for a pastor to stand in a pulpit and call for transgender people to be killed is not even close to being a Christian response.
  9. I know that there is a really easy fix to all this: Make all bathrooms unisex. After all, going to the bathroom is a private matter for everyone.
  10. I know that to try and turn this discussion into an argument around safety from pedophiles and sexual perverts shows a lack of knowledge, fairness and mercy.
  11. I know the overriding challenge facing the transgender community in the form of this particular issue is that the vast majority of folks screaming about this have not taken the time to learn, watch and or listen.

But don’t take my word for it. Talk to a transgender person. And by that I mean listen. Really listen. And it doesn’t have to be about anything deep. Just what’s going on that day. Because it’s really, really hard to hate someone whose story you actually know.

And if you don’t think you know any transgender people, meet Jazz Jennings:

Katie Couric & Jazz Jennings
Katie Couric interviews transgender advocate Jazz Jennings on her teen years, her new book and equality.

You’re welcome.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

2016: The Year of the Displaced

As we enter a new year, I’m going to go out on a not-very-long limb and declare 2016 the Year of the Displaced. I do this to call attention to the fact that “one out of every 122 people alive today is someone who, at some point, was forced to leave his or her home“.

If that statistic alone wasn’t enough to get your attention, here are some others:

  • The United Nations expected in 2015 that by the end of that year there would be at least 60 million people displaced, the highest level of displacement they’ve ever recorded.
  • If these 60 million people formed a nation, it would be the world’s 24th largest — roughly on a par with the populations of Italy, South Africa or the United Kingdom.
  • Not all of the displaced are refugees: 34 million of them (that’s more than half), are “internally displaced”, which means they’re still in their home country. For example, while Syrians account for 21 percent of refugees, they account for 28 percent of the internally displaced.

So while the international refugee crisis dominates the headlines and our discourse, the humanitarian crisis in the shadows is a new kind of global homelessness brought on by political instability and war.

Now, along with dis-placement, I’ll call out some mis-placement: The misplacement of our priorities. We are rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking humanitarian ship while there is real deprivation in the world. Here in America, we are struggling to address basic dysfunctions in our society that we should simply be better at handling, to wit:

The epidemic of gun violence. We are not the only nation in the world to struggle with this problem. But we act as though, because of the Second Amendment, our American exceptionalism means we can’t figure it out the same way the rest of the developed world has.

It’s naive and just plain wrong, and I lay the blame for it squarely at the feet of the gun lobby (who stay in business by helping us flog the idea that no red-blooded American is safe without a gun to fight the government) and the politicians who take money from them while not acknowledging what we all secretly know: That most of the headline-making shooting-spree gun violence is committed by people with undiagnosed or poorly treated mental health issues who are being failed by a mental health care system in shambles.

Police killings of black civilians. Thanks to social media we are now painfully aware of a silent epidemic that is a real cancer on policing in this country. In order for our police to be effective, they simply must figure out a way to do their jobs while dramatically reducing the number of people who die at the hands of police. There is no real alternative here.

We also need to deal with the elephant in the room: Racism. As a pastor friend of mine has said, racism hasn’t disappeared now that the Ku Klux Klan has been publicly exposed — it’s simply traded sheets and hoots for suits and ties. (See “institutional racism”.)

Religious freedom/liberty. The culture war is the biggest, most meaningless distraction imaginable. It is by no means what Jesus had in mind when he said he came to knit us together into a single human family. But the evangelical Christian community continues to have a fetish for stirring this particular pot with the notion that their faith and spirituality are somehow in jeopardy — and that the First Amendment suddenly, 200-plus years on, isn’t up to the task of protecting them from the liberal bogeymen who want to force them to bake gay wedding cakes, among other horrors.

Here in Georgia, we have a state senator who says he’ll introduce legislation this year to protect Christians in government and business. From what, exactly? I’m sure he’s not intentionally leaving out Muslims, interracial couples, the divorced (and the remarried), the unbaptized who need state services, alcoholics… Or is he? But we collectively seem destined and determined to waste another legislative session and the requisite resources debating the finer points of such proposed legislation when in metro Atlanta alone tonight, there will be more than 10,000 people who need shelter in a city where the number of beds awaiting them numbers far fewer than that.

So now you have a sense of what I’m praying over as we enter the new year. I invite you to join me. And let’s hope that a year from now, we have a very different list of things to take to God.

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

Founding and Senior Pastor of Gentle Spirit Christian Church, Rev. Paul M. Turner grew up in suburban Chicago and was ordained by the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1989. He and his husband Bill have lived in metro Atlanta since 1994. He is the editor of the Seeds of Hope blog whose posts from 1999-2005 are at http://whosoever.org/seeds/ -- and which now resides at http://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.