Category Archives: Pastor’s Corner

COMING HOME

I stood in the emergency room of a local hospital with a young man who was barely 20, who was badly beaten and stabbed. He had been working the streets to get money for something to eat and a place to stay. He was on the streets because when his family found out he was gay based on all that he had learned in the church and heard from the preachers, he “just knew” they hated him and would cut off his schooling and throw him out…so he took his “stuff” and what cash he could find in his mother’s purse and father’s wallet and left for the big city.

Now prior to being on the streets for 3 months he was a handsome young man, long flowing black hair and a smile that would cause your heart to melt.

Yet, there was no smile at 4am this particular morning, and the long flowing hair was matted in his blood from where the knife had cut his face and ear. No this day there was only a look of agony, desperation, pain and anger.

Yet, the feelings were not aimed at the perpetrator of the beating, or his family, rather it was all aimed at God. In a horse whisper he told me to “go away, there was nothing I could do for him…God is punishing me, this was my fault for being a queer”! I had prayed to God for help, to change me but there was only silence. I went to a church in Midtown once, but was told I needed to clean up to attend service.” So with tears rolling down his blood stained face he cried, “I want to be with God but God sure as hell does not want me, won’t even talk to me.” “I want my parents, but they have no reason to want me.”

I was stunned, I needed to say something, anything to give this child of God some hope…“Oh God, do not be silent now give me something useful to say!”

I am thinking from a relationship standpoint God is never silent when it comes to dealing with us. I think it has more to do with whether we are paying attention or not. I also believe it has a lot to do with how we have been taught to view God. A God of law and judgment, or a God of mercy and reconciliation. A God who punishes and breaks relationship or a God who will do anything to be in relationship with us.

The only thing that came to me was Luke 15:11-32 (Read slowly and then continue with me)

You see when I get stuck for answers God seems to remind me of those things that Jesus taught, those things that remind us what God is really like. Most of my friends will tell you these times turn into sermons, this was no different.

The story you just read (Luke 15:11-32) and I shared with this young man was given by Jesus to help the listeners get an idea of what God was all about in relation to God’s people. Here is the loving and caring father image of God. The two sons are very representative of our world today especially when we speak of the GLBT community and the challenges we face.

We in the GLBT community can certainly relate to the younger brother…can we not? Living at home and over the years; beginning to figure out that we are different, that we are not fitting into the scheme of things.

Recognizing the values we are being taught somehow does not apply in the same way to us.

Recognizing that we can’t talk about it at home because it would cause such an up roar that we would have to leave or be thrown out.

Recognizing the standards that are being set before us for success and a good place in society are only a fantasy we will never achieve. Ah…. yes we of the GLBT community have indeed stood where this younger brother stood. We stand where this younger brother did recognizing we would never be acceptable to our Family or God for that matter.

So we begin to visualize what it would be like in a world where we are not held accountable because of who we are. We start to dream of having a life free from the burden of feeling like our love is an abomination to our Father.

We look out into the world and dream of another place; where we can be who we want to be, do as we wish and go where we want to go. So we go to our family and claim what is ours and set off on our own.

We are excited by the anticipation of a new city, new people, and new adventures. So we slip off into the night…maybe leaving a note, maybe having one last fight about how we are grown up and can fend for ourselves.

We might even have that last angry prayer with God where we say, “if I am going to hell then I will enjoy life and all that it has to offer first.” The church and all it hypocrisy now has no meaning for us, it doesn’t want us and we don’t need it. We will do it on our own, on our own terms. As Gloria once sang, “I will survive!”

Like the younger brother in Jesus’ story we arrive at that far away destination…we are free, at last free from all that entangled us at home. We claim a great job. We see a great celebration of life…the nightlife, the bars, the groups, the clubs. We see ourselves living with great prestige and wealth. We vision great romance and untold happiness.

Yet, wait…what is this? The only job we can find is for minimum wage and the cost of housing is far from our means. The night life is filled with danger…temptation…drugs, alcohol, robbery, smoked filled bars and police hassles for hanging around all the wrong places.

The idea of prestige and wealth has become only a distant memory of what we thought we could do. Our romance is filled with fake numbers, lies, abusive sex, drugs, phone sex, alcohol, cyber sex, bath houses, and ultimatly moving from one relationship to the next growing more bitter with each change of partner. We find ourselves not being able to maintain any kind of meaningful relationship, and now we are afraid.

Suddenly, it occurs to us that we are not free but in the deep agony of fear. We are alone.

What friends we have made are killed, dying or moving away. We are alone.

We lose the only decent job we had because they “don’t like faggots here.” We are alone.

With no way to pay the rent we borrow money or maybe even sell ourselves, or worse yet start selling things that will cause us to end up in a far worse situation then the street. We are alone and afraid. Or as this young man for whom I write, end up in the emergency room fighting for our life.

It occurs to us God seems far away and angry with us. If we could just tell God we’re sorry, if God would just help us. Yet we are apart of the hated GLBT community and God will never accept us back, much less help us. Did not the church say to us; “You have no place in the Kingdom!”

As Jesus is telling the story, the younger brother decides to go back home because even the slaves were better off then he is. Remember Jesus is telling us this story to give us a picture of what God is like, how God reacts to God’s people. It is not about a dramatic change other then the younger brother deciding to come home. If you will, come back to God.

Remember the first time you thought about being out and proud? Remember how you weren’t sure if this was right… you weren’t sure you were good enough? Look we had kicked God out of our lives, quite praying and stopped loving. “The church was right all along… “look at my life now” kinds of stuff.

Yet we miss the most important words of the story, “while still a long ways off the father (God) ran to greet and embrace his son.” (us).

Jesus is saying to all of us, the time away makes no difference, the wild and crazy times do not count, nor do the empty pockets. What matters is that we are coming home. God has been watching for us and is racing to us, to assure us we are welcome even while we are still yet a long ways off. Yes, we may be afraid, we may be weary, we may be heavy burdened, but God comes to us, embraces us and calls for a celebration.

Well, Jose (not his real name) let me pray with him (that’s what you do after a sermon) and when we finished the nurse was standing there with a message from his Dad, which said, “We are on the way to the hospital, your Mother and I will be there in about 4 hours.” “Hang on, I love you.”

At 5:30am I stood at my truck in the parking garage and cried like a baby after hearing the voice of God to one very lonely, scared and hurting gay man… “Hang on I love you.”

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/.

A House Divided

As I continue to write this blog, I praise God for the fact I have at least one regular reader, my mentor, my friend and sometimes my nightmare, “the Questing Parson. If you have not checked out his blog you should, it is one of the best.

He told me in e-mail;

“Blogging, when one takes it seriously, brings more discipline, more clarity of thought, and more desire to inform one’s self. I’m betting you’re going to start doing more reading and studying than you ever imagined.”

Of course he was right.

I read an old sermon by Dr. L. Bruce Miller of Robertson-Wesley United Church of Christ from Alberta, Canada. His sermon was about Canada’s Supreme Court decision to include in the Human Rights portion of the constitution the words “sexual orientation”. He likens this to the resurrection of Christ.

He sees the gay, lesbian community being dead spiritually. Through no fault of their own, but rather the Church is killing them. The methodology for killing us is through its lethargy and apathy, by tolerating and perpetuating institutions and patterns of death rather than life. He states that resurrection is about transformation.

“Transforming from death to life, from spiritual alienation and estrangement to spiritual fulfillment and genuine connectedness to others.”

He goes on to give several life-transforming examples including the high court’s decision.

He has a point. Our LGBT community is under going a slow death. It is a very deliberately planned and well-carried out death sentence.

Something as simple as safe housing for Trans folks seems to be a good example. Recently, there was the denial of safe housing for one who did nothing wrong except express her correct gender. None of the shelters in Atlanta would open their doors to this pre-op male to female trans person. I might also add that several “main-line Christian organizations and churches” refused to help as well. The cost for this person of God was much too high.

After losing her job, her family, and ultimately being denied a safe place to rest, she took her own life by placing a .357 into her mouth and pulling the trigger. How very sad, especially when a little compassion and guts might have saved her life. Before people say, “Well she could have come to us, we would have helped”.

Atlanta is a big city and very few churches are marketing themselves as being progressive, welcoming and a place where there are no walls. Come on if we are honest LGBT issues in most churches is really more like “Don’t ask, don’t tell” because pastor’s doesn’t want to split the church. LGBT issues are spoken of in a whisper. It is no big surprise she did not find you.

Yet, I am even more terrified, because this is happening right in front of the leadership of the GLBT community and they are too busy trying to fit in to see it. We as a community have become too focused on being acceptable and respectable.

I am terrified because we (LGBT folks) are trying to hold hands with the very institution perpetuating a genocide. Like those living the “battered wife syndrome” we keep going back for more because

“we just know they will change”

.

My friends might be saying: “How are we doing this?” We are doing this by trying to blend in and be a part of the church rather than calling it out in truth and claiming our rightful place within the creation of God. While the Church is telling us we are loved…under the radar the Church is telling us we are an abomination.

The Lutherans are saying, “we will ordain you to ministry, but don’t have sex.”

The Roman Catholics say, “come to church just don’t take communion, have sex or want to get married. “If one of our priests messes up, we will cover it up.”

There is a part of the Episcopal Church that not only doesn’t want gay folks in ministry but they don’t want women either so they have declared war. They say they haven’t but what else would you call it when you set up your own church within a church?

The United Methodist Church, oh God where do I go with this, let it suffice to say as a former member of the UMC “people who live in glass houses ought not being throwing stones at the LGBT community under any circumstances”.

By bringing this up I will be told I am bashing the Church. Yet one cannot get away from the evil effects of abusive and oppressive use of the Bible and religion against the LGBT community.

We are systematically taught that we are evil, that we choose to be homosexual and that we are depraved.

In our deepest being we wonder: “Am I going to hell?” “Could this love I feel for my partner not be of God”? So we fear by being different from the majority we will go to hell. So we do everything we can to say we are not different.

We buy the slogan, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” We let affirmative action go by the wayside because it is race discrimination rather then equal opportunity. We tell people in our own community what is morally correct because it is so by interpretation of the scripture by the Church. The same Church, by the way, that says we are an abomination in the sight of God.

The same Church that says women must submit to men.

The same Church that says they are pro life and than willingly support the snuffing out the life of another human being by lethal injection. This is nothing more then late term abortion, but then what do I know.

The same Church that says women do not have a place in the pulpit.

The same Church that if their “cash-cow” pastor gets a divorce will change the rules so the cash keeps coming in.

The same Church that will punish a “progressive” congregation in the inner city by sending it a pastor from the suburbs who will then destroy all evidence of progressive thought in less then a year.

We in the GLBT community must stop deceiving ourselves. This is not political or about an institution. This is about our soul.

We must begin to speak the truth of God’s love for all people. We must speak this truth as a whole creation of God, rather then some freaky “love that dare not speak its name”. We must make this claim with the full knowledge that we are uniquely and wonderfully made in the image of God.

We must begin celebrating our gifts because we are gay, lesbian, bi or transgendered and God has something for us to do, something to give back to this world.

We can no longer be content not to be fired from our jobs, get insurance benefits or live quietly in the suburbs.

We must talk about our history, our heroes. We must act rather the react. We must point out that some of the best; the brightest and most articulate people of the world have come from the LGBT community. One of God’s gifts to the world.

We must point out that in blighted urban areas, it is our talented and creative community who rebuilds and puts life back into the area.

We must talk about how in the midst of our young dying that we have taught the world how to die with dignity and to live life to the fullest.

We must confront and refute the blatant lies and fear mongering of the religious bigots. Now is not the time to sit quietly in the comfort of our homes while the LGBT youth of the world continue to die, get beat to the point of death or drown out who they are in alcohol and drugs.

I ponder the same question that Jesus asked so long ago when he asked: “What does one profit if they gain the whole world but sacrifice their soul?” My fear is if we continue on our current path, we might gain the world but we will have lost our souls.

I would rather travel the path that shouts loudly and clearly,

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Romans 8:38-39 New International Version)

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/.

A House Divided

Two things have happened to me recently. One thing was I was finding it hard to explain what my vision for our community was about and to explain why that was hard to do. Then I was feeling increasingly frustrated with our community (GLBT). Then I read a couple of articles that suddenly put form to my hard to explain vision.

Continue reading A House Divided

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/.

A MOVE TO THE DARK SIDE

Remember I said I was looking forward to a nice quiet evening at home with my husband, dogs, a good book and some Braves baseball? Well all that got flushed down the toilet when I read the following e-mail. (Printed in its entirety)

By the way this is going to be a longer piece-so to my good pastor friend and mentor who is going to yell at me, so let this be consider an essay. For the rest of you get a cup or coffee or your favorite beverage when reading, and pull up a chair and set a spell.

<<”Hi Friends, Many of you may have already heard the news that I was officially removed from the clergy roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Monday, July 2, 2007. I lost my appeal, and Bishop Warren won on every point of his cross-appeal. I want to thank all of you for your prayers and your amazing support during this last year. It’s been an overwhelming experience to receive such affirmation and love. I’m including some things that I’ve written in the last couple of days, in case you’re interested. I’ve also included the full decision from the Committee on Appeals, a frightening document in its lack of grace, compassion, and vision. Primarily, however, I simply wanted to thank you for holding me and giving me such strength to take on the challenge that the charges, the trial, the appeal, and the final judicial decision provided to me in this last year. Peace,
Bradley

STATEMENT FOR THE PRESS, July 5, 2007

I’m disheartened that the Committee on Appeals would remove me from the roster without ever meeting me; without meeting the people of St. John’s Lutheran Church; or without even coming to Atlanta to experience our congregation at work in the neighborhood. Their decision was made on paper, not face to face.

I’m afraid this confirms what so many think about that church; that it’s a bureaucracy that’s more interested in following rules than it is witnessing to the compassionate love of God. I’m ashamed that this document comes from the denomination that I have served for the last twenty years. I would have hoped that it might have, at least, mentioned Jesus or offered to pray for me and for this congregation.

I want my denomination to witness to the Jesus that I know and love; a savior who is more interested in relationships more than in rules. I think that has always been the heart of the Lutheran message: God is, first and foremost, a gracious and loving God. God isn’t a heartless judge.

So I’m sad today; sad that the ELCA didn’t do the compassionate thing; sad that the journey for justice must go on longer.

But I’m also encouraged; encouraged by the love of this congregation; encouraged by our determination to continue to be faithful participants in the church; encouraged that the ELCA will have a chance to change the policy once and for all in Chicago.

St. John’s Lutheran Church has been an amazing community to serve. We have been growing and thriving these last seven years, and I expect that we will continue to do that. The congregation issued their call to me in 2000, and as far as we’re concerned, that call has not changed. The good news for today is that we can now return to the ministry and mission that we have been called to do. We’re going to continue to welcome everybody who comes through our doors; to work in our city for justice; to teach our children the Bible; and to be a faithful and loving voice in the larger church.

Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
St. John’s Lutheran Church
Atlanta, Georgia 30307
www.stjohnsatlanta.org”>>

Let me start by saying the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) blew it. The local Bishop, the “Discipline Hearing Committee”, and the “Committee on Appeals” all missed the opportunity of a lifetime. They had the opportunity to do justice, act mercifully and walk humbly with God. They had an opportunity to “Walk the Talk” of Jesus the Christ but instead opted for the rule of law “by the teachers of the law and Pharisees”, the hypocrites! Right now you might be saying or thinking “Kind of strong there Reverend”? Damn right! Remember the name of this blog.

I am so sick of power and control issues in the church messing with the Gospel and doing great harm to the folks they have a charge to protect I want to throw up.

Pastor Bradley noted in a journal entry: “What struck me most profoundly in reading the document is the absence of Jesus. He is never mentioned, nor is there any reference to theology, prayer, or compassion. This decision is reminiscent of the bishop’s argument during the trial that “Theology and the Bible are not relevant to this case.” It’s astounding to me that the Lutheran church would publish a document with no biblical, theological, or pastoral language. This document is, perhaps, the most graceless writing I have ever experienced from the church.”

It is this absence or anything biblical in their considerations that strike me also. There are two stories, which fit Pastor Brad’s situation if not exactly certainly within the same framework.

The first is the story of Esther. Found in the Old Testament it is a story about breaking the rules for a far greater good. You can find the story at Esther 2:19-4. Esther did not want to break the rules even though it might save a great number of people. It was too risky cause after all she could get killed. However, she was told: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

The Bishop of the ELCA should have read this story before bringing charges against Pastor Brad considering these charges carry with them damage that will affect hundreds if not thousands in the ELCA.

I also wonder about this story of Jesus: John 8:1-11. Here is a woman who is clearly guilty of the crime for which she is charged. The punishment was also clear. Yet Jesus knew the hypocrisy in trying to carry it out and set it aside. I know people will point to the fact he said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” But that is not the point here. The point is that Jesus saw that it was bad law and the people who wanted to enforce it were not in a good position to carry it out. When he said to the women, “Then neither do I condemn you,” the “spokesperson” for God set aside the law for the greater good, the women’s soul.

I am familiar with Lutheran polity…I really don’t think they are in a position to carry out their law towards homosexuals either. Please note I said their law not God’s.

I firmly believe I can speak on behalf of the congregation of Gentle Spirit Christian Church and the faithful of this community, to offer our affirmation and support for Pastor Brad and his community who now feeling the pain and sorrow caused by an outdated polity and an oppressive and hypocritical acts of discrimination.

Today I kneel in faithful prayer and support with the gentle folks in Christ at St. John’s. As now they will have to make difficult choices. Will they follow the law of the church or follow the voice of God who called Pastor Brad to this church to begin with. Oh don’t be fooled this is not about Pastor Brad, as it goes far deeper. The ELCA made a choice to bring to trial one of God’s greatest gifts: LOVE. As the 21st century dawns I have taken note of the irony of a denomination whose beginnings had as one of its thesis their ministers not being celibate. As I observe just this small piece of history I can see no legitimate justification for traditions that come out of ancient ignorance, prejudice and fears.

If we are to take seriously the Gospel of Jesus the Christ who came to serve and love all, then we must “walk the talk” and live the Gospel – Be the Gospel. If not, can we say that we really are following the Christian path? The keepers of the law removed from the clergy this good and decent pastor of God for his expression of God’s greatest gift to us all as a crime against the church. As my Daddy use to say, “Lord child what the hell were you thinking”?

In does fact it brings to our mind the statement of Jesus when he said concerning the leadership of his day, “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

I would ask the ELCA how on one hand you can say that being a homosexual is not a reason to deny ordained ministry, but on the other hand the expression of our sexuality is. How is the expression of our deep love for our partner shared in the most private and intimate moments any less moral then yours? Oh wait… I know now… you have been peeking into our bedrooms and saw something you didn’t understand so it had to be immoral and you made a law against it. Shame on you! Shame, Shame, Shame! Shame on you!

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/.

TGIF

Well Friday is here and I am looking forward to a peacful drive home, snuggling up on the couch with my man…watch the Braves play some baseball and read a good book.

Not much to say today so I thought I would leave something to read and mediatate on during those quiet times this weekend (it’s the pastor in me!): And Jesus said:

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—’playactors’ I call them— treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.
Pray with Simplicity
“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Creator in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part. Matthew 6:1-15 (The Message)

See y’all Sunday!

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/.

MORE ON GAY MARRIAGE

Wow…say something about people from the LGBT being able to get married and you would think the world was ending tomorrow…say something about feeding the hungry and no one says a word. Well since I have been asked about “gay marriage” hundreds of times, here is a written interview concerning the subject. Hopefully my last comments on the subject since there is no possible way to deny us loving our partners except by making it against the law. Folks tried that and it didn’t work, we still found the love of our life. By law you can deny us our rights to the basic things that every married couple enjoys but we will still find the one to love with the very depths of our soul. So we are not going away anytime soon, unless of course straight people stop having babies.

1. What is your personal opinion of same-sex marriage?

Marriage is a covenant between two people, God and their community. The genders of the couple does not matter. Over the last several years the debate concerning “gay marriage” has risen to new heights of passion, bigotry and nastiness. I suspect the basic reason for this is centered around power and control issues. Those who have defined marriage as the exclusive right of heterosexuals have lost all the other power and control battles: women’s right to choose, women’s right to work for equal pay, women get to vote, all races get to vote, mixed races can have marriage, segregation of the races is no longer legal, etc. etc. I would also suspect they are probably not very secure in their own sexual orientation, otherwise why would LGBT people being married effect them? So this whole gay marriage thing gets very personal for them.

Marriage up until very recently was less about two people who love each other deeply and are committed to living in a way that will enhance that love. Rather, it was about tax breaks, exemptions, property and legitimate (read: legal) sex. In fact it was not till the late 20th century the whole marriage for love thing came about anyway, prior to this the really huge reason for getting married was property and inheritance. My goodness for centuries marriages were arranged by the family with no thought at all about love. I wonder which scenario God is more concerned about?

Further as I have said before, we live in a world where marriage vows are usually not worth the paper on which they are written. Suddenly now they mean something because gay folks want recognition of their love? Yet the idea of a covenant is the total investment of those involved. I wonder if God is more concerned about promises and covenants that call on people to go deeper in their relationship than simple dogma and church rules and an institution which has been terrible hypocritical over the centuries.

2. Does the Bible really say that homosexual marriage shouldn’t be possible?

No, because the people of biblical times did not understand homosexuality the way we do, just as I am sure people of biblical times would have thought flying in an airplane or going to the moon was sinister and evil. God gave us free will and the ability to learn. I would hope we have learned a few things in a few thousand years.

3. Should the definition of marriage be based on the Bible, if there is a definite definition?

I gave my definition of marriage under the first question. Furthermore, I will ask again what was the greatest commandment? Love God your God with all your heart, soul and strength and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. This seems to me to be far more important then worrying about the gender identity of people who want a committed God-filled relationship.

4. How do you feel about homosexuals parenting children?

No different than I feel about straight people parenting children. In fact just check the records and any Department of Children Services anywhere in the United States and one will find that LGBT folks being parents are not the problem. Instead it is a rather shocking number of straight people who have no business ever being near a child let alone parenting children. Throughout history the unspeakable horrors that have been done to children have been done by straight folks not LGBT folks. And before anyone goes where they don’t belong, pedophilia has no sexual orientation. Further the overwhelming majority of pedophiles are straight.

5. Do you feel that homosexual males and lesbians are capable of parenting?

Of course, and there are many who are doing just that. I have a male couple in my church who are raising three children and the kids are just fine. We have a lesbian couple who have given birth to a child and another lesbian couple who have 6 kids between them and all those children are healthy, happy and secure in their families.

6. What do you think of a possible 28th Amendment to permanently restrict homosexuals from getting married?

What will happen to bisexuals or transsexuals? Does this mean anyone who has ever had same-gender sex are banned from getting married? It is a stupid, ill conceived, hateful and a degrading exclusionary amendment.

7. What do you think of those who are strictly against homosexuality and any rights they are fighting for?

They are misguided and probably are not secure in their own gender identity and sexual practices. The question should be: How does recognizing the basic civil rights of every adult in the country affect your identity? My partner and I have been in a committed, married relationship for 25 years. How has that hurt anyone else?

Enough said for 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/.

“REVEREND BITCH, SIR” IS BORN

As most of you have noticed today is the 4th of July and my good pastor friend told me bloggers usually do not write on holidays. To quote him, “you don’t have to post on Wednesday as it’s a holiday and most bloggers don’t post on holidays.” I am not sure why folks don’t post on holidays…maybe because they are busy doing other things? Yet, I got to tell you this particular holiday I am not all that excited about.

We spend this day patting ourselves on the back for what great freedoms we have and how wonderful a country we are…how strong we are. Hummm, we might be a better place then some, but we ought not be too arrogant about how “good” we are.

Is this not the country where the Indians had no idea they were savages till the Christians arrived and told them they were, and damn, the Indians actually believed them, by defending their land and way of life. Is this not the country where we completely ignored Jesus one and only command; “Love one another as I have loved you” and proceeded to en-slave a whole culture of people and attempt to completely wipe out numerous others. Do we not consider women something less then full partners in the creation? Is this not the country where we have our own brand of terrorism that blows up medical clinics and kills and hurts horribly innocent by-standers to prove terminating a pregnancy is immoral? Is this not the country where we “kill a killer to teach that killing is wrong”? Is this not the country where we peek into people’s bedrooms and then arrest them and send them to jail for not having sex in the proscribed moral manner? Jesus once commented; “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” Yet in this “Christian” country these words are ignored in every major city with thousands upon thousands going without food and shelter and then we label them criminals! Right here in the city of Atlanta on any given night we have 11,000 homeless and only 5,000 beds to help. Now the city is taking aim at the largest shelter to close them down because it allegedly causes all the crime in a prime money making district of downtown. Oh, but isn’t this being a little bitchy for a holiday designed to celebrate our freedom and greatness Reverend?

You are damn right it is and I want to bring these things to the forefront of our minds so they are not just ignored when we call ourselves “a Christian Nation”, Which is what got me in trouble to begin with.

When I came to Atlanta in 1994 from the northern part of the country to take over the pulpit of a progressive church, I came with the excitement of living out a dream and vision where all folks were considered apart of the family of God. Oh my, I was wrong!

Yes, I was new in pastoral ministry and had a lot to learn, and yes I was arrogant to a fault about being an all-inclusive ministry and that these folks knew what inclusive meant. However, I was not prepared for what I experianced. The north had just slammed into the wall of the south.

The first district church conference I was at, included among our folks a transgender person who was just coming out. This person being new to the process of transitioning from one gender to another didn’t know how to “dress properly” when in public. In fact if you can picture a man in a bikini, not shaved, hanging out in the wrong places, and make-up that would remind you Tammy Faye Baker, you have a good picture of this child of God. Oh the howling and whining by our delegation. Sreaming almost in unison, “You got to do something Reverend, this person is embarrassing the church, making us look like fools! Tell the “he/she” to be a man or go home!” I was shocked by the willingness of our folks who claimed to be all-inclusive to throw out someone who didn’t conform to their idea of gender identity.

When we got back from conference and I began to hear the stories of how we had to keep this one or that one happy because they gave a lot of money to the church. We had to careful how we let some participate in worship service because they would embarrass us. Also, I was told working at changing our language to a more inclusive style was just being “politically correct” and not needed. Further making sure we were handicap accessible was too expensive and a huge bother. Oh and “before we give money out to folks from the benevolence fund, the person ‘in need’ would have to prove beyond any doubt they were worthy of receiving.”

So by the time we got to the first “Pastoral Staff” meeting I was over it…this was not what doing the “gospel” was about. The pastoral staff consisted of the “Deacons” of the church and if you read the book of Acts in the New Testament you will have idea of what their duties were. The Senior Deacon was one of those folks with lots of money and who nobody wanted to offend. I must say to his credit he had a heart of gold and a desire to do God’s work. He would do anything asked of him and was indeed a good and faithful servant of the church and of God. Yet, he also was not an activist, nor did he want to be confrontational. Change had to come slow and easy. Well, I was in no mood to hear this much less do that. So rather then trying to teach and affirm the gospel truth, I began to announce changes that were immediate.

As you might imagine the staff did not react well and at one point, the Senior Deacon (the pillar of the church) looked at me and said, “Why are you insisting on so many changes, so fast without going through proper channels?” To which I replied, “Because I am the pastor of the church and it’s my job”! The response from the pillar of the church was just above a whisper but loud enough for the entire staff to hear, “Bitch!”

Well at this point you could have heard a pin falling to the ground it got so quiet. The “pillar of the church” and the new pastor were about to have a cat fight. Now I will tell you the Holy Spirit still speaks today, as my immediate response was to look the Senior Deacon in the eyes and firmly state, “That’s Reverend Bitch to you!” With that the room cracked up, the tension was broke and a new name was borne.

In was in this moment I recognized change takes time, that living the gospel is scary and hard. That we are taught to take the path of least resistance. So my job was going be about teaching, persuading and affirmming that all could “walk the talk” of the gospel regardless of the path. I will forever be thankful for this Senior Deacon.

In the LGBTQ community the term “bitch” when applied to a male has come to mean “pushy”, “emotionally unrelenting”, “in your face”. I am all of that but have learned that when one carries the title of Reverend, “a person ordained for service in a Christian church”, the key word is service. So my life today while many times is “pushy”, “emotionally unrelenting” and “in your face” is driven to be about “service” to God, “to do justice, act mercifully and to walk humbly with God”.

Over the year’s people in the LGBTQ community found out that I like leather and have an appreciation for the “leather clubs” (that is another blog-ah no-there are something’s I won’t write about).

However, term of respect in this community is the term “Sir”. A friend of mine in the leather community after watching me one CNN “TalkBack Live” call Rev. Jerry Falwell a liar because of what he was saying about the LGBTQ community, called me after the show and said: “You Pastor, you are crazy, these people will hurt you. I grew up in that guy’s church and have wanted to say that for years and years but couldn’t-man you are crazy, but thank you for telling it like it is you are my Reverend Bitch Sir.” So now you know how this title came to be.

So this is a holiday and since my pastor friend also said “I think the web needs something like your site.” re: “Reverend Bitch, Sir”.

Let me offer that instead of celebrating with words that put country before God. Let these words speak to our freedom and greatness as a people of God;

 

“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

 

Matthew 5:1-12 (New International Version)

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/.

Traditional Marriage, or Covenants of Love?

Over the last several years, the debate concerning “gay marriage” has risen to new heights of passion and meanness. I suspect the basic reason for this is centered around power and control issues. Those who have defined marriage as the exclusive right of heterosexuals want to continue to control the rules. It is a “Members (who meet the standard) Only Club”.

Marriage in today’s sense is less about two people who love each other deeply and commit to living in a way that will enhance that love. Rather, it is about 1,000+ tax breaks/exemptions, property, and “legitimate” sex – plus inheritance, hospital visitation and medical choices.

When my partner and I got together we could not claim any of those things. In fact we are denied all those things. All we have is our love for each other in the deepest sense of the word. I wonder which scenario God is more concerned about.

We live in a world where marriage vows are usually not worth the paper they are written on – a world where pre-marital counseling is as much about covenants of love as is wedding planning.

Yet the idea of a covenant is the total investment of those involved. I wonder if God is more concerned about broken promises or covenants that call on people to go deeper in their relationship than simple vows. Finally, I wonder from a spiritual perspective if a God who by biblical definition is both male and female is really concerned about the gender identity of a couple who are willing to live in covenant with each other.

After all, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was – in other words, which commandment should be the basis of who and what we are – his reply was, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

So it seems to me that those who live in glass houses should not be throwing any stones. In my home state of Georgia we once had someone run for Governor who fired an employee because she was a lesbian in a committed relationship, which he claimed was against “moral law”. Of course he didn’t want people to know he had broke state law by committing adultery himself. This hypocrisy prompted a friend of mine to come up with a bumper sticker that read: “**** for Governor: Two first ladies are better than one.”

Making a covenant of love takes the total investment of the two people involved regardless of whether it is between a man and woman, woman and woman or man and man. I would think God is more concerned about covenants that call on all people to go deeper in their relationship than promises designed to get a tax break or make divorce lawyers rich.

My partner and I have been together 25 years and worked through every conceivable challenge to keep our vows to one another. As far as I can tell we have not caused any straight marriages to fail or the collapse of “family values”. We own a home, pay our taxes, contribute to the economy by working and buying products, go to church and to the best of our ability make contributions to the community in which we live.

As for those who might be concerned about what goes on in our bedrooms: We don’t go into your bedroom or concern ourselves with how you express your most intimate feelings. So stay out of ours, because you certainly don’t belong there!

St. Paul defined love in 1 Corinthians 13 by writing: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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.”

If these commandments and definitions are where it begins and ends, then I believe that our God, the God of Jesus the Christ is far more interested in covenants of love regardless of gender identification.

To the morality police and the defenders of traditional marriage: How about you take care and honor the one you love, and we will do the same. Then we all can spend our time, energy and money doing things that really matter to our Creator: Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison. I dare say the world will have a better chance of survival if we do that, rather than getting so worked up over who is getting married.

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/.

WADING INTO THE CYBER POOL

I suppose the title of this blog will cause some controversy from more than a few folks…so I suppose I ought to write this blog explaining the title, which is actually my nickname.

That needs to wait as first I should say the reason I am writing this blog is because some people whom I would trust with my life said I should because I might have something to say which might be helpful to folks in the cyber world. I even tried to get out of writing this by stating the title of the blog would be too offensive. Yet, every person I shared the title with were more then happy to tell me it fit perfectly, that it was a perfect description of me and the ministry to which I have been called…so here we go “God help us all”!

Just maybe reading about some of my experiences and observations on this journey as an open, out and proud gay man who is a minister of the “gospel” and who is not politically correct or ashamed to say what is exactly on my mind will be helpful in some small way to others. For those who want to know more about me and the church I pastor you can go to:

Gentle Spirit Christian Church

and

Whosoever 

As an ordained minister with 20 years of pastoral work in the church and in a 25 year committed (read: marriage) relationship with my partner Bill, I have done what the Judeo-Christian church calls each of us to do; “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8). I am a simple pastor, who is not a psychologist, nor a great theological scholar. My posts will come to you from my heart and my experiences as an independent and progressive pastor, as well as one who has studied and tested the Bible for a number of years and who believes the Holy Spirit speaks today as loudly and forcefully as 2,000 years ago. I believe God is calling us to progress to the “Kingdom” rather then conserve the “status quo”.

I hope in writing about my journey some of us will be able to re-claim the faith and individual spirituality that has been hi-jacked by those of whom Jesus said: “”Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when they become one, you make them twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15, New International Version) I believe people should be able to have a personal relationship with God that is not defined by traditional or mainline church since it seems they have forgotten about those whom God unconditionally loves in favor of an institution who’s goal is to stay in power through fear, intimidation and damnation. I hope as folks figure out they have been hi-jacked they will again re-claim the proclamation of the Christ which says; “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” (John 3:16 The Message) I hope and pray that by renewing a personal relationship with God all people will begin to live in the way God will indeed observe in accordance to the words of our Savior: “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 Father! 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.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40 The Message)

We in the church have been battered; beaten and maligned by an institution that has found it’s power in being the authors of morality rather then the carriers of grace and redemption. I hope this blog will cause us once again to begin the journey where first and foremost we strive to be a community where all are viewed as a unique creation of God and where each of us is invested in bringing honor and glory to God. A community where we work to uplift each other and recognize and affirm those qualities in all of us that declare God’s creation as good. Of course this is the thought process which gave me the nick name “Reverend Bitch Sir” but that is a story that will need to wait for another day.

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/.

Advent: Its Genesis, Meaning, Mood and Message

The Genesis of Advent
Starting in about the 9th century in the Western Church, the season of Advent has been celebrated as a period of preparation for the birth of our Lord and the beginning of the ecclesiastical year (Church year).

In the early church words Advent, Epiphany, and Nativity were used interchangeably to denote the “feast of the Nativity”. Advent services first appeared in the 6th century in the church of Gaul. Epiphany was observed as a baptismal festival and the period preceding it was utilized as a period of preparation for baptism, much like the season of Lent. So Advent originated as a type of “little Lent”. From France the observance spread to England in the 7th and 8th centuries. In the 9th century, Advent was finally incorporated into the Roman Rite.

The Meaning of Advent
The word “Advent” means literally, “to come to”. It is a special season when we celebrate the bold claim that the Lord of the Universe has come among us in human form through Jesus the Christ. In him we have Immanuel, God with us. Not only do we celebrate that God has come to the world in human form from Galilee but also that God is come as a spiritual reality and will come again in triumph at the close of the age.

There is another sense to the definition of Advent, “to come to”. Since God has, is and will come to us, therefore we need “to come to”. Our task as people in full relationship with God is to become fully awake not only to the importance of indwelling but also to the many immersions of Christ in our lives. None of us is fully conscious of God’s presence; we need to come to, to wake up, and be vigilant for the visits of God within history and at the end of time when God’s realm is fully realized.

The Mood of Advent
If God is coming to us and we truly believe that to be true, our mood will be one of excitement, anticipation, and joyful preparation. Mood is conveyed through color and light. As the awareness of the celebrative nature of Advent has grown, many congregations have substituted blue for the older tradition of purple, as we have done in our church. The brighter color of blue, the color of infinite sky, conveys better the bright hope of change and eternal life in the Christ than the more somber and sacrificial purple.

The Message of Advent
As we look at God’s word, we need to understand how the Christ (as the word of God) comes to humankind now and how we can receive and carry the Christ’s presence today. This starts with our attitude… and the guides for which can be found all throughout scripture. I am calling them “Advent Attitudes” — alertness, attentiveness, watchfulness, readiness, joyful anticipation, patience and receptivity. The task then becomes to take a journey over the next 4 weeks to come into a full consciousness with God, who comes to us in Jesus the Christ and in fact be prepared.

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/.