Category Archives: Pastor’s Corner

What the Homeless Will Teach Us This Sunday

This Sunday we will turn our church inside out, head toward downtown Atlanta, and let the people who live on its streets teach us the Gospel. We do it once a quarter, and we call it something along the lines of “hygiene kits ministry” or “homeless ministry”.

But the real ministry is happening in reverse. Every time we’ve done this for the last five years, we get schooled. Some examples:

  1. Peanut butter sandwiches aren’t as big a hit as you might expect
  2. In sandwich-making, keep condiments separate
  3. Soft fruits are friendlier for folks who have dental challenges
  4. Food insecurity isn’t as big a challenge as you might think
  5. The Word isn’t that hard to locate, but an actual bible is a bit clunky to lug around
  6. Personal hygiene, a basic dignity we take for granted, is a real challenge on the streets
  7. Clean washcloths or socks are rare luxuries
  8. Female hygiene is expensive and overlooked
  9. Dark clothing is better at concealing the grime of the streets

In other words: Open your eyes and ears, close your mouth, check your ego, and listen to the real needs. Often they’re connected to basic personal dignity and a kind of pragmatism we almost can’t relate to anymore.

The Gospel tells us that when we do that, we’re in the presence of none other than Jesus. It’s a real blessing, and it certainly feels that way, every time. So, what if the pure gratitude that gets expressed toward us is bigger than just giver-and-receiver? What if it’s God’s gratitude that we’re back and listening again for the real ways we can be our brother’s keeper? And what if the things the homeless tell us this Sunday are, for us, the spiritual equivalent of whatever the father whispers into the prodigal son’s ear when they’re first reunited?

In other words: Even though we are commanded to do it more often, at least once a quarter we truly get out of our own heads, change our focus, and come back home.

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.

Our National Pastime Isn’t Baseball – It’s Demonization

Harvey Milk, who was born today 85 years ago and assassinated at age 48 by a fellow member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, had that same combination of fatalism and hope that MLK had — that is, despite a strong sense of his own mortality, he also was an irrepressible fountain of hope for those he inspired. To this day Milk is remembered for iconic sayings such as:

“Ya gotta give ’em hope.”
“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
“Hope will never be silent.”

I myself have some specific hopes going into this Memorial Day weekend — at least one of which is looking increasingly unrealistic against the backdrop of today’s America. Then again, things like marriage equality and transgender visibility seemed pretty far off in Harvey Milk’s day, and yet four decades later they’re happening all around us.

So here is my hope: That we can observe a Memorial Day in a time when our nation is not currently at war. Because apparently, that is actually a significant challenge for us — so much so that for the first time in our history, we are raising a generation who have never lived in a United States that wasn’t involved in continuous warfare.

President George W. Bush was fond of referring to America being on a “war footing” — and he used that general claim, alloyed with the idea of a never-ending war on terror, to short-circuit important conversations that should have been happening during his presidency. It’s a culture that hasn’t really gone away, and the playbook is straight out of “1984”.

Now we have war in our streets, in the form of hyper-militarized law enforcement officers who clearly are losing their grip on what policing actually means. But I don’t blame them as individuals. I blame the trappings of the new American law enforcement that make policing feel like warfare — because when that happens, the people you’re policing stop seeming like citizens and start seeming like an enemy. And you begin treating them accordingly.

As humans we’re hard-wired for all these demonizations — of foreign nations, other cultures, other faiths, other people (both foreign and domestic) — and more. It’s a survival instinct that pre-dates civilization. But if we can’t overcome it, I don’t believe we can claim to be truly civilized. Instead, we’re just fancier barbarians.

In Harvey Milk’s time, homosexuals were openly demonized in public discourse as anathema to almost everything America was about, and in language that would be bracing to us today. One of Milk’s campaigns was against the Briggs Initiative, a ballot proposition that would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California public schools. Yet today, Harvey Milk Day is observed annually in California as “a day of special significance for public schools”.

If that kind of social progress can happen in less four decades, how quickly can we get to a place where we observe a Memorial Day where warfare is in our rearview mirror only? Where police and civilians recognize each other as citizens of the same nation, city, neighborhood? Where we have stopped conflating religion, ethnicity and extremism?

Can we try for next Memorial Day? Or is that too soon for everyone?

Let’s hope it’s not too late.

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.

The Movement for Equality is Truly Global

A trendy district in Tokyo makes Japan the first east Asian nation to legally recognize same-sex partnerships. Cuban same-sex couples participate in mock weddings blessed by priests in downtown Havana. A human rights activist completes a 7,450-mile bike ride from Cairo to Cape Town, having met with local LGBT activists along the way.

And that’s just this week.

The movement for LGBT equality has gone truly global. And this Sunday, more than a thousand organizations in more than a hundred countries will put on an almost inconceivable number of events — Atlanta’s will be in Piedmont Park at 1pm — as part of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

The global movement for equality really is a movement. There’s so much organic activity everywhere, but here are four milestones connected to IDAHOT:

  • The World Health Organization ended its classification of homosexuality as a disease in 1990. (IDAHOT is observed on the anniversary of that date.)
  • 18 nations now extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.
  • Last year the White House issued its first-ever statement in honor of IDAHOT, in conjunction with a statement joining U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in declaring the rights of LGBT people to be part of the larger framework of human rights globally.
  • In February, Kerry appointed the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.

On the other hand, according to the IDAHOT organization:

  • Same-sex relationships are still illegal in 76 countries representing 44% of the world’s population.
  • A handful of countries and other jurisdictions still exact the death penalty for same-sex sexual behavior.
  • As late as 2013, roughly 70% of the world outside the U.S. (that’s 5 billion people) still lived under laws and regulations that limit freedom of expression around sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • 70% of African countries explicitly criminalize LGBT existence. And 22 of 46 Asian countries criminalize same-sex behavior.
  • There were 1,731 reported killings of transgender and gender-diverse people from 2008 to 2014.

I decided many years ago that because Georgia is my home, I will wait (and agitate) for equality to happen to me where I live. But that doesn’t mean I don’t concern myself with what happens in the rest of the country or the world. Every year, our local Transgender Day of Remembrance reminds me that the violence against my transgender brothers and sisters here in America doesn’t look that much different from the violence visited on transgender people anywhere else in the world.

And neither should any of our equality. As my spiritual hero Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” IDAHOT is a great example of that thinking for the LGBT movement.

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.

Mother God and Mother Jesus

As we prepare to honor mothers everywhere this Sunday, may I suggest that we take at least a moment to imagine God’s love in the same way that we imagine a mother’s?

This is not a new thought. In fact, it’s a major thread in a 14th-century book called “Revelations of Divine Love,” (also the first book in the English language known to have been written by a woman) whose author, Julian of Norwich, put forth a theology that was groundbreaking for its time in three distinct ways:

  • A view that sin was the product of ignorance rather than evil.
  • A belief in a deeply loving, joyful and compassionate (versus wrathful) God.
  • Specific references to God and Jesus as maternal.

Julian’s writings depicted God’s love as more earnestly encompassing than was typical for her time. She argued against the idea of sin as a truly wicked or malicious act requiring specific forgiveness, seeing sin as more akin to a necessary mistake humans make as they learn and grow to be the perfect beings God already sees them as being. One of her better known sayings is “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” She also wrote, “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother.”

Personally, I see God as being a bit bigger than actual gender, so I’m not presenting these writings as an instigation to discussing God’s gender. Rather, I think it’s interesting to ask ourselves, in a culture where the gendering of God according to a male/female binary is absolutely dominant, how much that practice might hinder us from appreciating the true nature of God’s love.

God bless a mother’s love, and God bless mothers everywhere.

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.

Three Reasons Why the Fight for Equality Isn’t About Marriage

Now that the rush of excitement is over and we’ve digested the Supreme Court commentary and maybe even listened to all or part of Question 1 or Question 2, all we can do is wait for the Court to… er, validate our lives.

And while we’re waiting, I’d like to make another case: The case for actual equality. Here’s why:

  • LGBT people can still be fired or denied housing or public accommodations for no other reason than the simple fact of who we are in just about as many states as same-gender couples can now get legally married.
  • Transgender people worldwide are regularly shot, stabbed, beaten, burned, mutilated, tortured, strangled, hanged or stoned — generally to death — simply for being who they are. It’s why the single biggest transgender-focused event in any community is a day of remembrance to honor those who have suffered in the last 365 days.
  • About 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBT. LGB youth are also 4 times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers — and this is in a context where suicide is already the second leading cause of death among young people age 10-24.

And this is to say nothing of adoption rights, wage gaps, transgender underemployment and unemployment… you get the picture.

My point being that, while it will be thrilling to see same-gender love advance from second-class status in America, it’s important for us — and for our allies and observers — to understand that the fight for marriage equality in many ways happened on its own timetable thanks to the courts. So if there is a Big Gay Agenda, it’s not exactly a to-do list and marriage is now at the top.

In fact, the actual Big Gay Agenda is probably not much of a list at all, because it really only has one thing on it: Equality. True equality. The kind that results in less discrimination, violence, despair, scapegoating and loss. Because when we are truly equal, more of us are able to rise up to contribute to our world in all the big and small ways that make everyone richer.

Maybe it would be better for everyone to see equality as the hub of a mighty big wheel we’re all trying to build in order for LGBT people to live with dignity. Marriage equality is just one of an awful lot of spokes that still need to be built if that wheel is going to support all of us. We need marriage equality, but it’s just the latest sprint in a very long and important marathon.

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.

Why Easter is Actually the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

This photo, from a throwback gallery the AJC posted this week, is so great on so many levels. It’s from an age before social media, before everyday internet access — a time when the means for communicating were much simpler, and sometimes bolder. And seeing this image during Eastertide makes even more sense to me.

Yup, it’s still Easter(tide). As in literally, on the liturgical calendar. And even though that season does have a beginning and an end, we should carry a shard of it with us all year long, because the point of Easter should be the point of our daily lives all year: Without forgiveness, there is no resurrection.

Looking at this image, I’m reminded of MLK’s unswerving commitment to nonviolence, which was rooted in his faith. I’m reminded of Mandela’s refusal to rip apart South Africa’s white-dominated rugby culture in the days after apartheid. I’m reminded of all the gay people who attend the legally sanctioned weddings of friends and family knowing they don’t have the same standing in the eyes of their government.

These things happen because people are able to see beyond themselves. They do it because they love and forgive. The photo above is a bittersweet symbol of a time when a despised minority would extend a hand outward and, more often than now, wouldn’t find a hand reaching back.

Love and forgive. It doesn’t get any simpler — or any better — than that.

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.

Our Real Predator: The Most Dangerous Animal in America is Us

On Tuesday I attended the launch of Outcry, a Georgia interfaith organization against gun violence. In case you’re not aware, the deadliest predator in America is a gun-toting American. Here are some bracing facts courtesy of Americans for Responsible Solutions:

  • Every year, roughly 30,000 Americans die from gun violence.
  • Americans are roughly 20 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries.
  • Women in our country are roughly 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun than women in other high-income countries.
  • From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun – more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
  • Every day in our country, eight children and teens under the age of 20 are killed by guns.
  • American children are roughly 11 times more likely to die by guns than children in other high-income peer countries.

Gun violence is a complex problem – but one reason we have such a high rate of deaths and injuries from gun violence is because we have bad laws:

  • Federal law and many states don’t require background checks on all gun purchases, making it easy for dangerous people like convicted felons, the dangerously mentally ill, and domestic abusers to get guns – no questions asked.
  • We still don’t have a strong clear federal law against gun trafficking, tying the hands of prosecutors and law enforcement.
  • Under federal law, many convicted stalkers and domestic abusers can still pass a background check and legally get a gun.
  • Many states don’t do enough to report records of dangerous people to our federal background check system – and a background check system is only as good as the data it contains.

We can do better. We have to do better.

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.

The Real Things Christianity Should Be Attacking

Maybe it’s a good thing the Georgia General Assembly only meets for about one-quarter of the year. Because when the legislative session is over, at least we know we can take a decent break from such political tomfoolery as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, whose poster children ended up being the self-righteous bakers and pizza makers of middle America.

People like that are grist for a political mill that knows it can serve up the bread-and-circus distraction of RFRA-type issues and ignite their base while ignoring society’s genuine ills. They play on the old chestnut that Christianity is under attack. Maybe they don’t have Google, but I struggle to understand how 83 percent of Americans can be under attack unless it’s coming from space. (And ironically, queer folks could enlighten the RFRA crowd on what it’s like to live in environments where Christianity is actually under attack.)

With the vast majority of Americans self-reporting as followers of Jesus, the only reason I can think that we haven’t made a real impact on our society in the ways that matter is that we’re still too busy throwing stones at Mary Magdalene. That’s sad. But it’s never too late to repent (i.e., change directions).

So here’s the igniting and ignoring I plan to do: I’m calling on everyone who can hear me to help us make a difference yet again on May 31st, when we’ll be distributing hygiene kits to people on the streets of Atlanta. I invite you to ignite your passion to make a difference and ignore the meaningless distractions thrown in our collective way; they’re the devil’s handiwork.

Yep, I said it: Those RFRA-type distractions from God’s true calling for us are absolutely the devil’s handiwork. They’re what prompt some people to offer a stone out of anger instead of a loaf of bread out of love. And the difference between the two acts is simply free will.

Knowing that, what can you ignite — and what will you ignore?

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.

The Road to Hell is Not Paved with Wedding Cake

On Tuesday I joined hundreds of other souls at the state Capitol to rally against the “religious liberty” bill making its way through the current legislative session — a bill that is clearly designed to be red meat for the conservative base. And by that I mean: It’s a distraction from the real issues the Legislature should be tackling.

Among those for whom this red meat is intended are apparently Christians who would believe that their eternal salvation might hinge on whether or not they baked a cake for a gay wedding. I am not making this up. (And I sincerely wish I were.)

So please add my voice to the growing chorus who say, not in my name. Not only because I do not believe a law like S.B. 129 belongs in Georgia (or anywhere), but also because I can assure you that God is not waiting to damn anyone for baking a cake.

What God is waiting for is for us to do something like this. Because God is already on our side. And by the way, Jesus spoke quite directly to our ability to get lost in a tangle of laws.

That’s my idea of exercising “religious liberty”. If the day ever came that my right to do those things were curtailed, then I would have grave concerns. But for now, I think the best thing we can do for ourselves as people and as a nation is to remember Jesus’ teaching that anyone who is not against us is for us. And in the meantime, there is much real work to do.

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.

A Lenten Execution Flies in the Face of Everything Calvary Was About

With the scheduled — and now postponed — executions of Kelly Gissendaner and Brian Keith Terrell in the headlines this Lenten season, I can’t help but wonder how many of the people who support state-sponsored killing are participating in the ages-old Christian ritual of “giving up something for Lent” that amounts to forgoing sweets, or fast food, or caramel-flavored lattes.

I wonder this because that Lenten practice, while well-intentioned, is supposed to feel like a sacrifice. It’s supposed to be part of a time when we renew our focus on God. So the irony of the state executing people during Lent doesn’t escape me; in fact, it haunts me. It haunts me because the end of Lent is Easter, which includes Good Friday, a solemn observance of the day Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice — indeed, at the hands of the state — in order to wash away our sins.

One way of looking at Calvary is that in its own way, it should have been the last state-sponsored execution. Ever. So every time we allow the state to execute someone in our names, we make a mockery of that. We set aside the Good News for the Old Testament of laws that Jesus told us he came to fulfill. And then he gave us a new command: Love one another.

But that new command doesn’t mean much if we can’t apply it in the most trying circumstances. Not executing a convicted killer is just such a circumstance. We should try it sometime, and there’s no better time than Lent.

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.