Category Archives: Pastor’s Corner

Prayers for Charleston

Today we are all Charlestonians. As the people of the Holy City grapple with the senselessness of what happened at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the rest of us struggle along with them to make sense of the tragic murder of nine souls in a place where they fully expected to be safe from the worst of the world just outside its doors.

Today, the name Dylann Roof is synonymous with everything we want to believe we can somehow secure ourselves against, and Emanuel A.M.E. is synonymous with our deepest vulnerability in the face of it.

In the interim, there are so many questions that will get posed, pondered and discussed. Will America ever truly overcome its ugly racial history? Will hate founded on race ever be a thing of the past? Can we ever hope to prevent tragedies of this magnitude from happening?

In the midst of all this, God is with us. And in the end, God will be with us. God was with the people of Emanuel A.M.E. when Dylann opened fire, just as God was with them beforehand and is with them now.

God is just as much with the survivors of the tragedy, and with those who love and pray for them, as God is with those around Dylann Roof who are asking themselves — and probably asking God — what they could have done to read the signs, to somehow prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place.

In the meantime, the most important commandment we can bear in mind is the Golden Rule: To love our neighbor as ourselves. Which really means: Focus on your own relationship with God, and leave everyone else to God, and in the interim love them just as God does.

Lunatics like Dylann Roof will always be with us. They always have, They kill in the name of prejudices that are ultimately just a means to an end. But the prejudices they embrace are nonetheless a window into our collective psyche. If race hadn’t been the fuel for Dylann Roof’s rage, something else would have: Anti-feminism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, homophobia, transphobia.

So as we pray and grieve for the innocents slain in Charleston, I hope we are also praying for an end to the -isms that surface when a maniac commits a heinous act in their name. And that’s a personal quest; it begins in that relationship we have between ourselves and God. We will never be rid of maniacs. But when they do harm, we cannot honestly tell ourselves that the -isms that surface as having poisoned their minds aren’t real on some level — that they don’t exist in our society on a macro level, not just in the minds of a few tortured souls.

The essence of Christianity is this: We believe that the kingdom is at hand, that the room Jesus is preparing for us in God’s house is just around the corner. But we don’t know exactly how many steps there are between us and that corner. And we’ve practiced our faith in this gap for two millennia.

In the meantime, terrible things happen. Horrible things. Grievous things. And we have to figure out how, with God’s help, to live in a world where they will continue to happen. We can’t stop them from happening. But we can practice love in the face of them. We can be with those who suffer — and God is right there with us — and we can love our neighbor as ourselves. And we can do what we can to heal an incredibly broken, sometimes utterly heart-broken, world.

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/.

Summer School in the Streets of Atlanta

Time for an (almost) summer-school pop quiz: Of the following, which would you say is the most important to the average person on Atlanta’s streets right now?

  1. Substantial deodorant, for both men and women.
  2. Socks, preferably black.
  3. Plastic bags, as many as you can spare.
  4. Basic human dignity.

Answer key: #4, Basic human dignity.

In this exercise, #4 is the “all of the above” answer, because the other three answers are contained in it.

When we hit Atlanta’s streets once a quarter to distribute hygiene kits to the people we encounter there, the expressed needs change, but they’re just spokes on a wheel, the hub of which is basic human dignity. And that hub is the “all of the above” answer every time.

Two Sundays ago we were back out there, with a goal of distributing 500 freshly made hygiene kits. As with every time we’ve done this since 2010, we were exposed to slightly different spokes than the time before. Items 1-3 above are what we heard this time; next time it’ll be slightly different.

But #4 never changes — yet it’s the one need that never really gets expressed out loud. Because exactly how does one ask for basic dignity? For some, it’s by asking for items 1-3 above. So meeting those needs becomes a means for chipping away at the real need, for restoring dignity. Hearing the evolving spoken needs, we obsess over creating the Platonic ideal of The Perfect Hygiene Kit, when in fact the ideal isn’t a kit at all — it’s restoring that dignity.

So we do what we can and let God do the rest. We listen while we’re distributing, and the Gospel tells us that when we do this, we are also listening to Jesus.

But the trick is to really hear. And what I hope we’re all hearing in the midst of this listening is that every single one of our brothers and sisters on this Earth deserves the same basic dignity we’d want for ourselves. Because if that level of listening were actually a global daily human practice, can you imagine the sort of world we might actually live in?

I dare say that world would be one step closer to heaven.

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/.

Keeping Up With Caitlyn

As Christians we’re commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. And for the most part, we have a tendency to focus on the first part of that command without really thinking about what the latter half actually means.

In an individual sense, I believe it’s just as important to God that we master the art of unconditional self-love as it is for us to experience unconditional love of each other. Because to love ourselves, we have to see ourselves as God sees us. And the closer we come to that perspective, the closer we come to seeing our brothers and sisters as God sees them — which is what draws into a real relationship with God.

In my ministry I’ve come to emphasize the primacy of having an unfettered relationship with God because I fervently believe in God’s power to speak to our hearts in a way that no self-proclaimed intermediary could hope to do. When we love ourselves as God loves us, and when we love others as God loves them, we can hardly go wrong.

There is no doubt in my mind that God has loved Caitlyn Jenner every minute of her life for who she was at that time. For me there is no doubt that God’s love extends to every transgender person on Earth just as much as much as it does to all of God’s children. And there is also no doubt for me that we are commanded to love each other in the same manner.

The beauty of God’s love is that God is with us both in the valley and on the mountaintop — and the quality of God’s love is immutable in either circumstance. God was with Caitlyn for the six decades she was called Bruce as much as God is with her now.

Consequently, God is as much with everyday transgender people as God is with Caitlyn. What that means is that God is acutely aware of the actual reality of everyday transgender existence — which looks a lot less like a Vanity Fair cover and more like under/unemployment, homelessness, substandard healthcare, ridicule, violence, desperation, and the indignities of state efforts to deny transgender people everyday dignities such as being able to carry accurate identification documents or use public restrooms in peace.

Clearly, the indignities everyday transgender people face aren’t what God wants for any of God’s children. And if God is capable of loving our transgender brothers and sisters as much as God does — and is also capable of being with them in their suffering at our collective hands — then shouldn’t we be capable of the same?

If we can’t love our neighbors — truly love them, all of them — then how can we be certain that we actually love ourselves, that we truly see ourselves as God sees us?

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 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/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

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/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

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/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

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/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

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/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

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/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

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/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.