Category Archives: Pastor’s Corner

2016: The Year of the Displaced

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

A New Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The well-known first paragraph of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence is an absolute revelation of both human rights and human failings. As a declaration of human rights, it sets out a broad idea of individual freedom and that extends from none other than the Creator. As a snapshot of American revolutionary thinking, it’s a bracing reminder that for our young nation at the time, “all men are created equal” really only included men — and white men at that.

We’ve come a long way. And we have so much farther to go. So I’m proposing a new declaration of independence. Just as the original Declaration included an indictment of King George III’s rule over the Colonies, here’s a litany of things I’d like to see us declare our independence from:

  • Allowing the politics of polarization, demonization and hyperbole.
  • Believing that someone else’s equality comes at a cost to us.
  • Believing we can afford our war machine but can’t feed, house or provide healthcare for every American.
  • Believing that a living wage would do more harm than good.
  • Denying that policing in America is not the same for everyone.
  • Worrying about a person’s physical sex instead of accepting their gender expression.
  • Denying the impact and scope of human trafficking, slavery and forced prostitution.
  • Shaming, bullying and hostility in our schools, political spheres and the internet.
  • Denying that the everyday people of any country on earth want the same basic things we do, despite what might be done politically in their name.
  • Defaulting to a patriotism that can’t decouple itself from ideas and images of our war machine.
  • Thinking we can’t afford to care for our veterans properly.
  • Believing we can afford our prison-industrial complex but can’t afford to educate our children properly.
  • Keeping mental illness in the closet.
  • Believing the Second Amendment means we cannot open the door to one iota more of gun sanity.
  • Keeping drugs like marijuana illegal yet denying the impact of our pharmaceutical drug culture.

In other words, a declaration of independence from our old ways of thinking. Which leads me to perhaps the principal declaration of all: An independence from allowing anyone, anything, any institution or idea, to come between us as individuals and our God. Because when we are in a relationship with God, and truly listening to God, we declare our independence from anyone who would try to control our thinking and distract us from God. We find it much easier to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

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/.

American Spring: Marriage equality and the arc to justice

Remember the Arab Spring? Fueled by social media, the people of several Arab nations started taking to the streets five years ago to demand a different way of life, a change in the relationship they have with their governments. Now granted, the Egypt, Libya and Syria of today may not look exactly like what we might have expected as a result of the protests – but if we look at our own history in America we can see that, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, its arc is long but does indeed bend toward justice.

So we need the Arab Springs, and the long hot summers of discontent — but they’re just the beginning.

And then there are the moments when that arc toward justice takes a tremendous leap, like today, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality will be the law of the land, from sea to shining sea.

But looking at the full breadth of the nation under that arc today, we see a nation that in some corners really struggles with something so basic as the exact place the Confederate battle flag should occupy in the public eye. We see a nation that is morning the deaths of nine churchgoers in Charleston, S.C.

We see a nation that is not only wounded by the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray, but that has rioted in response.

Freddie Gray, you’ll recall, is the young man in Baltimore who suffered spinal injuries in the back of a police van – a “rough ride” tactic that reminds me of what happened to Stephen Biko when he fell ill in prison. The difference between the two being that Stephen Biko was imprisoned in apartheid South Africa, a regime notorious for its brutality toward black Africans. A racist regime.

Baltimore may not be struggling with the issue of Confederate battle flag displays, but clearly something is at work in Baltimore that’s hard to characterize as anything but racism.

I bring this up because societal equality for African Americans has been trying to happen for the better part of a century and a half. The truly intentionally legislated and adjudicated version of that equality really took flight five decades ago. Yet the average black person in America is hardly flying, whether it’s socioeconomically or just emotionally. The struggle for equality is just that: A struggle.

Not that it should be. But for us, for some reason, it just is.

For same-gender-loving people, marriage equality marks the real beginning of the end of second-class citizenship. But it’s truly just the beginning. Because those same two men or two women who marry legally can still, in far too many states, be fired just for being who they are. Nor does the adoption landscape look the same state-by-state.

And if either party is transgender, they may very likely live in a state where their true gender is misrepresented on their state-issued identification, or where “potty police” would like to legally dictate what bathrooms they can use. But not being forced to be a legal stranger to your life partner is a nice thing to have in a society where the building of a family is a fundamental building block.

Marriage equality also will not be some sort of magic shield that suddenly obviates gay-bashing or makes coming out in rural America a cakewalk.

And this is to say nothing of backlash, which is a real thing. Or of the really long road that still lies ahead for transgender people, who experience homelessness, desperation, violence and even death at the hands of a society in which gender is clearly the third rail of self-expression.

There have been riots in Ferguson, Baltimore and other cities in America over police mistreatment of people of color.

There was also a riot in New York City; it happened on a hot June night when a group of gay, lesbian and transgender bar patrons decided they’d had enough with police tactics against them – and enough with being a despised minority exploited by the mafia, shamed by the media, and diagnosed mentally ill by the medical profession – and would not go gently into the police paddy wagons as they’d done so many times before.

So they rioted. And the riot went on for several nights, and grew, and attracted allies. The first night of that riot was June 28, 1969 – and the first anniversary of that riot became the first date that LGBT pride parades began happening in cities in America – and then around the world.

In other words, what we now recognize as the modern LGBT rights movement literally started with that night. It started with a riot. It is bookended by the legal and social struggles of African Americans, who now rightly question the official and societal attitudes that are literally costing people their lives.

So we’re apparently on parallel tracks, moving toward that eventual day when we can think about thriving instead of just surviving. We’re on that arc, moving toward justice. We’ve rioted, but separately. And my question to you is, when will we see ourselves as being on the same arc? Could there ever be an American Spring where we connect the dots, join arms and march forward, not in parallel but truly together?

If we want to live out the true meaning of our American creed, I don’t think that’s an option. It’s an imperative.

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/.

Calvary in Charleston: How forgiveness overcame guns, flags and hate

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

The name Emanuel means “God is with us”. And as if one needed any more evidence that God is with the grieving survivors of Dylann Roof’s rampage at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the tear-stained forgiveness exhibited by the families of the victims at Roof’s bond hearing is just that, to a factor of seventy times seven.

“I just want everybody to know, to you, I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, a daughter of Ethel Lance, one of Dylann Roof’s victims, said to him at the hearing. “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again, I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you, and I forgive you.”

Right now the people of Emanuel A.M.E. are so mighty, and by comparison the rest of us are just so small.

We are small because we won’t stand up to the disingenuousness of every self-styled protector of the Confederate flag everywhere. We are small because we won’t stand up to the misinterpreters of the Second Amendment. We are small because we will spend trillions of dollars and destabilize sovereign nations in the name of a “war on terror”, but we won’t fight with a fraction of the same intensity against the domestic terror of homegrown hate.

We are small because we don’t make a sincere effort to drown our petty prejudices in love, or at least understanding — or at the very least, tolerance. We are small because we forget that we have not been commanded by God to like one another — rather, we’ve been commanded to love one another. There’s a big difference there. Think about it. Pray about it.

No child is born hating. Hate is taught, hate is learned. Hate is what happens when people like Dylann Roof shine our everyday prejudices through the magnifying glass of a cold heart, of a twisted mind. South Carolina is awash in what comedian Jon Stewart rightly called “racist wallpaper” — things like roadways named for Confederate figures, or a Confederate flag waving on the state Capitol lawn that mechanically can’t fly at anything but full height unless it’s taken down.

So clearly, it’s time to take it down.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” (MLK)

It’s time to take down our anti-feminism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, fat-shaming, mean-girling and social-media trolling.

It’s also time to take down the weapons-industrial complex whose gun lobby waves a gross misinterpretation of the Second Amendment around every mealy-mouthed legislator whose brain they can possibly paralyze with gobs of cash and an irrational fear of political ruin.

In my own church we were forced to adopt a firearms policy a year ago because the state Legislature voted to expand the list of places where people may carry guns to include churches, schools, bars, and some government buildings.

So perhaps you can understand even more of my sadness and anger right now, because we as a people stick our heads in the sand and pass idiotic legislation like this, and we act as though we don’t understand the kind of culture we’re creating.

But I understand it completely: It’s a culture that says guns belong everywhere, that there are no safe spaces, that guns should be readily accessible and ubiquitous. The result being that we live in a nation where gun violence is equally ubiquitous.

“The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.” (MLK)

Thanks to my own experience with law enforcement (the old-school serve-and-protect type, that is), I can assure you there’s one thing that gun ownership absolutely guarantees: Gun use. It’s human nature: If you have something, you’ll use it. Watch how people behave with their smartphones; it’s the same thing. So it’s understandable that we should find ourselves deeply uncomfortable when a man saunters around the world’s busiest airport with an AR-15 assault rifle fully loaded with a 100-round drum strapped across his chest.

This is not okay. It’s not okay. It’s just not.

So can you understand how for me, all of this has been like watching a train wreck happen in excruciating slow motion? It’s almost mathematical how we’ve built up to this day. I used to think it was sad, but now it’s officially tragic. We are now living with tragic stupidity — what the Rev. Jeremiah Wright called being “stuck on stupid”.

Jesus forgave his executioners because he knew that without his forgiveness, there could be no resurrection. With their forgiveness the people of Emanuel A.M.E., with whom God is clearly very much present, have paved the way for our own resurrection — indeed, our rescue — from a horribly broken culture and into a way of being that shows the way love can rule over hate.

But we have to accept the challenge. We have to let God in, all the way in. If we let love rule our hearts, really rule them, we have a shot at living in a much better kind of world. And if we’re doing it right, we should feel heaven at hand. Because the alternative, right now, feels to me an awful lot like hell.

God Bless.

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/.

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/.