All posts by 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 was called to Atlanta in 1994 to pastor All Saints MCC. Five years later he founded Gentle Spirit Christian Church. He lives in Decatur with his husband Bill, who he met in 1982 while living and working in Ohio and legally married in 2015.

“If I Tell My Church They Will Say I’m A Sinner”

I’ve been questioning my sexuality. I think I’m bisexual but I’m not sure. But I’m scared if I tell my friends they will not like me anymore and if I tell my church they will say I’m a sinner. Do you have anything to help?

Dear Gen Renaud,

It seems your concerns appear to involve a lot of fear of the unknown. You fear that if you pursue the life of your sexual orientation will you end up being rejected by your friends and your church will judge you as a person worthy of hell.

I have come to recognize that your fears and concerns are rooted in the way you were taught to view God. So in essence, the only way that you will be able to get past those fears is to change the way you view God. So let’s see if we can help with that.

A book written by Bruce Bawer called “Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity” helps us to understand the real source of our fears when it comes to sexuality. The source of this fear is the difference between an attitude of love and an attitude of law. On page 5 of this book Mr. Bawer states:

Simply stated, conservative Christianity focuses primarily on law, doctrine, and authority; liberal Christianity focuses on love, spiritual experience and… the priesthood of all believers. If conservative Christians emphasize the Great Commission — the resurrected Christ’s injunction, at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew, “go to all the nations and make them my disciples” — liberal Christians place more emphasis on the Great Commandment, which in Luke’s Gospel reads as follows: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

What these few words means is we have a choice as to whether we see God as a strict authoritarian who demands that all come to God in a specify way or we see God as a loving Creator who desires that all would come to God and would treat each other accordingly.

You seem to be focused on the point of view that is based on the law and authority figures who have decided they speak on behalf of God.

Yes, you can make a choice as to how you shall view God and who you will choose to believe.

However, I must tell you that to believe God would create something with free will and then ultimately destroy that creation because it didn’t follow the law is rubbish.

Why did Jesus when asked, state that the Greatest Commandment was to love God and to love your Neighbor? He never said in order to be okay with God and not go to hell you must obey the law of the church (synagogue), rather he spent all of his ministry telling folks to love God and giving them example after example of how they could show and could live that love. The women caught in adultery, the raising of Lazarus, the blind person healed, the Roman Centurion slave healed, the women with the issue of blood healed.

Read Jesus’ words:

When you have done this to the least of my brothers or sisters you have done this to me. (Matthew 25:40)

Be not be judges of others, and you will not be judged. For as you have been judging, so you will be judged, and with your measure will it be measured to you. And why do you take note of the grain of dust in your brother’s eye, but take no note of the bit of wood which is in your eye? (Matthew 7:1-3)

Then Jesus said to the people and to his disciples: “The scribes and the Pharisees have the authority of Moses; All things, then, which they give you orders to do, these do and keep: but do not take their works as your example, for they say and do not. They make hard laws and put great weights on men’s backs; but they themselves will not put a finger to them.” (Matthew 23:1-4)

But a curse is on you, scribes and Pharisees, false ones! because you are shutting the kingdom of heaven against men: for you do not go in yourselves, and those who are going in, you keep back. A curse is on you, scribes and Pharisees, false ones! for you go about land and sea to get one disciple and, having him, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. A curse is on you, blind guides, who say, Whoever takes an oath by the Temple, it is nothing; but whoever takes an oath by the gold of the Temple, he is responsible. You foolish ones and blind: which is greater, the gold, or the Temple which makes the gold holy? (Matthew 23:13-17)

Yes, my child of God you can chose to live in fear by the law, authority and or judgements of those around you or you can choose to live by the words of Jesus and his examples.

If your church decides to call you a sinner then know there are other churches you can belong to which teach about a loving God. I challenge you to read the words of Jesus and see that all fear has been cast out and in its place given that of perfect love.

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/.

In Atlanta, Hell is Exactly 33 Degrees Fahrenheit

Christians talk an awful lot about hell. But have you ever stopped to imagine what hell is really like? I mean really. Stopped and imagined. Eyes closed. The world pushed away. Just you and whatever vision of hell is in your head — or at least at the edge of your thoughts.

Got it? Okay. Now let’s compare notes. Was it anything like this?

  • Shivering and reduced circulation.
  • A slow, weak pulse, slowed breathing, lack of coordination, irritability, confusion and sleepy behavior.
  • Slow, weak or absent respiration and pulse — and the irrational desire to engage in “paradoxical undressing” as one loses rationality, nerves become damaged and one begins to feel incredibly hot.

Now, before you think I’ve lost my mind with that third bullet, let me explain the source of that term “paradoxical undressing”: The three descriptions above constitute the three stages of hypothermia.

So am I saying that hell is cold rather than hot? No. At least not literally.

Rather, I believe that hell is existing in the absence of God’s love. Or rather, living in the absence of the awareness of that love. Call it a distancing.

And if you wanted to distance someone from God, to really cause them to doubt or forget or even curse God, how might you do it? Well, here’s one recipe:

  • Saddle them with a mental illness, an addiction, a crippling life circumstance or a seriously bad choice (or series thereof).
  • Let the condition(s) above distance them from friends and loved ones.
  • Jeopardize their livelihood.
  • Cause them to lose their home.
  • Degrade their health.
  • Let them sleep on the streets.
  • Put them at the mercy of cold weather.
  • Let hypothermia set in.
  • Allow them to die alone.

If any version of that happened to you, would it strain your relationship with God? Even a little? (Maybe some of it has. I don’t want to assume, I’m just painting a picture.)

As I write this, I’m personally aware that a variation on what I’ve just laid out has happened to at least three people in our midst in recent days. Three children of God, my friends. Three blessed souls subjected to what I would argue is hell on earth.

And not only is this preventable, but the tools to prevent it exist and get used. So how do three people die anyway? Let’s just say that at least one of the tools is, shall we say, tragically mis-calibrated. That tool is called a warming center, and there’s more than one in the city of Atlanta. Several of them open once the temperature dips below 41 degrees, and several more open when it dips below 36 degrees. They’re all mostly small, accommodating anywhere from five to 100 people in a metro area with an estimated 3,000 homeless. They’re also all privately operated by nonprofits.

The largest warming center of them all, operated by the City of Atlanta, can accommodate more than 100 people but is seven miles from downtown, outside 285, and at least a 46-minute public transit journey from Five Points. It also doesn’t open unless the temperature dips below 33 degrees.

And that, my friends, is how three people have ended up dead before the official start of winter. Are you upset yet?

Most mornings I start my day with a cup of coffee, a meditation, a morning prayer and the posting of a thoughtful saying I’ve nicknamed “For the Day’s Journey” that anyone can join me in keeping in mind as we go through the day. One morning this week, my daily saying was this one by the theologian Rob Bell:

Often the people most concerned about others going to hell when they die seem less concerned with the hells on earth right now, while the people most concerned with the hells on earth right now seem the least concerned about hell after death.

It’s a dramatic oversimplification, but in service of a point about Christianity’s less than pretty moments. And almost immediately after posting it on Facebook I received the following comment:

… let’s all pray that the city has the common sense to open all three large warming centers tonight, we all know that a black woman died under the same kind of weather circumstances two weeks ago… I am putting a Facebook event page together asking folks to help us get the people moved to the warming centers…

The writer of that comment being so in tune with my thoughts in the moment that I briefly considered charging him rent for the space he’s clearly occupying in my head.

Unfortunately, what he was suggesting that particular 50-degree day — that people volunteer to help move the homeless to warming centers — only works if they’re actually open. It’s been a topic of debate in my circles for the last three weeks.

And I’ve heard a whole range of excuses, chiefly these two:

  • It costs too much. So now we know there’s an actual calculus of some kind when it comes to the value of a human life here in the richest nation the earth has ever seen.
  • The temperature isn’t low enough. The overnight low temperature in the last six days having been 46, 43, 39, 37, 46 and 39 degrees as I write this.

So what’s low enough? Apparently, according to the City of Atlanta it’s exactly 32 degrees — which as you’ll recall from fifth-grade science class is referred to as “freezing” because it’s the temperature at which water changes from a liquid to a solid state. It becomes ice. And how much of the human body is water? Sixty percent. In fact, according to H.H. Mitchell in the Journal of Biological Chemistry:

  • The brain and heart are 73 percent water
  • The lungs are 83 percent water
  • Skin is 64 percent water
  • Muscles and kidneys are 79 percent water
  • Bones are 31% water

I feel qualified to speak on the subject of being outdoors in all kinds of weather because my own congregation meets outdoors every Sunday morning. And in the 12 years since we started doing that, we’ve realized that any weather conditions that result in a wind chill below 40 degrees are just too uncomfortable even for a church that moved outside on purpose so as to truly be a “Church Without Walls”.

And it’s not as though we show up unprepared. We wear layers, we bring blankets, we build a fire. And all this just to get through an hour under a picnic shelter that keeps us dry (but also shields us from the sun, which is great in July and not so great in January).

So at this time of year we watch the weather forecast for 10:30am Sunday in Candler Park pretty closely, and we try to make the call by Thursday or Friday of each week as to whether we’ll move to our version of a warming center, the chapel at First Christian Church of Decatur, where our offices are located. (And in fact, this weekend’s call was to move indoors.)

Before we started doing that, we endured some comically quick outdoor services in the winter — our record being a bright, brutally cold Sunday where we came, worshipped and left so quickly that one parishioner who showed up 15 minutes late surveyed our usual meeting place and concluded that we must have cancelled the worship service altogether.

So if we can learn that, why can’t the City of Atlanta? What exactly is their calculus that guides them to act as though any outdoor temperature above 32 degrees is just fine for an unsheltered human?

Consider this: According to the National Weather Service’s Wind Chill Chart, even a five-mile-an-hour wind can make a 35-degree temperature feel like 31 degrees.  A 10-mile-an-hour wind makes it feel like 27 degrees.  A 15-mile wind, 25 degrees. And so forth.

Are we collectively not smarter than a fifth-grader here? Or are we ourselves just cold to the reality of what’s happening? Three. People. Have. Died. In essentially autumn weather.

Actually I’m not sure who’s in a bigger hell right now, the homeless or us. When my church distributes hygiene kits to the homeless, the most frequent expression of thanks I hear is “God bless you.” So I’m thinking that the average homeless person is actually acutely aware of God. I’m thinking they actively yearn for God’s love. That they recognize acts of kindness as blessings from God. And that they immediately reflect that blessing back onto the giver of that kindness.

Which we probably need, now that I think about it. Maybe we’re the ones being ministered to. Maybe we’re the ones who are the most separated from God right now: We with our collective calculus about the worth of a human life and, connected to that, our inability to correctly calibrate our live-saving tools to reflect actual science and experience. We who have homes, meals, hot water, heating, clothes, and the love and friendship of those around us.

We have all those things but we can’t be bothered to reflect those blessings back onto the least among us. Instead, we’re apparently content to live in a city that famously issued one-way bus tickets to homeless people in advance of the Olympics, and where that particular chicken has come home to roost in the form of an investigation by The Guardian showing that Atlanta is one of the top two mainland U.S. destinations for homeless people being bussed out of other cities.

So have we learned our lesson? With Atlanta the host city for the multimillion-dollar Super Bowl LIII, I think we’re about to find out. And whether we bus anyone out of town again or just chase the homeless away from where tourists are most likely to be, we’ve still got our little 33-degree problem. Or if, God forbid, a homeless person dies on a cold street during the Super Bowl, will the spinmeisters determine that it was of natural causes?

I mean, whatever we need to tell ourselves, right? And in the next breath we can go on about affordable housing, that old shibboleth I’ve been hearing on politicians’ lips again lately. But does housing help addicts recover? Does it treat mental illness? Does it come with a living wage? Because if not, then we’re not politically serious about homelessness; we’re just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

But it feels so good! It feels like we’re helping. It feels like we care. It feels like we get it. And we couldn’t be more out of touch: Out of touch with our fellow humans, and therefore out of touch with God’s will for all of us.

And isn’t that a kind of hell? The most clever one you could imagine? One that doesn’t even feel cold, or hot, or lonely, or deprived? It doesn’t feel like any of the things we externalize hell to be.

Hell feels like self-satisfaction, like we’ve done enough. Like maybe there actually are disposable people. We can’t save everyone! Or can we?

Can we afford not to?

God goes to incredible lengths to remind us that in God’s eyes, we’re all equally children of God and therefore equally worthy of God’s love: Wonderfully, uniquely made fragments of none other than God, who presents you with the paradox that you are but one of billions of grains of sand in the universe, and that God created all of it for you.

It’s just another window into understanding God’s true anguish over a forgotten woman dying on a cold street.

God cannot love you or me unconditionally if God isn’t also with the freezing woman. God is there with her in our place, pointing the way to our salvation. In a faith that teaches that we are all brothers and sisters bound by Jesus Christ, for us not to want to be there too is the spiritual equivalent of avoiding our own sister’s deathbed. It’s a journey down a cold road.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, not for a moment longer. And we are by no means prisoners of our past. Because in the eyes of the God of love, each of us is also as innocent as the day we’re born. Each of us is only a moment away from redemption. The definition of repentance being simply to change direction.

This Christmas, can we not collectively admit that the direction in which we’re going isn’t working? That it’s actually destructive? Because it’s not only destroying human life, it’s also destroying us. When a person dies of accumulated collective neglect on a street in the richest nation in human history, our choice is either to feel it deeply or not at all.

I choose to feel it deeply, because the alternative is hell on earth.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

Advent 2018 Theme: Getting Busy

The first Sunday of Advent 2018 is December 2nd. Here are the message, readings and sermons for the season.

Advent 2018 Message

As we look at God’s word, we need to understand how the Christ (as the word of God) comes to humankind now and how we can receive and carry the Christ’s presence today. This starts with our attitude… the guides for which can be found throughout scripture. I am calling this attitude “Getting Busy”: Awareness and watchfulness, getting prepared, doing the work, understanding the all-inclusive Gospel. The task then becomes to take a journey over the next four weeks to come into a full consciousness with God, who comes to us in Jesus the Christ, and in fact to be prepared to get busy doing the Gospel — using words if needed.

Advent 1 Readings: “Pay Attention”

Psalm 25:1-9
1 Thessalonians 3:9-13
Luke 21:25-36

Advent 2 Readings: “The Mechanics of Being Prepared”

Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 3:1-6
Philippians 1:3-11

Advent 3 Readings: “What Should We Do?”

Zephaniah 3:14-20
Philippians 4:4-7
Luke 3:7-18

Advent 4 Readings: “The First Shall Be Last”

Psalm 22:25-31
James 3:17-18
Luke 1:39-45
Luke 1:46-55

Advent 2018 Sermons

Remember: To turn on the volume for any video you play, just click on the speaker icon in the lower right corner of the frame. These videos are reposted from our Facebook page, where we post our weekly sermon videos. You can also listen to them on our podcast.

December 23, 2018

Sermon for December 23, 2018. From the Gospel reading: “I’m bursting with God-news; I’m dancing the song of my Savior God. God took one good look at me, and look what happened — I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!”

(Luke 1:46)

December 16, 2018

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

Luke 3:10-14


December 9, 2018

So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.

(Philippians 1:9-11)


December 2, 2018

Don’t brush this off: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too — these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out.

(Luke 21:33)

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/.

From Inclusivity to Inclusion

Six years ago I made what felt at the time like a strong statement about inclusivity. I railed against the splintered, inward-focused nature of the institutional Christian church, and about the irony of that fact given that the people in that ossified, bickering church profess to follow one of history’s most radically inclusive figures, Jesus Christ.

In that statement I was focused mostly on behaviors – by the things done and left undone by the average churchgoer, and also by the institutional church. I put the onus on each of us as individuals to own the nature of Christian inclusivity and to take proactive steps to ensure it.

But recent events have got me thinking that inclusivity – with all its trappings of open doors, welcoming congregations and affirming practices – still may not be enough.

Let me give you an example. At my church we practice an open communion. We believe the Lord’s Table constitutes an invitation that comes from none other than God, and that it’s not our job to come between the Table and anyone (and I truly mean anyone) who may feel that invitation.

But in the same church that doesn’t bat an eye when I say that during the communion prayer, I also have congregants who instinctively refer to God as Father and to God’s realm as a kingdom – and who no doubt would shift uncomfortably in their seats if I challenged them to pause and really imagine God as Mother rather than Father. Not that I’m saying their worldview is abnormal; most Christians have this construct embedded quite deeply in their spiritual formation.

So I don’t go there, at least not directly – partly because I see God as beyond gender. Like, way beyond. So beyond that it’s almost laughable to me that anyone would argue for a second about whether God is masculine or feminine. Because if there’s anything the bible literalist and the liberation theologian can agree on about God, it’s that the nature of God’s being is mind-blowingly beyond our maximum comprehension.

What that means for me is that I use God’s name as the pronoun for God. God does God’s work in our lives. No one but God can know Godself the way God does. That sort of thing. Once you get the hang of it, the alternative feels jarring.

And for some people it’s not just jarring, it’s a trigger. Consider, for instance, the person whose father sexually abused her. Even if you add the word “heavenly” in front of “father” in referring to God, that doesn’t take away the lightning-strike of reactions that happen within her every time she hears God referred to as paternal.

Speaking of paternal, there’s another word that needs to come into this conversation, and that’s patriarchy. Because when we talk about the historical pronouns for God, we’re talking about so much more than a mere grammatical habit here. The accepted practice of referring to God in the masculine isn’t just the chance result of a binary coin toss two centuries ago; nor is it really the result of some foundational theological insight into the true nature of God.

Rather, our casting of God’s image in the mold of a benevolent space-daddy is a direct, centuries-old hangover from a different time when power was masculine and our relationship to God needed to be portrayed in terms of patriarchal dominance and submission so the church could enforce our obedience.

Yes, we’ve inherited a narrative about Jesus where God is referred to in the masculine. But we also know it’s part of a greater narrative that was subject to heavy editing – we just don’t always know the degree to which that editing was applied to which parts of the narrative. And even if Jesus did refer to God in the masculine, I submit for your consideration that the theological message from Jesus in this instance was more about us feeling God as a loving parent than seeing God strictly as a father figure. The parable of the prodigal proves that. Jesus was, after all, incredibly feminist for his time; it was just another aspect of his radical ministry.

Which makes for a fun conversation at a Saturday morning staff meeting, where I’m dealing the full spectrum of belief: From those on one end who grew up bathed in King James-flavored biblical literalism and patriarchy, all the way to someone on the other end who came our way via a detour through Unitarian Universalism and has been assumed on at least one occasion to be more Buddhist than Christian.

They all fit under the tent, but it means we’ve got some work to do if we’re going to go beyond being inclusive to practicing true inclusion:

  • Inclusivity says “come as you are”. Inclusion means we’re going to meet you where you are.
  • Inclusivity says “our doors are open”. Inclusion means our minds are too.
  • Inclusivity says “we welcome you”. Inclusion means we make you feel as if our house is your house – that in fact, it’s been yours all along.
  • Inclusivity says “we affirm you”. Inclusion means we recognize that we’re not here to save your soul, we’re here to protect it.

See the difference? Inclusivity has become a decoration, and it was a great first step. But it’s a dated notion. Inclusion, on the other hand, is an act, a series of actions, a constellation of activities, where we meet the stranger more than halfway across the table.

If it feels uncomfortable, that’s your human side talking. But when it becomes so ingrained in you that you can’t go back, I dare say you’re actually enjoying a direct relationship with God. Because to God these things are second nature. It’s how you draw the whole world to you. It’s how you live the example set forth by Jesus.

So what I’ve told my staff is, we’re all on our individual journeys. You can refer to God however you like in your private life – in your mind, in your prayers, in your living room. But in church, be inclusive. Be radically welcoming. Make inclusion a verb.

I’ve told them that if they need an example, they can listen to how my husband sings a hymn – or better yet, how he recites the Lord’s Prayer. In his version of it, God goes from being “Our Father” to “Our Creator”, and God’s kingdom becomes a realm. See how easy that is?

And in the process, our understanding of God grows. Our understanding of how God views the souls in our midst grows. And God is able to do God’s best work while we politely get out of our own way.

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/.

Dear Washington: Leave the Praying to Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m praying mightily for it to be so.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

Holy Week 2018 Pastoral Call to Fast and Pray

As we travel in our Lenten journey this year, our church once again encourages and will engage in an annual period of fasting and prayer from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. We started this practice 15 years ago, and for the past six years we have emphasized making this special time be about becoming more attuned than ever to the work God would have us do as individuals and as a church.

Throughout these last six years we have focused our prayers on our church and its direction — on how to better do the work God has laid out for us. We have had significant growth in outreach to the community and to God’s people. The miracle stories seem to happen at a dizzying pace. As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we celebrate our past and present — and we prayerfully look to our future.

It is only with your support that we have become a church that is affirming, inclusive and progressive in our ministry, and it is only with your help and prayer that it can continue.

Now that this church is beginning its 21th year of ministry, the pastoral staff and I have been moved by God’s spirit to again call for this time of fasting and prayer. I hope that you will consider joining with Vicar Alyce, Rev. Vivian, Rev. LaTaña and me in this spiritual practice — and in particular, to join me in Candler Park, near picnic pavilion 2, on Holy Saturday, March 31st between 10am and 2:30pm, to pray together and also to pray for those who are joining us in person or in spirit.

Here are the details of our time of fasting and prayer:

  • Our fast begins on Good Friday at the conclusion of the 7pm service at the foot of the Cross on the lawn of First Christian Church of Decatur.
  • Our theme this year is “Prayer as a conversation with God”.
  • On Holy Saturday in Candler Park, I will lead us through a day of prayer. If you have a signed covenant with our church, I appeal to you especially to participate in this sacred and holy time of reflection and of seeking God’s direction for this fellowship. (If you have small children, don’t let that stop you from participating; let us know you intend to be there and we can discuss arrangements for child care.)

This year’s meditation: “How do I pray; how do I talk to God?” For example:

  • How does this translate for you in the life of Gentle Spirit Christian Church? What kinds of prayers have you experienced?
  • What can each of us do to support a dedicated prayer life through our vision and mission?
  • What do we need to do as individuals to continue to live in a dedicated prayer life?
  • What does a dedicated prayer life look like?

Easter is a special opportunity for us to set ourselves aside and focus on God, to allow God to speak to each of us individually and to all of us as a church. I hope you’ll join us in this spiritual practice beginning at 7pm on Good Friday and concluding with our Easter (Resurrection Sunday) Sunrise Service on April 1st at 7:25am in Candler Park, picnic Pavilion 2.

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/.