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.

The Time Has Come…

I am way far behind with my writing. I am way far behind with my reading. I am even further behind with reading my e-mail. Reasons for this? They are far too many to mention in this blog and besides it would read like I was whining.

So imagine my surprise and anger when I did sit down to catch up my e-mail there was more then just a few e-mail and a letter or two telling me I was not a real pastor, calling me all sorts of names and blasting our church’s ministry because I am gay. One e-mail went so far as to say the only reason we work with the homeless was so we could recruit them to the homosexual agenda…I kid you not.

Then I came across Bishop Shelby Spong’s e-mail. Some of my clergy friends will tell you I am nothing short of a heretic because Bishop Spong is a hero of mine. He has always had a knack for cutting through all the b***s*** of theology and just lay it out there for all to see and do with it as one saw fit. He has got guts, he is real… he is my kind of pastor.

Sorry, I digress…he wrote a manifesto concerning LGBTQI folks. At the end he encouraged others to join him in this public declaration.

So today, I join with Bishop Shelby Spong in making this public declaration, this creed. Now of course there are some spots that are not applicable to me so I either deleted them or added my own thought. If it is my own personal thought I have made sure that it is in bold. Enjoy…

A Manifesto! The Time Has Come!

I have made a decision. I will no longer debate the issue of homosexuality in the church with anyone. I will no longer engage the biblical ignorance that emanates from so many right-wing Christians about how the Bible condemns homosexuality, as if that point of view still has any credibility.

I will no longer discuss with them or listen to them tell me how homosexuality is “an abomination to God,” about how homosexuality is a “chosen lifestyle,” or about how through prayer and “spiritual counseling” homosexual persons can be “cured.” Those arguments are no longer worthy of my time or energy.

I will no longer dignify by listening to the thoughts of those who advocate “reparative therapy,” as if homosexual persons are somehow broken and need to be repaired.

I will no longer talk to those who believe that the unity of the church can or should be achieved by rejecting the presence of, or at least at the expense of, gay and lesbian people.

I will no longer take the time to refute the unlearned and undocumentable claims of certain world religious leaders who call homosexuality “deviant.”

I will no longer listen to that pious sentimentality that certain Christian leaders continue to employ, which suggests some version of that strange and overtly dishonest phrase that “we love the sinner but hate the sin.” That statement is, I have concluded, nothing more than a self-serving lie designed to cover the fact that these people hate homosexual persons and fear homosexuality itself, but somehow know that hatred is incompatible with the Christ they claim to profess, so they adopt this face-saving and absolutely false statement.

I will no longer temper my understanding of truth in order to pretend that I have even a tiny smidgen of respect for the appalling negativity that continues to emanate from religious circles where the church has for centuries conveniently perfumed its ongoing prejudices against blacks, Jews, women and homosexual persons with what it assumes is “high-sounding, pious rhetoric.” The day for that mentality has quite simply come to an end for me. I will personally neither tolerate it nor listen to it any longer.

The world has moved on, leaving these elements of the Christian Church that cannot adjust to new knowledge or a new consciousness lost in a sea of their own irrelevance. They no longer talk to anyone but themselves.

I will no longer seek to slow down the witness to inclusiveness by pretending that there is some middle ground between prejudice and oppression. There isn’t. Justice postponed is justice denied. That can be a resting place no longer for anyone. An old civil rights song proclaimed that the only choice awaiting those who cannot adjust to a new understanding was to “Roll on over or we’ll roll on over you!” Time waits for no one.

I will particularly ignore those who continue to challenge the legitimacy of my relationship with my husband. We are married and have been for going on 28 years. I will continue to work for the laws which will recognize the privileges that go with marriage in this country. I will no longer try to explain, defend or debate or comfort people with special words which say everything but marriage. In the eyes of our church, my friends, my family we are married. If there are those who disagree or don’t like this form of marriage, that is just too damn bad.

In my personal life, I will no longer listen to televised debates conducted by “fair-minded” channels that seek to give “both sides” of this issue “equal time.” I am aware that these stations no longer give equal time to the advocates of treating women as if they are the property of men or to the advocates of reinstating either segregation or slavery, despite the fact that when these evil institutions were coming to an end the Bible was still being quoted frequently on each of these subjects. It is time for the media to announce that there are no longer two sides to the issue of full humanity for gay and lesbian people. There is no way that justice for homosexual people can be compromised any longer.

I will no longer act as if the Papal office is to be respected if the present occupant of that office is either not willing or not able to inform and educate himself on public issues on which he dares to speak with embarrassing ineptitude.

I am not the pastor of a “gay church”, I am the pastor of a church who is trying to walk with and live out the full meaning of Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31-40.

I will dismiss as unworthy of any more of my attention the wild, false and uninformed opinions of such would-be religious leaders as Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jimmy Swaggart, Albert Mohler, and Robert Duncan. My country and my church have both already spent too much time, energy and money trying to accommodate these backward points of view when they are no longer even tolerable.

I make these statements because it is time to move on. The battle is over. The victory has been won. There is no reasonable doubt as to what the final outcome of this struggle will be. Homosexual people will be accepted as equal, full human beings, who have a legitimate claim on every right that both church and society have to offer any of us. Homosexual marriages will become legal, recognized by the state and pronounced holy by the church. “Don’t ask, don’t tell” will be dismantled as the policy of our armed forces. We will and we must learn that equality of citizenship is not something that should ever be submitted to a referendum. Equality under and before the law is a solemn promise conveyed to all our citizens in the Constitution itself. Can any of us imagine having a public referendum on whether slavery should continue, whether segregation should be dismantled, whether voting privileges should be offered to women? The time has come for politicians to stop hiding behind unjust laws that they themselves helped to enact, and to abandon that convenient shield of demanding a vote on the rights of full citizenship because they do not understand the difference between a constitutional democracy, which this nation has, and a “mobocracy,” which this nation rejected when it adopted its constitution. We do not put the civil rights of a minority to the vote of a plebiscite.

I will also no longer act as if I need a majority vote of some ecclesiastical body in order to bless, ordain, recognize and celebrate the lives and gifts of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church. No one should ever again be forced to submit the privilege of citizenship in this nation or membership in the Christian Church to the will of a majority vote. The majority opinion did not bring me into this world nor will the majority opinion be needed for my service and relationship to God.

The battle in both our culture and our church to rid our souls of this dying prejudice is finished. A new consciousness has arisen. A decision has quite clearly been made. Inequality for gay and lesbian people is no longer a debatable issue in either church or state. Therefore, I will from this moment on refuse to dignify the continued public expression of ignorant prejudice by engaging it. I do not tolerate racism or sexism any longer. From this moment on, I will no longer tolerate our culture’s various forms of homophobia or transphobia. I do not care who it is who articulates these attitudes or who tries to make them sound holy with religious jargon.

I have been part of this debate for years, but things do get settled and this issue is now settled for me. I do not debate any longer with members of the “Flat Earth Society” either. I do not debate with people who think we should treat epilepsy by casting demons out of the epileptic person; I do not waste time engaging those medical opinions that suggest that bleeding the patient might release the infection. I do not converse with people who think that Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans as punishment for the sin of being the birthplace of Ellen DeGeneres or that the terrorists hit the United Sates on 9/11 because we tolerated homosexual people, abortions, feminism or the American Civil Liberties Union. I am tired of being embarrassed by so much of my church’s participation in causes that are quite unworthy of the Christ I serve or the God whose mystery and wonder I appreciate more each day. Indeed I feel the Christian Church should not only apologize, but do public penance for the way we have treated people of color, women, adherents of other religions and those we designated heretics, as well as gay and lesbian people. In addition this public penance is due to our trans, questioning and intersexed community as well.

Life moves on. As the poet James Russell Lowell once put it more than a century ago: “New occasions teach new duties, Time makes ancient good uncouth.” I am ready now to claim the victory. I will from now on assume it and live into it. I am unwilling to argue about it or to discuss it as if there are two equally valid, competing positions any longer. The day for that mentality has simply gone forever.

This is my manifesto and my creed. I proclaim it today. I invite others to join me in this public declaration. I believe that such a public outpouring will help cleanse both the church and this nation of its own distorting past. It will restore integrity and honor to both church and state. It will signal that a new day has dawned and we are ready not just to embrace it, but also to rejoice in it and to celebrate it.
– John Shelby Spong

Finally, to my friends who are in transition, questioning or intersexed who may feel left out of this manifesto, please remember I am agreeing with the author and sharing it with the public. I did not feel totally comfortable changing all the Bishop’s wording. So understand clearly where one sees the words gay and lesbian for me this clearly means: gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, questioning and intersexed.

I have a delete button, a TV remote complete with a channel changer, the ability to block out radio stations and TV stations, and the ability to spend my money and time where I am treated with respect, decency and dignity. So today more then ever for me it will be about “doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with God”.

Today more then ever for me it will be about feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and in prisoned.

Therefore today I now say if you have a problem with my sexual orientation, gender identity or theology, God bless you and may you get over yourself soon.

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 https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

SOME THINGS NEVER CHANGE

Just when you think things are improving and the conversation around LGBTQ issues while difficult and frustrating, are making progress…in steps the Atlanta Police Department to remind us all, the LGBTQ communities are really nothing more then street trash, whores, thugs and drug crazed sex addicts.

On Thursday September 10th at around 11:30pm Atlanta under-cover officers and officers from the Red Dog unit (elite drug enforcement group) swept into a quiet “gay leather” neighborhood bar and acted as if they had come in on the largest drug and sex infested cartels in the city. This raid was of such urgent and serious consequence the city’s LGBTQ liaison officer was not informed, probably out of fear of tipping off these dangerous, immoral and heinous criminals.

Think I am kidding? How about some of these quotes as reported by Mike Alvear webmaster of “Urge and Merge” website:

Mark Danack was watching the football game at his favorite bar, The Eagle, when he heard somebody yell, “HIT THE GROUND!” He thought a fight had broken out. The lights switched on and up to 30 cops were yelling, screaming and ordering everyone to the ground. The police had raided the bar.
For what?

“Shut the fuck up!” a cop yelled at one of the bar patrons who asked why they were being forced to lay face down on the grubby floors.

An acquaintance saw the police shove an 80 year-old man to the ground because he was moving too slowly.
Why?

“No questions! Do what you’re told or we’ll arrest you!” The officers threatened jail time to anybody asking why they were being held against their will.

The search and seizures began. Everything in everyone’s pockets was taken away.
Why?

“None of your goddamned business! Get back on the floor and shut the hell up!” Driver’s licenses were taken and put through a laptop screening.
What are you looking for?

“I said SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Three paddy wagons were waiting outside.

Nick Koperski was enraged. He knew he had done nothing wrong. Yet there he was, lying on the floor, face down, his pockets emptied. He had it better than some of the others, like Du-wan Ray, one of the bar’s managers. He was handcuffed on the back deck.
Why are you doing this?

“I hate queers,” a cop said. Other officers–some plain-clothed, some uniformed– walked around the bar demanding to know who was in the military, threatening to report them to their commanding officers.
“This is a lot more fun than raiding niggers with crack!” Du-Wayne Ray heard one white officer say this to another; other cops were high-fiving each other.
For almost two hours, Mark Danack, Nick Koperski, and sixty other gay men were forced to lay face down on the bar’s filthy floors. The drivers license screening revealed nothing.

Sixty two men and the cops didn’t find a suspended license, a criminal prior, nothing. Not even a parking ticket.

The search and seizure uncovered nothing. No drugs. Not even a joint.


Did you see the last part of the quote: 62 men and nothing illegal was found, nothing.
No sex, no drugs, no illegals, no prostitutes, no bail jumpers, no “America’s most wanted”. In fact the best they could do was arrest a person or persons for dancing in their underwear. Huh? So why did this raid happen? Simple answer; “Because they could” and because the time of Stonewall is still with us. The LGBTQ is still the whipping child of the morally righteous and those who think their brand of sexuality played out in main-line churches, offices and board rooms is the righteous way to live.

Also, the APD has been having a tough time of it lately…a murder in Piedmont Park that was explained as “it was about cruising for sex”. By adding that little thought to the report it makes a murder in a city park in the heart of the city less scary and more like; “It was just a homosexual looking for sex, so if we don’t solve it no biggie. Of course they have not solved the Precious Armoniee case either…but hey it was rumored she was a transgender prostitute so who cares? Then there have been a couple of people beat up in midtown, those have not been solved either, but a point was made they had been at a gay club and were drunk, so I guess they got what the deserved…not to mention a murder of a Georgia Tech student, gee I wonder what the explanation is for this. Also, I might add a member of my church took a brick to the head while being robbed on Ponce and they have not caught that guy either.

OK, there was one piece of law enforcement victory…remember those fellas from Blake’s cutting through Piedmont Park to get home after hours…yup they got arrested and embarrassed and reprimanded by the arresting officer.

So appears the APD needed a win, they needed a clear victory to show they could in fact bring order to a city in chaos.

So let’s look through all those tips turned into crime stoppers…let’s find something that will be seen as a major bust, a victory for the morality of the community, something that will say to the criminal element in the city…”watch out we are coming for you next”.

What did they find? What did they choose for their victory? What did they pick to put their powerful use of weapons, powers of arrest and macho attitude to work, for the victory that would bring good press to their embattled department? Yup, you got it…that little queer bar on the corner by the Krispy Crème.

Now of course the APD has come out with their explanation as to why this raid took place. Their versions of events were reported by “Project Q Atlanta” (http://www.projectqatlanta.com/news_articles/view/Police_documents_detail_sex_allegations_at_Eagle/) as follows: (Caution if you are under 18 or are easily offended by graphic sexual detail skip this part.)

The first complaint, filed May 15, alleges that neighbors to the popular gay bar on Ponce de Leon witnessed sex parties on Thursday nights at the bar and that they “spill out in the neighborhood.” The complaint also alleges that bags with drug residue “are found strewn around a one block radius of the bar.”

The second complaint, lodged July 1, complained that the Eagle was opening for an after-hours party on July 5 during the Atlanta Bear Fest and employing “nude dancers to dance on the bars; sex will be permitted as at most circuit parties, drugs will be sold freely.”

When police visited the Eagle on May 21, officers reported seeing men engaging in sex in a backroom and dancers dressed in G-strings.

“I then went to the back room where I observed one male performing anal sex on another male and he was performing oral sex on a third male. While this was happening, several other males stood around and watched, several of them had their penises out and were masturbating [sic],” according to one incident report.

Again on June 11, officers reported witnessing sexual activity at the bar.

“When I walked in I could see three men on top of the bar. The three men were participating in anal and oral sex in the open so that other club patrons could watch. A large number of other patrons in the room were also conducting lewd sex acts with one another,” according to another incident report.

Officers also allege that dancers at the bar exposed their buttocks and caressed their genitals while receiving tips from patrons.

When nine undercover officers returned Sept. 10 – with a dozen uniformed officers and three paddy wagons staged nearby – one officer reported seeing “one dancer rubbing his genitals on the top of a patrons [sic] head as he sat the bar.” Another officer reported that a patron began chatting with him and “started to caress my chest and stomach. The male was telling me that I was sexy and then suddenly grabbed my penis through my jeans.”

But on Sept. 10, officers complained that “due to the lighting of the room,” they did not witness any sexual acts. Another officer reported that “I observed two men in what appeared to be a sexual act. A third officer reported “about 4 or 5 male patrons were gathered around another patron who was on his knees. This room was poorly lit, making it difficult to make out details.”

The documents released by police on Monday redacted the names of officers involved in the investigation, but included the names of the eight men arrested in the raid.


Wow, this is bad, awful stuff. Any respectable person should be shocked and totally dismayed at the crimes being committed that are a danger to the city and as heinous as to cause the investigation to continue from May all the way to September and the vast amount of drugs found in this investigation staggers the mind.

Wait…no drugs… just open and public sex? I mean if there were drugs it would make sense for a 4 month investigation as it takes time to find the “big fish” the supplier…but there is no mention of drugs…so how come when the officer observed an illegal act didn’t he just show a badge and arrest those breaking the law? Well because they needed a big victory, a show of power and there is nothing more disgusting then open and public sex, especially if it is gay sex.

So at this point many of you reading this blog may be feeling I am being a tad sarcastic, over the top cynical and not very pastoral, not dealing with what appears to be an over abundance of sin?

OK, you got me…but here is why:

1) The alleged complaint could have been handled with the lights coming on in May and those participating in illegal acts arrested and taken to jail. Word would have gotten around in a hurry and the business in the back room would have stopped.
Also, why were there no busts, raids or arrests on July 5th? APD allegedly had a rock solid date for something that was going to be illegal; they missed an opportunity for arrests and capture.

2) In these undercover reports there is no mention of drug sales or distribution…there are plenty of bars in this town where there are open sales and distribution of drugs. In fact the APD probably picked the one place where the sale and distribution of drugs is frowned upon and highly discouraged. Of course one can also find drugs being sold openly in several parks and on several streets in this town. I cannot tell you how many times I have been approached while waiting for a light to change.

3) I am more then just a little annoyed the APD seems free to use the “gay panic” defense to justify such a major operation. If the officer who was grabbed in the groin was offended, why was there no arrest for assault? By the way if someone rubs my chest and tells me I cute…I would be flattered, just sayin!

4) I am not suggesting the alleged sex going on was OK or acceptable…but the “Red Dogs” storming the place, people being tossed to the floor, background checks being done without probable cause? I wonder what message is really being sent here. It can’t be about sex since almost ever bar or night club open for business is about sex of one kind or another. Hello, who ever signed off on this do you really thing we are that stupid or powerless? Or did you think God was on your side?

5) Since I am gay, I have never been to the straight strip clubs but aren’t people there dressed in less then jockey’s or boxers?

6) I am more then just a little curious as to what this was really about…is there something going on in midtown the city is not being honest about? Are there those who have some money and power that want the midtown area to not be the center for the LGBTQ community? I mean there is the whole Gay Pride thing and Piedmont Park. Also, I am not an expert but these two complaints read like someone with an ax to grind, rather then someone reporting a serious crime that is danger to the neighborhood. After all could there not have been some meetings with the owners and the neighborhood association? I don’t know but it seems something is very wrong here.

7) Finally, why does our community have a liaison officer if she is not going to be consulted or asked for advice on how to handle things in the community? Maybe the Chief should promote her to a rank in which the other bureaucrats would remember who she is.

I am sorry folks this whole thing is a despicable and hypocritical operation on the part of the ones who have the charge to “serve and protect”. Chief Pennington and Mayor Franklin could you please tell us what was served? What was protected? I wonder with a police department that is way understaffed, with all the Red Dog’s at the Eagle who didn’t get served or protected that Thursday night?

Yes, Chief, Mayor as Ricky used to say to Lucy, “you got some splaining to do”. It would really be nice if y’all were honest as to what this was really about but I have my doubts that will happen anytime soon. Then again in view of the numerous possible civil rights violations for which the city maybe held accountable CYA may be the word of the day as opposed to admitting this was a bad call, a really bad call.

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 https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Sociological Phenomenon: “25 Random Things”

The newest facebook pass around is “25 Random Things” about a person that we wouldn’t know otherwise. After the person lists the 25 things we probably didn’t want or need to know anyway…they “tag” 25 people, who are suppose to do their list. So as you can imagine this has taken on a growth rate faster then the deadliest form cancer we know of. In the last 4 days I have been “tagged” 12 times.

A friend of mine noted today on facebook, this has become some kind of social phenomena. He wrote in his notes,

“Not only am I getting repeatedly tagged in the 25 Random Things meme (which is only fair, since I tagged 25 people when I wrote my own list), I’m now starting to see news stories about 25 Random Things. It looks like those of us who have succumbed to this online diversion are now part of a bona fide sociological phenomenon. Or maybe it’s just a slow news week.

Google “Facebook 25 Random Things” and click on News, and you’ll get 159 news stories, as of this writing.”

Now I have not googled the 159 news stories, so what I am about to do has probably already been done. However, this latest fad of the Internet has reminded me of why I really hate these kinds of things. Everything from sending out false and scary e-mails about any number of things (so many of these in fact we have websites to tell what is true and what is bogus), to sending out sappy alleged true stories to break your heart… to playing on peoples instinct to pry into somebody else’s business and then believe we actual know something about that person.

So I am going to give everyone who reads this “25 Random Reasons” why it is a waste of time to tag me with this stuff or send me stuff to pass on to 25 people in the next 15 minutes for good fortune to come my way. Oh yea, before anyone comments that I am being a spoiled sport, please know this is meant with tongue firmly planted in cheek, with an occasional dose of “reverendbitch, sir” truth. Without further delay, my 25 random reasons for not playing tag:

25. In the time it takes to do the list I could play 2 playstation NHL hockey games.

24. In the time it takes to do the list I could play with my two dogs that have not seen me all day.

23. In the time it takes to do the list I could have been outside talking to my neighbor and finding out about things around the neighborhood that matter.

22. In the time it takes to do the list I could have called and chatted with my Mom.

21. In the time it takes to do the list I could have had an instant message chat with my nephew and my niece.

20. In the time it takes to do the list I could have cleaned my bird cages and fed them.

19. In the time it takes to do the list I could have made love to my husband.

18. In the time it takes to do the list I could have attempted to pay bills.

17. In the time it takes to do the list I could have the dishes washed and put away.

16. In the time it takes to do the list I could actually exercise.

15. In the time it takes to do the list I could wash my truck.

14. In the time it takes to do the list I could get caught up on real e-mail.

13. In the time it takes to do the list I could read something that actually matters. Also, if this is the 5th list you read today…you have already stopped reading.

12. In the time it takes to do the list I could write a sermon or two.

11. In the time it takes to do the list I could write a blog that is more meaningful then this one.

10. In the time it takes to do the list I could talk or chat with 5 people in the flesh that would just astound me with their wealth of knowledge and talents.

9. In the time it takes to do the list I could do 2 hospital visits.

8. In the time it takes to do the list I could make a dent in the stack of reading for my job that has stacked up.

7. In the time it takes to do the list I could spend quality time with someone I love.

6. In the time it takes to do the list, I already know if someone wants me to know something they will tell me when we get together.

5. In the time it takes to do the list, I already know if I want to know something about someone…I will ask when we are together.

4. In the time it takes to do the list I know that if you work out the math this is going to take more time responding and reading then anyone really has time for.

3. In the time it takes to do the list I could do some volunteer work in the community.

2. In the time it takes to do the list I could have taken a nap.

And number 1…. in the time it takes to do the list I can think of 25 random chapters to write in the book that will be coming out about this new “sociological phenomenon”

And NO you do not have to send this to 25 people.

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 https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Missing the Forest for the Trees

Rev. Rick Warren as we know has been invited to offer the invocation at President-elect Obama’s inauguration. The firestorm being raised by the LGBTQ community from my perspective is very sad, embarrassing and a whole lot of whining over something that will not matter in a year.

In fact I honestly think it is much hell raising over nothing. Further, as much as I love my community I wish they would just shut up.

Why? Let’s start with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The religious and political right tried to make a big deal out of this preacher because he said some things that did not set well with them. He was called every name in the book, except a child of God. It was said this was reason enough to be suspect of the presidential candidate. Sean Hannity a voracious right-winger raise the question of how could one be in the pews for 20 years and not have this alleged hate rube off-not hate America too?

I said then and many in my community agreed it was not right or appropriate to be going after then Senator Obama’s pastor. What is said from the pulpit by a preacher does not reflect on the policy or positions taken by a particular candidate. My goodness if it did adultery and divorce by our leaders would be cut in half! Homelessness and hunger would be a thing of the past. Our weapons of destruction would have been beaten into plowshares long ago!

So where do we get off throwing this idea aside just because we do not like the preacher who has been asked to pray?

Come on folks let’s get real. Years ago when I first came to Toledo I was invited to give the opening invocation for the city council. Now you know damn well there were people on that council that knew I was gay, from a gay church and had nothing but a headache to offer them. Yet other then private comments, nothing was said or done to try and stop it.

There was no outcry of outrage: Why? Because I was there as a PASTOR to PRAY. I was not there to make policy, carry out an agenda, or speak on behalf of the LGBTQ community. I was there to ask for God’s blessing on that meeting, nothing more and nothing less. Rev. Rick Warren is a PASTOR who has been asked to PRAY, nothing more and nothing less.

Further more President-elect Obama is keeping his word to reach across the lines that divide us. We know and understand this Pastor and the President-elect do not agree on any number of issues. In fact we are pretty sure this Pastor worked pretty hard at defeating the President-elect. So for Obama to reach out and say “would you pray for me” is an act of grace, a courageous act of inclusion.

Have we forgotten how Jesus, called the tax collector out of a tree to have lunch with him? There was no one in Jesus time more hated then a tax collector. Yet, Jesus reached across a line to begin the process of healing.

Have we forgotten how Jesus spent time talking with Nicodemus the Pharisee, answering his questions concerning his teaching?

I am fully aware that at this moment in time the Rev. Rick Warren is not our friend. I am aware that he has gone out of his way to stop our community from obtaining marriage rights. Yet even with this awareness I dare say most pastors who could have been asked, would be controversial to some group or another for various and sundry reasons.

This is not the fight we want to have folks…this is not where we spend political capital… bitching about who has been asked to pray. My goodness could you imagine what would have happen had he ask an Imam to pray? The firestorm, which would have ensued from that, would be just as stupid and ignorant as this controversy is.

My sisters and brothers we have far more important issues to be concerned about.

“Don’t ask, don’t tell” being over turned is far more critical then who prays at the inauguration.

“ENDA” which includes the T is far more critical then who prays at the inauguration.

By the way Joe Solmonese of the HRC doesn’t have a whole lot of room to be throwing rocks here…

Homeless gay kids and what happens to them is far more important then who prays at the inauguration.

The treatment of Transgender veterans is far more important then who prays at the inauguration.

Kids being bullied in school because they are perceived to be gay are far more important then who prays at the inauguration.

Adoption rights for the LGBTQ community are far more important then who prays at the inauguration.

HIV and the black community is far more important then who prays at the inauguration.

A solid “hate crimes” bill is far more important then who prays at the inauguration.

Our community is small, our resources and allies are limited, so let us spend our time our resources and gathering our allies on that which will really make a difference for our community. Let us spend our time, our resources and gathering our allies on that which will save our lives. Let us spend our time, our resources and gathering our allies on that which will give us the dignity that is our birthright. So, please in the name of all that is holy, take a deep breath and chill.

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 https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Rev. Guy Kent Interview for the Questing Parson Blog

I am so thrilled to announce that my interview with my good friend Rev. Guy Kent will be the inaugural video interview for his Questing Parson blog.

Here’s a link to view the interview either in its entirety or in four segments.

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 https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

Well it certainly has been a while since I wrote anything for the blog. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, I guess I have been going through a case of the “pastoral dumps”. “Pastoral dumps” being a kind of depression where one does what is required and not anything beyond. I have more or less aroused from those ashes and I was amazed at how God had a hand in it. I will write more about that later.

The second reason I have not written is because I have been over whelmed with this election cycle. I have found there are things that I have wanted to say and respond to, but I honestly believe that as a Pastor, I couldn’t for fear it would look and sound like I was supporting one candidate or another.

Yet, this election cycle is historical, and we are behaving like a people caught up in a moment of dramatic change. That is to say, things are being said and done that go beyond every day politics, the level of sexism, racism, homophobia, nationalism are at a boiling point, all because change is coming regardless who wins this election.

We in a few days for the first time in our history as a country may elect a women Vice-president of the United States. We may elect a black man as President of the United States. I never in my wildest dreams thought this possible in my lifetime. Of course, I also did not believe for a second that before I left this earth there would be 3 states and more to come who would say the sexual orientation of a couple has nothing to do with the State recognizing a marriage!

I have been an un-apologetic activist for a long time. So when the religious and political right started hammering on Senator Barak Obama’s pastor, I was appalled. First, it gave a clear signal the folks doing the hammering had no clue as to what black church is all about. 2nd, it showed they had no concern whatsoever of quoting fully, accurately or in context. 3rd, I went and listen to the sermon from the beginning to the end of the Pastor in question and I will tell you in 22 plus years of ministry I have either said, thought or supported most if not all of his points. So, news flash to those in my congregation: Don’t run for political office unless you want to be blamed for what I have said. However, it should be noted, I am white and queer so it probably won’t matter. If you can’t see the racism in this then you are not paying attention. Angry black preacher equals “danger”. White queer preacher equals “no one pays attention”.

I was equally appalled by the most recent controversy surrounding Governor Palin and her shopping for cloths. Let’s get real folks this is sexism at its worst…has anybody gotten bent out shape over Obama’s suits, or McCain’s shoes or how many houses he owns? Oh yea there has been a passing joke because he can’t remember the exact number. So of course not, because men in this country can dress anyway they want to and women are to dress according to men’s expectations. Men are supposed to own more property then they know what to do with…the more the better, the bigger the better.

See this is why I haven’t written in a long while. The previous examples are just small potatoes compared to what has gone on for the last year and a half.

I got caught up in the fear, anxiety and anticipation being played out on November 4th, the United States of America is going to change in a way that no one alive today has ever experienced. One would have to go all the way back to the day 13 colonies said enough was enough. I do not think I am overstating what is about to happen.

So as a Pastor I think I need to say something pastoral, something that will give comfort and peace to folks as they cast a ballot that will literally change the course of this country. I was stuck, how to say anything without getting caught in the rhetoric of the political parties, how to teach without exposing my own personal thoughts, preferences and leanings toward one candidate or another. How not to vomit over the ignorance that is so brazenly being thrown around dressed in theological drag.

Then I got a weekly e-mail from Sojourners magazine. This is a weekly e-mail of spirituality, politics and culture. Jim Wallis, who is the editor and is the author of a book called “The Great Awakening”and is very keyed in on the pastoral response to this election. I have to tell you he put on the screen what I wanted to say but apparently am not gifted enough to come up with on my own. Yet, this is what I hope each of my readers would let sink in during this historic time in America. So here with his permission is the article of pastoral advice he has offered. Not that it matters to him, but I give a loud and excited amen to his article and pastoral words. Read closely and prayerfully and when you are done come November 4th if you do nothing else that day VOTE.

 

My Personal ‘Faith Priorities’ for this Election

In 2004, several conservative Catholic bishops and a few megachurch pastors like Rick Warren issued their list of “non-negotiables,” which were intended to be a voter guide for their followers. All of them were relatively the same list of issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, etc. None of them even included the word “poverty,” only one example of the missing issues which are found quite clearly in the Bible. All of them were also relatively the same as official Republican Party Web sites of “non-negotiables.” The political connections and commitments of the religious non-negotiable writers were quite clear.
I want to suggest a different approach this year and share my personal list of “faith priorities” that will guide me in making the imperfect choices that always confront us in any election year — and suggest that each of you come up with your own list of “faith” or “moral” priorities for this election year and take them into the voting booth with you.
After the last election, I wrote a book titled God’s Politics. I was criticized by some for presuming to speak for God, but that wasn’t the point. I was trying to explore what issues might be closest to the heart of God and how they may be quite different from what many strident religious voices were then saying. I was also saying that “God’s Politics” will often turn our partisan politics upside down, transcend our ideological categories of Left and Right, and challenge the core values and priorities of our political culture. I was also trying to say that there is certainly no easy jump from God’s politics to either the Republicans or Democrats. God is neither. In any election we face imperfect choices, but our choices should reflect the things we believe God cares about if we are people of faith, and our own moral sensibilities if we are not people of faith. Therefore, people of faith, and all of us, should be “values voters” but vote all our values, not just a few that can be easily manipulated for the benefit of one party or another.
In 2008, the kingdom of God is not on the ballot in any of the 50 states as far as I can see. So we can’t vote for that this year. But there are important choices in this year’s election — very important choices — which will dramatically impact what many in the religious community and outside of it call “the common good,” and the outcome could be very important, perhaps even more so than in many recent electoral contests.
I am in no position to tell anyone what is “non-negotiable,” and neither is any bishop or megachurch pastor, but let me tell you the “faith priorities” and values I will be voting on this year:

1. With more than 2,000 verses in the Bible about how we treat the poor and oppressed, I will examine the record, plans, policies, and promises made by the candidates on what they will do to overcome the scandal of extreme global poverty and the shame of such unnecessary domestic poverty in the richest nation in the world. Such a central theme of the Bible simply cannot be ignored at election time, as too many Christians have done for years. And any solution to the economic crisis that simply bails out the rich, and even the middle class, but ignores those at the bottom should simply be unacceptable to people of faith.

2. From the biblical prophets to Jesus, there is, at least, a biblical presumption against war and the hope of beating our swords into instruments of peace. So I will choose the candidates who will be least likely to lead us into more disastrous wars and find better ways to resolve the inevitable conflicts in the world and make us all safer. I will choose the candidates who seem to best understand that our security depends upon other people’s security (everyone having “their own vine and fig tree, so no one can make them afraid,” as the prophets say) more than upon how high we can build walls or a stockpile of weapons. Christians should never expect a pacifist president, but we can insist on one who views military force only as a very last resort, when all other diplomatic and economic measures have failed, and never as a preferred or habitual response to conflict.

3. “Choosing life” is a constant biblical theme, so I will choose candidates who have the most consistent ethic of life, addressing all the threats to human life and dignity that we face — not just one. Thirty-thousand children dying globally each day of preventable hunger and disease is a life issue. The genocide in Darfur is a life issue. Health care is a life issue. War is a life issue. The death penalty is a life issue. And on abortion, I will choose candidates who have the best chance to pursue the practical and proven policies which could dramatically reduce the number of abortions in America and therefore save precious unborn lives, rather than those who simply repeat the polarized legal debates and “pro-choice” and “pro-life” mantras from either side.

4. God’s fragile creation is clearly under assault, and I will choose the candidates who will likely be most faithful in our care of the environment. In particular, I will choose the candidates who will most clearly take on the growing threat of climate change, and who have the strongest commitment to the conversion of our economy and way of life to a cleaner, safer, and more renewable energy future. And that choice could accomplish other key moral priorities like the redemption of a dangerous foreign policy built on Middle East oil dependence, and the great prospects of job creation and economic renewal from a new “green” economy built on more spiritual values of conservation, stewardship, sustainability, respect, responsibility, co-dependence, modesty, and even humility.

5. Every human being is made in the image of God, so I will choose the candidates who are most likely to protect human rights and human dignity. Sexual and economic slavery is on the rise around the world, and an end to human trafficking must become a top priority. As many religious leaders have now said, torture is completely morally unacceptable, under any circumstances, and I will choose the candidates who are most committed to reversing American policy on the treatment of prisoners. And I will choose the candidates who understand that the immigration system is totally broken and needs comprehensive reform, but must be changed in ways that are compassionate, fair, just, and consistent with the biblical command to “welcome the stranger.”

6. Healthy families are the foundation of our community life, and nothing is more important than how we are raising up the next generation. As the father of two young boys, I am deeply concerned about the values our leaders model in the midst of the cultural degeneracy assaulting our children. Which candidates will best exemplify and articulate strong family values, using the White House and other offices as bully pulpits to speak of sexual restraint and integrity, marital fidelity, strong parenting, and putting family values over economic values? And I will choose the candidates who promise to really deal with the enormous economic and cultural pressures that have made parenting such a “countercultural activity” in America today, rather than those who merely scapegoat gay people for the serious problems of heterosexual family breakdown.
That is my list of personal “faith priorities” for the election year of 2008, but they are not “non-negotiables” for anyone else. It’s time for each of us to make up our own list in these next 12 days. Make your list and send this on to your friends and family members, inviting them to do the same thing.

 

I would only add a number 7, which is to say for me I will look for leadership that understands GLBTQ not as moral alphabet soup from which political hay can be made. But rather GLBTQ are Americans who desire to live in a land where the words:

 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all … 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”

 

are a way of life not a far off vision.

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 https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Our Politicians Have Lost Their Way

With all the mess going on in Washington…and the awful things they are saying to each other, the news media behaving like vultures and people jockeying for position to be called a hero, we now see this embarrassing fighting standing in the way of making sure the folks of our country are protected, secure and safe…

This particular passage I was reading getting ready for this weeks worship service struck a deep nerve.

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:1-13 (The Message))

Now regardless if one is a Christian or not…it seems to me here is a formula for working through this mess…a way of peace, a way of strength, a way of walking the talk. A way in which everyone could walk away saying they had a hand in working through the challenge.

I am sitting at my desk wondering if this country and it’s leadership have become so jaded and drunk with power, they have forgotten the basic tennet of our country which says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all… 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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among the people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it…”

Maybe it is indeed time for a change. I think this crisis proves what we have known for a long time…the politicians do not really care if you or I can pay the mortgage or rent. They do not really care if you or I have gas. HIV and it’s spread only matters if a large block of voters suddenly die or there is oil in the country. No,the only thing at stake is their position of power, money and comfort,and they would sell their own mother if they thought it would keep them in power.

The behavior in Washington and big business this week proves that all those “so-called Christians” have forgotten a key to their faith…”Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”

Yes, maybe now is the time to call for a change…and in the meantime all I can say to our goverment:

Shame on you Mr. President. Shame on you Mr. or Mrs. Congressperson. Shame on you Mr. or Mrs. Senator.

Finally but not least by any stretch of the imagination, shame on all those big CEO’s and big business people who forgot why they were in business to begin with,”…that all… 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.”

We are faced with the conservative political right and the religious right constantly beating us over the head with their brand of morals and practice of faith, telling everone how to think and what the bible says.

We are face with the political left not listening to the real concerns of folks and the progressive people of faith forgetting it is not a contest of “their way or my way”.

Dammit folks, read this passage one more time:

“If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” (Philippians 2:1-13 (The Message))

 

Do you get it now? Do you see what it is going to take?

Just a passing pastoral thought on this bizarre Friday afternoon.

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 https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

Bulletproof Faith: New Book for Gays and Lesbians Facing Religious Attacks

I wanted to share this press release with my readers. I am so proud of my friend, colleague and sister, Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge!

A refrain heard relentlessly by gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people of faith is: “God hates fags!” Whether it’s hurled as a direct insult or stated more subtly in a “Love the sinner, hate the sin” theology, the message to GLBT ears is the same: “God hates you and so do we!”

“Gay and lesbian people are constantly under attack,” said Rev. Chellew-Hodge, the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians. “We’re unable to marry the person we love, and many support writing that discrimination into the U.S. Constitution. Churches continue to argue about our lives and many insist we must become something called, ‘ex-gay.’ We’re tired of constantly being a target.”

This trend against GLBT people isn’t abating. The church attended by Republican Vice-Presidential nominee Sarah Palin is promoting an “ex-gay” program and Palin herself told the Anchorage Daily News in 2006 that although she “has good friends who are gay” she supports denying them benefits and marriage equality. Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain has also, in the past, expressed his support of constitutional amendments against marriage equality for gays and lesbians in both Arizona and California.

Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu noted in his endorsement of the book that, “Gay and lesbian Christians are constantly demoralized and told they are not children of God. Bulletproof Faith reassures gays and lesbians that God loves them just as they were created and teaches them how to stand strong, with compassion and gentleness, against those who condemn them.”

Bulletproof Faith, published by Jossey-Bass, helps readers reclaim the spiritual self that criticism from society and religion has led them
to give up. Instead of arguing over biblical texts, Bulletproof Faith helps GLBT people live authentically into their faith despite criticism. Bulletproof Faith empowers readers to withstand even the most aggressive assaults without fear, doubt, or anger by providing:

  • Solid, proven tactics that can be used successfully when faced with an attack
  • Practical tools to discover one’s “authentic self”: the bulletproof part of each of us
  • Guidance on how to turn attacks into opportunities for spiritual growth

Bulletproof Faith doesn’t argue; instead Rev. Chellew-Hodge’s approach – born out of 12 years of being on the frontlines in the controversies surrounding gay and Christian identity – teaches readers to draw on their own inner strength and to return abuse with the spiritual Aikido of gentleness, compassion, reverence – and strength.

Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge is the associate pastor at Garden of Grace United Church of Christ in Columbia, S.C., and founder of the online magazine for GLBT Christians called Whosoever, which reaches nearly 1 million people a year. She is an award-winning former journalist with 25 years of experience including six years as a news writer, reporter and editor with CNN. She is a graduate of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta.

For more information and a free 25-page study guide for Bulletproof Faith, visit http://www.bulletproofbook.com.

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 https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

An Open Letter to Sean Hannity re Jim Adkisson

I know I have not written in some time, that is about to change, long story as to why…but just as I am getting ready to write one of my closest friends writes an open letter that was just too good to not share with you.

This is a letter to Sean Hannity (in response to the Knoxville shootings) from Rev Candace Chellew-Hodge , the founder and editor of www.whosoever.org .

In sharing her letter with the Whosoever community Candace explained “In light of the shootings at the Unitarian church I have written an article called “An Open Letter to Sean Hannity.” News reports say Hannity’s book along with books by other conservative authors were found in the shooters home. This is where he got this twisted idea that “liberals” are to blame for the world’s woes.

I know Sean Hannity. I worked with him in Atlanta back in the 90s right as he hit the big time, so I addressed a letter to him.”

“If the Left succeeds in gaining and retaining more power, the well-being of future generations will be at greater peril. I fear (our children) will inherit a nation that is less free and less secure than the nation we inherited from the last generation. It is therefore our job to stop them. Not just debate them, but defeat them.” — Sean Hannity

Dear Sean:

I found these words on page 11 of your book Let Freedom Ring. This book, and similar ones from your conservative colleagues Bill O’Reilly and Michael Savage, was found in the home of a man who read those words, internalized those words, and then loaded his shotgun. He took 76 rounds of ammunition with him to a place of worship—a place where he knew he could do his job to stop and defeat some liberals. At the Unitarian Church in Knoxville, Tennessee, Jim Adkisson, a fan of yours, killed two people, wounded five others, and left an entire congregation and country shaken by his actions. Actions prompted, as he testified in his own written notes, by the ideas contained in your words.

I don’t know if you remember me, Sean, but I worked with you in Atlanta in the early 1990s, right as you got your big break with FOX News. I was an anchor and reporter (under the air name Candace Petersen) at WGST, your last low level stop before hitting the big time. I remember your last night on the air before you left for the big leagues. I approached you in your office, a cramped back room that I’m sure resembles a hovel compared to your FOX digs. I asked if you, during your last show, would tone down your rhetoric against gays and lesbians—stop demonizing our community for just one night. You refused. You explained to me, as if I were a child, that to do so would be to let your audience down. They expected you to go on the air and rant about how liberals, minorities, women and especially gays and lesbians were ruining our country. You simply had to oblige.

Even though you explained it simply, I still didn’t understand. Your Girl Friday—your most trusted assistant on your show was a young lesbian. She admired you, for some strange reason, and you two were close friends, lunching together, spending time together outside of work. You didn’t seem to have a problem with this particular lesbian. She wasn’t the one you kept blaming on the air for the downfall of democracy. No, you had two different lives then—one on the air, where you performed your outraged conservative act and one in real life, where you enjoyed your lesbian friend and seemed like a decent, sane fellow.

I don’t know if you’ve bought into your own shtick or not these days. If you truly believe half of what I could manage to read in your book (thank God the quote I found was in the early pages), I feel sorry for you. I don’t know how a person who obviously has no problem with homosexuality in their friends (or used to have no problem, anyway), can rant about how disgusting homosexuality is on pages 156 to 157. (Many thanks to your editors for the index.) I would call you a hypocrite, but if you’ve become a true believer, I guess the label no longer applies.

I hope you are not too far gone, your conscience too eaten away with greed, to understand the violent and vile object lesson that Mr. Adkisson has provided for us in Tennessee, because it’s a lesson you need to learn: Our words matter. Our words have power.

If you tell a child long enough that they are stupid and will never amount to anything, it won’t be long before they’ll believe that and live up to those words. If you tell the whole population of a country that their woes can be blamed on something called “liberals” who hold different ideas than you do, it won’t be long before those “liberals” will become the scapegoat for all social ills. Those words matter—they have power. Adkisson was a true believer.

Your book is rife with paragraphs bashing “the Left”—an enigmatic group of “liberals” painted so broadly that your label for them must be capitalized. These are the people to blame if anything goes wrong in the world. Terrorism? “The Left” didn’t hunt down the terrorists before they struck. War? “The Left” didn’t do enough to protect us from our enemies and have opposed our military readiness. Job losses? “The Left” taxed the corporations so much they moved overseas.

In your world, and the world you convinced Adkisson of, “the Left” is the bogeyman under the bed. But your book never mentions how the last eight years of Republican leadership has already left our children a nation that is less free, less secure, and as a special bonus, deeply in debt. Republicans are responsible for bankrupting our country, chipping away at our civil rights, sending our monetary and human treasure to waste away and die in the desert, leaving us paranoid and afraid of anyone who may look different, undermining social safety nets like unemployment and food stamps (which Adkisson had recently just lost), and generally making us a more selfish and divided nation. You have done this with your words, Sean—words of division, words of hate, words of war, and words of greed.

The sad irony here, Sean, is that if Mr. Adkisson had gone to that Unitarian church and told them he was out of a job and his food stamps had just ended, they would have helped him. They would have fed them from their food pantry and used their network of friends to help find him a job. Not because they’re liberal socialists, but because they understand that it’s not “us” against “them.” Instead, what made this country great is that we pull together in times of crisis—we bear one another’s burdens and put aside our differences in order to be of service to one another. They would have reached out to Mr. Adkisson without asking him if he was Democrat or a Republican or a liberal or a conservative. Labels don’t matter when someone is in need—or they shouldn’t.

But, Mr. Adkisson did not know that about the Unitarian church. You didn’t tell him liberals could help him. You only told him they’re to blame for his misfortune. His mind had already been poisoned by the words of hatred and division from you book. He saw the Unitarians down the road, not as fellow human beings who would generously help him in his time of need, but as enemies—the very reason his world had gone to hell. His job, since he had no other because of a bad economy created by Republican policies, was “to stop them. Not to debate them, but defeat them.” And so he loaded a gun.

Sean, you occupy a position of power. All words have power, but some words are more powerful than others simply because they are amplified from a larger stage. With power comes responsibility. If there is any of that old Sean left—the one before the big office, the popular TV and radio show and best selling books—I appeal to that man. Understand the power of your words. I know that words of division are profit-making words for you. We human beings apparently love to see a good fight, or feel our views justified by a good argument. But I hope this incident will give you pause and help you begin to choose your words more wisely. I hope, in choosing future words, you’ll consider not what’s best for the Hannity bank account, but what’s best for humanity.

I long for the day when profitable words are words that uplift, encourage, and inspire people. The strength of this nation has always been our unity in diversity and our unity in the face of adversity. By using your words to create a world of “us” and “them” you only perpetuate violence and discord in our society. I am asking you, Sean, to examine yourself and your words. You don’t have to agree with liberals and their views, but you can oppose liberal ideas without painting those who hold those beliefs as enemies who need to be stopped or defeated. If conservative ideas are truly superior, then a compelling case can be made for them without resorting to the politics of personal destruction.

Sean, your words have the power to heal and the power to destroy. The choice is yours.

Sincerely,

Candace Chellew-Hodge

Thank you my sister for writing what should have been said to this fool long ago!!

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 https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.

EXPOSING THE LIE

I have said for a long long time…the idea of fighting the spread of AIDS through “abstinence-only” programs was a powerplay on the part of the religious right and a cheap way for politicains to get conservative votes. They were never concerned about saving lives, just controling peoples expressions of sexuality.

Now the lie of the religios right and the political right has been exposed. I noticed it did not get any play on the network news shows as the debate over “bitter” and “flag pins” seem to be far more entertaining then exposing a policy that will cause us to have a whole generation of our young people sick and dying.

I usual write my own opinions here but the truth of what follows just screams to be told, so without further delay please sit back, get a cup of whatever you drink and get into a comfortable reading position and soak in the tesitmony of Max Siegel before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Testimony of Max Siegel

Policy Associate, AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families

Before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform
April 23, 2008

Good morning. I am grateful for this opportunity to address abstinence-only-untilmarriage education, a policy that has transformed my life. I share my recommendations on how to improve sexuality education programs as a person living with HIV who has spent the entirety of his young adulthood working to prevent new infections. My goal is to accurately portray the personal impact of this policy while explaining how the lessons I have learned may apply to other young people, who comprise 15 percent of all new HIVinfections in this country every year (CDC, 2008). Thank you to Chairman Waxman and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for including an HIV-positive young person in today’s hearings.

Abstinence-only programs do not work. Beyond the responsibility we have to provide
young people with accurate, complete, and lifesaving education about their sexuality, I see no room for failed programs such as abstinence-only education in this time of shrinking public health budgets and increased accountability. Please end this horrible experiment so we can begin the work of saving young people’s lives.

I experienced abstinence-only-until-marriage education taught by my junior high school gym teacher. In a session, he told me and my male classmates that sex is dangerous and that we should think more seriously about it when we “grow up and marry.” He was clear that sex was something only for married people. He was visibly uncomfortable, and he conveyed to us that sexuality was not to be discussed extensively in an educational setting. Even if it were, my gym teacher made it clear that only one kind of sexuality—heterosexuality ending in marriage—was acceptable to talk about. Already aware of my sexual orientation, I found no value in his speech. It did not speak to me and my life. It might as well not have happened.

While most formal abstinence-only education programs in this country are more
extensive than the class I experienced, they rely on similarly exclusive and stigmatizing messages that lack basic information about sexual health. My classmates and I required nonjudgmental, practical information that was tailored to our individual needs. I am evidence that the basic abstinence-only lesson I received was ineffective. Multiple studies, including a 10-year federal evaluation, have found that the more expansive abstinence-only programs do not work either.

Unfortunately, this abstinence-only lecture was the only education I received on the
subject. As such, I was ill-equipped to make responsible decisions about my sexual
health. When I was 17, I began seeing someone six years older than me. The first time we had sex, I took out a condom but he ignored it. I did not know how to assert myself further. I knew enough to suggest a condom, but I did not have an adequate understanding of the importance of using one, and even if I had more reasons to use a
condom, I had no idea how to discuss condoms with my partner. The abstinence-only
message did not prepare me for life, and I contracted HIV from the first person with
whom I consented to having unprotected sex. I was still in high school.

Did the abstinence-only message make me HIV positive? It did not force me to forgo the condom. But, it did nothing to prevent me from contracting the virus. My coach could have told me that gay people had value and that delaying sex could benefit me too. He could have told me that I could still take actions toward healthy sexual relations even though I could not get married. He could have talked to me about how essential condoms were to stopping the spread of infection among sexually active people, and he could have taught me how to navigate weighty topics such as emotions, love, and condom use within a relationship. These topics also are absent from abstinence-only programs operating today, which puts thousands of young people across the country at risk for disease and teen pregnancy.

I met with a healthcare provider a few months later. Before informing me of my HIV
status, the provider asked me about my plans for college. An idealistic teenager, I had a great deal to say about one day earning an advanced degree in a helping profession. The provider responded simply: “Well, after today, you can still try to do those things.” I knew then that I had HIV. Unfortunately, I had no preexisting knowledge of what my prognosis could be or any of my healthcare options, which is information that should have been provided for me during my school’s sexuality education program. Beyond shock and hopelessness, my initial reaction was extreme guilt.

My friends and family were devastated upon my new disclosure. We had no substantial
knowledge about HIV and we quickly developed false and damaging beliefs about my
situation. I came to consider it unfair for me to confide in my loved ones for support because, through having unprotected sex with a single individual, I had committed a heinous crime that brought suffering into their lives. I thought that while a single HIVinfected person adversely impacts an entire community, it is this person’s lone undertaking no matter their age or circumstance to reconcile the consequences of this disgraceful infection.

It seemed as though I had done something particularly disgraceful, but it never occurred to any of us that I in fact had engaged in fewer behaviors that could put me at risk for HIV infection than the majority of my peers. I wish I could say that my parents did not reinforce such notions. Like many young people’s, my parents were in no position to educate me about HIV or AIDS because, although otherwise extremely well-educated, they did not have a comprehensive understanding or knowledge of sexuality and sexually transmitted infections. Instead, they mourned the loss of their child. As a community, we identified contracting HIV as someone’s fault. We had no examples for how one might live well with the virus or any other chronic, sexually transmitted infection. None of us had received adequate education around these issues and what arose from my diagnosis was a widespread crisis. This crisis could have resulted in my absence from the medical continuum, a refusal to disclose my status to future sexual partners, and suicide among other all-too-common occurrences in the lives of people living with HIV. It fortunately did not.

Soon after diagnosis, I decided to pursue a career in the prevention and treatment of the virus. I thought I had little time on this planet and that I was automatically in a unique position to help people because of my status. I have gone on to earn national recognition for my HIV-related endeavors. I hope I have demonstrated that those living with HIV can be relevant, meaningful members of society—even though the abstinence-only messages I received failed to teach me otherwise. The most personal career choice I made was to assume the role of an HIV counselor and to provide rapid HIV antibody testing to the general public. Working in HIV counseling and testing for three years, I gained a great deal of insight into the shared experiences of individuals living with HIV. These experiences cut across gender, race, and class, and I learned to pay particularly close attention to individuals’ unique needs and perspectives.

That which makes me proudest in my life has been my willingness to be present for those who were otherwise alone. I have never averted my eyes from a client’s suffering. I have not allowed discomfort to prevent me from addressing the needs of those around me and,as an educator, from reacting in ways that are proven to be helpful. Sexuality education should be no different. Adults should not allow their moments of discomfort to supercede the needs of youth for complete and accurate information.

Sexuality education programs must be as specifically focused as my counseling sessions. Programs must be tailored to meet the needs of individual students, the majority of whom will be sexually active before high school graduation. They should encourage abstinence while providing useful information about the potential consequences of sexual activity.

Students of all ages should recognize abstinence as a primary mode of maintaining one’s sexual health, but they must be given tools in addition to abstinence that will equip them for later life. These tools should be discussed in language that is accessible to students’particular ages by educators with whom students can identify and communicate openly.

We must facilitate critical thought about sexuality in terms of keeping students healthy and, ultimately, alive. Sexuality education programs should promote skills related to self-esteem, condom use and negotiation in terms of maintaining health as a priority, and self-efficacy while being inclusive of varying sexual orientations and gender identities. They must instill knowledge of local healthcare services, including the availability of HIV counseling and testing, and they should contribute to peer-led dialogue about healthy sexual behaviors, including abstinence. These programs must acknowledge relationship violence, which increases one’s risk for HIV infection and is most commonly reported among married women (Lichtenstein, 2005). One’s decision to abstain will not be honored in the presence of violence and coercion. Young people should be prepared for the wide array of emotions, not all of which will be bad, that result from engaging in sex.

Age appropriate and comprehensive sexuality education should be built into each grade level as sexuality is an issue of daily life. Effective sexuality education requires well-informed educators who posses the professional skills to be able to deliver this important information in a confident and understanding way. Students should leave sexuality education programs equipped and inspired to discuss HIV in terms of risk and transmission. Sexuality education should help individuals who are not living with HIV better understand the realities of a positive status for the purpose of preparing individuals who test positive later or have peers who are diagnosed for the medical and psychosocial ramifications of the virus. This requires a well-rounded portrayal of the lives of HIV-positive individuals. Students should have increased awareness about HIV and the bidirectional relationship between HIV and society. These programs should assume that many lessons arise from the AIDS pandemic. Themes such as stigma, isolation, discrimination, and unequal access to education and healthcare services are global and worthy of examination. Educators and policymakers must ask themselves: What effect does cultural legacy have on the marginalized communities most impacted by AIDS? Is it important to consider others’ contexts in a holistic sense, including a history of sexual violence and family abuse, while striving to instill healthy sexual behaviors? Our leaders and role models are sacrificing young people’s long-term survival in order to avoid momentary discomfort.

What I experienced in my junior high gym class is a routine example of the messages of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that children across our country are still
experiencing every day. On top of being proven ineffective for students (most of whom
identify with traditionally heterosexual views of sex and gender), these programs also ignore the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, and even condemn them. The message I received in junior high was essentially that deviant life choices such as homosexuality or sex outside of marriage are not to be acknowledged. Furthermore, my educator implied that said deviants could never engage in sex in a healthy manner since non-heterosexual couples cannot “grow up and marry.”

Acknowledging that sexual minorities may be as healthy as anyone else is by no means
an endorsement of their behaviors; however, abstinence-only programs utilize
government dollars to actually lash out against LGBTQ young people. From a healthcare
perspective, it is important for the scrutiny of abstinence-only programs to concentrate on the consequences of abstinence-only programs’ condemnation of sexual minorities, including men who have sex with men, who are at high-risk for HIV infection. This government-funded condemnation impacts majority-identified community members as well. Many men who have sex with men, especially young men and men of color, will not disclose their sexual interactions with other men due to the negative social consequences of acknowledging their behaviors (CDC, 2003). Nondisclosers are more likely to contract HIV, less likely to receive HIV testing, and more likely to have sexual contact with women (CDC, 2003). Even if one does not place value on educating

LGBTQ individuals about reducing their risk for HIV infection, these individuals
inexorably overlap with heterosexual-identified community members. The diversity of
sexual orientations and gender identities in our world is irreversible. For everyone’s survival, we must realize that a failure to attend to the needs of these individuals is a failure to perceive the risk that befalls anyone who might be deserving of life-saving education.

Young, straight women also are in need of education that includes, but is not limited to, abstinence. I have worked with various individuals who contracted HIV within marriage. Many of these individuals were women who had children, and some of these children were infected at birth. Women of color are at particular risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Latina women have nearly the same HIV/AIDS rate (15.1) as white men (16.7) (CDC, 2008). Among African American women, the rate (56.2) is almost four times as high (CDC, 2008). Abstinence-only programs neglect the needs of women of color through curricula that reinforce gender roles and emerge from a context of ethnocentrism. Abstinence-only programs frequently portray sexually active young women as dirty, scarred, and inferior. Regardless, staying faithful to one’s partner will not protect a woman whose husband or boyfriend has been incarcerated when rates of HIV infection among inmates is exponentially higher than in the general population. And a woman asking her husband to respect her decision to abstain from sex or to use a condom is not consistent with abstinence-only programs teaching sex as an expectation within marriage or that condoms do not work.

Sex education must be appropriate for as many populations as it plans on helping, and
HIV prevention must respond to the state of our domestic epidemic. I have assumed the
responsibility of trying to help the women and children with whom I have worked to the best of my abilities, but there is no sufficient reason why this completely preventable infectious disease should have impacted any of our lives. After six years of living with HIV and striving to prevent sexually transmitted infections in others, I strongly believe that it is society’s responsibility to provide young people with all the tools they will need in order to lead healthy lives. Any American infected with HIV is a societal failure.

More individuals have this virus now than ever before in history. Most children born with HIV no longer die; they are growing into adolescence and adulthood. Within and outside of marriage, these young people must know how to prevent transmission of HIV to their sexual partners and how to protect themselves from further co-infection, other sexually transmitted infections, and unintended pregnancy. Understanding proper condom use is imperative to their wellness and to that of others’. Abstinence-only programs stigmatize individuals living with HIV through conveying inaccuracies about the virus’ transmission, such as by stating that HIV may be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact(Duran, 2003, p.19). Rarely have I encountered a sexual health forum in which youth or older adults in the audience could collectively identify the four fluids that are known to transmit HIV. If asked, would you be able to do so?

Popular abstinence-only curricula rely on scare tactics, which do not work and adversely impact individuals who are diagnosed with HIV or even other sexually transmitted infections. One abstinence-only program has utilized an in-class exercise in which students roll a die to represent the risks they take by having sex and, in the caseof the die landing on four, the leader of the exercise told students that they have AIDS and, “You’re heading to the grave. No cure” (Hughes, 1998). What does this do for adolescents who are already living with HIV, or whose parents may be HIV positive, except cause fear?

HIV-positive young people could be harnessed as powerful peer educators as they are
more frequently in other countries. Instead, fear of them further discourages all
individuals from discovering their status and fails to encourage individuals to follow theCenters for Disease Control & Prevention’s recommendation that everyone ages 13 to 64 receive routine HIV testing (CDC, 2006). Abstinence-only curricula do not meet the needs of individuals who are living with HIV, whether they are aware of their status or not.

One of the most common barriers to effective HIV prevention among youth that I have
encountered is apathy toward one’s risk for infection. How are we to expect young
people to recognize HIV as a legitimate concern when our policymakers and educators
ignore overarching evidence that HIV prevention interventions must be administered in acomprehensive manner? The claim that comprehensive sexuality education encourages
sexual activity among youth – despite evidence to the contrary – is an indication that policymakers are not aware of young people’s willingness and capacity to make
responsible decisions about their sexual health. This claim is counterintuitive to the numerous HIV-negative client success stories that I might tell, and it has not been proven in research.

Comprehensive sexuality education programs are shown to increase the use of condoms and contraception while reducing a young person’s number of sexual partners and pushing back the age of sexual debut (Kirby, 2007; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001).

I came to recognize the importance of condoms from my personal and professional
experiences. Although condoms are not 100% effective at preventing HIV, they do come
close. I have never screened a client HIV-positive who used condoms correctly and
consistently. Unfortunately, abstinence-only allowed to note contraception or condom use in terms of failure rates. Research shows that abstinenceonly students are less likely to use condoms or contraception when they do have sex (Bearman & Bruckner, 2001) and are less likely to seek medical attention in the presence of a sexually transmitted infection (Bearman & Bruckner, 2005).

The Mathematica Policy Research conducted a large, comprehensive study of students in abstinence-only programs that showed these students to be no more likely to stay abstinent than individuals who do not undergo any sexuality education whatsoever (Mathematica Policy Research, 2007). The evidence shows that comprehensive sexuality education is more effective at keeping our young people abstinent than abstinence-only.

In summary, please stop funding abstinence-only programs and start funding comprehensive sexuality education. As a tax-paying young person living with HIV, I
urge you to use our federal dollars for programs that actually do protect our sexual health.

References

Bearman, P.S., & Bruckner, H. (2005). After the promise: The STD consequences of

adolescent virginity pledges. Journal of Adolescent Health, 36(4), 271-278.

Bearman, P.S., & Bruckner, H. (2001). Promising the future: Virginity pledges and the

transition to first intercourse. American Journal of Sociology, 106(4), 859-912.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2003). HIV/STD risks in young men

who have sex with men who do not disclose their sexual orientation. Retrieved April 7,

2008, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5205a2.htm.

CDC. (2006). Revised recommendations for HIV testing of adults, adolescents, and

pregnant women in health-care settings [electronic version]. Atlanta: Author.

CDC (2008). Cases of HIV infection and AIDS in the United States and dependent areas,

2006. Retrieved April 21, 2008, from

http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/topics/surveillance/resources/reports/2006report/default.htm.

Duran, M.G. (2003). Reasonable reasons to wait: The keys to character. Chantilly, VA:

A Choice in Education.

Hughes, K. (1998). Passions & principles leader’s guide. Chandler, Arizona: One Way

Publishing.

Kirby, D. (2007, November). Emerging answers 2007: Research findings on programs to

reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases [electronic version].

Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Lichtenstein, B. (2005). Domestic violence, sexual ownership, and HIV risk in American

women in the American deep south. Social Science and Medicine, 60(4), 701-714.

United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2001, July). The Surgeon

General’s call to action to promote sexual health and responsible sexual behavior

[electronic version]. Rockville, MD: Author.

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 https://gentlespirit.org/topics/blog/seeds-of-hope/.