As most of you have noticed today is the 4th of July and my good pastor friend told me bloggers usually do not write on holidays. To quote him, “you don’t have to post on Wednesday as it’s a holiday and most bloggers don’t post on holidays.” I am not sure why folks don’t post on holidays…maybe because they are busy doing other things? Yet, I got to tell you this particular holiday I am not all that excited about.
We spend this day patting ourselves on the back for what great freedoms we have and how wonderful a country we are…how strong we are. Hummm, we might be a better place then some, but we ought not be too arrogant about how “good” we are.
Is this not the country where the Indians had no idea they were savages till the Christians arrived and told them they were, and damn, the Indians actually believed them, by defending their land and way of life. Is this not the country where we completely ignored Jesus one and only command; “Love one another as I have loved you” and proceeded to en-slave a whole culture of people and attempt to completely wipe out numerous others. Do we not consider women something less then full partners in the creation? Is this not the country where we have our own brand of terrorism that blows up medical clinics and kills and hurts horribly innocent by-standers to prove terminating a pregnancy is immoral? Is this not the country where we “kill a killer to teach that killing is wrong”? Is this not the country where we peek into people’s bedrooms and then arrest them and send them to jail for not having sex in the proscribed moral manner? Jesus once commented; “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” Yet in this “Christian” country these words are ignored in every major city with thousands upon thousands going without food and shelter and then we label them criminals! Right here in the city of Atlanta on any given night we have 11,000 homeless and only 5,000 beds to help. Now the city is taking aim at the largest shelter to close them down because it allegedly causes all the crime in a prime money making district of downtown. Oh, but isn’t this being a little bitchy for a holiday designed to celebrate our freedom and greatness Reverend?
You are damn right it is and I want to bring these things to the forefront of our minds so they are not just ignored when we call ourselves “a Christian Nation”, Which is what got me in trouble to begin with.
When I came to Atlanta in 1994 from the northern part of the country to take over the pulpit of a progressive church, I came with the excitement of living out a dream and vision where all folks were considered apart of the family of God. Oh my, I was wrong!
Yes, I was new in pastoral ministry and had a lot to learn, and yes I was arrogant to a fault about being an all-inclusive ministry and that these folks knew what inclusive meant. However, I was not prepared for what I experianced. The north had just slammed into the wall of the south.
The first district church conference I was at, included among our folks a transgender person who was just coming out. This person being new to the process of transitioning from one gender to another didn’t know how to “dress properly” when in public. In fact if you can picture a man in a bikini, not shaved, hanging out in the wrong places, and make-up that would remind you Tammy Faye Baker, you have a good picture of this child of God. Oh the howling and whining by our delegation. Sreaming almost in unison, “You got to do something Reverend, this person is embarrassing the church, making us look like fools! Tell the “he/she” to be a man or go home!” I was shocked by the willingness of our folks who claimed to be all-inclusive to throw out someone who didn’t conform to their idea of gender identity.
When we got back from conference and I began to hear the stories of how we had to keep this one or that one happy because they gave a lot of money to the church. We had to careful how we let some participate in worship service because they would embarrass us. Also, I was told working at changing our language to a more inclusive style was just being “politically correct” and not needed. Further making sure we were handicap accessible was too expensive and a huge bother. Oh and “before we give money out to folks from the benevolence fund, the person ‘in need’ would have to prove beyond any doubt they were worthy of receiving.”
So by the time we got to the first “Pastoral Staff” meeting I was over it…this was not what doing the “gospel” was about. The pastoral staff consisted of the “Deacons” of the church and if you read the book of Acts in the New Testament you will have idea of what their duties were. The Senior Deacon was one of those folks with lots of money and who nobody wanted to offend. I must say to his credit he had a heart of gold and a desire to do God’s work. He would do anything asked of him and was indeed a good and faithful servant of the church and of God. Yet, he also was not an activist, nor did he want to be confrontational. Change had to come slow and easy. Well, I was in no mood to hear this much less do that. So rather then trying to teach and affirm the gospel truth, I began to announce changes that were immediate.
As you might imagine the staff did not react well and at one point, the Senior Deacon (the pillar of the church) looked at me and said, “Why are you insisting on so many changes, so fast without going through proper channels?” To which I replied, “Because I am the pastor of the church and it’s my job”! The response from the pillar of the church was just above a whisper but loud enough for the entire staff to hear, “Bitch!”
Well at this point you could have heard a pin falling to the ground it got so quiet. The “pillar of the church” and the new pastor were about to have a cat fight. Now I will tell you the Holy Spirit still speaks today, as my immediate response was to look the Senior Deacon in the eyes and firmly state, “That’s Reverend Bitch to you!” With that the room cracked up, the tension was broke and a new name was borne.
In was in this moment I recognized change takes time, that living the gospel is scary and hard. That we are taught to take the path of least resistance. So my job was going be about teaching, persuading and affirmming that all could “walk the talk” of the gospel regardless of the path. I will forever be thankful for this Senior Deacon.
In the LGBTQ community the term “bitch” when applied to a male has come to mean “pushy”, “emotionally unrelenting”, “in your face”. I am all of that but have learned that when one carries the title of Reverend, “a person ordained for service in a Christian church”, the key word is service. So my life today while many times is “pushy”, “emotionally unrelenting” and “in your face” is driven to be about “service” to God, “to do justice, act mercifully and to walk humbly with God”.
Over the year’s people in the LGBTQ community found out that I like leather and have an appreciation for the “leather clubs” (that is another blog-ah no-there are something’s I won’t write about).
However, term of respect in this community is the term “Sir”. A friend of mine in the leather community after watching me one CNN “TalkBack Live” call Rev. Jerry Falwell a liar because of what he was saying about the LGBTQ community, called me after the show and said: “You Pastor, you are crazy, these people will hurt you. I grew up in that guy’s church and have wanted to say that for years and years but couldn’t-man you are crazy, but thank you for telling it like it is you are my Reverend Bitch Sir.” So now you know how this title came to be.
So this is a holiday and since my pastor friend also said “I think the web needs something like your site.” re: “Reverend Bitch, Sir”.
Let me offer that instead of celebrating with words that put country before God. Let these words speak to our freedom and greatness as a people of God;
“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:1-12 (New International Version)
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.