Be the Change You Wish to See in the World

Be the Change You Wish to See in the World.

Session 10 of Homosexuality & Transgenderism: A Bible Study.

Icebreaker: What is the greatest challenge you’ve seen yourself or a GLBT person you know face in your community because of their sexuality or gender expression? If you could do one thing to help change that, what do you think it would be?

Explain: Today we are going to be talking about different things we can do as Christians to combat the prejudice and bigotry GLBT people face in society for simply being who God made them to be.

Ask: What are some of the things that society does to oppress or discriminate against GLBT people? What are some things we as Christians can do to change things?

Explain that there are three main ways you as an individual can work for change in society’s treatment of GLBT people:

1. Celebrating Who You are as a Gift

Have someone read Psalm 139:13-16.

Ask: How can we apply these words in connection with our sexual orientation or gender identity/expression?

Explain that the first thing you have to do to change your world is to change yourself. This begins by accepting yourself as God made you. The heart of prejudice or bigotry is trying to say to others that they aren’t good enough as God made them. Society teaches people who are different, including you and me, that we are not a blessing but a curse, due to being different. The bible says differently – it says that our differences are gifts of God. Each of us represents God’s image in a different way and each of us, by being exactly who we are – be that bisexual, gay, straight, disabled, trans, whatever – can reflect God’s glory and character in a way no one else can.

You can’t truly help others to accept themselves until you accept yourself as beautiful, beloved, and accepted by God. You need to come face-to-face with your sexuality, gender identity, and whatever else about you seems different from other people, and realize that it is a gift of God to the world. You need to embrace it, welcome it, and surrender it to God’s glory.

Ask: How is this difficult? How can this make a difference?

Have folks read and discuss the Six Soulforce Beliefs About Myself:

  1. I believe in God;
  2. I believe that the primary goal of life is to know God;
  3. I believe that I am most likely to find God while I am serving others;
  4. I believe that I will not discover the purpose of my life or the power in my life until I seek God by serving others;
  5. I believe that when I seek God in serving others, my own life will be renewed, empowered, and made more meaningful;
  6. I believe that in serving others, it is as much my moral obligation to refuse to cooperate with evil as it is to cooperate with good.

Ask them which of these they find difficult or easy to espouse. Have them join in reciting them together.

Explain that the next two points come from 2 Corinthians 5:12-6:2.

Have someone read that passage. Ask the group to share what messages 2 Corinthians 5 gives about how to change GLBT people’s place in society.

2. Recognizing the Prejudice Within You

Point out verse 16: “Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new.”

Explain that the starting place is recognizing your own prejudice against sexual minorities.

Discuss the various forms and expressions of prejudice and in what ways the influence our individual thinking and actions.

They are:

    1. Unaware Prejudice – Where you do not recognize the way you are treating others differently.
    2. Cultural Prejudice – Where the culture’s expectations of certain groups of people unfairly lumps people together and marginalizes certain individuals. At times this may lead to actions or systems that discriminate which people never investigate or change because “this is the way it has always been”.
    3. Stereotyping – This is assuming all people are a certain way, like all gay men are effeminate, or all trans people are gay.
    4. Internalized Prejudice – This is where someone looks down on themselves, believing false and derogatory messages of the culture about people in their sexual orientation, gender expression/identity, or other minority group.
    5. Institutionalized Prejudice – This is where prejudice has been empowered through rules and regulations or programs that discriminate against the group in question. For instance, the army’s rules against openly gay soldiers or state amendments opposing gay marriage.
    6. Denial – This is where you deny that prejudice is a problem for you or your community.

Ask: How does this text connect with how we deal with the effects of prejudice on our own treatment of and view of others?

Explain that this shows us that, in light of how Jesus accepts all people, regardless of sexuality, gender identity, or anything else, as God’s children, we should no longer look at people according to our previous prejudices. We have to confront the subtle ways we have let the prejudice of society against sexual minorities affect our own view of and treatment of individuals around us. We have to confess that to God and begin to change both how we look at and how we treat those who are sexual minorities.

Ask: In what ways have you let prejudice affect your view of and treatment of people of different sexual orientations and gender expressions? In what ways can you change this?

3. Recognizing the Prejudice Around You

Explain that not only must you become aware of your own prejudice but also how prejudice is at work in the society around you, in others.

Review the different types of prejudice. Ask: How do you see these types of prejudice at work around you in your sphere of influence?

Working To Change Minds & Patterns One Life at a Time

Have folks re-read 2 Corinthians 5:18-21.

Ask: What does this passage say? How does it connect with working for change?

Explain that here we are told not only that we are to confront our own prejudice and the way it stands between us and God by clouding our perceptions of God’s children, but also we are called to be “ambassadors for God”, bringing the message of God’s reconciliation.

The key part of this is how people can be reconciled to God, but that includes the need to be reconciled to each other.

Have someone read 1 John 4:19-21.

Explain that, in order to relate to God properly, one has to be open to and accepting of all God’s children.

That means that folks who are living with prejudice and discrimination against people, whether people of other ethnicities, sexualities, gender identities, etc., are pushing God away as well when they do that. You can’t both accept God the Creator and treat God’s creations as if they are junk.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put it this way – “We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.”

That means that people who mistreat gays are losing out on something essential God has for them that they can only find in relationship to gay people. They can’t fully discover all God has for them in their relationship with God and in God’s plan until they accept their GLBT neighbors.

Likewise, it also means that folks who are being oppressed for being sexual minorities have something God has for them that they cannot fully realize without connecting with folks in the straight community, something that can’t be found by staying in the all-GLBT cliques that sometimes people get involved with.

This means that being fully reconciled with God means confronting the prejudices that keep us from fully accepting others who are different so that we can be open to them and, by being open to them, being more open to their Creator.

Ask: Why might it be difficult for GLBT people to reach out toward non-GLBT people to help them overcome their prejudice?

Have folks read and discuss the Seven Soulforce Beliefs About My Adversary:

  1. My adversary is also animated by common dignity, worth, love and Spirit; we are both members of the same human family; we are people in need of reconciliation.
  2. My adversary is not my enemy, but a victim of misinformation as I have been.
  3. My only task is to bring my adversary truth in love* (nonviolence) relentlessly.
  4. My adversary’s motives are as pure as mine and of no relevance to our discussion.
  5. My worst adversary has an amazing potential for positive change.
  6. My adversary may have an insight into truth that I do not have.
  7. My adversary and I will understand each other and come to a new position that will satisfy us both, if we conduct our search for truth guided by the principles of love.

Explain that realizing that those who oppress or put folks down are also God’s children whom God loves – and whom God wants to see reconciled with God and with those they oppress – is a part of what this verse is teaching. Being ambassadors of God’s love – and fully receiving all God wants to make possible in our lives – only comes when we are able to also reach out in love to our adversaries, helping them become freed from the prejudice that blinds them to God, others, and themselves.

Being ambassadors of God’s reconciliation, then, includes reaching out one life at a time to help other people who are blinded by prejudice to be freed to see themselves and others from God’s perspective.

Ask: What are some ways we can do this?

Discuss the ideas in the resource labeled “ally-building”.

Quote these words of Mahatma Ghandi: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”

Close in prayer.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

By Deacon Bob Shaw

Let me ask you a question… wouldn’t you agree that within the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities there has always been a fascination with the movie “The Wizard of Oz”? This Halloween many queer folks will dress up as their favorite character (and it’s not always Dorothy.) As a matter of fact, a phrase that our community uses to discreetly find out if another person belongs to our community comes indirectly from this movie. Have you ever been asked “are you a friend of Dorothy’s?”

For those of you hiding under a rock and don’t know about this incredible movie, let me tell you a little bit about it. This movie came out in 1939 and follows the adventures of Dorothy, a young Kansas farm girl as she is magically transported to the fantastic Land of Oz by a tornado. It is a timeless classic, which appeals to audiences of all ages and sexual orientations. Through its lovable characters and beautiful music, this classic contains within it a wonderful message. All of the main characters – the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man, and Dorothy all set out to find the almighty, the all powerful “Wizard of Oz,” who they believe can provide for their needs. Sounds like you and me when we reach out to God for our needs, doesn’t it? The Scarecrow wants a brain, the Tin Man wants a heart, the Cowardly Lion wants some courage, and young Dorothy just wants to go home.

Dorothy’s wish is kind of ironic. You see, before the tornado hits that disrupts her life, Dorothy finds herself wishing she could get away from home. She doesn’t like her situation there. The song that blossoms from that experience is “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Listen to the words….and sing along if you like. *smile*

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high
There’s a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby

Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

Some day I’ll wish upon a star
And wake up where the clouds are far behind me
Where troubles melt like lemon drops
Away above the chimney tops
That’s where you’ll find me

Somewhere over the rainbow
Bluebirds fly
Birds fly over the rainbow
Why then, oh why can’t I?

We all have dreamed about life on the other side of the “Rainbow.” Why, God, oh why can’t I get there? After all, the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, isn’t it? Dorothy’s song came at a time in her life when she was unhappy, a time when the road that she and her little dog Toto were traveling, became a very bumpy and hard road to ride.

Noah knew what it was like to travel a bumpy road. His story begins with God’s deep sorrow over what humankind had become. We read in Genesis:

“The LORD saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.”

Sometimes I wonder how God feel’s about the world that we live in today. I can’t help but believe that God’s heart grieves over what God sees. I often find myself concerned over the things I see, hear, and read both in the news and in the world around me. I see children who are starving. I see the world contemplating war and worrying about whether other countries will use weapons of mass destruction or not. I see people that are forced to live on the street. I see people dying of AIDS and their families not loving them simply because they chose to love someone of the same sex. These are just a few of the things that cause my heart to grieve. If my heart, a human heart that is capable of sin grieves over these things, I have to believe that God looks down upon humanity and God’s heart cries out in pain!

During the days of Noah God became so upset with the wickedness of the world that God decided to literally destroy the world and everything in it. Yet in the midst of all the wickedness, in the midst of all the turmoil, in the midst of all the fear, in the midst of everything going on, God saw Noah. Genesis 6:8 says:

“But Noah found favor in the sight of the LORD.”

God told Noah that there was going to be a flood so big that it would destroy everything on the earth. God also told Noah to build an ark and provided Noah with specific instructions on how the ark was to be built and what all was to be on it when the floods came. Can you imagine if God came to you and told you the world will be flooded in a month? If God gave you blueprints for this vast ship and instructions to fill that ship with one of each type of plant and animal that exists on this earth would you build that ship and gather all the items God requested? Would you have the faith to believe that what God told you is about to happen to the earth is true?

Noah had that faith. Noah built the ark and filled it as God told him to do. Noah and his family probably had to deal with a lot of ridicule from those around them as they prepared for this huge event. Imagine the reactions your neighbors and the community around you would have if you were building such a huge vessel and that you were preparing for the end of the world. They’d think you were crazy! There had to be times when Noah wanted to throw in the towel and just give up. Noah probably wondered why God would want to destroy the world and why God chose him and his family to start the human race over again.

Have you ever had God call you to do something? Whether it be so simple as to help others around you with food, money, shelter, a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on, or to follow a higher calling to the ministry? Let me tell you a story. A few years back I was wandering along lost. I had a good job, shelter over my head, my faithful companion Max at my side. I didn’t know where my life was going and felt no sense of purpose. I had also been diagnosed as HIV+ a little over a year earlier, so I was still coming to terms with that. I was wading along in water that was way over my head and I felt I would eventually drown.

One day during this period in my life I had lunch with Pastor Paul. We were talking about how my life felt so stagnant. One of the questions Paul asked me was “what has brought me joy and happiness in the past?” The first thing that that jumped up in my mind was all the way back in high school. I would volunteer at the local hospital to entertain the children that were there. I’d dress up as a clown and do magic tricks for the kids. Seeing the joy on their faces was so rewarding! Here these kids were in pain and in a place they didn’t want to be and I was able to help them forget where they were, even it if was just for a little while.

Other examples I gave him centered around helping others. Pastor Paul then asked me if I had ever considered becoming a deacon. Now mind you, I hadn’t been going to church all that long and I grew up Methodist. We don’t have deacons! So I didn’t really know what being a deacon was all about. Paul told me a little bit about what a deacon does and asked me to pray about it and to specifically ask God to show me my calling.

Of course asking God about your calling is easy, listening to what God has to say and following it is another story! All throughout the deacon training I was constantly asking “Why God? Why Me?” I attended church in my youth. But during my teen years through the early twenties I was not active in church. Once I went into the Army I realized I was gay. When I went to Desert Storm I feared for my life and turned to my inner faith to make it through. John 3:16 was particularly comforting for me. After all, in my heart I knew I was one of the whosoevers mentioned in this verse. Once I moved to Atlanta and got out of the military I had checked out some local churches, but I felt that although they were somewhat welcoming, they thought my being gay was a sin. I knew that wasn’t so, how could it be a sin to love another person? So I just stayed out of church and clung desperately to the fact that I was one of the whosoevers deep down in my heart.

I had little church knowledge and knew virtually nothing about the bible. So I kept asking why God would call me? There were other people much more qualified, in my mind anyway, to be a deacon. Why did God want me to do that? I continued with the deacon training, questioning my calling the whole time. During one period that I was extremely low I almost pulled out of the program. I just couldn’t believe I was worthy of doing God’s will in this way. But then God nudged me to let me know I was doing the right thing, I was following the right road. You see, I needed to get a haircut one day and I knew this person at a Supercuts that gave a good crewcut (this was before I did it on my own). I went there and was told it would be a 30-minute wait to see this person.

Little did I know God planned it that way. You see, there was a HUGE Christian store right next door in the strip mall. So I wandered next door to check it out. In the back of the store there was a music section with listening stations and a lot of different Christian music. I saw that one of the CD’s that you could listen to had this drop dead gorgeous man on the cover. I had seen his picture and this album before in catalogs I had received in the mail, so I picked up the headsets and hit the play button. His music had a rather catchy rhythm to it. I stood there and listened to about 30 seconds of each of the first few songs and liked what I heard. Then I got to track five. Again I listened, but this time I listened to the whole song and I cried as I listened to the words. That song is “For the Sake of the Call” by Steven Curtis Chapman. All along I had doubted God’s call to me and my worthiness to serve God. God got me to listen to this song to let me know everything was going to be all right, I was following God’s plan, and this was God’s way to let me know not to worry about it.

The point of my story is to let you know to follow where God leads you. Don’t doubt it or ask why God wants you do it. There is a much bigger picture that only God can see. Know in your heart that you are doing God’s will and it is good. You saw in Genesis that Noah didn’t doubt God, he built the ark. He didn’t understand everything that was happening, but he had faith that God knew the big picture. The Bible says of Noah that “he did all that God commanded him.”

Chapter 7 of Genesis begins by the LORD saying to Noah, “Go into the ark, you and all your household, for I have seen that you alone are righteous before me in this generation.” Once Noah had the ark finished and all packed up, the rains came for forty days and forty nights. The floods came and every living thing upon the earth was destroyed. The only things that survived were in that ark, as God told Noah.

Once the rains stopped, Noah sent out a dove that returned with an olive branch in its mouth. This signified that the waters were receding and that land was near. And what happened next? God established a covenant with Noah that a flood would never again destroy the world. The sign of this covenant is a sign that you and I can still see in the sky today after it rains – a rainbow.

“When the rainbow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.” (Genesis 9:16-17 NRSV)

What could all of this mean to us a few thousands years afterwards? We all will experience stormy waters in our lives at one time or another. But Noah showed us that if we are faithful to God, if we do all that God has commanded us to do, if we simply place our lives in God’s hands and put all our trust in God, then God will lead us gently to a safe place.

Every time we see a rainbow in the sky, it is God’s reminder to all humankind that God is in charge of everything. And that God loves us. And brothers and sisters in Christ, if God is in charge of everything, no matter how rough the storm becomes, no matter how high the waters rise, no matter how lonely you or I may feel, no matter how hopeless the immediate future may seem, God will always cause our ark to come to rest in a safe place.

Our God is a mighty God!
Our God is an awesome God!
Our God is a forgiving God!
Our God is a loving God!

And our God is right here RIGHT NOW waiting for us to place our lives in God’s hands.

God Bless.

Because AIDS Isn’t Over Yet

By Deacon Bob Shaw

Come! Let us walk in the light of God!

In this way the prophet Isaiah encouraged the Jewish nation thousands of years ago to find the light of God’s love and to claim it and to walk in it.

Today we mark two occasions that require us, too, to walk in the light of God.

First, we commemorate World AIDS Day -– where we remember those who have died during this modern-day holocaust before it was their time. I call it a holocaust because we have lost some of the best, most talented, most intellectual, and most loving people that the world would ever know… to the AIDS holocaust.

Yet the one thing to remember is that ALL communities have suffered from this holocaust. Imagine the possibilities if the people who died were still alive. Let’s not forget the voices, dances, songs, talents, skills and love that have been consumed from our community due to this devastation. Today we remember the love they shared, the friendships they formed and the marks they left on society. Today we lift up those who continue to live with HIV or AIDS, as they continue the battle of their lives. Today we honor the friends, families and volunteers who work so hard to assist us through this trying time. Today we praise God for the scientists and researchers who work so many hours to win this fight. God’s love and compassion shines a light into the gloom and the darkness, the shame and the stigma, which many have tried to associate with this disease.

Let’s not forget the work ahead of us. We are in the midst of a long journey. I want to particularly recognize those brothers and sisters (including transgender people) out there who are living with HIV or AIDS and are doing so publicly. Their courage, grace and stamina fuels some of us to do what we sometimes get worn down from doing – the work to save our community. Thank you for all that you do and the lessons you continue to teach the many of us.

Second, we celebrate the First Sunday of Advent, the season in our church year which prepares us to receive God’s ultimate light — the Christ child on Christmas morning, the One who grew up to say, “I am the light of the world.”

“Advent” is the four-week period leading up to Christmas. It is similar to “Lent,” the six-week period prior to Easter. Both seasons are seasons of hope, seasons of waiting, seasons of preparing ourselves inwardly and outwardly to experience God in a new way.

During Advent we prepare for God’s getting closer to humanity which occurred through Jesus, who became Christ for our world. In looking toward the birth of Jesus, we look toward a time when all that Jesus represents can be reborn in our world — elements of hope, of peace, of love, and of joy. These are what the four candles in the Advent wreath represent.

The scriptures of Old Testament, particularly the Book of Isaiah, are often used during Advent because the earliest Christians believed that in Jesus they had met the Hebrew Messiah — God’s Anointed One, who would bring righteousness to the earth and create a fresh start for everyone. Many of the Old Testament scriptures are seen as prophecies that some Christians believe by faith were fulfilled in the person of Jesus. Our Old Testament reading today from Isaiah is one of those scriptures that has been associated with Jesus for generations.

By faith, Christians have believed the start of the Christian Church was being prophesized when Isaiah talked about the mountain of God’s house being established as the highest of the mountains, with all people streaming to it. Christians have prayed that God’s grace and God’s light would lead them to be a house for ALL people. They have believed that Jesus, who welcomed all people to himself, was the beacon of that light of God — a lighthouse, if you will, which attracts those who wander or lose their way. One of the most famous quotes of Jesus is when he clears the temple and says, “Don’t you know that my house shall be a house of prayer for ALL people?”

What a shame that the mainline churches have not put its actions where its words are. What a shame that, even though these words are read in thousands of churches around the world today, many of these churches are STILL NOT houses for ALL people. What a shame that many types of people are not welcome in those houses of God. What a shame that they try to prevent God’s light from shining on people with AIDS, people who are gay or lesbian, differently-abled people, poor people, transgender people, and, frequently, women who wish to be a part of the church rather than keeping silent. Funny how it’s more like a private club than the all-inclusive place that God speaks about.

As we ponder these words today, I hope that we will meditate on whether WE, Gentle Spirit Christian Church, are really being Christ’s lighthouse. Are we a house of God for ALL people, or just those who look or act or believe a certain way? Can we really “walk our talk?”

I hope that we will use today as a day of introspection, not just to think about AIDS and our reaction to it, but as a day to renew our vision as a place where all people might find the light of God’s love. I urge us all to think what kind of place we want to be. And I hope that our thinking will result in our wanting to use this advent season — this season of preparation — as a time to prepare this house of God to be a house for all people.

The early Christians believed that in the figure of Jesus Christ they had met the One who could make Isaiah’s vision come true. There was something so dynamic and loving and compassionate about this Jesus that they were convinced that in him they had met God. They called him Messiah, God’s Anointed One, because they believed that by modeling his example they could make all of these things come true.

If we really regard the example of Jesus as instructive of how God wants us to behave and to live our lives, then we HAVE met the Christ. Remember, if you’ve done something to the least, you’ve done it to me” We can meet the Christ in our daily actions with the world around us. Christmas is not just a time for shopping and giving gifts and eating festive meals. Christmas is about welcoming the Christ Spirit into our lives.

If, when Advent and Christmas are over, our lives are no different — if they do not reflect in a tangible way the coming of Christ, the love, hope, peace, joy, and compassion that Christ emulated for us — then Christmas has not really happened at all. We have just gone through the motions. We have been just like the hypocrites that Jesus criticized and condemned over and over again during his earthly life.

Today I want to tell you about one of the incredible losses that we, as a community, have lost to AIDS. His name was Brandon Ross Abernathy. I met him during one of the lowest points in my life after I was diagnosed as being HIV-positive. The first few months for me was very rough. The only person I told was the guy I was dating. My roommate at the time, who was a good friend, didn’t find out until years later. It was a very tough time for me. For at least six months I did nothing out of fear. This was pre-internet days at the time. Those of us who were computer geeks communicated through bulletin boards. I was a member of an Atlanta based gay bulletin board called Graffiti and I put a message in an area for discussing HIV. It was my way to anonymously reach for help. My screen name would not be placed with the message so I felt safe in not revealing my dirty little secret. Many, many people added their comments to my posting.

All of them were encouraging, and full of love and hope. More than one recommended me to go Operation Survive! It was a program that AIDS Survival Project hosted for those people that are newly diagnosed with HIV, or are affected in any other way (whether they have a partner with it or are in the health care field, etc.) I got my courage up and signed up for this weekend long program.

It was there that I met Brandon Abernathy. Early on in the weekend they broke down the 50 some odd people that were attending the workshop into sub-groups. There was one stipulation. You couldn’t know anyone else in the group. As it turns out I ended up in the group that Brandon led. This group would end up meeting several times during the weekend. It was a place for each person inside the group to share how HIV had affected their lives and how the weekend was affecting them. In order to break the ice some Brandon told us his story. He was bisexual. Kicked out of his house at 15 years old and living on the streets. There he got heavily involved in drugs and prostitution. Later, when his life started coming together he met an incredible woman who he married. It was during this marriage that he found out he was HIV-positive. She couldn’t handle it and left him. The year was 1985. Back then very little was known about HIV. Doctors just watched their patients die and had no way of treating them. Within two years Brandon was diagnosed with full blown AIDS. It was sometime around then that he met his life partner, Cleve, who survives him today.

Over the years Brandon had several brushes with death (three to be exact; the fourth time death finally got him). Each time new drugs and a great deal of faith got him through. At the end of his life Brandon said “I can’t explain why I’m here medically. I do have a positive attitude and I’m also searching for a higher spiritual health.”

Brandon’s story was incredible. Here was someone that despite the odds being against him, had made it so far. I went through Operation Survive! almost six years ago. Brandon changed my life with his story. He showed me that despite having a disease that will ultimately kill you, you can live your life full of hope, of peace, of love, and of joy. It literally changed my life.

I started volunteering at AIDS Survival Project. There I got to work with Brandon during Operation Survive! (which changed its name to Thrive!). Brandon lived his life as Jesus wants us, as a people, to live ours. Love your neighbor. Love your God. These are the two greatest commandments. Brandon, both through his friends and his activism, showed his love for everyone around him. Brandon’s strong desire to find his spiritual higher being and his encouragement of others to do the same followed Jesus’ command also.

Are we ready to do the same? It sounds so easy, but it’s not always that way. In the end the rewards are great though! One way to find to live this life is through the prayer of Jabez. Those of us who went on the church retreat this year found out how. We take the time each day to say this prayer (or the Lord’s prayer or ACTS) and focus on the words and let them deeply infiltrate our being. We then go throughout the day living these words. The rewards that each of us has been receiving is incredible.

There is so much hypocrisy in the world today; even in our community.

I know many gay folks who refuse to acknowledge that AIDS exists, and certainly not in THEIR world! AIDS only happens to sluts, or drug users… not to “nice,” normal gay people like them! So when that turns out to be untrue it’s a big shock to their worlds. It certainly was to mine.

Both the gay and straight community end up being hypocritical when they write the obituary that says that Deacon Bob died of a “long illness” or “cancer.” How many people have gone to their graves without allowing the word AIDS to be uttered in their presence?!

One of the saddest things about the AIDS crisis is that many have used it as a means of further victimizing and ghettoizing and demonizing gay people. We hear ads for charitable organizations that say they are raising money for babies with AIDS — the “innocent victims” of this disease. Let’s think this through to a logical conclusion. They are implicitly stating that those who are not babies who have this disease are non-innocent, willing, active victims who brought on their trouble. Who in their right mind wants a disease with so much stigma attached to it? Let alone ANY disease that would kill them?

Or what about when folks say, “AIDS is not a gay disease”? Well, no, it isn’t. But let’s carry that thought to its logical conclusion. If it were a gay disease, then what? Would that segment of the world population be somehow expendable? What if we said that we shouldn’t treat or research sickle-cell anemia because it’s a black disease or ovarian cancer because it’s a woman’s disease? Why is one group more expendable or redeemable than another?

I say these things because as I look toward the day of the year when we tangibly say Christ is born. I wish that people will begin to see that we are ALL in this together.

No person, church or organization is better than another. God does not hear one person’s or one church’s prayer more than another’s.

God says “The day is coming when my mountain will be greater than all the other mountains. Every one will stream to it because it will be a place of prayer for ALL people.”

No more human made separations. No more fighting. No more war.

That is what will happen when we finally allow Christ to be born.

My sisters and brothers, this Advent season, meditate in your hearts and souls as to how YOU can help Christ to be born this year. How can YOU empower and embody the gifts of Hope, Love, Peace, and Joy that surround the coming of Christ, the coming of Compassion?

Part of it means getting our priorities in order.

How can we bicker or name-call or ignore one another when people out there are DYING without knowing of the love, peace, joy, hope, and compassion which our loving God shows on this earth every day that Christ is born in our gestures and our words and our activities?

As we commemorate World AIDS Day and the First Sunday of Advent, let us try to figure out how we in our individual lives can help Christ to be born so that others really know that this birth has happened, that this Christ really lives.

As we prepare outwardly for Christmas, let us also prepare inwardly the homes of our hearts — because that is where Christmas will really take place. THAT is where Christ will really be born.

AMEN!

Sowing the Seeds of Love

By Deacon Bob Shaw

There was a business consultant who decided to landscape his grounds. He hired a woman with a doctorate in horticulture who was extremely knowledgeable. Because the business consultant was very busy and traveled a lot, he kept emphasizing to her the need to create his garden in a way that would require little or no maintenance on his part. He insisted on automatic sprinklers and other labor-saving devices.

Finally she stopped and said, “There’s one thing you need to deal with before we go any further. If there’s no gardener, then there is no garden!”

There are no labor-saving devices for growing a garden of spiritual virtue. Becoming a person of spiritual fruitfulness requires time, attention and care. How many of us are like that business consultant? We’re very busy during the week and get caught up in work and social activities and don’t spend the time we need to work on our spiritual growth? Then we come into church on Sunday for a re-charge, feeding off the energy of those around us. How many times during the week are you running really low on your spiritual food by Wednesday or Thursday and do nothing about it?

One thing that is needed in all of these situations is God. Whether God is providing the rain from Heaven to water the earth making it bud and flourish. Whether God is placing people together to form relationships that lead to life-long commitments. Whether God is giving us the words to speak to our fellow people that allow the Holy Spirit to plant seeds in the lives of those we encounter. Whatever the seed we’re talking about, God has full control of it.

And just what are those Seeds? They are the Word of God.

In the Gospel lesson, we hear the parable of the sower and the different soils that the seeds have been scattered upon. Within our lives, we encounter each of these soils daily. Ideally, the only soil that should be in our lives is the good soil that produces abundantly what was sown. Life isn’t that easy. It is only when we take the soil that is given us, cultivate it, fertilize it, and properly nourish it that the soil produces a good harvest. That doesn’t always happen in our lives because we allow ot her things to come in and control our lives.

Take the soil next to the road and the birds that came along and ate the seeds. We sometimes associate with people that don’t live their lives according to God’s Will. Perhaps these are people that take God’s Word away from our heart. Perhaps these people are involved in bad things and they get you to join or follow them. You know what they’re doing is wrong, but you associate with them anyway. Whatever it is, these people cause you to doubt what God has planted in your life. How many times are we these people? Running around doing things that snatch away seeds from others?

As for the seeds that fell on rocky soil and grew up and withered away. It seems more and more we rely on ourselves to get the job done right instead of trusting God to provide for us. Do we help our fellow neighbor with whatever their need is? Or do we run around bragging to others about the help we provided? Do we take these things that we need to get done and lift them to God in prayer? God’s Word does not sink in deeply for these people and when the time of testing their faith comes, they fall short.

Finally, the thorny soil. This would represent our daily worries. People we care about, our finances, the weather, health, travel, you name it and we worry about it…. we’re human after all! It doesn’t matter how much we worry about these things because we’re not going to be able to change the outcome. Remember Y2K? God must be laughing at us about that one. We worried a lot, spent gobs and gobs of money, and worried some more on top of it all. And in the end it all was for naught. January 1, 2000 came and went with barely a whimper. God provided in our time of need. When we worry so much and place our trust in things other than God, we allow the things of this world to choke the seeds within us instead of allowing our faith to grow.

“Still other seeds fall on good soil where they produced an abundant crop.” What a comfort to know that in the midst of everything around us there still in good soil within us. That good soil continues to be nourished when we hear God’s Word, when we pray and when we turn our worries and cares over to God.

Jesus admonishes us to take our time and sow everywhere. But why do that? Why waste our time and energy sowing in places where you don’t know whether or not it will bear fruit? Why not just sow the soil that you know will get you the best harvest? Jesus throughout the gospel encourages his followers, telling them that much of their work will be wasted effort and promising them that God will bring forth results far exceeding their expectations. You’ve seen how our ministry has grown over the last few years. And Whosoever, who would’ve dreamed it would become as big as it has? Put your faith in God. Sow those seeds everywhere! You’ll be surprised where those seeds start popping up and taking root.

This is why Christ came to this earth. He knew that there was no way we could ever make the soil within us good enough to produce any crop, so Christ lived the perfect life that we couldn’t. He took upon Himself all of the sin that is around us daily. On the Cross, He shed His blood in order to purify the soil within us to make it good. Not only for that time, but also for all times to come. Christ rose from the dead in order to continue to cultivate, to plow, and fertilize our lives in the manner that is best for us.

So what can you do to “sow those seeds?” One thing is to Pray in the morning folks! When you first get up….you’ve heard Pastor Paul talk about it before and I am again now because I’ve seen the results. I no longer feel spiritually drained by mid-week. Try to say your prayer when you first get up while your mind is still very open and the world hasn’t come crashing in yet. For some, like me, it might not be the very first thing out of your head. Some are thinking of using the bathroom, taking a shower, getting that first cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette or walking the dog. The earlier in the day you say this prayer, the better. Don’t let life catch up with you and take your focus off of God.

Face it; everyday you face hundreds of choices. Every morning when we wake up, our whole day is a myriad of challenges, and we become the sum total of the choices that we make. Sometimes it’s hard to make the right choices, and if you don’t, you suffer the consequences. So every morning when you get up say, “God, help me to make the right choices today.” I feel the difference saying that prayer makes.

Another way to “sow your seeds” is to follow Christ’s example of love. Matthew writes in Chapter 22 “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.” And “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” Jesus stresses that these are the two greatest commandments of them all. Go out and be kind to your neighbor, your co-worker, your friends and strangers you come into contact with. Treat others the way you want them to treat you.

Take the time in your everyday life to do your sowing. Whether it’s saying a prayer in the morning, praying during the day for those around you and for your fellow churchgoers, committing a random act of kindness to a stranger or just biting your tongue and not lashing out at someone who has committed a wrong against you.

Whatever the situation is, go and sow the seeds of love everywhere. God will take those seeds and multiply them in such a way that your life will be richly blessed.

A Prayer for Christian Unity

This week many of us of the Christian Faith are participating in a week of prayer for unity in faith. Rev. Paul Graetz of First MCC offered this invitation:

“Today is the first day of the week of prayer for Christian Unity. I encourage you to remember to pray for unity among the over 3,300 different denominations of Christianity. Jesus gave us the example as he prayed…”Make us one”. Remember we can have different approaches…but we cannot be at war with each other.”

Let us join in these prayers offered…God Bless, Pastor Paul
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January 18-25, 2010
First MCC of Atlanta

There are over 3,300 different Christian Churches in the world today. Each one taking on a unique perspective of the life and teachings of Jesus, the Christ. This week we invite you to pray for unity within the Christian community so the message of Christ might be truly revealed.

Let the prayers of these spiritual leaders be a guide over this eight day journey of prayer for Christian Unity.

January 18, Day One:
Almighty God, I come to you today with thanksgiving for my life. I know that through Jesus Christ you have taught me to be grateful for all that is. I surrender this day onto you. I ask for blessings to carrying me through the day. I ask that you would use me and direct my life in service to all mankind. Lead me in the directions of perfect love and allow me to let this love move through me to others to create unity. I pray to know your divine will for my life. I ask the Holy Spirit to go before me to make the way clear, and to guide and protect me, as I blindly step into the future trusting that you are with me and knowing that all is well. Thank you, in Jesus name I pray.

Rev. Dr. Joyce Rennolds
Joyce Rennolds is known internationally as a “Motivator of One or a Thousand” and a dynamic speaker at churches domestically and internationally. Reverend Dr. Rennolds has been on the ‘100s List of Georgia’s Most Powerful and Influential Women’ since 2000. You can hear her at First MCC Saturday Feb. 27, 2010 in a morning workshop.

January 19, Day Two:
“Heavenly Creator, who has created each of us, help us to remember that is important for us to focus on the ways that we “miss the mark” as we strive to be better Christians. It is all to easy and common for us to focus on how others miss that mark There is far more that unites us in Christ than divides us if our energies are devoted to searching for those things that unite rather than divide. In our effort toward Christian unity it is more important for us to listen to the voices of others than to raise our own. Help us each to maintain that perspective. In doing so, we can reach more unity than we can imagine.” Amen.

Rev. Chip Carson
Staff Pastor First MCC
In my years as Chaplain of AID Atlanta I remember the insight one day that changed my outreach to those Christians who equated AIDS with God’s judgment on homosexuals and IV drug abusers. It was the realization that it was not my job to make them accept me in my perspective unconditionally, but for me to accept them in their perspective unconditionally. I learned that just as Christ accepted (and accepts) others where they were (and are) but never left (leaves) them where they were (are) found, so can I. I fail at this regularly, but, since that day, I never cease trying.

January 20, Day Three:
Eternal God of the Universe, like Israel, we hear and understand that YOU are One, and because You are One, we too, are already one. Help us to embrace our union with you and with one another. With our sisters and brothers of African descent, may we embody Umoja, the spirit of unity that runs through all that You have created.
Oh God, grant that our differences will no longer divide us, but make us interesting to each other, instead. May we accept the diversity that You sustain as evidence of pleasure in variety. Remind us daily that You have made all humanity of one blood and that you have used one Redeemer to save the whole world.
Thank You, loving Creator, for making us one and for giving us to each other as companions along this journey called life. In all your holy names we pray, Amen!

Rev. Carolyn J. Mobley
First MCC of Atlanta, Evangelist
Carolyn Mobley and her partner Adrian Bowie serve as Church Evangelists for First MCC and have a Ministry of Inspiration in song and spoken word.

January 21, Day Four:
We humbly beg you O God to mercifully to look upon your people as we suffer from division, strife and denominationalism. We bring you great concerns for our troubled faith in a world where what divides us is more apparent then what unites us. We come to you today O God seeking your help, your wisdom, your courage to take away the controversial teachings of arrogance, divisions and hatreds which have taken over our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; reunite us in bonds of love; and work through our differences to accomplish Your purposes on earth.

Help us here and now to remember your requirement for a people of faith is to be about doing justice, acting mercifully and walking humbly with you. Help us to recognize this can only be accomplished by being united rather then divided. As you O God love each of us unconditionally in our great diversity, may we in that diversity be united in providing the same unconditionally love to one another. This day we claim and proclaim our unity as your people and as your creation in the name of Jesus the Christ Amen!

Rev. Paul M. Turner
Sr. Pastor Gentle Spirit Christian Church
Gentle Spirit Christian Church is an Independent, affirming and progressive congregation. This is Atlanta’s innovative church without walls meeting each Sunday outdoors in Candler Park.

January 22, Day Five:
Holy One, We give you thanks for your spirit that binds together all living things. In this week of unity, we are powerfully aware of how you love and connect us even when we resist and build barriers.
Raise up in all our churches such a fierce and tender love for one another that we will seek to shatter all prejudice, misunderstanding, and division. Make your church into a sign of living hope for all people, a place where love is embodied, justice is practiced, and hospitality is honored.
Where your church is in error, reform it. Where it is right, confirm it, and where it struggles, support it. Into the hands of Jesus, we commend all our hopes and dreams, our challenges and our possibilities, trusting that his grace will make us into an army of lovers that cannot fail. Amen.

Rev. Bradley Schmeling
St. John’s Lutheran Church of Atlanta
Bradley Schmeling is the pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, Atlanta, a congregation of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Rev. Bradley was a guest speaker at First MCC for Gay Pride in 2007 telling of his struggle as an out Gay Minister in the Lutheran Church.

January 23, Day Six:
God of Many Names, we ask that you pour out upon your children your gifts of love, peace and harmony. While we proclaim to love you, we often fail to love and respect each other. While we seek to praise you, we often fail to honor each other. While we yearn to be like you, we often fail to see you in each other.
Help us, O God, to live the prayers we pray, to manifest your love in each encounter and to never stop seeking your guidance. Heal us, hold us, set us free, but never let us go. Unite us O God so that your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen

Rev. Franc Perry
First MCC Church Evangelist
Rev. Franc Perry is one of First MCC’s Church Evangelists and is also nominated to be one of New York’s first out Gay African American judges.

January 24, Day Seven:
Lord, you prayed, “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are” (John 17:11b). Lord, Your desire, Your plan is for all of Your people to be of one mind and one heart. We ask you to make us one. Give us a heart to love one another and to work with one another so that your church, your daughters and sons, can become the answer to our prayer, “Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Help us to become a people who will demonstrate Your Love to one another, our city, our community, our nation, and our world. Father, make us, as many members and multiple fellowships, into one instrument that will bring You greater honor and draw people to Your Great Love and Glory. We ask all of this in the Precious and Mighty Name of Jesus Christ.

Pastors Randy and Johnny Layton-Morgan New Covenant Church New Covenant Church of Atlanta (often known as “Saved and Gay”) started on July 23, 2000 as a LGBT affirming, Charismatic-Pentecostal congregation with a focus on the Holy Spirit and speaking in tongues.

January 25, Day Eight:
Lord Jesus, We know you prayed and hoped that all your followers would be united as you and God are united. You even said this is how the world would know that you had spoken the truth. Instead, we have divided, warred in your name and sacrificed that unity for our petty and arrogant insistence that everyone must love and follow you exactly as we do.

Give us hearts big enough to embrace unity without uniformity and diversity without division. Help us to accept and respect that there are many ways to love and serve you in this world. Grant that we who call ourselves by your name may repent of the arrogance that prevents us from living in unity and celebrate that though we are many, we are one.

We pray in your name, and for the sake of all that is holy. Amen

Reverend Elder Ken Martin
Rev. Martin is the Metropolitan Community Church Elder for Region 1 and portions of region 2. He is the Elder in care for First MCC of Atlanta and our MCC GA, AL, TN cluster of churches. His home is Austin, Texas.

THREE VISITORS FROM GOD Part 2

This is part 2 of the story of 3 men who came into the midst of Gentle Spirit Christian Church who as it turns out were simply visitors sent to teach this congregation and I dare say me, some basic lessons of theology, life and the practice thereof.

Those lessons in the order of each man’s story: 1) “It’s about a relationship with God nothing more and nothing less”. 2) Crazy, Wild and Independent is cool with God” 3) despite anger and severe pain you can love and serve God.

I am sharing these stories in 3 parts first because the total blog would be too long and second because I think each visit needs to stand on it’s own and cause us to ponder one story at a time.

Part 1 was about our beloved Charles Harris, Today, Deacon Corey Matthew Hoblit and part 3, the Reverend Warren B. Taylor.

I first heard about Corey from a staff member of mine who had known Corey for sometime. At the time Corey was in a local county jail for some infraction of the law he had yet again managed to run afoul of. The staff member’s description of Corey talked mostly of a troubled childhood, in and out of trouble with the law constantly, an inability to stay away from drugs, a rebellious and dark spirit, a lack of respect for authority of any type, and one who did not have much use for the church.

My staff person asked me if I would go visit Corey in jail because he thought Corey might be able to relate to me. I wasn’t sure if it was meant as a compliment or if he thought Corey and I had something in common. Either way I was not excited about making the visit. I saw it, as a waste time and gas since Corey wasn’t asking to see a pastor and I did not want to spend a jail visit hearing how it was not his fault and he should not be in prison.

When I arrived and saw Corey for the first time my insides shuddered, I wasn’t comfortable with the feeling I had of seeing God’s special child locked up. Don’t ask me to explain that last except to say what I felt, was deep in my soul. You know that quiet voice, which tells you what is about to happen, is going to be a work of God so pay attention.

Corey was full of defiance coming to that visiting area, his eyes bright but inquisitive, his walk and body posture screamed, “and who the hell are you and just what is it you want”.

We sat down in the visiting area with me one side of the glass and he on the other. I picked up the phone piece said hello and introduced my self. His response? “You’re that preacher Steve sent to save me, well it ain’t gonna happen.” “There is notin you can do for me and I don’t want you to try!”

Yea, we were off to a great start and yea I knew I didn’t want to be here. However, I did try to explain I wasn’t there to save him and while he was in jail other than visiting him there wasn’t much I could do for him anyway. I also went to say I didn’t care why he was there and was more concerned about how he was being treated since he was openly gay or at least Bi. His face softens and he almost whispered, “You’re a minister and you don’t care if I am gay, damn? I looked him in the eye and said, “Why should I, I am and have been with my partner for 20 plus years.” That was all it took…we began a conversation that lasted for 2 hours. Here is some of what he shared:

I was 7’ish when my Mom would take me to the “Kingdom Hall” in Marietta. I never really paid much attention; it was a napping time for me. Amazingly I did understand some of the stuff I heard.

It was during my teens and the abusive days of hell at home I would go to a Southern Baptist church in Powder Springs. I only went to get away from home. I was accepted for who I was except they didn’t have a clue as to how bad a child I was and treated me with kindness I never experienced at home. But, I had a secret and screw their kindness I would hold my breath…cause I just knew they were going to cut off my hands, pluck out my eyes and send me straight to hell when they really got to know me.

Like a dog who has been chained to a tree all it’s life, when I finally became an older teen, I knew that I knew it all…so I stopped listening to folks and rebelled. This of course brought the long arm of the law into my life, but I didn’t care cause everybody lied and had secrets too. At one point I got locked up in the juvie hall and in order to avoid lock downs would go to church. I always loved God and saw being with God better then here…but this church group did a pretty good job of beating me up with the bible and God’s wrath…I was an awful person wicked, evil and nasty and of course I had a secret.

I knew my faith was good, despite the guilt I could really move mountains with my child like faith. I would have dreams that came 100% true. It seemed God was right beside me no matter what. So this was when I decided my bisexuality was an infirmity from the devil and a possession of demons. My heart didn’t really believe that and for some reason they (church) couldn’t quite convince and beat that into me…call it me being hard headed or my stubborn ass self, but honestly if God was with me why was I bad. A voice in the back of my head kept saying, “your still going to hell for your sexuality.”

I have been in and out of jail at least 60 different times, each time while I was in coming back to God only to slide away when I got out. So I am pretty sure there is not much you, the church or anyone else can do for me or with me.

I tried to explain God didn’t make a mistake in creating him, his sexuality was fine and if he would give God a chance that good would come out of all this. Today, I really believe that was the Holy Spirit talking because…

I left the jail with the promise of a return visit, but with a heart broken at the incredible pain this young man was in, and a mind which said he was really lost, he was doomed to a life of drugs and prison. Even worse there was nothing we could do for someone so far gone, so lost, so lacking in any direction at all.

A couple of weeks went by and I get a letter which by the return address one could tell it was from a prisoner. The opening line of the letter read like this:

“I just would like to thank you for the visit, that was the first time someone listen to me talk for so long and didn’t tell me I was a jerk or that I was getting what I deserved. I am confused as to when I would be seeing you again? You said you would come back for a visit and bring a Bible…but hey if you don’t come back it is OK, I understand…you are really not any different then the others. You are busy with people that really matter.”

In my study just to the left of my desk on the wall is an old painting of Jesus rescuing the lost sheep. It was if that picture screamed at me:

“If I got time for you, then you have time for him, no one is too lost!”

I went back to the jail the next day with my study bible from collage days in hand as my apology for not keeping my word.

When Corey got out of jail it was not long before he showed up at church, he was staying with a person from the church and looking for a job.

For a guy that had so much against him, he was also a gifted and talented man. He could adapt to situations quickly, was a quick learn and for the most part was comfortable with the congregation and felt at home because no one seem to care about where he had come from or why…they knew his heart and seemed to accept him for that.

He was a blessing to the church, he was young, wild, irreverent and full of life and wildly curious about serving God. He kept all of us on our toes and most of the time a smile on our faces.

We learned Corey had a special gift of being able to relate to people on the edge and fringes of life. This gift showed brightest in the volunteer work he did for “Habitat for Humanity”. He also gave time to the “Hallthorn Behavioral School” where he work with the mentally challenged, did field trips to the “Tommy Nobus Center”. He did the “Breast Cancer Walk” and worked with the “Orphan Foundation of America”

When he finally got a job at the “Smyrna Thrift” store he would clock in 1 minute late so he would be docked 15 mins of paid time of which went to the “Paralyzed Veterans”.

His last job was at Starbucks and while he was a challenge for management his co-workers loved and supported him unconditionally.

Corey was a jack-of-all-trades. At various times he served his community and congregation by cooking, doing repair work, yard work, antique refurbishing, woodworking, electrical work, small engine repair, cleaning, making small jewelry items and last but not least computer repair and computer building. All the work he did with computers was self taught and learned.

When another member of the church had a need for help and a roommate he moved in and within a short period of time had found a best friend, sister and companion for the good and bad times. They were inseparable. They shared a love for one another that was not only unconditional but also able to withstand each other’s flaws that would have sent most other people in opposite directions in anger and disappointment.

There was no person or animal that was out of Corey’s reach, or was too much trouble to help or didn’t deserve his attention.

One night when Corey had gone out “dumpstering” (this is another blog story all by itself), he came across a kitten that had been dumped. Actually not just dumped but buried alive up to it’s neck and left to die. He dug that cute little solid black kitty out, brought it home and nursed it back to health. “Mayfield” became his buddy and companion on Corey’s nightly bike rides through the neighborhood. No, not in a crate or basket but sitting proudly on his shoulder enjoying the view and the man who had saved a precious life.

Another night Corey found an under-age run-away in the neighborhood and went above and beyond what most folks would do to get this child help and support.

His love for God and his understanding of Jesus Christ as his Savior brought him to the point of asking to be baptized and shortly afterwards entering Deacon training for the church.

In the time he was in training he developed and implanted a fund raising function for the church called the “Live-Tithe”. He used his dumpstering skills to find one person’s junk and make it another person’s treasure buy setting up an E-bay account and auctioning off the products.

Yet, the real story here is not all the good that he did but rather his love for God and desire to experience the full love of God trumped all of his short comings, all his challenges, all the dark self destructive behaviors.

Despite crack having a hold of him, despite a wild and independent streak which caused him untold grief and despite those moments of darkness where there was no one who could reach him; he with God holding him, walking and running with him brought him what is described in Acts 6:1-8

1In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Grecian Jews among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. 2So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Brothers, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them 4and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.”

5This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. 6They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

7So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.
Stephen Seized
8Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people.

He made sure of his ability to get to God, he built a sanctuary in the back yard of the house where he lived…his roommates were married there. He built an alter in his bedroom where everyday depressed or not took “Holy Communion”.

Towards the end of his visit with us, he came to me and said he had found that special person who he knew would make him happy. This person made him feel alive and gave him reason to get up in the morning, a reason to look forward to each new day!

Yet, he was concerned for 3 reasons, one this person was his former music teacher from grade school and there was a significant age difference, what would people think? 2nd, it was a women and would I be supportive of that? Third he was afraid of blowing it.

We both had a good laugh over his first two concerns when I replied,

“When the hell did you start caring about what people think…and of course I understand that God doesn’t give a damn about the gender of the one whom you fall in love with, so why would I?”

When he brought her to church the first time, when she met his roommates, his first two concerns vanished in an instant. She was beautiful in looks and in spirit and the effect she had on Corey was evident…this was God’s gift to the two them that said loudly yes there is someone “special” for everyone if you just step away from yourself and let God work.

As to his third concern only time would have answered that question. Time that Corey didn’t have. When Corey died suddenly at the end of September we all were left to wonder why? How could this happen? Why now just when for the first time in his life he was on top of the world, so ready and so willing to move ahead.

I am not even going to pretend to have the answers to those questions. I dare say anyone who would attempt to answer those questions on the pretense of making us all feel better is a fool. We will all know those answers in time but the time is not now.

However, what I do know is God taught our congregation and myself some very important lessons.

1. The story of King David is alive and well in today’s world.
2. There is nothing too wild in a person’s life to choose to give up on them.
3. Crazy is in the mind of the beholder and is every bit as important to a full and faithful life as what some call sane!
4. An independent life opens far more doors and opportunities to learn then it stops.

Yes, heaven gained an angel. Yes, we lost a son, a friend, a brother, an uncle, a lover, and a servant of God.

Yet, in that loss I would be re-missed if I didn’t point out, in our loss we gained a hero…a hero that shows us once again nothing is impossible with God and in today’s world that is a message we need to hold onto.

THREE VISITORS FROM GOD Part 1

I am going to tell you the story of 3 men who came into the midst of Gentle Spirit Christian Church who as it turns out were simply visitors sent to teach this congregation and I dare say me, some basic lessons of theology, life and the practice thereof.

Those lessons in the order of each man’s story: 1) “It’s about a relationship with God nothing more and nothing less”. 2) Crazy, Wild and Independent is cool with God” 3) Despite anger and severe pain you can love and serve God.

I will share these stories in 3 parts first because the total blog would be too long and second because I think each visit needs to stand on it’s own and cause us to ponder one story at a time.

Today, Charles Harris, Wednesday, Corey Matthew Hoblit and Saturday, the Reverend Warren B. Taylor.

Charles showed up at Candler Park as we were setting up for Sunday morning worship. He was cold, he was hungry and as it turned out homeless. He wanted to sample some of the sandwiches that would be served at the potluck picnic after worship.

Someone told him he was welcome to eat with the rest of us but he would have to wait till after service. His response? “I suppose I can endure the sermon.”

The sermon that day centered around the story of the “Prodigal son” and the climax of the story being the son returning home and God running to meet him and not caring about the confession of wrong doing, but calling for a celebration because the son had chosen to be in relationship with the Father. (Luke 15:11-24)

After service was over I went over to Charles, introduced myself and thanked him for staying for service. He said he enjoyed the service all the folks were cool. The sermon had done something to him and depending where he was he would come back the next week. What happen next would change his life and ours.

I asked him where he was staying. He pointed in a direction pass the golf course next to the park and in what appeared to be deep in the woods. “Pastor, I stay under a bridge.” “I got this problem…you see, ‘rock’ cost me my home, my family and job.” “I stay there cause the police don’t come back there and it is out of the weather.” “I got my ID stolen and I don’t have the money to replace it and nobody wants to talk to you without ID, so I am just trying to stay out of the way and get some food now and again.” “People are scared of me cause I don’t look so good and they think I’ll hurt them so they call the police if I try to get a little job here or there and now the ‘rock’ just gets me through the night, it’s not hard to find and others just share their stash.”

I stood in amazement at his honesty and directness. I asked him if he wanted something better, if he wanted to be off the street. He nodded. DUH! Of course he wanted something better! I felt so damn stupid and helpless because I also knew without ID and a crack problem there was going to be little the church could do.

He wasn’t gonna back to the big shelter in town because that’s where he got beat up and had his things stolen. We had given him a meal and would give him more if he came back…so…

Wanting to get out of the conversation, I said to him, “Charles, as long as you are using we can’t get you into a shelter that can really help you with getting permanent housing and a job.” We need to know you are serious about us helping, so tell you what; Come back next week having not used for the week and I will get you off the street.” “You gotta decide if you want to be the son from today’s message.”

Charles thank me for listening to him and thank us for the food and told us he would see us next week as he was scooping up the last of the sandwiches.

A member of the pastoral staff looked at me at said, “you sure didn’t try very hard to help.” I defensively said, “What are we suppose to do? He is using crack, by this time next week he will be somewhere else or in jail.”

Well the long and short of it was the next week came and who showed up for service? Yup, Charles, and he seemed to be in a good mood saying he wanted to “just praise God today”.

We got to Prayer and Praise time and Charles raised his hand to share praise. “I want to praise God cause today I am seven days clean and I know God just wants me to be with him.”

I sat there and listen to Charles talk about how the folks here in the park helped him make the choice to “come home” and how he “praised God cause the Pastor was gonna get me a place to live”.

Needless to say, I was now making a call on my cell phone to see if I could get Charles an interview at the “Clifton Sanctuary”. I explained the whole story to them and they agreed to meet him on Monday. By Monday evening Charles was a resident of the Clifton shelter and their program.

Within 3 weeks of getting into the shelter Charles had a job and had found a permanent place to live. Every Sunday for the next 52 weeks Charles was in church every Sunday without fail and come prayer and praise time would praise God for whatever number of weeks it was of his sobriety. He would tell everybody and anybody who would listen that knowing God loved him unconditionally was a break through. Knowing that God wanted to be in relationship with him was enough to stay sober, to keep working, to keep praising God.

He would explain he had been to church before but always came away with the feeling he wasn’t good enough. In order to be good enough he had to change who he was to what they thought he should be, confess how bad he is and follow the church rules or it wasn’t a real change.

He talked about how one church he went to wouldn’t give him “Holy Communion” because he was not legally married to the girl he was living with and because he had a drinking problem.

If you got into a deep conversation with him he would bring up a this quote from scripture:

“The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’
“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him.”

Now he didn’t always quote it exact but he always made the point, “My life changed with those words saying God wanted me and I didn’t have to confess anything!”

Charles died this past spring. He was 47 years old and the years of drug and alcohol abuse took its lethal toll on his body.

Charles did not pass out of our lives here on earth before he taught us that what redeems us, what saves us, what strengthens us and what sustains us is the relationships we build and accept. It is about not letting life get in the way of our relationship with God and each other. The first and most important step for a people of faith is desire to be in relationship with God and by virtue of this relationship with each other.

It is with this desire in place the President of the United States seems to gets it:

“Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.”

There is no building of anything if there are no relationships first…there are no relationships that will last if they are preoccupied with the past.

I thank God for this prophet, this man of God sent our way to remind us each and everyday “It’s about a relationship with God nothing more and nothing less”.

A Choice that Looked Hard But is Actually the Easiest Decision We’ve Ever Made

In writing this blog I have attempted to not re-run a previous blog. However, with this said I (we) have gotten a boatload of questions concerning our church making an intentional choice to be outside.

Most of the questions are heart felt around weather issues, while others are digging deep to see if in fact we have lost our minds. There have been a couple of comments which have point blank stated we were never going to grow and they were waiting to hear of our demise.

Since, I seem to have more followers of this blog and readers in general I thought it was time to answer these questions again…so without further delay:

I got a call today from one of my friends that I have not seen for a long time. Stacy who is a very conservative Christian was concerned about my state of mind. She has never liked the fact I was gay and has spent the last 30 years or so praying God would turn me into butch straight man. Right, like that was going to happen!

She has gone through 4 husbands to date…so maybe…nah not going there!

She had “bumped” into our website and after being horrified we don’t think “homosexuals” are going to burn in hell and her heart almost stopped when she read our mission statement.

Then she saw where we were worshipping, not just occasionally but 52 weeks out of the year.

She almost yelled at me, “your church services are held in a park…outside…without walls…where everybody can see who you are…have you lost your mind?” Don’t you know that if you are going to be a church and preach all this stuff that will piss good Christian people off, you should be inside where it is safe?”

Well the long and short of it was I got her calmed down and we had a great conversation about why we moved outside and how the biggest desire of this congregation besides serving God was to “walk the talk”.

After I hung up I wondered how many other people think I (we) are insane. Maybe that is why growth has been a little slow…it takes guts to worship in a public park. I say it takes guts because of

1. The weather-there is sometimes too much heat, other times not nearly enough heat. Of course there are the times the roof (sky) leaks rather substantially. Of course then there is the wind. Things can and do blow around.

2. In the spring and summer there are plenty of ants, gnats, flies and mosquitoes, the occasional bee or wasp.

3. There are lots of other people in the park, with their kids laughing and carrying on. Cars coming and going.

4. The city garbage people managed to show up each week to empty the trashcans around the pavilion during our worship time.

5. There is a huge soccer league just across from us, which gets pretty loud sometimes.

6. There are also the strange looks you get from some folks as they walk by…

So yea I guess it takes some guts to meet outside for church. It takes a person really choosing to be there. It takes a willingness to let God be the decorator, rather then some architect. It takes a conscience choice to dress for the weather rather then for people’s approval.

It means being committed each time you come to bring food for the picnic after church rather then having some committee sign people up to serve coffee and cookies after service.

It means that anyone and I do mean anyone can show up for church and not look out of place. It also means that an important part of the congregation on any given Sunday is our pets.

It means you know where most of Jesus’ ministry took place.

It also means one is willing to practice their faith right out in the open for everyone to see.

This also means that the walls that keep many folks out of church are now gone.

Over the years the church buildings and what goes on inside out of sight from the world has come to represent for some people the worst of Christianity.

You have rules for dress.

Rules for who is and isn’t a member.

Rules for who can be in the building and when.

Rules for when the building will actually be unlocked and available for prayer or meditation. I have to say most buildings are locked up tight all week and only open on Sunday.

Rules as to what groups can and cannot use the building.

Rules for building use-“we can’t have homosexuals, drug addicts, homeless people, transgender, drunks, non-bible believing Christians, or other unrepentant sinners occupying the property”.

My God, the fights…fights over whose property is it anyway? Think I am kidding, just ask any Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist or Presbyterian.

Fights over who gave more to the building fund and therefore should have more say in the building use.

Fights over the way the building should look; the fancier the better…the bigger the better.

Fights over the signage; what kind, how big, what should it say?

Fights over how the decorations will be placed or should there be decorations.

Fights over the flowers each week and what kind of flowers or plants he or she will bring.

The list is endless and when you really stop and think about all of the afore mentioned stuff, it really gets in the way of the message and what church is suppose to be about.

I guess it is pretty hard to worship God when you are upset about what happened at a trustees meeting and you find yourself sitting somewhere other then your special pew by your favorite stain glass window.

Maybe I have lost my mind but I think I prefer God’s house to worship in.

God’s house is decorated to perfection every Sunday. The seasonal church colors take care of themselves.

Even if nobody volunteers to be in the choir, each Sunday in God’s house there is a choir from the birds, kids laughter and the wind through the trees.

We have truly learned what it is to make a joyful noise!

In God’s house passer-bys stop for a moment to say hello, meet the pets or wait till a prayer is finished.

In God’s house folks feel free to share a bite to eat.

In God’s house it will never be locked and is always available for prayer, walks or some alone time.

In God’s house there is room for any and all who want to come. There are no doors, windows or walls to block the movement of the Holy Spirit.

In God’s house there is wild, crazy and wonderful feeling of peace, community and solitude all at the same time.

In God’s house we have given the opportunity to meet and get to know some of the most unique and beautiful people of God’s creation, who have taught us far more about unconditional love then we would have ever experianced inside.

If this is insanity then it not such a bad place to be!

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.

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.

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