Tag Archives: LGBT

When In Doubt, Err On The Side Of Love

On Thanksgiving Day 1977, my husband’s father died of a massive heart attack, leaving behind a wife and 12 children — six boys and six girls. The family was Episcopalian, attending St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Newport, Ky., where the Pabst family tithed and the children were baptized and married.

Because of the family’s size, Mr. Pabst had to work two jobs to keep food on the table, clothes on everyone’s backs and the mortgage current. Decades before Uber and Lyft made it cool to moonlight as a driver, Mr. Pabst drove a taxi on the weekends in the Cincinnati metro area to supplement the income from his day job. This of course meant long hours well into the night on Fridays and Saturdays, and even into the early morning hours on Saturdays and Sundays. Consequently, he missed a lot of Sunday church services.

When he died and Mrs. Pabst contacted the church to make plans for the funeral, she was told flatly that there would be no funeral at St. Paul’s for her husband because his lack of attendance caused him to not be an active member.

What the… ?

Isn’t it the church’s responsibility to provide for the surviving family a place to grieve, to be consoled and affirmed in the unconditional love of God? I thought so too. And sure, there are those who say that churches have rules and protocols, creeds and dogmas that demand to be followed — and not only are they correct, but they are naming the very reason why so many individual mainline churches are empty, closing or closed.

One person who’s not swayed by this trend is the Roman Catholic bishop of Springfield, Ill., Thomas Paprocki. Forty years after St. Paul’s snubbed the Pabst family in their hour of mourning and spiritual need, Bishop Paprocki has gone to extraordinary lengths to show God’s people that the church can be just as cruel today.

In set of guidelines titled “Same-Sex Marriage Policies Decree 6/12/2017”, released earlier this month, Bishop Paprocki went beyond the usual garden-variety dictate that people in same-gender marriages be denied communion and other outward signs of God’s love and grace to also say that they should be denied funeral rites, to wit:

Unless they have given some signs of repentance before their death, deceased persons who had lived openly in a same-sex marriage giving public scandal to the faithful are to be deprived of ecclesiastical funeral rites. In case of doubt, the proper pastor or parochial administrator is to consult the local ordinary [bishop], whose judgment is to be followed (cf. c. 1184).

Yup.

The document goes on to prescribe the usual waterproofing of the church, its blessed objects and its pastoral ministers against any association with same-gender marriage, all of which you can read about here. But for now let’s stick with the funeral question, since it has personal resonance for me.

Reading about the full impact of Bishop Paprocki’s guidelines, it’s hard for me to believe he’s a member of the same church that includes Pope Francis. And although I know he’d never do it, I wish I could recommend that the good bishop read Chuck McKnight’s blog on the topic of LGBTQ Christian acceptance.

In the meantime, the old-school hidebound, rule-bound church that puts God’s people second is forgetting that this whole Christian movement was never intended to be about institutions but about the children of God first and foremost. The mainline churches are forgetting that it’s not their job to define an individual’s relationship with God, or to determine the validity of that individual’s belief or faith.

In other words, they’re forgetting that it’s their to job, as stated in the Bible and translated from Aramaic into plain English, to do this:

I give a new commandment to you: “Love one another; just as I have loved you, you should also love one another.” (John 13:34)

They’re forgetting that nowhere in Jesus’ ministry did he indicate that it was okay to not give honor to those who had died and hope to those who remained.

McKnight puts it this way:

… The thing is, at the moment when I first made the switch to fully affirm my LGBTQ friends, I still wasn’t 100% certain about it. I still had lingering doubts. But I realized that I was causing much greater harm by withholding my affirmation than what I risked by becoming affirming.

I may only be a very simple pastor who is not famous, much less is the shepherd of a megachurch, nor is really even someone who commands a particularly large audience at any given time. But I do know that what the church needs to be teaching, promoting and acting on is pretty simple. It can be found in these seven scriptures that my church refers to as our Core Beliefs.

I would love to see Bishop Paprocki explain how these verses are about anything but love — and lots of it. How his misguided understanding of same-gender love doesn’t fit within that definition of love. And how he can write such spiritually violent “guidelines” in seeming ignorance of how that sense of overwhelming love commands us to treat one another.

Mr. Pabst got a Christian burial. Forty years later, same-gender-loving Christians are getting the Christian burials they desire and deserve. The institutional church, and people like Bishop Paprocki, aren’t stopping that — they’re only getting in the way. They’re rocks in a stream whose water is the love that goes right around them as though they’re not even there. And no matter how slowly those rocks smooth their rough edges, that glacial progress is a distant concern for the water that flows by unaffected.

Love won at Calvary. It wins today. Love will continue to win. It always has, and it always will.

This Generation Has a Purpose

“How does it feel to be the first generation to not have a purpose?”

These words were the equivalent of a slap across the face to me. They were coming out of the TV, out of the mouth of an actor playing Cleve Jones, a lion of the TLGBQIA movement who was a contemporary of Harvey Milk and who conceived the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt (which by the way has become, at 54 tons, the world’s largest piece of community folk art).

In the scene, Jones is an obviously tired, frustrated and angry activist confronting the reality of a modern queer generation whose equality at this point might feel as though it had been handed to them on a silver platter. The scene is from the third installment of the miniseries “When We Rise,” Dustin Lance Black’s attempt to create a somewhat star-studded documentary/biopic chronicling the modern queer movement from Stonewall to the present.

(Black, you’ll recall, wrote the Oscar-winning screenplay for “Milk”, the biopic about Harvey Milk starring Sean Penn, who also won an Oscar.)

“No! No, it is not over! We cannot give up now… We have got to remember who is not with us!” I blared this at my equally tired, frustrated and angry husband — who is, for better or worse, accustomed to these outbursts from me.

Let me explain.

At 62 years old I have been out of the closet for 49 years now, since I was 13.

I have only been in two long-term relationships. The first started in college and ended when he was killed by a drunk driver who ran a red light — a driver who’d been drinking because his wife was divorcing him for having slept with a man.

My current relationship, as of June 25th of this year, will have spanned 35 beautiful years. And while we were legally married on November 21, 2015, we still celebrate June 25th as our anniversary and probably will for the rest of our lives. It’s a quirk of second-class citizenship.

For 31 of the years we’ve been together, I’ve been a pastor — almost 19 of them as the founding and senior pastor of my current church.

In those 31 years I’ve lost track of the number of funerals and memorials I’ve officiated for those who have died as a result of the AIDS plague. Because if you do the math, those 31 years began in 1986. However, I do remember clearly and can still see the faces of the 14 very close friends — including my best friend from my hometown of Chicago who didn’t live to see his 45th birthday — whom I’ve survived, HIV-negative and still feeling the multi-ton weight of survivor’s guilt all these years later.

I share all this as a way of elucidating why Black’s miniseries has been more than a bit difficult to watch. I lived all that. Even though the miniseries is set in San Francisco and I am from Chicago, I could have been one of any number of the characters it depicts. So the whole thing just rests so heavily on my heart.

There’s more.

I was also rejected by my family. I was the victim of sexual abuse. I was threatened with psychological treatment. I was the victim of hate crimes. I was rejected by the education system and the church of my childhood. I was denied housing. I was threatened with violence.

And to this day it’s never been lost on me the threats and dangers I’ve faced as an out and proud gay man living in the South for the last 23 years.

So to borrow from the words of the familiar hymn, this miniseries is my story, it is my song. It’s also the story of countless thousands in the TLGB community — and because it has been our story, it has become the story of countless thousands of QIA folks as well.

Having not yet seen the final installment of this four-part series, I don’t know where it’s going to go our how it’s going to end up. But I can guess. The legal granting of our marriage equality is a great victory. The movement and momentum toward job protections, our assimilation into society, the normalization of our relationships — these are all things we can celebrate and be proud of. We need to hold the s/heroes of these hard-fought advances close to our hearts and always be grateful for their stamina, creativity and courage.

However, we also need to remember something else Cleve Jones has said: “A movement that seeks to advance only its own members is going to accomplish little”.

What does that mean?

It means the current generation does indeed have a purpose, and a great one. While the people whose lives are represented by the T in TLGBQIA have been in this movement from the beginning, they have been treated with disdain, been trivilialized, been the butt of jokes, been afterthoughts — and on our worst days, been part of the sacrifice made in the march toward everyone’s equality.

So what is the purpose the current generation needs? It’s to ensure that bathrooms are safe to be used for their intended purpose — and not as a political football. It’s to secure job protections, insurance coverage and a relief from the violence that is aimed so specifically and savagely at transgender people.

In that vein, these words of Dr. King could not be more relevant to this current generation:

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Need more evidence?  Look no further than here: Christian conservative TX mom becomes “accidental activist” after child comes out as transgender

Or here:


This generation must remember the lesson from this story. These accomplishments have only come about because we came together as a community. Remember that during the start of the AIDS plague the world was willing to let us die. It was only when we came together that we found ways to live!

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t supply relevant inspiration from the bible, so here it is (Philippians 2:1-4):

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

This generation’s purpose couldn’t be clearer, and there’s a fully modern way of expressing it. It’s to help the world see that:

  • Trans lives matter.
  • Black lives matter.
  • Muslim lives matter.
  • Women’s lives matter.

… and all that it means in the fullness of the Creation and of life on this earth.

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Taking the Bullets out of the Gun

In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. (Martin Luther King Jr.)

In the days following the Orlando massacre, it’s become painfully clear to me that there are people out there who really don’t get it. They really don’t. They don’t get that LGBT people like me feel connected to what happened at Pulse. They don’t get that it touched a nerve with each of us individually. They don’t get that we LGBT people live our lives carrying around a keen sense of vulnerability that not everyone can relate to. They just don’t get it. And it’s so disappointing.

Perhaps worst of all, these people don’t get that this is the wrong time to exercise their heterosexual privilege and make excuses for why they couldn’t be bothered to express sympathy for how LGBT people are feeling in the wake of Orlando.

If you think I’m generalizing, I can assure you that I’m not. And if this particular shoe fits you, then by all means I encourage you to wear it. Walk around and see how it feels. If it’s uncomfortable, read on. If it’s comfortable, read on.

It’s because that particular pair of shoes still exists that we have so-called “Christians” taking full advantage of this moment to widen the divisions and hatred in our society. They’re hiding behind an illusion that theirs is the one true faith (thereby implying that they’re speaking for God). They’re hiding behind “morality” and “values” — evangelical/fundamentalist code for opposition to reproductive freedom, marriage equality, and any limits whatsoever on the sacrosanctity of American gun rights.

Well, guess what else is included in that code: That if you’re not “Christian” by their standards, there’s no mercy, compassion or place for you in their America.

In other words, it’s okay for someone to kill you.

Eliel Cruz, executive director of Faith in America, puts it this way:

We also have to examine how specifically Christian evangelicals, the right, have exported their homophobia. I mean, let’s really look at Christian evangelicals who have influenced legislation abroad in many countries in Africa, and in Russia, that have led to LGBT people being killed.
There are specific ties to these individuals.

The same messages that are being preached in the pulpit are the same messages that are being preached abroad, and it’s being translated to understand that they believe this… is okay because these white missionaries told us it was. And that, because of what scripture says, it’s okay to kill these individuals as well. Whether or not that is your intent, that is the impact.

And in case you think this is just hyperbole, allow Rev. Roger Jimenez of Sacramento’s Verity Baptist Church to disabuse you of that notion (the following being from an hourlong sermon):

Hey, are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? No… I think that’s great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida’s a little safer tonight.

… It is unnatural for a man to be attracted to another man.

… The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die.

Or allow Congressman Rick Allen to assure you that LGBT people are worthy of death.

Statements like these are so far apart from my morals and values — and my Christianity — that I find it hard to believe they draw breath on the same planet as I do.

There have always been Christians who take an exceptionalist view of their faith — i.e., that there’s one road to heaven, and they’ve got the map. But the religious right (and political right), the fundamentalists, the zealots, the anti-intellectual evangelicals and the end-of-times crowd have a lot of nerve trying to claim their narrow brand of Christianity is the only one to be practiced.

Why is this stuff so dangerous? Because as a society shifts toward acceptance, those who oppose it are likely to become more radical, according to law and psychology experts interviewed by the New York Times for an article stating that even before the Orlando massacre, the LGBT community was more at risk for hate crimes in America than any other minority group. According to FBI data cited by the Times:

  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are the most likely targets of hate crimes, with LGBT people being twice as likely to be targeted as African Americans.
  • In the past 10 years, the rate of hate crimes based on sexual orientation has surpassed that of crimes against Jewish people.
  • Of 5,462 single-bias hate crimes reported in 2014, nearly one-fifth were because of the victim’s perceived or actual sexual orientation.

In other words, being out and LGBT is simply dangerous, as a friend recently shared. I agree. When it comes to my husband and me, there are places we don’t go. We instinctively scan any room we enter. We have a plan in place in case we run into an aggressive homophobe. When someone walks into a restaurant where we’re seated and gives us “that look”, we tense. Partly because at one time we were literally on the receiving end of threats, we don’t ever assume we’re safe.

But then there’s Robert Lynch, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg, Fla. Writing about Orlando in his blog, he said:

Sadly it is religion, including our own, which targets, mostly verbally, and also often breeds contempt for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Attacks today on LGBT men and women often plant the seed of contempt, then hatred, which can ultimately lead to violence. Those women and men who were mowed down early yesterday morning were all made in the image and likeness of God. We teach that. We should believe that. We must stand for that… Singling out people for victimization because of their religion, their sexual orientation, their nationality must be offensive to God’s ears. It has to stop also.

Meanwhile, the political right was in a hurry to connect the massacre to Islamic terrorism, with the shooter’s Muslim identity breathlessly noted.

Yet before we allow the Christian/political right to label every Muslim an extremist and every Syrian refugee a terrorist, let’s not forget that it’s the message of the Christian extremists and terrorists in our own nation — those who organize their own militias, who wear white sheets and burn crosses, who bomb abortion clinics, who kill and kidnap in the name of God, who refuse to recognize homosexuals — who might as well have been bullets in the shooter’s gun.

Has anyone noticed that these Christian exceptionalists never talk about what Jesus did or said, opting instead to go immediately to their own twisted version of the Old Testament to justify their fear, their hate, their grab for power?

Throw in a spoonful of the writings from Revelations, and Christian-identified American exceptionalism blesses the carpet bombing of a country into submission, or the injection of needle full of poison into the arm of a man or woman the state has determined is expendable.

By the way, do you really think someone who has been married 3-4 times has any morals or values to offer up to a same-gender couple who have been together for 34 years? Or that an institutional church that has made a century-long practice of hiding pedophiles has any moral grounds to be worried about who a LGBTQ person chooses to marry?

Do you really think that a person who calls themselves a “right to life” Christian yet allows the state to murder someone in their 30’s or 40’s has any moral compass from which anyone else could take direction?

My editor likes to call me “Pastor Angrypants” when I get worked up about these glaring hypocrisies. Well then, so be it. I am tired — and maybe even a little righteously angry — that my religion has been hijacked, repackaged and returned to me as something I should swallow whole or risk burning in hell.

I resent that in today’s environment, I am expected to rent my faith from the institutional church rather than owning it for myself.

I am tired of counting the angels dancing on the head of a pin while our culture collapses around us. I am tired of watching my tax dollars being spent on a false war on Christmas while thousands of souls are left on the streets without shelter, food or decent clothing — and with little hope of that changing in the foreseeable future.

I am tired of these so-called Christian leaders taking front and center on moral talk and then encouraging people to go get a gun.

I am more than just a little tired of having to give comfort to those grieving in my community because it seems that every other day we are gunned down, knifed and beaten beyond recognition because of who we love or what public restroom we use.

It is time for the “followers of Jesus” to speak up and remind the world that “Christian” means someone who follows the example and teachings of Jesus. Not someone who will swallow whatever a power-hungry and opportunist pastor tells them.

Jesus never said a word about homosexuality. As a matter of fact, Jesus very seldom talked about the “thou shalt nots” of what we’re not supposed to do. Rather, his moral compass, his teaching, was much more concerned with what we’re supposed to do. He was always crystal clear about the “thou shalts.”

So here’s a “thou shalt”: It is time for our family members whose silence has have been deafening to stand up! And to our other (largely straight) allies, hear us when we say this: We need you to stand up with us. We can do a lot by ourselves, but this won’t end without your help. When you hear a gay joke, or someone saying “that’s so gay”, or someone being called queer (or worse), or a clergyperson demonizing gay people, say something. Stand up for us. And if you know us, stand up for us. Stand up for my family.

We need your help emptying the bullets from the literal and figurative guns that are killing us.

Here’s another “thou shalt”: It is time for us to really walk with Jesus. Feed the poor (in America alone there are 12-15 million souls who worry daily about whether they will have food); visit the sick and imprisoned (and advocate for their humane treatment); accept the outcast (the queer, the single mom, the street person, the Muslim, the mentally challenged); shelter the homeless (and stop creating more of them); be good stewards and shepherds of Creation (and stop raping the environment); depend on God rather than on wealth (and stop collecting it at the expense of the poor); treat others as you would have them treat you. And if you’re going to fight, fight for justice!

And it is far past time for the “followers of Jesus” — those who believe in and actually attempt to live the teachings of Jesus — to reclaim the name “Christian”, to reclaim the faith, to reclaim the discussion… to stop being co-opted by persons and politicians who have little knowledge, understanding or practical application of Christian principles in their own lives.

Let us today reclaim this definition of love from 1 Corinthians 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Let us reclaim this theme of the Old Testament (Micah 6:8):

But God has already made it plain how to live, what to do, what God is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love. And don’t take yourself too seriously — take God seriously.

Let us reject the repackaging of today’s Christianity into silly self-righteous proof-texting of the old Hebrew scriptures whose byproduct is real spiritual violence in service of a naked power grab by which the institutional church dominates and controls people.

Murder and violent aggression are immoral. Allowing people to wallow in poverty is immoral. Raising children to hate others for any reason is immoral. Rewarding the rich and greedy is immoral. Lying is immoral. Suspending basic human rights is immoral. Torturing prisoners is immoral.

Insecure (and all too often power hungry) preachers and politicians feed on people’s fears. They prey on the weak, they divert our abundance away from the poor to build a building or win an election, and they threaten believers with hell on earth at the hands of weapons of mass destruction. That is not congruent with my faith, nor should it be with yours.

It is now more than past time to leave behind the preachers, priests and politicians who have proven themselves to be a badly behaved bunch of hypocrites. It is now more than past time to abandon the churches that are temples to greed, self-indulgence and self-righteousness.

And finally, it is time to take seriously this urging of Martin Luther King Jr., who said:

Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.

To which I would add: Let us not be bullets in the gun of hate and despair.

What the Whole World Could Learn From a 15-Year-Old Girl

I thought I’d sit down today and get indignant about the crass politicization of a complete non-issue.

No, I’m not talking about Benghazi, or private email servers, or whether or not Donald Trump actually knows how to run a business. I’m talking about something that actually has everyday people acting as though they’ve lost their minds: The issue of which public restroom a person chooses to use.

I know why people are freaked out on a personal level. And I also know why their fears around this issue are being manipulated by the political and religious classes. The first “why” has nothing to do with the vaunted right to privacy or fears of molestation that the foamers are serving up to the media as the reasons.

Instead, it has everything to do with gender itself. Gender being the actual third rail of our society. When people step outside the accepted gender norms of their time and their society, the people around them really lose it. History is littered with examples: Women’s liberation, gay equality… and now transgender people.

If you don’t believe me, Google “Transgender Day of Remembrance” and see what you get. It ain’t a party, a parade, or even a crystal staircase. It’s how transgender people and their allies solemnly remember, every year, just how deadly it can be to step on today’s third rail of gender nonconformity and declare for yourself that your gender and your biological sex might just be misaligned.

So God forbid you should walk into a public restroom designated for use by those who share your gender identity. People will lose their minds. And other people will exploit that. And it will all be a backlash against something only tangentially related to your individual life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’ll start with what I know. The Atlanta metro area has approximately 11,000 homeless people — a ridiculously high percentage of whom are veterans and kids. Those kids are on our streets.

Now, I have marginally more experience to write about the problem of homelessness than about America’s new war on restroom choice. (Not to mention that if the issue of homelessness captivated the public imagination as much as the restroom issue appears to have, who knows? We might actually have a shot at meeting the challenge of homelessness in a relatively short period of time.)

I say “marginally” because, while (compared to most Americans) I have an ocean of experience relating to transgender people as friends, community members and parishioners, I have to admit that I am limited in just how much I can claim to personally relate to their plight in this world.

I was born a biological male and reared as a male, and in the six decades I’ve lived as a male, I’ve never experienced a moment of struggle over the connection between my biological sex and my gender identity.

Of course, my sexual orientation was another matter entirely, at least according to society in general and the church in particular. However, even that was never really a question for me personally. Deep in my soul I have always known that God had not made a mistake with the gene(s) that caused me to be attracted to people of the same gender as me.

Yet I do find it somewhat awkward to address the restroom-choice issue because I don’t feel that I can truly relate in my mind, in the deepest parts of my person, to the incredible struggle and inner turmoil my friends from the transgender community must deal with on multiple fronts. If I’m totally honest with myself, I have to confess that I come up short on true empathy (look it up, it’s not the same as sympathy) with what it must be like to feel “born in the wrong body” biologically.

I have no real clue what it must be like to look in the mirror see my body and think to myself, “This is not who I am. My body is not put together in such a way as to match my mind and/or soul.” I have no idea what it’s like to not be comfortable in my own skin.

As a student of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — the man I credit with singlehandedly inspiring me to go into ministry — I can relate this gap to an even bigger, more enduring and more perplexing one: The awkward sensation for white liberals of knowing that we will never truly understand, in bones-deep authentic way, what it really is to be black in America.

God knows I’ve spent a lifetime trying to explain what it is to be gay to my straight friends — and while there has been a certain level of understanding reached, eyes still roll and faces blush when I kiss my partner in front of them or refer to him as my husband. So there’s that.

Given all these things, what can I claim to know about the transgender community and the bathroom issue?

First of all, I know several things from a Christian perspective. Those things that I know are rooted in a very clear understanding of Matthew 22:40, where Jesus said, “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”

So here’s what I’ll hang off those two commands:

  1. I know that transgender folks do not wake up one day making a choice to change their gender identity so they can go to a different public restroom.
  2. I know that to change one’s biological gender requires ongoing and long-term consultations with psychiatrists, psychologists, medical doctors, support groups and personal therapists.
  3. I know that each of these folks is in fact a child of God.
  4. I know that by the time a transwoman (i.e., a male-to-female transgender person) walks into a women’s restroom, she is a women, her biology notwithstanding.
  5. I know that by the time a transman (a female-to-male transgender person) walks into a men’s restroom, he is a man.
  6. I know transgender folks have been around and using public restrooms in relative peace for a lot longer than this “issue” has been politicized.
  7. I know that this “issue” is part of a backlash against my not-even-one-year-old right to get married — i.e., the political right and religious fundamentalists need another target to wax hysterical about.
  8. I know, based on Jesus’ teachings, that for a pastor to stand in a pulpit and call for transgender people to be killed is not even close to being a Christian response.
  9. I know that there is a really easy fix to all this: Make all bathrooms unisex. After all, going to the bathroom is a private matter for everyone.
  10. I know that to try and turn this discussion into an argument around safety from pedophiles and sexual perverts shows a lack of knowledge, fairness and mercy.
  11. I know the overriding challenge facing the transgender community in the form of this particular issue is that the vast majority of folks screaming about this have not taken the time to learn, watch and or listen.

But don’t take my word for it. Talk to a transgender person. And by that I mean listen. Really listen. And it doesn’t have to be about anything deep. Just what’s going on that day. Because it’s really, really hard to hate someone whose story you actually know.

And if you don’t think you know any transgender people, meet Jazz Jennings:

Katie Couric & Jazz Jennings
Katie Couric interviews transgender advocate Jazz Jennings on her teen years, her new book and equality.

You’re welcome.

American Spring: Marriage equality and the arc to justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keeping Up With Caitlyn

As Christians we’re commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves. And for the most part, we have a tendency to focus on the first part of that command without really thinking about what the latter half actually means.

In an individual sense, I believe it’s just as important to God that we master the art of unconditional self-love as it is for us to experience unconditional love of each other. Because to love ourselves, we have to see ourselves as God sees us. And the closer we come to that perspective, the closer we come to seeing our brothers and sisters as God sees them — which is what draws into a real relationship with God.

In my ministry I’ve come to emphasize the primacy of having an unfettered relationship with God because I fervently believe in God’s power to speak to our hearts in a way that no self-proclaimed intermediary could hope to do. When we love ourselves as God loves us, and when we love others as God loves them, we can hardly go wrong.

There is no doubt in my mind that God has loved Caitlyn Jenner every minute of her life for who she was at that time. For me there is no doubt that God’s love extends to every transgender person on Earth just as much as much as it does to all of God’s children. And there is also no doubt for me that we are commanded to love each other in the same manner.

The beauty of God’s love is that God is with us both in the valley and on the mountaintop — and the quality of God’s love is immutable in either circumstance. God was with Caitlyn for the six decades she was called Bruce as much as God is with her now.

Consequently, God is as much with everyday transgender people as God is with Caitlyn. What that means is that God is acutely aware of the actual reality of everyday transgender existence — which looks a lot less like a Vanity Fair cover and more like under/unemployment, homelessness, substandard healthcare, ridicule, violence, desperation, and the indignities of state efforts to deny transgender people everyday dignities such as being able to carry accurate identification documents or use public restrooms in peace.

Clearly, the indignities everyday transgender people face aren’t what God wants for any of God’s children. And if God is capable of loving our transgender brothers and sisters as much as God does — and is also capable of being with them in their suffering at our collective hands — then shouldn’t we be capable of the same?

If we can’t love our neighbors — truly love them, all of them — then how can we be certain that we actually love ourselves, that we truly see ourselves as God sees us?

The Movement for Equality is Truly Global

A trendy district in Tokyo makes Japan the first east Asian nation to legally recognize same-sex partnerships. Cuban same-sex couples participate in mock weddings blessed by priests in downtown Havana. A human rights activist completes a 7,450-mile bike ride from Cairo to Cape Town, having met with local LGBT activists along the way.

And that’s just this week.

The movement for LGBT equality has gone truly global. And this Sunday, more than a thousand organizations in more than a hundred countries will put on an almost inconceivable number of events — Atlanta’s will be in Piedmont Park at 1pm — as part of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

The global movement for equality really is a movement. There’s so much organic activity everywhere, but here are four milestones connected to IDAHOT:

  • The World Health Organization ended its classification of homosexuality as a disease in 1990. (IDAHOT is observed on the anniversary of that date.)
  • 18 nations now extend the freedom to marry to same-sex couples.
  • Last year the White House issued its first-ever statement in honor of IDAHOT, in conjunction with a statement joining U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in declaring the rights of LGBT people to be part of the larger framework of human rights globally.
  • In February, Kerry appointed the first-ever Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons.

On the other hand, according to the IDAHOT organization:

  • Same-sex relationships are still illegal in 76 countries representing 44% of the world’s population.
  • A handful of countries and other jurisdictions still exact the death penalty for same-sex sexual behavior.
  • As late as 2013, roughly 70% of the world outside the U.S. (that’s 5 billion people) still lived under laws and regulations that limit freedom of expression around sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • 70% of African countries explicitly criminalize LGBT existence. And 22 of 46 Asian countries criminalize same-sex behavior.
  • There were 1,731 reported killings of transgender and gender-diverse people from 2008 to 2014.

I decided many years ago that because Georgia is my home, I will wait (and agitate) for equality to happen to me where I live. But that doesn’t mean I don’t concern myself with what happens in the rest of the country or the world. Every year, our local Transgender Day of Remembrance reminds me that the violence against my transgender brothers and sisters here in America doesn’t look that much different from the violence visited on transgender people anywhere else in the world.

And neither should any of our equality. As my spiritual hero Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” IDAHOT is a great example of that thinking for the LGBT movement.

Three Reasons Why the Fight for Equality Isn’t About Marriage

Now that the rush of excitement is over and we’ve digested the Supreme Court commentary and maybe even listened to all or part of Question 1 or Question 2, all we can do is wait for the Court to… er, validate our lives.

And while we’re waiting, I’d like to make another case: The case for actual equality. Here’s why:

  • LGBT people can still be fired or denied housing or public accommodations for no other reason than the simple fact of who we are in just about as many states as same-gender couples can now get legally married.
  • Transgender people worldwide are regularly shot, stabbed, beaten, burned, mutilated, tortured, strangled, hanged or stoned — generally to death — simply for being who they are. It’s why the single biggest transgender-focused event in any community is a day of remembrance to honor those who have suffered in the last 365 days.
  • About 40% of youth experiencing homelessness identify as LGBT. LGB youth are also 4 times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers — and this is in a context where suicide is already the second leading cause of death among young people age 10-24.

And this is to say nothing of adoption rights, wage gaps, transgender underemployment and unemployment… you get the picture.

My point being that, while it will be thrilling to see same-gender love advance from second-class status in America, it’s important for us — and for our allies and observers — to understand that the fight for marriage equality in many ways happened on its own timetable thanks to the courts. So if there is a Big Gay Agenda, it’s not exactly a to-do list and marriage is now at the top.

In fact, the actual Big Gay Agenda is probably not much of a list at all, because it really only has one thing on it: Equality. True equality. The kind that results in less discrimination, violence, despair, scapegoating and loss. Because when we are truly equal, more of us are able to rise up to contribute to our world in all the big and small ways that make everyone richer.

Maybe it would be better for everyone to see equality as the hub of a mighty big wheel we’re all trying to build in order for LGBT people to live with dignity. Marriage equality is just one of an awful lot of spokes that still need to be built if that wheel is going to support all of us. We need marriage equality, but it’s just the latest sprint in a very long and important marathon.

The Road to Hell is Not Paved with Wedding Cake

On Tuesday I joined hundreds of other souls at the state Capitol to rally against the “religious liberty” bill making its way through the current legislative session — a bill that is clearly designed to be red meat for the conservative base. And by that I mean: It’s a distraction from the real issues the Legislature should be tackling.

Among those for whom this red meat is intended are apparently Christians who would believe that their eternal salvation might hinge on whether or not they baked a cake for a gay wedding. I am not making this up. (And I sincerely wish I were.)

So please add my voice to the growing chorus who say, not in my name. Not only because I do not believe a law like S.B. 129 belongs in Georgia (or anywhere), but also because I can assure you that God is not waiting to damn anyone for baking a cake.

What God is waiting for is for us to do something like this. Because God is already on our side. And by the way, Jesus spoke quite directly to our ability to get lost in a tangle of laws.

That’s my idea of exercising “religious liberty”. If the day ever came that my right to do those things were curtailed, then I would have grave concerns. But for now, I think the best thing we can do for ourselves as people and as a nation is to remember Jesus’ teaching that anyone who is not against us is for us. And in the meantime, there is much real work to do.

“Erotic Liberty” Pastor Proves He’s Stuck on Stupid

Fair warning to you who are about to read this: It’s written with an “R” rating. It’s not sugar-coated, mealy-mouthed or any of the other indirect, passive-aggressive things you might expect from a pastor. In fact, I’m feeling quite aggressive.

Maybe I’m about to exercise my “aggressive liberty”. Now, if that term doesn’t make sense to you, read on to find out what was done in our names yesterday under the Gold Dome – which is a place that still apparently can be stuck disappointingly on stupid.

Let’s start with the Rev. Bryant Wright. He’s stuck on stupid for sure. But before I go into that, allow me refresh you on how the Urban Dictionary defines “stuck on stupid”: In a prolonged state of being completely clueless or too high to think straight. A second definition is: a person who cannot learn, a fool who repeats their mistakes time and again, a person who constantly screws up.

A bracing definition to be sure, but what happened yesterday in the state Legislature was just as bracing to me – and also hopefully to you. If you’re not sure why, keep reading.

You see, our fine General Assembly was witness yesterday to a “lesson in morals” sermon offered as the opening devotion – or invocation – to their session by a certain Rev. Bryant Wright, senior pastor at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church and a former leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, who took that opportunity to denigrate the TLGB (transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual) community in the context of showcasing his support for the “religious liberty” non-issue that our fair Legislature apparently now likes to treat with the same perennial faux solemnity that the Christian-identity crowd has lovingly lavished on my other favorite example of seriously misguided Christianity-under-attack thinking: The never-ending fight against the never-declared “War on Christmas”.

AJC statehouse reporter Aaron Gould Sheinin reported via columnist Jay Bookman that the following came directly from Rev. Wright’s lips yesterday:

“It is just one example of what our culture is going to increasingly see as an issue of erotic liberty versus religious liberty,” Wright said. “We’re liable to see this with our military chaplains in the years ahead if they in good conscience believe they cannot perform same-sex weddings and could be kicked out of the military.”

That looming threat, he said, is a reminder of lawmakers’ role in making sure government is “protective of its citizens against evil and is working for the common good.” Religious liberty, Wright said, is a “foundational aspect” of the U.S. Constitution and is for the “common good and welfare of man.”

He urged legislators to remember the nation’s heritage “even though a majority of your constituencies have embraced erotic liberty over religious liberty.”

Erotic liberty?!? I really thought I’d heard it all, and then yesterday was a new day for me, and not in a good way.

Just what in all of God’s green earth does “erotic liberty” mean? And why, in particular, is it cast in opposition to so-called religious liberty? Is Rev. Wright saying that TLGB relationships are void of anything but sexual pleasure? Is he trying to impart that he sees TLGB sexual appetites as being so wildly out of control that sex is seriously all that they are about?

Please tell me people erupted in laughter yesterday in the Gold Trailer. Please.

But I suspect that’s not what happened – in fact I know it without even asking – and that’s just so sad at this late date in our evolution as a civilization. I also can’t decide if I’m more horrified at the thought that Rev. Wright earnestly believes what he said, or that he doesn’t actually believe it but said it because that’s his role as he sees it. Do you get where I’m coming from on that point? Because this is the age of hyperbole, and it’s becoming harder and harder to determine where the line between the real and the exaggerated actually lies anymore.

Maybe Rev. Wright and his ilk need to return all the videos that have been rented from Southern Nights or Inserection as “research material” and understand this: My partner and I have been together for 33 years. The amount of time we’ve spent in “erotic liberty”, I’m afraid, barely tips the scale compared to the amount of time we have spent in practicing “religious liberty”.

And of course, by “religious liberty” I am sure Rev. Wright meant: Going to worship services, leading bible studies, advocating for the abandoned in society, seeking housing for the homeless, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, spending time visiting the sick or imprisoned. Does the good Reverend’s definition of “religious liberty” include going to court alongside parishioners, or advocacy for the disenfranchised? Does it also include being a moral compass on race relations, immigration issues, or on unfair banking practices that cause people to lose their homes and livelihoods?

Because if that isn’t the good Reverend’s definition of “religious liberty”, then I really have no idea what it was God called me to be as a minister thirtysomething years ago, now working 60-70 hours a week, 50 weeks of the year. Or is he just stuck on stupid? (And by now I’m guessing you can tell that I’m being rhetorical with that particular question.)

But let’s humor Rev. Wright on one of his other points – i.e., that in the years ahead, if military chaplains in good conscience believe they cannot perform same-sex weddings, they could be kicked out of the military. Where in the world is he coming from on this? It was not that terribly long ago that military chaplains in good conscience would not perform interracial marriages, or interfaith marriages – yet when the military wisely (and perhaps, dispassionately) recognized that all human beings are created equal in the eyes of God, they adjusted for what would best serve their readiness objectives – an adjustment that just happens to be in tune with a higher moral law.

But Rev. Stuck-on-Stupid conveniently glossed over that and in doing so insulted everything America is actually about. And he did it in our state Legislature. Are you angry yet?

How exactly is his marriage, his religious practice, or his ability to preach on Sunday affected because a TLGB person is allowed to express their love, get married, or enjoy the ability to have a job? You can guess my answer: It’s because he’s stuck on stupid.

Please make a note dear Reverend, as perhaps I’m the first person to share this breaking story with you: Most of the country, most of Christianity, most of Judaism and many other faiths – in other words, the majority – are no longer stuck on stupid. The majority is no longer with you.

So what does that mean for Rev. Wright? It means he’s stuck in the past. He’s stuck in a past model of Christian religiosity that has been used to subjugate women, people of color – and really anyone who might have been inconvenient to the patriarchy at any given time. He’s willing to beat that tired old drum of denigrating a minority that he mistakenly thinks is a despised outlier.

Worst of all, he does it in the name of the God of love and the Jesus of redemption – and in the very city that was the capital of a civil rights movement whose members grew up hearing similarly mealy-mouthed broadsides lavished on them by the Rev. Wrights of their day. With the film “Selma” poised to make a fine showing at this year’s Oscars, what a sad day for Atlanta, the capital of the American civil rights movement, that Rev. Wright was given an audience by the state of Georgia just blocks from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change. It’s almost surreal when you think about it. It’s like we just don’t learn, ever.

Once you recognize all that, I think you’ll agree with me that calling the good Reverend “stuck on stupid” is really quite nothing compared to the sad truth of who he actually is and how much he sincerely gets it wrong. Rather than being stuck on stupid, I do believe we followers of Jesus are called to be stuck on love – and the Rev. Bryant Wright is decidedly, sadly and regrettably not stuck on that. He is the outlier, not TLGB people or the people who love them.

And by the way, would you like to guess whose side the God of love and the Jesus of redemption are on? But there I go again with rhetorical questions.