Tag Archives: Peace/Violence

Dear Washington: Leave the Praying to Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m praying mightily for it to be so.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

After The Dust Settles, A Call To Re-Focus

Ladies and gentlemen, in the left corner of the ring — representing the liberal, progressive, “hate everything that is not liberal or progressive by their own definition” end of our current political spectrum — is Kathy Griffin, the self-styled “D-list” comedian figuratively holding the severed head of President Donald Trump. And in the right corner — representing the conservative, alt-right and “hate everything that is not alt-right or conservative by their own definition” end of the spectrum — is Ted Nugent, a one-hit-wonder rocker figuratively holding a gun to the head of former President Barack Obama.

What is left in the middle of the ring is all of us who were taught to treat people with dignity, respect and civility. Anyone who was brought up in the same Christian church as me was likely also taught to ask of themselves, “What does the Lord require of you?”

The answer being, “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8 MSG) We were also told repeatedly that the most important biblical teaching from the Gospels is from John 13:34-35 (MSG): “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

So what happened? Why is the noise coming from the extreme left and extreme right so loud, so overpowering? Why do we have to read and listen to justifications for the total idiocy coming from the extremes, and why is it not drowned out by the voices in the middle?

Can we not clearly see that Kathy Griffin and her ilk are way out of line when they appear to call for the death of the President of the United States?

Can we not clearly see that Ted Nugent and his ilk are way out of line when they appear to call for the death of the President of the United States?

Can we not clearly see that a political point of view does not require a lifestyle or geographic location?

Many of those from the extreme right on the political spectrum say that because I am proudly and openly gay, don’t own a gun and advocate for the homeless, I am somehow also a huge liberal who is advocating a communist takeover and ultimately will go to hell for being a fag who doesn’t preach biblical truth. They truly do not know what they are talking about and are painting with a wide brush.

Yes, I am open and proudly gay. I have had only one marriage that will celebrate its 35th anniversary on the 25th of this month — a milestone that I would like to see how many of my homophobic accusers have achieved.

I don’t own a gun, because I really fear I would use it, which doesn’t mean I don’t think those who want a gun shouldn’t get one. Although I do think one needs to show they have mental stability before ownership of such a weapon is allowed.

I advocate for the homeless because that is what Jesus said was the biggest concern to our God and therefore a key to eternal life.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Creator, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ “ (Matthew 25:34-40 NRSV)

Many of those from the extreme left on the political spectrum see those on the right as racist, misogynist homophobes who are advocating a theocracy, and who will not be happy until we on the left are all dead. This, my friends, is an equally ridiculous view point that is just as dangerous to our survival as a country as the aforementioned stupidity coming from the right.

We in the middle must take back the conversation. We must loudly call for justice and mercy. We must advocate in all that we do for non-violence and forgiveness and all that this means. The words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King need to be at the forefront of our minds: “Violence is not only impractical but immoral.” Our actions, our lives, our relationships need to reflect this not philosophically, but in the reality of our day-to-day lives.

We must take seriously the teaching from Jesus, “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?” (John 20:23 MSG) We must understand that forgiveness is about our own lives and having a healthy personal outlook, rather than about the one we are forgiving.

If we are to survive as a world, then we in the middle had better wake up and find common ground with our sisters and brothers to the left or right of center before someone from one of the extremes does something that is not correctable and destroys any chance we have of continuing to claim, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all… are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

God bless,
Pastor Paul

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with Me

It’s 2017, and if anything is clear at this point, it’s that we absolutely must change the way we conduct ourselves. In other words, we need some powerful collective resolutions – yes, resolutions – to help us change the way things are and the way they might be.

But groups of people don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, do they? When groups of people resolve to do things, those resolutions have different names – laws, proclamations, constitutions.

So what we’re left with is what we can do on a personal level to impact how we as a society do business – in other words, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, to be the change we wish to see in the world.

In this endeavor the bible actually has something elegantly simple and clarifying to say on the subject:

God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

With that in mind, I was re-reading Jim Wallis’ 10 Resolutions for 2015 and realized that I could classify each of his 10 proposed resolutions according to the three main areas of focus God calls us to in Micah 6:8:

To act justly:
• Extend who our neighbors are; whom we are also called to love.
• Love hardest those who are the closest.
• Always ask, “What does this mean for the poor and vulnerable?”
• Support and empower women and girls.
• Question every act of war.
• Question calling any person of faith a terrorist.
• Make sure we know what terrorism is

To love mercy:
• Build racial bridges.
• Practice presence.
• Embrace hope and joy.
• Forgive as fully and as completely as god has forgiven us.

To walk humbly with your God:
• Love God with all your strength, heart and soul
• Stand up for the reality of climate change.

To which I will add: This idea of real forgiveness. Think and pray about, and then practice, living in a judgment-free zone where your inner voice is a voice of wisdom rather than judgment; a voice of compassion rather than judgment; a voice of real love rather than judgment. Because if there is no forgiveness, there is no life. When you refuse to let go and move on, what exactly are you hanging on to, and what exactly is it worth to you?

So there you have it, the start of a path for 2017 that can actually change the way we think, the way we do business. The challenge to this is: It is not about the waiting for the world to get better. It’s about each of us committing to be better, to do better, starting today – starting right now.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

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.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

A New Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The well-known first paragraph of the preamble of the Declaration of Independence is an absolute revelation of both human rights and human failings. As a declaration of human rights, it sets out a broad idea of individual freedom and that extends from none other than the Creator. As a snapshot of American revolutionary thinking, it’s a bracing reminder that for our young nation at the time, “all men are created equal” really only included men — and white men at that.

We’ve come a long way. And we have so much farther to go. So I’m proposing a new declaration of independence. Just as the original Declaration included an indictment of King George III’s rule over the Colonies, here’s a litany of things I’d like to see us declare our independence from:

  • Allowing the politics of polarization, demonization and hyperbole.
  • Believing that someone else’s equality comes at a cost to us.
  • Believing we can afford our war machine but can’t feed, house or provide healthcare for every American.
  • Believing that a living wage would do more harm than good.
  • Denying that policing in America is not the same for everyone.
  • Worrying about a person’s physical sex instead of accepting their gender expression.
  • Denying the impact and scope of human trafficking, slavery and forced prostitution.
  • Shaming, bullying and hostility in our schools, political spheres and the internet.
  • Denying that the everyday people of any country on earth want the same basic things we do, despite what might be done politically in their name.
  • Defaulting to a patriotism that can’t decouple itself from ideas and images of our war machine.
  • Thinking we can’t afford to care for our veterans properly.
  • Believing we can afford our prison-industrial complex but can’t afford to educate our children properly.
  • Keeping mental illness in the closet.
  • Believing the Second Amendment means we cannot open the door to one iota more of gun sanity.
  • Keeping drugs like marijuana illegal yet denying the impact of our pharmaceutical drug culture.

In other words, a declaration of independence from our old ways of thinking. Which leads me to perhaps the principal declaration of all: An independence from allowing anyone, anything, any institution or idea, to come between us as individuals and our God. Because when we are in a relationship with God, and truly listening to God, we declare our independence from anyone who would try to control our thinking and distract us from God. We find it much easier to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

Calvary in Charleston: How forgiveness overcame guns, flags and hate

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)

The name Emanuel means “God is with us”. And as if one needed any more evidence that God is with the grieving survivors of Dylann Roof’s rampage at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the tear-stained forgiveness exhibited by the families of the victims at Roof’s bond hearing is just that, to a factor of seventy times seven.

“I just want everybody to know, to you, I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, a daughter of Ethel Lance, one of Dylann Roof’s victims, said to him at the hearing. “You took something very precious away from me. I will never talk to her ever again, I will never be able to hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul. You hurt me, you hurt a lot of people. But God forgives you, and I forgive you.”

Right now the people of Emanuel A.M.E. are so mighty, and by comparison the rest of us are just so small.

We are small because we won’t stand up to the disingenuousness of every self-styled protector of the Confederate flag everywhere. We are small because we won’t stand up to the misinterpreters of the Second Amendment. We are small because we will spend trillions of dollars and destabilize sovereign nations in the name of a “war on terror”, but we won’t fight with a fraction of the same intensity against the domestic terror of homegrown hate.

We are small because we don’t make a sincere effort to drown our petty prejudices in love, or at least understanding — or at the very least, tolerance. We are small because we forget that we have not been commanded by God to like one another — rather, we’ve been commanded to love one another. There’s a big difference there. Think about it. Pray about it.

No child is born hating. Hate is taught, hate is learned. Hate is what happens when people like Dylann Roof shine our everyday prejudices through the magnifying glass of a cold heart, of a twisted mind. South Carolina is awash in what comedian Jon Stewart rightly called “racist wallpaper” — things like roadways named for Confederate figures, or a Confederate flag waving on the state Capitol lawn that mechanically can’t fly at anything but full height unless it’s taken down.

So clearly, it’s time to take it down.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” (MLK)

It’s time to take down our anti-feminism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, fat-shaming, mean-girling and social-media trolling.

It’s also time to take down the weapons-industrial complex whose gun lobby waves a gross misinterpretation of the Second Amendment around every mealy-mouthed legislator whose brain they can possibly paralyze with gobs of cash and an irrational fear of political ruin.

In my own church we were forced to adopt a firearms policy a year ago because the state Legislature voted to expand the list of places where people may carry guns to include churches, schools, bars, and some government buildings.

So perhaps you can understand even more of my sadness and anger right now, because we as a people stick our heads in the sand and pass idiotic legislation like this, and we act as though we don’t understand the kind of culture we’re creating.

But I understand it completely: It’s a culture that says guns belong everywhere, that there are no safe spaces, that guns should be readily accessible and ubiquitous. The result being that we live in a nation where gun violence is equally ubiquitous.

“The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence.” (MLK)

Thanks to my own experience with law enforcement (the old-school serve-and-protect type, that is), I can assure you there’s one thing that gun ownership absolutely guarantees: Gun use. It’s human nature: If you have something, you’ll use it. Watch how people behave with their smartphones; it’s the same thing. So it’s understandable that we should find ourselves deeply uncomfortable when a man saunters around the world’s busiest airport with an AR-15 assault rifle fully loaded with a 100-round drum strapped across his chest.

This is not okay. It’s not okay. It’s just not.

So can you understand how for me, all of this has been like watching a train wreck happen in excruciating slow motion? It’s almost mathematical how we’ve built up to this day. I used to think it was sad, but now it’s officially tragic. We are now living with tragic stupidity — what the Rev. Jeremiah Wright called being “stuck on stupid”.

Jesus forgave his executioners because he knew that without his forgiveness, there could be no resurrection. With their forgiveness the people of Emanuel A.M.E., with whom God is clearly very much present, have paved the way for our own resurrection — indeed, our rescue — from a horribly broken culture and into a way of being that shows the way love can rule over hate.

But we have to accept the challenge. We have to let God in, all the way in. If we let love rule our hearts, really rule them, we have a shot at living in a much better kind of world. And if we’re doing it right, we should feel heaven at hand. Because the alternative, right now, feels to me an awful lot like hell.

God Bless.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

Prayers for Charleston

Today we are all Charlestonians. As the people of the Holy City grapple with the senselessness of what happened at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, the rest of us struggle along with them to make sense of the tragic murder of nine souls in a place where they fully expected to be safe from the worst of the world just outside its doors.

Today, the name Dylann Roof is synonymous with everything we want to believe we can somehow secure ourselves against, and Emanuel A.M.E. is synonymous with our deepest vulnerability in the face of it.

In the interim, there are so many questions that will get posed, pondered and discussed. Will America ever truly overcome its ugly racial history? Will hate founded on race ever be a thing of the past? Can we ever hope to prevent tragedies of this magnitude from happening?

In the midst of all this, God is with us. And in the end, God will be with us. God was with the people of Emanuel A.M.E. when Dylann opened fire, just as God was with them beforehand and is with them now.

God is just as much with the survivors of the tragedy, and with those who love and pray for them, as God is with those around Dylann Roof who are asking themselves — and probably asking God — what they could have done to read the signs, to somehow prevent the tragedy from happening in the first place.

In the meantime, the most important commandment we can bear in mind is the Golden Rule: To love our neighbor as ourselves. Which really means: Focus on your own relationship with God, and leave everyone else to God, and in the interim love them just as God does.

Lunatics like Dylann Roof will always be with us. They always have, They kill in the name of prejudices that are ultimately just a means to an end. But the prejudices they embrace are nonetheless a window into our collective psyche. If race hadn’t been the fuel for Dylann Roof’s rage, something else would have: Anti-feminism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islam, homophobia, transphobia.

So as we pray and grieve for the innocents slain in Charleston, I hope we are also praying for an end to the -isms that surface when a maniac commits a heinous act in their name. And that’s a personal quest; it begins in that relationship we have between ourselves and God. We will never be rid of maniacs. But when they do harm, we cannot honestly tell ourselves that the -isms that surface as having poisoned their minds aren’t real on some level — that they don’t exist in our society on a macro level, not just in the minds of a few tortured souls.

The essence of Christianity is this: We believe that the kingdom is at hand, that the room Jesus is preparing for us in God’s house is just around the corner. But we don’t know exactly how many steps there are between us and that corner. And we’ve practiced our faith in this gap for two millennia.

In the meantime, terrible things happen. Horrible things. Grievous things. And we have to figure out how, with God’s help, to live in a world where they will continue to happen. We can’t stop them from happening. But we can practice love in the face of them. We can be with those who suffer — and God is right there with us — and we can love our neighbor as ourselves. And we can do what we can to heal an incredibly broken, sometimes utterly heart-broken, world.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

Our National Pastime Isn’t Baseball – It’s Demonization

Harvey Milk, who was born today 85 years ago and assassinated at age 48 by a fellow member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, had that same combination of fatalism and hope that MLK had — that is, despite a strong sense of his own mortality, he also was an irrepressible fountain of hope for those he inspired. To this day Milk is remembered for iconic sayings such as:

“Ya gotta give ’em hope.”
“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.”
“Hope will never be silent.”

I myself have some specific hopes going into this Memorial Day weekend — at least one of which is looking increasingly unrealistic against the backdrop of today’s America. Then again, things like marriage equality and transgender visibility seemed pretty far off in Harvey Milk’s day, and yet four decades later they’re happening all around us.

So here is my hope: That we can observe a Memorial Day in a time when our nation is not currently at war. Because apparently, that is actually a significant challenge for us — so much so that for the first time in our history, we are raising a generation who have never lived in a United States that wasn’t involved in continuous warfare.

President George W. Bush was fond of referring to America being on a “war footing” — and he used that general claim, alloyed with the idea of a never-ending war on terror, to short-circuit important conversations that should have been happening during his presidency. It’s a culture that hasn’t really gone away, and the playbook is straight out of “1984”.

Now we have war in our streets, in the form of hyper-militarized law enforcement officers who clearly are losing their grip on what policing actually means. But I don’t blame them as individuals. I blame the trappings of the new American law enforcement that make policing feel like warfare — because when that happens, the people you’re policing stop seeming like citizens and start seeming like an enemy. And you begin treating them accordingly.

As humans we’re hard-wired for all these demonizations — of foreign nations, other cultures, other faiths, other people (both foreign and domestic) — and more. It’s a survival instinct that pre-dates civilization. But if we can’t overcome it, I don’t believe we can claim to be truly civilized. Instead, we’re just fancier barbarians.

In Harvey Milk’s time, homosexuals were openly demonized in public discourse as anathema to almost everything America was about, and in language that would be bracing to us today. One of Milk’s campaigns was against the Briggs Initiative, a ballot proposition that would have banned gays and lesbians, and possibly anyone who supported gay rights, from working in California public schools. Yet today, Harvey Milk Day is observed annually in California as “a day of special significance for public schools”.

If that kind of social progress can happen in less four decades, how quickly can we get to a place where we observe a Memorial Day where warfare is in our rearview mirror only? Where police and civilians recognize each other as citizens of the same nation, city, neighborhood? Where we have stopped conflating religion, ethnicity and extremism?

Can we try for next Memorial Day? Or is that too soon for everyone?

Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

Our Real Predator: The Most Dangerous Animal in America is Us

On Tuesday I attended the launch of Outcry, a Georgia interfaith organization against gun violence. In case you’re not aware, the deadliest predator in America is a gun-toting American. Here are some bracing facts courtesy of Americans for Responsible Solutions:

  • Every year, roughly 30,000 Americans die from gun violence.
  • Americans are roughly 20 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries.
  • Women in our country are roughly 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun than women in other high-income countries.
  • From 2001 through 2012, 6,410 women were murdered in the United States by an intimate partner using a gun – more than the total number of U.S. troops killed in action during the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
  • Every day in our country, eight children and teens under the age of 20 are killed by guns.
  • American children are roughly 11 times more likely to die by guns than children in other high-income peer countries.

Gun violence is a complex problem – but one reason we have such a high rate of deaths and injuries from gun violence is because we have bad laws:

  • Federal law and many states don’t require background checks on all gun purchases, making it easy for dangerous people like convicted felons, the dangerously mentally ill, and domestic abusers to get guns – no questions asked.
  • We still don’t have a strong clear federal law against gun trafficking, tying the hands of prosecutors and law enforcement.
  • Under federal law, many convicted stalkers and domestic abusers can still pass a background check and legally get a gun.
  • Many states don’t do enough to report records of dangerous people to our federal background check system – and a background check system is only as good as the data it contains.

We can do better. We have to do better.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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

Let There Be Peace on Earth, and Let it Begin with Me

It’s the first day of 2015, and if anything is clear at this point, it’s that we absolutely must change the way we conduct ourselves. In other words, we need some powerful collective resolutions – yes, resolutions – to help us change the way things are and the way they might be.

But groups of people don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, do they? When groups of people resolve to do things, those resolutions have different names – laws, proclamations, constitutions.

So what we’re left with is what we can do on a personal level to impact how we as a society do business – in other words, to paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, to be the change we wish to see in the world.

In this endeavor the bible actually has something elegantly simple and clarifying to say on the subject:

God has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 (NIV)

With that in mind, I was reading Jim Wallis’ 10 Resolutions for 2015 and realized that I could classify each of his 10 proposed resolutions according to the three main areas of focus God calls us to in Micah 6:8:

To act justly:

  • Extend who our neighbors are; whom we are also called to love.
  • Love hardest those who are the closest.
  • Always ask, “What does this mean for the poor and vulnerable?”
  • Support and empower women and girls.
  • Question every act of war.

To love mercy:

  • Build racial bridges.
  • Practice presence.
  • Embrace hope and joy.

To walk humbly with your God:

  • Love God.
  • Stand up for the reality of climate change.

To which I will add: Practice forgiveness, real forgiveness. Think and pray about, and then practice, living in a judgment-free zone where your inner voice is a voice of wisdom rather than judgment; a voice of compassion rather than judgment; a voice of real love rather than judgment. Because if there is no forgiveness, there is no life. When you refuse to let go and move on, what exactly are you hanging on to, and what exactly is it worth to you?

So there you have it, the start of a path for 2015 that can actually change the way we think, the way we do business. The challenge to this is: It is not about the waiting for the world to get better. It’s about each of us committing to be better, to do better, starting today – starting right now.

Rev. Paul M. Turner

About Rev. Paul M. Turner

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