Category Archives: Blog

A House Divided

As I continue to write this blog, I praise God for the fact I have at least one regular reader, my mentor, my friend and sometimes my nightmare, “the Questing Parson. If you have not checked out his blog you should, it is one of the best.

He told me in e-mail;

“Blogging, when one takes it seriously, brings more discipline, more clarity of thought, and more desire to inform one’s self. I’m betting you’re going to start doing more reading and studying than you ever imagined.”

Of course he was right.

I read an old sermon by Dr. L. Bruce Miller of Robertson-Wesley United Church of Christ from Alberta, Canada. His sermon was about Canada’s Supreme Court decision to include in the Human Rights portion of the constitution the words “sexual orientation”. He likens this to the resurrection of Christ.

He sees the gay, lesbian community being dead spiritually. Through no fault of their own, but rather the Church is killing them. The methodology for killing us is through its lethargy and apathy, by tolerating and perpetuating institutions and patterns of death rather than life. He states that resurrection is about transformation.

“Transforming from death to life, from spiritual alienation and estrangement to spiritual fulfillment and genuine connectedness to others.”

He goes on to give several life-transforming examples including the high court’s decision.

He has a point. Our LGBT community is under going a slow death. It is a very deliberately planned and well-carried out death sentence.

Something as simple as safe housing for Trans folks seems to be a good example. Recently, there was the denial of safe housing for one who did nothing wrong except express her correct gender. None of the shelters in Atlanta would open their doors to this pre-op male to female trans person. I might also add that several “main-line Christian organizations and churches” refused to help as well. The cost for this person of God was much too high.

After losing her job, her family, and ultimately being denied a safe place to rest, she took her own life by placing a .357 into her mouth and pulling the trigger. How very sad, especially when a little compassion and guts might have saved her life. Before people say, “Well she could have come to us, we would have helped”.

Atlanta is a big city and very few churches are marketing themselves as being progressive, welcoming and a place where there are no walls. Come on if we are honest LGBT issues in most churches is really more like “Don’t ask, don’t tell” because pastor’s doesn’t want to split the church. LGBT issues are spoken of in a whisper. It is no big surprise she did not find you.

Yet, I am even more terrified, because this is happening right in front of the leadership of the GLBT community and they are too busy trying to fit in to see it. We as a community have become too focused on being acceptable and respectable.

I am terrified because we (LGBT folks) are trying to hold hands with the very institution perpetuating a genocide. Like those living the “battered wife syndrome” we keep going back for more because

“we just know they will change”

.

My friends might be saying: “How are we doing this?” We are doing this by trying to blend in and be a part of the church rather than calling it out in truth and claiming our rightful place within the creation of God. While the Church is telling us we are loved…under the radar the Church is telling us we are an abomination.

The Lutherans are saying, “we will ordain you to ministry, but don’t have sex.”

The Roman Catholics say, “come to church just don’t take communion, have sex or want to get married. “If one of our priests messes up, we will cover it up.”

There is a part of the Episcopal Church that not only doesn’t want gay folks in ministry but they don’t want women either so they have declared war. They say they haven’t but what else would you call it when you set up your own church within a church?

The United Methodist Church, oh God where do I go with this, let it suffice to say as a former member of the UMC “people who live in glass houses ought not being throwing stones at the LGBT community under any circumstances”.

By bringing this up I will be told I am bashing the Church. Yet one cannot get away from the evil effects of abusive and oppressive use of the Bible and religion against the LGBT community.

We are systematically taught that we are evil, that we choose to be homosexual and that we are depraved.

In our deepest being we wonder: “Am I going to hell?” “Could this love I feel for my partner not be of God”? So we fear by being different from the majority we will go to hell. So we do everything we can to say we are not different.

We buy the slogan, “The one who dies with the most toys wins.” We let affirmative action go by the wayside because it is race discrimination rather then equal opportunity. We tell people in our own community what is morally correct because it is so by interpretation of the scripture by the Church. The same Church, by the way, that says we are an abomination in the sight of God.

The same Church that says women must submit to men.

The same Church that says they are pro life and than willingly support the snuffing out the life of another human being by lethal injection. This is nothing more then late term abortion, but then what do I know.

The same Church that says women do not have a place in the pulpit.

The same Church that if their “cash-cow” pastor gets a divorce will change the rules so the cash keeps coming in.

The same Church that will punish a “progressive” congregation in the inner city by sending it a pastor from the suburbs who will then destroy all evidence of progressive thought in less then a year.

We in the GLBT community must stop deceiving ourselves. This is not political or about an institution. This is about our soul.

We must begin to speak the truth of God’s love for all people. We must speak this truth as a whole creation of God, rather then some freaky “love that dare not speak its name”. We must make this claim with the full knowledge that we are uniquely and wonderfully made in the image of God.

We must begin celebrating our gifts because we are gay, lesbian, bi or transgendered and God has something for us to do, something to give back to this world.

We can no longer be content not to be fired from our jobs, get insurance benefits or live quietly in the suburbs.

We must talk about our history, our heroes. We must act rather the react. We must point out that some of the best; the brightest and most articulate people of the world have come from the LGBT community. One of God’s gifts to the world.

We must point out that in blighted urban areas, it is our talented and creative community who rebuilds and puts life back into the area.

We must talk about how in the midst of our young dying that we have taught the world how to die with dignity and to live life to the fullest.

We must confront and refute the blatant lies and fear mongering of the religious bigots. Now is not the time to sit quietly in the comfort of our homes while the LGBT youth of the world continue to die, get beat to the point of death or drown out who they are in alcohol and drugs.

I ponder the same question that Jesus asked so long ago when he asked: “What does one profit if they gain the whole world but sacrifice their soul?” My fear is if we continue on our current path, we might gain the world but we will have lost our souls.

I would rather travel the path that shouts loudly and clearly,

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

(Romans 8:38-39 New International Version)

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 House Divided

Two things have happened to me recently. One thing was I was finding it hard to explain what my vision for our community was about and to explain why that was hard to do. Then I was feeling increasingly frustrated with our community (GLBT). Then I read a couple of articles that suddenly put form to my hard to explain vision.

I read a sermon by Dr. L. Bruce Miller of Robertson-Wesley United Church of Christ from Alberta Canada. His sermon centered on Canada’s Supreme Court decision to include in the Human Rights portion of the constitution the words “sexual orientation”. He likens this to the resurrection of Christ.

He sees the gay, lesbian community being dead spiritually. Through no fault of our own, but rather the “Christian Church” is killing us. Its methodology of this murder is through its lethargy and apathy. By it’s tolerating and perpetuating institutions and patterns of death rather than life. He states that resurrection is about transformation. “Transforming from death to life, from spiritual alienation and estrangement to spiritual fulfillment and genuine connectedness to others.” He goes on to give several life transforming examples including the high court’s decision.

Suddenly, I said yes! This is it exactly. Our community has been under going a slow death. A very deliberately planned and well carried out death sentence. Dr. Miller gives the following example of the “Christian Church’s” message to its homosexual sisters and brothers.

“We should listen to the children, like the diary of young Bobby Griffith: ‘February 19, 1992. Why did you do this to me God? Am I going to hell? That’s the gnawing question that’s always drilling little holes in the back of my mind. Please don’t send me to hell. I’m really not that bad am I? …Life is so cruel and unfair!’ In desperation and despair, Bobby killed himself. It is only by listening that we can come to see the other as a real person made in the image of God, loved by God, and as caring and compassionate as any of us.”

I am terrified, because this is happening right in front of our community and we are too busy trying to fit in to see it. We as a community have become focused on being acceptable and respectable. To call what the “Christian Church” is doing murder is too lenient. Genocide is a much better description. I am terrified because we are trying to hold hands with the very institution perpetuating this genocide.

At this point you may be saying; “How are we doing this?” We are doing this by trying to blend in and be apart of rather than speaking out in truth and claiming our rightful place within the creation of God. While the “Christian Church” is telling us we are loved…it is telling our young they are an abomination. Our young are hearing the message, why aren’t we?

The second thing that struck me was an article written by Dr. Rembart Truluck called Genocide is Murder. In this article Dr. Truluck says, “Recently a new twist has developed in the war of homophobic religionists against us. We are accused of bashing Christians when we point out the evil effects of abusive and oppressive use of the Bible and religion against homosexuals. My e-mail that comes to my web site has made it abundantly clear to me that the main reason gay and lesbian people are suicidal is because of the twisted and demeaning religious teachings that have turned homosexual people against themselves.”

Trouble developed in my previous church because the leadership no longer wanted to be a gay church. They thought I was being too political. They no longer wanted to hear the words gay, lesbian, bi or transgender from the pulpit. The message was clear with statements made such as: “I have been gay for 40 years and have had no problems.” “Holy Unions and marriage are not the same thing, we can’t get married anyway.” “Race relations and homosexuality and its acceptance are different issues.” “People with AIDS should not have been so promiscuous.” “The church has no place in government or policy.” “We can’t win the spiritual battle, so lets concentrate on something a majority of the American people support-employment.” “I almost died in the pew when you said the Christian Church was our enemy.”

My friends, we are buying this equine fecal matter and hoping that it will be a rose. We as a community are making those statements because like Bobby Griffith we are systematically taught we are evil, that we choose to be homosexual and we are depraved. In our deepest being we ask; “Am I going to hell?” So we fear by being different from the majority we will go to hell. So we do everything we can to say we are not different. We buy the slogan, “the one with the most toys when they die wins.” We let affirmative action go by the wayside because it is race discrimination rather then equal opportunity. We tell people what is morally correct because it is so by interpretation of scripture by the “Christian Church”. The same church, by the way that says we are an abomination in the sight of God. The same church that supported slavery. The same church who told the American Indians they were savages. The same church that says women must submit to men. The same church that says they are pro life and than willingly support the snuffing out the life of another human being by lethal injection. The same church that says women have no place in the pulpit. The same church that “will travel over sea and land to make single convert, and when they have that one will make that one twice as fit for hell…” (Matthew 23:15)

We must stop deceiving ourselves; this is not a political war, this is a war of the soul. We must begin to speak the truth of God’s love for all people. We must speak this truth as a whole creation of God, rather then some freaky love that dare not speak its name.

We live in a country where morals, ethics and spirituality take a back seat to economics and physical security. Rather then celebrating our gifts to our world because we are gay, lesbian, bi or transgender we have become content not to be fired from our jobs, get insurance benefits or live quietly in the suburbs.

We no longer talk about our history, our heroes. We do not point out that in blighted urban areas, it is our talented and creative community who rebuilds and puts life back into the area. We do not talk often enough how in the midst of our young dying that we have taught the world how to die with dignity and to live life to it’s fullest. We do not attack and refute the blatant lies and fear mongering of the religious bigots. Instead, we sit quietly by in the comfort of our homes while the Bobby Griffith’s of the world continue to die, get beat to the point of death or drown out who they are in alcohol and drugs.

I fear that our community has become too comfortable to remember the sacred words that say; “what is it that God requires of you? That you do justice, act mercifully and walk humbly with your God.” Loving God requires doing justice, being Christian in the spiritual sense is about doing justice.

I ask each reader today to ponder the same question that Jesus asked so long ago when he asked; “What does one profit if they gain the whole world but sacrifice their soul?” My fear is if we continue on our current path, we might gain the world but we will have lost our souls.

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 MOVE TO THE DARK SIDE

Remember I said I was looking forward to a nice quiet evening at home with my husband, dogs, a good book and some Braves baseball? Well all that got flushed down the toilet when I read the following e-mail. (Printed in its entirety)

By the way this is going to be a longer piece-so to my good pastor friend and mentor who is going to yell at me, so let this be consider an essay. For the rest of you get a cup or coffee or your favorite beverage when reading, and pull up a chair and set a spell.

<<”Hi Friends, Many of you may have already heard the news that I was officially removed from the clergy roster of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on Monday, July 2, 2007. I lost my appeal, and Bishop Warren won on every point of his cross-appeal. I want to thank all of you for your prayers and your amazing support during this last year. It’s been an overwhelming experience to receive such affirmation and love. I’m including some things that I’ve written in the last couple of days, in case you’re interested. I’ve also included the full decision from the Committee on Appeals, a frightening document in its lack of grace, compassion, and vision. Primarily, however, I simply wanted to thank you for holding me and giving me such strength to take on the challenge that the charges, the trial, the appeal, and the final judicial decision provided to me in this last year. Peace,
Bradley

STATEMENT FOR THE PRESS, July 5, 2007

I’m disheartened that the Committee on Appeals would remove me from the roster without ever meeting me; without meeting the people of St. John’s Lutheran Church; or without even coming to Atlanta to experience our congregation at work in the neighborhood. Their decision was made on paper, not face to face.

I’m afraid this confirms what so many think about that church; that it’s a bureaucracy that’s more interested in following rules than it is witnessing to the compassionate love of God. I’m ashamed that this document comes from the denomination that I have served for the last twenty years. I would have hoped that it might have, at least, mentioned Jesus or offered to pray for me and for this congregation.

I want my denomination to witness to the Jesus that I know and love; a savior who is more interested in relationships more than in rules. I think that has always been the heart of the Lutheran message: God is, first and foremost, a gracious and loving God. God isn’t a heartless judge.

So I’m sad today; sad that the ELCA didn’t do the compassionate thing; sad that the journey for justice must go on longer.

But I’m also encouraged; encouraged by the love of this congregation; encouraged by our determination to continue to be faithful participants in the church; encouraged that the ELCA will have a chance to change the policy once and for all in Chicago.

St. John’s Lutheran Church has been an amazing community to serve. We have been growing and thriving these last seven years, and I expect that we will continue to do that. The congregation issued their call to me in 2000, and as far as we’re concerned, that call has not changed. The good news for today is that we can now return to the ministry and mission that we have been called to do. We’re going to continue to welcome everybody who comes through our doors; to work in our city for justice; to teach our children the Bible; and to be a faithful and loving voice in the larger church.

Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
St. John’s Lutheran Church
Atlanta, Georgia 30307
www.stjohnsatlanta.org”>>

Let me start by saying the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) blew it. The local Bishop, the “Discipline Hearing Committee”, and the “Committee on Appeals” all missed the opportunity of a lifetime. They had the opportunity to do justice, act mercifully and walk humbly with God. They had an opportunity to “Walk the Talk” of Jesus the Christ but instead opted for the rule of law “by the teachers of the law and Pharisees”, the hypocrites! Right now you might be saying or thinking “Kind of strong there Reverend”? Damn right! Remember the name of this blog.

I am so sick of power and control issues in the church messing with the Gospel and doing great harm to the folks they have a charge to protect I want to throw up.

Pastor Bradley noted in a journal entry: “What struck me most profoundly in reading the document is the absence of Jesus. He is never mentioned, nor is there any reference to theology, prayer, or compassion. This decision is reminiscent of the bishop’s argument during the trial that “Theology and the Bible are not relevant to this case.” It’s astounding to me that the Lutheran church would publish a document with no biblical, theological, or pastoral language. This document is, perhaps, the most graceless writing I have ever experienced from the church.”

It is this absence or anything biblical in their considerations that strike me also. There are two stories, which fit Pastor Brad’s situation if not exactly certainly within the same framework.

The first is the story of Esther. Found in the Old Testament it is a story about breaking the rules for a far greater good. You can find the story at Esther 2:19-4. Esther did not want to break the rules even though it might save a great number of people. It was too risky cause after all she could get killed. However, she was told: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”

The Bishop of the ELCA should have read this story before bringing charges against Pastor Brad considering these charges carry with them damage that will affect hundreds if not thousands in the ELCA.

I also wonder about this story of Jesus: John 8:1-11. Here is a woman who is clearly guilty of the crime for which she is charged. The punishment was also clear. Yet Jesus knew the hypocrisy in trying to carry it out and set it aside. I know people will point to the fact he said, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” But that is not the point here. The point is that Jesus saw that it was bad law and the people who wanted to enforce it were not in a good position to carry it out. When he said to the women, “Then neither do I condemn you,” the “spokesperson” for God set aside the law for the greater good, the women’s soul.

I am familiar with Lutheran polity…I really don’t think they are in a position to carry out their law towards homosexuals either. Please note I said their law not God’s.

I firmly believe I can speak on behalf of the congregation of Gentle Spirit Christian Church and the faithful of this community, to offer our affirmation and support for Pastor Brad and his community who now feeling the pain and sorrow caused by an outdated polity and an oppressive and hypocritical acts of discrimination.

Today I kneel in faithful prayer and support with the gentle folks in Christ at St. John’s. As now they will have to make difficult choices. Will they follow the law of the church or follow the voice of God who called Pastor Brad to this church to begin with. Oh don’t be fooled this is not about Pastor Brad, as it goes far deeper. The ELCA made a choice to bring to trial one of God’s greatest gifts: LOVE. As the 21st century dawns I have taken note of the irony of a denomination whose beginnings had as one of its thesis their ministers not being celibate. As I observe just this small piece of history I can see no legitimate justification for traditions that come out of ancient ignorance, prejudice and fears.

If we are to take seriously the Gospel of Jesus the Christ who came to serve and love all, then we must “walk the talk” and live the Gospel – Be the Gospel. If not, can we say that we really are following the Christian path? The keepers of the law removed from the clergy this good and decent pastor of God for his expression of God’s greatest gift to us all as a crime against the church. As my Daddy use to say, “Lord child what the hell were you thinking”?

In does fact it brings to our mind the statement of Jesus when he said concerning the leadership of his day, “Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God’s throne and by the one who sits on it.”

I would ask the ELCA how on one hand you can say that being a homosexual is not a reason to deny ordained ministry, but on the other hand the expression of our sexuality is. How is the expression of our deep love for our partner shared in the most private and intimate moments any less moral then yours? Oh wait… I know now… you have been peeking into our bedrooms and saw something you didn’t understand so it had to be immoral and you made a law against it. Shame on you! Shame, Shame, Shame! Shame on you!

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/.

TGIF

Well Friday is here and I am looking forward to a peacful drive home, snuggling up on the couch with my man…watch the Braves play some baseball and read a good book.

Not much to say today so I thought I would leave something to read and mediatate on during those quiet times this weekend (it’s the pastor in me!): And Jesus said:

“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. “When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—’playactors’ I call them— treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out.
Pray with Simplicity
“And when you come before God, don’t turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?

“Here’s what I want you to do: Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God. Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage. The focus will shift from you to God, and you will begin to sense his grace.

“The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They’re full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don’t fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. Like this:

Our Creator in heaven,
Reveal who you are.
Set the world right;
Do what’s best— as above, so below.
Keep us alive with three square meals.
Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others.
Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil.
You’re in charge!
You can do anything you want!
You’re ablaze in beauty!
Yes. Yes. Yes.

“In prayer there is a connection between what God does and what you do. You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part. Matthew 6:1-15 (The Message)

See y’all Sunday!

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/.

MORE ON GAY MARRIAGE

Wow…say something about people from the LGBT being able to get married and you would think the world was ending tomorrow…say something about feeding the hungry and no one says a word. Well since I have been asked about “gay marriage” hundreds of times, here is a written interview concerning the subject. Hopefully my last comments on the subject since there is no possible way to deny us loving our partners except by making it against the law. Folks tried that and it didn’t work, we still found the love of our life. By law you can deny us our rights to the basic things that every married couple enjoys but we will still find the one to love with the very depths of our soul. So we are not going away anytime soon, unless of course straight people stop having babies.

1. What is your personal opinion of same-sex marriage?

Marriage is a covenant between two people, God and their community. The genders of the couple does not matter. Over the last several years the debate concerning “gay marriage” has risen to new heights of passion, bigotry and nastiness. I suspect the basic reason for this is centered around power and control issues. Those who have defined marriage as the exclusive right of heterosexuals have lost all the other power and control battles: women’s right to choose, women’s right to work for equal pay, women get to vote, all races get to vote, mixed races can have marriage, segregation of the races is no longer legal, etc. etc. I would also suspect they are probably not very secure in their own sexual orientation, otherwise why would LGBT people being married effect them? So this whole gay marriage thing gets very personal for them.

Marriage up until very recently was less about two people who love each other deeply and are committed to living in a way that will enhance that love. Rather, it was about tax breaks, exemptions, property and legitimate (read: legal) sex. In fact it was not till the late 20th century the whole marriage for love thing came about anyway, prior to this the really huge reason for getting married was property and inheritance. My goodness for centuries marriages were arranged by the family with no thought at all about love. I wonder which scenario God is more concerned about?

Further as I have said before, we live in a world where marriage vows are usually not worth the paper on which they are written. Suddenly now they mean something because gay folks want recognition of their love? Yet the idea of a covenant is the total investment of those involved. I wonder if God is more concerned about promises and covenants that call on people to go deeper in their relationship than simple dogma and church rules and an institution which has been terrible hypocritical over the centuries.

2. Does the Bible really say that homosexual marriage shouldn’t be possible?

No, because the people of biblical times did not understand homosexuality the way we do, just as I am sure people of biblical times would have thought flying in an airplane or going to the moon was sinister and evil. God gave us free will and the ability to learn. I would hope we have learned a few things in a few thousand years.

3. Should the definition of marriage be based on the Bible, if there is a definite definition?

I gave my definition of marriage under the first question. Furthermore, I will ask again what was the greatest commandment? Love God your God with all your heart, soul and strength and the second is like it, love your neighbor as yourself. This seems to me to be far more important then worrying about the gender identity of people who want a committed God-filled relationship.

4. How do you feel about homosexuals parenting children?

No different than I feel about straight people parenting children. In fact just check the records and any Department of Children Services anywhere in the United States and one will find that LGBT folks being parents are not the problem. Instead it is a rather shocking number of straight people who have no business ever being near a child let alone parenting children. Throughout history the unspeakable horrors that have been done to children have been done by straight folks not LGBT folks. And before anyone goes where they don’t belong, pedophilia has no sexual orientation. Further the overwhelming majority of pedophiles are straight.

5. Do you feel that homosexual males and lesbians are capable of parenting?

Of course, and there are many who are doing just that. I have a male couple in my church who are raising three children and the kids are just fine. We have a lesbian couple who have given birth to a child and another lesbian couple who have 6 kids between them and all those children are healthy, happy and secure in their families.

6. What do you think of a possible 28th Amendment to permanently restrict homosexuals from getting married?

What will happen to bisexuals or transsexuals? Does this mean anyone who has ever had same-gender sex are banned from getting married? It is a stupid, ill conceived, hateful and a degrading exclusionary amendment.

7. What do you think of those who are strictly against homosexuality and any rights they are fighting for?

They are misguided and probably are not secure in their own gender identity and sexual practices. The question should be: How does recognizing the basic civil rights of every adult in the country affect your identity? My partner and I have been in a committed, married relationship for 25 years. How has that hurt anyone else?

Enough said for 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/.

“REVEREND BITCH, SIR” IS BORN

As most of you have noticed today is the 4th of July and my good pastor friend told me bloggers usually do not write on holidays. To quote him, “you don’t have to post on Wednesday as it’s a holiday and most bloggers don’t post on holidays.” I am not sure why folks don’t post on holidays…maybe because they are busy doing other things? Yet, I got to tell you this particular holiday I am not all that excited about.

We spend this day patting ourselves on the back for what great freedoms we have and how wonderful a country we are…how strong we are. Hummm, we might be a better place then some, but we ought not be too arrogant about how “good” we are.

Is this not the country where the Indians had no idea they were savages till the Christians arrived and told them they were, and damn, the Indians actually believed them, by defending their land and way of life. Is this not the country where we completely ignored Jesus one and only command; “Love one another as I have loved you” and proceeded to en-slave a whole culture of people and attempt to completely wipe out numerous others. Do we not consider women something less then full partners in the creation? Is this not the country where we have our own brand of terrorism that blows up medical clinics and kills and hurts horribly innocent by-standers to prove terminating a pregnancy is immoral? Is this not the country where we “kill a killer to teach that killing is wrong”? Is this not the country where we peek into people’s bedrooms and then arrest them and send them to jail for not having sex in the proscribed moral manner? Jesus once commented; “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…’I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” Yet in this “Christian” country these words are ignored in every major city with thousands upon thousands going without food and shelter and then we label them criminals! Right here in the city of Atlanta on any given night we have 11,000 homeless and only 5,000 beds to help. Now the city is taking aim at the largest shelter to close them down because it allegedly causes all the crime in a prime money making district of downtown. Oh, but isn’t this being a little bitchy for a holiday designed to celebrate our freedom and greatness Reverend?

You are damn right it is and I want to bring these things to the forefront of our minds so they are not just ignored when we call ourselves “a Christian Nation”, Which is what got me in trouble to begin with.

When I came to Atlanta in 1994 from the northern part of the country to take over the pulpit of a progressive church, I came with the excitement of living out a dream and vision where all folks were considered apart of the family of God. Oh my, I was wrong!

Yes, I was new in pastoral ministry and had a lot to learn, and yes I was arrogant to a fault about being an all-inclusive ministry and that these folks knew what inclusive meant. However, I was not prepared for what I experianced. The north had just slammed into the wall of the south.

The first district church conference I was at, included among our folks a transgender person who was just coming out. This person being new to the process of transitioning from one gender to another didn’t know how to “dress properly” when in public. In fact if you can picture a man in a bikini, not shaved, hanging out in the wrong places, and make-up that would remind you Tammy Faye Baker, you have a good picture of this child of God. Oh the howling and whining by our delegation. Sreaming almost in unison, “You got to do something Reverend, this person is embarrassing the church, making us look like fools! Tell the “he/she” to be a man or go home!” I was shocked by the willingness of our folks who claimed to be all-inclusive to throw out someone who didn’t conform to their idea of gender identity.

When we got back from conference and I began to hear the stories of how we had to keep this one or that one happy because they gave a lot of money to the church. We had to careful how we let some participate in worship service because they would embarrass us. Also, I was told working at changing our language to a more inclusive style was just being “politically correct” and not needed. Further making sure we were handicap accessible was too expensive and a huge bother. Oh and “before we give money out to folks from the benevolence fund, the person ‘in need’ would have to prove beyond any doubt they were worthy of receiving.”

So by the time we got to the first “Pastoral Staff” meeting I was over it…this was not what doing the “gospel” was about. The pastoral staff consisted of the “Deacons” of the church and if you read the book of Acts in the New Testament you will have idea of what their duties were. The Senior Deacon was one of those folks with lots of money and who nobody wanted to offend. I must say to his credit he had a heart of gold and a desire to do God’s work. He would do anything asked of him and was indeed a good and faithful servant of the church and of God. Yet, he also was not an activist, nor did he want to be confrontational. Change had to come slow and easy. Well, I was in no mood to hear this much less do that. So rather then trying to teach and affirm the gospel truth, I began to announce changes that were immediate.

As you might imagine the staff did not react well and at one point, the Senior Deacon (the pillar of the church) looked at me and said, “Why are you insisting on so many changes, so fast without going through proper channels?” To which I replied, “Because I am the pastor of the church and it’s my job”! The response from the pillar of the church was just above a whisper but loud enough for the entire staff to hear, “Bitch!”

Well at this point you could have heard a pin falling to the ground it got so quiet. The “pillar of the church” and the new pastor were about to have a cat fight. Now I will tell you the Holy Spirit still speaks today, as my immediate response was to look the Senior Deacon in the eyes and firmly state, “That’s Reverend Bitch to you!” With that the room cracked up, the tension was broke and a new name was borne.

In was in this moment I recognized change takes time, that living the gospel is scary and hard. That we are taught to take the path of least resistance. So my job was going be about teaching, persuading and affirmming that all could “walk the talk” of the gospel regardless of the path. I will forever be thankful for this Senior Deacon.

In the LGBTQ community the term “bitch” when applied to a male has come to mean “pushy”, “emotionally unrelenting”, “in your face”. I am all of that but have learned that when one carries the title of Reverend, “a person ordained for service in a Christian church”, the key word is service. So my life today while many times is “pushy”, “emotionally unrelenting” and “in your face” is driven to be about “service” to God, “to do justice, act mercifully and to walk humbly with God”.

Over the year’s people in the LGBTQ community found out that I like leather and have an appreciation for the “leather clubs” (that is another blog-ah no-there are something’s I won’t write about).

However, term of respect in this community is the term “Sir”. A friend of mine in the leather community after watching me one CNN “TalkBack Live” call Rev. Jerry Falwell a liar because of what he was saying about the LGBTQ community, called me after the show and said: “You Pastor, you are crazy, these people will hurt you. I grew up in that guy’s church and have wanted to say that for years and years but couldn’t-man you are crazy, but thank you for telling it like it is you are my Reverend Bitch Sir.” So now you know how this title came to be.

So this is a holiday and since my pastor friend also said “I think the web needs something like your site.” re: “Reverend Bitch, Sir”.

Let me offer that instead of celebrating with words that put country before God. Let these words speak to our freedom and greatness as a people of God;

 

“Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

 

Matthew 5:1-12 (New International Version)

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/.

Traditional Marriage, or Covenants of Love?

Over the last several years, the debate concerning “gay marriage” has risen to new heights of passion and meanness. I suspect the basic reason for this is centered around power and control issues. Those who have defined marriage as the exclusive right of heterosexuals want to continue to control the rules. It is a “Members (who meet the standard) Only Club”.

Marriage in today’s sense is less about two people who love each other deeply and commit to living in a way that will enhance that love. Rather, it is about 1,000+ tax breaks/exemptions, property, and “legitimate” sex – plus inheritance, hospital visitation and medical choices.

When my partner and I got together we could not claim any of those things. In fact we are denied all those things. All we have is our love for each other in the deepest sense of the word. I wonder which scenario God is more concerned about.

We live in a world where marriage vows are usually not worth the paper they are written on – a world where pre-marital counseling is as much about covenants of love as is wedding planning.

Yet the idea of a covenant is the total investment of those involved. I wonder if God is more concerned about broken promises or covenants that call on people to go deeper in their relationship than simple vows. Finally, I wonder from a spiritual perspective if a God who by biblical definition is both male and female is really concerned about the gender identity of a couple who are willing to live in covenant with each other.

After all, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was – in other words, which commandment should be the basis of who and what we are – his reply was, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

So it seems to me that those who live in glass houses should not be throwing any stones. In my home state of Georgia we once had someone run for Governor who fired an employee because she was a lesbian in a committed relationship, which he claimed was against “moral law”. Of course he didn’t want people to know he had broke state law by committing adultery himself. This hypocrisy prompted a friend of mine to come up with a bumper sticker that read: “**** for Governor: Two first ladies are better than one.”

Making a covenant of love takes the total investment of the two people involved regardless of whether it is between a man and woman, woman and woman or man and man. I would think God is more concerned about covenants that call on all people to go deeper in their relationship than promises designed to get a tax break or make divorce lawyers rich.

My partner and I have been together 25 years and worked through every conceivable challenge to keep our vows to one another. As far as I can tell we have not caused any straight marriages to fail or the collapse of “family values”. We own a home, pay our taxes, contribute to the economy by working and buying products, go to church and to the best of our ability make contributions to the community in which we live.

As for those who might be concerned about what goes on in our bedrooms: We don’t go into your bedroom or concern ourselves with how you express your most intimate feelings. So stay out of ours, because you certainly don’t belong there!

St. Paul defined love in 1 Corinthians 13 by writing: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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.”

If these commandments and definitions are where it begins and ends, then I believe that our God, the God of Jesus the Christ is far more interested in covenants of love regardless of gender identification.

To the morality police and the defenders of traditional marriage: How about you take care and honor the one you love, and we will do the same. Then we all can spend our time, energy and money doing things that really matter to our Creator: Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison. I dare say the world will have a better chance of survival if we do that, rather than getting so worked up over who is getting married.

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/.

WADING INTO THE CYBER POOL

I suppose the title of this blog will cause some controversy from more than a few folks…so I suppose I ought to write this blog explaining the title, which is actually my nickname.

That needs to wait as first I should say the reason I am writing this blog is because some people whom I would trust with my life said I should because I might have something to say which might be helpful to folks in the cyber world. I even tried to get out of writing this by stating the title of the blog would be too offensive. Yet, every person I shared the title with were more then happy to tell me it fit perfectly, that it was a perfect description of me and the ministry to which I have been called…so here we go “God help us all”!

Just maybe reading about some of my experiences and observations on this journey as an open, out and proud gay man who is a minister of the “gospel” and who is not politically correct or ashamed to say what is exactly on my mind will be helpful in some small way to others. For those who want to know more about me and the church I pastor you can go to:

Gentle Spirit Christian Church

and

Whosoever 

As an ordained minister with 20 years of pastoral work in the church and in a 25 year committed (read: marriage) relationship with my partner Bill, I have done what the Judeo-Christian church calls each of us to do; “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8). I am a simple pastor, who is not a psychologist, nor a great theological scholar. My posts will come to you from my heart and my experiences as an independent and progressive pastor, as well as one who has studied and tested the Bible for a number of years and who believes the Holy Spirit speaks today as loudly and forcefully as 2,000 years ago. I believe God is calling us to progress to the “Kingdom” rather then conserve the “status quo”.

I hope in writing about my journey some of us will be able to re-claim the faith and individual spirituality that has been hi-jacked by those of whom Jesus said: “”Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when they become one, you make them twice as much a son of hell as you are.” (Matthew 23:15, New International Version) I believe people should be able to have a personal relationship with God that is not defined by traditional or mainline church since it seems they have forgotten about those whom God unconditionally loves in favor of an institution who’s goal is to stay in power through fear, intimidation and damnation. I hope as folks figure out they have been hi-jacked they will again re-claim the proclamation of the Christ which says; “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him.” (John 3:16 The Message) I hope and pray that by renewing a personal relationship with God all people will begin to live in the way God will indeed observe in accordance to the words of our Savior: “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Humanity will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40 The Message)

We in the church have been battered; beaten and maligned by an institution that has found it’s power in being the authors of morality rather then the carriers of grace and redemption. I hope this blog will cause us once again to begin the journey where first and foremost we strive to be a community where all are viewed as a unique creation of God and where each of us is invested in bringing honor and glory to God. A community where we work to uplift each other and recognize and affirm those qualities in all of us that declare God’s creation as good. Of course this is the thought process which gave me the nick name “Reverend Bitch Sir” but that is a story that will need to wait for another day.

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/.

Advent: Its Genesis, Meaning, Mood and Message

The Genesis of Advent
Starting in about the 9th century in the Western Church, the season of Advent has been celebrated as a period of preparation for the birth of our Lord and the beginning of the ecclesiastical year (Church year).

In the early church words Advent, Epiphany, and Nativity were used interchangeably to denote the “feast of the Nativity”. Advent services first appeared in the 6th century in the church of Gaul. Epiphany was observed as a baptismal festival and the period preceding it was utilized as a period of preparation for baptism, much like the season of Lent. So Advent originated as a type of “little Lent”. From France the observance spread to England in the 7th and 8th centuries. In the 9th century, Advent was finally incorporated into the Roman Rite.

The Meaning of Advent
The word “Advent” means literally, “to come to”. It is a special season when we celebrate the bold claim that the Lord of the Universe has come among us in human form through Jesus the Christ. In him we have Immanuel, God with us. Not only do we celebrate that God has come to the world in human form from Galilee but also that God is come as a spiritual reality and will come again in triumph at the close of the age.

There is another sense to the definition of Advent, “to come to”. Since God has, is and will come to us, therefore we need “to come to”. Our task as people in full relationship with God is to become fully awake not only to the importance of indwelling but also to the many immersions of Christ in our lives. None of us is fully conscious of God’s presence; we need to come to, to wake up, and be vigilant for the visits of God within history and at the end of time when God’s realm is fully realized.

The Mood of Advent
If God is coming to us and we truly believe that to be true, our mood will be one of excitement, anticipation, and joyful preparation. Mood is conveyed through color and light. As the awareness of the celebrative nature of Advent has grown, many congregations have substituted blue for the older tradition of purple, as we have done in our church. The brighter color of blue, the color of infinite sky, conveys better the bright hope of change and eternal life in the Christ than the more somber and sacrificial purple.

The Message of Advent
As we look at God’s word, we need to understand how the Christ (as the word of God) comes to humankind now and how we can receive and carry the Christ’s presence today. This starts with our attitude… and the guides for which can be found all throughout scripture. I am calling them “Advent Attitudes” — alertness, attentiveness, watchfulness, readiness, joyful anticipation, patience and receptivity. The task then becomes to take a journey over the next 4 weeks to come into a full consciousness with God, who comes to us in Jesus the Christ and in fact be prepared.

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/.

“Some Are Welcome”: When the Church Gets it Spectacularly Wrong

Before I came to Gentle Spirit Christian Church, I spent a few months church shopping. My criterion for a good church was a place that I would feel totally comfortable. “I’ll know it when I see it,” I told myself. I visited many churches around this area, both mainstream and predominantly gay and lesbian. I never found a church that made me feel totally comfortable until I walked into this church. True, I already knew Paul very well and there were other people in the church that were already friends of mine. But, a large majority of you didn’t know me at all. But that didn’t stop any of you from giving me a big hug and welcoming me into this church. It’s the reason I’ve stayed. I saw what I was looking for a church that welcomed anyone who walked through the door and not just with a visitor’s packet of information. No, you welcomed me with a hug, a smile and a genuine concern for my well being.

This is what church is all about a welcome place for anyone who comes in. It’s a lesson many churches would do well to learn. It’s a lesson the church has had to relearn through the centuries. It’s a lesson we, as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians, are called to teach the church.

Recently, the United Methodist Church reconfirmed its position on gays and lesbians in the church. At their General Conference in May they renewed their statement that, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” They, along with most other major denominations, do not welcome us in their churches. Oh, we’re welcome to come and sit in the pew, give our money to the church, and support them in other ways. We are not, however, welcome in most denominations to become any part of the leadership, serve as deacons, or heaven forbid, be ordained into the ministry. Why? Because “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” One of the critics of Whosoever sums it up another way “there is no place in the church for gays and lesbians.” Think on that line for a minute. “There is NO place in the church for gays and lesbians.”

On the Whosoever mailing list, a reader brought up an excellent point. “Why stay?” Why should gays and lesbians even care if the church ever opens its doors to us? We have our own places to worship free from denominational condemnation. Why is it so important for the church to open its doors and ultimately accept gays and lesbians openly? Good question.

Martin Luther King Jr. in his book “Strength to Love” answers that question eloquently:

Many continue to knock on the door of the church at midnight, even after the church has so bitterly disappointed them, because they know the bread of life is there.

That’s why it’s so important to open the doors of the church to gays and lesbians. Because the bread of life is there! The church’s function has always been to give the bread of life to all that seek it.

The gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender believer understands what Karl Barth meant when he wrote that the church’s duty is “to bid people hope, and thus to mediate to them the promise that they need.” Barth further insists the church must “confess solidarity at every point with people” and “show ourselves to be their companions and friends without worrying about their garb or mask, and we make their cause our own.”

Instead, the church too often looks at the garb or the mask, and insists in a change of clothing or a removal of the mask before the doors will open. Barth counsels churches to remain open to all because “those who hunger and thirst after righteousness those who, however mistakenly or strangely or impotently, ask after and seek the right and dignity of humanity, have God on their side and will be satisfied ä we cannot separate this from them not matter what name they bear or what kind of people they are.”

In the case of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians, the church turns a deaf ear to Barth’s words. They are not interested in welcoming the gay, lesbian, bi or transgender believer, nor in giving them the right and dignity of humanity. They think such believers are mistaken, strange and not truly seeking righteousness. Instead, too many churches seek to separate the humanity from such believers, telling them they must abandon a large part of their identity, their sexuality, to share in the ultimate hope of glory with God.

The church is wrong when it treats people this way. That’s not just my take on it but it’s the Bible’s message as well. The Bible clearly shows God calling the church to be more inclusive even as far back as ancient Israel.

The Torah, or the Pentateuch as we know it, is very explicit about who and who cannot come into the temple to worship. Deuteronomy 23:1-4 makes it quite clear:

“He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of the LORD. No bastard shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD. No Ammonite or Moabite shall enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none belonging to them shall enter the assembly of the LORD for ever because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came forth out of Egypt”

Seems pretty clear. No eunuchs, no sons of unwed mothers, and no foreigners, especially Ammonites or Moabites since they refused to help the Israelites on their flight from Egypt. Okay, so maybe the church can close its doors on some people. As my fundamentalist friends are wont to say, “it’s there in the Bible, so it must be true.” Fine then, the Bible says these people are excluded from the church ä so if exclusions can be made then, they can certainly be made now. The church has biblical justification for refusing certain people entrance into this sacred institution. The Bible is the final authority, so I suppose we should just give up our fight. The Bible has justified the exclusion of some people, and the Bible or God never changes its mind.

Or does it?

Let’s move forward a few hundred years in the history of the Israelites. In 586 Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians and most of the Jews were exiled into Babylon. Many expected their exile to be short and planned for the day when they could soon return to Jerusalem. Several prophets, including Jeremiah, warned the people to settle in because the exile would be a long one. Jeremiah was right. It wasn’t until 70 years later, after the Persians had defeated the Babylonians, that the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem.

Now remember, I said “most” of the Jews were exiled to Babylon not everyone was sent away. Some Jews were left in Israel, mainly farmers and peasant workers, but some community leaders were allowed to remain. Now, they’ve got a problem. Exiles are returning, but since they’ve been gone 70 years, these are not the exiles that were sent away … these are the children of the exiles. These children were born in Babylon. They were not born in Israel. These children are ä foreigners! And as such they are NOT allowed in the temple! Deuteronomy is quite clear on this point no foreigners are allowed in the temple ä it’s for Israelites only! If the Jews had General Conferences every four years maybe they would have drafted a statement saying, “Foreigners and eunuchs are incompatible with the teachings of the Torah.” The more bellicose critics would have proclaimed, “Foreigners and eunuchs have no place in the temple.”

What were the people to do? These exiles were returning with the explicit purpose of rebuilding the temple that was destroyed by the Babylonians! But, how could they rebuild a temple they couldn’t worship in? The Torah was plain there was no mistaking its edict against foreigners.

It falls to the prophet Isaiah to settle the dispute. What does Isaiah say?

3 Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely separate me from his people”; and let not the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.” 4 For thus says the LORD: “To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, 5 I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name which shall not be cut off. 6 “And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, every one who keeps the sabbath, and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant– 7 these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8 Thus says the Lord GOD, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather yet others to him besides those already gathered.”

Oh, my God! I’m amazed Isaiah wasn’t stoned on the spot. How dare he open the temple not only to foreigners ä but to eunuchs as well! Hasn’t he read the Torah? Doesn’t he know God expressly forbids these people from entering the church? What happened to the infallibility of the law? Has it been tossed out just for the convenience of the returning exiles?

No, I believe what is happening here is that God is reminding the people that the bread of life is for everyone! “My house shall be called a house of prayer for ALL peoples.” No law can separate people from God even if that law is perceived as being a divine edict.

Moving even further ahead in history, we find Jesus’ disciples faced with a similar dilemma. After Jesus has been crucified, the disciples go about the work of spreading Jesus’ message. This has been their edict. They’ve been told to “make disciples of all the nations.” [Matthew 27:19]

However, in Acts, we see the disciples discriminating somewhat in who will receive the message. Instead of teaching to “all the nations” they take their message to Jews only. But one night, Peter has a dream. God shows him food that is ritually unclean and tells him to eat it. Peter refuses. Peter is a good Jew. He could never eat unclean foods. Peter is so stubborn, in fact, that God has to show him this dream three times. Each time Peter refuses to eat the food, calling it unclean or common, until finally God tells Peter, “What God has cleansed you must not call common.”

What did Peter do after this dream? He did the unthinkable. He did an act so shocking it brought a sharp rebuke from the other apostles. What did he do? He preached the gospel to the Gentiles. Gentiles! These were the people most hated by the Jews. Telling a Gentile back then about God’s love was almost as horrible as giving God’s word of hope to a queer today! How could Peter do that? Didn’t he know that God hated the Gentiles? Didn’t he know they were filthy pagans who cared not one whit for the law? How could he so blatantly disregard the word of God on this? How could he just go out and change how things are done? How dare he! Didn’t Peter know that “being a Gentile is not compatible with Christian teaching?” Didn’t he know that “Gentiles have no place in the church?” Peter must have missed the General Conference edict.

Instead, Peter listened to God, who gave him a new revelation preach to the Gentiles they, too, are God’s children. The bread of life is in the church, and it’s for everyone! There are no exceptions. There is a place in the church for everyone.

Theologian Fred Craddock states, “Wherever and whenever, for whatever the reason, anyone is not welcome to sit at table with you, to eat with you, then you do not have church.”

My friends, we are sorely missing churches today. I can name many churches in this city alone where we would not be welcome to sit at a table and eat with other people who call themselves Christians. They would deny the bread of life to us both literally and figuratively. Why? Simply because of who we love.

But for my friends who cling so desperately to the Bible as the infallible word of God, this is a tough lesson! The church has changed over the centuries. A once exclusive church has changed to welcome eunuchs, foreigners and even Gentiles! For those who cling to the Bible as the word of God, the precedent has been set ä the church must change. Indeed, the church is called to change! The church must be open to new revelations new ways of seeing itself. It must ever be reminded of its sacred commission, to give the bread of life to everyone, without exception. That’s not my message ä that’s the Bible’s message, and it seems fairly clear to me.

Jesus makes this message of inclusion clear when he talks to the Pharisees in Matthew. They too had closed their churches and had become stingy with the bread of life. Jesus condemns these exclusionary practices and even says, “Look, I’m not coming back until you bless anyone who comes to you in my name!” How much clearer can Jesus be?

Indeed, God had sent prophets telling the Pharisees to open their doors. The prophets, the people who brought a new word, a new revelation, to the Pharisees were murdered and persecuted! It’s a scene we see replayed today as Soulforce protestors were persecuted and spiritually murdered at the UMC General Conference. These were the prophets who stood outside the assembly, and those who stood on the floor of that gathering and proclaimed the message that the church must open its doors to everyone! Jesus predicted what would and did happen! The church leaders persecuted the prophets. They were arrested and taken from the assembly. This is nothing more than spiritual murder.

How many more spiritual murders do today’s churches commit? Every time a fundamentalist preacher, a modern day Pharisee, stands in the pulpit and condemns homosexuals, he kills us! Churches that routinely exclude us, churches that close their doors on us, churches that refuse to give the bread of life to gays and lesbians are committing spiritual murder.

It was with great sadness that I read this week that the Southern Baptists the denomination of my childhood voted to ban women from the pulpit and renewed their exclusion of homosexuals from their churches. The Convention said scripture is clear that only men can be pastors. The new SBC president went so far as to say that women who felt called to ministry were “mistaken.” I suppose the prophetess Deborah was mistaken when she prophesied in the Old Testament. I guess Esther was mistaken when she saved the Jews from certain death. I suppose Mother Theresa was mistaken when she heard her call to take care of the sick and poor in India. Hear again the words of Karl Barth, “those who, however mistakenly or strangely or impotently, ask after and seek the right and dignity of humanity, have God on their side and will be satisfied.” Deborah, Esther and Mother Theresa may have, in the Baptist opinion, sought their right or dignity of humanity mistakenly, but God was on their side and they were satisfied! We too, are dismissed as “mistakenly” seeking after the right and dignity of humanity. I tell you today, God is on our side and we will be satisfied. Isaiah, in an assurance from God, answers the Baptists loud and clear:

“my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.”

All people that means women, that means gays and lesbians and bisexuals and transgender people and straight people of every race of every heritage. It begs the question: What part of “whosoever” don’t the Southern Baptists and the Methodists and other churches that practice exclusion, understand?

Brothers and sisters, the church must change. Soulforce protestors are not the only ones called to prophesy to the church. We, too, are the prophets Jesus talks about. We have been sent to the churches with a message of inclusion! So many of our brothers and sisters die spiritually because they believe God does not love them. We’ve got to be on the front lines of the battle to stop that kind of spiritual violence! We’ve got get out the new revelation we must spread the word the bread of life is here and it’s for everyone! This is a house of prayer for all the people! Let our resolution be: “Excluding anyone from the church is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Or more simply: “Everyone has a place in the church.”

After the Methodist vote to reconfirm it’s position that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” a Methodist minister talked with her church board about the possibility of becoming a reconciling congregation and formally welcoming gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The board’s response was typical. They were not ready to do that right now it wouldn’t be good for the church at this time. So, the measure was voted down.

The next Sunday when the congregation gathered they noticed the signboard had been changed from the usual, “All are welcome” to “Some are welcome.”

This, my friends, is why we at Gentle Spirit Christian Church and others like us continue to knock on the door of the church at midnight. It is not because we are masochists staying in a club that does not want us and has been clear that our presence is unwelcome. Instead, we knock at the door of a church that has so bitterly disappointed us because we know deep within our souls, we know that the church doors must be open to everyone, without exception because the bread of life is within the church! That bread belongs to everyone who seeks to et of it. Who are they indeed, who are we to deny anyone who comes in the name of the Lord?

Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

About Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge is Pastor of Jubilee! Circle in Columbia, S.C. She was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in 2002 after earning a Master's in Theological Studies at Emory University's Candler School of Theology.