Category Archives: Pastor’s Corner

This Generation Has a Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s more.

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

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

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

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

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

What does that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or here:

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,
Pastor Paul

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 -- and which now resides at

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 -- and which now resides at

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 -- and which now resides at

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re welcome.

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 -- and which now resides at

2016: The Year of the Displaced

As we enter a new year, I’m going to go out on a not-very-long limb and declare 2016 the Year of the Displaced. I do this to call attention to the fact that “one out of every 122 people alive today is someone who, at some point, was forced to leave his or her home“.

If that statistic alone wasn’t enough to get your attention, here are some others:

  • The United Nations expected in 2015 that by the end of that year there would be at least 60 million people displaced, the highest level of displacement they’ve ever recorded.
  • If these 60 million people formed a nation, it would be the world’s 24th largest — roughly on a par with the populations of Italy, South Africa or the United Kingdom.
  • Not all of the displaced are refugees: 34 million of them (that’s more than half), are “internally displaced”, which means they’re still in their home country. For example, while Syrians account for 21 percent of refugees, they account for 28 percent of the internally displaced.

So while the international refugee crisis dominates the headlines and our discourse, the humanitarian crisis in the shadows is a new kind of global homelessness brought on by political instability and war.

Now, along with dis-placement, I’ll call out some mis-placement: The misplacement of our priorities. We are rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking humanitarian ship while there is real deprivation in the world. Here in America, we are struggling to address basic dysfunctions in our society that we should simply be better at handling, to wit:

The epidemic of gun violence. We are not the only nation in the world to struggle with this problem. But we act as though, because of the Second Amendment, our American exceptionalism means we can’t figure it out the same way the rest of the developed world has.

It’s naive and just plain wrong, and I lay the blame for it squarely at the feet of the gun lobby (who stay in business by helping us flog the idea that no red-blooded American is safe without a gun to fight the government) and the politicians who take money from them while not acknowledging what we all secretly know: That most of the headline-making shooting-spree gun violence is committed by people with undiagnosed or poorly treated mental health issues who are being failed by a mental health care system in shambles.

Police killings of black civilians. Thanks to social media we are now painfully aware of a silent epidemic that is a real cancer on policing in this country. In order for our police to be effective, they simply must figure out a way to do their jobs while dramatically reducing the number of people who die at the hands of police. There is no real alternative here.

We also need to deal with the elephant in the room: Racism. As a pastor friend of mine has said, racism hasn’t disappeared now that the Ku Klux Klan has been publicly exposed — it’s simply traded sheets and hoots for suits and ties. (See “institutional racism”.)

Religious freedom/liberty. The culture war is the biggest, most meaningless distraction imaginable. It is by no means what Jesus had in mind when he said he came to knit us together into a single human family. But the evangelical Christian community continues to have a fetish for stirring this particular pot with the notion that their faith and spirituality are somehow in jeopardy — and that the First Amendment suddenly, 200-plus years on, isn’t up to the task of protecting them from the liberal bogeymen who want to force them to bake gay wedding cakes, among other horrors.

Here in Georgia, we have a state senator who says he’ll introduce legislation this year to protect Christians in government and business. From what, exactly? I’m sure he’s not intentionally leaving out Muslims, interracial couples, the divorced (and the remarried), the unbaptized who need state services, alcoholics… Or is he? But we collectively seem destined and determined to waste another legislative session and the requisite resources debating the finer points of such proposed legislation when in metro Atlanta alone tonight, there will be more than 10,000 people who need shelter in a city where the number of beds awaiting them numbers far fewer than that.

So now you have a sense of what I’m praying over as we enter the new year. I invite you to join me. And let’s hope that a year from now, we have a very different list of things to take to God.

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 -- and which now resides at

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 -- and which now resides at

American Spring: Marriage equality and the arc to justice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 -- and which now resides at

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 -- and which now resides at

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 -- and which now resides at

Summer School in the Streets of Atlanta

Time for an (almost) summer-school pop quiz: Of the following, which would you say is the most important to the average person on Atlanta’s streets right now?

  1. Substantial deodorant, for both men and women.
  2. Socks, preferably black.
  3. Plastic bags, as many as you can spare.
  4. Basic human dignity.

Answer key: #4, Basic human dignity.

In this exercise, #4 is the “all of the above” answer, because the other three answers are contained in it.

When we hit Atlanta’s streets once a quarter to distribute hygiene kits to the people we encounter there, the expressed needs change, but they’re just spokes on a wheel, the hub of which is basic human dignity. And that hub is the “all of the above” answer every time.

Two Sundays ago we were back out there, with a goal of distributing 500 freshly made hygiene kits. As with every time we’ve done this since 2010, we were exposed to slightly different spokes than the time before. Items 1-3 above are what we heard this time; next time it’ll be slightly different.

But #4 never changes — yet it’s the one need that never really gets expressed out loud. Because exactly how does one ask for basic dignity? For some, it’s by asking for items 1-3 above. So meeting those needs becomes a means for chipping away at the real need, for restoring dignity. Hearing the evolving spoken needs, we obsess over creating the Platonic ideal of The Perfect Hygiene Kit, when in fact the ideal isn’t a kit at all — it’s restoring that dignity.

So we do what we can and let God do the rest. We listen while we’re distributing, and the Gospel tells us that when we do this, we are also listening to Jesus.

But the trick is to really hear. And what I hope we’re all hearing in the midst of this listening is that every single one of our brothers and sisters on this Earth deserves the same basic dignity we’d want for ourselves. Because if that level of listening were actually a global daily human practice, can you imagine the sort of world we might actually live in?

I dare say that world would be one step closer to heaven.

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 -- and which now resides at