To the Delegates to General Conference*

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My friend in Christ, Louis Jordan, asked if I’d speak today on this topic: What is it like to be a gay man in The United Methodist Church? Wow. We’ve been talking about our denomination’s policy regarding homosexuality since 1972. That’s 44 years. What can I say in eight minutes that might make a difference to anyone here? But, the Holy Spirit has done far more miraculous things, so let us acknowledge the presence of the Spirit with us now, in Jesus name. Amen.

What is it like to be a gay man in The United Methodist Church? There’s too much of my story to share, so let me offer this: at the end of the meeting I’ll come back up here. If you want to talk more, come by and I’ll give you my contact information.

What is it like to be a gay man in The United Methodist Church? I have to make a distinction here between the local church level and the denominational level. On the local level it’s pretty much been fabulous. But at a denominational level (which is the level we should talk about today since y’all are going off to Portland for General Conference)…At the denominational level, it’s been humiliating, painful, and scary.

I was an elder here in the Tennessee Conference for ten years. There came a time when I finally accepted my sexuality. I met with my district superintendent, Juanita Wright Bass, and my bishop, Kenneth Carter. I had three small children. I had to provide for them. I didn’t know what would happen. Bishop Carter led me through a series of questions. I left that meeting having surrendered my credentials in good standing.

What is it like to be a gay man in The United Methodist Church? For me and for my family—son Sam, son Ben, daughter Ruth—it’s been humiliating, painful, and scary.

For years, I was bitter. But over time, my family and I healed, thanks in large part to the love given to us by our Belmont church family. They didn’t know my story, or not many did. They just loved because that’s what church folk do. At some point I realized that I am still in ministry, living out my calling at The Upper Room where I’ve been for over ten years.

Then, a little over a year ago, my partner (Blech. “Partner.” I’ve always hated referring to Frank as my partner. It sounds like something from a cowboy western. Thank God I don’t have to call him that anymore.) Anyway, Frank needed health insurance. Hey! I can do that for him. Strangely enough, the General Agencies, of which The Upper Room is a part, offer benefits to same-sex married couples. Just months before marriage equality became the law of the land, Frank and I made plans to travel to North Carolina where marriage was legal. I focused only on getting Frank health insurance, but Pam Hawkins knew Frank, knew our children, knew me, and she knew we needed more out of a wedding than a legal contract. Pam went with us, with Belmont’s blessing. She officiated at our wedding. It was holy.

We came back home and my sister, Henrietta, threw Frank and me a reception. I was not prepared for the outpouring of love I felt that day. LGBT friends, church friends, family, all gathered at OutCentral on Church Street in Nashville. These were people from groups I had tried to keep apart for years. They were there to support Frank and me and to say, “We love you and we no longer want to be kept apart!”

Meanwhile, Pam was charged for having officiated at our wedding. She entered into just resolution. I eventually went with her as her advocate. It was the first time I’d set foot in the Bishop’s office since I’d been there 16 years before to surrender my credentials. Pam was suspended for 90 days. Some thought she got off easy. I thought it was one of the saddest things that has ever happened in my life. At one of the happiest times in my life, my denomination’s role was to punish the person who made it possible.

What is it like to be a gay man in The United Methodist Church? It’s humiliating, painful, and scary. Now, not just for me, and for my family, but also for my friend, for my pastor.

But in the immortal words of Gloria Gaynor, “I will survive!” Truly, at 51, I’m at peace, personally. What bothers me, what hurts me, is thinking about that 12-year-old boy who’s going to Sunday school at his rural United Methodist Church. Week after week, he hears his Sunday school teacher tell him “God loves you. We love you.” As he gets older, he realizes there’s something different about him. He realizes he’s gay. He doesn’t know how he knows, but he knows this isn’t something he should talk about, not to his parents, not to his Sunday school teacher. He’s left to figure it out on his own. The years pass. Eventually, he comes across these words, the official policy of the church he loves: “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Upon reading that, he repents of his sin, is no longer gay, and lives his life as a straight man.

Actually I have never, ever, heard of that happening. I’m afraid that, as a gay man in The United Methodist Church, either he leaves the church, or he enters a time of humiliation, pain, and fear. Is he a person of sacred worth? Or is he incompatible with Christian teaching?

May the Holy Spirit be with you as you travel to Portland for General Conference.

*Spoken to the Tennessee Annual Conference delegates to General Conference on May 1, 2016, at a “Listening Session.”

Good Friday

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From the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

This past week, my husband, Frank, and I had one of the biggest fights we’ve had in the sixteen years of our relationship. Susan, I forgive you for asking me to talk about forgiveness in the midst of that. You didn’t know what you were doing.

From the cross, Jesus said,
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Jesus’ prayer of forgiveness from the cross isn’t the first time he’s taught us about forgiveness. In the eighteenth chapter of Matthew, Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times.”

And in Matthew chapter six, Jesus’ followers come to him and ask him to teach them how to pray. In that prayer, which eventually came to be called the Lord’s Prayer, are these words, “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, God,  just as we also forgive those who have wronged us.” Jesus ends his instruction on how to pray in this way: “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.”

There’s a familiarity, a rhythm, a cadence to Jesus’ words about forgiveness. Forgive others…love others. God forgives us…love God. Do you sense the connection between forgiveness and the Great Commandment, to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself”? Forgiveness is the key to being able to live out that Great Commandment, by God’s grace.

We are going to hurt one another in this world. Sometimes the hurt is slight and forgiveness comes easily. Other times the hurt is seemingly beyond bearing and forgiveness is all but impossible.

Thank God we do not have to forgive on our own! We forgive because God forgives us. We love because God loves us.

“God shows God’s love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

From the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

Shared with Belmont United Methodist Church on Good Friday, 2016.

Maundy* Thursday

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other” (John 13:34, CEB).

There’s a reason why this day is called “holy” in the Christian tradition. There it is, distilled into one commandment: Love each other.

As a symbol of the love Jesus was talking about, he washed his followers feet and dried their feet with a towel. This was a common act of hospitality in Jesus’ day. As people traveled, their feet got dusty. A hospitable host would have a servant ready to wash a visitor’s feet when they came to visit.

In washing his followers’ feet, Jesus assumed the role of a servant. This was his example of love. He connects it to voluntary, humble service to others.

Jesus’ act of washing feet freaked Peter out. Jesus told Peter that he could have no part of him unless Peter allowed him to wash his feet.

The idea of loving one another through service still freaks out Christians. Servanthood is a sign of weakness. It’s something we pay other people to do for us. It’s humiliating.

But love for one another through service to one another is what the world desperately needs.

Instead, we Christians allow ourselves to get distracted by gray areas. We’re so easily sidetracked. I won’t list specific issues here, but I’ll leave it up to you to name them. They’re all over the news, the issues that we focus on in an effort to get along with each other. And it’s all up in our intimate relationships.

What would our lives be like if we responded from a place of servant love? How would those acts of love in the world change the world?

“I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other” (John 13:34, CEB).

*Derived through Middle English and Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum, the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos“.

This Christmas Is So Screwed Up

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The daughter has a job 194.3 miles away in a different time zone and I will be going to meet her there for an 11 pm Christmas Eve service. We’ll drive back afterwards and I’ll drop her off at her mom’s house before I return home after 1 am Christmas Day.

I’ll wake up at 6 am and drive to my son’s house in time for presents with the granddaughter. The husband will be at his ex-wife’s house with my stepdaughter and grandson.

We’d postponed our Christmas lunch with my sister, mother, brother-in-law, the husband’s stepfather, and the kids and grandkids until the 26th, but one of my sons has to work from 9 am to 9 pm that day, so we’ve moved it yet again to the 27th.

I’ve worked hard to build traditions for our family through the years, probably out of guilt at having been married to their mother and divorcing her. There’s no way to pull off those traditions this year. What had become rote is now scattered on a calendar, spread out and diluted in an effort to accommodate everyone involved.

The perfect Christmas has become an impossibility.

And that’s just fine.

When Jesus was born, circumstances were far from perfect. Strip away the sentimentality and look at the story realistically: an unwed mother; a sceptical fiancé; an ill-conceived, government enforced journey; labor and birth in a barn; complete strangers showing up, some of them bringing useless gift for a newborn.

It’s as if God was trying to tell us something. In the midst of all that first Christmas mess, incarnation happened. The word was made flesh to live among us. God set the bar low on purpose to show us that God loves us just as we are.

The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors” (Luke 2:10-14, CEB).

Merry Christmas.

“Are You the Kwanzaa Lady?”

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I hurt someone’s feelings Thursday night at Sister Night. I apologized, sincerely, but it wasn’t enough to repair the harm I’d done. I’d take it back if I could, but of course I can’t.

About three-quarters through the show, a Sister came to me and said a lady up front wanted to speak to those in attendance about Kwanzaa. I introduced the next number, then flitted off to find the lady. At the front of the bar there were three African Americans, a woman and two men. I looked at the woman and asked, “Are you the Kwanzaa lady?”

She looked at me, aghast, and asked, “Am I the what?”

I immediately tried to explain, apologize, but the three of them left. I don’t know if they were on their way out or if they’d just gotten there. I followed. She kept walking. The two men stayed for a conversation of sorts.

I tried to explain further. One of the men was more open to whatever I was saying, the other man—it wouldn’t have mattered what I said. During the time we were on the sidewalk, the woman drove by, rolled down her window, and slowed down enough to yell through it, “It’s okay.”

What I did was wrong. Please don’t reply with comments that attempt to justify my actions; I will delete them.

I’ve replayed this situation a dozen times in my head and the only thing I could have done differently was to have ask from the stage, “Would the person who wants to talk about Kwanzaa come on up?”

We live in a time (and should have always lived in a time) when our words matter a great deal. Racial, religious, sexual orientation, you name it, tensions are high. In the space of a moment we can hurt or heal with words. We can tear down or we can build up. We can cause people to feel bad or to feel good.

My prayer is that I will choose more wisely next time, and for grace when I fail.

An Act of Love

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This is asking a lot. I know what it’s like to open yourself to scorn and ridicule. But I want to give folks an opportunity to stand up for love, support Pam, and Belmont United Methodist Church.

The comments section is open for this latest coverage from News Channel 5.

http://www.scrippsmedia.com/newschannel5/news/Minister–318740601.html?lc=Smart

Extravagant Grace

The beginning of Victor Hugo’s epic work Les Misérables introduces us to Myriel, the bishop of Digne. Myriel lives a simple life in solidarity with the poor. Even though he was born into a life of wealth and means, he chooses to serve the poor of Digne. The only belongings of worth that remain with the bishop from his old life are a pair of expensive silver candlestick holders. The people of the town come to love Myriel, eventually giving him the nickname “Bienvenu,” which means “welcome.”

A homeless, destitute man shows up at the bishop’s home one night, and we get the feeling that this sort of thing has happened before. Seemingly without thought, the bishop takes the man in, feeds him, makes him comfortable, and welcomes him.

Out of fear for his future, and in an act of desperation, the homeless man robs the bishop, taking his silverware. The next morning he is caught by the police and he claims the bishop gave him the silverware. Suspicious, the police drag him back to the bishop’s home where the bishop surprisingly confirms the lie. In a further act of extravagant grace, he gives the homeless man the silver candlestick holders as well, saying he must have forgotten to take them the night before.

This act of mercy, this act of grace, changes the homeless man, whose name is Jean Valjean. The story told in Les Misérables continues to unfold with its themes of law and grace.

I first read the book in high school, not as an assignment, but because reading it made me feel smart. The copy available to me was an old five-volume set that belonged to my great-grandmother. Inscribed on the first page are these words, “Clara B. Rauscher, 1914.” I had no idea the impact this story would have on me. In the years since I read the book I have seen the musical countless times. It’s one of the few works I enjoy experiencing repeatedly. Every time I see it, read it, listen to the soundtrack, or really ever think about the story, I weep.

Justice and mercy. Law and grace. The choice between the two is where we find ourselves over and over again in both big and small ways, everything from do I slow down and let that car pull out in front of me or do I keep my rightful place in line, to our beliefs about the use of capital punishment for heinous crimes. Justice and mercy. Law and grace.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the story of Jesus, son of man and son of God. Time and time again, Jesus found himself in conflict with the law. Once, he and his disciples were walking through a wheat field on the sabbath. They were hungry, so they picked some of the grain and ate it. The act of picking grain on the sabbath was considered work and against Jewish law. Jesus basically said, and I’m paraphrasing, “This is stupid. We’re hungry. Pick the damn grain and eat it.” Another time, he healed a woman of an illness that caused her to menstruate constantly. According to Jewish law, this meant that she was constantly unclean. Anyone who touched her also would become unclean. And so she suffered. Jesus basically said, “This woman is suffering. Applying the law in this situation is stupid.” He broke the law, touched her, and healed her. Another time, Jesus came upon a crowd about to stone a woman to death. She had been caught in the act of adultery. By law, she should have been killed. Jesus stepped in and challenged the crowd, challenged the law, and basically said, “Are there any of you standing here holding a stone who can claim you haven’t also broken the law? That’s what I thought. Go on home now and leave this woman alone.”

To say that Jesus’ words and actions confounded and angered the religious leaders is an understatement. In their minds, he threatened everything they believed. Eventually they orchestrated his crucifixion.

On March 13, 2015, Rev. Pam Hawkins officiated the wedding of two men, members of her congregation. You can read my account of that day, here. In doing so, she broke church law. United Methodist Clergy are forbidden to officiate weddings for same gender couples. Pam’s supervisor brought charges against her. After four months of agonizing talks, they reached a resolution. You can read that resolution, here. It’s a little wordy. It is United Methodist, after all.

Set aside for a moment your belief about this particular law, how you feel about the law, whether it is good or bad, just or unjust, whether it will change when the denomination meets in 2016, or if it will stay the same. Read the resolution like a Bible story. Yes, Rev. Hawkins officiated at the wedding. She picked the grain. She stopped the bleeding. She invited the crowd to drop their stones. She broke the law. And the religious leaders were confounded. Angered. Something must be done. There must be consequences. Our hands are tied. We can’t change the law. We are sworn to uphold the law. You broke the law. You have to pay the price.

Guess what, folks? You don’t. You don’t! The world is not going to end if justice is not served. I keep hoping against hope that through all of this Pam, caught with a bag of stolen silverware, will be given the expensive candlestick holders. That hasn’t happen yet. Instead, she will be suspended without pay for ninety days. Is that just? Sure it is. But it isn’t God’s justice. No, it is not. It’s just not. God’s justice is grace. God’s justice is, “Yes, she did it. But it’s ok. Put your stones down and go on home.” Hell, I still hope it will happen! I still hold out hope that Pam’s supervisor and her bishop will reverse themselves and say, “Pam, you officiated at this wedding. You broke the law. But we get it. Boy do we get it! Our offices are being flooded with calls from pastors asking what they’re supposed to do because same sex couples are coming to them asking them to officiate at weddings. You’ve already struggled with this issue in your local church. Would you help us help these struggling pastors?” Now that would be like giving Pam the silver candlestick holders! That would be an act of grace!

Many of you know I used to be an elder in the United Methodist Church, an ordained pastor. It’s time to end this sermon, but I was taught that no sermon should end without an opportunity to respond. Here are two: 1) The resolution says that Pam’s supervisor will listen to United Methodist LGBTQ and their families in the Nashville area, being present to hear from them how United Methodist policy has harmed them. Here is a link to the Nashville District website where you can find contact information.

2) Pam will be suspended for ninety days beginning on August 1, 2015. Belmont United Methodist Church is not permitted to pay her salary during that time, but individuals can. Find out how by reading Belmont’s statement regarding this matter, here.

Now we have to end with a song. I have chosen my favorite verse from all the hymns I know, and since it’s a Christmas carol, we get to have Christmas in July. Sing with me now the third verse from O Holy Night, written by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure in 1847. But before we do, holy shit! I had to look up who wrote O Holy Night and, seeing the French name and the date, I jumped over to Wikipedia and found this:

“Victor Hugo began planning a major novel about social misery and injustice as early as the 1830s, but it would take a full 17 years for Les Misérables to be realized and finally published in 1862.”

My favorite hymn and my favorite book were created in France at the same time in history. Their creators may have known each other. Wow!

Truly he taught us to love one another,

his law is love and his gospel is peace.

Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.

And in his name all oppression shall cease.

Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,

With all our hearts we praise His holy name.

Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,

his power and glory ever more proclaim!

His power and glory ever more proclaim!

Go in peace. When you find yourself caught between law and grace, choose grace, because that is what God has chosen for you. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Lord, Teach Us to Pray.”


No matter who you are or what you believe, you are a spiritual being. The diversity of belief in my circle of acquaintances and friends is vast. Sometimes I find myself hesitant to write or talk about my personal belief because I don’t want to offend anyone or get caught up in defensive debate.

I start most of my days practicing some form of prayer or meditation. This morning before the sun rose I found myself on the patio with a heavy heart. My spirit is full of intense emotions: joy, hope, fear, sadness. It feels as if I forgot to give myself my testosterone shot, but I didn’t. Some of my reactions to life’s experiences can’t be regulated by hormones or drugs. Sometimes all I can do—the most I can do—is pray.

My cats, both Fred and Ming, join me on the patio as the sky brightens while I prayed. Mr. Hummingbird eats his breakfast, as does Samantha the three-legged deer. I’m a little jealous of the simplicity of their lives. I laugh to myself as I took a picture of my feet for this post. Who ever heard of feet folded in prayer?

When I pray, really pray, this is the place that I pray from and to: I believe that there is a God who wants for all of us the best of what is possible. I’m constantly confounded by my lack of imagination. I seldom see these best possibilities until after the fact. When I pray, really pray, I let go of my wish lists, my fears, my control, and I open myself to God’s possibilities.

Sometimes, like this morning, this is hard work. My fear, my hope, my sadness is so great that there’s not much room for God. Even though I need to stay here longer I can’t. I’ve already made myself late for work. The second that thought enters my mind I don’t have the discipline to keep praying because I’m too distracted. I have to shower, pack my lunch, and make a forty-five minute commute.

I have to let go and trust that God will work for the good despite my unfaithfulness. I have to believe that all will be well.

There’s nothing left to say but amen.