I’m not able to recapture the excitement we felt as we voted together in the early morning of November 8, 2016. On this side of the election, our smiles look a little silly.
Despite the results, I’ve continued to hope. My mind starts these “well, maybe..” statements. Well maybe he really does want to bring the nation together. Well maybe he’ll speak out strongly against the rise in hate crimes against Muslims, Blacks, and, gay and Transgender people, especially here in the South. Well maybe he’ll create a cabinet that will balance his ultra conservative positions.
None of this has happened and I’m becoming more and more hopeless.
I didn’t used to pay this much attention to national politics. I’m beginning to think that’s what I’m going to have to do again out of self preservation. I can limit my time on Facebook, start listening to podcasts instead of NPR during my commute, ask relatives and loved ones to respect my decision to talk about other subjects.
It won’t work though.
I saw a meme that read, “All politics is local.” That’s true. What’s happening politically in our country is happening to people close to me. It’s happening to me.
A gay friend who has lived peacefully for years in rural Tennessee has had to deal with hate speech directed at him on three separate occasions. Two black church buildings were shot at in Rutherford County. I went to college there. Last night, I attended a vigil for a young man named Deon who was stabbed to death. News reports say he was wearing a dress when he was killed. Deon’s friends say he was full of life, and he would pop drop and lock it anytime, anywhere.
These hateful actions have occurred since the election, all within fifty miles of me. My friends are angry. Some are afraid. I’m more angry than afraid.
There’s always been a political aspect to being a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence. As a non-profit organization, we cannot endorse candidates. We can, however, take a stand on issues that affect the community we serve.
Doug may want to bury himself under his covers, hiding from the fallout from this election. Sister Ann Wenita Morelove, on the other hand, is going to find herself pushing the pun that is her name even more than before.
Now, more than ever, we need more love. Love for all people, especially women, Muslims, blacks, Latinos, and LGBT folks.
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.”
These ladies give of their time and talent consistently for the Nashville LGBT community on Sister Nights every month. All of their tips go to various local LGBT friendly organizations. They are incomparable in their craft, highly entertaining, and a joy to be around.
I am thankful.