Monthly Archives: August 2009

Transgender UMC Pastor Comes Out to Congregation to “Thunderous Applause”

The United Methodist Church has a second trans pastor and his congregation couldn’t be happier. Rev. David Weekley of Epworth UMC in Portland, Oregon came out in his sermon yesterday after 27 years in the closet.

Standing behind his pulpit, Weekley began his usual worship service. About halfway through, he paused to share a personal message he called “My Book Report.” He told them that in 1984, just nine years after undergoing extensive sex-reassignment surgeries, he was ordained by the Methodist Church without telling anyone of his original gender at birth.

Following his story, the congregation, who had remained silent throughout his talk, broke into thunderous applause. Church members then proclaimed their support for their pastor.

“It doesn’t change him; he’s still Reverend David, and that’s what counts,” says congregation member Robbie Tsuboi, who has been attending Epworth since 1964. “I think it was a really, really positive reaction. From what I understand, it was 100 percent support within the church.”

Image by Pamplin Media Group
Image by Pamplin Media Group

I can’t tell you how touched I am by the Epworth congregation. Their reaction is exactly what a Christian reaction to bravery and honesty should be.

“We at Epworth support him,” says congregation member Kazuko Hara, who has been attending Epworth’s services for more than 50 years. “I am supportive of him and will stand by him.”

“I think that they’re looking at his heart,” adds Kaau Ahina, who has been attending Epworth for three years. “They love him for who he is, and (his wife) Deborah.”

Following Sunday morning’s service, Weekley answered questions from the congregation about his decision and his life. One member asked: Was he relieved to have revealed the truth about his life? Weekley exhaled. “Extremely,” he answered. “Twenty-seven years is a long time,” he says. “I have a lot to say and now I can finally say it.”

Despite anticipating that some of his congregation would leave the church, Weekley actually heard that some members plan to become more involved following his disclosure on Sunday.

“I don’t think I anticipated that so much,” he says smiling.

Please read the rest of the article at the Portland Tribune website. There are a few inaccuracies in the article as to policies in the UMC regarding LGBT people, but that’s to be expected with the complex maze we’ve constructed.

Special thanks to Tribune writer Christine McFadden, not only for the story, but for getting the pronouns right. That’s usually a problem for trans people in the press, but from what I can tell she got it exactly right!

Red Flags in NOM Tax Return

The National Organization for Marriage (NOM, of 2M4M fame) has (several months after they were legally obligated to do so) released their 2007 IRS form 990 (pdf). Justin McLachlan, who obtained the form, and others are going over it to find out why the release was (illegally) held up for so long. It’s been alleged that NOM receives substantial support from the Catholic Church and/or the Mormon Church, and we may finally learn if that’s true. There have also been seemingly credible allegations of money laundering.

While others are looking at the $189,000 in “consulting” fees paid in 2007 to Common Sense America, an organization headed by NOM President Brian Brown, I noticed another discrepancy.

National Organization for Marriage, 2007 form 990, page 15
National Organization for Marriage, 2007 form 990, page 15

In Section IV-B (above), NOM states that they performed no lobbying activity (“including any attempt to influence public opinion on a legislative matter”) in 2007. While that’s conceivable (they had just put up their shingle, after all), it’s factually incorrect. The Press Room of NOM’s own website shows that it’s not true.

On October 6, 2007 NOM republished a news article (screencap) about the group from MassLive.com. The article includes at least two germane points, saying “Brian S. Brown, director of the newly created National Organization for Marriage, of Princeton, N.J., which financed the billboard…” “The billboard is an effort to highlight Puppolo’s vote and educate the public”. That would be activities listed in section C, which NOM told the IRS they didn’t do.

On October 9, 2007, NOM republished a news article (screencap) from CBS3 in Springfield, Massachusetts about the same billboard.

On November 2, 2007, NOM published an mp3 of their then-recent radio ad. The following audio is taken from that post.

[mp3=http://blog.mattalgren.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/nom_radio_ad.mp3]

This would be activities listed in sections C and/or E, which NOM told the IRS they didn’t do. Note that the ad is paid for by NOM.

On November 29, 2007, NOM republished a news article (screencap) about their radio ad from NJ.com (link provided by NOM now dead). One germane quote from the article: “Brian Brown of Princeton, the executive director of the National Organization for Marriage, said, ‘If the bill doesn’t come up and legislators hear from their constituents, that’s also a success for us. We’re going straight to the public.'”

Keep in mind that I’m neither an attorney nor a tax accountant. I may just be chasing a wild goose, but it seems to my layman’s eye that something’s amiss.

Is there another section in which NOM reported expenditures for the billboard and the radio campaigns? If not, who paid for them, and why is it accounted for separately?

AFA Smuggles Propaganda-Filled Comic Books in Bibles

In an email late this morning, American Family Association (AFA) President Tim Wildmon announced “Truth for Youth” week, which inconveniently ends today. You can see the entire email here.

I take issue with this program for several reasons, including the McEvangelism, overt paternalism, and the notch-on-my-belt measurement of success, but what really drew my attention was this part:

“The Truth For Youth” consists of the entire New Testament in the God’s Word version, along with 100 pages of powerful full color comics that are packed with “absolute truths” regarding issues young people are faced with, such as: Evolution, Sexual Purity, Homosexuality, Abortion, Pornography, Drugs, Drunkenness, Peer Pressure, School Violence, Secular Rock Music, Sorcery and Witchcraft.

Ho boy. I can get past the sing-songy name and the “hip and with it” trade dress. That’s a mistake Christians have been making for decades. I can even get past the American flag on the cover of the Bible.

Ten years ago it would have been XTREME!!!
Ten years ago it would have been XTREME!!!

What I can’t get past, though, is the comics. Obviously their purpose is not to get the Bible (New Testament only) out there, but to get the 100 pages of their version of Christianity in a “hip and with it” format that will surely fool them! Worse still, the comics come before you even get to Matthew 1, according to publisher Tim Todd’s newsletter (screencap).

I took a look over at the Truth for Youth website, and they’ve got the comics up. It’s all pretty awful. I’ll spare you the running commentary, but suffice to say they don’t like “secular music” (they actually call it that) or evolution. Go over there to have a look. The pornography one is particularly horrid. Jack Chick has nothing on this Tim Todd fellow.

In the homosexuality comic they try to play the “both sides are bad” game. The whole story is set around dueling violent protests between what looks to be a basic white trash mob (that coincidentally looks NOTHING like church-goin’ folks) and angry dyke caricatures.

This allows them to distance themselves from the loudest anti-gays while pushing an ex-gay message that helpfully sounds like the middle ground. By the end, a little boy comes out and is quickly convinced that he shouldn’t be gay. The story ends with an ad for Exodus International.

tim-todd-peer-pressureAnd I guess that’s what bothers me the most. This program from the AFA isn’t about getting Bibles into the hands of kids or evangelism. It’s about using children to sneak a harmful and false message into public schools.

One quick image before I close up. This is, I’m not kidding, from their comic on the evils of peer pressure.

I mean, come on. Really.

UMC Amendment One Sponsor Under Fire for Supporting Inclusion

It’s not unusual for LGBT-inclusive pastors to catch flak for their position; I daresay it happens more often than we know. We should always support these brave women and men of faith as they fight for our inclusion, but today I learned of a case that deserves special attention.

Rev. Kevin Young of Wesley Memorial UMC in Huntsville, Texas is under fire from some in his congregation. The college-age Sunday School class at his church recently decided to explicitly include LGBT people in their group. Though a vocal minority in the church have asked Rev. Young to overturn their decision, he is standing fast in support of inclusion.

You should know that this isn’t the first time Rev. Young has stood up for the inclusion of all in the UMC. Kevin Young took a major career risk last year in proposing Amendment One to the General Conference.

Following are excerpts from a letter by Dr. Jim Bankston (who spoke in favor of Amendment One), published by neighboring University UMC:

…it is not always easy to speak out, or to know what we can do as individuals within our denomination to promote the Christian message of God’s unequivocal love and grace.

Recently, we have been presented with an opportunity for action. The Rev. Kevin Young who, with his wife Laura co-chairs Breaking the Silence, is under attack by a small faction within his church who oppose his leadership in teaching and practicing the Gospel message that God loves all people. The attacks have been relentless and personal. The attackers have sought to stir up dissent within the congregation and have said that their goal is to get Rev. Young removed from their church. They have withdrawn their financial support leaving the church with a shortfall that now stands at about $35,000.

Each of us can take action and make a difference in the following ways:

  • Send a note, a card, or other written demonstration of support and love for Kevin and Laura.
  • If your finances permit, you can make a donation to Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church, Huntsville, to help the church overcome its deficit and continue to meet its apportionments and operating expenses. A donation of $50 or $100, or indeed, any amount, would be helpful and welcome. If 100 people each could make a donation of $500, the immediate financial crisis would be averted and the church would have an operating fund cushion to allow Rev. Young to focus on healing the schism within his congregation. Every contribution sends a message that you support inclusive clergy and the silent majority within their churches who also stand with them.

Let’s return the favor and support Rev. Young now. If you (like me) can’t make a financial donation, please send Rev. Young a message of encouragement. (See the University UMC post for contact information and instructions.)

Military Memorial Service Planned During National Equality March

Last night, 1LT Dan Choi announced a new event for October’s National Equality March. The official website has details about a memorial being held on October 10 for Sgt. Leonard Matlovich, the first servicemember to challenge the US military gay ban in 1975.

Matlovich-Memorial

In 1975, before cell phones, iPods, the public Internet-and when Barack Obama was only 13-USAF TSgt Leonard Matlovich, winner of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, outed himself to his commander to become the first servicemember to challenge the military’s ban on gays. He soon became a leader in the fight for LGBT equality in every facet of life before succumbing to AIDS in 1988. His coffin was born through the streets of the nation’s capital on a horse-drawn caisson, accompanied by an Air Force Honor Guard and mourners carrying both American and rainbow flags, to Congressional Cemetery where the year before he’d dedicated a planned memorial to Navy veteran Harvey Milk. There, he was laid to rest beneath a tombstone he’d designed as a memorial to all gay veterans, his epitaph resonating as powerfully today as then: “When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.” Our memorial service, featuring recently discharged gay veterans and movement leaders, is meant both to honor him and reinvigorate the ongoing battle against military inequality thirty-four years after his historic and courageous sacrifice.

On Saturday, October 10, 2:00 pm there will be a Leonard Matlovich Memorial Services at Congressional Cemetery.

You can take the Metro to this event. METRO Stations: Blue or Orange line to Potomac Ave or Stadium-Armory.

Veterans and active duty are encouraged to attend in uniform.

Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach Outed by False Claims of Rape

Since Lt. Col. Victor Fehrenbach first went public as a potential victim of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, he’s made it clear that he’d been private with his gender preference, not telling anyone in his unit. The only thing he’d say was that he was that his 18 years of exemplary service were interrupted by a “civilian acquaintance,” so I had to wonder what in the world could’ve happened.

Yesterday the Idaho Statesman shared the situation and it’s worse than I could’ve imagined.

Fehrenbach, stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base, was in a Catch-22. To clear himself of the claim he’d raped a man, Fehrenbach could tell police his side of the story. But admitting he’d had consensual sex could get him kicked out of the Air Force he loved after 18 years.

Fehrenbach asked Detective Mark Vucinich whether his employer had a right to see his statement. Yes, replied Vucinich.

Fehrenbach then told the detective he had sex with Cameron Shaner on May 12, 2008. He’d met Shaner, 30, on a gay Web site and invited him to his southeast Boise home.

Fehrenbach was soon cleared by police and the Ada County prosecutor’s office. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations subsequently found no violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. AFOSI concluded that Fehrenbach and Shaner had consensual sex, and that Shaner was an “unreliable source of information.”

But the Air Force wasn’t done: Fehrenbach’s admission he’d had gay sex was a violation of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” law.

Reporter Dan Popkey goes on to tell how Cameron Shaner changed his lie several times, falsely claimed to be an informant for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and made false allegations of “HIV parties.”

How he can keep smiling I'll never know
How he can keep smiling I'll never know

Lt. Col. Fehrenbach faced a double persecution, first when Cameron Shaner falsely accused him of rape, then when the US Air Force decided that defending himself was grounds for firing. No straight soldier would be subjected to this. It wouldn’t be dreamt of.

This has to stop. President Obama agrees that it has to stop. Defense Secretary Gates agrees that it has to stop. Congressional leaders agree that it has to stop. The only thing in our way is the unwillingness to spend political capital on ending a discriminatory, shameful, Un-American law.

Historic Day for ELCA: Gay Marriage, Clergy Approved

lutheran-logoUnbelievable developments today from the General Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Following their approval of an LGBT-inclusive social statement Wednesday, the Assembly returned to LGBT concerns Friday morning with four “steps”. These take the form of three statements about the church followed by a fourth that addresses implementation of the first three. The full text of the recommendation of the Task Force for ELCA Studies on Sexuality can be found here (pdf, just two pages).

Since nobody likes confusions like Christians, they decided to address them out of order. Following is a summary of the resolution/step, followed by the vote count taken from their live feed. All needed a simple majority to pass.


Resolution One/Step Three is a preparation resolution, requesting mutual respect if the others pass.

Step three asks this church whether, in the future implementation of these commitments, it will make decisions so that all in this church bear the burdens of the other, and respect the bound consciences of all.

Resolution One/Step Three APPROVED (with amendment) 771-270 74.06%-25.94%


Resolution Two/Step One is significant because it permits pastors to accept and celebrate gay marriages and to officiate same gender weddings.

Step one asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding ways to allow congregations that choose to do so to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships.

Resolution Two/Step One APPROVED 619-402 or 60.63%-39.37%


Resolution Three/Step Two is the bigger news of the day. It permits lesbians and gay men who are married (or in marriage-esque relationships where those aren’t legal) to be ordained ministers.

Step two asks the assembly whether, in principle, this church is committed to finding a way for people in such publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships to serve as professional leaders of this church.

Resolution Three/Step Two APPROVED 559-451 or 55.35%-44.65%

After the emotional and relatively close vote for Resolution Three/Step Two, the General Assembly was called immediately to prayer followed by a hymn that acknowledged the division in the vote.

(Searching for an appropriate hymn, Bishop Mark Hanson, who led the meeting, noted that three people shouted out the same number, saying “Where three or more Lutherans agree on a hymn…” Oh, how humor helps us through difficult times.)

I’m overjoyed by the outcome today, but I also understand that many of our sisters and brothers are dismayed. While I disagree with them wholeheartedly, I do understand that there will be pain in their hearts for some time. There will be difficult decisions to be made.

Once/If it’s made available, I intend to post the transcription for the day’s business, but for now I’ll just tell you that all the elements missing at UMC General Conference last year were evident even in text today.

I’ve said before (though I don’t think here) that I don’t believe most people in the pews view homosexuality as a line of demarcation. Those who do are vocal and active, but I know too many Christians who exemplify acceptance to believe that most of us wish ill for each other. My prayers are indeed with those who don’t find room in God’s church for lesbians and gay men, not only that they’ll be comforted, but that through this action today they may come to a new understanding.


Resolution Four/Step Four wraps up the statements with specific actions.

Step four proposes the specifics of how this church can move toward change in a way that respects the bound consciences of all. (More here.)

Resolution Four/Step Four APPROVED (with amendment) 667-307 68.48%-31.52%


rev-lee-miller-iiFinally, a quote from one of the General Assembly delegates. In testimony before the vote on Resolution Three/Step Two, Rev. Lee M. Miller, II of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran in Philadelphia stepped to the microphone and had this to say:

I stand in favor of this resolution because I stand on the shoulders of gay and straight folks who have proclaimed the gospel of Christ and a message of love.

I am not saved because I’m a heterosexual. I’m saved because of what God has done.

And I want to say to those who are listening that they are not condemned because of their sexuality; but they are saved because of how God loves them, that God’s grace is for all, in all.

Thank you.

This is the message of the Christian Church. That we’ve gotten so far away from it is disheartening, but I’m so proud of my Lutheran sisters and brothers for their courageous move back in the direction of the message. One day we will be of one mind on this issue. Until then, we all will continue to work.

Lutheran Church Approves LGBT-Affirming Social Statement

lutheran-logoWe got some welcome good news from Minneapolis yesterday afternoon. Assembled delegates of the 2009 General Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) passed a social statement that is remarkable in its acceptance of lesbian and gay relationships.

This was a skin-of-their-teeth vote rarely seen, with the measure receiving exactly the 2/3 majority necessary. The final tally was 676-338, or 66.67%-33.34%.

Emily Eastwood of Good Soil, a conglomeration of LGBT ELCA organizations, had this statement last night:

This is a day of progress and compromise. By a 2/3 majority the church has supported families of all kinds and has acknowledged without judgment the wide variety of views within the ELCA regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion. The document recognizes the ministries of congregations which conduct blessings of same gender relationships and same gender marriages where such marriages are legal. The social statement is tolerant of our differences both in scriptural interpretation and practice. The social statement supports our unity without requiring uniformity. There is still much work to do, but the door to full inclusion of LGBT members and their families is now most definitely open.

The social statement now forms the basis for policy and advocacy on issues related to families and sexuality both for ministry and advocacy in church and society. We are encouraged and hopeful that on Friday this foundation will result in the church’s elimination of the current ban on ministers in committed same gender relationships.

You can peruse the social statement here (pdf) with a few minor verbiage-related amendments here (pdf). It’s worth noting that this statement purposely does not throw caution to the wind with wild inclusiveness.

Instead, it’s designed to recognize that there is division within the Church on the issue while allowing those who are inclusive to live by their conscience, even to the point of performing same-gender marriages. A few small bits from the statement:

We in the ELCA recognize that many of our sisters and brothers in same-gender relationships sincerely desire the support of other Christians for living faithfully in all aspects of their lives, including their sexual fidelity. In response, we have drawn deeply on our Lutheran theological heritage and Scripture. This has led, however, to differing and conscience-bound understandings about the place of such relationships within the Christian community. We have come to various conclusions concerning how to regard lifelong, monogamous same-gender relationships, including whether and how to publicly recognize their lifelong commitments.

This church also acknowledges that consensus does not exist concerning how to regard same gender committed relationships, even after many years of thoughtful, respectful, and faithful study and conversation. We do not have agreement on whether this church should honor these relationships, uplift, shelter and protect them, or on precisely how it is appropriate to do so.

In response, this church draws on the foundational Lutheran understanding that the baptized are called to discern God’s love in service to the neighbor. In our Christian freedom, we therefore seek responsible actions that serve others and do so with humility and deep respect for the conscience-bound beliefs of others. We understand that, in this discernment about ethics and church practice, faithful people can and will come to different conclusions about the meaning of Scripture and about what constitutes responsible action. We further believe that this church, on the basis of “the bound conscience,” will include these different understandings and practices within its life as it seeks to live out its mission and ministry in the world.

dr-phyllis-wallaceOn Friday the Assembly will take up the issue of gay clergy, which should be another close vote. I’ve been keeping an eye on the live transcription of the Assembly, and I was impressed by the hopeful trust in the prayer used to end the morning’s business today. It’s from Dr. Phyllis Wallace of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands (pictured right, courtesy ELCA News Service).

O saving Son who brings forth justice to the nations, we thank You for Your light which outshines every darkness.

Keep Your light burning within us and make it constant in all that we do. Let it illumine our work, our fellowship, and our time of rest. Give us Your servant’s eyes to see Your light shining in one another and hands that are eager to bear Your light.

In humble service, for the sake of the world, we ask this in Your holy name. Amen.

As the Lutheran Church continues their work, let those who have ears hear.

Barney Frank’s Town Hall Meeting Prompts Predictable Reaction from the Right

The Republican campaign of lies continued in Dartmouth, Massachusetts last night in a town hall meeting led by Representative Barney Frank. When a young woman holding a Hitlered-up picture of President Obama asked him, “Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy?”, Rep. Frank responded in his own blunt and inimitable fashion. (First 2.5 minutes, but the rest is a fascinating window into the “shout ’em down” mentality we’ve been seeing this month.)

While everybody on our side of the debate (myself included) was L-ing OL this morning about Rep. Frank’s response, I couldn’t help but wonder how our opponents on the Right would spin it. This afternoon, I found out.

Rush Limbaugh, recognized and deferred to as the head of the Republican party, got downright homophobic in the matter. He’s always been a little fixated with his butthole and speaks often about grabbing his ankles, but leave it to Rush to find a Uranus joke hilarious.

HAHAHA! Because he’s GAY! HAHAHA! GEDDIT?!?

::sigh::

It would be nice if Rush would treat a gay congressman with a modicum of respect instead of homophobia and junior high jokes, but I suppose we should know better by now.

Meanwhile, the crew at Fox & Friends responded with some good old-fashioned distortion. Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson, and Brian Kilmeade talked about the incident several times this morning, even running a clip of the incident. But they specifically edited out the Nazi question and the part where Frank mentioned the woman’s Obama-as-Hitler sign, giving FOX News viewers the tailored impression that Frank flew off the handle at an unseen reasonable question.

Honestly. Come on.

Why the March on Washington is Crucial

There’s been some controversy in the LGBT blogging community (such as it is) for the last few months about the worth of this October’s March on Washington. I see value in both sides of the debate, though I fall pretty hard in favor of the march. Alvin McEwen of Holy Bullies and Headless Monsters did a good job summing up the anti-march arguments last week, and the following is adapted from my response to his post.

* * *

national-equality-march-logoMany people, myself included, weren’t politically active until last November when we were shocked to attention. The energy created then is now collecting dust while we all wait for congress or the president or whoever else to actually DO something. All we’re hearing from our supposed leaders, with due respect, is to wait a little longer, to be patient.

That attitude was necessary during the Bush years, but we don’t need it anymore. We have a majority in congress and in the White House, and an increasingly supportive generation that is begging to help us. There has never been a better time to push forward relentlessly, and our window of opportunity is closing quickly.

A March in Washington does three things:

  1. It tells our governmental leaders that the time is NOW, that we won’t be patted on the head and then ignored for another five or ten years.
  2. It tells our LGBT leaders to get on board or get out of the way. No more waiting politely for someone to decide we’re worth the political cost.
  3. Most importantly, it infuses a new generation with the confidence of those who have been fighting for years. This generational passing-down of values and ideas is so much more difficult in the LGBT community because we don’t have the automatic mechanism of familial generations. We have to make a much more concerted effort than our straight counterparts.

* * *

Regardless of this disagreement, the March on Washington is scheduled for October 10-11, 2009. I’ll have another post soon with more details, but for now I’ll just point out that this is not an LGBT-exclusive event. Straight allies are not only welcome, I think they’re instrumental to our success.