Forty years ago, every major religious denomination (and the vast majority of the minor ones) offered only condemnation to out gay men and lesbians. Recognizing one of us as a leader in the religious community was almost literally unimaginable. All that changed on June 25, 1972, when the United Church of Christ (UCC) ordained William Reagan Johnson of San Carlos, California. Having come out publicly two years earlier, Johnson’s ordination shocked many in the UCC and across the religious spectrum.
The following short film A Position Of Faith was produced in 1973, after Rev. Johnson’s ordination. It’s a fantastic historical record of the familiar objections to his worth as a minister and as a human being, and of the uncertainty of the vote. Also, flute music and “rap sessions.”
Also in 1973, Rev. W. Evan Golder, now Editor Emeritus of United Church News, wrote a resource paper for the UCC about Johnson’s ordination. You can read the first 16 pages of that report here, with thanks to the LGBT Religious Archives Network. In it he wrote this sentence, which should be repeated verbatim in every single conversation about religious LGBT people:
Perhaps now persons may be judged by the whole context of their lives rather than prejudged by one stereotyped impression.
The “whole context” of Rev. Johnson’s life unmistakably reaffirms the 1972 decision. Among other achievements, Johnson founded the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, helped establish the AIDS National Interfaith Network, and worked with lesbian rights trailblazer Phyllis Lyon to organize the first meeting of what would become the San Francisco chapter of PFLAG.
Happy anniversary, UCC! Here’s hoping it won’t be another 40 years before my own Methodist Church and the rest of Christendom follows your lead!
It’s been a while since I chimed in here. Nothing much to say, at least nothing fit for public consumption. But I found this video today and thought that it was a timely message as we head into the last week of LGBT Pride Month 2012. Bishop Gene Robinson gave this sermon in 2011, just before he led a group of Christians to the Pride Parade in New York City. The video is a clip from the new documentary Love Free Or Die.
Part of the way you are celebrating today, all of you, is to be giving a cup of water to people who pass by, and I want to tell you, it is a very dangerous thing to be doing, but it is a very holy thing that you do when you offer that cup of water. You are representing the community of Christians and Jews and Muslims who are 95% the source of all the oppression we LGBT people have experienced in our lives. And so when you offer a cup of water bearing the name of Christ, as it says in our gospel for today, you are the oppressor offering a cup of water to the oppressed. They get it. They get the act of compassion. My question is, do you get it? Do you get it? Do you realize the important thing that you do by giving a cup of water to those people out there who have been hurt by us, and continue to be hurt by us?
This is not about “tolerating” lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. This is not about being nice, it’s not even about being commpassionate. This cup of water is about Justice. And we are not yet at a place in this country where we believe the full and equal rights of gay and lesbian people are a matter of justice. We’re not there yet.
It’s not enough to pull the people out of a raging stream who are drowning, we have to walk back upstream and find out who’s throwing them in in the first place. It is not right what our churches and synagogues and mosques have done to us, as has been done to others before us. And it will take an act of commitment on your part to undo it.
And be willing to pay a price. We have never made progress, either in our religious institutions or in the culture unless someone has been willing to pay the price. It’s that tough, systemic work both within our religious communities and in the culture that we must be committed to changing. And those of you who are heterosexual, we need you desparately. I think God is calling you to understand this as an issue of Justice.
To a lot of people across this great nation, what’s happening out there this afternoon is a total nightmare. I’m here to tell you it is no nightmare. It is God’s dream coming true before your very eyes.