Category Archives: Christianity

40th Anniversary Of First Ordained Out Gay Minister In The United Church Of Christ

Rev. Bill Johnson today, photo courtesy Elliott Owens
Rev. Bill Johnson today,
photo courtesy Elliott Owens
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!

[photo credit: Elliot Owen for the Bay Area Reporter]

Bishop Gene Robinson’s LGBT Pride Message For Christians

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.

A Word From Dan Savage For Liberal And Progressive Christians

A quick word for Christian readers. I know you aren’t all like Charles Worley, or those anti-gay preachers in Montana. I’m one of you, so trust me, I know. But if you find yourself wanting to email me or leave a comment telling me that all Christians aren’t like that watch this recent video from Dan Savage and take his advice: Don’t tell me, tell them.

I have a really bad habit, when I get on cable news or radio, or sometimes in front of people of starting to pound the podium, and “Goddamn Christians this, Goddamn Christians that.” I’m not always careful to qualify “Christian,” or to put it in quotes.

Not all Christians are anti-gay bigots, my mother chief among them. I am not an anti-Christian bigot. The very last thing I did for my mother on her deathbed was run through a hospital in search of a priest. I’m not hostile to religious people or belief or faith. I was raised Catholic, I consider myself culturally Catholic. I’ve actually read the Bible, which is something that a lot of Christians, particularly Catholics, haven’t done, and I think there are great moral truths and great moral outrages in the Bible, including the slavery stuff – and the masturbation stuff, hello? So by no stretch do I want to be perceived as, nor am I, an anti-Christian bigot.

Here’s what drives me fucking up the wall about welcoming, affirming, tolerant, liberal Christians and their denominations. When I get into a lather and I’m pounding the podium about a Tony Perkins and I neglect to qualify “Christian” with “rightwing fundamentalist batshit asshole douchebag Christian,” they sneak up behind me or get on email and they whisper, “We’re not all like that.”

I know. I know you’re not all like that. Tony Perkins doesn’t. Tell him.

Tell all the rightwing batshit fundamentalist Christians who have usurped Christianity, who claim to speak for all of you – the Christian Family Association, not the evangelical Taliban Christian Family Association, the Christian Family Association. They’re the ones who have created the impression that to be Christian is to be anti-gay, that to identify yourself as Christian is to take sides in a war against lesbian, gay, bi, trans people in this country.

Don’t tell me. I know. Tell them. Be loud.

We need liberal, progressive Christians to be as active, organized, and loud as Tony Perkins. And you need to get in not my face, when I argue with Tony Perkins on CNN and condemn his brand of Christianity, but get in his face. And get in CNN’s face for helping to promote the idea that all Christians are anti-gay bigots.

There was a poll out recently, a couple of years ago, that showed that the fastest growing religious group in the country is non-affiliated, no religion, no expressed preference. And the atheists, the Christopher Hitchenses of the world, held that up and went, “See? People are…” Richard Dawkins said, “Oh yay, look, our group is growing more and more people.” And then when they dug into the numbers, they found that a lot of those people who were unaffiliated were actually Christians who didn’t want to identify publicly as Christian, because that meant that they were anti-gay.

How did that happen? I didn’t do that by neglecting to qualify “Christian” on CNN. Tony Perkins did that. Donald Wildmon did that, Maggie Gallagher did that, and they did it with the silent complicity of liberal Christians and liberal denominations that allowed them to hijack Christianity.

So my advice to liberal and progressive Christians is, stop whispering in my ear and start screaming in Tony Perkins’ face.

Like Dan or not (he tends to be a polarizing figure), what he says here is absolutely true. I’ve seen far too many self-identified supportive Christians shrink from voicing their support for or condemning the mistreatment of LGBT people for fear of being mistreated and ostracized themselves. If that’s your level of support, there’s not much I can do to make you stand up for your beliefs. Just don’t whisper in our ears that you really do support us if you’re not willing to stand against other Christians who would prefer to see us discriminated against, abused, deported, or, as we’ve seen this week, murdered.

Nazis In America: NC Pastor’s Congregation Stands Behind His Gay Concentration Camps

Yes, it's provocative. It's also appropriate.
Yes, it's provocative. It's also appropriate.

Monday morning, a video from Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, North Carolina shocked the nation. In it, pastor Charles Worley said that he wanted lesbians and gays to be forced into concentration camps until we all die. Most people were taken aback, if not by the general principle (shared, unfortunately, by many), then by his brazen adherence to Nazi rhetoric and Nazi solutions.

A couple things have happened since then. The first is from Jeremy Hooper at Good As You, who found a sermon of Worley’s from 1978.

It saddens my heart to think that homosexuals can go around, bless God, and get the applause of a lot of people. Lesbians and all the rest of it? Bless God, forty years ago they’d have hung ‘em, bless God, from a white oak tree, wouldn’t they? Amen.

I would usually say that we really shouldn’t judge someone by what he said nearly 34 years ago, but as Jeremy points out, it’s one of the very few sermons of Worley’s from that era that Providence Road Baptist Church has made available online. They are representing to the world that this sermon matches his and their current teaching, and I am obliged to take their word on it.

Then there’s this video from local NBC affiliate WCNC’s Tuesday night newscast. Their reporter had the chance to talk to two of Worley’s followers, who stand by Worley’s message. (Both wearing gaudy jewelry and the younger wearing her hair up quite immodestly and provocatively in direct violation of 1 Timothy 2:9-10. Just sayin’.)

Geneva Sims said she’s been listening to Worley preach the Gospel since the 1970s. She wasn’t surprised by the 71-year-old pastor’s now infamous sermon. In fact, she supports him and his message.

“He had every right to say what he said about putting them in a pen and giving them food,” said Sims. “The Bible says they are worthy of death. He is preaching God’s word.”

Providence Road Baptist Church member Stacey Pritchard agreed.

“Sometimes you’ve got to be scared straight,” she explained. “He is trying to save those people from Hell.”

Newschannel 36 tried to reach Charles Worley by phone and email. Reporter Dianne Gallagher stopped by his home Tuesday to speak with him, but no one answered the door.

“He has nothing to hide,” said Pritchard. “He’s not afraid of anything he said. He’s a good man. It’s a good church and he speaks the truth. He doesn’t tiptoe around it.”

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, Geneva Sims and Stacey Pritchard of Newton, North Carolina and Charles Worley of Maiden, North Carolina think that carrying out a Nazi plan to force a group of people into concentration camps for their eventual extermination is “tough love.”

(P.S. Of course he has a right to say it, Ms. Sims. No one said he doesn’t. That doesn’t improve the deadly quality of his rhetoric.)

I hasten to add that no one should believe for a second that this is just a North Carolina problem. People who think like Charles Worley, Geneva Sims, and Stacey Pritchard exist in every community and every state in the union.

NC Pastor Proposes Gay Concentration Camps; Obama A ‘Homosexual Lover’

Last week I used the term “f*ggot lover” to describe what three Missouri Baptist churches think about a UCC congregation that has a bisexual pastor. Maybe I should have held off for a few days, because today we have video of Providence Road Baptist Church (Maiden, North Carolina) pastor Charles L. Worley using that very term (cleaned up for the pulpit) to describe President Obama. The video of Mr. Worley’s May 13, 2012 screed comes from the group Catawba Valley Citizens Against Hate.

I figured a way out, a way to get rid of all the lesbians and queers, but I couldn’t get it past the congress. Build a great, big, large fence — 150 or 100 mile long — put all the lesbians in there, fly over and drop some food. Do the same thing with the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified til they can’t get out, feed ’em, and you know what? In a few years, they’ll die out.

I tell you right now, somebody said, “Who you gonna vote for?” I ain’t gonna vote for a baby killer and a homosexual lover! [Amens from congregation] You said “Did you mean to say that?” You better believe I did! [More Amens]

(h/t Towle Road. Full video provided by the church here.)

For a very long time, LGBT folks have known what people like Mr. Worley would like to do to us. He’s not the first self-identifying Christian to come up with concentration camps for queer people — Hitler was a good 70 years ahead of him on that one — and, mark my words, he won’t be the last. But lately I’ve gotten the sense that straight allies are beginning to get an uncomfortable taste of what the Charles Worleys, Johnny Dovers, Ben Kingston, and Wyatt Ottens of the world think of them for daring to support their LGBT sisters and brothers.

As the sides on this “culture war” (that is, the acknowledgement that LGBT people exist and have civil rights) become more stark, it’s good for Christian straight allies to know where they stand with those who gleefully demonize and would love to murder LGBT people in the name of God.

And in case it wasn’t clear, if you’re a f*ggot lover, they’d do the same to you. You’re not just fighting for our lives, you’re fighting for your own as well.

Missouri Church Softball Teams Take Their Ball And Go Home Over Bisexual Pastor

“Scout,” said Atticus, “n*gger-lover is just one of those terms that don’t mean anything – like snot-nose. It’s hard to explain – ignorant, trashy people use it when they think somebody’s favoring Negroes over and above themselves. It’s slipped into usage with some people like ourselves, when they want a common, ugly term to label somebody.”

“You aren’t really a n*gger-lover, then, are you?”

“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody… I’m hard put, sometimes – baby, it’s never an insult to be called what somebody thinks is a bad name. It just shows you how poor that person is, it doesn’t hurt you.”

Last night KSDK in St. Louis, Missouri shared a story that reminded me of this passage from To Kill A Mockingbird, only now, “n*gger lover” has been replaced with “f*ggot lover.” Oh, no one’s said it outright, at least not on camera. But three churches in St. Clair, Missouri may as well have when they refused to play softball with the St. John United Church of Christ softball team because their pastor, Reverend James Semmelroth Darnell, is bisexual.

More from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Darnell, fresh out of seminary in Washington, came to St. John to replace its previous pastor in October, but it wasn’t until two weeks ago that the Rev. Johnny Dover, pastor of Friendship Baptist Church and the league’s commissioner, heard a rumor that Darnell was gay.

“I called their coach and asked if it was true,” Dover said.

Dover, Kingston, and the Rev. Wyatt Otten, pastor of Liberty Baptist Church, decided their teams could no longer play against a congregation that had deliberately called an openly bisexual man to be their pastor.

BTW, the book is better.
BTW, the book is better.
What’s puzzling is that the ordination of LGBT people is nothing new for the UCC. The denomination has long supported LGBT inclusion. In fact, the 40th anniversary of the UCC’s first ordination of an openly gay pastor is coming up next month. The fundamentalist churches that acted like fourth graders (no offense, fourth graders) and refused to play ball most certainly disagree with the UCC’s stance on abortion, female pastors, and a host of other issues.

So why now, after twelve years in the league, have Rev. Johnny Dover of Friendship Baptist Church, Rev. Wyatt Otten of Liberty Baptist Church, and Rev. Ben Kingston of Bethel Baptist Church suddenly taken issue with the inclusion of a UCC team in the six- (now five-) team league? Because it became impossible to ignore the fact that the UCC loves and ordains LGBT –in this case bisexual– people.

The good news is that according to Rev. Semmelroth Darnell, nearby UCC churches have stepped up to the plate (pun intended) and will be playing the St. John softball team.

So what does this have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ? Our reading this morning from St. John says “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.’ Jesus tells us that we are obedient to him, that we abide in his love, when we love one another as he has loved us. The commandment is not to judge others or to marginalize those not like you, but to love one another as Christ has loved us.

Frankly, I think some of our brothers and sisters in St. Clair have forgotten this. It seems that they would rather take on the role of judging who is right and who is wrong. But nowhere does Jesus say “Love one another as long as you believe and act the same way.” By the exclusion of our team from this league love is certainly not being shown, but blatant bigotry and discrimination. But I am glad to say that others are responding with love and grace. St. Martin’s UCC in Dittmer has offered to play us in pick-up games on Thursdays. Friedens UCC in St. Charles, St. Lucas UCC in South County and Parkway UCC in Town & Country are each interested in a tournament. Ebenezer UCC in Augusta and St. Peter’s UCC in Owensville are looking into forming teams as well. Our sister congregations in the United Church of Christ are responding to this act of exclusion, by reaching out to us in Christ’s love. They are ready to stand by us.

But I have to say, as wonderful as that is, it doesn’t repair the damage. Not the damage to a softball team, Rev. Semmelroth Darnell, or even the members of St. John UCC. I have faith that their community will uphold and strengthen them in a difficult time like this.

No, I’m talking about the damage to the people at the three ironically named Baptist Churches behind this mess. Their pastors have shown them exactly what will happen if anyone finds out they support LGBT people. Worse, the pastors have left it to the imaginations of LGBT kids, teens, and closeted adults what horrible fate awaits them if someone finds out they’re actually LGBT themselves.

Because in these pastors’ minds, the only thing worse than being a f*ggot lover is being a f*ggot.

Sign Believe Out Loud’s Thank You Card To President Obama

People are still talking about President Obama’s affirmation of gay people’s right to marry. I honestly didn’t think it would be this much of a mainstream news story, and I couldn’t be more pleased to be wrong.

I’m also glad that some are beginning to point out what I was the first to notice last week, that President Obama’s support of the right to marry comes directly from his Christian faith, not in spite of it.

The repercussions of the sitting U.S. President making that specific statement from the Oval Office will be enormous, and not just in the realm of politics. The implications are far reaching in the religious community as well. As I said last Wednesday:

There are people in the pews whose anti-gay positions are just an unconsidered default, and he might convince them to adjust their thinking to a more Christ-like attitude. He might get pastors in Middle America not to go quietly along with what Maggie Gallagher and Tony Perkins say they have to do. He might give closeted LGBT kids, teens, and adults who are steeped in anti-gay Christian dogma a new perspective that leads them safely out of the closet.

Christian LGBT group “Believe Out Loud” has created an online thank you card for people to sign. If you’re a Christian who agrees with the president that your faith leads you to support the right to marry, please sign the card. Right now there are 620 signatures and I’d love to see that number climb into the thousands before they deliver it to the White House in a few weeks. Here’s what you’re signing:

Dear President Obama:

With joy and gratitude in our hearts, we thank you for declaring your support for same-sex marriage.

Like you, we are faithful Christians who support lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality not in spite of our Christian faith, but because of it.

Our Christian voices for equality are getting stronger everyday and we thank you for lending yours to the chorus.

Many, many thanks,

Believe Out Loud

For Christians, President Obama Said Much More Than You Think He Said

Well, he finally did it.

This afternoon, President Obama said in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts that he supports the right of lesbians, gays, and bisexual people to marry the person they love. Here are the three short clips ABC has shared, followed by the reason I think this matters. (Hint: It’s a game changer, and not for the reason you think.)

I’ll let others talk about why this is a monumental step from an LGBT point of view. Joe Jervis and Pam Spalding had particularly insightful reactions over at the Village Voice. Over at America Blog, Joe Sudbay and John Aravosis outlined the history that led us to today’s statement. And David Badash has official reactions of many Gay, Inc. leaders. And of course, anti-gay industry leaders are uniformly apoplectic. Jeremy Hooper has those statements.

As for me, I’d like to recognize what Obama said to religious Americans, because it was something different than most people think, and that difference could help craft the discussion going forward.

Religious Americans, particularly Christian Americans, are the ones holding back LGBT rights in this country. Just yesterday, Pam’s House Blend ran this picture of a church marquee at a church that doubles as a polling place in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a pointed declaration to Christians going to vote on an anti-gay marriage amendment that if they wanted to be “good Christians,” they had no choice but to vote for the amendment.

This is what we call "passive electioneering."
This is what we call "passive electioneering."

(It’s a United Methodist Church, because of course it is.)

Planned or not, this is the context of the president’s statement, so it’s important to note exactly what he said to Christians who have been told for generations that as Christians, they can’t be in favor of civil rights for LGBT people. Watch the second video again and notice what he’s not saying.

He isn’t saying “I’m a Christian, but I think LGBT people should have rights.” He’s not even saying, “I’m a Christian, and I think LGBT people should have rights.”

No, President Obama is saying, “I’m a Christian, and that’s why I think LGBT people should have rights.”

Linger on that for a minute. The difference between those three statements is not inconsequential. In fact, it’s hard to overemphasize the importance of that nuance.

As offensive as “God is in the mix” was during that debate about civil marriage rights in 2008, the way he said it gave religious people permission to question their cradle-born beliefs about gay people. And as frustrating as “I’m evolving” has been for those of us who could really use (and deserve) equal rights right now, it has given Christians who might not know any out LGBT people permission to find room within their faith for new understanding.

And now, President Obama has called on Christian Americans to take the next step. He hasn’t told them to throw away their faith; that’s a fool’s errand. Rather, he has pointed out to them that LGBT inclusion very easily blends into the core of their faith as it already is. Just as importantly, he has given a voice to Christians who have already made that journey but have been intimidated into silence.

Will he convince the religious right? Of course not. I daresay that wasn’t even his goal. But there are people in the pews whose anti-gay positions are just an unconsidered default, and he might convince them to adjust their thinking to a more Christ-like attitude. He might get pastors in Middle America not to go quietly along with what Maggie Gallagher and Tony Perkins say they have to do. He might give closeted LGBT kids, teens, and adults who are steeped in anti-gay Christian dogma a new perspective that leads them safely out of the closet.

Like I said, this could be a game changer, far beyond just a conversation about legal rights. Well done, Mr. President. I’m impressed. (Now don’t make us push so hard for the next one. Deal?)

One Tweet Response To UMC General Conference 2012

Well, it’s over. So much happened at the United Methodist Church’s 2012 General Conference since my first post about it. The bottom line is that for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, we’re exactly where we were two weeks ago. All we really have to show for this mess is a few fresh scars.

© UMNS | Click for original
© UMNS | Click for original

My heart doesn’t know what to make of it. I’ve been asked more than once why I don’t just leave. Will Green of Chicago said it best in this tweet from Friday morning.

Click for original tweet
Click for original tweet

This is where I stand, even if I have to do it from outside the Church walls for a while longer. I don’t know if that’s healthy; I suspect that it’s not. But it’s where I am.

United Methodist Church Divided On God’s Unconditional Love

Rachel Maddow got a surprise last Sunday when she appeared on Meet The Press. During a debate about the pay gap between men and women in America, she found out that Republicans just don’t believe that the pay gap exists. They think it’s explained by men working more hours, women having more part-time jobs, and other factors. She spent a good portion of her show Monday night talking about her surprise and showing with real data that the disparity isn’t explained by those factors, and made the point that perhaps the disagreement on the facts has been a problem in the discussion of policy. After all, if Republicans think it isn’t a problem, they aren’t going to work to fix the problem. It’s a good point, one that can be brought into other areas. To wit:

For the last seven days, and through this Friday, the United Methodist Church (UMC) has been holding its big quadrennial General Conference in Tampa, Florida to talk about new legislation in the Church, decide what problems we need to focus on, and what basic tenets need to be updated, introduced, or deleted from the Book Of Discipline (BOD), the Church’s Constitution. (More information on the structure of the UMC and function of General Conference here.)

There was a bit of an uproar on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 over several items. The biggest of them, at least rhetorically, was the addition of what should be a wholly uncontroversial phrase to the BOD. Here’s the newly amended preamble, with the addition in bold:

“We affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the Gospel. We stand united in declaring our faith that God’s love is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God.”

After some contentious debate, the legislation passed, but not by much. In the end, only 53 percent of delegates agreed to add this very basic, very obvious, very scriptural, very Wesleyan affirmation of God’s love. Think of that. Nearly half of United Methodist delegates refused to affirm God’s unconditional love for everybody.

For the first time in a while, anti-gay and conservative United Methodists had to discard their usual “Gays Go Away” rhetoric and expose their true meaning: “People Who Don’t Believe Exactly What We Believe Go Away.” During the debate and the vote, the General Conference Twitter feed was filled with good people who were stunned by conservative United Methodists’ admission, stunned that in 2012 something so foundational to Methodism was even up for debate. More than one person said something to the effect of “This isn’t the UMC I know.”

Thanks to Pastor David Lafary for this image from General Conference 2012
Thanks to Pastor David Lafary for this image from General Conference 2012

Here’s the thing. This vote didn’t surprise me. At all. I figured it would pass, but it was fairly predictable to me that it was close. To be honest, I was as stunned by straight allies’ reactions to this admittedly horrifying vote as they were by the horrifying vote. This vote is the Church I’ve always known, the Church as it’s always presented itself to me.

In 1972, at the first General Conference after the 1968 merger of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church, anti-gay language was added to ¶ 161G, saying “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” *

Ever since, for longer than I’ve been alive, progressive United Methodists have been trying to remove the anti-gay language and ever since, for longer than I’ve been alive, conservative United Methodists have been beating them back. Every now and then something gets through that almost affirms the existence and value of gay United Methodists, but it’s always accompanied by some other statement that pastors are free to discriminate against gay people, or a reaffirmation that gay people are “incompatible” with the UMC.

But the vote Tuesday morning was different. The added language was so basic that those opposing it laid bare the unvarnished rejection that anti-gay United Methodists have been lobbing at gays for 40 years. The argument against was something along the lines of “you can be separated from God by things that you do,” by which they usually mean to say “you can be separated from God by the genitals of a person you have sex with or want to have sex with or even are just attracted to.” But because the wording was so broad, it became clear that their position was unscriptural from a Methodist point of view. “You can be separated from God by things that you do” means that much of what people do all the time separates them from God’s love, and that’s just not what United Methodists believe. At least we don’t unless you’re gay, in which case we’ve believed that since 1972.

Bishop Melvin Talbert said at the 2008 General Conference that when African Americans were separated into their own segregated conference from 1939 to 1968, at least they were still connected. At least the relationships and the dialogue could continue. But the UMC has chosen for 40 years to shut the church’s door on lesbians, gays, and bisexuals **, something that hasn’t been done to any other group. That’s a special kind of attack, one that you can’t know very easily from the outside.

I’m not saying that my straight ally friends and compatriots have done something wrong. On the contrary, there are wonderful allies working very hard to make a place for gays and lesbians in the UMC. I have a feeling that before this vote, many straight allies in the UMC had honestly never had the vitriol leveled against them as it is leveled against gay people in the UMC every day. They hadn’t been on the receiving end of this kind of attack, and they were shocked to learn, just as Maddow was on Sunday, that the reality of this argument we’re having is different than they thought.

And I wept with them after the vote on Tuesday morning. No, I didn’t weep; I sobbed. I sobbed because for the first time, people working on my behalf received what gays and lesbians have been receiving from the Church for 40 years, and it hurt them. Pain, disbelief, and despair permeated the messages coming from Tampa, and the punch in the gut that I read in their messages was all too familiar. I don’t want them to feel this; it hurts to know that they do.

It sucked. It was a bad morning, one that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and it sucked.

But my hope is that this horrible experience gave straight allies a Rachel Maddow Revelation, that it helped those fighting alongside us to understand a little better the reality LGBT Methodists live in, and that that better understanding will help them fight the battle in ways that none of us have considered before.


* The timing of this addition was not an accident. In September of that same year, the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from their list of mental disorders. Conservatives in the UMC apparently got wind of this and wanted to affirm their disdain for gays, a statement that was previously unnecessary because we were officially considered mentally ill.

** The UMC is accidentally more accepting of transgender women and men than the rest of the LGBT community. Gender identity wasn’t a part of the original “incompatibility” clause, and being trans isn’t an official barrier to marriage rites or ordination, for example.