Wednesday, April 2, 2008
David S. is a former Southern Baptist pastor who found God's love in a Methodist church. He shares his story below.
I am a relatively new Methodist. I came to know and love United Methodists one day about ten years ago when I stepped into St. Mark United Methodist Church in Atlanta for the first time.
Church wasn't a new idea to me. I was raised in a Southern Baptist Church and home...they kinda went together. My family was in church every time the doors were open: twice on Sunday, Wednesday night, Mission groups, two full weeks of revival in the summer twice a day. I loved the church. I loved God and Jesus. I remember with joy the family devotion times with my mother reading the Bible and praying for us. I learned to sing in those family devotion times.
It was later in life that I tried more and more to please God. I earned my Master of Divinity Degree and became a Southern Baptist pastor serving two churches with distinction. Even that though was not enough to make me feel at ease with my relationship to God. Because at age 45 after struggling for most of my life to figure out who I was I came to understand that I was a a gay man. When that happened all the rest of my life made sense.
But now I am OK with who I am but now I don't fit into the church hierarchy anymore. I had heard it plainly since my earliest days that you cannot be a homosexual and a Christian-those two ideas are incompatible. But how could this young man who loved God and people with all his heart, mind, soul and body (and that is all that Jesus required) not be loved by the God who made him. This was incompatible for me in my head. So I had to be reconciled to the fact that I was going to be outside the loving arms of God whom I love and adore. I felt that God created me just the way I am.
At that time I wasn't in a relationship.....this was just who I am as a person. Four years went by and I wandered around from church to church and then even stayed out of the church for awhile. But I needed to be in a church ...in a worship hour...be around other Christians. So one day, I was on my way to try an Episcopal church and was late and I drove by Saint Mark noticing their service started at 11:15. I stopped. When I walked through those red doors I was greeted by people who acted like they had known me forever. I really felt like I was Home.
One of the Hymns we sang that Communion Sunday was This is a Day of New Beginnings by Brian Wren. It’s hymn #383 in the Methodist Hymnal if you want to read it. I was told that day that I was welcome no matter where I had come from or who I was , because this was the Lord's table, not even a United Methodist table, but the Lord's. And I was His, so I belonged here. This is a day of new beginnings, time to remember and move on, time to believe what love is bringing, laying to rest the pain that's gone.
I don't remember crying through an entire worship service ever but that day I did. My heart was so broken. That night My mother asked me on her regular Sunday night call, Son, did you go to church today? I had been lying to her for years, but today I told her that I had found the most wonderful body of believers ever. I talked about Saint Mark for 30 minutes. She couldn't believe that I was that happy over one visit to a church service. Later after I was member she would say "i wish I were able to come and experience that with you, Sounds like a wonderful place." I am 59 now and Mom had been gone for four years but would she ever be proud that her boy is an active part of an alive church that loves people and actively seeks to serve God in all of His creation.
Whosoever really does mean me. It has been over ten years and I cannot find enough ways to serve God in the church that loved me back into the waiting arms of God. Every United Methodist Church should be a place of acceptance and healing for broken hearts. I am so eternally glad that there was one on the corner of 5th and Peachtree in Atlanta that day that lives out our motto Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors - wouldn't you like to be part of that kind of fellowship?
Monday, March 31, 2008
Harvey O. is a member of Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Atlanta who made the following comments at the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church Listening Sessions for delegates to the General Conference:
One night when I was younger, I awoke to the sounds of breaking glass and screaming. I ran to the kitchen to find my mother and the guy that she was with at each other’s throats. It was a horrible scene. So, as “the man of the house” I decided that I needed to jump in and help protect my mother. In the process, I was thrown against the wall and was banged up pretty bad. Then at one point, the couch fell back on top of me and I was pinned to the ground under it. At that moment, I prayed to God to protect my family, hoping for a miracle.
Well, of course, that man left our lives and we were left to fend for ourselves. After selling most of our earthly possessions, my single mother of two boys, in a small rural town of West Texas, was forced to make it on her own. That is when our church stepped in. The people of our United Methodist Church took us under their wing and helped provide. They became for me a loving extension of my family. As I grew up, I saw Christ’s love played out in my own life from the people of this church. They didn’t seem to care if my mother had been married and divorced several times or if her sons were cheerleaders, they loved us because Christ loved us.
This is part of the reason I am here today. I am greatly concerned about the issues that face our denomination especially as it comes to full inclusion and membership for all people.
As I got older, I was able to attend a United Methodist university and even had the honor of serving as a youth director for four years at a local church. Throughout this time, the ideas of love, service, and acceptance where pervasive in and around the life of the United Methodist churches I was a part of. It was during this time, that our motto “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” came out and I knew that this was a phrase befitting the United Methodist Church.
I then moved from there to Austin, to North Carolina, back to Texas, and have now found myself here in Atlanta, GA. In each of these moves, I searched fervently for a church home that showed me love, service, and acceptance for me, just as I am. As I searched in Atlanta, I was blessed to attend a larger church in downtown Atlanta.
The first Sunday I was there I listened to people speak about their experiences in summer mission projects both youth and adults. Here again were people who not only believed in God but acted out Christ’s love just as my church family had done to me so many years ago. Then it came time for the sermon. The three ministers got up and did sermonetts. The first spoke about how to have loving committed heterosexual relationships and be in communion with God through Christ’s love. The second spoke passionately about how this same commitment could be found in a life of singleness. And, then the third spoke about same-sex relationships, how to have that same loving commitment and communion with God through Christ’s love.
As I sat there, I realized that this church not only preached the Gospel but lived the ideals of Christ I had searched for since leaving my home church; love, service, and acceptance regardless of who the person or persons might be. The United Methodist Church--a place that my grandparents who have been married for 53 years can be accepted, my single mother could be accepted, and me, a young gay man could also be accepted. All of us, loved by Christ and a part of His flock.
So, I come before you today asking you to truly look at the legislation that comes before you this year at General Conference. Policies that exclude people from the United Methodist Church and ultimately from the Body of Christ do not support “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” and should not be a part of our Discipline. Full inclusion of all people in all aspects of our church is vital to the mission of Christ. At the same time, pastoral authority and giving them the right to decide who is and who is not worth of becoming full members of the Body of Christ is not in any way what Christ has called us to be about.
After General Conference, it is my prayer that I will still be allowed to be a member of the church that helped in forming me into the man that stands before you today. A church that truly is committed to loving, serving and accepting all of God’s people; black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, the youth and the elderly; women and men---all of us.
Monday, March 24, 2008
In the short week that Methodistsunited.com has been live, I have been pleased at the number of submissions and at the number of hits to the site. As I checked with the company that is providing analysis of hits to the site, I am pleased to see that persons in other parts of the country (and in one case, in another part of the world) are visiting the site. The above shows the areas from which the 214 hits from 123 unique visitors this first week have come.
Thanks for spreading the word. Keep it up and encourage your friends or family in other parts of the country/world to share their stories.
It may be a story of acceptance by a congregation or it may be a story where one is forced to live in the closet regarding sexuality in order to be able to worship or it may be a story where one has been not accepted into a congregation because of one's sexuality. All stories are important.
Your story is powerful and compelling and can help others understand why the United Methodist Church MUST be a church that welcomes all. Email it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Joe M. is a graduate student at Georgia Tech and shares the following story:
I was brought up in the southern Baptist tradition. If I visited my grandparents, we would sometimes get to go to my grandma's Methodist church. I always liked her church more than mine; however, I would be in big trouble with my family if I ever admitted it. Her church seemed to care more. The United Methodist Church entered back into my life on the first Sunday as a freshman in college. I wandered over to the Wesley Foundation where the only on-campus Sunday morning worship service took place.
In 2004, I had the opportunity to attend the United Methodist Student Movement Conference in Little Rock, Arkansas. The hot topic of the conference dealt with whether the Methodist Church should include Gays and Lesbians in the life of the church. Myself along with a handful of other students from my Wesley Foundation strongly opposed anything that said the Gays and Lesbians are welcome or accepted. We were sticking to our "Morals" and holding our ground because we didn't want the church to succumb to the "gay agenda" that was rampantly affecting our world. My team of conservative moral enforcers held tightly to the fact that homosexuality is a choice.
On the last day of the conference, my group was enraged over the reconciling actions of the ministers performing our closing service. They did this while wearing Rainbow Colored stoles!!! On the outside, I was furious that the church I loved was losing its moral structure by pushing for full inclusion of gays.
On the inside I was battling my own feelings of hate towards myself for having homosexual tendencies. After that conference, I spent nearly 3 years in ex-gay programs and counseling that sought to change me… It didn't work and I grew extremely depressed and unstable. Suicide became a real option to help me end my state of misery last February. I continued to believe that a life as a gay man would be worse of a disgrace on me and my family than the action of taking my own life.
It was then, thankfully, that I completely surrendered my life to Christ and trusted that he would bring something good out of my situation. After a season of letting go and trusting that God wanted the best for me, I started to have compassion for those around me who were also homosexual. I shared my heart with my Wesley Pastor telling him my dilemma. He then hugged me and said that God loved me just as I am.
The more I learn about the UMC, the more I am convinced that our church should not be one that discriminates. Our church should lead by example and stop the homophobic message that Gays and Lesbians are anything less than children of God. Despite the horror stories of so many of my fellow Gays and Lesbians, I still see many of our UMC church leaders moving forward in their own hate and fear. I've seen this hate on the 2008 UMC delegates faces while I shared my story. It's the same hate that I had towards Gays and Lesbians in 2004 while at the UMC student movement. Only by letting go of my own hate and discrimination was I able to move forward and be an impact on Christ's Kingdom today. I hope you will consider opening your hearts up to including all of God's children in our church.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
Kim L. shared the following introduction to the Gospel of Luke written by Eugene Peterson and taken from his contemporary translation of the Bible, The Message. In commenting on the testimonies presented at the North Georgia United Methodist Listening sessions she said, "I was struck at how his words exactly fit what each of you were saying about the importance of inclusion in the church. If you are willing, it isn't too long and the message is clear and may well ring marvelously true in your ears as well!"
From Eugene Peterson's introduction to Luke:
Most of us, most of the time, feel left out--misfits. We don't belong. Others seem to be so confident, so sure of themselves, 'insiders' who know the ropes, old hands in a club from which we are excluded.
One of the ways we have of responding to this is to form our own club, or join one that will have us. Here is at least one place where we are 'in' and the others 'out.' The clubs range from informal to formal in gatherings that are variously political, social, cultural, and economic. But, the one thing they have in common is the principle of exclusion. Identity or worth is achieved by excluding all but the chosen. The terrible price we pay for keeping all those other people out so we can savor the sweetness of being insiders is a reduction of reality, a shrinkage of life.
Nowhere is this price more terrible than when it is paid in the cause of religion. But religion has a long history of doing just that, of reducing the huge mysteries of God to the respectability of club rules, of shrinking the vast human community to a 'membership.' But with God there are no outsiders.
Luke is a vigorous champion of the outsider. An outsider himself, the only Gentile in an all-Jewish cast of the New Testament writers, he shows how Jesus includes those who typically were treated as outsiders by the religious establishment of the day: women, common laborers (sheepherders), the radically different (Samaritans), the poor. He will not countenance religion as a club. As Luke tells the story, all of us who have found ourselves on the outside looking in on life, with no hope of gaining entrance (and who of us hasn't felt it?) now find the doors wide open, found and welcomed by God in Jesus."
Friday, March 14, 2008
Julie A is yet another United Methodist member who spoke at one of the North Georgia Listening Sessions. Her comments follow.
Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ. I speak to you today as an ally, yet one who experienced both rejection and acceptance from the first days of my life. Born into this church, but not in the traditional way – born to an unwed mother and given up. I found a temporary home in a Methodist Childrens Home and from there, a loving family that adopted me, and I continued to be raised in the Methodist and then United Methodist Church.
From this church I learned love of God and neighbor, to take the word of God to people unable to come to the church, that God gives us strength in our faith to say and do what others might not be strong enough to do; so, I chose it as my own in 1974. I was an ally for inclusion before I even knew such a phrase existed. I had a number of friends come out to me in high school and met others that were openly gay. I was at friends’ sides as they recovered from suicide attempts and grieved with another’s family and friends at his death. I fought with my last husband over his treatment of his twin sons when they came out to him. I encouraged a friend to come to church more often, when she only felt comfortable hiding in the crowds at Christmas and Easter. And I despaired with my daughter when she was raped. At 14. In the church. We of the church are not comfortable talking about sexuality at any level. In speaking to some of my gay and lesbian friends, I have found the treatment my daughter & I received in and by the church after her rape was much the same as theirs as GLBT persons: discomfort, whispered words of ugliness and hate, ministers who wouldn’t look you in the eye, being made to feel less than welcome, and bold statements of you should leave. All this from the church that I loved – I learned first hand rejection at its worst over something that didn’t involve choice: my friends did not choose to be LGBT anymore than my daughter chose to be raped. At that point, I decided to become more involved in working for inclusion in the UMC. I was not going to let my church reject anyone. Our discomfort should not be the basis to determine another’s worth.
Our church is clear that homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. This part of our Discipline lets us all know we are beloved, forgiven children of God and valued in His eyes. No one, straight or GLBT, can find fault with considering themselves of sacred worth.
Yet at the same time this book claims that what is of sacred worth in God’s sight is incompatible with the teaching of the church. This one sentence gives permission for the more close-minded of our members to state one is an abomination, discounts or ignores God’s word, has been lead astray, is a so-called Christian, a heretic, a reprobate, and a minion of Satan – all of these I have heard spoken by sisters and brothers in the United Methodist Church. The speakers apparently believe that the incompatibility clause gives them the right to doubt and question another’s faith. We have become less than hospitable to the stranger and even more so to our own members. The incompatibility clause authorizes our current policies and practices of the denial of membership rights and prohibitions against funding, ordination and marriage for LGBT persons.
I’ve lived in 5 Jurisdictional Conferences and 8 Annual Conferences and been a member of 3 local churches. I have seen that we have great differences between them and even within them. A year ago I accepted an invitation from a person I’d never met to join them in worship at St. Mark. That invitation changed my life. I felt the presence of God as I stepped through the doors, felt the joy of the congregation as they worshipped, saw a church that I had thought only existed in my head and dreams. One where diversity is visible; where all are truly welcome; of faith in action. A church I transferred my membership to 5 months later. A church that is a shining example of what we can be as a UMC if we open our hearts and minds and doors to the possibilities of all God has created.
We as a church need to recognize we are all God’s children and created as intended. We are losing our credibility as Christians without change. 8 million voices strong allows for a lot of change. We can make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World if & when we start in our own pews. “Open hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” should be a reality in all churches, not just a select few. You, as our delegates, have the power to vote to remove the incompatibility clause throughout the Discipline, ensuring sexual orientation and gender identity are no longer barriers to membership, funding, ordination and marriage. May your hearts be warmed and opened to the reality of full inclusion for all God’s children. If it is so, your voices and votes may continue to be a minority but know that you will be in the prayers of unnamed thousands and have power in your votes to take a bold step towards a better future for our UMC and the entire church of Jesus Christ.
Thank you for allowing me this time to speak to you and blessings on the journey ahead of you to General Conference.
Jackie W. is a Lay Leader at Saint Mark United Methodist Church and shared her story at a Listening Session for official delegates from the North Georgia Conference to the 2008 General Conference.
I was born in East Point, Georgia, along with 3 other siblings in a 5 room duplex with a full size basement. I also had a half brother from my mom’s first marriage. I remembered attending church until I was around 9 or 10 years old. I also remembered receiving my very first Bible. It had a white leather cover with my name inscribed in gold letters. I was so proud of that Bible. At age 9, my mom suffered a severe stroke paralyzing her and she was no longer able to work. As my mom was recovering, we lived with my grandparents in the Sylvan Hills area. We continue to attend church for about another year and then we moved to Forest Park where life began to change quite a bit for us as a family. My mom became a very heavy drinker and was on quite a bit of medication for her illness which enabled her from being the mother we needed at that time in our lives.
With my dad being out of town most of the week, my brother and sisters were pretty much left to fend for ourselves. During my years as a teenager, I stopped attending church all together until I began playing sports in high school and began attending a Baptist church on Sunday evenings with the basketball team. It was not a very pleasant experience for me. The picture I have of that preacher was someone who always appeared to be very angry and was always screaming and hollering, which wasn’t what I had grown up with. I often left church feeling very frightened and afraid, not loved and affirmed, which I had remembered in my early years at Capitol View Methodist Church. I began to find reasons to stop going to church with the team and finally quit church all together. I also played softball during the summers where I began dating my softball coach’s son. By this time in my life my sisters had both gotten married and my younger brother was still in elementary school. After dating for awhile, he asked me to marry him. By this time in my life I was already beginning to feel the pressures of having the responsibility of taking care of my younger brother because my mom was in no shape to and my dad was still spending quite a bit of time on the road. My mom was not very thrilled with the marriage idea and it wasn’t because she didn’t like the guy and it wasn’t till later in my life that I realized my mom was more attuned to my sexuality than I was.
I remembered a time when I wanted to go visit one of my girlfriend’s who I spent a lot of time with. My dad was out of town and my mom had been drinking most of the day. We began to argue about me going and as I was leaving out the door, she yelled to me and called me a lesbian queer. I really didn’t think much about the word lesbian because I had never heard it before, but I had heard the word queer and knew those were the people who were always getting picked on and made fun of at school. Again I really wasn’t too worried about the queer word because I knew that was not me, I had never got picked on at school because I was very popular. I decided to go ahead with the wedding against my mom’s wishes and 3 days before my wedding, she died. Everything in my life went down hill from there. The entire year of my marriage was filled with confusion and turmoil. I began to become more and more distant from my husband and with the help of my boss, who really became like a mother to me began to see the struggles I was having and stepped in to help me with my divorce. My husband was a very good man with very devoted and caring parents who both treated my like their very own daughter.
For the next 20 years, I tried countless times to fight these feelings of wanting to be with a woman. I dated several men which ended up even worse than it was when I was married. I just never could find myself compatible with someone of the opposite sex. At one point I even tried to commit suicide because of all the depression I was beginning to feel in my life.
I was very close to my half brother that lived in Tullahoma and I would visit several times throughout the year. He was the first one in my family I came out to and I will never forget what he said. He told me he already knew about my sexuality and had known for a long time and that would never change his love for me. In the summer of 95 my brother became ill and was diagnosed with cancer. By December of that same year he was dead at the age of 57. He spent the last 2 weeks of his life in a comma and his wife and I spent each day at the hospital from sun up till sun down. During those 2 weeks, I saw an outpour of love that I had never seen before. A day did not go by that someone from their church would stop in to pray with us, bring us food or just to say they were thinking and praying for my brother and the family. I was overwhelmed from all the outpour of love and care from people, some of which my sister in law barely knew. I remember seeing the strength and peace that would come to her after those visits and how much comfort was brought by all that caring and love for my brother by his church family. At that moment I remember saying to myself, this is what it is all about. It was the love I had witnessed and been a part of over those last 2 weeks and it was coming from total strangers who I had never met or even seen before except at the occasional holiday times when I would visit and attend church with my brother and his wife. On my way home from his funeral, I remember asking God to help me find that kind of true love. I wanted to be free of living a double life of pretending to be someone I didn’t even know. I apologized to God for the lies I had been living, which was the real sin, not my sexuality which had been given to me by God at birth. I asked God to help me find that person I was created to be.
Over the next year, I began visiting a friend’s family church and was almost ready to join when she told me about a church in midtown Atlanta that she would like to visit and asked me to come. That church was Saint Mark. It was in the spring of 96 around Easter and I will never forget how I felt after leaving that service. Yes, it was a new beginning for me. Mike Cordle was the pastor at that time and Mike in his usually manner was going up and down the pews to each row welcoming everyone and calling most people by name. I couldn’t help but notice how friendly everyone was and how genuine they were as they spoke and welcomed me to the church. I immediately began to experience the same feeling I had when people would come by the hospital to pray with us as my brother was slipping away. It was in that moment I began feeling God’s awesome power of love and acceptance I had prayed for and my soul had been searching for as well. Each week I began hearing affirmations of God’s unconditional love and how we are all precious in his site. I was once again beginning to feel whole and alive. St. Mark began to give me the strength and courage to live as the person God had created me to be and I began to accept the love and grace that had been there all the time regardless of what I had been told in the past.
After the first couple of years, Mike asked me if I would like to be a delegate for annual conference representing St. Mark. At this point I wasn’t really sure what it meant to be a delegate but I thought what better way to learn more about this connectional Church I was becoming a part of. I will never forget my first experience at conference as I sat and listened to stories of so much division and couldn’t help thinking was this the church that was so loving and accepting in Midtown Atlanta? Needless to say I left conference that first year feeling confused and rejected, but this time it was by my own Church. Something had to be wrong. For the next several years, I would leave annual conference feeling rejected and overwhelmed with anger and hurt. One time I remember it was a Thursday afternoon just as the delegation again voted down any small glimpse of hope for full inclusion, and I begin to become overwhelmed with emotion. As I stood, and tears of pain and angry streamed down my face, I watched other delegates file out and not one person even acknowledged me or even as much made eye contact. I could honestly say, I felt as if I was the neighbor lying on the side of the road waiting for my good Samaritan to come and rescue me, but it didn’t happen. As the tears continued to come and everyone was walking past, I kept hearing that voice saying over and over, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”. I continue to struggle at times about leaving the church but then I hear the voices and see the faces at St. Mark that inspire me and the sermons that feed my soul that once again reinforce my love for this church and the United Methodist Church and the love I know I feel from God. It is in those moments, I am thankful this Church is diverse enough to include all of Gods children.
As I close, I give thanks to you and God for allowing me the opportunity to share my story and my concerns. I also ask you to prayerful consider voting for inclusion by removing all the exclusionary language which limits full participation of LGBT persons in the life of the Church. This includes:
• Advocating for full membership rights (Judicial Council 1032, ¶214)
• Removing the incompatibility clause (¶161G)
• Removing prohibitions on marriage and holy unions for LGBT families (¶161G, ¶161C, ¶341.6 ¶2702.1(b))
• Removing the prohibition on ordination of LGBT persons (¶304.3, ¶2702.1(b))
• Removing the funding restrictions for ministry to and with LGBT persons (¶806.9)
And finally I would like to end with a quote by Rev. Don Messer in an address to the United Methodist Council of Bishops in May 2002: The exclusion of homosexual persons from the life, leadership, and rites of the Church threatens the very nature of the Church itself. It not only cause irreparable harm to the children of God but also to the Body of Christ itself. Each time a person is rejected or ejected from the koinonia fellowship of United Methodism, a new wound is inflicted and the Body of Christ is broken once again.
Thank you again for your time and may God continue to guide you in the decisions you will face at General Conference.