Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Phil H. - Atlanta

The following comments were presented by Phil H., a member of Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Atlanta, to a listening session of North Georgia Conference delegates to the 2008 General Conference on Sunday, March 9 at Madison United Methodist Church.

Good afternoon! I am a lay member of Saint Mark United Methodist Church at the corner of Peachtree and Fifth Streets in Atlanta. Some of you may think of Saint Mark as that gay Methodist Church in Atlanta. But, it's not: it's a Methodist Church made up of people who represent the magnificent diversity that God has created; a church that follows Methodist law, pays its apportionments, worships, and serves and loves God. Saint Mark has stood at that corner for over 100 years and during its history has been at the forefront in securing social and religious justice for groups that had either been denied full involvement in the mainstream church or had been offered limited or alternative involvement. For example, Saint Mark began the first deaf ministry in Atlanta in the early part of the 20th century and has been involved in countless other examples through the years of social justice ministries, most notably evidenced during the tenure of Rev. Dow Kirkpatrick during the turbulent 50s and 60s and the fight for civil rights for African Americans, and from the 90s through today with the involvement of the Gay and Lesbian members and visitors to Saint Mark. Dow and Marjorie Kirkpatrick returned to Saint Mark after they retired while serving during that times as our Minister Emeritus, I was honored to get to know them personally and to learn first-hand of their and Saint Mark's involvement in the struggle for Civil Rights.

But today, I'm here to tell you of a different struggle-a personal story-a story that began a number of years ago with the birth of a son to excited and happy parents. Growing up in a loving and caring home, he attended church regularly, became a good student in school, was involved in sports, was popular, and a class leader, serving as vice-president of his senior class at a large Cobb County high school. He held a part-time job, interacted effectively with his peers, was selected to be a part of Cobb Youth Leadership, a program sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce for high school youth with great potential, dated several young women in high school, and seemed destined for success.

Upon graduation from high school, he received a Governor's Scholarship and was accepted into the Honors Program at the University of Georgia and did well academically there. It was at UGA, however, that he came to realize something about himself, something that was keeping him from being the total person that God had created him to be. As a UGA sophomore, he accepted the fact that he was gay and fully came out to himself and to his family and friends. His parents were surprised, but they loved him and realized that this wasn't some rash decision he had made. This was an acceptance of who he was, the person that God had made.

Luckily, because he was fortunate to have a loving and accepting family and friends, he didn't consider suicide or worry too much about his future. His parents, however, worried about that future because, unfortunately, they realized the world wasn't as accepting of Gays and Lesbians as was his family and friends. Indeed they watched as Gay and Lesbian issues became an even stronger divisive force in the country and in the church, a force led by conservative, seemingly self-serving Christians.

But this didn't deter him from working diligently to secure his place in the world. He continued to be successful at UGA and was selected to be a member of the prestigious Arch Society his senior year. Following graduation, he returned to Atlanta and worked for a year before receiving a full scholarship for a Master's Degree Program at the University of Vermont where he continued to be a leader. Upon graduation from UVM, he was employed at Georgia Tech and has been successful there. He is active in many part of campus life beyond his job; as an example, he participates in weekly Bible Study with the Wesley Foundation.

In Atlanta, he also found a new church, and luckily, it happened to be Saint Mark. It was a real church, a Methodist Church, not a gay church; however, it was a church that was loving and accepting of him. And, isn't it good for a parent to see their grown child continuing in their growing relationship with God?

I think I should let you know now, if you have not already figured it out, that I know this young man quite well, because he is my son.

A common denominator that all of us in this room who are parents have is that we share the hope and prayer that our children will grow up to be happy, healthy, and loving adults who have a good job, a strong relationship with someone special in their life, and a continuing and growing relationship with God in a loving and supportive church.

To that end, I urge you to support full inclusion of Gays and Lesbians into the life of the United Methodist Church; however, I realize that many of you are not yet at that point in your growth and understanding. I ask that you continue to pray to seek understanding and God's guidance in that regard.

But, bottom line today, I ask that you prayerfully consider one major issue that will come before you at General Conference. You will be presented several resolutions that will deal with Gay and Lesbian membership in the United Methodist Church. Some will specifically ask that you support Gay and Lesbian membership and I urge you to do so. At the same time, I ask that you vote against other resolutions that support the determination of membership to be at the discretion of the local minister. One, in particular, doesn't even mention the words, Gay or Lesbian, but artfully so because its writers are like a wolf in sheep's clothing. Their ultimate goal is to continue to etch away at God's loving and accepting grace and to replace it with the conservative, self-serving, and un-Christ-like prejudice that exists against Gays and Lesbians.

As we look at the development of the church and our society over the past 100 or so years, we know that the Bible has been used to justify most of man's prejudices: the second-class treatment of women; the support of slavery, and after slavery was abolished, the second-class treatment of our African-American brothers and sisters. But we've moved beyond those conservative man-made interpretations of self-serving belief and realized that all genders and races are children of God with equal rights and responsibilities and our country and our church has, as a result, been made stronger.

The same second-class treatment is being applied to Gays and Lesbians in our country and in our church today. And this is an issue that impacts us all.

You may not realize it, but you have Gay and Lesbian members in your own church, probably in your own family, and most certainly within your circle of friends. Most of them are scared to let you know who they are. But with full acceptance, they will have the opportunity to be the fulfilled persons God meant them to be.

I can't imagine that the United Methodist Church I know and love would deny membership to Gays and Lesbians because that is the way God made them. But we know it's already happened in our United Methodist Church and has been upheld by a judicial council. Internalize the horror! Is this what Christ would do?

I mentioned to you at the beginning of my comments about knowing Dow Kirkpatrick, a minister well-respected among United Methodists and others for his work in foreign missions and for his proactive involvement in the Civil Rights movement. Dow once told me, as he told others, that the struggle for full acceptance of Gays and Lesbians is the civil rights struggle our world and our church faces today. And it is a struggle that he and Marjorie fully supported as strongly and proudly as they did the fight for the rights of African Americans.

I've also gotten to know, love, and appreciate Bishop Bevel Jones, another former Saint Mark minister, who occasionally visits and worships with us at Saint Mark. He calls the ministry at Saint Mark a holy ministry. But, we're simply doing what John Wesley said we should do as Methodists and Christians: do no harm, do all the good you can, and stay in love with God.

I urge you to not support any resolution that will deny membership in the United Methodist Church and the promise of God's love and grace to any one of God's children who seeks that love and grace, whether that person be red or yellow, black or white, male or female, Gay or straight. Do no harm!

Be sure that my son and your children and grandchildren, and the children and grandchildren of your friends and family can experience the fullness of God's love. Do all the good you can!

And I ask that you prayerfully consider full inclusion. The only thing that keeps anyone away from God is man. Stay in love with God!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found your site by accident when I did a Google search. As a parent of children who are straight (at least I think they are) and a United Methodist, I identify with your deep feelings and concern. I will support full acceptance of gay persons into the life of the church.