#BlessingNotBurden: It takes less than a minute to show trans youth you care.

20376153_10101716547347198_4481381192885927197_nToo many trans/genderqueer/non-binary kids woke up today in a world where their president called them a “burden” and “distraction”. These kids are already at a higher risk for suicide, not because there is anything wrong with them, but because they have to live in a broken and hateful world. It takes real courage to live through that day after day, and hope can feel hard to find.

If you are trans/genderqueer/non-binary, etc. I ask you to consider joining me in something. Take a picture of yourself and tag it #blessingnotburden and upload it to social media. Spread a little hope today.

***Allies, if you’d like to participate, please consider writing “You are a blessing, not a burden” on a piece of paper. Take a picture of yourself holding the sign and post it with the same hashtag, please.***

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On Presbyterians, Exiles, and Apologies

Behind my desk there are two framed certificates on the wall. One is from 2001. It is reads “Certificate of Ordination as Minister of Word and Sacrament, Presbyterian Church (USA)”. The other is from 2010. This one reads “Certificate of Ordained Ministerial Standing, United Church of Christ”.

When I transferred my ordination to the UCC in 2010, I wasn’t sure what to do with that first certificate. The Presbyterian Church had trained me to be a pastor at one of its denominational seminaries. It had shaped me as a candidate for ministry. I had been a member of PCUSA churches, interned in a PCUSA congregation, and served honorably for over eight years as a PCUSA minister.

But, in 2010, I left.

I didn’t want to. I loved being Presbyterian. I can still tell you all about the Book of Confessions, and my favorite parts, from Heidelberg to Barmen. I love the Presbyterian commitment to education and loving God with our whole mind. I am deeply Reformed, down to the bone.

And I am also gay.

In 2010 I had to make a choice between the church I loved and my life. I knew, for my own mental health, that I could no longer be a part of a church that asked me to either abide by an unfair ordination standard applied only to same-sex relationships or to remain silent about it in certain settings if I chose not to abide.

I have been out since I was 18. I never hid that fact. But I lived within the strictures of the PCUSA’s ordination standard. I did this not out of shame, but out of a sense that I could not ask someone to partner with me and live in the shadows. As even my father told me when it became time for me to leave the PCUSA, it wouldn’t be fair to someone I loved.

When it became clear that change was not coming fast enough, I had to ask myself questions about staying. I came to understand that remaining in the PCUSA would be fundamentally damaging to me, and to my sense of integrity. And so, reluctantly, I left.

Within a year of leaving the PCUSA I met my now-wife. We dated openly, celebrated our engagement publicly, and married in a church of my new denomination. When DOMA was overturned, and when the Supreme Court later made equal marriage the law of the land, we rejoiced with the whole-hearted support of our denomination. I have come to understand what it means to be accepted and loved by my church, just as I am.

rainbow-sealYou might think that after all that I am angry at the PCUSA.

For a while I was. I think I had good reason. But then, I wasn’t. As much as my treatment, and the treatment of every other LGBTQ person in the church, was unfair, I still love the Presbyterian Church deeply. I hang my ordination certificate in my office so that every day I will see it and remember the gifts I received from the PCUSA. And I rejoiced when the PCUSA took steps to include LGBTQ people in leadership and marriage.

Over the past few weeks, though, I have felt some of those old feelings of frustration return.

There is an overture being considered in the PCUSA right now which calls on the denomination to apologize for its past treatment of LGBTQ individuals because “there will be no chance for healing and reconciliation until the PCUSA admits its mistakes and makes a statement of apology”.

The Covenant Network, which believes itself to be an ally to LGBTQ people, has come out against the statement. (For historical perspective the Covenant Network also urged past delays on votes which could have included LGBTQ people in the ministry sooner out of concerns for “unity”. As a PCUSA seminarian at the time I had a hard time with that stance as well.) Other PCUSA “allies” have also spoken against the apology saying it does not have consensus or that it will create further division.

Let me say first that division has already been created. The fact many LGBTQ Presbyterians are now exiles in other denominations should tell you that. Those of us who were forced to leave will not have a voice on Presbytery and General Assembly floors, and so I urge you to listen to what we have to say now. We are, literally, not in the room.

Beyond that I hear some say that the apology is “forced”. If a minority of GA made the majority apologize, it would indeed be forced. But this is an overture that will require a majority voice. If a majority of the delegates at GA find this is appropriate, then they will represent the majority will of this connectional church. The same thing happened when LGBTQ people were banned from ministry, and yet this same argument was not made.

I hear others say it won’t matter to LGBTQ people. Curiously, I have not heard this from LGBTQ people. (And particularly not from any of us who lived through the worst of the ’90’s and ’00’s as candidates or clergy.) As an LGBTQ person, I can tell you it would matter to me. I will personally be okay without an apology from the PCUSA. I’ve done my work. But, I would find the apology deeply meaningful and healing. I would also see it as the start to real reconciliation between those of us who have left and our former church, as well as a sign of healing for those who have stayed, and their partners.

I have also heard people ask “have we apologized to other groups” such as women and African-Americans, who also bore grave injustices at the hands of the Presbyterian Church. No. You haven’t. You should do that, by the way.

Mostly, though, I believe in this overture because I believe in the power of making amends. In the recovery community one of the major steps towards healing and wholeness is looking at the people you have hurt and saying “I’m sorry”. Until you do that, you can’t really heal. And I want health and healing for the PCUSA. There is so much good that the PCUSA does in this world, and so much more that it could do. The world needs a healthy Presbyterian Church.

As for me, I have made my peace with the Presbyterian Church. I have looked at my resentments and forgiven the PCUSA for the pain. I have found gratitude for the good gifts I received from the PCUSA; gifts that continue to inform my ministry every day. I have claimed my own “serenity to accept the things I cannot change and courage to change the things I can”.

Perhaps in writing now I am exhibiting that I still don’t have the “wisdom to know the difference”. I don’t know if these words will have any effect on anyone. And yet, as a product of the Presbyterian Church, and as one who still deeply loves the church, I offer them for the consideration of those who still dwell within its walls.

And I also say this, expecting no reciprocity but remaining hopeful that perhaps someday it will come: When I made my ordination vows I fully intended to remain a Presbyterian minister until the day I died. For my part in not remaining faithful, I am sorry. Having had to leave continues to grieve me more than you know.

The Religious Liberty Quiz, and Why Crediting Original Writers Matters

I keep telling myself that it shouldn’t matter. So long as a good message is getting out there, why does it matter who gets the credit? And in a time when the state of Indiana has passed a law that will hurt so many of my LGBTQ friends and family, why am I wasting my time on an issue of citation?

I keep telling myself that a more spiritual person wouldn’t care about this. But the reality is that I do.

Over the last few days I have seen this graphic shared repeatedly on Facebook, Twitter, and around the blogosphere:

10411962_10205997612769511_477299406463102823_n

The first time I glanced at it I realized that I was looking at my own words. Verbatim in many instances. “Oh, someone made that article into a graphic,” I thought. But then it hit me…the article wasn’t being cited on the graphic at all.

In the late summer of 2012 I wrote a blog post called, “How to Determine if Your Religious Liberty is Being Threatened in Just 10 Quick Questions.” I shared it on my own blog, in a local paper, and in the Huffington Post’s Religion section, where I often blog. It was at HuffPost that the article took off. It has now been “liked” on Facebook over 225,000 times and shared widely. Here is the original post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/how-to-determine-if-your-religious-liberty-is-being-threatened-in-10-questions_b_1845413.html

I have to admit, I don’t think it’s my best writing. It was written quickly, on an iPhone, while watching the Republican National Convention on television during the 2012 Presidential elections. It was also written just over two months before my wedding to my now-wife.

Heidi and I were sitting in our living room, a minister and a seminarian, making plans about the religious marriage ceremony we would be having at her home church in Boston. This was a marriage that would be recognized by our church, but (in the time before DOMA was overruled) not by our country. And we were hearing speaker after speaker coming to the podium saying that their own religious liberties were being threatened by marriages like ours. (You can read more about that here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-emily-c-heath/the-religious-liberty-qui_b_4878040.html)

It made no logical sense. And so, instead of yelling back at the television, I wrote this tongue-in-cheek quiz to demonstrate the logical fallacies of the “religious liberty” red herring that has been perpetuated for far too long by anti-gay figures.

The piece took off. And, unfortunately, it has been recirculated widely several times in the last few years. I say “unfortunately” because each time that has happened it has been in response to another law like the new “religious freedom” legislation in Indiana. I had really hoped that we could stop having this argument about now, but it seems Governor Pence and others have other plans.

And so, the article is once again circulating. And so is the above graphic, which uses my verbatim wording without crediting the original article. And, like I said, maybe this shouldn’t bother me. But it does.

Here’s why: plagiarism has always bothered me. Maybe the person who created the graphic did not mean to plagiarize. But they did copy exact phrases from an article I wrote and not put my name on it. Deliberate or not, that is plagiarism. Ask your freshman English professor, and they’ll agree.

So why does it matter, especially if the intentions are good? For me it’s because of this: I’m a writer. I’m a pastor first, but a part of my ministry, and a large part of my own spiritual practice, revolves around being a writer. Most of what I write, I write for free. Each month I write two devotionals for the United Church of Christ’s daily devotionals, and donate them to the church. I write blogs for HuffPost Religion and other blogs and I am not paid. I write on my own blog for free. And here’s the thing: I am fine with not being paid. It feels good to me to be able to write, and to share for the benefit of the larger church and others, and to pass on ideas I believe in deeply.

But, writing is sometimes emotionally exhausting work. That is especially true when we are writing about painful things. And that night that I wrote the religious liberty quiz, with a wedding weeks away and people on the screen in front of me saying horrible things about my family, I was feeling some pain. And I took that pain and channeled it into my writing, and into something I believed might help others. I also wrote it both as a LGBTQ person, and as a person of devoted faith, contexts that I believe are crucial to the piece. (Especially as I find most people falsely assume this quiz was written by someone hostile to religion and faith in general, and not someone who deeply loves their faith tradition.)

In the end I don’t need money or fame for it. But, I just think that when anyone writes from their experiences, especially a member of a group being openly and hostility attacked, they should be given the minimal courtesy of being named. For so long my LGBTQ friends and family had to hide because of whom they were. That is, thank God, changing. But the silencing of our experiences comes in so many forms, and even with the best of intentions it is still painful.

UPDATE: This graphic is now being shared at Patheos, Daily Kos, and more. If you see it, please make a note of the source. Thank you.

Reclaiming Progressive Christianity, Starting with Remembering Our Values

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post that two weeks later is still getting a lot of traffic. The title of the piece is “I Don’t Think I Want to Be a Progressive Christian Anymore“, and it is an accurate depiction of how I was feeling at the time. After a little time, though, I’m realizing I was wrong: I do still want to be a progressive Christian.

But here’s the challenge; in the very recent past the term “progressive Christian” has come to be conflated with “emergent Christian” and “post-evangelical Christian”. And I’m not saying that you can’t be one of those things and also be a progressive Christian. This is a big tent movement, and you can. But I am saying that it’s not right to co-opt a term that has been used for several generations to define a theological movement for your own benefit. And it’s especially not right to do it when you are not familiar with, or not willing to honor, the values that progressive Christianity has been trying to model for the larger church for years.

10245585_250411955164792_8829165948251833523_nMy elders in the progressive Christian movement, some of whom are now dead and cannot speak for themselves, deserve more than to have their legacies misrepresented by those who never knew them. And those of us who came of age in the progressive movement over the last few decades are now being called on to bear witness to the history and values of this tradition, and to help to articulate a vision for the future for the movement.

So, I think I do still want to be a progressive Christian. But I want to say a little about what I understand that term to mean, starting with a few values I’ve learned along the way. Here is what I think the progressive church is called to be:

– Transparent

The progressive church has taught me again and again that Jesus’ was right when he said “the truth shall set you free”. It has also taught me that “sunlight is the best disinfectant”. One of the Christian men I respect most has a habit of telling organizations with which he works that “I will not be your institution’s secret keeper”. They hire him anyway, and they’re better for it.

– Accountable

We don’t just answer to ourselves (or kid ourselves and others by saying “I answer to God”). We need accountability from our peers. Denominations get a bad rap with some, but a healthy denomination is one of the best ways of making sure that a Christian leader will be held accountable to a high standard. It’s when a clergy person or other leader becomes a long ranger that the trouble happens.

– Prophetic

Wayne Gretzky famously said, “I skate to where the puck is going; not to where it has been.” For progressive Christians that means that we have to be future focused, and innovative. For instance, the progressive church started talking about LGBT rights in the early 1970’s. By contrast, some well-known leaders who are now claiming the progressive labels have just come forward as allies in the last several years. That’s not being prophetic. That’s being popular.

– Repentant

We will make mistakes. We will fail people who could have used our voices. But when that happens, we need to be the first to stand up and apologize. As a former Presbyterian pastor, I often saw people who sat in positions of power never speak as allies. In the past few years many have now come out as allies, which is great. But sometimes I just want a little acknowledgement that they regret not having done so earlier. Likewise, I know there are probably many things I am not doing now that I should be. When I realize what they are, I hope I have the character to confess, apologize, and make amends.

– Humble

True humility is not about putting yourself down; it’s about raising others up. And what I valued most about the progressive leaders in the generations before mine was their humility. They admitted there were things they did not know. They listened to those who were marginalized in some way. And they stepped aside and gave up the mic when they didn’t know from firsthand experience what they were talking about. (And they never drew attention to themselves when they did it.)

– Witness-oriented

The other thing I learned from progressive Christian leaders over the past twenty years is that they were never, ever, interested in celebrity. In fact, they were quick to shy away from the lime-light. They didn’t mind teaching, or speaking, but only if it helped others in their Christian journey. Karl Barth kept a picture of John the Baptist above his desk. In that picture John was pointing towards Christ. For Barth it was a reminder that the task of every Christian was not to gain followers for one’s self, but instead to use one’s life in order to witness to, and glorify, Christ.

– Bold

The progressive Christians I have know are bold people. That’s different than being brash or provocative. Instead, being bold is about being willing to risk one’s status or power for what one believes is right. In the 1990’s and early 2000’s I watched people risk their pulpits and ordinations to stand up for people like me. Some of these same people had done the same thing a 35 years before that when they stood up against segregation. They weren’t fearless; they were scared to death. But they did it anyway. They are some of bravest people I have ever met, and few in my generation can hold a candle to them.

– Non-idolatrous

The progressive Christians who taught me were also well-trained Reformed theologians. They lectured constantly about the importance of confronting idols. And they practiced what they preached. They refused to worship anything other than Christ. They would not worship at the altar of money. They refused to collude with empire, as Walter Wink taught us, choosing instead to confront it. They would not profit on the backs of others, particularly those who have been in any way marginalized. They did not seek power or status or comfort. They sought only God’s will for God’s people.

– Hopeful

When Rev. John Robinson sent the Pilgrims, ancestors of today’s progressive Reformed Christians, off across the ocean he said God had “more truth and light yet to break forth out of (God’s) holy Word”. It was a message of hope. And hope is central to the message of progressive Christianity. Every piece of writing, every sermon, every speech must point to the fact that our hope comes not from our own words, but from the one who is constantly working in this world to create all things anew. And living into that hope means that we get to make the choice to either participate in that work joyfully, or get out of the way.

– Community focused

Progressive Christians value the life and stories of the individual, but we also highly value the community. Our interdependence on one another is what makes us stronger, not weaker. And so we need the voices of many, and not just a few. And so, because progressive Christianity is bigger than any one of us, this needs to be a group discussion. What values would you add? I’d love for you to tell us all about them below.

I don’t think I want to be a “Progressive Christian” anymore.

I can’t remember when I started calling myself a “progressive Christian”. I think it was probably in the mid-to-late-90’s or so. I was in my late teens and early 20’s, an openly gay college student in Atlanta, and and a wannabe minister. In a time and place where that was pretty unheard of, the courageous church leaders I knew who stood up for inclusion were my role models. They showed me the corners of the church where I could start to envision a life as an openly gay pastor. Even back then we called it “progressive Christianity”.

I came out in the church before Ellen did on TV. I watched a gay bar in my city get blown up. I saw friends of mine live with the everyday slights and pains of homophobia. And I watched and waited as self-proclaimed allies in positions of power whispered their support quietly, but never risked anything publicly. And my then-denomination didn’t change.

1006084_237267106479277_264921106_nAt the time I was a little frustrated about that. Frustrated enough that I reached my own limit with the lukewarm church, and left both my geographic and denominational homes behind in search of the kind of progressive Christianity that would let me be my whole self. And, in many ways I found it. I found a place where I could be an openly gay pastor with a wife to whom I am legally married.

It was about that time that the momentum shifted on acceptance of LGBT people too. DOMA was overturned. Opinion polls shifted. Churches opened just a little more. And suddenly I saw people I’d known in the past talking publicly about how they were allies. I saw them taking the mic and telling their own stories. And I saw them calling themselves “Progressive Christians”.

And I didn’t want to be a jerk, but I wanted to say, “Um, excuse me…where were you when we needed you about 15 years ago? Because I don’t remember you saying any of this back when we were struggling.”

So, why am I saying this today? Because after making my peace with the fact that not everyone gets onboard with inclusion at the same time, I’m watching from afar something of an intense breakdown happening among self-proclaimed progressive Christians.

First, I’m a little confused, because I thought I was a progressive Christian, and I haven’t seen them around before. But, it’s okay. It’s a big tent; newcomers are always welcome.

But here’s what’s not okay: after failing to speak out for justice for years, and after leaving LGBT people and a minority of courageous allies to do the heavy-lifting by ourselves, you don’t get to come in and claim to be “progressive” and then not have any kind of progressive values whatsoever when it comes to anything beyond saying “gays are okay now”. Because if you have suddenly become a “progressive Christian” in the last few years because it’s “safe” now to support LGBT people, you are not progressive at all. You are the opposite of progressive. You have not transformed culture by seeking Christ’s justice. You have waited for culture to be transformed and then you have joined in.

I’m not just talking about LGBT stuff here, though there is some real learning yet to be done on that. I’m talking about the way racism and sexism are talked about in the church. I’m talking about putting down the mic you have commandeered and giving it to the person of color, woman, or LGBT person who has never had a chance to tell their own story. I’m talking about making space for some conversation when a woman comes forward and says she has been abused before shutting it down out of your own fears. I’m talking about transparency, and authenticity, the values that the progressive Christian movement has always valued most.

I’ve been watching the discussions online about WX15, “Why Tony?”, and the rest. I don’t know what the truth is about what happened in a marriage I was not a part of. I’m not even going to touch that here. But, I do know that the discussions about it online, and on all sides, have in no way been steeped in the values of the progressive Christianity that I have known for the past twenty years. The progressive Christians I know, many of whom sacrificed career stability, financial gain, and more for their then-unpopular stance, were courageous. They were justice-focused. And they were willing to admit when they might be wrong, and when another voice might need the space to be heard.

Full disclosure: friends of mine are speaking at this event and they are amazing people whose voices need to be heard. The focus should be on them. But this whole conversation has been derailed. Instead, I’ve seen women be told by “progressive Christian” men in the last day that they are “bitching” about abuse. I’ve seen multiple “progressive Christians” shrug off a serious conversation about domestic violence and what it means in terms of the church. I’ve seen people once again grabbing the mic away from people who need a space to speak their truth. I’ve seen a lack of transparency, and an abundance of legacy-protecting. I’ve seen community covenants get broken. And I’ve seen the discussion around what could be an amazing conference that lifts up the voices of women get hijacked and refocused on a man..

Like I said, I don’t know what the truth is here, and I’m not sure I ever will. I also think that all sides of this have dropped the ball multiple times. But I do know the way the conversation is going now has little in common with the values of progressive Christianity. (At least, the progressive Christianity I thought I knew.)

I’m not mad…I’m just not surprised. After all, I’ve been wondering “Where were these folks back when I was a 19 year old would-be seminarian who needed an ally” for years now. Why should their behavior (and I’m talking about people expressing opinions on every side here) be any different now that we’ve moved on to the next justice issue?

I don’t know what the answer is here, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to be affiliated with what progressive Christianity seems to have become: just a code-word for “same old church, now with more gays!” Because the progressive Christian LGBT inclusion movement in the church was never just about LGBT people. It was about changing the church for the better for ALL people. And, even though my life might be easier now, we are far than done with our work.

So, “progressive Christians”? Keep the title. Just know that it doesn’t mean what it used to mean. And if it adds something to the portfolios of those seeking celebrity Christian status, so be it. It’s a new day out there, and the new progressive Christianity sells (so long as you’re careful not to ruffle too many feathers with hard truths).

As for me, watching all of this unfold has reminded me that our ultimate faith must be in Christ, and not in human beings, no matter how compellingly they speak or write. And so, I’m putting my hope for the church in the hands of the only person who has never let me, or any of us, down yet.

Does “All Are Welcome” Really Mean “All Are Welcome”?: Some tips on finding a welcoming church

From time to time someone will email me asking for help in finding a church. Quite often they are looking because they experienced some sort of rejection from a former faith community. If I know of a a church in their area that is truly welcoming to all, I’ll share that information. But often I know nothing about their particular city or town, and I don’t feel comfortable recommending a church without at least some information.

29671_389906276786_3698836_nOne thing I do caution spiritual seekers, particularly those who are LGBTQ or who have had other experiences of rejection in the church, about is to be “wise as serpents, and gentle as doves” when it comes to what a new church claims. Just about any church out there will tell you “all are welcome”. But what does that really mean?

All are welcome could mean this: we will not turn you away at the door. You can come in, sit through the service, and maybe even have coffee afterwards. Depending on the church, you may be greeted warmly and genuinely, or you may get subtle (or not so subtle) signals that people don’t think you belong. My hope is that the latter will never happen to you at a church, but if it does run!

So what happens when you go to a church and people do seem to welcome you? Maybe they have even been enthusiastic about the welcome. What if they have not only shared the coffee and the cookies, but they’ve invited you back for worship next week and Bible study on Wednesday? This is when you might be tempted to say, “Great! I’ve found my church!” And maybe you have. In fact, I hope that you have.

But for those who have in some ways been marginalized by the church, this is where you might want to ask some explicit questions about what that welcome means. You want to find out now; not a year down the road.

There’s a church near me that claims that they welcome all. And I believe that people in that church genuinely would be glad to see anyone come through the doors. In fact, a few local gay folks have even asked whether they would be welcomed in church, and the answer has been “yes”. But being welcomed to attend and being welcomed into the full life of a church are two very different things.

In the case of this particular church, for instance, women are not invited to hold leadership positions. Additionally, while they might welcome LGBT people to attend and worship with them, they believe that being gay is a sin. A gay couple could be welcome to attend, but they could never get married in that church. In fact, they may be pressured to somehow “change” their sexual orientation. This will all be done under the guise of “love the sinner, hate the sin”, and with the belief of the church that they are legitimately being welcoming.

So, how do you determine that a church really is as welcoming of everyone as they claim? My first suggestion is this: ask a lot of question. Ask about the role of women in the church. Ask explicitly about whether gay and lesbian couples will be blessed and accepted as equal in the eyes of the congregation. Ask about who is allowed to hold leadership roles in the congregation. And then ask more questions. If there is something you are scared to ask, that probably means it’s even more important than you think that you go ahead and ask it.

So, here are some examples of what to ask. And here are the responses you should get before you commit yourself to any church. And remember, in this case “welcome” doesn’t just mean “you can come to worship”. Welcome means that you invited into the full life, sacraments, celebrations, and ministry of the church. Don’t settle for anything less:

Am I welcome if I’ve never been to church before? YES!

If I’m a single parent? YES!

If I don’t believe the earth was created in six 24 hour days? YES!

If I’m divorced? Or if I’m divorced and remarried? YES!

If I didn’t grow up in this denomination? YES!

If I believe there is truth in science? YES!

If English isn’t my first language? YES!

If I’m gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender, or I love someone who is? YES!

If I’m in recovery from addiction? YES!

If I like to read “Harry Potter”? YES!

If my spouse/partner is of a different faith? YES!

If I’ve never been baptized? YES!

If I bring my small children? YES!

If I have to work most Sunday mornings? YES!

If I’m more comfortable wearing jeans and a t-shirt to church than a suit? YES

If I take the Bible seriously, but not literally? YES!

If I am a person with a disability? YES!

If I believe all people are created equal? YES!

If I’m a youth or young adult? YES!

If I believe women should be ordained? YES!

If I drink alcohol? YES!

If it’s been a while since I’ve been to church? YES!

If I prefer classic rock to Christian rock? YES!

If I’m a seasonal resident and not here all year? YES!

If I vote for Democrats? Or Republicans? Or any other political party? YES!

If I’ve made some big mistakes in my life? YES!

If I can’t afford to put anything in the offering plate? YES!

If I have doubts? YES!

These are just a few. What would you add? Leave a comment to let others know.

 

Questioning Advent: Day 17 – Socks, Boxer Shorts, and Joy

1456055_550081655069225_381737962_nYesterday a package arrived at our local post office from the UK. My in-laws, who live in Liverpool, had sent a box full of Christmas gifts for my wife and I. Last week a similar one arrived via Virginia from my parents. Heidi and I are lucky. Though we both came out to our parents well before legalized same-sex marriage or “Modern Family”, we never faced familial rejection for being gay. In fact, when we were married last year our families sat in the front pews of the church.

Our wedding day was filled with joy. In fact, most of our days are filled more with joy than with anything else. So, when we come to this third week of Advent when we are called to focus on “joy”, I think about all the blessings I’ve received, including a wonderful marriage, and parents on both sides who support that marriage.

But I know not everyone knows that joy. Because even now, 19 years after I told my parents I was gay, plenty of kids don’t get the kind of response that I received.

The Rev. Jeffrey Dirrim is a pastor in my tradition, the United Church of Christ. Several years ago he started a ministry to LGBTQ youth who were either homeless, or at risk of becoming so. That ministry was called Footsteps because one of the things he did was to make sure they had shoes. Today that ministry has grown into a new church start called Rebel and Divine United Church of Christ. And Pastor Dirrim and the others working in this ministry have become something to those youth that many have never had before: adults they can trust.

When the adults who are supposed to care about you the most throw you out on the street because you tell them who you really are, how are you supposed to believe in joy? When you have a bag packed and ready to go because you think that rejection is coming, how can you feel excited about Christmas? And when many of those same adults do so because of what their churches tell them, how are you supposed to believe in the love of Christ?

This year Rebel and Divine is doing a Christmas shoe and underwear drive. They work tirelessly to somehow turn a $20 donation into brand new shoes, underwear, socks, and more. Then they wrap it, write a personalized card, and deliver it on Christmas morning with an ornament to one of the youth they serve. For many of these young people, it’s the only gift they’ll get this Christmas.

No kid should be treated the way that these young people have been. But I give thanks for the people at Rebel and Divine UCC who are bringing joy to them in the form of wool socks and Converse shoes and boxer shorts this Christmas morning. And I give thanks that there is a way for those of us who have an extra $20 in our pockets to make that joy spread a little further.

I’m joyful today. I’m joyful about a life’s journey that has led to this warm home on a snowy day with the love of my life baking cookies in the kitchen. I’m joyful about a church that embraces us for who we are, and a church that blesses with joy the ministry of Pastor Dirrim and others like him. And I want others to know that kind of joy too.

Question: Can you can spare a little extra this Christmas to spread joy to others?

Prayer: God, you have given us so much to be joyful about in our lives. And yet, this world still feels so joyless sometimes. God, bless the ones who feel rejected at Christmas. Bless the ones who have been left on their own. Bless the ones who do not expect Christmas joy. And bless the ones who want to change that. May they be strengthened by your Holy Spirit to be the bearers of joy to all your children. Amen.

If you can spare something extra this season, and would like to help Rebel and Divine UCC to spread some Christmas joy to LGBTQ homeless youth in Phoenix, please take a look at this link: http://rebeldivineucc.org

Flying Out Over Boston: Some Thoughts on Marriage Equality and the End of DOMA

We are flying out today, over Boston, the city where marriage equality got its start. We are flying out over Old South Church, the place where we were married. We are flying in to California, a place where yesterday morning our marriage wasn’t legal. And we are flying to General Synod, the biannual meeting of the United Church of Christ, the church that recognized our marriage before the federal government ever did.

Our marriage certificate from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is packed in my bag. I don’t know why. I know it’s not rational, but I just want to keep it close this week.

Yesterday morning it sat on our coffee table as my wife and I did what we have been doing on many mornings for the last two weeks. With MSNBC on the television, and SCOTUSblog pulled up on the laptop, we sat next to each other on the couch holding hands and praying.

When the decision on DOMA came in, it took our breath away and we broke down sobbing. In a good way. I have never cried for joy harder than I did yesterday morning. My father texted us: One down.

It took seven months and nine days after our wedding for the federal government to recognize our marriage. Every day was a day too long, but we are so aware that we were some of the lucky ones. Couples we know who have been married for years felt the full weight of discrimination for so much longer. And then there are the couples we have known who had at least one partner who didn’t live to see federal marriage equality. We mourned for them yesterday.

Yesterday I thought about all the same-sex couples whose marriages I have officiated as a pastor. I thought about two of our closest friends who were married in Massachusetts and who are welcoming twin boys in a few weeks. Their sons will never know a country that does not recognize their moms’ marriage as equal.

I thought about two other friends from Maine who had to be married in Massachusetts because their state did not yet recognize equal marriage at the time. And I thought about two men I married from California last month who will now return with a marriage that will be honored.

And I thought about all those couples from the South who have flown to Vermont in order to have a legal marriage that they knew would mean very little in their home states. I thought about friends I grew up with back home. They are still waiting, and we won’t forget them.

Last night, as I do many summer evenings in Vermont, I went fly fishing. There was a group of high school students swimming nearby. They were celebrating the end of DOMA and talking about what it meant.

When they got close I told them that my wife and my marriage had become federally recognized that day. They smiled and cheered and congratulated me. And they told me that for most of their friends and classmates, equality is a no-brainer. As one young man told me, in fifty years we are not going to believe that we had to debate this.

That gives me hope, because I can’t imagine having a similar discussion during my high school years. I know the world is changing.

Yesterday my wife and I began to jokingly call each other “Federally Recognized Spouse”. As in, “Federally Recognized Spouse, are you coming back downstairs?” We talked about needing to file an amended 2012 tax return. We then spent the rest of the day working on our gay agenda of doing laundry and packing for our trip. But, lightheartedness aside, when we went to sleep last night we did so a little more equal than we had woken up that morning.

Today, flying out with her at my side, I know that we are only traveling towards a more equal future, and that God’s love is there and that it has been with us all along.

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Why I didn’t change my Facebook profile picture to a red equal sign.

521352_10100262115894488_1545846164_nLast week many of my friends changed their profile pictures on Facebook. I did too. With the Supreme Court’s hearing of two cases related to marriage equality, Facebook went red in support of the end of DOMA and Prop 8.

My profile picture was red. But, it wasn’t the red equal sign. And as I watched friends from high school, college, and the church world change theirs to the red equal sign, I felt deeply conflicted.

I certainly support marriage equality. My wife and I married last fall, so DOMA directly affects us. But I don’t support the Human Rights Campaign, the organization that was behind the red equal signs. Most who changed their profile pictures didn’t know that they were advertising for any particular organization. They just thought that they were supporting equality, which is indeed noble. But the reality is that with every change of a profile picture to the red equal sign, HRC, an organization that many LGBTQ people have trouble supporting, was getting free advertising. And with it, the impression that the HRC somehow spoke for all LGBT people was spread.

Back in the 1990’s the rainbow flag, a general, inclusive symbol of LGBTQ equality not owned by any one organization, gradually gave way to a new symbol: a blue square with a yellow equal sign in the middle. The Human Rights Campaign created this new symbol and would only distribute it through their own channels (often after donations). Some LGBT bookstores tried to copy the logo to sell in their own stores, and were swiftly rebuffed.

And so, the HRC became the purveyors of the equal sign. And if you go to an HRC Action Center, like the one that now occupies Harvey Milk’s old store in San Francisco, you can buy anything from a t-shirt to a frisbee to a dog bowl (generally made in a place with poor labor practices) with an equal sign plastered on the side. So, you pay to advertise for the HRC. Meanwhile, the HRC uses the money to pay executive staff and get buildings like this: http://www.hrc.org/the-hrc-story/our-building

But more importantly, many in the community have long had reservations about HRC’s actions. Trans advocates in particular have had trouble with the HRC’s mixed messages on trans inclusion, especially around ENDA. (Google “HRC” and “trans” for more.) People of color have also leveled valid concerns, as have undocumented persons. After a rally to end Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, LGBT veterans complained about their treatment by the HRC. And, the HRC dinner in honor of Goldman Sachs last year showed a tone-deafness about the real economic crisis that rubbed many the wrong way.

The end of my own support for HRC came in 2011. I first encountered HRC as a Congressional intern in 1994, back when they were called the “Human Rights Campaign Fund”. Through the years I tried to remain supportive knowing that no organization is perfect. I had a few HRC shirts and I even bought my parents a membership a few years back.

But in the summer of 2011 I went to Albany, New York for a week to watch what was happening with the marriage equality bill. HRC was there too. And I was less than impressed. Doubtless much was happening behind the scenes, but what I saw on the surface convinced me that my money would be better spent in other places. There were many great volunteers working with HRC, and I’m not saying anything negative about any of them. But I just didn’t see any real leadership from the paid staff.

They didn’t know how to use the volunteers that they had. They didn’t know how to use the clergy and others who came to advocate for marriage equality. They didn’t work well with the grassroots groups who had done a lot of the prep work needed to push for a vote (and they talked down to them at points). And they asked those who were protesting in favor of marriage equality to sound less “angry”.

(When I wrote my reflections about this down and posted it online, I received a testy email from an HRC senior staff member. I also received an email from a staffer in the NY Legislature who said it was spot on and that the HRC had almost botched the vote, in part because they didn’t use some of the resources that were offered to them. When a few activists decided not to take orders from the HRC anymore, “went rogue” and started to visit legislators on their own they had actually managed to change more minds than the HRC.)

After that, I just decided to support other organizations. It’s like the old saying: When someone shows you who they are, believe them. It’s not that I hate the HRC. I just refuse to advertise for them any longer since so many I care about have been hurt or offended by their policies. Now I support groups like the Trevor Project and organizations that are closer to home and capable of doing local good.

So, when I see those red equal signs, knowing that most who are posting them don’t realize that they are posting something created by HRC, I just want to tell people what they are supporting. If they still want to use them, that is by all means their right. But, they should first know what that symbol brings up for some of us who are LGBTQ. Because part of being a responsible part of the movement, LGBTQ and ally alike, is listening to the voices at the margins, and deciding with whom you will stand.

(Just a note…here’s the latest concern. It’s worth noting that HRC originally denied this happened: http://www.towleroad.com/2013/04/quiphrc.html )