Why I am Voting No! by Paul Corner

 

Paul Corner

Rev. Paul Corner Why I am voting NO!

(Below is a statement that Rev. Paul Corner made at the Covenant Annual Meeting which just concluded in Kansas City. Coming Out Covenant applauds Paul’s stand. We believe that though his vote may be 1, that he speaks for hundreds and even thousands of Covenant members, friends and former members. God bless you Paul for your courage! Paul published this online and we do so here at COC with his permission. If Paul’s words inspire you please share this with others. If you are interested in learning more please see a list of books at the end of the post which could be of help.)

This has been a momentous couple of days with the Supreme Court ruling that marriage equality is constitutional. For me personally, there are mixed emotions. I’m overjoyed for what this ruling means for family members and dear friends. Love truly wins. My heart is also heavy as I consider the fact that there is more work to be done in the church. In the past year, two of my dearest friends and their churches are no longer part of the same denomination as me because they and their churches embraced the full inclusion of LGBT people in all levels of membership and leadership in their church. This led to the severing of their relationships with our denominational home. The injustice of it is simple, but the political and theological nuance is not. In our tradition, we seek to be non-creedal meaning we seek to maintain relationship with one another despite disagreement on matters not central to the Christian faith. In these instances, we failed to live with that Spirit. So, today at our denominational annual meeting, I will be voting ‘no’ on our denomination’s budget as a symbolic act of lament over loss, in solidarity with those who suffer, and with the hope that God can redeem us and continue to bind us together as ‘companions of ALL who fear thee.’ Below is the statement I made.

I stand today to voice my opposition to the budget that has been presented. However, it is not because of what is in it. I am proud of the rich heritage of our church, and the good work we continue to do in Christ’s name. I’m honored by our commitment to being students of the Word of God as well as, in the Spirit of freedom in Christ, the relational emphasis to how we do theology together. I’m humbled by our strong commitment to the whole mission of the church, and I am proud of a tradition that works hard on important moral questions like racial diversity, gender equality, immigration, and holistic development. I am glad to continue to support these things and more that are represented in this budget, and I commend those who have put in the work to steward well the resources God has entrusted to us.

Today, my opposition is not because of what is in it, but rather because of what is excluded from it. I’m speaking specifically about the funding for a new church plant, Christ Church: Portland, who is no longer supported by this denominational family. Pastor Adam Phillips of Christ Church had the funding for his church pulled because he intended to plant a congregation that fully welcomed lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people into its membership and leadership. Similarly, I am also speaking about St. Johns Covenant Church in Portland and their Pastor Andy Goebel, a three year old church plant who was told they wouldn’t likely be approved as a member congregation in the Pacific Northwest Conference and the ECC because of their commitment to full inclusion at all levels of participation, membership, and leadership. I’m troubled by these actions for several reasons.

First, I am troubled by these as acts of injustice. If budgets are theological documents, I cannot stand behind a budget that has made the choice to exclude people and churches from our worshipping community. I believe the Gospel calls on us to err on the side of grace and mercy. I do not understand why congregations cannot be planted in the Covenant family with the same spirit that many others of our churches exist — namely, a commitment to welcome all without theological consensus on a matter that is not central to our faith. Indeed, this spirit of welcome is one that has been embraced by many Covenant churches. By laying aside these two congregations, it causes congregations like my own, who embrace this spirit, to question how we are to continue supporting this denomination of which we have been a part for over 125 years.

Second, I’m opposed to this action because it cheapens the call for all of us who serve as credentialed ministers of the Gospel in the Covenant. One of the great strengths of our ministerium is that we are dedicated students of the Word. Within that dedication, we make room for conversation, debate, and relationship trusting in the Spirit to hold us together in the midst of it. Hence our rules which allow for dissent but have expectations for pastoral practice. I believe that healthy debate and even disagreement amongst colleagues, in the end, serves to make us all stronger. However, when we silence one part of the conversation as happened in these cases, we cheapen our call to the point that the stoles gifted to us by the people in our ordination — the symbol of our commitment to Christ and the Church — are cheapened to something not unlike a sweat rag around the neck of laborers in an ecclesial sweatshop.

Finally, I am opposed to this budget action because it does not fit within our historical ethos of companions of ALL who fear thee. We have been a church that is able to hold in tension non-creedal theological convictions for the sake of unity. We have been a church that has erred on the side of grace and mercy. And, we have been a church that allows space for congregations to consider how ministry is shaped and practiced in their context. We have allowed these values to shape how we have lived together as a beautifully diverse body with diverse convictions and a spirit of grace around important matters like baptism, women in ministry, divorce, and more. We have done this with the conviction that despite what may divide us, God calls us together and makes us strong in one common mission. I believe this Spirit can prevail again as we consider the LGBT people in our churches and our communities. Pastor Adam and Pastor Andy are not alone amongst our clergy in their convictions on LGBT inclusion and affirmation, and they broke none of the rules of the ordered ministry. Not only that, their congregations did not embrace a posture towards LGBT inclusion that is any different than many other congregations in our Covenant who are seeking faithfully to do ministry in their communities. Actions like these taken against Christ Church and St. John’s cheapen our whole movement and make us companions of only some who fear thee — a kind of disembodied fundamentalism that does not embrace the Spirit of who we have been or the Spirit of relationship in, by, and with Christ that is at the heart of who we are.

So, today I will cast a no vote on this budget, again, not because of what it does contain, but because of what it does not contain. It is a vote cast lamenting the loss of congregations, colleagues, friends, and parishioners who no longer feel safe in our Covenant. It is a vote cast in solidarity with the many LGBT Covenanters who wonder if their church will make room for them at the table. Yet, it is a hopeful vote that trusts in the Spirit of God to bind us together and grant strength to our leaders to lead with boldness, creativity, and grace trusting that though the road is difficult, God is at work in our church and will continue to lead us forward as friends in mission.

(Paul had an earlier post on COC which you can read here.)

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Tony Campolo Advocates for Full Acceptance of Christian Gay Couples into the Church

tony campoloTony Campolo, well known evangelical writer and speaker released a statement on June 8, 2015 calling for “the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.” Campolo, states that his change of heart came through “countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.”

He summarizes, ” As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to “cure” someone from being gay. As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church.”

The full statement can be read on Campolo’s  blog.

Coming Out Covenant applauds Dr. Campolo for his courage and forthrightness and invites other like minded Church Leaders to let it be known when God works in their minds and hearts in similar fashion. While it is the stated purpose of this blog to provide a safe place for LGBT Covenanters and others to tell their stories of “coming out” it is also important for straight Christians to tell their stories of how God has changed their minds and hearts on this issue.

If you would like to read stories of how God worked in people’s hearts and minds you might want to consider reading;

David Gushee’s Book Changing Our Mind

Does Jesus Really Love Me?:A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God by Jeff Chu

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines.

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The Love Extended Me

 

(COC’scross_tattoo_version_one_by_sythe01-d4l9rt5 foremost purpose is to provide a place for Covenanters to tell their story of “Coming Out.” We welcome submissions. We thank the author, who chooses to remain anonymous,  for sharing their story.)

I recently read that for its first two hundred years Shakespeare’s King Lear floundered.  From 1642 until 1660 the Puritan revolution had closed theatres across England.  Nahum Tate, the son of a Puritan clergyman, saw his role in the burgeoning British empire as his ability to improve its literature.  In 1681 he introduced a sanitized version of Lear, which dominated the stage for 150 years.  What was the reason for his re-write?  Lear’s actions were inexplicable to the minds of Puritans who detected no moral uplift as a result of the trials that he endured.  Tate resolved the problems by: changing the character’s motivations, having the actors who exhibited lesser moral fiber die in the end, and re-scripting Lear as a victim of villains.  The last scene resolves the play in merriment with actors, Enjoy[ing] the present Hour, nor fear[ing] the Last.  The play ends with all of the characters jigging off the stage to Pharrell William’s lyrical tune, Happy.

~~~~~

For the past twenty-five years I’ve been a close friend with the most gifted organist to ever play in a church that I served.  Now in his seventies, he is still invited each year to perform at festivals that feature some of the oldest organs in the USA.  And there was another, a vocalist with an operatic baritone voice, with whom I have sadly lost touch.  A Native American, he specialized in 19th century hymns.  Standing at the front of the church, with long black hair sitting on his shoulders, his singing was wonderfully moving.  Each of these men made profound impacts on the congregations I served through their participation in worship.  Both loved Christ; both knew themselves loved by Christ.  Each of them were, and are, homosexual.  And there were others: Christian educators, doctoral students, parishioners, vowed religious brothers and sisters, priests, Protestant pastors, and even Covenant clergy.

~~~~~

Some of the first words in the Gospel of John are, In the beginning was the logos.  Greeks understood the word logos as indicative of a language used to develop linearly logical arguments that could then be debated.  And John uses it to indicate that his writing too will be logical, but in a different way.  John’s usage of the word logos challenges all of us to give up our ordered notions of God and to exchange it for the logic with which God makes sense of the world, which is actually pathos…the manner in which we are related to one another.  In other words, God’s logic enters our lives at a transformative gut-level…and the single greatest indicator of whether we have acquired God’s logic, is whether we truly love or not.  King Lear stands in relation to the rest of Shakespeare’s writings as the Gospel of John, or the drama of Job, stands in relation to the rest of Scripture; these are remonstrations and chastenings.

~~~~~

It has been nearly 20 years since the Evangelical Covenant Church took its non-binding vote on human sexuality in 1996.  When that happened I began to caution homosexual Covenant friends, colleagues, and parishioners to start looking for a new spiritual home.  It was difficult for me to do and difficult for many to hear.  And I myself began a measured retreat from Covenant ministry a few years later until I eventually, and quietly simply stepped out of Covenant ministry altogether.  I went through a deep and horrible grieving process throughout this time.  I grieved because the love that I extended to all people equally and indiscriminately as a minister of Christ’s was silenced and seen as traitorous by the spiritual family who had convinced me when I was growing up that God is love.

I will always greatly value my Covenant roots.  I still promote everywhere and with everyone the Covenant’s motto, that I am a companion of all who fear Thee.  I wish my Covenant friends well in being this when it comes to fully understanding, and truly loving all people, including those in the LGBT community without any strings attached.  It’s certainly not an issue for my children who are now adults and who can’t quite wrap their minds around why it is so difficult for the church in which they were raised to do this?  They, too, know that they are no longer welcome in the Covenant and attend worship elsewhere.  I recently had a friend comment to me that it was a lot easier for them to love LGBT’s than to love the Christians who don’t love LGBT’s.  I wryly told them that I thought that that was a pretty profound statement and that if they chewed on that long enough they ran the risk of actually living their way into God’s reign!  It certain is much easier to fully accept LGBT’s than many Christians seem to be making it.

Peace…

 

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Broken Hearted: By Adam Nicholas Phillips

On February 4th I was informed by Covenant leaders that they were terminating their partnership with me as a church planter and Christ Church: Portland as an official church plant of the Evangelical Covenant Church. The reason: my personal convictions and advocacy for the full inclusion and participation of LGBT Christians in the church at all levels of membership and leadership, receiving the same call as any other Christian would to discipleship and faith, community, fidelity in relationships.

In terms of my position on human sexuality, I agree with the arc of the Covenant’s position, which: upholds celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in heterosexual marriage as the Christian standard. I only differ in my convictions that the call to celibacy in singleness and the call to Christian marriage be extended to both “straight” and “LGBT” followers of Jesus in our churches.

In 2004, the ECC’s Board of the Ordered Ministry offered this word, which stood as Covenant policy on human sexuality matters, with the caveat that “The following is a report from the Board of the Ordered Ministry to the 119th Annual Meeting in 2004. It represents what we have discerned thus far.”

For more on the Covenant’s position, read: http://www.covchurch.org/…/Human-Sexuality-Guidelines-for-M…

In the run-up to that official 2004 declaration, and all along the way since then in my licensing and ordination conversations, church-planter’s assessment, and in private consultation with ECC leaders at all levels of local, regional (Conference) and denominational leadership I shared that I believed the policy statement was incomplete, and the call to continued discernment, as inferred by the Board of the Ordered Ministry, was a good word that we should continue to reflect on. I was urged that the Covenant was a safe place for me to hold these personal convictions and that discernment would be, of course, an ongoing matter as we rooted ourselves in Christ, dwelled deeply in the Scriptures, listened with pastoral ears to our local communities, and followed the movement of the Holy Spirit.

I, in no way whatsoever, believe that LGBT inclusion is an essential matter of faith. For me, it comes down to my pastoral sensibilities and concern for my local community and broader ministry context. It’s my pastoral convictions that undergird my advocacy on such matters, as they have in my advocacy around poverty, racism and global health.

Let me be clear: There are wonderful, faithful Christians who seek to include LGBT persons in their local ministry contexts and congregations, stopping short of Christian marriage. They are doing wonderful work on anti-bullying and other such challenges that the LGBT community face every day.

I count such congregations and their leaders as companions and colleagues in the great journey with Jesus we’ve each been magnificently gifted by a God who loves us with a love we can barely comprehend. We’re better together.

My sincere hope and desire was that we, in the Evangelical Covenant Church, could maintain our historic ethos of Christian freedom on such matters.

In recent months, as I heard the testimony of faithful Christians who happened to be gay, the narratives were immensely similar: experiences of exclusion, alienation, with many suffering from clinical depression or suicidal thoughts. Hearing these stories happened during a season in which I was pigeon-holed by Covenant leaders to articulate my personally held convictions once again. I could no longer keep fully silent on these matters. In fact, I heard God calling me out to speak faithfully on such matters.

As a result, we lost not only our faith family support system in the Covenant church, we lost the next two years of funding. Curiously, I remain ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church and will have a meeting with ECC leaders in March or April to further understand the parameters of such an ordination, serving a former Covenant church plant.

I share this testimony, an open letter to my Covenant friends, to live in the light of my convictions. I share it out of a spirit of love and unity, not hostility or division. I share it in the hope that in the end love and faith triumph over conflict and fear.

I’m also excited to share that you’ll hear from members of Christ Church’s core team a week from now, about who they are and why they’re excited to be part of our brand new congregation, taking root in Portland. Stay tuned.

FAQ

1. Where can I read more about Biblically rooted, Christ-centered inclusion of LGBT folks in the church?

I’d start with a handful of books including: “Changing Our Mind,” by David Gushee, “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines, “Torn” by Justin Lee, “A Letter To My congregation” by Ken Wilson,” “Does Jesus Really Love Me” by Jeff Chu. I’d Google Vicky Beeching and hear her story. I’d check out the video debates held by Tony and Peggy Campolo on said topic. I’d check out what Steve Chalke and Oasis UK have released on inclusion.

But most importantly, I’d reach out to LGBTQ friends, family, or fellow congregants and share a cup of coffee or tea and listen, listen, listen. And listen some more.

Also, check out www.mf4inclusion.com – a group of Covenanters committed to a Biblically, Christ-centered conversation on LGBT inclusion.

2. What about those Christians who believe that they are only called or Biblically guided to live out their LGBT orientation only in celibacy?

It’s monumentally important to honor these convictions. And I’d also read

“Washed and Waiting” by Wesley Hill, a gifted Biblical scholar with a pastor’s heart.

3. What about reparative therapies for LGBTQ Christians?

It’s my conviction that we must listen to and honor ALL of these stories, including those that have undergone, what they discern, is a successful transition to heterosexual living. I have dear friends whose experience would be similar and I do not in any way

4. Is Christ Church: Portland a one-issue church?

Absolutely not. As we’ve gathered for worship and mission these past 11 months we’ve been focused on both discipleship and compassion, mercy and justice. We’re particularly passionate about our partnership with a local public school who is bridging the education gap for at-risk kids, we’re particularly passionate about our work on racial reconciliation in an ever-gentrified context, and have worked on homelessness and hunger, immigration reform and fighting human trafficking and serving members of the sex-industry in Portland.

5. How can we learn more about Christ Church: Portland?

Visit our website: www.christchurchpdx.org or check us out on Facebook

Also, please prayerfully consider supporting our Indiegogo campaign here:http://igg.me/at/christchurchpdx/x/2867278

Posted in Allies, Clergy, LGBT | 1 Comment

“Surviving the Care of the Church” : Jack Woodin

woodinfamI grew up in the Catholic Church, and discovered the Evangelical Covenant Church 29 years ago when I met a wonderful young woman who would eventually become my wife.  Amazed by the Christian love and fellowship that I had not had in my life of faith, I embraced the ECC whole-heartedly.  I joined the church and in 1986, I was married at Bethany Covenant Church in New Britain, CT.  I had dreamed of this ideal life for all of my growing up years, and the icing on the cake was that it came with the incredible bonus of a new journey of faith.  In that church which eventually relocated to Berlin, CT, I learned about what it meant to follow Jesus.  A whole world of faith and family was opened up to me! Over the years of our marriage, through many struggles, the constant that kept us afloat was that abiding love of God and the gift of a loving, caring church family that walked with us down every road. I have worshipped, laughed and cried in that place and served in numerous leadership roles including a few years as church chairman. I have been heavily involved in the music programs and the eventual evolution of contemporary worship for the church.  As our church motto states, for me Bethany Covenant Church was truly a place where “people come to life!”

After 20 years of marriage, I found myself growing increasingly unhappy.  I had everything I had wanted, and still something was wrong.  My joy was leaving and I could not get it back.  I sought counseling and spent a lot of time praying and working through childhood issues and emotional challenges but not really getting to the root of my pain. I took a break from that counseling and in my alone time and prayer time I began to realize what was so terribly wrong.  I returned to counseling and in that first meeting with a new therapist I sat down and said, “this is what I’m here for”; “I have been married for 24 years and have a great life and family but I am terribly unhappy because I have realized that I am gay!” Just saying those words aloud was both one of the most frightening moments of my life and one of the most liberating ones.  This was not in my plan for my life and yet everything within me told me that this was the missing puzzle piece. That summer while vacationing at Pilgrim Pines in New Hampshire, a Covenant Camp and Retreat Center, our pastors Adam Phillips and Aaron Johnson talked about rewriting your story through the prism of your faith; looking at your past life, mistakes, patterns and trials and prayerfully setting out on a new path.   “The rewrite happens when you realize that the program for the first act of your life does not work for the second half”, they said, and I realized that this was true of my story!  I could not keep silently fighting the battle. My story was flawed.  I spent 2 years in that therapist chair exploring this new reality.  I worked through the question “how in the world can I change my life and somehow not lose all that I relied on?”  I struggled to know “ what the “right” thing to do was for both  me and my family? “ Not only did I fear the loss of my family, I feared that I would have to give up my church and that worst of all, that Jesus would not love this new me.

With the help of a great Christian therapist, I knew what I needed to do to make sense of my life.  I made a plan to have the “coming out” conversation with my wife. In January of 2013, we sat down and I dropped the bomb. There was no explosion!  She listened intently, quietly cried and then told me that she really knew or suspected for some time and told me it was okay and gave me the most gentle and affirming hug.  What a gift.  The conversation I had dreaded for so long was behind me and I could share with the person with whom I discussed and confided everything for so long the one thing I had kept  secret from her.  Together we talked and solicited help from our counselors to prepare for the eventual separation, and to make a plan for how and when we would include our kids then 17 and 12 in the story.  In June of 2013, we told them the reality about Dad and that ultimately we would divorce.  My kids have been a marvel.  They love and support me and are ready to take on anybody who does not.  They know that the same man who loved and cared for them and taught them about the love of Jesus is still with them. It is just that life at home will look different.

I had spent many years singing with the praise team at Bethany and I continued in that role.   My wife and I kept our reality very close to the vest and inside our family for many months. At the end of the summer of 2013, I decided that out of love and respect it was time to let the church know what was happening in our home.  After all, I had shared with the people I loved the most, my wife and my kids and the world had not stopped turning, rather I received love and support.  I felt empowered to have the same conversation with my pastor and include my other love, the church, in the loop.  My conversation with the senior pastor was very kind and I was greatly relieved.  At that point, suddenly the dam began to crack and the mood changed.  The pastor met with church officers to discuss our situation, and they made the decision that I could no longer lead worship and sing with the praise team.  Church leadership asked me to step out of my role in the music ministry. The message was that this “break” was only about the dissolution of our marriage and a breach of our marriage vows not about the fact that I was gay.  At the same time leaders and church staff learned of our situation, we found that questions about our marriage and our problems were a topic of discussion both inside and outside the walls of the church. Because of this, I chose to tell my story and sent messages to people within the church that I valued and told them what was happening with us. This proved to be very painful for our family. A private matter that we had been handling with great care and gentleness was now under a spotlight.  Forced to explain my absence from the worship team, we had to endure the watchful eyes of many in the congregation. I received hateful communications from a member whom I hardly knew.  Dear friends who once lovingly engaged with me now completely turned away and ceased all communication.  A letter stating the “decision” of the church was hand-delivered to us.  It felt like our innermost concerns were now “posted” at the church for all to see. The letter referred to a period of reflection and “care” from the church, but it felt like punishment and rejection. I had heard that term “under care” used before when clergy members were involved in personal struggles, but the difference was that I am not a pastor and not even on church staff.  My only public role was singing worship songs on Sunday mornings. How could this church, where I had learned about Christian love, and  faithfully following the teachings of Jesus, now push me away? I was blindsided.

Where we are now is complicated.  I have moved out of the home and we are finalizing the legal separation that is inevitable for our family.  We are a family forever and our love and care for each other has not diminished. Initially in our pain and surprise during this period of “care”, we avoided being present at the church, but we realized that our kids loved it and wanted to be there. We wanted to support them as well as teach them about how you face adversity particularly within a family and what we do when the going gets tough.  “No running away.”  We also knew that the majority of our social connections and extended “family” were there. Being absent from there was a tremendous loss for us all.  Last fall, I attended a men’s retreat at Pilgrim Pines lead by Pastor Judy Peterson from North Park Seminary.  Judy and her preaching has had a tremendous impact in my life.  My thought going into that weekend was that I needed to find some private time with Judy to ask “what do you do when you know that Jesus loves you and the church doesn’t?” I never asked the question because in her message she gave me the answer.  The message was that Jesus loves me and wants care for me in a gentle and loving way.  I do not always have to be strong and just as Jesus told the disciples in the boat when they were afraid of sinking “do not be afraid.”  Judy said Jesus is telling us, “don’t focus on the storm, don’t look at the wind; don’t look at the waves… look at me and you won’t be afraid.  I wept as Judy prayed and I knew we were going to be okay.  This message was so simple and yet so profound.  Jesus is my strength; the church and all the politics and awkwardness are the storm and I can endure if I keep my eyes on Him.

We continue to attend and wait for God to show us if this remains our home.  So many dear friends in the congregation have stood with us and loved us, and for them I am eternally grateful.  Will I ever return to full “citizenship”?  The answer is unclear. In January 2014, I again met with the pastor and church chair.  I posed the question, “when my divorce is behind me, when and how will I be fully welcomed back?”  The reality is that I am a gay man.  “When the day comes that God blesses me with a new partner, will it be okay for me to worship with that man in my church?” The State of Connecticut says I can be married to that man if I choose, but the church does not.  “Would I be asked to take another break?” The response was that this is something that the church will need to work through before I will have my answer.

I know in the depths of my heart and soul that when God created me he did not make a mistake – I just did not understand or see the beauty in his creation for a very long time.  In my early years, I neither saw nor wanted to see it, and then later when I did see it, I fought so hard to live the life to which I thought I had been called.  Doing so nearly destroyed me.  I am a child of God and a follower of Jesus.  I am a sinner saved by grace that can now live life to its fullest and trust that God is pleased with me. The Covenant church has been my teacher, my pastor and my friend for 29 years, so I would like to stay and help the denomination evolve in their position on homosexuality, but I also know that I need to be somewhere that I can be my true self.  I believe in the value of the Covenant Church, and my prayer is that time and good communication will shed a positive light on the subject and lead to change.  I believe the people in leadership in my church are truly people who desire to do what is right and do not harbor ill feelings toward me but they are people with their own preconceived notions, fears and baggage.  The challenge will be for leadership within the local church and the denomination to discern when it is time to lead the people through this difficult discussion and to take a stand from a place of love. Then, the “care of the church” will look much more like love and acceptance rather than punishment and judgment. I would like to think I would be there when it happens but time will tell.  At the moment I am standing tall under the “care” of the church and resting in the knowledge that I am a child of God… fully loved and fully accepted.  This church struggle is only the storm, the wind and the waves, because when I lift up my head, I see Jesus and I am not afraid!

Posted in Allies, Family, LGBT, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 10 Comments

Calling All Parents…..

“Mom, I have something to tell you…I’m gay”.  “Dad…I think that I am in the wrong body, I think that I am really a boy”.  

(Coming Out Covenant is pleased welcome guest poster Laura Statesir from the Marin Foundation and to invite your participation in developing resources for families of LGBTQ children.)

One of the most difficult and life changing statements a parent can hear is that of their child coming out to them.  When your daughter tells you she’s bisexual or your three year old son insists that God made a mistake and he is really a girl, what do you do?  Like a bomb being dropped, this revelation has the potential to tear families apart.  Parents often feel scared, angry, confused, anxious, hopeless, and very alone.  Their hopes and dreams for their children are shaken and replaced with fears of discrimination, AIDS, and stigma.  For parents of the Christian faith, the questions may be even more complicated.  What does the Bible say?  How will my church react?  Will my child go to hell?  What does this mean for my faith?

The Need:

Over the years the Marin Foundation has received numerous requests for help, guidance, and advice from the parents and families of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) children.  Most of these parents identify as Christian and are struggling to reconcile their faith and the sexuality or gender identity of their child.  Although many resources exist for the parents and families of LGBTQ children, few of these resources offer a framework for exploring this issue from a loving Christ-like perspective.  Therefore, the Marin Foundation is launching a Parent Resource Initiative to identify the needs of Christian parents of LGBTQ children and then develop new resources to help them keep their faith AND love their child at the same time.

The Marin Foundation: 

The purpose of the Marin Foundation is to help build bridges between the LGBTQ community and the church in a non-threatening, research and biblically oriented fashion.  More information can be found on our websites, www.themarinfoundation.org and www.loveisanorientation.com

WE NEED YOUR HELP!!!  

Our goal is to interview 200 Christian parents of LGBTQ children as well as others involved in supporting families (therapists, support group leaders, etc.).  We want to hear your story! 

We are looking for a representative sample of parents from all over the United States, of all ages, ethnic backgrounds and ranges of Christian beliefs.  Whether your child came out to you two days ago or twenty years ago, we would love to hear about your experience. 

Participation consists of a written survey and an interview.  The interviews generally take 1 to 2 hours and can be done in person (within the Chicago area), over the phone, or through Skype at your convenience.  The survey is online and takes about thirty minutes to complete.  All information is kept confidential.

A Safe Space

We would like to provide a safe space for you to share your story without fear of condemnation or judgment.  Regardless of your religious, cultural, political, or other views on this subject, we want to know what this experience has been like for you.

To Participate: 

Please contact Laura Statesir at the Marin Foundation for more information.   You can email her at Laura@themarinfoundation.org or call 773-572-5983.

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Rev. Alden Johnson: “A Grandfather Speaks”

“Grandpa, can I hold your hand?” asks my four-year old granddaughter as we walk on the sidewalk of South Street in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. “Of course!” is my enthusiastic response. Soon her twin sister catches up to us and wants to hold my hand as well. Not much can make a grandparent happier that holding hands with his twin granddaughters. Of course, they know that at a street crossing, they must hold the hand of an adult. They’ve been taught that by their mothers.

“Their mothers” is not a typo. My granddaughters have two mothers. One is, of course, our daughter. They live in a neighborhood where a two-mom family doesn’t raise eyebrows. Their preschool has two-mom families, two-dad families, single-parent families, mom-and dad families. It’s just the way things are. The church that our daughter and her spouse attend has the same family diversity. The lead pastor is openly gay and lives with his same-gender partner. It is not an issue! A walk in the park reveals ethnic diversity and different family constellations. Could this be a fulfillment of the prayer we repeat Sunday after Sunday, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven?” I’m confident the answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

Yes, the word “spouse” was not a mistake either. Our daughter and her partner were united in marriage by a Presbyterian clergywoman who later made national news when she was reprimanded for performing another same-gender wedding. (Charges against her were recently dismissed.) It was a lovely ceremony with about 100 family members and friends gathered to celebrate the occasion. Incidentally there were eight ordained Covenant clergy at that wedding as well as several members from the congregation that I previously served.  Everyone from our family was in attendance and wonderfully supportive of the newly married couple. It was a great party!  It is legal in Massachusetts for same-gender couples to be married. Shouldn’t it be that way everywhere?

Well, we mean to do our part!  This past June my wife and I co-hosted a house party sponsored by Mainers United for Marriage. This is a coalition of groups banded together to support the ballot initiative this November to allow same-gender marriage in the State of Maine, which was defeated three years ago. We and many others hope and are working for its success this time.  We believe that folks are increasingly aware that being gay or lesbian is innate and not a choice and that no one should be denied a lifelong commitment through marriage.

The picture may be becoming clearer–not only am I a grandfather and a father but also an ordained Covenant pastor, a graduate of North Park Seminary (Class of 1964), and have served Covenant churches for almost 30 years. Furthermore, I am passionately committed to the notion that people, no matter what their God-given sexual identity, have the right to formalize Their love for another person through marriage. As for many, this stance and these convictions didn’t just happen. There are stories, events along the way, that helped to mold what I stand for now.

The religious stance in my childhood home was conservative and evangelical. We didn’t talk about sex and most certainly didn’t discuss alternative sexual identities. I have faint recollections of high school locker room comments about someone being “gay,” but I’m not sure I was aware of what that meant. Reflecting on my two years at North Park College(1956 – 58), I don’t recall thinking of classmates being lesbian or gay. However as time went on and my awareness progressed, I began to hear that some were. Later, with further thought and exposure, my rational response to the “gay issue” was one of openness and acceptance, although my visceral reaction to same-sex couples showing affection was discomfort.

Another “marker event” occurred in March, 1987. I had served the Covenant Congregational Church of Waltham, Massachusetts for 13 years. Two other churches, both American Baptist, and our church sponsored a Lenten Study Series entitled, “A Christian’s Look at Social Issues.”  I was the primary organizer. One session topic was “Alternative Life Styles—Homosexuality.”  Twenty five years later that doesn’t sound very dramatic, but if any readers can place themselves in that moment in time in a Covenant church along with two Baptist churches bringing in a resource person (an ordained Southern Baptist and PhD candidate at Boston University) to address this topic and lead a discussion, you realize that although it probably wasn’t quite “cutting edge,” it wasn’t far behind.

My exposure and comfort level were greatly enhanced in the early 1990’s as my wife worked in the graphic arts department of a nationally known magazine. Several co-workers were openly gay. Often at social gatherings with these folks we would be in the distinct minority as a straight couple.

Many of you have read Lynda McGraw’s poignant piece “My Beloved Brother” on Coming Out Covenant. I presided at her brother’s memorial service in the Covenant Congregational Church of Waltham in 1996. Mark had been in a confirmation class that I taught. His parents were close friends, so I had been aware of Mark being gay through many conversations with them. I knew that he had become ill and suffered beside them. I remember vividly gathering with Mark’s family and his partner, James, to plan the service. I wanted to be fully supportive. I hope that I was. It was a beautiful moment in the sanctuary of the Waltham church.

Because I’m a Covenant pastor, some will wonder how I can assume this open, affirming stance on LGBT issues. How can I disregard Scripture passages that seem to condemn homosexual behavior? My answer is neither profound nor unique. I simply ask, “How can we expect the biblical authors to have a positive approach to homosexuality without the evidence and insight we have now?” Why can we not label these verses as culturally tainted as are passages presuming that the earth is flat, slavery is acceptable, women must not speak in church  (certainly not with an uncovered head), divorced people must not be pastors, etc., etc.?  Peter Gomes’s The Good Book brought clarity to my thinking about these Biblical injunctions. He calls typical church views of homosexuality “the last prejudice.” I’m not sure I agree it’s the “last prejudice,” but it’s surely a prejudice the church should fight to eradicate. I’m absolutely convinced that, facing a choice of Scriptural interpretation, love of neighbor trumps everything.

Obviously I am very troubled by the current stance of our denomination, but I am confident that as our society progresses in understanding and affirmation, so the Covenant church will eventually grow. Other denominations have taken the lead and yes, have paid a price, but I suspect God cares more for people and principle than for impressive statistics!

In my 74 years, I’ve shed notions here and there and acquired new understandings along the way. I thank God and the people who have aided my growth. I intend to work and support to the best of my ability in my remaining years those principles that have become part and parcel of my being.  Of course, there will always be time to enjoy my beautiful granddaughters, watch them grow and become gracious women, and be thankful for their mothers who have given them life and, like all mothers, want all that is good for their children. That makes me as happy as my grandaughters wishing to hold my hand does now!

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I Am Being Weaved: Matt Vickers

I am Gay and I am Christian.

I am done hiding. My past has laid a lot of burdens on me and I couldn’t be happy and I couldn’t be myself.  For so long, I had no idea who I was, I was afraid to be who I was and was afraid what people would think of me. I battled with identity issues for a long time and was afraid to confront them.

So here I am and here is my story. I graduated from North Park Spring 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Advertising and a Certificate in Nonprofit. Like I said, my past has laid a lot of burdens on me. For 20 years, I kept a lot of pain and suffering to myself. I did not want it to contain me any longer so I told a few of my friends and began questioning my sexuality and began drinking heavily to ignore my insecurities. As I continued to drink heavily and created a new addiction to porn I did what I knew best and that is to run. I continued to run from my insecurities and ignored all the emotions and issues that were bottled up. I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions and never had friends that cared about my personal life. As I continued to run, I pushed away friends and did not allow anyone in.

At this time, I wasn’t part of a community until I transferred to North Park. The community at North Park was loving and supportive but I was too afraid to expose myself.  I just continued to drown my emotions and pain with alcohol and continued my porn addiction. I did what I knew best, and that was to not allow people in my life and continue to drink. As I continued these habits, in the fall Semester Junior Year I began to slowly collapse and slipped into depression and took off the semester. As I began counseling, I was afraid of the outcome so I did what I knew best and that was to run, yet again. It wasn’t until I met Amy (North Park Student), that I really trusted that there was a person in this world who would love me for whoever I was and whatever I went through.  She was the very first person I allowed into my personal life and she was my very best friend from that point on.  I relied on her prior to graduating where things began to collapse quickly and I slipped into a deep dark depression that changed my life dramatically.

At this time, I left my pride behind me and began counseling again. At that moment of joining counseling I knew I had issues that would resurface especially my sexual identity. This was frightening because I had never allowed myself to be true to my sexuality or let it be exposed because I thought my family would deny me. When the sexual identity issues started to resurface I began to think I was ill for having same sex attraction. At the same time, I thought I would overcome the same sex attraction through counseling and the support of family and friends. As I continued to attend counseling the depression worsened and I began to have severe anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and no hope. Here is a blog from the midst of depression (October 27, 2011):

“Through this process, I have felt alone and afraid. More and more, I want to end my life. I feel that I have no support with friends and family; no one seems to understand. I repeat and repeat my feelings of sadness, suicide but nothing seems to trigger friends and family. Simply, I just need support. The hard part is not knowing what support I need. You can continue to try an help but it won’t be enough. It’s a continuous feeling of not having enough support and love. This continues to be a battle.

When I continue to reach out to family and friends; nothing seems to be done. When will family and friends support me, when I try and commit suicide? This is not what I want to do but when will they get it. I don’t want friends and family only there when something tragic happens, i need the support now.”

This is just a small glimpse of the depression I encountered.

Looking back, I think, how did I get through this? When I really think about it, I realize that it was a God thing. Each day Christ was carrying me through the depression. I say this because in retrospect I know there was absolutely no way I could have carried myself through the depression. (James 1:2-8)

When I really began questioning my sexuality and coming to terms with it I began to pray daily. I researched about homosexuality and watched documentaries. I knew if I was gay, I needed to know where it came from–in the terms of history and understand what the bible says about it. As I began to slowly come to terms with my sexuality I continued to pray and allow God to be part of this.

I remember the day; I finally admitted it to myself. I was sitting in my parent’s basement and admitted to myself that I am gay. At that moment, I knew for a fact, that Christ had planned that for me and I was born that way. I was proud and stood strong in my sexuality because Christ created me this way and so, I came out to my friends. All my fears and thoughts about being abandoned, abused and not loved by friends were torn apart. I remember my friend Becca saying, “Matt, I missed you and I love you,” and I knew that I had friends that were supportive and would love me no matter what. I felt comfortable in my own skin for the first time in my entire life.

Through the coming out process, my North Park Community was the biggest support system through the coming out process to my family and without them I would have never made it. My coming out process went something like this:

On November 9th: My parents asked me to stay home and wait for a delivery but fortunately the delivery ended up coming in the evening. I prayed all day and talked to my (North Park) friends and they prayed for me over the phone and told their friends to pray too. I was loved and blessed. On this day, I wrote my coming out letter and came out to my parents. The rest is my parent’s story to tell.

All I know is each coming out story is different and some people get denied by their family or their family is completely supportive. Whatever the story is, we are all there for each other and you have to find your family whether that is friends or a Church that supports you. Fortunately, I have both. My friends and Church are my family right now and I know that this is a process for my family and it may take a few years, or even 10 years.

My quote during all this: “My puzzle may be complicated but he still knows where the pieces belong.”

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Evolution : Melissa Petersen

Melissa Petersen is a Christian, a speech therapist, a non-conformist, a dog lover, a kid lover, a feminist, a dancer, a quiet one, and a brave one. She lives in Seattle with her husband, her dog, her immediate family and friends. This was first published on her blog.  She says, “I write to keep myself from hiding.”

Our president has been mute about gay marriage for the past 3 years, and recently announced that he has finished his evolution and come out in favor. Finally. It’s not like we couldn’t see that one coming.

It has made me re-think my own position. Not my actual belief – that has been stable for a while (albeit, a relatively short while compared with the rest of my life). But my public position has been unstated, unclear, for some time. Hearing my commander in chief take the plunge has made my own silence more noticeable. Probably no one else has noticed, but maybe they have. And maybe even if they have not noticed, they should.

I grew up in a moderately conservative household, attending an Evangelical Free Church, with many surrounding influences much more conservative than my immediate family. In high school I was decidedly “anti-”, from both a civil/moral (“it’s bad for society, and/or unnatural”), and also a religious (“God says it’s wrong”) standpoint. It wasn’t until college that I started realizing what the real world looked like, and reevaluating my standpoint on many issues.

The first big issue I remember struggling with was women’s equality. The EFCM is “complementarian,” meaning that I’m a fully valuable person, but for reasons related to my uterus I’m unfit to do various churchy things, and am supposed to submit to all the men in my life. I vividly remember hearing a sermon in my childhood church where the pastor put three chairs on the stage–a big chair, a medium chair, and a small chair–and explained that [male] God sat in the big chair, men sat in the medium chair, and women sat in the small chair. It was an explanation of the “natural” hierarchy of authority in the world. In the sermon I was supposed to be comforted in my little chair by the fact that at least I got to sit in a chair (as opposed to sitting on the floor), and that men didn’t get the biggest chair. The pastor was apologetic as he explained that he didn’t make it up; it was what God said, and he was just letting us know. I got a small chair with a wobbly leg. The men got a nice cushy chair that was bigger than mine, and [male] God got the throne. I was not comforted at the time, and in college I had some knock-down-drag-out screaming matches with [male] God about that one.

A turning point was when I prayed to the Holy Spirit to either a) help me accept what I had been taught, if it were true, or b) show me how to rectify the truth I felt in my heart that women were NOT created as lesser creatures with the truth of the Bible. The Holy Spirit was alarmingly responsive; She immediately began to open my eyes and heart to better teaching, more historically accurate interpretations of disputed Bible passages, and theologians who based their belief in equality on the Bible which I loved. I was thrilled. I also left the church of the chairs for a Covenant church who saw me as a full person. That was nine years ago.

In between then and now I’ve had small awakenings around a variety of issues: global warming, evolution, education, organic food, capitalism, other issues of sexuality… I’ve definitely rejected many of the thinly-veiled political ideologies I was taught in Sunday school and youth group (“the truth” they called it), though none of those smaller rejections got me labeled as a heretic… yet. The Covenant church has been mainly supportive of these enlightenments, which has been wonderful.

Fast forward several years and repeat, only this time the topic is homosexuality. After watching the response of Bible-thumping Christians to the issue (appalling), and successfully separating civil rights from religious belief (a separation that enabled me to see the grave injustice in denying civil rights to LGBT individuals, and support civil unions, etc), I was still troubled. I *wanted* to accept homosexuality, but hadn’t figured out how to do it and value the Bible also without the sort of mental gymnastics that require you to accept that 2+2=5. One of the events which pushed on me was learning that a close Christian friend of mine was gay, and meeting her girlfriend. It took me a while, but I finally had the courage to ask the same question I asked back in college. “Please show me how to accept this hard teaching which I feel is wrong, or show me how it is wrong.” Once again, She gave me an answer with unsettling swiftness. I’ve now left the Covenant church for an “open and accepting” church, mostly for other reasons, but I wish the Covenant had been able to grow with me through that process. I’m happy where I am, but I miss my church.

For at least two years I have been saying “I don’t know” when people asked me what I thought about the morality of homosexuality. I explained that I used to think it was wrong, but didn’t know what to think anymore. It was a true answer at the time, but holding on to that answer now would be cowardly.

So I related to President Obama when he made his announcement earlier this month. He’s been thinking about it for a long time, and come hell or high water, the right thing to say is still the right thing to say. I applaud his courage, and am working on mustering my own.

I am pro-LGBT. I believe all loving couples should be able to marry. I am anti-LGBT discrimination. I do not believe this is an issue of immorality, or inconsistent with my Christian faith.

I’ve come out.

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Putting a Stake In The Ground

Tim Johnson is a Covenant “preacher’s kid” and rare books librarian at the University of Minnesota. He has an undergraduate degree in history from North Park College and graduate degrees in Library Science and Theological Studies. For eleven years Tim was the archivist for the Covenant Church and  North Park University. He is married, has three children, and a twenty-month-old granddaughter. 

“Regardless of what moral or theological positions churches hold regarding gay and lesbian sexual behavior, all Christians can and should unite around a commitment to defend people’s basic rights. But the church cannot in good conscience take a passive approach to this question. It is, after all, other Christians who often have taken the lead in this thinly disguised but mean-spirited assault on human dignity. Biblically based Christians who operate out of a more loving and compassionate framework must meet the challenge head-on and forcefully oppose homophobia.” — Jim Rice, Sojourners

What is amazing to me is that the above lines were penned eighteen years ago—and we’re still debating the issues. With this in mind, two seemingly unrelated events from last weekend continued nagging my spirit. The first occurred Friday evening, a retirement party for a colleague with whom I’ve worked closely. It was a delightful occasion held in the air-conditioned pavilion of a downtown park, complete with excellently catered food and drink, sweet cake, and a short program of recognition, including gifts from his friends and a letter from the President of the United States. The second event transpired during the Sunday morning worship service at my church. We were asked to think a bit about why we are a church, why we gather on Sunday. As part of that reflection the congregation was invited to read together the church’s “purpose statement” from its constitution: “We covenant to cultivate a community of worship committed to prayer, preaching and study of the word of God, the celebration of the sacraments, and fellowship across gender, race, age, culture, and class. In so doing we covenant to equip loving, giving, growing Christians to reach out with the good news of Jesus Christ, evangelizing the lost, ministering to those in need, and seeking justice for the oppressed.”

It was the clause “…fellowship across gender, race, age, culture, and class” that grabbed my attention and troubled my soul. It troubled me because Friday night’s party was for a gay friend, on the eve of the Twin Cities Pride festival, I was one of the few “straight” people in the room, and at a guess most of the rest of the guests would have little or nothing good to say about the Church. And it troubled me because I really wonder whether we as a church believe what we say, that we can truly fellowship across gender, race, age, culture, and class. I have a hard time imagining many of my fellow parishioners at Friday night’s party. Impediments in the relationship exist on both sides. If my friend is any indication of the LGBT community’s general view of organized religion then we have a long way to go. There is a suspicion in the community, born of experience, that seems very difficult to overcome.

So I can’t really fathom the “big picture” here. I need to think in terms of small steps, of individual and discrete actions, that put me in “a more loving and compassionate framework.” That, in part, was why I was at the party last Friday night. I was there as a friend, to celebrate a generous and committed colleague. He and I do not agree on many things; we’ve had far-ranging discussions on any number of topics. But when things really mattered, when we got down to brass tacks, it was easy to stand shoulder to shoulder with him. It was easy to stand with him when we were targeted at work through hateful letters, posters, and email by a Christian(?) pastor and his congregation from the Midwest. And it was easy to visit him in the hospital when diabetes and a faulty heart threatened to take him from us. That’s what friends do for friends. I don’t know that he’ll ever darken the church door. It’s not an immediate concern of mine. But his friendship is my concern, something that I can tend to. The rest I offer in prayer, to the tender mercies and grace of God.

It is because of that friendship—along with the relationships I have with many other LGBT colleagues (one of them a fellow“PK”)—and what I trust is a prayerful, careful, biblically contemplative approach to life that I need to now put a stake in the ground; I need to publicly state my opposition to the marriage amendment that will appear on the 2012 ballot in Minnesota. It is, for me, no longer a religious question. It is a question of civil rights, of political process, of friendship, of blessing.

The Preamble to the state constitution reads: “We, the people of the state of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings and secure the same to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution.” Our political ancestors understood the distinction between civil and religious liberties; they were interested in protecting both. They saw this in terms of blessings, not curses. We should continue to be about the business of blessing, of securing rights, not taking them away.

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