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Can We Talk?

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By Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
“Gay Christian? Yes! Campaign

I love the fall.  This is an exciting time when we start preparing the earth, laying the groundwork and nurturing the land for the promise of future blooms.

Such is the work of our fall season with GIFT. This is an exciting time as we create and collaborate with others. This is the time we nurture one another with the hope of future allies and  stronger lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith. We pray for and act to help create a stronger and vibrant church community where all God’s children are welcomed, encouraged and allowed to share their God-given gifts.  Some upcoming new programs seem like answers to prayer.

After a summer break, our support group for all ages – GRITS – held its first meeting of the new season in September. It was an exciting session with good conversation including one with an ally from a conservative church who wanted to know how to get the conversation going in his church. It is always inspiring and hopeful when allies join the conversation. All are welcome.

GRITS has decided to meet twice a month on Wednesdays with the first session of the month allowing more time for talking and support and the second session with more time to explore issues and get to know one another better with activities. To that end we are exploring discussions following specific movies. Other second session events could include book clubs, dinners, outings, speakers. Give us your ideas as we look forward to seeing old and new faces on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. in the Vine at the First Place Building, 207 East Fulton Street.

It was wonderful that an ally wanted to know how to get more involved and we provided mutual encouragement. Here is another fantastic opportunity for all people of faith who want to learn how to have the conversation in their church communities. The nationally recognized Institute for Welcoming Resources will hold its “Building an Inclusive Church”  three-day conference in Grand Rapids on October 27-29 at Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church, 514 Eastern Ave. SE.

Through sound Biblical and theological education, faith-based community organizing skills, meaningful worship, and discussion of lesbian, gay, bisexuality and transgender issues, this conference will prove helpful to lay leaders, clergy, denominational leaders and members and leaders in denominational LGBT groups.

The premise of the conference comes from the belief that “every person, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, deserves to be honored as a beloved child of God and celebrated at Christ’s Table.”

“Building an Inclusive Church” offers powerful tools to help the Church be the church it is meant to be – just, loving and extravagantly welcome.”

This is exciting news for West Michigan. The $25 conference is hosted by “All One Body” and “Room For All,” two inclusive-building groups that come from the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America faith traditions.  The conference is open to all denominations and organizers are hoping to attract a large number of people from various Western Michigan churches and denominations, said Sheryl Mulder spokesperson for All One Body.

She said both the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America have “the same current struggles with the official stances on LGBT issues within our denomination and we are working towards helping our denominations begin to dialog and listen to different viewpoints.”

Mulder said she recognizes that the Christian Reformed Church “has a lot of work to do” to be fully inclusive. ”We feel that baby steps are what we are hoping for at this point. We also recognized that change on the current stance of the Christian Reformed Church will be much more effective if it is created from the ground up (laity) versus from the top down (Synod).”  She is hopeful that members of the Christian Reformed Church will engage in the conference.

The Institute is an ecumenical consortium of denominations in the Welcoming Movement. They have full scholarships available and the deadline to register is October 11. So make this a wonderful National Coming Out Day present to yourself and register.

I know I intend to go. I hope to see you there. For more information and to register for the conference visit www.WelcomingResources.org/Community.Org.htm

Unacceptable!

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By Theresa D. McClellan
GIFT’s Faith Advocacy Coordinator
“Gay Christian? Yes!” Campaign Coordinator

Theresa McClellan

Unacceptable.

These are the only words to describe the actions and non-action at the Gay Day celebration in a Grand Rapids neighborhood park where Bible-toting characters spewed hate and violence toward women and anyone within earshot.

On Saturday Aug. 4 the East Hills Neighborhood Association organized “Gay Day,” as a day to recognize and celebrate diversity, the current and historical presence of gays in their community, and an inclusive spirit.

The family-friendly event featured food, local bands and educational booths about organizations such as the National Organization for Women and TEAM (Tolerance, Equality and Awareness Movement).  Our Gays In Faith Together (GIFT) “Gay Christian? Yes!” table was scheduled to be there, but a family crisis kept me away.

Unfortunately, nothing deterred protestors from “Gay Day” in Cherry Park. But this was a different kind of protest. These “protestors” made vile threats against some of the women in the park, threatened to rape them and cited Bible passages as support for their threats. Other women reported that the men suggested someone should put a bullet in their head.  Much of this vitriol was caught on video and audio tape.

This goes far beyond free speech. This is hate speech. Violent-inciting speech. Fear-inducing speech.  The kind of speech that if not slammed as unacceptable and unfitting of anyone purporting to be a person of faith, is seen as acquiescence.  These characters can be dismissed as fringe, and attention seekers, but their message of Biblically supported violence and hate leaves a stench in the air that has to be addressed.

The Bible can and has been used to support violence and dismissal of women, foreigners, blacks.  As a follower of Christ, I use the Bible to show expressions of God’s love for all and to share the Christ message of celebration, acceptance and inclusion of all that God has made.

I am calling on other followers of Christ to reject and dismiss these Bible-toting characters and their message of oppression and hate which marred the day in the park.

Silence is unacceptable.

If silence is allowed to be the norm in this community, the Grand Rapids Police Department would feel no compulsion to change their stance and say they would now investigate the matter.

Initially, the GRPD said there was nothing they could do, despite video evidence of threats. Police allegedly said threats could be taken seriously if they were made over the phone.  Really?

That response led people in the LGBT community to relay ,through social media, other acts of violence against them that were allegedly ignored by police. This created a sense that not everyone deserves police protection. Again, unacceptable.

But members of NOW and TEAM and yes GIFT’s  “Gay Christian? Yes!” Campaign are raising their voices to say the violence and threats of violence are unacceptable in this community.

I have a special message to my lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally brothers and sisters of faith.

The days of “just sitting with it” because you think no one hears you or sees you, or will stand with you in solidarity, are over.

For too long we have sat silently in church pews, in classrooms, in public places, where others have felt it was their right to create an atmosphere of shame and fear.

Because you raised your voices as victims of oppression, and as oppressors of oppression a light has been shined on this community.  We will continue to hold up that light.

We will not be dimmed.

Gift Joins Music and Justice Festival Friday

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By Theresa D. McClellan
GIFT’s Faith Advocacy Coordinator
“Gay Christian? Yes!” Campaign Coordinator

Theresa McClellan

When you are a small community church with a mission to listen and be heard, what do you do?

If the church is the “Square-Inch Community,” you bring multi-textured music to the masses and raise the bar by highlighting tough social justice issues happening in our community.

So that’s exactly what Pastor Steve DeRuiter chose to do by creating the free “Inch Fest” concert. The concert will be 4 p.m to 10 p.m. Friday June 20 in a parking lot in the 1000 block of Wealthy Street SE across the street from the Sparrows Coffee House.

The event features six bands offering music styles from indie alternative, to folk to Christian hip-hop to punk. And when your not jammin’ with the sounds, you have the chance to get more involved with six local social justice groups – including GIFT – that will have information tables and representatives who work on tackling issues of affordable housing, sex trafficking, safe neighborhoods, and safe and affirming places to worship for the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender communities.

“We want to promote local goodness,” said DeRuiter in explaining how he chose the participating social justice organizations. “Our church is really interested in promoting local business and justice organizations and art” said DeRuiter. His small church community meets Sundays in an upper room at the Inner City Christian Federation Bldg. at 920 Cherry St. SE.

The social justice organizations represented will include the Manasseh Project which is working on educating others on what is called the sex-slave industry occurring right here in West Michigan. The project is an outreach of Wedgewood Christian Services which is working to end the sexual exploitation of men, women and children.

“They have stats on how many of these victims are homeless and from the LGBT community, especially when LGBT kids get kicked out of their homes,” said DeRuiter.

Too often, LGBT youths and young adults are ostracized by their families – based on church teachings – and wind up disconnected and on the streets.

GIFT and the “Gay Christian? Yes!” Campaign, which works to spread the message that you can be gay and Christian, will also be present. Our persistent message of hope and affirmation is crucial for youths and all who are told they are worthless and something to be dismissed just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning.

To be able to spread our message of hope and affirmation in the neighborhoods and on the streets of Grand Rapids is indeed a blessing for GIFT and for all those who will hear. Our website includes a growing list of inclusive churches and more churches are wanting to know how they can embrace all of God’s children. We regularly connect with people of faith who attest to the difference it has made in their lives to have found a supportive faith community.

Pastor DeRuiter is a Christian Reformed Church pastor whose small community of believers come from the parent church of Eastern Avenue Christian Reformed Church. ”I want to figure out how we can best be a church for our LGBT brothers and sisters, even though our Christian Reformed Church has miles to travel. How can we approach this as a church? We have gay members, they just want to know how to be a disciple of Christ,” said the pastor.

So one way to reach out to multiple communities is to create a festival. He will not be preaching at the six-hour event. He will have free Bibles available and a box for prayer requests and literature about their church. It will mostly be multiple musicians, diverse information and a chance to get to know and learn about each other. There will also be vegan treats for sale.

Other justice groups expected are Safe Haven Ministries, which provides help for women in abusive relationships. The Inner City Christian Federation which helps create affordable housing and the East Hills Council of Neighborhoods which works on community development and building strong, safe, connected neighborhoods. Square Inch Church is in the East Hills neighborhood.

“We are letting people know we are a Christian community in this neighborhood and we aim to be a safe place for you. My prayer is that people will know who we are and seek out questions about us and the universe in a Christian context,” said DeRuiter.

He calls the expected music the “the Best local Band Lineup of the Summer.” They are:

Heartside Hooligans: http://heartsidehooligans.bandcamp.com/album/heartside-hooligans-2

Care: http://care.bandcamp.com/

Circle Maybe: http://circlemaybe.bandcamp.com/

Alert (hip hop from Chicago) http://www.facebook.com/thealertlive/app_204974879526524

The Soil and the Sun: http://thesoilandthesun.com/

Cains and Abels: http://cainsandabels.tumblr.com/

Ghost Heart: http://www.ghostheart.com/

For more information on Inch Fest, search “Inch Fest 7/20 Free Admission!” on Facebook.

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Churches, please tell us of your programs and efforts to include the LGBT community and we will help spread the word on Theresaʼs Table. Send story ideas and church information to Theresa@GayChristianYes.org

In Joy,

Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Faith Together (GIFT)
616-774-0446
www.GaysInFaithTogether.org

Who Are We to Hinder God?

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Who Are We to Hinder God?
By Rev. Jill R. Russell 

Rev. Jill R. Russell

“Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people who  have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Acts 10.47

Whenever I read this text I immediately think that it is as timely and prophetic today as it was to Peter and the early church when it was first shared. Peter speaks these words with wonderment and conviction when he realizes that the Holy Spirit has fallen on Gentiles just as freely and fully as the Spirit has come upon his fellow Jewish believers. This passage expresses the core of my conviction: God’s Spirit is alive and active in the world and we see that Spirit of God moving and working through people of various sexual orientations and identities. There is no distinction. If God makes no distinction, then why would we? It seems so obvious, so simple. I am grateful beyond measure to pastor a congregation where this is the principle by which we live and serve. I’ve only been serving my current congregation since 2008. Their journey toward becoming a Room for All congregation began long before I came. Some initial conversations began earlier but the real in depth discernment came in the early to mid 1990s. I realized recently that their process of discernment paralleled my own.

It was 20 years ago that my understanding about homosexuality began to change. I was raised in the Reformed Church in southwestern Michigan and held very traditional views about human sexuality and marriage. It never even occurred to me that people could be both Christian and gay. And then I took a course in college in which we read “Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today” by L. William Countryman. The book took us through a very careful reading of Scripture and it opened my eyes to a whole new way of seeing this issue. By the end of the class, I was stunned by how narrow my views had been. It would be another year or more before I would meet anyone I knew to be gay or lesbian and several years before I would see how personal this question in my own life had become. Mine was an intellectual and spiritual conversion driven by an intense study of God’s Word. I’ll spare you the long intellectual road I went down as I examined the several texts that seem to condemn homosexuality in Scripture.

I’ll share just one insight because it reflects the most troubling of questions Christians sometimes ask. Did God create human beings for heterosexual relationships? If that was God’s intention in creation, then it gets tricky to discern what to do with those who do not find themselves within that typical pattern of sexuality. What makes a relationship holy? Can the relationships of gay and lesbian couples be counted by God and by God’s church as holy? I believe they can and they are. When you read the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 and consider the question of why God created us as sexual beings, the answer in Scripture is more profound and nuanced than simply procreation. The reason God creates a partner for Adam is because it is not good for human beings to be alone. Human partnering is created in response to human loneliness. If, then, the blessing of human sexuality is for intimacy as much as procreation, how can we deny that intimacy to those who fall in love with someone of the same gender? Do we say you may not enjoy the comfort, companionship, passion, and joy of married life? God said that it is not good for human beings to be alone. Sexuality is a gift from God for our pleasure and fulfillment as much as for procreation.

The bottom line for me is that the Bible does not address the modern situation of same-sex relationships directly. Jesus never speaks about it at all. As I have listened to Scripture and as I have listened to the faith experience of my fellow gay and lesbian believers, I am convinced that the Church must take a stand for the full inclusion of all people regardless of sexual orientation. And I do not mean a quiet tolerance. I am not advocating a don’t-ask-and-don’t-tell policy but genuine embrace and affirmation. We need to celebrate the gifts God gives to all people regardless of their sexual orientation and we need to provide the same support for these relationships as the Christian community provided for me when I married the person God gave me to love.

Just look at the depth of faith and the contributions in God’s realm that have been accomplished by people who are both gay and Christian. The Spirit has clearly fallen upon those of us who are bisexual and gay, lesbian and straight, male and female and transgendered. And if that is true, then how can the church exclude any of us from the body? God has clearly blessed and gifted people of all sexual orientations with the presence and indwelling of the Holy Spirit. God created us for fully intimate partnership. We need to support those relationships and welcome the gifts of the Spirit wherever they come. If God gave lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people the same gift that God gave to heterosexual Christians when they believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who are we to hinder God?

Click here to read more about Rev. Jill R. Russell.

Message of Hope Now on Buses

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By Theresa D. McClellan
GIFT’s Faith Advocacy Coordinator
“Gay Christian? Yes!” Campaign Coordinator

Theresa McClellan

Starting today, the streets of West Michigan will seem a little more encouraging as three buses bearing a message of hope hits the street.

From now through the end of June 2012, our ”Gay Christian? Yes!” message will be seen up close and personal  by pedestrians and motorists alike.  The “queen-sized” sign appears on the side of three buses – #266, #296 and #285 – with daily changing routes. I am excited to see this next phase of getting out the message of God’s unyielding love and we will be sharing with you ways to be even more involved.

When we first talked about spreading the word with this campaign message, I had visions of a dejected young man or woman sitting in a car near a stopped bus while recalling a particularly homophobic message from the pulpit.  With the bus’ movement, the motorist’s eyes would see and focus on the message, visit our website and be filled with encouragement upon discovering a growing list of churches, programs and individuals willing and able to embrace, celebrate, challenge and nurture all of God’s creations.

Plymouth United Church of Christ took the lead and stepped up to make the first month happen, purchasing three bus ads for just over $1,000 . Many churches have plentiful ministries, but resources are spread thin, so it was amazing for me to sit in a meeting of the church’s Open and Affirming Committee and listen to individuals and other church committee representatives decide to pool funds to give this moving gift to West Michigan.

It is especially encouraging that these buses will appear throughout June during Pride month.  Our hope is that other churches will pick up the message in future months and spread it throughout the land sparking conversations, engagement, study, and action for the rest of the year.

Now that we have three buses, I imagine other churches and church members asking themselves what they are doing to push this movement forward. How can they start and grow the conversation and what kinds of changes will occur because of those conversations?

I think of the riders, young and old, who may enter these buses and wonder what that would mean for them to see and hear “Yes!”   What would that mean for lesbian, gay,  bisexual and transgender youths kicked out of their homes and into the streets. What kinds of programs would rise up to meet them and let them know they are not damaged or wrong or unworthy.

What impact will this have for the politician riding in a car and stopped alongside a bus bearing a message that tears at the belief system that Christianity looks and loves only one way. If truly thoughtful, how will that change the way a policy-maker becomes a leader.

The “Gay Christian? Yes!” message is just one of many messages to come from the Gays In Faith Together organization that will stress God’s love for all God’s creations and the beauty that occurs when we accept and honor all that God has made and meant us to be.  Because we live in a predominately Christian culture and Christianity historically has been at the root of oppression against the LGBT community, we are focusing on this message of hope that Yes, you can be gay and Christian.

We are also highlighting our churches that are spreading this message of hope through conversations, prayer, interaction. Throughout the month of June you can engage in any of the free sessions “What the Bible Really Says About Gay Christians (May Surprise You)” held from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday a St. John’s Congregational United Church of Christ., 1934 Bridge St. NW.  These free thought-provoking sessions led by the Rev. Bill Lyons are enlightening, challenging and encouraging. Join us!

And if you can’t join the Sunday interactive sessions, return to our site during the month of June on Mondays where you will find a series of informative and engaging video essays by Lisa Daily on the subject. I am sure these will spark good conversation in our forums.

Because we know that not everyone is Christian, we at Gays In Faith Together, are also examining the messaging that comes to other faiths.  How do you reconcile your faith and your sexuality? In this year of Interfaith Dialogue, we are seeking to explore the possibility of an Interfaith Coming-Out Day Service in October. If there is interest in creating a planning team around this, we would love to hear from you and the experiences of members of the LGBT community in other faith communities.

We are living in an exciting time and you can see the Spirit moving in this work. Now we are in the season of Pentecost, please check out our Sunday essays called Pentecost People written by theologians, pastors and believers. And if so moved, please submit your own.

If you have enjoyed what we are doing and if you would like to know more about GIFT, consider stopping by the First United Methodist Church, 227 East Fulton Street 7 p.m. Tuesday June 5 for our membership and appreciation celebration. You can become a member that night or just come and get to know everyone and hear what we have done and are doing.

We invite you to bring a dessert or bottle of juice/soda to share. If you are not able, you are still most welcome to attend.

If you are not yet a member of GIFT, we welcome you to become a member Tuesday night when you arrive.  You will then be able to vote in the election of board members.  Membership dues are still $40/person or $55/couple.  Student/senior membership dues are $20/person or $35/couple.

Turn from Fulton onto Barclay.  Park in any of the church lots.  Enter the main church building at the northwest corner door off the parking lot behind the church.  Ask the greeter to direct you to the GIFT gathering.  Moving Forward.

In Joy,

Theresa D. McClellan
Faith Advocacy Coordinator
Gays In Faith Together (GIFT)
616-774-0446
www.GaysInFaithTogether.org

We Are the Pentecost People

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We Are the Pentecost People
By Theresa D. McClellan
GIFT’s “Gay Christian? Yes!” Campaign Coordinator

Theresa McClellan

I love Christmas and Easter, but as a woman of faith, Pentecost is the most exciting time for this is when faith meets action.

This is when the Holy Spirit poured out onto the followers of Christ; empowering them with wisdom, knowledge, faith, grace, healing powers, discernment and boldness. This is when miracles were rampant and when the miracle of hearing occurred so that suddenly, everyone could hear and understand the message of Christ’s life, love, death and Resurrection from the disciples in their own language.

As the head of the “Gay Christian? Yes!” Campaign, that scriptural story of making Everyone aware of God’s unyielding love is one of my favorite stories from the Book of Acts, which is one of my favorite books in the Bible.

You see, since unveiling our billboard campaign during Holy Week, we have been bringing a message of hope about God’s welcoming love to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, our families, our allies, and all who will listen.

Before returning to heaven, Christ promised his followers that he would not leave them alone. He would send the Holy Spirit, to be with them always. John 14:16.

In one passage in the Bible, the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples who are gathered in prayer during Pentecost, 50 days after Passover, when thousands of international or “foreign” people are in the land for a harvest festival.

The miracle is that everyone could understand the message in their own language. Because the message was not just for one group of people. Today in Grand Rapids, we do not necessarily have different languages hearing the message of God’s love, but we have people who have been told all their lives that if they live under the gay umbrella, God is not for them.

For some the idea of a gay Christian is just foreign. So our hope has been that through the “Easter Keeper” essay series, which ran during the 50 days of Easter, the multiple messages of God’s inspiring love in the lives of gay Christians and allies would be a beacon of hope.

Today we are starting the “Pentecost People” essay series where you will have the opportunity to share the gifts of the Spirit that God has left for everyone who believes in Christ’s promise.

- Pentecost People are people who are willing to tell the story of God’s work in their lives so all can hear and understand.

- Pentecost People are people like the men and women portrayed in the Book of Acts in the New Testament who realized and embraced Christ message – that was made clearer through the Holy Spirit – that God made everything and no one can call what God made profane or unclean. Acts 10:34-38

- Pentecost People are those who grew the early church by spreading Christ’s message of reaching out to all, excluding no one and embracing those on the margins of society.

“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Growing up Catholic, this is how I learned to start and end each prayer that left my lips.

These different names or identities for God are also how I learned to see and eventually understand God and God’s connection and direction in my life.

I was always familiar with “God the Father” and “God the Son. It is “God the Holy Spirit” – the entity that made its presence known to Christ’s disciples on Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Easter – that resonates deepest with me.
Since I’ve always read the Bible to see where I fit in, early on I saw “God the Holy Spirit” as the mothering, nurturing or feminine side of God.

This is what I call the “ooomph” of God, the powerhouse piece of the Trinity that brings together the whole story of Christianity, keeps it alive and vibrant and serves as a constant and divine reminder that God is still speaking.

Let all who can, hear.

Click Here to read more about Theresa McClellan.

Easter Keepers – By Alice Apol

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Easter Keepers
By Alice Apol 

Alice Apol

It was a Sunday afternoon.  We had just finished dinner, and my husband left to lead a worship service at a rest home.  Our guest, a local college student who frequently joined us for dinner, said, “I need to tell you something.”  With tear-filled voice, she proceeded to say, “I am gay,” and began to sob.  She had told her family earlier in the month; since we were very close to her, she wanted us to know, too.  We had a long conversation, and I did my best to speak words of comfort and support.  We love her; her sexual orientation would not alter our loving relationship with her.  It would only make us aware of the difficult path she might have to walk in the future, but the story goes on.

Since that Sunday years ago, we have spent much time together.  We later met her partner, also a local college student, attended their college graduation, and several years later, witnessed their civil union performed by Chaplain Jim Lucas at a very festive celebration.  Both of the young women’s families were there and supporting them, as were over 80 college and communities friends.  As Rev. Lucas said later, “This is the way it is supposed to be.”

The tears of that earlier revelation in our living room were later tears of joy and celebration for us, for their families and for all who came to celebrate this occasion.  All four parents spoke words of affirmation to the couple and the people gathered there echoed those words with warm hugs, words of congratulations, and best wishes for a happy life together.  And that has been their story; they went on to graduate school, then to meaningful employment, and found a church and community in Washington, D.C. that has continued to welcome them and use their many gifts in their jobs and in the ministry of their church.  One of them teaches a weekly Sunday School class of teenagers; they both have found a warm place and many supportive friends in their workplaces and neighborhood.

Last year they were legally married because Washington D.C. recognizes gay marriages. This young couple is a positive example of the power of acceptance and affirmation by family, friends, and wider community.  We can only tell this story in the firm hope that the day will come when this will not be an exceptional experience but the typical one for all gay people who desire to walk that same path toward wholeness and healing, whether as  individuals or  as a couple who pledge to live their lives together.

Easter Keepers – By Rev. Doug Van Doren

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God is Love
By Rev. Doug Van Doren

Rev. Doug Van Doren

God is love. Jesus embodied that love in his care and concern for all people, especially those whom society had marginalized. He continually challenged the religious establishment of his day to expand their understanding of who God found acceptable. Jesus’ ethic of extravagant welcome should be the model for the church today. That alone should put the church at the forefront in working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life, ministry, and leadership of church and society. Not only is exclusion an injustice to LGBTQ persons, but it weakens the church. For then, the church is bereft of their gifts, and is an incomplete body of Christ – a poor witness, indeed.

Rev. Doug Van Doren is pastor of Plymouth United Church of Christ in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The following declaration was fist adopted by the congregation on January 25, 1998 and revised on January 23, 2011:

An Open and Affirming Declaration

We believe we are called to be a church that celebrates and shares a common communion and the assurance that all are created by God, reconciled by Christ, and empowered by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

We believe that people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions are children of God.

We believe that the few Biblical passages most often used to justify condemnation of homosexuality were not intended to address loving, faithful, and just relationships between two persons of the same sex and maturity. Jesus was silent on the issue, but his demonstrated ethic of inclusive love is the basis for our actions.

We believe that all persons need and are entitled to a safe place for spiritual growth and mutual ministry.

We know that people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender have been injured, ignored, or condemned by the Church in most times and places and thus do not feel welcome.

We know that the church suffers when our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers and their gifts are excluded.

Therefore, we openly welcome persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning into the life and ministry of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ and affirm them in the loving committed ways that they live out who they are.

In so doing, we also align ourselves with positions taken by the General Synod of the United Church of Christ, its Michigan Conference and other congregations of the United Church of Christ and declare that Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ is an Open and Affirming Church.

Click here to read more about Rev. Doug Van Doren.

Easter Keepers – By Henry Salley

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Identity In Christ
By Henry Salley

Henry Salley

Identity, Identity, Identity is what it’s all about. My parents named me. Other people shame me. I believed them, I named me a sissy. My relatives were somewhat ashamed of me. They said, hoped, and prayed, “He’ll grow out of it.” Others screamed, “Faggot,” some screamed, “Black faggot.” Shame was the name of the game for 60 years. Even in San Francisco, where I lived openly in the gay community, there was an element of defiant shame. I strutted about flaunting my gayness, trying to force others to accept me, although I really hadn’t accepted myself.

When I accepted Christ as my Savior and Lord, I still felt the shame. My right-wing Christian brothers and sisters certainly didn’t help me grow out of it. They were not the answer to my relatives’ prayers. They said in a sly way, “We love you but hate what you are. We want to change you. Let us pray for healing/deliverance.” Still I must say that it was the first time that I experienced a portion of God’s love and acceptance. But I still felt like a leper and politely treated like one. Perhaps you’ve heard the expression “out of the closet?” Well, I wanted so much to be accepted that I not only got back into the closet, and closed the door, but also found a trunk in the closet and got in it and shut the lid. I was in total denial and extremely confused. Not only that but I also went to seminars and training on how to be the heterosexual that God supposedly created me to be. I claimed to be free of homosexuality. Oh what a lie! It was obvious to most people that I was still gay. But God knew where I was so He opened the door, flipped the lid and brought me out. He freed me! (Psalm 27:10)

Finally, by the grace of God, I had to face the fact that I had not become a heterosexual. All the prayers and exorcisms were not in keeping with who God had created me to be. I was living a lie!  I was praying that God would change me. It was like praying, “God, make me a white woman.” With God’s help through GIFT (Gays In Faith Together), other Christians (some of whom are gay), and books by learned scholars, I am becoming a FREED CHRISTIAN, still black, and who happens to be gay. I am learning what that means and how to live it out. I am glad to be a son of the great I AM. My identity is in Christ, not in my sexuality, orientation, or even color of skin. My identity is in Christ! I don’t claim to be without sin, but only that I am not sinful just because my homosexual orientation – no more so than any heterosexual.

The joy I now have is the assurance that God created me and loves me just as I am. He is teaching me how to live as his child, who happens to be black, and also gay. It’s quite a challenge to live the Christian life — not one for sissies, so to speak, — just for Christians, gay or straight.

Still certainly, the God who created the heavens and the earth, who walked on water and raised the dead, is able to change me. And I believe that if he wanted to then he would. Certainly I have asked him to do so many times. So until he changes his mind, I am content abiding in his grace. After all, Micah 6:8 and Philippians 2:12b-13.

“12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.” Philippians 2:12-13 (NIV)

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

Easter Keepers – By The Rev. Michael Alan Wernick

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Gay Christian? Yes!
By The Rev. Michael Alan Wernick

Rev. Michael Wernick

I grew up in a Reform Jewish family. We didn’t talk much about religion, and what I knew about Christianity came mostly from TV evangelists like Jerry Falwell, whose “loving” words didn’t seem to match the dire consequences of disbelief.

I was Bar Mitzvah’d and finished all of my religious education, but felt some kind of theological or spiritual void. I explored several other disciplines, but continued to be mindful about Christianity, and began to learn things that didn’t align with what I heard on TV.

Like many parents, my parents weren’t always perfect at fully modeling, naming, and validating my feelings; and as I became increasingly aware that I had strong emotional attachments and sexual attractions to men, I also had a sense from my family and cultural environment that these feelings were not OK, and I learned to hide them… but also thought (and hoped) that when I grew up and got married, these feelings would simply go away. I did marry, and we had a child, but the feelings didn’t go away.

I converted to Christianity. God’s immeasurable love for us, expressed in Jesus’ incarnation, death, and resurrection, made immeasurable sense. But even so, later on, I attended an Exodus International group (with my wife’s knowledge) for more than a year, hoping to effect some change in my same-gender attraction that would help me maintain the commitment I’d made to her and our daughter; but fortunately, I had also studied quite a bit about Family Systems Theory and realized that the group’s goal was pretty dysfunctional, because rather than seek wholeness and integration, they hoped to locate their homosexuality, “set it aside somehow,” and ignore it… that is, they tried to pray the gay away. But this fragmentation wouldn’t work for me, and I began to realize that the problem wasn’t located in my sexuality, but in society and religion’s attitude towards it. I began to realize, not just intellectually, but to experience in my heart, that God loved me just the way I was, and that there wasn’t anything broken or that needed to be fixed.

I was introduced to my partner of twelve years as I spoke to others who had already made this journey, and who now served as guides to those of us doing it now. He is another gay dad, who had been married before he came out, and whose son is a few years older than my daughter.

The closet walls muffled God’s call to me, but once I came out and began to heal my own homophobia, I also knew that the priesthood was the next right step for me. The national canons (laws) that govern The Episcopal Church exclude sexual orientation as an obstacle to ordained ministry, so I began the discernment process in my church and completed three years of seminary in the spring of 2010.

In seminary, we explored scripture using tools like textual criticism (original wording), literary criticism (composition and rhetorical style), and form criticism (genre and life setting) to peel away the imposed meaning that had been layered on over the centuries, and uncover the meaning that the authors intended.

We also learned that monotheism wasn’t instantaneous… that stone pillars erected in honor of the Babylonian goddess Asherah stood in the first Temple in Jerusalem for almost 400 years (she was seen as YHWH’s consort). We learned that misogyny was so deeply entrenched in the cultural mindset that men could not imagine a mother contributing anything to a new baby except to provide a place for the fetus to grow (they believed the whole person was contained in the semen). And the homophobia encapsulated in Leviticus mirrored the idea that women were nothing more than sexual objects; and this found its expression in the rejection of men functioning in a more passive sexual role the way women did.

I can only conclude that those who would say “Gay Christian? No!” are those who have simply taken what popular culture says about homosexuality and have mindlessly parroted it… without engaging in any meaningful study of scripture… without exploring the disciplines with which biblical scholars concern themselves. The truth is, that truth can withstand scrutiny… and many are simply afraid to acknowledge the elephant in the room (that homosexuality is normal) because it threatens their own sense of security, and issues of power, authority, patriarchy and money. As one biblical scholar has recently said, “A five-year-old understanding of scripture is fine for a five-year-old.”

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Faith & Sexuality Series: Engaging our Sacred Texts

Join us for a Faith & Sexuality Series during our GRITS adult meetings on Wednesday evenings during the month of February. This series will be lead by Gregory Eran Gronbacher, a gay Jewish man with a passion for theological study and discourse.

We will be encouraged to engage the Scriptures in new ways and glean from the perspectives of one another. This series is sponsored by the Gay Christian? Yes! campaign and GIFT. It is free and open to the public!

Dates: 2/5, 2/12, 2/19, and 2/26
Time: 7-9pm
Location: 207 E. Fulton, Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(Turn North onto Barclay, turn into the top parking lot and head down to the bottom parking lot. The door is closest to the sidewalk on Fulton.)

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