Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Ratification's Challenge: The Good News

The recent ratification of Amendment 14F by greater than a 2/3 majority of presbyteries reflects a powerful statement by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its members. Added to the the changes in ordination and marriage equality, this ratified revision of the description of marriage - erases the constitutional barriers to inclusion based on gender and sexual identity in the denomination.
It is almost a moment too great to contemplate. Forty years and lifetimes of prayer and sacrifice; decades of marginalization met with steadfast resistance; the resulting study of the bible and texts; the lifting up of God's glorious diversity in one another; and the refusal to let others define us: these reflect only part of the story of prophetic and courageous acts of justice and love by this denomination's members. We have truly made the way clear for the PC(USA) and others to follow in the evangelism that is now ours to share.
But we are not done.
Long before there existed any progressive movement or the advances that have been achieved, the treatment of our sisters and brothers who identified as queer -- was wrong, terribly wrong. And, recent legislation did not make us somehow, suddenly "right."
The changes we are witnessing have to be viewed as the acknowledgment that for years our and other communities of faith have been wrong, sinfully wrong in the way our sisters and brothers who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer+ have been unwelcome. The charges of inhospitality carry a heavy price in the sacred texts, and our queer community has borne the brunt of exclusion and the residual violence - simply because others refused to see what the majority of folks have now come to know.
While one could make the argument that these changes and levels of acceptance and understanding take time, and they would be correct to do so -- I would counter that the levels of love and hospitality, supplanted by fear and judgment is where the original error exists, not in who God created us to be.
Our LGBTQ+ sisters and brothers have brought about more than a change in the constitution of the PC(USA), our sisters and brothers are bringing about a change in the way we love and accept one another. These forty years have been forty years of bringing the Good News to resounding levels that can now be heard by more people than ever before.
The question is: Is the church up to this new thing God is doing?
To be heard, institutions such as the PC(USA) cannot simply rely on legislative changes or practices to point to catharsis. Years of teachings and practices that have caused so much pain, suffering and contributed to the violence of so many -- have to be directly addressed at the highest of levels. It is such an acknowledgment of the wrongs and harms done as a result of the past positions of the denomination that first must be spoken -- before the new welcoming to those who have been shunned can be heard.
This ancient practice of amends and admission of wrongs done is now more critical than ever before. Any prospect for reconciliation that lay ahead will depend upon it, for this is the path that must be followed if we are to eliminate fear and judgment with love and hospitality.
It is a time to admit and acknowledge that the Love of God and one another has been renewed in ways by the Presbyterian Church (USA) that was long-lost and has now been found. A time to welcome, as never before!
Such an admission and invitation, spoken with courage and humility, will open our doors more widely than we could ever imagine. It will change the way the church and its teachings and practices have been misused to harm others for way too long.
This is what the ratification of 14F now challenges us to do.
And, my friends, this is the Good News. Good News for all.
~ Ray Bagnuolo

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Coming out is not always easy...

"And he said to them, 'Is a lamp bought that is placed under a basket, or under a bed? Should it not be placed on a lamp stand? For there is not anything which is hidden that will not be revealed, and not anything existing in secret that won't be revealed. If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.' And then Jesus said to the disciples, 'Watch what you hear. With that measure that you measure. It will be measured to you and it is increased to you, those who hear.' For to those who have, it shall be given. And for those who have not, also it shall be taken from them.'" Mark 4:21-25 [Aramaic English New Testament - modified for inclusive language]
Coming out is not always easy. It can happen in many ways and at any time. Still in places today, the threat of being "outed" is used to keep our "lamps" hidden away, held back from the darkness that so needs the light. The closet and the darkness continue to do untold damage, "measuring life" by the limited space in which our spirit breathes freely, constraining the light - never a good thing to do. Living in a complex of secrets riddled with fear obscures not only what we perceive but also what we hear; constraining the kindom of God that is within and what it calls us to do...in all the many ways we are called.
Attempting to hold back God never ends well. Whereas the opposite frees us to embrace more of "the measure" that is given us to participate in our world, loved by God and loving others in that measure and steadily growing free of fear. Living into our light dispels the darkness of oppression, revealing all - whether the marginalization of gender differences, the bigotry that thrives on fear, or any other form of domination.
Some might say we have a choice about coming out. In small ways, that is true. In the larger sense of who we are created to be and the lamp we have to shine so that others may see and hear and shine their lamp in the company of others who know the way... we have only the responsibility to be the light God created us to be.
To do otherwise is to be silenced and complicit in the darkness.
Never a good thing...
~ Ray Bagnuolo, May 9, 2015

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Complicit: Silence = Death

It's about going forth...

In my opinion...

Leelah Alcorn’s suicide may not be the last for a long time to come. I remember the day Matthew Shepard was murdered. "Surely now," I thought, "everyone would see the violence of the teachings of twisted religious dogma. Churches and communities of faith will have to change now," I prayed as much as I thought.

I was wrong about Matthew’s death ending the complicity of some religious communities in hate crimes and violence.  We have made progress - and the reality is that even as we move forward - we have yet to overwhelm the insipient teachings that hasten the advance of such tragedies.

Unless we drown out misdirected dogma with the power and practice of love by us who know better - we are complicit in our silence. Love drowns out fear. It’s that simple. It's has always been that simple. And it has always been excruciatingly hard to do. Love is the message that fills the New Testament - yet we embrace it just so far. We criticize others for their literal interpretations of sacred texts, yet we fall short ourselves of prophetic witness. We both end up in the comfortable middle, while folks like Leelah and Matthew and others pay the dearest of prices.

This week's reading of the Gospel brings us to the River Jordan and the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. (Mark 1:4 -11)

"I have baptized you with water;" says John, "but he [Jesus] will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:8}

It occurs to me that it’s a lot easier to take the water. It occurs to me that many people prefer to hang out with the old ways, with the “John teachings” – all of which we acknowledge but profess to have taken to the fullest of levels with the advent of Jesus. Still, we are halting in our embrace of discipleship; too often we wait until enough of others have made the way clear and safer to follow.

That’s how it seems to me. When we sidestep the discipleship we say we herald, we become complicit in the absence of change and the violence that seeks out such vacuums with a vengeance.  

Some of us have intimately known this dressed-up violence as the exclusionary teachings we've experienced in our denominations, communities and families. It is why welcoming communities of faith need to carry the message of hospitality and radical love without ceasing: 

"God and we welcome you in all the ways God has created us all." 

"God and we welcome you in all the ways God has created us all." 

What makes us so timid?

What if Leelah Alcorn or her family had heard that? What if Matthew Shepard's murderers had been taught that? 

Here’s what I know. Nothing about the teachings of Jesus would ever be part of -  in any way - teachings or practices that produce violence toward others. If you want to argue that, perhaps it is better to move on at this point.

The portrayal of God in the Old Testament is the God The Baptist still knew best, but he knew Change was coming.  And Change was Jesus. Jesus that summoned up Abba, the parent and guardian God who loves all. Jesus that affirmed the Greatest of Commandments. The same commandments to love God and one another that we seem to set aside most quickly, when fears takes hold and comfort or safety becomes threatened. 

Are we disciples of John or Jesus? Are we disciples of the old or the new?

The problem we face has its roots in the careful institutional conflation of God and church for too many centuries. Such conflation creates and empowers the most fundamental of all wishful thinking: "that if the church says it is so – then God says it is so, for God and church are one."

Who might that benefit more than others? 
How close might that come to idolatry at some point?

So, which is it? When we are confronted with decisions based on love or judgment is it church dogma and teachings or God's love that is the final arbiter? Can it ever be both and still send someone out into the wilderness alone and marginalized?

I know my bias. I was brought up a Roman Catholic; I grew up loving the church and God. I was taught they were one and believing that nearly took my life. Finally in my thirties, I came to know the difference. I walked away from a church I knew was wrong. In the process I came to find the God that made and loves me...gay and all.
Slowly, I was able to see the role of the church as helping communities to live into the teachings of Jesus, struggling as disciples, together – regardless of how uncomfortable, unpopular, or messy the struggles might be. I came to know the joy and courage of others who had gone before, knew that God loved us all and that the church needed to change, even in the face of personal or professional risk. These were Presbyterians who led me back to church, and there are countless others waiting for what I was so blessed to receive.

Friends, we cannot forget how violence and fear are out to turn us inward and away from change at every opportunity. Nor can we forget that we have made strides with much, much more to do. The tragedies we speak of remind us of this and more. We cannot become tired or despairing.

Or timid....

Yes, the path is formidable: the road of discipleship is in direct opposition to fear. Recognize any obstacles to discipleship as fear-based at one level or another. Recognize any conflation of God and church as an inherently violent response to God and one another. And know the joy of loving like there is no tomorrow!

This love and discipleship requires being part of the change we want to happen. It requires personal and national leadership that embraces and announces the changes that have taken place at the highest of levels, in our denomination and others. There is great joy in the Good News and the witness we have to offer each other and the world, as we move profoundly forward. We have been baptized to make a difference - not wait for one to happen.

In response to the political silence surrounding the AIDS crisis in 1987, Act Up (A Coalition to Unleash Power) was formed. It's slogan was: "Silence = Death." It is a slogan well to remember in choosing our paths of discipleship.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Every Day is World AIDS Day

Richard was the first person I knew who got sick. It was the early 80's and my gay community was soon to know the suffering of the yet-unnamed disease in the withering body of our friend and the valiant efforts of his lover to keep him alive. This was not just Bill and Richard's story. It was all our story, and it was about to get much worse.

We felt as though there was an invading force, gaining strength and coming closer with each moment. Every day there was a call about a friend in the hospital who needed to be visited, someone who was missing, for whom we feared the worst. The memorial services increased in frequency as the months and years tumbled uncontrollably forward. For years, there seemed to never be enough time to grieve the loss of one friend before another had died.

And, there were those who didn't care. This wasn't about them. It was about us. We were the other - harvesting the results of our own lives. "Our" president at the time never once said the words "AIDS" from the bully pulpit of his office for the eight years he was there - from 1980-1988. During the years when the illness and the fear and the suffering tore us apart - "our" president was silent. Yes, Mr. President, "Silence=Death."

And honestly, while grateful for all the advances that have been and need to continue to be made, it never got "better" for many of us - in the ways we longed for the most.

I didn't live during the bravery and sacrifices of our World War generations. I was twelve when Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair were killed in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. I reeled at the same age as John F. Kennedy was assassinated three months later. I was in seventh grade in Catholic school in the Bronx, NY; we cried and prayed in the face of the unthinkable murder of a president. I thought the world was ending. It couldn't get worse. Yet, it did.

In February of 1965, the hatred claimed Malcolm X's life by an assassin.  Three years later, Martin was shot in April of 1968; two months later in June  Bobby was murdered.

I just remember feeling like this couldn't be true. Yet it didn't go away with the morning light.

I didn't want to be angry; I didn't want to give up; I didn't want to stop believing in what was quickly unraveling. I wanted to believe in God and Country and others. And there wasn't much we could do at the time, other than go to school, go to church, pray for God's intervention, and watch the adults for cues and some indication that this would pass, somehow...some way.

But, by June of 1969, the year I graduated from high school, the same year and month of the Stonewall Riots in Greenwich Village, "life" became very personal. I was of age, and I was about to start living through a revolution in which I was to be intimately present and involved. That's not to say I was out or active in those early days, but I knew this was about folks like me.

Yet, none of what had preceded those early days in 1982 prepared me for the HIV/AIDS Crisis. None of us saw the advance of the silent enemy AIDS and its counterpart - AFRAIDS, the latter that turned people away, praying for our souls that we might repent before we burned in hell - and at all costs making sure sure to keep their distance.

Gratefully, so gratefully, there were many who stayed with us, especially our sisters who were always there. The Lesbian community and many families were always by our side, whether in our homes, visiting us in hospitals, or in advocacy and protests/marches. And, often with us were some of those same nuns and faith community leaders who lived into their faith in stunning ways. And, yes, there were the others who wagged the familiar fingers of damnation. The echo still rings clear: "God loves you, it's just your sin that God hates." I always know why I recoil, even today, when I hear those words; words that have never symbolized the teachings of Jesus and the Gospel that I follow or any teachings of any faith tradition that I know.

Yes, we have come a long way since the days when we called the disease GRID. We have come a ways since GMHC first began, and Act-UP brought us advocacy and action, and medical advances have made HIV/AIDS largely a chronic illness rather than a death sentence.

But as with wars, societal upheaval or any revolution - judgment is written in how we have changed our world and our lives. How have these trials changed our ways of knowing one another and God, by whatever names God may be known - or not? And, as a final marker of our time: How have we advanced in finally eradicating hatred, marginalization, and violence from this planet?

However, forgetting those who have gone before? Not walking with and missing the company of those we have lost, suffering the absence of the contributions stolen from our world, whether on the battlefields of war or the biology of disease - that and more we will always have to live with. That can never get "better" - but it can move us forward, living into the memory and lives of those who have gone before and struggle today - so that a difference - a big difference can be made.

In 1993, two mothers in California began Until There's a Cure, an organization to raise funds to help fight HIV/AIDS. They sold a cuff bracelet with the ribbon on it. It was a symbol that said we would never forget our sisters and brothers we had lost, those living with HIV/AIDS or those who might soon contract the illness. It was a commitment for many to wear the bracelet - until there was a cure - and to do what we can in the meantime.

Twenty-one years later mine is still is on my wrist, reminding me that over thirty-four years since Richard died -- every day is World AIDS Day -- until it is no more.

Ray Bagnuolo
December 1, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Repentance and forgiveness… a beginning

We convey to you the request of Rev. Marc Benton for forgiveness in bringing forth the  charges and legislation that  produced Benton v. Hudson River, et al. We also refer to Rev.  Benton’s newly stated support for same gender marriage. In so doing, we  acknowledge his courage and commitment in taking responsibility for his role in the harm, pain and  suffering produced by his earlier  actions.
We also acknowledge South Presbyterian Church’s Session and pastors, Joe Gilmore and Susan De George, for their ongoing commitment to the LGBTQ/Q community when Rev. Benton insisted that they be investigated and charged for doing same-gender commitment services. It is such faithful perseverance by these folks and others that are at the heart of the changes we are witnessing today.
We stand firmly alongside, deeply indebted and thankful to everyone who has ever been hurt, harmed, punished or pushed away because of Benton v. Hudson River, et al or any of the other charges, hearing, rulings and deep anguish caused by such actions. We are here to do whatever we can in healing, reconciliation and moving forward so that such actions and harms never happen again.
We pray that Rev. Benton’s decision and forthrightness will prompt others to step up, acknowledging their roles in the harm caused our community and making amends for their participation in decades of marginalization and exclusion of our Christian sisters and brothers. We encourage and support all who seek assistance in moving forward on this path, and we will never forget the suffering and pain of others whose lives are the foundation for these changes.
The toughest road, we think, is ahead. This journey for healing will only be complete when the church accepts its responsibility, admits the harms it has done, and makes amends for the teachings and prohibitions it has supported and allowed in the discrimination of our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning community.  With recent changes to the Book of Order and those currently under consideration, we feel the church is also charged with taking an active and corporate role in facilitating these changes. We are ready to support such efforts, as well.
“Redemption appears as the liberty to interpret in trust…
all that happens to us and to which we react as occurring in a final context
of life giving rather than death-dealing.”  H. Richard Niebuhr, The Responsible Self
When we can witness to one another and  the world our faithfulness to the Gospel and all it requires us to be in love for one another, then perhaps redemption to which we are called will achieve its life-giving purpose.
Ray Bagnuolo
That All May Freely Serve

Cover page from the Hudson River Presbytery September 9, 2014
The Rev. Marc Benton, the pastor who brought the suit Benton v. Hudson River Presbytery that defined PC(USA)’s distinction between marriage and holy unions, has repented of his position and is seeking forgiveness from the members of the Hudson River Presbytery.
At Rev. Benton’s request, the Hudson River Presbytery has prepared this press release and is sharing his statement with the wider church.
Attached, please find a the release and Rev. Benton’s statement.
Rev. Benton’s statement has been shared with members of the Hudson River Presbytery and he will be joining our presbytery at its regular meeting in September.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

That All May Freely Serve Information Packet for 221st General Assembly

We have posted an outline of all of That All May Freely Serve's information here: http://www.tamfs2.org/ga221.htm

You will find information on volunteer activities, booth location and hours, communications, photos, and more.

Please take a moment to take a look, or, if you like, you can download the .pdf document here.

Please let us know if you have any questions: GA221@tamfs.org

A Call for Marriage Equality:
That All May Freely Serve calls for marriage equality in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the passage of both the Authoritative Interpretation and the Amendment to the Constitution that will come before this General Assembly. The Authoritative Interpretation is needed to immediately end the discrimination our polity forces our pastors to practice regarding marriage for folks who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Questioning (LGBTQ/Q). The Amendment to the Constitution to change the description of marriage to “between two people” is needed to end the use of our Book of Order as a tool for segregation against people who identify as LGBTQ/Q.