Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Reply....

Hi Rev. Tolbert,

Thanks for your note. I, too, seek a peaceful way - but to stay together - not to go our separate ways. I think that in a world of brokenness that we have more to offer others as part of our Gospel message by figuring out how to work together, live, pray, worship, and lead together - than to go our own ways. I think this struggle is the gift we have been given to resolve. For me, it is the new thing God is doing in this world. Simply, I just don't see gender identity as a good enough reason for us to split. It's the opposite.

And the truth is that I would love to see people change, but I don't get up each day praying for that. I'm not smart enough for that. My prayers are simple when everything is said and done, it's asking God for the knowledge of God's will and then asking for the strength to carry that out.

I serve a congregation in the heart of NYC where our primary mission is outreach to the poor and those with limited or no housing. We collect mail for 500 people, offer daily and weekly food pantry, clothing and toiletries, some counseling and referral services, and a weekly dinner for a hundred folk. Our sanctuary is filled with clothing and worship. I spend my day constantly reminded, humbly reminded, of my role as servant.

It just so happens that I am gay and all my life people have come at me, challenging me, without knowing who I am. I stood at GA217 and listened to people offering con statements during witnessing that were some of the most hurtful and mean things I've ever heard - all in the name of Jesus Christ. I listened to a young man who had chosen to marry a woman instead of continuing to live as a person who was gay. He held up a picture of his wife and two kids and he attributed it all to Jesus Christ.

OK, the first group - maybe I would like to help them to change because of the hardness of heart that I felt in them, and how wrong I knew they were, and the hurt I know such words cause and the actions that can follow. But, I know I can't can't change them; I can just pray for them; serve others faithfully and as best as I can, use my voice, and leave the rest to the Holy Spirit.

The second group, like the gentleman with the family, how could I ever criticize where he believes God has led him? Why would I want to? To prove my point? No. Not ever. His choice is his and God's and I wish him and his family the very best and would stand by 100%. The truth is, I have stood by such individuals.

This is not about changing people, Rev. Tolbert, This is about stopping the oppression and marginalization and attacks on people who are LGBT - promoted and supported all too often by this, our, insitutional church and some of its members.

Neither group should be out to condemn the other or insist that their way is the right or only way. At that same GA, we were all there, worshipping, praying, and working for a united church. The roof did not collapse. In fact we ministered to one another. I was struck by the reality that we already have made the choice to be together - we're just conflicted about making it official.

Are some of us so conflicted and hate so much that we would give that up for another division? Rev. Tolbert, in all honesty, I have heard very few of the advocates or allies that I associate with suggest that all we need to do to solve this problem is for our opponents to leave the church. I have heard many, many voices suggest such things and worse about me and my sisters and brothers who are LGBT.

The ex-gay movement is a dangerous one in my opinion. I will speak out against it because I believe it is theologically unsound and terribly damaging. And, yes, there are voices that can only be defined as homophobic in that movement, in my opinion. I am sure you have read some of the pieces by the authors I note and others; there is some pretty harsh stuff there.

As for overtures, one of the responses I got to my piece was that the person who responded would fight to the death to keep G-6.0106b in and the queers out. He, too, was a minister. And that is not the strongest of comments. The constant work toward overtures is the constant widow at the door, knocking for justice. That's how I see this work. And what I believe with all my heart and have based my life upon is that when G-6.0106b is gone, what we will discover are the gifts we have to offer one another - and more, the God in one another that we have been missing.

And, we will heal, all of us hard hearts and all. We have too much to to do to keep this struggle going.

Thanks again for your note,

Rev. Ray Bagnuolo

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ex-gay? Ex-loving.

Chances are that if you are a person who is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender - and you have struggled within the church - chances are, somewhere along the way you heard these words: "We love you but hate your sin." Nothing directed toward people who identify as LGBT could be more disingenuous, more filled with hubris than combining love for another with hatred of some part of their being.

Hamartia or ἁμαρτία, the Greek word for sin frequently used in the Second or New Testament has the meaning of "missing the mark." The idea that distance from God is what needs to be shortened in our faith and personal journeys removes the dialectical premise that Love either replaces sin or leaves one in the throes of sin, pitied and "loved" from a distance.

It is this play of the fear of sin on people and their faith that funds those out to eliminate homosexuality from the face of the earth, or to simply, sadly, leave the "sinners" behind.

The ex-gay and reparative therapy movement is smart and subtle enough not to alienate most people, since more and more we all know someone who is family and gay. So rather than take on families and love within families, these groups rally together in huge megalithic collaborations and create just enough doubt, enough fear, and enough compassion to justify peoples’ oppression of anyone who is LGBT that does not abide by or follow their path. And, are you surprised that the oppression is all couched in the shameful use of the love of Jesus Christ to achieve such goals?

Quoting from Kristin J. Temba's response to Professor Mark Achtemeier's "And Grace Will Lead Me Home," in which he tells his story of transition to supporting folk who are LGBT, Kristin outlines the somewhat frightening association and collaboration of well-funded groups out to turn Christian America straight. “One by One,” the group of which Kristin is a part, was founded in 1994. Since that time, it has found partnership with, among other anti-gay groups, “Love Won Out” (Focus on Family) and NARTH (National Association for Research of Therapy of Homosexuality). What none of these groups acknowledges is that the success rate for reparative therapy, according to the APA, is in the 1-2% range. What none of these groups acknowledge is that their primary therapeutic models, however they are designed, are about suppressing feelings. What none of these groups acknowledge is that public leaders of the ex-gay groups have themselves been unable to maintain their ex-gay status, often resigning in disgrace and then being replaced the next day, as if nothing had happened. (I won't name folk here, that's not my intention. A simple search will find the information, if you are interested.)

Also what none of these groups will acknowledge is what any person who is LGBT already knows, that there are people trapped in heterosexual relations because of pressure to conform. This is what the ex-gay movement is willing to accept and misrepresent so that they can create enough doubt in the public's mind to stop our church from being fully welcoming, without special caveats, to our sisters and brothers who are LGBT.

If we wait to be convinced of what we should do, change will not occur. That is the strategy of any group seeking to maintain the status quo - "Keep the debate going, have more studies, approach justice - but don't quite embrace it, and above all keep the church free of LGBT folks by whatever means, to whatever degree you can, especially from ordination, especially from marriage. Be willing to scare people into condescension without any guilt or consequences. Surround yourself in God to hold your assailants quiet.”

It is interesting that in the discussions taking place around the country about overtures to delete or change G-6.0106b that the ex-gay groups, well-funded, well-practiced, and so smooth...are in the mix of the discussion. To me, it's like bringing creationism and evolution into this critical reformation. And if you don't think that's an effective strategy, how many of you 100% believe in evolution? I would bet that there is some hedging of that for many that comes out as, "Well, you know, God can do whatever God wants to do. So, I'm pretty sure, but who knows." Just a little doubt, the smallest of doubt - the least of fear - has always been used to oppress others. This is no different.

I believe we have been given the wonderful ambiguity of God’s great creation, not to parse or compartmentalize it. It has been given to us to embrace. All the rhetoric, all the papers, all the Gagnons and Tembens and others who create the doubt - are only able to do so because we allow them. And, I am certainly not out to try and change any of these folk. But why are they so intent on changing me and others like me? Homophobia comes to mind.

It has all gotten so complicated that the answer is simple, really. What do we believe and where are we willing to stand in finally making this church a welcoming church and model for the Good News and others to follow. Are we so afraid of risk, that we are unable to see that our membership, relevance, and yes - treasuries, are all in decline because of our fears toward our sisters and brothers and tenacious embrace of the status quo? Are we so blind that we don’t see how these actions of exclusion make us complicit in the violence they engender? Is it any wonder people flee us...

You know, when Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, I am one of those who believe that he didn't know exactly what was going to happen. However, I do believe he knew it was going to be serious and dangerous. Yet, he went. He stayed on the path because of his love for us -- all of us -- and the attempt to shorten the distance, the hamartia, between all of us and God.

It's my belief, that any vote against the deletion of G-6.0106b is the opposite of Jesus' path that we profess to follow.

When did we come to be so fearful of one another? How did we forget that being Christian was not about "ex-ing" anyone, but about risking it all to love one another, in the name of Jesus Christ?

Ray Bagnuolo

January 8, 2010

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Three Fingers Pointing Back

Our church is entering another round of overtures trying to change our constitution to be fully inclusive for our friends who are LGBT (like me! :)) There are many voices working for this change in a variety of ways. Thanks to our allies who have spoken for our community when it was so difficult for us to speak for ourselves. However, that can no longer be the sole voice. At this point in the struggle we need to be out and speak and let people get to know us as we are and as people who are LGBT. Yes. Out of the closet.

As long as we feel we have something to lose, we, as a community, will be less than we can be. Janis Joplin once sang, "Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose." Once we are strong enough and trusting enough to become risk-takers instead of planners and strategists, alone - and we have nothing left to lose that is more important than being faithfully authentic and present, especially true for our leaders and emerging candidates for ministry - then amazing things will happen.

In the meantime, the continuing debate goes on and fingers are pointed.

If there is not enough courage in church leaders to be out regardless of the risk -- it seems that we're just waiting for the passing of generations to solve the injustice in which we are complicit. What's good for our sisters and brothers who do not identify as LGBT should be good for everyone. It's really not a debate. Either we are a church that includes or we are not. I believe we can be such a church by deleting the section of our constitution in question and opening our doors. Or we can be like milquetoast...not letting people know for sure who we are with three fingers pointing back at us.

So, are you in or out?