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