Friday, December 23, 2011

Patient Trust

Above all, trust in the slow work of God
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of progress
that it is made by passing through
some states of instability ---
and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually --- let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.

Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give [God] the benefit of believing
that [God's] hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.

~Teilhard de Chardin

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Janie Spahr and Others Disinvited...

Could you ever imagine Janie disinviting anyone? Me neither.

Here is the link to the article that tells the srory of Janie and other gay clergy being "disinvited" from an Advent vespers service at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the Castro. Below is my letter to the reporter.

We have much work to do in healing and understanding. No amendment will change the heart. That's our work...

Dear Cynthia,
Many thanks for your article on Janie Spahr and others being "disinvited" from Advent services, in particular vespers ar Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in the Castro.
I should first say that I am a long-time friend of Janie and was ordained in the PC(USA) as an openly gay person in 2005. For me and many others, Janie has been a guide and steadfast servant of the faith she holds dear; a faith that tirelessly calls her to welcome all. She would be the last person on earth to exclude the Archbishop from one of the services she was leading or a church of which she was a part. In fact, she would welcome him with open arms and an embrace. That's Janie. That's the difference.
The irony that the "disinvitation" by the Archbishop is referred to as reflective of and in harmony with the time of Advent and the theme for vespers is stunning and incomprhensible; that is unless the leadership is driven by an irrational fear and dislike of the LGBT Community (many of whom are members of Most Holy Redeemer). If we agree that hatred is an irrational dislike toward others - this borders much too close to a demonstration of the illness of those in power than the welcoming, hospitality, and love upon which the Christian faith is founded. And, the message to the community is sad and dangerous and filled with fear.
For it is true, that every time a member of the LGBT community, its friends and supporters is excluded, marginalized, or otherwise dismissed because they are gay, every time - those implementing such rulings, edicts, or practices become complicit in the violence toward the LGBT community, a violence now endorsed by a church's or church representative's hateful position. Just based on that alone, it would have been a much more prophetic and courageous decision to come together.
And, perhaps, the last of ironies is that the time of vespers at Most Holy Redeermer which now teeters on the theme of exclusion is, in fact, the poorest of reflection of Advent one could hope for.
Again, thank you for your reporting.
Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, Minister PC(USA)
New York City

Monday, October 31, 2011

Moving a Church Forward with Love and Justice for the Gay Community

Standing on the Side of Love & Justice

View Printable Version
Monday, October 31 2011 @ 09:32 AM
More Light Presbyterians are committed to the achievement of spiritual, ordination and marriage equality for LGBT persons within our Church and equal rights in civil society.
More Light Presbyterians continues to work with others toward marriage equality, including changes in the Directory for Worship, and requests for Authoritative Interpretation.

MLP supports the freedom and discretion of sessions to extend hospitality to same gender loving couples seeking to join their lives in the commitment of marriage. MLP claims that same freedom and discretion for teaching elders to preside at marriage services for same gender loving couples, especially as more states move to legalize these marriages.

We oppose all attempts by any entity to rescind the gains for justice punctuated by the passage of G-2.0104.
Adopted by the MLP Board of Directors in Rochester, NY on September 2, 2011

Reflecting upon MLP's Statement of moving forward for marriage equality in the PC(USA), just a few comments at this point.
The courage and spirit of people who are LGBT, their families, friends, and allies have given great momentum to the change in this church. A change long overdue. The long-term exclusion of sisters and brothers is starting to be replaced with real equality. I am grateful to MLP, it's leadership, and all who support it in its dedication to BOTH constitutional change that makes marriage equality an inherent part of our form of government AND authoritative interpretations which free our ministers to marry same gender loving couples in states where legal. 
We move forward in justice and love, welcoming all to join in this raising up and affirming the power of this church, the PCUSA, to witness and practice God's Love, in which no exclusion or injustice can survive, becoming a church in which people who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender are welcomed with the same love and grace with which the Creator gave us life.
We know of the terrible pain and suffering that gay folk have been subjected to, in part because we who are gay have lived through too much of the inherent violence of exclusion ourselves. We recognize that we who are gay, our family, friends, and allies are looking to the leaders of this church and the pro-LGBT movement for real and honest change. And, we also recognize that we - all of us are the leaders. Please get involved. Bring your voice, your pen, your presence and votes at presbytery meetings to continue the momentum and progress of the 219th General Assembly.
Need help getting started? Contact MLP at or drop me a note.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A little clarity goes a long way...

There's a story, a true story I am told, about an unfortunate fellow who spent a bit too much time sitting at the local pub. Time and again, night after night, he would wander home drunk. Many times he made the mistake of attempting to get behind the wheel while intoxicated. One night, much too loaded to drive, he opened the car door, got into the car, and discovered that his steering wheel had been stolen. Yes, stolen. Totally besides himself that anyone would do such a thing, he immediately got on his cell phone to call the police and report his steering wheel stolen.
A short time later a patrol car arrived. Both officers approached the driver, who remained seated in the car, window down. When the officers asked him what seemed to be the problem, the driver replied, "The problem? Look! Someone stole my steering wheel. They actually stole my steering wheel!"
The officers exchanged glances with one replying, "Sir, your steering wheel hasn't been stolen. It's there in the front seat, where it's supposed to be. You, on the other hand are seated in the back seat. And now you are going to be seated in our back seat."
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is often pointed to as having a lack of sanity. Until something happens to change the way one thinks, very often, things remain the same. Many people who recover from alcoholism or substance abuse report such events as "moments of clarity" in which they, themselves, see how they have been wrong in their judgment, assessment, perception, and choices. There is no underestimating that moment. It has been known to change not only the life of an alcoholic or an addict, but that of artists, poets, great leaders, believers, and even those who once were oppressors.  
We are in a time in the PC(USA) of greater welcoming for our sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT). The ratification of Amendment 10A, now part of the Book of Order as G-2.1014, makes it possible for gay men and women to be considered for ordination, just as anyone else would be. For those of us who are gay, we know that the exclusion never had any real basis. The fact that we love and marry members of our same gender is a difference without a distinction. Our lives are our lives, just as others lives are theirs. If there is a distinction that has mattered it has been that over and over, time and again, we have been questioned from baptism to burial about being gay. We have suffered serious consequences from the accusations and innuendos of others who believed that such an assault would make us "go away."
These days, as in the past, but more so these days - I pray for a moment of clarity for others to see what they have missed in the lives and faithfulness of their sisters and brothers who identify as being LGBT. We know there is nothing to fear in getting to know someone who is gay - other than discovering having been wrong about opposing gay folk in the first place. Perhaps some fear that were that discovery to take place,  they would then be faced with changing their position - or remaining silently complicit in the great harm they were allowing to continue. Given such a prospect, it may be easier for some to just keep saying the same things over and over - and believing them to be true. It may be easier, but it certainly isn't fair, just, or Christian, in my opinion.
Sadly, fair, just, and Christian are not often the order of the day. Recently, I got a response from someone named Mary on one of the videos I have posted for "It Gets Better." She wrote, "GOD HATES HOMOSEXUALS" [Her capitalization.] She went on... "Turn or burn..."
As many times as I get something like this, it still bothers me a bit personally - I mean these people don't even know me! But, more - it bothers me because I feel terribly sad for whatever it is that fills someone like Mary with the idea that God could ever be a "hater" of God's own creation - and that she wishes those with whom she disagrees to be relegated to a hell of her own making. Whatever our differences, perhaps we can agree that this is not the way to go forward, and perhaps you will agree, as well, to pray with me for those like Mary who are so soul-sick that they twist God into their own personal executioner.
Clearly it was a good thing that the driver in my opening story was not behind the wheel. His sad experience hopefully produced one of those moments of clarity for him to do things a bit differently in the future. Maybe we, too, can find such clarity, eliminating the clouded vision of the old, innacurate, and mythic stereotypical perceptions about people who are gay, ending the sickness of bickering, exclusion, and harm. If we do, perhaps we in the PC(USA) can come to believe in God in ways that restore us to the sanity that reminds us we are called to love one another, working together as children of God.
May it be so.
 More posts on my new blog

Friday, September 30, 2011

Seeking Harmony...

Well, it might be called "Gay in the World." But it's not. At least not yet. It's a new blog I'm starting:

It's named to reflect the implementation of 10A on July 10, 2011 and look at the ways in which this change opens the PC(USA) to see its Lesbian, Gay. Bisexual, and Transgender sisters and brothers in our daily faithful lives. Thanks to Margaret Aymer for the conflations and the permission to use it!

OK, it is. It's an attempt to bridge the contentiousness and confrontation - maybe even find some harmony in places we don't expect. Your stories are welcome...

We'll see where it goes, but if you have time - maybe you'd like to take a look.


And Happy New Year 5772!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

NYS Marriage Equality: The Spirit Smiles

On this day, when Marriage Equality has come to New York State, many people are celebrating the promise they never let go of or stopped working for – that one day in this state of all states – marriage would be available across gender identity.

In effect, in New York, by this change marriage has transcended even the best of marriage definitions from the sum total of all marriage practices in the bible. Marriage Equality acknowledges that marriage is more than just form. It underscores that neither laws nor oppression can stop the march through time of Love, that is God, coursing through all God’s human creation and equally present in the love between same gender loving couples as in different gender loving couples. Equality means that the differences separating such love have been removed. The truth is that the imposition of bygone restrictions should never have existed in the first place – and must continue to be removed wherever they exist. To do otherwise is to stand in opposition – not just to one another – but to God and God’s great and abundant love. In New York State, on this day, the Spirit is truly smiling (however it is the Spirit smiles!).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

10-A: The journey has just begun again...

Some days the Spirit moves things around as it goes by, so much so that you can follow its path by the clearing it leaves in its wake. I have always know such Spirit paths as invitations to follow, ways that indicate how we are to proceed.

This day, this day of Spirit and Grace when the PC(USA) moves even closer to a fully welcoming and affirming denomination, marks the opening of one of those highways for our membership and those who will come to join us. But, unlike most other grand openings of thoroughfares, newcomers will already find folk on the path; sisters and brothers who have been there for quite a while; the faithful who have been waiting for the church to catch up with what many of us have already known: the road had only been blocked by fear and resistance to what change might bring - and that the change never needed to be feared in the first place.

It may be that the new highway the Spirit has opened is, in fact, a bridge. A bridge that now connects the too many who couldn't get here from there - for whatever reasons - with one another. Some will choose to avoid the Emmaus Road on which we now are invited to walk together. But word will spread, as it always does. And when the Spirit brings a church together, sisters and brothers together, forgotten and found side by side - there is surely more to come.

So, on this day we give thanks for the lifting of the barrier used to prevent Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender folk from serving in the full work and mission of the PC(USA). It is a magnificent banner day, indeed. And the church, the PC(USA) has done well, thanks to the Spirit and all those who stayed on the path, all those now ready to welcome others with the wildly gracious hospitality and love that has always been God's gift to us all. All.

Welcome! And stay ready...for the journey has truly just begun, again...

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The right thing to do...

Audio File

The passage into NYS law of the Marriage Equality Act took relentless believers to make it happen. It also took more than forty years from what many consider to be the start of the Gay Rights Movement with the Stonewall Riots of 1969. It took forty years for the state in which those riots occurred to come full circle and legislate equality for those it once arrested for what is now legal.

It was also about that same time, in the early 1970's, that Sandy Brawders, a Candidate for Minister of Word and Sacrament stepped out on the floor of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church and identified herself as a Lesbian. The amount of courage that took is reflected in the need to post security outside Sandy's hotel room that night in response to death threats she received following her statement. And, now, nearly forty years later, the PC(USA) passes legislation that removes language in its constitution used to keep people who are LGBT from being ordained.

There must be something to this forty years - two generations. And whatever it is - it's way too long.

Those who fought back the police at Stonewall or who shocked the church into an apoplectic fit like Sandy - only wanted what any of us want. And here's the thing, they were right before any law or change in constitution - said so. They were right before any of the hearts and minds that have changed and will continue to change - said so.

I hope those who are still in strong opposition to equality for folks who are LGBT will come around. What I truly hope for is that those who are not in opposition, who have been silent observers will lift their voices and clear their throats  as we move forward in this nation embracing equality and in the PC(USA) speaking firmly in favor of marriage for all.

The New York State Marriage Equality Act has within it a freedom that allows couples to be married here without any residency requirements. The church, not quite caught up with that which it should have been leading, continues to have restrictions on such marriages. That is wrong.

The PC(USA) in its highest of ecclesiastical courts will soon be considering a second appeal in the case against The Rev. Dr. Janie Adams Spahr for marrying same gender loving couples in California during the time in which it was legal. The charges against her? Among them is not following her ordination vows. Janie's response - "I would not have been following my ordination vows to provide pastoral care to all had I refused to marry those couples. How could I have done such a thing?" Interestingly, while her first hearing did find her guilty on that charge, the judicial commission also held the church constitution responsible for the decision they needed to make, applauding Janie on her  ministry of more than thirty years to the LGBT community. Did you just go, "Huh?" Yes, many of us are still shaking our heads.

Sandy, Janie, and the many others who have led movements toward dignity, inclusion, radical hospitality, all-embracing love, and justice for all were never wrong. They stood by the oppressed and resisted a system that was in error; a system that caused terrible damage that eventually others, too, recognized and repelled against, so much so that change was imposed upon the system itself. And with every change, understanding was given a new chance. Healing was given new breath. And love was affirmed. And, yes, if God smiles...God did. All seems good to me...

When it comes to refusing equality and opportunity for folk who are LGBT, whether in ordination or marriage or anything else, in whatever church, institution, or other group - those in opposition are wrong. They are wrong as well as culpable for the damage done to others in the name and support of their opposition, an especially egregious wrongdoing when done in the name of God.

Thanks to all those who continue to lead because they are faithful to their call and commitment to a love and justice greater than any institution. It is time for all of us to end the silence, raise our voices, and in the company of others step out of the closets and finish the work ahead. It's the right thing to do - no matter what anyone says.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

It's divided us for too long...


I have always believed that it is G-6.0106b that has divided us. Not the people, not their hearts, not their voices - but G-6.0106b. I have always believed that had this amendment not been added to the Book of Order folk would not have been forced to galvanize around one side or the other. Had it not been added to the Book of Order the lives of people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender would not have become a litmus test for the faithfulness of an entire church. With the approaching ratification of Amendment 10-A, we have a chance to unify in a way that has been absent for decades.

With others, I have felt enormous sadness over the marginalization of people like me who were gay, or otherwise identified themselves as Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender. I have felt the hurt of allies, family, and friends who watched those they loved discriminated against in a church they loved as well. And with great heart and hope, I and so many others have been carried by the unceasing support and belief that our cause was faithful and our call was to stay the course.

Now, with ratification of 10-A imminent, we have an opportunity to unite - in our differences and our agreements. We have an opportunity to unite in the new missions ahead, trusting in God and the Holy Spirit to reveal a witness of healing and welcoming for all. A healing and welcoming that has been too long buried under the weight of G-6.0106b.

Having known the feeling of being pushed aside by the church, I know that there are others who may soon feel that the church they know and love has marginalized them with the ratification of 10-A. I would only pray and ask that we give each other a chance. The sisters and brothers who are members of the gay community have long worked for a fully inclusive church, not to push others away, but to draw us all in more closely. We are soon to be uniquely positioned to carry the Gospel to a world that needs us to step beyond our differences and give God the lead in this new way we are called.

This world that is broken in many ways needs us to step into the tension of inviting others to a spiritual home that welcomes all. That means we will first have to learn to welcome one another more intentionally. That celebration is the one that I pray for. That is celebration that awaits us. The ratification of 10-A is one more step toward a church that can really make a difference in ending our long-standing struggle and the start of the healing to which God calls us all.

Will this be easy. I suspect not. However, we are a church exceptionally practiced at embracing the challenges for which others seek faithful leadership. I believe God gave us this gift and challenge because of who we are, what is needed in this world, and our ability to see it through.

In the words of this morning's Gospel of John: (John 20:21): "Peace to you. Just as God has sent me, I send you."

Let us go forth together. It's been too long we've been apart in this way. I and others are ready to do all we can to move this healing and new unity in the PC(USA) and beyond. Please, let us hear from you and how we might be of help.

Ray Bagnuolo, Minister of Word and Sacrament

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Even when fear sounds reasonable - it's still fear

There has been a lot written lately about the PC(USA) being "deathly ill." The symptons are attributed to a contagious virus, carried by some fellow Christians. The source of the diagnosis does not exactly say that, however, the intent to form a "more perfect union" elsewhere, away from the contagion makes that pretty clear. Away and protected in a designed bubble where communication with the outside carriers of the dread disease would be, unmistakenly, at arms' lengths, while the air inside remained pure.

It is no mistake that the notice of serious illness comes for the PC(USA) in the midst of a ratification campaign on Amendment 10-A. And, it is no mistake that the clear cause of this malady is the possibility that people who are LGBT might be fully welcomed in this church.

OMG. Imagine that.

Yes, fellow LGBT Christians, for some, we are the cause of all that is wrong with the world. We are the plague against which the immunization of distance and separation is the only hope. As intelligent and thoughtful as some may be in their compositions, essays, and comments, it is still all about fear. Fear, simply, of us.

There is even a progressive group that is referred to in the comments of those proclaiming the near death of the PC(USA) as understanding. They are seen by the diagnosticians as recognizing the validity of the position of those who would secede if we don't. In an oblique reference, the group welcomes the conversation.

More conversation? Naw. Are any of them gay. Have any of them  read Martin's "Letter from a Birmingham Jail."

This Sunday's reading of Matthew includes Matthew 5:25 "Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him/her, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison."

Coming to terms is not a command to acquiesce or entertain bigotry, but a charge to do everything one can to settle a dispute. Once all has been done that can be done, one moves forward and continues to love the accusers and those in fear of the accused.

That's where we are. We now go forward and continue to work toward ratification of 10-A, standing clearly behind its tenets and being clear to others that this is a church, at least for those of us who believe so, that can no longer marginalize our sisters and brothers who are LGBT.

And we make it clear, that when all is said and done and  our doors are opened wide to all as sisters and brothers of the same Creator - that we will not only turn around the irrelevance of church that so many complain of but that we will more importantly discover there was never anything to fear, at all.

Nope, not a thing.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Opening Welcome, Sunday, February 6, 2011

When I hear things being described as complex, I often wonder if the word complex is really a code word for delay. Certainly, there are complex procedures I would never want to see rushed, such as planned major surgery. Yet, survival – even under complex situations – sometimes calls for quick action and a willingness to assume more risk than might be acceptable under different conditions. Delay, in other words, is past its time.

Yesterday, while listening to the pundits discuss the unfolding events in Egypt, one of the non-Egyptian journalists acknowledged that he believed it was time for a change but that any transition to democracy should be slow, cautious, and well-planned so the right people are elected. A thoughtful and impressive Egyptian reporter took the journalist to task. She asked him what gave him the right define democracy as anything other than the will of the people of Egypt who had been under the current regime for more than three decades. It was theirs, not his or any other's to decide. And it was time...

It reminded me of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the letter he wrote from the Birmingham jail, where he was imprisoned for his non-violent protests. Clergy, reporters, politicians, and others were encouraging him to “slow down, take it easy, and not rock the boat.” Martin, you see, knew it was time, as well.

By the time oppression, marginalization, and violence reaches the level of such protests as the ones we see today in Egypt, or have recently seen in Tunisia, the Sudan, and other places – or the ones that brought forth the Civil Rights Act, or even the ones today seeking inclusion for the LGBT community in our society and churches – we are already in critical condition. There has already been enough pain, suffering, and violence to perform emergency surgery. Complex or not. Delay is past its time.

Too often, too many people pay the price before the changes occur. Too often the most peaceful and loving are the first to experience violence.

Today, as we enter into prayer and open ourselves to the presence of Jesus in our lives, I think it is fair to say that he, too, would agree with Martin's words:

“But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word 'tension.' I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.” The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

As we approach the Communion Table this morning, living into this world that seems broken – and is – in many places, let us embrace the tension that produces growth, growth which will always be best nurtured – even in its tensest of moments – by love.

Come, let us worship God together.

Friday, January 21, 2011

More than the ratification of 10-A

The continuing struggle for the full welcoming of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) faithful into the work and worship of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has become a cycle unto itself. The wheel of change continues to spin, with arguments for and against full inclusion. Messages often blur as the motion of the debate goes around the center upon which it turns.

Any movement relies upon a working structure, whether in the laws of motion or the polity of a church. However, in the PC(USA) a breakdown appears to have occurred, in which parts of its design have become litmus tests of its members’ faithfulness. As a result, the center and central mission of the PC(USA) has come under question based on how welcoming we will be depending upon a vote for or against this amendment. The answer is once more perceived to be wrapped up in a decision on ratification of Amendment 10-A, currently before the presbyteries. Simply, the answer to the question of our faithfulness cannot be scripted by any amendment. The ratification of 10-A can only bear witness to the deep faithfulness that long preceded any debate, overture, or constitution, for that matter. The ratification will bear witness to how we choose to love one another, reflecting how we see God’s love for us. This is about much more than the ratification of 10-A.

Surely, study, examination, and review are important to the foundations and direction of the PC(USA), those it serves, and the world in which it witnesses. Problematic is that in any community of faith such methods only go so far. They cannot travel to the fullness of the heart or its design by God, let alone define God’s intentions. No one can. The mystery of God’s presence in the heart is limited in human understanding. Rather, God offers us an invitation to the mystery and wonder of giving of one’s self, one’s community, one’s world unto the care of God through the longings and listening of the heart, as well as the study and examinations of the mind. In short, a response to God as Love calls us to love and welcome others – including every baptized brother and sister into the full work and worship of the PC(USA). To do otherwise is to ignore the heart and the mystery God has given us; a heart yearning for us to trust more than to study. Any study that points otherwise must be flawed.

Perhaps, this time, there will be enough constitutional arguments and shifting within the PC(USA) for the ratification of Amendment 10-A, making this church a prophetic witness and model for others to follow. Certainly, thoughtful individuals who are expert, scholarly, and faithful in the ways of the PC(USA), its Constitution, and its traditions have provided ample paths to making such a choice.

Whatever the exchange, no argument or position can claim God or Love for itself, alone. Further, no argument can claim God or Love to exclude what God has created. Lastly, what no argument can claim is that God as Love would ever accept or tolerate the violence that is inherent in any decision toward marginalization and oppression of those God has created and those God continues to call. We avoid the discussion of violence, perhaps because given the choice in such terms would easily end the separation we now practice. None of us wishes to be complicit in hate crimes or their foment, and yet, our language of distance, amplified by being a “church,” indeed has impact that causes others harm.

When all debate is exhausted and biblical scholars have made their considerable contributions, the last question to answer in choosing whether to ratify Amendment 10-A will be “How do we Love?” Or, perhaps, “How do we welcome others to God?”

The choice in favor of Amendment 10-A is a choice of Love. There are enough arguments to provide ongoing debate, even suggesting a pause. That will always be so, until our faithfulness goes beyond the debate, into the Love that precedes all – all. These guiding questions for final consideration in voting for ratification are suggested:

a) Can we be faithful by excluding our baptized sisters and brothers who are LGBT from the full work and worship of the PC(USA)? Is ours a God who excludes those God has created?

b) Can we be faithful to the teachings of Jesus and the Church by fostering a climate of violence towards our LGBT sisters and brothers, affirming others’ hatred and homophobia with our decisions to marginalize?

c) Can we be a faithful reflection of God as Love by using our Constitution or fears to create a class of people less welcome or worthy than others?

Were that this was simply a matter of making a decision about loving one another as God loves us. It may be that such love is still growing in us, but with a decision to ratify Amendment 10-A, it may be much closer than we think in leading us to the family and witness we are meant to be.

Ray Bagnuolo is an openly gay minister of Word and Sacrament. He currently serves Jan Hus Presbyterian Church and Neighborhood House and its inner city ministry in NYC. He was one of the few openly gay Candidates for minister of Word and Sacrament examined and cleared to seek a call since the passage of G-6.0106b, refusing to abide by the G-6.0106b as a matter of conscience during his examination in 2005. Ray also serves on the Board of More Light Presbyterians.

Download pdf File

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Corrosive & Distorting Power of the Closet ~ by Karen Kavey

Dear Ray,

Thank you so much for your recent YouTube "It Gets Better!" video!

Your words and those of all the participants who have stepped forward with such powerful witness and encouragement will help countless young people.

In honor of the project, I would like to write a bit about the corrosive and distorting power of the Closet.

As you know, the "Closet" is a metaphor used to describe how people hide important parts of themselves, typically their sexual orientation or gender identity. We know that many LGBT folks cannot be open; the world is just too unsafe for them right now. Families and friends of LGBT people can also find themselves in a kind of Closet, as they may fear that telling the truth will expose them and their loved ones to harm.

The Closet can protect people, but it also inflicts great harm on the world, as those within it are rendered silent and invisible. Individuals and communities may express hostility to LGBT people or indifference to homophobic prejudice because the Closet prevents them from seeing the pain that they cause. Others may even exploit the power of the Closet, knowing that their hostility will further drive LGBT people and their loved ones into silence.

Regardless of a particular person's motive, those who do not appreciate the corrosive power of the Closet fail to realize that it leaves us all with an incomplete and distorted view of our communities and the world.

The influence of the Closet on members of the church (both LGBT and straight people) has been particularly powerful.

The Closet has always impeded understanding in our faith community, replacing thoughtful study with a series of repetitious and divisive interactions. Ministers who have freed themselves or helped free others from the Closet and all those ministers who courageously dare to treat LGBT persons as equals face censure, lawsuits, and other forms of pressure. The message to those who remain in the Closet is painful and tragically clear: Stay where you are, silent and invisible.

Clarity, mutual understanding and the Closet simply do not go well together.

Certainly the power of the Closet is understood by those who use it strategically and by those who have felt its weight and burden, keeping them anxious and intimidated.

However, I think many Presbyterians are unaware of the magnitude of this power, given the Closet's silencing effect. And most importantly, it is not clearly understood that the power of the Closet is NOT a spiritual one.

It is a potent secular and cultural force, based on fear; it relies on the human need to survive and negotiate within one's world. All institutions that exclude LGBT people, both adults and teenagers, use the Closet as a tool.

And it is not a benign tool.

Insisting that some people feel shame and guilt for a core part of their identity and existence (much less for living and thriving on an equal footing) is - at its heart - an act of aggression.

This is true whether or not one acknowledges (or is aware of) this dynamic or whether its negative consequences are intentional or unintentional.

Teaching young people (be they heterosexual or LGBT) that there are two groups of humans - one group that is entitled to full equality and inclusion, and one group that is not - is especially damaging.

The outcome may even, as we have recently witnessed in these teenage suicides, be deadly.

For the Closet's existence is based on powerful manipulation; BUT it is also a means of control that is diminishing in the world at an increasingly rapid pace.

It is breaking apart in a seemingly sudden way. And as it fades, it releases its relentless grip on all of us: gay and straight, open or not, conservative or liberal or in-between.

For we have ALL been influenced by the Closet, as it has distorted our view of the world and of each other.

As the Closet crumbles, we will see how this change will affect our lives, our denomination and the lives of the younger generations who will, we hope, live in a world without it.

Those who have opposed equality within faith communities (and within the secular world) are perhaps beginning to realize that some of the "success" they have enjoyed historically may not have been due to the strength or accuracy of their ideas, but rather owes much to the Closet, which has left countless people silent, invisible, and afraid.

Elie Weisel has stated so clearly:
"Silence never helps the oppressed. Only the oppressor."

Understanding the basic fact that most people are heterosexual and some people are not will be a necessary part of the way forward. Without the distortion of the Closet, this fact is becoming more apparent with each passing day.

I agree that thirty years clearly is a long time for Presbyterians to study this reality and still be so baffled and at odds with each other.

The confusion has probably been compounded by the oft-repeated, defensive notion that "No one is being forced into the Closet around here! We don't know what you're talking about."

This is actually just another layer of the classic "Silent Contract" of a troubled relationship: "Don't 'name' what has actually been happening."

Because we know that whenever it IS safe, people (both LGBT folks and their families) are usually open. When LGBT people and their loved ones are intimidated into silence, it only adds insult to injury to pretend that no one is being manipulated.

In spite of all this, I remain optimistic! Thanks to you, and your courageous colleagues, the world will be a safer place for the upcoming generations. The "It Gets Better!" initiative is creative, life-affirming and generous.

Perhaps in some way it will help the church break free, recognize the Closet for what it is, and make it a relic of an ungracious and often cruel age, replacing age-old distortion with clarity and a spirit of openness.

Warm regards to all,

Many thanks,
Karen Ellen Kavey
Non-ruling Elder, PC(USA)
Confirmed May, 1958.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The price: Arizona and More

This is an excerpt from a sermon delivered this morning at Jan Hus Presbyerian Church and Neighborhood House. I had to write something about the terrible tragedy in Arizona and make it part of this morning's worship. It is, I think, exactly where it belongs.  [Excerpt follows] Full sermon posted later.

...but before I go any further, a disclaimer: I don’t believe that the pulpit in a congregation is a place for political debate. Policy issues, yes; politics, no. It is one thing to mobilize people for or against a policy and quite another to galvanize folk behind a particular politician or party. Not every cleric sees it that way.

So, this is about policy and practices that have led us to another horrendous and violent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona. A horror, yesterday, in which an individual on the fringe with anti-government tendencies, and in his early twenties, entered a supermarket center, where Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with her constituents. The individual approached the congresswoman and fired, continuing to spray bullets into the crowd. Six people died, 13 are injured, with the Congresswoman, herself, in critical condition. He is in custody and a potential accomplice is being sought.

Last year, following Congressman Giffords vote in favor of health care reform legislation, her office in Tucson was vandalized. The 40 year-old-congresswoman, had this to say at that time:

“This is a situation where people really need to realize that the rhetoric of  firing people up really has consequences.”

Our prayers are with all those caught up in this terrible tragedy. My prayers are also that the practice of politicians and media in promoting or discounting policy decisions through lies, derision, misinformation, bigotry and deception cease. Just stop.

Just as our actions of following the teachings of the Gospel in the Spirit in which they were intended somehow brought us and others here, the deception that had become part of the policy making process in this country is producing the opposite results that anyone – from any party or any agency – could ever – should ever condone.

For a very long time, I have charged this and other denominations with being complicit in the violence toward the LGBT/Q community because of the practices of exclusion and bias in refusing full participation to gay people. The policies of a church that prevent people from being members feed a segment of the population with an endorsement for their hatred and an added impetus for a Second Amendment remedy or worse.

When Matthew Shepherd was murdered in October 1998, I was sure, hopeful that people would wake up about the violence foisted on people who were marginalized, in general, and gay people in particular. It’s taken a long time and there’s still more to go. Some changes? Yes.

You are sitting in a church this morning, one of the few in the country, who would call an openly gay person to serve as its minister. So, the fact that I serve here in the temporary position of Stated Supply Pastor as a gay man is something that would not happen in the great majority of the 11,000 Presbyterian churches in this country, simply because I am gay.

Still, I hope that the tragedy in Arizona stays in the media long enough for us to change. It will take a while. That’s no reason to give up, in fact, it’s the opposite.

This compartmentalization of people, marketing of lies and fear, elevated hyperbole toward outcomes of particular decisions – in religions and governments, alike, has to stop.

Just as we, this morning, are not well pleased with the viral hatred that has shown its ugly self once again in Tucson, let us not lose heart. Instead, let us call this church, our temples, our places of worship, our government, and all others to a higher standard of justice and equality for all.

Surely, both God and we will be well-pleased in however we can help that to happen.

May the slightly modified words of Isaiah be words that can be attributed to us, as well:

“Here are my servants, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my spirit upon them; they will bring forth justice...”


Friday, January 7, 2011

Jean McFaddin and Susan Falk! Thanks for leading the way! As always...

What a day! More at
Jean McFaddin, Susan Falk Published: September 11, 2010 New York Times
Jean Eleanor McFaddin and Susan Elaine Falk were married Monday at their home in Ridgefield, Conn. The Rev. Ray Bagnuolo, a Presbyterian minister, performed the nondenominational ceremony.
More    Video

Janie Spahr: Minister puts her faith in 'yes': Presbyterian doctrine won't let her officiate at same-sex weddings. A lesbian herself, she says she won't quit the church she loves.

Metro Desk, © 2011 LA Times; By Maria L. La Ganga, January 4, 2011

SAN FRANCISCO -- The first time the Rev. Jane Adams Spahr was brought to trial by the Presbyterian Church, the prosecutor in the 1992 case likened her to an "addictive gambler," a "confirmed bank robber" and a "habitual child abuser."

The third time she was brought to trial, by the church she loves and refuses to leave, a religious tribunal found her guilty of violating the Presbyterian constitution. But then several of its members apologized to Spahr, and their decision admonished not the faithful minister but the faith itself.  More