My dear, Christian friends, why are you silent?

I can't seem to get the question off my mind.

________

I, like so many of you, found my heart and mind in a tail spin on Wednesday when by a tweet our President declared a new military policy. A policy that called our transgender brothers and sisters "a burden." A policy that kicked them out of military service because of the "distraction."

I use the exact language of the tweet because words matter.

No one likes to be called a burden or a distraction.

We are all children of God. ALL OF US.

Though it is my personal opinion that crazy things happen in our current political administration every day, this particular twitter decree hit me hard. Very hard. Because it was another decision made by one person based in discrimination and hate.

It was a decision that goes against everything my faith stands for: unconditional love, the worth of every living thing and human dignity.

It was a decision that called out one group of people as "less than" rather than celebrating their citizenship and military service.

What do we do next?  I admit it's so easy to direct our anger toward #45 isn't it? Say how we feel about him with like-minded individuals? It's easy to launch mean words into the webosphere and block people online (or in real life) who disagree with us.

But here's where I am: I will not be distracted by the anger toward him. He is what he is. I expect little change in his behavior throughout his time in office.

Yet, what I can be is curious about the movement behind this administration. I can be curious about people of faith who voted him in. I can be curious about those who think a sweeping ban of discrimination is ok. 

In the latest Politico/Morning Consult poll, at least 1/3 of evangelical Christians said they "strongly approve" of how our President is leading the country.

This fact troubles me the most.

I follow lots of pastors and ministry types of all flavors online, folks that share my political convictions and those that don't. But these are all people I know who believe in the Lordship of Jesus and Jesus' call to love God and love neighbor as one's self.  They love people. Or they wouldn't have gotten into the service business, I believe.

So this is what I am curious about: when a group of our neighbors faces discrimination- this week it's those who are transgender (this is one top of immigrants, Muslims, refugees, etc which have already been targets) and next week who knows who comes next-- why do they say nothing?

Pastors: why do you tweet only about your church visitor services programs?

Pastors: why do you post about how you're having a good day because you dried your hair?

Pastors: why do you tweet only about your vacations or what theology books you are reading?

Are you living in a bubble?

My heart aches when you say NOTHING about the sorrow that is felt in your brothers and sisters' households right. Some of our neighbors NEED us right now. They really need us. They need our voices. They need us to say what is going on in our country is NOT ok.

Because IT'S NOT OK.

I'm all for fun. I'm all for light-hearted moments both online and in person. We all need a break from the crazy. Eat ice cream. Go on vacation. Plan for fall programing in worship. And post about our fun on social media. BUT, when we never SAY anything about how what is going on is NOT OK, then those around us only have one choice. They believe we think it is ok. 

Of course, the issue of supporting our transgender brothers and sisters is complex, especially in the context of religious life. This might be your current struggle. You don't know anyone who is transgender. It's hard to be a neighbor to someone you don't know.

My wise and brave seminary classmate, Theresa Thames who is now the associate dean of religious life at Princeton University said it so well yesterday on Facebook: "How can we be outraged with 45 when our denominations are debating whether our LGBTQIA siblings are of sacred worth - worthy of holy matrimony and capable of serving our congregations as clergy. WHAT A SHAME!"

Her post was a reality check for me because the truth is when people of all sexual and gendered identities aren't welcome fully in our churches because we're afraid of the "different" why in the world would we (as in the collective Christian "we") be advocates for them in the larger society?

Clearly, there's so much work to do in our business of being the welcoming congregations that we say we want to be! 

But for now, my friends, speak up. If what is happening in our country is bothering, don't be afraid. Say so. Now is not the time to be silent. In the name of Jesus who always championed people before the rules of the empire, go forth and speak up!

A lot has happened in the last day.

Orlando happened.  

And everything looks different now. Again. It's even worse than we can remember.

I like many of you have been captivated by the commentary on the news and from voices all over the world on social media. Twitter is favorite place to go to get the pulse of any major event.

And since yesterday I've followed voices like:

@lucia_graves (a columnist for GuardianUS)

"50 Dead in LGBT nightclub. Perspective. Va Tech 32. Sandy Hook 27. San Bern 14. Fort Hood 13. Navy Yard 12. Aurora 12. Charleston 9."

@mehdirhasan (a Muslim tv personality)

"Am sick to my stomach. 50 dead? I stand with my LGBT brothers/sisters against this horrific hate crime & act of terror. "

@ShaneClaiborne (a Christian peacemaker) who shared:

" Today let us grieve. Tomorrow let's honor the victims by actually doing something about gun violence."

And all that I could come up with to say in the direction of Orlando was NO. NO. NO.

Not only is this a senseless act of violence again (I mean when are we going to get serious about advocating for gun control in this country?) but it touches groups of people I love dearly who have endured so much oppression already.

The Muslim community 

The LGBTQ community

Our Latino friends

And as the news kept coming yesterday, my pastoral heart sank.

It sank to think how this event will lead to greater division both in our country and around the world.

It sank in despair of those who will somehow blame this tragedy on an entire religious group believing it's ok to call Muslims "radical terrorists." Or that all Muslims/ mosques/ Imams are harboring "terrorists." Or will make sweeping judgments about how Muslims are "less than Americans" because of their faith convictions.

It sank in despair of those who will continue to speak such hate and words of prejudge against those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer. And in it sank in realizing the new-found fear covering my family and friends. It could have been them on a death or hospital list this morning. It could have been. Where in the world will they ever feel safe again?

And it also sank in despair of those from the Latino community who were also in that club whose stories of loss will largely be ignored.

In moments like this, what to do next can feel so overwhelming. What is there to do?

A word that has regularly inspired and convicted me is this from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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And this is what I know for sure-- at least for myself-- I needed to speak up and say I stand together in solidarity with my Muslim,  LGBTQ and Latino friends.

My friend, Tamara (@TamaraLunardo) tweeted this yesterday: "Straight friends, especially you Christians, please know: We hear your silence so loud."

I hear her and countless beloveds like her. To do nothing, to say nothing, to not use whatever platform I have as blogger, a pastor and a person of faith to say, this is wrong would be a greater ill.

Today and in all the days to come Rev. Elizabeth stands with you. 

Will you join me?

Maybe not letting that racist remark at work go unchecked . . .

Maybe not letting that homophobic slip to enter a conversation . . .

Maybe challenging your pastor, your faith leader or you neighborhood's leaders to make a stand on the side of love, welcome and justice for all?

We are not powerless to do nothing my friends. We aren't. Use your voice to listen, to lament, and to love today. We've got to encourage each other to do better!

tumblr_m68fxenz4p1qh5d8ko1_500It was a big day yesterday. A BIG day. A day so many of us will remember where we were when we heard the news.

Marriage is just marriage.

It's now the law of the land.

In light of this, I thought it might be a great opportunity to revisit a post I wrote back in October for those of you who are wondering how an ordained minister can be an ally of marriage equality.

I’m excited about all of this progress. I want to tell you why.

Not to give you a Biblical exegesis of the issue. Or to debate with you if you think being gay is a sin. (If you want resources on this topic check out Matthew Vines' book or this video documentary that makes me cry every time I watch it).  But to tell you part of my own story.

_______

Growing up in the Southern Baptist Church in Tennessee– the leadership of the church was ALL about the men.

Men preach.

Men pray.

Men are told to be the spiritual leaders of the home.

Never do you see a woman taking up the offering or being asked to lead the closing prayer or even teaching under the block of the service called “the sermon.”

But what happens when you grow up and feel called to do exactly the opposite?

What if people tell you as a teenager, “Well, if you were a young man, I’d tell you to be a preacher.”

What if you ARE a leader, a proclaimer, and someone who wants to discern life in conversation with your partner?

What then? I guess there are many different paths but for many it looks like this:

You must leave your “home church” and the approval of the sweet little old women who gave you peppermints from their purse every Sunday.

You must leave your “favorite” status at family gatherings when everybody talks about what they do.

Yet, you learn to sing as clearly as you ever had in your life: “I have decided to follow Jesus. No one goes with me I still will follow. No turning back. No turning back.”

While it sounds fun and revolutionary maybe– from the outside looking it– to actually do it can be one of the hardest things you ever do in your young adult life. It's lonely.

It was for me.

It takes more courage than you ever thought you had. And most of all, it takes sticking closer to the message of Jesus “to love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself” more than you thought was possible.

But you do it, no matter what. You do it because you know you have to. You chose to save your own soul because in the end, it’s all you can really save anyway!

Brene Brown writes this about such a process in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: “Choosing authenticity is not an easy choice. Staying real is one of the most courageous battles that we’ll ever fight.”

So, though I have never voiced, “I am gay” I have had to say: “I am no less than because I am a woman.”

In this small way, I know what rejection feels like. I know what Bible verses shoved in your face feels like. I know how costly choosing the real you can be.

It's awful. And this is NOT the gospel fo Jesus Christ.

But, you know what made it better? Community. New friends and colleagues saying more “You can” vs. “You can’t.”  New denominational homes like this one and this one too. And a seminary that warmly embraces you and your call to preach too.

And in return, for the grace given to me, I want to include. Isn't this the gospel anyway?

I want to be a minister who loves richly in community.

I want to advocate for voices that get shoved to the margins, no matter where those people might be.

I want to be a part of churches that are known for their love and not their hate.

I want to marry those who ask me to marry them, however they identify their gender or sexuality.

We’re all God’s children after all.

IMG_9263It's been a big couple of weeks in the movement of marriage equality in the United States. These are the times we're living in:

As a person who believes in the right of all people to marry whomever they choose, I'm excited about all of this progress. I want to tell you why.

Not to give you a Biblical exegesis of the issue. (If you want one check out: Matthew Vines or this video documentary that makes me cry every time I watch it).  But to tell you my own story.

Growing up in the Southern Baptist Church in Tennessee-- the leadership of the church was ALL about the men.

Men preach.

Men pray.

Men are told to be the spiritual leaders of the home.

Never do you see a woman taking up the offering or being asked to lead the closing prayer or even teaching under the block of the service called "the sermon."

But what happens when you grow up and feel called to do exactly the opposite?

What if people tell you as a teenager, "Well, if you were a young man, I'd tell you to be a preacher."

What if you ARE a leader, a proclaimer, and someone who wants to discern life in conversation with your partner?

What then? I guess there are many different paths but for many it looks like this:

You must leave your "home church" and the approval of the sweet little old women who gave you peppermints from their purse every Sunday.

You must leave your "favorite" status at family gatherings when everybody talks about what they do.

Yet, you learn to sing as clearly as you ever had in your life: "I have decided to follow Jesus. No one goes with me I still will follow. No turning back. No turning back."

While it sounds fun and revolutionary maybe-- from the outside looking it-- to actually do it can be one of the hardest things you ever do in your young adult life.

It was for me.

It takes more courage than you ever thought you had. And most of all, it takes sticking closer to the message of Jesus "to love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself" more than you thought was possible.

But you do it, no matter what. You do it because you know you have to. You chose to save your own soul because in the end, it's all you can really save anyway!

Brene Brown writes this about such a process in her book The Gifts of Imperfection: “Choosing authenticity is not an easy choice. Staying real is one of the most courageous battles that we’ll ever fight.”

So, though I have never voiced, "I am gay" I have had to say: "I am no less than because I am a woman."

In this small way, I know what rejection feels like. I know what Bible verses shoved in your face feels like. I know how costly choosing the real you can be.

But, you know what made it better? Community. New friends and colleagues saying more  "You can" vs. "You can't."  New denominational homes like this one and this one too. And a seminary that warningly embraces you and your call to preach too.

And in return, I want to include. I want to advocate for voices that get shoved to the margins. I want to also look people in the eye when it comes to marriage and say, "Yes, you can. I will marry you."

So here I stand waving my marriage equality flag for all that is and is to come! Both for the movement of women in leadership in the church and inclusion of all our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. We're all God's children after all.

Times are changing . . .

Yesterday it was all the news US media outlets: Jason Collins came out. Saying in a Sports illustrated article: "I'm a 34-year-old NBA center. I'm black. And I'm gay." Collins, who currently plays for the Washington Wizards made history yesterday becoming the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport.

If you've followed the story over the last couple of hours, you know that such national figures from Kobe Bryant to Bill Clinton, President Obama and Michelle Obama weighed in to support the courage of this athlete sharing his truth with the world.

While naysayers of course have judged, the response has been overwhelming positive.

This comes in addition to the news that Brittany Griner, a recent Baylor University stand-out (one of my favorite women's players to watch in years) and number one pick in the WNBA draft recently told Sport illustrated that she is gay also.

When I heard this news, I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for what this meant for countless other gay young men like himself. I felt gratitude to watch history of American sports change before my eyes.

I felt gratitude on behalf of the churches who are working toward being more welcoming and affirming each day-- like the church I was most recently pastored.

I felt gratitude for his courage-- speaking his truth, a truth that will polarize him to many, but is still the truth of his life.

I think if yesterday showed us anything it is that times have changed and it is time for the rest of us closeted gay and lesbian allies to get on board and come out too.

It's just not acceptable anymore to look down on someone for who they choose to love, who they want to marry or who they want to share a home with.

It's just not acceptable even more for the "gay movement" to be seen as a movement-- for it is a part of the fabric of what it means to be a human being for some which can not be changed.

It's just not acceptable any more to be quiet or to hide your support for your gay and lesbian friends-- for soon, and I believe in my lifetime, it will grow to be non-issue for most and American laws will reflect such.

If you don't agree with the choices others make in their private lives, it just not acceptable to be mean, condescending or isolationist toward those who have made different choices than you.

If you are as excited about these movements as I am-- join me in thanking, encouraging and praying for the Jason Collins' of this world. There will be hard days still ahead for him. There will be hate mail. For Jason, there probably will be difficult interactions with other players or rude fans.

But, I can imagine that Jason Collins would not change a thing about what he said in the article. Why? Because it is was his truth. And he had to share it.

Didn't Jesus say that it is the truth that will set us all free?

All of this makes me think of my favorite Marianne Williamson quote about truth-telling: “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Times are changing in America. Folks like Jason Collins and Britney Griner are speaking their truth. Are we on board with sharing more of ours too?

The past couple weeks have been a great time of cultural conflict across our country, in particular in relation to the issue of homosexuality, the church, and marriage.

Friends in the United Methodist Church have struggled with this issues at General Conference with all kinds of scenes being created in session meetings. The state of North Carolina has wrestled with this over his vote about Amendment One. And, all of us in one way or another have responded to President Obama's declaration that the believes marriage should be between not just a man and a woman. Some have been happy with our President and others have not.

If your social media sites are anything like the ones that I am connected to, we've been bombarded with pro and con statements about these events. In response, hateful comments have been hurled. Madness. It has been madness!

Personally, when I expressed joy alongside my gay and lesbian friends about the President's endorsement of their marriages on my Facebook page this week, I even got a "I know you weren't raised like this" comment about my views by a family member. Not very nice.

I see so many of my pastoral colleagues being afraid to say anything at all out of fear of what their congregations might do to them. Jobs or appointments might be at sake depending on what you say.

In all of this, it is so easy for the debate to become personal real fast. Feelings can be hurt real quick. Most of us have strong opinions one way or another and it is hard to comprehend how someone on the other "side" could see things as they do.

Lord, have mercy on us all!

Is our church in all branches going to explode soon? Is this the state of cultural and religious affairs we've come to in this country? It seems so.

Doing some sermon prep this week, I found this commentary the John 15 lectionary reading for this Sunday by  Dr. David Lose out of Luther Seminary. I couldn't help but think about all the debate this week as I read it. When we are faced with a theological divide on a topic like homosexuality, for example, what do with do? Lose has this to say:

So when faced with a challenge, dilemma, problem, or divisive moral issue, 1) search the Scriptures, looking not just for commandments but for how you honestly think Jesus would have responded, 2) trust your own experience and ask how you would want to be treated in similar circumstances, and 3) talk it over in your community, especially involving the folks the question-at-hand most directly affects.

I really appreciated this level-headed approach because I have to think so many of our strong opinions on those who are gay have more to do with tradition, culture from which we come than it does "what the Bible says." Yes, there are those passages of scriptures that say, homosexual relations are wrong, but then there are also lots of passages that say that women should cover their heads in church and not wear jewelry (and I don't know a lot of people who follow the Bible this literally). And, often we are quick to say, "Being gay is a sin" without actually knowing such a person and/or if we do, never asking a gay person how our interpretations of scripture make them feel, how they have been hurt by the church or by their families, etc. We are quick to elevate being gay (if we think being gay is a sin) to the level in which it is greater than ALL other sins. I just don't think such is really fair.

I know my heart breaks for my friends, colleagues and family members who are a part of the gay and lesbian community who love Jesus every bit as much as I do and are living in monogamous, committed relationships or are single and celibate and so many parts of our society continue to be so cruel to them.

I know my heart breaks for my friends and neighbors in other churches who have made Christianity into something that fits into a one-size fits all box and have no room in their souls for the Spirit to come and bring new understandings.

I know my heart breaks for our churches that are growing more divided by the day as more and more schisms keep occurring and occurring again. (How many times can the Christian church split? It seems we are on a course to find out!)

Because such conversation (as we've experienced its intensity this week) is not going away, what will we do when divide comes to us?

For me, I couldn't be silent. But, now that I have said my part, I must move on and keep finding ways to love. What about you?

Will you find a way to love the "other side?" Will you use words of hate? Will you defriend everyone you know on Facebook who doesn't believe as you do? How will you live in community?

We've got to figure out a better way to live together, all of us. This is what I know.

Today, I got an email from Ross Murray who is the director of Religion, Faith and Values for GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation)-- an organization that I personally support. In this email he encouraged the following:

"I’m writing to ask/remind you one more time to go purple and ask your constituents to go purple this Thursday, October 20 for Spirit Day. Millions of Americans wear purple on Spirit Day as a sign of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youth and to speak out against bullying. Spirit Day was started in 2010 by teenager Brittany McMillan as a response to the young people who had taken their own lives. Observed annually on October 20, individuals, schools, organizations, corporations, media professionals and celebrities wear purple, which symbolizes spirit on the rainbow flag. Getting involved is easy -- participants are asked to simply "go purple" on October 20 as we work to create a world in which LGBT teens are celebrated and accepted for who they are.

Religious communities are an important part of the support network for many LGBT youth. Spirit day is a great opportunity to get involved and make your support known!

So consider wearing PURPLE tomorrow in support of all of those who need to be reminded that they are seen, heard and matter to the human race. And take some time as you do to consider who you know that might need some encouragement that they matter to YOU.

The way I see my job-- its role is often to take the mission of the church into places where it might not otherwise go especially when it comes to hanging out with folks who have few (if any) positive experiences with a church or a pastor. It's an area of ministry that I find myself doing more of than I would have ever imagined six years ago when I graduated seminary but I love it!

This past week, being Pride week in DC, I had two opportunities to do just this. Pride week, for those of you who might not be familiar, it's a week of celebration. It's a great opportunity to rally, gather affirmation and to bless a group of people who have often been bullied, alienated and not given the respect they deserve for their contributions to our society.

Even more so, in a faith context, when so many literal interpretations of scripture have been taken out of context to encourage a message of hate or even worse the standard, "hate the sin, love the sinner" motto toward our LGBT brothers and sisters, there's so much peace work to be done by churches. It's a wonderful outreach opportunity to say that not all churches are what you think!

So, when I was asked by Kharma Amos, the pastor of MCC Northern VA to speak a word about progress made in the Baptist church toward the LGBT community at the Northern VA Interfaith Pride service on Wednesday night, I was glad to attend. Such would be a new experience for me, and I wondered if a Baptist pastor had ever been asked to be on the program before?

Though the style of prayer and worship was a bit different to what I am accustomed and I was astonished to find that I was the only clergy who was willing to say the name "Jesus," (really what is so bad about Jesus, I wondered? He's the most inclusive loving guy I know), I enjoyed making new friends in the gathering. It was wonderful to be warmly received.

When time came for me to give my remarks about what Baptists are doing in the area of equality for the LGBT community, I could simply talk about my own experience. I told about how an internship at an open and affirming Baptist church helped guide me to seminary many years ago. I told of how some Baptists have been united in the welcoming and affirming movement for years, especially those found within the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists to which Washington Plaza is a supporting congregation. I talked about how having an "all are welcome" stance has been such a blessing to our local church both for the gay and straight members-- for it is good to simply be together and realize we have more in common than we might first think. Being gay is just a non-issue.

The shock of all shocks were the looks of disbelief I got from the crowd when I talked about a church open to gay members in Reston, Virginia of all places! It was as if I was speaking about something that folks never thought possible and my good news was that it had already happened. One woman was crying.

After the service, countless folks came up to me and wanted to share stories about "when they used to be Baptist" or "when the Southern Baptists went crazy" and in receiving all of these words of encouragement, I looked at our music director also attending gathering and said to him, "You've been right all this time. There's so many people out there who have no idea that we exist and are elated to know!"  I ran out of business cards because I was passing out so many!

The same sentiment was true when a group from Washington Plaza hosted a booth at the Capitol Pride street festival on Sunday downtown DC. Though our booth somehow got mixed into the "children's area" away from the main traffic of Pennsylvania Ave. we met with a steady group of participants as we gave them our sticker: "Whosoever Means You" with our church name and website. There were several folks with the same blank stares on their faces as they saw the word, "Baptist and Accepting" in the same sign. Such began some interesting conversations for sure.

I'm so proud to be a part of a congregation which isn't afraid to say that you can be Christian and gay at the same time, saying the good news of Jesus is not exclusive. I'm proud to be the pastor of a Baptist church whose desire is to learn how to welcome any who find us and those who don't know they need us quite yet.

I look forward to the day when churches like WPBC, are not unusual, but the norm.