FEATURED SERMON: "Gay or Straight, All are Welcome."
23Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. 24Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. (Galatians 3:23-29, NRSV)
Jodie Dallas, does that name ring a bell with anyone? Jodie Dallas was a character played by Billy Crystal back in 1977 on the ABC sitcom Soap. The show, a parody of daytime soap operas, was controversial for its intentionally outrageous portrayal of racial and ethnic minorities, sexual stereotypes, and the mentally ill among others. Soap even showed up in a Sunday morning sermon at my boyhood Southern Baptist church. The minister didn’t condemn the show for its treatment of the mentally ill or racial stereotypes. No, the only reason he condemned Soap was because of the existence of Jodie Dallas, an openly gay character on the show. You’ll be glad to know that liberal groups including the National Gay Task Force, the National Council of Churches, and our own United Church of Christ condemned the show for promoting harmful stereotypes of gay people and other minorities.1 The conservative churches on the other hand, primarily criticized Soap for merely
having an openly gay character.
Needless to say, Soap was never watched in my home growing up. Although I do recall that hearing it condemned from the pulpit really made me want to see what all the fuss was about. (Since I’m grown, I guess I could Netflix it without my parents catching me!) After all the Soap brouhaha died down, I recall only heterosexuality being mentioned at church or my Baptist High School, with the exception of Elton John, whom I learned was supposedly “bi” (bisexual), although I had no idea what that meant. I honestly remember no references to homosexuality in my college years. As you can imagine, gay rights wasn’t exactly front and center in the early 1980’s at Mississippi State University.
All of this changed when I met Dave, who became one of my best friends in seminary. He was the first person to tell me that he was gay. Dave and I hit it off the first week of school. His room was across the hall from mine. We shared similar musical interests (U2 of course). We shared similar college experiences (we were both president of our college fraternities). We shared similar tastes in books (Frederick Buechner). To top things off, Dave had a wicked sense of humor. He also had a disease called neurofibromatosis, which caused tumors to grow throughout his nervous system.
When I met Dave in 1986, he had lost the ability to move half of his face and was slowly going deaf. Even on a seminary campus, some people rejected Dave before they really knew him because his face looked different than most. Perhaps this is why Dave chose to write me a letter to tell me that he was gay. At least it minimized the chances that I would reject him in person.
By the time he figured out he was gay, Dave had 2
moved to an apartment off campus that he decorated with beautiful religious icons. It turns out after he came to the conclusion he was gay, Dave came to another conclusion— he was an Episcopalian at heart, not a Southern Baptist. As soon as I read Dave's letter, I did two things. First, I wrote him a reply so he would always remember how the first person he came out to responded. Second, I hopped in my car and drove over to his apartment to give him a hug and tell him that his being gay made no difference to me, although I did question the wisdom of him becoming Episcopalian!
After Dave told me he was gay, I had a million questions. How long had he known? How did he figure it out? If he was going to tell his parents? I found his answers enlightening. He had dated plenty of women in college, but something just didn't feel right. For years he knew that he felt different from a lot of guys, but couldn't figure out why. When he finally figured out he was gay, it was like a veil lifted from his eyes. The big mystery of his existence had been solved. In time he told his parents, who even though they could not make theological peace with his discovery, loved and affirmed him nonetheless. He was an usher when Colleen and I got married and brought a date to the rehearsal dinner, a nice man named Michael. After he went deaf, Dave attended Gallaudet University in DC to immerse himself in deaf culture. Eventually his neurofibromatosis worsened and he moved back to Florida to be with his parents. He endured numerous surgeries with courage and hope, even though his prospects were bleak. Following his last surgery, Dave acquired an infection in the hospital that killed him.
I think about Dave when I see pictures of gay and lesbian young people who have killed themselves, usually following abuse and bullying from their peers. I think about Dave when I read of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
(LGBT) people being attacked, even in New York City and on Long Island. I remember Dave when I think of all the young people out there who are in the process of figuring out if they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. I hope that they have a supportive family, friends, and faith community like ours where everyone is accepted, affirmed, and loved. I hope they learn that there is a church in Manhasset with open doors and open hearts regardless of who people are or where they are on life's journey. I hope that those who need us hear our unequivocal message loud and clear, every one is welcome here.
In the face of bullying and other forms of discrimination faced by LGBT people, what has our church done to help? A little over a year ago I asked our Board of Deacons to consider adding our church’s name to a website called www.gaychurch.org, which meant we were publicly saying that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, are welcome here. After a thoughtful discussion, the Deacons voted to add our church to the site. (If you look for our church on the site, check under Manhasset and Long Island. At present the list is not cross-referenced, so we could be in either place, but not both. I’ve contacted the site’s organizers suggesting that the list be cross-referenced and offered my help.) During the discussion I reminded the Deacons that by adding our name to the list we were not changing anything about our church. On the contrary, we were just publicly acknowledging the reality of our church as a welcoming and open-minded church. In my 16 years here, you’ve never heard me say anything condemning of LGBT people. Our church has had gay and lesbian members and staff in the past, and hopefully will continue to do so in the future. We have had gay young people in our PF youth group and many congregants have gay and lesbian family members and friends. We are a welcoming church I contended, we just need to be more public about it. We shouldn’t be a “don’t ask don’t tell” congregation.
Our Board of Missions and Outreach has done its part too. A few years ago we gave money to the Long Island Crisis Center for their Pride for Youth program, which reaches out to LGBT youth as a safe haven.2 You’ll find brochures around the church for this program. In light of the recent violence, I think it was money well spent. Along this line, I recently learned that a Gay-Straight Alliance was formed at Manhasset High School a couple of years ago to offer support to LGBT students. I applaud the district for allowing the students to form this group.
I recently added my name to a letter written by progressive national church leaders which says in part, “Today, as leaders of Christian communions and national networks, we speak with heavy hearts because of the bullying, suicides and hate crimes that have shocked this country and called all faith communities into accountability for our words or our silence. We speak with hopeful hearts, believing that change and healing are possible, and call on our colleagues in the Church Universal to join us in working to end the violence and hatred against our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters. In the past seven weeks, six young and promising teenagers took their own lives. Some were just entering high school; one had just enrolled in college...These are only the deaths for which there has been a public accounting. New reports of other suicides continue to haunt us... There is no excuse for inspiring or condoning violence against any of our human family. We may not all agree on what the Bible says or doesn’t say about sexuality, including homosexuality, but this we do agree on: The Bible says, ‘God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them.’ Abiding in love – together – is the rule we must all preach, teach, and seek to live by. People of faith must realize that if teens feel they will be judged by their church, rejected by their families and bullied by their peers, they may have nowhere to turn...The young people who took their lives a few weeks
ago died because the voices of people who believe in the love of God for all the people of God were faint and few in the face of those who did the bullying, harassing and condemning. Today we write to say we will never again be silent about the value of each and every life....To that end, we pledge to urge our churches, our individual parishes or offices, our schools and religious establishments to create safe space for each and every child of God, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. And we ask you to join us in that pledge.”3
At some point I will give a sermon on what the Bible does and does not say about homosexuality. For this morning I will just say that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality as we understand the issue today. Also, neither Jesus nor the prophets said anything one way or the other about homosexuality. For now let’s leave it with the words from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28). Jesus didn’t turn people away, and neither do we. AMEN.
Written by Rev. Jimmy Only October 31, 2010 The Congregational Church of Manhasset, New York (UCC)
Loving God, Creator of the universe and our Creator, we give you thanks this Reformation Sunday for brave reformers of old, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and others who struggled to make the church a better place. We give thanks for the reformers of today who encourage, prod, and push the church in the direction in which it should go. One direction your church needs to go is in the direction of inclusivity. Let us not rest until all your children, white and black, gay and straight, rich and poor are welcomed and included in every house of worship. Throw open the doors of our hearts that we might throw open the doors of our churches and welcome every single person as a sister and brother.
Through Jesus Christ our Friend and Savior we pray. AMEN.
1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soap_(TV_series) 2 http://www.longislandcrisiscenter.org/pfy/index.html 3 http://ufmcc.com/ministries/global-justice/special-clergy-against- bullying-cab/