Paul Abels (August 4, 1937 – March 12, 1992) U.S.A

A striking feature of LGBT Church history, is how after a long period of invisibility, in the years following Stonewall, gay clergy followed other gay men and lesbians in coming out of their closets. Facing the prospect of so much more hostile reaction than those in some other professions, and with housing as well as income and career at stake, these people were embarking on acts of rare courage. In doing so, they were simply bearing witnessing to the truth of their lives, and its integration into their faith. In doing so, they can truly be regarded as modern martyrs. Paul Abels was one of the first. Like many others, he ultimately lost his career through his prophetic witness, and was forced to rebuild a new one outside of the church.

Lutheran Inclusion: Clergy Welcomed in San Francisco

This past summer, the PCUSA General Assembly voted to recognise openly gay and lesbian clergy. Last summer, the ELCA did the same. In neither case, did the decision immediately end the problems of the past. First, ratification was required, which the ECLA have since done, but not yet the PCUSA. That still was not enough.  We can all too easily overlook the long years of hurt inflicted on queer clergy prior to this decision. Changing the law is not enough: hurts must also be healed.

This is why I like this report , of a celebratory admission procedure for seven pastors in the San Francisco area.   Even before the Assembly decision last year, there were many gay or lesbian pastors working in welcoming congregations, but they could not get formal recognition on church rosters. With a change in regulations, it would presumably be a simple matter technically to arrange the inclusion on the roster in a simple, low key way – but that would not address the real problem.

Instead, the ceremony that has been planned will be joyous and festive. In addition to formally welcoming these pastors into full acceptance and inclusion, and making partial recompense for the years of slight, it will also be recognizing the many years of work, across a broad front, that led to the decision.  Chris Glaser and other queer writers on faith have observed that we, as gay, lesbian and trans people in church, have a need for formal ceremonies to mark our own special life transitions – such as coming out- which can be described as truly sacramental. This ceremony is just such a sacramental moment for these San Francisco Lutherans. Let us join with them in giving thanks and sharing our prayers – then extend the work into other faiths which still have further to go.

From the Kansas City Star:

“It’s going to be an extremely glorious and festive ceremony because it’s the culmination of decades of work to welcome LGBT people into the ELCA,” said Amalia Vagts, executive director of the Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries, a nonprofit that credentials openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people for ministry.

Megan Rohrer, one of the pastors who will participate in Sunday’s rite of reception service, grew up in South Dakota and attended a Lutheran college where she said students tried to exorcise her “gay demons” by throwing holy water on her. Some of those people are now Lutheran pastors in South Dakota, she said.

Rohrer, who is transgender and a lesbian, was ordained by four congregations in San Francisco in 2006, but could not join the ELCA roster until the denomination’s national assembly approved the new policy in August.

“I didn’t really believe the policy was going to change as quickly as it did,” she said.

Rohrer said she is hopeful Sunday’s service will be a “symbol” to young people that the Lutheran church is working toward becoming more welcoming of people of all different backgrounds.

Jeff Johnson, another one of the pastors who will be added to the roster, said the ELCA’s position for years of not accepting the choice of some congregations to ordain gay clergy was painful and disappointing.

“The actions the church is taking on Sunday affirms the decisions of those congregations,” Johnson, pastor of the University Lutheran Chapel in Berkeley, said. “The church is respecting our family, our partners, the choices we’re making.”


(Read the full story)

Anglican Inclusion as Toronto Welcomes the Queen – and the “Queens”.

By a happy chance, the visit of Queen Elizabeth to Toronto on Saturday coincided with Toronto’s Pride parade later the same day.

Joining the crowd were two gay men, Randy Pierce and Kim Hutchinson, who had just met a week ago. The pair, who wore khaki shorts and short-sleeved dress shirts, had come to see the Queen.

“We’re here to see the real Queen and the other queens,” Mr. Pierce said, outlining the couple’s plans for Sunday. “We’ve got time to leave and change and put on our happy gear. We had to tone it down for the real Queen, and spice it up for the others.”

The synchronicity provided an opportunity for a timely and thoughtful reflection by Douglas Stoute, Dean of St James Cathedral, on the theme of inclusion in the church, in a sermon calling for the Anglican Church to hold a “respectful, inclusive dialogue with all God’s people”.

“The church is undergoing a rebirth,” the Very Reverend Stoute told the congregation. “It is at times destructive.” He noted that some in the Anglican church have sought to defend traditional biblical ideas of who belongs and who does not, a reference to a schism in the Anglican church over the blessing of same-sex unions.

“A church grounded by inclusiveness and openness is becoming more relevant,” he said.
“Polarization within Anglicanism is not new,” Rev. Stoute added, noting the 16th-century division between Catholicism and Protestantism and the 19th century dispute between high church and low church.

“Throughout history Anglicanism has sought to find a middle road,” he added. “It is a recognition that we do not have all the answers. It requires that we let go of pride and reach out to listen with open minds and open hearts.”

(Read more at National Post_)

This is timely on two counts. The Canadian church recently disappointed by fudging a decision on church blessing for same-sex partnerships. Last year, the proposal was passed by a comfortable majority, but failed nevertheless because the proposal needed separate majorities from each of laity, clergy and bishops  – and comfortable majorities in the first two groups sat alongside a narrow loss among the bishops. This year, early expectations were that a fresh vote would get the three separate majorities required. This did not happen. Although the atmosphere was reported to be more conciliatory, with an increased commitment to listening to each other, the fact remains that the church remains divided, and has failed to accept a decision on inclusion that has the support of a clear majority overall. The Canadian church would do well to take Dean Stoute’s words to heart.

Meanwhile, back in the UK, an announcement is expected later this week which will confirm the first openly gay Anglican bishop, joining the Episcopalians Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool in the US, and Eve Brunne in Sweden as the world’s first openly gay or lesbians selected for ordination as bishops. (There have been openly gay bishops before, but in the earlier cases, they were not open about their sexuality until after selection).

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The Presbyterians’ New, Fiercely Pro-Gay Moderator.

The Presbyterian General Assembly continues to meet all week, and it could be days before there is any clarity on the important decisions to be taken on ordaining openly gay pastors, or on church recognition for same sex unions. One hopeful early sign though, may have come from the election of the new Moderator, whom Christian Post describes as “pro-gay”.

No, correction: it’s not just the CP that calls her “pro-gay”. She does so herself, very explicitly: Read the rest of this entry »

London Pride, PCUSA Assembly

I’m on my way into London for Gay Pride. As I walk down Oxford Street and Regent Street towards Trafalgar Square, part of my thoughts will be elsewhere, with the US Presbyterians, who have already announced that they are ready to celebrate progress towards LGBT equality, even before the crucial decisions to be taken by the Assembly, which starts today. They have reason to celebrate: while there is much to do still, there has been clear measurable progress already. The signs are good: National Assembly has already voted (last year) to approve ordination of gay and lesbian pastors. Only the failure to secure ratification from enough local congregations has prevented the decision taking full effect. This year is likely to see the proposal pass with a wider margin, and activists are continuing to gain further support at local level. Queer Presbyterians will also be encouraged by the venue – the same hall where the Lutherans tool their own ground-breaking decisions last year.

This report from Ekklesia has more:

Presbyterian advocates of equality for all members of the church, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people (LGBT), are announcing they are ready to celebrate continuing progress at the upcoming General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) which takes place from July 3–10, in Minneapolis.

“We have come so far toward fully including everyone in the denomination, we have reason to celebrate, even as we work for fuller inclusion. As we move forward, we will continue to lift up our core belief that we are all created in the image of God. We know that the church is living into a future that allows Presbyterians to follow their God-led consciences as they consider each candidate, rather than requiring exclusion,” said the Rev Tricia Dykers Koenig, National Organiser of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.

As the denomination gathers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, many are aware that in the same hall, one year earlier, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in American voted to allow ministers in partnered same-sex couples to be listed on the official roster and to serve the church. All requirements to limit participation were dropped and Lutherans are living into the new policies by receiving clergy back into the church.

Lisa Larges, head of That All May Freely Serve, said, “Faith traditions are moving toward a new understanding of God’s diverse creation. The time for policies based on our love of God and call to serve has come. Churches are learning to affirm gifts for ministry rather than reject ministers because of whom they chose as a life partner.”

“Worshipping in a Hate Crime?” A Catholic Straight Ally Disagrees.

Our straight allies are invaluable, and constantly growing in number, inside the churches as well as in the secular world. Without them, we would not have seen the progress towards equality and inclusion that I am constantly pleased to report on. I have written before of some specific evangelical allies, and of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who have spoken out publicly for us. One of the most prominent and hardest working members of our team at the Soho Masses is a straight woman. Every year, she spends most of the day at London Pride manning our information table, marching alongside us, or both. She will be there again today. I am certain that other queer worshipping communities elsewhere have similar valuable allies. Usually though, the people who speak up are identified church leaders. I found the story below, from a Catholic woman speaking up for her personal  motivation, inspiring.

A Catholic Presence at Minnesota Pride, 2008

A Catholic Presence at London Pride, 2007

Michelle Somerville, writing at Huffington Post, acknowledges the hurt that the institutional Catholic Church has inflicted and continues to inflict on its LGBT members, as it does on women.She points out however, that “the church”, which is much bigger than just its designated spokesmen in the “hierarchy”, does respect all comers, and that the church is capable of healing. It is to be part of this healing that she participates in her parish’s active LGBT ministry, including a stint manning a table at Pride. Here are some extracts:

A reader of my essay “Sex and the City of God” wrote the following in the Huffington Post comment field in response to my speculation on what might happen if every gay Catholic abandoned the Church for a month:

If every gay church worker, closeted or otherwise — music directors, nuns, priests, and lay ministers — were to call in sick for a month, Or just quit the RCC and join a church that respects them.

“Devon Texas” has a point, but like many women who remain in a church governed by misogynists, many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people believe they are part of a church that that can be healed — a church that belongs as much to them as to any of its members. While it is true that the Church hierarchy does not respect homosexuals, many gay men and women know that the people of the Church — who are the Church — do, for the most part, respect them. Read the rest of this entry »

The Decline of Religion Based Homophobia.

I have frequently written about (and celebrated) assorted pointers on the road to lesbitransgay inclusion in Church. There is an obvious corollary to that though, that I have not spelt out before: the steady decline of religion – based homophobia.

Perhaps we are so used to the publicity given to the extremist bigots that we have not noticed this decline, but it is most certainly a clear, unambiguous trend.  Not only are our straight allies in faith finding an ever stronger public voice in support, and the silent majority increasingly recognising the importance of tolerance for conflicting views, but the most vociferous opponents are a dying breed. I first recognised this in a report from Sacramento Pride:

Biggest news at Pride? No anti-gay protesters!

I wonder if it means something that the perennial “Sodomy is Sin” people decided to skip this year’s Pride Festival? I’d grown used to locating the parade by the presence of that big, yellow sign, but it was nowhere to be found in last weekend’s revels.

Something else I noticed, perhaps because I took so many photos. By far,the majority of organizations marching were religious in nature.

Yeah, I know; the common wisdom is that religion and gay people don’t mix,or at least that’s what you’d think if all you did was listen to the press. But I saw groups from all the major denominations: Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, Episcopalians, United Church of Christ, Unitarians, Jews … and there were even representatives from the Quakers (Society of Friends) and Seventh Day Adventists. (Yes, that’s right—the Seventh Day Adventists! Knock me over with a feather …) That’s the Elk Grove United Methodist Church, one of two groups of Methodists in the march.

Time to re-examine the meme that organized religion is opposed to anything gay. Apparently, it’s just not true. Read the rest of this entry »

“Uniting Church” Disunity Over Sacred Unions

In Australia, a church ceremony that was not a gay wedding has attracted the ire of gay marriage foes. In doing so, it has highlighted many of the challenges, tensions and achievements facing the churches over LGBT inclusion.

On one side:

NEITHER partner wore white, and everyone concerned carefully distanced themselves from the words ”wedding” or ”marriage”.

But the intent of the same-sex ”sacred union ceremony” at Brunswick Uniting Church was fairly clear: vows and rings were exchanged, there were prayers and blessings, and a multi-tiered white cake to aid post-service celebrations.

Damien Stevens, 30, who celebrated his sacred union with Chris Todd, 22, saw it as emotionally and politically significant to have their relationship recognised and blessed in church.

They were one of four couples who were joined on the same day in not- Holy Matrimony.

Not everyone was convinced: Read the rest of this entry »