Widen your heart — on changing a church’s mind

Four protestors were pacing outside in the hot San Jose, CA sun carrying large, colorful signs that read “God hates fags” and “Fags die – God laughs.” Protesting those protesters was a group of 10-12 people who were doling out cookies and singing, “They’ll know we are Christians by our Love.” It was the national meeting of the Presbyterian Church, USA.

As I watched the 4 protesters,  it occurred to me that the only thing I could do was talk to them. I walked up to the one who looked like the ringleader.

Hi. What’s your name?”

“Homos are going to hell!” he yelled at the top of his lungs.

I said, “My name is Shannon. What is your name?”

Silence.

I said, “Where do you go to church?” He continued to wave his sign and look nervously around. No answer.

I repeated, “My name is Shannon. What is yours?” He quieted down a little and told me his name.

Then he said out of the side of his mouth, “you don’t support those faggots, do you?”

I said, “Where do you go to church?” Then his story came tumbling out.

He was here with his wife and 2 others. He didn’t belong to any particular denomination and he did not live locally. He was paid to circle the U.S. and show up at denominational events which are dealing with sexuality issues.

This has happened for years, these paid advocates showing up with immoral, inflammatory signs, designed to garner attention. Even those opposed to allowing practicing gays and lesbians into ministry were (hopefully) sickened by them. Today, May 10, 2011, the Presbyterian church voted to allow each governing body to decide whether to ordain GLBTQ  people to serve in their churches. All people will be allowed to use their gifts to serve. I am still a little bit of happy shock.

We still have a long road. In Seattle, we have a marathon. When each regional body voted, Seattle was one of those that voted it down. What this means right now is that those who are serving in a Seattle church but are not yet public about their sexuality will remain stifled. Or perhaps they will move to a more hospitable region of the country. OR perhaps we will rethink our decision.

The tide is turning. I cannot tell you what good news this is to me. Over the years I have felt more and more alienated from the denomination that nurtured me. These types of issues are precisely why. So much time, money and conversation has been wasted that could have been used to care for the world.

I am currently working in a Methodist church that takes no concern over one’s sexual orientation. What a huge relief this has been. The best part? It’s no big deal. Gay. Lesbian. Straight. Whatever. We all worship and sing and pray for the same things. No uphill battle – no downhill battle. No battle.

It  is not too late for the Seattle Presbytery to change it’s mind.  As one of my heroes, William Sloan Coffin, said, “It’s always a good time to change your mind, when to do so will widen your heart.”

Several years ago I spoke to this issue on the “floor” of the Presbytery. I quoted a friend of mine who wrote a great song I recorded with her where she says “If I err, let it be on the side of grace.” www.AnnemarieRussell.com There was a vigorous nodding of heads by quite a few folks, which to Presbyterians is equivalent to rushing the stage at a U2 Concert, so I knew it had struck an important chord.

Really, I have asked myself, am I more gracious than the Creator of the Universe? I just don’t think so.

Can a denomination change its mind? I think the answer is a resounding “yes!.” We have changed our mind before and we will do it again. We are still a people in process. Maybe some day we will change our reputation. Instead of being the “frozen chosen” we will be known as the “those with hearts as big as God’s.”

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One Response to Widen your heart — on changing a church’s mind

  1. Jette Shears says:

    Amen!

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