Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Message to the Church I Grew Up In by Millie Magner

This coming Sunday, the church where I serve will be voting on whether or not to become what is called "Open and Affirming" in our denomination, which means accepting all people into the full life of the church, including LGBT people. Over the last few months, people in our church have been sharing their perspectives on why we should do this, and I've been meaning to post them here, but I just never got around to it. With a little less than a week to go, however, here they are. This one was in our church newsletter on

October 5.

The Administrative Board has approved the following change to the church by-laws that outlines what our church means when it seeks to welcome all people. This by-laws change will be voted on by the congregation later this fall.

“First Christian Church of St. Joseph is open to and affirming of all people whatever their gender, race, age, culture, ethnic background, sexual orientation, economic circumstance, family configuration, or difference in ability. All who seek to follow Christ are welcome into our community to share fully in its life and ministry.”

The statement, if taken seriously, is a challenge to our church as we seek to welcome all people as Christ welcomes us. Such a welcome may mean moments of discomfort, changes to policies or even facilities and potential for misunderstandings as we seek to welcome the groups of people mentioned above, but such a welcome also offers us possibilities for joy as we experience the grace of Jesus Christ in new ways. Millie Magner, sister of Reva Fields and daughter of Jim and Virginia Magner (both now deceased), shares her thoughts on a church being open to all people. Millie grew up in FCC and now lives in Seattle.

A Message to the Church I Grew Up In
By Millie Magner

It was just like any day in Seattle; I was driving home across the Fremont Bridge. But that day, the acrid taste of a gun barrel filled my mouth. It was not real - even though it tasted real. I was terrified. I actually tasted it as though the gun were there between my teeth. I thought I was going to die. It was my very soul crying out for help; my wake-up call. Thank God I never got to the point that I put a real gun in my mouth. I survived. I got help.

I had grown up in a loving family; though we never knew a lot of financial security, we knew we were loved. Beyond my family was a church, First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, that taught me a loving, questioning theology. Even still, I had heard loud and clear society's voices long before I heard the word "homosexuality" or knew the meaning of "queer." I knew being a lesbian wasn't acceptable.

For years I denied who I was and shut down that part of me that would someday help me flourish. Then finally, at 45, that self could no longer remain buried; it became life or death. I chose life, and therapy strengthened my acceptance. I was one of the lucky ones. When I came out to my family, I was embraced. My friends near and far surrounded me with love and acceptance. But all around me, I still heard "Not acceptable." Under the stress, I left teaching. However, change had begun. In 1992, University Christian Church, Disciples of Christ voted to become "Open and Affirming." I began hearing the positive messages within my own congregation and denomination. I became a part of GLAD Alliance (Gay, Lesbian, Affirming, Disciples Alliance). Still, it was some time before I comfortably came out to my own church. Years of societal messages of unworthiness had to be undone before I moved from simply surviving to thriving.

It is imperative that churches today "come out." Just being nice and friendly to all isn't enough. The messages of hate are too strong. Kids are killing themselves and being killed - if not physically, spiritually. When churches declare themselves to be "open and affirming," they send out a true message of love. Oh, it's difficult, risky and scary to side with those on the outside, but being a Christian was never supposed to be easy. Christ didn't say "Bring your 'Lazy Boy' and relax with me." Churches pronouncing themselves "open and affirming" save lives - literally.

Beyond the Christian imperative, there are many reasons for churches to be open and affirming of people of all sexual and gender identities. Churches who refuse to do so deny their communities the opportunity to experience the depth and breadth of God's Creation.

Why should churches become "Open and Affirming?"

• To experience the process - Discussion results in new understanding.

• Conflicts once dealt with create deeper relationships.

• To deepen the understanding of God's creation and gifts

• To increase the vitality of the church's community - experiencing the gifts of the spectrum of God's creation including all gender and sexual identities.

• To be the Church prophetic

• To heal the wounds of exclusion

• To experience the love of God

I hope First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ of St. Joseph, the church that taught me about God’s love as a child, will choose to demonstrate God’s love to people who are literally dying for the church to accept them.

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