Friday, January 31, 2014

Recommended Reading 1-31-14 edition

  • KC Public Schools: Last week CCCUCC's own Jan Parks was on 90.1 KKFI
    talking about proposed plans for KC schools. Judy Ancel interviewed her on the Heartland Labor Forum. As promised, here's the link to that program.  MORE2 held a press conference on Thursday asking the decision on a plan for the future of KC Public Schools be put on hold until after the state auditor can audit the process the state school board used to hire CEE Trust whose plan is to radically do away with the school system and replace it with an experimental model that is sketchy to say the least.  Here's the KC Star article and here's the Fox 4 story.   
  • This week the state of Missouri executed Herbert Smulls for murdering a jewelry store owner near St. Louis.   In any death penalty case, there's the issue of killing someone to make the point that killing someone is wrong.  There is also the issue that if you are African-American and/or poor you are far more likely to get the death penalty.  Then there are the numerous cases of death row inmates exonerated by DNA evidence.  But in Missouri death penalty cases, there are a whole lot of murky issues.  The latest issue of The Pitch has a cover story about Missouri's process of lethal injection that is worth reading.  Did you know that MO bought its lethal injection machine from a Holocaust denier who had his engineering credentials revoked?  How about the fact that the doctor overseeing the injections was dyslexic and guessing at dosages?  What about the fact that MO got its drugs from an Oklahoma compounding pharmacy which means there is no sure way to know if the drug was made correctly--oh, and it's illegal for citizens of MO to transport drugs from a compouding pharmacy across state lines?  The list of the crazy lengths MO goes to to kill a killer is long.   
  • Rolling Stone's latest issue contains a story about Kansas City's own International House of Prayer (IHOPKC) and the death of Bethany Deaton, IHOPKC member and part of a group of church members who seemed to operate like a cult.  Her death which apparently was a homicide is only the tip of the iceberg in this frightening story of what happens when you have a religious movement that allows for anyone and everyone to have "prophecies" from God that can justify any kind of behavior.  Further information is provided in this blog post by an IHOPKC member who knew the group involved with Bethany Deaton's death.
  • New polling data ranks the "most Bible-minded" cities in the U.S.  Springfield, MO ranked high on the list.  The criteria for making the list were the percentage of residents who "read the Bible in the past seven days" and  "agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible."  Religion scholar S. Brent Plate read about this research and asks, "What about Bible-bodied cities?"  He notes that "Bible-minded" cities tend to be in places with the highest incarceration rates, executions and number of strip clubs.  Therefore, he wonders if the teachings of the Bible only stay in your mind, does that mean they don't make it into your actions?      
  • Here's a great post by Lutheran pastor Erik Parker on "12 Reasons Why It is Good to Be a Church Bully."  I encourage CCCUCC members to read this and see if they recognize any of the behaviors mentioned from their past experience in our church.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Don't Be a Troll

If you think a troll is a creature from a fairy tale who lives under a bridge ready to eat goats who pass by, you are not hip to what the kids are doing these days on that there interwebthingy.  In today's networked world, the word troll has a different meaning.  A good definition is found at the web site Internet Archive:

If you ever scroll down to the bottom of a web page--say a YouTube video or an article--you will see a place where comments can be posted, and if you dare to read those comments you will most likely find some really crude and hateful stuff.  This is the work of internet trolls.

It's not clear where the term originally came from or who coined it, but it is fitting.  There is just something about the internet that seems to allow a person's inner monster to come out.  There's been a wealth of stuff written about the false sense of anonymity that surfing the internet seems to foster.  Since people are most likely alone when they use the internet and since they are interacting with a two-dimensional screen filled with words or images, they seem to forget that at the other end of this amazing network of computer wires sit real people.  This illusion of privacy tends to lead people to do and say things they would never do or say in a face-to-face encounter.

The internet is only a tool--granted a super-complex ever-evolving one--so it is neither inherently good nor inherently bad.  The use the internet is put to by human beings is what can become--okay I'll say it--evil.  A lot of what people write, post, say and do on the internet is evil stuff, and I think people carry out that evil largely because they really don't remember they are interacting with other human beings.

I listen to a number of podcasts (for those who don't know the term think radio programs downloaded from the internet).  The ones I enjoy most are by comedians.  Although they are rarely free of curse words and sexual innuendos, they are often filled with brilliant observations.  For these comedians who create content for the internet, trolls are a hazard of the profession.  Although most of these comedians are used to dealing with hecklers in a comedy club and come with thick skin, they often cop to feelings of anger towards the internet trolls.  One comedian I listened to this week (for those keeping score it was Chris Hardwick on Andy Greenwald's Grantland podcast) described how he posted a message about his father's recent death only to watch as the trolls filled the comment sections on his web site with cruel jokes about his dead father.  He was surprised at how hurt and angry he felt. 

That same comedian went on to talk about how in our culture it is utterly common to be snarky, cynical and even cruel about the work others do.  He stated that it is now a real act of character to actually publicly declare you like something or someone, because you will have to deal with all the trolls who do nothing but spew negativity.  I thought to myself, "Wow.  that'll preach."

For all the benefits that the internet and social media offer us, like any other form of communication including face-to-face conversation such tools can be misused.  If we are to follow Jesus and be people of integrity, our actions need to be the same whether we are having a face-to-face interaction or a virtual one.  Jesus' words on this subject are tough to hear: "Everything that is secret will be brought out into the open. Everything that is hidden will be uncovered.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight. What you have whispered to someone behind closed doors will be shouted from the rooftops."  (Luke 12:2-3 NIrV)  The idea that what we put out on the internet (or put out there in a real world conversation) doesn't matter is a delusion.  We get to decide whether we will merely spew more negativity out into an already overly negative culture or whether we will dare to put ourselves out there in a positive, life-giving way. 

(Just in case you were wondering, keeping my inner troll on a tight leash is at times a struggle for a minister too.  Jesus' words are hard for me to hear.)

Around the office, at the coffee shop and yes, even at church, it is easy to slip into a pattern of cynical criticism that only tears down others and their work.  A way to find cheap community is to join in with others' complaints.  True community means joining with others to celebrate, rejoice and aspire to better things.  It means supporting others as they deal with life's struggles rather than kicking them when they are down. 

Let's seek true community as we follow Jesus together. 
Grace and Peace,

This week's recommended reading 1.24.14 edition

  • KC Public Schools: This week  CCCUCC's own Jan Parks was on 90.1 KKFI talking about proposed plans for KC schools. Judy Ancel interviewed her on the Heartland Labor Forum.  If you missed it they are going to upload it to the web, so I will share a link whenever get one.
  • Ever thought about recycling your body?  Here's an interesting article about "Green Burials" that people have begun to choose as a statement of their faith and care for God's creation.  (By the way, you do know don't you that CCCUCC has a Memorial Garden where your cremated remains can be interred?)   
  • Things continue to look bad for United Methodists who support marriage for same-gender couples, but thank God for clergy who are standing up and speaking out for LGBT people.
  •  It is a falsehood that only conservative churches grow.  That idea has been around for some time, but it's just not true.  Progressive churches can grow if they choose to do so.  As this great article shows, the theology doesn't matter when it comes to church growth.  Whether conservative or liberal or somewhere in between, any church can grow if it chooses to do so.   
  • Each week UCC theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite keeps writing great stuff.  This week her essay title speaks for itself: Proof Jesus was Not a Capitalist: The Richest 1 Percent Own Half the World's Wealth.   
  •  Here's a piece with a provocative title: "Stop Celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr."  It's point: we celebrate King but don't pay attention to what he stood for.  He preached about the "triple evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism," but we give lip service to the first and ignore the other two.
  • In Shreveport, LA, a city council member was trying to block a proposed ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual or gender identity.  Read this inspiring story of a transgender woman who dared him to cast the first stone.  
  • Younger Christians are less supportive of the death penalty, and new polling shows that only 5% of Americans think Jesus would support the death penalty.  I wonder if those 5% understood that Jesus was executed by the state.
  • Guess what?  Poverty literally makes a person sick.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Last Week's Recommended Reading

Each week I share a list of articles that were meaningful to me on my church e-mail list.  Here's last week's list--still worth reading this week:
  • KC Public Schools: This week members of CCCUCC joined with members of other congregations in MORE2 and went to Jefferson City to protest at the state Board of Education meeting at which the director of CEE Trust presented its plan for the future of KC Public schools (he was interviewed on KCUR the day after).  The many weaknesses of the CEE Trust plan are detailed in this article by Bruce Baker.  Lewis Diuguid also had an editorial in the KC Star opposing the CEE Trust.   
  • Just in case you don't see enough of me, you can see a video of me talking about why it is a moral duty to fix our broken immigration systemMore2 and its parent organization the Gamaliel Foundation are using my video and videos of other clergy from across the country in a push for immigration reform.  
  • Speaking of immigration reform, if you're wondering why you should care about it, I encourage you to watch this video of Mary Small, Asst. Policy Director for Jesuit Refugee Services/USA.  She precisely and prayerfully outlines the 5 important issues around comprehensive immigration reform(Citizenship, Family Unity, Worker Protection, Humane Borders and Vulnerable People) that make up this movement.
  • One of the most provocative articles I've read in some time seems particularly relevant for our congregation.  It asks "Are Liberals Too Special to Go to Church?"  New research says liberals have an "illusion of uniqueness" that does not lend itself to social cohesion, joining together for real social reform or religious community.  I think this goes a long way towards explaining why there will never really be a "Religious Left" in our country.   
  • Why is it that voters in "Red States" vote against their own economic self-interest?  This has been an on-going debate--think Thomas Frank's book What's the Matter With Kansas?   Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has his own idea and it goes beyond hot-button issues like guns and abortion.  He thinks a major factor is that most Red States are so starved for jobs that their voters will never stand up for better working conditions, higher pay, environmental regulation, etc.  It's a provocative idea for us Christians to consider if we really want economic justice as described in the Bible.
  • If CCCUCC really wishes to be an Open and Affirming church to LGBT people, that means expanding our conceptions of what family is and can be.  Here's an article about transgender people having children for you to consider.
  • In Nigeria, homosexuals were arrested and tortured.  If that's not bad enough, American Evangelical Christians are fueling actions like this one in Africa in places like Nigeria and Uganda.  UCC theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite writes about it in a piece titled "Jesus, Torture and Homophobia in Nigeria."  
If you want more recommended reading from me, follow me on Facebook or Twitter.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Last Week's Recommended Reading

I sent this out to my church e-mail list last Friday.  It just took me a while to stick it up here on the blog.  If you missed any of these, however, they are still worth reading six days later!
  • Bill Tammeus has been on a roll this week with two pieces I appreciated: the first deals with churches welcoming (or not) people with disabilities and the second is a review of Bill O'Reilly's book Killing Jesus.  The latter reminds us that when Christians get the story of Jesus' death wrong the results are usually really bad (e.g. Spanish Inquisition, pogroms, Holocaust, etc.) 
  • This past year at the United Church of Christ General Synod (its biennial national meeting) those gathered voted to have the denomination and all its subsidiaries divest from companies who produce fossil fuels.  Here's an article in Slate that argues divestment doesn't make much of an economic impact, but publicly shaming corporations may be a good way to make change.  
  •  Last week I shared an article about Pope Francis in the New Yorker that was largely positive towards the pontiff.  This week, I offer you a rejoinder by a Roman Catholic feminist theologian who thinks we are all hitting the "papal LIKE button" too soon.
  • On my list of books to pick up, is Molly Worthen's Apostles of Reason: The Crisis of Authority in American Evangelicalism thanks to this great book review.  All of us get e-mails from friends and family members who forward on stuff about evolution being a hoax, Obama being a secret Muslim, America no longer being a Christian Nation, etc.  This book offers a reason why such views are an enduring part of the American landscape.  (Any who have wrestled with philosopher Charles Taylor's A Secular Age will be especially interested in this review.)
  •  Raise your hand if you heard or read someone this past week declaring the polar vortex proves there is no global warming!  If so, you should send them this op-ed by UCC theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite who deals with that question and talks about sins against the environment.
  • I am definitely not a fan of 'N Sync's music, but I'm married to someone who is.  That's the reason I even recognized the name Lance Bass--he was a member of the 90's boy band.  Bass is gay, and this week  he published the remarks his Southern Baptist mother made to her church in support of her gay son.  Very moving! 

When is an Apology Not an Apology?

One of the great things about living near New York City was listening to public radio station WNYC all the time.  I still listen to the podcasts of some of their programs including the weekday talk show, The Brian Lehrer Show.  As a part of his coverage of NJ Governor Chris Christie's non-apology (for his administration causing traffic jams as political payback to a local city mayor who failed to support Christie's re-election bid), the public radio program had a segment on what makes for a good apology and conversely what makes for a bad apology or even a non-apology apology.

The guest on the show was Lauren Bloom, a lawyer and minister, who has written a book titled The Art of the Apology.  I don't know anything about Bloom, except I liked what she had to say not just about Governor Christie's non-apology but also about what makes for a true apology.  Here are her basic points:
  • It's not about you--stick to the hurt you've caused the other person
  • Be sincere--it seems obvious. . . 
  • Don't lie--also seems obvious but . . .  
  • Don't demand forgiveness--forgiveness is a gift
  • You have to care--be compassionate towards the one you have hurt
  • Wait before you apologize--really think about what you have done and why you are sorry
  • Non-apologies--I'm sorry if you feel that way. . . I'm sorry if. . . I'm sorry but. . .  
One of my pet peeves is when politicians (and they all do it no matter their party affiliation) do the perp walk in front of the TV cameras and declare "I'm sorry if anyone was offended. . . "  Celebrities of all stripes issue similar non-apologies.  When I hear those awful words, I think, "So, you're really just sorry that there are people in the world who were offended, but you're not really sorry for what you did or said?"  The word "sorry" comes out of their mouths or their speech writer's or publicist's computer, but they really do not offer an apology. 

I'd love to say that I have never uttered such words, but I have.  In arguments that are the most heated and most personal, I have uttered similar words--a non-apology in order to get an apology out of the person I'm arguing with or maybe just to move on and get the argument over with.  When I or anyone else offers a non-apology, we aren't really sorry for anything we have done--we just wish the other person would get over it.  Far better, it seems to me for me to reconsider what I've done and ask the other person to give me some time to think about what they have said.  I usually find that when I cool down and the adrenaline and emotion subside, I'm much more willing to actually consider another person's point of view.  Furthermore, I usually discover that whatever point I was trying so hard to make often isn't worth hurting someone else over.

In our time when we can do real damage to others by simply hitting "reply" or "tweet" or "publish" without really thinking about it first, the art of the apology seems like a lost art. 

If we are willing to stop and consider what an apology actually is then we discover that it is an entirely Christian thing to do.  A true apology involves compassion--literally "suffering with"--and thinking about what it is like to be the other person.  It involves reconciliation and repairing broken relationships.  A true apology means acknowledging one's own mistakes and one's failure to treat the other with at the very least respect but more importantly with love.  A true apology is an attempt to state clearly what I have done to hurt others without the addition of "and," "if" or "but"; an apology is taking responsibility for one's own actions regardless of what others may have done to you.

An apology, if it is true, can be a liberating act, because it is given without the expectation of the other person apologizing in return.  (If an apology is offered just to prompt an apology out of another, then it is not a true apology.)  We cannot control what others do and say to us, but we can control what we do and say to others.  Giving a true apology means being emotionally mature enough to claim responsibility for what you do and say even if that apology is not accepted.   A genuine apology involves letting go of bitterness and anger in order to work towards reconciliation.  Even if an apology is not accepted, it is a relief to let go of the baggage resentment forces us to carry.

Of course, an apology, if it is true, as anyone in a 12-step group can tell you, means making amends--literally working to mend what you have broken--whether it is something like trust or something more tangible.  Amends can't really begin, however, without a legitimate apology.

To Bloom's list above, I would add another item--prayer.  Like most things on the above list, praying seems like an obvious thing to do, however if I'm pissed off or stuck in some kind of shame spiral where I don't want to face my own behavior, prayer is the absolute last thing I want to do.   Ultimately, finding the integrity inside yourself to really apologize is grace--something greater than us is needed--something we can't make happen on our own.  When we are honest, we all can be pretty damn selfish, stubborn and narrow-minded, so we need God's help to truly apologize and then let the chips fall where they may.  Taking a moment to ask for God's help as you consider your apology matters, because we need the help. 

In the letter of James, we find these words about the tongue:

"For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue-a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water?"

We act from so many mixed motives--often ones that we are not even conscious of--that we need the help of something beyond ourselves to speak an apology from a place of integrity. 

As we continue the journey together, let us learn to apologize.

Grace and Peace,

Friday, January 3, 2014

This week's recommended reading

Each week I try to write a weekly column to send out to my church's e-mail list.  In it, I try to include articles, interviews, etc. that I find meaningful or important that week.  I just realized I could have been posting them here, so I will try to do so from now on.
  • The unfortunate drama regarding KCMO public schools continues.  The KC Star had an editorial last Sunday calling for the state law to be changed which requires non-accredited districts to pay for student transfers to other districts.  Given that MO State Education Commissioner Nicastro refused to grant the district's accreditation as a part of what looks to be a pre-determined plan to privatize it, KCMO public schools are trapped between going bankrupt as they pay for students to leave and going with whatever plan Nicastro and her corporate allies choose to do with i
  • There is much to like about Pope Francis.  James Carroll (author of Constantine's Sword and other great books) has an article in The New Yorker about Pope Francis that is well worth reading.  Although I remain frustrated with Pope Francis' insistence that homosexuality is a sin and that women cannot be called by God to be clergy, I agree with Carroll that Francis' change in tone away from judgment is huge.  Also, his emphasis on the world's poor and critique of global capitalism in its current exploitative form is prophetic in the best sense of the Christian tradition.  If you prefer listening to Carroll share his thoughts on Francis personally, take a listen to his interview on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
  •  Speaking of radio interviews, here are two on the public radio program On Being (I liked it much better when it was called Speaking of Faith) which are worth listening to--an interview with Marilynne Robinson, author of two of my favorite books Gilead and Home;  and an interview with Walter Brueggemann, probably the most significant scholar on the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in the last generation--his book The Prophetic Imagination remains one of the most significant books on the Bible that I own.  We will be praying together one of Brueggemann's prayers in worship Sunday. 
  • We got a call here at church on New Year's day from a local TV reporter wanting to do a follow up story now that the Boy Scouts of America have lifted their ban on gay scouts.  Hopefully, you recall the national media coverage CCCUCC received from its protest of the ban on gay scouts and leaders.  Unfortunately, we didn't get the message until the next day and he had already done the story.  Thank God the ban on gay scouts is lifted, but the ban on gay scout leaders remains.  (Which means we could not host a troop at our church since the organization actively discriminates against our members.)  I certainly agree with the NY Times' editorial asking for the BSA to lift its ban on gay scout leaders.       
  • At the end of 2013 there are many "Best of. . . " book lists just as there are every year, but here's one you may have missed: Great Books on Religion 2013--a list of academic books on religion recommended by the folks at Religious Dispatches.
  • If you've ever wondered why young clergy quit the ministry or for that matter why young Christians quit the church, here's a good first-person account of church conflict that gives a reason why.  It's by Rev. Elizabeth Myer, a UCC-Disciples of Christ minister sharing about one of her negative experiences of church early on in her career as a minister.  
  • No matter what you may think about the January 1 legal sale of marijuana in Colorado, I encourage you to read UCC theologian Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite's essay "Marijuana: A Theology."  She puts in theological perspective the effects of our country's failed war on drugs upon the "common body" of our culture.

Who Cares What a Guy From Duck Dynasty Says?

I've never watched an episode of Duck Dynasty.  I'm clearly not its target demographic.  So, when I first heard that Phil Robertson, the patriarch of the family showcased in the show, had made remarks to GQ magazine declaring homosexuality a sin and quoting scripture to justify those remarks, I literally thought, "Who the hell cares what that guy thinks?"  (If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you know I posted a statement to that affect.)  Robertson also remarked in the same article that African Americans he knew before the Civil Rights era had no complaints and a video has surfaced where he told young men at a church retreat to make sure and marry girls when they are 15 or 16 before they get older and go after your money, so considering the source of the anti-gay remarks I figured any sane person wouldn't care.  
Given that thousands of people protested A&E's decision to put Robertson on suspension, and the network eventually reinstated him to the TV show, I guess a lot of people do care and certainly many people in that group would qualify as sane.  If you went out Christmas shopping this year, you discovered, as I did, that Duck Dynasty is a big deal.  I want the agent these guys have, because they are on everything from coffee mugs to board games to the duck calls that made them rich in the first place.  Now they even have their own line of guns.  Oh, and Robertson's book sales have soared since the controversy.  
A lot of people care what a guy from Duck Dynasty says, because they agree with him, but there also are people out there who care what he says, because they are thinking about killing themselves.   

A friend of mine from college named Brian Copeland posted his thoughts on the whole controversy on Facebook (I shared it on my page).  I asked his permission if I could write about our friendship and share some of his thoughts with you.   

Brian is gay, and he and his spouse Greg have adopted a beautiful boy together.  Back when I knew Brian at the little Baptist college we attended together, I didn't really know what it meant to be gay.  I knew what a homosexual was, but I didn't know any who were out.  By that time, I had ingested plenty of "God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve" sermons by preachers, and although by college I had begun to question whether or not homosexuality was a sin (I wrote a research paper on the subject), I had no real clue about the pain LGBT people experience due to condemnation by Christians. 

Brian and I had classes together, saw each  other all the time, and even lived in the same off-campus house together our senior year with a bunch of other guys.  Jokes were made behind Brian's back about him being effeminate, but I really was clueless about his sexuality.  Brian came out a few years after graduation, and by that time I had friendships with gay and lesbian people and no longer had any questions whether or not homosexuality was a sin.  So, I e-mailed Brian and told him I had heard the news and that I accepted him as he was--and I apologized for not being the sort of friend to him in college that he needed.  We've stayed in touch since. 

I could have guessed that Brian bore real emotional pain as he struggled with his own sexuality.  The college we went to was not exactly open-minded, and it probably still is one of the last places a homosexual person would ever come out.  Also, Brian came from a small community in East Tennessee, where he grew up going to church with his family and hearing sermons not very different from what Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty would appreciate.  All that being said, I really had no idea how deeply Brian was hurting when we were in college together.  When Brian shared his thoughts about the whole Duck Dynasty stuff last week, he also shared his experience of pain growing up feeling he was bound for hell and unloved by God.  

Here's a bit of what Brian shared publicly on Facebook:
My entire childh
ood and teen life, I sat every Wednesday, most Fridays, every Saturday and every Sunday night and Sunday mornings (yes, we went to church that much) and heard the exact rhetoric Mr. Robertson said. I was not shocked by his comments. What he said was mild compared to some of the preaching I grew up with. . .  

After those weekly sermons that told me that gays were demon-possessed, that the Lake of Fire was made for the perverted homosexuals, that fags should all be put to death, I'd go to my room as a 12-year-old and weep.

I remember hearing a sermon on Job 42:6...about "if I abhor it, get in ashes." I remember sneaking ashes into my bedroom, spreading them out on a trash bag and laying in them all night crying my eyes out begging for my demons to be removed.

I remember when I was 15 calling my dad's insurance company and asking if castration was covered under the plan and if my dad and mom would ever know if I did it.

I remember the choice, yes, the CHOICE I made not to be gay (because it wasn't a choice), but rather the choice to stay alive instead of killing myself in a dorm room when I was 19, plotting on how a sheet would hang around my neck from a hook in the cinder blocks of my dorm. That choice to live was the best one I ever made. Life is amazing. Life is happy. Life couldn't be better here on this side. . .  
I really do thank God that Brian made the choice to live.  I made a mistake thinking that in 2014 the kind of anti-LGBT views expressed by someone like a TV reality star don't matter, because they do matter.  They matter, because there are too many young people like Brian out there who still believe that God is ready to destroy them because of their most basic sexual desires.  It's easy to think that in the world we live in today as opposed to twenty years ago (or longer)--that with so many LGBT role models--that with the "It Gets Better" campaign--that the days of young people contemplating suicide because of their sexuality are over.  They are not.   

I'm straight, so I am admittedly removed from what it is to be told that "God hates the sin but not the sinner" and from the pain of my family and my church rejecting me because of my sexual orientation.  Nonetheless, I like to think that I have been sensitized to the pain of LGBT people due to the many LGBT people I know personally, but I realized after reading Brian's words that I am at times guilty of only seeing what I want to see, only surrounding myself with people who believe the same way I do about LGBT people and forgetting the terrible pain so many LGBT people remain in.   

I pastor a church where there is an incredible amount of LGBT/heterosexual integration.  LGBT people have held and continue to hold every position of authority the church has, and I believe that by and large within our church community people are accepted as people regardless of their sexuality.  Yet, I believe the flip side of the grace we enjoy together can also mean that we can forget that in most churches a far different message is being proclaimed and LGBT people remain tormented and suicidal.   

So, I ask you the people of CCCUCC--both straight and LGBT--to not make the same mistake I did.  The advocacy we have done in my short time here and in the many years before I came here on behalf of LGBT people--efforts to proclaim loudly the message that God accepts LGBT people--is still not enough.  There are plenty of voices of hate coming from Christian churches and too few voices of grace.  The loudest voices promoting equality for LGBT people tend to be secular ones rather than religious ones.  Does not our faith in a loving God demand that we do more for young people in grievous pain because of the image of a wrathful God they have been taught?  Shouldn't we be doing more to declare to young LGBT Christians and those who care about them that they do not have to choose between holding onto a faith that condemns them and rejecting it altogether, because there is a third way--understanding that God accepts them as they are? 

If your answer is no, perhaps you should read my friend Brian's words again. 

Grace and Peace,