These groundbreaking stories from Reconciling United Methodists made people stop and think about their old, worn out, and un-Christ-like attitudes and prejudices. Their stories are as relevant today as they were when this 61½-minute documentary was made 10 years ago.
All my life Iʹve been a Lesbian and a child of God. I didnʹt know about those things at first, and it took a few years before I realized the gifts I was born with. It took only 21 years before I realized I was a Lesbian. Unlike many other people, this was not a difficult realization for me. It took 31 years for me to realize I was a child of God and to accept Jesus into my heart and life. It was tough coming out as a Christian. I didnʹt know what my Gay friends would think of me, or whether they would accept me for who I was. Fortunately, they have, although we donʹt always talk about that part of me.
I wish more Gay and Lesbian folk felt more comfortable with God. But for good reason, they donʹt. Most churches have not only chosen to close their doors to us, but they make it their business to attack and publicly degrade us. Some churches even resort to ugly, mean spirited protests of our private times, such as funerals and pride gatherings.
Fortunately, more and more churches are opening their doors, and more and more members of various congregations are working to change things according to the example set by Jesus. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Seems clear enough to me.
Itʹs not always so easy. Iʹve been involved with the Reconciling Movement in the Methodist church for almost a year now. I felt a call from God to be involved. Over time what Iʹve come to understand is that my call is not to reach out to Gay and Lesbian people. My call is to reach out and love those who hate me. It is to reach out and help those who donʹt understand who I am, who my friends are, and what my community is about. In order to do that, I had to first accept the love and grace of Jesus Christ, and heal my anger and hurt from being rejected and condemned by a very vocal segment of Christianity.
I care deeply for the Gay and Lesbian community and want each member to know the peace that knowing God brings to oneʹs life. But my energy must go to love those that donʹt accept me, and that does take a lot of energy. It must go to my Pastors, who risk loss of employment and standing in the Church in order to speak out for me and all who are oppressed and marginalized. It must go to my straight friends who work by my side, who have not yet experienced the hate and the ugliness that this issue sometimes brings to light.
I donʹt want to push my Gay and Lesbian friends towards closed or partially open doors. I want to work to open the doors, so that my friends can simply walk in, hand and hand with their partners, without effort, without struggle, and without regret. I know thatʹs the way God wants it to be.
As I participated in one of the small groups at the Diversity Dialogue session that I attended, I noticed two things. First, there was sharp disagreement among the persons in my group over the question of whether homosexual activity was inherently sinful. While the conversation was respectful, it was also intense, with strongly held opinions on both sides of the issue. However, the second thing I noticed was that virtually everyone who spoke said that, as far as they were concerned, everyone should be welcome in the church. That really struck me. I had not expected to hear that said so clearly and by so many people. We are -- or at least want to be -- a church that welcomes all people. I think these two factors are at work throughout our church -- we disagree with one another profoundly over the question of the inherent sinfulness of homosexuality and yet, at our best, we do genuinely want to be a welcoming church. I have certainly seen both of these factors at work in my own local congregation as we have wrestled with this issue.
At times, the depth of our disagreement on the question of homosexuality seems almost overwhelming to me. However, as I sat listening in my small group at the Dialogue session, I began to wonder if it might be fruitful to focus more of our energy on the point on which we seem to agree - that we want to be a church that welcomes all people. Even while we disagree on the issue of the sinfulness of homosexuality, how can we as a church be truly welcoming to all persons, including those who are homosexual? In particular, how do we as a church make the welcome real without putting those among us who believe homosexuality to be inherently sinful in the position of feeling that, by welcoming a homosexual person, they are thereby condoning something that they cannot accept?
I don't have a ready answer to these questions. But I do think it is something worth working on. Let us make the most of that on which we agree even as we continue to talk about our differences. It would be a shame to let our disagreement over the question of the inherent sinfulness of homosexuality overshadow our agreement that God calls us to be a church that truly welcomes all of God's children.
Chapel Hill, NC
It is only recently that I have become personally aware of the vital importance of the Reconciling United Methodist Movement. I've recently been pleasantly surprised to find a place of worship where I am welcomed and accepted as a gay man.
I was raised in the United Methodist Church and attended with my family throughout my childhood. As a teenager, I struggled with my homosexuality and all the feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing that were forced upon me by people who teach the "all-encompassing love" of Jesus. I felt unable to confide my feelings in anyone. Thus, I created a wall around myself. It is a horrible way to exist.
Unable to communicate my feelings, I found that God had given me the gift of music. So instead of talking with my family or minister, I played the piano and sang to express myself. I poured myself into my music study. Soon, music was pouring out of my heart through the piano keys. It was the only outlet I had to express happiness, anguish, and the fearfulness that engulfed my life as my own homophobia crushed me tighter and tighter.
My gift was soon recognized and I began playing at churches. I was a church musician by my Junior year in high school. For the better part of the next ten years, I played in church nearly every Sunday. I was employed by Methodist, Southern Baptist, and Independent Baptist Churches, both small and very large. Ironically, no one ever welcomed the REAL me. Had anyone discovered my sexual orientation, I would've been fired. Thus, I came to consider my music as only a job. It was a paycheck, as I did not feel welcomed to worship.
Fortunately, salvation is personal and I came to accept myself and felt confident that surely God would accept me "Just As I Am". Anger and guilt festered inside me as I became dependent on the paycheck and felt forced to deny myself. On several Sundays I sat quietly at the keyboard, jaws clenched, as the minister spoke with apparent disgust about homosexuality. (Not realizing he was speaking of his valued pianist.) Many times I have regretted not standing up at those moments and walking out in front of a thousand people and never looking back.
Finally I quit playing for church and thus, quit attending church for over five years. I had become successful by mine and many other people's standards. I have health, stability, wonderful friends and family, a good job, and a partner of over eight years. I am happy and at peace. Only recently did I have the opportunity to substitute at a local church. It turned into an option to play full time again. Most refreshing, was the fact that the pastor actually KNEW I was gay, and accepted me anyway without judgment. Imagine that! I was welcomed into this wonderful, warm and friendly church. As I interviewed with the Music Committee, I disclosed that I also accompany the Triangle Gay Men's Chorus -- and not one nose turned up. Imagine that! It is terrific to finally be accepted and free to express and share my real self. I also discovered to my surprise, that I had been nearly spiritually starved to death. I am grateful that God brought me to this beautiful church family that is willing to accept me. It makes ALL the difference. Hopefully this story drives home the importance of how the people of God affect lives. There are countless people that have given up on the church. Who could blame them? Do you want to go where you know you are not welcome?
Thank you for providing this forum. I hope my story helps inspire someone to move toward reconciliation -- and honest love and acceptance of ALL God's children. There are more people in your community waiting for you to welcome them than you have seating for in your church!
-reprinted from "Southern Voice"
When Dr. Mike Cordle walked into St. Mark United Methodist Church eight years ago, he was the downtown Atlanta church's "last resort," chosen to lead the declining congregation because of his reputation as a high-energy, charismatic pastor. After the service on that first Sunday, in June 1991, he stood outside watching the Atlanta Gay Pride parade go by
"A parade -- this is just like a small town!" he remembers thinking at the time.
A year later, Cordle once again stood outside St. Mark, observing the Pride parade. Looking back on a difficult year that brought only eight new members to a congregation of less than 100, he watched parade participants give his two-year-old daughter flowers, balloons and whistles as they walked by.
"As I watched the people, I saw they looked just like my brothers, sisters, peers, parents... They just wanted to be recognized for what they were," Cordle said.
From that moment on, he said, he felt compelled to open the doors of his church to the gay community.
In the months that followed, Cordle struggled with his "calling," worrying it would be "professional and political suicide" within the Methodist church. But as he became more convinced that welcoming gays to St. Mark was the right thing to do, he presented the idea to church leadership, expecting the worst. To his surprise, they agreed. The next year, St. Mark members stood outside during the Pride parade passing out water to the participants, a centuries old church tradition, and leaflets inviting them to church.
"People cried. They were shocked.... They said, 'Do you know who we are?"' remembered Cordle. "We said, 'Just come and see."'
This year, St. Mark boasts a thriving membership of 1,250, and the church expects about 10,000 visitors. Churchgoers drive from all over the Atlanta area and as far away as Macon to attend Sunday services. Cordle has become a national resource, receiving calls from all over the country from church leaders wanting to know more.
The congregation has formed numerous care and support organizations, including services for homeless people, an AIDS support/care team, outreach groups that travel all OVER the country, a growing throng of children, and a choir renowned throughout the city.
Though many in the gay community cheer the transformation at St. Mark's, some gays and some conservatives in his denomination are more skeptical -- suspecting a skillful marketing ploy to save a dying church.
"I am not that bright," laughed Cordle. "I thought we might get 10 new members. I was taking a chance late in my career, and no matter what happened, it was the right thing to do."
Cordle said he is pained by denomination regulations that prohibit him from performing same-sex weddings like the ceremony for a lesbian couple last week in California, administered by as many as 90 Methodist ministers who risk discipline for participating.
"I would love to be the full pastor for my congregation," said Cordle. "I think the bishop knows this, and feels my pain."
Cordle grew up during the black civil rights movement, and believes that experience began his fight for fairness and justice. He said he speaks out not about sexuality, but about human rights.
"I hear about the 'gay agenda'... but those of us who are straight -- with no agenda have to be willing to stand up because we know it's the right thing, it's the fair and honorable thing to do," he said.
"It's denying part of God's creation to try to make people change who they are, saying we don't accept people the way God created them, ... and I certainly don't have the courage to tell God that."