As the dialogue sessions are going on in our conference, I cannot remain silent on the main issue.
I have been a member of Edenton Street United Methodist Church for twenty-nine years,, a Methodist since I was born into a Methodist home almost sixty-seven years ago. I have always been proud of being a Methodist because of our faith and ministry. Historically, we have taken important stands and have been an inclusive church for the masses, as John Wesley began our path so long ago. The fact that we were the leader in establishing the North Carolina Council of Churches back in the 1930's to reach out in a united way to those too weak and too downtrodden to help themselves and to say: "We care about you and want to help in any way we can," characterized the church I belonged to.
It never occurred to me until these last few years that our members could care for anything else more strongly ... until I became a member of a group to whom many have not shown true caring.
Let me explain. My oldest of four children, Mark, was a gay man who died of AIDS. He was insulted in the church from the time he was in the sixth grade. It became almost impossible for him to go to church because of the messages he received there. After his death nine years ago, my eyes were opened when I became a volunteer for the AIDS Service Agency here in Raleigh and later became politically active to be in a better position to fight against the prejudice, hate, and bigotry professed by some of our most visible political leaders and unfortunately, for many people who are considered to be leaders in our churches.
If one member of Christ's body is in pain and suffering then so is the entire body? Is this not the message of Jesus who never seems to get quoted in this debate? I find it exceedingly strange that Jesus who is the Head of the Church is never turned to for advice -- He who ministered to the outcast, the lepers, those considered on the margins of society, He who came to bring us all together in His love. It is so inconsistent to pick and choose which part of the Bible these who would judge us so devastatingly are doing.
I am sorry this letter is so long. My heart is so full I cannot prune it back, although I have still not said all I would like. I appreciate your accepting it and listening to me. I do not speak for myself alone. I speak for legions.
I thank-you and wish every blessing upon you as you deal with this most important issue.
Eloise M. Vaughn
It will stay forever in my memory as a special day because it held, for me, sudden understanding -- a dawning. Paul, the younger of our two sons, now graduated from college and working in Durham, was home for the weekend.
"Mom, are you busy?" he asked on Sunday afternoon.
"Well, I'd thought I might go to the Chatham Historical Society meeting. It's here at the church this afternoon. But I don't have to go," I added.
"Could we go for a walk, then? I'd like to talk with you."
We started down the street by the parsonage, cut across the lawn below the cemetery, and presently found ourselves seated under a large old tree. There Paul told me what he had on his mind, very simply and honestly. "I am homosexual," he said.
How had I not known? In all those twenty six years, how had I not become aware? Now, in one brief moment, so many things fell into place. But first -- first
"Paul, when did you know?"
"It was when I was in my early teens," he said. "When I realized that I was different from the other kids, it was as if a huge black hole opened up in my life."
I was weeping now, in agony for this son, this perceptive, compassionate, shy person, this lonely, self-effacing, often angry person. He had gone through those adolescent torments alone. If only I had known. Angus and I had tried to understand, tried to help. We had encouraged and supported as best we knew. But still we could see that as a teenager and even in college Paul seemed often remote, unable to focus in order to use his talents to the full, unable to realize and appreciate his attractive attributes. I had noticed in the past few months though, that he had seemed less tense, more outgoing and self assured. Now he explained that after years of private struggle and despair he had finally gone to a counselor to ask for help in changing his sexual orientation. The counselor told him that he could not change Paul's sexuality but assured him that he would listen and support him in his quest for discovery and growth. Feelings of gratitude toward that counselor surge through my heart and mind even as I write. How fortunate Paul was! He faced his situation in honesty, came with hope and determination, and was met with understanding and acceptance. I am sure that this was life-affirming for him.
As we continued to talk, Paul said that he had told his brother, Stephen, that he was gay several months before and that Steve had encouraged him to tell me. I was gratified that they both trusted that I would understand. It was not difficult for me to do so. I had loved Paul for all the years of his life. Now he had taken me into his confidence, trusted me with a most intimate and important part of his inner life. He was still my same beloved son. Now I was crying again as I realized the kind of misunderstanding and discrimination he would surely experience as a gay person. Though to me he was still my fine, talented, caring son, Paul, to many he would be first and only "a homosexual."
As we finished our conversation, Paul asked, "Do you think I should tell Dad or do you want to tell him?
"I think he would appreciate it if you would tell him," I said. And that was the way it was.
Angus and I are fortunate. Our faith is in the boundless love of God for all persons. We are confident that none are excluded. We find reason for this faith in the words and acts of Jesus himself We believe that Paul's sexuality is not his choice but a "given" -- an orientation. We believe his sexuality is not a mistake or perversion, but that, like all sexuality, it is a gift to be used in a loving and responsible way.
It was and is our intention to honor the trust that Paul has placed in us, and to support him in his continuing growth as the person God intended him to be.
-- Catherine M. Cameron
Hope cuts windows
in the house of pain
Light comes in
with healing grace again
Now freed, finds strength
and builds -- a door.
I was baptized and confirmed in the United Methodist Church, Loving parents and a nurturing church family raised my siblings and me. We enjoyed UMYF and the monthly Family Night Suppers at our church. When I realized that I was a lesbian, I felt I couldn't share my discovery with my family or my church for fear of rejection, and I didn't for many years. But I tired of the constant struggle to share parts my life with my family and friends without revealing the whole truth, especially the part about the woman I love. I was living two separate lives.
Finally I gathered the courage to come out to my family. All responded with support except my brother, who responded by sending me an article about gay persons who had been transformed and were no longer attracted to the same gender. When we met face to face my brother told me I was going to hell if I didn't change. He didn't understand that my orientation was not a choice. I tried to reassure him that I wasn't going to hell but he didn't believe me. We couldn't even agree to disagree. Now, ten years later, we are attempting to mend our relationship. We are talking again, We finally found common ground on which to meet; we love each other.
I still attend Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, the church that nurtured me as a child, as do my parents. Many members of the congregation support my partner and me. And many members struggle with the issue of homosexuality. But we, as a congregation, are talking about it. We can share our differing beliefs with one another because we share the love of Christ and we respect each other.
I hope that our conference will continue to struggle with the issue of homosexuality, will continue to create opportunities for dialogue, in the conference and in the individual congregations, and will always remember that we are all one body in Christ, called to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Lois L. Wright
Chapel Hill, NC
I am writing from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, a wife and mother, and a lifelong Methodist who usually attends two Methodist churches every Sunday morning. I am writing because our denomination's teaching about homosexuality and the role of lesbians and gays in our denomination troubles me. As I read the headline stories about the murders of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and Billy Jack Gaither in Alabama, murders carried out because the victims were gay, I have been disturbed by the official policy of the United Methodist Church that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." I've wondered if those who are looking for reasons to hate are able to make a distinction between the Methodist policy and the hostile statements from the "God hates fags" organizations or if they see the attitudes as simply different degrees on a continuum of rejection. During this past year, as our Disciple II group has studied Luke and Acts, there were two major themes that kept grabbing my attention.
First, Jesus and the apostles were constantly doing and saying things that upset the religious authorities, those who saw themselves as the defenders of the faith against heresy. One thing that got Jesus and the apostles in trouble was that they kept reaching out to those whom others labeled as people to be excluded. Jesus and the apostles affirmed they intended to follow God's leading, not the rules of the religious authorities. Second, in Acts, there is a controversy that could have torn the early church apart. The Jewish Christians were uneasy about the Gentile Christians, who were different and thus suspect. The Jewish Christians said that in order for Gentiles to become part of the church, they first had to become like the Jews. Peter had a dream that convinced him that no one that God created could be called unclean and the dream is reported twice, to make sure we get the message Peter and Paul insisted that God calls all kinds of people into the church and all who respond are to be welcomed.
I think we Methodists are being faced with a choice -- are we going to act like legalistic Pharisees holding tight to our rules or are we going be faithful disciples of Jesus reaching out in love to the excluded and rejected? Another choice is whether we are going to be like the first century Jewish Christians who said "first you have to become like us" or are we going to think that Peter's dream is meant for us too and encourages us to welcome all and leave the judging to God? Why do we point to some of our most caring, giving, talented members and say "your sins are worse than our sins"? Doesn't it seem hypocritical, if not mean-spirited, to say that sexuality should find expression only within the committed, monogamous relationship we call marriage, but then tell lesbians and gays that their committed, monogamous relationships will not be acknowledged and that pastors who do so will be punished? Are we really going to expel pastors who minister to gay men and lesbians in their congregations at the same time that we reject the call to ministry for lesbians and gays? Why are we so pre-occupied with sexual orientation when the needs of children, the elderly, the poor, the refugees are so overwhelming? I would like to think my church is helping to overcome the hostility and alienation that I see everywhere -- in the city in which I live, in the nation, in the world at large. Instead, I see my church as an active participant in building up walls that divide people.