Going Beyond Abuse
Martyrdom of St. Joan of Arc
The vicious cycle of the death and rebirth of sick and destructive religion deserves far more attention and careful study than it has received so far. Just finding a church that says it is OK for you to be gay is not enough! The whole abusive and oppressive system of church and traditional religion demands radical examination in the light of the truth of good news from Jesus Christ. The main theme of the Gospels is that Jesus came to set us free from all slavery and abuse by religion, ourselves, our society, and our past.
What are the long term effects of religious brain washing both in and outside of the ex-gay movement? We don't know yet. Some of the results seem to me to be an ongoing uncertainty about spiritual life and values along with a strong tendency to revert to legalistic judgmental attitudes that are destructive of self esteem and are used to invalidate other people.
The dynamics of oppression usually lead the oppressed to become the oppressors whenever they can gain the upper hand over others. Oppression is a "crazy making" environment that warps our perception of reality and truth. Extreme, long term, and dedicated attempts to cast out the evil and unclean spirits of sexual orientation from gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual people leaves deep invisible scars that we are only beginning to recognize and try to heal.
Paranoid delusions emerge as unhealthy and self depreciating forces at work in individuals who have been convinced that something is desperately wrong within them and that they cannot change. When these delusions and fears are projected on other people, they create barriers and lead to fear, isolation, loneliness, and a retreat from the believer's freedom in Christ. Frequently new legalisms and a fresh set of judgmental demands develop to control and abuse the person who has broken out of the ex-gay grip. Internalized and horizontal homophobia are powerful destructive forces in the gay world, especially when they emerge as self destructive religion.
Compassion, love, joy, peace, acceptance, patience, gentleness, kindness, faithfulness, self control (fruit of the Spirit of Christ in Galatians 5:22-23) give hope for healing and peace even for those whose greatest torment has been religion itself! My experience with small groups who share regularly in a home setting and who create an environment of non judgmental acceptance has convinced me that such home groups offer one of the best settings for recovery and healing from sick and abusive religion. Recovery, healing, learning, and growing take time. The people who have suffered a lifetime of religious abuse and the dedicated ignorance of the ex-gay ministries do not recover instantly or without help. We all need "a little understanding."
Reckless religion has rapidly become pervasive in our modern culture and a powerful distracting dimension of the present presidential campaign. Few social and political issues are not affected today by reckless religion. The following information was sent to me this week by Jerry Maneker, and I pass it on to you for your information and for some historical perspective on why we are in the reckless religion mess that we have to endure today.
From Jerry Maneker:
Dear Friends: I came upon this quote from a web page of the Jesus Seminar. Although I have many reservations about the assumptions, criteria, and conclusions of the Jesus Seminar concerning their "search for the historical Jesus," this quote perhaps best sums up the ascent of fundamentalism in most of our churches and in society itself. Regards, Jerry.
"The mainline churches, both Protestant and Catholic, faced a series of moral crises in the twentieth century, which they were unable or unwilling to meet: residual slavery, racism and segregation; the status of women; the consequences of the evolution of homo sapiens from earlier forms of life; the sexual revolution; homophobia; the sexual abuse of children; the privilege of patriarchal hierarchies in ecclesiastical bodies; and the ecological crisis. The failures in meeting these crises compromised the integrity of the Christian tradition and eroded confidence in the prophetic strand of Christianity.
The Decline of the Churches & Rise of the Right
The upshot of these developments has been the decline of the mainline churches in Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and North America. Members who were cognizant of the shift in worldviews became members of the church alumni association, as John Shelby Spong terms them, and the rest of the congregation gravitated gradually to the right.
In the vacuum in North America, neo-fundamentalism enjoyed a revival and resurgence. The religious right has gained a strong public presence, even to the extent of dominating the presidency and congress in the United States. This version of Christianity is opinionated, literalistic, moralistic, and arrogant in imposing its views on others.
Fundamentalism feeds on the closed mind, the American monomyth, militarism, apocalypticism, and moralisms derived from the Bible or an outmoded worldview. In order to defend its gospel and its ethic, it is compelled to defend a pre-scientific view of the world. Fundamentalism is supported by public discourse, especially in the media, by popular mythology of the superhero, by superstition, astrology, ESP, and magic, and by an uncritical reading of the Bible. Scientific illiteracy is a large contributing factor."
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT?
Once you finally realize that reckless religion is destroying people and the culture all around you, what can you do about it? For one thing, you can quit supporting it!
You can learn the truth and act on factual information instead of on religious propaganda and self-serving doctrines and denominational programs of "evangelism" and "outreach" and "missions." I receive e-mail every day from people who have been devastated in their personal lives and in their most intimate relationships by abusive religion and by mean spirited misinformed religion from their parents, priests, pastors and other significant people in their lives.
My website already gives the basic answers and factual information regarding the issues related to reckless religion. Read and study all of it. This will take time and discipline, just as it took me time and discipline to research, plan, write and publish it over a period of seven years (since September of 1997).
If you print out all of the pages in my website, you will have a stack of paper at least three or four inches thick. My website, with all of the various sections and updates, is longer than my 550 page book, which you also should get and study along with your partner or with a small group in your home.
RELIGIOUS DISASTER IN AMERICA
We as GLBT people along with everybody else face a religious disaster that is unprecedented in ferocity and destructive power over individual and community lives today. We are facing a deadly plague of what Wayne Oates years ago called "sick religion." (See my references to Wayne Oates in my website in my Resources and References and in my "About the Author" sections and my special pages on sick religion in links below.)
We can no more ignore the reckless religion disaster in our land than Florida and the East Coast could ignore the recent hurricanes or California could ignore the great earthquakes. Various states have different disasters: Florida has hurricanes, California has earthquakes, and Texas has the "born again' fundamentalism of George Bush!
A WEALTH OF INFORMATION
I am grateful for the great flow of information and news accounts that some of my friends send to me on a daily basis. I appreciate the information ministry of people like Jerry Maneker whom I quoted above and people like Lawrence Reh of "First Light" who is a long time personal friend and who sends out valuable information and comments from a great many sources. You can use the Internet and keep informed. That is up to you.
I get letters every day from people who reject my website information as "just one opinion" or "simply a gay man trying to justify his sins or his lifestyle" and missing the impact of the facts and important information that could help to change their thinking and their lives.
The persistent "dumbing down" of religion in America is having a disastrous effect on everybody, not just on LGBT people. Resist ignorance and hypocrisy for the deadly spiritual diseases that they are. Flu shots are in short supply this year. I hope I can still get one. It is a great shame that we cannot get an inoculation against religious ignorance and reckless exploitation of people by misinformed abusive religion!
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See "DYNAMICS OF SICK RELIGION"
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"HOW JESUS HELPS"
The greatest criticism that Billy Graham ever received was when he decided to include all church groups including Catholics and Jews as sponsors in his crusade at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1957. His fundamentalist friends like John R. Rice and Bob Jones abandoned and condemned him for this. Misinformed religion always resists being inclusive! After the great success of the New York crusade, Dr. Graham wrote a book about the experience: "God in the Garden."
In the book, Dr. Graham said: "My own attitude toward opposition has been one of quiet commitment to Christ. There were a few times, when I would hear some of the lies, distortions of truth and slander that I had a bit of resentment in my heart and was tempted once or twice to lash back. But then scores of Scriptures began to echo in my ears and penetrate my heart, such as 1 Peter 2:15, 'For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may silence the ignorance of foolish men.' I have thanked God a thousand times in the last few days that God gave me grace, during these months of severe attacks, never to answer back. I do not want to get my mind off Christ. We have been promised that if we keep our minds on Christ, the peace that passes understanding will prevail in our hearts. This has certainly been true."
I copied this statement in my Bible and let it help me many times during the past 45 years. Notice that the "lies, distortions of truth and slander" came not from "sinners" but from the most religious people in the country! (I discuss this incident in the life of Billy Graham in my book on pages 90-92.)
LOOK TO JESUS
Today, all of us are caught up in the accelerating religious attacks against our GLBT community. As I view the constant flow of e-mail about these "lies, distortions of truth and slander" hurled at us by misinformed religious leaders, I have been reminded of these words of Billy Graham. When we face attacks from the religious right, we are in good company. We are also in good company when we decide to turn to Jesus for encouragement and guidance.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus turned to God and prayed for God's will to be done. The ultimate prayer is not "give me" or "save me" but "Your will be done." Letting God decide what is best for you under any circumstances is spiritual progress. Keeping your mind on Jesus is always a positive step in the direction of spiritual maturity and growth into love, joy and inner peace.
THE TAR BABY
Remember the lesson of brer rabbit and the tar baby. Old fox tried to trap the rabbit by making a figure out of tar and then insulting the rabbit to drew him into fighting with the tar baby. Like the rabbit, you cannot win when you fight the tar baby, which is already dead, but you can get covered with tar and stuck and imprisoned in the tar. We are always in danger of getting so wrapped up in our battle against the legalistic judgmental abusive religionists that we loose sight of Jesus and get sucked into fighting on dangerous ground that saps our energy and distracts us from the path of following Jesus.
You will have to decide how you face and deal with this challenge. No two of us will see the present crisis in exactly the same way. We can become just as distracted from Jesus by too much attention to each other as by too much attention to the "lies, distortions of truth and slander" coming from our enemies.
You have to decide what works best for you. Neither I nor anybody else can make your decisions for you. How you view Jesus is a highly personal part of your thinking. Keeping your attention on Jesus means something different and personal to each one of us. As you review the content of the Four Gospels, you can give your personal emphasis to many different facets of the written picture of Jesus.
What in Jesus is most appealing and helpful to you?
TAKE TIME TO MEDITATE
One of the most spiritually destructive features of our present culture is the incredible avalanche of negative religious propaganda poured out by special interest groups, "ex-gay" movements, homophobic religious/political organizations, individual television personalities, and a rapidly growing glut of anti-GLBT web sites and books.
Newspaper and television media give extensive coverage to every possible point of view in all of this, and no clear consensus ever emerges either positive or negative for GLBT people. The common slogan, "too much information" is almost always appropriate in these tumultuous times!
Stop and think. What is your own mind and heart telling you? Look within. You stand at the peak of human evolution. Within your psyche is the accumulated knowledge and experience of the entire human race. What does your own mind tell you?
You are always your own best teacher. Keep a daily journal of your own experiences and thoughts. You will learn a lot from yourself if you just listen.
CONTROL YOUR ANGER
Jesus handled his own anger at religious abuse by taking time out to withdraw, meditate, pray, and reflect on his personal mission in life. (See link below for details.)
The use of religion to humiliate, abuse and destroy people aroused anger in Jesus and arouses anger in each of us also. We have clear help from Jesus in dealing with our own anger and not letting our anger distract or disable us. When I take a close look at the stupid anti-gay policies and teachings of Southern Baptists, it makes my blood boil! There is no reasonable excuse for the intentional misinformation and abysmal ignorance of today's genocidal Southern Baptist homophobic religious doctrines and policies.
I have to be on guard to avoid the "Daffy Duck" approach to the pressure and tried not to run off in all directions laughing hysterically with feathers flying! Work hard to avoid the reaction of the religious fanatic: "When in danger, when in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout!" One definition of religious fanatics is people who have "lost their sense of direction and redoubled their efforts."
Calm, disciplined study and research will pay off in useful information and clear-headed thinking. Find or start some kind of setting for small group dialogue and study with others who want to make constructive changes in themselves and within and for our GLBT community. See my material on "Start Your Own Group" in link below.
What are you doing today to change your own world or to change yourself?
How Jesus Handled Anger:
(Read "Anger Kills" by Redford Williams, M.D. and Virginia Williams, PhD: Harper, 1994. Also read all of Chapter 9 in my book.)
SPECIAL NOTE: When I suggested the use of the Good News Bible (also called Today's English Version–TEV) for reading the Gospels, I received some helpful objections, and I want to answer them. I encourage the use of the Good News Bible ONLY for a quick way to cover the Four Gospels in an easy to read translation. The Good News Bible (Published first as "Good News for Modern Man") is not a paraphrase but is a very simplified English translation intended for people who use English as their second language or who have some other limited use of English.
The translator, Dr. Robert Bratcher, is a friend of mine who graduated with a Th.D in New Testament Greek at Southern Seminary and who visited the seminary to discuss his translation with us when I was a graduate student in the1960's. He kept the homophobic translations in the letters of Paul, and nobody was questioning them at the time. No translation is even close to being perfect. The TEV is helpful in being simple and easy to read. Dr. Bratcher was told to decide what unclear passages meant and to give his own translation/interpretation in order to avoid making the material hard to read by being hard to understand. See my web site material on "What Bible to Read" .
"PRAYER AS IDOLATRY"
The so-called "pray-in" suggested by Pat Robertson is a blatant attempt by legalistic abusive religion to manipulate God into hurting a special despised group of GLBT people. This makes prayer into a form of idolatry, not spirituality. The chief characteristic of idolatrous religion in the Hebrew Bible was the use of ritual and magic to control and manipulate the gods to do what the people wanted, not a faith based seeking after the will and purpose of God.
YOUR NEED IS A PRAYER
Your need is your greatest prayer. You do not have to beg and argue to convince God to help you. God already loves, accepts and cares for you. A baby does not have to beg the mother and father to feed and care for the baby's basic needs. The baby's needs are enough to bring out the very best care that the parents can give. God is far more loving and powerful than human parents, as Jesus noted in Matthew 7:7-11 and Luke 11:9-13. "If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will God give good things (Luke says "the Holy Spirit") to those who ask."
Your needs cry out to God more eloquently than any prayer you could say. You do not have to convince God to help you. God already has better plans for you than you do for yourself. God already has provided for you beyond your wildest dreams. The problem is not how to convince God to help you. The problem in prayer is learning to become open and receptive to God's blessings and gifts that are already yours as God's beloved child!
The manipulative use of religion by legalistic judgmental homophobic preachers is clear proof that their religion is idolatry and not a work of God. Self will is elevated to the absolute level of divine will and replaces God with destructive hollow idolatry. The world needs to wake up to what the Pat Robertson's, James Dobson's, Lou Sheldon's and company are really doing with their "Christian" ministries, fundraising and publicity stunts. They are creating panic instead of prayer and selfish pride instead of worship. They are denying the faith that they claim to defend.
In case you overlooked it in my recent updates, read again Matthew chapter 23 to see the attitude of Jesus towards legalistic abusive idolatrous religious leaders.
See my material on "Legalism as Idolatry" for details that spell out the basic dangers and destructive nature of legalistic judgmental religion.
A POSITIVE PRAYER PLAN
Read the positive prayer plan of Jesus in Luke 18:1-14 in the story about two men who went to the Temple to pray. All of the Gospel of Luke is a powerful corrective to the exclusive destruction legalism that dominated religion in the culture that Jesus challenged.
Jesus did far more than attack destructive demeaning religion. Jesus offered something far better: himself. Jesus did not offer a better plan, more precise rules or higher ideals. Jesus offered himself. The one commandment that Jesus repeated over and over was: "Follow me." Even little children were included. Old, young, men, women, educated, ignorant, talented, simple, rich, poor, homeless, powerful, sick, EVERYBODY was invited to the new way, the truth and the life of Jesus.
"CHRIST" AND "CHRISTIAN"
The terms "Christ" and "Christian" have been ripped away from the person and work of Jesus of the Gospels and distorted into a disastrous form of idolatrous legalism that defines itself by who is left out. The main person left out of abusive idolatrous "Christianity" today is the real Jesus. See the powerful book by Bruce Bawer on "Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity."
Like the "black holes" in outer space, abusive religious legalists create a self-centered denial of the real Jesus that continuously collapses in upon itself in greed and misinformation so that no light can escape from the terrible force of internalized reverse spiritual gravity. Darkness is the only consistent product of prayer as idolatry.
As one of my favorite preachers used to say: "Some folks have been infected with a mild dose of religion that has made them immune to catching the real thing!" This may be similar to the conclusion of one of the earliest clinical studies of religion that "religion is either an acute fever or a dull habit." Following Jesus is not "a mild dose," "an acute fever" or "a dull habit." Following Jesus is a lifetime of "faith, hope and love, and the greatest of these is love."
Paul gives beautiful descriptions of the mind of Jesus in Philippians 2:1-11 and 1 Corinthians 13.
Special thanks to Chris and Barbara Purdom for keeping all of us informed about GLBT related news and comments in the media. See IWG link.
Pray for my friend Rev. Michael Piazza and the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, during this time of challenge and change.
I am not trying to change the world.
This update added June 1, 2002:
Last Tuesday I had the privilege of meeting with Rev. Dr. Yvette Flunder, Pastor of the San Francisco City of Refuge United Church of Christ. Dr. Flunder is pastor of the Transgender Gospel Choir that I told you about a few weeks ago. The choir and leadership were being interviewed for a television special that will be shown soon.
Dr. Flunder is one of my heroes also! She has led her church of over 600 people to locate in a very needy area of San Francisco and to reach out to troubled people through many varied ministries of support and help. We discussed my teaching ministry and how we can work together in our ministries of information and encouragement. See web site.
Mahan Siler and Jimmy Creech are also my heroes. They are special because they have taken a stand for Gay Rights that has been very costly for them even though they are not gay themselves. Mahan Siler was my best friend at Southern Seminary. He is not gay. Yet he led his church, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church of Raleigh, NC, to study the issue of homosexual committed relationships and to support him in performing the first openly known holy union of two gay men in a Southern Baptist Church in 1992.
Jimmy Creech, a Methodist Pastor in Raleigh, NC, and friend of Mahan Siler, also performed holy union ceremonies for same sex couples in his church. Dr. Siler and Dr. Creech both were rejected and cast out by their denominations because of their courageous stand for us! They are very special heroes to me.
Mahan Siler is writing a soon to be published book on the "Pullen Experience" and is planning to participate in the Soulforce event of protest against the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, next weekend.
SOULFORCE IN ST. LOUIS
While writing this update, I decided finally to make plans to go to St. Louis and join with Mel White and Soulforce again next weekend to confront the Southern Baptist Convention with the truth. I will stay with Mahan Siler and join with many others who have been deeply affected by the Southern Baptist lapse into idolatry and homophobic religious abuse of many of their own best people.
Mel White, along with his partner Gary Nixon, also is my hero. Mel's great ministry of information and confrontation is well known now, and I am grateful for his friendship and for the opportunity to share in a small way in the incredible work he is doing for all of us. Jimmy Creech is a co-leader of Soulforce with Mel and with the wonderful group of Soulforce volunteers, leaders and teachers who give direction and many forms of leadership all year long.
We who have grown up in the Southern Baptist Convention and served God with our lives and all of our energy and resources for many years are obligated to challenge Southern Baptists in their present state of rebellion against their own traditions and against God.
Soul freedom, individual spiritual liberty, the priesthood of all believers, separation of church and state, local church autonomy, and the sovereignty of Jesus in all things demand that we take a stand against the heretical apostasy of Southern Baptists. Current leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have compromised and denied these basic Baptist beliefs that were maintained since 1610 until recently by the vast majority of Baptists in the world.
Read my web site material on "A Response to Southern Baptists". Pass this material on to as many Southern Baptists as you can, especially to the leaders. When I was pastor of the MCC in Nashville, Tennessee, I met and got to know many gay and lesbian Southern Baptists who had worked for the Baptist Sunday School Board and who had been rejected and destroyed by the homophobic policies of the Board. I saw first hand the carnage wrought by Southern Baptist abusive use of religion to reject and demean people who are different because of their sexual orientation.
I call on Southern Baptists to repent of their ignorant misinformed slide into denominational oblivion and to return to the Spirit of Jesus, to whom all people without exception have equal value to God. Following Jesus and following biblical literalism, legalism and religious abuse are totally incompatible and cannot achieve spiritual results, no matter how the records are manipulated to give the appearance of success and progress.
LIES NEVER SERVE GOD
The misinformation about homosexuals that is pandered off to unsuspecting church members in Southern Baptist Churches is rank hypocrisy and a denial of reality that results in the deaths of Baptist youth and of all ages through suicide and loss of the will to live. Southern Baptist policies and teachings regarding homosexuality and homosexuals is a form of genocide that is obvious to all of us who are on the receiving end of the horror of homophobia in the churches.
The truth is readily available in many web sites, including mine, and in many books by me and by many other informed authors like Mel White, John Spong, John McNeill, Daniel Helminiak, Troy Perry, the late great John Boswell and many others. Read and study the truth. The truth will set you free!
New Baptist denominations, publishing houses, and seminaries have been started to offset the ignorance and misinformation of the Southern Baptist Convention, yet the SBC continues to grow and prosper.
CHALLENGE THE LIES
Misinformation and lies are also available on the Internet and in a growing number of religious organizations that misuse the term "family" in their anti-gay campaigns. Focus on the Family, American Family Association, Traditional Values Coalition, and Family Research Council are just a few of the abusive religious industry giants using lies and false statistics to attack LGBT people and raise money.
These groups claim that GLBT efforts to receive fair and equal treatment for same-sex married partners are an attack on the American family and home. There is no factual or logical basis for this ludicrous claim. The most recent use of blatantly false statistics was reported in a "New York Times" article on May 30 about the Family Research Council, which claimed that only 1 to 3 percent of men are gay and that this tiny segment of the population commits over thirty percent of all child molestations in America! These statistics have no basis whatever in fact and are totally fabricated lies to use as weapons to wound and destroy our people. See FRC web site.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you are connected with Southern Baptist churches or leaders, tell your truth and provide accurate information. Be yourself. Accept yourself for who you really are. Celebrate your own individuality and your own orientation, whatever it is.
You matter as an individual in the image of God. Don't reject yourself or demean yourself in any way. You are the best YOU that could be created and maintained by the Creator of the Universe. You are not junk. You are a beloved child of God. Act like it.
See Soulforce web site.
This update added for Memorial Day, 2002:
Memorial Day is the day that officially begins the summer season. It is also a special time to remember the people who have served their country in times of war. We GLBT people are engaged in an ongoing war for survival. We also remember our special heroes who have paid the price for their honesty and courage under fire. Everybody will have a personal list of special heroes who made a positive difference for the rest of us.
Matthew Shepard heads my list. Matthew's mother, Judy, is high on the list also. My father and mother and sister are also heroes to me. They have consistently supported me and encouraged me throughout my life. My parents sacrificed greatly to give me my education, which is the foundation for my present ministry of outreach and teaching.
Some of my heroes are controversial and political. I admire and give thanks for Supervisor Chairman Tom Amiano, whose determined leadership in San Francisco has led to the recognition of same-sex domestic partners around the world. Rev. Elder Moderator Troy Perry, founder of UFMCC, is also a personal friend and real hero in our battles for acceptance and respect at all levels of our society.
Harvey Milk is in a class by himself as the first openly gay elected public official and martyr for all of us. View again the Oscar winning documentary on "The Time of Harvey Milk," available at most gay bookstores.
You have your own list, and you might want to use this Memorial Day to contact your personal heroes and thank them for their contribution to your life.
My heroes include many close friends and partners over the years. Some were lovers, some were co-workers, some were temporary and some were long-term relationships. My life has been enriched and I have learned from thousands of people who have connected with me throughout my life. Some of the people who have taught me the most have been people who were drastically different from me. Everybody who has touched my life has been my teacher.
DEFINITION OF HERO
The Webster dictionary definition of hero begins with "a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability" and continues with "an illustrious warrior; someone admired for his/her achievements and noble qualities; one that shows great courage." You have your own personal definitions.
You also are a hero to somebody else, even if you are not fully aware of it. You life has made a difference to people around you, and your courage and determination to take your stand and keep the faith have encouraged others far more than you probably realize. Most real heroes do not see themselves as heroic or special.
Think of the people that your life has touched in helpful, uplifting and encouraging ways. Think of the people that you have made sacrifices to help and to heal. Think of the people you have listened to when nobody else cared. Small acts of heroism are still heroic and often make far more difference than you can ever realize.
LOVE IS HEROIC
Read 1 Corinthians 13 to remember the various dimensions of love that are characteristic of the ultimate hero of all time: Jesus of Nazareth. "Love is patient; love is kind; love does not boast; love does not give up." Click on web link below to read the love chapter again. Love is always costly, courageous and heroic. Love motivates you to go beyond your normal strength and to risk yourself and take chances. Love can make you an everyday hero of great significance to a lot of people.
"The love of God has been poured out into your heart by the Holy Spirit, who was given to you" (Romans 5:5). God has equipped you to be a hero. What is the most heroic thing you ever did simply because you loved somebody?
Whenever I think of heroes, I am deeply moved as I remember all of the people with AIDS who have given their energy and love to help other people with AIDS and who suffered and died trying to lift up and encourage others. Cleve Jones and the Names Project Quilt panels are a powerful testimony to heroism in our community. Simply being an LGBT person in this present time and age places you in the ranks of heroism by your very survival and your celebration of your own humanity and self-esteem in the face of homophobic terrorism of apocalyptic proportions.
GOD HAS EQUIPPED YOU
You have courage and strength that you don't even realize that you have. Because you already have the image of God within you and the Spirit of God standing by you to guide and empower you, heroic actions of love and self-giving beyond what you are humanly able to perform are possible.
You seldom see the full impact of what God is doing through your life. You don't have to. Simply let the love of God within you flow freely through your life into the lives of people around you, and God will create the results, whether you see them or not.
Realize that God is at work within and around you all the time. You do not have to be aware of God's work through you for God to use you to help and encourage others. Most of what God does is "behind the scenes" and invisible. Yet nothing happens without God.
Gratitude is a form of heroism, because thanks and appreciation expressed to someone who has helped you is itself often courageous and difficult to do. Take the time today to contact somebody special to you through a phone call, a letter, e-mail or a visit and let that person know that you are grateful for the heroic efforts that he/she has made on your behalf and in your life. It is always appropriate and welcomed every day to honor your parents!
With special thanks to Amir R., Paul Steindal, Carolyn Mobley, Daniel Lewis, Chuck Larsen, Jack and Mother Hubbs, Tony Palk, Rev. Barry and Brian, Valentine, Roy Birchard, Jay Neely, Jim Mitulski, Kevin Boyd, Nhan Le, and thousands of other people who have worked hard to help me to become a better person.
See online resources related to Matthew Shepard:
See online sources on Harvey Milk:
Update for September 16, 2001:
The statement below was released by Mel White the day after Jerry Falwell discredited everything Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have stood for by blaming the terrorist attacks last Tuesday on "gays and lesbians" and others that he said were so wicked that "God removed his shield of protection from the United States."
Most of you have already seen articles about Jerry Falwell's statements on the Pat Robertson show and have heard the apologies and excuses that claim that what was said was "taken out of context". Pat and Jerry have clumsily tried to justify their outrageous statements in subsequent interviews and television shows.
Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have spoken frequently as the chief representatives of the homophobic abusive religious right in this country. Now, they have dragged the homophobic religious establishment down with them. The fallout of their reckless charges against people they do not like and do not respect is rapidly becoming self-destructive. Jerry and Pat have managed to discredit themselves and the entire movement that they represent.
The view of religion that is expressed in the sacrifice of virgins to the fire god of the volcano to appease the god's wrath is based on superstition and ignorance and has nothing to do with the spirituality and humanity of Jesus or any of the other major religions of the world today. Religious extremists that destroyed the hijacked planes and people and buildings in New York and Washington have a distorted view of God. So do the religious extremists who blame it all on God's anger against outcast and misunderstood people.
Biblical literalism can be used to teach opposite points of view and to create misinformation about God and reality. The abusive use of the Bible against all minorities and as a media weapon to discredit and destroy GLBT people is bringing all institutional religions into question. Biblical literalism abandons logic and celebrates misinformation and superstition.
False information regarding the separation of church and state abound in the teachings of the homophobic abusive religious establishment. Jerry Falwell's claim that God has been thrown out of the public schools is flat out ludicrous. God is everywhere and is not thrown out of anywhere just because the warped view of God of the fundamentalists is not accepted and believed by everybody else!
The Supreme Court did not throw God out of the classroom in the school prayer ruling. Any informed intelligent person knows that the Court simply ruled that public school boards could not impose sectarian religion in any form on public schools. Homophobic abusive religionists have worked hard for years to misrepresent the decision of the Court and to break down the wall that rightly exists between church and state under the Constitution of the United States.
Public reaction to Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson is demonstrating the power of the media turned against those who have abused it.
POSITIVE SPIRITUAL PROGRESS
Events surrounding the horror of terrorism last Tuesday and the disruption of much of our society and economy that has followed has driven all of us to think through our values and to examine our faith. The powerful expression of faith in the Prayer Service broadcast from the National Cathedral in Washington this week was helpful to me, and I am sure also was helpful to many of millions of others.
Prayer continues to be appropriate for me. I am listening to what God is trying to tell me through all of this. I only had to cancel a plane trip. Many thousands of others had to cancel the rest of their lives. We are separated from the people who died in the planes and in the buildings by less than six degrees of separation. In Troy Perry's report on the terrorism, he mentioned several MCC people who were killed. We all are part of a great human family where tragedy has taken a heavy toll.
Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco expects the largest attendance in history this Sunday. Six thousand people went to Grace Cathedral for the remembrance service there, where there is room for only 2,500. Candlelight vigils are taking place all across America.
NEW SPIRITUAL BEGINNINGS
This week can be a fresh new spiritual beginning for our nation and for you and me as individuals. We have been humbled by our startling sense of helplessness in many aspects of our lives. We have been stunned by the catastrophic events that have overtaken our nation and each one of us.
God speaks to each of us what we as individuals most need to hear. We don't all hear the same thing. Whenever we have cause to stop and turn our minds and hearts toward God as we understand and know God, then we learn what we need to learn and know what we need to know. We find the strength and courage to be the individuals we are called to be in accepting and affirming ourselves as God's beloved children, made in the image of God.
Thank you to all who have sent e-mail news and messages relevant to these problems and pressures that all of us are facing. I have learn from you, and I am grateful. Whenever my family traveled back home after a visit with my parents, my father always said, "Remember to be kind to each other." That still sticks in my mind as always the right thing to do.
Here is the "Soulforce Response" by Mel White. It is a powerful detailed statement, which I encourage you to read:
JERRY FALWELL BLAMES GAYS/OTHERS FOR TERRORIST ATTACK
A Soulforce Response:
Once Again, Jerry Falwell Advances Our Cause
Mel White September 14, 2001
This morning, before sunrise, our 800 line lit up with calls wanting a Soulforce response to Jerry Falwell's comments blaming gays and lesbians for the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. Immediately, I checked the Washington Blade web page for more information.
Apparently, on Thursday morning, September 13, in one of his rare guest appearances on Pat Robertson's 700 Club, Falwell placed "…a lot of the blame [for the destructive hijackings]" on the Federal Courts "for throwing God out of the public square" and on his usual list of those "who have tried to secularize America: pagans, abortionists, feminists, gays and lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, and People for the American Way."
With Pat Robertson nodding his ascent, Jerry Falwell explained the tragedies in New York City and Washington, D.C., as proof that "God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve."
After his comments came under fire, the Washington Post called Falwell who placed "all the blame legally and morally on the actions of the terrorist, "but he explained that America's secular and anti-Christian environment left us open to our Lord's [decision] not to protect. When a nation deserts God and expels God from the culture…the result is not good."
Later in the day, on a CNN talk show, Jerry Falwell apologized for his remarks. Apologize or not, before we waste too much anger on the words of Jerry or Pat, let's consider the probable consequences of their politics of blame.
First, it was gratifying to learn that the White House immediately issued a statement calling Falwell's remarks "inappropriate" with a clear advisory that the "The President does not share those views." By frustrating the President's call for national unity during these most difficult days, Jerry and Pat have lost even more political clout and public credibility. And I am grateful every time the President has cause to distance himself from leaders of the extremist right.
Second, I'm guessing that in the next few weeks, clergy and lay leaders alike from every faith tradition will distance themselves from Jerry and Pat's unwise and untimely dialogue increasing their isolation from the mainstream Christian community as well.
Third, many of our families and friends who are still confused by Jerry, Pat, and others who misuse the "clobber passages" to caricature and condemn us, will be shocked by this theological premise that God, let alone God's gay and lesbian children, could have anything at all to do with the terrorist's despicable acts. A member of my own family, with deep religious roots called Jerry's remarks, "The most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."
Every time Fred Phelps and his family appear at one of our Soulforce Direct Actions carrying his "GOD HATES FAGS" signs, I am grateful. Once again, Jerry and Pat have joined Fred on the frontlines of ignorance and bigotry and I'm convinced that their words will help our cause.
That's the good news. The bad news is that Jerry and Pat genuinely believe that the acceptance of sexual and gender minorities will lead to God's judgment and wrath against our nation.
Jerry and Pat are not phony. They are fundamentalist Christians and like fundamentalist Muslims, Hindus, and Jews, fundamentalist Christians are known by their "urge to purge." They believe they are called to "cleanse" society of all they find "unclean" and by cleansing society they will "save it."
Osama bin Laden is a Muslim fundamentalist. He believes that Allah wills him to destroy America, "the Great Satan." He is convinced that his war against our nation is Jihad ("holy war"). The terrorists who hijacked the planes and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were convinced that Allah will reward them for their sacrifice.
Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are fundamentalist Christians. They believe that they are called by God to cleanse this nation of sexual minorities (and pagans, feminists, abortionists, etc.) and thus to save it. They believe that those who advocate the acceptance of sexual minorities (and other liberal causes) are an "abomination in God's sight" and must be converted or purged. And though Pat and Jerry have never called for violence against these "enemies of God" at least one of the biblical verses they misuse regularly to condemn sexual minorities states clearly that we are "…worthy of death and should be executed, (Leviticus 20)."
And though I am convinced that their extremist remarks are isolating them from the American mainstream, I am still deeply concerned about the consequences of the antigay jihad or holy war that Robertson, Falwell and the other spiritual extremists (terrorists) are waging against us. Their daily misuse of a handful of Biblical verses to condemn sexual and gender minorities still confuses good people of faith across the nation. Those good people of faith who have been convinced that homosexuality is a sickness, a sin, and a threat to the nation, are now waging war against us in and through their mainstream Roman Catholic and Protestant churches to deny us our religious and our political rights and protections.
Following the guidelines of relentless nonviolent resistance (as taught by Gandhi and King), Soulforce volunteers are committed to taking our stand against the untruth that leads to suffering and death for God's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children. And though we are convinced that the extremist language of Pat and Jerry and the others will eventually turn the entire nation against them, we are determined to confront their untruth relentlessly with the truth that God created His lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children and loves them exactly as they were created.
Troy Perry, Founder and Moderator of MCC, also released a response to the terrorism last Tuesday:
Update for December 1, 2000
My friend, Rev. Ralph Lasher, one of the pastors at Resurrection MCC of
Houston, Texas, sent me the schedule of activities for my visit to the
church January 4-10, 2001. I will lead a Saturday one-day
workshop (January 6, 200l: 10 AM to 3 PM at the church) that has been
given the theme: "RECLAIMING SCRIPTURES FOR A POSITIVE FAITH."
Call the church at (713) 861-9149 for information and to make
reservations for the workshop. Send e-mail to Rev. Ralph Lasher.
Several other churches and pastors along with Resurrection MCC and Maranatha MCC plan to use my book "Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse" in fourteen on-going seminars from January 9, 2001, to February 4, 2002. I will lead the first seminar (on Tuesday, January 9,at Resurrection MCC: 7 to 8:30 PM) on the provocative subject chosen by the local pastors: "WHY RELIGION HAS FAILED." The other 13 monthly seminars throughout the year will follow the "Steps to Recovery" in the book and will be led by local church pastors and leaders. These seminars on one Tuesday each month at Resurrection MCC will provide guidance and material for setting up small group study and dialogue to reach as many people as possible with spiritual growth, recovery, learning and healing.
The theme of the first seminar, "Why Has Religion Failed?" is a profound and disturbing subject. I look forward to hearing the discussion and dialogue of the participants at this first seminar. Several questions immediately came to my mind: How has religion failed? Why has religion failed? How have we contributed to the failure of religion?
I often turn to and use an important book by Professor Dr. Wayne E. Oates of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary when I was one of his students. The book: "When Religion Gets Sick," was re-published shortly before the death of Dr. Oates last year. One question that came to my mind is: "What is healthy religion?" Can religion ever by "healthy" in view of the prevailing absoluteness of religious doctrines combined with absolutely held errors of misinformation? What are the emotional and cultural reasons for religion that fails to be inclusive, objective, realistic or logical? Why do established religions fight so hard against human diversity? SEE "DYNAMICS OF SICK RELIGION."
JESUS BIBLE STUDIES
I have added a new section to my web site: "JESUS BIBLE STUDIES," which is a first statement of the development of my "Sunday School Lessons" that will be the sequel to "Steps to Recovery from Bible Abuse."
We are just beginning to explore and discover new directions in the always fresh and relevant spiritual leadership of Jesus. Jesus declared that new wine must be placed in new wineskins, or the old containers will break and be destroyed along with the wine. For centuries, traditional religion has used ancient containers, forms, books, doctrines, and structures. Now, suddenly, in this incredibly dynamic new age, we find ourselves with totally new containers in the Internet, the information highway, worldwide instant communication, and emerging technologies that we do not yet imagine.
WE CANNOT AVOID THE BIBLE
We have more accurate information than ever before in history as to what the Bible is and what it says and does not say. I have come to the conclusion that the only reliable guide and energizer of truth and love that I know is Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus is not imprisoned in a book, a church, a set of rules or doctrines, no matter how carefully formulated they might be or how honored by centuries of use and abuse.
Religious people who use the Bible to control and oppress others often refer to their opinions with the phrase: "The Bible says…!" This is what you say when you declare that "My mother says…½" or "My lover says…" or "My doctor says…!" The obvious problem is that "mother, lover and doctor" are persons. The Bible is not a person. It is a book. The Bible "speaks" only as people translate it, interpret (or misinterpret) it, explain it, distort it, misuse it, or do any of the countless twisting and misrepresenting that I have called "Bible Abuse."
RECOVERY FROM ABUSIVE RELIGION
We face a fork in the road. As Yogi said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it!" We cannot turn back the clock. We cannot undo modern science, technology, psychology, medicine or scholarship in any field. In the past 30 years we have learned more about homosexuality and homosexuals than in all previous human history.
The misinformation that has built the so-called "ex-gay" industry is truly remarkable in view of the easy availability of factual biblical, psychological, medical, historical information, much of which is given briefly in my web site and book. One problem is that the Internet has close to 15 million web sites now that set forth truth and error in equally convincing formats. Over 400,000 Internet chat rooms and lists now give endless voice to endless opinions.
JESUS AS SPIRITUAL LEADER
It seems to me that the most promising path to healthy spirituality at least for me is to "follow Jesus" with guidance from the living Spirit of Jesus and with the Four Gospels as a trustworthy road map. "The map is not the territory" was the motto of a great linguist who tried to make clear the difference between words and the things that words describe. You don't drive on the map; you drive on the road. You don't walk on the map; you walk on the path. Maps held upside down, read backwards or taken out of context can give disastrously wrong directions.
The Spirit of Jesus is my teacher and guide, just as described in John 14 – 16. The fact that the first disciples could not even convince one of their own number, Thomas, that they had see Jesus, is a clear indication that the words of an ancient book have little chance of speaking clearly today without the Spirit of Jesus as described at the end of Luke and John and in the beginning of Acts.
As long as the most prominent and powerful expression of Christianity in the world continues to build upon and demand obedience to almost 2,000 years of error and misinformation, we have no choice but to find and follow new directions and exciting relevant new paths that respect our individuality and offer honesty and truth in love.
THINK FOR YOURSELF
My purpose in these updates and in all of my material is not to think for you but to stimulate you to think for yourself and learn what you need to know to make decisions that fit you. The only decisions that you will put into practice are those that you discover for yourself and find convincing to you. Nobody can do your thinking for you. You either think for yourself, or you don't think.
You may have found a different path that fits you better and gives you the spiritual encouragement and affirmation that you need. I don't know anybody who agrees with me all the time, including me! As I learn new information and hear the many stories and experiences that you have shared with me, I change the way I see things and learn new truth every day. So many doors are open to us now that we can become giddy with possibilities and incapable of going anywhere.
What or who are you following? Honestly, how has religion affected your life? When religion fails, it does not mean that God has failed. It can simply mean that our view of God has not been able to stand up to the test of reality.
Write to me and give me your views. I always read and answer all e-mail.
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