Devotional by Rev. Anna Tew
The LGBTQIA+ nightlife of Atlanta often represents the best of the South to me. On any given weekend night, especially in Midtown, you can find people of many races, nationalities, ages, sexual orientations, and gender identities and expressions all enjoying the night together.
On one particular evening in 2014, I was standing with my friends who are my family, watching a gorgeous drag queen perform Reba McEntire’s “Is There Life Out There,” and the Holy Spirit descended.
The song tells the story of a young woman from the South who married at twenty, and finds herself feeling trapped. The chorus goes like this: “Is there life out there / So much she hasn’t done / Is there life beyond her family and her home / She’s done what she should, should she do what she dares? / She doesn’t want to leave; she’s just wondering is there life out there.”
Every one of us in that bar sang every word. We sang because Atlanta is a haven for us LGBTQIA+ folk in the middle of the rural South. Because we, too, once felt trapped. Because we, too, didn’t want to leave our homes. Because we did what we “should” for so long before we did what we dared: to be our full selves. We pounded the air with our fists and raised our cups and sang at the top of our lungs as if to say, “We’re still here – hallelujah!”
Sometimes the Holy Spirit appears as drag queen lip syncing to Reba.
Sometimes the love of God swoops in and saves your soul when you least expect it: like at a pub on a Friday night. May the love of God swoop in and save your soul again today: by land, by sea, or by drag queen. There is life out there, friends. There is.
Bio: The Rev. Anna Tew is a 30-something Lutheran pastor serving Our Savior’s Lutheran Church (ELCA) in South Hadley, Massachusetts. A product of several places, she was born in rural Alabama, lived most of her adult life in Atlanta, and now lives in and adores New England. In her spare time, Anna enjoys climbing the nearby mountains, traveling, exploring cities and nightlife, and keeping up with politics and pop culture.
Reflection by Deacon Ross Murray
The movement for LGBTQIA+ inclusion in the full life of the church lost a saint when Tim Fisher died.
For the casual observer of the Lutheran LGBTQIA+ movement, Tim and his work may not have been immediately apparent. He wasn’t someone who sought the spotlight, but worked diligently in support of others in the movement. Tim wasn’t a member of Proclaim. He wasn’t clergy or a deacon. He was a layperson, an administrator, a writer, an editor. And his calling was so clear and apparent to everyone who knew him. He was my colleague at ReconcilingWorks (though at the time, the organization was known as Lutherans Concerned/North America).
Tim’s ministry went beyond the issue of ordination, relationship recognition, or church policy. He worked, systematically, pragmatically, relationally, that we could become a church that continued to take steps that welcome, include, and utilize the gifts that we all, clergy or lay, bring to the church. A brilliant writer, he penned articles, op-eds, and social media statuses that informed, inspired, and challenged.
Tim was a quiet, non-anxious presence at Churchwide meetings. He listened to proceedings carefully, talked strategically with those who supported inclusion, gracefully engaged with those who were movable but had concerns, and gently challenging those who were in opposition to inclusion. Tim used his privilege and his presence to bring people from a place of rejection, to tolerance, to acceptance, and in some cases, even advocacy for LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church.
Tim was a straight man, who followed his calling to work for the Lutheran movement for LGBTQIA+ people. I was blessed to work with Tim on a conference for ReconcilingWorks in San Francisco in 2008, featuring a three-hour training on storytelling for change. After the training, Tim sat for a video, to practice his storytelling. In the video, Tim moves from uncertainty and discomfort to an increasing assertion that he has been the recipient of ministry and blessing, and that his work is essential to continue that blessing.
Tim fought for LGBTQIA+ people to be included in the church, because he was already the recipient of their ministry. Even after his death, the cycle of ministry continues. Tim was ministered to by LGBTQIA+ people, and because of that, he wanted to be in a ministry that would include LGBTQIA+ people into the life of the church. Because of Tim’s ministry, we have hundreds of openly LGBTQIA+ people fulfilling their calling to ministry, at the altar, in the pulpit, in organizations, and on the street, all over the country and world.
The cycle of ministry and advocacy for the LGBTQIA+ community will continue, both within and outside the Lutheran Church. Tim Fisher’s calling was to push that cycle along. And for that, we can say, “Thanks be to God.”
Deacon Ross Murray is the Senior Director of Education & Training at The GLAAD Media Institute (https://www.glaad.org/), which provides activist, spokesperson, and media engagement training and education for LGBTQ and allied community members and organizations desiring to deepen their media impact. Ross uses the best practices perfected by GLAAD to train a new generation of advocates in order to accelerate acceptance for LGBTQ people, as well as other marginalized communities.
Ross is also a founder and director of The Naming Project (https://www.thenamingproject.org/), a faith-based camp for LGBTQ youth and their allies. The Naming Project has also been the subject of much media, including the award-winning film Camp Out, as well as the controversial episode “Pray the Gay Away?” of Our America with Lisa Ling.
Ross has secured national media interest in stories that bring examples of LGBTQ equality across diverse communities in America. He specializes in relationship between religion and LGBTQ people. He has written and appeared on numerous media outlets, including CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera, The Washington Post, Huffington Post, and Religion News Service. In 2014, he was named one of Mashable’s “10 LGBT-Rights Activists to Follow on Twitter.”
“It’s just so hard to be in this process,” I said, “because I have no idea where I’ll be six months from now! Normally I’d have an idea of what would be happening, but in the call process I could be anywhere in the country by then!”
She raised one eyebrow and gave me a pointed look, “nothing has actually changed. You haven’t actually lost control – only the illusion of having control to begin with. None of us really know what will happen to us in six months.”
My therapist knew how to offer me the gifts of wilderness. The wilderness strips away what was only an illusion and leaves us vulnerable to the truth: we never know what is coming next. A year-long call/coming out process filled with nine rejections was not the kind of wilderness I would have chosen. It was painful and raw and disheartening.
I don’t think God sent it into my life as some kind of twisted lesson.
But that doesn’t mean that God didn’t get to work stripping away my comforts, illusions, and self-identity until only the essentials were left: Child-of-God, beloved-queer, created-and-called.
This particular wilderness story has a happy ending: a congregation I adore and one that loves me back; a call that challenges me and makes me more myself; a community that is passionate and dedicated to the gospel. But, for every wilderness out of which I wander, another one presents itself almost as quickly. And, I am learning, ever so slowly, to hand myself over to that wilderness road, trusting that the gifts are still there.
“The Uses of Sorrow”
(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
by Mary Oliver, from Thirst, 2007. Beacon Press.
The Rev. Megan D. Elliott is the pastor of Spirit of Joy Lutheran Church in Seguin, Texas. Before coming to Spirit of Joy she was the pastor at Abiding Savior Lutheran Church in Alliance, Ohio. This summer she will celebrate 10 years in ordained ministry! When she’s not pastoring you might find her playing with her dogs, reading, running, crocheting, or enjoying anything to do with music. She has special talents for making babies fall asleep, folding fitted sheets, and buying entirely too many books.
By Rev. Brad Froslee
Ash Wednesday marked the twenty-sixth anniversary of my “official” coming out. It was on this night, following the Ash Wednesday worship service, that I began sharing with friends a truth about myself—my being gay. The worship service with its message of facing the fullness of life, of death, and life beyond death became the nudge that pushed me towards authentic living—marked in the brokenness and the beauty of the cross. In the face of this period, a time marked by the AIDS pandemic, the stories of families disowning children, of ex-gay therapies, I knew that being marked with the ashes of the cross was God’s call to living fully, authentically, and faithfully…here and now.
It would be eleven years later, nearly two weeks after Easter, that I would be ordained as a Lutheran pastor with a call to serve a Presbyterian Church.
The years between that Ash Wednesday service in college and the Easter-season ordination would, in many ways, feel like a time of wandering through the wilderness—of keeping faith in the midst of a broken Church; of trekking across the country for school, of journeying to the other side of the country for CPE and again for Internship; of longing to find someone to share my life with; of meeting with a candidacy committee that threw Vision & Expectations in my face—only to approve me, because I wasn’t in a relationship at that time; of the hard work and challenges of staying hopeful when there was interview after interview with congregations who thought I was great, but weren’t quite ready for a “gay pastor.”
Yet, now as I look back at these eleven years of “wandering in the wilderness” I realize how this time has formed me as the pastor and person I am today.
I met some of the most amazing people and communities of faith; there was laughter, love, and strength mixed with the tears and frustrations; there were opportunities for side-winding trips—like being a publicist for a drag queen, waiting tables, caring for people living with HIV/AIDS, working alongside recent immigrants, immersing myself in justice work—that were life-giving; there were signs of God’s presence and care along the way.
As I reflect on the sojourners of the Exodus, I hold on to the struggles, the questions, and the pain of the wilderness; yet, I am aware of how it formed them, how it forms us, into a people of new and renewed faith and promise who dream and journey toward a place of promise.
Bio: Brad Froslee (he/him/his) lives in Minneapolis with his husband, Bill. Their family also includes a very active 8 year-old son, a Border Collie, and a tabby cat. Brad serves as senior pastor at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Roseville.
Dear Members of the ELCA Church Council,
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes “Trustworthy Servants of the People of God” is fundamentally flawed in development, content, and implementation and should not be approved by the ELCA Church Council.
The premise of “Trustworthy Servants” and its predecessor, “Vision and Expectations,” is unethical. A simple revision of either document fails to eliminate their fundamental flaw: the fact that they were created to label and exclude marginalized leaders.
They should both be let go and set aside.
These documents claim to lift up the ethical standards of our church, yet were crafted to police human sexuality, especially with respect to candidates for rostered ministry. Both documents explicitly focus on a narrow construction of acceptable sexual expression and demean and dehumanize many who are and might be called to professional ministry within the church. Both “Trustworthy Servants” and “Vision & Expectations” confuse what qualifies as healthy intimacy and sexual expression and behaviors that should be labeled as misconduct.
Many gender and sexual minority leaders do not see themselves, their community, their families, or their values reflected in this document. ELM mourns and protests the dangerously narrow scope our Church seems to be using to define “trustworthy:” hyper-focusing on sexual expression while, for example, ignoring the needs of people with disabilities and failing to name white supremacy as sinful.
“Trustworthy Servants” and “Vision & Expectations” are morally compromised documents. They should have no moral or juridical authority over the body of Christ. Therefore, if approved, we refuse to be guided by this document or to advise seminarians, candidates or rostered leaders to shape their lives, conscience, or behavior according to their pages.
In Christ’s love,
Rev. Amanda Gerken-Nelson, Executive Director and The ELM Board of Directors
By Proclaim Member Alex Aivers
When I feel like I’m in the wilderness of my soul, there is an emphasis on the experience being ‘wild.’ I can’t tell what is right or wrong, or which way is up or down.
One way I seek to help me tame this wildness is on the dance floor.
This is where the unseen wilderness of my soul can become physically manifested.
The particular place I do this is key: while surrounded by my LGBTQIA+ siblings in a bar devoted to us. And if these LGBTQIA+ siblings are Christian, even better! Here, the dance floor becomes a place of healing. It becomes a holy place.
With myself and other bodies moving in time with the music, it can look like a whirlwind from the outside. But this is often when I feel most close to God and can acutely sense that God is near me.
Out of this whirlwind of music and bodies, I can find clarity.Job faced a time of being in the wilderness during his life. He lost his family and property, and then his health. It even appeared that God was not innocent in these happenings.
Those of us in the LGBTQIA community can feel similarly. We suffer hardships on account of who we love and/or how we present ourselves to the world. And it can appear that God is not innocent in causing these sufferings.
We can feel as Job feels “For the arrows of the Almighty are in me; my spirit drinks their poison; the terrors of God are arrayed against me.”
But then, out of this whirlwind, God speaks to us.
Even if God doesn’t tell us why these things are happening, God is still speaking to us.
Even during the times of wilderness in our lives, God still wants to draw near to us and touch our soul.
Bio: Alex Aivars is a candidate in Word and Sacrament, awaiting first-call. I worked in Web development for 7 years before getting the call to ministry at a Gay Christian Network (now Q Christian Fellowship) conference. In addition to dancing, I also love being in nature and reading.
A reflection on this week’s events in the global church from ELM’s Board of Directors
The apostle Paul reminds us that we who claim to follow Jesus are one body in Christ and that “if one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” (1 Cor 12:26).
As members of the one body and in the spirit of co-suffering love, ELM mourns and laments, with all our United Methodist kin, the St. Louis 2019 General Conference’s vote to reaffirm and strengthen the ecclesial prohibitions on ordaining same-gender loving clergy and officiating same-gender weddings, as prescribed by the “Traditional Plan.”
As we know from experiences within our own Lutheran denominations, such decisions globally impact and harm LGBTQIA+ people who are and will be told that God does not love them or that they do not bear the image of God. They wound the whole body of Christ, because LGBTQIA+ individuals are members of this body and, thereby undermine the church’s witness to God’s ever-expanding, radical love.
ELM holds with tenderness and compassion, all individuals that have experienced similar instances of institutional sin across denominations that caused safety and trust to be threatened, and that lead to further marginalization and feelings of isolation for specific groups of people. The effects of trauma and re-traumatization stretch wide and run deep, and we encourage and support those impacted in seeking support during these painful times.
Furthermore, with the entire body of Christ, we acknowledge and lament our own active and passive participation in the sins embodied in this decision. We mourn the sins of queerphobia and transphobia. We rebuke the forces of fear, ignorance, and hate that keep the church from celebrating the gifts and ministries of LGBTQIA+ Christians.
As members of the body of Christ, we also confess and repent the sins of racism and white supremacy, particularly as enacted through colonization, which continue to enforce the gender binary and heteronormativity as divinely and scripturally ordained, thereby erasing global indigenous expressions of same-gender love and expansive gender diversity. These sins also lead to the creation of a false binary between LGBTQIA+ people and people of color.
As the scriptures teach us to welcome one another, just as Christ welcomes us for the glory of God, so we believe that the Gospel commands us to extravagantly welcome all people, particularly those who are marginalized and oppressed.
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of sexual and gender minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. We know the value and gifts that queer people bring to the church and to ministry throughout the world.
Grounded in this conviction, we commit to living in solidarity through mutual prayer and support with our UMC kin as they discern their way forward, just as we too continue to discern and struggle within our own denominational structures.
We rest in the knowledge that the Spirit continues to be present among us, calling and guiding as we journey towards God’s promise to gather all people as part of God’s one family:
Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed… Do not let the foreigner joined to God say, “God will surely separate me from God’s people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.” For thus says God: To the eunuchs… I will bring them to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the sovereign God, who gathers the outcasts…” (Isaiah 56: 1, 3, 7-8).
May we hold each other graciously and tenderly in our times of sorrow. And, may we not forget to step out in bold faith, trusting the Spirit to guide us on the path of reparation and justice.
ELM Board of Directors
Emily Ann Garcia, Co-Chair Matthew James, Co-Chair
Margaret Moreland, Secretary Charlie Horn, Treasurer
Jessica Davis, Emily E. Ewing, Matta Ghaly, Jeff R. Johnson, Barbara Lundblad, Margarette Ouji, Angela Shannon
The ELCA Conference of Bishops and Churchwide staff have, for the last year, engaged a process of revision of the church document “Vision and Expectations.” This document was designed and implemented in 1990 as a gate-keeping device to keep gay and lesbian individuals unwilling to promise celibacy from serving on the church’s rosters.
Though the policy was updated in 2010 following the 2009 Churchwide Assembly which passed “Human Sexuality Gift & Trust,” the impact of this document has continued to be a shared, unhealthy ethic of human sexuality that promotes silence, shame, and secrecy for both queer and straight candidates and rostered ministers. This document undermines and inhibits the church’s ability to promote healthy professional boundaries and a responsible ethic for leaders in this church. V&E remains the church’s primary vehicle that promotes discrimination and intimidation of candidates. A new revision of this document has been in progress over the last year.
Leading up to the Fall 2018 Conference of Bishops, Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries and our colleagues encouraged the Bishops to open the process by which this document was being revised so that voices of concerned parties could participate in crafting an ethic and standard that reflects the communities it affects. We were encouraged when the Bishops did, in fact, vote to postpone recommending a revision to the Church Council with a motion that recognized the need “that special attention be given to inclusive language and descriptions of life situations and relationships by inviting voices from diverse perspectives.”
We have no evidence that this has happened.
A committee made up of Bishops and Churchwide staff has been meeting to prepare a revision of “Vision and Expectations” to be presented to the Conference of Bishops at their Spring 2019 meeting, starting Friday, March 1st. As far as we know, there has been no invitation to include the participation or voices of concerned parties. ELM strongly disagrees with this course of action and condemns the lack of a promised open, fruitful, and transparent process.
A draft of the latest revision has not been shared with us, but we are deeply concerned about a process that fails to consider the perspectives of those who have been most damaged by our church’s policies around sexuality. We seek to offer our lived experiences and queer wisdom in the creation of a sexual ethic for our church that creates healthy and thriving church leaders, and in turn, congregations.
ELM calls on the Conference of Bishops to hold your siblings and yourselves accountable to the promise made at your fall meeting to invite “voices from diverse perspectives” into this process of revision. Do not recommend a document that has not been created in an inclusive setting. A failure in a just and open process will result in the creation of flawed guidelines.
To all leaders, lay and rostered, who are concerned members of our congregations and communities: if you value healthy, vibrant ministers, please reach out to your Bishops to express your concern. Documents that promote and call for “holy living and faithful witness” cannot be created only by those who hold power within our institution, the result of this kind of process is colonization and oppression. Trust in our church and in its policies is only garnered by courage and openness to change, and inclusion and diversity – two of the church’s stated values that are seemingly being ignored in this process.
Here is a list of talking points we have created that might assist you in your outreach to Bishops and church leaders:
Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries believes the public witness of gender and sexual minority ministers transforms the church and enriches the world. We believe that living into the fullness of who God created us to be is the greatest expression of “holy living and faithful witness” that is asked of us by our Creator.
Bio: Bishop Jim Hazelwood (he/him/his) was born in Concord, MA. Not raised in the church, he was baptized at age 21 while serving at El Camino Pines, a Lutheran Camp in Southern California. BA Cal Lutheran University, M.Div PLTS, D.Min Fuller Seminary Pasadena, CA. Pastor 1987 to 1993 Bethany Lutheran Brooklyn NY 1993 to 2012 St Andrew Charlestown RI. 2012 to present Bishop. Married to Lisa, Father and now Grandfather. When not bishoping he is bicycling, swimming, doing stand up comedy and writing a book on Everyday Spirituality.
By Sara Cunningham , Executive Director & CEO of Free Mom Hugs
When I was a child, my mother called me “Goose,” I am certain now more than ever this was because of my natural ability to put my nose into other people’s business. I needed to know what was going on, if everyone was ok, and most importantly when we could all get together again. Community was everything to me then, and it certainly is my focus every day now.
My Journey to becoming an ally began with the words from my child, “Mom I’ve met someone, and I need you to be okay about it.” I didn’t take the news very well, and I said and did some things I regret even to this day.
I had to re-examine my religion as it suggested that I needed to choose between my faith and my child. I discovered, with the help of some others who came alongside me, that what I believed about LGBTQIA+ people came from a few verses in the Bible that had been misinterpreted and misunderstood. From there, my journey went from the church to the local pride parade wearing a homemade button and offering Free Mom Hugs or High Fives.
I wasn’t the first mom to show up at a Pride Parade offering love and hope and hugs, but I did create a non-profit based on that experience. After my post about being a stand-in mom at same-sex weddings went viral; what we have seen has been a movement of love and celebration for the LGBTQIA+ Community.
It has been the most amazing gift dropped in our laps as far as getting the message out to moms, dads, educators, and churches that NOW is the time to get educated, to step out of fear and ignorance and come out of their own closets to speak out on behalf of their children.
But what has been even more beautiful is the community, the connection and healing that is taking place in the lives of LGBTQIA+ youth and adults due to the thousands of compassionate, empowered people who are responding and offering support, birthday cards, words of affirmation, homemade blankets, and other simple but very important small gestures such as referring to a transgender person by their chosen name.
We also recently had a follower on Instagram post about their 11-year-old child who attempted suicide because of intense scrutiny and bullying from family and school. We noticed the post and got our group of “Mama Bears to the Rescue” their address and when the young girl came home from the hospital, she was surprised by dozens of cards, stuffed animals and blankets from Mamas all across the country. These small acts of kindness, this kind of loving presence in the life of that child and her Mama delivered a message of love and hope that was life-changing for them.
This is where we are going Beyond The Hug. We are supporting homeless youth with Free Mom Hugs Hoodies. We are helping our transgender friends fund legal fees for gender name changes, emotional and financial support after top- surgeries; we travel to small-town colleges and encourage their GSA’s. We are educating on behalf of our communities in schools and in the workplace. We are advocating on behalf of mental health awareness, ending workplace discrimination, and putting an end to once and for all the mental abuse that is conversion therapy.
So many young LGBTQIA+ people are hurting from family rejection and rigid religious beliefs. This is why I support LGBTQIA+ ministries like Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries who, every day, affirm & inspire bold loving leaders to Proclaim the gospel in the world. We may not be able to change every heart and mind – we may not be able to solve most problems – but one thing we can all do is be a loving presence in the life of LGBTQIA+ people. Anyone reading this can send a card, speak words of affirmation, get together with someone for a coffee, give a small gift, use someone’s chosen name, give a hug. These are things we can all do.
My hope is that my journey will inspire all of you to want to be a loving presence in the life of LGBTQIA+ people.
Together I believe we can change the world, so it is a kinder, safer, more loving place for all people to live.
Love wins. Hugs and high fives help too.
Bio: Sara Cunningham is the Founder of Free Mom Hugs and has a heart as deep and wide as the ocean, and a commitment to the LGBTQIA+ community that matches it. Sara has very recently been featured on the Today Show, CNN, and has been viewed by millions on social media. What does Free Mom Hugs mean to her? “For me, it just represents unconditional love,” she said. “Everyone needs love and understanding from their mother.”