Sunday, June 8, 2014

Change or Die

It was Episcopal Bishop, John Shelby Spong who, years ago, said that "Christianity must change or die" in response to the question of where the Church fit into modern society and the issues of racism, poverty, women's equality, and homosexuality. Those words would prove to be prophetic as today the Church finds itself in a crisis. With atheism and alternative spirituality on the rise in the United States, the Church finds her pews increasingly vacant. Young people who identify as Millennials are leaving the Church in droves and the Pew Research Poll indicates that the reason is because of the Church's stand against homosexuality and the harsh treatment of gays and their gay friends.

Waking up to this reality has been difficult for the Church. While some of the most extreme fundamentalists are holding on to the Phelps-style "God Hates Fags" dogma, the more progressive sects and denominations are beginning to realize that what Spong warned of years ago, has come to pass and they now seem willing to at least talk about the issues. Some of the change seems to be happening simply because more and more young people are willing to come out to their parents as being gay, and fewer parents, fearing chastisement for being hateful, abusive, bigots on social media, are willing to disown their children when they come out. PFLAG, which is an organization of parents with gay children is reporting a sharp increase in membership, and it was only yesterday that I found a link on Facebook to an article about a Southern Baptist minister in California who has led his church to leave the Southern Baptist Convention because his congregation has decided to openly welcome members of the LGBT community. This decision was primarily due to the fact that the pastor's son had recently revealed to his father that he was gay. It seems the more gays that people know, the less likely they are to judge or be afraid of them. All of a sudden, gays become real people--friends, family members, neighbors-- and not some sub-human abstract abomination from the Old Testament.

Yesterday I attended the Tulsa Pride event with a dear friend and one of the booths I encountered was from the College Hill Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. College Hill has been known as one of the most theologically and socially progressive churches in the entire state for decades and has been on the cutting edge of social issues such as racism, poverty, women's equality, and LGBT rights, throughout it's entire
history as a church. It was through my aunt, who is an elder there, that I first encountered the church and was taken in and sheltered by them after I divorced after 18 years of marriage and then partnered with a woman. Because of my family's and church's rejection, I had nowhere to turn for the support that I needed during a difficult and painful time in my life. The wonderful, loving, and caring people at College Hill embraced Steph and me and took us in as their own. In May of 2001, Steph and I were joined in Holy Union at the College Hill Presbyterian Church. We later removed our membership from there because the 60 mile drive there and back got to be too much to handle, but our hearts always remained with the people and our memories of their love and outreach to us will always be fond.

While watching the parade, I was also struck by the number of Tulsa churches of various denominations that were represented--Episcopal, Presbyterian, Unitarian, and even Methodist were all united in their love and support for the Tulsa LGBT community. Their voice was so loud that it served to drown out the hateful voice
of the crowd of anti-gay protesters carrying their ugly placards admonishing us to "REPENT" or face an eternity in hell. Apparently these Christians worship a different god than the one of the folks at College Hill.

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