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They Didn’t Get the E-Mail…Thank God!

by Ken Nolite

    “And you shall burn in hell like a faggot.”
     “God hates fags.”

      Surprisingly, Christians throw these phrases at me and millions of others in the LGBT community as a warm and welcoming invitation to come into their midst to experience God’s love.  But good intentioned Christians can be some of the most hate-filled people you’ll ever come across.  And those good intentioned Christians will quote those two Bible verses as easily as they let John 3:16 fall off their lips.  Just one problem though.  They are not scripture and those hate filled words never appear in the Bible.

     It was because of those warm invitations that I walked away from all churches for a very long time.  I never lost my faith in God; I lost my faith in the people who professed to be Christians.  During my version of wandering for 40 years in the desert I always knew God was close by.  Every time life kicked me in the butt, He gave me a pillow to sit on.  Just to remind me he was still keeping track of me and letting me know when I was ready, he would be there.

     When I finally started seriously thinking about finding a church again, God started dropping hints.  First came the TV show, “Touched by an Angel,” which always ended with Della Reese saying “God loves you baby.”  It was the first time I heard those words being spoken without any qualifiers attached to them.  It got to the point that I was clearing my schedule so that I would be home every Sunday night just so I could hear those words spoken out loud.  I had never heard the words “God loves you” without them being quickly followed by a long list of exceptions.

     When I finally got to the point where I was seriously considering checking out churches, God put a newspaper on the table in the lunch room at work.  There on the table, face up for the entire world to see, was an article about 3 progressive preachers who many thought were preaching heresy.  One of them was a female rabbi in a reform congregation, one was Rev. Donna Eubanks, and I’ve forgotten who the third one was, but I do know it wasn’t Félix (UCCLM Senior Pastor Félix Villanueva)!  I knew going to visit the synagogue wasn’t an option.  I knew the third one wasn’t an option because it was high church so that left Rev. Donna of New Creation UCC.  I had no idea that UCC was a denomination.  But I recognized the Church of Christ part of United Church of Christ.  I decided to give that church a try because even though I knew what I was in for by going to a Church of Christ church my need to be in a church environment was greater than any negative experience I might encounter.  Imagine my surprise when I saw this woman, small in stature, completely unable to contain her ability to express God’s unconditional love!  I have been told I’m not welcome in God’s house because I am gay yet here was this minister telling me God loved me as is. Apparently she had tripped over her robe and hit her head on the pulpit!

     For many years all churches told gay people flat out that we were not welcome into the building they called God’s house.  I was always taught that God’s house is a sanctuary so why was it that I was not able to find refuge in a sanctuary?  And then Christians seemed to become just a little more enlightened. It was either that or they needed money because they decided that gay people could come into the sanctuary as long as we lied. I didn’t lie when I enlisted and I’m not about to do it in God’s house.   We were welcomed to sit in the back row as long as we didn’t touch anything; we were not that welcome.  They would have preferred it if we had just added our names to the rolls.  If we could also have just mailed in our checks, they would have liked that even more.

     And as time passed and Christians progressed even more and became more enlightened, the attitude changed.  We were now invited all the way.  No longer did we have to sit in the back row.  We were now allowed to sing in the choir and decorate the chapel for Christmas as long as we still lied but we were still not allowed to have any role in any type of ministry or lay ministry.

      UCCLM’s congregation apparently never read that email.  Here we were allowed to sit in the front row, be on boards, be on the fruit-cutting committee, teach the kids, and, most importantly, Lee got a chance to use her power tools.  Life was good! The question was never, “Who do you date?” but “What are your talents?”  I’m not sure, but I don’t think I had a chance to fully warm up my spot on the pew before Joanne (Choir Director, Joanne Skinner) was sizing me up for a choir robe!

     My intention when I first came into this building was to sit in the back row, give up an amen when Mary Sue (Associate Pastor Mary Sue Brookshire) said something profound and a “tut-tut looks like rain” when Félix said something that was way over the top.  So far I have never had the opportunity to pass along those words of encouragement to the ministers because you guys put me to work.  The first Sunday I was sitting proud in the front row and the second Sunday there I was back in the back row…of the choir section.  And this time sitting in the back row was a good thing.

    I have the same fears and misgivings some of you have about what will happen if we publicly announce that we are an Open and Affirming house of God.  There are some subcultures in my world that make me cringe and, I have to admit, I’m not sure I’m ready to watch an Easter parade coming down the aisle every Sunday.  I also have well-founded reservations about vandalism of our property since I have been on the receiving end of a bashing.  I am also painfully aware that there were people here the day I showed up who are no longer here because I stayed around.  I wish I knew how to fix that but I don’t have an answer.  Time and patience will have to fix that one.

     I have always held the belief that churches should be in the business of offering hope…to everyone.  In 1985 a friend of mine who had been rejected by his family for being gay found out that he was HIV positive.  He was in the Navy and went to the chaplain looking for words of encouragement.  The chaplain told him there was nothing he could do for him and that there was no hope for him because of his lifestyle.  That night he jumped off the Bay Bridge.  He jumped to his death knowing that his family wanted nothing to do with him and believing that God hated him and that he had no social redeeming value.  The one place that was in the business of offering him hope denied him.  Even on the cross Jesus offered hope to the thief.

     I love the ideal that we shouldn’t have to target a specific group to let them know they are welcome in this room in every house of God.  Unfortunately, the reality is today is not that day.  But I hope I get to stand with those who hold that ideal the day it comes to fruition and cheer them on for helping make it happen.  But until then, we need to let everyone know that there is a place of hope for them because there are still people out there who just don’t know that God loves them just as they are.  You can change the world one person at a time and what better place to start than here?

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