Voices Unheard: A Reconciling Witness
published by Reconciling United Methodists and Friends of North Carolina
North Carolina Annual Conference
3rd Edition – 2002 Annual Conference
Table of Contents:
Letters to the Church
As I reminisce about my life in the Methodist Church, my thoughts go back to 1970 at age 17 the pastor of our church was asked to leave before his appointment had finished. To me, he was a God send to our church, he was active with our teens and had a singing voice from heaven. I could not understand how a few people in the church could not see the good in him. Thirty years later, I am not welcomed in the Methodist Church because I am a gay male.
For 20 years I attended the same Methodist Church. My family was very active in the church. For me, MYF was the highlight of my week.
I knew at an early age there was something different about me. I was taught boys liked girls butit didn't work that way for me. I dated girls in high school and got married. I have two wonderful children and one grandchild. After ten years of marriage, we divorced. Three years later, I met my new partner for life. We have been together for ten years. I feel like I am living the life my God created for me and I am truly happy. For the past four years we have attended and Joined a Methodist church in Durham. I am on the Administrative Board, sing in the choir and co-chair our homeless program. I do not share my life with everyone but many members know I am gay and love me for being, me.
A fellow Methodist
Dear Fellow Methodists...
At age eight, I was informed by my Mother that my Father was homosexual. My first and last thought was so what. I still love him anyway, and told him so.
At age twelve, I went to live with my Dad. He was a savior to me, during a rough spell in my life. He was also granted custody of me. My Dad was always there for me throughout high school and college.
My friends and my husband have always been supportive of my Dad, and I feel that Methodist Church should be as well. If his money, time and efforts for the Methodist Church are good enough, then he should be good enough for the Methodist Church.
I love my father, and he did a wonderful job raising me, and has
always been there for me.
As I participated in one of the small groups at the Diversity
Dialogue session that I attended, I noticed two things. First, there was sharp
disagreement among the persons in my group over the question of whether
homosexual activity was inherently sinful. While the conversation was respectful,
it was also intense, with strongly held opinions on both sides of the issue.
However, the second thing I noticed was that virtually everyone who spoke said
that, as far as they were concerned, everyone should be welcome in the church.
That really struck me. I had not expected to hear that said so clearly and by
so many people. We are -- or at least want to be -- a church that welcomes all
people. I think these two factors are at work throughout our church -- we
disagree with one another profoundly over the question of the inherent
sinfulness of homosexuality and yet, at our best, we do genuinely want to be a
welcoming church. I have certainly seen both of these factors at work in my own
local congregation as we have wrestled with this issue.
At times, the depth of our disagreement on the question of
homosexuality seems almost overwhelming to me. However, as I sat listening in
my small group at the Dialogue session, I began to wonder if it might be
fruitful to focus more of our energy on the point on which we seem to agree -
that we want to be a church that welcomes all people. Even while we disagree on
the issue of the sinfulness of homosexuality, how can we as a church be truly
welcoming to all persons, including those who are homosexual? In particular,
how do we as a church make the welcome real without putting those among us who
believe homosexuality to be inherently sinful in the position of feeling that,
by welcoming a homosexual person, they are thereby condoning something that
they cannot accept?
I don't have a ready answer to these questions. But I do think
it is something worth working on. Let us make the most of that on which we
agree even as we continue to talk about our differences. It would be a shame to
let our disagreement over the question of the inherent sinfulness of
homosexuality overshadow our agreement that God calls us to be a church that
truly welcomes all of God's children.
Chapel Hill, NC
An Expansion of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
This is the time to be born for persons who are as courageous
and unafraid as was the Christ. It is a time to die for persons who believe the
have everything and are blind to the needs of their sisters and brothers.
It is a time to plant the seeds of justice and equality for all
people. It is a time to pluck up seeds of prejudice and hatred which have been
It is a time to kill ideas of inequality mid subjugation. It is
a time to heal the wounds of the insidious and nonverbal evidences of
It is a time to break down barriers of all kinds which exist between persons. It is a time to build up mutual love and understanding among all people.
It is a time to weep for those who are spiritually blind to the liberating
love of Christ. It is a time to laugh with those who experience Christ's
liberation for the first time.
It is a time to mourn for those visions of human freedom that have passed away without being fulfilled. It is a time to dance with those, who through the giving of themselves, have
made visions a reality.
It is a time to cast away the stones of hate and blame. It is a time to gather up the gemstones of love and responsibility.
It is a time to embrace our sisters and brothers who struggle
with us. It is a time to refrain from embracing those filled with pious
It is a time to seek for faith to stride through the frightening
valley and to climb the hill of Golgotha. It is a time to lose our desire to
remain in the glory and safety of the Mount of Transfiguration.
It is a time to keep the anger of the Christ when he found the
temple turned into a dell of thieves. It is a time to throw away the sweet
Jesus, meek and
It is a time to rend the veil of the temple which keeps people
from taking their rightful places. It is a time to sew together the designs of
many people of different life styles.
It is a time to keep silence about trivial issues. It is a time
to speak about those issues of life which are central to our very existence.
It is a time to love every question and doubt which leads to
abundant life. It is a time to hate the easy answers and the certainties that
lead to a living death.
It is a time for war waged forcefully against the chains that
restrict the freedom of any person. It is a time for the peace that comes when
we work for justice.
Nancy Ruth Gentry Best
I am writing from the perspective of a heterosexual woman, a wife and mother, and a lifelong Methodist who usually attends two Methodist churches every Sunday morning. I am writing because our denomination's teaching about homosexuality and the role of lesbians and gays in our denomination troubles me.
As I read the headline stories about the murders of Matthew Shepard in Wyoming and Billy Jack Gaither in Alabama, murders carried out because the victims were gay, I have been disturbed by the official policy of the United Methodist Church that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." I've wondered if those who are looking for reasons to hate are able to make a distinction between the Methodist policy and the hostile statements from the "God hates fags" organizations or if they see the attitudes as simply different degrees on a continuum of rejection.
During this past year, as our Disciple II group has studied Luke and Acts, there were two major themes that kept grabbing my attention.
First, Jesus and the apostles were constantly doing and saying
things that upset the religious authorities, those who saw themselves as the
defenders of the faith against heresy. One thing that got Jesus and the
apostles in trouble was that they kept reaching out to those whom others
labeled as people to be excluded. Jesus and the apostles affirmed they intended
to follow God's leading, not the rules of the religious authorities.
Second, in Acts, there is a controversy that could have torn the early church apart. The Jewish Christians were uneasy about the Gentile Christians, who were different and thus suspect. The Jewish Christians said that in order for Gentiles to become part of the church, they first had to become like the Jews. Peter had a dream that convinced him that no one that God created could be called unclean and the dream is reported twice, to make sure we get the message Peter and Paul insisted that God calls all kinds of people into the church and all who respond are to be welcomed.
I think we Methodists are being faced with a choice -- are we
going to act like legalistic Pharisees holding tight to our rules or are we
going be faithful disciples of Jesus reaching out in love to the excluded and
rejected? Another choice is whether we are going to be like the first century
Jewish Christians who said "first you have to become like us" or are
we going to think that Peter's dream is meant for us too and encourages us to
welcome all and leave the judging to God?
Why do we point to some of our most caring, giving, talented members and say "your sins are worse than our sins"? Doesn't it seem hypocritical, if not mean-spirited, to say that sexuality should find expression only within the committed, monogamous relationship we call marriage, but then tell lesbians and gays that their committed, monogamous relationships will not be acknowledged and that pastors who do so will be punished? Are we really going to expel pastors who minister to gay men and lesbians in their congregations at the same time that we reject the call to ministry for lesbians and gays? Why are we so pre-occupied with sexual orientation when the needs of children, the elderly, the poor, the refugees are so overwhelming?
I would like to think my church is helping to overcome the hostility and alienation that I see everywhere -- in the city in which I live, in the nation, in the world at large. Instead, I see my church as an active participant in building up walls that divide people.
I was baptized and confirmed in the United Methodist Church, Loving parents and a nurturing church family raised my siblings and me. We enjoyed UMYF and the monthly Family Night Suppers at our church. When I realized that I was a lesbian, I felt I couldn't share my discovery with my family or my church for fear of rejection, and I didn't for many years. But I tired of the constant struggle to share parts my life with my family and friends without revealing the whole truth, especially the part about the woman I love. I was living two separate lives.
Finally I gathered the courage to come out to my family. All responded with support except my brother, who responded by sending me an article about gay persons who had been transformed and were no longer attracted to the same gender. When we met face to face my brother told me I was going to hell if I didn't change. He didn't understand that my orientation was not a choice. I tried to reassure him that I wasn't going to hell but he didn't believe me. We couldn't even agree to disagree. Now, ten years later, we are attempting to mend our relationship. We are talking again, We finally found common ground on which to meet; we love each other.
I still attend Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill, the church that nurtured me as a child, as do my parents. Many members of the congregation support my partner and me. And many members struggle with the issue of homosexuality. But we, as a congregation, are talking about it. We can share our differing beliefs with one another because we share the love of Christ and we respect each other.
I hope that our conference will continue to struggle with the issue of homosexuality, will continue to create opportunities for dialogue, in the conference and in the individual congregations, and will always remember that we are all one body in Christ, called to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Lois L. Wright
Chapel Hill, NC
Hope cuts windows
in the house of pain
Light comes in
with healing grace again
Now freed, finds strength
and builds -- a door.
It will stay forever in my memory as a special day because it held, for me, sudden understanding -- a dawning.
Paul, the younger of our two sons, now graduated from college and working in Durham, was home for the weekend.
"Mom, are you busy?" he asked on Sunday afternoon.
"Well, I'd thought I might go to the Chatham Historical Society meeting. It's here at the church this afternoon. But I don't have to go," I added.
"Could we go for a walk, then? I'd like to talk with you."
We started down the street by the parsonage, cut across the lawn below the cemetery, and presently found ourselves seated under a large old tree.
There Paul told me what he had on his mind, very simply and honestly. "I am homosexual," he said.
How had I not known? In all those twenty six years, how had I not become aware? Now, in one brief moment, so many things fell into place. But first -- first
"Paul, when did you know?"
"It was when I was in my early teens," he said. "When I realized that I was different from the other kids, it was as if a huge black hole opened up in my life."
I was weeping now, in agony for this son, this perceptive, compassionate, shy person, this lonely, self-effacing, often angry person. He had gone through those adolescent torments alone. If only I had known. Angus and I had tried to understand, tried to help. We had encouraged and supported as best we knew. But still we could see that as a teenager and even in college Paul seemed often remote, unable to focus in order to use his talents to the full, unable to realize and appreciate his attractive attributes.
I had noticed in the past few months though, that he had seemed less tense, more outgoing and self assured. Now he explained that after years of private struggle and despair he had finally gone to a counselor to ask for help in changing his sexual orientation.
The counselor told him that he could not change Paul's sexuality
but assured him that he would listen and support him in his quest for discovery
Feelings of gratitude toward that counselor surge through my heart and mind even as I write. How fortunate Paul was! He faced his situation in honesty, came with hope and determination, and was met with understanding and acceptance. I am sure that this was life-affirming for him.
As we continued to talk, Paul said that he had told his brother, Stephen, that he was gay several months before and that Steve had encouraged him to tell me. I was gratified that they both trusted that I would understand. It was not difficult for me to do so. I had loved Paul for all the years of his life. Now he had taken me into his confidence, trusted me with a most intimate and important part of his inner life. He was still my same beloved son.
Now I was crying again as I realized the kind of misunderstanding and discrimination he would surely experience as a gay person. Though to me he was still my fine, talented, caring son, Paul, to many he would be first and only "a homosexual."
As we finished our conversation, Paul asked, "Do you think I should tell Dad or do you want to tell him?
"I think he would appreciate it if you would tell him," I said. And that was the way it was.
Angus and I are fortunate. Our faith is in the boundless love of God for all persons. We are confident that none are excluded. We find reason for this faith in the words and acts of Jesus himself We believe that Paul's sexuality is not his choice but a "given" -- an orientation. We believe his sexuality is not a mistake or perversion, but that, like all sexuality, it is a gift to be used in a loving and responsible way.
It was and is our intention to honor the trust that Paul has placed in us, and to support him in his continuing growth as the person God intended him to be.
-- Catherine M. Cameron
8 May 1999
Dear Reconciling United Methodists of North Carolina and Friends:
I cannot tell you how much we (the older generation) appreciate the energy your group is expending for bringing Christ's love to disenfranchised gays. I wish I were closer so that I could lend more support At this point, I have quit trying to change the Christian world... Believe me you have my prayers and support.
26 April 1999
Dear Bishop Edwards:
As the dialogue sessions are going on in our conference, I cannot remain silent on the main issue.
I have been a member of Edenton Street United Methodist Church for twenty-nine years,, a Methodist since I was born into a Methodist home almost sixty-seven years ago. I have always been proud of being a Methodist because of our faith and ministry. Historically, we have taken important stands and have been an inclusive church for the masses, as John Wesley began our path so long ago. The fact that we were the leader in establishing the North Carolina Council of Churches back in the 1930's to reach out in a united way to those too weak and too downtrodden to help themselves and to say: "We care about you and want to help in any way we can," characterized the church I belonged to.
It never occurred to me until these last few years that our members could care for anything else more strongly ... until I became a member of a group to whom many have not shown true caring.
Let me explain. My oldest of four children, Mark, was a gay man who died of AIDS. He was insulted in the church from the time he was in the sixth grade. It became almost impossible for him to go to church because of the messages he received there. After his death nine years ago, my eyes were opened when I became a volunteer for the AIDS Service Agency here in Raleigh and later became politically active to be in a better position to fight against the prejudice, hate, and bigotry professed by some of our most visible political leaders and unfortunately, for many people who are considered to be leaders in our churches.
If one member of Christ's body is in pain and suffering then so is the entire body? Is this not the message of Jesus who never seems to get quoted in this debate? I find it exceedingly strange that Jesus who is the Head of the Church is never turned to for advice -- He who ministered to the outcast, the lepers, those considered on the margins of society, He who came to bring us all together in His love. It is so inconsistent to pick and choose which part of the Bible these who would judge us so devastatingly are doing.
I am sorry this letter is so long. My heart is so full I cannot prune it back, although I have still not said all I would like. I appreciate your accepting it and listening to me. I do not speak for myself alone. I speak for legions.
I thank-you and wish every blessing upon you as you deal with this most important issue.
Eloise M. Vaughn
-reprinted from "Southern Voice"
When Dr. Mike Cordle walked into St. Mark United Methodist Church eight years ago, he was the downtown Atlanta church's "last resort," chosen to lead the declining congregation because of his reputation as a high-energy, charismatic pastor. After the service on that first Sunday, in June 1991, he stood outside watching the Atlanta Gay Pride parade go by
"A parade -- this is just like a small town!" he remembers thinking at the time.
A year later, Cordle once again stood outside St. Mark, observing the Pride parade. Looking back on a difficult year that brought only eight new members to a congregation of less than 100, he watched parade participants give his two-year-old daughter flowers, balloons and whistles as they walked by.
"As I watched the people, I saw they looked just like my brothers, sisters, peers, parents... They just wanted to be recognized for what they were," Cordle said.
From that moment on, he said, he felt compelled to open the doors of his church to the gay community
In the months that followed, Cordle struggled with his "calling," worrying it would be "professional and political suicide" within the Methodist church. But as he became more convinced that welcoming gays to St. Mark was the right thing to do, he presented the idea to church leadership, expecting the worst. To his surprise, they agreed.
The next year, St. Mark members stood outside during the Pride parade passing out water to the participants, a centuries old church tradition, and leaflets inviting them to church.
"People cried. They were shocked.... They said, 'Do you know who we are?"' remembered Cordle. "We said, 'Just come and see."'
This year, St. Mark boasts a thriving membership of 1,250, and the church expects about 10,000 visitors. Churchgoers drive from all over the Atlanta area and as far away as Macon to attend Sunday services. Cordle has become a national resource, receiving calls from all over the country from church leaders wanting to know more.
The congregation has formed numerous care and support organizations, including services for homeless people, an AIDS support/care team, outreach groups that travel all OVER the country, a growing throng of children, and a choir renowned throughout the city.
Though many in the gay community cheer the transformation at St. Mark's, some gays and some conservatives in his denomination are more skeptical -- suspecting a skillful marketing ploy to save a dying church.
"I am not that bright," laughed Cordle. "I thought we might get 10 new members. I was taking a chance late in my career, and no matter what happened, it was the right thing to do."
Cordle said he is pained by denomination regulations that prohibit him from performing same-sex weddings like the ceremony for a lesbian couple last week in California, administered by as many as 90 Methodist ministers who risk discipline for participating.
"I would love to be the full pastor for my congregation," said Cordle. "I think the bishop knows this, and feels my pain."
Cordle grew up during the black civil rights movement, and believes that experience began his fight for fairness and justice. He said he speaks out not about sexuality, but about human rights.
"I hear about the 'gay agenda'... but those of us who are straight -- with no agenda have to be willing to stand up because we know it's the right thing, it's the fair and honorable thing to do," he said.
"It's denying part of God's creation to try to make people change who they are, saying we don't accept people the way God created them, ... and I certainly don't have the courage to tell God that."
It is only recently that I have become personally aware of the vital importance of the Reconciling United Methodist Movement. I've recently been pleasantly surprised to find a place of worship where I am welcomed and accepted as a gay man.
I was raised in the United Methodist Church and attended with my family throughout my childhood. As a teenager, I struggled with my homosexuality and all the feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing that were forced upon me by people who teach the "all-encompassing love" of Jesus. I felt unable to confide my feelings in anyone. Thus, I created a wall around myself. It is a horrible way to exist.
Unable to communicate my feelings, I found that God had given me the gift of music. So instead of talking with my fmaily or minister, I played the piano and sang to express myself. I poured myself into my music study. Soon, music was pouring out of my heart through the piano keys. It was the only outlet I had to express happiness, anguish, and the fearfulness that engulfed my life as my own homophobia crushed me tighter and tighter.
My gift was soon recognized and I began playing at churches. I was a church musician by my Junior year in high school. For the better part of the next ten years, I played in church nearly every Sunday. I was employed by Methodist, Southern Baptist, and Independent Baptist Churches, both small and very large. Ironically, no one ever welcomed the REAL me. Had anyone discovered my sexual oreientation, I would've been fired. Thus, I came to consider my music as only a job. It was a paycheck, as I did not feel welcomed to worship.
Fortunately, salvation is personal and I came to accept myself and felt confident that surely God would accept me "Just As I Am". Anger and guilt festered inside me as I became dependent on the paycheck and felt forced to deny myself. On several Sundays I sat quietly at the keyboard, jaws clenched, as the minister spoke with apparent disgust about homosexuality. (Not realizing he was speaking of his valued pianist.) Many times I have regretted not standing up at those moments and walking out in front of a thousand people and never looking back.
Finally I quit playing for church and thus, quit attending church for over five years. I had become successful by mine and many other people's standards. I have health, stability, wonderful friends and family, a good job, and a partner of over eight years. I am happy and at peace. Only recently did I have the opportunity to substitute at a local church. It turned into an option to play full time again. Most refreshing, was the fact that the pastor actually KNEW I was gay, and accepted me anyway without judgment. Imagine that! I was welcomed into this wonderful, warm and friendly church. As I interviewed with the Music Committee, I disclosed that I also accompany the Triangle Gay Men's Chorus -- and not one nose turned up. Imagine that! It is terrific to finally be accepted and free to express and share my real self. I also discovered to my surprise, that I had been nearly spiritually starved to death. I am grateful that God brought me to this beautiful church family that is willing to accept me. It makes ALL the difference. Hopefully this story drives home the importance of how the people of God affect lives. There are countless people that have given up on the church. Who could blame them? Do you want to go where you know you are not welcome?
Thank you for providing this forum. I hope my story helps inspire someone to move toward reconciliation -- and honest love and acceptance of ALL God's children. There are more people in your community waiting for you to welcome them than you have seating for in your church!
All my life I've been a Lesbian and a child of God. I didn't know about those things at first, and it took a few years before I realized the gifts I was born with. It took only 21 years before I realized I was a Lesbian. Unlike many other people, this was not a difficult realization for me. It took 31 years for me to realize I was a child of God and to accept Jesus into my heart and life. It was tough coming out as a Christian. I didn't know what my Gay friends would think of me, or whether they would accept me for who I was. Fortunately, they have, although we don't always talk about that part of me.
I wish more Gay and Lesbian folk felt more comfortable with God. But for good reason, they don't. Most churches have not only chosen to close their doors to us, but they make it their business to attack and publicly degrade us. Some churches even resort to ugly, mean spirited protests of our private times, such as funerals and pride gatherings.
Fortunately, more and more churches are opening their doors, and more and more members of various congregations are working to change things according to the example set by Jesus. Jesus taught us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Seems clear enough to me.
It's not always so easy. I've been involved with the Reconciling Movement in the Methodist church for almost a year now. I felt a call from God to be involved. Over time what I've come to understand is that my call is not to reach out to Gay and Lesbian people. My call is to reach out and love those who hate me. It is to reach out and help those who don't understand who I am, who my friends are, and what my community is about. In order to do that, I had to first accept the love and grace of Jesus Christ, and heal my anger and hurt from being rejected and condemned by a very vocal segment of Christianity.
I care deeply for the Gay and Lesbian community and want each member to know the peace that knowing God brings to one's life. But my energy must go to love those that don't accept me, and that does take a lot of energy. It must go to my Pastors, who risk loss of employment and standing in the Church in order to speak out for me and all who are oppressed and marginalized. It must go to my straight friends who work by my side, who have not yet experienced the hate and the ugliness that this issue sometimes brings to light.
I don't want to push my Gay and Lesbian friends towards closed or partially open doors. I want to work to open the doors, so that my friends can simply walk in, hand and hand with their partners, without effort, without struggle, and without regret. I know that's the way God wants it to be.
It's time for the Methodist Church to come out of it reliance upon a 19th Century Cultural Bias. The same biblical proof text arguments that are used to condemn homosexuals follow the same self-righteous justification that was used in the pulpits in the 1800's to justify slavery. Too much of the stance of the church has been the result of political maneuvering and not careful examination of beliefs and faith. The discussion so far has shed more heat than light, and the emotional hysteria involving anything to do with sex is archaic Puritanism.
It's time to acknowledge that while many people have long-held sincere beliefs that homosexuality is a sin, there is no clear biblical justification for such a view. It has more to do with the "way we were brought up" than in biblical exegesis.
It's time for the Methodist Church to come out of a policy that excludes an entire class of people from full membership in the church. Let's quit arguing about whether or not to endorse homosexuality and homosexual relationships and start focusing on how to reach millions of people who have no church or have left the church for good reason.
It's time for the Methodist Church to stop the hypocrisy of "don't ask, don't tell." The church has struggled for the past 25 years with a schism of political maneuvering that puts the Baptists to shame. I've known too many gay ministers and lay leaders who have suffered from the capricious whim of someone who has chosen to "make a case out of them" or others who have been "tolerated" because of political connections. Openness and honesty is the only policy that makes any sense. A lot of parsing of "self-acknowledged" or " practicing" or any other adjective used to describe the status of homosexuals in the church ignores the reality that there has been inequality in the administration and enforcement of church policies and judicial proceedings.
Gays and lesbians are not fomenting a schism in the church that threatens to split the church. The ones who are left in the church are trying to bring about healing rather than proselytizing some liberal theology. Most already have left the church. We're simply trying to make the church more relevant (if not tolerant) in a very complex world in which many mainline denominations are viewed as irrelevant to most people's lives. The debacle of 9/11 revealed that most American are inherently religious and want to express their beliefs in a significant manner that is not dictated by organizational denominations quibbling over minor theological issues. The ecumenical movement of the 1970's has been replaced by a dangerous drift to doctrinaire declarations. The fundamentalists are growing in popularity because they offer a simple framework that provides answers for everything and no one has to think or to develop a faith beyond pure emotionalism.
I have been a Methodist for 54 years, and I have been proud of its Wesley tradition. I don't recall that John Wesley asked the coal miners to wash their hands before they could stand to listen to him or ask if they had paid their dues for a pew. Wesley was widely criticized for abandoning the Church of England and its rules. He did so because of his conscience. Why must only homosexuals pass a litmus test to be fully accepted into the church? Why is the church so hung up about a person's sexual orientation? Is that the defining element of who a person is?
It is time to embrace the Wesley tradition and to evangelize the great unwashed.