Straight from the Pulpit
I had the opportunity to share my testimony at Camp Hill United Methodist Church (my home church) in Central PA, a large congregation in the midst of a theologically and politically conservative area. I almost declined, but finally decided to do it. This is what I shared with the gathered flock that day:
When I was asked recently to share my testimony during worship of what God was doing in my life, I was very reluctant to do so. It was not because God is not doing anything in my life. It was because what God is doing in my life is both a challenging and rewarding journey of faith. When I received this invitation to speak, I happened to be a visitor at the Annual Conference of the Pen-Del Conference of the United Methodist Church. I was there in support of a group of faithful people who have an outreach ministry to the LGBT community. The group is known as FIRE, Faithfully Inviting and Reconciling Everyone. This FIRE group, from Epworth UMC in Rehoboth Beach, DE, where my wife Marti and I are now active, was trying to get their Annual Conference to pass a Resolution that would eliminate discrimination against gays and lesbians. The Resolution was subsequently tabled.
I have been a quiet advocate and ally of the LGBT community for a long time, but have never been an activist of any sort. I have stayed on the sidelines and watched as others speak up and speak out about how gays and lesbians are children of God, and are just as much a part of the church as anyone else. But in the last few months, God has led me to get off the sidelines. God is calling me to be on the field of play, in the huddle, involved directly, rather than indirectly.
The Presbyterian Church recently approved their clergy officiating same-sex weddings. The United Methodist Church is at its own crossroads, as this same issue is debated across the country.
God has been working in my life, transforming me, to be a vocal ally to the LGBT community. This became very personal 3½ years ago, when my 30-year-old son, Stephen, came home and told me that he was going to undergo a transition, and become my daughter. I had no concept of what a transgender person was, what they were going through, why they would go to such lengths to change their gender. But God was creating in me a new heart, a heart that was motivated by love, not fear. I loved my son, and it distressed me to think that all his life he was not the person he thought he should be. It took me a long time to understand the struggle that he faced each day, the struggle that all transgender persons face each day. But this I know—God has created all people in His image. Each person is a child of God.
The first time I met my daughter Amy at a restaurant, after her transition, I was unsure of how I would react. I was afraid that I might not like this person who is now a grown-up daughter of mine. But when she came in and sat down with me, the only thing I could see was a much happier woman, much more talkative and engaging, than my son had ever been. Amy is happy because she is now who she has always longed to be. This was no fleeting desire, no spur-of-the-moment decision. No one who transitions to the opposite gender does it lightly. No one undergoes this transition to get away from something. They do it to become the right person on the outside, matching the person they are on the inside.
So what is God doing in my life? God is giving me a voice for those whose voices are silenced too often. God is using me to show the straight world that gays and lesbians and transgenders are regular people, too. They want to be part of the church, and I want them to sit beside me in the pew. They are called by God to be disciples, just like the rest of us. The LGBT community is not somewhere “out there.” They are already in here, whether we see them or not. Where some people draw circles around themselves and declare that anyone different from them is outside those circles and not worthy of the Kingdom of Heaven, I know God does not draw those boundaries.
In the United Methodist Church, when someone is reaching out in mission and ministry to the LGBT community, we call that a reconciling act. LGBT persons desire to be reconciled with the church, welcomed in, and be seen fully as brothers and sisters in faith. Rehoboth Beach was founded in 1873 as a site for Methodist camp meetings. In Genesis 26:22, we find a reference to Rehoboth. This name literally means, “room for all.” I humbly ask for your prayers as the message of reconciliation goes forth, so that one day soon, Camp Hill UMC may also call itself “Rehoboth,” where there is room for all. And ALL means ALL. Thank you.
So what reaction did I get from this conservative congregation that recent Sunday morning? I got a reaction I had not expected, nor had planned on—applause!