Friday, October 29, 2010

Lutherans Concerned Endorses Anti-Bullying Message of Bishop Hanson, Calls for Action

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release
October 29, 2010

Contact: Phil Soucy
Phil Soucy, 703-980-2038

Lutherans Concerned Endorses Anti-Bullying Message of Bishop Hanson, Calls for Action

Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA) endorses the message on bullying released yesterday as a video on the ELCA website, on YouTube, and on the website for the "It Gets Better" Project.

In his video message, Bishop Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, speaks of the "pain and shock" of hearing of young people bullied "for being the people God created them to be." He says that he knows of the hurt that had been inflicted by the words of some Christian brothers and sisters and also that "our silence" had the power to hurt as well. He reminds lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people that they are "beloved children of God," for whom there is a place in this world and in this church.

Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America joins right-minded religious and community leaders standing against physical or psychological violence in schools and other settings where young people are found, whether that bullying is for real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or any other reason.

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director of Lutherans Concerned/North America, said "In his message, Bishop Hanson has drawn a line in the sand, proclaiming LGBT people as children of God and witnessing to the truth that LGBT people are who God created us to be. His statement is reassuring and unequivocal. It is by far the most positive statement to date by a presiding bishop of the ELCA both proclaiming God's love and standing against violence and harassment of LGBT people.

"While we welcome this message, we know that in order to move ELCA members and congregations to act to prevent bullying, we must do much more than reassure the victims. We must enact a plan and produce concrete action steps to turn Bishop Hanson's stated core values from homily to reality. Toward that end, we call on the ELCA to collaborate with us and our ecumenical partners to produce web-based congregational and individual resources to end bullying of all kinds. Bullying is not Christian. Our church must no longer stand idly by while our youth and young adults endure unspeakable pain.

"LC/NA requests that our members thank Bishop Hanson for his message and urge him to take additional steps to ensure that his words become actions at the congregational level. Bishop Hanson may be reached through bishop@elca.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ."

As Bishop Hanson said, "Words have the power to hurt--and the power to heal." Lutherans Concerned/North America as an organization, its board of directors and staff, and its members continue to call on leaders of all aspects of society, secular and religious, to take strong stances against bullying. We must address the hurts and hopes of those most directly affected by hurtful words and actions, offering them the reassurance that indeed it gets better and working vigorously to change the minds or behaviors that produce the hurtful, hateful words by bringing them the whole message of Christ.

We must commit to identifying and ending the root causes of bullying--socio-economic injustice; racial, ethnic, and gender-based ignorance and hatreds; glorification of aggression found in advertising and entertainment media; commercial sexual exploitation; and theologies of condemnation that continue to enjoy official recognition in churches. We must make it better.

See www.lcna.org for the stance of Lutherans Concerned on bullying and what congregations and other religious settings can do to combat its pernicious effects.

Our response to bullying must be unequivocal. Anything less makes a lie of what we say of ourselves as individuals, communities, a nation, and people of faith.

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ABOUT Lutherans Concerned/North America

Working at the intersection of oppressions, Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA) embodies, inspires, advocates and organizes for the acceptance and full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities within the Lutheran communion and its ecumenical and global partners. LC/NA is based in St. Paul, Minnesota. More information is at www.lcna.org.

Phil Soucy
Communications Staff LC/NA

Rev. Mark Hanson and "It Gets Better"

video
On Thursday, October 28th, the ELCA posted a video by Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. Please watch and listen to his important message to LGBT youth.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Last Supper I had at Grace Place

Writer and theologian David Weiss writes of his experience at Grace Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. Grace is an Reconciling in Christ Congregation. Rev. Lura Groen, pastor of Grace Lutheran, will be received onto the clergy roster of the ELCA on November 7.

The Last Supper I had at Grace Place (http://tothetune.wordpress.com/davids-blog/)


by David R. Weiss, October 2, 2010

In Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, Emily famously asks the Stage Manager, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?” to which he responds, “No— Saints and poets maybe—they do some.”

Thursday night, I had a poet’s moment. An occasion when it seemed as if life itself slowed down so that I could actually see what was transpiring in front of me with a clarity that stunned me. Let me set the scene.

It’s Thursday evening in downtown Houston, the Montrose neighborhood. Each Thursday since this past June, Grace Lutheran Church has hosted “Grace Place.” Described as a “safe, welcoming environment for vulnerable homeless youth of all sexualities and gender identities, providing nourishment, healthy relationships, and hope for the future,” the logo says it short and sweet: “Food. Friends. Hope.”

Different church groups come in with a warm meal. Someone else offers a creativity activity after supper. Then everyone gets turn in the Clothing Closet for basic needs from clean clothes to toiletries. And a chance for conversation. No worship. No pressure. Really, just food, friends, and hope.

Tonight I’m the “creative activity,” invited to offer a little workshop on my specialty, acrostic poetry. (It’s a poem form that carefully picks the first word of each line so that all of the initial letters running straight down the left edge of the page form a word or a phrase, thereby gives a voice to the margin of the poem. It seems like a neat gift to offer kids whose lives are lived, mostly unseen and unheard, in the margin day in and day out.)

Four long tables are set in a large square in the church basement, with seating for about twenty around the perimeter. Colorful plastic tablecloths, vases with carnations, and real plates, glasses, and silverware add a measure of warmth. The smells of home-cooked food complete the ambiance: a modest feast is ready.

The front door is propped open. Eventually the youth appear. Warily. Trickling in with apprehension barely muted by hunger. Churches have seldom befriended them—and hardly ever without a subtle (or screeching) tone of judgment. But here the welcome is real. And over the past four months, seeds of trust have been sown.

Hal, a flight attendant by day, greets each youth at the sign-in table as though they’re checking into first class. Leena, Rebecca, Barb, and Pastor Lura all move around the room welcoming and making small talk as the youth gather; this is no small kindness for kids who likely seldom receive the honor of eye contact much less a word of greeting.

In the kitchen, the folks from Christ the King Lutheran deliver the food family style to the table: lemonade, green salad, French bread, and the sort of casserole that Lutherans are famous for—not elegant, but wicked good.

There are twelve youth tonight; and one couple has a 16 month-old toddler with them. We assemble around the table, youth and staff interspersed, and the meal begins. Although several of the youth maintain a cautious posture, there is an undeniable spirit of conviviality around the table. Simple polite requests to pass the bread or the butter become redeeming gestures of civility. Several women from the kitchen come around to fill or refill glasses as attentively as waitresses in a fine restaurant. The casserole is devoured—but the same women from the kitchen keep the serving bowls brimful. Conversation and laughter make guest appearances. There is plenty of food. Plenty of hospitality. Plenty of … hope.

This is when it happens.

I look over at Lura. She is beautiful. Radiant. Her long hair frames her face in a way not unlike a halo. She surveys the tables, the youth feasting around her, with only a wisp of a smile betraying infinite joy. But her eyes are leaking love like you can’t imagine.

And suddenly time stops. In my mind’s eye, the five of us who are staff fade away. In an optical illusion the four tables unfold themselves into one long banquet table—and there they are: Lura and the Twelve. Like a Last Supper image as haunting as anything da Vinci ever managed. Except these twelve aren’t disciples, they’re just children, scared—and sacred. And there’s a rambunctious toddler, roaming at the edge of the picture like a mischievous cherub.

I’m not trying to make Lura out to be some Jesus figure. I’m sure she has her hands full just being Lura. But I am saying that in this moment her table became The Table. I saw Grace Place not as a location, not as a ministry. It is … this instant. This meal. And this meal is not the casserole and the salad. There is no wafer, no wine, in sight. But here, the very Body and Blood of Christ—these children!—daring to feast, to risk trust in a world all too intent on fashioning fear. Here, the Body and Blood of Christ become really present in, with, and under these children, consecrated in this holy moment, not by what Lura says, but by what she sees, looking around the room, her eyes leaking love all over the place. Grace Place, that is.

That’s my poet’s moment, when I managed to “realize life while I lived it,” as Emily put it. And, because I was there to teach poetry, of course, I tried to capture that moment and hold it in place long enough to give others a glimpse, too. (And, yes, it is an acrostic.)

Dinner at Grace Place
Lest anyone accuse me of hyperbole,
understand, I am talking about the
real presence of Christ, in, with,
and under the meal.
see, I saw her eyes, brimming with
love for each child gathered
around this table, and it
seemed to me that this was exactly
the moment in which one might
say, these children—off cast,
unwanted, unseen—these children,
precious beyond measure, are most
profoundly the body and blood of Christ,
embraced in her presiding gaze and made
real.

David R. Weiss is the author of To the Tune of a Welcoming God: Lyrical reflections on sexuality, spirituality and the wideness of God's welcome (2008, Langdon Street Press). A theologian, writer, poet and hymnist committed to doing “public theology,” David lives in St. Paul, Minnesota and is a self-employed speaker and writer around issues of sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. You can reach him at drw59@comcast.net and at http://tothetune.wordpress.com.

Rite of Reception for Rev. Donna Simon

In a Lutheran Rite of Reception service on October 28, in Kansas City, a lesbian pastor will be officially welcomed to serve in the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

"We are so proud of this denomination, which has taken a major step toward the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons," said Donna Simon, pastor of Abiding Peace Lutheran Church. "We are closer to the day when we can sing ‘all are welcome’ with gusto, knowing that our policies reflect our declaration.

See the whole story on the blog of Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

Also see Donna Simon's story from One Table Many Blessings, a devotional booklet presented to the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Stopping the violence in Columbus, OH

Many people and groups in the Near Eastside neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio have been working together to build a safer community. While their good work has been taking hold, there was a sudden proliferation of violence at Main and Champion in Columbus, so First English Lutheran Church and its partners organized a candlight vigil for Monday, October 25th.


"We want to draw attention to the concerns of our area and let everyone know violence is NOT the norm and it is unacceptable," said Pastor Ward.

The vigil will be held at 6:30pm at the southwest corner of Champion and E. Main. People from all walks of life, including faith and business leaders, social service providers, neighbors and members of the media will be in attendance.

We're glad to share this RIC congregation's story about living out their vision of being a "radically loving and welcoming community" in the world. Tell us about your congregation's work against violence, whether physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual. We would love to spread the word.

UPDATE: A note from Pastor Bob Ward

Friends,
Monday night, Oct. 25, our community gathered at 6:30 PM at the corner of Main and Champion on Columbus' Near Eastside. The gathering was in response to increased violence in our community.
For too long, drug dealing, gun violence and other illegal activities have been an everyday aspect of life in our neighborhood. After-hours alcohol bootleg houses open each night. Groups of young men and women brazenly sell drugs in broad daylight and throughout the night on our streets. A neighbor just a few blocks away has turned in to police four hand guns he's found cached in near-by rental property. And for the past 8 straight nights, gun shots have rung out and terrorized this neighbor. Watching our business-sponsored camera system, we can regularly view young men engaging in running gun battles.
The community has had enough! Last night , we stood for Peace. We gathered to let the neighbors know that we are uniting to stop the violence perpetrated by people who live outside our neighborhood and a few street criminals. We gathered - 100-150 strong - at Main and Champion. Our local business leaders, block watch captains, neighborhood association president, and Central Community House as well as the representatives from the faith community - including Faith Lutheran Church, Redeemer Lutheran, Bexley United Methodist, Salvation Army, Temple Israel and members of First English Lutheran - rallied in support of safe streets and peace in our neighborhood. 10TV and News 6 covered the event. The Columbus Police provided an umbrella of protection as we walked through the violence-ridden blocks.
Thank you to all who were able to join us that night.
We will continue to support our neighbors and organize events to stop the violence and promote peace. As these events are scheduled we will continue to ask our broader faith community to join us.

Lutherans report: It Gets Better

Our friends Prs. David Eck (ELCA) and Gary Mitchell (UCC) of Asheville, North Carolina made a video to remind us all, especially LGBT youth, that life can and does get better.



If you had told me when I was a teenager that I would find the love of my life, and that I would be a part of a denomination that accepted me for who I was and valued my gifts, and also serve a congregation who loves me as well, I would not have thought it was possible... It will get better! (David Eck)
Thank you, Gary and David, for your message of hope, love, and support. It's a blessing to have you serving God's people in their congregations and schools.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

LC/NA, making the connection between faith and action

Nor more keeping silence for these Lutherans and ecumenical partners. They’re believing out loud, calling on folks to support the right for LGBT people to adopt in the state of Florida. Making the connection between faith and action was one of the activities LC/NA members and others learned to do at the Believe Out Loud conference in Orlando, Florida. This is must-see viewing.


Two-thirds of Americans see link between church messages and suicide, survey says

This survey just came out today. It reports some interesting findings regarding people's perceptions of churches, church messages about homosexuality, and links to higher rates of suicide among LGBT people.

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PRESS RELEASE: Contact: Adam Muhlendorf
October 21, 2010 adam@rabinowitz-dorf.com
p. 202.265.3000 c. 202.641.6216

Survey: Less than 1-in-5 Give America’s Places of Worship High Marks on Handling Issue of Homosexuality

Two-thirds see connections between messages coming from America’s places of worship and higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Regardless of their own religious views on the issue, few Americans believe that places of worship are doing a good job handling the issue of homosexuality. The PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service, found that more than 4-in-10 Americans gave religious organizations a “D” (18%) or an “F” (24%). The number of Americans giving places of worship low marks is more than twice as many as give them high marks; Only 5% of Americans give them an “A,” and only 11% give them a “B.”

A plurality (43%) of Americans say the messages coming from places of worship are negative, and 4-in-10 Americans believe that these messages contribute “a lot” to negative perceptions of gay and lesbian people. One-third (33%) of the public also believe that messages from religious bodies are contributing “a lot” to higher rates of suicide among gay and lesbian youth, and another third (32%) say these message contribute “a little;” only 21% say they do not contribute at all.

“The survey shows that a significant number of Americans are aware of and concerned about the negative impact of messages about homosexuality from places of worship, particularly with regard to gay and lesbian youth,” said Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of Public Religion Research Institute. “Notably, despite the negative evaluations of places of worship in general, Americans are more likely to give their own places of worship high marks; nearly half of Americans give their own place of worship either an “A” (28%) or a “B” (17%) on their handling of this issue.”

Of all religious groups, white evangelicals are most likely to give their own church high marks for handling the issue of homosexuality. Three-quarters of white evangelicals give their church an “A” (48%) or “B” (27%). Among white mainline Protestants and Catholics, only about 4-in-10 give their church an “A” or “B.” Catholics were most likely to give their churches negative marks, with nearly one-third giving their churches a “D” (15%) or an “F” (16%).

The survey also found significant generational and partisan gaps on perceptions of the impact of messages about homosexuality from America’s places of worship. Nearly half (47%) of young adults (age 18 to 34) say that messages from places of worship are contributing “a lot” to negative views of gay and lesbian people. Among Americans age 65 and older, less than one-third (30%) say religious bodies are contributing a lot to negative perceptions of gay and lesbian people. Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans (42% to 17%) to say places of worship are contributing to higher rates of suicide among gay youth.

“A majority of Americans agree that messages coming from places of worship about the issue of homosexuality are not positive,” said Daniel Cox, Director of Research for Public Religion Research Institute. “Americans are six times more likely to say that messages coming from places of worship are negative as they are to say that they are positive.

Americans across religious traditions are more likely to say that messages coming from places of worship are generally negative than generally positive. Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated are most likely to say that messages are negative (47% and 65% respectively).

To read the full results and questionnaire, click here:

To read the RNS story about the poll, click here:

The PRRI/RNS Religion News Survey is conducted monthly by Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with Religion News Service. Results from the survey were based on telephone interviews conducted during October 14-17, 2010, among a national probability sample of 1,010 adults.

Public Religion Research Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan research and education organization specializing in work at the intersection of religion, values and public life.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lutherans Concerned calls upon clergy, others to sign anti-bullying statement

In a groundbreaking alliance of high level, mainline Christian leaders and faith groups--even some that do not yet fully include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people--released a statement calling on "the Church Universal to join us in working to end the violence and hatred against our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters."

See the full statement and list of signers.

See the full text of the news release

Lutherans Concerned/North America (LC/NA) prays that you will join us in being the faces of a faith that preaches and demonstrates God's universal acceptance and offers to one and all safe space to live, to learn, and to love and be loved.

We call upon all people of faith to sign the statement. Clergy members are especially encouraged to sign. Please go here to sign.

Bishop Michael Rinehart, bishop of the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod (ELCA), has commented recently on the problem of anti-gay bullying. He writes:

Personally, I find it astounding that the secular world is more concerned and compassionate about these folks than the church. It's getting harder and harder for me to understand. Many seem unable to appreciate how their carte blanche condemnations of homosexuals are compounding the problem. We are, right now, earning the reputation that we have in the world. Sometimes you have to choose: self-righteous moralism or compassion and justice? Reading Jesus in the gospels, the answer seems clear to me.
See Bp. Rinehart's full comments.

Bishop David Brauer-Rieke, bishop of the Oregon Synod (ELCA), sent a letter on the topic to all congregations in the synod. He writes:

Let us tend to our children. Let us speak out clearly on their behalf. Let us shape our homes, our schools and our congregations as safe havens for those whom the world will not value. There is no more holy a calling for us to answer.

Also in his letter, Bp. Brauer-Rieke emphasized a section of the recent ELCA social statement, Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust:

The ELCA recognizes that congregations and other ministry sites must continue in their efforts to be safe places for children and youth . . . This church calls for the adoption of preventive measures including educational programs, appropriate policies, and screening of individuals who care for, supervise, or work with children within this church . . . It opposes all forms of verbal or physical harassment and assault based on sexual orientation. It supports legislation and policies to protect civil rights and to prohibit discrimination . . .
LC/NA thanks Bishops Rinehart and Brauer-Rieke for speaking out on this important topic and for reminding the church of its commitment to being a safe place for all.

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director of LC/NA, said, "While we are disappointed that, to date, Bishop Hanson has chosen not to add his name to the list of heads of denominations, including several full-communion partners, be assured that LC/NA has been and continues to be in conversation with the ELCA churchwide organization and Bishop Hanson regarding a timely response to this critical pastoral issue."

Clergy and Faith Leaders say “No More Bullying!”

Clergy Against Bullying:
A Faith Alliance to Stop Bullying of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender People

Media Release
October 18, 2010

Media Contact: Ann Craig, 213-703-1365, craig@glaad.org

Clergy and faith leaders say “No More Bullying!”

In Wake of Gay Teen Suicides and Anti-Gay Violence, Faith Leaders Pledge Peaceful Actions

In a groundbreaking alliance of high level mainline Christian leaders and faith groups that fully include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, faith leaders released a statement calling on “the Church Universal to join us in working to end the violence and hatred against our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters.”

In the wake of a rash of suicides after anti-gay bullying and violent attacks on gay people in New York, top faith leaders signed a pledge “to be LGBT and straight people of faith standing together for the shared values of decency and civility, compassion and care in all interactions.”

National faith leaders signing the Clergy Against Bullying statement include the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, the Rev. Geoffrey Black, President of the United Church of Christ, Elder Cynthia J. Bolbach, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop Yvette Flunder, Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship and the Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches.

The Rev. Michael Kinnamon said, "The member churches of the National Council of Churches are moved by scripture to affirm every person as a valued child of God and to support protection from bullying and discrimination. Just as we spoke out on behalf of Muslims who were under threat, so we now stand as Clergy Against Bullying of our neighbors, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity. Given the recent outburst of anti-gay rhetoric and action, the Church must not be silent."

Head of The Episcopal Church, Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said, “The Episcopal Church abhors the persecution of any group of human beings and seeks the just and dignified treatment of all.”

Bullying for any reason is contradictory to authentic religion,” said Dr. C. Welton Gaddy. “Religion inspires respect, empathy, compassion and humility--values that prompt healing and condemn hurting."

“We are asking all faith colleagues, LGBT and straight alike, to go online and sign the Clergy Against Bullying statement and to work toward safe space for all God's children in our churches,” said the Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson. “Too often, young people who are gay, transgender or questioning fear judgmental church people. This statement by Clergy Against Bullying will help us all tell the story of the One who came not to judge or condemn but to love us. Today we are saying to every child who is different in any way: ‘You are safe in the arms of God; you are safe with our congregations.’"

Bishop Yvette Flunder of The Fellowship said, “When our young people hear messages of condemnation from church leaders, they are left alone to wonder if God loves them, if their families will reject them and if their peers will attack them with taunts and bullying. Today, Clergy Against Bullying are choosing to speak words of humility, love and acceptance.”

Harry Knox of the Human Rights Campaign said, “We rejoice that we are joining our voices with Muslims for Progressive Values and the more than 300 Jewish organizational leaders coordinated by Keshet. You will be inspired to do more when you read the powerful Keshet and Muslim statements.”

For a full statement of Clergy Against Bullying and to sign on, go to the web site. All clergy and people of good faith are welcome to sign. Clergy Against Bullying will be building online resources to help congregations create safe spaces and support for all of God’s children, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender children.

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Clergy Against Bullying Call for Action

This statement was released on October 18. It includes the signature of Emily Eastwood, Executive Director of Lutherans Concerned/North America. We give thanks to all individuals and organizations represented here.  

--------------------------------------------
 
CLERGY AGAINST BULLYING
CALL FOR ACTION AND TIME OF HEALING
IN WAKE OF GAY TEEN SUICIDES AND ANTI-GAY VIOLENCE

For Immediate Release: October 18, 2010

Today, as leaders of Christian communions and national networks, we speak with heavy hearts because of the bullying, suicides and hate crimes that have shocked this country and called all faith communities into accountability for our words or our silence. We speak with hopeful hearts, believing that change and healing are possible, and call on our colleagues in the Church Universal to join us in working to end the violence and hatred against our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters.

In the past seven weeks, six young and promising teenagers took their own lives. Some were just entering high school; one had just enrolled in college. Five were boys; one, a girl becoming a young woman. These are only the deaths for which there has been a public accounting. New reports of other suicides continue to haunt us daily from around the country.

They were of varying faiths and races and came from different regions of the nation.

The one thing these young men and women had in common was that they were perceived to be gay or lesbian.

Each in their own way faced bullying and harassment or struggled with messages of religion and culture that made them fear the consequences of being who they were.

In the past two weeks, cities like New York have seen major escalations in anti-gay violence. Two young men attacked patrons of the Stonewall Inn, legendary birth place of the LGBT rights movement in the United States, locking them in the restroom and beating them while hurling anti-gay epithets. Men on a Chelsea street, saying goodnight after an evening out, were attacked by a group of teens and young adults, again hurling anti-gay slogans and hurting one person badly enough to require emergency treatment. And nine young men in the Bronx went on a two-day rampage beating, burning, torturing and sodomizing two teenage boys and their gay male adult friend for allegedly having a sexual relationship. "It's nothing personal," one of the now arrested said. "You just broke the rules."

What are the "rules" of human engagement and interaction that we, as people of faith, want to teach our congregants, children and adults alike, to live by?

Many have responded from within and beyond the faith community offering comfort and support to the families and friends of Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Tyler Clementi, Raymond Chase and Aiyisha Hasan. Our hearts, too, are broken by the too soon losses of these young and promising lives, and we join our voices to those who have sought to speak words of comfort and healing.

Many others, however, have responded by adding insult to injury, citing social myths and long-held prejudices that only fuel division, hatred and violence – and sometimes even death.

We, as leaders of faith, write today to say we must hold ourselves accountable, and we must hold our colleagues in the ministry, accountable for the times, whether by our silence or our proclamations, our inaction or our action, we have fueled the kinds of beliefs that make it possible for people to justify violence in the name of faith. Condemning and judging people because of their sexual orientation or gender identity can have deadly consequences, both for the victims of hate crimes and those who commit them.

There is no excuse for inspiring or condoning violence against any of our human family. We may not all agree on what the Bible says or doesn't say about sexuality, including homosexuality, but this we do agree on: The Bible says, "God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God in them." Abiding in love – together – is the rule we must all preach, teach, and seek to live by.

People of faith must realize that if teens feel they will be judged by their church, rejected by their families and bullied by their peers, they may have nowhere to turn.

Too many things go unspoken in our communities. It's time to talk openly and honestly about the diversity of God's creation and the gift of various sexual orientations and gender identities – and to do that in a way that makes it safe for people to disagree and still abide in love.

It's time to talk openly and honestly about the use and misuse of power and authority by those we entrust with our spiritual well-being. It's time to make it safe for our clergy colleagues who are struggling to live what they preach, to get the help and support we all sometimes need.

The young people who took their lives a few weeks ago died because the voices of people who believe in the love of God for all the people of God were faint and few in the face of those who did the bullying, harassing and condemning. Today we write to say we will never again be silent about the value of each and every life.

To that end, we pledge to urge our churches, our individual parishes or offices, our schools and religious establishments to create safe space for each and every child of God, without regard to sexual orientation or gender identity. And we ask you to join us in that pledge.

Today, we personally pledge to be LGBT and straight people of faith standing together for the shared values of decency and civility, compassion and care in all interactions. We ask you, our colleagues, to join us in this pledge.

We want our children and the children of the communities we serve to grow up knowing that God loves all of us and that without exception, bullying and harassment, making fun of someone for perceived differences, and taunting and harming others is wrong. The Golden Rule is still the rule we want to live by.

We pray today that you will join us in being the faces of a faith that preaches and demonstrates God's universal acceptance and offers to one and all safe space to live, to learn, and to love and be loved.

In faith and solidarity,

HEADS OF COMMUNIONS
  • The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches
  • The Rev. Geoffrey Black, United Church of Christ General Minister and President
  • Elder Cynthia J. Bolbach, Moderator, 219th General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
  • The Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk, 219th General Assembly, Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, Moderator, 218th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
  • The Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary, Reformed Church in America
  • The Rev. Peter Morales, President, Unitarian Universalist Association
  • Bishop Yvette Flunder, Presiding Bishop of The Fellowship
  • The Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson, Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches
  • Bishop Tonyia M. Rawls, Vice President of the National Board and Regional Prelate, Unity Fellowship Church
  • Archbishop Carl Bean, Founder and Presiding Prelate, Unity Fellowship Church Movement
  • Carol Blythe, Alliance of Baptists President
  • Paula Clayton Dempsey, Minister for Partnership Relations, Alliance of Baptists
NATIONAL FAITH STAFF OF LGBT ADVOCACY ORGANIZATIONS
  • The Rev. Harry Knox, Director of Religion and Faith Program, Human Rights Campaign Foundation
  • The Rev. Rebecca Voelkel, Director of Institute for Welcoming Resources, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force
  • Dr. Sylvia Rhue, Director of Religious Affairs, National Black Justice Coalition
  • Ann Craig, Director of Religion, Faith and Values, Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)

NATIONAL STAFF OF FAITH BASED ORGANIZATIONS
  • The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Executive Director of UCAN, Inc., United Church of Christ
  • The Rev. Robert Chase, Founding Director, Intersections International
  • Macky Alston, Director, Auburn Media, Auburn Theological Seminary
  • The Rev. Mark Hostetter, Chair of the Board, Auburn Seminary
  • Sung Park, Program Director, Believe Out Loud
  • The Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance
  • The Reverend Debra W. Haffner, Executive Director, Religious Institute
  • Sister Jeannine Gramick, SL, Executive Coordinator, National Coalition of American Nuns (NCAN)
  • The Rev. Neal Christie, Assistant General Secretary of the United Methodist Board of Church & Society
  • The Rev. Cynthia Abrams , Program Director, General Board of Church and Society, United Methodist Church ,
  • Linda Bales Todd, Director, General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church
  • The Rev. Dr. Cindi Love, Executive Director, Soulforce, Inc.

NATIONAL STAFF OF LGBT DENONMINATIONAL GROUPS
  • Emily Eastwood, Executive Director, Lutherans Concerned/North America
  • Lisa Larges, Minister Coordinator, That All May Freely Serve, Presbyterian
  • Dr. Michael Adee, Executive Director, More Light Presbyterians
  • Troy Plummer, Reconciling Ministries Network, United Methodist
  • Marilyn Paarlberg, National Coordinator, Room for All, Reformed Church in America
  • Rev. Thomas C. Goodhart, Co-president, Room for All, Reformed Church in America
  • Phil Attey, Acting Executive Director - Catholics for Equality
  • George W. Cole, Senior Vice President, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons
  • David Melson, President, Affirmation: Gay and Lesbian Mormons
  • Dr. Joseph Palacios, Board Member, Catholics for Equaltiy
  • Phil Attey, Executive Director, Catholics for Equality
  • Yolanda Elliott, President, Seventh-day Adventist Kinship International
  • Pastor Dave Ferguson, Church Relations Director, Adventist Kinship International
  • Rev. Marvin M. Ellison, Ph.D., Co-Convener, Religious Coalition Against Discrimination, Maine
  • Anne Underwood, Catholics for Equality
  • Max Niedzwiecki, Ph.D., Executive Director, Integrity USA

THEOLOGICANS AND ACADEMIC LEADERS
  • Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology at Georgetown University.
  • Mary E. Hunt & Diana Neu, Women's Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER)


St. Peter's Church in Port Jervis, NY

Today St. Peter's Church, located at the crux of the tri-state area in Port Jervis, NY, officially became a Reconciling in Christ congregation. Proud to support their members of all sexual orientations and gender identities, St. Peter's is happy to perform weddings for same or different gender couples and regularly uses gender neutral and LGBT specific language in worship. The congregation is currently excited about a prospective partnering with their local school on anti-bullying initiatives.

St. Peter's, we're happy to have you with us. God bless you  as you continue your Reconciling in Christ journey!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

LGBT Youth Suicide Prevention Resources

The Courage Campaign offers a particularly thorough list of links to support and resources for both youth and adults on suicide prevention. We highly recommend it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Bethlehem, Brooklyn

Next time you find yourself looking for a place to worship in New York City, be sure to stop to visit Bethlehem Lutheran Church on Ovington, Ave. Bethlehem has been serving the Bay Ridge Community since 1905. We celebrate their gaining strength in "numbers, support and ... works" just as we celebrate their official welcome to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.

Please join us in welcoming them as a new Reconciling in Christ congregation. Thanks be to God! 

See "Sex, Death, and Secrets: A Reporter’s Notebook"


MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

Last month, Minnesota Public Radio reporter Sasha Aslanian interviewed the Revs. Ruth Frost and Phyllis Zillhart in connection with their rite of reception to the ELCA clergy roster in September. Aslanian has written a great blog post on the story called "Sex, Death, and Secrets. We highly recommend it.

A clip from this interview with Ruth and Phyllis will air this weekend on Krista Tippet's radio show Being (formerly Speaking of Faith). Go here to find out when the show airs in your area.

Rev. Erik Christensen Received onto ELCA Clergy Roster

On Sunday October 10, 2010, Rev. Erik Christensen was received onto the ELCA clergy roster at a service held in the Metro Chicago Synod.

See the full blog post at Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries.

Congratulations and blessigs to Erik, to the congregation of St. Luke's Lutheran Church of Logan Square (Chicago, IL), and to the Metropolitan Chicago Synod of the ELCA.

The Bullying Must Stop

Bullying has to stop. Any and every kind of bullying.

Bullying is very much in the news at the moment, and should be. It has apparently resulted in the deaths by suicide of at least five young people under the age of 20 in recent weeks. Unknown is how many other young lives have been lost or are being made a living hell because of bullying by peers, and the enabling quiescence or tacit approval of those tasked with inculcating and enforcing society's standards.

Bullying can be defined as sustained intimidation. The intimidation can take many forms: physical as shoving, hitting, beatings, systematic theft, or destruction of belongings. It can be psychological in the form of taunting, humiliation and being ostracized. Lots of times, it's both. In its most virulent, overwhelming, and destructive form, it is electronic, cyber, using social networking media to disseminate its vile message of de-humanizing hatred - instantly and widely.

Recently, there have been tragic cases where bullying because of perceived or known sexual orientation has resulted in the deaths of Tyler Clementi (18), Seth Walsh (13), Billy Lucas (15), Asher Brown (13), and Raymond Chase (19) - all took their own lives in September.

Bullying is, at its core, an expression of weakness, with an awful and deadly twist. The weakness expresses itself, not in confidence building and personality development, but in attacking someone who is different, perceived to be weaker, less desirable, or less popular - like the overweight, the short, the less attractive, the bookish, the gay. The purpose of bullying is zero sum: to make the bully(s) more powerful by making someone else weaker. Persistently. Its perpetrators believe they become more "in" by pushing someone else "out."

But this message is not about abusive peers like the two 18-year-olds, Dahrun Ravi and Molly Wei, who thought it was ok to violate privacy by surreptitiously webcasting Ravi's roommate, Tyler Clementi, and a friend, an action that appears directly connected to Tyler's suicide.

This message is about what Ravi and Wei learned or failed to learn about acceptable conduct in their 18 years. This message is about parents, schools, and churches/synagogues/mosques/etc that failed to get it through their heads that difference is not deficiency, diversity is not undesirable, actions have consequences, and bad actions can lead to horrific consequences.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families devastated by the sudden snuffing out of the lives of their children before they really had a chance to thrive. We can do more, though. We can take up the fight against the root causes of bullying. The root causes are the enablers, those who in all the ways possible in a society make being different something to be punished, who condemn gay people in terms that rob them of humanity. Because of the influence they exercise over impressionable young people, religious, political and educational leaders bear particular responsibility to keep disagreement from becoming incitement to ignorant and dangerous attacks. That doesn't seem to be happening widely enough.

Emily Eastwood, Executive Director of LC/NA, said, "Anti-gay religious bias must not be allowed to form a smoke screen which protects blatant bullying and harassment in the name of 'family values' and commitment to the Bible. Those who would threaten, injure, kill, abuse, or extort will lose their power if we unite with one voice to say 'no more -- not one life more!' We must take our message of God's radical and inclusive love into our churches and beyond to our streets and schools. The needless deaths and injury of these young people shall not be tolerated. The gift of their lives shall not be wasted. They were our children. May our grief for these few become outrage which turns us to action for the many more who are already suffering and will suffer. Doing nothing is no longer an option."

Bullying is not part of the crucible of growing up, something that tempers the steel of one's soul and personality, as if it was some perverse rite of passage. Tolerating bullying ought to be completely unacceptable to anyone who practices Christianity.

The board of LC/NA is currently discussing what concrete actions steps to take in response to this pressing concern. Meanwhile, here's what you can do:

• Let local religious, educational and political leaders know that you are opposed to bullying and in favor of vigorous prevention and enforcement efforts

• Talk to your pastor or other educational leaders in the church to have them make bullying the subject of adult education classes, bringing in local expertise to speak on the subject

• Make sure that all the young people in your reach know that they do not have to put up with bullying, that if they are bullied they should seek help, that they are neither alone nor powerless. Make sure they know they are loved and respected, and listened to.

• You should take this subject seriously.

• You should get others to take it seriously.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Believe Out Loud, Part 2

Our long weekend in Orlando has finally come to a close, and the LC/NA staff is finally catching up on the sleep we lost in Florida. All of our hours spent there were worth it, though- we were able to meet 300 people who all are working towards the same cause of full inclusion for LGBT people in the church, to work with them on real campaigns, to start planning our own ways to continue the work regionally and nationally, and to be rejuvenated during inspiring worship services including truly wonderful sermons by Rev. Voelkel, Rev. Troy Plummer, the Rev. Debra Peevey, and Randall Miller.

See here for more news and links to many of the sermons and keynote speeches.


We even picked up some local news coverage!



A reporter from the Orlando Sentinel also wrote a story about Believe Out Loud, available on The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and includes our Regional Coordinator Wayne Morris. Read about it here.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Believe Out Loud!


Starting tomorrow, most of the Lutherans Concerned staff will be going to sunny Orlando, FL to attend the Believe Out Loud Power Summit. Hosted by the Institute for Welcoming Resources, a program of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Believe Out Loud will bring together hundreds of leaders in the faith based pro-LGBT movement from across denominations, offering trainings to enhance our organizing and movement-building abilities. From October 9th through 11th attendees will participate together in anti-racism training, worship, and in a series of workshops aimed at furthering a specific skill set: building successful campaigns, ways to best utilize our media and messaging capabilities, leadership development, and constructively working through conflict.

Lutherans Concerned/North America has nearly 100 members attending the conference from all over the United States and Canada. Even more will be coming from other welcoming church groups, including the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests, Gay and Lesbian Affirming Disciples Alliance, Integrity USA, More Light Presbyterians, Reconciling Ministries Network, Room For All, UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns, and the Welcoming Community Network.

This is an exciting opportunity for the staff and membership of LC/NA and other welcoming church groups to build relationships with other folks who feel passionately about full inclusion of LGBT people, to learn new ways to work for justice in our local, regional and national communities, and to re-examine our own inclusivity of bisexual, transgender, and people of color.

Please keep all of us at the summit in your prayers this weekend. We'll be back Wednesday the 13th!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

"It Gets Better"

It has been a long couple of weeks for LGBT youth as they start another school year. Local and national media came out with an onslaught of stories about the tragic suicides of several bullied teens, including Tyler Clementi, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, Billy Lucas, and Harrison Chase Brown. While LC/NA joins in mourning the loss of these promising young people, we also join with our friends in offering hope for LGBT young people.

Lura Groen, pastor at Grace Lutheran Church in Texas, is helping to promote the "It Gets Better" project on the news.


"Teens know celebrities who are out. There are so many teens isolated who don't know everyday people who are out. That's part of the power of this project to say you don't have to be Ellen to have a fabulous life as an openly LGBT person. I don't think that's something kids have had exposure to before on the Internet before this project," said Rev. Groen.

Started by columnist Dan Savage, the project brings together hundreds of videos by people of all ages, sexual orientations and gender identities that give support and hope for a more welcoming future to youth who suffer anti-LGBT harassment by their peers. Thank you, Lura, for giving visibility to this project and for calling on us to support our youth!

Is your congregation working to support youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities? In what efforts to support LGBT youth are you involved?