Archive for ‘LGBT’

July 18, 2011

Wish Lisa a Happy Birthday!

Today is the birthday of Lisa Larges, our beloved Minister Coordinator. No birthday gift would make her happier than a contribution to TAMFS to go toward our work of supporting LGBTQ seminarians.

Go to our Network For Good page

Thanks!!! And now you can have a piece of this gorgeous birthday cake!

May 24, 2011

Lisa Larges: It’s Your Turn!

So, what is all the fuss about? The church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been ordaining gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people since – well, since before there was a Presbyterian Church… or even a U.S.A. Sometimes we ordained a gay person without knowing we had done so. Sometimes – and not infrequently, I would guess – we did so with a half-knowing, a certain suspicion. Sometimes we did so under the terms of the old and reliable bargain: “We won’t ask as long as you won’t tell,” – ordination with a wink and a nod.

The passage of Amendment 10-A makes the process a little more straightforward, if you’ll pardon the expression. Now LGBT folks can choose to disclose information about their personal lives without fear (or, in truth, with perhaps only somewhat less fear) of penalty, and congregations and presbyteries can choose to consider their calling without risking running afoul of constitutional language.

The removal of discriminatory language? That’s new. Ordaining LGBT people? That’s not new at all.

So before it gets lost in the hubbub, let’s just pause and say thank you. To each of those who have been serving the Presbyterian Church as an ordained officer, thank you for the service you have given to our church, and for doing so at great personal risk, under difficult, sometimes nearly impossible circumstances, and at a cost no one can begin to total. Our church will never fully know just how much it has been strengthened and blessed by the service of LGBT folks who could not say who they were. I hope someday we will be able to say thank you more formally. It will be good for our souls to do so as a body.

Along with saying thank you, as someone who has been kicking around this movement for awhile, I also want to take a point of personal privilege to ask forgiveness of those who have served without being publicly identified as LGBT, for the ways in which the broader LGBT movement has minimalized your contributions or disparaged your choices. To be able to be publicly identified as an LGBT person in the days of G.6-0106b was a privilege derived from circumstance, inclination and opportunity, but many of us wore it like a badge of honor. At a certain time in our history, we fell victim to the old trap of turning on one another rather than joining our strengths to confront institutional prejudice. We were all very dogmatic and tiresome. I think the next generation of LGBT folks – the young queers – have a much greater capacity for honoring each other’s choices and particular path. But for the sake of repairing old rifts or taking care of old business, I simply want to acknowledge that we haven’t necessarily always treated each other well—and for that, I at least, am sorry.

Now, I would love to hear back from you. If you have been serving our church as an LGBT person, not publicly identified as such, I’d love to know your reflections at this time in the life of our church. Tell us what your experience has been like – its challenges and blessings. Our church needs to know those stories. Share your thoughts on your own discernment process as you serve the church after passage of 10-A: how will that change effect your ministry and call? You can comment here, or send comments to be posted anonymously to

May the hope of this new time and the blessings of a new day be all of ours.

April 25, 2011

Lisa Larges: Our Chance to Be the Church

Whether you are passionately for or passionately against Amendment 10-A (the amendment now before the Presbyterian Church which would replace existing language in our Constitution which effectively bars LGBT persons from holding ordained office) here is some good news: God is still in charge. Sure, believers across the world would agree with this fundamental truth, but we Presbyterians believe it with a particular ferocity. We count as our spiritual forebear one Mr. John Calvin, who was strenuous on the point:

“Truly God claims omnipotence to himself, and would have us to acknowledge it,–not the vain, indolent, slumbering omnipotence which sophists [quibblers] feign, but vigilant, efficacious, energetic, and ever active– not an omnipotence which may only act as a general principle of confused motion, as in ordering a stream to keep within the channel once prescribed to it, but one which is intent on individual and special movements. God is deemed omnipotent, not because he can act though he may cease or be idle, or because by a general instinct he continues the order of nature previously appointed; but because, governing heaven and earth by his providence, he so overrules all things that nothing happens without his counsel.”

That’s how very in charge God is. But, John Calvin was a practical theologian and his emphasis on God’s omnipotence was meant less as an instruction on who God is than on who we are to be. It’s a point that Paul made directly and succinctly to the Church in Rome: “…Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought …” For Calvin, as for Paul God’s sovereignty requires our humility.

A few weeks back, I was an observer at the called meeting of San Francisco Presbytery as the presbyters voted on Amendment 10-A. At several points during the proceedings the Moderator reminded the body of the controversial nature of the vote, and urged graciousness and decorum, especially after the vote was announced and the meeting adjourned. “There will be those who will be celebrating,” he said, “and those who will be upset by the results and we need to treat one another with kindness and respect.”

He was right. When it comes to votes on LGBT issues, San Francisco Presbytery is just about evenly split. I appreciated the call for civility and grace; but still, the word “celebrate” hit an off note in me.

As it turned out, Amendment 10-A passed in San Francisco Presbytery, which would put me in the camp of the celebrators. But—though I was glad about the outcome— “celebrating” didn’t have much appeal.

I’ll confess to you right here, right now, that there have been times at presbytery or at a General Assembly when I’ve felt gleeful about the result of some vote or other. I’ll further confess that, once or twice (and I’m not proud of this) I even felt just a wee bit of glee that others, who had worked so strenuously against something that I cared about, were now feeling the sadness of having a vote go against them. Calvin would have had a word for that kind of cheap glee, and that word is sin. It’s sinful because it breaks relation with another part of the body of Christ, and it’s sinful because it demeans the sovereignty of God, as if we could be certain of God’s purposes.

The church is surrounded by a culture that measures the world by winners and losers. So saturated are we in it that we drag that language of win/loss, victory/defeat in to the church, where it never belonged, and where it only does us harm.

All of this is meant as a little shout out to those, who—like me—will be rejoicing should Amendment 10-A be ratified. It’s a reminder to all of us to practice the spiritual discipline of equanimity.

Paul again:

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through the One who gives me strength.”

Here’s our chance. Here’s our chance to be a living demonstration of graciousness, humility, and generosity. Here’s our chance to practice radical hospitality.

And, as a whole Church, bound by the unity of Christ’s body, here’s an opportunity to model a bit of positive Calvinism. We are not in charge – ain’t that good news?

March 29, 2011

Lisa Larges: Tying the Knot

For a few months in 2008, 18,000 same-gender-loving California couples tied the knot. Fifteen of those 18,000 couples had the privilege of having their wedding service conducted by the Rev. Dr. Jane Adams Spahr.

Of course, “Tying the Knot”—that jaunty old-school slang for marriage—doesn’t fit the momentous nature of those 18,000 weddings, and less so the fifteen. By the time they turned to one another and exchanged vows, those fifteen couples, like all the other couples who called on Janie to officiate at their weddings, knew the depth and the seriousness of the covenant they were then making.

We know this because we heard the testimony of many of those couples last year as they were called as witnesses in the first trial (at the Presbytery level) brought against Janie for violating a disputed portion of the Presbyterian Constitution. Those couples testified to the hours of pre-wedding counseling they were required to undertake with Janie before their marriage; they shared the depth of their joy at finally being able to legally marry; they talked of what marriage meant to them, in everything from the practical legal protections to the greater symbolic significance; and most of all, they talked about what it meant to have their pastor, Janie, officiate as they made their vows before one another, their community, and their God.

So “tying the knot” just isn’t right for something so serious and so sacred. But it does seem to be the right metaphor for what our Presbyterian judicial process is doing as it grapples with cases, such as the one brought against Janie, of Presbyterian Ministers fulfilling their pastoral responsibility by officiating at weddings fully sanctioned under state law. The church has itself tied in a big knot, a knot which is impinging on the right of conscience, legal authority and pastoral responsibility of its ministers. A knot which is adding to the confusion and diminishing the witness of our church to the LGBT community and our families. A not-so-attractive knot—a snarl really—which dishonors the founder and head of our Church.

It’s clear already that in not too many years, marriages of same-gender-loving couples will be both legal and commonplace. The prejudice and misinformation that has been the underpinning of withholding full civil rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons is disintegrating all around us. Acceptance of full and fair equal rights for LGBT persons—including the right to marry—is the new normal. In a not-very-distant future, we Presbyterians will only be embarrassed that our church did not lead the way, but chose instead to take cover in a tangle of judicial knot-making.

Hey Church, it’s time to untie the knot. We can do this!

February 20, 2011

Lisa Larges: Balcony Perspective

View from Druid Hills Presbyterian Church balcony at their Kirking of the Tartans celebration.

In February of 2002, I sat in the balcony of Druid Hills Presbyterian Church in Atlanta. The Greater Atlanta Presbytery was holding its called meeting there, and the balcony was reserved for observers such as myself.

I was there, in my new job with TAMFS, to support the folks who had been working so hard to pass the 2002 version of the amendment to raise our ordination standards to fairly consider all who are called to serve. The Presbytery failed to pass that amendment by a narrow margin. Six years later, the same Presbytery switched its vote and passed a similar amendment by an equally narrow margin, and on February 19, Greater Atlanta Presbytery approved Amendment 10-A by 105 votes—an amazing shift in less than a decade.

All of that is great news of course, but it’s not why I’m remembering sitting in the observer section in 2002. What I’m remembering most right now is sitting next to Katie Ricks that afternoon, and the journey of service to our church that has been her path in the years since.

Back then, Katie was a candidate for ministry of Word and Sacrament in the Greater Atlanta Presbytery. As a matter of fact, Katie still is a candidate for ministry. Now she’s under care in New Hope Presbytery in North Carolina, where she has been living for much of the last decade.

Not long after that 2002 Presbytery meeting, Katie began work at the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill. The church would have called Katie as their associate pastor, but because she was open about her sexual orientation, that path was barred to them. But they hired her anyway—to work as an Associate in Ministry, fulfilling the role of a Pastor for Family life without the title. It was a polity work-around—less than ideal—but one which allowed Katie to do the work she is both called to and tremendously gifted in. The members at Church of the Rec were glad to have her, and have remained so ever since.

So… for nearly a decade Katie Ricks has been serving in a lively, healthy, mission-oriented church in North Carolina. She’s journeyed with countless youth in their growing faith, counseled worried parents, answered the questions of teenagers, comforted the grieving, celebrated with church families in the joys of weddings, children being born, confirmations, graduations and the countless other milestones in that tapestry of life and community, faith and love called Church. She’s led bible studies, preached and prayed, taught Sunday school, recruited teachers, made hospital visits, folded bulletins, worked in Presbytery, and led mission trips, including, let it be noted, junior high mission trips.

Meanwhile, for the last four years, Katie and her partner have been raising their little girl, juggling all the demands of work and family, paying their bills, doing the laundry, and in among it all, trying to impart to their child the values of compassion and the strength of faith.

None of this is particularly unusual, of course, which, I think is exactly the point. If the current amendment, 10-A, is ratified by our presbyteries, there’s bound to be a certain amount of accompanying drama—sermons will be preached, editorials written, votes taken on whether to stay or leave the PC(USA), and judicial actions contemplated. Sure, there will be enough of that, but there will also be a kind of blessed anti-climax.

Good pastors like Katie, will find calls in congregations who will be grateful to have them. Probably we’ll even ordain a few mediocre LGBT pastors, just as we have, from time to time ordained a few mediocre straight ones. When Katie’s daughter grows up, she and her friends will be asking just what was the big deal anyway. As a church, we’ll find a “new normal”—one that is more rich, more true, and stronger for its diversity.

When the day comes that Katie Ricks is Ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, it will be a long overdue acknowledgment of the gift of service that has already been a blessing to the whole church. I’d like to be there. I’d be happy to fold the bulletins!

February 10, 2011

Video: What’s Up? Did you hear about…?

January 14, 2011

Derrick McQueen: MLK Day Message

I am sitting here thinking about the sermon I am in the middle of processing for a UU congregation on Sunday. It is a sermon I am giving on behalf of the Poverty Initiative here at Union Theological Seminary. The Poverty Initiative’s mission says that “the Poverty Initiative is dedicated to raising up generations of religious and community leaders committed to building a movement to end poverty, led by the poor.” The sermon I am preparing is based on Rev. Dr. M.L. King’s speech “The Drum Major Instinct.”

Here is my reading for the day from that speech:

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I’m talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn’t have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. (Glory to God) He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. (Amen) One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. (Lord help him) When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend…

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that’s all I want to say.

I share this text with you for a couple of reasons today. I share it to remind us that Christ always went along the grain of what others thought should stay the status quo. King did not say this to remind us the suffering we have to go through in order to fight for what’s right. He did it moreso to remind us that greatness is adjective that is assigned to us by others. Meaning, it doesn’t take greatness to make the change in the church we are making. It takes very real people, willing to humbly stand for what’s right, willing to speak up for injustices. And everyone of us are a part of what makes this church we serve “great”. You see others cannot defend the status quo of this church and it’s greatness without realizing that it is each person in it, each part of the body, is what makes up that greatness. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle. The picture on the outside of the box is what we call great, but it is its pieces working together inside the box that make it so.

In all honesty, Dr. King’s attitude toward the work we do would have had to undergo some major shifting to get behind us. The leaders of the Civil Right’s movement relegated the openly gay man, Bayard Rustin—organizer/planner extraordinaire—to a behind-the-scenes piece of the legacy of the movement. It was fear of the government leaking Rustin’s sexuality that convinced King to take a part in this process. But in my heart, I do believe that King would have come around. I believe that King would have stood shoulder to shoulder with Rustin in solidarity. I believe that he would be able to finally stare Rustin in the eyes and say the words to him that mean so much for the work we do, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”*

That is a Jesus message if I ever heard one. That is the truth of the Good News we bring to our church. May we stand steadfast in the struggle.

I remember last fall, here in NYC we had these winds like you wouldn’t believe. One could barely walk down the street without having the wind blow you off balance for a second or two and sometimes you could barely walk against the wind without threat of being blown over. I remember looking out the window watching person after person walk up the wide boulevard, struggling to walk into the wind. From a less windy side street, I saw and older couple who I imagined to have been together for at least 50 years. Before they turned the corner onto the windier street they did something I will never forget. They turned and looked toward one another and then side by side they burrowed into each other. They turned the corner and walked straight into the wind together. Step after measured step, they held tight and walked unwaveringly through that wind. When they reached the deli their destination they stepped into the doorway and gave each other a quick kiss and went inside.

If we can continue to link arms and walk forward in the wind of opposition, we can cut through it, diffuse its power, and reach our destination. The winds died down that day. Be assured dear friends, that we can weather the storm. But remember to hold on to one another tightly. We have turned a corner and are out of the shadows of the church. That is why the winds of resistance have been so fierce upon us. Hold on…the deli is at the end of the corner for us too!

We serve a church that tries to care for the poor, the unloved, those devastated by war, the hungry, those who don’t have clothes on their backs. We are a church that seeks to love and serve humanity from Arkansas to Angola. But let us continue to remind this church and shine the the light on their shortsightedness. Let us continue to speak of our injustice here within the church as we minister to the world outside. Friends, let us remind ourselves, the church we serve and the world we are a part of that, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Ashe and Amen.

Loving and most gracious God,

We come to you in thanksgiving because we have come so far. ‘We’ve come this far by faith, leaning on our God. Trusting in Your holy word, we can’t turn around.’ In this moment of renewed commitment to service in honor of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., help us to cling to one another as we move along this journey we have undertaken. Help us to recognize our failings and our prejudices, the ones that hinder us from serving your church. Help us to remember as we fight our struggle, so that one day all of your children can be free, that our struggle is the struggle of the poor, those in prison, those with no food or clothes. As we get bogged down with the important work of strategizing, planning, organizing, claiming victories and mourning defeats—help us to remember that we are not just fighting our fight but we are fighting for injustice everywhere.

Bless us, Holy One, that we may hear and discern your will for us and in the work that we do. Bless the ones we love as they support us in this work. Help us to love those who would see us fail, those who would rather see us leave your church. Help us to maintain the truth of our ministry. We ask these things in our solitary prayers, but we ask them now collectively that you would bless this body with those virtues that you hold so dear.

We ask these and so many other blessings, we bring these concerns and so many others in our hearts to you. Thank you for giving us the courage through your grace. We thank you, God, and give thanks in the name of Christ and the blessed communion of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Letter From A Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963

Derrick McQueen is a Ph.D. candidate at Union Theological Seminary in New York City
and a member of the Board of That All May Freely Serve.