Prophetic Urges from Orlando: Part 3

My name is Walter Strawther and I am a married, 46-year-old, African American male. I am the father of two beautiful daughters. I was born and raised in the church. My daddy serves as a deacon at St. Peter’s Fire Baptized Holiness Church in Greenville, SC. We have always lived near the church and my daddy has been the deacon to open the church each Sunday. As a result, we were there each Sunday. The FBH denomination has been and still is one of the most conservative of the Christian denominations. We were once told not to wear any jewelry other than a watch and a wedding band. Women were not allowed to wear pants or serve in leadership positions, let alone pastor a church. Sundays were for resting and visiting after being in church for most of the day. I was taught that homosexuality is sin and that all who practice it are going to Hell. It is difficult to get away from your upbringing. It is difficult, even when you have evidence and experiences to the contrary, to incorporate a new way of thinking into your psyche. This is true of individuals and of organizations.

As I attended Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, I came into contact with people and teachings that challenged my upbringing and what I learned coming up in the FBH church. Some of the challenges to my upbringing were easier for me to accept than others. Homosexuality as a way of being instead of as a choice was and still is one of the most challenging concepts to my understanding of Christianity. I’ve experienced powerful preaching and exemplary examples of love expressed through people who are openly homosexual. These experiences challenge my notion of who God is and who God can use and I am reminded that I am not God. I am reminded that God is so distinctively other from me and any other human being that it is ridiculous to think that we can say definitely how God sees a group of people.

My views on homosexuality and the LGBTQIA community have changed over the last couple of years. Just as the FBH church eventually came around to ordaining women and relaxing some of the more restrictive rules based on a legalistic reading of scripture, I have come to understand that I am in no position to do anything other than what Jesus asked of Peter. Jesus restores Peter by asking him three times, “Do you love me?” When Peter responds in the affirmative, Jesus says, “Feed my sheep.” Jesus does not call us to place restrictions on each other. Jesus does not give any of us the power to determine who is in and who is out. Jesus does not command us to play gatekeeper by developing rules and regulations that we ourselves can’t even keep. Jesus simply asks each one of us, “Do you love me?” If we love Jesus, then our views on the other will change. If we love Jesus, then the death of any person will cause us to grieve. If we love Jesus, our hearts cease to be hearts of stone that accept this sort of violence against any group of people and will becomes hearts of flesh that seek to end suffering and pain in whatever form presented. If we love Jesus, we recognize that we too are sheep in need of feeding and as such we have no authority to label or condemn.

The church is going through an identity crisis. This is nothing new. Throughout the history of the church beginning with the New Testament church in Acts we see a constant struggle over what it means to be the church. This realization is a cause for celebration and a cause for sadness. We can celebrate because we know that the church has survived previous bouts with identity crisis. Indeed, it has often been the case that after a severe crisis the church has flourished and made the greatest impact on society only to sink back into a time of struggle. On the other hand, we are saddened to think that crisis seems to be the essential ingredient to get us to consider Jesus’ question of love. We are further saddened when brothers and sisters who claim Christ as their Lord and Savior deny the love of God to those suffering and being killed. The church is going through an identity crisis but the resolution of this crisis is found in returning to our love for Christ so that we might love each other.

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Prophetic Urges from Orlando: Part 2

I am Nicholas Wright. I am a heterosexual male, single with no children. I am a black male who grew up in a traditional rural Baptist church. I grew up in Darlington, SC. I was raised in a single parent home, where my father was non-existence, but the community around me stepped in to make sure there was a sure foundation. I understand that the world is controlled by whites and know that in some circles I am seen as an object and not an equal person. I have fought to obtain a master’s degree, but I know that means nothing in some minds. I was raised to love everybody, but those of other faiths, or sexual preferences, but the scales have fallen from my eyes.

Sitting on the anniversary of the massacre of the Emmanuel 9, and peeping over my shoulders,while staring and thinking about the mass murders of my brothers and sisters in Club Pulse four days ago: I am still in utter pain and disbelief that malicious acts such as these are still accruing in 2016. It is all the more heartbreaking that there are some who feel and use the platform of faith, to believe and promote the acceptance of the acts of these mass murders to grasp the attention of those of faith. I cannot explain the amount of ignorance it takes for one to believe that God would promote God’s message through a malicious genocide of a beloved people, –regardless of race, sex, gender, sexual orientation or creed. It is time out for playing god –judging those who so call sin differently than you, and start loving everybody as Christ has loved you.

I understand that the church catholic (the whole church) has been struggling and/or blatantly ignoring dialog with the LGBTQIA community, in order to understand and develop faith fellowship. While the church sits on the sidelines picking and pointing, the LGBTQIA community has taken the mantel of “love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34) and taken it to a new level.  My life has been transformed by this community. I have seen a true love and worship for God that I have never witnessed from people who claim to be Christians. It is interesting to me that the LGBTQIA community has a burning desire for Christ, while those who are said to represent Christ are trying to oppress and transform them. Who is the true example of Christ?

How many places of worship addressed the attack in Orlando, FL? I am sure there where many churchgoers who wondered like me, why haven’t anyone said anything about this tragedy. What in the hell do we go to church for anymore? This is a question to all bodies of Christ across the world. Do we go just to say we have been, or do we go to actively engage in the matters of the world? It is so easy for everyone to say pray for this, or pray for that, but what happened to our call to be hands here on earth. I am tired of praying and nothing is happening. It is easy to pray because it does not call for us to be engaged with people or out in the struggle, but what good is prayer without human action. It is good to offer your prayers alongside your action. So we are left wondering, what are we called to do during this time? Will we continue to be The Church constantly sleeping during prayer, or an active agent of God here on earth?

Prophetic Urges from Orlando: Part 1

Over the next 8 weeks or so, we will have a few of my friends, classmates and fellow pastors write on their feelings of the church, their thoughts, hopes and theology after Orlando.  Some you may agree with while other you may be the voice of dissent. Nonetheless, it will hopefully spark honest dialogue for change:

I am Brian Foulks. I am a heterosexual male and married with children. I am black male that grew up in the Black Baptist church but now part of the ELCA. Yes, the ELCA that is 96% white. Yes, the ELCA that ordains folks for the LGBTQIA community. Yes, I am pro-black but I am not anti-white. Yes, I read James Baldwin and James Cone. Yes, I love Hip Hop. I have three master’s degrees but still get looked at strange in many Lutheran circles. Yes, I grew up in a two-parent home where my parents have been married for 43 years. Yes, I grew up in Lexington, SC. Yes, I have friends and classmates who are Muslims and I care deeply about them.

Why did you say all of that? Because in the midst of all those labels and categories, I am lost for words. My honest critique of the church and the concern  for human life, after the terrorism in Orlando, has left me numb once again. It is that same numbness that I felt after the Mother Emmanuel terrorist attack: It was that feeling of what do we do now. Where will all of our “believe in Jesus” and “trust the Lord” rhetoric get us now? When the senseless slaughter of human life becomes synonymous with a loving God, then it may be time for us to create a new god. Some may declare that creating a new god teeters on the verge of heresy but so does condoning of the murder of LGBTQIA lives and the owning of a AR-15.

Honestly, I don’t understand everything there is to know about the LGBTQIA culture. Somethings I may not understand or can reason but, I do have friends in that community of beautiful people. Yes, the brothers and sisters in the LGBTQIA community have taught me how to love in the midst of the terrible face of evil. I have been made better by interaction and fellowship with this community.

As I wrestled through the murders of Mother Emmanuel, the love of a crucified Christ looked more like a crucified Christ finding no reason to love. Then to imagine 50 or more, brothers and sisters, mowed down by an AR-15 becomes a place where love is non-existent but the crucified Christ stands in the midst of the bloody dead bodies. The Crucified Christ standing, heart torn asunder because 50 lives have been stolen by sin. The Crucified Christ, always present. We mourn the lives of the brothers and sisters stolen too soon. There is no celebration for me. There is anger. There is unease. There is fear for my children. There are places where faith has appeared to relinquish its mode of life. The Crucified Christ is present…but sometimes I ponder on Langston Hughes’ Goodbye Christ:

Listen, Christ,

You did alright in your day, I reckon-

But that day’s gone now.

They ghosted you up a swell story, too,

Called it Bible-

But it’s dead now,

The popes and the preachers’ve

Made too much money from it.

They’ve sold you to too many

 

Kings, generals, robbers, and killers-

Even to the Tzar and the Cossacks,

Even to Rockefeller’s Church,

Even to THE SATURDAY EVENING POST.

You ain’t no good no more.

They’ve pawned you

Till you’ve done wore out.

 

Goodbye,

Christ Jesus Lord God Jehova,

Beat it on away from here now.

Make way for a new guy with no religion at all-

A real guy named

Marx Communist Lenin Peasant Stalin Worker ME-

I said, ME!

 

Go ahead on now,

You’re getting in the way of things, Lord.

And please take Saint Gandhi with you when you go,

And Saint Pope Pius,

And Saint Aimee McPherson,

And big black Saint Becton

Of the Consecrated Dime.

And step on the gas, Christ!

Move!

 

Don’t be so slow about movin?

The world is mine from now on-

And nobody’s gonna sell ME

To a king, or a general,

Or a millionaire.

Then I remember, the Crucified Christ is present. He gets down in the mess with us. He stands in the bloody mangled bodies weeping for the broken fellowship. So what can we do as the church: be present.

 

Hyper-Masculinity Default

I came to the conclusion, yesterday, that I am hyper-masculine. There is this constructed sense of male bravado that governs my life. When love is extended to me by my wife or daughter, I tend to pull away with extreme countermeasures –a simple form of affection becomes a sacred place of tension. Where did this thinking come from? I am not sure…

As I read through some of the phenomenal womanist and feminist works, I am challenged by all the hyper-masculinity that is so easily spewed in American culture. America tends to isolate men in a space of invulnerability. One’s manhood is in question when that man starts to appreciate the humanity of another; violence has become a distinction of what manhood entails; money has become one of the primal characteristics of what being a man represents.

I tried to model myself after those false attributes of what a man should resemble. I overlooked the humanity of other people when it jeopardize my manhood; my reflection were always laden with metaphors of violence; I thought money was the answer to all problems. What I found was that the roads of such a journey are tainted with tragedy?

When life hands you a mirror and says take a look, the staggering blow of hypocrisy looms large. No longer can you deny the myth and façade that has become the norm in your life. You must now come to terms with the sexist, homophobic and prejudice person that you are. Being in community with women and the LGTBQ community gave me a sense of reality that had previously been detoured from my life. No longer was my hyper –masculine default viable.

There were questions that were asked that challenged me to be better: Do I always agree with my womanist and feminist sisters; no! Do I always agree with the LGBTQ community; no! Do I always agree with white men; no? But, I learned to grow in community in spite of our differences.

Diversity may be the hardest thing for a society to live with, and perhaps the most dangerous thing for a society to be without. – William Sloane Coffin

My Reflection after reading Dr. Nyashi Junior’s “Why Would Anyone Want to Be “Delivered” From Homosexuality? “

A couple of days after reading “Why Would Anyone Want to Be “Delivered” From Homosexuality? “, I had a conversation with a gentleman that I met some years ago. He asked me how was my wife doing and I replied I was not married anymore…my wife decided she did not want to be married or at least married to me. His reply was something that I had said to others numerous of times but never had any one say it to me, “Well there is another man or a women out there for you.” I quickly replied, “Woman without a doubt.”

The conversation left me thinking about the experiences that I have encountered over the past three years of my life. Three years ago if that man would have said that very thing to me I would have jumped all over him. But, after meeting and sharing many conversations with same gender loving (SGL) folks I have changed. Honestly and truthfully, I don’t completely understand the gay and lesbian lifestyle. I understand biblically both sides of the argument when it comes to same gender loving relationships. I understand culturally the impact of “coming out.”. But, the past three years of my life have brought me into community with SGL folks who I have worshipped with, who have prayed for me when I was down to last ounce of hope and I have shared many afternoons of laughter. They have given an unconditional love that was centered on their love for God.

I have never publically said anything about the SGL community because I was never really sure about my stance. But the relationships that I have developed with my fellow students in the past three years have given me such a first-hand experience that has changed my life. They have shown me that they love God in spite of being ridiculed by those who oppose their lifestyle. They have stood up with honor and made proclamations that we want to serve and practice their faith the same as others in their particular faith dynamics. I admit, I do not understand the hows and the whys but I do know what I see every day as I walk across the Lutheran Seminary campus. I see folks working as hard as I am to make their calling and election sure; I see folks wrestling with what it means to be SGL and Christian; I see folks wrestling with what it means to be the image of God; I see people of God…

If that makes me an advocate for the SGL community then so be it…