Letters to the Southern Baptist Church

The following letter has been sent to Pastor J. D. Greear, president of the Southern Baptist Convention with copies to prominent Southern Baptist Convention church leaders throughout the country in an effort to educate them about the continued severe harm they bring to LGBTQ children and adults. The very teachings that ‘homosexuality is a sin’ is toxic to vulnerable young adults and causes far too much mental anguish up to and including taking ones precious life.

We included Southern Baptist churches where influential Americans attend so they could use their positions of power to effect real change, to help achieve true equality legally and spiritually.  

 

Letter from Rev. Dr. Jeff Clark, Professor of Information Systems and Analytics, CEO and Producer Wild Goose Festival

Dear Pastor,

I was challenged recently to remember my personal history of inclusion. I could answer pretty faithfully on racial equality. I recalled that I resigned my first church (without no place to go and no income in sight) when I was directed, not encouraged but directed, to bring fewer Black people to our church.

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But what about sexual orientation – inclusion of gay and lesbian people. Frankly, you couldn’t get there from where I was Biblically but fortunately, at least as the owner of popular church growth magazine and a very conservative DMin, I never actually had to try. Even the gay persons I knew weren’t really out, at least not in terms of general public affirmation.

Are these questions comparable – race and LGBTQ? 

I can say, I never said they weren’t, and I never said they were – I just never said. I just never thought much about LGBTQ justice. 

Like so many of us, my reckoning didn’t come until it became intensely personal. 

Duane, my cousin, died. A wonderful person – kind beyond limit – intelligent, wow he could read a book see what none of the rest of us saw. He moved to San Francisco – 1980s code word for, I’m gay

We’d only see him once or twice a year. And then he called. Jeff, I need to ask you to do something for me. I said sure before he even told me what he needed because that’s how my family functions, sure, I said, then what do you need. I wasn’t prepared for his ask.

I’ve got AIDS and I need you to tell the family, one by one, please. Oh my God, my God, it was a death sentence then and he knew it. He went on to say, I’d really like come home and see everybody one more time but I can’t travel without help, so I’d have to have my partner help me. Do you think that’d be ok? 

My family had an unspoken pecking order – first Uncle Charlie, the oldest of very large set of close siblings. To call him Biblically conservative is an understatement. He dated the same woman for over 40 years because his first wife ended their marriage in divorce and his Biblical interpretation said that long as his first wife was alive, he couldn’t remarry.

I went to Uncle Charlie’s house and carried the news. Went- not called – not just because the news needed face-to-face but because in the late 1980s Charlie still didn’t have a telephone, said he didn’t really need one.

His response Duane’s family, and we’re going to do right by him and yes, anything he has to do to come home is ok with me. And then he got a little prophetic in his elder role, and said, and it’ll be ok with everybody else. I don’t know if he was projecting his hope or personally pledging to make it – probably a little of both.

Duane came home – there’s a lot of story in that story. It was beautiful, it was warm, it was affirming, and we didn’t even know what affirming meant yet. It was a defining event for our family ethos. 

Our only living Aunt showed up at the extended family airport send-off carrying a beautiful hand-made quilt – it kept Duane warm from the inside out in those horrible final days.

He died. Our family gathers at our small country church in these times. The question was asked, can we have his funeral at the church. Actually, the question wasn’t asked, it was whispered. We did. I preached from David and Goliath. Not sure why I did or what I said, it just seemed right at the time.

And it was no longer a question for someone else, it was a question for me. And it was no longer a debate over sacred texts, it was a personal conversation about a person I loved. 

Duane still sits in our pews today, or as is too often the case, he hides in our pews – wanting community and connection. Wanting to know the love of his family and the love of his family of faith.

I’m not asking you to make a huge statement, I’m just asking you leave space for the possibility that there’s more light to come on this issue.

I’m asking you to use your leadership, by example and by exhortation, to stop the bullying of LGBTQ persons in our churches. People are dying, our children are dying – whatever our theology, we must not have their blood on our hands.

Yours with Gratitude and Hope,

Rev. Dr. Jeff Clarke
Professor of Information Systems and Analytics
CEO and Producer Wild Goose Festival
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

Letter from Justin Lee, Author, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate.

Pastor,

I know you’re busy, and I understand you’ve already been getting letters from several people because of a project of the Tyler Clementi Foundation.

This letter will be a little different, though.

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I have never participated in any letter-writing project before in my life, and I don’t ever intend to do so in the future. I stay far away from campaigns of that nature, because I always assume their goal is to put public pressure on someone to change a policy or belief. Perhaps that works in politics, but as someone in ministry, I know it doesn’t work on me. 

After all, I’m a lifelong Bible-believing evangelical, raised in a Southern Baptist church. I know full well that Southern Baptists do not make policy or theology based on public pressure. We base our theology on Scripture. I would never ask you to do otherwise.

Given the prominence of your ministry, I’m sure you also have to deal with those kinds of pressures all the time, from many different sides. If you’re like me, you’ve had to learn to smile and listen compassionately to people who try to push you in this or that direction, even when you know you can’t give them what they’re asking for because it doesn’t fit with Scripture or for other reasons. I know how challenging that balance can be.

But that is not why I’m writing.

No, the reason I agreed to write you this letter is that I suspect we have a common concern, and I would like to know if there’s a way we can work together to solve it.

All my life, people have told me that Christians are homophobes. And I’ve heard that especially about Southern Baptists and other evangelicals—in other words, people like me.

I am not a homophobe. And though we don’t know each other, I don’t think you’re a homophobe either. I think a lot of people outside the SBC have a fundamental misunderstanding of SBC theology when it comes to sexuality and related topics. A narrative has been created that it’s “Christians vs. gays,” and I know that’s simply not the case. Every Southern Baptist church I’ve ever attended has taught that God loves all people—enough to send His Son to die for us!—and that we as Christians are therefore called to show God’s love to all people, even those with whom we have theological disagreements.

But I also know that dealing with those questions as a Southern Baptist is not easy. I know that just about every pastor has had to figure out how to respond appropriately to members of the congregation who discover themselves or a loved one to be LGBTQ. And I know from personal experience that even when the official teaching is that all people are loved by God, there are many LGBTQ people who don’t feel that way. That grieves me. I imagine it grieves you as well.

I’ve talked to a lot of pastors about this over the years, and I find that almost all of them have struggled with how they can do a better job of ministering to those in their congregations and communities who haven’t felt loved or supported by the church. In some cases, those pastors wrestle with how to balance their understanding of Scripture with their desire to show that love. I don’t know what your church’s experience with this has been so far, but I’m willing to bet it’s come up in one way or another. 

For the last 20+ years, that struggle been a primary focus of my life—ministering directly to LGBTQ people who haven’t felt understood by their churches, and ministering to pastors and Christian leaders to find ways our churches can better care for LGBTQ people and their families in a compassionate, Scripturally sound way that doesn’t give in to a divided world’s lack of nuance.

This is, as you might imagine, a very personal issue for me.

When I was a teenager, I began to realize that I was attracted to the same sex. As a devout Southern Baptist, that terrified me. 

I didn’t feel connected to the secular gay community, which didn’t understand my faith. But I also found that many of my fellow Southern Baptists didn’t know how to respond compassionately to a young man wrestling with his sexual identity. Many accused me of making a choice I hadn’t made, told me I was going to hell for simply admitting what I was feeling, or offered unsolicited and unhelpful advice without first taking the time to get to know me or my story. 

So when all my attempts to change my attractions failed, I didn’t know what to do. I knew I wanted to serve God, but I didn’t know what that looked like for someone like me. There were people on both sides who wanted to tell me what to do or pull me in this or that direction, but there were very few willing to listen or show empathy. 

I wrote a book about my experiences called Torn, because that is how I felt for so many years. Ever since, I’ve been hearing continually from adults and kids in the SBC who have had similar experiences and are feeling scared and alone. People tell me about ministries their churches referred them to where deeply unchristian things happened. They tell me about statements by church leaders that made them think God wanted them dead. (Can you imagine?!) And they tell me about their own doubts that God could love them at all. I can’t even convey how much my heart breaks with every email and every phone call, and they never stop.

It shouldn’t be like this. Whatever theological positions you or I might hold on sexuality issues, I’m sure neither one of us wants these people to be suffering the way they are. Something’s gone horribly wrong, and unless we have leaders with the humility and nuance to talk to the folks they disagree with and seek to understand each other, I fear for our future.

I have spent my entire adult life speaking up for these hurting people, doing my best to build bridges with Christians who disagree with me and talk about ways we can work together to care for those who are hurting and vulnerable in our midst. If you look me up, I think you will find that I have a reputation for being fair, honest, and compassionate, even across lines of serious disagreement.

I have had thoughtful, mutually beneficial dialogue with a number of Christian leaders over the years, some of whom remain close friends to this day. But one place I haven’t had much opportunity to dialogue has been in the church that raised me, the SBC. 

And that hurts, both because I love the SBC and because so many of the stories I hear from SBC members are absolutely devastating. I truly believe that if you knew what these people were going through—including, perhaps, some in your own congregation—you would be heartbroken too. I believe you would do everything you could to make it right.

So my only ask of you is this: In this polarized world, with people in the world drawing lines and treating each other as irredeemably evil enemies, could you and I sit down together (even if just online) for a private chat across our lines of difference? We may not agree on all the answers to this challenge, but with all that we share theologically, could we at least talk and see if there are areas where we could work together to make things better? I truly believe it is what our polarized world needs right now.

I know you are busy, and that this may not be the number one thing on your radar right now. But it is deeply important to me. So like the persistent widow in Jesus’ parable, I stand here knocking—not to put any kind of inappropriate pressure you, and not to ask for anything you cannot give, but simply to ask for conversation. Because I believe that your attention to this matter could not only save lives; it could save souls.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.

Your brother in Christ,

Justin Lee
Author, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

Letter from Justin Lee, Author, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate.

Pastor Greear,

This is a really awkward channel to ask this question, but I mean it with all sincerity:

Can we get coffee?

I don’t mean that as a rhetorical device. I would genuinely love to sit down with you over coffee (or other hot beverage of your choice)—even if it has to be over Zoom.

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I know you’re beyond busy, but I think it would be a worthwhile conversation for both of us. And hey, we’d have a lot to talk about.

For starters, we have a lot in common. 

We are both devoted to Christ and cherish our Southern Baptist heritage. We are also both North Carolina boys. I grew up in Raleigh, did my undergrad work at Wake Forest, and have many happy memories of time spent in Durham. I suspect that, over the years, we’ve eaten at a lot of the same restaurants and spent time with some of the same people.

And based on what I know of you, I think we have all these other things in common, too:

  • We both believe that the Bible is the written word of God and the basis for our theology, even when that theology is contrary to what our culture says.
  • We both believe that pleasing God is more important than pleasing our human critics.
  • We’ve both got a lot of human critics—sometimes on both sides.
  • We’ve both been talking a lot lately about the need to show grace to those we disagree with. (I thought your recent blog post on peace and unity was beautiful.)
  • We both care about LGBTQ people, because we know God loves them.
  • We’re also pretty close to the same age. (Okay, you’ve got just a few years on me, but I’ll try not to tease you about that too much.)

We’re also both dedicated to Christ-centered ministry, though our specific ministries have taken different forms. Mine has primarily focused on ministering to LGBTQ people and their families while helping churches learn how to better care for them, which is why Jane Clementi asked if I’d be willing to write you a letter as part of a project of the Tyler Clementi Foundation.

Jane knows that I have long felt caught in the middle of this particular culture war, especially when it comes to the SBC. There’s a reason I made this my life’s work.

When I was a teenager, I began to realize that I was attracted to the same sex. As a devout Southern Baptist, that terrified me. 

I didn’t feel connected to the secular gay community, which didn’t understand my faith. But I also found that many of my fellow Southern Baptists didn’t know how to respond compassionately to a young man wrestling with his sexual identity. Many accused me of making a choice I hadn’t made, told me I was going to hell for simply admitting what I was feeling, or offered unsolicited and unhelpful advice without first taking the time to get to know me or my story. 

So when all my attempts to change my attractions failed, I didn’t know what to do. I knew I wanted to serve God, but I didn’t know what that looked like for someone like me. There were people on both sides who wanted to tell me what to do or pull me in this or that direction, but there were very few willing to listen or show empathy. 

I wrote a book about my experiences called Torn, because that is how I felt for so many years. Ever since, I’ve been hearing continually from adults and kids in the SBC who have had similar experiences and are feeling scared and alone. People tell me about ministries their churches referred them to where deeply unchristian things happened. They tell me about statements by church leaders that made them think God wanted them dead. (Can you imagine?!) And they tell me about their own doubts that God could love them at all. I can’t even convey how much my heart breaks with every email and every phone call, and they never stop.

It shouldn’t be like this. Despite whatever theological disagreements you and I might have around this issue, I’m sure neither one of us wants these people to be suffering the way they are. Something’s gone horribly wrong, and unless we have leaders with the humility and nuance you wrote about in that blog post—willing to talk to the folks they disagree with and seek to understand each other—I fear for our future.

I have spent my entire adult life speaking up for these hurting people, doing my best to build bridges with Christians who disagree with me and talk about ways we can work together to care for those who are hurting and vulnerable in our midst. If you look me up, I think you will find that I have a reputation for being fair, honest, and compassionate, even across lines of serious disagreement.

I have had thoughtful, mutually beneficial dialogue with a number of Christian leaders over the years—some of whom remain close friends to this day. But one place I haven’t had much opportunity to dialogue has been in the church that raised me, the SBC. 

And that hurts, both because I love the SBC and because so many of the stories I hear from SBC members are absolutely devastating. I truly believe that if you knew what these people were going through, you would be heartbroken too. I believe you would do everything you could to make it right.

So like the persistent widow in Jesus’ parable, I stand here knocking—not to put any kind of inappropriate pressure you, and not to ask for anything you cannot give, but simply to ask for conversation. Because I believe that your attention to this matter could not only save lives; it could save souls.

I’ve got the coffee pot ready to go if you’d be willing to give me the time.

Thanks in advance for your consideration.

Your brother in Christ,

Justin Lee
Author, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

Letter from Randy Thomas, Executive Director  of Thrive LGBTQ+, Former VP of Exodus International. 

Dear Pastor,

My name is Randy Thomas, and I am writing to you today, with a full heart of hope, in partnership with the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s “True Faith Doesn’t Bully” Campaign. I am the Executive Director of Thrive LGBTQ+. I am also the former Executive Vice President of Exodus International, the most extensive pastoral form of conversion therapy and ex-gay ministry in the world between the years of 1976 and 2013.

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I was also the key player in developing the deep ties with the Southern Baptist Convention that Living Hope Ministries (LHM, once an Exodus referral ministry) still deeply draws upon to this day. As the former Director of LHM (before joining Exodus), I brought in both the current Executive Director and Chairman of the board, both Southern Baptist Pastors. As an ex-gay ministry participant and leader for over 20+ years, I was mentored by several of your pastors. As EVP at Exodus, I also sat with Richard Land, the SBC’s former President of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in many meetings in Washington DC. My friends spoke at your conventions, and I helped present ex-gay supportive motions at your convention in New Orleans in 2001, revered Al Mohler, and exhibited Exodus in your convention halls.

I will never forget singing amazing grace with over 10,000 of our brothers and sisters in Christ. The beauty of the moment is forever etched in my soul. I know the SBC has beauty in its membership. I have seen it firsthand in many ways. My letter today attempts to reveal the seemingly unwanted gems, the treasures within your midst, that to date have been hidden away or forced from your ranks.

In 2013, my spiritual blinders toward LGBTQ+ issues were violently ripped off because of a dear friend’s suicide. My beautiful Michael had several issues going on, but the main reason he thought this was an option was because of his inability to reconcile his faith and who he was as a gay man. I see now that cultural Christianity’s view of LGBTQ+ people as sinful at best and an abomination at worst is not the heart of God. Suicide is not the fruit of the Spirit, and yet that is what erroneous toxic theology, ex-gay ministry, and cultural stigma produce.

I learned that supporting conversion therapy in any form, including ex-gay ministry, was dangerous to our communities, destructive to families, and deadly to those seeking “change” or “freedom from homosexuality.” I helped make this case to the Exodus board and helped shut it down. Living Hope, run by your brother pastors, disowned me long ago. However, if I could convince them to stop facilitating this destructive harm, I would.

I denied the truth of who I was for over two decades. As someone who was at the very top echelon of the ex-gay movement for years, I can say from both a personal and professional viewpoint, conversion therapy and ex-gay ministry not only doesn’t work, it is deadly. To not affirm your LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ and instead curse them is religious bullying. To tell them they will be disowned by God in the present, and tortured by Him forever, for merely being who they are, is the worst form of religious bullying and abuse as it attacks a person at their core sense of being and identity.

I hate to be so direct, but lives are at stake. From having defended and lived out your beliefs for two decades, I know that you do not believe it is loving to affirm and embrace LGBTQ+ siblings in Christ. I very humbly submit you are wrong. The best deceptions are the ones that lead you to believe there is only one way to love with black and white answers. I encourage you to challenge your long-held assumptions/beliefs by reading with an open heart and mind a book called “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines. Please check out our work at Thrive LGBTQ+ as well. There is a way to serve Jesus faithfully, honor God’s Word, and love your LGBTQ+ siblings in harmony. We have found that way.

Michael was a treasure who was bullied by religious people like us into thinking he was unworthy. It doesn’t matter how much we smile, sugar-coated, or patted on the back; our beliefs taught him to hate himself for being gay. Our beliefs led him to believe he was being “punished” by God for merely being who he was. He didn’t know, because curses surrounded him instead of blessings, that being gay is a gift of relational beauty in this world.

Michael was a precious gem who will not lift his voice with the saints on earth because ‘amazing grace’ is often not amazing enough for SBC pastors to extend to LGBTQ+ people. Affirming Michael for who God made him to be was not made available to him from the pulpit, from you, and at the time, from me. Like you, I believe in “once saved, always saved.” I hate that I have to wait to see this beautiful treasure, my beautiful Michael, in heaven instead of seeing him flourish among us.

Now, imagine all those voices singing “Amazing Grace” abruptly going silent, vanished. That deafening silence is the sound of all the LGBTQ+ souls lost to suicide because of religious bullying and cultural stigma.

What a tragedy of epic proportions. You can change that.

Pastor, you can find and help save the lives of many precious gems of God, His LGBTQ+ children. Take off the religiously imposed blinders, and you will see a path toward affirmation and adding more beautiful voices to our amazingly gracious chorus.

Respectfully, your brother in Christ,

Randy Thomas
Executive Director THRIVE LGBTQ+
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

Letter from Jane Clementi, Tyler’s Mom, CoFounder and CEO of Tyler Clementi Foundation. 

Dear Pastor,

Please forgive me for deluging you with more of just my words.  I know this is an issue far greater than my son, Tyler Clementi, or myself.  But please indulge me as this is the 10th anniversary of my world crumbling apart as Tyler was welcomed home, on September 22, 2010.  Yes, contrary to your thoughts or beliefs about Tyler, about how he was created to be a sinner because of his sexual orientation, or how his pain and struggles here in this world caused him to end his own life, but I just want to share with you what God has shown me.  As I searched for healing and peace from my own pain, God has made it abundantly clear … Tyler is home, he is free from his pain and he is “ok”. 

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But God has also called me to make sure others know this should not be.  Suicide is not the answer. No one should ever think it is but no one should ever again hear the messages that Tyler heard either.  No one, especially not a 14 or 15-year-old youth, should ever have to fill in the blanks on a mimeo-graphed piece of paper telling them that they are a sinner and as such they are broken, less than, and forever separated from God.  No one should ever feel as unworthy as Tyler felt as he hid how sad and lonely he felt because he was working so hard to hide who he loved from those that loved him the most, his family…. his mom…. me.

How could I have been so blind?  The Tyler I knew and the Tyler that wrote on the pages I recently found were so different.  Tyler was obviously multi-faceted, like a beautifully cut diamond, brilliant and so very precious …. but I hardly recognize this aspect of Tyler, as he never exposed his innermost thoughts, sorrows or melancholy to anyone.   The hidden Tyler that wrote… ”I am an empty shell.  Any happiness I feel that I have is not happiness but momentary pleasure…. However, reality is always there, the elephant of my life.  I can see it, I know it’s coming…but never discuss it, never bring it up.  There is nothing in this world that I love or at least nothing I allow myself to love. I just want to go home.  I just want to be deleted.  Every breath hurts, I wish my breath would stop… God meet me half way and take me to you. I cannot serve you here.  I am of no use to you here… the tomorrow here is so long, I cannot make it to the end…. Give me an escape… Set me free.”  

Think about that, never allowing yourself to feel love.  Is that the sentence you are condemning on gay youth in your congregations.  A lonely life without love or companionship?  What kind of a life is that? 

When you are back to preaching in person, when you once again see the faces of those you have been called to lead, please take a minute and look into the eyes before you.  They are there, you might not know it, maybe they don’t even know it yet themselves.  Look long and hard and try to see their pain.  I assure you it is oftentimes very difficult to see, I know I missed it within my own son and for that I will forever be grieved.  But you have the opportunity here and now to heed the cries of those before you …. youth, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends … the number of people you are harming goes on and on, the ripple effect is more than you can imagine.  All you need to do is open your eyes, open your ears, listen, allow our pain to seep into your heart and listen to the God of mercy and compassion who has called me to speak to you.  Me a nobody but a somebody who God has called.  (No one is more surprised by that statement than me!)   

As I sit here and weep, not only for my own son but for all the other Tyler’s out there sitting in the pews in front of you, my heart just breaks for all the people who will internalize your words and learn to hate themselves, just like you are teaching them to do.  Please do not allow your words or actions to harm any other Tylers.  

We are reaching out, we are knocking at your heart please don’t turn a blind eye, the next step is on you.  What will you do? 

Peace and blessings,

Jane Clementi
CoFounder and CEO of Tyler Clementi Foundation
Pronouns: she/her/hers

 

Letter from Sara Cunningham, Woman of Faith, Mother of a Gay Son, and Founder of Free Mom Hugs. 

Dear Pastor,

I pray this letter finds you well, and that my words will resonate with your Spirit. And with the same love that it was written, it will be received.

My name is Sara Cunningham. I live in Oklahoma City with my husband and we have two boys who are now grown. We raised our children to believe in the Gospel and live by the example of Jesus Christ. Our family followed the doctrine provided by the Southern Baptist Convention through our Church home, Crestwood Baptist Church. For 20 years my family thrived there. We loved church life, the fellowship of believers, searching the scriptures, participating in the faith, and serving the community around us.

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Our world was shattered when our youngest son came out as gay. I didn’t take the news very well. I said some things and acted in ways that hurt him and our family deeply. I didn’t know where to look for faith-based resources. And as we sought counsel from our church family and peers, we were met with scriptures that shamed and condemned us with the very best of intentions. I had absorbed this idea that I had to choose between my faith and my child. I was clinging to my faith and it was killing me. We fasted and prayed the gay away because I thought that if my son was going to hell for being gay, then I was going to fight for him like my hair was on fire! And I did!

The journey forced me to re-examine everything I believed. I found faith-based resources and got educated on the history of human sexuality, science, theology  and most importantly testimonies from gay Christians. I met beautiful, Spirit filled LGBTQ+ people with some of the most heartbreaking stories. I also found a private, online Facebook group for moms with LGBTQ+ children and to my surprise, we ALL shared the SAME story of being alienated from our families, our Church homes and from many parts of society. I even began to realize that my straight son had more rights than my gay son. And I knew I had to fight for his rights to thrive, and grow as his authentic self like my hair was on fire!

Today I am accountable to what I believe God has shown me through the power of the Holy Spirit, and with this GOOD news, I am convinced that homosexuality is not wrong.

Still reading?

If so, this is your call to action.

This letter is part of a group effort,  inspired by Jane Clementi. Jane is the co-founder and leader of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, an organization dedicated to end all online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces and faith communities. The Foundation formed after her son Tyler made national headlines when he fell victim to relentless cyberbullying due to his sexual orientation. Tyler took his own life in September of 2010. He was 18. I have seen the power of fear and ignorance. And have seen the power of love and education.

I will go on to say until we hear a different message from the pulpit,  will we see changes in the world around us. I stand with Jane and every mother with a gay child and beg of you, use your voice, your position in authority to take a stand on the right side of history. Homosexuality is a gift from God, and is to be celebrated as an important part of our history and future. Together we can make the world a better, safer, more loving place for everyone.

Sara Cunningham
Founder of Free Mom Hugs
http://freemomhugs.org
Pronouns: she/her/hers

 

 

 

Letter from Liz Dyer, Founder of Serendippitydodah and Mama Bears.

Dear Pastor,

My name is Liz Dyer and I am writing to you in partnership with the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s “True Faith Doesn’t Bully” Campaign. 

I am a Christian wife and mother, and one of my sons is gay.

I am also the founder of the Mama Bears Organization which is dedicated to supporting mothers of LGBTQ kids.

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In June 2014 I started a private Facebook group with less than 200 Christian mothers of LGBTQ kids and today there are more than 12,000 mothers of LGBTQ kids in the group.  

As someone who comes from a conservative Christian background and was a lifelong member of Southern Baptist Churches, I wanted to connect with other mothers like myself and let them know they are not alone and they do not have to give up their Christian faith in order to love, support and affirm their LGBTQ children. 

Many moms in the group come from a conservative Christian background similar to my own. Many of them arrive in the group barely hanging on to their faith with a fair amount of anger towards Christians, Christian leaders and the church in general because of the way they and their LGBTQ children have been treated.

Many end up walking away from their local church because of the shame-based, dehumanizing messages they often hear when homosexuality comes up in a sermon, bible lesson, or conversation at their church. Many leave their local church because the message they hear from their church is that LGBTQ people have rejected God and have an agenda to destroy the family and the church. These moms know that is not who their children are and they love their kids too much to allow them to believe they are less than other people and broken because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  

Over and over again I hear from these moms telling me the online community I created is like a church to them because it provides the kind of community, care, and support they expected to find at their church, but didn’t receive once their kid came out.

I’m happy to have created a safe and supportive community for these moms, but I’m extremely sad and disappointed they couldn’t find this kind of community and support in their own churches. And that is why I am so happy to have this opportunity to write a few words to you today on behalf of myself and other mother’s like myself.  

In spite of everything we have experienced, we remain hopeful that people like you will hear our voice, listen to our stories, and pay attention to what we have been learning.

We remain hopeful that one day you will be for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people, because we long for our children to live in a world where we don’t have to worry about the local church treating them like a second class citizen and teaching them to be ashamed of the way they were created.  

As Christian mothers who affirm their LGBTQ kids, we are often accused of turning our backs on God or throwing out the Bible, but nothing could be further from the truth. As loving mothers, we would never offer important life-altering spiritual advice to our kids without great thought, study and prayer. In fact, I would argue that Christian mothers of LGBTQ kids study, listen and pray more than anyone as we strive to discern the truth about these matters.

Of course, we are aware that people are prone to understand scripture in a way that supports their own position, but rather than argue the meaning of a few verses in the bible we think the most important thing is to examine the fruit being producing in the lives of those who embrace certain beliefs and doctrines.

In other words, we believe good theology must pass the test of producing good fruit in the lives of those who embrace it. 

We believe if a theology is mostly producing bad fruit it isn’t the truth and should be abandoned. 

When you listen to us and get to know us you will learn what we have learned … that LGBTQ people in general are being severely harmed by non-affirming theology and that LGBTQ people in general are more healthy and whole in every way when they believe and embrace affirming theology.

Over and over again we witness non affirming theology producing bad fruit in the life of those who embrace it. 

However, those same LGBTQ people typically become more healthy and whole, in every way, when they embrace affirming theology – especially if they are also connected to an affirming Christian community.

We know that scripture does not address most things specifically. Instead it gives us some guiding principles to live by and we are charged with learning to apply those guiding principles to our own lives. We believe when we get it right it mostly leads to whole, healthy, hopeful lives and when we get it wrong it mostly leads to broken, unhealthy, hopeless lives. 

We believe if a doctrine is mostly producing self-loathing, despair, hopelessness, depression, isolation, shame, self-harm and other such bad fruit then it’s a no brainer … it’s not good doctrine and it should be abandoned because the fruit doesn’t lie.

Therefore, we implore you to embrace theology that produces good fruit and is life giving. 

Too many lives – both spiritual and physical lives – are hanging in the balance. 

Too much damage has already been done and too much unnecessary suffering has been endured due to non-affirming theology. 

At one time you could say you embraced non affirming theology because you didn’t know about the harm being done, but with so many LGBTQ people coming out and sharing their story; and with all the knowledge we have gained about sexuality and gender, there is no longer an excuse to hang on to theology that is obviously flawed and harmful. 

We know better now and because we know better we can relieve suffering and save lives. I am doing my part, but I need you to do your part. 

Please use your power and influence for good and lift up theology that produces life instead of death.

This is an urgent matter – there is no time to spare. 

Now is the time for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church.


Liz Dyer
Founder of Mama Bears
realmamabears.org
Pronouns: she/her/hers

 

 

Letter from Alphonso David, President of the Human Rights Campaign, and Michael Vazquez,  Religion and Faith Director at the Human Rights Campaign.

 

Dear Pastor,

“The moral burden of history requires a more direct and far more candid acknowledgement of the legacy of this school in the horrifying realities of American slavery, Jim Crow segregation, racism, and even the avowal of white racial supremacy. We have been guilty of a sinful absence of historical curiosity.” This opening declaration from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s 2018 report on slavery and racism reflects an unprecedented posture of repentance on behalf of the Southern Baptist Convention. This work must continue and must reach into the pulpits so every parisonsher feels its impact, including Black and Brown queer people like us. 

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The opening declaration from the 2018 report displays a humility about your legacy of evil, as well as a commitment to address the on-going systemic racism and white supremacy that continues to plague your pulpits and pews. Committing to this work is right and good, but it is not enough. Ending your legacy of injustice means you must also reckon with your history of violence and on-going discrimination against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. We were made in the Imago Dei and cannot split apart our God-given identities. While you have summoned the historical curiosity necessary to tell the truth of your culture of white supremacy, we exhort you to summon the same curiosity necessary to examine and repent of your sins against the LGBTQ community.  

Truth-telling, as we know from Scripture, is the means of liberation. “The truth shall set you free,” Christ says. It is in the process of truth-telling that one is able to bear fruit worthy of repentance. Though we can be certain that within the SBC there were forerunners and trailblazers in the pursuit of racial justice, the 2018 report marked a reckoning and a new beginning for your community. The truth-telling that the Seminary set forth in its report is a foretaste of the transformation that can come when you reckon with your participation in sin and evil. It is the beginning of the life of true repentance, one rooted in the radical love of God and the possibility of forging a just and equitable world. 

The Southern Baptist Convention has a long road ahead of it. Reckoning with and telling the truth of your legacy of racism and white supremacy is only the beginning of the work of fashioning justice out the ruins and ashes of your past. We wish to encourage you in your continued devotion to the work of repentance — work that must be intersectional. This work of repentance demands that you see and honor the value and dignity in the life of every person, not those you would selectively choose to value. 

See and honor the value and dignity in the life of the bisexual Black man living with HIV in the south with little to no access to healthcare. See and honor the value and dignity in the life of the Latinx lesbian immigrant who is being brutalized and persecuted in her home country for who she is and who she loves. See and honor the value and dignity in the life of the Black transgender woman who is literally fearful that she will die when she steps out of her home. 

See and honor the value and dignity of the at least 26 transgender and gender non-conforming people who have been fatally shot or violently killed by other means this year alone: Dustin Parker, Neeulisa Luciano Ruiz, Yampi Méndez Arocho, Monika Diamond, Lexi, Johanna Metzger, Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, Layla Pelaez Sánchez, Penélope Díaz Ramírez, Nina Pop, Helle Jae O’Regan, Tony McDade, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Jayne Thompson, Selena Reyes-Hernandez, Brian “Egypt” Powers, Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Bree Black, Summer Taylor, Marilyn Cazares, Dior H Ova/Tiffany Harris, Queasha D Hardy and Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears.

It is long past due that you honor your commitment to your God by seeing and honoring the value and dignity of the LGBTQ community. 

Echoing Moses’ closing exhortation to the Hebrew people to choose life and not death, blessing, not curse, Jesus in Mark 3 asked, “is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” As you well know, there were many who believed healing on the sabbath was a violation of God’s law. But Jesus asks a poignant question: is it not the law of God to save life? Is not the law of God one of radical love for all?

HRC Foundation’s analysis of the most recent Centers for Disease Control data showed that 22% of LGBTQ youth in the U.S. have attempted suicide, compared to 6% of non-LGBTQ youth. Attempted suicide rates are highest among transgender youth (33%), as well as Black (23%), Latinx (25%), and Native American (26%) LGBTQ youth. We know that if an LGBTQ child has at least one supportive adult in their life, their chances of attempting suicide fall by approximately 40%

However, LGBTQ youth often lack support and acceptance from their families, and often face rejection. Based on HRC Foundation’s analysis data of 7,000 LGBTQ youth who were raised in Protestant Christian households, including Baptist households, 31% have experienced rejection from their families because they are LGBTQ. Rejection from families is highly linked with youth homelessness. It is estimated that 40% of homeless youth and 30% of youth in the adoption and foster care system are LGBTQ. 

Much like the theologies that glorified the evils of slavery and argue for the superiority of whiteness, theologies that support the discrimination, exclusion and violence against the LGBTQ community are sinful and evil in the eyes of God and humanity. Theologies that reject LGBTQ people on the false premises that we are sinful, inferior and ungodly are not just unkind — they are the harbingers of danger, even death.  

We implore you, choose the radical love of God. Choose the radical love of God by standing with the LGBTQ community in our fight to end the epidemic of violence against the transgender community. Choose the radical love of God by standing with us in our fight to end the HIV & AIDS epidemic that continues to disproportionately ravage Black and Brown members of our communities. Choose the radical love of God by standing with us in bringing an end to discrimination, exclusion and violence against the LGBTQ community.

Choose radical love. 

Faith communities play a vital role in American public life, and as we continue the work of creating a fair and just society for everyone we want to invite you to choose life by leaving behind theologies of violence and choose instead Christ’s ethic of radical love. Honor the mantle of leading one of the largest religious communities in the country by standing for justice, and calling for an end to discrimination and violence against our community. 

In Mark 10, a young man approaches Jesus and asks, “Good teacher, what must I do to be saved?” Jesus presses the young man on the commandments he was instructed on since his youth, to which the young man retorts about his faithfulness in keeping all of them. One thing remains, Jesus responds, and that is to give away all he has to the poor. 

As a student and teacher of scripture, we are confident that you understand the invitation Jesus is extending to this young man — following Jesus requires submission to an ethic of justice and being wholly committed to the wellbeing and flourishing of one’s neighbors. Your neighbors include LGBTQ people. Defending the lives of LGBTQ people is fundamental to the Christian faith. 

This invitation to self-examination, historical curiosity, and devotion to the Christian call to justice is a kairos moment. Now is the time to acknowledge where your community has failed to protect the LGBTQ members both within and outside of the Southern Baptist Convention, and choose a different way forward. Let the horrifying reality of how your community has treated LGBTQ people become a relic of the past by choosing on this day to abandon theologies of death and choosing Christ’s radical love. 

As you discern, we invite you to remain in conversation with us and allow us to help you navigate the journey to becoming a community of justice, equity and inclusion. 

The Human Rights Campaign 

Alphonso David
President of the Human Rights Campaign
Pronouns: he/him/his

Michael Vazquez
Religion and Faith Director of the Human Rights Campaign
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

Letter from Kevin Jennings, Author of “Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son”.

Dear Pastor,

I admire your faith, your devotion to Christ, and your service to your congregation. As a Southern Baptist PK (Preacher’s Kid) myself (Rev. Chet Jennings, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Class of 1956, who was called to serve a few different congregations in Alabama and Florida before his death in 1971), I know intimately the pressure and the sacrifices you and your family face because of the path you have chosen. It is not an easy life at times, even for those called to it by Christ.

I know, because it almost killed me.

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You see, I am gay, something I knew about myself from an early age – knew and hated.  I knew the teachings of our Church about homosexuality growing up, and simply couldn’t accept something so evil about myself.  You see, the Church was our life: Sunday School at 10:00, Service at 11:00, Prayer Meeting at 7:00, Wednesday night services, youth choir, watching Dad and my older brothers play on the church softball team on evenings and Saturdays, Vacation Bible School every summer, memorizing verses every day, the Church gave meaning, order, and structure to our lives.  I was taught that God could see everything we did and knew every thought we had – a terrifying concept to a young gay boy who was desperate to not have these thoughts.  I kept a little journal in junior high to record how many days in a row I could go without having “those” thoughts.  The highest I ever got to was three. 

I prayed:  Lord, did I pray.   But, after a sexual encounter with another boy my age when I was 17, it became apparent to me that what I was was not going to change, no matter how much I prayed, and I faced a choice – a life that would doom me to eternal hellfire, or ending it all.  I chose what any good Southern Baptist boy would have chosen: ending it all.  Luckily for me, my amateurish attempt at suicide (swallowing a bottle of aspirin) obviously failed. But the pain that sparked it was no less real.

After that, I grew very angry with God.  I had begged for his intervention and he had let me down.  So I turned my back on Him and the Church for many, many years.  I would devote my life to trying to help LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) youth not feel the desperation I felt as a young person, as a high school teacher, a nonprofit leader, and eventually as an official in the Obama Education Department, where I led a national campaign against bullying in schools.  Forty years later, I have never forgotten the searing pain I felt at age 17, when I felt my life was so worthless that I tried to throw it away – a lesson I had been systematically taught in the Southern Baptist Church.

It was not until a meeting of LGBT leaders many years ago that I realized how deeply I relied on the teachings of the Bible to guide my thinking.  During a discussion I began a comment by saying “Well, as it says in the Bible…” and another leader wisecracked, “It wouldn’t be one of these meetings if Kevin didn’t quote the Bible!” and everyone laughed.  Afterwards I approached her and asked, “Do I really quote the Bible that much?” and she replied with a laugh and a look of incredulity before saying, “Every single meeting!”  I began to realize that it wasn’t God and the Scriptures that had let me down: they had offered me wisdom that had carried me throughout my life (I guess memorizing all those verses as a kid had come to something after all!).  It was the Southern Baptist Church and the way it interpreted and taught the Scriptures that was the problem.  

Christ has given us two commandments:  To love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and to love thy neighbor as thyself (sorry about using the KJV: it’s what I grew up on, and you can’t teach an old dog new tricks).  The Bible goes further in 1 John 4:20-21: “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar; for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?  And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.”  It is not an act of love to teach children they are so evil that they want to take their own lives: it is an act of hate.  And the Scriptures say that you cannot love God if you cannot love your brother.  It’s very simple.  If you continue with the traditional teachings of the SBC, you will fail the simple test Christ has left us with in his two commandments.

It took me many years to come back to God, which I did when I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 2011.  My life is guided by my faith and by my understanding of the Scriptures and Christ’s teachings:  looking back, I now understand it always has been – once for the worse, and, later, for the better.  I write to you as a brother in Christ, imploring you to think of these, the least of these your brethren in the SBC, the young LGBT children who are giving up hope and wanting to die because of what they are being taught every Sunday, and to teach them instead that they, too, have lives worth living.

Sincerely,

Kevin Jennings
Author of “Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son”
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

 

Letter from Jennifer Mayeaux, Former Pastor and Church Planter.

Dear Pastor,

I am writing as a former evangelical pastor, church planter, and current follower of Jesus.  I am a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary.  I am also a transgender woman.  I would like to share a bit of my story with you.  I simply ask that you see with fresh eyes anointed with the salve of the Holy Spirit (Rev 3:18) and ears opened by cries of the hurting ( Lk 4:18).

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I remember it like it was yesterday.  I was about 8 years old and standing in front of a mirror in my mom’s clothes.  I thought, “I look beautiful just like my mommy does”.  At that young age, I had no vocabulary to describe what I was feeling.  I had no resources or internet to even research my feelings.  I was most certainly not being influenced or recruited by liberal media, “the world” or a gender clinic.  I just knew internally that I didn’t feel like a boy and I felt really good when I wore my mom or sister’s clothes.

As time went on, I learned the safest thing to do was to hide these feelings.  I didn’t tell a soul.  I had what was seemingly a “normal” adolescence and “successful” adulthood.  I  married, adopted a beautiful child, felt a call to the ministry, graduated from seminary, pastored a church, planted a church, and eventually left the church.

Over most of my adult life, I struggled with intense anxiety and crippling depression.  The anxiety got so bad that when I would walk into a store with tall ceilings like a Home Depot or Walmart, I would immediately have a fight or flight response and felt like the world was ending.  I also experienced chest pains, heart palpitations, and irregular heartbeats.  The doctors ran all sorts of tests of me and said there was nothing wrong with me.  I took various anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs over the years, but they never seemed to fully eradicate my issues.

After much self-reflection and brutal honesty, I eventually came to see how my anxiety, depression and the lifelong hiding of my gender identity due to shame were linked.  I was literally dying under the crushing weight of shame, false guilt and hiding who I was.  I know I was called to the ministry but I also believe that one of my motivations was trying to free myself from these feelings of incongruence in my gender.  If I could save enough people, preach good enough and study the Word, I could maybe free myself.  That was ultimately a failed strategy!

One fateful and I believe God ordained evening, I came out to my wife.  I poured out my soul to her.  I told her about the years of hiding and the feelings of wanting to die.  All of it came out that evening.  She was such an angel.  She said she intuitively knew all those years but didn’t want to approach the subject.  She then gave me some of the wisest advice I’ve ever received.  She said if I was going to begin to deal with my gender issues I needed to see a therapist.  I agreed.

For a year after that, I went to a therapist once a week.  She was a lifesaver.  She didn’t try to recruit or convert me into any lifestyle or push me in any direction.  She simply listened and helped me process what I was feeling.  After a year, I told her I wanted to try taking female hormones. I didn’t know if I would even like them.  I just wanted to try.  Within several weeks of taking estrogen, I noticed a huge shift in my mental health.  I had a lifting of lifelong depression.  I stopped having anxiety attacks.  I began to actually smile for the first time in years.  My coworkers commented on my mood change.  It was like this dark cloud lifted off of me.  It was totally freeing!

I have now been on female hormones for 5 years.  The depression has not returned.  I have not had a single panic attack during that time.  My physical health has improved.  I have lost 50 pounds.  I have been taken off of blood pressure medication and a sleep apnea machine.  Remarkable indeed!

I tell you these things to say this.  Hormones are life-saving and necessary drugs.  For every physical change I’ve had there have been a hundred unseen changes in the mind and psyche.  I would also say to deny a human being access to life-saving medication on ideological grounds is indeed one of the most inhumane things I can imagine.   I can’t imagine Jesus ever doing this.

So, that is a brief synopsis of my story.  I am more whole, more human, and more full of life and joy for having transitioned and embracing my true self.  I am also more dedicated than ever to following a brown-skinned homeless preacher who lifted the humanity of all He touched.  

Thank you for listening and seeing.  I am always available to any of you for more interaction and discussion.  I respect and love all of you.  I know what you go through.

In the mercies of Christ,

Jennifer Mayeaux
Former Pastor and Church Planter
Pronouns: she/her/hers

 

 

Letter from Danny Cortez, Ordained Southern Baptist Minister.

Dear  Pastor JD Greear,

For 21 years, I pastored SBC churches and walked alongside many LGBTQ people in my congregation. I taught that being gay was sin and our church provided funding for gay and lesbian people to seek out conversion therapy. As the years went on, it became pretty evident that conversion therapy wasn’t working. There was never an occasion where someone went through a program and experienced “healing”. Eventually I shifted from trying to change people’s orientation to merely asking them to remain celibate. Even then, that proved to cause more harm than good as many contemplated suicide and suffered from self-harm and depression.

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Ultimately, I began to realize that the teaching of Jesus must result in authentic liberation and growth. I saw how Jesus continually reinterpreted traditional teachings in favor of helping people flourish which oftentimes went against the teachers of his day. In 2014, New Heart Community Church decided, as a Southern Baptist church, to adopt a Third Way approach towards LGBTQ inclusion. We stated that we would allow each pastor to follow their convictions regarding gay marriage and I was permitted to officiate same sex marriages. Shortly after that, the SBC asked me to meet with the 83 members of the SBC Executive Committee in Nashville as they began our church’s dismissal process. I explained to them that the Third Way was possible because the SBC, in regards to Article XV, was already a Third Way denomination. I stated that we all knew pastors who were officiating remarriages in our denomination that were the result of non-permitted divorces. And according to the SBC, this constitutes adultery. Therefore, the act of officiating these remarriages was in direct contradiction to Article XV. And yet, we don’t dismiss the churches where these remarriages are taking place. In fact, within the same church, there are some pastors who hold the traditional view and therefore will not officiate these remarriages, and there are some pastors who will. These churches practice a third way where they give space to disagree. We don’t draw a line of separation. We know how to extend grace to couples who are in these marriages. We know how not to condemn, even in the midst of disagreement. And my request was that we extend this same grace to same sex couples. Because to not extend grace is hypocrisy.

In relationship to gay marriage, much of the push back I’ve received from fellow SBC pastors is that marriage is between a man and a woman in accordance to Genesis 2:24 and Ephesians 5:30-31. However, in Ephesians, Paul expands the definition of marriage. He uses the language of marriage, the coming together of “one flesh,” to describe Christ’s marriage to the church. Here, Paul no longer limits marriage as something that happens between one man and one woman, but between Christ and the church. We find that marriage is not based on gender, but rather on covenant. Gender difference is therefore not a requirement of marriage. Therefore, there is a precedent set in Scripture that doesn’t necessitate opposite genders in a marriage relationship. What is important is the covenant. Covenant love is what reflects the relationship of Christ and the church. Covenant love is evident when people make a relational commitment to one another regardless of gender. 

As a pastor who has now officiated numerous same-sex weddings, I can wholeheartedly testify that these marriages have led to spiritual and emotional fulfillment. There is an incredible presence of the Spirit of God when love is affirmed and celebrated. Therefore, I ask you Pastor JD, to reexamine the doctrines of the denomination because they are harming the most vulnerable in the church. 

Please know that I am available to you, Pastor JD, if you ever want to discuss this subject matter. I have been providing consultation to many pastors from various denominations including SBC to help them work towards a healthy inclusion of LGBTQ people. I pray that you would accept my request for dialogue.

In Christ,

Danny Cortez
Ordained Southern Baptist Minister
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

 

Letter from  James Clementi MHC-LP, Tyler’s Brother.

Dear Pastor,

My name is James Clementi. My youngest brother Tyler died by suicide in 2010 after being cyberbullied for being gay. I am a practicing Mental Health Counselor in a private practice in New York City. I grew up in a Christian home where our church family was a nondenominational Evangelical church in Ridgewood, New Jersey. I learned from a young age that being gay was a sin. Growing up, I didn’t realize that I was gay. I didn’t even know that gay people existed in the world. This was a secret that was guarded from me, out of fear that if I knew about this “sinful lifestyle” I would choose it. 

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Of course, being gay was not a choice for me, and being taught to be ashamed of my God-given sexuality inflicted a needless and unnecessary world of pain, fear, and worthlessness into my mind as a child. I have spent my lifetime on a journey of learning to love myself and others like me, and in my work as a Mental Health Counselor, I have dedicated space in my life to helping other members of the LGBTQ community overcome the damage of deeply internalized shame and stigma, often at the hands of faith communities and church teachings. It feels like a vicious cycle that never ends, but I believe if we can come to a place of mutual understanding and respect it doesn’t need to be this way. The church can be a refuge for vulnerable populations.

One of the most powerful and transcendent experiences a human being can have is that of empathy. This is the ability to see things from another person’s perspective – a perspective that you don’t normally get to experience because others are from a different place, pray a different way, have a different skin color, speak a different language, or have a different cultural tradition than your own. There are nearly eight billion people on this earth and so many of us are different from you, have experiences you can’t imagine and with those perspectives, see the world differently than you do. So many people in this world are different from me and live different lives than me as well. That doesn’t make people wrong or bad. Differences are good and beautiful, but they also make groups vulnerable to being harmed by those with power who don’t like them for whatever reason. That’s why when we find ourselves in positions of privilege or power it is vital to be aware of that, and make a commitment to using that power to help others rather than harm them. If we cannot commit to making this world better for everyone who is struggling, then we should step out of the way.

I am speaking to you as a person who holds power in the therapy room, where I build healing relationships with individual people. I always make a point to engage with empathy and compassion, and work to elevate my clients’ sense of autonomy and power in the space that we share. I say this to you because we are similar in this way. As a pastor, you hold a tremendous amount of power. You are an authority figure, a source of spiritual guidance and knowledge, your words carry weight. The things you believe determine what other people will believe. You have the power to influence communities, families, and parent and child relationships. Your words can cause parents to turn their children on the streets to homelessness, or encourage young people to bully and harass those who are different, like LGBTQ children. Your words can nudge a gay or trans teen to self-harm or suicide. Your words can also bring families together, encourage love and kindness, and bring about a greater respect and appreciation for the value and dignity inherent in the diversity of humanity.

We are living in a time where oppression feels more visible and present than ever before. We also have more access to a variety of voices and perspectives as more and more marginalized groups have platforms from which to express their points of view. Rather than cling on to a damaging, toxic and suffocating power structure that serves a few and harms the many, let’s make a choice to be better and do better. It is impossible to ignore the cries for racial justice and an end to police brutality against the Black community in this country. Do not choose silence in this moment when Black people, immigrants, women, religious minorities, and the LGBTQ community are facing grave and profound concerns about safety and equality. This is a moment to learn and listen. Read and educate yourself. You are a person of incredible spiritual wisdom and I know that the teachings you have learned have much to offer our society. You have a platform and an audience. These are blessings that you have been given. Use them to do good. Do not be afraid to go against the grain; that is often a scary place to be in, but we can only be courageous when we are afraid. You have a unique opportunity to use your position to do a lot of good and bring about a lot of healing for people you know, and many more people you will never meet. Your words and actions have very real consequences in this world, and I will pray that you put out ripples of love and compassion. I do not know what it is to walk in your shoes but I know that every day you can take one step towards making things better. Improvement is a lifelong process, and there’s no time like today to get started.

Being gay is not a sin. Being lesbian, bisexual or transgender is not a sin. Black lives matter. I humbly ask that you consider teaching these important values to your congregants, as I know the impact you can have to be a positive and healing force in this world. I ask that you apologize to those you have harmed. Today is a good day to make a fresh start. Let’s change the world together.

Best regards,

James Clementi MHC-LP
Brother of Tyler Clementi
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

 

Letter from Ed Oxford, Conservative Christian, Graduate of Talbot Seminary.

Dear   Pastor,

My name is Ed Oxford and I was born and raised in a Southern Baptist church by two incredibly amazing parents who dearly love the Lord. It was a great experience.  I remember Sunday School and Training Union, contributing to Lottie Moon and Annie Armstrong for foreign and home missions, and many other traditions that still bring fond memories.  My heart for missions began as a kid in that SBC church and, ultimately, resulted in answering God’s call to help fulfill the Great Commission by serving overseas in Japan.  I later returned stateside and enrolled in Talbot seminary to grow in my understanding of God’s Word.  

It was my Southern Baptist roots where I gained a deep appreciation for Scripture.  My heart’s desire was to do my part in spreading the Gospel.  I wanted to share Christ and disciple others and was gearing up for a lifetime of furthering the Kingdom of God.

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But, I was gay.  

Having heard many sermons throughout my life, I was convinced that God did not want me  –  nor could He use me.  I was an abomination.  I was “damaged goods”.  I tried to change.  Oh, I tried so hard!  Prayer and fasting.  Reparative therapy.  The only thing that changed was that I experienced more and more depression.  So I just held on to the hope that God would one day provide a way  –  some special pill, an accomplished therapist, or I would just miraculously wake up straight.  

Church taught me that gay people were horrible and nasty.  They had an agenda.  They wanted to destroy the family and, ultimately, the Church.  

But this wasn’t ME  –  I didn’t want to destroy the Church.  I love God’s Church.  And I love God with all my heart.  

I recognized in my teenage years that I was same-sex attracted and thought it was just a stage I would grow out of.  During college I realized it was not going away and in fact was getting more intense. 

Depression continued.  Pain.  Self-hatred.  

My Christian friends were angry with me that I wouldn’t (couldn’t) give up being gay and my gay friends were angry that I wouldn’t give up on the Church.  I felt homeless.  

So one day during my personal Bible study and devotional, I was reading Acts chapter 10 where Peter saw a vision of God letting a sheet descend with all kinds of unclean animals. Peter was disgusted by what he saw but God told him not to call them disgusting because God created these things and God had made them clean. As I reflected on those words, the thought came to my mind that “What if God was OK with gays”? I immediately dismissed such of a notion as horrible and satanically influenced. However, God’s Spirit continued to work on me, even seeming to offer the question, “Well, what would you do if an angel came down and told you that God was OK with you being gay?” (Kind of like Paul’s road to Damascus experience)  I was shocked! I could not believe that my mind entertained such a notion! The Bible is clear on this issue, so there is NO reason for debate. IF I were to hear this from an angel, I would have written it off as Satan disguising himself as an angel because I felt that God’s Word was clear.  Thus in doing so, I was declaring to God that the only way I would ever change my mind about homosexuality was if God showed me through Scripture.  In that moment I had set a condition before God! God was going to have to convince me that Scripture was teaching something different than what I thought it was teaching.  

About a decade later, after many episodes of extreme depression, I decided that I wanted to dig into this with all my heart, soul, and mind.  I wanted to know the truth, regardless of what it entailed or revealed.  I did not set out to prove or disprove any preconceived narratives.  Instead I only sought facts in order to weigh the evidence.  I started with the Greek and Hebrew texts and realized that I needed to study historical context of each of these texts in order to clearly understand the passages.  So I put my seminary training of Greek and Hebrew to work.    

One of the (many) things I discovered was that the word homosexual was not in any Bible until 1946, when it appeared in the Revised Standard Version (RSV). I was shocked! I want to know who put it in there and how they came to that conclusion. My research led me to the Yale University archives where the RSV translation notes are held.  In September 2017, I traveled to Yale with author/researcher Kathy Baldock and spent many days searching for the answer to the question, “Why did this translation team make the historic decision to put the word “homosexual” into the Bible for the first time?”  

The RSV translation team kept meticulous notes  –  we even found a grocery shopping list. This team of 22 men were extremely godly and ahead of their time.  The letters they left behind showed how they encouraged churches and church leaders to include blacks and women on committees where important decisions were being made.  Dr. Luther Allan Weigle, head of the RSV translation team, has been called the father of the modern Sunday School movement whereby he introduced curriculum that could be used to teach children about Bible stories.  He was a big advocate for missions in Japan and China.  And one time he received a letter from an elderly lady asking that he write Congress requesting the discontinuation of the poll tax.  (Citizens in her town were required to pay $1 for a voter registration card.  But poor families could not afford this and instead spent that $1 on much needed food, thus preventing their representation in elections).  Dr. Weigle enthusiastically agreed and wrote a letter to Congress.  Today we no longer have a poll tax!  

On the third day at Yale we found the answer  –  AFTER we got to know this wonderful team of translators.  The answer was found in an exchange of letters between a seminary student and Dr. Weigle.  This seminary student challenged the usage of the word “homosexual” in 1 Cor. 6:9 and provided a detailed outline of his reasoning.  Dr. Weigle responded and admitted that the translation team had indeed made a mistake and would seek to correct it in their next update.  However, Weigle had just signed a contract stating that he would not make any changes in the RSV for 10 years.  During those 10 years translation teams were working on the translations of the first NASB, TLB and NIV Bibles.  

Learning this we then went to research in the translation notes of the NASB, TLB and NIV Bibles.  It turns out that these versions used the RSV as their basis for including the word “homosexual” in their Bibles, not knowing that the RSV had retracted its decision.  

The RSV committee decided the word “homosexual” was an inaccurate translation of “malakoi” and “arsenokoitai” in I Cor. 6:9, and replaced it with “sexual perverts” (example of “sexual perverts” would be a dirty old man exposing himself to children on a playground).  The RSV team admitted that the Greek word “arsenokoitai” was not condemning homosexuals, but instead those who were abusive in their pursuit of sexual encounters.  The historical context shows that pederasty, sex with slaves, temple prostitution and other abusive forms of sex were prevalent in the first century when the Apostle Paul wrote 1 Corinthians.  Even though the Bible contains 6 verses that condemn homosexual activity, it contains more than 200 verses which condemn heterosexual activity. So as researchers it is important for us to determine the TYPE of homosexual or heterosexual activity that is being condemned.  

First century people had no context of same-sex, committed monogamous relationships, therefore they would not be able to have the perspective we are able to see after 150 years of studying homosexuality.  We might as well ask them what they thought about iPhones!  They would have no frame of reference.  But Paul definitely did not approve of the reprehensible same-sex activity which involved various abuses.  Hence his words in I Cor. and I Tim.  

The three main English versions of the 1970s (NASB, TLB, NIV) are the translations that I grew up on. They are the most influential English translations in our lifetime!  Since their publication some 40 years ago we have seen the largest amount of teen and young adult suicide in the history of the world. How can this be?? It is because we have been giving the wrong advice  –  advice which had been shaped AFTER the word “homosexual” entered the Bible.  

Since our time in the Yale archives I have done an enormous amount of investigation.  I traveled thousands of miles, spent tens of thousands of dollars on research, and interviewed hundreds of people.  I ultimately realized that the evidence was incredibly overwhelming!  I eventually had to admit that I had been wrong about homosexuality.  I had to admit that my church and my denomination had been wrong about homosexuality.  My Southern Baptist background taught me to approach Bible study as a Berean and the Bereans in Acts 17 wouldn’t even believe the Apostle Paul’s words until they studied the Scriptures and did their own due diligence.  So for me to continue down the path of a non-affirming theology would have required me to discard the volumes of irrefutable facts that I had uncovered from intense research.  

All of this reminds me of how we Southern Baptists made that atrocious mistake 200 years ago regarding slavery. Some Southern Baptist pastors felt that “if we abolished slavery, we might as well do away with the New Testament because we wouldn’t be following it anymore.”  They actually believed they were being obedient to God’s Word by holding on to slavery.  Ridiculous, huh!  Looking back from our 21st century perspective, we find it difficult to comprehend that pastors taught such things.  But for them, it was real.  It was a matter of following their (misguided) understanding of God’s Word in order to hold on to slavery.  

I truly hope the Southern Baptist leadership can make time to do their due diligence on this very important topic. 

So much damage has been done.

Too many lives have been lost. 

It’s time to fix this.  

God bless you,

Ed Oxford
M. Div. Talbot Seminary
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

 

Letter from Grayson Hester, Lifelong Baptist, and Seminary Student.

Dear Pastor,

My name is Grayson Hester, and I am writing to you in partnership with the Tyler Clementi Foundation’s True Faith Doesn’t Bully Campaign. I am an openly gay Christian.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church which met on a Southern Baptist College campus.  My church remains a unique Southern Baptist church as it called a woman as senior pastor in 2017.

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Had I been raised in another SBC church in my area, it is quite likely I would not be writing this letter to you today. I say this with utmost sincerity and lack of melodrama. My impressionable four-year-old ears did not hear homophobic sermons from the pulpit.  My youth minister affirmed me even before I had come out to him.  I was able to come out to my parents and not be ostracized or ousted.  I was more easily able to survive.

You see, the spiritual messages gay and LGBTQ+ kids receive from their churches lay the foundation upon which the rest of their lives are built. That I did not receive overtly homophobic ones means that I cannot just survive, but thrive, and pursue a calling into Christian ethics without undue trauma.

If I had gone to literally any other SBC church in my area — First Baptist Churches of Dandridge and Morristown, Tennessee immediately come to mind — it is more likely that I would have died by suicide by now. In fact, it’s five times more likely. It’s more likely that I would have rejected the church completely. It’s more likely that I would have engaged in self-harm. It’s 120 times more likely that I would have been homeless. These are neither extrapolations nor exaggerations. They are cold, hard facts.

The reality is: Those kids who grow up in non-affirming environments are more likely to die.

As more and more young people leave the church, and as more and more people come out as LGBTQ+, it is inexcusable for the nation’s second largest denomination to bide their time in discussing, with seriousness and Christlikeness, this crucial issue. While the denomination bickers over theological points, the very people you’re called to protect are ceasing to exist.

While you split hairs, people’s souls are torn in two. True faith does not bully. True faith does to the least of these what we would like to do for and to Jesus. True faith does not follow fear or rest easy with prepackaged answers. True faith, instead, answers the call of the oppressed and the outcast. The SBC has a chance to exhibit true faith and to rescue the church from its cancerous decline.

If you fail, you fail me. And, ultimately, you fail the call of Christ. The choice is yours.

Grace & Peace,

Grayson Hester
McAfee School of Theology, Class of 2021 / Master of Divinity: Christian Social Ethics
Diversity Committee Representative
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

 

Letter from Daniel Karslake, lifelong Christian, Director/Producer, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO and FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO.

Dear   Pastor,

Last week I bought the gun.
Yesterday, I wrote the note.
Last night, I happened to see your show on PBS, and just knowing that someday, somewhere, I might be able to go back into a church with my head held high…
I dropped the gun in the river. My mom never has to know.

I received this email the morning after a segment I produced for PBS aired in 1998 about Reverend Irene Munroe, a proud “street theologian” at Harvard Divinity School who also happened to be a lesbian. Simply seeing her story of deep and unabashed faith was enough for the 13-year-old homosexual boy from Iowa who wrote the email to rethink his own suicide. “If Irene could love God with all her heart and mind and still be a lesbian” he thought, “then maybe I really can too, and perhaps one day, I will walk back into a church with my head held high.”

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Unwittingly, the church sends such dangerous and deadly messages to our young people…especially those who are experiencing same-sex attraction. Just as these beloved young people in our churches are learning that Jesus is love, they are also being told that who and how they love is wrong, sick and sinful. And those damaging messages, all too often, lead to suicide.

I, myself, was deluged by those deadly messages growing up in rural Pennsylvania. Our family was always in church, and so I was often hearing about the depravity of homosexuality, something I knew I was from a very early age. As a result, I learned to lie about who I was before I was 10 years-old, and deception, pretense, and “play-acting” became a way of life.

This is the reason I found the email from the Iowa boy so powerful, and why it has inspired my work since.

In 2003, I began work on a feature documentary film called FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO about five deeply faithful Christian families who each discover that they have a child who is wrestling with same- sex attraction. What these five beautiful families of faith discover through their experience is that they can love God and love their homosexual children at the same time. Despite what they may have been taught in church, they learn that those two things are not mutually exclusive.

The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2007, was shortlisted for a 2008 Academy Award, and has since been translated into 24 languages worldwide. (It is widely available today on Amazon

Prime and iTunes.) But much more important than the accolades it has received, is the fact that the film has been screened in hundreds of churches and has been used by thousands of families of faith to work through challenges with same-sex attraction in their own families.

I’ve just finished a follow-up to FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO which is called FOR THEY KNOW NOT WHAT THEY DO. As I’m sure you recognize, the title is taken from some of the last words of Jesus on the cross as he’s speaking to God about forgiving those who are killing him. Once again, this film is about deeply Christian families who are struggling with the new knowledge that they have either a homosexual or transgender child. Given the negative messages they’ve received from the church about same-sex attraction and “deviant” gender identities, this film is both tragic and hopeful.

Two parents featured in the film are conservative Christians Rob and Linda Robertson from
Seattle. They raised their four children in the evangelical tradition, so they were stunned and sickened when their 12-year-old son Ryan told them that he was a homosexual. Since in their mind homosexuality was a “deal breaker for God,” they sought counseling and ultimately placed Ryan in a conversion therapy “ministry” where he learned that through faith, God would take away his same-sex attraction.

When that didn’t happen, he felt rejected not only by his biological family and his church family, but by God as well. To quell his feelings of self-hatred and loathing, Ryan turned to drugs and subsequently lost his life…directly because of the messaging he received from his church and his family about how God created him to be.

Rob and Linda thought they were doing the most loving thing they could for Ryan. Everyone in their church told them that conversion therapy was the way to go and that they were doing the right thing, but tragically, their actions lead directly to Ryan’s death. Forgive them Father, for they knew not what they were doing. To find out how to see the film, go to www.fortheyknow.org.

I hope you will begin to truly and deeply understand how all of this “Biblically based” messaging negatively affects both individuals and entire families. You may think you don’t know any families who have members who are wrestling with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria, but they are there in your pews, they are on your church councils, and they attend your Bible studies.

The outdated and dangerous teaching that experiencing same-sex attraction is a sin must end once and for all. So much has been learned, even in the last 10 years, about the immutability of same-sex attraction which further clarifies and emphasizes what we’ve been hearing from LGBTQ people for a long time, that a diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities is a gift from God to the Kingdom and to deny that is the greatest sacrilege. Unconditional love, not judgement and condemnation, is God’s best journey for us all.

Parents need to hear this message, children need to hear this message, indeed all of God’s Kingdom needs to hear this message of the holiness of unconditional love, and we are dedicated to spreading that good news.

In 1995, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution in which it renounced its racist roots and apologized for its past defense of slavery, segregation and white supremacy. The SBC joined the right side of history in regard to race in America that year, so won’t you consider joining us on the right side of history for LGBTQ folks, as well, before more grievous harm is done? I would also call upon you to take a leadership position to ending the systemic racism that continues to exist today. Top leadership in the US Congress, like Sen. Mitch McConnell, Congress Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Sen. Lindsey Graham are members of SBC churches. Call upon them publicly to legislate legal equality for all.

Let the burden of harming innocent, vulnerable people be lifted from your shoulders! I know from personal experience it is healthier for all.

Prayerfully yours,

Daniel Karslake
Lifelong Christian, Director/Producer
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

Letter from Pastor David Key, Ordained Southern Baptist Minister.

Dear   Pastor,

Recently, you have received letters from Jane Clementi and Stan Mitchell, both imploring you to revisit your position on the matter of LGBTQ inclusion in the church you serve.  As an ordained Southern Baptist minister, I understand the denominational culture that you find yourself in and the challenge you face.  I remember the days when Southern Baptist folks taught the “Cursed Seed of Ham”, the “Pope as the anti-Christ”, “Jews killing Jesus” and “Eve having brought Sin into the World”.  These and other misled paradigms caused too many Southern Baptists over the years to be racist, anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and misogynist. It is a sad commentary on our common history and heritage.

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The language and attitude from the Southern Baptist Convention toward LGBTQ folks continue to cause similar damage today.   Maybe you have been told that according to the Trevor Project:

–    39% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past twelve months with more than half of transgender and non-binary youth having seriously considered.

–    71% of LGBTQ youth reported feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year.

–    76% of LGBTQ youth felt that the recent political climate impacted their mental health and sense of self.

–    71% of LGBTQ youth reported discrimination due to either their sexual orientation or gender identity.

I’m sure you are saddened by these realities.  What we need is more from you.  We need your leadership in shifting the harmful paradigms among fellow Southern Baptists.  As Stan Mitchell encouraged you to lean into the Scriptures, I implore you to find a new hermeneutic that brings life instead of hurt, pain and suffering.  Make your place in history by being that bold prophet and denominational leader that God called you to be.  Call out your fellow SBC ministers to stop the harmful and toxic messages and stand for the dignity of all human life regardless of race, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation.  As the Book of Acts challenges us to proclaim the Gospel unhindered (akolutos), I encourage you to follow the Spirit and do the same. 

Please take the next steps to shine God’s love into this world.

Sincerely,

David W. Key, Sr.
Founding Pastor Lake Oconee Community Church
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

Letter from Pastor Stan Mitchell, Founding Pastor GracePoint Church, Nashville, Tennessee. 

Dear Leader,

Recently, you received a letter from my friend Jane Clementi. In it, Jane implored you to sincerely revisit your position on the matter of LGBT inclusion in the church you serve. She did so, first and foremost, as the mother of two LGBT children: one living and one tragically deceased. As you know, the latter child, Tyler, died by suicide due to bullying directly specific to his being gay. Secondly, Jane’s appeal was levied on the grounds of her own evangelical and Baptist background. Herself a devoted Christian, Jane for many years held that homosexuality was a sin. And, finally, Jane’s letter was written on the grounds of her position as Co-Founder and CEO of The Tyler Clementi Foundation, an organization established in the memory of her son and on behalf of every child who has, or will ever, experience bullying for any reason.

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Earlier this year, I was honored to be invited by Jane and the Tyler Clementi Foundation leadership to join their board. As an ordained Evangelical pastor who has served several local churches as pastor over the past thirty plus years, I bring to the foundation a heart for the Christian Church, the Bible, and the Gospel. One of the most pressing expressions of my love for Christ and Christianity is my deep desire to see the Church shift its position on the matter of homosexuality. This shift is something I personally experienced at GracePointe Church in Nashville , TN., a church I helped found in 2003 and then led as Senior Pastor for the next sixteen years. As Pastor Emeritus now, I am deeply grateful to watch as GracePoint, a church that fully affirms the gifts and callings of LGBT people, continues to serve Middle Tennessee and the world beyond. It is truly a Christ honoring and prevailing community of faith.

It was the Spring of 2012 when GracePoint’s leadership made the important decision to lead our congregation into a period of discernment regarding the matter of LGBT inclusion. After two and a half years of study, prayer, and countless conversations, the decision was made to move as a local church to the position of full inclusion. Since that time, my life has become overly and wonderfully full — both in terms of time and in terms of meaning. I spend my days now working with LGBT people (especially youth) and their families as well as pastors and their congregations. Specifically, I work with these dear people as they faithfully and carefully strive to reconcile their faith to what they sense deep in their souls to be true.

Per the pastors and church leaders who come to me, most do so in the manner of the gospel character, Nicodemus. Privately, fearfully, searchingly, they come to me “under the cover of night.” Dozens upon dozens, perhaps into the hundreds now, they come to me seeking a safe place to do this sacred but difficult work. As I work with them, I do not introduce them to a new hermeneutic. Instead, I simply help them apply to scripture the same interpretive lens they have long been using, albeit selectively. It is my deep belief that the same biblically faithful lens which presently allows women to cut their hair, slaves to seek freedom, abused spouses to remarry, and on and on the list goes, when applied to the matter of sexual orientation, that same lens will produce in every church what it has so profoundly yielded in GracePoint.

Again, this is not a new hermeneutic or one that runs rough shod over the biblical text. No. Rather, this is one that takes seriously the words of Jesus on the eve of his crucifixion: “I have many things to tell you but you cannot bear them now. But when the Holy Spirit comes, He will lead and guide you into all truth.” From our earliest days, those misguided days when we excluded more than 99% of the world’s population on the cruel grounds of how they were naturally born (Gentiles), and forward, church history has made it abundantly clear — the Holy Spirit’s work of unfolding the text as human consciousness has the capacity to receive its rich truths has been an uninterrupted reality.

Time and space fails me (and due your credentials it is unnecessary) to detail the long list of corrective, reform, growth moments and movements the Church has experienced from its blessed inception. Truly, the biblical text has proven itself to be a time-release capsule, releasing its truth as the soul of the church has had the capacity to receive it. Ever and again we have proven ourselves to be a people who walk with a text we have not fully experienced. Just as in Acts 10,11, and 15, it is not scripture that stands in need of amendment but it is our reading of the text, informed by human experience, that proves itself to often stand in need of change. “You have heard that it was said…but I say unto you…” was not a rubric reserved exclusively for Jesus’ great Sermon On The Mount. Instead, this gracious work of the Spirit continues to the present day; and church history has done nothing if it has not proven this over and again. This process no more contradicts Jesus now than it contradicted Moses then. It is not the text that ever stands in question, but our “hearing” or reading of the text that proves itself correction-worthy.

My appeal, the appeal from The Tyler Clementi Foundation, to you is not that you dismiss Scripture but that you bravely lean into it. Allow the very human experiences of need, suffering, longing, and the receiving of God’s Holy Spirit not to cause you to dismissively override the text but to drive you back to it as it once did Peter, James, and the Jerusalem Elders. Allow the suffering and suicides of countless gay teens to drive you back to the text humbly asking, “Have we read this most faithfully and fully? Are we reading it most faithfully and fully now?”

Like Paul in First Corinthians 7, I believe we have no direct “command” or “word from the Lord” regarding this matter. What we do have is the slope or trajectory or spirit of the greater text and our history; and by this, we, like Paul, will be able to “give an opinion on this matter as one(s) who have been counted worthy.” And always, like the great apostle, we will do so beneath the canopy of “God’s mercy”, saying, as did he, “regarding these questions, (we) believe we have the mind of the Spirit.”

This is a hard ask I know. I know because I have been asked it. For years these same questions hounded me as a pastor of LGBT people, precious people who were either closeted or greatly sanctioned. Ultimately, I was willing to hear the answers to these questions regardless of the cost. And though the cost has indeed been great, I can wholeheartedly say, “What’s lost has been nothing compared to what’s been found. And all that death that ever were, if it were pooled together, could scarcely fill a cup set next to the river of life that now runs in me.” The reward of watching God’s “Spirit fall on these at it has on us” has been more than I can tell.

Prayerfully submitted for your consideration,

Rev. Stan Mitchell
Board Member Tyler Clementi Foundation
Pronouns: he/him/his

 

 

Letter from Jane Clementi, CoFounder and CEO  of Tyler Clementi Foundation, Tylers Mom. 

Dear Pastor,

I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy. I am writing to you today as a mom, a person of sincere and deeply held faith, and co-founder and leader of the Tyler Clementi Foundation, an organization working to end all online and offline bullying in schools, workplaces, and faith communities. I am grateful to have this opportunity to share this message of hope, life, and love with you, with the strong desire that your ears, heart, and mind will be open to the transformational power that is available to you, so you will be able to reflect the love you have within you.

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As Scripture tells us over and over, we must “…. love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” But what is love and what does it look like? Scripture tells us that love does not harm and it does no wrong; it does not steal, kill, or destroy like the evil one but rather love gives life and gives it abundantly!

Telling another person that they are broken, less than, and forever separated from God because of who they are or who they love, does not give life and it is not loving. It actually is as far from love as one can get. Regardless of how the message that homosexuality is a sin is delivered, softly or harshly, it is a devastating message — a message that creates animosity within the hearts of parents, siblings, and other kin, leaving our youth to feel abandoned and alone in a cold world.

I actually see this as a form of bullying. Intentional, unwanted, and aggressive behavior where a power dynamic exists is bullying. When you, as a leader of a faith community, exert your authority and power over someone with less influence and control, and often timeless life experience to draw upon, this is absolutely a form of bullying. Continuing to preach these harmful messages of condemnation that elicit feelings of fear, shame and even terror might even be labeled by some as child abuse or religious and psychological terrorizing of innocent people.

These misinterpretations of Scripture have significant earthly consequences as I have learned all too personally. My son, Tyler Clementi, made national headlines when he was targeted because of his sexual orientation in an incident of cyberbullying in the fall of 2010. Tyler had just started his freshman year at Rutgers University. As my late son’s reality became twisted and distorted, his feelings of worthlessness and isolation must have taken over; tragically, he made a terrible and permanent decision in response to a temporary problem. On September 22, 2010, when Tyler could no longer endure his pain and despair, he ended his life in this world. He was only 18 years old.

As horrific and terrible as this bullying situation was, I have come to know there was so much more happening within Tyler during this time period. From what I have been able to piece together in the long and painful years since his death, his exposure to harmful teachings and misinterpretations of Scripture had led him to think he could not be a Christian and that he could not reach out for help from his family or perhaps, more specifically, from me. I wrestle every day with a painful weight of guilt for the many years of church teachings and traditions Tyler was exposed to — teachings and traditions of bias, discrimination, and prejudice that devalued his spirit and caused so much pain and shame within him.

These misinterpretations and teachings do not simply have earthly consequences, more importantly, they have heavenly consequences as well. You have caused far too many to fall away from their relationship with God because of your cloudy vision in reading Scripture. Using eyes from the 1st century, I sincerely believe you are not allowing the wisdom and knowledge God has been sharing with His children over the centuries to speak to your hearts or minds.

We know so much more today about the harmful physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual effects of these condemning and hurtful messages. Medical data and research including but not limited to the following:

– LGBTQ kids raised in condemning religious families are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

– And, their attempts are six times more likely to result in hospitalization and/or death – Although less than 10% of the general population identifies LGBTQ nearly half of America’s homeless youth are LGBTQ.

– More than a quarter of LGBTQ youth say they have been personally bullied or harassed since the 2016 presidential campaign began, compared to fourteen percent of nonLGBTQ youth.

– The level of depression and anxiety existing in the lives of LGBTQ teens and kids is sadly wildly outpacing those same maladies in other groups.

Think about this information; please let this data sink in for a moment. This knowledge is not news to God but maybe to people who will not open their eyes or minds to the simple fact that who we love is a God-given gift and cannot be changed. We are all different, with different gifts and traits, but we are all beautifully created in God’s perfect image. We might be able to improve some gifts but most gifts or traits cannot be changed. I will never be an opera singer and my eyes will never be brown, just like the simple fact that two of my three sons will never be attracted to women. This is not a congenital flaw but the gift of God. You must stop interfering with God’s will. Open your eyes and see the tragic consequences that your negative homophobic interpretations have caused in the lives of our loved ones. Please stop stealing our children away and leaving our families broken and destroyed.

Your insistence to hold to harmful doctrine is not helpful or encouraging. These teachings do not draw people to the love of Christ. Rather, your toxic messages add to the tremendous burdens of many, crushing their spirit and destroying so many lives and families. Your harmful teaching that homosexuality is a sin must stop. And it must stop immediately before any more innocent young people are harmed.

To stop your harmful and toxic messages would certainly be making a compassionate loving move forward for all those sitting in your pews. But for you to experience true healing and wholeness from your wrongful deeds, you need to take a full step forward and repent for the great harm you have caused to so many. People need acknowledgment of their pain and suffering and you need to give voice to the harm people have experienced because of your misguided dogma. Just as the Southern Baptist Convention did in 1995, apologizing for the role it played in the inhumane practices of slavery and segregation, now is the time to acknowledge the immense harm and pain your misguided interpretation of Scripture has caused to the LGBTQ community and their families.

This is such an important moment in history; you have the grace-filled opportunity to repair the harm and injustice done by your past teachings related to gender, sexuality, and racial inequality. Be an instrument of grace and take a leadership position in ending the systemic racism in America where so many of the roots trace back directly to the SBC practices and its members. Don’t just stand for the sanctity of human life in regards to the unborn but stand for the dignity of all human life, regardless of the color of skin, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. After all, “…what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Take this huge opportunity to shine God’s love into this world by being the leaders you were called to be on these very important issues.

These are huge steps to take for sure, but please know…you are not alone; many other Churches and denominations have already gone ahead, paving the way with repentant hearts as they have heard and responded to God’s compassionate and loving call on behalf of all His children.

I am grateful for your time in reading my letter. I pray it has fallen on open ears and tender hearts. This message was written to you on behalf of the affected parents and youth in your pews. They are there. Quietly there. Silenced there. I want them to know there is support for them. I want parents to know the truth that God would never expect them to turn their backs on their children, especially not for who God created their children to be or who God created their children to love. For those of us that are followers of Jesus Christ, it is essential that we reflect on the unconditional love that God extends to us. God never walks away from us and we must never walk away from our children. That is the truth parents must-hear. This is why we will be making all of our letters accessible to the public. If this letter tugs at your heart, even in the least, please reach out, I would welcome a conversation.

May God fill you with His peace, courage, and strength as you hear His call to take the necessary next steps to shine God’s love into this world.

In Christ’s love and peace,

Jane Clementi
CoFounder and CEO Tyler Clementi Foundation
Pronouns: she/her/hers