Open and Affirming … Faith and Callings
Happy Pride to you, wherever you are in the world participating in today’s service. For those of you who identify as LGBTQ+, I am happy you are here and that you have found a faith community who is welcoming. For those of you who identify as allies, I thank you for being open and affirming of those of us who do not identify as heterosexual and/or cisgender.
I want to also recognize that there are some among us who were present at last year’s Pride service where we were threatened and terrorized by zoom bombers. You may be feeling a bit nervous and traumatized by that event. I’m with you. If you need support, please send a message to Nicole or me – do not suffer alone. For our allies whose addresses were posted and direct threats made, I pray that you are feeling less threatened and still feel solid in your allyship even though it came at a cost for you. For allies who were not directly threatened, I urge you to open your heart and soul and hold space for those among us who need your strength and support. If you see someone crying or nervous, you might simply send a chat and say “I see you, I’m here if needed.” Do not try to fix it unless asked.
I also want to note, that today I might use terms that you are unfamiliar with, I’m guessing I already have. Write them down. Research them and learn more for yourself – that is part of what it means to be an ally. Research first, ask questions later. In full transparency, in preparing for today I learned about 20 new terms and identities that I still need to do my own research on so that I can grow in my understanding and allyship or kinship.
Those of you who are allies might not get how important today is in the life of the church. Why do we need Pride month? Is it still relevant? I know some LGBTQ+ people who say the same thing. I’m here to say, yes, it’s relevant, yes, we need to continue to learn and grow in our understanding of issues facing the LGBTQ+ people in our congregation and the world. The pain and suffering is still experienced in churches & faith communities world wide, including here in Boulder. Aggressions come in big and small ways and those are hurtful, so the more we openly talk about LGBTQ+ Pride and what it means to be Open & Affirming, the better off we will all be.
Here at CUCC we have been celebrating Pride and our Open & Affirming-ness during the month of June. We have heard from Pam & Leanne, Joyce, Kathy, Robb & Sarah about why it is important to each of them that CUCC is an Open & Affirming congregation. If you haven’t heard them, check out the worship recordings on cucclivestream.com – they are all little sermons. They all shared their heartfelt stories about this community and why they are here and why a church should care about being Open & Affirming.
To welcome those on the margins who have been made to feel less than, or not worthy of God’s love and acceptance is to be open & affirming. To offer radical hospitality is no small thing to those who yearn for a faith community but have experienced hostility, judgement, condemnation or have been kicked out of communities who purport to live and offer God’s love, just because we aren’t heterosexual or heteronormative.
For those of us who “come out” it is often traumatic, difficult and filled with agonizing moments and thoughts. I pray for the day when “coming out” and embracing one’s sexual orientation or gender identity doesn’t pretty much guarantee an experience of loss, judgement, violence, and torment from themselves or others. But far too often, this is the reality faced.
I did some searching for statistics and quite honestly the findings are disturbing and maddening.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, Sadly, 2021 has already seen at least 29 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say at least because too often these stories go unreported — or misreported. … While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color -- particularly Black transgender women -- and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and unchecked access to guns conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities.
A University of Pittsburgh Services for Teens at Risk Center study found:
Transgender adolescents have higher odds of suicidality than cisgender adolescents. More specifically, about 85% of transgender adolescents reported “seriously considering suicide,” while over half of transgender adolescents attempted suicide, … transgender boys were at the highest risk of a suicide attempt requiring medical attention, followed by non-binary teens assigned male at birth. Transgender girls meanwhile were six times more likely than cisgender boys to have suicidal thoughts. (https://www.pittwire.pitt.edu/news/study-transgender-teens-suicide-risk-higher-cisgender-peers)
2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health conducted by The Trevor Project found (From: https://www.thetrevorproject.org/survey-2020/?section=Introduction)
68% of LGBTQ youth reported symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder in the past two weeks, including more than 3 in 4 transgender and nonbinary youth
48% of LGBTQ youth reported engaging in self-harm in the past twelve months, including over 60% of transgender and nonbinary youth
46% of LGBTQ youth report they wanted psychological or emotional counseling from a mental health professional but were unable to receive it in the past 12 months
10% of LGBTQ youth reported undergoing conversion therapy, with 78% reporting it occurred when they were under age 18
29% of LGBTQ youth have experienced homelessness, been kicked out, or run away
1 in 3 LGBTQ youth reported that they had been physically threatened or harmed in their lifetime due to their LGBTQ identity
61% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported being prevented or discouraged from using a bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity
86% of LGBTQ youth said that recent politics have negatively impacted their well-being
Transgender and nonbinary youth who reported having pronouns respected by all or most people in their lives attempted suicide at half the rate of those who did not have their pronouns respected
In a 2017 national survey, 60% of LGBTQ students said they felt unsafe at school, 70% experienced name-calling or threats in the previous year, and 30% said they’d been physically harassed. Only 20 states and the District of Columbia have anti-discrimination or anti-bullying laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ students.
And I haven’t even mentioned the damage done by churches and faith communities. Or the movement of excluding trans kids from playing sports in school. If you are interested in reading the full reports on these surveys, the links will be in the transcript of today’s sermon that you’ll receive in your email this week.
This is why it’s important to be open & affirming. This why some of us have our pronouns listed on nametags, email signatures and our zoom boxes. We don’t know whose life we are touching by being affirming and acknowledging people correctly. I encourage you to consider adding your pronouns to all those places and taking your allyship a step further than you’ve gone already.
Someone told me many years ago that I should think long and hard before “coming out” and embracing my lesbian identity. It will “be a long, hard road” and “your life will be more difficult” than if you “just suppress that and learn to love a man” the person said. I tried their way … and it didn’t work. As Paula Stone Williams wrote in her book … it felt like I was betraying my soul and it was judging me and I was slowly dying from the effort and hiding and not living my life authentically.
The hemorrhaging woman in our gospel reading today had faith in Jesus and knew if she just touched his cloak she would be made well. That’s some faith! In my mind’s eye I imagine a large crowd like in the before times when you are leaving a concert venue like Red Rocks or a stadium and everyone is packed liked sardines slowly moving. And she reached out and touched him and was healed. Never missing an opportunity for teaching, Jesus stopped and asked, “who touched me?” The woman shared and I hear him gently and lovingly saying “daughter your faith has made you well”.
I love this story so much. We don’t know much about that woman except that she had been bleeding for 12 years and that no doctor had been able to help. Here’s the thing – women at that time had little autonomy, control or voice. Asking for what she needed or wanted … from a man, let alone a man of authority like Jesus – unheard of. Yet she did it. She owned what power she had – her own inner knowing that she mattered – she trusted – and she reached out and touched Jesus. It might have been her last attempt, her last hope, and she took it rather than give in to the message that this is just how it is for you.
I must confess that most days, I don’t have the kind of faith that the woman had, but still, I reach out my hand, my soul and trust that Jesus, that God will help lead, guide, protect or heal. Sometimes that trust and putting out my hand feels like a free fall or like I’m in a fast-moving river swirling in the chaos. Sometimes I grow inpatient and get frustrated, wanting to move along my journey or have the answers more quickly & easily. But that isn’t always how things go.
I can tell you that I’ve heard stories and when I was younger, lived the reality of reaching out and asking for God to take away my identity as a lesbian. All the messages I received from school, church and society, told me I was a sinner and “not normal.” After years of struggling, I finally reached out and trusted that the God of love and beloved community would be there to embrace me – Daughter your faith has made you well.
But the story doesn’t end with the woman and Jesus’ kind, and compassionate words. Then he goes to the little girl who died … “Do not fear, only believe” he said to the father. And then “Little one wake up.”
If you read all of Paula Stone Williams book, you’ll read her experience of wrestling with her gender dysphoria her whole life as a male before her transition. And when she finally felt her call to transition and become Paula, she realized Paul had to die. Obviously not in the literal sense, but the conditioned way Paul had been taught was the “right” way to live and be in the world that kept her from being authentically herself. Little One Wake Up.
In the book she goes on to tell how she lost her jobs, friends, colleagues, church, money…. In 6 days. Do not fear, only believe – is easier said than done when everything you have, know and believe is at risk of being taken away or leaving.
And yet when we hear the call to be authentic, to live as God created us to be – the old ways we have been conditioned to hang on to, are difficult to let go of. Anytime a person comes out, there is a risk of losing something or someone. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard of people who were kicked out of their family once they come out as LGBTQ. Or how people won’t come out at work, for fear of losing the stability of a job or career. And the church … well sometimes church folks are the worst. Which makes it even more important for churches like ours to publicly declare themselves open & affirming and continue to educate ourselves so that people know we are a safe place.
Here’s the thing about declaring ourselves Open & Affirming. It is casting a wide circle where all are welcome, where all belong, where we continue to learn and grow and continue to widen the circle. It is trusting that God is there when we reach out, even when we don’t know where we’re going yet. It includes you, me, and anyone who dares show up. It means offering radical hospitality without trying to fit people into boxes. It means claiming your gifts in a new way and sharing them with the world and our community. It means hearing a call and trusting it.
Whether or not you identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, heterosexual, cisgender, non-binary, gender fluid, or some other identity I haven’t named yet, or another church has kicked you out for one reason or another, or you don’t know what you think, believe or how you identify, you are welcome here. God’s arms are wide open.
And God is calling … you, me, us. Every day. How will you answer? Will you trust and reach out? Can you hear the voice? … “Your faith has made you well. Little One, Get Up”