Sharing Our Stories
Trust the Slow Work of God
by Richard P. Howard
During nearly the whole length of my life I have been nudged, lured by the Divine Spirit on several significant occasions, to change my views and attitudes on human sexuality. I vividly recall "hauling up my heterosexual flag" during my second grade year at Bryant School by accepting a dare to kiss a neighbor girl who was standing on her front porch. I no sooner had planted my kiss when she decked me and jumped up and down on my stomach in a mad rage at my behavior. How could a seven-year-old girl so quickly recognize a womanizer? I managed to escape her revenge with my life intact but my ego badly bruised. Even so, my identity as heterosexual remained, and still is a conscious part of my self image.
While at Boy Scout camp in the summer 1942 several of the older boys bullied me by forcing unwanted sexual advances upon me. I was repulsed by what they did, acting as a group and deriving some strange pleasure from my obvious discomfort. Because their actions had violated my personhood and sexual identity, my course in life was strongly anchored in the direction of heterosexual orientation and behavior. By the time I reached adulthood any reference to homosexuals or images of homosexual conduct offended and frightened and confused me. My inner response to same-sex relationships, or to stories of their behavior was that of silent revulsion, fear, and harsh judgment.
While enduring basic training in the U.S. Army in 1954 I was brought into direct daily contact with others' violent persecution of one who was suspected of being a homosexual. There was no feeling within me of supporting such persecution. I felt, for the first time in my life, a degree of pity for the one receiving such rejection. My feelings of revulsion towards and condemnation of homosexuals began to fade, ever so slightly.
My military service behind me, one day in 1956 I sat next to a war veteran, a co-worker, who was driving a car on an errand ordered by our supervisor. He told me a story of his being approached by a homosexual in a public restroom, and how he had hit the offending person in the face with his fist, knocking him unconscious and leaving him lying on the floor. His description of the gay man was vile and filled with deep feelings of disgust and judgment against a whole population of gays. I sat in silence and listened to his tale, and felt a real fear at what violence and hatred heterosexuals were capable of inflicting on homosexual people. My attitude towards the "gay-straight" conflict was slowly undergoing what would eventually become a seismic shift, though many years would pass before I would become an ally to LGBT associates and friends.
During 1962, just before I accepted general church appointment as a full-time minister for the RLDS church, the Standing High Council considered a proposed policy concerning homosexuality. My supervisor, the church historian at the time, had attended, as an alternate, the meeting at which this statement was shared with the High Council. He told me the next day of his grave misgivings about the content of the statement, because homosexuality was presented there as an illness, a deep personal flaw. People engaged in homosexual behavior were to be feared and marginalized. Church members--particularly children--were to be protected by church leaders and members from the aggressiveness of such deviants. My response to his description of the position of the High Council was one of sorrow and perplexity. My old fears of homosexuality were still lingering, but now mixed with a sense of foreboding at what might happen in the lives of homosexuals if they were to be shunned and rejected as a matter of official church policy.
Twenty years later the Standing High Council received a report from a sub-committee of the council on homosexuality. This new position evidenced some progress from the negativity of the earlier one, as it shied away from explicit condemnation of homosexuals per se. But by today's standards the Council's adoption of the report signaled a protective attitude, forbidding ordination of homosexual persons who were actively involved in relationships with persons of the same sex. This position would later become actual, official church policy.
About this time my daughter "came out" as a lesbian, first to her mother and later to me, as actively committed to a same-sex relationship. Suddenly this theoretical issue became for me a living, flesh-and-blood person--a family matter of the deepest significance to both my wife and myself. Barbara was immediately elated that our daughter had found someone to share her life with in a relationship of love and trust. I had something of the same feeling, but not so fully. The regret I expressed to our daughter was that she would be denying herself having a child (and giving me a precious grandchild!). I also felt some fear for her probable rejection and harsh treatment from elements in both culture and church which were openly opposed to homosexuality. But both Barbara and I expressed our unconditional love for her and her mate, and pledged lifelong loyalty and affection for her, no matter what the future might bring. Not incidentally, she gave birth to her daughter in 1996, who today is one of the healthiest, wisest, and most beautiful persons one could ever meet.
In July 2004 Barbara and I were blessed to attend the wedding of our daughter to her female mate of many years, in Massachusetts, where they lived. The Massachusetts Supreme Court had recently authorized "gay marriage," and they wasted little time in solemnizing their marriage. Their wedding service, conducted under the auspices of the UCC Church (an open and affirming church since 1986), was indescribably beautiful, as each partner to the marriage pledged to make a loving and secure home for their three children, as well as lifelong loyalty and respect for one another in the marriage bond. I came from that experience of total openness and acceptance with an unshakable conviction, recently expressed so eloquently by the Rev. Desmond Tutu: "I cannot find it in my heart to believe that God would look at a homosexual and say, 'you should have been born heterosexual, but you were not, so I will punish you.'"
There has been, over my long lifetime, the slow work of God, gradually evoking major shifts in my ways of considering matters related to human sexuality. I now affirm that "the worth of souls (all souls) is great in the sight of God." I am convinced that "all are called" into the life and service of God in and beyond the bounds of faith communities which make up this diverse human family across the globe. No matter the outcomes of the several Community of Christ national conferences and its coming World Conference of 2013, my considered view is that the slow work of God will continue. Through the efforts of peoples of good will, transformation is destined to happen: justice and mutual love eventually will mark the advancing human efforts towards world peace. I shall trust the slow work of God, no matter what!
I felt alone and was isolated and depressed all through high school. I was too ashamed and embarrassed to tell my parents what was happening at school and summer camps. My father was a part time minister.
When I realized that I did actually have crushes on certain guys and felt more physically attracted to men, I would pray every night and cry when I asked God to make those feelings go away because it was causing me so much physical and emotional pain. I started to believe that there must not be a God, because my feelings never went away.
One summer at church camp, three boys chased me through the woods with a 50 foot extension cord that they were going to whip me with, to teach me a lesson for being "a fag". I ran to the top of the hill above the campground and ran out onto the Deception Pass Bridge in Washington State and considered jumping off into the swirling water that ripped through this beautiful pass 500 feet below. They would never find me and I wouldn't have to explain why I did it. It seemed like such an easier thing to do than to go back to camp and be teased and harassed for the rest of the week.
I dated girls, but it felt awkward and unnatural. I was spit on, pushed into lockers and thrown down stairs on a daily basis. I was called a sissy, faggot or queer every day. The hazing and bullying finally got so bad that a group of boys were waiting for me after school one day and I was hiding in the wood shop class when a teacher found me and asked me why I was there. I finally told him and the next day the high school principal told me that if they tried to reprimand the bullies that it would only make it worse, so they offered to let me graduate from high school one year early for my physical well being.
I didn't get a senior year, I didn't go on senior trip or get to graduate with my high school class.
I got a girl pregnant my first year in college and then got engaged to be married to another girl that I met while counseling at a summer church camp. As hard as I pretended to fit in, and function in a straight relationship, the confusion and anxiety were just unbearable from the lies and double life that I led in my head.
I finally told a supportive relative (a cousin of my father's) and I got counseling to start to sort my feelings out. I already knew that I couldn't CHANGE my feelings and wanted to know how to live a happy and successful life by ACCEPTING my feelings.
I called off the wedding and just started trying to accept my natural feelings and work on feeling comfortable in my own skin.
Today, my life is AMAZING and I am so happy I decided not to jump off that bridge at church camp. I am comfortable in my own skin most of the time, and surviving those hard and challenging times has made me a stronger, sensitive and more compassionate person. I live a fulfilling and prosperous life and have so much to be grateful for on a daily basis. I have WONDERFUL friends who love me and support me in so many ways. I can be honest with my friends and family on all levels and live a "transparent" life with no secrets or hidden agendas. I have a thriving business, have explored my talents in music, architecture, interior design, graphics and holistic health & fitness. But the most rewarding thing that I am so grateful I stayed around for is the opportunity to help others. To listen, to lift them up and help them believe in themselves. We are all BRILLIANT people with all kinds of gifts that we can help each other with.
I am here for anyone who is questioning, having a hard time, is depressed or scared, or just needs someone to listen. Please send me an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to reach out.
Sincerely, Mark Logan
Mike and I come from multi-generational families in the RLDS Church. We met at a GALA retreat at Lake Doniphan in 1999.
Early on in our relationship we realized if we were going to help the church change its attitudes about the GLTB community we needed to attend a congregation and be ourselves and become involved. We chose to attend Cornerstone in Independence, MO. We quickly became active on what they call the leadership team as a part of Outreach. We have, by just being ourselves brought this congregation along, it was not easy, and at time seemed insurmountable but we did it. On December 5th 2009, Cornerstone congregation voted and passed to become an officially welcoming congregation. So how great is God's love!
Clay and Joann Condit
The best way to reach an informed decision is to look at an issue from all sides, to get to know all about it. We have come to our acceptance and appreciation for gays and lesbians, and the gifts they bring us, because we number them among family members and friends who we know and love. They have enriched us with love, laughter, joy, and the generous and tender gifts with which they have been blessed. We hope that those same gifts given to us will also be a support and blessing to them. More than that, we can remember this lesson:
"We" and "them" are really just "us", children together of the God who made us.
I believe God lead me to Community of Christ through a college friend. Now I am a Priest, and serving as Congregational Financial Officer.
I moved to Lawrence, Kansas and became active in cell group ministry in one of the congregations there. I filled-in as leader for a study session at the end of which I knew God was calling me to give ministry to LGBTQ persons. I now hold positions on the boards of three organizations serving this community.
My partner and I have been together for over 19 years. We continue to honor this relationship to which I believe God has lead us.
I greatly appreciate the Community of Christ belief that God continues to speak to us today. I truly believe that God called me to this church; put into place events that allow me to hold priesthood, to serve His church, my local congregation, the LGBTQ community and to help the Community of Christ fulfill its mission and purpose in this world. I am where I am meant to be.
How grateful we are that God gave us a wonderful son who is gay. Our lives have been changed an enriched by this journey we've been on.
When our son came to us and shared that he was gay, Ted immediately went to him, hugged him, and told him that we loved him and always would.
In the church, we have attended many GALA retreats and meetings. Each time we have become very aware of God's unconditional love for all of His children.
We have met wonderful people that have enriched our lives. We have seen God's love shining in each of them. We have also cried many times with them when they have shared their heart breaks and sorrows when people wouldn't accept them.
We would love to let the world see that there is an awesome ministry that can be given by GLBT people that we are missing out on.
I once worked in the Intensive Care Nursery In Kansas City. I had the honor of caring for 3 infants that were termed: "ambiguous genetalia". This meant that when born the Dr. was unable to say, "Oh you had a boy, or oh you had a girl", it was not clear. DNA labs had to tell the sex. Later in the stay, we found out that "Adam" was a boy, however when the Plastic Surgon came to their baby's bedside, they discussed ,"that it was easier to make Adam into a female." Adam then became "Abigail." I believe that these children are here for us, to learn to love them UNCONDITIONALLY ! I will do that with GUSTO !! Praise God.
I have learned many things at GALA Retreats, including the fact that my son, Kip Dawson, is not in moral bondage because he is gay and didn't need the "cure". I also now realize that our gay children have been given, by God, remarkable gifts for Christ's ministry and these are being wasted.
I feel that honest, godly love supersedes most things for relationships between people, and so any concern for the physical expression of that love is superfluous as long as the relationship is a moral and committed one.
Therefore, I believe it is time to accept all of the Lord's children for their special callings, gifts, and talents, and allow them to function in our church and society as accepted members, ministers and/or married partners.
Joy Dawson (priest)
Kay Fletcher, RN
Not so many years ago my sister, the music director and children's class teacher, told me of sitting in our church and the sermon including the condemnation for those that are gay or lesbian. The speaker literally said that person would go to hell. She was so shocked that she and her husband did not return and no one, not one person called to see why she didn't show up again. I've become aware of the suffering our brothers and sisters experience and cannot rest until we express full inclusion. I must be about waking up and embrace each and every person, there cannot be even one, not atheist, not gay, not by color - no, not one can be kept from the fellowship of the table.
In the Fall of 1997, I was assisting a friend clean out her apartment. My friends and I were verbally abused for several hours, by a teenage neighbor, and as we left, I was punched in the face, fell to the ground, and was beaten by the mother. The daughter, who had verbally abused us, held me down with a knee in my back, while the mother pounded on me. The mother told one of my friends that she intended on killing me, just because I was a lesbian.
After coming out to my congregation in the early 1990's, I was not allowed to bring music ministry, teach Sunday school, or youth ministry. My receiving Communion was also brought into question. I was told that I was in sin (being homosexual), and would not be allowed to do any ministry, until I repented. In 1997, my Pastor in Independence, MO had a private meeting with me, and I was cast out of the congregation, and told not to return. I left the Community of Christ, and became a member of another denomination for three years.
I returned to the Community of Christ, around 2000, after missing being a part of the church. I was invited to a GALA retreat, shared my story with an apostle, and was invited to return to CofC. Members of the Peace Chapel congregation in Kansas City, MO befriended me, and people like Chuck Hewitt, offered to transport me back and forth to church. With their love and support, I did eventually return, and my life-partner Donna and I continue to engage in the struggle for full inclusion in CofC. We are active members of The Place/HART Ministries, in KC, MO.
God's Persistent, Relentless, Pursuit
"I am bisexual, with strong same-sex attractions." With those words, I stunned my wife of forty years. It was the day after Christmas 2009, and I had asked her to watch again the DVD For the Bible Tells Me So. I wanted to use it as a basis for talking about a secret I had kept all my life, and to follow through on a promise I had made to my counselor.
About two years previously, I reached a point of despair and frustration where I decided I really had no choice but to seek out a few sessions with a counselor. I felt like I could no longer deal with personal issues I had struggled with my whole life. When I was about seven years old and in the second grade, I had a run-in with a friend on the playground. All of the other kids had gathered around to hear us argue it out. I don't remember what the argument was about, only that everyone sided with him and started laughing and making fun of me. The emotional pain sunk deep, and I went off to an isolated place by myself and cried until the bell rang. But in those moments of solitude, I determined to never risk myself in front of people again. My wall's foundation was laid.
Shortly thereafter, I entered into puberty and found myself having attraction to both sexes. This was back during the '50s, when sexual issues were not talked about at school, home, or church. Because of being afraid of risking who I was, I determined to keep it hidden. I had a very difficult time in high school. I did not have any self-confidence, did not like myself, did not know how to deal with my sexual attractions, and continued to build walls.
After college, I joined the Navy in 1966. One of the questions on the application said, "Are you homosexual?" and I checked the "No" box. Because of my same-sex attractions, I had labeled myself homosexual and thought as I checked the box, "Well, that's a lie. I'm living a lie."
While in the Navy, Pam took my name from the bulletin board at church and wrote me a short letter. That began a two year courtship that resulted in marriage in December, 1969 shortly after my discharge. However, simmering beneath the surface where many issues that I still chose to keep walled up.
After experiencing additional family losses and tragedies, things finally came to a head in 2007 and I made arrangements to see a counselor. It was during these sessions of dealing with my sexual identity as well as other issues that I made a promise to the counselor that I would tell my wife. I was tired of part of me living in silence and secrecy. However, having told no one for almost sixty years, I found it much easier to make excuses and put it off, rather than take time to sit down and talk.
In September of 2009, GALA arranged to show the video For the Bible Tells Me So at our congregation, Open Arms. My wife wanted to attend, partly in support of her brother who had come out several years previously--to better understand him and the issues surrounding his sexuality. I agreed to go with her, though I always felt uncomfortable in GLBT groups, probably because of my unwillingness to face my own sexuality and for fear that someone might find me out. The movie was a very emotional experience for me. I found myself crying inside through the whole showing, relating to the emotions and feelings of those who were going through dealing with the issues of same-sex attraction in their families.
At one point, Pam leaned over to me and said--after the video had presented the information that the younger son in the birth order of sons is more likely to be homosexual--"Boy, I'm sure glad you escaped that!" and I thought to myself, "If you only knew..." It was at that point that I determined again that we needed to talk, and set the date in my own mind as being after Christmas when she would be off work for a week, we would not have our grandson, and I would be through with my gig as Santa.
After watching the DVD together, and me coming out to her, she kissed me and held my hand, and we sat together for a while. But she made no comment, and I thought to myself, "Well, it's out now, so there it is."
About a week later, she said "Okay, it's my turn to talk." She also is a very private person and finds it difficult to talk about sensitive issues. She told me that when I had shared with her, it felt like a kick in the stomach and she really didn't know how to deal with it or how to support me--and just had a lot of questions racing through her mind. She visited with a friend who she remembered had a doctorate in human sexuality, which helped her focus in on how she wanted to talk to me and what to expect. The friend's parting comment to her was, "Well, Pam, I don't know where this is all heading, but hang on for the ride!"
After sharing, we both felt like our marriage really opened it and it became a very freeing experience. About a month later, I shared with our grown son Mark, and he was likewise very supportive. However, as is often the case, while I'd begun to share it with family, I found that all the walls I had built still walled God out. I still did not see myself as lovable or that God could forgive me for some of my failings.
At the end of January 2010, the World Church scheduled a weekend gathering for evangelists, spouses and other interested persons. Pam and I registered to attend. During the weekend, one of the suggestions was that all evangelists should have spiritual directors. That was something that I really longed to do, but it also felt threatening. In order to take advantage of spiritual direction, you have to be willing to open up. I finally got up enough nerve to ask one of the trained spiritual directors if she would be willing to work with me in the area of lectio divino, one of her specialties. I thought, "Well, that's an area that should be pretty non-threatening! If it goes well, we can go into deeper areas." Little did I know!
We arranged to meet in the middle of February for our first session. The day of our first meeting, I found myself being so tired that I decided to take an hour's nap before meeting with her. While napping I had this dream:
I was driving over into Kansas City to take care of some personal business when I decided I needed exercise, parked the car, and got on a bicycle (always handy in a dream). I rode on downtown, took care of whatever the business was, and was returning home in early evening. As I was riding back, I became aware that I had no clue where I had parked the car. I found myself pedaling through various sections of the inner city in Kansas City, places that were not safe to be late in the day. I stopped at an intersection to try to get my bearings, when a young boy (seven or eight years of age), who obviously was a street urchin and homeless, came up to me and looked at me pleadingly and asked, "Can I come live with you?" It shocked me. It was obvious he was not living in a healthy environment and there were bad influences around. I thought to myself, "But what would Pam do with you? She's under a lot of stress at work and dealing with a lot of other issues--and having you around would be unsettling at home." And I didn't know what to do with him either! I finally decided I would just have to tell him that Pam didn't want him to come live with us; that's when I woke up. "Well, that's a weird dream!" I mused.
I met with my director at 3:00 for our first session. We had a nice chit-chat and talked through and practiced lectio divino. As we were wrapping up, she mentioned that she was going to be attending a workshop on dream interpretation, that she had taken quite a bit of training and feels that dreams have a lot to tell us if we're willing to listen to the issues they bring to us to deal with. I said, "Oh really?" And I told her my dream. She looked at me and said, "Well, Charles, you know who that boy is, don't you? That boy is you! You have some issue from your childhood that you need to deal with." It stunned me, because she had no sooner said that than I recognized that the little boy was that part of me that I had walled off and he was now asking to come home.
I left in a state of emotional shock. I didn't really know what to do with it. I felt like it was related to my issue of who I was sexually and my lifelong habit of walling that part of me off--but I felt like I had already dealt with it. I had talked to Pam; I had talked to Mark. What else was I supposed to do with it?
That night as I was retiring to bed, I picked up a book I had read previously titled The Lance and the Shield: the LIfe and Times of Sitting Bull. I was about a chapter into the book for the second time, and this is the first paragraph I read as I settled into bed:
Wichasha wakan were dreamers--men who had experienced dreams with sacred content or who had attained visions of powerful spiritual meaning. Not all dreamers were holy men, but all holy men were dreamers. One function of holy men was to help people interpret dreams, for they imposed obligations as binding as a personal vow, and to ignore their intent was to invite personal calamity.
For the second time that day, I was stunned. I thought to myself, "God, what are you trying to tell me?!!"
Then out of the blue I received an e-mail asking if I would play the role of the father in our church drama of the prodigal son the following Sunday, with Mark playing the role of the prodigal. I agreed. Then I received a separate e-mail asking if I would do the scripture moment. You guessed it-it was the prodigal son! Maybe God was being none too subtle about giving me hints. As I read over the script in preparation for the drama the next several days, I found myself being emotionally involved repeatedly in the story with a sense of longing of wanting to come home, even as the little boy in my dream, but feeling I didn't know how. (The drama turned out to be a powerful experience for both Mark and me and gave me pause to ponder all that was happening in rapid succession in my life.)
I met again with my spiritual advisor in March and we discussed the dreams and the story of the prodigal but really didn't sense any light on their possible meaning other than the need to come home. I was still very confused over how to deal with them and their potential significance in my life. She suggested I spend time with Psalm 139. For the next week I read it every day-a beautiful psalm, but I couldn't really accept its implications for myself. How could God really love me? My walls stood firm!
It was now drawing close to 2010 World Conference, and feeling the stress of all the things I needed to get done at home, I debated about whether I should continue being a delegate or resign and use the time "more productively." Still feeling overwhelmed by the need to break through the walls around me, I determined that I needed to remain a delegate; I needed to be immersed in Conference on the chance that something would happen. Emotionally I was desperate.
The first Sunday afternoon of Conference was a delegate session on spiritual formation. We went through a series of activities that are outlined in the publication Yearning for God. They asked us a series of questions, followed by our responses:
In that moment, my life was turned upside down! I felt affirmed for who I was, being immersed in God's love, forgiveness, and grace. I sensed growing within an overwhelming yearning to magnify my calling as an evangelist. Before Conference, I could easily have signed my name "Charlie Robison, R.E."-reluctant evangelist- but no more! The Spirit continued to well up within me without abatement. I sensed a renewed desire to move to Heritage Plaza, the church's historic site across from the Temple complex, to be available in the immediate area to share with people who might desire an evangelist blessing.
As the week progressed, I was sensing an emerging call to reach out specifically to the GLBT community in my ministry as an evangelist, feeling that perhaps there are others who have built walls for similar reasons, who have felt they could not approach God for a blessing. Having avoided dealing with my own sexual identity for so long, I was not sure where all of this would lead! But I was determined to make the effort to become involved.
I left Conference transformed, energized, renewed, and saying for the first time in my life two things I'd never been able to say from the heart before-and really mean it:
I have found that for the first time in my life, I really see people rather than hiding behind my own concerns and pity parties. I really see people. It truly is as the scriptures say, that when we become one with Christ, we are transformed and all things become new. Am I still bisexual? Yes. Do I still have same-gender attractions? Yes. I am who I was created from birth. But my life has been transformed in the moment of becoming vulnerable to divine grace, when the Spirit touched the deep-walled places of my heart with forgiveness, healing, and love, and called me forth into God's light.
It has now been a year since the 2010 Conference of my transformation. We have relocated to Heritage Plaza (where I am the site coordinator) and we are both actively involved with GALA. New insights and understandings continue to come as I rejoice each day in the light and am learning to live out what this means: "It is no longer I that lives, but Christ lives in me." As new opportunities and challenges continue, especially in the body of Community of Christ, Pam and I are frequently saying to each other, "Hang on for the ride!"
I want to emphasis that this testimony is not really about me. My life's journey is simply a vehicle for proclaiming the good news of God's persistent, relentless pursuit of each of us…God who will not take "No" for an answer! I would simply plead from the depths of my heart to your heart: Don't wait sixty years like I did! God calls you to come out of the dark places of your soul into the light. Let God bless, heal, forgive, and love you for who you are!