Tag Archives: UCC

Gay Games Symposium

Originally known as the Gay Olympics and dating to 1982, the Gay Games are held every four years (just like the Olympiad), and the 9th quadrennial event will run from August 9th through the 16th in the Cleveland/Akron area. The Gay Games will become international when the 2018 games move to Paris.

The events are participatory rather than competitive, and this year’s event is expected to draw 35,000 visitors, including 10,000 participants. The Games are open to all adults – regardless of sexual orientation or athletic ability. With more than 35 sports (from darts to triathlon, bowling to softball) and 2 cultural events (band and chorus), there’s something for everybody.

The United Church of Christ, with headquarters in Cleveland, is one of the sponsors, the first time a religious denomination has taken such a supportive stance. Rev. J. Bennett Guess, an executive in the UCC home office, wrote a guest column in Cleveland.com, and he stated,

[W]hen Cleveland, our hometown, was selected to host this summer’s international Gay Games, leaders within the United Church of Christ knew instantly that we had a responsibility, not only as a good corporate citizen, but also as a prominent national religious organization, to do all we could in support, because the lives of LGBT people and their families are at stake. That’s the Christian message of faith, equality and justice that we want to emanate from our visible and vocal endorsement. That’s why we are especially proud that, this August, Cleveland’s own United Church of Christ, headquartered on Prospect Avenue, will become the first religious denomination to be a major corporate sponsor of the Gay Games. The UCC’s Amistad Chapel, built as a shrine to faith-inspired justice advocacy, will host events and extravagantly welcome visitors from across the country and around the globe.

Amistad ChapelI am pleased and honored that the UCC has asked me to moderate a symposium during the games entitled Queer Christians: Celebrating the Past, Shaping the Future. Five local and national leaders of denominations that have made significant progress in becoming LGBT friendly will comprise the blue-ribbon symposium panel. The panelists include:

Rev. Don King is the pastor of Hope Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Cleveland Heights. Hope Lutheran is a Reconciling in Christ Congregation, and Pr. King has been active in the Lutheran LGBT advocacy organization called ReconcilingWorks.

Andy Lang is the executive director of the UCC Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Concerns. The Coalition administers the UCC Open and Affirming Program.

Rev. Tricia Dykers Koenig is the National Organizer for the Covenant Network of Presbyterians.

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind is the dean of Trinity Cathedral, the home of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio.

Dr. Kenneth W. Chalker is the pastor of University Circle United Methodist Church, a Reconciling Ministries congregation.

The symposium will be at the Amistad Chapel (700 Prospect Avenue) in downtown Cleveland on Tuesday afternoon, August 12th, commencing at 2:30 pm.



The Failed Attempt to Blunt Progressive Christianity

In 1980, Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and a couple of hundred thousand conservative Christians claimed “Washington for Jesus.” Months later, Ronald Reagan was elected with substantial support from Falwell’s “Moral Majority.” Thus began an unholy alliance between Christian fundamentalists and the Republican Party that now threatens to rip the Grand Old Party apart. The loss of functioning government has been collateral damage of this internecine warfare, and David Brat’s defeat of Eric Cantor is the latest and most profound example of the raging civil war over the heart and soul of Republicanism. That christianist Brat claims his victory was a God-ordained miracle is hardly surprising.

The Republican establishment has long fed the beast that now threatens to devour the party, and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman’s New York Times op-ed of June 13 offers his typical sublime insights. Krugman suggests the Republican establishment has long used the cultural warriors of the religious right to stir up the base and win elections but for the benefit of the economically advantaged. Krugman writes of the stratagem: “an interlocking set of institutions and alliances that won elections by stoking cultural and racial anxiety but used these victories mainly to push an elitist economic agenda.”

There is a striking parallel within ecumenical Protestantism.

At the same time that Ronald Reagan forged support from Christian conservatives into a winning political coalition, the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) was founded in 1981. This organization mirrors the Republican establishment in the manner it riled up folks in the pews in order to further a largely neo-conservative economic and political agenda. The IRD’s political/economic goals include increased defense spending, opposing environmental protection efforts, anti-unionism, and weakening or eliminating social welfare programs, but those actual goals were masked by an emphasis on cultural warfare issues. Over the years, the IRD has been financially supported by a who’s who of right-wing millionaires, including Richard Mellon Scaife, Howard Fieldstead Ahmanson, Jr. and his IRD board member wife Roberta (called the “financiers” in a 2005 Time Magazine article), Adolph Coors, the John M. Olin Foundation, and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation.

President of the United Church of Christ, John Thomas, wrote in 2006,

The right-wing Institute for Religion and Democracy and its long-term agenda of silencing a progressive religious voice while enlisting the church in an unholy alliance with right-wing politics is no longer deniable … But to play with Scripture just a bit, we doves innocently entertain these serpents in our midst at our own peril.*

The Lutheran expatriate turned Roman Catholic priest, Richard John Neuhaus, an IRD founder and longtime board member, bragged in 2005 while addressing the IRD board,

How, if at all and what ways, do we distinguish IRD from the remarkable insurgency that has rewritten the map of American culture and politics over the last 20 years, of evangelical, Catholic, generally conservative, religiously inspired political activism, dismissively called by our opponents, the “Religious Right”? How did it happen, one might ask, that IRD became in many ways an ancillary, supportive, coordinating agency for insurgencies within these three denominations–the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church-USA, and the Episcopal Church?*

The earliest splash made by the IRD was to attack the National Council of Churches by promoting the false notion that the ecumenical denominations supported Marxist revolutionaries in Africa. CBS’ 60 Minutes played the role of dupe in furthering the claim in a 1983 segment later dismissed by Don Hewitt, the 60 Minutes creator and longtime producer, as the segment he regretted most in his 36 year career. The broadcast began with the IRD leader, Richard John Neuhaus, speaking,

“I am worried – I am outraged when the church lies to its own people.” The camera moved from an offering plate in a United Methodist church in the Midwest to images of the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and then to marchers in Communist Red Square. The lengthy segment over and over suggested that the National Council of Churches (NCC) was using Sunday offerings to promote Marxist revolution. The most damaging accusation in the program was that NCC had somehow funded armed insurgents in Zimbabwe. While showing horrific footage of a slain missionary, the program implied that the NCC was responsible for the brutal murder. It was a lie that the top rated show in television told to tens of millions. The broadcast was highly damaging to mainline Protestants and the NCC.*

By the late 1980s and continuing, the IRD founded, funded, or otherwise influenced conservative organizations within the Methodist and Episcopal Churches and trumpeted the danger of LGBT inclusive policies to rally their troops. Dianne Knippers cut her teeth as a staffer for the conservative Methodist organization, “Good News.” Later, she would serve as IRD president during the height of its influence. Methodist theologian Thomas Oden was another Good News leader with ties to IRD as a member of the IRD board of directors. Current IRD President Mark Tooley is a lifelong Methodist and founder of the Methodist arm of the IRD called UMAction. The IRD also has a Presbyterian Action branch. The longtime conservative irritant within the Presbyterian Church is an organization called the Lay Committee that promotes their publication, The Layman. The self-described pillars of the Lay Committee were “People of means and action. Besides being leaders in their churches, they were leaders in corporate America.”* Within the Episcopal Church, Knippers served jointly as IRD President and organizer and leader of the late 1990s Episcopal group, the American Anglican Council, which served as chief conservative organizer at the virulently anti-gay Lambeth Conference in 1998 and as the opposition to the confirmation of Bishop Gene Robinson and all things gay in the early years of this century. Though the opponents of ELCA progressivism are not connected to the IRD, some Lutheran conservative commentators share neo-conservative political views (for example, Robert Benne, the author of The Ethic of Democratic Capitalism: A Moral Reassessment).

Over the years, the Republican establishment has stoked nativist, racist, sexist, anti-intellectual, anti-government, and anti-Muslim fears with a politics of scapegoating the immigrant, the black, the feminist, the queer, the academic, the government worker, and the welfare recipient. town-hall_thumb.jpgBy appealing to lesser instincts–especially of the angry white male–the party has enjoyed sufficient electoral success to continue feeding the beast, but Krugman’s article suggests this “bait and switch” tactic may no longer work as evidenced by Tea Party primary challenges to the party favorites. Ironically, the destabilization of the Republican Party itself would appear to be the legacy of the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robertsons and the complicity of the Reagans, Bushes, and the Republican establishment who are now being forced to “dance with the one who brought you.” While Republican self-destruction may not play out in the 2014 off-year elections, early portents for 2016 suggest a likely Democratic president and Congress, despite the built-in Republican advantage of gerrymandered Congressional districts. In the meantime, dysfunctional government will continue as the Tea Party insurgency in Congress will preclude any meaningful legislation.

While the outcome of the Republican civil war remains uncertain, the ecumenical denominations have largely resisted the contemporaneous neo-con attempts to destabilize leadership and thwart progressive impulses. For years, the conservatives used the rising tide of LGBT inclusive policies to frighten folks in the pews, but that battle is nearly won. Within the Lutheran Church (ELCA), Episcopal Church, and the United Church of Christ, LGBT-friendly policies are largely settled and entrenched with LGBT clergy, bishops, and high-ranking executives in the home offices all serving openly. The Presbyterians now ordain openly gay and lesbian ministry candidates and will likely endorse marriage equality in the next week. Meanwhile, the conservative opposition to Presbyterian progressivism, the Lay Committee, has chosen to stay away from the national General Assembly currently underway in Detroit–a telling admission of their declining influence. Although the battle rages within the United Methodist Church, it is only unique Methodist international polity that serves as the final barricade against LGBT inclusion (38% of all delegates at the last Methodist General Conference were foreign and staunchly conservative regarding LGBT issues), but the swelling pockets of inclusivism in local congregations and regional conferences and the ecclesiastical disobedience of Methodist clergy and bishops signal growing momentum for the cause of inclusion. After years of IRD and other conservative opposition to the innate progressivism of the ecumenical denominations, those church bodies have emerged from the fray more solidly progressive than ever. The neo-conservative intention of thwarting the social justice impulses of progressive Christianity has been a singular failure.

The media is noticing. The religious editor of the Huffington Post suggests the knee-jerk media response of running to the nearest evangelical with a bullhorn may be over in an article entitled, The Stunning Resurgence of Progressive Christianity.

*Quoted in Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism.

California, here I come

Here’s my itinerary for a week-long speaking and book signing tour out west. Presumably, weather won’t interfere like it did for my recent Chicago tour.

Old First Presbyterian San Francisco

The tour starts with a visit to a historic congregation in the heart of San Francisco. Organized in 1849, Old First claims to be the oldest Protestant congregation in California. Pam Byers, formerly executive director of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians and a congregational elder, is handling the arrangements. I’ll be there Monday, March 31, at 7:30 pm.

Pacific School of Religion Berkeley

On Tuesday, I’ll cross the Bay to Berkeley and climb “Holy Hill” to the Pacific School of Religion where I’ll be hosted by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Ministry and Religion (CLGS). CLGS will soon enter its fifteenth year of “creative scholarship on the interrelations of religion and sexuality / sexual orientation.” I’ll speak in the Bade Museum beginning at 6:30 pm on Tuesday, April 1.

St. Mark Presbyterian Newport Beach

After midweek visits with seldom-seen family and friends, I’ll start a busy weekend in greater LA with a book signing event on Friday, April 4, at 7:00 pm. St. Mark is a thriving, 50-year-old suburban congregation that retains a heart for mission.

Bethel Lutheran Church Los Angeles

For a congregation that features Sanctuary Yoga and Sanctuary Hula, an author book signing may be a bit tame. I’ll visit Bethel on Saturday, April 5, at 7:00 pm.

Claremont United Church of Christ

I’ll preach at both services on Sunday morning, April 6 with informal book discussions after each service. This congregation dates to the nineteenth century when it was the only Protestant church in this college town nestled beneath the San Gabriel Mountains on the eastern edge of Los Angeles County. Many of the parishioners are residents of Pilgrim Place “an intellectually/theologically stimulating, ecologically sensitive, personally active environment.”

Claremont United Methodist Church

I’ll move across town for a Sunday afternoon 2:30 event hosted by the local reconciling community. Several of my contacts recommended this congregation as an appropriate venue because of its strong record of support for the LGBT community.

Ann B. Day and the first 20 years of the UCC ONA

Somerset, Massachusetts, is a working class community south of Boston. A 1970s neighborhood women’s softball team with “E R A” emblazoned across their T-shirts would prove to be far more powerful than mere athletic exploits on the field would indicate. They were not sponsored by a laundry detergent as many assumed; instead, they were feminists and supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment. The team included several women who would become major players in the LGBT movement for full inclusion: Carter Heyward, irregularly ordained as an Episcopal priest (one of the Philadelphia Eleven) and later a leading lesbian theologian; Mary Glasspool, the first lesbian to be consecrated as an Episcopal Bishop in 2010; and UCC pastor rosi olmstead (she prefers no capitals) and her partner Marnie Warner, the team manager, would pioneer the UCC Open and Affirming movement (ONA).

After the Presbyterians in 1978, the Methodists in 1982, and the Lutherans in 1983, the UCC would join the welcoming church movement in 1985. In this case, it was not the UCC that took the lead … or was it? The movement in the sister denominations was always an outsider program promoted by the various homophile organizations in critical tension with denominational policies. For the UCC, ONA would not be an extrinsic program of the Coalition–it would be an intrinsic policy of the UCC itself–though once established, it would be administered by the Coalition beginning in 1987. Marnie Warner and Pastor Ann B. Day were the delegates who shepherded a Massachusetts open and affirming resolution through the snares of General Synod in 1985. Later, the UCC LGBT advocacy group, the Coalition, provided the structure and the funding for implementation of the ONA program, and Pastor Day and her partner, Donna Enberg, became the face of the program, as well as its hands and feet.

Raised as a Southern Presbyterian and with Methodist and Lutheran family members from the Shenandoah Valley, Ann B. Day was ordained following graduation from Vanderbilt Divinity School in 1978. For the next three years, she served as associate pastor at First Congregational Church UCC of Holden, a small city located in the center of Massachusetts between Boston and the Springfield/Hartford area. In 1980, her partner, Donna Enberg, entered her life, and they would later be married after Massachusetts law changed decades later.

In 1987 when the Coalition assumed responsibility for funding and administering the ONA project, Day and Enberg took over and would serve as staff and inspiration for the next twenty years; they would be much more than merely the “keepers of the list.” Under their leadership, the movement established a structure, a network of ONA churches, and a method of joining. Along the way, Day and Enberg developed resource materials, including sample resolutions, films, study packets, books, and articles.

AnnBDayMostly, Day and Enberg encouraged intentionality and articulated the rationale for joining the movement. To the oft-heard refrain, “our congregation already welcomes everybody,” Pastor Day responded that the actual experience of gays and lesbians had often been rejection, even when a congregation claimed “all are welcome,” and thus an intentional statement of affirmation was necessary to counter low expectations.

The ONA program has continued its vital ministry to the present, and currently numbers over 1,100 UCC congregations containing 275,000 members.

Lois Powell: UCC lesbian activist

“What a beautiful, heady, exasperating, hopeful mix!” the pastor exclaimed. We are “a people of risky adventure.” These are the words of the pastor of a Boston congregation in a 1975 article in the UCC’s national magazine. The Rev. Oliver G. Powell lifted up images of sauerbraten and potatoes, long draughts of dark beer, romantic poetry and Bach chorales. He talked of New England boiled dinners and baked beans, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and skylight filtering through clear, freshly-washed, church-window panes.

Later, Rev. Powell and wife Eleonore would be “people of risky adventure” who would “exemplify courageous leadership in Open and Affirming Ministry” as supporters of their daughter Lois (Loey) Powell, a lesbian ordained in 1978. Parents and daughter would each serve as highly visible leaders along the UCC journey toward full inclusion.

Loey Powell graduated from Pacific School of Religion in 1977, the same “rash and courageous” institution that had witnessed Bill Johnson’s dining-hall speech seven years earlier. Echoing her father’s “heady, exasperating, and hopeful” sentiment, Powell remembers her seminary days as filled with the exhilaration of movement politics. She had come out early in her seminary life, and fondly remembers the bay area UCC gay caucus that gathered for monthly potlucks and nationally at UCC General Synods: “incredibly spirit-filled worship, doing the justice-making work of advocacy, being there for those who were wondering about their sexuality.” Like the sun piercing the fog over San Francisco Bay, feminism, liberation theology, and gay rights burned through the timbered halls of the seminary. And it wasn’t just the seminary. The Northern California Conference of the UCC was in the vanguard of hope, alive with possibilities.

Powell was ordained with two other lesbian classmates, but they were not officially out to the candidacy committee although they were out to friends and the seminary community. Thus, the status of first open lesbian to be ordained in the UCC falls to Rev. Ann Holmes in 1982. Nevertheless, as the daughter of an esteemed elder, Loey Powell immediately became the “poster lesbian” of the UCC.  By the end of the decade, she served as co-coordinator with Rev. Bill Johnson as the UCC Coalition grew in size and status.

Lois PowellHowever, it took a number of years before a traditional congregation took a chance on calling her to pastoral ministry. Then a breakthrough in 1989. For the first time in any ecumenical denomination, an openly gay clergyperson was called as sole pastor to a traditional ministry through the normal call process. Pastor Powell would remain at United Church of Tallahassee for seven fruitful years of ministry before accepting a position in the UCC home office in Cleveland, where she has continued to serve, most recently on the Justice and Witness Ministry Team as Executive for Administration.


This is the tenth installment in the series Cast of characters countdown. I will continue to post biographical notes about the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in my soon-to-be-released book, Queer Clergy. Here’s the list of prior posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

William R. Johnson: 1972 Gay Ordination

The Christopher Street Liberation Day parade from Greenwich Village to Central Park on June 28, 1970 was peaceful. Though police turned their backs on the marchers, they honored their parade permit.

Across the nation in San Francisco, police were less respectful at a much smaller event that same day, consisting of a couple of hundred queers at a ”Gay In” at Golden Gate park; police arrested several of the participants. San Francisco was years away from its later reputation as an LGBT friendly city.

Five years earlier, on New Year’s eve 1965, San Francisco police had broken promises made to the clergy organizers of a ball sponsored by the Council on Religion and Homosexuality. When police attempted to crash the ball, the word went out to the clergy organizers: “Get down here and wear your collar.” Lutheran pastor Chuck Lewis kept flash bulbs popping, and his assistant, Jo Chadwick, stuffed his film negatives in her bra to prevent the police from confiscating the photos. At a later press conference, clergy offered the “cloak of the cloth” moral authority, and the eyes of the nation witnessed the reality of police harassment of the gay community.

Five months after the arrests at the “Gay In” at Golden Gate Park, another historic event would quietly unfold across the Bay. Sitting atop “Holy Hill,” the neo-Gothic structures of the Pacific School of Religion (PSR) stand in stately vigil over San Francisco Bay across from the Golden Gate bridge. The stone and timber halls of PSR had long witnessed Christian activism. Founded by Yankee congregationalists from the east in 1866, the seminary prided itself on a “courage born of rashness.”

Young Bill JohnsonFour hundred students and others attended a homosexuality symposium in the seminary dining hall on November 11, 1970. When someone made an incendiary comment about gays, a young seminarian found himself rising to speak. His spontaneous comment changed his life and the course of church history.

I am not a faggot, I am not a queer, I am not a fairy–but I am a practicing homosexual. And I can say that with joy–it is an affirmation which I make with pride.

Despite his impromptu “coming out” and over the objections of the seminary president, William R. Johnson continued in seminary and the Golden Gate Association of the United Church of Christ (UCC) ordained him to the ministry in June 1972 around the third anniversary of Stonewall. The UCC had accomplished another historic “first”—the first ordination of an out gay man by any traditional Christian denomination.

Thus began a distinguished career as the pastor to countless gay Christians, including many closeted clergy, and as the pan-denominational prophetic leader of the movement toward full inclusion. Rev. Johnson served as inspiration and strategist for the fledgling LGBT advocacy organizations that appeared in Protestant denominations during the 1970s, including as founder and first leader of what came to be known as the UCC Coalition. Later, he served for many years in the UCC home office.

Pastor Johnson has only recently retired. Elmhurst College, his alma mater, has honored him with an annual lecture series in his name. Pastor Johnson has also been a fact-checking source and supporter during my compilation of Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism. William Johnson

He offers this endorsement of the book:

“I have always known that this historical overview of the religious LGBT movement was needed not only to tell our movement stories to the masses but to make same-gender loving people aware of a significant but often overlooked part of their own history. This is a significant work by justice ally Obie Holmen — a singular contribution toward the full inclusion of LGBT people within Christian community and society. Many will be surprised by the breadth and depth of the movement in the Church.”

Where to buy the book

Print copies are available from Amazonthe publisherBarnes and NobleCokesbury, or an autographed copy straight from me. Amazon offers it in digital, eBook format for Kindle, and Barnes and Noble offers it for Nook. For iPad or other Apple users, you may order through the iTunes bookstore. Search on RW Holmen.

This post is part of the series Cast of characters, which are biographical snippets and summaries of the stories of the iconic pilgrims and prophets on the road to full inclusion who are featured prominently in Queer ClergyAs with all these posts, this is merely a summary of the full story, which is woven into an overarching narrative in the book. Here’s the full list of these posts:

1968 Troy Perry (founder of the MCC)

1970 Robert Mary Clement (gay priest who marched in the first Gay Pride parade)

1972 William Johnson (first out gay man to be ordained by a traditional denomination)

1974 James Siefkes (Lutheran pastor behind the formation of Lutherans Concerned)

1974 David Bailey Sindt (founder of More Light Presbyterians)

1975 Steve Webster (organized the first gathering of gay Methodists)

1975 Dr. Louie Clay (founder of Episcopal Integrity)

1976 Chris Glaser (longtime Presbyterian activist)

1977 Ellen Marie Barrett (first out lesbian ordained to the Episcopal priesthood)

1978 Loey Powell (early UCC lesbian pastor and activist)

1980 Mark Bowman (founder and leader of RMN and editor of Open Hands Magazine)

1982 Melvin Wheatley (Methodist bishop and straight ally)

1987 Ann B. Day (Led the UCC ONA for twenty years)

1990 Jeff Johnson, Ruth Frost, Phyllis Zillhart (Extraordinarily ordained Lutherans)

1990 John Shelby Spong (leading straight ally in the Episcopal House of Bishops)

1992 Janie Spahr (Presbyterian leader of “That All May Freely Serve”)

1994 Ross Merkel (defrocked Lutheran allowed to remain on call with a “wink-and-a-nod” from his bishop)

1996 Walter Righter (Episcopal Bishop whose heresy trial opened the door for queer clergy)

2000 Jimmy Creech, Greg Dell, Joseph Sprague, and Jack Tuell (Methodist trials to punish clergy who performed covenant services for same-gender couples)

2001 Anita Hill (extraordinarily ordained Lutheran)

2003 Gene Robinson (gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire)

2004 Karen Dammann and Beth Stroud (Methodist clergy put on trial for being lesbians)

2007 Bradley Schmeling and Darin Easler (defrocked Lutheran clergy who were the first to be reinstated)

2011 Scott Anderson (first gay Presbyterian to be ordained following policy change)

2011 Amy DeLong (out, partnered Methodist minister on trial)

2012 R. Guy Erwin (gay professor elected as ELCA bishop)

T minus thirty days and counting

Queer Clergy cover jpg

We are now at thirty days and counting until Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism is launched by Pilgrim Press. If you have paid attention to earlier posts, you are aware that this book is a chronicle of the journey to full LGBT inclusion within the mainline denominations, including the UCC, the Episcopal Church, the ELCA, the PC(USA), and the UMC. The narrative recounts the pioneer journey along twisted paths that have recently reached the downslopes, and the churches have accelerated toward full inclusion.

The book is already available for pre-sale through online bookstores. The list price is $27.00, but the online vendors offer discounts; for instance, Amazon.com is currently offering the book for $24.30 plus shipping. The book is also available for pre-orders through the publisher, Pilgrim Press, and Cokesbury, the bookstore of several of the featured denominations.

As the author, I will offer autographed and personally inscribed copies for pre-order. The price will be $24.00 plus shipping with discounts for multiple copies. Use the order form to the right to pay by credit card. Or, simply send me an email, and I will send you an invoice for payment by check. Direct email correspondence is probably the best method for larger orders. Of course, I will need a mailing address and the name(s) of the person(s) to whom the book should be inscribed.

Queer Clergy to be released

OK, the headline refers to a book title that will soon be published. The book will be a chronicle of the LGBT struggle for acceptance in the church.

In the spring of 2011, I began to research the history behind the journey toward full LGBT inclusion in the mainline, Protestant denominations. From the outset, the book was intended to chronicle the parallel journeys of the United Methodists, ELCA Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and the United Church of Christ (UCC).

I visited with a local UCC pastor, who was an out lesbian, for contact suggestions within her denomination. I already had good contacts within my own ELCA. After a geographical move from Northfield, Minnesota to Arlington Heights, Illinois late in the summer, I visited the Gerber-Hart Library of Chicago which stored archival material from the early days of Lutherans Concerned, the Lutheran LGBT advocacy group. Chicago was also the home base of the Methodist advocacy group known as the Reconciling Ministries Network, and I visited their offices and with early Methodist leaders such as Mark Bowman and Morris Floyd. I took a drive up to Madison, Wisconsin for lunch with Steve Webster and Jim Dietrich. Steve had organized the first gathering of gay Methodists way back in 1974. Rev. Amy DeLong corresponded with me about her recent Methodist ecclesiastical trial.

I began to write, and by thanksgiving, I was up to forty pages. During the winter and spring of 2012, Pilgrim Press offered to publish the book, which then carried the title, Gays in the Pulpit. The pages of the manuscript swelled.

I contacted Dr. Louie Crew, the founder of the Episcopal group called Integrity, and he provided valuable information about the Episcopal journey. Later, I contacted Bishop John Shelby Spong. Many are familiar with his voluminous writings, but fewer know about his own role as the leading advocate for LGBT issues within the Episcopal House of Bishops in the late ’80s and ’90s. Professor James D. Anderson served as the editor of the Presbyterian newsletter, More Light Update, for twenty-two years and had written his own article about the history of the Presbyterian journey. My wife and I had dinner with him near his home in Florida, and he loaned me several boxes of archived newsletters. When I traveled to Cleveland to conclude an agreement with Pilgrim Press in the spring, I also visited with UCC LGBT leadership, including Rev. Loey Powell, who had been ordained in 1977. Later, I visited with Rev. Powell and others at the fortieth anniversary celebration of the ordination of Rev. William Johnson that was the theme of the UCC Coalition gathering at Johnson’s alma mater, Elmhurst College, in the Chicago suburbs. I visited with Rev. Johnson, and he provided valuable background information.

In addition to the UCC Coalition gathering in June, the summer of 2012 also included networking at the UMC quadrennial General Conference in Tampa, the biennial Presbyterian General Assembly in Pittsburgh, the Episcopal triennial General Convention in Indianapolis, and the biennial gathering of Lutherans Concerned, renamed to Reconciling Works, in Washington, D.C.

Throughout the process, key subjects of the story have offered great support and background details. They also fact-checked my growing manuscript. The list of helpful correspondents is lengthy.

Though the manuscript was mostly complete by the end of 2012, Pilgrim Press planned the book for inclusion in their fall, 2013 catalog. Thus, the pace slowed considerably during the first half of 2013, but allowed for the addition of new details and revisions. Pilgrim Press suggested a title change, and after receiving comments and suggestions from many of my sources, the title became Queer Clergy, with the pretentious subtitle, A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism. The most recent manuscript contains common material plus five, separate sections on each denomination; altogether, the manuscript consists of nearly seven hundred pages, including nearly nine hundred end notes.

Pilgrim Press has just announced that Queer Clergy will be released in November, 2013, and they have also designed the book cover, which is included below.


Queer Clergy cover jpg

The UCC and Pilgrim Press

In 1620, a group of dissidents departed England aboard the Mayflower for the wilderness that would become Massachusetts and religious liberty.  Their pastor encouraged them to keep their hearts and their minds open to new ways in the new world because God “hath yet more truth and light to break forth out of his holy Word.”Mayflower in Plymouth Harbor by William Halsall

The Pilgrims had been printers and publishers who incurred the wrath of King James the 1st before they left England.  Twenty years after they established the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a printing press arrived from England, and the first American religious publication was the “Bay Psalms Book” in 1640.

Of course, the religious progeny of the Pilgrims would become a central feature of American educational and religious life.  Three of their earliest colleges became Harvard, Yale, and Dartmouth, my alma mater.  When I attended college, the UCC church in the center of Hanover, New Hampshire was known as the “White Church”—not for racial reasons but because it was painted all white.

The UCC and her predecessor church bodies going back to the Pilgrims boast many “firsts”, including a stand against slavery 150 years before the civil war, support for the Boston Tea Party, the first African-American ordained minister, the first female pastor, and the first gay man to be ordained in 1972.

And, the progeny of those original publishers would continue to offer cutting-edge religious publications  through the centuries.  Three centuries after becoming the first religious press in the colonies, The Pilgrim Press would publish the first book of a young, black minister of the south, Martin Luther King, Jr.  The Pilgrim Press, like all religious publishing houses and the publishing industry generally, has cut back in recent years.  Currently, they are only accepting 15-20 manuscripts annually for publishing.

And, I am pleased to announce that my book has been selected by Pilgrim Press for publication next year.  Gays in the Pulpit will be a look back at the historical journey of the mainline churches toward full inclusion of the LGBT community.  The manuscript is about 70% complete.

UMC leadership structure

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the five, principal mainline Protestant denominations lately (UMC, ELCA, PC(USA), Episcopal, and UCC).  The ELCA is a full communion partner with each of these, and I heard Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefforts Schori speak highly of the Episcopal/ELCA partnership at an Episcopal Diocesan Convention.

Both the ELCA and the Episcopal Church function with a national presiding bishop, a full-time, long term position.  Bishop Mark Hanson, only the third ELCA Presiding Bishop since the denomination was formed in 1988, is nearing the end of his second term.  Presiding Bishop Schori serves out of the Episcopal Headquarters in NYC though she was previously Bishop of the Nevada Diocese.  She is only the 26th presiding bishop in Episcopal history which goes back to Revolutionary War days.

The UCC has a General Minister/President, the Presbyterians have a General Assembly Moderator, and the Methodists have a President of the Council of Bishops who serves a two year term while continuing to serve as bishop of his or her regional body.

At the upcoming UMC quadrennial General Conference in Tampa, delegates will consider revisions to their organizational structure.  Among the proposed changes is the creation of a full-time President of the Council of Bishops without responsibility for any jurisdiction other than the national church.

Would this position be more like the presiding bishops of the ELCA and Episcopal Churches?  “Commenters have called the proposed position everything from a United Methodist archbishop to the denomination’s CEO.”

Click here for full details from a UMC News Service report.