Out of the Flames of Pentecost

Today is the day of Pentecost, the birthday of the church, the day when tongues ‘as of fire’ fell upon the disciples and the church received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

With the fiery inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the disciples began to tell their story, and people of all nations heard them, all in their own language. That morning Peter preached to the diverse crowd, telling the story of God’s love, God’s dream and vision that will be poured out on all, on women and men, on slave and free, on young and old, on citizens of all nations.
On Pentecost, the disciples told their story, spoke of visions and dreams and prophecies.

And over these 50 days of Easter, we have been telling our own stories, our visions, dreams, and prophecies.

Over these 50 days of Easter we have voiced the prophet’s warning to a church that struggles to love all. We have shared the vision of a church that is growing into an ever greater understanding of God’s love for all. We have dreamt of a future church that continues to grow in her ability to love and accept all God’s beloved children.

Over these 50 days of Easter we have heard a multitude of stories.

  • We have heard stories of parents growing in a vision of God’s love that enabled them to love their own lgbt children.
  • We have heard stories of those whose call and gifts for ministry are not accepted by the church, one whose well earned seminary degree was denied, and yet still these storytellers dream of a day when they can respond to God’s call and minister to God’s people.
  • We have heard stories of those who have been through a long and frustrating search before finally finding an Open & Affirming setting in which to minister.
  • We have heard stories of those who were taught by their churches to hate themselves as lgbt persons, yet were able as adults to find the dreamed of place that taught them love for self and others.
  • We have heard stories of straight people who had been cast out for reason of race or gender, ability or ethnicity finally finding acceptance and love in a place they had only dimly envisioned.
  • We have heard stories of relationships once rejected finally celebrated and affirmed.
  • We have heard stories of those who visited an Open & Affirming setting with caution, only to find the joy of how mundane the place actually was.  And that’s the goal, isn’t it?  A place where dreams and visions of God’s love are so common that we no longer need stories of hardship to remind us of the greatness of God’s abundant love.

These stories, these dreams and visions and prophetic calls, have lit a fire under these writers, under us all, to accept the call to God’s vision and dream of love for all.

And these stories abound.  We have collected enough stories to continue past Easter.  With your help, we aim to post stories until our church’s General Assembly in July.

Yet, I must add, many stories are missing. Missing are the stories of those who haven’t discovered a place where the love of God is taught and shared.

In my practice as a psychologist, I have heard too many of these stories.

  • Women and men who live in self hatred.
  • Young people who have been kicked out of their Christian home at the age of 15 for discovering who they are because their church taught their parents that this was a loving act.
  • Men and women who have lived in the closet for decades, and now fear every small step they take into the light of God’s love.
  • Beautiful young people who describe the torture they endured in the name of a cure for their sexuality.
  • Most tragically missing are the stories that will never again see the light of day, the stories of the young people who have taken their own lives, never having heard the story of God’s love for them, never realizing that they’re loved, that they’re valued, that it gets better.

The GLAD Alliance has worked for many years to change these stories, to prevent this heartache, to soothe the suffering and to heal the wounds. And as we have witnessed these 50 days of Easter, many of the stories have now come to places of healing, love and acceptance.

The Alliance has worked hard and accomplished much: we have gathered 115 Open & Affirming churches and ministries, we maintain a presence at General Assembly, we communicate our concerns and work with the Office of the General Minister and President.  Yet, there is so much more to be done, and the volunteers who lead and serve GLAD can only do so much.

One of our writers this Eastertide challenged us with these words:

[Our churches] should come out of the closet … to state up front that we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. [And ] GLAD should take a proactive position to educate all churches in our denomination about the benefits of supporting Open & Affirming more. It is time to call the Christian Church to be a place that welcomes persons of all gender expressions and sexual orientations to the table of God’s grace and to the full life and leadership of the church.

That is why, next week, GLAD will be announcing the call of a full time Executive Director of the Open & Affirming Ministry Program, a full time ministry for the nurture of congregations throughout the spectrum of being Open & Affirming.

The Executive Director will be there to counsel congregations that are just beginning to ask questions about the place of lgbt Christians in their midst; to assist congregations as they educate themselves about the fullness of God’s love for all; to guide congregations to the moment when they commit themselves to being Open & Affirming; and to encourage congregations to think beyond that moment and live more fully into the vision where all are loved and included.

I have accepted the call to this position starting in July, and I am honored and excited and humbled by this opportunity and this challenge.

And I challenge you now to join me in this ministry.

  • First, I call on you to join me with your prayers, prayers for strength and wisdom and patience and courage for all of us.
  • Join me with your stories. It is when we share our stories that we powerfully share our selves, naming the pain caused by homophobia and heterosexism and the joy of knowing God’s love for all.
  • Join me with your leadership. I can guide and provide resources, I can suggest and prod. You, however, know your congregation, know who is ready to start questioning and who is ready to start studying. You can start a book study or run a movie night, moving your congregation one more step on the journey that is Open & Affirming.
  • And I call on you to join me with your financial support. With contributions small and large, GLAD can support this ministry more than ever before.
  • Join me by challenging your congregation to support us. Speak with your church board members and your elders about this opportunity to participate.
  • And join me with your personal contribution.
  • Join in this opportunity and challenge: GLAD is asking for your ongoing monthly support in an amount that works for you: $175, $125, $75, $25 or however you can contribute each month as we work together towards the vision of a Christian Church that teaches God’s love for all.

When we work together we can dream dreams and see visions, we can astonish the nations with God’s love for each and every one.

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For more information about the Executive Director of the Open & Affirming Ministry Program, contact Mark Johnston at [email protected]. He can provide you with details and information for working with your congregation and for helping guide your decisions on how to support this ministry.

Contributions can be made on the web at http://contribution.gladalliance.org or by mail to: GLAD Alliance Inc. P.O. Box 44400 Indianapolis, IN 46244

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Dr. Mark Johnston is currently closing down his psychology practice in Boston, MA in order to accept the call to become the Executive Director of GLAD’s Open & Affirming Ministry program. He has been a member of GLAD for over 25 years and has served the church and the Open & Affirming Ministry Program in a variety of ways: on the first O&A Ministry Program Steering Committee, as the Moderator of the Alliance Council when the O&A Ministry Team was formed, and on the steering committee which created the materials for the Disciples discernment process on the place of lesbian and gay Christians in the church. He currently serves on the Commission on the Ministry for the New England District of the Northeastern Region, and has served on the Northeastern Regional Board and the General Board of the Christian Church.