News from AllianceQ: December 2017

Where We Came From

Rev. Bob Shaw, new AllianceQ Council Member, shares this letter he wrote back in December of 2000. Here’s how Bob describes the letter today:

This letter was a letter of introduction to the congregation of Northeast United Church of Christ in Indianapolis., an ONA [ONA is the UCC’s sister program to our O&A Ministry Program] congregation since about 1990, the first in the Indiana Kentucky Conference of the UCC. The elders, serving as the search committee, had decided to call me to be the interim. The congregation was about 60% LGBT folks and there was some anxiety about who the new interim pastor really was, and the elders suggested I write a letter of this sort.

I had lost track of my friend Dick several years earlier. We reconnected at the GA in 2001, thanks to Dick Hamm who was also our mutual classmate. Dick MacAfee lived courageously with HIV for several years after that and eventually died of HIV-Aids related causes.

I sometimes use a communion meditation suggesting that we are united at the table with our brothers and sisters in Christ not only everywhere, but also “everywhen”. It is always Dick and my own mother who are first in my mind when I have this thought.

As we work for the day when all are welcome and letters such as this are no longer needed, here’s a reminder of where we’ve been and the road that we are still traveling.

Dear Friends:

Our elders have asked me to give you some information on the importance to me of what we today call “open and affirming” issues in the Church. I would like to give you a bit of personal history relating where I came from and how I became awake to this subject.

I am 53 years old and grew up in Louisville, Ky. At the time and place of my youth and early adulthood, issues related to homosexuality were simply not discussed. I grew up quite naïve on the subject. Any gay or lesbian people in my life were so deeply in the closet that to this day I do not know who they were. I admit that I found some “queer” jokes funny, but they also made me a bit uncomfortable. It just didn’t seem right.

During seminary years (1969-1973 at CTS in Indianapolis) the subject became more important. We talked about civil rights; we talked about the liberating power of the Gospel; we talked about God’s love and Jesus’ sacrifice for all people no matter who they were. Most of my “liberal” classmates and I were willing to bear witness to our belief that homosexual people (we did not say “gay” and “lesbian” comfortably 30 years ago) were included among those whom Jesus loved and for whom he died. Even so, at that point in my journey these conversations were pretty much theological and academic exercises.

Sometime after seminary (1976 I believe, but I can’t remember exactly) I learned that Richard, one of my close friends in seminary had come out of the closet as homosexual. He had lived in distress for years, trying to convince himself he was not gay, then trying to change himself, and finally concealing his gayness. In sharing his own soul searching, he confided that he had endured pain for many years, and had caused pain to others as well, particularly his wife.

Dick was a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister who worked for our denominational publishing house in St. Louis. Upon coming out, he was fired immediately. I spent several long distance hours on the phone with him and with other trusted friends as I tried to be loving and helpful to him, and at the same time sort out my own feelings.

Suddenly it wasn’t theoretical anymore. All of this stuff, from the “queer” jokes of my youth to the discussions in seminary, now had a name and face on it! It just wasn’t the same. Here was someone I knew and knew well, even loved. I understood his values. I deeply respected his intellect and spiritual depth. After all these years I still consider Dick one of the most critical theological thinkers I have known. He had a sensitivity in studying and interpreting Scripture that allowed him to see things other people don’t see.

The next time I saw Dick was at the General Assembly of the Christian Church the following summer. He saw me first in a mob of people, yelled loudly, and ran across the room to grab me. We hugged a long time. I admit that I had wondered just a bit if I would be OK with really warm physical contact, but I forgot about it in that moment and never really thought about it again. It felt right and comfortable.

Dick was a good friend, a dedicated Christian, and a highly qualified ordained minister who was treated badly and was deeply hurt by my church. For me, that week at the assembly was the right time to become not only involved, but visible. There were major resolutions at the assembly that year relating to inclusiveness. I became a bit more high profile than suits my basic personality, and even spoke on the floor three times with some 5000 people in the hall.

Two years later our assembly was in St. Louis, and the same issues were hotly debated again. One evening after the sessions, Dick, who still lived in St. Louis, invited some 25 to 30 people (some gay, some straight, all supportive) to his apartment to talk and just be together. There was much talk of anger, hurt, frustration, and faint hope. At some point we started asking the question whether there would be a place in our denomination for some kind of advocacy group supporting gay and lesbian people and the issues important to them.

Several years later the GLAD (gay, lesbian, and affirming Disciples) Alliance was established. Today it is a recognized and influential (though still unofficial) part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I am proud to be a charter member.

In the fall of 1999 at our General Assembly, GLAD celebrated its 20th birthday. It seems that that meeting in Dick’s apartment in 1979 is considered the birthday. At the GLAD banquet that year they asked those who had been present at that first meeting to stand and be recognized. When I stood up, my daughter (who still has not heard all my stories!) looked up at me with a surprised expression I want to remember forever. Her comment: “I didn’t know you used to be interesting!”

There will be more stories as we get to know one another better, but I can only put so much in one letter. I hope this gives you some idea about why I count it such a privilege to serve a congregation such as this one.

Peace to all

Bob