Over the years, I’ve written about changing laws advancing LGBTQ civil and human rights while observing that such changes don’t immediately translate into the softening of hearts with acceptance or minds being nurtured with understanding. There are several extraordinary examples, however, that can be cited where a change of hearts and minds are slowly, incrementally occurring in the most unlikely places because of prayer and reflection.
Pastor Stan Mitchell of GracePointe in Tennessee is one example. He is one of a growing number of conservatives accepting the Creator’s LGBTQ children, and he’s allowed himself to move beyond comfort zones that have long marginalized LGBTQ people. Pastor Stan gave an hour long sermon recently about Epiphany—experiencing the presence of God in a new way. It is not changing God, but being the recipient of grace, seeing things that were always there, though overlooked.
In the first fifty minutes, he builds a foundation for the final ten minutes which is about the full acceptance of LGBTQ people. If you find it a bit too heavy, start with minute 42 and stay with it.
It’s an extraordinarily poignant, emotional sermon for this man of faith. You see him wrestle with social change and personal challenges to how he once understood biblical teachings. Pastor Stan trembles as he embraces what he now believes is the grace and revelation of God to fully embrace LGBTQ people. In doing so, he acknowledges he will lose friends and members of his congregation. [pullquote]Pastor Stan trembles as he embraces what he now believes is the grace and revelation of God to fully embrace LGBTQ people. In doing so, he acknowledges he will lose friends and members of his congregation.[/pullquote]
He’s learned not to use “always” and “never” with God. Failing to see God’s presence in change is often from our own insecurities and limitations. He refers to a “divine wind” bringing a greater understanding about sexual orientation and gender identity. The pastor calls it a life giving experience through “the art of listening” referring to “conversation” with LGBTQ people as a “holy calling.” Humility, tolerance and listening are among the things that build genuine community. He calls on people to hear “the other.” If we’re open to doing so, we learn and grow.
The Christian church, he says, “should be conversational,” “practically and philosophically.” He tells his congregation, “Full privileges are extended now to you [LGBTQ members] with the same expectations of faithfulness, sobriety, holiness, wholeness, fidelity, godliness, skill, and willingness. That is expected of all. Full membership means being able to serve in leadership and give all of your gifts and to receive all the sacraments; not only communion and baptism, but child dedication and marriage.”
He told the congregation, “whether you ever worship here again, or whether you come back next week happier than you’ve ever been, when all else fails, and love never fails, you are mine and I am yours, and inclusion means that we can live together in agreement and disagreement.”
He added, “But if this stretches you to the point of having to compromise your soul, and you do need to separate, I would be a hypocrite to say I do not understand that, because conversely, my soul has been stretched to the point that if I do not say what I say today, I cannot be here any longer.”
The sermon is raw, honest, beautiful, prophetic, and empowering. You need to hear the sermon, absorb it, and know that hearts and minds do change. Know people who once abused, feared, and misunderstood can love, accept, and respect “the other.”
*Paul is an attorney and seminary-trained priest. He will offer a workshop on LGBTQ spirituality in Albany, NY June 16 at Capital Counseling (www.capitalcounseling.org). Call Jennifer at (518) 464-3813 ext. 117 for more information.