Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Assault

"I'm going to beat the homosexuality out of you!"

And with those frightening words, I entered the realm of being persecuted for being bisexual. It's been two years, but I still recall that night as if it were today.

I smelled the alcohol on his breath and the dank odor of cigarette smoke. I remember my eyes bulging as his arm squeezed my throat. My glasses warped in its lenses. The adrenaline pumped through me.  My assailant yelled, "I'm going to kick you like a dog in a cage!"

Somehow I recalled the words of Jesus clearly, "You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well." (Matthew 5:38-39 CEB)  Looking back on it, I realize just how difficult those words are to obey.

I started seeing colors swimming in front of my eyes. I couldn't breathe. The only thing I tried to do was to try to pry his arms off of me.

All of the sudden I could breathe. His arms were off of me and he was kneeling a short distance away from me with his hands behind his neck. My glasses couldn't stay right on my face and I gulped huge breaths of air. My neck muscles hurt in ways they never had before.

I looked at him as the police quietly put handcuffs on him and hauled him away.

And with that, my life was forever changed.

I had been walking the borderline of coming out for such a long time. I didn't know how my friends, colleagues, and family members would take it. I had hope that people would accept me. People knew my reputation. They knew my heart. They knew me as a person. I was still the same person. I still love British humor and could recite Monty Python and the Holy Grail from memory. I still had a quirky taste in music and listened to grunge music after playing Gustav Holst. People knew me. That shouldn't change anything. Right?

How wrong I was.

One of my family members, after learning about the assault and what happened to me and why I was attacked, told me, "You know that being gay is a sin. Right, Tim?" I had been assaulted and it was as if I had been blamed for the assault because of my orientation. I didn't even correct them that I am bisexual, not gay.

My Church would accept me. Wouldn't they? After all, we talk about welcoming everyone and loving everyone without discrimination. Then I was told I was terminated with cause as an officer (pastor) in The Salvation Army. My beliefs on LGBT inclusion were a huge contributing factor. I soon realized that they welcomed you at first, but you have to conform in order to belong. If you disagreed with their theology, you were no longer welcome.

Many people in the LGBT community are constantly ridiculed or put down because of who they are or whom they love. People throw verses at me as if this should convince me that they love me and that I am wrong. It reminds me of this comic from David Hayward (used with kind permission):

My story is, unfortunately, not unique. Just this past month, a teenage transgender girl was murdered and her corpse burned. The motives are as, of yet, unknown, but I can only speculate that it was motivated because of hate. I realize that my situation, although not so extreme, is not uncommon.

It is easy to hate those who are different than you. Somehow I believe that Jesus would in no way condemn anyone because of their orientation. Matthew 5 is one of my favorite scripture passages. It has become even more relevant to me in the Common English Bible translation:

If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete. - Matthew 5:46a and 49.

What does love look like? It certainly hasn't been what I've experienced from fellow Evangelical Christians.

Love is my sister not condemning me, but listening to me when I tell her the struggles of being bisexual.

Love is my pastor not even batting an eye when I tell him that I'm bisexual.

Love is watching my friend weep at reading the news of another murder of someone in the LGBT community.

Love is my friends resigning as pastors when they realize that they can no longer in good conscience serve a denomination that refuses to welcome all.

Somehow I think that Jesus would have new words of condemnation for us in this world:

"Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. I was poor and you said I was too lazy to work. I was a refugee from war and you thought I would bring war to your country. I was an immigrant and you thought I would take away the jobs you refused to do. I was murdered by guns and you fought to keep the right to bear arms. I was black and being persecuted because of the color of my skin and you said I should be patriotic. I was gay and you kicked me out of your church."

I remember that night:  choking, gasping for breath, my glasses no longer sitting correctly on my face. I realize now that Jesus was there, too.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

My First Baptism

photo credit: Lawrence OP St John Baptising the Lord via photopin (license)

I was baptized on 11 June 2017. I had never been baptized before.

For those who know me as a Christian, this will sound somewhat preposterous. However, I grew up in The Salvation Army, one of the few denominations that does not observe sacraments. They feel (as I still do) that the sacraments represent an outward sign of the change and relationship one has with God and with others.

While I was at Asbury, the university I attended, I found it quite interesting, listening to Baptists and Methodists argue with each other about how to baptize. Methodists tend to just sprinkle with water while Baptists insist that full immersion was necessary. The seminary I attended, Grace Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Grace Brethren movement, advocate a triune baptism:  full immersion three times, one for each person of the Trinity.

So, when I was asked by fellow Christians how we baptize in The Salvation Army, I normally replied, "We dryclean." (This was normally precipitated by a long discourse about how The Salvation Army was a Christian denomination, despite the military overtones and jingoistic jargon.)

So why was I baptized? Many of you might have been familiar with my long struggle with acceptance in The Salvation Army. Since I started to question some long held tenets of The Salvation Army, I was no longer welcome as an officer (clergy) and a soldier (laity). I had to fight to be transferred to my local denomination. Even though I won the transfer of my membership, it was a bitter victory. I simply did not feel welcomed anymore.

I will grant this to my former officers (pastors): They did try to make amends for what happened and I have forgiven them; however, my beliefs of inclusivity with the LGBT community would not allow me to have a voice anymore in any capacity in The Salvation Army.

So I searched for a Church that would accept me as a bisexual person and where I could grow spiritually. I suddenly recalled a wonderful provocative speech from a Springfield pastor, the Reverend Dr. Phil Snider. I remembered watching this video when I was still an officer in Michigan. I felt that if this person had a congregation so close to me in Springfield, Missouri, then I would definitely want to check this church out.

This was the video I saw:

I came to the Church and was immediately welcomed with open arms. They listened to my story and didn't even flinch or blink when I explained that I was bisexual. When I told them my story, they loved me. All of them.

I told Phil that if ever I were looking to design a Church, it would look exactly Like Brentwood Christian Church.

I tendered my resignation as a soldier of The Salvation Army. That was very difficult to do. It represented my whole life of ministry and upbringing and 4 generations of continual membership in one form or another.

I started playing some of my favorite band music as I grieved that loss, but something better awaited me:


One thing prevented me from being a full member of Brentwood:  I needed to be baptized.  I had never been baptized before. They would have even accepted a baptism from another church. However, since that had never happened to me, I felt that I could do this. The Disciples of Christ also do not believe that the form is necessary for salvation, but that it does represent my commitment to follow Jesus.

One thing I also realized:  the sacraments are extremely important at Brentwood. My conclusion on the matter is this:  since so many of their members had been shunned by other churches, especially those in the LGBT community, they were denied that fellowship through sacraments. To find a church that will allow them to celebrate the sacraments as a full member is life-changing.

So the day of my baptism came. I was nervous. I had no idea what to wear or to do. They thankfully heated the baptismal for me. I was provided with a robe to wear, too.

I may or may not have felt like this little boy getting baptized:

Also, I may or may not have had this song in my head before getting baptized. (Caution, NSFW as it is from the Book of Mormon.)

(The above video might be another reason why The Salvation Army does not perform baptisms.)

In all honesty, though, when the baptism came, I was overwhelmed by what happened.

My children came to witness me being baptized. I was so glad they were there.

Before being baptized, the Reverend Phil Snider introduced me with the following words:

Among many things, baptism symbolizes newness of life, a fresh start, a cleansing of heart, soul and mind from all that tries to take life from us. Tim is being baptized today as a reflection of his commitment to follow in the way of Christ. He's not a new Christian -- He's been a Christian for many years and exhibits deep Christian character. So much so that, a couple of years ago, when he made the pastoral decision to affirm LGBTQ persons, he was told he could no longer serve in the same capacity as a minister in his former church. But we are here this morning, standing with Tim, as we celebrate his Christian witness and his expression of love for all God's people. We celebrate his desire to follow in the way of Christ's unconditional love. And recalling that baptism is an ancient symbol that marks us as Christians -- as followers of Jesus -- and that celebrates our identity as one joined in the life, death, resurrection, and unconditional love of Christ, I now baptize you, Tim, in the name of the Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost.

Despite the water, I began to cry a little after being baptized. I was humbled by the love and acceptance I felt. The acceptance and love that had been denied to me was once again extended to me.

Baptism means more to me than just salvation. It now means love and acceptance.