Human Rights Campaign Faith Forum at Beloved July 22, 2014

Above: Beloveds marched in Birmingham Pride, 2014

Above: Beloveds marched in the Central Alabama Pride Parade, June 2014

By Greg Garrison

Published on July 23, 2014 at

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama - Lauren, 23, stood up in the middle of Beloved Community Church in Avondale on Tuesday night, holding her Bible. “I’m a lesbian,” she said. “I really didn’t want to be gay.”

She hasn’t told her family or anyone at the non-denominational Bible church she attends. “I knew that wouldn’t go over,” she said. “I go to a literalist church.”

Her mother found out by reading her email. “My mom told me she still loves me no matter what,” Lauren said. But when they had a talk about Lauren having a sexual relationship with another woman, her mother said, “Do you know how disgusting that is?”

Lauren said she had been reading the Bible and been bothered by a passage, Leviticus 25:46, that had nothing to do with homosexuality. She read it out loud: “You can bequeath them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life .”

The group of clergy leading a panel discussion on religion for the Human Rights Campaign nodded in understanding. “They say they believe everything in the Bible,” said the Rev. J.R. Finney, an openly gay minister who is pastor of Covenant Community Church. “But if you ask them about certain verses, they say, ‘That doesn’t apply to now.’ When did God change his mind? Who decides when he changed his mind?”

He said he once did a reading in church of an erotic passage from the Song of Solomon, then asked, “How did you enjoy your reading from the Bible?” People were stunned it was a Bible passage. “People don’t look at all of it,” Finney said.

The Rev. Kevin Higgs, pastor of Sylvan Springs United Methodist Church, asked Lauren to consider moving to a more accepting church. “You do not need to support an institution that is trying to destroy your spirituality,” Higgs said.

A Catholic school teacher spoke up, saying she chose to stay in her church and teach her children to be open and accepting of all people.

“You are comfortable where you are,” Finney said to the teacher. “If you’re comfortable in an institution and want to change it, praise God.”

As for Lauren, “this is oppression for her,” Finney said. “That’s very different.”

More than 50 people had gathered for the discussion of increasing awareness of gay rights in churches in the South, part of the Human Rights Campaign’s $8.5 million Project One America.

“Telling our stories makes such a difference,” said Sharon Groves, director of the Religion and Faith program for the Human Rights Campaign, who moderated the discussion.

The Human Rights Campaign did a recent survey of 1,200 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the South and almost half of them said they are people of faith, including 60 percent of black respondents. More than one in five has experienced harassment at their places of worship, the survey said. Joseph Ward, Project One America Faith and Religion associate director, read some of the personal responses from the survey of religious people in the South who said they were persecuted.

One said that when she was 15, she told her father, a Southern Baptist minister, that she was a lesbian. “He beat me to the point of cracked wrists,” she wrote. The beatings continued to the point her mother divorced him, she added.

Another wrote that when he was 17, his parents were cruel and tormented him when they found out he was gay. He tried to move into a Christian shelter for protection, but was turned away because they didn’t approve of his homosexuality, he said.

Groves shared another story, from Minnesota, of a boy who said he told his father at 15 that he was gay. “You know where the gun is and you know what to do,” Groves said the father replied.

Higgs, who took part in a United Methodist commission that studied homosexuality and presented a report that was rejected by the denomination in 1992, said the study concluded that gays had been treated poorly by the church, and instead should be welcomed and affirmed. “They are our brothers and sisters,” Higgs said. “We should recognize them and love them as our neighbors.”

He said that is the overwhelming message of the New Testament, not the proof-texting that some Christians use to argue based on certain passages out of historical context. “How are we going against the Bible? That’s always the first stone that’s thrown at me,” Higgs said. “We’re really not.”

Even those who agree that the Bible teaches love and welcoming to all sometimes argue that accepting gays will hurt the church, he said. “It makes me angry,” Higgs said. “They say we can’t do this because we’ll lose money and the church will close. We’re following Judas rather than Jesus. We’re following 30 pieces of silver rather than picking up and carrying the cross.”

See also: Gay rights group wants less hate, more welcoming churches: meeting in Birmingham talks about how


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Across the Tracks: a look at gentrification in Avondale

Three of our Beloveds were recently featured in this short documentary by UAB Media Students focusing on gentrification in our Avondale community.

We hope you’ll watch and perhaps learn something new, or will have your own experiences to share. Please let us know what you think in the comments!

Across the Tracks by Rebecca Graber and Harsh Shah from UAB Documentary on Vimeo.

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Holy week reflection

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” -Philippians 4:12-13

The Covenant Prayer of John Wesley (1703-1791)

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

From Adam Hamilton, Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White (Nashville: Abingdon, 2008), page 232. In his footnote to this prayer Hamilton directs readers to The United Methodist Hymnal (Nashville: The United Methodist Publishing House, 1989), p. 607

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Holy Week Reflection from Palmer Maxwell

“And they all left Him and fled.”
Mark 14:50

With All Our Confusion Around Us

This is where we begin when we begin to know
The content of your love contains our gratitude as well as our groan.
With all our confusion around us you love us
Turning our pattern of chaos into a dance
Turning our indigence and disobedience
Into something we are not ashamed to own.

All we have been shown about you
Shows us you honor all we are and ever were
Because this too was dearly won through pain and loss
When my infamous “no” became your infinite “Yes!”
Now I too have become a brother to one thought lost
Now I too share in the poverty of your cross.

From the vantage point of having no advantage
You have shown us another way
A way that cannot not include you and me.
A way that cannot not include the confusion all around us.


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Holy Week reflection from Cedric Rudolph

I’ve been thinking a lot about Skeleton Woman.

Clarissa Pinkola Estés retells the Native American myth of skeleton woman very well.  Basically, a lonely fisherman pulls in the twisted ghoul of a woman’s body on his line rather than a fish.  She follows him all the way into his ice-house where he dives, shaking, into a corner. After a while, however, he takes pity on the woman and begins to sing her bones back to life.  Nana-uh-nana-uh-nana-uh-nana, he sings.  When a tear falls down his face, Skeleton Woman drinks it up.

Her bones rearrange themselves, muscle takes hold, and so does skin.  Suddenly, she’s a full-fledged woman in front of him.

Estés uses the story to describe how, in order to have longevity in any relationship, you must love your partner when things are bare, as well as when the relationship is fun and romantic.  Your partner may need time to themselves.  Two people may not talk as much as in the past.  Estés says that every relationship-and life itself, for that matter-has a life-death cycle.  Sometimes things are fertile, and sometimes things are barren.

I’ve been turning this story over and over again in my head.  At Pilgrim, right now, we’re working on finding a permanent pastor.  Things are different and sometimes don’t feel as comfortable as they did when we had our interim, Sally Harris.  In my personal life, my grandmother has Alzheimer’s, and my mother and I are in a sort of a holding pattern until we can get more help.

Why is it so hard for me to see right now that things will get better in my life?  I may be in the death part of a cycle, but the rebirth is on its way.  I give myself credit for hanging pretty tight with old Skeleton Woman. I use humor to add some levity to bad days.  I meditate if I’m frustrated, or confused.  But sometimes, it’s hard to see that Skeleton Woman’s skin will come back to her.

There was a six-month period when I was out of a job.  I was really down.  Some days I would just burst into tears.  One morning, I was lying in bed, and I remembered something Marianne Williamson had said about applying the three days Jesus was in the tomb to the problems in our lives.  You may be in the “three days,” but help is on the way.  When I remembered the phrase “three days,” I sat straight up in bed and stopped crying. I started smiling.

-Cedric Rudolph

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Lenten reflection from Carmen Maria Austin

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads  me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff–they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell inn the house of the Lord my whole life long.”
Psalm 23 

“Neither do I condemn you.”  – John 8:11

How sweetly, simply these words fall from the lips of Jesus.  Often we’re braced to hear the opposite from God.  Perhaps that’s what keeps us from approaching Him at times.  At other times, like the would-be stoners of the adulterous woman in the Gospel, we might be expecting him to judge others-those we’ve already judged and found unworthy-and then taken aback when he doesn’t.

The 23rd Psalm promises quiet waters, comfort and guidance, a table laden and a cup overflowing unconditionally.  Not because we never fail, but because His love never fails.

When He extends mercy, can we receive it? As it flows freely to us all? Can we walk together by those waters?

Merciful one, open me to the goodness and loving kindness that infuse my life, and let me become a bearer of your peace.

(Mary Marrocco, Living Faith volume 30 Number 1)

-Carmen Maria Austin

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Lenten reflection from Leah Clements

“Jesus returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ he said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Once more he went and prayed. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him. Returning the third time, Jesus said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! let us go! Here comes my betrayer.’” -Mark 40:37-41

To me, good phrases always come in three’s.

My grandmother and grandfather coined “heavy, deep and real” moments and since learning it myself, I have had many conversations with both of them about those moments in our lives. Repeated phrases like ones we sing every Sunday or recite to ourselves can be helpful reminders of important things to look out for. They can help train our memory.

I found myself the other day quite flustered with various life events all happening at the same time. Or at least it certainly felt like everything was crashing in one by one as I stood in my room trying to freeze them away. Of course, that didn’t work. But then a phrase, a good ‘ol three-word phrase came to me.

“Listen. Pay attention. Stay awake.”

I was able to breathe, first, and listen to my fears which were running around like they owned the place. Then I paid attention to the facts of each situation, one by one. Which meant I didn’t get to each and every situation I was ruminating over, of course. But I also decided to “stay awake” instead of running away from them altogether. And because I did that, I knew that in those other situations, when I came up to them again, I would be able to:

“Listen. Pay attention. Stay Awake.”

Isn’t that what Jesus asked of his disciples when he was praying in the garden? Isn’t that what God asked Adam and Eve while they were staying in the garden?

May we listen to the voice of God resonating through beautiful spring days, good soul music, or the living words of our Scriptures.  May we pay attention to the details of grace and frustration. And may we stay awake to wonder and pain which will come as surely as the presence of Jesus beaconing us to new life in the midst of it all.

-Leah Clements

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Lenten reflection from Nancy Sales

Hymn: “Before Your Cross, O Jesus”

Author:  Ferdinand Q. Blanchard, 1920, alt.

1.     Before your cross, O Jesus,

our lives are judged today;

the meaning of our eager strife

is tested by your way.

Across our restless living

the light streams from your cross,

and by its clear revealing beams

we measure gain and loss.

2.   The hopes that lead us onward,

the fears that hold us back,

our will to dare great things for God,

the courage that we lack,

The faith we keep in goodness,

our love, as low or pure,

On all, the judgment of the cross

falls steady, clear, and sure.

3.     Yet humbly, in our striving,

we rise to face its test.

We strive the power to do your will

as once you did it best.

On us let now the healing

of your great spirit fall,

and make us brave and full of joy

to answer to your call.

I might not always choose this hymn to share, but it spoke to me particularly in Lent.

In this hymn I am most lifted up by the final 4 lines. The thought of the spirit’s healing being poured out on us, bringing forth joy and boldness,  gives me such a full heart I can’t help but burst into a broad smile whether anyone is around or not!

The “measure” of “gain and loss” sounds potentially discouraging, but perhaps that’s a source of “the hopes that lead us onward” as well as “the fears that hold us back”. Those fears and that timidity! They are not God given.

Earlier in this Lent I heard and saw several references to our need for faith and courage in responding to the visions God has for us. It came up in the children’s lesson with Abraham and Sarah being good models in leaving their homeland for a place known to God but not to them. I also remember Reverend Wright challenging Beloveds in a sermon preached before the roof damaging storm, to listen for God’s message and  be prepared to step out of our comfort zone in order to fulfill the work God has for each of individually and for us collectively.

Thus I pray,

God, you know our strengths and weaknesses, reinforce and undergird the love we know, that all those whom we meet may also know that love and share it as they are called to do.


-Nancy Sales

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Lenten reflection from Robyn Hyden

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Barry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.

And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card

and shut away in a little drawer.

When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Poet, essayist, farmer, and novelist Wendell Berry was born on August 5, 1934, in Newcastle, Kentucky. 

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Lenten reflection from Peggy Johnson

Lent is a great time to think about all our relationships.

This is a  “tool”  that works for healing relationships. Read it out loud several times every morning and night or whenever you can. Plug in the person’s name you want to improve your relationship with.

My experience is either it will improve, or the emotions are neutralized.

My Commitment:

___________I promise to TRUST you enough to tell you the truth and treat you LOVINGLY, gently and with respect, in my thoughts, words and actions, whether in your presence or not.

___________In every interaction I will look for and acknowledge the highest and best in you as I surrender to LOVE, our true nature.  My connection to my Source and nurturing my relationship with you will always be more important than any issue.

___________If anything unlike LOVE comes up, I will hold us in my heart and listen as we each learn to speak, experience and beRESPONSE-ABLE for our own realities. I will be there, for and with you, keep communication open and keep LOVE conscious, active and present


Written by Dr. Michael Ryce. Shared with his permission.

-Peggy Johnson

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