01/29/17

Gay pastor returns to Kenosha after being outed and ousted

First United Methodist Church to publicly apologize

First United Methodist The Rev. Justin Elliott Lowe of Kenosha\’s First United Methodist Church, center, stands with members of the reconciling committee, from left, Jessica DeBoer, Len Wojciechowicz and his wife Laura. The church is welcoming back to Kenosha a gay clergy member who was outed and ousted from the congregation more than 30 years ago.

BY DANIEL GAITAN

The Rev. Kevin Johnson was outed and forced out of First United Methodist Church in Kenosha when he affirmed his gay orientation in 1981.

Now more than 30 years later, the church, 919 60th St., will publicly apologize for its actions during its Weekend of Reconciliation.

Johnson, 63, and his husband, Michael Shear, will travel from Palm Springs, Calif., to Kenosha for the Feb. 4-5 festivities, which will include plenty of preaching, prayer and tears.

“The invitation to host my husband and me was a long time coming. It was welcome, though it will not be easy,” Johnson wrote in an opinion piece published in The Desert Sun, the Palm Springs newspaper.

‘Devastated’

“More years have passed since my dismissal than my age when I first entered the church’s doors,” Johnson said. “Their 1981 rejection devastated my career dreams. I had to build a new life in the business world.”

For 20 years, Johnson said he was separated from his professional calling.

“That hurt badly. But I was never separated from my faith. I always sensed God’s love,” he said.

That helped him co-found Bloom in the Desert Ministries in 2002.

He said this is the first time since 1972 — when the United Methodist Church said, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” — that a local church is reconciling publicly with a former pastor affected by the decree.

News of Johnson’s return has sparked warm headlines across the nation.

“Times have changed, and young gay men are more confident in themselves,” Johnson told the Kenosha News.

Opposition

Official United Methodist Church law prohibits gay clergy, but the Kenosha church is one of a growing number of congregations now fighting it.

First United overwhelmingly voted last summer to identify as a Reconciling Ministries Congregation. It decided to welcome the LGBTQI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Queer Intersex) community, despite official restrictions still imposed by the church’s official disciple book.

“I’m thrilled to be able to come back and spend time with friends and meet new people having an influence on the congregation to be more inclusive,” Johnson said. “I am coming back with a full heart.”

Outed and ousted

The Rev. Kevin Johnson

Johnson said being outed and publicly forced out of a job in his late 20s devastated him.

He said a private conversation with a church member who questioned his sexuality was made public, which triggered the backlash against him.

“For years, it was very difficult for me to be a part of a church organization,” Johnson said.

“It was very difficult for the first decade after. I barely went to church at all. I had lost all confidence in human beings who claimed to be loving persons in the Christian church.”

Although Johnson made a career in business around the turn of the millennium, he felt called to launch his own ministry.

Bloom in the Desert Ministries in Palm Springs is designed to be a safe space and sanctuary for anyone experiencing spiritual abuse and religious discrimination related to gender identity, sexual orientation or ethnic heritage.

“I hope other churches who dismissed pastors for this very reason will do the same thing and decide that they want to be reconciled with the people they wronged in the past,” Johnson said.

Johnson left the Methodist Church and joined the United Church of Christ.

Accepting all Christians

The Rev. Justin Elliott Lowe, pastor of First United, said he is proud of his congregation for its support of Johnson.

Lowe said homosexuality and Christianity are not incompatible, so reaching out to this community is honoring Christ.

“I think the whole idea of sexuality in the Bible and what kind of gets explained as the ‘Christian’ understanding of sexuality isn’t quite accurate and isn’t quite theologically grounded,” Lowe said, adding that the Bible fails to offer a clear-cut set of teachings regarding sexuality, gender and even marriage.

He said the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality are far more complex than a sound bite or single verse pulled out of context during Sunday service.

“People just say ‘(homosexuality) is in the Bible; here’s what it says,’ when there are so many layers and things are misinterpreted between Greek and Hebrew to English,” Lowe said. “You can be a Christian and be gay — and practice your sexuality.”

At the core of Christianity, Lowe said, is a spirit of radical reconciliation.

Welcoming everyone

Jessica DeBoer, a member of the church’s Reconciling Committee, said the church has made a commitment to welcome everyone as equals.

“It’s very exciting,” DeBoer said. “I think as more people know about it, it will help bring people in. It’s really important that we welcome everybody.”

DeBoer said few members of the church were around when Johnson was forced out, but the “wound” remains in the minds of many.

“This is absolutely a huge part of our past as a church family,” DeBoer said. “It was the elephant in the room, especially now that we have openly become this accepting congregation.”

Complete Article HERE!

12/10/16

Acitivists protest Vatican reaffirmation of gay priests ban

Activists for LGBTQ rights clap back at the Vatican’s decision to reaffirm its opposition to gay priests. The decision was made clear in a document on the priesthood by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy, disappointing those who saw in Pope Francis a more inclusive approach to homosexuality.

 
By Josephine McKenna

Pope Francis (second from right) arrives to lead a mass for the Jubilee for Priests at St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on June 3, 2016.

A Vatican decision to reaffirm its opposition to gay priests has angered activists who thought Pope Francis was changing Rome’s attitudes toward homosexuality.

In a new document on the priesthood, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Clergy reiterated a 2005 statement declaring that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” or those who “support the so-called ‘gay culture’” cannot be priests.

“Pope Francis has a lot of explaining to do by approving the newest Vatican instruction,” said Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, which campaigns for LGBT rights in the church.

“Francis’s famous ‘Who am I to judge?’ statement in 2013 was made in response to a question about gay men in the priesthood,” DeBernardo said. “That response indicated very plainly that he did not have a problem with a gay priest’s sexual orientation.

“It’s not too late for the pope to retract this document.”

The new document noted that the church’s policy on gay priests has not changed since the last Vatican pronouncement on the subject in 2005.

Many have been hoping for a new approach from the church toward gay priests because of Francis’s statements and the fact that he has gay friends and has spoken against bias toward gays.

The pope has even used the label “gay” rather than the more clinical term “homosexual” that many church officials view as less likely to appear to approve a gay orientation.

“This document is extremely disappointing in its approach to gay men called to be priests,” said Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, an organization of Catholics committed to equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

“These guidelines are a tremendous insult to the thousands of gay men who have served and continue to serve the church with honor and dedication,” she said. “They undermine decades of commitment by these men, and they fail to acknowledge that God calls a great variety of people to the priesthood.”

The document, titled “The Gift of the Priestly Vocation,” was published on Thursday, December 8, but was posted online earlier. It covers many aspects of the priesthood, only touching on the subject of sexuality on a few pages toward the end of the lengthy report.

It includes several quotes from Pope Francis and excerpts from the writings of St. Pope John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

The document says that “the Church, while profoundly respecting the persons in question, cannot admit to the seminary or to holy orders those who practice homosexuality, present deep-seated homosexual tendencies or support the so-called ‘gay culture.’”

It says such people are “in a situation that gravely hinders them from relating correctly to men and women.

“One must in no way overlook the negative consequences that can derive from the ordination of persons with deep-seated homosexual tendencies.”

In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican daily newspaper, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, head of the Congregation for the Clergy, said the guidelines for training priests needed to be “revamped” to take into account developments in society and the pope’s concerns about the priesthood.

He said special attention was given to Francis’s concerns about “temptations tied to money, to the authoritarian exercise of power, to rigid legalism and to vainglory” among clerics.

The document also emphasizes the need for dioceses and religious orders to guard against admitting potential sex abusers to the priesthood.

“The greatest attention must be given to the theme of the protection of minors and vulnerable adults,” the document says, “being vigilant lest those who seek admission to a seminary or a house of formation, or who are already petitioning to receive Holy Orders, have not been involved in any way with any crime or problematic behavior in this area.”

Complete Article HERE!