In ‘Shaking the Gates of Hell,’ a preacher’s son examines his church’s culture of silence on civil rights

By Wendy Smith

When John Archibald won the Pulitzer Prize for his Birmingham News columns in 2018, the citation read, “For lyrical and courageous commentary that is rooted in Alabama but has a national resonance in scrutinizing corrupt politicians, championing the rights of women and calling out hypocrisy.” Archibald dismisses this assessment in his questioning and questing book “Shaking the Gates of Hell,” a fascinating blend of family memoir and moral reckoning. “I’m a coward,” Archibald writes. “My pulpit is a pen. It is meant to provoke and to question, but it does not depend on tithes and diplomacy and butts in pews.”

He’s drawing a contrast with his father, a White Methodist minister whose silence from the pulpit during the civil rights struggles’ most violent years troubles his son as he looks back from the vantage point of middle age. “I believe Dad feared losing his congregation,” Archibald writes, “that it was better to have subtle influence than outright rejection.” Methodist ministers who spoke openly about racial justice were sent to tiny churches in remote towns, while his father rose steadily through assignments in northern Alabama to a desirable post in Decatur. There he began to preach more about civil rights — quiet sermons, careful not to alienate parishioners who considered themselves good Christians while ignoring or even condoning the police terror unleashed on African Americans who dared to claim their legal rights.

That seemed too little, too late to Archibald at age 50, when shortly after his father’s death he reread the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s measured but damning words in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”: “I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies,” King wrote in 1963 (the year Archibald was born). Instead “too many . . . have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent.”

Anyone tempted to conclude smugly that hesitancy to make waves or make enemies is a thing of the past — or just of the South — will swiftly be corrected by Archibald: “You can see it today, as then, when protesters demonstrate against police shootings or economic injustice or governmental neglect,” he comments. “The well-heeled moderate calls for order, and peace, and caution . . . the silence persists.”

The Rev. Archibald kept John in Decatur public schools after their court-ordered integration in 1970 and signed up his son for an integrated Cub Scout pack. “Your dad was on the right side,” a Black minister from Decatur tells Archibald, arguing that educating Southern whites was as important as activism on the front lines. Archibald isn’t necessarily convinced. “My parents hammered into their children that all people — all people — were entitled to the love and respect and the justice we took for granted,” he writes. “They were people of goodwill. . . . What if that’s not enough?” His book is an attempt to answer that question.

At first it seems odd that Archibald’s musings about his father’s silence should be intertwined with a loving, often very funny memoir of growing up as the youngest of four in a clan that prized adventurousness and outdoor activity — so much so that “somebody almost died on every one of our camping trips.” But these stories spotlight the contradiction between the Rev. Archibald’s caution about publicly supporting civil rights and the lesson he privately imparted to his children: “Life’s great memories were the ones with the greatest risk.” Archibald’s personal recollections vividly demonstrate the conflicts experienced by people rooted in traditional values during a period of rapid social change, when a liberal interpretation of those values offends their conservative community

This was particularly evident after Archibald’s eldest brother Murray came out in the 1970s. (The man he brought home, who became his husband in 2013, was an Eagle Scout and a fraternity member who played college football.) His parents embraced Murray without reservations, but his father’s sermons were confined to parables about the prodigal son and unconditional love. Archibald admits that he was no more forthcoming about his gay brother when he went to college: “I just never found reason to talk about it . . . that’s the way silence works, I guess. You find good reasons, fine reasons, perfectly reasonable reasons to say nothing at all, to stand for the way things are.”

Archibald’s point is not to beat up ourselves or the people we love over the failures of the past, but to learn from them and do better. Not long before he died, the Rev. Archibald told his youngest son he was proud that he had written about racial injustice in his newspaper columns. “I tell myself it is his blessing to say the things he was never quite comfortable enough to say,” Archibald writes. “I am forgiving of my father. At least he saw all as his neighbors, and helped them as he could. I am less forgiving of the church.”

Archibald left the Methodist Church in 2019 after it strengthened its ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy, bitterly comparing the language used by “traditionalists” with that used in the 1950s to justify keeping the church segregated. Murray remained, choosing their father’s path of working for change from within. Neither decision was easy. Archibald’s honest account of one family’s uneasy journey through the civil rights and gay rights revolutions makes it clear that there are no easy decisions — or answers — when grappling with issues of faith and social justice.

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For Clergy Who Ministered Through the AIDS Crisis Covid is Both Eerily Familiar and Puzzlingly Different

In an eerie foreshadowing of Zoom calls, Tammy Faye Bakker Interviews Rev. Steve Pieters on PTL

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“This is not my first plague.” In 1982, Rev. Steve Pieters was the first minister diagnosed with AIDS in the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), a denomination that lost a third of its clergy to the disease. In 1985, he was the first openly gay man and person with AIDS interviewed by Tammy Faye Bakker on The PTL Club, a Christian TV show and cultural staple of the early Christian Right. Today he’s retired from ministry, locked down at home, and “trying to be of service over the phone and zoom” to people in his church facing another pandemic.

Pieters is part of a unique cohort for whom the current pandemic is both eerily familiar and puzzlingly different. LGBT Christian clergy who ministered in queer communities in the 1980s and 90s are engaging Covid-19 using some lessons learned from AIDS ministry in the years before treatment. They’re also grappling with the spiritual, political, and social lessons we failed to learn in that epidemic; lessons that are re-emerging in this one.

Bishop Zachary Jones re-experienced the feeling of being utterly absorbed in the immediacy of a medical crisis when taking part in the daily ritual of thanking New York health care workers. “While I was banging this tambourine I was like oh my God, I remember what it meant to deal with case after case after case.” Jones, a bishop in the Unity Fellowship, started his work in AIDS and LGBTQ ministry driving Unity founder Rev. Carl Beans to his seemingly endless hospital visits in the AIDS units of 1980s Los Angeles.

Rev. Penny Nixon, who ministered in MCC’s San Francisco congregation in the 1990s, felt bodily memories of AIDS ministry rise in the first few weeks of Covid and then recede in the face of the also-familiar need to put feelings away and get to work. “How we got through the last pandemic,” she said, “it became the reality. You put your head down and you do it.”

For Karen Ziegler, the political parallels have been almost uncanny. She was the pastor of the MCC congregation in Greenwich Village for a decade that spanned the emergence of AIDS. “I realized early on in the Trump administration that it felt like the 80s when Ronald Reagan was elected and then there was this sharp, visible turn to the right,” she said. Part of that rightward turn is the way that AIDS and Covid revealed the often implicit American political calculation of whose lives are valued. The contrast between the anti-gay backlash in the first years of AIDS and the backlash against people of color evident in both epidemics is “helping me to understand that the original lie of America is this white superiority and all the kinds of supremacy that allows some people to think that other people don’t matter. All of that has become so visible.”

There are big differences in the physical and social trajectories of the respective diseases. In its early years AIDS was a very visible disease and, as Rev. Jim Mitulski recalled, an ugly one. Mitulski ministered with Nixon at the MCC congregation in San Francisco. Jones remembered seeing people getting sicker and sicker, week after week. “Death was much slower,” he said. And for all of the losses of Covid, the length of illness, for most, is much shorter and the possibility of survival much greater.

When Pieters was first diagnosed there was no treatment for AIDS. He considered himself lucky to have a doctor who advised “if there’s a one in a million chance that you can survive this, why not believe that you are that one in a million? Just believe that. And act like it.” People with Covid have a much higher rate of survival. “Eighty percent, eighty-five percent will survive this. And that’s a lot easier to believe than one in a million,” he said.

“It’s baffling,” Jones said, “the difference stigma brings to a pandemic.” It’s the most striking difference between the diseases these clergy have noticed. An early AIDS diagnosis was often intertwined with sexuality, sometimes with substance abuse, and always with social shame. Clergy had to minister to all three in addition to the disease. Jones remembers it as a kind of spiritual triage where he was always trying to figure out the most pressing need to respond to in any given case. “There were times that we just didn’t know what we were dealing with until hindsight,” he said. AIDS, recalled Nixon, was “religiously stigmatized in a way this pandemic is not.”

Isolation and aloneness have been challenges of pastoral care and spiritual leadership in both epidemics, albeit in very different forms. In the early years, the isolation of people with AIDS was visceral. Many were socially—and sometimes medically—shunned. The pastoral challenge was to make congregations spaces where people with AIDS were seen, welcomed, touched, and included. Nixon remembered how MCC San Francisco shaped ritual around the experience of AIDS. “[W]hether it’s the men coming with their IV poles coming to church [or] laying on the pews, their bodies were recognized as sacred and holy in that moment. That was a powerful corrective to society. And to religion. And to church.” All the clergy I talked to made church environments that countered the fear of disease by bringing people physically close.

With Covid, Bishop Yvette Flunder notes, the challenge is to keep people connected when the virus keeps them physically apart. Flunder started Ark of Refuge, one of the first AIDS ministries in a black church, in the mid-80s. Today she’s the pastor at City of Refuge, a UCC/Metho-Bapti-Costal church, and leads The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, a global community of churches committed to radical inclusivity. With AIDS, she recalled, people who looked sick were marginalized “because of the position that the church took that if you have this dirty disease you’re a dirty person. But in this particular environment it’s the church that’s the dirty person. It’s [coming to] church that can make church people sick. Which flips the script.” And flips the pastoral task.

Ministry in LGBTQ communities provided at least two tools that have been useful in that new task. One is spiritual grounding in what Flunder calls a “consistent ethics of self care.” “[W]e talked about barriers and condoms back in the day, and safe sex practices. I now talk about social distancing and masks. And for me it’s six in one hand, half a dozen in another. Protect yourself. Be responsible not just for yourself but for your partner. . . .  It’s really not different.”

Another is the skill of ritual innovation, honed in ministry to people whose life passages were not ritually marked in the eyes of the dominant culture. “God didn’t go away” in either epidemic, said Mitulski. “Our ability to craft ritual, our imagination has not dissipated or dried up.” Queer churches have long had to create rituals to counter that exclusion and make the sanctification of queer life feel real.

This has translated into creative experimentation with making virtual church feel real. Flunder’s church has grown since the epidemic. “We’ve had all kinds of ritual online,” she said, including different sacraments from the African-American Christian church and the indigenous spiritual communities that make up her congregation. They’ve also experimented with outdoor rituals. “[We] broadcast through our radios and through cell phones so that we could see each other. . . . We gave people little disposable communion kits and we had communion on the parking lot and blew our horns something fierce… you know, made a lot of noise.”

Like all of us, these ministers are looking toward the time when science and medicine change the trajectory of the Covid epidemic. But they also remember the challenges that change can bring. One is the need to address the compounded grief and loss that can so easily be skipped over in the midst of crisis. Pieters remembers that “when the drumbeat of death slowed down in ‘96, ‘97, there was a palpable feeling of deep depression among a lot of people who worked in AIDS. A deep grief,” which he attributed to losses unattended to.

“Think about all the un-mourned people who’ve died.” Mitulski said. “And the fact that they died in solitude. We’ve got to deal with it or it’s going to fuck people up for a long time.” In a 1999 sermon, given three years after protease inhibitors changed the course of AIDS in his congregation, Mitulski reminded them that AIDS wasn’t over. AIDS still isn’t over. And it fuels his admonition that, if and when the course of Covid changes, we attend to its afterlives. And especially to the enduring inequalities that both epidemics make inescapably clear.

Complete Article HERE!

Out and on the pulpit

— NJ minister seeks to help lesbian clergy find acceptance

Pamela Pater-Ennis

By Deena Yellin

As an ordained minister and clinical social worker for over three decades, Bergenfield’s Pamela Pater-Ennis has grown all-too familiar with what she calls “religious trauma.”

Many of her clients have been abused by clergy, ostracized by religiously  judgmental families, or rejected from their churches when they came out as gay, she recalled in a recent interview.

Faith is supposed to offer a sanctuary from suffering. But it can turn ugly, said Pater-Ennis, 62, who runs an interfaith counseling service with offices in Teaneck and Hoboken. Her mission, she said, is to help people “make sense of it when religion turns bad.”

Pater-Ennis, who was ordained in 1984 in the Reformed Church in America, a mainline Protestant denomination, said she’s both saddened and fascinated by the ways in which religion can cause pain. She recently launched Sanctuary Healing, an online spiritual coaching and therapy program to help clients address such trauma.

That followed the publication last year of “Out In the Pulpit,” her book chronicling the journeys of 13 lesbian clergy who have struggled to reconcile identities as Christians and lesbians. The book grew out of her angst as a straight ally, she said.

The women she profiled were heavily involved in their churches growing up but were shunned when they came out as gay, said Pater-Ennis. They grieved the loss and yearned to return to religious life, but first, they needed to reexamine their own spiritual identities, explore their pain, and find their way to a community where they could be accepted.

Eventually, all of them were ordained.

One of the women featured in the book is Ann Kansfield, now a minister in Brooklyn. During her teenage years, she struggled with suicidal thoughts as she came to the realization that she was gay. An internalized homophobia forced her to keep quiet about her sexual identity, Kansfield told Pater-Ennis.

In particular, she feared revealing her secret to members of the downtown Rochester, New York, church where her family worshipped. It was there that she had found refuge from bullying classmates who tormented her for acting and dressing differently from the other girls.

But at age 18, when Kansfield came out, she was pleasantly surprised by the warm reaction of members at her First Reformed Church. “The congregation loved me the way I was,” she recalled. Inspired by their faith and unconditional love, she decided to become a minister.

Yet after Kansfield studied in seminary for several years, the church declined to grant her ordination, she said.

Expelled from seminary

Other women in the book recounted similar roadblocks. Some were kicked out of churches and seminary programs; others still fear they will be stripped of their religious station. Many struggled for years with guilt over their sexual orientation.

“The issue of homosexuality in mainline Protestant churches is currently considered the most divisive and debated issue,” Pater-Ennis writes. “There appear to be existing attitudes within congregations that prevent the hiring of lesbian clergy. Many of the clergy who sexually identity as lesbians still found that they need to remain closeted to maintain their employment and their ordination status.”

Pater-Ennis has never served in a church but performs her ministry through her counseling service, she said. She’s also involved in Reformed Church leadership in Bergen and Hudson counties and at the Clinton Avenue Reformed Church in Bergenfield, where her husband, the Rev. Mark Ennis, is pastor.

Homosexuality has sparked fierce debates among denominations around the world. Passages in the Bible condemn the practice, which has historically been considered taboo by many houses of worship. The Catholic Church, for example, teaches that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” since they “close the sexual act to the gift of life.”

But views have been shifting. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey of religious beliefs in the U.S. found that 54% of U.S. Christians say homosexuality should be accepted. An increasing number of churches across the country now conduct same-sex marriages and permit the ordination of gay and lesbian individuals.

Several Protestant denominations have been at the forefront. When the United Church of Christ ordained an openly gay man in 1972, it was called a first in the history of Christianity. The Evangelical Lutheran Church elected its first gay bishop in 2013, and the Presbyterian Church welcomed the first openly lesbian pastor in 2012.

But that doesn’t mean the path has been easy for all.

After studying at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey, Kansfield was informed that the Christian Reformed Church in North America wouldn’t grant her ordination because she was an open lesbian. She subsequently was ordained by the United Church of Christ in 2011.

Leaders of the Reformed Church also suspended her father, Norman Kansfield, an ordained pastor who was president of the New Brunswick seminary, for performing his daughter’s marriage to Jennifer Aull in 2004. He was defrocked the following year, but reinstated in 2011.

Outcry over a wedding

“There was an outcry about our wedding which was definitely uncomfortable,” Ann Kansfield recalled. “My dad got fired for performing our wedding…. It was a great sadness for many in our denomination.”

Today, Kansfield is co-pastor with Aull at Greenpoint Church in Brooklyn, where they aim to reach out to the economically disadvantaged and create an inclusive space for all worshipers, she said. Kansfield, who started there in 2003, said she is working on social justice issues as well as running food ministries for the underprivileged.

The congregation “chose me to be their pastor knowing who they were getting” and gave her a home, “where I could be myself in spite of systemic homophobia that is present throughout society,” she said.

By 2015, Kansfield was sworn in as the first female and first openly lesbian chaplain in the history of the New York City Fire Department. She said she tries not to focus on prejudice that might be sparked by her identity.

“I’m sure there is a lot of sexism and homophobia out there but I tend to not look for it,” she said. “If you look for it, it’s very easy to find, and once you find it it can be disruptive and painful.”

Many who’ve experienced prejudice from within their religion subsequently shut the church out of their lives, said Pater-Ennis.

But the author urges survivors to seek counseling from a religious professional to work through those issues and then to return to some type of spiritual realm where “they can find their own inner peace.

“As humans, we crave community,” she said. “It’s in our DNA.”

Complete Article HERE!

‘Queer Bible Hermeneutics’ course at college’s school of theology ‘always well-enrolled,’ professor says

‘Increasingly important research area in the academic field of biblical studies’

By Dave Urbanski

The professor who teaches “Queer Bible Hermeneutics” at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology told the College Fix that her course is “always well-enrolled.”

Susanne Scholz, professor of Old Testament at the Dallas-based school, added to the outlet that “students love to study materials that they have never encountered anywhere else in their previous studies on the undergrad level and at the seminary level.”

What is ‘Queer Bible Hermeneutics’ all about?

The course’s website states that it’s focused on the “influence of biblical meanings on hermeneutically dynamic, politically and religiously charged conversations over socio-cultural practices related to LGBTQ communities.””

The syllabus adds that queer hermeneutics is “an increasingly important research area in the academic field of biblical studies” and that the course will help students “understand the hermeneutical, theological, and cultural-political implications of reading the Bible as a queer text and its effects upon church, religion, and society at large.”

In addition, students will “learn to relate their notions about Christian ministry to the social contexts of today’s world and to engage the social, political, cultural, and theological implications of reading the Bible as part of contemporary debates on marriage-equality and the general mainstreaming of LGBTQ issues in Western societies, including churches,” the syllabus also states.

Origins of the course

Scholz told the College Fix she was inspired to teach the course following a same-sex marriage controversy involving Methodist minister Frank Schaefer who was defrocked for officiating a same-sex marriage ceremony for his son. Schaefer’s credentials later were restored.

“Rev. Schaefer’s situation made me realize that I need to teach my seminary students about queer Bible hermeneutics and to equip them to be intellectually, theologically, and biblically educated on the current debates on the Bible and queerness in the church, in academia, and in society,” she added to the outlet.

Scholz also said LGBTQ issues are a primary issue at the school of theology and in the Methodist denomination.

“Right now our UMC students seem to be rather concerned about the ecclesial situation about gay ordination and gay marriage in the [Methodist church],” she added to the Fix, noting that it’s “breaking the hearts of many UMC members, and our UMC students worry about their ministerial future in light of the decision to disallow gay ordination and gay marriages in UMC congregations.”

In February, the Methodist Church adopted the “Traditional Plan,” which continues to exclude “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordained ministry and prohibits clergy from officiating at same-sex weddings.

However, the Perkins School of Theology responded by saying the decision “in no way changes our institution’s historic stance of inclusion.”

“We are a diverse community that welcomes students, staff and faculty — including those who identify as LGBTQIA — from a wide range of traditions and perspectives,” the school’s statement added. “We see our inclusiveness as both an abiding strength and a positive goal.”

Complete Article HERE!

First same-sex marriage at Anglican church in UK to be held this summer

St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow will conduct wedding ceremony for couple from England, provost says

St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow

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The first same-sex marriage at an Anglican church in the UK is expected to take place in Glasgow later this summer.

St Mary’s Cathedral has become the first in the country to be given permission to conduct gay weddings, a month after the Scottish Episcopal church general synod voted overwhelmingly to allow its churches to host the ceremonies.

The vote resulted in canon law being changed to remove a doctrinal clause stating that marriage was between a man and a woman. On Thursday the Rev Kelvin Holdsworth, provost of St Mary’s, became the first Anglican celebrant to be registered to perform same-sex weddings.

Holdsworth said the cathedral had already had one booking from a same-sex couple in England who could not get married in their local Church of England parish. “We are glad to be able to welcome them and expect there will be many others who will follow them,” he said.

The congregation at St Mary’s were active in the campaign to allow gay marriage in Scotland. “I’m a gay man myself and so initially for me it was about coming out and then, having come out, it was about helping the church to come out,” said Holdsworth.

“The church was always a place that was good for me when I came out. It was a very supportive place and it seemed to me important to get the church to tell the truth that it was accepting about people in same-sex relationships and then gradually members in this congregation started to help in the push for gay marriage.”

Holdsworth said the cathedral was one of the most beautiful church buildings in the country and that the surrounding area was “buzzing”. “It’s a fantastic place to get married,” he said.

Following the vote in June, the bishop Andy Lines from Gafcon, which represents conservative Anglicans worldwide, told a press conference that the church was “not at liberty to tamper with [God’s] words” and that he would offer support to those “who wish to maintain the authority of the Bible”.

Despite opposition within the Anglican church to the Scottish decision, Holdsworth said he had encountered no opposition to the move from the local community. “People sometimes say that support for gay marriage is the biggest change in social attitudes that has ever been measured,” he said.

“People used to disagree with gay relationships quite strongly and now they support them very strongly. All the time as we’ve been pushing for more and more equality, we’ve been seeing people becoming more accepting.”

He said the move to allow same-sex couples to marry in Scottish Anglican churches was not just important to gay people. “I think there are lots of straight people who want to get married in churches that are practising equality,” he said. “I find that the more that I go on about equality for gay folk, the more I get young families coming here because they want their kids to grow up in that kind of church.”

Complete Article HERE!