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Working for the Full Participation of LGBTQ people in the Presbyterian Church (USA) and In Society.
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For the past several months, More Light Presbyterians has been working together with the Rev. Janet Edwards and our friends at the Covenant Network of Presbyterians on an important effort to correct a lingering injustice. We are pleased to announce, with the cooperation of the Board of Pensions, steps toward a solution. But we need your help.

We are seeking to identify the pool of people who were legally married or in legally recognized civil unions (any legally recognized relationship conveying inheritance benefits) and in which the partner who was a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s pension plan died prior to 2013 (the year the plan began offering eligibility for same-sex spouses/partners to enroll in the plan).

Once we know how many people meet these qualifications, we will work with the Board of Pensions and other agencies of the church to identify adequate funding to pay the equivalent of survivor benefits to those who, under today’s rules, would have been eligible. While the Board of Pensions is under no legal obligation to make such payments, they have agreed to administer them if an appropriate funding source can be found.

Please read the letter below and share it with others who might be affected. And if you have any questions—or have suggestions or ideas about providing necessary funding to correct this injustice—contact us at hello@mlp.org. And thank you!

Please Help Us Find Some Lost Sheep:
A Pastoral Letter to the PCUSA

For some time, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA) has been working to reflect in the life of our church the place of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people (LGBTQ) in God’s heart. This is all good. It is also a process.

Situations of LGBTQ people in the church continue to emerge that call us to pay attention and reform in order to embrace LGBTQ people with justice and compassion–the way we want to embrace every child of God.

One such situation has come to light. More Light Presbyterians and the Covenant Network of Presbyterians are asking for your help to identify others for whom we can make this right.

We know that LGBTQ Presbyterians have diligently served God in the PCUSA all along. Before the change in ordination policy in 2011, Chris Glaser and Rev. Janie Spahr had the courage to come out. LGBTQ faithful labored in the church with energy, intelligence, imagination and love. And, as most do, these faithful servants were enrolled in the plans of the Board of Pensions. Their  congregations paid diligently into the plan in support of their enrollment.

And there is a good chance that some of these closeted LGBTQ clergy had beloved long-term partners–spouses in the eyes of God and in our eyes now, too. The most important thing is that they were not known to the church. They were not known to the Board of Pensions.

In 2013, the Board of Pensions began to make this right by including same-sex spouses among those eligible to receive survivor pensions. That 2013 policy has been the date from which they have marked this eligibility.

But LGBTQ people could be legally married a good while before 2013. In the United States, Vermont began civil unions in 2000. They were available in Denmark in 1989.

Unfortunately, the pension fund cannot make regular pension benefit payments for those the plan did not recognize as spouses prior to 2013. But, if another source of funding can be found, the Board of Pensions is willing to administer equivalent payments, as if those spouses/partners had been eligible under today’s rules. Essentially, those eligible for these payments would be survivors (of enrolled plan members) in a same-sex marriage, civil union or domestic partnership that conferred legal rights of inheritance, and in which the plan member died before January 1, 2013.

In order to secure funding within the church, we need to know how many such surviving spouses/partners there are. We have to find them, which is not so easy, which is why we need you!

We need you to make sure that LGBTQ members of the Pension Plan, both ordained clergy and other employees right now enroll their spouses with the Board of Pensions to ensure eligibility for survivor benefits. Please check to make sure the LGBTQ Presbyterian clergy you know have this in place. Please!

And, we need you to help us find the beloved, legal spouses of closeted LGBTQ clergy in the PCUSA who died before the 2013 revision in Board of Pensions policy. These may not be Presbyterian. They likely do not know of this possible benefit. We need to find them to make this right!

We know there is one. Shannon Clarkson and Rev. Dr. Letty Russell met in 1974 and began living together in 1975. In 2005, they celebrated their civil union in Connecticut in a ceremony with friends in their home. In 2007, Letty passed away. Letty began her service in the PCUSA at the East Harlem Parish in 1951. Most likely, payments on her behalf into the pension plan started then, too.

Shouldn’t Letty’s beloved partner of 32 years receive the equivalent survivor benefits? How many Shannons are there out there? We need to know to get this right!

So, please, contact the Rev. Janet Edwards at revjanetedwards@gmail.com if you know of a surviving spouse of LGBTQ clergy who passed away before 2013.

We need your help to find these lost sheep!

Janet Edwards, member-at-large, Pittsburgh Presbytery

Alex McNeill, executive director, More Light Presbyterians

Brian Ellison, executive director, Covenant Network of Presbyterians

 

For years, my work has been grounded in breaking open the doors of the church for queer and trans people, but that hasn’t always translated into opening those same doors for myself out in my community. One of my favorite places to share a meal or have a meeting with community partners is a tiny bodega with the best tamales and pupusas. The owner of the bodega, Margarita, always greets me with a smile when I walk in the door. In a way, Margarita has become an abuela to me. However, I noticed I hesitated before going inside whenever I was there for a work meeting about LGBTQ inclusion. I wondered, if Margarita truly knew about the work I do as a queer person of faith, would she still welcome me?

Recently, I organized a press conference of LGBTQ affirming faith leaders for the Masterpiece Cake Shop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission oral arguments before the Supreme Court. I ordered catering from the bodega for the participants after the press conference. When I rushed inside to confirm the catering order, I blurted out, “do you know what I do?!” Her response was short and simple: “You work with churches and pastors.” Though I worried how she might respond, I knew I couldn’t just leave it at that. I took a deep breath and said, “I work to invite churches to welcome and affirm LGBTQ folks, and to live out that welcome beyond the walls of their congregations.” Instead of judgement or shame, Margarita shared with me that she sees her bodega as a gift from God and that her faith clearly informs her practice to have a door that is open to all. I was so relieved hearing Margarita’s affirmation of me and the work I do.

Realizing how worried I was to tell her about it, and that I was willing to cheapen my relationship to her by not sharing about myself  was terrifying. Working in NC over the past year, I have been inspired by the number of people willing to step up and clearly name LGBTQ inclusion as a practice of faith.  This quote from Gloria Anzaldua, full captures what causes that “knot in the stomach” feeling: “Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants.”

At More Light we are working for a world where no one needs to hesitate outside of the doors of a cafe, or the doors of a church because they know they will be welcomed as their full selves on both sides of that door. As we come to the close of 2017, we are asking for your help. We are so close to our year end goal of  $3000. A gift from you will help us cross the threshold into the new year with confidence! In a moment when the question of “who is welcome” is the subject of court cases, legislation, and administrative action, we are called to be more clear, direct, and explicit in our welcome as people of faith. We are called to overcome the borders we are creating and that are being created in our name. Join us in creating a world that is #OpenToAll.

Support More Light!


In this season of unexpected miracles, of making room where there was thought to be none, and of following a star on an unknown journey, it can be easy to lose sight of the small miracles that happen every day. Some days, the work we do at More Light is about changing policies and changing minds; the big miracles we find as we have faithfully followed in the light of God. Other days, miracles come in the form of a small button.

In my first two weeks working at More Light, I added to our button collection by converting the colors of our standard logo to those of the trans pride flag (pink, blue, and white). After posting an image of the new buttons to social media, a friend from seminary contacted me. She loved the design and asked if I could send her a couple of buttons. She is currently pastoring a church, and has a youth in her congregation who identifies as trans, who she knew would love to have one of the new buttons. I happily obliged. A couple of weeks later, I got an email from my friend, telling me how much the button had meant to the youth in her congregation. The youth wore that button every day until it fell apart. When I was growing up, I don’t think I would’ve had the creative imagination to envision a time in which my identity would’ve been affirmed by the church. It gives me a great deal of hope to know there is a youth out there who was given a trans pride button by their pastor, and that there are young people all over the country who are not only seen, but whose faith communities fully support them in their identity.

Your support has given birth to miracles as big as constitutional change in our denomination, and as small as a simple button that reminds a trans youth they too are a child of God. Your support will help bring More Light to conferences and events in January including: the Montreat College Conference and the Association of Presbyterian Christian Educators (APCE) conference where we’ll offer resources (and buttons!) to hundreds of college youth, and Christian Educators to help foster LGBTQ+ inclusive campus groups and Sunday School classrooms. Last week we set a fundraising goal to raise $3,000 before the end of the year. Can you join us by making gift today? Thanks to so many of you, we are halfway to our goal! Your support makes it possible for us to continue doing the work we’ve been doing for the last 40 years.

Support More Light!


I don’t know about you, but I find myself leaning in to the promise of Advent in a more acute way this year. I sometimes have to dig deep to trust that God’s presence will break into this world yet again. Every time I turn on the news, I hear stories of division and systemic oppression, often affirmed in the name of the same Christ we wait upon during this Advent season. Often it seems the longing for Christ to enter the world can make our need for Christ that much more apparent. I find challenge and affirmation in the words of Daniel Berrigan: So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.

As I reflect on where I find hope in the world, I am reminded of a conversation I had just last month. A teenager approached me after a recent Out of Order screening with tears in her eyes, unable to speak above a whisper. She told me that watching the film was the first time she had seen that it was possible to be her full self as a LGBTQ Christian. Even though she grew up Presbyterian, all she had heard from the community outside of her church while living in Texas is that being LGBTQ was a sin. She left the film more confident in living as her authentic self; the person God had called her to be. I’ve watched the film with 19 audiences in the past year, from Texas to New York, California to North Carolina. I have found so much hope in seeing people from ages 10-90 all across the country see a positive and affirming vision of LGBTQ people of faith, particularly in a year when the dominant narrative in the media has been of so called Christians claiming it to be an act of their faith to refuse service or rights to LGBTQ people. Now, more than ever, I believe More Light has the opportunity to remind people of the hope against hope that Advent brings. And we could not do this without your help.

As the year draws to a close, we need your help. We have $3000 left to meet our end-of-year goal and we cannot do it without you. Help us carry a message of hope into 2018 so we can continue to carry out a positive and affirming vision of LGBTQ people, and be a balm against the vitriol. Step into hope with us.

Support More Light!


Margaret Lindsey, center, holds up a sign during All In for Equality Advocacy Day at the Capitol in March. From The Austin American Statesman

The Supreme Court is about to decide whether religious freedom is a license to discriminate. This deeply troubles me as both an American and a Christian pastor.
[This post appeared in The Houston Chronicle, USA Today, and The Austin American Statesman, and is re-posted here with permission of the author.]

The high court in December will consider the case of a Colorado business owner who refused to sell a cake to a same-sex couple. In that case, Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, the owner has cited his religious beliefs as exempting him from a nondiscrimination law that requires businesses to treat everyone equally.

I and other clergy across Texas are among nearly 1,300 faith leaders who have signed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that it is wrong to allow businesses to discriminate under the guise of religion. Many signers in this state are part of Texas Believes (TexasBelieves.org), a growing movement of religious leaders who support full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people. Of course, this case could affect far more than just LGBT people. Allowing businesses to pick and choose which laws they will obey would open the door to rolling back discrimination protections for virtually anyone.

Earlier this year, two other faith leaders associated with Texas Believes — a rabbi and an African American minister — wrote about how religion has been used in our history to justify discrimination against people like them. After so much progress — uneven as it has been — to end discrimination against Jews, African Americans and others in this country, this Colorado case could turn back the clock.

Consider the possible consequences if the Supreme Court allows a special right of religious refusal to obey nondiscrimination laws. Some extreme religious sects teach white supremacy and anti-Semitism, for example. Should business owners who hold such religious views be given a pass to post signs proclaiming “Whites Only” and “No Jews” at the shop entrance?

Likewise, would be it be acceptable for a restaurant owner to refuse service to people simply because their religion is different from his? Should a factory owner whose religion teaches that women must not work outside the home be allowed to fire or refuse to hire women who do?

Most Americans would rightly answer no to those questions. That’s because we decided long ago as a nation that those who do business in the public marketplace must treat everyone equally.

That’s an important civic and legal principle in America. But more fundamentally, it’s a moral imperative. Discrimination is simply wrong.

But now some are trying to use religious freedom to justify discrimination against LGBT people. They seek to radically redefine this freedom as the right to hurt people to whom they have personal objections. And they want our courts to embrace this cause.
Yet, the stories of my faith are about radical acceptance and compassion. In them, Jesus reaches out to people who society has marginalized and lovingly brings them back into community. Over and over, we are taught to move from places of narrowness to spaciousness, from exclusion to equality. Simply put, we are taught to love as we have been loved. And so as people of faith, we must challenge these attempts to discriminate against the LGBT community, especially under the guise of freedom of religion, so all of God’s children can be treated equally with respect and dignity.

Of course, Texas does not currently have a statewide law protecting LGBT people from discrimination. But some Texas cities do, including Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Plano.

They are among more than 200 cities and 18 states that have already updated their nondiscrimination laws to be LGBT-inclusive. Those laws allow LGBT people to live their lives with less worry that they will be fired from their jobs, evicted from their homes or refused service simply because of who they are or whom they love. But this Supreme Court case puts those protections at risk.

Religious freedom is a fundamental right for all. That’s why we protect it in the Texas and federal constitutions. But protecting people from discrimination threatens no one’s religious freedom. Indeed, treating others as we would like to be treated affirms a central teaching of many religions, including my Christian faith.
As a pastor, I pray that the Supreme Court won’t turn back the clock in this country.

The Rev. Laura Walters is pastor at Presbyterian Church of Lake Travis near Austin.


What can Faith Communities Do to Support LGBTQ Refugees and Asylum Seekers?

Recap from Part 1: On October 20-21, Alex and Jess traveled to New York represent More Light at Love Welcome, a conference on supporting LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers. We gathered with about 65 other folks at The First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York who were interested in learning from and teaching one another on how to best support LGBTQ refugees and asylum sekers. The conference was hosted by More Light in partnership with First Presbyterian Church and other offices from the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., including: Presbyterian Disaster Assistance, The Office of Public Witness, The Office of Immigration Issues, and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.

The goal behind the conference was to bring together agencies working with LGBTQ people and agencies working with refugee populations and to recognize ways in which these ministries overlap, and to begin to map out a model for the best ways congregations can be of support and service. At More Light, we often hear from congregational leaders who have active ministries to both LGBTQ people and refugees, and who want to be a better source of support to both populations but may be unsure how best to do so.

Our first post listed the top 5 things we learned from Love Welcome. Part 2 lays out a list of 5 things congregations can do to support LGBTQ refugees and asylees. 

Top 5 Things faith communities can do to support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers:

1. Connect with organizations doing work to support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers

At the conference we had the privilege of hearing from organizations doing incredible work with refugees and asylum seekers across the country, such as the ones featured below. One of the best ways for congregations to lend their support is through a partner organization who can take the lead on suggesting what specific support is needed.

2. Donate gift cards for people to buy gender affirming clothes upon release from detention.

Typically, clothing donations don’t include clothing and shoes that fit transgender bodies. For example donated men’s pants may be too long or too big for transgender and gender nonconforming people assigned female at birth. Donated women’s shoes typically run from women’s size 8-11, but some transgender women assigned male at birth need at least a women’s size 12 shoe. Wearing clothing that fits your body and affirms your gender identity can literally be a lifesaver. Donating gift cards (such as a Visa or mastercard gift card) is one way congregations can affirm trans idenitites and support LGBTQ refugees and asylees at the same time. The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project works directly with LGBTQ refugees in detention and journies alongside those who have been released from detention. Your church could host a gift card drive and send them to their offices at: 505 8th Avenue #1212 NYC 10018

3. Visit or write letters to people in detention in an ongoing way to be a source of community

There are over 200 detention centers currently operating in the United States with over 40,000 people in detention on any given day. Many people in detention have reported how incredibly isolating it is, and feels like you are cut off from the outside world. LGBTQ people who are in detention may have been fleeing abusive conditions in their families, in their faith communities, or from their government. Those abuses may mean that LGBTQ are cut off from families, faith communities, and from those who share their cultural and ethnic background, which is a source of support other refugees can lean on. Setting up an ongoing visitation or letter-writing project within your faith community can be a powerful way to cut through the isolation and sense of disconnect many LGBTQ refugees feel. While it’s nice to receive a visit or letter once, the most powerful relationships and community can be formed by maintaining a connection with a particular person in detention. Your church has an opportunity to be their lifeline. The organization CIVIC: Ending the Isolation of Women and Men in U.S. Immigration Detention, operates visitation and letter-writing programs across the country. While CIVIC works with people in detention regardless of refugee or asylee status, they are sensitive and responsive to the needs of LGBTQ people in detention.

4. Acknowledge the healing you offer in being a truly inclusive faith community

We heard over and over again that while LGBTQ people seeking asylum in the US have experienced multiple physical traumas and ongoing abuse, the loss of faith and their faith community is perhaps the most devastating. Many people have justified the abuse of LGBTQ people on the grounds of religion (a concept familiar to many of us) and therefore many LGBTQ people seeking refuge in the US also feel abandoned by their Creator. Whether the LGBTQ refugees and asylees come from a Christian background or not, experiencing a welcoming faith community, and hearing from someone who is confident in God’s abundant and inclusive love for all of Creation can be a meaningful and important element of recovery and healing.  

5. Commit to the internal work of being educated as a congregation

While passion for working with LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers is needed for a congregation to get involved, the commitment to learning and educating members of the congregation on the nuances of identities and experiences asylum seekers bring is paramount to providing the most hospitable environment possible. Fortunately, More Light is partnering with Presbyterian Disaster Assistance Office to offer a Teach-In series to equip congregations to work with LGBTQ asylees and refugees. In this series, we will offer tools for congregations on how to best support LGBTQ refugees and asylum seekers.

Keep in touch to learn the dates of our upcoming Teach-In on Congregational support for LGBTQ refugees and asylees in partnership with agencies of the Presbyterian Church, USA. If you are interested in learning more, and want to be among the first to hear when the new teach-in will be launched, just let us know at info@mlp.org.

 


 

Presbyterian Fun Fact

There are about 75 million Reformed/Presbyterian Christians worldwide and about 2.5 million belong to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

 

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