Charting the Future of Ministerial Ordination for LGBTQ People: When the Unthinkable Becomes Commonplace
(Note: This article first appeared in the Huffington Post on June 11, 2014. The original posting can be accessed here, and we encourage you to do so.)
A quiet revolution is taking place in once anti-LGBTQ denominational circles. Women and men who are widely known to be openly partnered and “practicing” queer people are being ordained as ministers in churches once ardently opposed to the ordination of gays and lesbians—and are being celebrated for it. The recently unthinkable is becoming commonplace, and none too soon.
Late May and June is prime ordination season, with Pentecost Sunday as the day of choice for many. Graduation Day has come and gone by then in seminaries, and Ordination Day approaches. In Texas, the storied “buckle on the Bible Belt,” this season I have watched as several recently authorized women and men knelt for the laying on of hands in their sponsoring congregations, and their same-sex partners have participated in the ordination of their beloved spouses as openly and joyously as any traditionally married partners would: attending the service, organizing the reception, and in some cases participating in the liturgy itself. Denominational officials presiding at these ordinations are seemingly as happy to carry out their duties at these LGBTQ ordinations as they are for those of their “straight” ordinands. What a difference a year or two makes!
Make no mistake about it: the genuine acceptance of LGBTQ candidates for ordination in traditional and mainline contexts is revolutionary. Though closeted gay men have been ordained for generations, and more recently closeted lesbians as women’s ordination came online, stigma often haunted any clergy person suspected of being a member of the sexual minority. Not long ago, authorizing boards were battlegrounds. Gay and lesbian candidates for ordination were rejected outright, and anyone already ordained by “don’t ask, don’t tell” systems who was perceived to be “different” was subject to church trial and defrocking. The bittersweet evidence of this sad history is on display at the Shower of Stoles Project, where over a thousand liturgical stoles and other sacred items of those defrocked and hounded into exile are archived in testimony to the injustice aimed at LGBTQ clergy. Today’s spirit of openness is unprecedented. Though some ordaining boards are still rejectionist, each year the evidence mounts that once-ostracized queer people are moving from the periphery of their religious groups into leadership positions. The outrageous, wasteful loss of gifted religious leadership based on heterosexist, homophobic, and transphobic prejudice may be finally nearing its end for many traditional Protestant communions.
Of course, there are exceptions, like the struggle now taking place in the United Methodist Church. But the prophetic leadership of the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalists, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Alliance of Baptists, and, of course, the Protestant Episcopal Church is demonstrating that just as women’s ordination caused none of them to collapse, just so, the ordination of LGBTQ women and men of faith strengthens the communions to which they belong. Even the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is coming on board quietly now, region by region. Though Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy seem unmoved by ordination developments among Protestants, their hierarchies are monitoring what is happening for queer folk as closely as they have watched the ordination of women, one of the great movements of the Holy Spirit in late 20th and early 21st century ecclesial life. Surely, the “Grandmother” of all LGBTQ ordaining bodies, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Churches (MCC), must be smiling at these developments.
I wrote a book about ordination to Christian ministry in 2004 when the open ordination of lesbians and gay men was virtually unheard of, save in one or two denominations. The Bad Ol’ Days of secrets and ambushes over sexual orientation and gender variance were awful to live through. So much hurt and needless pain! Now, however, with the advent of a new day in ordination, anyone called by God and willing to prepare for a life of service in the church has a shot. Today, I celebrate what is coming to be, not what once was, and I live in hope of a clergy more realistic, faithful, and humane than I once knew. LGBTQ sensibilities have never been the most distinctive or predominant qualities of who queer clergy were, as important as sexual honesty and orientation are in anyone’s life. The “Otherness” of gay people is a gift to the church’s ministry, among the many gifts bestowed by the One Spirit, as L. William Countryman and M.R. Ritley said in their book, Gifted By Otherness. The obvious gifts of effective ethical leadership, compassion, courage, intelligence, skill, and devotion to God have always been what really counted in the formation of clergy. Now that the noisy clamor of bigotry in North American Protestantism and culture is dying down, the churches’ ordaining bodies are more able to discern how often LGBTQ people display the true ministerial character that the 21st century church so desperately needs. While we must never forget the struggles that have brought us to this new era, we do not need the distraction of placing blame for what has been. Instead, straight and LGBTQ people must chart the future of ordination from this time forward, together.
Today’s ordination of LGBTQ women and men, though officially unobtrusive, is a welcome antidote to the old toxic hatreds of the past. As these gifted ordinands take their places among their peers in ministry, the presence and witness of LGBTQ clergy will become less remarkable and more commonplace. Oh, how I welcome that development! But until the old has fully passed away, and the new is fully come, I cannot help pausing to reflect, to remember the pioneers who brought us this far along the way, and give thanks for the colors of the rainbow. For “there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone” (1 Cor. 12:4-6, NRSV). ~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Founder and Director of The Unfinished Lives Project
Fresno, California – Two gay men well-known in Fresno as drag artists say the arson attack on their vehicle was a hate crime solely because of their sexuality. Local law enforcement authorities are investigating the possibility that they are right. ABC Action News 30 reports that Brandon Jackson and his partner Chris Ruiz rushed to stop the fire that had been set to their SUV, but too late to save thousands of dollars of wigs and costumes they use in one of the most successful drag shows in Fresno County.
Ruiz told Fresno County Sheriff’s Deputies that as he ran out of the house to help douse the flames consuming their vehicle, a former lover of his partner’s mother confronted him with a torrent of anti-gay slurs. According to Ruiz, Chuck Bullock Jr. yelled at him, claiming to have set the blaze, “I’m lighting your f***ing car on fire f****t!” Jackson and Ruiz also say that Bullock, whose father was a Christian minister, demeaned them with a flood of Bible verses, condemning them for being abominations. The use of anti-LGBTQ slurs is a prime marker suggesting that the attack was bias motivated, and Deputies are investigating for a hate crime dimension.
After the attack, Bullock allegedly took responsibility for the crime in text messages sent to Jackson’s mother, his ex-lover. He used more anti-gay slurs in the texts and accentuated his profanity with the threat, “I’m going to burn you down!” Officers went to Bullock’s father’s home Tuesday looking for the suspect, but were unsuccessful.
ABC 30 videoed the wreckage of the totaled SUV: the melted interior, the charred remains of gowns and wigs, and even the imprints of Jackson’s hand on the hood where he vainly attempted to put the fire out with his bare hands. Jackson managed to put out the fire with a garden hose. “The smell was god-awful and then it just looked as if it was melting – waxworks — it just looked like it was melting,” he told ABC 30 reporters. “And this was because, simply because of my sexuality.” Thankfully, the loss of the vehicle, while costly, could have been far worse, and Jackson and Ruiz know it. Their SUV is a total loss, but they were the real target. They could have been immolated in their own home.
Riverton, Wyoming – Santana Mendoza, the second teenage defendant in the September 2013 murder of a gay Native American was sentenced for manslaughter yesterday in the death of a gay Native American, and the victim’s mother is crying foul. Her son’s murder was a hate crime, Victoria Moss said, and the sentences the court handed down to the teens who killed him show the world that the life of a Native American gay man is worth less than if he were straight and white. County 10 reports that Ms. Moss declared that since this is National LGBTQ Pride Month, she would be honoring her son while gay people and allies celebrated Pride. “This Saturday,” she said, “I will be celebrating the pride I have for my gay son.”
David Ronald Moss Jr., 25, was bludgeoned to death by teenagers Santana Mendoza and John Potter on the Rails to Trails Pathway behind a Riverton trailer park on September 4, 2013. Moss’s companion, Aleeah Crispin, was beaten into brain damage by the teens during the same attack, leaving her unable to speak for weeks afterwards. Mendoza and Potter, 16 and 15 at the time of the brutal assault, were both tried as adults. Both initially pled not guilty to all charges. In April of this year, after a plea deal reducing the charge from second degree murder to manslaughter, Potter was sentenced, as reported by County 10. After the same plea deal was accepted by District Attorney Michael Bennett for Mendoza, his sentence was handed down by Ninth Circuit Judge Norman E. Young after a one-hour sentencing hearing at which Crispin herself testified. Mendoza’s sentence mirrors Potter’s sentence almost perfectly: 12 to 18 years for the murder of Moss, minus time served, and 8 to 10 years for the assault on Crispin, both sentences to run concurrently. The sentence also mandates that the youths share a restitution of $12,000 to be paid to the living victim and the families. Moss’s mother is convinced that her son’s sexual orientation and Native American heritage played into the judge’s decision to hand down a light sentence that would never have been tolerated by the white, straight community if the victim had been one of their own. Some say that the revelation of Moss’s sexual orientation came as a surprise to them.
Judge Young denies being influenced by the knowledge that Moss was gay. He told County 1o that he now believes neither of the youths “intended” to kill Moss, who succumbed to blunt force trauma to his head according to the Coroner’s report. What Judge Young does admit to considering was the age of the defendants. Both were born in 1997. He said that he had never sentenced anyone in his career as young as they.
The attack was swift, terrifying and brutal. Mendoza testified that he and Potter saw two friends eating fast food near the beginning of the pathway. The Daily Ranger reported that while Mendoza watched Moss and Crispin, Potter left to retrieve a ball bat and brass knuckles that they used in the attack on Moss and Crispin. The teens beat them in the face with the bat, and repeated kicked them. When they left, Mendoza testified, both victims were unconscious, and Moss was making a “snoring” sound. The next morning, two unresponsive bodies were found on the trail. Moss was dead. Crispin was beaten mute, and left with significant brain injuries.
Hate crime was never considered during the investigation. Instead, law enforcement and the District Attorney sought for other motives for the senseless crime.
Moss was an enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe, and proud of it. His obituary portrayed a young man who was devoted to family, especially to his niece, Morning Star, and liked by a wide circle of family and friends.
The accusation of David Moss’s mother still hangs in the air as the two youths serve out their sentences: What is the comparative worth of the life of a gay Native American? Where is the justice in any of this senselessness?
Infamous Lesbian Murder Case Cracked in Texas: Alleged Shooter Arrested After Two-Year Investigation
Portland, Texas – Nearly two years after teenage lesbian lovers were abducted and shot on a steep grassy hillside in this South Texas coastal town, a 27-year-old suspect has finally been arrested, according to Portland, Texas law enforcement authorities. David Malcolm Strickland was arrested Friday and charged with the capital murder of Mollie Olgin, 19 at the time of the shooting, and for the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon of Kristene Chapa, 18, whom he allegedly shot in the head at the same time. Chapa survived, though the damage to the left side of her brain left her unable to walk, sit, or stand. Only with years of therapy and surgery has Chapa been able to reacquire her balance and mobility. In addition to these charges, the shooter has been charged with aggravated sexual assault. Details are still emerging from the investigation, and further charges may be brought, according to authorities. Strickland’s wife, Laura Kimberly, 23, has also been detained by Portland Police, and faces charges of tampering with evidence.
“I hope that it gives [the victims, their families, and community members] some closure knowing that this person is taken off the street,” Portland Police Chief Gary Giles said to NBC News. “It is one day before the two-year anniversary. We’ve been working very hard to make sure we get him as soon as possible. A series of fortunate events has led us to this point and I’m just very happy that we could help in — at least at this point — in bringing him to justice.”
Strickland was apprehended in the Helotes suburb of San Antonio on Friday by Texas Rangers and U.S. Marshals. Texas Rangers, U.S. Marshals, and Portland Police officers took Strickland’s wife into custody. Robert R. Almonte, U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Texas told NBC News, “My sympathies and condolences to the victims and their families who had to endure this wicked act of violence. [Strickland] is a stone cold killer who thought he got away with murder, but will finally pay for his crime.”
The reconstructed murder event that took place in Portland remains chilling, even after two years. Chapa, now 20 years old, said she went with Olgin on Friday night, June 23, 2012 to Violet Andrews Park, to see where Olgin had been baptized. The suspect forced the teenagers at gun point down a steep incline where he bound them, sexually assaulted them, and shot them both, leaving them to die. A couple out bird watching the next morning discovered the victims. Olgin had died of her wounds, but Chapa, who had clawed her way out of the sharp, thorny brush, survived, and was rushed to a medical center for emergency surgery. Chapa returned to the scene of the crime to assist investigators. She recounted to a reporter how difficult it was for her to go back to the place where her lover died so cruelly. “I felt every cut, every thorn go through my hand,” she said of the brush she fought to get out of, pointing to the scars still plainly visible on her arms. “I kept thinking, ‘I’ve got to get help.’”
Sergeant Roland Chavez of the Portland Police Department discussed the investigation with reporters. DNA evidence from finger prints around the crime scene initially belonged to over 250 suspects, Chavez said. Then the slow process of singling out the shooter had to go step-by-step. Investigators wanted to make sure they had the right man before making the arrest, else they feared Chapa would only be victimized again by a false ID. The shooter used a .45 caliber handgun on the teenagers, sometime between 11:30 p.m. and midnight on Friday, June 23, 2012. The teenagers had no prior knowledge of their attacker, which complicated the case, making it even seem more brutal and bizarre. Neither did the suspect have a previous criminal record, providing officers another hurdle to overcome. Chavez speculated that the shooter may have fantasized about such a crime long before the actual event, and worked himself up to doing it over time. The birdwatching couple who discovered Olgin and Chapa stumbled across the gruesome scene at about 8:30 a.m. the next day.
Authorities are still at a loss to explain the motive for the crime at this point. They have consistently ruled out anti-lesbian hatred as a motive, but the suspicion that homophobia and certainly heterosexism may have played a part in targeting the couple just won’t go away. Hate crimes against women are particularly difficult to sort out, since homophobia is so often a weapon of sexism.
Chapa still struggles to open and close her left hand. The bullet destroyed the area of her brain controlling motion on her left side. Her wounds left her an invalid, much like a stroke victim. Hard work, support, and courage are paying off. Though she will never regain total mobility, Chapa told reporters that she knows she will almost get there, if she just keeps up the struggle. Worse for her is the loss of her girlfriend, Mollie Olgin. “Every day I think about her,” she said of Olgin. “I pray for her, just for her to watch over me.” Since the attack, Chapa has reached out to other victims of gun violence and paralysis, like the families devastated by the Newtown School shooting in Connecticut. “I opened up myself to them and just told them how my story is similar, I just put my feelings in there,” she said to NBC News, also saying that she hopes “to meet more victims who have been shot because we relate. I’m pretty sure we’ve been through a lot of the same things and have felt the same ways.”
She and her parents are still appealing to the public to help fund Chapa’s rehabilitation, care, and recovery. Her family has exhausted their resources, and though a good deal of money has been donated these past two years, it hasn’t been enough. Chapa says that she and her folks are “pretty much alone” in the effort to finance her health care. The funding site originally set up to assist with Chapa’s care has been discontinued without public explanation.
After a news conference arranged by the Portland Police Department to announce Strickland’s arrest, Chapa reflected on her feelings. Though she told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times she felt safer now that the suspect was in custody, the pain and loss are still there for her. “It will never take back the pain and hurt he did to our families. And it won’t bring Mollie back,” she said. “Right now for both our families this is very hard.”
San Patricio District Attorney Michael Welborn believes they have their man. “We feel we have a very strong case to put forth,” he said. “We fully believe that we are going to bring justice to these two young ladies and their families.”