Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

LGBT Community Protests Extremist Hate Speech After Orlando

I AM DONE protestors stand against religious bigotry and hate speech on June 26 to declare that "Love Beats Hate." I AM DONE Facebook photo.

I AM DONE protestors stand against religious bigotry and hate speech on June 26 to declare that “Love Beats Hate.” I AM DONE Facebook photo.

Samsom Park, Texas – A fundamentalist pastor west of Fort Worth carried hate speech and religious intolerance of LGBTQ people to a new low in the wake of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub Massacre. Donnie Romero, leader of Stedfast Baptist Church, a small, independent, exceedingly angry group, stirred opposition by declaring that the cold blooded murder of LGBT people in Orlando, Florida on June 12 was God’s judgment upon the victims.

In starkly bigoted language, Romero went on to declare that his only regret about the massacre was that no one had finished what the shooter had started. Anticipating that members of the LGBTQ community might picket his small storefront church, Romero publicly declared that since members of his church were Texans who had weapon permits, protestors just might get shot.

The Rapid Response group, I AM DONE, organized a protest of Romero’s religious bigotry and carried out the direct action across the highway from Stedfast Baptist Church on Sunday morning, June 26. An estimated 50 protestors from across North Texas, protected by police from four local municipalities including Sansom Park, where the church is physically located, Lake View, Lake Worth, and Fort Worth, sang, chanted call-and-response, waved signs proclaiming Love, and read the names of the Orlando victims through a bullhorn during the church hour. The Texas heat was oppressive, but the protest was deemed successful since Romero’s hate speech had been answered forcefully but peacefully.

The following are the remarks Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School delivered at the protest, entitled: “Lament, Discover, and Repair.”

The Orlando massacre has forced America to stare into the abyss of our broken society. We have recoiled from what we have seen: not only the brutality of fear and loathing that took so many lives at the Pulse nightclub that night, but also the sickening complicity of a national culture that has set up the conditions for the slaughter of our people for generations.

Our feelings of remorse and loss are real and sharply painful; our burning anger is hot and real, as well.

But we cannot allow the abyss of race hatred, misogyny and heterosexist privilege to paralyze us with fear or anger — not again!

If others must continue the endless finger-pointing, let them. Not us, not again, not now!

We have a gaping hole in the American character to fix, and it will take all of us to do it, queer folk of faith, faith-free queer folk and allies alike. The spiritual resources that belong to American LGBTQ people are at hand, and we must discover how to use them to heal our broken hearts, our troubled minds, and to repair the ruins that yawn up at us from the abyss that bears so many names:

Orlando
Mother Emanuel A.M.E.
Sandy Hook Elementary
The Upstairs Lounge Inferno
Wisconsin Sikh Temple
Sixteenth Street Baptist Church
Aurora, Colorado, and
Virginia Tech, and more.

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School, flanked by other ministers, ended the protest with prayer. Other ministers attending included Chaplain Aaron Burk, the Rev. Mark Weathers of University Christian Church, the Rev. Heather Dunham of Universal Life Church, and the Rev. Russell Dalton with Brite Divinity School. Tammye Nash, Dallas Voice photo.

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle of Brite Divinity School, flanked by other ministers, ended the protest with prayer. Other ministers attending included Chaplain Aaron Burk, the Rev. Mark Weathers of University Christian Church, the Rev. Heather Dunham of Universal Life Church, and the Rev. Russell Dalton with Brite Divinity School. Tammye Nash, Dallas Voice photo.

We must act according to the sources of our power, no matter what makes us afraid. The practice of lament clears the spiritual space that makes effective action possible.

Sadness can empower our souls as well as dis-empower them. We can erect shrines that tie us to the past, or we can discover the power to lament as a people until hope takes the place of despair.

Phyllis Trible, the ground-breaking author of Texts of Terror who told the stories of the wrong done to biblical women, has said that mourning alone changes little. But true change comes from insight, a change that can inspire individuals and even a whole generation to repentance.

She writes: “In other words, sad stories may yield new beginnings.”

God knows, we have sad stories, and plenty of them. What we must find is the courage to cry out in public acts of lament that change despair into hope.

Rabbi Denise Eger, lesbian and president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, shows us how to turn sorrow into a new kind of power for good:

“Sister that I never held near,
Brother that I never embraced, our memory is almost lost:
The one we don’t talk about.
The loving one who never married.
The one for whom no Kaddish was said.
Your loneliness calls out to me:
I know of your struggles, we are not strangers,
And if my path is easier, I will not forget who walked it first.
We call you to mind, but did you not sometimes think of us,
Your children, lovers across the years,
Those who would follow and would think of you and bless your memory
And call you to mind?
With David and Jonathan, we will not forget you,
With Ruth and Naomi, we will not forget you,
In the name of God you are our sisters and our brothers, and we ask that you be remembered for peace.”

When we cry out to God from the depths of our collective sorrow, as my friend, Dean Joretta Marshall, of Brite Divinity School says, we begin to discover new possibilities for memory, compassion, empathy, and vision.

As we collaborate publicly in acts of lament when we are overwhelmed, we discover new ways to collaborate together in “life-giving hope.”

Protests are important, but they do not capture the spiritual power of crying out together so that our despair may turn into hope, and inspiration gives our activism fresh ideas to address the venom the LGBTQ community faces, much of it inflicted in the name of religion.

Sorrow is not a destination. We need movements, not monuments or shrines, movements of “life-giving hope.” So, together, before all the world, with our enemies included, we cry out until despair begins to transform into something new.

We remember before God the tens of thousands of our LGBTQ family martyred in years gone by. We remember those who died in the Inquisition, the Middle Passage, the Witch Craze, the Holocaust, and the struggle for civil rights.

We refuse to forget those, driven to despair by a world that hated them and who they loved, who took their own lives rather than face any longer the intolerable.

And we cannot forget those who lived out their days lonely, repressed, and afraid to reach out for affection and comfort, too hurt to give or receive the love they craved.

To us, in the memories we share in our seasons of lament, they have all become the martyrs of God, signs that we must make the world better than they found it. In the name of love, we pray, “O God, remember the sacrifices of these martyrs, and help us to bring and end to hate and oppression of every kind!”

We say and we believe that “Love Wins!” But in the struggle to repair the world, we have learned that love must be ferocious to win the new world we seek for ourselves, our children, and for everyone.

The story of the struggle for our human rights has lessons to teach, and one of the undeniable lessons of our history is that LGBTQ people have never been “given” anything. The heterosexist society in which we live never surrenders its power willingly. Our freedom has had to be won.

If our great theme is LOVE, from the right to love the one we choose, or the love of country that inspired us to defy Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, to the love of human life itself because we are a people who are represented everywhere — in every group and race, and in every known social demographic from the beginning of recorded history — then we know from our own collective experience that love must be fierce in order for it to survive.

There is something divine in love like that, a divine imperative that will not be forestalled any longer, or postponed, or sidetracked. From the days of our forebears in the 19th century, we began to network across the boundaries of nations, to count the ever growing number of ourselves, and to realize that we were a powerful people united by a new sense of the possibilities of love.

Today, we are strengthened by amazing allies from every walk of life who understand that their future and ours are bound up with us in a contest to determine whether diversity and pluralism will prevail in our world, or whether patriarchal fear of immigrants, gender non-conformity, non-Caucasian people, and non-Judeo-Christian faiths — fears intensified by the rejection of the leadership gifts of women — will drag us backward.

Our most powerful ally in LGBTQ history, President Barack Obama, has shown us what a love with real backbone looks like. Like many of our allies, the president had to evolve in this thinking about what justice and equality for LGBTQ people called him to do. Once he got there, to the place of true equality and justice, he became our full-throated advocate.

His spiritual mentor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., taught him to face challenges with “the fierce urgency of now.” We LGBTQ people found that vision to resonate powerfully with our experiences of struggle beyond any counted cost, and, inspired by President Obama, we have recast Dr. King’s idea in our own way. We serve a vision inspired by “the fierce urgency of love.”

“The fierce urgency of love”:

Love that refuses to be anemic in the face of hard times.
Love that has a spine, and bows before no opponent.
Love that will not back down, and will not back up.
Love that knows how and when to get loud and be proud.
A love where Everybody is Somebody, and nobody is a nobody.

Our activism at its best is motivated by the fierce urgency of a love that will not permit churches, synagogues, and mosques to remain silent on the sidelines of the struggle for justice, for silence in the face of injustice is its own form of spiritual violence.

The fierce urgency of love compels us to give no free passes when religious leaders of any stripe breathe out venom and hatred toward marginalized people. That is why we oppose religious intolerance to the same degree we oppose political and economic harms done to LGBTQ people in North Texas and anywhere else.

We have learned the lessons of ferocious love: that hate speech from any pulpit or from any rostrum in a governmental chamber is the ammunition that kills and maims real people, as surely as any bullet. We cannot permit any leader to hijack religion and force it into the service of oppression of any kind any longer without our calling out such an outrage.

As Rev. Dr. Cody J. Sanders, the pastor of Old Cambridge Baptist Church near Harvard Yard, a proud gay man says:

“For LGBTQ people, the mechanisms of oppression have nearly always been waged first against our souls. But it never ends there. This spiritual violence has led to innumerable suicides, hate crime violence beyond what we know through the collected statistics, and the marginalization of LGBTQ people in the very institutions they should feel most at home: their families, their churches, and their communities.”

Sanders calls for spiritual reparations for the harm done to the souls of LGBTQ people, a fierce love of God and neighbor that seeks to heal the hurt and repair the broken world. Like Sanders, in the name of love, we must fiercely call for real and practical actions:

For LGBTQ homeless youth in our cities,
For effective ways to prevent LGBTQ suicides,
For funding for LGBTQ seminarians so that they can become faith leaders throughout America,
For the recruitment of qualified LGBTQ candidates to run for public office,
For literacy in LGBTQ life and history, and engagement between established cisgender and straight clergy with queer leaders in their communities, and especially
For churches and religion-based non-profits to stand up to their denominations and parent organizations when they participate in anti-LGBTQ discrimination by thought, deed, or silence.

Sanders concludes with the forthright demand of a community that knows how to stand tall and true, and has the courage to repair a broken world even in the face of spiritual opposition:

“Churches owe LGBTQ people a spiritual debt,” he says, “for the decades upon decades of violence against our souls. It’s time to start paying up.”

The Hebrew prophets sounded like that, didn’t they? That is an important dimension of the spiritual heritage of the LGBTQ human rights movement that was first born and nurtured in churches and synagogues in the pre-Stonewall era, and right up until this very day.

I work alongside lesbian, gay, and straight colleagues of courage at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, who like Cody Sanders, want to transform the world in which we live. So, with the whole Cloud of Witnesses, from the time of the Hebrew Prophets, Jesus of Nazareth, and the Prophet Muhammad, to the millions of LGBTQ people and our allies right here and right now, together with the Prophet Isaiah, we say:

Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.

Our greatest asset as a Queer/LGBT community, you see, lies in far more than our numbers, our economic strength, and our political allies. It lies in our spirituality of collaborating hope, hope forged in the furnace of our tests and trials, made powerful by the vision of a better world than we have ever known.

Our enemies are real. Their guns and their words spit fire and death. They misunderstand, sometimes with lethal consequences, who we are and what we contribute to the common world in which we all dwell.

But we know wherein our power truly lies, for as our Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde, taught us, “When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”

Rise up, then!

We LGBTQ people were never meant to settle into paralysis, depression and despair on the far side of the pit our adversaries dug for us. It is time to build a bridge across the abyss that swallowed up our Orlando sisters and brothers. Bring your energies, your tools, and your resolve. We have at hand the resources of a rich spirituality, and a fierce, divine love.

There is a world to repair.

July 2, 2016 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Anti-LGBT hate crimes, Brite Divinity School, Donnie Romero, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Florida, GLBTQ, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, I AM DONE, LGBTQ, LGBTQ clergy, Mass shooting, Orlando, Protests and Demonstrations, Pulse Nightclub, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, Stedfast Baptist Church, Texas, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on LGBT Community Protests Extremist Hate Speech After Orlando

Brite Divinity School Calls North Texas to Vigil for the People of Orlando

Joretta L. Marshall, Dean of Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas.

Joretta L. Marshall, Dean of Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas.

From the Dean of Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth:
Once again, the world is confronted with the reality of gun violence and a mass shooting. Brite stands with, and prayers for this world, particularly for those families and friends most closely affected by the killing of human lives in such an outrageous moment. We are mindful, as well, of the way in which violence in the LBGTQ community has a deep impact on those who already feel vulnerable in the world, and in our churches and faith communities.
Remember that Brite’s meditation chapel is always open (on the second floor of the Moore building). Monday at noon, the Dean will host a prayer service on the plaza outside of Harrison for anyone who would like to gather to remember, to grieve the loss of life, to speak to the fear instilled through such violence, and to invite others to stand in solidarity in the midst of such tremendous pain.
I invite any of you, your friends, or others in the community to join me at the Plaza outside of the Bass Conference center at noon tomorrow [Monday, June 13] for an opportunity to lament, to grieve, to speak truth about fear, to stand with one another, and to stand with those in Orlando.
I send this with the many mixed feelings that this day brings,
Joretta L. Marshall
Dean

June 12, 2016 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crimes, Brite Divinity School, Mass shootings, Orlando | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Brite Divinity School Calls North Texas to Vigil for the People of Orlando

TDOR 2015: Brite Divinity School Hosts a Packed House to Commemorate the Fallen

tdor

“You Did Not Know That We Were Seeds”: The Spirit-Power of Gender Non-Conforming People

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Brite Divinity School

 [Nota Bene – Fort Worth, Texas – In conjunction with DFW Trans-Cendence, Brite Divinity School opened its doors to a full house to remember historic high numbers of transgender murders during the past year, especially transgender women of color (TWOCs). Here in full are the remarks Dr. Sprinkle made at this year’s TDOR.]

Tonight is unlike other nights. Tonight, transgender and cisgender people alike sift for hope in the ashes and plant seeds in the ground, in anticipation of a harvest of hope that will come tomorrow. For tonight we mark the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

            Our Jewish sisters and brothers yearn for and proclaim their liberation from slavery once a year, too, and have done so in good times and bad for thousands of years. Jews around the world call their commemoration of the Exodus “Passover.” On Passover when the Seder meal is set and the family and their guests are all seated at the table, the youngest child capable of reciting it asks the ritual question, “Why is tonight different from all other nights?”, and an elder of the community answers the child by asking another question, “What differences do you notice about tonight rather than all other nights?”

            So, like a child, I ask you a similar question that I hope will lead you into the spirit of curiosity and ritual power. “On the

DFW Trans-Cendence & Brite's Carpenter Initiative for Gender, Sexuality, and Justice sponsored this year's TDOR.

DFW Trans-Cendence & Brite’s Carpenter Initiative for Gender, Sexuality, and Justice sponsored this year’s TDOR.

Transgender Day of Remembrance, why does this night differ from all other nights?” As on Passover night, that child-like question is the Gateway of Life from the past and present into a future that is still forming. Like a child, then, I, a cisgender ally of the Gender Non-Conforming Community, ask all of you, the gathered Transgender Nation, what is the answer to my question? How can a somber memorial to fallen Transgender sisters and brothers like this instruct all of humankind in the ways of transcendent life, even in the very face of violent death?

            Well, as you can see, I am no longer a child, at least in years, and in experience as gay man. You will allow me, I hope, this one speculation, at least: the answer lies somewhere at the intersection of life and death, and then in life beyond death. It lies, I submit to you, in the motif of overcoming death, of dying and rising that is so familiar to all the great religions, and so personally part of the daily lives of all queer people, especially in the lives of our transgender sisters and brothers—and all those as well who transcend the arbitrary binaries constructed and policed by normative culture and society.

            The first answer to my question about the Spirit of the Transgender Day of Remembrance comes from transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of TDOR. She established this night in memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman killed in 1998, to commemorate all gender non-conforming people whose lives were lost to violence during the previous year. Gwendolyn Ann Smith answers my question this way: “The Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people — sometimes in the most brutal ways possible — it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.” So says the founder of this memorial day.

            Yes, we gather tonight to remember and to mourn historically high numbers of transgender people cut down this year by unreasoning hatred, ignorance and fear. More transgender women and men died this very year, according to the records kept in this country and around the world, than at any other time since the earliest time transgender deaths by violence were officially recorded. You and I understand, of course, that even these stunning numbers of the fallen are a severe undercount, with many, many, TOO MANY more unreported and therefore unnamed tonight. And we can no longer, leave out the commemoration of the many transgender youth and adults who died this year from suicide, driven to take their lives by despair, and discrimination, by the rejection of their families and one-time friends, and by the feeling that nothing could ever get better. Nevertheless, in the spirituality of overcoming despair, the names of the women and men we know stand for all the least, and the last, and the lost. Like Gwendolyn Ann Smith taught us, we name the names we know, one-by-one, and our tears push us to the work of justice.

            Shade SchulerThis year, a new acronym entered our vocabulary to describe the decimation of the Transgender Community: TWOC, “Transgender Women of Color,” in order to acknowledge how the intersection of ignorance, racism, misogyny, and patriarchy issue into an even more sinister form of transphobia, the irrational attempt to erase the lives of African American and Latina Transgender Women, many of them still in their teens and young adulthood. We have particular reason to mourn two of these TWOCs this year. They are Texans, Ms. Ty Underwood, 24, of Tyler, Texas, found shot to death in her automobile after it crashed into a light pole in January, in all probability as she attempted to flee from her assailant; and Ms. Shade Schuler, 22, whose badly decomposed body, dead of gunshot wounds, was dumped, ironically enough, on a side street near the Medical District in Dallas, Texas to roast in the late July heat of the Lone Star summer. By the time Ms. Shade was reported murdered in Dallas, the 11th Transgender Woman of Color, and the 13th murder of a transgender woman overall, more transgender murders were on record by July 2015 than all the recorded transphobic homicides the entire previous year.

            The second answer to my child-like question, “Why is tonight different than all other nights?”, is that we meet tonight in the eye of an unprecedented storm in the unending contest between justice and injustice, between heteronomative desperation to hold onto control of human lives, and non-normative struggles to attain some measure of equal treatment under the law. We gather tonight in the midst of unprecedented social change. This year, the bent arc of history toward justice has heartened some of us, frightened others, and unleashed a fury of transphobia and violence against our transgender friends and family.

            Like a Texas Two-Step danced in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, the U.S. Supreme Court Marriage Equality decision in June was counterpointed earlier this month by the defeat of the Houston HERO equal rights ordinance in a deeply transphobic vote. An apathetic majority of eligible Houston voters stayed home, and allowed a screeching, well-funded few to demean and scapegoat transgender women, and in the devil’s bargain, to shatter the fragile sense of security so important to the whole transgender community.

            Those of us like me, cisgender allies, must face up to the added responsibility we bear to our sisters and brothers who refuse the restrictions of binary society. Yes, same-gender couples, lesbians and gay men, can now marry in all fifty states. The Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, struck down a major obstacle to equal treatment under the law, and we still celebrate that milestone in the human rights struggle. But if that means that cisgender gay men and lesbians can enter legal marriage (as if all of us wished to, anyway!) while ignoring the travesty visited so continually upon the trans community, then we deserve none of the rights that judicial decision gave us. What about the “T” in “LGBT”? Are transgender and intersex people, such vital allies of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual communities, no more than an afterthought or a bargaining chip in the battle for the right to marry?

           TDOR%202015%20Flyer Gay men and lesbians, who bear the majority responsibility in the coalition of LGBTQIA people, have to understand, that none of us are free and equal until ALL of US are free and equal! Transpeople have fought for liberation since the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City. They are our “Marine Corps.” Transpeople stormed the Stonewall Inn along with the queer homeless street kids of Greenwich Village in a struggle that gay men and lesbians were too timid to initiate by ourselves. That is history, and we are accountable to that history of liberation today. No one is safe and secure until all of us are safe and secure, and surely gay men know that above all, since only gay men continue to be murdered at the same rate in this country as transgender women of color. Check the statistics if you doubt it. The most endangered queer people in America today are gay men and transgender women. We cannot, must not forget our allies in the transgender community.

            The third answer to my question about the difference of tonight among all other nights is that, even in the face of such unprecedented violence and bigotry against the transgender community, there is much to celebrate and much hope to share. We cannot remember all this pain and woe without also marking the advances that have been so hard won since 2009. I will list six of these positive milestones briefly:

  1. The 2009 “coming out” of transgender celebrity Chas Bono, the child of pop idols Sonny and Cher.
  2. The star power of Laverne Cox, transgender woman of color on the hit 2013 television show “Orange is the New Black,” and her 2014 cover photo on Time Magazine titled “The Transgender Tipping Point.”
  3. President Barack Obama’s executive order on July 21, 2014 making it illegal to fire or harass transgender employees of federal contractors, for the first time explicitly protecting transgender people in the federal government.
  4. The much publicized transition of Olympic triathlete Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn Jenner in July of this year.
  5. The White House announcement on August 19, 2015 that it had hired its first transgender staff member, Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, as Outreach and Recruiter Director for Presidential Personnel.
  6. The launching of the first U.S. House of Representatives Taskforce on Transgender Equality, along with the first-ever Capitol Hill forum on violence against transgender people, this past Tuesday, November 17, 2015. The Taskforce will be chaired by Rep. Mike Honda (D-California), proud grandfather of an eight-year old transgender granddaughter, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Florida), whose son is transgender. Anti-transgender violence, said Chairman Honda, “is a national crisis. …After 21 deaths of transgender individuals because of violence this year alone, Congress must take notice and act.”

 

There are actually four questions the youngest child asks of Jews and their guests at the Passover seder, questions that flow from the child-like question that started it all. By now you know I have crafted my offering to you tonight along the same lines: four questions and four answers. Questions and Answers building to a climax of liberation and hope, no matter the darkness of the night. So, here is the fourth answer to the question, “How is tonight, the Transgender Day of Remembrance night, different from all other nights?”

Tonight, you see, is not just a night of mourning and lamenting, or of outrage and somber celebration, though it is also these things, as well. This night of the Transgender Day of Remembrance is a ritual night when the Spirit-Power of All Gender Non-Conforming People is summoned and renewed, giving strength for the struggle ahead.

Transgender people possess a Spirit-Power, one they must never surrender—one that they have to share with all humanity. Transgender people know about change, transformation, transition, and new creations by experience of themselves. The Transgender community as a collective has amazing strength, developed in the face of adversity, a tenacity and zest for life that cannot be contained, you see, in only one lifetime. Though external transphobia strikes down so many, and internalized transphobia even more through personal trauma and suicide, the heartbeat of the Transgender people is strong and enduring, as only a people acquainted with oppression can fully understand. It is as old as the aboriginal recognition of Two-Spirit people among the indigenous tribes of North America, as world-loving as the Pagan faiths, as wise as the great religions of the East, and as time-honored as the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—but it is not limited to any of these. It is a spirituality that understands in the marrow of its transgender bones how a person cannot be other than they truly are, that appearance and reality are not necessarily the same, and that living and loving are more powerful and enduring than anything that adversity can send against what is authentically humanity.

At the vigil for Ms. Shade Schuler in September of this year, a white gay man, Ted Van Trabart said, “We’re here today to say that black lives matter and trans lives matter, and we’re all children of God, and there’s equality in that.” Then, according to the report in the Texas Observer, Minister Carmarion Anderson, a black transgender activist, showed the gathering a small piece of wood she had retrieved from the spot where Ms. Shade’s body was found, where she and Dr. Jeff Hood, alumnus of this very school, carried out a service to lay her soul to rest. Minister Anderson said, “Each time I look at [this piece of wood], it empowers me to keep going, even when I want to give up.”

Yes, the Spirit-Power of Transgender people transcends the bondage of gender conformity and all constraints placed upon the human spirit in favor of a new and more promising Exodus for themselves and for all humankind. Slavery is over. Freedom has come. Where we live, according to our Transgender Friends, is in this awkward, difficult, promising time between the already and the not yet. It is just a matter of time until justice comes, and in the mean time, liberty will not wait. The Observer reported that someone else was carrying a sign at the vigil for Ms. Shade that night, one that read, “You Tried to Bury Us/You Didn’t Know We Were Seeds.”

Tonight is different because we announce that what we have sown in sorrow are the seeds of a new humanity, transitioned by love, transcending despair, raised in hope, stronger than death. The lyrics of The Hymn of Promise, (Copyright Hope Publishing Company) penned in 1986 by Natalie Sleeth before the death of her spouse, best answer the child-like questions we bring forth on this night of nights for me, and I offer them to you in closing:

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
 In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
 In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
 Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
 There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
 From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
 Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
 In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
 In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
 Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

Doane College Alumni Reunion, First Plymouth Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, Feb. 3, 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Gndx39q7QM

 

November 22, 2015 Posted by | Brite Divinity School, DFW Trans-Cendence, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, LGBTQ, Special Comments, Texas, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), transgender persons, Transgender women of color, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Arc of Justice Bends Like A Rainbow: Heartbreaks, Memories, Dreams

Dallas, Texas – To contribute to the spiritual discussion about the events of this June: the outrageous attack on Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston and the victory of Marriage Equality in the U.S. Supreme Court, here is the text of my Sunday sermon for 6/28/15:

The Arc of Justice Bends Like a Rainbow: Heartbreaks, Memories, Dreams
A Sermon for Pride Sunday, June 28, 2015
The New Church – Chiesa Nuova
Dallas, Texas

Psalms 85:7-12
Hebrews 11:29-40
Luke 4:18-20

The Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas

The Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology, Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas

“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.” These words are among the phrases of Friday that are imprinted into my consciousness and yours, too, I suspect. You will recognize them as the conclusion of the Majority Opinion of Obergefell v. Hodges, the decision striking down the bans that forbade marriage to millions of same-sex Americans in 14 states, including our own. “It is so ordered . . .”

But these are not the only words that won’t go away from my mind. Words from cries, and joyous shouts, and eulogies, from late last week and from the recent events of our lives that have culminated upon us this very June like “a thunderbolt” as our President, the Honorable Barack Obama said when he made his historic remarks in the White House Rose Garden celebrating the victory of Marriage Equality for all 50 states.
Here are some other stunning words our President used just this past Friday, 6/26/15, the same day LGBTQ people and our allies danced on the steps of the United States Supreme Court, and at the crossroads of Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs right here in Dallas. Immediately following his Rose Garden remarks, he boarded Air Force One to fly down to Charleston, SC beside our First Lady Michelle, to eulogize slain Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the other eight members of his flock, cut down by hatred in a Bible Study/Prayer Meeting at Mother Emanuel AME Church. Do you feel the whiplash of it? Having to deliver words of celebration at one moment, and then words appropriate to the outrageous deaths of Black Americans because of race hatred, as best we can tell—All in the same day?
Our President tried to make sense of it all from the stage of the University of Charleston, to find a way forward for the nation:

“Whatever solutions we find will necessarily be incomplete” he said. “But it would be a betrayal of everything Reverend Pinckney stood for, I believe, if we allow ourselves to slip into a comfortable silence again.
“Once the eulogies have been delivered, once the TV cameras move on, to go back to business as usual. That’s what we so often do to avoid uncomfortable truths about the prejudice that still infects our society.”

President Obama continued:

“To settle for symbolic gestures without following up with the hard work of more lasting change, that’s how we lose our way again. It would be a refutation of the forgiveness expressed by those families if we merely slipped into old habits whereby those who disagree with us are not merely wrong, but bad; where we shout instead of listen; where we barricade ourselves behind preconceived notions or well-practiced cynicism.
“Reverend Pinckney once said, ‘Across the south, we have a deep appreciation of history. We haven’t always had a deep appreciation of each other’s history.’”

History, you see, is hard to make sense of when you are in the middle of it, like we are this morning—When we are struck by a two-sided thunderbolt of history, one side damp with tears of joy for decades of struggle to win against homophobia and heterosexism for LGBTQ human equality, but the other side wet with the tears of unfathomable grief because of America’s “original sin,” the sin of racism.

You and I and our President are not alone in trying to make sense of it all, trying to sort out our emotions about the events of 6/26/15. On Friday, my friend Professor John Blevins who teaches at Emory University put it this way on his Facebook wall:

“Not sure” Dr. Blevins wrote, “how to temper the feelings of the Supreme Court ruling with the reminder that today in Charleston, SC there is a funeral for an African-American man and local church pastor who would have supported and cheered this ruling were he not gunned down in cold, calculated, hate-filled violence. We progress and regress. But I want to believe– have to believe– that Love Wins. Yes, the Supreme Court ruling offers some sense of that but so does the testimony of Reverend Pinckney– both in his life and in his death. We should remember that.”

Whatever else and whoever else we are this morning, we are the Church, and we are called upon to remember our heartbreaks, to dance with our dreams in our hearts around the Table of Jesus Christ, and to learn with appreciation from the history of others. We are the New Church, the Chiesa Nuova, founded on the memories and merits of St. Francis of Assisi. We are straight, bi-, and gay, trans- and cisgender, multiracial and multilingual, and we share something vital and living with Mother Emanuel AME in Charleston. We have been given a common task: to speak the truth alongside one another until all the bad news comes to redemption in the Amazing Grace of God. We, Mother Emanuel and New Church together, are called by the God of Life to remember the steadfast love of Jesus Christ, and to set all events of celebration and sorrow in the context of a future in which LOVE WINS, not just for some of us, but for ALL of us!

The Church must engage the events of these jumbled up, joyous and heartbreaking days, and re-tell them to a hurting society both in words and deeds of effective love. We are the storytellers! Who else besides the Community of Faith remembers and re-tells the stories of the justice prophets of Israel and the evangelists of the early Christian movement? Who else remembers and re-tells the stories of the Underground Railroad, and Jim Crow, and the struggle for women’s right to vote and equal pay; who else remembers and re-tells the breathtaking saga of the time of the Stonewall Riots in New York City, and the first brave voices of the sexual minority here in North Texas, of the lesbian Lavender Menace, and the life-and-death struggle against HIV/AIDS, of Harvey Milk’s famous call, “I’m Here to Recruit You!”, and of the first legal “I Do’s” spoken on the steps of the Records Building right here in Dallas between Lesbian couples and Gay couples set on letting the whole Lone Star State know that LOVE Wins!

If others want to tell the stories of our times in differing ways, let them. We welcome the stories and the histories of others, and we must grow in appreciation of those histories because we are all members of the One Human Family. But, in humility, and with our knees trembling from awe and joy, we of the Community of Faith must continue the tradition of telling the Good News in the midst of a world were goodness is not so obvious an outcome at all. Like our grieving sisters and brothers at Mother Emanuel, in English, Español, and the other tongues of our languages, the Church has this task: to interpret the events of everyday life, great and small, in the harmonies of the love of God. It is our responsibility to pull together the threads of the rulings of the Supreme Court, and the horror of the slayings at home and abroad, and to weave out of them a roadmap of justice and mercy so the human race can see a way forward in the storm, and find rivers of cool water in dry places—sweet destinies of deliverance and Amazing Grace for all the sorts and conditions of our fragile humankind.

Put succinctly, it is our mandate to follow the example of Jesus the Christ: to read aloud the ancient stories of God’s people, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, good news to the poor, deliverance to the captives, freedom for all those oppressed, recovery of sight to the blind, and then to roll up the scroll, and announce: “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Justice KennedyDid you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that you would live into a world where Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell would be repealed? Where DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, and Proposition 8 would be overthrown? Where Marriage Equality would become the law of the land in all 50 states of the USA, and Justice Anthony Kennedy could pen these words on behalf of the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court?

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

Did you ever imagine that 150 years after the Civil War, that 52 years after Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech, and 50 years after the Voting Rights Act, you would still be living in a world where young Latino/Latina “Dreamers” are still in peril of being deported from the land that has become their home, where a black teenage girl in a bikini could be wrestled down and choked at a pool party in McKinney, Texas, where we must confront that reality over and over again that, no matter what we say, black, brown, female, and transgender lives mean less than white male lives? Or that the peaceful welcome of a church sanctuary could be desecrated by the cold, violent hand of hatred?

Well, that is the world we have, isn’t it? Filled with joys and sorrows. Where by the grace of God we must rededicate ourselves to bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice in this time and place we have been given. That is what the Community of Faith must be about in our lifetime. President Obama, standing squarely in the tradition of the Black Church, concluded his eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, saying:

“…History can’t be a sword to justify injustice or a shield against progress. It must be a manual for how to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, how to break the cycle, a roadway toward a better world. He knew that the path of grace involves an open mind. But more importantly, an open heart.
“That’s what I felt this week — an open heart. That more than any particular policy or analysis is what’s called upon right now, I think. It’s what a friend of mine, the writer Marilyn Robinson, calls ‘that reservoir of goodness beyond and of another kind, that we are able to do each other in the ordinary cause of things.’
“That reservoir of goodness. If we can find that grace, anything is possible. If we can tap that grace, everything can change. Amazing grace, amazing grace.”

Since Love Wins, since Love must win for everybody, let us throw a party where everyone is invited to celebrate with us, where everybody is somebody and nobody is nobody, and then roll up our sleeves and get to the work at hand!
Love Wins! Thanks be to God! Amen.

June 30, 2015 Posted by | African Americans, Brite Divinity School, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Justice Anthony Kennedy, LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Mother Emanuel AME Church, President Barack Obama, Racism, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Gay/Queer Hate Crimes Blog Reaches 600k Milestone!

UFLDallas, Texas – An amateur blogsite sparking interest and conversation on hate crimes perpetrated against LGBTQ people has broken through the 600,000 visitor mark this month! The 600k mark was crossed on Wednesday, October 15. Unfinished Lives Blog, established in 2008 by a Baptist theologian and divinity school professor to keep the stories of LGBTQ hate crimes victims before the public, has touched many more people across the globe than its originator could have imagined six years ago. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, the author of Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011), and a Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School of Fort Worth, Texas, said, “This blog was and remains to be a labor of love done on a part-time basis. It is breathtaking to me how many people around the world have been touched by this site.” In response to the question of where the emphasis for the Unfinished Lives Project will be going in the future, Sprinkle said, “We will be lifting up more international stories of queer folk struggling to live securely and safely internationally. Human rights is a world-wide issue. At the same time, our primary focus will be the United States, where the murders of people in the sexual minority, especially gay men and transgender people of color, have hit historic high rates.” 

At this milestone, the Unfinished Lives Project Team, along with Dr. Sprinkle, invite their readers and supporters to revisit the original purpose of the blog:

Book“The Unfinished Lives Project website is a place of public discourse which remembers and honors LGBTQ hate crime victims, while also revealing the reality of unseen violence perpetrated against people whose only “offense” is their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender presentation. LGBTQ people in the United States are suffering a slow-rolling decimation of terror and murder all across the country. Every locale and demographic of society are affected: First Nations, Anglo, Black, Latino and Latina, South and Southeast Asian, Transgender, Bisexuals, Gay men, Lesbians, disabled, young, and mature. Homophobia has a long, crooked arm, and it is reaching out to snatch the life away from women and men whose tragic stories are under-reported to begin with, and whose memories are swiftly forgotten.

“The horror of these killings transcends the shock and bereavement of loved ones and friends. These are not typical homicides; they are not killings for money or drugs, incidents of domestic strife, or crimes of passion. The vicious nature of hate crimes against LGBTQ persons is extremely brutal, grotesquely violent, and egregiously hateful.

“Each murder serves the LGBTQ population as a sobering warning about the actual level of danger in our communities. The message these killings send is that freedom and open life for LGBTQ people is a cruel dream. Every time we remember one of these victims, however, the intentions of their killers are frustrated. To remember these women and men is to begin the process of changing the culture that killed them.”

Dr. Sprinkle shared that Unfinished Lives Blog has been shared throughout the Human Rights activist and LGBTQ communities, and is a resource in several cases for academic classes dealing with ethics, sexual minority issues, and LGBTQ literature and history. This milestone is a chance for the creators of the blogsite, as well as many others who labor for the cessation of all bias motivated violent crimes against marginalized people, to rededicate themselves to the work of justice for all people.

“Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of loyal readers, followers, and supporters of this work of love and justice!” ~ The Unfinished Lives Project Team

October 16, 2014 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brite Divinity School, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, Stephen V. Sprinkle, Texas, transphobia, Unfinished Lives blog, Unfinished Lives Project | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay/Queer Hate Crimes Blog Reaches 600k Milestone!

Gay Student Condemned By Church Dies By Suicide

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Ben Wood, 21, bullied by Church Youth Leader, takes his own life.

Asheville, North Carolina – William “Ben” Wood was 21 when he died on the floor of his dorm at UNC-Asheville.  Friends who found him said that he was drawn up in a fetal position on May 8, 2013, having slashed open his veins.  The loss of this sensitive, justice-seeking young gay man is a tragedy by most accounts–his friends and school mates say he was a fine student, but in recent months his grades and school performance had plunged.  The university junior couldn’t deal with the prospect of going back to his neighborhood in Asheville without being a student any longer, according to his mother’s account in the Reconciling Ministries Network Blog.  As a teen, he had been irreparably wounded by a Youth Leader at his home church as he prepared to go on a Mission trip with his friends from the United Methodist Youth Fellowship.

His mom, Julie Wood, recounts how the misguided Youth Leader singled out her son for being gay in front of his peers.  The leader said, You all know, we all know, that Ben is gay.  Who here is comfortable being around him?”  Demanding a response from each youth in the group, the Leader then said, “Do you understand that Ben is going to hell?”  Once again, the Youth Leader pressed each youth for an answer about Ben.  Crushed, exposed, and broken by the experience, Ben came home while his UMYF friends left on the bus for the Mission Trip.  His mother, who stalwartly contends that their home church is a loving and supportive place, says that this was the trigger experience she believes led to the suicide of her son a few agonizing years later.  Mrs. Wood writes:

“Ben was told that he was not worthy of going on the mission trip.  He had been shamed, humiliated, and betrayed.  He was told that he did not deserve to be a part of the group.  He was no representative of God. 

Out of our front window, I saw the goldish colored Caviler abruptly whip into our driveway.   Ben ran up the porch steps and stood in the doorway.  One look, and I knew, something horrible had happened.  The flushed sides of his cheeks quivered as did his lip.  His breathing was rapid and his eyes just about to spill over. 

The church bus was loaded with Ben’s friends to go on that mission trip while my betrayed and broken son, walked alone around Salem Lake.   He must have felt so very abandoned and isolated. 

While he never lost his compassion for others, I think that this was the day that he gave up on people and God.” 

Skeptics may argue that there is no clear correspondence between the suicide of a young gay man years after the shaming incident that took place in a church youth group in his teens.  Others will say that the church is basically a loving and supportive place, but is put in a hard situation by teachings like those of the United Methodist Church that send an ambiguous, essentially rejecting message about lesbians and gay people.  On the one hand, the social teachings of the church say that every person, including “homosexuals,” is of “sacred worth.”  On the other, the United Methodist Church stubbornly rejects homosexuality as “incompatible” with Christian teaching–denying ordination and marriage to LGBT people, and defrocking their clergy who carry out same-sex marriage ceremonies, or who live openly as lesbian or gay people.

So, who stands guilty of Ben Wood’s death?  The Youth Minister who was applying what he believed the teachings of his church on homosexuality to be?  Ben’s so-called “friends” who one-by-one (under pressure from an adult leader, of course) abandoned Ben to shame and broken heartedness?  The theologians and clergy of the church, who cannot seem to reconcile the love of God on the one hand, and social heterosexism and homophobia on the other?  And what of Ben’s own responsibility to transcend the suffering of his youth–though this latter argument is little more than blaming a victim for his own demise?

Bens’ obituary says he was a genuine, complex, and worthwhile human being.  The Winston-Salem Journal and Sentinel  records that Ben “was a member of Sedge Garden United Methodist Church and was a Junior at UNC-Asheville. Ben had a kind and loving soul, with a great sense of humor. He was particularly compassionate to the needs and struggles of others more than himself and was a great journalist. To his younger sisters, Ben was a great big brother who shared lots of walks in the creeks and scavenger hunts with their stuffed animals.”  The obituary goes on to say that three clergy spoke at his funeral, and that his own maternal grandfather was a clergyman.  But Ben found so little hospitality and comfort from the churches around him and the clergy who served them that he could not and did not reach out to them in his darkest hours.  So, a sensitive, socially conscious young man, who happened to be gay and Christian, took his own life.

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School, and a native North Carolinian himself, issues this opinion and prayer for other young LGBT persons: “The churches and their leadership have much to answer for in the deaths of young people like Ben Wood.  While we may not be able to point to a smoking gun linking the suicide of young persons condemned by church teachings to the culpability of the churches, there is no doubt that Christian heterosexism and homophobia contribute to the climate that denigrates LGBTQ people and creates undue suffering in their lives.  Indeed, there are progressive and welcoming churches and clergy, and for them we give thanks.  But they are too few, and the silence of church people about the prejudice condemning LGBTQ folk is a major contributing factor in the horror of spiritual violence against them.”

Dr. Sprinkle concludes:  “Let us be crystal clear about this: the heterosexism and homophobia Ben Wood experienced in his life is a Christian heresy–one the churches and clergy of every stripe must find the courage to repent of and repudiate.  And we must do everything we can to make amends to youth like Ben, and to their families.”

February 7, 2014 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, Brite Divinity School, Bullycide, gay men, gay teens, GLSEN, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, North Carolina, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, United Methodist Church | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Gay Hate Crimes Blog Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Unfinishedlivesblog.com founder and director, speaks at Dallas Day of Decision Rally last week [Robbie Miller photo].

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Unfinishedlivesblog.com founder and director, speaks at Dallas Day of Decision Rally last week [Robbie Miller photo].

Dallas, Texas – Unfinishedlivesblog.com, the premier amateur academic blog dealing with anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in the United States, marks its fifth birthday today.  Conceived on the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in 2008, the blog and its umbrella parent movement, The Unfinished Lives Project, sought to change the national conversation on acts of physical violence against the queer community.  A part-time labor of love, written as time permits between teaching responsibilities, speaking opportunities, and educational events around the nation, this cyber effort continues to widen and deepen the circle of readers worldwide who remember  and advocate for LGBTQ hate crimes victims. With nearly 500,000 visitors to date, Unfinished Lives Blog has reached more minds and hearts than its originator, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, could have possibly foreseen half a decade ago.

“Adding the responsibility of writing, monitoring networks of news sources, and updating the blog seemed daunting at first,” Sprinkle admits.  “Nevertheless, communicating with such a wide audience of concerned people on the injustice of murder and assault against LGBTQ people simply because of irrational prejudice and hatred, has become an enormously energizing dimension of my life’s work. And, we at the Unfinished Lives Project have learned how to do this as we went along,” Sprinkle noted.  “Remembering the victims of homophobic and transphobic violence must become second nature to the LGBTQ community if it ever is to become a People among the Peoples of this country, and of the world family of Peoples.  We like to think that we are making some contribution to the maturation of the LGBTQ community by our work.” 

Five years on gives the Unfinished Lives Project a chance to revisit some of its more notable achievements.  Since 2008, the blog has:

  • Posted 564 articles to date on hate crimes and told the stories of hate crimes victims throughout America and the world
  • Contributed to the struggle to enact the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act into federal law in 2009
  • Provided local coverage of the Raid on the Rainbow Lounge and the events stemming from it in the summer of 2009
  • Pressed for the Repeal of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT) in 2010
  • Covered the alarming rise in transgender hate crimes, with a special focus on transgender youth of color
  • Chronicled the alarming stories of LGBTQ youth bullied in schools throughout the nation
  • Gained readership in more than 183 nations, principalities, territories, and protectorates worldwide
  • Built and maintained a searchable website available free of charge for research on anti-LGBTQ hate crimes
  • Supported the publication of Dr. Sprinkle’s award-winning book, Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Murder Victims (Eugene, Oregon: Resource Publications, 2011)
  • Provided coverage of Unfinished Lives events in 9 states and the District of Columbia

1UnfinishedLivesSprinkle has continued to be Director and main writer for the blog, but says that he is indebted to the ongoing contributions of members of the Unfinished Lives Project Team.  “We could not be the player in the cyber world we are today without the hard work of friends like web masters Todd W. Simmons, Adam D.J. Brett, and the invaluable support of Sandra Jean Brandon,” Sprinkle said.  He also thanks the loyal readership that has lent their voices and advocacy to the struggle to eliminate hate crimes violence from society. “They are helping to change the national conversation on hate crimes,” Sprinkle said. “We are moving beyond dry statistics.  The stories of real human beings give life and passion to the ongoing effort to make our neighborhoods safe for love and life to bloom and flourish.”

The future offers opportunity to Unfinished Lives Blog as it enters its second decade of service.  LGBTQ hate crimes continue unabated in the United States, rising to record high numbers of murders each year since 2010.  Worldwide human rights efforts are spreading at breakneck speed, and the forces of repression and irrational hatred are mounting to squash them.  Unfinished Lives Blog intends to meet the challenges with creativity and passion.  In October 2013, the Unfinished Lives Project will visit the Republic of South Korea where Dr. Sprinkle’s book is being published in the Korean language by Alma, a division of Munhakdongne Publishing Group, to spread the word on hate crimes and hate crimes prevention. As Sprinkle says every time he is offered the chance, “We who believe in justice cannot rest.  We who believe in justice cannot rest until it comes!”

Happy Fifth Anniversary, Unfinished Lives Blog!  Here’s to many more!

June 30, 2013 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brite Divinity School, Bullying in schools, Don't Ask Don't Tell (DADT), GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, Independent Book Awards (IPPYs), LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Rainbow Lounge Raid, Social Justice Advocacy, South Korea, Texas, transphobia, Unfinished Lives Book, Unfinished Lives Project, Unfinishedlivesblog.com | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay Hate Crimes Blog Celebrates Fifth Anniversary

The Golden Rule and Anti-Gay Discrimination

 

Dallas Voice photo

Dallas Voice photo

College Station, Texas – The Texas A&M University Student Senate voted on April 3 to discriminate openly against their fellow LGBT students under the guise of “religious freedom.”  By a vote of 35 to 28, the notorious “Religious Funding Exemption Bill,” S.B 65-70, was approved, endorsing the request of any student “who has a religious objection” to opt out of the use of their student activities fees to support the Texas A&M GLBT Center.   The only religiously appropriate response this ordained Baptist minister and theologian is able to muster at this sad news is “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

Cynical efforts to cloak anti-LGBT discrimination in religious authority have been tried and found wanting many times before, even on the Texas A&M campus.  In 2011, such a bias-driven initiative was defeated, along with a parallel effort in the Texas legislature to defund other university LGBT service centers throughout the state.  This year, such a parallel legislative effort using the disguise of religious liberty has already begun in the legislature.  One is left to wonder whether there is a conspiracy between a conservative faction of the Texas state government and bias-driven student activists, given these strangely similar resolutions.  It should be lost on no one that arch-conservative and openly anti-gay Governor Rick Perry is an alumnus and former cheerleader from Texas A&M.

Religious people of goodwill everywhere should sound the alarm when the language of the Bible and religious teachings are hijacked to support an extremist agenda.  Such abuses not only harm the marginalized communities they target, in this case the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.  They also harm the perception of religion in public life, making religion seem bigoted, narrow minded, and hostile to the very idea of diversity that makes both church and state stronger and more humane.

The vast majority of scholars of religion and philosophy, Christian and Jewish, have rejected the sort of religion-based bigotry being used to justify efforts to roll back the calendar to a less diverse, less just day and time.  No credible argument can be made for the Bible’s opposition to committed, loving, same-sex relationships.  No ancient faith leader, from Moses to Jesus to the Apostle Paul, ever had a concept of sexual orientation in their worldview at the time of the establishment of Jewish and Christian religious traditions.  Credible biblical scholarship debunks the “religious argument” from Scripture that the so-called traditional values folks have been hanging onto for decades now.  While zombies may be popular on cable television, such attempts to marshal biblical texts through efforts like S.B. 65-70 that discriminate against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students, faculty and staff in the name of “religious freedom” are no more than the walking dead.

The administration of Texas A&M long ago saw fit to leave the prejudices of racism, misogyny, ableism, anti-Semitism, and anti-gay bias back in the bad old days of the past, when people were less educated and less attuned to the demands of a pluralistic, diverse, multi-ethnic, and multi-orientational country.  Multitudes of LGBT Texans, their families, friends, and their progressive allies are proud of the A&M community for establishing one of the premier GLBT resource centers in the state of Texas and in the United States.  Such narrow minded proposals as the one passed by Student Senate in College Station deny the fact that millions of dollars come from tax paying LGBT Texans who are glad to support a great university like A&M, whether they attended there or not, and do not need to vet every use of funds on a university campus.  A state school is answerable to millions of people beyond its campus, and the progressive community in the Lone Star State surely does not want a public university to endorse discrimination against anyone.

Jesus practiced and taught the Golden Rule.

Jesus practiced and taught the Golden Rule.

As a Baptist minister, ordained to the Gospel ministry for 36 years now, I can testify that support for the A&M GLBT Resource Center and others like it are a good thing—a very good thing, and one I am proud of, both as a Baptist and a Golden Rule Christian.  I have had the great privilege of visiting the campus, of meeting the leadership of the GLBT Center, and of hearing of its history of service to the larger university community since its establishment in 1994.  I wonder why some of my fellow-believers who profess to adhere to the teachings of the Bible and Jesus Christ so easily dismiss the very Golden Rule Jesus commended to his disciples—that we treat others as we would have them treat us (see Leviticus 19:18 and Matthew 22:36-40)?  Nothing else trumps that great teaching in either Christianity or Judaism, as the law, the prophets, and the Christ testify.  Why would self-professed followers of the Word now seek to turn the oracle of true freedom into a form of discrimination, to pervert it from its gracious purposes?  I do not know.

The heart of religion in a free state is to hold people above ideologies, and protect us from the very sort of discrimination this noxious Student Senate bill has enacted in the name of religion.  We hope the A&M community will reconsider what it has done, will not make the same, tired mistakes of centuries of religiously-based bigotry, redress this misbegotten action, and come to a richer, fuller understanding of responsible religious freedom—to care for those who have no one else to care for them in the name of God—rather than to discriminate as if there were some sort of totalizing state religion in Texas.

I and many others like me stand with the brave LGBT students and their allies who spoke out against the harm and discrimination their elected representatives have enacted.  I hope many of these LGBT Aggies will choose to run for Student Government office, and defeat some of their classmates so they may be sent back to the classroom of real religion, Golden Rule Religion, where good faith overcomes bad religion, and people of goodwill learn how to devise new ways to treat one another as they themselves wish to be treated.

~ Rev. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Founder and Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, and Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas

April 4, 2013 Posted by | Anti-Gay Hate Groups, Brite Divinity School, GLBTQ, Governor Rick Perry, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, LGBTQ, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, Texas A&M GLBT Center, Texas A&M University | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Breaking News: Unfinished Lives Project Founder Becomes Official Huffington Post Blogger

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle now blogs for Huffington Post (Keith Tew photo).

Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle now blogs for Huffington Post (Keith Tew photo).

Dallas, Texas – The founder and director of the Unfinished Lives Project, Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, has been officially accepted as a Blogger for the Huffington Post.  Dr. Sprinkle’s inaugural blog post on the civil disobedience of a gay Louisville, Kentucky Baptist preacher and his spouse may be found by clicking here. Josh Fleet, representing the Huffington Post Blog Team, informed Dr. Sprinkle that his post had been accepted and posted Sunday on the Religion Page of the highly respected and widely read progressive news and opinion source.  He will be a continuing Blogger for the Religion Page, which is overseen by the Rev. Dr. Paul Raushenbush as Senior Editor.

Sprinkle ventured into the cyber world as a blogger in June 2008 with the launch of Unfinishedlivesblog.com, a web forum for news, opinion, and discussion concerning the alarming rise of anti-LGBTQ violence in American life.  With nearly 500,000 hits on the site currently, a notable achievement for a blog done by an academic and a theologian, the future of Unfinishedlivesblog.com looks promising.  The continuing readership of the blog is, of course, largely due to the unabated rise in hate crimes murders perpetrated against the LGBTQ  community since the Matthew Shepard, James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into federal law by President Barack Obama in October 2009.  Anti-violence programs throughout the United States, as well as the Hate Crimes Program of the FBI have registered higher numbers of bias-drivien murders perpetrated against LGBTQ people in each of the three years since the Shepard Act became the law of the land–and activists see no signs of these horrific statistics lessening in the near term. Sprinkle and the Unfinished Lives Project Team have chronicled this dismaying increase in anti-gay violence throughout the years.

Sprinkle.UnfinishedLives.98111Originally conceived as a supporting platform for the publication of Dr. Sprinkle’s IPPY award winning book on LGBTQ hate crimes murders in the U.S., Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011), Unfinishedlivesblog quickly took on a life of its own, thanks to the cyber know-how of two savvy divinity school students, Todd W. Simmons of Houston, Texas, and Adam D.J. Brett of Syracuse, New York. As time passed, Huffington Post became an invaluable source of information on anti-LGBTQ hate crimes and the responses of the queer and religious communities to these outrages.  “Being named a Blogger for HuffPo brings the spiritual and cyber journey of my activist life to a new milestone,” Sprinkle said in response to the news of his selection.

The brave story of the non-violent protest against Kentucky’s repressive anti-gay and anti-same-sex marriage laws by Rev. Maurice “Bojangles” Blanchard, and his spouse, Dominique James, sparked a passion in him to write about this news for a wider audience than a personal blog can reach, Sprinkle said.  The unflinching support offered by Blanchard and James’s pastor, the Rev. Joe Phelps, and the congregation of Highland Baptist Church, Lousiville, was also a feature of the story that begged to be shared broadly with the Baptist world, and beyond.  The parent blog post that gave rise to the Huffington Post piece can be found by clicking here.

Sprinkle is himself a openly gay man and an ordained Baptist preacher (with the Alliance of Baptists) who has recently celebrated his 36th year of ordination.  He is the Director of Field Education and Supervised Ministry at Fort Worth’s Brite Divinity School, a post that he has held since 1994.  Sprinkle is Professor of Practical Theology, and the first openly gay scholar to be tenured in the 99-year history of the school.  He also serves as Theologian-in-Residence for Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, and the largest liberal Christian Church in the world with a primary outreach to the LGBTQ community.

January 27, 2013 Posted by | Alliance of Baptists, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Brite Divinity School, Cathedral of Hope, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Highland Baptist Church, Huffington Post, Huffington Post Religion Page, Independent Book Awards (IPPYs), LGBTQ, Marriage Equality, Matthew Shepard Act, Maurice "Bojangles" Blanchard, Same-sex marriage, Social Justice Advocacy, Unfinished Lives Book, Unfinishedlivesblog.com | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Breaking News: Unfinished Lives Project Founder Becomes Official Huffington Post Blogger

Gays, Lesbians, Transgender People in the Crosshairs This Election Season: Brite Divinity Bible Event Speaks Out for Justice

Speakers at The Bible, Politics, and Sexuality event at Brite Divinity School (l-to-r): Dr. Shelly Matthews, Dr. Stephen Sprinkle, Dean Joretta L. Marshall.

Fort Worth, Texas – A gay and a straight professor speak out for sexuality justice in an upcoming forum on the role of the Bible in the political discussion this election year.  Brite Divinity School faculty members, Dr. Shelly Matthews, Associate Professor of New Testament, a straight scholar, and Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, Professor of Practical Theology, a gay scholar, will speak at the Bass Conference Center at 7 pm on the divinity school campus, Monday, October 22.  The event will be introduced and moderated by Dean Joretta L. Marshall. The public is invited.

Dean Marshall, in announcing the event, said, “In the highly charged political arena, the Bible is often used in conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation. The Carpenter Initiative in Gender, Sexuality, and Justice is pleased to host Brite scholars, Dr. Shelly Matthews and Dr. Steve Sprinkle, who will offer perspectives on how the Bible is used in positive and negative ways, as well as strategies for moving conversations of sexual justice forward.”

Dr. Matthews, educated at Harvard, is a New Testament expert on many topics.  She was the founder and served for six years as co-chair of the Violence and Representations of Violence Among Jews and Christian section of the Society of Biblical Literature and currently serves on steering committees for the SBL Sections on Early Jewish Christian Relations and the Book of Acts. She is also on the editorial board of the Journal of Biblical Literature and a member of the Westar Institute. Her research interests include feminist biblical interpretation, feminist historiography, early Jewish Christian relations, and Paul in the second century. Dr. Matthews has authored several books and monographs, including Perfect Martyr: The Stoning of Stephen and the Construction of Christian Identity (Oxford, 2012).

Dr. Sprinkle, the first openly gay scholar in Brite history, also serves as Director of Field Education and Supervised Ministry. He is an ordained Baptist minister, and received his Ph.D. at Duke University in systematic theology. He holds membership in the Association of Theological Field Education and the Academy of Religious Leadership. Widely recognized as an expert in anti-LGBTQ violence, Dr. Sprinkle is the author of many articles and three books, the most recent of which is the award-winning Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011). Dr. Sprinkle is also the founder and director of the Unfinished Lives Project, and serves as Theologian-in-Residence at Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, the world’s largest liberal Christian church with a predominant outreach to LGBTQ people

The Bible, Sexuality, and Politics event has a Facebook page where essential information may be found, including directions to Brite Divinity School, and a way to register attendance.  The evening is free and open to everyone.

October 12, 2012 Posted by | Brite Divinity School, gay men, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, LGBTQ, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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