Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Charting the Future of Ministerial Ordination for LGBTQ People: When the Unthinkable Becomes Commonplace

SVS Russell ORD47 (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.

Ordination: Celebrating the Gift of Ministry, by Stephen V. Sprinkle

Ordination: Celebrating the Gift of Ministry, by Stephen V. Sprinkle

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

June 27, 2014 Posted by | GLBTQ, Heterosexism and homophobia, Homosexuality and the Bible, Huffington Post, Huffington Post Religion Page, LGBTQ, LGBTQ clergy, LGBTQ Ordination, Mainline Protestant Churches, Shower of Stoles Project, Texas | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Charting the Future of Ministerial Ordination for LGBTQ People: When the Unthinkable Becomes Commonplace

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

Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue

Here at the Unfinished Lives Project we would like to a moment to say thank you to  Cody J. Sanders for the best treatment of the bullying crisis from a theological perspective we have seen!

The article is entitled: “Why Anti-Gay Bullying is a Theological Issue” and it was published on religious dispatches. This article is a must read for all people of faith.

Thanks again Cody for this compelling argument.

Cody J. Sanders is a Baptist minister and Ph.D. student in Pastoral Theology and Counseling at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, TX. Cody was a Fellow in the inaugural class of the Human Rights Campaign Summer Institute for Religious and Theological Study and is a participant in the Beyond Apologetics symposium on sexual identity, pastoral theology, and pastoral practice.

October 3, 2010 Posted by | Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, bi-phobia, Bisexual persons, Bullying in schools, Campus Pride, death threats, gay men, gay teens, gun violence, Hanging, harassment, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Human Rights Campaign, LGBT teen suicide prevention, LGBTQ suicide, Media Issues, Politics, Popular Culture, Public Theology, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Remembrances, Social Justice Advocacy, South Carolina, Special Comments, stabbings, stalking, Stomping and Kicking Violence, suicide, Texas, transgender persons | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-gay bullying is a theological issue

   

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