This Panel for Pride Sunday will feature members of Calvary who will share a part of their story and how their faith has intersected with their identity and/or their inclusion, acceptance, and love of those in the LGBTQI community. We welcome everyone, really.
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Today, San Francisco celebrates Pride. And we mark this in worship here at Calvary because too many churches and religions have told these beloved children of God, those who are members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and Inter-sex community, that they are not welcome, that there is no place for them in the church or in God’s family.
Today, we choose and hopefully exhibit radical love and radical inclusion, the very kind of love and inclusion Jesus modeled for us.
There was a time in my own life, where I would’ve been confused or maybe even offended by a rainbow flag hanging outside of a church. I grew up in the south, in a small Korean immigrant church community, and I really wanted to be a good Christian.
And not all, but some the loudest voices told me there was only one way do that. And it included being against the “gay issue.”
That’s how I entered seminary. And as a student of theology, I read and studied about this “issue.” I wanted to figure out both sides of the issue, to be well-versed, to know everything about this issue.
But then, people I knew, friends, dear friends, friends who wanted to be ordained but couldn’t started coming out to me. And then it wasn’t about an “issue” anymore. It was about people. About relationships. About beloved children of God. And then it became clear to me that I could only choose love.
Today, as I see this church adorned with rainbow flags, I am proud. Proud to be an ally. Proud to be part of a congregation that faithfully and visibly pronounces love. I am proud.
But if you are offended, or confused, or hurt, please let’s talk about that. Let’s be in dialogue and communication when we don’t agree.
Because I believe we are stronger together than apart, that our disagreements do not have to divide us, that we can be God’s church discerning together rather than retreating to our own echo-chambers that simply parrot back to us what we already believe.
And no matter where you may stand this morning, we wanted you to hear some voices from the pews of people who have chosen love again and again in their lives and through their actions, often with the help of their faith community.
And while I know there are so many stories of choosing love in each and every one of your lives, it is a pleasure to have Jim Dees and Marion Stanton sharing with us this morning.
First, we welcome Jim Dees. After being “un-churched” for 27 years, Jim and his partner Richard came to Calvary for an organ recital on the July 4, 1999. The next Sunday Jim came back and has never left. Jim has served as a Deacon and Deacon Moderator. He and Carol Carruba started a new ministry, the Stephen Ministry. Then in 1999 Jim was hired as the Equipping Director and was on the staff for 10 years in that capacity. This morning, Jim shares a part of his story with us. Thank you, Jim.
Second, we have Marion Stanton. Marion moved to the San Francisco peninsula in 1975 to attend law school, and she and Emmett, a law school classmate, married in 1978 and moved to the city to pursue their legal careers. Born and raised in a small town in Alabama, Marion grew up in the southern Presbyterian Church. She first attended Calvary on Easter Sunday in 1981, and joined the church following year. She and Emmett have three children who grew up here at Calvary, two of whom are married. And they have one grandson. Marion is an ordained Deacon and Elder, and she has served on mission teams for youth ministry as well as for adult education. She served two terms on the board of the Calvary Foundation, and, since 2003, she has chaired the Senior Adults Leadership Team, coordinating programs for the Tuesday morning Senior Adults group. She also has been blessed to be part of a small, covenant bible study group here at Calvary for over 15 years. Thank you, Marion.
Marion Stanton: As Joann has said, my husband and I have three grown children. Two of them happen to be gay. Our eldest child, Elizabeth, is married to a guy named Kevin—they just celebrated their 6th wedding anniversary. They are the parents of our only grandchild—so far—who is about to turn 2. We love Kevin very much—even if he is a Dodgers fan.
Some of you have heard part of Ann’s story from me before. Ann is our middle child. When Ann was a Senior in high school, she came in to talk to my husband and me—to let us know that she had a date to the Senior prom. Her date was Emma—her girlfriend. I don’t remember exactly what all we said or exactly how we reacted. But once we understand that this was her girlfriend—and that she was telling us something very important about her sexuality, we both got up, hugged her, told her that we loved her and would be there for her no matter what. It was an amazing evening. Not that we had it all figured out. But there was no question of our love and support for our daughter.
Fast forward a few years and a few relationships, and Ann met Heather, who comes from good Lutheran stock. In fact Ann and Heather met when they were doing a year of service in Milwaukee as part of the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, right after college. They fell in love and moved to Denver—where Heather was starting a graduate program in social work—to see how things would work out. Things worked out just fine for them. Just over three years ago, we were blessed to be a part of their wedding in Colorado. Now this was actually before ‘marriage’ was legal for them in Colorado. But this was a celebration of their love and commitment to one another in the presence of family and friends. As Ann explained to us, elopement was not an option. We were so happy that our families—Ann’s aunts and uncles, cousins, etc., on both side–were all on board. No one stayed away because they disapproved of this beautiful relationship.
I remember, the night before the wedding, we asked Ann, “Are you happy?” She got the most radiant smile on her face and said: “Have you met Heather??” We adore Heather. (And she’s not a Dodgers fan.)
Our son Emmett—our baby—came out to us a bit later in his life than Ann had, though this was less of a surprise to us. He had several things in his life to sort out, and he had to figure out how and when to be ‘out’ to us. He knows how much we love him—and those of you who know him surely understand that. We look forward to the day when he finds the right person to make a commitment to—to share his life.
So the question Joann asked me to address was how all this has affected my faith. I know the support of clergy and friends here at Calvary has been incredibly helpful to me, and this church was a rock for our son as well, taking him in when his life was a mess, nurturing him in love, and just being there for him. Before Ann came out to us, back in high school, she met with our former pastor, Kevin Doty, himself a gay man, who helped her think through how to approach us. That was a gift. Ann told us later that among the things she talked through with Rev Kev was the possibility that we might reject her—kick her out of our home. It broke my heart to hear that she even thought this was remotely possible. But she was 17, and she had heard stories. This still happens to gay children across the country—and I cannot imagine that this is what God expects or requires of us as parents—as Christians. I recall talking with Joanne Whitt, another former pastor here at Calvary, about Ann and Heather’s plan to move to Denver. She asked me if I thought they were ‘safe’ there. I had not really thought about that before. We’ve lived in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco for 38 years—and we’ve seen many things over those years. But it’s a pretty accepting area—certainly today—, though there are instances even here, of violence against gay people. Ann and Heather are not afraid to show affection in public. But Denver is pretty cosmopolitan. They are very active in the gay/lesbian community there, and I try to believe they are safe.
But two weeks ago, when I woke up that Sunday morning to the news that 49 people had been killed in a gay nightclub in Orlando, I was shaken—even though I was pretty sure none of my children were in Orlando. It’s a reminder of their vulnerability. And then, when I first saw the list of the names and ages a couple of days later, I knew that these were my children. 28, 30, 32. In the prime of life—just like my children.
All of them beloved children of someone. At least we’d like to think they were beloved by their parents. We’ve now learned that some of them were not out to their parents—for whatever reason—and their parents learned of their sexual preferences after they were killed or injured in the shooting. And it’s even possible that some of these young people had been rejected by their families—and they may have been enjoying a night out with their ‘chosen families’—those who accepted them for who they were—in a place they thought was safe. There are parents whose churches—their communities of faith–in all parts of the United States—encourage them to reject these ‘sinners’—these ‘abominations’—ugly words to describe beloved children of God. Suicide is a real risk for gay teenagers and young adults in this country. And there are countries around the world where gay people are at risk for condemnation by governmental authorities—many laws motivated by interpretations of religious doctrine. And it’s just unconscionable to me. So I am blessed to be part of a community of faith that gets it. We are called to love one another. At Calvary, we welcome everyone, really!
In Isaiah, the prophet tells us that God comforts us as a mother comforts her child. It’s a beautiful image. God loves us more than we can imagine, and tells us to love everyone—no exceptions. I am grateful to have this community of love as my community of faith.
Sisters and brothers, there is no day like today to proclaim the good news of the gospel, that God’s love is expansive and inclusive and bigger than we can even imagine.
Kermit the Frog once sang, “It’s not easy being green.” And it’s not easy being anything other than heterosexual and cis-gendered in this society. It’s not easy being an ally. It’s not easy to choose love when hate is proclaimed so loudly and so violently.
But it is beautiful. And perhaps God is calling us to that kind of radical love this morning. Thanks be to God, Amen.
Commissioning of Pride Parade Marchers
Following the recent horrible shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, my dear friend, the Rev. Laura Cheifetz, said this:
“For everyone who has ever complained about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer displays of hyper visibility, like at Pride events, this (morning’s gun violence) is exactly the kind of event that requires such in-your-face celebrations of identity. Because of the death faced by communities and their allies, [LGBTQI}] communities must celebrate life and identity whenever and wherever possible. Pride is defiance. Pride is protest. Pride is joy. Flame on, my loves.” – Rev. Laura Cheifetz
I invite all those who are marching in today’s San Francisco Pride Parade to come forward for a commissioning.
Thank you for your bold witness.
As we march, we remember those who have died paving the way towards inclusion, those whose lives have been taken simply because of their sexuality, and so our hearts are filled with grief.
But may your hearts be also filled with joy, celebration, and great pride. For God goes with you. And your marching boldly proclaims God’s love for all.
So we commission you to your work as you walk and march.
Let us pray, and would those who are willing, please extend your hands forward in blessing.
Be with all those who will participate in Pride this day. Keep them safe, keep them hydrated, and may their walking be a communing with you. May each one know your great love for them which has no end and no bounds. And we pray especially for this group from Calvary Presbyterian Church.
In their walking, may they reflect the ministry and love of Jesus Christ. May they feel the powerful presence of this faith community as we commission them to act in love.
Help us to meet violence with peace, fear with joy, and hate with love.
We pray this in the name of the one who taught us to love, Christ our Lord, Amen.