The Psalmist praises God saying “I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Indeed, each of us is fearfully and wonderfully made by God, made in God’s image, including God’s beloved LGBTQ+ children. Each of us has our own unique story of how God has sustained us and continues work in our lives. Our stories testify to both the challenges we have faced and to the transformational power of God’s grace.
Christian theologian Paul Tillich wrote: “The first duty of love is to listen.” This project creates a space for the church to grow in love by listening to and learning from the stories of those who are lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and their parents, siblings, and pastors.
We hope you will understand our stories are an expression of our commitment to the church and a commitment to truth. They are a step towards deeper connection as we seek to break down any walls that may exist between us. May they end the isolation that so many feel and help bring healing to those who have experienced rejection, discrimination, shame and even violence.
If you are interested in sharing your story as a part of this project, please contact us. We will also accept anonymous submissions using an alias.
Sharing Our Stories
Our Lives Have Callings on Them
As a child born into the Cumberland Presbyterian church, a member of a family who loves the Lord and a person who obeyed God’s call to serve in the ministry, my life has been unreservedly impacted by the church for the entirety of my existence in flesh.
As an infant, I was dedicated to the Lord to be raised in the church and my church family took great pride in being the community that raised me. At 7 years old, my father led me to know Christ. By the time I was 13 years old, I realized that I was a part of the LGBTQ community. Since then, unfortunately, I have lived a life of highly maintained secrets and very selective truths.
I have been particularly selective when sharing details of my life with my friends and family. I must always consider the chain of connections from the person with whom I’m sharing back to my family or friends and decide if being 100% open is worth the risk. The risk I am speaking of is that of potentially losing the love and support of my family and friends--a crippling fear of rejection by the very ones who have raised me.
These fears are rooted in the reality that my family and many of my friends are devoutly a part of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. It is the church in which I was reared and of which I am still a part. The church where I have served faithfully. The church that provided me a path to finding my purpose and to answering the calling I believe has been placed on my life. This is the same church that teaches “whosoever will may come”. It is the church that I should feel safe being a part of.
As much as it pains me to say it, though, I do not feel safe being completely open and honest about who I am. The church is often not the safe place that God desires it to be. The reality is that the Christian community of today picks and chooses the ethical bounds by which it will abide in accordance with the word of God based on mortal preference rather than divine intent. We see these preferences at work when women no longer feel morally constrained to follow Paul’s directives to leave their hair uncut, or to keep their heads covered in church, or to always remain quiet in church. In the past, we’ve seen them at work when the Bible was used to justify the cruel institution of slavery, or to deny women the right to vote.
John Shore, author of Ashes to Ashville wrote, “While the Bible is nearly silent on homosexuality, a great deal of its content is devoted to how a Christian should behave. All throughout it, the Bible insists on fairness, equity, love, and the rejection of legalism over compassion. If heterosexual Christians are obligated to look to the Bible to determine the sinfulness of homosexual acts, how much greater is their obligation to look to the Bible to determine the sinfulness of their behavior toward gay persons, especially in light of the gay community’s call to them for justice?”
The bible speaks very infrequently about homosexuality, if at all. In fact, out of 31,173 verses in the bible, only six or seven mention anything that could possible be related to homosexuality. This could be due to the fact that there is no Greek or Hebrew word that translates to the modern understanding of homosexuality. When Paul wrote about “homosexual” acts being detestable, he was speaking of acts between two heterosexual individuals, often older men and young boys or enslaved young men. The detestable acts comprise abuse of power, violence, and non-consensual sex--the same acts that we as modern-day Christians label as detestable, regardless of the gender of individuals involved.
Our Confession of Faith states that “The moral law is fulfilled in the gospel. Therefore, the behavior of Christians in human relations should reflect the pattern of God's behavior toward them, in which love and justice are intertwined” (1.21). “Because of their God-given nature, persons are responsible for their choices and actions toward God, each other, and the world” (2.02). “In willfully sinning all people become guilty before God and are under divine wrath and judgment, unless saved by God's grace through Jesus Christ. The alienation of persons from God affects the rest of creation, so that the whole creation stands in need of God's redemption” (2.05-2.06).
Our very own Confession of Faith is written to warn the church that humankind are sinful beings. We are under the moral law of the gospel, and God’s grace is the only way to be saved from divine wrath and judgment. We are reminded that the alienation of people from God will affect the entirety of creation. Thus, it is not the church’s place to judge the eternal destination of someone in the LGBTQ community.
But that is exactly what will happen if the church excludes the LGBTQ community from answering God’s call--from serving the Lord in association with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
To be a Christian is to live like Christ. Christ loves sinners. This means Christ loves you. And Christ loves me.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church can have an impact on the world by demonstrating its love for those the rest of the Christian community detests--by showing the love of Christ to those the world labels as “unlovable”--by allowing souls like mine, who love the church and are a part of the LGBTQ community, the opportunity to serve the Lord when the Lord calls. Our lives have callings on them. Allow us to work hand-in-hand in obedience to the Lord.
God cares more about sharing love
Rev Andrew Bryant Ward
Testimony of Ally Rev. Andrew Bryant Ward of Nashville Presbytery:
I’m not sure when I started noticing that folks were different from me. When we're growing up, I suppose one of the first differences many of us recognize is the color of our skin. As toddlers, we do not distinguish differences between ourselves and others when we are playing with those of different ethnicities or social standing.
It actually took me a bit of time to get to the point where I became aware of my tribe and, perhaps as a natural progression, then downplaying others' tribes. I was a bit slow, but all of us eventually caught on. Like many others, tribalism became especially important to me in high school; while often not an intentional or conscious decision, both black and white students tended to hang with their own. Even nerds like me had a tribe. It imbeds in us the notion that uniformity is good, while differences are bad--or even somehow wrong.
I regret that I felt I had to go along with everyone else and respect tribal borders when I was younger. Through the subtleties of peer pressure, I learned to self-protect and avoid unpleasant consequences by toeing the line, laughing at derogatory jokes at the expense of others, and going on with the program.
I’ve never considered myself to be homophobic. I know that just because you don’t act or feel or look or think like me doesn’t mean you’re bad or a mistake. I didn’t quit listening to Elton John when he shocked us by coming out as gay. I’ve always gotten along with friends who later came out as gay--both before and after their coming out (most of us knew and treated each other the same, regardless). But, while I supported them privately, I often failed to stand up for gay people when they were discriminated against or demeaned as somehow less worthy of love and respect than I.
Even as a pastor, I usually took the safe path and kept my head down to avoid conflict when I could have helped people learn to have healthy conversations about their differences. It just seemed easier to keep the conversations safe, rather than risk conflict. For some reason, many folks haven’t learned to accept differences, so even sharing supportive views of LGBTQIA+ in the church (of all places) can be like lighting a match to the sage. Instead of showing leadership, we often avoid the flames that can consume us out of fear that our careers and livelihood might be at stake. As a result, I have sat on the sidelines when it came to gay people, and I knew better.
While studying in preparation for ordination, I realized I needed to voice my convictions. I began to realize that Christ was leading me through his words and deeds to love without excluding anyone. I refused to see scripture as a rule book with a vengeful God keeping score. It was while giving voice to these learnings and revelations that I was labeled by a few as the heretic in class.
As I’ve grown in faith and in biblical and spiritual knowledge, I’ve grown in my conviction that God cares more about sharing love and working towards a just and peaceful world than God does about what gender with whom we find romantic partnership. I believe that all has not yet been revealed, that God is still leading us to a better understanding of what it is to be a disciple and fully human; and that includes new insights into our human sexuality.
It was not too many years ago that people of different ethnicities were forbidden to marry. To see a mixed couple was scandalous, and you could hear it condemned in our pulpits across the land. Now there is little resistance to love that overcomes racial differences. So it shall be with LGBTQIA+ couples as more and more of us accept the guidance of the Holy Spirit and stand in support of the basic human right of every one of us to find his or her own partner for their journey through life.
I’m proud to serve a denomination that was born when a handful of persons were brave enough and open enough to God’s Spirit to dissent from a doctrinal stance (predestination), even when faced with exclusion from the denomination they served. Ours is a denomination that initially resisted, but ultimately followed God’s leading, ordaining Louisa Mariah Woosley as the first female Presbyterian female pastor. She sought God’s will and braved the storm of criticism--an accomplishment not to be dismissed but held up as an example of listening to the heartbeat of God.
I am an ordained Cumberland Presbyterian pastor and minister of the Gospel of Jesus the Christ who embraces my LGBTQIA+ brothers, sisters, and siblings as nothing less than full equals. I support your full participation in the church and the sacraments, including ordination.
I join with other Cumberland Presbyterians in saying to you who are seeking the mystery of God, seeking to answer God’s call on your life, and/or who have been shunned and hurt by others, “I stand with you. I'm sorry for your pain. No matter what people say, God loves you, and will never leave or forsake you.”
I have been living in the closet of my church home for years
A longtime Cumberland Presbyterian elder
My first memory of church is being sent out of Sunday School to sit in the sanctuary with my grandmother for declaring that Jesus was not white. I was a precocious child who grew into an intelligent and opinionated teenager. This growth took place in a family filled with Southern and General Baptists (many of them pastors or deacons). There were years of sermons that went far past lunchtime and revivals that continued long after a child should have been tucked into bed because the service could not end until there were enough people at the altar. I did not see or feel the Holy Spirit moving in those places. I saw and heard people being bullied, bargained with, and terrified into “accepting” Jesus and “gaining salvation.”
It wasn’t long before I found myself down at the altar and then in the Tennessee River being baptized. There is not much that I remember from that day except my disgust of being forced into the freezing and dirty water from which I emerged a smelly and irritable eleven year old. Instead of being a joyous celebration of faith, this moment served as the cinch pin in my knowledge that this was not the place where I belonged. While my church attendance continued sporadically, I had determined by the age of sixteen or seventeen that I was an atheist and did not believe in God.
This belief continued into my young adulthood when I earned a coveted scholarship to Bethel College. The summer before matriculation, a very dear friend invited me to attend revival at their Cumberland Presbyterian church. Reverend Robert Rush was preaching, and they thought that I would like him. I reluctantly agreed to attend.
To my amazement, Hell fire, brimstone, and damnation were not the focus of the sermon that night, and I was intrigued. I had never had a revival experience like that before so I returned the next night and the next. It was a short time before I began regularly attending Sunday School and Sunday morning worship services. There was so much knowledge and understanding to be gained from those services, and I continued to be amazed. I was in a whole new territory, and this experience began the slow, but steady and powerful, reawakening of my long dormant faith.
During this renewal and revival of my faith in God, I began considering joining the church. However, it was important to me that I learn more about the CP denomination before making that commitment. I read books, talked to the congregation, and spoke to other CPs attending Bethel. The friend who had originally invited me to church offered to let me tag along as she served the presbytery as a delegate to General Assembly. Yet again, Cumberland Presbyterians amazed me with the love, community and familial atmosphere present at the denomination’s yearly business meeting. I made the decision to speak to the person who I already considered “my pastor” while we were at GA and informed them that I would like to join the church, and my journey to becoming an official Cumberland Presbyterian began.
The congregation welcomed me into their fold with open and loving arms, and I continued to flourish spiritually. My love and dedication to the church steadily grew, and at the age of nineteen, the Session asked me to be an elder. I began to research what that meant to determine if I was up to the task, and my pastor met with me to explain the duties and expectations of an elder. They read with me from The Confession of Faith, answered my questions, and allayed my fears. I agreed to become an elder and join the session, and I walked out of the meeting proudly carrying my shiny new Confession of Faith (a gift from my beloved pastor which I still cherish).
I was nervous on the morning of my ordination, but in the moment of kneeling at the altar, I felt the love, support, and joy flowing through the hands of my fellow elders into my soul. I was certain that I had made the right decision. My journey to find a church home and family felt complete. I was where I belonged, where I felt God leading me, and where I was loved. There have been many such moments through my life as a proud CP: rededicating myself through baptism (this time a beautiful ceremony that I remember), starting to serve as my church’s chosen delegate to presbytery, and especially when my presbytery chose me to represent them as a delegate to GA. Though I may not have been born Cumberland Presbyterian, this denomination has become a part of my DNA.
It has been many years now, and I continue to worship and serve alongside my family in the church. Never once have I felt unloved, unwanted, or ostracized from that worship and service. That is, not until the past few years as I have sat through presbytery meetings and heard respected individuals condemn, belittle, and spew hatred about me and my LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ. That dear friend who once invited me to church and I have cried, raged, and lamented together that LGBTQIA+ Cumberland Presbyterians, especially those in leadership positions, were being maligned and misrepresented. It was after the rumblings in West Tennessee Presbytery started and the ensuing tide of bigotry and homophobia began washing over me that I realized why this had never before touched my soul or spirit. I “pass” as heterosexual and do not “look gay,” but I have been living in the closet of my church home for years. Even though my church and session love and accept me, I am still cooped up in this dark and dim closet listening to the din of the rest of my family. My heart yearns to cook in the kitchen, play board games in the dining room, and have long conversations with my church family in the living room. Sadly it feels unsafe for me (and my church family) for me to emerge into the light so I stay hidden in the closet. Will I remain in this darkness forever? Won’t you let me out?
God Has Called Me To Serve
In the rural area where I grew up, we assumed that everyone was alike. The reality, as I came to understand, is that everyone is different in their own way. I just did not realize it when I was young.
When I entered college, I had an awakening and discovered that there were a lot of things I had not experienced. For example, two of my female classmates (one black and one white) were known as a couple. I make a point of their different races because at the time, such commingling was considered heresy. But then, to make matters worse, they were a couple… Well, as far as I knew--based on the culture in which I grew up--they were hell-bound!
This was how I was raised. People of different races didn’t date. And still, for many people today, people of same gender…well, to many, that is still considered a bridge too far. Imagine my own personal struggles when I went to Seminary; and for the first time, because of people I met, had classes with, and walked beside in faith, I wrestled with these social issues. It was quite the Jacob moment.
It was during this time that I came to terms with who God created me to be. After all, how does one tackle the issues of faith and ultimately not come to know oneself even better? It is only through God’s grace and the special intervention by some very near and dear people that I am able to tell this story.
You see, when I was entrapped by my old ways of thinking, I was made to feel undeserving not only of the love of those around me, but of God as well. I was worthless and doomed to hell according to many, and even disinherited by my family. Why? Because I had come to terms with the fact that I was not a straight, heterosexual person.
One summer night, because of what I had been taught growing up, because of what others had told me, because of what others thought of those whose orientation was different, and because I had come to believe that I was worthless, I tried to become invisible. I wanted to and tried to end my life. Instead, God had other plans.
My life didn’t end that night. Instead, my life began. Well, at least in some ways. I discovered grace that night. I reconciled with the One who created me in God’s own image and who loves me just as I am. I knew I had purpose. I knew I was loved. I knew I was still called to serve God through the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
But still, I struggle daily. Why? Because I serve in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church as a closeted bi-sexual minister of Word and Sacrament. I can’t fully be who I was created to be because I serve in a denomination that doesn’t recognize my uniqueness.
I serve in a denomination where many pass judgment on my own particular orientation as somehow less worthy than the myriad other expressions of sexuality around us. I serve in a denomination where many say I am not equal to my straight brothers and sisters-even though I may have as many, if not more, ministerial gifts than many serving in churches today. I serve in a denomination where some would rather condemn than acknowledge all for their desire to answer God’s call to ministry and truly welcome “Whosoever Will” may come.
Thankfully, God is bigger than all these earthly challenges. I know, without a shadow of any doubt, that God has called me to serve in church work. I know God called me to work side by side with others to help all humankind to find the goodness and grace of God’s love through Christ, to find peace in equality, and to find truth in love.
How then can anyone justify attempting to take away the validation of my call? None of us can stop others from being called by God. Instead, let us concentrate on the bigger picture of bringing others to Christ, rather than excluding those who are “not like us”.
It is my hope that our Church will continue to struggle with and entertain angels, to wrestle as Jacob did, and to recognize and validate not only those who are already serving among us, but those whom God is yet to call. In so doing, we will send a powerful message: this is your church family, and there is a place for you to serve God within the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
I have lived a healthy life as a homosexual son of God.
I was born into the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. As my parents told the story, my mother gave birth in a clinic in Whitney, Texas, on a Friday night, and I was in the church pew Sunday morning. My mother’s father, Rev. Roy Shelton, was a CP minister. He had nine children. Four of the five girls married ministers, and two of the four boys became ministers. A third of his sons became a church organist. One of my uncles, Dr. Robert M. Shelton, served as Dean of Austin Seminary.
My father was reared in the CP Church in Dallas, as his mother’s family members were long-term members of the CP Church in Marshall, Texas. As a young man, my father, Rev. Robert “Bob” Hull, heard his call from God to preach the Word. From a poor family, he was blessed to be able to attend Bethel College, where he met my mother, Kathy Shelton Hull. They were married in the First CP Church in McKenzie, Tennessee. My grandfather officiated. Both of my parents were devoted to the CP Church.
My mother attended CPYC as a youth and was the camp music director for many years. She directed the choir in every church where we were members. After serving churches in Texas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, my father worked for the Board of Stewardship. He went on to be pastor at Lawrenceburg CP Church, Murfreesboro CP church, Faith CP church in Metairie, LA, First CP Church in McKenzie, and Gleason CP Church. One of his proudest achievements was being elected the Moderator of the General Assembly.
Besides my parents and grandparents, Uncle John Smith, Uncle Jimmy Knight, Uncle Robert Shelton, cousins Jim & Maribeth McGuire, cousin Geoff Knight, cousins Susan & Matt Gore have all given their entire careers to the church. And we considered most of the clergy of my parents’ generation to be family—our extended church family. There are far too many to name, from Japan to Colombia to Texas to Tennessee to Illinois to Alabama. Throughout our lives, they have expressed their love for me and my two brothers.
I mention all of this background not as a way of simply stating my pedigree. But I mention my ancestry and heritage as an introduction to my confession of faith. Not only is my every memory rooted in the church, my entire being swirls from these roots. In my adolescence, as I was developing my identity, my father received the call to serve Lawrenceburg CP Church, in rural Middle Tennessee. I was nurtured by Miss Lurlene, Jane Crowder, Strib McLean, Hazel Kraus, Minnie Fae Morrison, Joe & Clara Baxter, Miss Anna Mae Springer, Clifton & Janie Philpot, and many other faithful CP church members. My parents and all of the loving people around me probably assumed that I was gay. I was bright, talented, cheerful, and prissy. I knew God loved me, and I felt Jesus’ embrace from all of those around me.
At CPYC the year after my senior year in high school, I was elected Moderator of CPYC. The following year, I started school at Northwestern University in Illinois. On February 2, 1975, I met my lover at the university chapel. He was preaching in the pulpit, and I was singing with the chapel choir in the choir loft. The family tradition continued. The following summer, I returned to Lawrenceburg for the summer and CPYC. It was very important for me that I reconcile my religious beliefs with my sexuality. I shared my thoughts with our good friend, Rev. Roy Blakeburn, and he lovingly supported me. Many years later, he told me that my trusting him enough to talk about my sexuality was one of the richest gifts he had ever received.
My coming out to my parents was textbook. After Sunday dinner, my parents always took a nap on Sunday afternoons— a clergy couple tradition. One Sunday, I found my mother resting in the living room. She sheepishly asked if we could talk. Mother confessed that she had “accidentally” read one of Robert’s letters to me. She wanted me to explain if we were boyfriends. I shared my thoughts and feelings and experiences of the previous year at college. I have never doubted my parents’ unfaltering love for me and my brothers. We cried together. She held me. I held her. My father joined us.
When people ask me what it means to be a Christian and accept myself as a homosexual, I find it simple. I explain that the core principal, which I was taught by my parents and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, is GRACE. The Grace of God knows no bounds. We are all saved only through Grace. (As an aside, our church in Whitehaven, Tennessee, was Grace CP Church.) I heard my father preach many sermons, pronouncing that the redemptive Grace of Jesus is not tolerance, is not an excuse, is not an apology. The depth of God’s Grace is unfathomable. It exists from the beginning of time and endures to the end of the ages. God’s Grace is all knowing. Grace is a part of our creation and our entire beings. Without the understanding of Grace, we cannot understand the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ.
In that belief, I have lived a healthy life as a homosexual son of God. Robert went on to attend seminary at the Episcopal Divinity School and was ordained as an Episcopal priest, 37 years ago. We adopted our son, Sean Patrick, in 1990. He is the joy of our lives. Mother’s biggest disappointment in learning that I am gay was that I might not be able to be a parent. She adored Sean Patrick and proudly showed him off to all of her friends.
I became a social worker—my secular ministry—and have worked in community mental health, child protective services, criminal and civil court. For the past twenty years, I have supervised an adult probation office, helping people in the criminal justice system. I try to share the message of God’s Love to all of my clients. I give anti-racism workshops, where I proudly tell about my father and his colleagues from the CP Center marching heroically with Dr. Martin Luther King and the Memphis sanitation workers in 1968.
I am still in the church choir every Sunday, and Robert is in the pulpit and at the altar. The family myth is that my grandfather told my mother, “Kathy, don’t go off to Bethel and marry a preacher.” But no one told me not to marry a preacher. After 34 years together, Robert and I were able to legally marry. We celebrated 45 years together this February with Sean Patrick and our precious granddaughter, Olivia.
My father was injured while pumping his car with gas, on his way to preach at Gleason CP Church, and died the following week. That parish family and the Bethel College community were around to support us. His funeral service was at the old First CP Church in McKenzie, where my parents had been married 59 years earlier. A vast gathering of CP leaders worshiped with us that day. I moved my mother to live with us in New York, where she continued to praise God with her beautiful soprano voice—truly an instrument of God. She died in my home, after Sunday pot roast dinner. She, too, was buried from the church where she had been married and where my father had served as a pastor. Bob and Kathy Hull are buried at Shiloh CP Church, among some of their closest CP clergy leaders and friends.
Their epitaph is from the hymn What Wondrous Love, “When from death I’m free, I’ll sing on.”
I am saddened that the church of my ancestors is struggling with fully accepting God’s gay and lesbian children and ordaining LGBTQ clergy. I know that my Redeemer lives in God’s church. My father participated in the discernment and ordination of many CP pastors. Along with his fellow clergy and presbyters, he laid hands on many men and women. He did not know or judge the nature of their sins. I have lived the faith of my mothers and fathers. I profess the redemptive Love of Jesus in all of our lives.
In spite of my family background, I do not pretend to be a theologian. However, I am a believer is Jesus, and I am grounded in God’s church community. I ask all of us to pray and meditate on these few excerpts from our CP Confession of Faith.
4.22 As believers continue to partake of God’s covenant of grace, to live in the covenant community, and to serve God in the world, they are able to grow in grace and the knowledge
of Jesus Christ as Lord. Believers never achieve sinless perfection in this life, but through the ministry of the Holy Spirit they can be progressively conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, thereby growing in faith, hope, love, and other gifts of the Spirit.
4.23 The struggle with sin continues, for believers are still imperfect in knowledge and the power to do God’s will. Their freedom to trust, love, and serve God and neighbors is
compromised sometimes by distrust, hate and selfishness. This inner struggle drives them again and again to rely on God’s power to conform them to the image of the new person in Jesus Christ.
6.15 God created the family as the primary community in which persons experience love, companionship, support, protection, discipline, encouragement, and other blessings.
In God’s Abiding Love,
I cried because of what they said at General Assembly
My name is Christi Brown, and I am a lifelong member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. I am so proud of my loving family’s long legacy within the church. My grandfathers, Rev. Lowell Drinkall and Rev. Paul Brown, were both ordained CP ministers and a Moderator of the General Assembly at one time. Rev. Dr. Paul B. Brown was a minister, a professor at MTS, and, as I remember him, my Uncle Buddy. The Rev. David Brown was a minister, a moderator, and the Director of World Missions for the CP church–my dad.
I am grateful that the CP church, and the love and service of all of my family members, exemplify the teachings of the New Testament, the teachings of Christ.
I travel all over the United States and the world working in a dream job. Throughout my travels, I am blessed with the upbringing of the church and get to use that in meeting and working with different cultures and diverse people. The CP Church and my family’s commitment to love and service have empowered me to be comfortable around the world and helped me acquire the skills necessary to be an ambassador. The CP church taught me about the teachings of Christ: to walk with Grace, to be humble, to love one another, to be of service, to be a Christian. I’ve met many different faiths and religions, yet we all have one thing in common: we are human. We are all in need of love, and a sense of belonging. That, is universal.
I was always a preacher’s kid. I was always gay. I was always drinking too much to change who I was or how I felt about myself. I was too scared to face the truth. I even considered suicide. I tried to be or act hetero. I forced myself to conform to societal and religious pressures by marrying a man. He was a good man then, and he is still a good man today. I went to therapy and cried about finding my truth. I listened to the harshness at Presbytery meetings, read the statements from the opposition, heard what people had to say about me at General Assembly, and I cried some more.
On March 4, 1998 at an Ash Wednesday service at Faith CP church in Memphis TN, my dad put ashes in the sign of a cross, on my head. I still remember what he said to me, and to me only. He said, “Baby, God loves you and so do I.” I heard him. I believed him. I still believe those words from a man who dedicated his life to ministry within the CP church.
So having these disparate experiences, I have to ask. How can the church of my family hate me so much? How can the church of my dad, who preached on love is love, and tolerance is justice, be the same church of the same Jesus? How can I deny my birthright to fall in love and marry a woman in a church that chooses to pass judgment?
I am drawn in the comfort knowing that Jesus surrounded himself with the poor, the sick, the hungry, the different, the marginalized – those ignored and ostracized by the religious leaders during that time.
I am comforted to know that Jesus would not only invite me to the table, but allow me to serve.
This is my opportunity to serve, perhaps in a way that my great-grandfather, Rev. F.A. Brown, who served as a CP minister and the Moderator in 1914; who served by speaking up for injustice and fought to keep the CP denomination together; who served by voicing his support of the ordination of women ministers and elders; and, who I believe would speak up for me today.
Who, as a lesbian, is the same energetic, laughing, preacher’s kid.
Who, as a woman in love with one woman, will commit her life to that one person in front of my Christian family with the blessing of God.
To tell me who I can love, marry, or be in a committed monogamous relationship, is to deny my truth, and the truth of my father.
But, today, I know the truth, and it is that I am a living example of the Great Reality. I am happier than I’ve ever been. I am a beacon of God’s Love with my open heart and open door.
The truth is: being gay is natural, banning gays is a lifestyle choice.
Full inclusion of people like me, into the CP church denomination, is to honor and live by the New Testament scriptures and the Great Reality that I am a Christian, who lives for love and service
I will continue to go out into the world, welcoming ALL brothers and sisters and siblings, to be one family of continued love and service, through Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior.
We Are Just Like You
I want to thank God for opening a door, through this website, to share my testimony. Ironically, the group that calls itself “Confessing Cumberlands” deserves thanks as well, for it has been through their messages of condemnation and exclusion that we, as LGBTQ Cumberland Presbyterians, advocates, and supporters, have become much more united in our struggle for the recognition and validation of God’s call to us to serve in God’s ministry than we might otherwise have been.
There is much fear within the contemporary Cumberland Presbyterian Church. We fear the dwindling numbers in our denomination, and we fear that affirming all of God's people--without regard for the distinctions humankind tend to make--will mean a "split in the church". In a nutshell, we fear the unknown.
I fear that the images many see in the media have given people the wrong idea of what LGBTQ+ Christians are like. The reality is that we are just like you. We are in loving, monogamous, committed relationships. We teach Sunday school, serve in the mission field, and are active members, Elders, and pastors in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
The opinions and prejudices of others do not change the reality of who we are: We are persons created in the image of GOD. Are we, as Cumberland Presbyterians, so arrogant that we would tell anyone they are less or they cannot serve as God has commanded? I pray not!
With that, I feel compelled to share my story in support of inclusion of all people in the CPC
I grew up in a very small, rural Presbyterian Church (USA). After graduating from college and entering fully into adulthood, I found my way back into the church through the encouragement of friends and a love of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
What drew me to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church was my friends' assurance that it was a denomination where I would be accepted, just as I am.
I had been absent from church for several years following a bad experience. In the church I was attending (not Presbyterian), my partner and I were welcomed. After all, it was a neighborhood church, and we worked with a few of the congregants. The pastor seemed to exude love and acceptance. It wasn't long before we felt comfortable and safe enough to help with Bible School, participate in work projects, and attend worship regularly. Everything seemed to be going well, and we were happy serving again and worshiping with fellow Christians. That is...until we expressed a desire to join the church.
Once we asked to join the church, people started gossiping. "You know she lives with a woman." "By them being here, it is keeping the Holy Spirit from entering our worship."
One evening, two Deacons of the church came to my house, sat at my table, and told my partner and me that we were no longer welcome in their church. I was devastated! How could they read the words of Jesus Christ and interpret them to exclude any of God's children?
I truly believe in our conviction that "whosoever will may come". I love and believe in the Confession of Faith of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. We are led by God’s command to not only welcome people regardless of sexuality or gender identity but to welcome all, for we are crafted in the very image of God, and are called to lead by example.
Unification is unity with all of God's people. I am but one example of how the gay Christian community has been excluded, made to feel unworthy, and demoralized.
I believe Jesus is love. Jesus loves all people. I believe we, as Cumberland Presbyterians, must speak out against oppression of any kind and live what we confess to believe. We cannot speak out against oppression while excluding those who are victims of oppression without compromising love we are commanded to show to them. We must be truly
welcoming Cumberland Presbyterians.
Active member and Ordained Elder in the CPC