When Cathy Knight told me a couple of years ago that she was heading to Southern churches to talk about inclusion for GLBT people, I thought, 'Wow! That's not going to be easy.' And it has not been. There has been resistance and often struggle. But her stories do affect change—one person at a time. Minds and hearts open, proving the power of one person's story. She reveals that we are people of faith already active in services across the U.S., including the Deep South.
Being a Southerner from the Bible belt, part of me feels terrified at the work Cathy is doing. It truly feels like a revolution. David and Goliath. But don't forget who won that battle with only a small stone. Cathy shares a simple message of God's love for all. A message that all should hear—even in the Deep South…especially in the Deep South.
I am a Lesbian. I am a Christian.
I said those words in United Methodist churches large and small throughout the southern states. It was my job to talk about LGBT people and church.
In Little Rock, we met in the basement of a very old church that was trying to find revitalization through the welcoming of gay people. They didn't know how to do that. I told them they had to 'Come Out' first. Their pastor had to 'come out' in the pulpit and mention LGBT people and let them know that this was a church where they would be welcomed and affirmed.
It would take work on the part of the church for that welcome to be real and not a bait-and-switch kind of gimmick to get people in the door, only to be told to give up their sinful ways. Some in the room were afraid of what I was saying, and others were relieved. I could tell that the gay men and lesbians sitting in the circle were pleased that I was there, talking about what they thought they couldn't—that there is a place for all of us in church.
On a Sunday morning I was in another Little Rock church. This one was very large with a mostly white upper-middle-class congregation. I spoke to a Sunday school class of about 150 people. I began … 'I am a Lesbian and I am a Christian' … and a few heads nodded with slight smiles breaking … and my racing heart began to settle. I spoke of parents sitting in pews who hear their gay kids bashed from pulpits as God's abomination … and I saw tears streaming down the faces of many in that Sunday school class.
Although my visits in Alabama, Kansas, Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee were my job, it was also my way of healing. I had been given the opportunity to talk about my story as someone who had lived a life in shame and addiction as I struggled to accept who I was. I knew God made me gay, but that didn't make it any easier to accept. I attended church for 18 years in my small town in Florida and struggled through every moment of it. My partner and I were approaching our twentieth anniversary and no one new. Why did I keep going, any logical person would ask? I had to. It was who I was, to be in church. And watch out for those church over-achievers. We are the ones trying to do 'good works' so that if someone ever found out—they'd still think we were OK. I was dying from the invisibility and imposed silence and I tried to numb out the pain with everything I could get my hands on.
So throughout the south when I said, 'I am a Lesbian and I am a Christian,' it was always with tears in my eyes. My life had finally become one of liberation, recovery and joy. I was ready to share it and my ministry became helping others let go of the shame. Many, many times after our gatherings, people would come up to me weeping; thanking me for being there. Our conversations would flow over into e-mails and phone calls. They were able to make changes in their churches and Sunday school classes because they had someone dare to come into their church and say—we are sitting in your pews and serving on your committees and even standing in your pulpits and it's time that we celebrate All of the creation of God.
The gift of my sexual orientation and reconciling that with my spirituality has been tested and renewed. I have found that once I let myself breathe the words that I could be living a fuller life than my existence in Florida, change was in the air.
The creation of God includes seasons of rebirth and change. As the leaves die, the winds shift and the cold and snow come to Chicago; in the midst of that change, comes new life. In the Christian world we are approaching the season of celebrating Jesus' birth. In the midst of the busyness, it is a blessed reminder to me of where I've come from and the amazing prospect of a new life, a new beginning that moves me from shame to love.
That notion is always out there, but somehow this time of year provides the opportunity for really understanding it. To feel fully whole, valued and loved as a special child of God is a gift of rebirth and we can all claim that gift.
Cathy Knight is an activist, facilitator, member of Broadway United Methodist Church and executive director of the Chicago-based Church Within A Church Movement. This United Methodist-related justice ministry works on issues of heterosexism and racism and is currently on a path to ordain qualified lesbians and gay men who have been denied ordination by the United Methodist denomination solely on the basis of their sexual orientation.
World of Chocolate
Set for Dec. 1
Chocolate enthusiasts will commemorate World AIDS Day on Dec. 1 at World of Chocolate, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago's ( AFC's ) extravaganza. The event will take place in the Imperial Ballroom of The Fairmont Chicago, 200 N. Columbus, from 5:30-9 p.m.
At this event, guests get to nibble on chocolate morsels from more than 20 of the city's finest eateries and caterers while raising funds for the fight against AIDS. ( Participating restaurants include Thyme and Aria. )
Guests can also look forward to a holiday bazaar with fine items donated by designer Christopher Radko. The affair will also feature music, a light buffet, an open bar and a raffle with luxurious prizes. Also, celebrity judges will again honor the best chocolate creations; among the luminaries expected are WGN-TV entertainment critic/reporter Dean Richards and Tru Restaurant pastry chef Gale Gand.
Tickets start at $60 each. For more info, call ( 312 ) 922-2322 or www.aidschicago.org .