By Jim Segaar
I was caught off guard on Friday, June 26 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. I knew the court was considering the case. I’d read several predictions that the ruling would be what it turned out to be. But when the ruling was announced, and when I read the last paragraph of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision for the majority, I was shocked.
I was shocked by how much I cared. How tight my throat got and how many tears flowed when I first read the decision. How I read that last paragraph over and over through the course of the day, and every time had to wipe away tears. How even now, I choke up thinking about it.
Looking back over the last few years it can seem that society’s movement toward acceptance of LGBTQ rights, and ultimately of same-sex marriage, happened quickly. It was only two years ago that Washington became the first state to uphold same-sex marriage by a vote of the people, after all. Some things have changed very rapidly. But over the course of my life, and the lives of many my age, the journey to acceptance has seemed much longer and slower.
As a child growing up in the middle of nowhere I didn’t even know that homosexuals existed, let alone what they were and how they lived. I knew I was different from those around me, that I just never seemed to fit in or understand what I was supposed to do in social settings, but I was a senior in college before it finally sunk in that I was gay.
Even then, I had few role models that I related to. I went to a few gay bars, dated a few guys, attended a Pride parade or two. But I didn’t identify with the “gay lifestyle” very much. I preferred quiet times spent with close friends to frenetic nights in the clubs. What I wanted most was one other special man, who would accept me, love me, complete me.
Those around me had other ideas. When I came out my parents were thoroughly confused, but they wanted to be supportive. My Mom’s love never wavered. “You are our son,” she said. That was that. But to some family members, and to some of the loudest mouths in the Evangelical churches my family attended, I was an abomination.
It’s a funny thing about being called an abomination. Lily Tomlin once played a bag lady named Trudy, who had a great line. It went something like this, “I love being considered insane. It gives me an enormous range of acceptable behavior.” Well the same can be said of being considered a thing that causes disgust and hatred. Pretty much anything goes.
It took me decades to understand myself, and finally to learn that I have a constructive part to play in this crazy, wacky, wonderful world we share. Seattle First Baptist was the first place where I was accepted just as I was. Not just tolerated. Not taken in assuming I’d “get better.” But accepted, celebrated, challenged to contribute, depended on. At church I met the love of my life, and over many years we managed to navigate the often-choppy waters that finally brought us together as a married couple, husband and husband.
But all of that happened before June 26. Why did the Supreme Court’s decision mean so much to me?
I got a hint from the first chapter of the oldest Gospel, Mark 1. It tells the story of Jesus’ baptism. As he came out of the water, he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice called out: “You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my favor rests.”
What a validation! An expression of belonging. No matter what happened next, Jesus knew who he was.
That’s what it felt like for me to read Justice Kennedy’s words. They told me who I am, and what I have longed for my entire life. They told me that I belong, not just in my home, or in my church, but even in my country, in these United States of America.
Here are those words:
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 plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. 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. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.
By Pastor Tim Phillips
If someone wanted to write a book on the history of Seattle, the author might want to include the Hanfords and the Holgates who were founding pioneer families that called early Seattle “home.” The congregation that came to be known as Seattle First Baptist Church met in the Hanford home for several years after its birth in 1869.
If someone wanted to write about the history of women in ministry in the Pacific Northwest, the author might include the story of May Jones, licensed to preach and ordained by this congregation in 1882. That ordination “was highly irregular and attracted derisive comment as far away as the East Coast,” the story says. Nonetheless, the ministry of the “Rev. Mrs. Jones” went forward and she supplied the pulpit here and in 1883 founded and served the Chehalis First Baptist Church. We continue that celebration of women in ministry with the joyful recognition of Pastor Catherine Fransson’s 17 years of faithful ministry among us.
If someone wanted to write a book about Asian migration to the area, the author might include the story from 1886 about our pastor, the Rev. A.B. Banks, who, on receiving word during a worship service that a racist mob was gathering to attack Chinese immigrants, pronounced the benediction, grabbed his rifle, and rushed off to join the Home Guards defending the Chinese. Our contemporary commitment to gun legislation notwithstanding, the Rev. Banks was clear about his duty to stand with the vulnerable. That same commitment led to the establishing of a school for Chinese children which later developed as First Chinese Baptist Church, a thriving congregation that continues to this day. That book might also include a chapter about our commitment to our Japanese neighbors that included supporting the establishment of Japanese Baptist Church in 1899 and the well-documented support of our Japanese neighbors during the Internment of WWII. There might be some lines about refugees from Myanmar/Burma and ongoing support for resettlement.
If someone wanted to write the book about Civil Rights in Seattle, or the Occupy or peace movements, or the pursuit of justice on any number of issues, the author might reserve several lines for Justice Charles Z. Smith, and Dr. Stephen Jones, and the many members of our Social Justice Ministries that have been involved in everything from the economy to the environment.
If someone wanted to write a book about Gay Seattle, the author might include the gathering of gay men hosted in the early 1970s by Pastor Walt Pulliam in the gym because he thought they needed a safe place to gather and talk about their lives. Or the ministry of Dr. Rod Romney to provide a place of belonging and reconciliation that eventually produced the hymn we sing as “Bring Us Home.” Or the “mass wedding” in our Sanctuary on December 9, 2012, the first day same-sex weddings were legal in the State of Washington. Of course, we like to say that we had practicing marriage equality for 30 years before it was legal.
If someone wanted to write the book on Gay Seattle – and someone has, Gary Atkins, who is a professor of Communication at Seattle University – one might include the whole history of empowerment, solidarity, and inclusion. Reading the prologue of Atkins’ Gay Seattle: Stories of Exile and Belonging, I was stunned to find a reference to Walter Bruggemann, the Hebrew Bible scholar who is oft-quoted in Adult Learning and from the pulpit. In the book, Atkins writes that:
“... Bruggemann once said that when writing of those whose common experience is not race, class, or religion, but living as outcasts, ‘the central problem is not emancipation but rootage, not separation from community but location within it, not isolation from others but placement deliberately between the generation of promise and fulfillment.”
When I read this, I sent an email to Professor Atkins to thank him for his book and for the reference to the wider context that Bruggemann provides. Because it’s true. If someone wants to write the book on exile and belonging, our congregation may well have a page or a chapter or a few lines or at least a footnote in the story. That’s not because we are actors in someone else’s story. It’s because this is our story. And that story continues to unfold from the chapters that have come before and the intentions of those we are yet to write. As Bruggemann says, the answer to all those experiences and forms of being “outcast” is not isolation from others but “placement deliberately between the generation of promise and fulfillment.”
If we are writing the book on empowerment, solidarity, and inclusion, let’s find even more ways this June to write a few lines in our unfolding story.
By Pastor Cathy Fransson
Sitting in my church office between one task and another, I turn to look at the diploma for my M. Div. degree at Seattle University in 1999. Then back to my desk where my ordination certificate affirms my call to ministry in this church. Below that is a horizontal frame with three sequential photos of the laying on of hands at my ordination in May 2000. Both my parents are walking down the aisle, as well as my brother Dave. And there is Kathleen Southwick with Rod Romney, George Lawson, Ashlee Wiest-Laird with David Kile, Renna Pierce, and Gretchen Gundrum, my colleague and friend.
Shall I take that picture home with me? What shall I leave; what shall I take home?
I’ve forgotten what I’m supposed to be doing, so I wander over to my bookcase to look for inspiration. I pick out a book and take it to my desk, leafing aimlessly through it.
This is my life now: wandering between two callings, my ministry and my retirement—which is, wherever I find myself? This is a classic example of the transition between one part of life and another; between a familiar routine and the discovery of a new one I have yet to create. I’ve written about transition a number of times in my 17 years here, and accompanied others on the same journey. We all find ourselves in the in-between time.
The prospect of stepping away from my calling is daunting. And yet it offers promise as well as return.
I trust that your love supports me, and I know my faith does. Else what would I have been sharing with you all these years? Where am I going now? I am in no hurry because I have learned to trust processes that take time. It will take time for me to let go of the endless planning of calendars, to stop looking to be sure I’ve not forgotten one of you, to reflect for weeks on scripture before I deliver a sermon.
But I long for rest. Long conversations that nourish my soul. Worshiping in other churches or sometimes, nowhere at all, until the winter of 2016. Then we will return. This is our community, our safe place and our growing edge, where God calls us beyond the familiar to the new. We’ll be back.
I look around the walls of my office at the watercolor from Jackie Brooks, a dream catcher I made at one of our Lenten retreats, the evocative picture of a tightrope walker, a collection of small crosses. I cherish the conversations that have flourished here, the groups that surprised me with their care for one another, and the sermons that have taken shape at this desk.
I love this space. It is a warm, safe and comfortable home away from home. But it is time to move on into the new and unexplored places where God entices Ardene and me to walk.
God never stops calling us—and you—forward into the unknown, where we find more in ourselves than we ever imagined. Since “...there is no path to God that is not first God’s path to us....”
...I trust the paths I follow will lead me home. (John S. Mogabgab, Weavings (July/August, 1992), 2)
This blog includes thoughts from various contributors at Seattle First Baptist