Wednesday, October 23, 2013

letter 110

October 22, 2013

Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Conference
United Methodist Church
324 University Avenue 3rd. Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210

Dear Bishop Webb,

I am a transsexual woman who is asking you to please consider the lives of all LGBT folks and those of us in loving and committed relationships as you deliberate on Pastor Steve Heiss's charges. 

While I know the same gender marriage issue is primarily about the gay and lesbian communities, the transgender community endures all of the same prejudices and high suicide rates as do gay folk. We're the "T" in LGBT.  You see, Bishop Webb, since the 1970's and 80's much research has been done and it's now known that transsexuals are born with this medical condition of gender incongruence. Only God knows for sure why this happens. It can only be corrected medically and by a social transition so that the outward gender appearance matches the gender of the inner core being. Transsexual men and women experience the same discrimination issues and biases as gay folks, and sometimes worse due to their visual appearance and how well they "pass". They also go through emotional trauma and upheaval as children and teenagers and they  have the same constant feelings of "what's wrong with me?" as gay children and teens. The isolation is overwhelming and the fear of coming out or being "outed" is a fear of total personal devastation, rejection and constant terror.  Their  suicide rate, like gay kids, is much higher than the national average and other demographic groups.

Why am I telling you all of this? Because your decision will not only effect Pastor Heiss and the gay community, it will also effect the lives of transsexual and transgender people as well. Many transsexual men and women have difficulty getting jobs because we are not yet fully  protected by workplace non-discrimination laws as are  gay folks and other minorities. Consequently, many cannot afford to have their birth certificate legally changed to reflect their true gender and, as such, cannot get married in the Methodist church to a person they love,  according to the Book of Discipline.

Like gay folks, we also need safe and welcoming places to worship.  My loving spouse and best friend of 49 years and I are very fortunate to be members of Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Binghamton. I lived in the closet all my life, under the prejudice, discrimination and fear described above, until seven years ago when the pain became too unbearable and I began my own gender transition. The first person we disclosed to was Pastor  Heiss. He gave us his blessings, acceptance, support, encouragement and was there for us every step of the way as we worked our way through the transition . I came out publicly at a Tabernacle church worship service on August 8, 2010 and underwent the medical procedures to complete my gender transition four months later. We could not have endured the major social and emotional upheaval that accompanies a personal gender transition  had it not been for our family and our wonderful accepting and supportive friends at Tabernacle and Pastor Steve.  I know my story is just one instance,  but it is a story that, without the support of our church, would probably not have been successful. This is why it is so important to have Pastor Steve continue his work and for you all to work on changing this Methodist Book of Discipline  to be consistent with the Methodist Open Hearts, Open minds All are welcome logo.


Carol Chandler

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

letter 109

October 15 2013
Dear Bishop Webb
As members of Tabernacle United Methodist Church, we support Steve Heiss’ decision to be open and honest that he performs marriage ceremonies for gays and lesbians.
As you know, Steve came to this decision based on his long and thorough reflection, research and bible study. If our church is to have the mission “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”, surely we must provide support and love to all who come to the church.
We urge you to support Steve (and many other pastors) who have made the decision to treat all people equal, regardless of their sexual orientation. Christ’s message tells us to love one and other and treat everyone the same. Surely the Methodist Church should do no less.
In Christ
Margaret and Dick Culver

Thursday, October 10, 2013

letter 108

Bishop Webb,

Regarding the case of Rev. Steve Heiss officiating at lesbian and gay
weddings, I can imagine that you've heard all the arguments. I would
guess that others have reminded you already that Jesus, upon whom we
base our faith and practice, said nothing about lesbian or gay
sexuality. That in our gospel tradition Jesus himself repeatedly
breaks the law and emphasizes that the law is designed to serve
humanity, not the other way around. That Jesus reserves his sharpest
criticism for those he calls “hypocrites” and worse, who use law and
custom to withhold compassion and generosity from the people who need
it most. That Jesus emphasizes that the greatest law is to show our
love for God by loving one another – including outsiders, “strangers,”
and enemies! – and demonstrates that love himself by healing,
touching, feeding, freeing, and forgiving.

I can imagine that others have already pointed out the biblical laws
that few or no Christians currently concern ourselves with, found
alongside those troubling verses in Leviticus. Laws that prohibit
eating pork, lobster, shrimp, and assorted other delicious seafood.
That prohibit tattoos, bowl hair cuts, most modern vegetable gardens,
polyester-cotton blends, gossip, and working on Sunday. Even those
that may have died a bit harder, like the laws prohibiting attendance
at church by disabled people, eunuchs, and children whose parents were
unmarried. Like women in authority. And yet which most Christians
consider dated or archaic.

I suspect that other letters have even mentioned that the bible
probably doesn't say what you think it says about lesbian and gay
sexuality. That, rather than condemning the behavior of loving,
committed consensual adults, the biblical “clobber passages” are
arguably referring instead to ritualistic fertility orgies or other
religious worship practices by neighboring cultures and communities.
That the story of Sodom and Gomorrah is the story of vain sacrifices
(Isaiah 1), adultery and lies (Jeremiah 23), haughtiness and idolatry
(Ezekiel 16:49-50), pride (Ecclesiasticus 16:8), and wickedness and
inhospitality (Wisdom of Solomon).

Others may even have pointed out the number of lesbian, gay, and
gender nonconforming biblical characters – such as Jonathan and David,
Ruth and Naomi, the Roman centurion, Lydia, Prisca and Aquila,
Deborah, Hatach, the Ethiopian eunuch, and the magi – who are
presented as models and exemplars of chesed (lovingkindness) and

I suspect that you know all of this already. I'm sure that others have
brought these things to your attention as your conversation with Rev.
Steve Heiss has progressed, and I would imagine that one does not
become a Bishop within the United Methodist Church without knowing the
bible intimately.

And so the issue is not what you know, but what you do. The question
is whether you will be a dutiful and conscientious scribe or Pharisee
of the law, or whether you will set out for Jerusalem – turn toward
confrontation and take on the powers that oppose God's loving and
expansive rule, whatever the cost. Whether you will, in fact, bring
good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and recovery
of sight to the blind,
let the oppressed go free, and proclaim the
year of our God's favor. I pray that you will.


Rev. Miller Jen Hoffman
Open Door Metropolitan Community Church

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

letter 107

October 8, 2013

Bishop Mark Webb
324 University Avenue
3rd. Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210

Dear Bishop Webb:

            “What does the Lord require of thee but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).  How can we say we are just or kind when we discriminate against gay and lesbians and deny them the same rights and privileges that others enjoy, especially the right to marry.  How can we as United Methodists say we are just and kind when we will not grant gay and lesbians the same rights and privileges that many states, including New York State, grant?
            All people regardless of sexual orientation are children of God and should be accorded the same rights and privileges.  In my opinion, sexual orientation is not a choice, but is a given.  Why should anyone be penalized for something beyond his or her control? 
            The United Methodist Church has a reputation for being a champion for social justice, but in this instance, the Church has turned its back on God’s children by exercising their option to penalize and to punish clergy who are trying to follow God’s word.
            I urge you to recognize that we are all children of God and should not be discriminated against because of sexual orientation.  Unjust and unfair laws can and should be changed.  I urge you to do all in your power to guarantee that same sex couples have the right to be married in the Methodist Church by ordained clergy.  Help the United Methodist Church achieve the goal of exercising justice and kindness to all. 

Very truly yours,

Ruth S. Farrell

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

letter 106

Bishop Mark Webb
324 University Avenue, 3rd Fl.
Syracuse, NY 13210
RE: UMC & LGBT Equal Rights
Dear Bishop Webb:
It appears there is a continuing dissonance between above rights and the United Methodist Church’s advertised intent viz, Open Doors, Minds & Hearts. You, of course, know this well. Reportedly a substantial fringe group within said church opposes this attitude of openness and equality. As I remember, this country and this Church has been there before (think Civil Rights). Would that the current, if not modern, Church will lead the way rather than be dragged kicking and screaming into the present.
What will the Church do if a substantial portion of the clergy elect to recognize equal rights in their churches? I.e., if they risk “discipline” or removal by extending Christ’s hand to all, as he reportedly did?
I am sure that such a scenario has been discussed in the Church hierarchy. Incidentally, a UMC known to me considered “moving on” to the Congregational fold because of this very issue and because it had lost many attendees due to the fact that as a United Methodist Church it could not officially open it’s door, mind and heart in an authentic Christ like manner. The bigots came first in its “Discipline.” Perhaps it’s afraid of losing the bigots. Obviously, it is afraid.
What occurs, regarding such as the Rev. Steve Heiss and others, will light the way or keep the doors, hearts and minds in their current hypocritical positions.
Our thoughts are with you as you address this seemingly insurmountable issue. God speed and good luck.
Thank you for your consideration.
Respectfully yours,
Roy H. Stock

Sunday, October 6, 2013

letter 105

Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Annual Conference
324 University Ave., Third Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210

October 4, 2013

Dear Bishop Webb, my Brother in Christ:

"My hands are tied."

How often do we say that in life? When conflicting goods rally for our allegiance, we do what we "must," because our "hands are tied."

In the matter of the Rev. Stephen Heiss, who has put his ministry and the security of his future on the line on behalf of justice for his LGBTQ brothers and sisters, it is easy to say: My hands are tied. He has violated the Book of Discipline, which calls homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching. He must live with the consequences.

I serve as a Teaching Elder (pastor) in another mainline Protestant denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). We too lived for many years with clergy and laity alike believing our hands were tied.

I was one of them.  I couldn't come out in fullness of integrity to my congregation, lest I lose my job, my ordination, and my future as a Presbyterian minister. My hands were tied.

Then a friend, who had paid the price of coming out by lifelong estrangement from her Baptist pastor father, asked me, "What if there is a queer kid in your congregation? A kid who is struggling with his sexuality. And you are outed, and that queer kid draws the conclusion: 'She was ashamed. She knew it wasn't right. She knew we are worthless.' Are you willing to live with that?"

In the face of that possibility, could I say any longer, "My hands are tied?"

In the end I chose to come out to my congregation, in 2009, and to share the truth of my life and love with them. And they responded with grace upon grace-- even though many of them had been raised to believe that homosexuality was incompatible with Christian teaching, even though they knew the denomination might indeed seek to remove me from their midst. They chose to act in faith as if their hands were not tied. They chose to stand alongside me and claim me as one of their own.

Can you claim Rev. Stephen Heiss as one of your own? Can you choose to say, "My hands are NOT tied" and offer him your support and affirmation? Can you choose to stand, not only with Steve, but with Jesus, who uttered not one word on homosexuality, but many, many words on love, acceptance, and the slowness with which we ought to judge one another. Can you stand with Jesus, who never ordained anyone, but sat at table with tax collectors, sinners, and religious scholars; who touched and healed lepers and the blind and the disabled; and who apologized to the Syrophoenician woman for trying to withhold blessing and healing from her child?

When asked to join in covenantal love those who wished to be married, Steve did not say, "My hands are tied." He chose to stake his career and even his life for his conviction that God's grace is wide, wider than we can fathom, so wide we have not caught up with it yet. He chose to stake his life on the conviction that God is love.

Can you, Bishop Webb, do the same?

Grace and peace to you my brother. You are in my prayers.

Pat Raube, Pastor
Union Presbyterian Church
Endicott, NY

Friday, October 4, 2013

letter 104

"Love is patient. Love is kind."  

This is what I was taught growing up as a UMC member in a small town within the Wyoming Conference.  I attended church every week for about 10 years during my school aged years.  I then worked at Sky Lake for two summers once I was in college.  Those summers live on in my heart as two of the most meaningful, faithful, yet confusing summers in my life because at the same time I was struggling with my sexuality.  I was struggling, not because of what was being preached around me, because what I was hearing was "love all people, love is just, love is equal, etc.  I was struggling because the "church" was not affirming those who identify as gay and lesbian.  As a product, I kept the personal details (aka. the fact I am a lesbian) very far from my role as staff member and far away from most friendships I created during those summers.  This rang true in my college life as well.  You see, I had been invited to multiple "Christian" functions in which pastors would stand in the pulpit preaching things like sinning is fine as long as it is not being gay/lesbian because that would make you go to hell.  I just couldn't make sense of the fact that gay/lesbian and Christian could never be in the same sentence unless it was about sinning.  

It has taken me 15 years to return to a Methodist church community. I now live in a Boston, Massachusetts and have somehow found an opening and affirming congregation, that not only proclaims it by writing it in the church bulletin or having a rainbow on their church sign, but also LIVES it.  I have been welcomed, truly welcomed, into the church by way of a pastor who adds in the equality of God's love within every sermon he preaches.  Whenever, "man or woman, black or white, rich or poor" is spoken, "gay or straight" is too.  This Methodist church has not been struck down by lightening because of their stance.  They instead have enveloped true discipleship.  They have called those looking to further their spiritual journey to praise our God among them, regardless of their walk in life (i.e. gender, race, sexuality, etc).  

Coincidentally, I found this above mentioned church in the absolute hardest times in my life.  I walked in to the congregation drenched in grief, despair, and sadness due to my current circumstance of enduring three untimely deaths of very close family members, a divorce (from a partner who truly struggled with identifying as lesbian because of her conservative Christian upbringing), and single parenting a child with special health care needs within this past year.  I walked out being more sure about God's love for me.  All along my life's path, there has been one constant - God has been alongside me the whole time.  I am not perfect by any means, but in the darkest of moments I have endured, God's light has shined on.  My faithfulness has only increased as I've faced my trials and tribulations, most not relating to the fact that I identify as lesbian.  Yet until recently, I could not bring myself to worship within a community of Methodists because I did not want more grief/hurt/shame brought upon myself for being who I am.  It is honestly shocking that I made it back to the Methodist church, as I had pretty much given up searching because of the constant inequality that is proclaimed within many churches.  

I hope for more equality within my "home area" of NY.  

I ask you, Bishop Webb, to look beyond circumstance - to look beyond doctrine - to look beyond our human interpretation of Bible text.  

I ask you, Bishop Webb, to think of your brothers and sisters who suffer every day because of decisions made by "church."  
To think of God's unconditional love, that goes beyond human understanding.  
To think of discipleship, as those who are gay/lesbian or straight, who walk in the light of Jesus Christ.  
To think of John Wesley's words "Do all the good you can.  By all the means you can.  In all the ways you can.  In all the places you can.  At all times you can.  To all the people you can.  As long as ever you can."  

I ask you to remember we are ALL made in the reflection of God, regardless of identifying as gay/lesbian or straight.  

- Anonymous

letter 103

Here is my letter: 



I passionately believe the words and story of this song.  This song draws me to tears as I hear the silent struggle of especially young people who would rather kill themselves than to admit to a religious authority they are gay.  I stand for love, not judgment from an outdated theology.  I'm about breaking down barriers, not putting up new ones to keep my fellow humans out.  I am about tearing off masks, not about hiding behind them.     
Annette Snedaker

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

letter 102

Dear Bishop Webb,

We are both lifelong United Methodists, young adults who have worked for the United Methodist Church throughout our careers so far.  We have both committed our lives to the Church’s work of social justice and service.  We have both been blessed to know some very gifted, loving pastors who have had tremendous impacts on our lives.  Unfortunately, even in our relatively short careers so far, we have both also worked with pastors and District Superintendents who have been not just ineffective and dysfunctional, but who have also committed chargeable offenses that have had nothing to do with homosexuality.   These chargeable offenses have included:
·          Adultery
·          Sexual Harassment
·          Addictions

Each and every one of these pastors and District Superintendents is still ordained and still serving the Church.  Each of them has benefitted from District Superintendents and Bishops who have been willing to look the other way, give second and third chances, show mercy and grace, and forgive the offending person.

You now have before you a case involving another kind of chargeable offense.  We ask that you consider what kind of denomination we have become, when clergy who have knowingly harmed others are able to continue to serve, while a pastor who presides over a same-sex marriage faces the end of his career.  Please know that we join you in considering this situation; indeed, as young adults who have both considered ordained ministry, and as the parents of a 9-month-old son, we have spent a great deal of time considering what kind of denomination we are becoming.

If, after your month of reflection, you decide that you must punish Rev. Heiss, we ask that you and your fellow leaders in our denomination follow the same standard when it comes to the next pastor or District Superintendent who has committed a chargeable offense of any kind.

May God bless you and guide you during your time of prayer and discernment.


Andrew and Mary Gladstone-Highland