The unexpected happens when you least expect it. My encounters with the UCC in this column have always been unexpected. Not always in the most pleasant of ways. A few days ago, the pleasantly unexpected happened. A representative of the UCC answered the challenge all allies must face and faced them with apologies.
A few months ago I did a brief series on concerns of religion and being a parent of a transgender child, and a former minister. In one of the entries I addressed concerns I had with the UCC. I thought it to have valid concerns and was balanced with what they did right. Unfortunately, I had used incorrect statistics. I had received those statistics from the UCC main website as opposed to the UCC’s open and affirming site. I had linked my sources. Andy Lang, from the UCC came in to correct the record. He also, in my opinion, made accusations of deliberate deceit. I took offense. From there, things escalated. They say never read the comments. When it is your column or blog, you rather have to.
Before I go further. Here is a brief summation of my concerns:
- The UCC advertises their LGBTQIA acceptance in such a way that it is across the board acceptance. It is not. Open and affirming is an opt in program.
- The UCC adoption to ONA is, in my opinion, not moving fast enough and we are at a critical time in history.
- I have personal history with non accepting UCC churches that use the accepting and affirming literature for marketing.
Here is a brief summation of what I like:
- The program is well executed, comprehensive, and informative.
- The LGBTIQIA community is the leading voice in the program.
Final point is this. In the wake of the first article, the response from people in the UCC was, overall, very positive and cordial in response.
Then, I receive the following as a comment on my follow up article. The comment comes from Andrew Lang. the executive director of the UCC’s Open and Affirming Coalition. Here is what he wrote:
I think, on reflecting on the discussion following Patrick’s original post and this follow-up, that I owe Patrick (and all of you) an apology. I feel that I was defensive, tactless, and insensitive. The concerns Patrick raised about the harm churches can do to individuals and families is entirely valid. It is also valid to point out that there’s a disconnect between the image often projected by various settings of the United Church of Christ and the reality on the ground (where at least 50 percent of churches are not even implicitly LGBTQ-affirming). Finally, I accept the criticism that I was insensitive to the pain expressed by Patrick and others in this conversation.
It is not my usual behavior to respond in the way I did. Clearly, I was in a defensive mode and perhaps attempting to be protective of the hard work of thousands of courageous people in our church who year-by-year built a rapidly-growing movement of affirming churches. But facts are facts, and Patrick’s criticisms are entirely valid. I apologize, and ask for pardon.
Here was my reply to him:
Forgive the delay in sending this. I wanted to ensure that I had a thoughtful reply to what I would write . I also wanted to accord you more respect than sliding in a quick reply in between other things in a very hurried day.
That was a very genuine and well composed mea culpa and I appreciate it. I am sorry that my responses were ill tempered and laced with vitriol. I was angry and lashing out. The thing is, it was not you that I was angry with, but what you represent in the way of triggers. Leadership in the church. I served in ministry and even taught in adjunct level in pre sem for a time. In the last 5 of my 16 years I served in leadership on a regional level. The higher up I moved, the more frustrating and less service oriented my peers became.
So when you came in with your initial responses I lumped you in with their ilk and that was unfair. For that I do apologize.
I’m no longer “in the game” of religion. That said, I also know that there are many parents of trans and gender non conforming kids who do have devout beliefs. I respect them and their families. Sometimes they come from an affirming UCC or Episcopal church, other times they do not. They sometimes come from evangelical churches or other spaces. They are often told when they seek a new church that will accept their entire family that the UCC (among others) are welcoming places. Combine that with some of the videos put out by the UCC and their national position statements after a horrific event, there is an assumption that all UCC is safe, welcoming, and affirming. No one tells them the fine print. This has led to hurtful events. Now comes the follow up. They express their hurt and they are sometimes told in a less than compassionate manner, “You should have checked and ONA section of the website to find a proper church.” This is something I have seen first hand. Allow me to elucidate.
The last church I ran was a small Progressive Christian Alliance church in the midwest. We had many LGBTQIA people. Some were refugees from other churches in town. Those included not just ejector seat churches, but also the UCC , both UMC churches, and the ELCA. In all these cases you had rector/pastors who were affirming but could not get their congregations to move forward in that regard. Anyway. After my son came out there was a church split in my own ranks for various reason. At the same time the local UCC church, which I often did pulpit supply for, had a pastor leave unexpectedly. They needed a short term interim until a proper one could be in place. I accepted. For 2-3 months I was there and they enjoyed my mad homily skills and demeanor. There was some discussion as to me considering being a candidate to serve permanently. I had told them that du to my family dynamic, a conversation about going ONA would have to be had. They said they had had that convo already, saw no point to it and told me they would appreciate it if I kept my son’s “lifestyle” on the DL. My son was in the lobby while this conversation took place in an office with an open door. He heard. It hurt us both.
A few months later, the interim was in play. I saw her and some of the members at a annual summer gala for the town with a booth. In the booth they had national marketing material that included ONA stuff and self congratulation for the UCC’s role in ordaining LGBTQIA folk and standing for marriage equality. She was marketing, as a hook, things they did not stand for and many opposed.
I am not trying to beat you over the head here. I just hope you can use that story and others like it and get the national folk to see that there is a danger right now to families and children with the current positioning. Short of making it a non negotiable (since it is 2018) , I do not know how they need to address this, but they need to address this.
Thank you sincerely for all the hard work you do along with all the other tireless volunteers for families seeking equality, affirmation, love, and dignity.
He replied with the following:
Thank you, Pat! I’m holding your story close to my heart, and it encourages me with a sense of urgency for the work we do.
When I am corrected by the community, I respond as humbly as I can. This is not my story. As a cisgender ally, I will never know what it is to be transgender or fluid. I am here to support, not to lead. Sometimes I am corrected by members of the community and I respond publicly on the column and online. I point out my error, apologize for it, and move on.
This is the first time I have ever had a squabble with an ally organization leader. I hope it is the last time. I appreciate the work Lang and his team does for the LGBTQIA community of Christians. Yes, I am no longer a Christian or a minister, but just as it is not for me to tell transgender people what to think about being transgender, it is not my place to tell someone what to believe or not to believe.
As a former minister and a parent, my concern is for the families that may walk into a church. They should have dignity and respect accorded to them. Lang’s team wants that and is seeking it. They are growing. They are making progress and in my criticism I did not make that as clear as I should have. For that, I am sorry.
Andrew Lang did a hard and brave thing in his public reply. That needs to be recognized and appreciated. It is.