Monday, December 21, 2009

'And on Earth . . .'

   It was March 20, 2003. After "shock and awe," American forces had rolled tanks into Iraq. I drove by a church whose marquee read, "Pray for peace." I shook my head. Maybe some worshippers inside wanted that. The rest didn't mean it at all. They wanted to crush perceived enemies.

   Now it's December 2009. The church marquees read, "Good will to men." Some mean it. Some don't at all. The news pages tell us that churches that really model the phrase can end up being pariahs.

   Like the congregation in Denver that announced it would "live without labels" and welcome homosexuals. It lost half its congregation.

   Or the Baptist preacher in Fort Worth who decided to portray gay couples as couples in the church directory. The simple act of inclusiveness became a headline-grabbing tempest.

   I know of a church in Waco that can advertise "good will" without disclaimers. It has modeled grace and inclusiveness from the start. And yet it's a good bet that another new year will find it encountering recriminations at the hands of believers.

    We are all fortunate that we live in a land where Charley Garrison can have his congregation, Waco's Central Texas Metropolitan Community Church, and not have to hide from billy clubs or flames, like, say, in Uganda, now pondering criminalizing homosexuality. Garrison's church is a place for gays, lesbians and transgendered individuals to feel Christian love without holy asterisks.

    That doesn't mean the church can't just go about its business without someone asserting it is doing the devil's work.

     Awhile back, a group picked out Waco's "seven gates of hell" and stood before them and prayed. Garrison's church was one. (Oddly, I guess because it also serves all kinds without judgment, the high school that my kids attended was another. Isn't that special?)

     At least it was peaceful. And, as Garrison said with a smile, "one can never receive enough prayers on one's behalf."

      In Uganda, militant bigotry has sought and derived sustenance from believers on these shores, such as a certain almost-psychologist who gets a lot of cable TV face time convincing people that gays and lesbians can be changed.

      High-profile evangelist Rick Warren, who had been linked by association with a key proponent in Uganda, took his time getting around to denouncing the legislation, ultimately pronouncing it in near-parliamentary terms as a "terrible bill." So doing, he added his assertion that homosexuality is against Jesus' teachings. That's something many believe, although little Jesus actually said would ever intimate it.

      Said Garrison, "Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality. Nothing at all. But he had a lot to say about judging others. . . If we spent less time trying to figure out what's right or wrong for everyone else and more time working on the right and wrong in our own lives, I think the world would be a lot better place to live," he said. "And I think God would be happier, too."

       Garrison, who is gay himself, is the last one to dwell on the hateful vibes that some people who call themselves Christian seek to send his way. He takes pains to point out how supportive most of his community's clergy have been toward him and his congregation.

       "Their love and prayers on my behalf and on the behalf of our church are like cathedral bells that toll many times louder and more powerfully than the tinkle of the dinner bells of hatred, bigotry and prejudice."

        Peace. On Earth, good will to men.

        John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail:




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