Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Nobody Doesn't Like Janie Spahr

Jane Adams Spahr

I resume a series of personal reflections on the LGBT Christian movement that is continuing each Wednesday of June, Pride Month, extended to the first week of July, given my post on Orlando last week. For those unfamiliar with this blog, be assured that I will return to other topics next month!

Rev. Jane Adams Spahr goes back to the earliest days of the LGBT Christian movement, but her influence will be felt for generations to come.

When she faced multiple church trials for her activism, it was apparent to me that the church could only embarrass itself by her prosecution, because, re-purposing a then current Sara Lee pastries ad (“Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.”): “Nobody doesn’t like Janie Spahr.”

Her genius, I believe, was encouraging EVERYONE to tell their own stories, in her words, “personing the issue.” And as it has turned out, that was the saving grace of the whole LGBT movement, that we were everywhere, telling our stories to our families, friends, coworkers, congregations, communities, congressional districts, and political parties. I believe that’s why our congregations and culture were so readily transformed.

My earliest recollection of her was during a party in the San Francisco Bay area. She was faux flirting with my host, a Presbyterian minister and closeted gay man, who returned the innocent flirtation. I knew both were gay, but they did not know that of one another. I found myself later saying to my host, “I think Janie would be supportive if you came out to her.” And to her, “I think Bill would be supportive if you came out to him.”

Janie was blessed by a truly loving husband, Jim Spahr, whom she credits with facilitating her being/becoming herself. We should all be so lucky, to have a partner who supports our emergence even if it means divorce. They and his wife Jackie are still friends, and when I served as the interim pastor for MCC San Francisco, this “trinity” was the first to welcome me over dinner and the last to say farewell to me just before I returned to Atlanta, again, over dinner.

In the early days, she brought me to the Bay Area to consult me about the founding of the Lazarus Project, even as she was initiating her Ministry of Light.

We each had our own spheres of influence and our own way of doing things, but I was surprised to learn that some fellow travelers in the movement imagined there was great dissonance between us. Once, after a devastating defeat at a Presbyterian General Assembly, we came out of the hall, grief-stricken. As an introvert, I could find no words to speak, but as an extrovert, Janie found just the right words to comfort us, something I later wrote about, commending her.

Yet afterward a mutual friend told me that the tension was so great between us that “you could cut it with a knife”—but I felt no such animus, and had no idea where that notion came from.

There was a moment that dismayed me, however, but it was not Janie’s fault. It came from the fact that she was “grandfathered” in as a minister, having been ordained prior to May, 1978, when the denominational ban on LGBT ordination was enacted, preventing my own ordination.

And it came because Downtown United Presbyterian Church of Rochester, NY, hired her as an associate minister. I was stunned by that piece of “good news” in a phone conversation with one of my other heroines, Virginia Ramey Mollencott, and I honestly say that I felt a twinge of envy, for it was a position to which I could never have applied, not being ordained. Yet I was furious when the denomination would not allow her to fulfill that call.

Because of her charisma and inclusive and generous spirit, as well as the generosity of the Downtown church, which then hired her as a “lesbian evangelist” to travel the country on our behalf, Janie Spahr became for many the face of our movement in the Presbyterian Church. Yet she and the church founded That All May Freely Serve, a ministry intent on representing the many faces of our movement.  Wherever I travel for speaking engagements, I encounter someone whose life has been touched or transformed by her ministry.

And usually I find it was simply because she listened to them, and offered them words of assurance, affirmation, and encouragement.

Nobody doesn’t like Janie Spahr!


That All May Freely Serve recently made available a video of my personal account of the movement (8 minutes) followed by fellow activist Cleve Evans. Warning: I look pudgy, but I weighed 153 lbs. when it was taped last April!

Earlier posts in this series:

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted and encouraged for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Find Your Orlando


At first I intended only to post this rainbow flag at half-mast in front of a church—so overwhelmed and silenced I was by the carnage at the LGBT nightclub in Orlando this past weekend.

May those who lost their lives rest in peace. May those who are injured heal physically, emotionally, and spiritually. May those who lost loved ones find healing ways to grieve.

Yet, as I reviewed my notes from the international Henri Nouwen conference I attended in the Toronto area that same weekend, I found many things that might help us all, and now find myself writing a post I had intended to write next month.

A workshop on care and grieving reminded participants that “care” comes from a word that means “to lament, to grieve.” I’ve since learned that even “anger” is derived from a Norse term meaning “grief.”

“Compassion” is “to feel with,” “to suffer with.” Health care professional Saki Santorelli has described care as a “crucible for mutual transformation,” hence Michelle O’Rourke, the workshop presenter, suggested we think of ourselves as “care partners” rather than “caregivers.”

“Where two or three are gathered together,” Jesus said, “I am there…” in the care given and received.

So caring for Orlando is deeply spiritual. Yet we cannot all be in Orlando to help.

Henri’s brother Laurent spoke of how the person with multiple disabilities Henri had cared for as part of his ministry at Daybreak, the L’Arche community in Toronto, had brought him into proximity with God. “Adam helped me get to know God,” Henri wrote.

“The whole world is Daybreak,” Laurent observed, suggesting we ask ourselves, “Who is my Adam?”

This theme echoed in keynote presenter Shane Claiborne’s description of serving with Mother Teresa in Calcutta. As he departed that ministry, he asked how he might next serve God. “Calcuttas are everywhere,” Mother Teresa told him, “Find your Calcutta.”

What is your Orlando? Orlandos are everywhere. Find your Orlando.

Nouwen’s friend and literary executrix, Sister Sue Mosteller, had opened the conference with a story about visiting an art gallery with Henri. Henri sat down in front of the first painting, so she joined him on the bench as he intently gazed upon it. Time passed.

She explained to us that her usual way of visiting a gallery was to look at a painting and read the little card beside it before moving on to the next painting. She was feeling a bit restless, and, after 15 minutes had passed, she finally asked Henri, “What are you doing?” To which Henri replied, surprised, “Are you not in the picture?” Suddenly Sue realized that he was in the south of France, strolling in the fields with van Gogh.

Our encounter with scripture is much the same. Often we read a text without putting ourselves in the story. Contemplation helps us to place ourselves in what we are reading. I realized that contemplating sacred texts is less about finding God than finding ourselves, our true selves in God’s eyes.

And just as many read scripture as if it were a newspaper, we read the newspaper as if it weren’t a transcendental conduit, a sacred text inviting us to put ourselves in its stories.

We are the ones massacred and wounded in the Orlando nightclub. We are their lovers and families and friends awaiting word of their fate, and inconsolably grieving when it is known. We are the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and Latino/Latina communities who are targets of hate. We are the Muslims fearful of the prejudice and suspicion engendered by such violence. And—and this is harder to imagine—we are the gunman armed with religious intolerance, sometimes even of one’s self.

I am crying as I complete this post. I am in Orlando, and Orlando is in me. My consolation is that Jesus is there and here too in the community of care such crises awaken.


Related Posts:
Wounding God  (Charleston)

Copyright © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted and encouraged for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Love between Women

Bernadette Brooten

In thanksgiving for the life, ministry, advocacy, and friendship of the Rev. Kathy (Young) Lancaster, who served the Presbyterian task force on homosexuality as its staff person.

The last two posts of May unconsciously began a series of personal reflections on the LGBT Christian movement that is continuing each Wednesday of June, LGBT Pride Month. For those unfamiliar with this blog, be assured that I will return to other topics next month!

Many years before Brandeis University professor Bernadette Brooten published her extraordinary 1996 work, Love between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism, she attended a Lazarus Project conference I organized featuring John Boswell, author of Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality. Today these books stand side by side on my bookshelves.

I was so taken by her work unearthing evidence of females in relationship in antiquity, that I suggested she return as a co-presenter with Boswell at another such event.

Initially she was responsive to that idea, but upon reflection, she graciously but firmly explained to me that it wouldn’t work out. The introduction to her later book may explain her hesitancy: while crediting Boswell with gathering more on female homoeroticism in the Roman period than many previous scholars, she and other feminists criticized his book’s lack of gender analysis.

So I suggested she co-present with my friend Ann Matter, who was doing similar work with women loving women in the Middle Ages. Their collaboration, “Lesbians in Antiquity and the Middle Ages,” was a big success, drawing more lesbians than any previous Lazarus gathering, though one couple left early, disgruntled to discover the material presented had to do with religion.

I had met Ann Matter while in seminary in 1974 when, together, we introduced the need for ministry among LGBT Yalies to the Yale Religious Ministry, an interfaith gathering of campus chaplains led by the Rev. William Sloane Coffin, a progressive Christian who would later describe himself (as many of us could be described) as “a recovering racist, sexist, and homophobe.”

The year after Brooten’s book appeared, she joined me and other presenters to lead an LGBT-oriented conclave at the Presbyterian conference center at Stony Point, New York. Attendees were blown away by her insightful and well-researched, well-documented presentation—the most scholarly of any of our presentations.

But it was only when, during the Q&A that followed, she was asked about her personal history, that she launched into a story that mesmerized her audience. The story is still hers to tell, but suffice it to say it explained her personal passion for her work as well as the struggles she faced in doing it.

Bernadette had not come intending to tell her own story, but that was also needed to inspire us.

Somewhat ironically, the final sentence of Love between Women, intended as a cap for remembering “the ancient traditions that have diminished and debased the lives of lesbians, bisexual women, and—indeed—all women” may also serve as a reason to rehearse our personal stories:

“By understanding our past, we may progress toward a more humane future, one in which we acknowledge the sacredness and holiness of a woman expressing her love for another woman.”

Under which in my copy of her book I wrote, AMEN!


To see previous posts in this series, click on this link or copy in a browser, http://chrisglaser.blogspot.com and scroll down to earlier posts.

Please support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2016 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Guess Who Came to Dinner?

John Boswell in front of my West Hollywood apartment in 1983.
Photo by Chris R. Glaser.

The last two posts of May unconsciously began a series of personal reflections on the LGBT Christian movement that will continue each Wednesday of June, Pride Month. For those unfamiliar with this blog, be assured that I will return to other topics next month!

When I was serving a national Presbyterian task force on homosexuality as its only openly gay member, one of my Yale Divinity School professors, Henri Nouwen, suggested I would benefit from the scholarship of a new young professor in Yale’s history department, John Boswell.

But it was other mutual friends who brought us together for dinner, and by the end of the evening I was smitten, not only by how brilliant his mind and revolutionary his research, but by his good looks and boyish charm. I persuaded my task force to invite him to share some of his handwritten manuscript, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, at our next meeting in Philadelphia.

We had sought the expertise of scholars like situation ethicist Joseph Fletcher and scientists like sex researcher William Masters of Masters and Johnson, but none of the experts we consulted wowed the task force like John, and some of his as yet unpublished work filtered into our background paper and certainly influenced the recommendation of the committee’s 1978 majority report that homosexuality should not bar someone from ordination.

When I served as founding director of the Lazarus Project, the first ministry of reconciliation between the church the LGBT community funded by a mainstream denomination, Boswell lectured many times for us over the years about his work discovering the hidden history of LGBT Christians, from saints to same-sex unions in the church.

He happily stayed in my modest, shoe-box-shaped West Hollywood apartment on those visits, and his unique request each time was that we go to Disneyland.

As far as I know, I was the only friend who called him John because of my affection for the name. Other friends knew him as “Jeb,” the acronym of his initials.

On the occasion of his first visit in the fall of 1983, I invited several people to have dinner with him: Rev. Troy Perry, founder of MCC, Malcolm Boyd, openly gay author and priest (who did not use “Rev.” as a title), and Steve Schulte, executive director of L.A.’s LGBT Community Services Center and one-time Colt model. 

Meanwhile my friend George Lynch was en route from South Carolina. We had met at the beginning of the summer during the Atlanta General Assembly reuniting the southern and northern Presbyterian churches, and we joked that we took reunion seriously by bonding as a couple. He was scheduled to arrive the next day, so I urged him to get there in time to enjoy this dinner.

I probably served my signature lasagna, as it was something I could prepare beforehand  and bake while I visited with guests. The salad, however, was in process when I received a phone call from George that he had broken down on the nearby Hollywood Freeway, and the tow company would only take cash, no credit card. So I left Boswell with the task of finishing the salad and greeting our arriving guests while I drove to assist poor George.

As I was going out, a feverish Troy Perry made a brief appearance to meet Boswell, and excused himself before dinner because he had returned from Mexico with a severe case of—in his own words—“Montezuma’s revenge.”  Upon my return, Boyd, with his date, a writer from the L.A. Times, and I enjoyed chatting with Boswell over dinner, while awaiting the arrivals of George after tending to his car, and Steve Schulte, who was delayed at the airport returning home.

George and Steve arrived at the same time, and after introductions and servings, the initial focus was on George’s long distance drive and his harrowing experience breaking down in the middle of Los Angeles rush hour traffic. We all welcomed him to California!

Given the cast of characters, I am certain that we had some important conversations about church, politics, and the LGBT community. But the memorable thing for me was our good humor as we adjusted to the evening as it was, a bit chaotic, very homely—yet a rare opportunity for an intimate gathering of early history-makers in the LGBT community.



Please support this blog ministry by clicking here and scrolling down to the donate link below its description or by mailing to MCC, P.O. Box 50488, Sarasota FL 34232 USA, designating “Progressive Christian Reflections” in the memo area of your check or money order. Thank you!

Copyright © 2016 and photo copyright © 1983 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author, photographer, and blogsite. Other rights reserved.