As I mentioned at the top of the service, today, we in the United Church of Christ are celebrating Open and Affirming Sunday, in which we celebrate our denomination's rich history of Inclusive Welcome to the LGBTQ community. And we are so proud that our little church here, Douglas UCC, was one of the very first Open and Affirming churches in the entire United States. That was more than 30 years ago.
Here we are in 2021, and you know, there are still so many Christian churches in this country who are deciding and debating and dividing over whether or not they should fully include LGBTQ people in their church. Yet, 30 years ago, all the way back in 1989, right from this very alter, Douglas UCC proclaimed to the world all are welcome here. No exceptions. That's something to be really proud of.
Many of you know that 10 years ago, I wrote this little book here, called Gay is aGift, because so many of us in the LGBTQ community heard, growing up in the church, that being gay was a curse, that it was a sin, that something was wrong with it. And so I wrote this book to let LGBTQ people know that being gay is a gift from God.
Since I've been your pastor, every Open and Affirming Sunday, I give some form of The Talk, that being gay is a gift from God. But this year, I want to talk to you about something different.
Today I want to talk to you about gender.
I believe that this is the next chapter, the next challenge for us, as an open and affirming church. Many of us -- including those of us in the LGBTQ community -- we haven't always been very understanding, or very welcoming of people of other gender identities or gender expressions.
I know it's hard for you to see, but on my stole today I'm wearing a button that says "He Him His. I got this button a few years ago, at a UCC convention. When we got there, at the registration table, there were all of these pronoun buttons. One said He Him His, one said She Her Hers. And then there was a third one that said They Them Theirs. And we were asked to wear the button of the pronouns that corresponded with our gender identity.
Now, I know I've heard from Christians who have said, "God only created two genders." But you know, that's not true.
God didn't create gender. You heard me right. God did not create gender. We did.
Gender is a social construct that was created by humans. Now yes, it's true we're all born with certain body parts, certain genitalia. But then based on that, we are assigned a gender at birth. And because of that assignment, we either consciously or unconsciously conform to that assignment, which tells us how we should dress, how we should act, how we should behave.
Now, the majority of people on the planet conform to the gender identity that they were assigned at birth. They don't even question it. It just feels right to them. And these people are called CIS gender. Cis means "same." It means my gender identity is the same as the gender I was assigned at birth. But as you know, there are other people who are transgender, their gender identity does not align with the gender they were assigned at birth. And then there are people who are non-binary Binary means categorized into two groups. Non-binary people do not fit into either one of those two groups. They're not exclusively male. And they also don't identify as exclusively female. They're non-binary.
Many non-binary people prefer the pronouns, They Them, Theirs. So for example, the popular Grammy and Oscar winning singer Sam Smith identifies as non-binary. So you wouldn't say, "I really love his music." You would say, "I really love their music." And if you work with someone who's non-binary, if someone comes into the workplace and asks where they are, you would say "They're in the conference room." See, it's really not that difficult.
Now, in addition to gender identity, there's also sexual orientation, who we're attracted to. And in addition to that, there's also gender expression. So for example, someone who identifies as male may like wearing nail polish.
Now I know all of this is maybe new to some of you. And whenever we hear something new, there's always a resistance to it. Like there was to gay marriage or to women in ministry. But I really want to encourage you to educate yourself, so that we can continue our tradition at Douglas UCC. When we say, "All are Welcome, No Exceptions," that we really mean that. I do believe that it is the next chapter for us, and the next challenge for us as an Open and Affirming church.
Now, at the beginning of June -- many of you know June is considered Pride Month -- all around the world. At the beginning of June, our denomination, the United Church of Christ, shared a social media post that said, "God's pronouns are They Them Theirs. I just love that, because that is true. God is non-binary.
Think about it. If all of us were created in the very image and likeness of God, which Scripture says, then God must be both masculine and feminine, mother and father. God is non-binary! And that is why I believe that our transgender and non-binary friends can really help show us a more full and authentic picture of the face of God.
Now, the United Church of Christ is selling these buttons, these pronoun buttons on their website, and they are encouraging all of their churches to educate their congregations into gender identity and gender expression so that we can be more inclusive. And on the website, this is what the UCC says. "Gender is fluid. So it's never okay to assume someone's gender. Doing so can be harmful, hurtful, and demoralizing. Everyone has the right to choose how she, he, or they would like to be identified, and which pronouns they prefer to use. These pronoun buttons are a great way to raise awareness about gender and inclusiveness, and shows support for those who have been victims of misgendering. Wear these buttons and carry extras with you wherever you go. And please always remember to ask before assuming someone's gender. This simple act is one step toward a just world for all.
I so love representing the United Church of Christ in the world. And this week, some of you know, was our birthday. The United Church of Christ turn 64 years old this week. As you know, in those 64 years, the UCC has been on the forefront of inclusiveness, of including more and more people, drawing the circle ever wider, inviting more and more people to the table.
The UCC was at the forefront of civil rights and women's rights and gay rights. And again, if we are going to continue to move on in our Open and Affirming mission, then that means we continue to draw the circle ever wider, and to welcome and celebrate people of all gender identities and gender expressions. And that is why, my friends, that binary, gender-categorized groups in our churches can be problematic. Now, most of us growing up in church, there were gender-specific groups, the men's Bible study, and the women's Book Group.
But you know, if I were non-binary, and I was looking for a church, where I'd feel welcome, and went on that Church's website, and saw that that church had binary, gender-specific groups, I would feel like there wasn't a place for me in that church.
Why do we need men's Bible studies, and women's book groups?
I mean, if you only feel comfortable having a discussion with people of your own gender identity -- if you can only be yourself, talking with people of your own gender identity, then that might be something you may want to look at, for yourself.
How about instead of a men's Bible study, and a women's book group, we just have a Bible study, and a book group for everybody, regardless of their gender identity, or gender expression.
That's what it means to be an open and affirming church, a place where all people feel included. And if there's a group where you're not included, how are you welcome? Now, some of you are very familiar with the popular Christian book and movie, which is called The Shack. If you remember, in The Shack, God is portrayed by a black woman.
That was really eye-opening for people, because most of us grew up hearing that God was a white man. So in The Shack we see God is a black woman. But did you notice God's name is Papa, a woman named Papa. God says this, "I am neither male nor female, even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or as a woman, it's because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman, and suggest you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning." That is my hope for you, my friends, on this Open and Affirming Sunday. That you won't fall so easily back into your religious and social conditioning when it comes to gender.
Paul said in his letter to the Corinthians, to the very first Christians, he said, "You are no longer male or female, for you are all one in Christ." So that's my hope for us. As we live into the next 30 years of being an Open and Affirming church, that we will be a place where all people, regardless of gender identity and gender expression, are not only welcome, but that they are understood, included, and celebrated.
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration, & Guidance
by Toby Johnson
Being gay gives a perspective on human experience that is different from that of the great majority of people. There must be something special and useful to humanity about this perspective, since a disproportionate number of important artists, poets, religious leaders, and spiritual guides in the past were what today we’d call gay. Happy, flourishing gay people transform the world around them. Because the social condemnation of homosexuality is almost always couched in religious terms, this perspective necessarily forces gay people to seek to understand what religion really is. Indeed, gay perspective is itself a religious phenomenon. Gay people have an acute sense of the phenomena of transformation that is at the heart of mystical spirituality. Since the 1950s and ’60s, gay people have transformed themselves and their lives—and their place in society—by changing how they conceived their sexuality. Instead of thinking of it as illness or sinfulness, they chose to think of it in the way that's natural: as love and as attraction to beauty and joy. This shift in perspective has changed everything. Signified by the embrace and proclamation of the word "gay" as a badge of community pride, this shift in self-perception has transformed being gay from a terrible burden to a gift from God. No longer a sin, it is evidence of grace.
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