Posted by: Renee | June 23, 2015

From Prayers to Promises

cross with prayersThere are many things I could say about the Mississippi United Methodist Annual Conference this year.  But at this moment, I want to share about the prayer vigil for racial reconciliation that a group of us participated in on Friday night, June 5, after the ordination service, just outside the convention center.

The prayer vigil was a timely and much needed witness to the tragedies of racism we have witnessed in our nation very publicly in the past few years but which are only the most recent of a long list of such tragedies.  For white people, it’s not just the sins of our ancestors that are visited upon the nation in this time of turmoil, it is our own complicity in systems that continue to enslave, incarcerate, oppress, and kill people of color.

Lest we excuse ourselves because we’re United Methodists and our denomination has such a clear, unequivocal stance on racism, let it be known that there are congregations in the Mississippi Conference that still refuse appointments of clergy due to the clergy person’s race or that of their family.  Still, today.  Yet, we don’t hear about these ugly truths or any steps made to address the racism that still plagues us.

That’s where the prayer vigil comes in – hopefully one of many – for we cannot repair our brokenness without the help of a gracious God.   And we cannot expect reconciliation without first telling the truth.  We cannot hope for healing if we fail to acknowledge and honor the painful wounds inflicted on our brothers and sisters of color.  We should not ask for forgiveness without offering true repentance.  And at the end of the day, we cannot claim our desire for reconciliation is genuine if we do not make reparations.

For me, this vigil was the most important thing that happened at this annual conference.  It was the space where I could feel God with us – loving us in our brokenness and calling us to wholeness.  And I could feel us being with God – opening our hearts to break when God’s heart breaks, opening our ears to hear the cries that God hears.  I also felt the humility of conviction when I saw how few African-American United Methodists joined us – an absence that reveals how segregated our social and religious circles are, an absence that challenges us to be more intentional in building relationships with people of all races.

For the vigil, we gathered in a circle with a wooden cross at the head.  We stood and knelt, holding hands at times.  We sang, confessed, read Scripture, and prayed.  We wrote our prayers, laments, and hopes on sheets of paper that we then hung on the nails of the cross.  Those prayers of the people will be placed on one of our church altars until we feel it’s time to burn them as an offering up to God.  In the interim, I hope those prayers will multiply and take root in our hearts, becoming promises between us and God that we will do our part in this holy work.

To read the litany and prayer for the vigil, click here.

Many thanks to our MS chapters of MFSA and Peace with Justice for organizing this vigil.

For a downloadable resource from GCORR called “25 Things Your Congregation Can Do To Affirm Diversity and Challenge Racism, click here.

Posted by: Renee | February 4, 2015

We Are Starkville

© Melissa Grimes, February 2, 2014

A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in a small conference room with 15 or so other people.  We were an interesting group to say the least.  There were students, professors, a business owner, a computer specialist, and a couple of counselors, just to name a few.  The thing that brought us all together? Our disdain for our Board of Aldermen’s recent actions.

Last January, I praised our BOA when they passed a non-discrimination resolution that recognized the value of all Starkville citizens.  It was an eventful year in local politics.  Later, they passed and then rescinded insurance coverage that applied to same-sex couples.  The rescission was subsequently vetoed by the mayor, and the Board failed to get enough votes to override the mayor’s decision.  Then in the first meeting of 2015, the aldermen went into a closed door session and voted to rescind the insurance coverage and the non-discrimination resolution.  It was done out of the public eye, with no notice.  It didn’t take long for word to get out.  Once again, the mayor came through for us and vetoed the decision.

At the next Board of Aldermen meeting, the LGBT community showed up in full force.  We packed the room in hopes of swaying the vote when the Board attempted to override the mayor’s veto.  During the meeting, one of the aldermen commented that repealing the non-discrimination resolution and the plus-one insurance coverage was “what Jesus would have wanted.”  I don’t know that I’ll ever be arrogant enough to think that I speak for God, but repealing those protections seems to be at odds with the God I have experienced.  I tend to agree with Gandhi when he said, “I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

Throughout history, the Bible has been used to justify many things.  White slave owners always liked to quote Ephesians 6:5 where slaves are told to obey their masters.  Corinthians tells us that women should remain silent in church; a verse that is often used to discredit female pastors.  Of course, we shouldn’t forget the many examples of God-sanctioned genocide in Deuteronomy, Joshua, and 1 Samuel.    When we take a literal interpretation of scripture, we often miss the entire point because we’re too busy trying to stuff God into a little box that make us comfortable.  I think Anne Lamott said it best when she said, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  So when people start claiming to speak for God, I tend to tune out.

At church, I run the sound system.  It’s a job that suits my general disposition.  I like to be helpful, without being in the spotlight.  Sometimes, though, God has other plans. Recently, God smacked me on the back of the head and drug me from the safety of the sound booth.  He revealed to me a calling to be a Christian voice for LGBT people, for my people. I guess God took my New Year’s resolution about taking chances a little more seriously than I did.  I hate when that happens.

So a week later, there we found ourselves… a group of Starkville residents gathered to discuss what could be done about the situation.  While there were a lot of highly intelligent, well educated, and talented people in that room, I don’t think any of us would have considered ourselves political masterminds.  We decided that one of the best ways to get the word out would be through social media.  Inspired by comments made by our opposition, #WeAreStarkville was born.

We asked our friends and families to send in photos, we held a photo shoot, planned a press conference, and marched with the local NAACP on MLK Day.  It was a crazy week, filled with reporters, anxiety attacks, and angry phone calls.  And somewhere along the way, I became the de facto leader of our little band of merry misfits.  I’m still not quite sure how that happened.  However, in the midst of all the craziness, I saw something amazing happening.

Friends who were once so deep in the closet that they might have stumbled upon Narnia were now marching down Main Street waving pride flags.  They stood behind me at a press conference, posted #WeAreStarkville photos with their partners, and spoke out at the Board of Aldermen meeting.  It was inspiring and terrifying.  We sacrificed our comfort, safety, and anonymity.  Despite the consequences, we made a choice between doing what was right and doing what was easy.


“Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” – Albus Dumbledore, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Without a doubt, my favorite book/movie series is Harry Potter.  I think there are great life lessons to be learned from the series.  The heart of the story is about loyalty, friendship, perseverance, and doing the right thing despite the consequences.  Harry basically embodies everything parents hope their children grow up to become.  In fact, he’s everything I hope to become, minus the extreme loss and suffering part.  Although, it’s a lot easier to hope to become someone who embodies those principles, than to actually journey down that path.

I don’t know where my journey of faith and hesitant obedience will lead me.  What I do know, is that I have been called to live courageously and unapologetically.

“I may never be enlightened enough to decide how I want to die. So, this morning I’ve decided how I want to live.” Andrea Gibson, Enough

For more information about the We Are Starkville campaign, visit our Facebook group.


Melissa Grimes is a graduate (and now employee) of Mississippi State University, and a resident of Starkville, MS. She is involved with Spectrum and LGBTQ+Union, the LGBTQ groups on campus, and an active member of University Baptist Church. You can reach her by email at

Posted by: Renee | November 16, 2014

Beyond Support

by Renee Sappington

I recently heard the disprivilegetinction made between “advocacy” and “support” when a religious organization declined an LGBTQ group use of their space.  They were willing to have a support group but not an advocacy group to meet there.  It struck me, because I believe their statement doesn’t just reflect how they feel – I think it’s true for many other churches and people, too.  Hence, their distinction between advocacy and support sheds some light on why our society is in the shape it’s in.  You see, we’re much better at charity and comfort measures than we are at change and empowerment.  While I can follow the rationale for making the distinction (such as fearing the fallout we might experience if we look too much like activists), I think it’s a distinction that serves to delay justice.  It’s a distinction that allows people of privilege to excuse themselves from challenging the system.  I say this as a person of privilege.  I’m a white person living in the former Confederacy, where I still hear people make sweeping uninformed claims about black people and other non-whites, where Blacks are racially profiled and assumed guilty until proven innocent on a regular basis.  I’m a Christian living in the Bible Belt, where city meetings often open with Christian prayer and elected officials quote the Bible to defend their opinions.  I’m an able-bodied person living in a city where the City Hall isn’t even compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and the condition of the sidewalks often present trip hazards for visually impaired people and forces people in wheelchairs to ride in the street.

But, I’m also a person in the margins.  I know what it’s like to not have my marriage license recognized by the state I live in, and to know that I could be fired from a job just because I’m gay.  I know what it’s like to fear I won’t be allowed to sit by my wife’s bedside if she is dying, and to fear for our safety if I were to hold her hand on the street.  I know what it’s like to feel welcome in a church as long as I keep my mouth shut about who I am and how I think the Church should act.   So, when I hear a distinction made between support and advocacy, the underlying message I hear is that asking for the equal treatment of all persons is just too radical an idea to lend your voice to.   While I’m thankful for support, and support is definitely progress, I believe privileged people and institutions have a responsibility that goes beyond support.

I believe it is privilege that feeds the status quo and the incessant inequalities in our society.  Whether we’re actively stacking the decks unfairly or perpetuating inequalities by our inaction, we as privileged people are the ones most responsible for the systems that are failing entire groups of people.  I recently read an interesting article titled “Where Slavery Thrived, Inequality Rules Today”  in which the author cites research exploring socioeconomic inequalities in the US and the world.   When factoring in the earliest history of countries, a study concluded that societies that began “with extreme inequality tended to adopt institutions that served to advantage members of the elite and hamper social mobility.” That doesn’t surprise me since I’m not sure we really learn from the mistakes of our ancestors as much as reinvent them to be more socially acceptable in our day in time.

Albert Einstein said it well when he said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”  So we’ve got to find a way to rise above the conditioning of our privilege so that we can accurately see the condition of the world and other people to which we are so intricately connected.   To that end, the first most obvious steps are to learn how to listen well as people of privilege and to cultivate empathy.  The articles I just linked to provide excellent tips for listening even when what we hear makes us uncomfortable and learning how to step into others’ shoes.  As we begin to understand and stand in solidarity with people who are oppressed or marginalized, if we truly open our hearts to their experience in the world, I believe advocacy will come more naturally to us, even if it does feel risky or we think we don’t have the time or energy for it.  People are worth the risk and the time and energy.

Posted by: Renee | September 17, 2014

Plus-one, Minus Love

(c) Melissa Grimes – September 16, 2014

I don’t like Christians…which is ironic, considering I am one.  I find it far easier to like, and even love, my atheist and agnostic friends. Of course, it’s easy to love my Christian friends who support me; the ones who believe it’s perfectly okay that God made me gay.  But the ones who spew such hatred toward me, are hard to love.

Tonight, I like Christians even less than normal.  Tonight, I am ashamed.  I am ashamed of the city I love.  The city I have chosen to make my home.  Just earlier this year, I wrote a post praising the actions of our Board of Aldermen after Starkville became the first Mississippi city to pass a non-discrimination ordinance.  However, tonight, I have no praise for them; only shame and disappointment for the cowardice they displayed.

For the last three hours, I have found myself sitting in an unbearably uncomfortable chair listening to scripture and hateful rhetoric.  Surprisingly, I wasn’t in church.  I was at a Board of Aldermen meeting.  Although, one attendee did tweet that if they would just go ahead and serve communion, she could just skip church this week.  Like a good Baptist, I tweeted back an “Amen, sister!” and told her to pass the collection plate.

The Board of Aldermen thrust the city into controversy once again this month when they passed what has become known as the “Plus-one” insurance coverage option.  The basic idea was that a city employee could add one adult to their insurance coverage, without having to take out a substantially more expensive family plan.  Likewise, a single parent could cover a child in the same manner.  It was supposed to save hundreds of dollars a month for our severely underpaid city employees who found themselves needing to cover someone without needing the full family plan.

The coverage was originally passed unanimously; an accomplishment that was applauded by many in the national media.   From the Washington Times to the Advocate, our quaint little town was getting positive media coverage for something that didn’t involve a touchdown or teen pregnancy rates.  Several aldermen claimed to not know what the phrase “plus-one adult” meant and after a shameful meeting tonight, they amended the plus-one coverage to only cover legally married heterosexual couples.

It was shameful for a number of reasons.  From the bigoted comments of many citizens to the internal fighting and accusations thrown about by Aldermen; it broke my heart for my beloved city.  I stood before the board and voiced my opinion.  I even included a quote from Plato, which I was quite proud of and referenced the proud Baptist tradition of separation of church and state.  Then, I sat and listened to the opinions of all my fellow citizens who elected to speak on either side of the issue.

It was brutal.  My blood boiled at many comments, as fellow citizens questioned our faith and told us that we could not be Christians. They quoted and often misquoted scripture out of context to twist it to support their own hatred.  But the one recurring comment that got me more angry than any, is the “I have a gay friend, but…,” type comments.  It always makes me angry when I hear those words, because rarely do those individuals show me love.  It sounds much like another phrase I’ve heard quite a bit in my lifetime; “I’m not racist.  I have black friends, but…”

There are times, well most of the time, when I am basically an overgrown kid.  While my friends may go out and drink to relieve their stress, I relieve mine by watching cartoons.  Personally, I’m a fan of the classics; Buggs Bunny, Tweety Bird, Tom and Jerry, and far too many others to name.

One of my favorite recurring characters in the Bugs Bunny cartoons is Hugo, the abominable snowman.  In one scene, Daffy Duck was dressed up like a rabbit when he had an unfortunate first meeting with Hugo.  Hugo, eager to love a cuddly little bunny, grabs Daffy proclaiming, “Just what I always wanted.  My own little bunny rabbit.  I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him…”  Daffy struggled to free himself from Hugo trying to convince him that he was not, in fact, a rabbit; while Hugo was literally squeezing the life out of him.

I often feel a little like Daffy; having the life squeezed out of me while Hugo-esque Christians are trying to make me into a bunny rabbit.  I find it difficult to love the Hugos in my life.  I struggle to find love for Tony Perkins, Anita Bryant, Bryan Fisher, Fred Phelps, and even the couple who was sitting next to me at tonight’s meeting.  Love is a struggle sometimes and I don’t think it makes me a bad Christian to admit that.  I think it makes me an honest one.

Melissa Grimes is a graduate (and now employee) of Mississippi State University, and a resident of Starkville, MS. She is involved with Spectrum, the LGBTQ group on campus, and an active member of University Baptist Church. You can reach her by email at .

Posted by: Renee | June 25, 2014


(c) Melissa Grimes, June 19, 2014

There is so much blood on the hands of Christians.  From the Crusades to the modern anti-gay laws of Uganda, we are drenched in a legacy of blood.  Perhaps it is fitting.  After all, Christianity was born out of blood spilled on the cross.

I had heard all the sermons.  I had tried earnestly to pray away the gay.  I can’t count the nights that I lay awake praying that I would wake up straight.  I couldn’t be this way.  It was wrong.

For years, I fought the truth with every bit of strength I could muster.  I struggled with depression.  I even spent hours planning my own death, because I knew it would be better to die a good Christian girl than to live as a gay person.

From the outside, it appeared that I had it all together.  I was active in my church youth group.  I helped run sound for every service.  I played whatever instrument they wanted and pretty much helped wherever I was needed.

No one had a clue that I was struggling and I didn’t have anyone I could confide in.  I had tested the waters a bit by dropping hints to someone I trusted, only to be shut down when I was told how disgusting and sinful “those people” were.  So with a God I thought hated me and friends who would find me disgusting, I had nowhere to turn.

I was 16 the first time I drew a blade across my own skin.  All the years of internalized self-hatred came pouring out in a river of crimson.  Every self-deprecating thought I ever had was suddenly released.  All of the pain, fear and anxiety just washed away.  Soon, self-injury became my coping mechanism; a painful and unhealthy way to survive for the next three years.

I had swallowed the “being gay is an abomination” ideology without a second thought.  It wasn’t until several years later when I began to do my own research on the subject, that I realized how far off the mark that idea was.  But it certainly had an effect on me.

I can’t help but wonder how much damage that type of ideology has done to people all over the world.  In some cases, the results are clear.  In others, it’s not so easy to discern.

In 2013, Ugandan lawmakers passed an anti-gay bill that sets a penalty of life in prison for anyone who is convicted of homosexuality.  It was officially signed into law this February.  Homosexuality was already illegal in Uganda.  This particular law just imposed harsher penalties.  Previously, lawmakers tried to pass what was dubbed the “kill the gays” bill, that would impose the death penalty for those convicted of homosexuality.

The anti-gay culture in Uganda has been fueled by evangelical preachers from the U.S., who traveled there to preach their brand of hatred.  They took a culture where being gay was not accepted and turned it into a culture where being gay was grounds for being put to death, whether through the legal system or simply murdered in the streets.

In Russia, American evangelical preachers have fueled hatred in an effort to solve what they saw as the degradation of good morals and values.  As a result, anti-gay legislation was drafted and passed.  Protesters are now being beaten and murdered in the streets.

In the U.S. and most of the world, the results of this type of hatred are more subtle.  We see the results in every gay kid who commits suicide.  We see it in the eyes of the survivors of reparative therapy, who often struggle with the damage that was done to them for years.

Then there are those we don’t see, like the adults who are too afraid and hurt to ever return to the church.  It’s in the teenagers who struggle through depression and self-hatred, induced by a warped ideology.  It’s in the scars, that remain hidden from the world out of shame.  It’s in the very scars I hide.

We may never know the extent of the damage we, as Christians, have done in the name of God.  We sit back and judge others, claiming what a mess the devil is making of the world.  When the truth is, it is our mess.  We make it each time we drive a wedge between us and any group that doesn’t meet our standards.  We drive wedges between God and those who don’t fit into the box that we’ve created.  What a mess we make when we start thinking that we speak for God.

I cringe every time I hear a pastor, or any Christian, comparing gays to rapists and pedophiles.  I cringe when they take the story of Sodom and Gomorrah out of context. I cringe ever time I hear the words abomination spoken in a sermon.  I cringe, not because they disagree with my beliefs, that’s their right.  I cringe because I can’t help but wonder how much damage is being done with each word they speak.  How many kids sitting in that congregation are internalizing that homophobia, just like I did.

Telling my story is not only uncomfortable; it’s downright terrifying.  I never wanted to be someone in the spotlight.  I like to stay in my comfortable little box, safe and secure.  But I cannot sit by and watch as hatred is taught in the name of God.

The God I know is a God of love, not hatred.   So, I wonder if he cringes too.  So as a Christian, I will stand and be a voice for those who continue to suffer in silence.   I will speak; because in the words of my favorite poet Andrea Gibson, “’Cause God knows the holy have done more damage to this world than the devil ever could.”

Melissa Grimes is a graduate (and now employee) of Mississippi State University, and a resident of Starkville, MS. She is involved with Spectrum, the LGBTQ group on campus, and an active member of University Baptist Church. You can reach her by email at .

Posted by: Renee | February 21, 2014

A Kiss of Solidarity

The Kiss
A Kiss of Solidarity
(When A Picture is Worth Far More Than Thousands and Thousands of Words)
Bert Montgomery
(c) February 10, 2014

A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. This week, I learned just how true that is.

I’ve written thousands of words over the past several years about how the Church has failed our gay and lesbian family members, friends, and neighbors, and why I, as a minister of the Gospel, seek to welcome and affirm, and fully include, everyone both in the Church and in civic life. Not only are my words written for all to see, but I have spoken such messages to groups, on panels, and from pulpits. Thousands and thousands of words.

But when I recently asked a friend not to publicly post a picture of a Christian brother and me goofing off in which he puckered up and I leaned in and kissed him on his cheek, I had no idea how hurtful my request would be.

In the context of a fun evening at a church fellowship, when people were posing for pictures, the picture in question was taken. Later, I asked the photographer to please not post the photo of “the kiss”; my reasoning was that while it was quite funny to us, it may not be good for public viewing (me being the pastor and all). I figured that people outside of the evening who didn’t know the context would criticize not just me as a pastor, but the church, and people in the church. My motive was to protect everyone – after all, it was just silly fun anyway.

Though I didn’t know it, the picture, however, had already been posted. After my friend received my request, she immediately deleted the photo. A few days later I learned how important that picture was to some friends of mine. What was done in the spirit of fun on the spur of the moment, it seems, had very significant meaning to others. My credibility increased as a minister among my friends in the LGBTQ community because, to quote one of the comments I received, “it was awesome that a straight pastor would be cool enough to jokingly have kissed another guy.”

When the photo disappeared, and inquiring minds discovered that I requested it not be posted, my credibility sunk. The impression my action gave was that I was afraid of “looking gay.”

One friend wrote to me: “It feels like someone thought there was something inherently wrong with the photo …” Meaning, that it is one thing to say it’s okay to be gay, but that doesn’t mean much if I’m not secure enough to not worry about people thinking I am gay.

Another friend wrote to me: “I think it would be good for people to know how these things can harm. I know it’s something that most people in the Church wouldn’t understand, but the fact is most people in the Church have never felt physically unsafe because of the way they look. Most people in the Church have never been harassed in a bathroom. Most people in the Church have never spent more time on a date looking over their shoulder than enjoying their date. And I think it is important for straight people to understand that what they might think is a bad thing can actually make others feel safe, even if it’s something small like a silly photo.”

That last sentence is the one the hit me the hardest. “It is important for straight people to understand that what they might think is a bad thing can actually make others feel safe, even if it’s something small like a silly photo.”

I’ve always liked to think of myself as an advocate for and an ally of those on the margins; as a person willing to stand in solidarity with anyone feeling left out, and especially with those being forced out and treated unequally and unjustly. It’s at the core of my faith – that as Jesus identified himself with the outcasts, so should we as Jesus’ followers.

A simple request to not post a photo showed me how so far I am from reflecting the Good News of Christ in my actions. All my thousands of words don’t mean a thing if my actions keep me distanced from others; if my actions show my solidarity with the status quo rather than with those striving for equality.

So, here’s the photo. Nothing special, nothing serious, nothing but simple light-hearted fun. But for my LGBTQ friends, neighbors, and members of my congregation, it’s worth far, far more than even ten-thousand words of support. It represents solidarity.

Besides, Scott and I were just doing what the Apostle Paul frequently instructed us all to do anyway … greeting each other with a holy kiss.

PHOTO CREDIT: Melissa Grimes, photographer

Posted by: Renee | January 31, 2014

History Made in Starkville, MS

A Gay Christian Resident of Starkville, MS Responds to the Historic LGBTQ Resolution from Starkville’s Board of Alderman
(c) Melissa Grimes, January 23, 2014

On Jan. 21, 2014, the Starkville Board of Aldermen took a historic step making our city the first municipality in Mississippi to pass a resolution showing support for its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender residents.
The passage of this resolution brings hope to the LGBT community of Starkville, as we struggle daily with claiming our basic civil rights. I’m not talking about the currently sought-after right of marriage. That is an important topic, but at the very core of the issue there is an even more basic right that has been stolen from our community: the right to be treated as human.
Mississippi is one of 29 states in which I could be legally fired for being gay. Just give that a second to soak in … I could legally be fired for being gay. My employer would need no other reason than my sexual orientation to terminate my employment. It doesn’t matter what the quality of my work is, what skills I bring to the table or how strong my work ethic is. I could still be fired just because my partner happens to have the same genitalia as me.
Fortunately, my employer has taken steps to prevent this. A few years ago, Mississippi State University chose to protect and support its LGBT students, faculty and staff by including sexual orientation and gender identity in its anti-discrimination policy. Many of my friends are not so lucky. They go to work every day, fearing their livelihoods would be taken away if someone discovereered, or even suspected, their sexual orientation.
It’s not easy being gay in the Deep South. Like many in the Bible Belt, I was raised in a very conservative church. It wasn’t unusual to hear a sermon on the “evils” of “the homosexual agenda” and how it would undermine Christian family values. Bigotry and hatred wrapped in the guise of religion was, and still is, the language of oppression in my hometown.
After two years of community college, I transferred to MSU. In Starkville I found a safe haven. I found friends. I found community. To my surprise, I even found a church.
I started attending University Baptist Church during my senior year. It was a refreshing change of pace from the typical churches I had experienced over the years. For a girl with a mohawk and an affinity for wearing ties, walking into any church can be slightly terrifying. However, at UBC I have found a family of believers who accept and love me unconditionally.
Even with that love and acceptance, it is still not easy to be gay in Mississippi. Unfortunately, the Mississippi stereotype of prejudice and intolerance is all too often true. My job requires quite a bit of travel, and there have been times when I have feared for my safety. This danger is ever-present in my mind, because I know there are those who would choose to physically harm me merely because I “look gay.”
Most of us have longed for a place where we are loved and respected regardless of who we are or what we look like. Being gay does not define me, but it is a part of me. I am thankful I can be a Christian and be gay. I am thankful for a community of believers who don’t believe the two are mutually exclusive.
There are those who have reacted to the Aldermen’s actions by questioning what effect this resolution will actually have for Starkville. Perhaps it is not the perfect solution to the problem, but it’s a start. No government can legislate tolerance and acceptance, let alone the love we should be showing for one another as Christians.
In a world full of darkness, though, even the dimmest shimmer of light can be a beacon of hope for the wounded and oppressed, the exiled and hated. Last Tuesday, the Starkville Board of Aldermen became that beacon for the LGBT community, not only within Starkville, but to the entire state. I would even argue they became a beacon to the entire country. After all, if it can happen in Mississippi, a state plagued by a history of bigotry and hatred, the rest of the country has no excuse.

Melissa Grimes is a graduate (and now employee) of Mississippi State University, and a resident of Starkville, MS. She is involved with Spectrum, the LGBTQ group on campus, and an active member of University Baptist Church. You can reach her by email at .

Posted by: Renee | December 10, 2013

The Sins of a Church

by Renee Sappington

I’ve put off writing this blog for a while because I wanted to make sure it wasn’t based on a knee-jerk reaction to the church trial results for Rev. Frank Schaeffer of the United Methodist Church. On Nov. 20th, Rev. Schaeffer was given a 30-day suspension and ultimatum for keeping his ordination status. What is he “guilty” of? Officiating the marriage ceremony between his son and his son’s male partner – of blessing and celebrating the love and commitment between two people. In fact, while the jury found him guilty of disobeying one rule in the denominations’ Book of Discipline, he was actually honoring other parts of the Discipline – like the parts that say “all people are of sacred worth” and “the church is to be in ministry for and with all persons” – not exactly minor details to be overlooked. The leaders of the Church have once again strained out a gnat but swallowed a camel. They have overlooked the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy, and faithfulness – and shut the door of the kin-dom of heaven in people’s faces. They would do well to read the words of Jesus to the church leaders of his day – like the indictments in Matthew 23 that I just mentioned.  For unless our righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, we will surely not enter the kin-dom of heaven – also words from Jesus.
Or consider the parable of the Good Samaritan. When I think about it, all the sermons I’ve ever heard preached on that story quickly dismissed the actions of the priest and Levite – their willingness to ignore the suffering of the man beaten on the side of the road – to focus on the goodness of the Samaritan who was filled with compassion and did all he could for the beaten man to heal and live. Perhaps we have dismissed the sins of the priest and Levite to our own demise – for they focused on minor purity laws over the more important laws about love. Sounds way too familiar. Maybe it’s time for all church leaders to take a long, honest look at their ministry and hold themselves accountable for the folks they ignore that are lying beaten, bruised, and dying on the side of the roads they walk. And many will have to admit some of those folks have been beaten and bruised by the church leaders themselves. What Schaeffer’s trial makes sadly clear is that the United Methodist Church is so broken (as are some other denominations), that we would have actually put the priest or Levite on trial if they had stopped to help the man suffering on the side of the road, and no doubt we would certainly crucify Jesus all over again. Make no mistake, the Church is responsible for its role in the discrimination and oppression of LGBTQ persons (and all marginalized people throughout our sordid history) inside and outside its walls. Such mistreatment has led to bullying, violence, rejection, self-hatred, and suicide, not to mention causing many LGBTQ persons to walk away from God because they mistakenly think the Church actually speaks for God.
Now, we all sin. And while we are to have compassion for all, we’re not to make excuses for harmful or complicit behavior. Let’s name it for what it is, and not just in our progressive circles and to progressive audiences, let’s name the sin from the pulpits of our churches – for all to hear. Let’s be clear and speak truth to power — it was a bishop that told the Schaeffer trial jury to focus on one rule in the Discipline while ignoring the rest of the book. It was a group of bishops that recently encouraged charges to be pressed against other clergy who have officiated same-gender wedding ceremonies (charges that would lead to tens of thousands more dollars being spent on trials – money that could be much better spent). It was a number of bishops who asked a retired bishop not to officiate at a same-gender wedding he felt called to do — basically asking him to put his vows to the institution above his vows to God. And it was a bishop who wrote a letter to the Boy Scouts of America asking them to not lift their ban on gay scouts because it might hurt the membership rolls of both institutions. All of those bishops are leaders of the United Methodist Church.
The sins of those leaders trickle down to those they have authority over – clergy who feel their hands are tied by denominational policies that would threaten their livelihood or their congregation’s stability (read status quo) if they break them. The best sermon I’ve ever heard about the predicament many clergy find themselves in was preached by Rev. Vicky Flippin as she told the story of Paul and Silas in jail.  She shares honestly and prophetically: “The police ordered a jailer to keep Paul and Silas locked up. And the jailer followed orders…As a UM clergy person, there is something about the jailer I understand. In a way, I used to be him. I used to follow orders, even if it did harm. I used to say to people, I believe God loves you just as you are, but I have to follow orders. I have to chain you in this back room of the church where you can wait patiently, separate and unequal, until they decide to liberate you. Now I am not the violent bigot and I am not the corrupt police, but I understand the jailer.”
And here many of us LGBTQ persons sit, with our prison doors and chains loosed by God, but we remain in the cell in hopes that the jailers can be saved and release us of their own accord. Many have done so, but this blog is about the many who have not. It’s not as easy to say, but the sins of the silent supporters are real, too. Paralyzed by fear of conflict, many of our progressive clergy and church members remain silent, ignoring and sometimes undermining the voices of the activists and prophets in their midst.
It’s not what I like to do, but I have chosen to focus on the sins of the church in this blog and not move on to the times we’ve gotten it right, because I believe we need to sit with the sin long enough to be convicted and repent.
God, help us.

Posted by: Renee | August 16, 2013

Something to Celebrate!


Joy – pure, deep joy – that’s what I see when I look at this photo of Connie and me with the priest at our wedding last week. I’m happy to say we were legally wed on August 6th, our 15th anniversary, at St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery in New York City! The particular moment captured in this photo was when we heard the resounding “We will!” from a group of friends in MS, via a Skype connection, when asked if they would pray for, celebrate with, and honor our covenant with one another.

Of all the things that have brought me joy over the past month since putting the wedding on our calendar – not the least of which is the joy of remembering I get to spend my life with the most amazing person I know by my side – the greatest joy has come from the responses of friends, some family, and even strangers when they’ve heard the news. Those responses have been so wonderful that they have far outweighed the disappointments – like the fact that we couldn’t have a legal ceremony in Mississippi or within our own church or officiated by our own pastor. In fact, those circumstances led us to a whole different set of blessings.

You see, after contacting Rev. Winnie Varghese about officiating our ceremony and she and other leaders at St. Mark’s watched the testimony Connie and I shared at the MS United Methodist Annual Conference in 2009, she let us know that St. Mark’s was honored to host our ceremony and wanted to offer it as a gift to us! That generous act touched us at a much deeper level than our pocketbook, for we felt truly embraced by this faith community 1200 miles away. During the ceremony, Winnie actually thanked us, saying we had gifted them with our request to be there! For those who know what it’s like for your marital bliss to be a mixed bag for your faith community – a blessing and yet a burden as well – a wholehearted embrace and celebration feels like a real Godsend. Indeed, I believe it is nothing short of a Divine embrace.

We’ve also felt that embrace from our Sunday school class and other friends who wanted to witness our ceremony so much that they gathered together to Skype it! From notes and gifts to prayers and hugs, we have felt so loved and celebrated that it’s kind of surreal. Our cup is overflowing. I think that’s why this photo is my favorite of our wedding pictures – because you can see the joy just spilling out of us, joy that will not be contained. Joy that is fuller and deeper because it is being shared by others.

This whole experience has prompted me to ponder Jesus’ words in the Gospel of John: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” It should come as no surprise that Jesus’ ministry was centered on teaching us how to love one another, for abundant living is all about love – in all its many forms.  How fitting that the first miracle recorded in that same Gospel is Jesus turning water into wine at a wedding at Cana.  When given the chance, Jesus chose to celebrate life and love and used his gifts to bless those who came to him. 

I could go on and on about how St. Mark’s Church and so many of our friends and family have blessed us with their hospitality, generosity, and excitement.  But suffice it to say, I am forever grateful for people and churches that let themselves be God’s hands and God’s heart in the world. Everyone should get to experience this kind of celebration of their love for another, for love is something to celebrate!

To support the ministry of St. Mark’s Church in-the-Bowery, click here.

Posted by: Renee | April 2, 2013

Waiting on Hope, This Side of Easter

by Mary Ann Kaiser from RMNBlog

Last Friday, love was nailed to a cross and put to death. A three year journey of teaching, healing, and challenging the status quo ended. Hope seemed so far away.

Mary followed love all the way to the cross, wailing and beating her chest, only to watch love breathe its last breath. The grief on Saturday was so heavy.

Peter, a devoted follower of love, denied love three times when the cost becomes too great. When all is quiet on Saturday, he is left alone with the weight of his shame and regret.

Joseph, having wrapped love’s body in linen leaving it to rest in a tomb yesterday, would have felt the coldness of death and seeming defeat in love’s body. Surely, the disappointment of Saturday would have him wondering if he misunderstood all of Christ’s lessons. Was this how it was supposed to end?

All who followed Christ, whose lives were transformed by love and a new way of seeing the world, must have felt so lost on this day. Confusion, anger, grief, and hopelessness would accompany those who never imagined this day would come.

Most of us have had our fair share of Holy Saturdays.

Anyone who has lost someone they love to the evils of the world via hate crimes, bullying that leads to teen suicide, lack of access to health care for HIV/AIDS, or any other form of injustice knows the weight of Mary’s grief.

Anyone who has regretted their silence, their betrayal, their apathy or their commitment to protecting themselves at the detriment of another, knows the shame of this day.

Anyone who has ever felt so disappointed by life – when the thing/belief/person/vision they really believed in has let them down and all they invested in seems for naught – would know the confusion of Joseph.

Holy Saturday is the day when our hearts feel so heavy and we wonder – is love real? Where is God? How can I possibly carry on?

Those who loved Christ didn’t know what Sunday morning would bring. They were forced to deal with the pains of evil on that day. There are no platitudes, easy answers, or other ways to avoid the depth of the realities of the human struggle. They must simply grieve.

In a society where happiness is lifted up as the primary goal of life, in a religion where there is little room to grieve and mourn without skipping to the resurrection, and in a culture that hates to acknowledge its own shortcomings, this day is so important for us.

On Holy Saturday we grieved. We grieved over all the times the evils of heterosexism, sexism, racism, classism, ableism, and interpersonal conflict seemed to win. We must sit in the reality that we don’t always know what hope will look like tomorrow. We must acknowledge the guilt and shame we carry over things we should have done differently. It is only when we allow the weight of Saturday – of all our Holy Saturdays – to set in, that we can fully understand the importance and hope of Sunday.

So on your Holy Saturdays, mourn. Be angry. Sit in the difficulty and confusion. The heaviness need not overcome us, we know tomorrow is coming, but our souls need this space – not forever, but for a day.

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