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tv   To the Contrary With Bonnie Erbe  PBS  December 28, 2014 3:00pm-3:31pm EST

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>> funding for "to the contrary" provided by: the cornell douglas foundation committed to encouraging stewardship of the environment, land conservation, watershed protection and eliminating harmful chemicals. additional funding provided by: the colcom foundation. websthe wallace genetic foundation the e. rhodes and leona b. carpenter foundation. and by the charles a. frueauff foundation. >> welcome to "too the carry"
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i'm reporting from covenant baptist united church of christ in washington, d.c. this is one of a growing number of churches that are welcoming people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender preferences. they call it open and affirming. or ona. on this special edition of "to the contrary" we take to you three churches in very different parts of the country that are opening their doors along with their communal lives and ministries. >> open and affirming is our churches are -- our way of grappling intentionally and faithfully with one of the most difficult things that the church faces right now. how to welcome and embrace and sanctify gay, lesbian, bisexual,
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transgender and queer people. >> here in st. paul park, minnesota, a new consciousness is taking hold. although this town was a manufacturing hub back in its heyday, today it's a quiet town with one oil refinery. the church mirrors the town. once a thriving church the community united church of christ saw its population dwindle as the town hit hard times. today both are experiencing revitalization. in 2006 community ucc underwent a pastoral transition. >> we had maybe 88, maybe not quite 90 applications that we had received, gay lesbian straight. three quarters more than asked is the church open and affirming. >> the importance of answering that question soon became apparent.
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when the search committee agreed on a candidate for pastor, she didn't accept their call. >> she said you're not -- your church isn't open and affirming officially. so i can't take it. she was -- had a commitment to her lesbian partner and she said, i don't know how she would be treated if she came here. >> the church decided to examine its policies. edc felt led the church through an open and affirming process. >> although it wasn't my cup of tea i had to do what i could to make this church a welcoming church to the gay community. >> but not all church members shared the enthusiasm. >> i was part of the whole process and at first i was one against it. >> i can think of one person in particular that would quote just certain places in scripture and then we could come back with, you're going to take a whole bible literally you'll have all
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kinds of problems. we interpreted the bible as best we could as our hearts told us to. and what we came up with is that god is love. >> the congregation studied the issue for months. >> but what worked best is having people come and share their story. we finally had a vote. and i'm quite sure that i can say that we had a two-thirds affirmative to become open and affirming. only one person that i know of that actually left the church. >> now an ano church the search for pastor began again. he was gay with a husband. >> we found obe and after they met him it was a piece of cake. >> almost immediately they asked
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about javin, my family. they want to meet him. and people embraced him and welcomed him as my husband. >> the church was not always a welcoming place for obe at 15, he was baptized in a lutheran congregation. in that church he felt his call to ministry. >> by the end of high school when i was a senior i came out to myself and started coming out to my family and friends at school. only to realize that that church was not altogether safe or friendly place to come out as a gay man and still be a christian. >> in college obe found the united church of christ. >> the pastor there became a mentor of mine. i think it took her less than a week to rope me in to being on their open and affirming task force. >> he went on to work on same sex marriage campaign while his partner, javin swanson finished
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cemetery. when he finished the two help had a big church wedding in the seminary chapel. >> javi knicks and obe as they commit themselves. >> pastor obe was able to take time off to work with javin to help make minnesota the 12th u.s. state to legalize gay marriage. >> people are really struggling with what sculpture says and some of the traditional teachings of the christian church. >> when pastor obe was voted in, a few of the members quit coming. i wasn't going to quit coming whether pastor obe, it's his business, not mine. i'm not the judge. and he's preaching god's word. >> people are really just honestly wrestling with a lot of it. and they can't discount the reality that obe is doing fantastic ministry here just because he's gay. at the same time they can't just dust aside sort of the qualms
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about homosexuality. >> javin is studying to be a lutheran minister. in 2009 the evangelical lutheran church voted to start ordaining gay clergy who are in life-long monogamous relationships. prior to that, gay pastors were expected to be celibate. as with public policy, church policy is evolving. the welcoming church movement which goes by various names in the denominations is vital to this change. ucc was a pioneer, in 1985 the general seven allen couraged but did not require congregation to adopt a nondiscrimination policy. and a covenant of openness and affirmation. >> there are really strong movements in all of the protestant christian traditions. i think ucc probably has the strongest kind of welcoming movement.
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and i think we all sort of learn from each other and we've even started collaborating a lot on trainings. >> i invite the children to come forward now for a time with children as we gather. the ribbons are different symbols for the different directions. now, what are the directions that you might see on a compass? any of you know a compass? >> open and affirming is an example of the sort of new heart and new spirit that's taking root in this place. >> there's energy and a vitality. >> members of this church, people in this community are starting to realize that the way forward, the way of life, the way that a church will continue is to reach out and embrace people no matter who they are or where they are in life's journey. and welcome them in. i think it's one of the reasons we've been growing.
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♪ >> good morning. and welcome to our worship service on this beautiful sunday in sedona. no matter who you are or where you are in your faith journey you are welcome here. >> traditional church in conservative state. welcome to the church of the red rocks in sedona, arizona. with a congregation of 600 members. it was here one sunday morning in 2010 that the pastor surprised the parishioners. >> i was doing the benediction and i went down to the congregation and i said i'd like you to welcome david as i have. >> as agreed pastor george alt told the congregation that their associate pastor of gay. >> i just started sobbing. i don't know where that came from. it just was so -- again bizarre surreal to be in front of 400 people having my
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sexuality announced. to the entire congregation. >> david had asked his family to be at the service. he had already come out to them. >> i couldn't look at my kids i couldn't look at my parents. and next thing i know there's a standing ovation. i would have never, ever seen that coming. never. and on the way out more people came up to me and told me that they had a niece that was gaya son that was gay. a grandchild that was gay. a sister who was gay. >> he thought for 40 years that whenever people found out he was gay they would reject him. >> associate pastor david reagan had been married twice and he had two children. after his second divorce david decided soul searching was in order. he admitted to himself some family and close friends that he was gay. but it was in sedona they he made the decision to go public
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prompted by a gay teenage are in the congregation. >> he would tell his mother that i was the only heterosexual that understood him. i finally felt like too big of a hypocrite i told his mother after probably a year year and a half, that the reason i understood her son so well was because i was on the same journey. >> embraced by the congregation, david felt affirmed. but he was also ready to move on to his next position. he had no idea his spiritual journey would spark a movement at the church much the red rocks. >> been thinking about it for a number of years in fact we decided not to do it about six or seven years ago. mostly being afraid it will maybe split the congregation. >> the church took a chance it would becoming an open and affirming united church much christ. >> some said, why are we doing this? we're already open and affirming. >> susan hughes stepped up to spearhead the effort.
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>> when i talk to dr. alt and david about it the more i learned that something did need to be done if we wanted to officially become an open and affirming congregation. >> susan and her husband were close friends with david. but susan also had another reason to meet this challenge. her son. >> he's in college, he was home on break the day that i was announced as being gay to the congregation and i had no idea that he was gay. and he wrote me a letter about a month later saying, you know, david i watched you come out and i watched how my parents supported you and it made me realize that i need to give them the benefit of the doubt. still makes me a little emotional. i need to give them the benefit of the doubt that they will love me too. >> i think we always knew about our son both my husband and i. but we had always decided it was up to him to tell us.
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>> the church much the red rocks has a very active ministry. bringing the community together for classes art exhibitions and clubs in addition to sunday worship. now the church calendar would include educational events about open and affirming. >> one of the reasons why i wanted to take plenty of time for education and development of the ona process here was so that people have an opportunity to grow and become their potential, because if a person leaves if they getting angry or their anxiety level goes up and they leave then you have no chance to work with them. >> this guide called the blue book is key it contains all sorts of frequently asked questions, the answers, additional readings and information. it was put together by churches that had gone down this path before. they also use it to guide bible
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study. >> there are so many things in leviticus when you really study the bible you have to know the difference. a lot of people don't know scripture. they read scripture literally. solomon and gomorrah is about positives by tallet. welcoming the stranger. in the irony very strip tougher that people fight over to exclude homosexuals is probably the very scripture that calls them in to embracing all the gay, lesbians bisexual transgender the stranger in their midst. >> in addition to bible study the open and affirming committee put together panel discussions videos and movies. >> we have a man in the congregation i think he's close to 90 and he was at every event every film every panel discussion and i remember specifically a film we showed in august and he turned to me and thanked me for doing this and
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said that it just had really opened his eyes and his mind and his heart. >> there are times when i have kids over the years who were struggling with their identity. there were a couple that i look back and i think we lost them to suicide. and i think it's because society is so cruel. and i want my church -- i don't want my church to be cruel i want it to be loving. >> before the vote there were still doubts about the final outcome. >> you never know. until you take the vote. until you go through the process. >> we got so little pushback, i was worried that there was contingent that was laying low and waiting to perhaps ambush us. >> when the ballots were counted in january 2012, ona passed with 90% of the vote. congregants don't believe they lost many if any, members.
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new members believe the distinction is important. >> if you look at the message of christ it's very inclusive. the church of the red rocks welcomes many visitors every week. the day "to the contrary" was filming david reagan came home to visit the very place he came out publicly. >> here is a guy that keeps roaming around dave reagan. welcome back. [applause] >> it was the first time he was back since he left in 2010. as david was greeted with hugs, he remembered what took place in this church. >> it was amazing gives me goose bumps right now. never, ever expected that type of affirmation. but i luck the out i guess, to be in such a loving community.
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>> united church of christ. we are the miracle on south capital center. [applause] >> located in washington, d.c., covenant baptist united church of christ is a model of in clue sift. its casual sunday, a look around the sanctuary reveals the stunning difference since this church began as an all white southern baptist congregation. >> the church was a thriving church up until after the 1954 supreme court decision to segregate as a school. >> with -- two choices sell the building and move or hire a black pastor. the decision to stay would be complicated. because congregation had dwindles, there was no money to pay a pastor until reverend wesley wiley stepped up. >> my father was able to come at
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no salary initially because he was serving the southern baptist convention in a position of cooperative ministries helping to foster better relations between blacks and whites. >> this legacy of inclusion amazingly was handed to us by a group of southern baptists. >> inclusiveness was a hallmark. the church took on gender equality doctors christine and dennis wiley husband and wife fulfilled the call as copastors. some members questioned having a woman at the pulpit. but it succeeded. what came up next would stir real controversy. the pastors are passionate about social justice and true inclusiveness. that meant welcoming lgbtq people. >> they were with the marriage equality and lgbt equality for a
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long time. even when it was not popular. even when it was not safe. but they knew it was the right thing to do. >> this church was the leader a leader in that whole process in terms of sensitizing people. >> pastors dennis and christine began officiating at civil union ceremonies. first outside the church, then two couples requested church services. >> the congregation was clear that we were now an inclusive congregation and so many people were joining the church and you could see that people are starting to ask this person, i wonder if they're gay or straight. when the union ceremony piece came up that was the straw that broke the camel's back. >> when i thought about inclusion at first it was just, let everybody come. i was okay with that. but then when they had the first marriage i thought, well, will they be doing that?
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so i had to embrace everything what inclusion meant. >> i think the first union ceremony it was done away from the church, some of our members were even fine. then when we had first union service in the church there was a different attitude a different spirit. when i heard about the first union i asked pastor could i have a conference with him. because i was not happy with it. >> we really didn't have anybody within our denomination who really could talk with us or with whom we could fellowship and feel comfortable. >> in the very beginning it was a very lonely place. >> covenant baptist turned to other denominations such as the united church of christ for guidance. >> ucc assigned us mentor pastors, we talked with the minister group of ministers, talked with our deacons then we also talked with the group of five that we call advisory group.
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>> finally -- everybody was pretty consistent with saying that agreeing that this is an issue you want to bring to an up and down vote, a yeah or nay vote because it could be -- it could create a split in the church. >> the pastors called a meeting to discuss and decide whether union ceremonies would be offered by the church. there was no consensus. the congregation decided to impose a moratorium on civil unions form a task force and study the issue for a year. >> the congregation came together to actually vote. the congregation had changed a lot during that time. we had -- got many more persons who were more progressive or who were gay or lesbian so the congregation voted that, yes union ceremonies would be part of the ministry of this church. and it wasn't -- some people when they heard that, that
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night they never came back. >> we lost numerous members. we were hurt financially. we lost a lot of our children, young adults teenagers. some of the members we lost were really the big givers. >> i was asked constantly why are you still here? you're one of the older members of the church, don't you feel the same way about they say about inclusion? >> it's interesting how in the black church as well as in the church in general. sometimes people are very selective about what scriptures they will use to support preconceived notions and ideas. >> katrina carter was married at covenant baptist. she agrees. >> it's not meant to tear us apart and to attack each other. even when you look and it says that you know, a slave should obey their master.
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that can be argument for enslaving a group of people. >> historically the african american church and community have been slow to embrace gay rights. but president obama's public support for gay marriage provoked a shift in attitude. >> i think the president's expression of support for same-sex marriage was very critical in helping to move this country and also the black community especially to at least be able to support it as a civil right, not so much as a religious right out a civil r-i-t-e. >> we are looking for a church home. we were unhappy where we were, at least one church told us that well, this church doesn't really like homosexuality. we don't really believe in that.
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we just wanted a place of worship where we felt comfortable. >> as well as form who we are at black gay men, to be in a space where we didn't have to hide, worship god as well as being felt in a safe place. >> covenant baptist united church of christ is listed as a welcoming and affirming baptist congregation. it is not yet officially listed as ona but that's just a technicality. this church is definitely on the leading edge of the welcoming church movement. >> i often say in the beginning i used to whale at god why us, god why did you give us this ministry. but, i've gotten to a point where i thank god for choosing us to be pioneers. >> our goal is not to be a gay church. our goal is to be the church.
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>> it's not just the gay folk who appreciate what has been done here, often say this place saved my life. but it's everybody. it's everybody. it's all people understanding who god is and that god embraces all people. that god made all people. >> that's why we call this the miracle on south capital center. because we believe that god is doing miraculous things in this place. ♪ >> the welcoming movement continues to spread and grow as more houses of worship ask should we make this official? we'll continue to follow this issue so please check our
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website at pbs.org/tothecontrary whether you agree or to the contrary, please join us next time. >> funding for "to the contrary" provided by: the cornell douglas foundation committed to encouraging stewardship of the environment land conservation, watershed protection and eliminating harmful chemicals. additional funding provided by: the colcom foundation. websthe wallace genetic foundation the e. rhodes and leona b. carpenter foundation. and by the charles a. frueauff foundation.
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from washington the mclaughlin group. the american original for over three decades. the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk. it's the 33rd annual mclaughlin group year-end award 2014 part i. here's the master of ceremonies john mclaughlin. biggest winner of 2014, pat? >> republican party john adams, seeing glory days like this since the golden era of harding and coolidge in numbers. >> mitch mcconnell and the gop, but also sadly isis.

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