I grew up in a Southern Baptist home and church in South Carolina, a small town with cotton mills and a Presbyterian college. My parents taught me by example the family values of love, respect for all people, kindness, generosity, truth telling, fairness, self respect, loyalty and faith in God. "Finish what you start, always do your best work whether you feel like it or not, and take pride in your work" were the main features of the "work ethic" I learned as a child. I learned early that hate is not a family value! These family values continue to guide my life now.
At about the time I started to public school, I began to realize that I was attracted to other boys sexually and was not attracted to girls. This awareness grew stronger into high school and until I was 18 years old and graduated in 1952. Of course, I dated girls, pretended to be interested in them, and kept my homosexuality to myself except for the occasional sexual experiences that I had with other boys.
During the summer of 1952, I experienced God's call to the ministry and dedicated my life to serving Jesus Christ in whatever God led me to do. In 1956, I graduated from Furman University in Greenville, S. C. While attending college, I serve for over three years as pastor of Beaverdam Baptist Church, a small rural church in Laurens County, SC. There I began a lifelong emphasis on personal and small group evangelism and on Bible preaching. I was ordained by my home church when I was 19 years old.
Before I went to Furman University, I had pre-enrolled to major in Art, then, after I decided to go into the ministry, I changed to a major in History and minor in English, which was the recommendation at the time for preparation for seminary. I also took a lot of religion courses with some really outstanding professors. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would have been if I had stayed with Art and become a flaming artist, cartoonist, or designer as I had intended instead of becoming a Southern Baptist preacher!
I entered The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., where I earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree (now M.Div) in 1959 and a Master of Theology degree in 1962. I returned to the seminary after several years as pastor of Ingleside Baptist Church in Norfolk, VA, and earned the Doctor of Sacred Theology degree in 1968. Serving as student pastor of several churches in Kentucky and South Carolina during my seminary days, I learned about the destructive power of sick religion as well as the great power and love of Christ to change people into God's children.
My doctoral dissertation was on "SMALL GROUP EVANGELISM IN THE LOCAL CHURCH" and helped to prepare me for work in my churches, teaching at the college, and now in writing this book. My graduate studies and field experiences focused on group dynamics and the design and function of small groups for spiritual growth in and outside of churches. I prepared material, promoted, taught and facilitated hundreds of small groups for inquirers, new members, Bible students and others throughout my years as a pastor and as a professor at Baptist College and more recently in First MCC Atlanta, Golden Gate MCC San Francisco, MCC Nashville, and in dozens of other MCC churches and conferences.
MY STRUGGLE During the years from 1952 to 1968, I wrestled quietly with my own homosexual orientation without any counseling or helpful reading material. The present great wealth of books and articles on homosexuality did not yet exist. Rev. Troy Perry began the first lesbian/gay church, Metropolitan Community Church, in Los Angeles in October of 1968. I did not know about MCC until 1981.
In 1959, I married and began to build a home and family, just as I was expected to do as a Southern Baptist minister. We had three beautiful children, and everything seemed "normal," but I was gay and frustrated and in secret pain that I could not discuss with anybody. I went to three different psychiatrists for help, including Dr. Corbet Thigpen, who wrote "THE THREE FACES OF EVE," but they told me that psychiatry cannot change sexual orientation. Dr. Thigpen also told me that I am obsessive/compulsive, and they cannot do anything to change that either! He added, however, that this is not necessarily bad and that most people who accomplish a lot are obsessive/compulsive.
I served as pastor of South Main Street Baptist Church in Greenwood, S. C., from 1968 to 1973 and of First Baptist Church of Columbus, Miss., for part of 1973. Later in 1973, I joined the faculty of The Baptist College of Charleston, S. C., where I was professor of religion and developed a program of recruitment, church placement and field supervision of ministry students until 1981. I visited over 700 South Carolina Baptist churches to lead revivals, Bible studies, pastors conferences and programs on church careers. For several years I also wrote adult Sunday School quarterlies for the Southern Baptist Convention.
Personal evangelism was an important emphasis in all of my ministry. Hundreds of young people in the churches and at the college learned to share their faith in Christ and went with me to churches and schools to tell about their personal experiences with Christ and to tell how they had witnessed to friends, classmates, family members. I learned that the greatest influence on students is other students.
MY SEXUAL ORIENTATION ENDED MY MINISTRY
When I left the college, I had taught over 5,000 students in my religion classes and had seen hundreds of young people go into church related careers. The sudden and total end to my ministry, family, career, and income on March 3, 1981, sent me into shock that lasted about seven years. Soon after I moved to Atlanta, I began to drink and became alcoholic. My recovery from alcoholism began when I went with a friend to a gay Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, admitted that I was an alcoholic and needed help, took a white chip, and began the long road to recovery, sobriety, and health. I thank God for teaching me to live "one day at a time."
In Atlanta in 1981, I joined the Metropolitan Community Church and found acceptance and encouragement as an openly gay Christian. Not until February of 1988, however, was I ready to resume church ministry. With the encouragement of Carolyn Mobley, Jimmy Brock, Chuck Larsen, Reid Christensen, John Hose, Jay Neely, Troy Perry and others, I gradually resumed preaching and teaching. The studies in this book grew out of my personal experiences, counseling, Bible research, preaching and teaching at First MCC Atlanta, Golden Gate MCC San Francisco, MCC Nashville and in many other MCC congregations for workshops and revivals from 1988 to the present.
OPPRESSION IS A CRAZY MAKING PLACE TO LIVE
We live in the midst of church and community alienation and suffer from chronic internalized and horizontal homophobia. The gay/lesbian world, including MCC, as I have experienced it is a social and spiritual war zone. All traditional churches carry the self destructive virus of legalism and judgmental religion. I have no intention, however, of attacking or fighting churches or individuals. People and churches are not the enemy. The enemy is Satan (meaning "the adversary" in both Hebrew and Greek). The enemy is not people. The enemy is within ourselves in the form of idolatry, ignorance, fear, hate, anger, discord, disputes, greed, and the other works of the flesh ("human works") in Galatians 5:19-21. The answer is the "more excellent way" of following only Jesus. The fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 is a description of the character of Jesus in the Gospels: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."
For several years, I have seen my calling to be to help gay and lesbian people feel good about themselves and stop hurting themselves and each other. The only lasting solution that I have found is for individuals to invite Jesus into their lives and give up all other controls. Let go of everything else and follow Jesus. This was the first and the last message of Jesus in the Gospels. I have seen many people do this and experience the new life Jesus gives. MCC members and friends have contributed greatly to these studies. And I am grateful.
EVANGELISM AND BIBLE STUDY I am convinced that Christ centered personal evangelism along with disciplined Christ centered Bible study are the keys to success for Christian gays and lesbians in carrying out the call of Jesus to make disciples of all people. This book is an attempt to speak to our need for an approach to spiritual growth and personal evangelism that is sensitive to lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
This means that we have to give careful attention not only to what we say but also to how we are heard when we talk about God's love in Christ for all people. This means taking a fresh look at how to translate many Bible words and ideas. It means taking seriously and listening to where people really are in their ideas and experiences. It means being far more flexible in "becoming all things to all people" than we probably were taught to be in our past religious traditions. I am convinced that reaching wounded and oppressed people with the gospel requires an accepting, non judgmental and non threatening attitude that reflects the attitude of Jesus.
MANY PROBLEMS AT ONCE We do not have the luxury of dealing with one problem at a time. Whenever we speak up for Jesus Christ in the homosexual environment, we are surrounded by a jungle of issues related to judgmental religion, AIDS, parents and family issues, Bible abuse against us, politics, self esteem, and many, many more. Our mission is not hopeless. Jesus promised to give us the words when we appear before governors and kings, and I assume that includes queens, and verily even vicious queens! We also have each other. I thank God for what I learned through being in MCC. This book would not have happened without MCC.
We have the choice of selecting the people we want to be close to us and to influence our lives. Now is the time to get negative people out of your life so that you can go on to experience and enjoy the full and meaningful life and hope of glory that God has prepared for you now and in the world to come. Part of the joy of God in our lives is sharing our freedom, joy, love and hope with others.
Legalistic judgmental religion, however, is a deadly disease that spreads rapidly among religious people and that cripples and kills the spirit. Legalism is the enemy of the good news of Jesus Christ. Read Galatians to see how Paul saw Law as the opposite of Gospel. Legalism is demonic. Legalism killed Jesus and will kill you if you don't resist it. The only cure for legalism is the new life and freedom that come into your life when you invite Jesus to take control.
My two years and three months as Senior Pastor of MCC Nashville taught me many hard lessons about religious abuse and the desperate need of gay and lesbian people to know and experience Jesus Christ. In Christ we can be set free and recover from Bible abuse, fear of religion, fear of sex and internalized homophobia. Legalism and homophobia are social and religious diseases that have reached epidemic proportions. Legalism is "antichrist." I don't know how to work it out, but I am sure that Legalism can somehow be shown to equal 666!
My experiences in Nashville taught me the liberating power of Jesus over legalism and sick religion. I learned how people grow spiritually and help each other in small group study and dialogue that is truly centered in Christ. For over two years I led a regular Wednesday spiritual support and Bible study group in my home. The sessions began at 7 PM and lasted for about an hour of study and formal discussion. Most of the study material is included in this book. Then a lot of the real healing, learning and growing took place as we ate together and the people had opportunity to share personally and informally with one other.
No attempt was made to control or guide this sharing time following the study. The Spirit of Christ seemed to be most active in liberating and healing ministry during these times when we shared in the "miracle of dialogue." People usually stayed until about 9:30 or 10:00 and some seemed to stay for ever! We finally had to set a time limit that would give formal closure to the sessions.
Attendance varied, but the average was between 20 and 30. The last group that I led before leaving Nashville was attended by 31 people, who did not know at the time that I was planning to resign. Actually, I learned that groups of 10 to 15 people experience more dialogue and more healthy group dynamics than larger numbers, but we were reluctant to turn anyone away and could not find a convenient way to create more groups. Since I left the church, the Wednesday group has continued and other groups are being formed.
One of the most rewarding features of the Wednesday group was that people would come seeking support and help and soon be giving support and help to others. Many people in the group personally shared Christ with their friends, brought friends to the sessions, and helped them become involved in the church. One man who came regularly to the group used the brochure to help his partner pray to receive Christ. Later I celebrated their holy union, and when I left Nashville, they both were leaders in the church and regularly shared their faith in Christ with their friends.
On February 1, 1996, I resigned my MCC clergy credentials, resigned as Senior Pastor of MCC Nashville, and moved to Clinton, South Carolina, to take care of my parents. My mother was 84 and my daddy was 85. Mother was recovering from eye surgery and is practically blind. Daddy was in need of constant custodial care because of "senile dementia" (the doctor's term) and cannot be left alone. My dad died in October, 1997.
In the book and web site, I hope to share with you what I have learned from my mistakes, from other people, from my own Bible study and personal experiences and from my time spent in the trenches of spiritual warfare against "principalities and powers and the rulers of darkness." My battle scars have been inflicted more by myself and by my friends than by outsiders. I have been deceived, betrayed, abandoned and demonized by people I love. The enemy truly is within. Only Jesus can save us from ourselves! I pray for you that as you read and discuss this material, the Spirit of Christ will create in you a deeper understanding of your own experience with God in Christ and will clarify for you your own personal mission and ministry to change the world.
THE JOY OF SHARING CHRIST The brochure, "THE BIBLE AS YOUR FRIEND: A Guide for Lesbians and Gays," began as a Bible study at First MCC Atlanta in 1988. It developed through many sessions, feed back, and revisions. In 1990 in San Francisco, Don Eastman suggested that my study on "How to become a Christian" would be published by UFMCC. It was published in 1991 and has sold about 6,000 copies each year.
I sent copies of the brochure to a lot of people, including my ex-lover, Dan, who had constantly encouraged me in the Bible studies and was on the Board of Directors of First MCC Atlanta. Dan gave a copy of it to his new friend, David, who was not yet a Christian and had just begun to attend MCC with Dan. My thought at the time was that it would be great if my ex-lover could use my brochure to help his new lover receive Christ into his life.
David became a Christian, joined First MCC and became an active member. In January, 1993, Dan and David were on the NBC television special on gays and lesbians hosted by Maria Shriver, who interviewed them in their home in Atlanta. Maria observed that they were active in church. David said, "Yes, we believe that God brought us together!" The next scene showed Dan and David taking holy communion with their pastor, Rev. Reid Christensen, at First MCC Atlanta. When I saw this on national television, I was overwhelmed. I still am! Dan and David celebrated their holy union a few months later. With God, all things are possible!
You have only one decision to make. Are you willing to do the will of God? Once you make the decision to let go of everything else and follow Jesus, God will make the rest of the decisions for you!
By: Rembert Truluck