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With Eyes Wide Open
John 9:1-41

It seems that how we see,
Depends upon the lenses we use to look at life.
It seems that when we do not recognize
The distorted lenses through which we view the world,
We are blind
It seems that seeing through the lens of the Light of the World turns life upside down, exposes blindness of the heart.

The gospel tells a story that asks who really is blind? And who can see? A beggar, blind since birth, invisible to the community is suddenly SEEN by Jesus. He is healed. His eyes are opened. But leaders of his community with rigid categories of what is right and wrong have blinders on their eyes. All they see is sin and blame, and shame. They turn on the one healed and the One who heals. Yet they claim they see everything so well,

Steven had grown up in a good Christian home. He’d always been delightful child: bright as a whip; multi-talented; self-directed and self-disciplined; honest and ethical to a fault; helpful and caring toward others. He graduated from high school with honors and from University with highest honors.

But Steven always felt like an outsider, as if part of him was not seen, and didn’t belong. It was while he was in high school that he began to acknowledge his attraction to men rather than to women. Steven came from a fundamentalist tradition that condemned gays as sinners as deviant. But he’d also heard preachers say God loved all people unconditionally and could change persons who came with a broken and contrite heart. So for years, night after night in the privacy of his closet, he took his broken and contrite heart to the throne of grace. But God did not change him. Did that mean he was so defective that even a gracious God did not love him? What else is a teen-age mind to conclude?

He fell into a deep depression. One day he felt the world would be better off without him, and tried to commit suicide. Luckily, his brother found him and called 911. His stomach was pumped, and Steven lived. His parents insisted he see a counselor. And this was where, Steven for the first time was able to share his secret, and his fear. It was the first time Steven felt seen. The counselor helped Steven to realize that his sexual orientation was not a sin or a curse, but rather just how he was made and gave him lots of literature on sexual orientation. He helped him come out first to himself, the hardest road of all, and also helped him find a support group of other teens who were gay so he was not so isolated. The counselor knew that suicide amongst gay and lesbian teens is very high. Then the counselor suggested Steven talk to his parents. It took many months to screw up his courage.

At first his parents did not accept that their son was gay. At first they thought he must just be going through a phase of some kind and “when the right girl comes along” he will resolve it. Then they tried to explain it. Was their son guilty of choosing a life-style in contradiction to what they believed was right? How did he get this way? Has someone led him astray? Or was the fault with them. Had he been emasculated by “smother love” or had his father been too absent and ineffective. There must be someone to blame. They felt embarrassed to tell their friends.

Only much later, and with much learning were they able to accept and eventually even to celebrate their son. They wrote:

For us we have reached acceptance of something in the being of our son that neither we nor he would have chosen, something neither he nor we can change. More than that, it has come to mean seeking change in those things which can be changed, namely the attitudes toward and understandings of homosexuality that remain dominant in both church and society. For we have come to realize that the biggest problem in being gay is not the gayness, but the reaction of heterosexuals to it. And we want to join with those who seek the ways of healing and wholeness at this point of pain in our world.

Steven has now found an open and affirming church in the US city where he lives, where he has experienced the gospel of reconciliation in both word and action. He has found a place to be gay and Christian.

It seems that how we see,
Depends upon the lenses we use to look at life.
It seems that when we do not recognize
The distorted lenses through which
We view the world,
We are blind
It seems that seeing through the lens of the Light of the World turns life upside down, exposes blindness of the heart.

The United Church of Canada and A History of the Debate
Margaret Taylor

The United Church of Canada and Cedar Park have been in a long process of opening our eyes to people like Steven. We have been in a process of opening our eyes to the ways in which our silence, our fear, our blindness to our own homophobia have been part of the problem. That opening of eyes has not happened all at once, but gradually over the course of decades, and is still very much in process.

Today our congregation begins a process of discussion around becoming an Affirming Congregation. I¹d like to situation this in the long journey our church and Cedar Park have been on.

The National Church has been debating the subject of Human sexuality since the 1960’s. The United Church of Canada has been willing to risk public debate of theological statements about sensitive social situations and in doing so has gained the respect of Canadians for the Church’s courage,openness and inclusiveness.

In 1960 the 19th General Council approved a report entitled “Toward A
Christian Understanding of Sex, Love, Marriage”, ground-breaking in its
openness in many ways.

The 20th general Council in 1962 approved a report entitled, “Marriage
Breakdown, Divorce, Remarriage: A Christian Understanding”. Again the
United Church took a public stand on remarriage of divorced persons, when other churches had judgmental stances.

In 1972 the 25th General Council directed its Executive to appoint a
committee to consider,”Human Sexuality”.

At the 26th General Council in 1974″ The Permanence of Christian Marriage” was affirmed.

In the mid 70’s, during Jack Nield’s ministry, Cedar Park Church began
discussions on human sexuality. These evening discussions were open to all and were led by Mr and Mrs Russell Bearsto from the Montreal Ottawa

General Council received as a study document, “In God’s Image…. Male and Female” at the 28th meeting in 1980. It concluded “there is no reason in principle why mature,self accepting homosexuals should not be ordained or commissioned. It was controversial, The General Council asked for further study and in 1981 a supplementary study ,”Faith and Sexuality” was published.

Then in 1984 at the 30th General Council,”Gift, Dilemma and Promise” was approved and adopted as a guideline for study. A National Co-ordinating group was established to develop an educational program so that the church could study homosexuality in the context of human sexuality and report to General Council in 1988. At issue was ordination of gay and lesbian persons. But the issues went much deeper.

In the fall of 1987 the United Church’s General Council asked its
congregations to study the issue of homosexuality. Our board and members of the congregation attended several study sessions and the result was that Cedar Park Church was the only church in the Montreal Ottawa Conference to send a petition to General Council that was Gay Positive!

At the 32nd General Council in 1988 full consideration was given to
approximately 1800 petitions from congregations across Canada and a statement titled, “Membership,Ministry and Human Sexuality” was adopted as church policy. Among the many declarations was the declaration that all persons, regardless of their sexual orientation, who profess faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, are welcome to be or to become full members of The United Church of Canada. And that all members of The United Church of Canada are eligible to be considered for ordered ministry. At the same time the church confessed its homophobia and ways in which it had been and continued to be blind. The church committed itself to learn and grow.

In 1993, during the ministry of Paul Evans, the organizers of the Lenten series invited Craig Chaplin to speak to a gathering of the congregation after the morning service. Craig spoke to the large group about what it was to be gay and in the ministry of The United Church.Craig had been the much-loved student minister at Cedar Park in 1978. In fact, it was the year that my daughter Terry was Confirmed and Craig was responsible for the Confirmation class. Craig was in no small way influential in forming her ideas about and interest in social justice.

In 2000 the 37th General Council affirmed that human sexual orientations, whether hetrosexual or homosexual, are a gift from God and part of the marvelous diversity of creation.

When in 2002 the laws in Quebec changed to allow civil unions of gay and lesbian persons, our congregation, under the leadership of Sharon moon, held 2 well attended discussion evenings, one led by Rev. Niel Whitehouse, on homosexuality, on sharing our experiences and concerns about honoring and performing civil unions of gay and lesbian persons. The result was very strong support and many at that time encouraged us to move forward with becoming an affirming church. We have held one such Civil Union.

In our Cedar Park congregational retreat on future directions in 2004, we talked about reaching out beyond our walls and becoming a more inclusive church. At this retreat, as well as at a follow up gathering the next year at the church which had been called to make more explicit our desire to reach out beyond our walls, the goal of becoming an Affirming Congregation was agreed upon.

Meanwhile the issue of gay marriage became a national issue and in August of 2003 the 38th General Council decided to call upon the Government of Canada to recognize same-sex marriages in marriage legislation. The moderator made a presentation to the supreme court and the church advocated for the law to be changed to allow gay and lesbian people to marry. And two years later The United Church Of Canada congratulated the Canadian Government on its proposed same-sex marriage law.

We have gradually been opening our eyes and seeing, opening our hearts with compassion, opening our minds to areas where we have had blinders on.

What Is An Affirming Congregation?
Elsa Dondenaz

In the United Church affirming congregations are local churches that:
Welcome bi-sexuals, lesbians, trans-gendered persons, gay men and their families in all aspects of church life;
Promote reconciliation of bisexual, lesbian, trans-gendered and gay people in the Church and society and
Minister to and with gay men, lesbians, bi-sexuals and trans-gendered persons

This is an important issue for our congregation, one which requires discussion, mutual caring, love, and sharing of stories and ideas. It is a justice issue: discrimination and damaging negative stereotyping happens within communities. The more negativity that emerges leads to hostility and rejection. Lesbians and gays continue to be treated with hostility in our society. They are denied their rightful place in society and the church because of un- faithful values as well as unjust policies and practices.

It is time to right the wrong. It is time to shed our blindness and open our eyes to the light. That means becoming truly welcoming to all. We can no longer be like the parents of the blind man Jesus healed. While admitting he was their son they left him to answer questions about his blindness and healing by himself. Were his parents afraid of the Jews? Probably. Were they afraid they would no longer be welcome in temple? Probably. Did they not completely understand the issues? Probably. Did they think that the blindness was a manifestation of their sin? More than likely. And so, it was simpler for them to cast him out and let him stand alone to answer the questions than get involved.

We can no longer allow individuals to fight his or her battles alone. Individuals must be supported as well as their families and friends. This is truly reaching out into the community, well beyond our walls and our prescribed safety zone. This is an exciting journey I am inviting you all to share in…. It will be a journey of self –awareness, community awareness, compassion, learning, growth, and hopefully a growing understanding and acceptance.

The time is right, the need to do this has come from at least 2 congregational retreats, one civil union has been performed here and we currently have a request for a same sex marriage. Other churches have taken this journey – some are traveling others have already created a new safe place where all are welcome. How long will our journey take? As long as it takes. How will we make the decision that we have reached our new safe place for everyone?…Through community discernment- a process of listening and trusting in God’s will and power to speak to the situation. We must have confidence in God’s presence, power and purposes in our lives.

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