Jamie’s Story: Love Wins

Jamie reading
Jamie Pape gave the following testimony today after her baptism at First Christian Church in Fort Smith, AR.  Her words were for her church and members of the LGBTQ+ community who have been victims of hate and bigotry. 

Hello Everyone,

I want to thank everyone for being here today, not just for being here for my baptism, but really my rebirth as a human. I stand here in front of you, a simple humbled servant of God. I stand here only a short time removed from some very evil acts of violence, acts that send ripples of fear in their wake. I morn for those touched by this, but I also send out encouragement. This is not the end. I want them to know that they are loved by us and most importantly by God. God mourns the loss alongside you and will be there to comfort you. My plea is to never give up.

I know fully that pit of darkness that you can get close to. I have looked at it for most of my life. I know what fear can do. As a young child, I knew something was not right, and because of that I have endured countless acts of evil. I have been beaten and burned, but yet something kept giving me the strength to carry on.

I used to pray, every-night: “God please end my pain, God please, take me from this world.” Then, I would wake up, still living, but not alive, still here, but not. Confused as to why, afraid of what could happen should anyone discover my truth, confused as to why me, and alone, despite being with people who loved me. I felt like there was no one like me. Sure, there were characters on daytime talk shows, but I did not see people. I felt alone and afraid.

Now, I will not stand here and say that it was all gloom and doom. I had good days, and I had awesome days. The day I looked into someone’s eyes as she responded the words: “I do.” The day I held a tiny baby in my hands and realized this is why, this is why I was placed here. Then another came, and yes, another. I have three beautiful children who now are entering adulthood. I thank God for these, for they gave me a purpose, yet I still sat alone many nights, afraid, oftentimes depressed and silent. I still said the same prayers, had the same fears.

Fear ruled my life, until a little over two years ago. I decided to not let fear rule me any longer, to not live in pain any longer, to be fully truthful and honestly share that truth. SO I came out. It was not an easy road, and one I still travel to this day. But I do not walk it alone.

And yet, despite having taken this big step, that pit of darkness followed. Many times I feared it would consume me. I got to a point of wondering why God hated me, and I said one final prayer, I said God If you love me please, please speak to me, please show me that you love me… that Friday my boss at the job I had, for, no reason looked at me and said God loves you Jamie, just the way you are.

That night, I prayed. I said “God, thank you for speaking to me, but I need more. I need a church, because I used to go, but hate and fear drove me away from church. The next day, I met Dr. Jarrett Banks. He had said something I will never forget. He said: “I want to be your friend. Whether or not you come to church, I want to be your friend. He invited me to come here, no strings attached, just a promise that I would be safe. So I came. I faced my fears walking though the door. At first, I went in the wrong way and had to come around to the right door.

But I did. And with a deep breath I opened the door. I walked in. I stood right over there. I was going to sit alone. But someone noticed me, and she waved to me to come over. At first I thought maybe she was waving at someone else. Nope, she was indeed waving to me. So I went over. During that service I cried. I cried, because I felt a presence in my soul that I had not felt in ages. I cried at the words spoken about being inclusive.

Which brings us to today—a day where we celebrate a rebirth, as well as an early thanksgiving. I give thanks that God has placed all of you into my life. I thank God that people are starting to see the truth. I thank God for everyone who has been given the courage to stare down fear, and hate. And I thank God for giving strength to people to stand and defend those who cannot quite yet defend themselves. I give thanks to God… for life.

So in closing, I say this to those who hurt, those who mourn, those who fear: God loves you. We love you. I love you. Together, we will defend you, support you, and comfort you, until you can once again stand and do the same for others.

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A Politically-Correct Gospel

Shannon

The following sermon was preached by Rev. Shannon Fleck at the Installation Service of Jarrett Banks as the 25th Senior Minister of First Christian Church in Fort Smith. 

Matthew 22:15-22 NRSV

  • Good morning everyone! I want to preface this morning by saying that I am not the usual occupant of this pulpit. So if you are visiting this morning and you hate it, come back next and hear Jarrett before making that decision. If you love what you hear today, come back next week also because he and I are kind of cut from the same theological cloth.

 

  • It is my intention to get a little real with you today. Because the world we live in could use a little more real. A little less side stepping. A little less “fake news”. A little less politically correct. I hope you don’t mind.

 

  • For sixteen blissful, easy breezy, smooth sailing months Jarrett and I served in ministry as a team in Enid, OK. And by easy breezy, I mean the hardest experience in ministry either one of us has ever faced. Those 16 months united the two of us as a team more so than any ministers I had ever seen.

 

  • And I tell you this only to qualify myself to you all as ready and willing to stand here on his behalf, alongside him as he makes promises to you all, his new congregation… and you make promises to him.

 

  • Ministry is hard. Ministry is especially hard in a world where religion has been used to repeatedly cause traumatic injury to God’s children for centuries. As a minister, one walks a consistent line of being “pastor” to those who have been hurt and those who have committed the hurting.

 

  • Living always in a dichotomy of another’s religious priorities versus your own, and inevitably, always letting someone down for not “doing faith” exactly as they see fit.

 

  • So friends, heeding to the promises exchanged here today will at times be easy and at times a challenge. But a minister’s heart and mind is constantly living in multiple places in order to be present with all of you;

 

  • You’re ALWAYS a minister. It is not an occupation that you do, it is a call you live every day, in every interaction.

 

  • I mean, one of the first questions one has upon meeting someone is asking what they do for a living, right? Ministers dread this question, because the minute we tell someone, we are immediately sentenced to carry whatever religious opinion, or guilt, or shame, or praise (maybe) they have.

 

  • Ministry is so very hard.

 

  • I know this person, as all of you will, if you don’t already. And he knows as well as I that there are things that pastors will always want to say that they probably never should, but a guest pastor can.

 

  • Like say, talk about politics from the pulpit.

 

  • This has been a spoken and unspoken no-no for ministers and preachers of the gospel for what seems like an eternity, erring on the side of caution, rather than offending the occupants of our pews. Ministers have been cautioned using the most emphatic of deterrents, fear.

 

  • So, imagine my quandary when today’s text appeared before me as the lectionary gospel for this week. A text that unashamadely places issues of religion and politics fully front and center. Crammed together. Not uncomfortably, like an awkward interaction with a relative at Thanksgiving, but as a matter of fact….

 

  • Any person who claims that religion and politics don’t mix, clearly missed today’s Gospel lesson.

 

  • It is important to note that Jesus, does not provide religious absolution from political and government involvement, we are going to have to pay those taxes.

 

  • But he makes the important distinction that loyalty to such things should only go so far as our complete and moral love of God will let us. So as we seek to give to Caesar what is caesars and to God what is God’s, we must remember that each and every being is God’s, and our loyalty is to what belongs to God first.

 

  • Now as I begin to wonder if some want to shift in their seats a bit I have to say that it’s understandable really, our desire to keep these topics out of the forefront of our most comfortable settings. Our relationships, our families, our sanctuaries. We do not want to be uncomfortable. There is nothing safe about that.

 

  • But in this effort to bifurcate the gospel from the reality of the political systems that influence our lives, we have done a disservice to that all important notion of Christian call.

 

  • And most importantly, we have left faith vulnerable and isolated. Up on the auction block to the highest bidder.

 

  • The bible has been contorted so many times to fit the comfort level of the powerful. Pushed, twisted, and breached more times than we can count.

 

  • What is politically correct about that?

 

  • Well church, if you wanted a pastor who would succumb to the fear of offending you… you hired the wrong guy.

 

  • Because this man that you just exchanged promises with, knows the politically correct work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And most importantly, he knows all about its unpopularity amongst the masses.

 

  • He is not concerned about comfort, least of all his own, he is concerned about living in the messy, abundant, unapologetic love of Christ with all people.

 

  • He is not one who will, as a friend of mine says, give you baby food from the pulpit, but sustenance for the journey.

 

  • He will ask from you all that makes you comfortable so that it can be stretched and extended into a grace filled life you may not had known was possible. But it will take trust on all your parts to change this world, and a willingness to stand up tall for what is hard.

 

  • That is a politically correct Gospel.

 

  • And in case you might need some real-world examples of a politically correct gospel, let me see if I can come up with a few.

 

  • When a terrorist, no matter the color of their skin, rings shots out through the streets or schools of America, the church should be prepared to offer a call to action against such disasters. Remaining silent is not an option.

 

 

  • When thousands upon thousands of women cry out “me too” on social media, the church of Jesus better stand in support of the endless victims of assault, harassment, and violence. Remaining silent is not an option.

 

 

  • When yet another person of color is gunned down by those sworn to protect and serve with nothing to show for it but another acquittal. Remaining silent is not an option.

 

 

  • When individuals are hated, ostracized, belittled, stripped of rights and protections, or disowned because of who they love. Remaining silent is not an option.

 

  • When the hurting, disabled, and abused are brushed aside, not even to be seen or heard. Remaining silent is not an option.

 

 

  • When white supremacists once again feel the safety to come out of their holes of hiding and not be held accountable by modern day “caesars”. Remaining silent is not an option.

 

  • When events like taking a knee become more important than providing aid to devastated storm victims, remaining silent is not an option.

 

  • When public education is devalued, politicized, and underfunded; when immigrants and refugees are locked out and shoved out of a better life; when Christians use their religious privilege to demean and degrade other religions… we absolutely cannot remain silent.

 

 

 

  • The idea that the Gospel isn’t political is offensive, because it refutes everything Jesus stood for and died for.

 

  • This gospel is a moving, emphatic, provocative, unshakeable political statement against a world that wants nothing to do with the unrestricted love God

 

  • I cannot help but congratulate you all on your choice of pastor.

 

  • Jarrett has had a journey out of a denomination that did not fit his need to practice a politically correct Gospel and into one that fits him like a glove.

 

  • His immense and humble gratitude for the opportunity to genuinely serve in context that is ready and willing to move and shake a world with unrestricted, unapologetic and immovable love radiates in his passion for the work of Christ.

 

  • Congratulations to you all. Now it’s time to get to work.

 

About Shannon

The Rev. Shannon Fleck currently serves as the Director of Community Engagement with the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, where she focuses on Community Organizing, Social Justice and Interfaith ministries.

Rev. Fleck is a native of the State of Oklahoma, spending her childhood with her family in Guthrie. Rev. Fleck attended the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, OK, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. After working for the State of Oklahoma for two years in Juvenile Justice, she began seminary at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, OK where she was the Matthew Thompson Fellow, Student Senate Moderator, and the recipient of the Sojourner Award, the Interpreter’s Award and multiple book awards. Rev. Fleck was Ordained by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 2011.

Prior to her current position with OCC, Rev. Fleck served as the Associate Minister at Central Christian Church in Enid, OK where she was instrumental in beginning the weekly Welcome Table Ministry for the food insecure of Enid, a bi-monthly Suicide Survivor Support Group, a religious presence at Enid’s Pride Celebration, and multiple services and programs throughout the church year to accommodate marginalized communities. She has also served in ministry at the Little Rock Air Force Base Chapel in Jacksonville, Arkansas, First Christian Church in Yukon, OK, Western Oaks Christian Church in Oklahoma City, OK and First Christian Church in Guthrie, OK.

Rev. Fleck serves on the Board of the Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice and is the 2nd Vice Moderator for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Oklahoma. On October 20, 2017, Rev. Fleck was presented the 2017 Church Women United in Oklahoma Human Rights Award in recognition of her justice work in the State of Oklahoma. Rev. Fleck is a passionate minister for the work of Social Justice; standing up for the marginalized and ensuring dialogue and understanding among all people is at the heart of what ministry means for Rev. Fleck.

On Faith, Compassion and Bigotry

My friend Susan passed away suddenly the day after she published these words. Like the mother of Heather Heyer, I hope to magnify Susan’s words.

Susan Irene Fox

My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others? Do not try to blend the genuine faith of our glorious Lord Jesus, the Anointed One, with your silly pretentiousness. Dear brothers, what’s the use of saying that you have faith and are Christians if you aren’t proving it by your words and actions? Will that kind of faith save anyone? (James 2:1,14)

In other words, we cannot claim to be Christians, we cannot claim to follow Jesus and at the same time claim to be a white supremacist, a white nationalist, a member of the KKK, or a member of the neo Nazi Party. They are antithetical.

Nor can we simply stand by and say nothing, or choose to say silent about the horrendous bigotry of these groups whose foundation comes from hanging black people and exterminating…

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I’m Not Gay, But That Shouldn’t Matter

Very thoughtful article by a very thoughtful person!

Linda's Bloughts

I am coming out as not gay.  That’s right. I am not gay.

Sounds strange to tell you that and yet, I felt I had to.  The need comes from the fact that due to how I look, how I dress, what I enjoy, how short my hair is and whom I support, suddenly puts me into the category of being gay and worse, non-Christian.  Why?

Why does it even matter who I am or what I believe?  Understand that this belief comes from years of researching scripture, questioning critics, and following Jesus’ Ministry.  I IMG_1812have a master’s degree from seminary. I have another masters in patient counseling. I have 15 plus years of studying scripture and its context.  I have 20 years of being a follower of Christ.  I should have the respect that is deserved from having delved into the words of God and actions of Jesus Christ…

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Repeat the Sounding Joy

communionThe following was written by Alison Lord Stuart on January 12, 2015 for The Daily Reflector.

A good question to ask ourselves in the cold of January is just what will we take from Christmas into the New Year.  Maybe argyle socks, penny loafers, a cherished memory or an unspeakable loss.  Whatever it is that we fold in for the long journey, we will be different because of it.

Throughout December, I was mesmerized by certain words found in Joy To The World; “repeat the sounding joy.”  I have thought of the beauty wrapped into “sounding joy” and often wondered what it could be.  Then I heard it one morning at First Christian Church in Farmville and almost like an epiphany, I knew.  After the serving of Holy Communion, it was the sound of Communion cups being placed in pew holders. Similar, indeed, to the sound of pew benches being turned back after the serving of the same Sacrament. Both sounds indicating that our singular and corporate seeking of God’s forgiveness is fully present and fully heard.

For Believers, it is a majestic, full bodied, orchestration of sound.  The perfect balance; the fulcrum of falling short and being the beneficiary of unconditional love.  In a long week, month or year, it is a sound to be coveted. It is the sound of hope.

God’s will is that the discordance of our sin doesn’t have to be the end of our song or life story.  Forgiveness, strength and renewal are at God’s Table, there for the asking, freely given and freely received.

The sounding joy given to us by a Risen Savior is grace. It is in the wiping clean of our tarnished slates, in forgiving ourselves and others, and experiencing the dignity of a new beginning.  It is best heard when we rest our weary souls in the hollow of God’s hand, listen and repeat, repeat the sounding joy.