What is Radical inclusion? Why should we welcome it?
TW // sexual violence
(Please be advised that this post includes discussion of sexual violence and may not be appropriate for all readers.)
My name is Rev. Maureen F. Burns. I came to Hawaii just last year. I moved to Kihei in February 2020 with the intention of semi-retiring but I serve an awesome God who is my boss and had other ideas. Prior to coming to Hawaii. I lived in the Bay Area of California for 40 years. I came out to the West Coast by way of Massachusetts where I was raised and then joined the Army and was stationed in Fort Jackson S.C where I was recruited for Drill Instructor school right after completing my training at age 19, I became the countries youngest Drill Sgt. and still hold that title at age 60.
But my life was always lived on two levels. You see I am a lesbian and I joined the military in 1979 when if this secret had been revealed I would have immediately been dishonorable discharged considered unfit for service. Back in those days you simply didn’t talk about it, you couldn’t, you never knew who you could trust as they had “witch-hunts” where the military police would raid gay bars and arrest everyone and gay bars in general were often being infiltrated by police. Anyone found to be gay would be asked to identify others and then everyone identified would be dishonorably discharged. It was terrible to have to live a double life and to be forced to live out of integrity; but alas that was just the way it was and had always been.
When I came to California, I quickly ended up in San Francisco, which in the 80’s had a strong gay culture. The Castro was in full swing and Harvey Milk was in office. Things were beginning to change. But then Moscone and Harvey Milk were assassinated and we all ran back into our closets for safety again. These were trying times. Then the AIDS epidemic hit and people were dying in droves especially young gay males. So there came a backlash of gay advocates and cries for change and recognition of what was happening and the blatant discrimination that was going on. As long as AIDS was considered a gay disease there wasn’t much effort put into dealing with the grim realities.
Meanwhile back in the military I was serving in the 347th General Hospital and they were starting to see it affecting the troops and other populations and countries. Back then AZT, an AIDS medication, was killing as many as the disease itself as there wasn’t yet much research going on. Things now began to change as people faced the severity of what was happening.
I only served as a Drill Sgt. for one year. You see, I returned to the same unit I had graduated from a year and day earlier as a Drill Sgt. I was written up in the news paper and inducted in the Women’s Army Corp Museum at Ft. Jackson we had a small party held in honor of this. At the end of the party 3 Senior Drill Sgt.’s approached me and asked if I wanted to go smoke a joint with them. This was back when Jimmy Carter was President and you could get away with it. I said “yes”. We were at a trailer park. We walked off to an empty trailer and I thought nothing of it I just figured they didn’t want to be seen smoking.
Once inside they beat and gang raped me saying they knew I was a lesbian and they were going to teach me what women were for. They were angry because I had been being arrogant being only 19 and bragged about how I had beaten all the males by many years for my title. They took it upon themselves to “put me in my place” as they said. I was held almost 4 hours and thought they were going to kill me. They left me in the bathtub and I was going in and out of consciousness I asked God to spare my life and I would serve him for the rest of my days. Just then the door creaked open I thought they were back. It ended up being a Sheriff who got me help and took me to the hospital.
I have kept that promise. Upon returning to San Francisco I went to a recruiter and asked if there was any way I could serve God in the military and he told me I could be a Chaplain’s Assistant. I immediately went for training and changed my job. For the next 12 years I worked in that capacity. In my civilian life, at 30, I decided to go to college. I took a world religion class with Rev. Stephen Amsden from the UCC. He asked about why I did not go further in religion. I explained I was Catholic and my only option was to serve as a nun. He laughed and said “You could be a Pastor in the UCC, why don’t you change denomination?" I had never conceived of such an option.
Within 2 months ,on Easter Sunday, I converted and was re-baptized at the sunrise service. Steve knew that I was gay but for him it was not an issue. His church in Hayward CA. was Open and Affirming, welcoming of gay people and inclusive. I went on to Holy Names for a Sociology degree and then transferred to Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley CA in 1996. In the military, I had switched to the Air Force Reserves and was know working as a Load Master loading planes and was a Chaplain Candidate in training to become a full- fledged Chaplain.
Everything seemed to be going along great then I met a woman in class named Yvette Flunder (today Bishop Yvette Flunder) who ran a church in San Francisco called City of Refuge UCC which was predominately gay and predominately African American but was Radically Inclusive welcoming of all people whose faith paths who harmonized with the teachings of Jesus Christ regardless of race, ancestry, age, disability, sexuality or gender identification; truly Radically Inclusive. In the Air Force I still had to be in the closet. I had to classify City of Refuge as an inner-city ministry to serve there.
That church saved my life, literally. Just as I graduated from PSR I had a nervous breakdown from the PTSD that I suffered with from the rape. It ended my military career. I served at City of Refuge as an intern in 1999 and then became a minister there in 2000. I would serve there for the next 21 years. I learned a lot studying and serving with Bishop Flunder about serving marginalized communities. I also learned a lot about Radical Inclusion and the Love of God for all people.
I gave my life story synopsis to show just how much discrimination I have had to deal with in my life as a lesbian Christian. In my church of origin, the Catholic Church, I had to hear fire and brimstone stories of how God condemns all homosexuals and how we were all deviants in God’s eyes. I was very troubled and conflicted with this message as I knew I was called to serve God. How could I do that and also be gay? I had a difficult time reconciling it until I met Rev. Amsden and Bishop Flunder both UCC ministers who let me know that there was nothing inherently wrong with me and that I should follow my calling and not feel conflicted at all;that God was big enough to handle it. It was men and religion that had issues. Men in power positions had made all the rules and that is just the way it was back then before 2000.
Things slowly have begun to change both in the Church and in Society. Although I still consider myself a recovering Catholic. I was deeply wounded by the church of my origin and the way I was made to think of myself as less than and other and condemned for all time; outside the realm of God ,never to be accepted. For who I was as a woman of God or as a lesbian? It was so hard to reconcile all that I was Catholic for 30 years before I converted? Now I am 60 so I have spent equal times in both worlds. Needless to say, the one of Radical Inclusion is the church I needed to be fully who I was called to be and to serve God in my fullest capacity as a woman of integrity being able to be the same person in the pulpit and in the bedroom and having no shame for who I was as a person.
In 1999 things were still pretty closed down for a lesbian minister. There were not a whole lot of places you could serve. What church outside of City of Refuge would welcome me I wondered?
I decided I was going to retire to Hawaii. I wondered what life would be like for someone like me here. Not many churches in Hawaii are yet Open and Affirming. We need to as the UCC to change that perspective. We need to recognize the damage that has been done to our gay brothers and sisters. By the Church with a Capitol “C” and by the United Church of Christ of which we are a part. Fortunately, there is that slogan that was well known in the early 2000’s in the UCC made popular by Gracie Allen “God is still Speaking” don’t put a period where God has put a comma’
People of God need to open their hearts and their minds to the plight of their Gay brothers and sisters and offer support consider proposing to your Pastor and Congregation the idea of becoming Open and Affirming, supportive of LGBT individuals. Radical Inclusion includes all that are marginalized; people of Color, LGBT, Differently Abled, those with Mental Health Issues, all ages. There is a place for everyone. Christ never excluded anyone. Even the women that was referred to as a dog was told she was a wise woman for her response that everyone should be welcomed at the table.
So, what can you do? Pray! Be supportive. Don’t limit your love or the love of God. Embrace Diversity welcome the stranger, the outsider, the marginalized. Let’s start with the idea of becoming Open and Affirming. Let’s realize and address the real issues Gays have to deal with in the church. Do they feel at all that they can even attend and will be welcome? Don’t shut us out. We have many gifts to bring. No one should be excluded from experiencing the Love of Christ. Speak up, be supportive, talk to your Pastor, your Congregants, The Hawaii Conference the Synod the powers that be. I hope my words and my struggles have touched your hearts and that you will consider or reconsider your position on this topic. “God is still speaking”! Remember that. Times are changing Radical Inclusion is an idea whose time has come. Prayerfully consider the things that I have said. Open your hearts and your minds. Love Everyone. Amen.
“Open and Affirming” (ONA) is a movement of more than 1,500 churches and other ministries in the United Church of Christ that welcome lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) members. More than 350,000 members of the UCC belong to ONA churches—and our movement is growing rapidly.
UCC congregations around the country will celebrate National Open and Affirming (ONA) Sunday on June 27 in 2021.
ONA churches in the Hawai‘i Conference: