August 11, 2014

Rev. Allen V. Harris


Rev. Allen V. Harris (Photo by Lisa DeLong)

Rev. Allen V. Harris
(Photo by Lisa DeLong)

At the 1991 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, who would later become the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ, had his name put forward in nomination for the position of General Minister & President of the denomination. At that Assembly, in which busloads of delegates were brought in just for that single vote, Dr. Kinnamon’s nomination would fail by less than 1% of the votes needed.


The reason Dr. Kinnamon was defeated was because a year and a half earlier he and his wife had written out a check for $40 to become members of the Gay, Lesbian and Affirming Disciples Alliance. As Michael would later say they really thought little of it, and felt it was the least they could do for an organization in which they believed. Word got out that he was a member of GLAD Alliance and forces worked diligently to defeat him.


Throughout the year prior to the Assembly Michael toured the denomination going from city to city meeting with church members at forums and “town hall” events. At each event there was overwhelmingly negative reactions to his support of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender folks, with some even shouting disparaging remarks at him and even making death threats.


In the year following his defeat, Dr. Kinnamon reflected on these series of grueling meetings that he felt he had to endure, and the following words, first a speech and then a magazine article, came from that time of contemplation.


I hesitated about offering them tonight for fear they would be seen as too fearful or negative. But as I walked up the steps of the Cathedral earlier this evening, through the signs and taunts of protestors, I was reminded that Dr. Kinnamon’s words are as necessary and powerful now as they were then.


“We are here at the heart of the gospel, and I know of no way to express it except by paradox.  We are called to welcome those whom God, the universal creator, has welcomed; and, for precisely that reason, we are called to abhor those ways of acting, those attitudes of mind, that meanness of spirit which threatens or devalues those whom God has welcomed.  To put it sharply, there is in the writings of Paul a principled basis for refusing to tolerate intolerance… 


Those of us gathered here are not — at least, in our better moments — single issue people; we are gospel people.  It is not the defense of homosexuality that we proclaim, but the primacy of grace, in light of which all of us are found wanting and through which alone all are bound in a community of forgiveness.


This is the gospel!  Let the ‘yes’ we speak to our neighbors — all of our neighbors — be an emphatic ‘no!’ to all who would deny this truly good news.”


~ The Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, Disciples of Christ clergy, former Executive Secretary of the National Council of Churches of Christ, currently the Spehar-Halligan Visiting Professor of Ecumenical Collaboration in Interreligious Dialogue at Seattle University, in the speech/article “When Love’s YES Says NO: Reflections On Tolerance, Reconciliation And The Good News” The Disciple, September 1993.