My name is Giselle Lawn, from Calhoun, Georgia, in the North Georgia Conference, and I love the Lord. I lived my entire life in the closet, suppressing the person God had created me to be and living according to societal norms and expectations until six years ago.
Please join with me for a short prayer. Loving God, you love me and you love us. We thank you for the United Methodist Church. For those gathered here at General Conference in Tampa, I ask you to equip us with wisdom, vision, boldness, love for neighbor, and love for God. May we remember Jesus as we consider the resolutions, legislation, and decisions made at General Conference. I pray all I say today will honor and glorify you. In the name of my precious Lord and Savior Jesus I offer this prayer to you.
I would like to share with you today the short story of how I became a United Methodist.
I was raised in a Catholic family but stopped going to church when I left home to go to college. On January 21, 1991, I was saved in the Southern Baptist Church and my life has never been the same. I went from having a head knowledge of God to having a heart knowledge. I became active in the church and in outreach.
Six years ago, I put God’s design for my life ahead of societal expectations for my life. I decided to live the rest of my life as the woman God created me to be instead of continuing my life as a man. I decided to come out of the closet. My objective was to blend into society as another Godly woman. I did not know where my new life journey would lead, but trusted God to lead me on my journey.
I met with my pastor and told him I had decided to live the rest of my life as a Godly woman. I told him I love my church and church family and did not want to do anything that would hurt my church, and then asked what he would have me do? He told me to rescind my letter of membership and leave the church. As a single person for whom the church was home and family, it was painful to leave this church, but I did so, trusting God to lead me.
Nine months later, I was invited by my insurance representative to worship with her at another local Baptist church. She taught the ladies Sunday school class and had approved my attendance with the pastor. After another nine months of worship with this congregation, I met with the pastor telling him I would like to join the church. He told me I was welcome to continue worship at the church, but would not be voted as a member by the congregation, so I left this church too.
This led me to visit Saint Mark UMC in midtown Atlanta, and three years ago I joined Saint Mark and the United Methodist Church and I finally found a church home where I was welcome.
I was blessed to live my plan to blend into society as a woman for four years, hiding my past life from others. Then I realized I had gone right back to living my life in the closet, only now as a woman. I came under conviction to come back out of the closet. Again, I did not know where my new life journey would lead, but trusted God to lead me on my journey. So I came out of the closet again, this time to live proudly as the person God created me to be, a transgender woman and beyond that a gay transgender woman who loves other women.
In these past few years, in my ministry, I have met and talked with thousands of lesbian, gay, and transgender people. All are people who are or have struggled with the decision to “come out” and live authentic lives as created by God rather than suppressing their true self to live according to the expectations of society. As each person finds the courage to “come out” they risk being ostracized by family, friends, employers, and the church. When coming out, they risk losing everything and everybody in their life. These are all people who need a personal relationship with the Lord to provide a source of strength, direction, and love at this critical time in their life. As part of God’s diverse creation, they need to be embraced with love by the United Methodist Church.
In John 10:10 we read “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” In this verse we see Jesus wants the people of His creation to have life, to have abundant life. My question is “whether the United Methodist Church is doing all it can to help lesbian, gay, and transgender people to this abundant life?”
I think the answer is no. Furthermore; I think the United Methodist Church has put up barriers between lesbian, gay, transgender people and this abundant life.
In Matthew 16:18 we read: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” In this verse we see first, this is God’s church. We also see that as Disciples of Christ we have an important role in the church and clearly our role as delegates, volunteers, and leaders at General Conference is an important role.
When I think of the ministry of Jesus on earth, the following scriptures come to mind.
In Romans 10:9-10 we read: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
In Mathew 27:50-51 we read: And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
And lastly. . .
In Romans 8:38-39 we read: For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
It is my understanding that Jesus came to tear down the barriers between people and God. I believe Jesus wants all humankind, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, to be in close, intimate relationship with God. I also understand that no one is worthy but God can and does use anyone to accomplish His purpose. It is a terrible thing to be told that God does not love you. So, here at General Conference and in your ministry, I ask you to remember the love of Jesus and how he urged people not to judge each other but to love each other.
I urge you to be bold supporting resolutions and legislation and working for full inclusion of all people regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity within the United Methodist Church. Now is the time. The Holy Spirit is leading the way. I urge you to continue your work to:
1) Remove the “incompatible with Christian teaching” language—no one is incompatible with God’s love. This is clearly a barrier to abundant life and to relationship with God. I urge you to tear down this barrier.
2) Allow the ordination of qualified candidates who happen to be gay or lesbian. Clearly we have effective homosexual ministers serving in the United Methodist Church, doing great work and making disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world. Please support open, fully authentic lives for those called to serve as ministers in the United Methodist Church regardless of sexual orientation.
3) Make marriage available to all loving couples. Let us celebrate the diversity of God’s creation in The United Methodist Church. Marriage is about love between two consenting adults and about equal protection under the law. With 73 million people living in states where marriage or civil unions are legal, we must allow our clergy to minister to all of their members who come to them to officiate as they say their vows.
As leaders of the United Methodist Church, I ask you to be bold, remembering Jesus, and tearing down these barriers that separate people from God.
Thank you for your attention.