CORRECTING THE RECORD: MCC Responds To Bill Gaither's Attack on Lesbian Musician
A Statement by the Moderator
of Metropolitan Community Churches
by The Reverend Nancy L. WilsonOffice of the MCC Moderator
CORRECTING THE RECORD:
A Response To Bill Gaither's Comments About
Openly-Lesbian Christian Songwriter and Musician Marsha Stevens-Pino
May 26, 2006
In early May, Gospel Music leader Bill Gaither, whose hymns appear in many church hymnals and whose concerts draw tens of thousands of concertgoers, distributed a public statement about Christian songwriter and musician Marsha Stevens-Pino.
Marsha is an open lesbian described as "the mother of contemporary Christian music" by the Encyclopedia of Contemporary Christian Music, and a long-time member of Metropolitan Community Churches.
Marsha, who has faithfully devoted her life to ministering to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) persons, has been called "Conservative Christianity's worst nightmare - a Jesus-loving, Bible-believing, God-fearing lesbian Christian," by Christian Century magazine.
Gaither's recent press release was intended to diffuse controversy over public statements he made before 15,000 concertgoers in Phoenix, Arizona in 2002. In his press statement, Gaither accuses Marsha Stevens-Pino of "misrepresentation" and describes Marsha's life as a "sad story."
I am taking the extraordinary step of issuing a public statement on this matter, and am doing so for two reasons:
First, many hurtful and false things are often said about gay and lesbian people of faith. And most often, we let them go. But there are some things we ought not to let go. Because Bill Gaither's statement publicly attacks a lesbian of deep integrity and spiritual faith, I must correct the misleading impressions in his statement.
Second, there may be many young LGBT youth, as well as straight youth, who look up to Bill Gaither and who will believe what he says about Marsha Stevens, in particular, or about LGBT people, in general. They may be struggling with issues around spirituality and sexuality. They need to hear from us and they deserve to know the truth.
Some background information may be helpful.
The following facts are not in dispute: Marsha attended a Gaither concert in Phoenix, Arizona on New Year's Eve of 2002. She and her partner were invited backstage to meet Bill Gaither prior to the concert, and a photo was taken. During the concert, Gaither publicly recognized Marsha from the stage and referenced a song, "For Those Tears I Died," that Marsha had written. He sang Marsha's song from the stage during the concert and the 15,000 concertgoers who were present sang along as Marsha's song was the concert's final song, and as 2002 turned into 2003.
Here's what is in dispute: During his public comments before 15,000 people, Gaither, a conservative Christian, made statements that many interpreted as supportive and affirming of gay and lesbian people of faith. Those comments sparked a controversy among conservative, fundamentalist, and evangelical Christians. Gaither now claims that his comments were not directed to Marsha as an openly lesbian Christian -- but rather, were general comments made to his audience and which have been taken out of context.
Regrettably, in his current efforts to distance himself from his own public statements, Gaither's press response contains what I believe to be four specific misleading or erroneous statements.
As Christians, we stand by the teachings of Jesus, who taught in Matthew 18:15, "If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell that person, and work it out between the two of you. If that person listens, you've made a friend." Marsha has written directly to Bill Gaither and asked for such a meeting in accordance with biblical guidelines. It is our prayer that such a meeting will take place and that this controversy will be resolved amicably between them.
Because Marsha has devoted her life and ministry to the LGBT community, and because her ministry has been an outreach of Metropolitan Community Churches for more than 20 years, and because Bill Gaither's statements about Marsha were made publicly, I believe it is appropriate to correct the public record.1. Gaither claims that Marsha "misrepresented and misused" a visit to a Gaither Concert in Phoenix Arizona.
This statement is not correct and contains no supporting evidence to back up this claim. A review of the video of the concert very clearly confirms Marsha's version of these events and her representation of what took place at the concert.2. Gaither claims that "someone snapped a photograph of the four of us, a picture Marsha has exploited on her Web site ever since."
This statement is misleading; at the very least it leaves the impression that a photograph was unwittingly made of their meeting. Even a cursory look at the photograph clearly shows that Gaither, a well-known public figure, posed for the photo. Make up your own mind by viewing the photo on-line at http://www.mccchurch.org/mediaroom/2...rlowry2002.jpg.
3. Gaither's recollection of the event leaves out a crucial fact: His press statement makes it appear that he addressed general comments about God's acceptance to the audience. In fact, he clearly addressed his comments directly to Marsha.
Gaither's press statement describes his public comments from the concert stage this way:
"Gloria and I were celebrating our 40th anniversary that night and we sang a number of songs that had been special to us over the years, including, "For Those Tears I Died." I mentioned, from the platform, that the woman who wrote that song "is here tonight." I then said that I love that song because someone "may have seen a grownup with a Jesus that maybe is pushing you away, that wouldn't let you in. And you were never good enough. The only Christ I know is the Christ in that song, with His arms out very wide, saying, ‘come to the water.’ That’s the only Christ I know-- come as you are."
However, the statement is misleading. A review of a video of the concert clearly shows that Gaither actually addressed his remarks, not to "someone" -- but directly to Marsha by saying:
"But we sang a song by a young lady who’s here tonight, Marsha Stevens…and Marsha, we have sung that song all over the country and I love it because you may have seen and grown up with a Jesus that maybe was pushing you away, that wouldn't let you in, and you were never good enough. The only Christ I know is the Christ in that song, with his arms out very wide, saying, ‘come to the water.’ That’s the only Christ I know. Come as you are." [At this point the audience breaks into strong applause.]
This is really the heart of the controversy: His actual statement was made directly to Marsha and spoke of how Jesus Christ loves and accepts Marsha, who is an open lesbian -- his recent press statement makes it appear that he spoke a general message to the entire audience.4. Gaither's press statement, speaking of Marsha Stevens-Pino, claims, "Her story is a sad one."
Nothing could be further from the truth. I have known Marsha for more than 20 years. Hers is a vibrant life that overflows with God's love and God's blessing.
Marsha's life continues to be a remarkable testimony to God's unconditional love for all people, including lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender persons. Her life, her music, and her ministry have brought spiritual faith and hope to untold thousands of LGBT people. There is nothing sad about that -- rather, hers is a joyous story of God's grace and peace.
I am mindful of God's words in Acts 10:15, "What God has pronounced clean, do not profane by calling unhallowed or unclean."
This is the truth of Marsha's story:
At the age of 16, as a member of Children of the Day, one of the earliest contemporary Christian music groups, Marsha wrote, "For Those Tears I Died," a hymn that continues to bless lives and which is sung in churches around the world. After years of prayer and study, Marsha came to know that truth that God had created her as a lesbian and loved her unconditionally in Christ. She found a new place of service and ministry in Metropolitan Community Churches.
Marsha served on MCC's Elders' Task Force on Evangelism and, in 1993, went into full-time music ministry to the LGBT community. I have been honored to serve as one of her mentors, along with Rev. Elder Jeri Ann Harvey and Rev. Elder Freda Smith. For many years, Marsha ministered more that 150 times a year in churches around the world. She has recorded her own albums of Gospel music and her BALM (Born Again Lesbian Music) Ministries have produced two CD's of emerging LGBT artists. In 2002, she and her wife, Cindy Stevens-Pino, began upBeat!, the first-ever music ministry training program for LGBT Christian artists.
Marsha and Cindy continue to travel and minister God's love in churches and concerts, from 50-75 times each year. In both 2001 and 2005, Marsha was honored with Pioneer Awards in spiritual music from GLAMA (Gay and Lesbian American Music Awards) and from OutMusic. Within Metropolitan Community Churches, she was the first lay recipient of the Purple Grass Award for excellence in evangelism.
I am pleased to provide this testimony to Marsha's ministry, and to her integrity and spiritual commitment. In the spirit of understanding, I encourage Bill Gaither to retract misleading statements made about Marsha Stevens-Pino, and further urge that he accept Marsha's invitation to meet in person in accordance with biblical guidelines.
The Reverend Nancy L. Wilson
BELOW IS THE EARLIER
PUBLIC STATEMENT ISSUED BY BILL GAITHER:
Thursday May 4 2006 - 4:17 PM ET
Bill Gaither Issues Statement Regarding Misrepresentation
by Bill Gaither
ALEXANDRIA, IN (Press Release) - Apparently, a visit by Marsha Stevens to a Gaither Homecoming concert in 2002 is being misrepresented and misused by her and others. Marsha Stevens is an outspoken lesbian singer-songwriter who operates an organization called Born Again Lesbian Music (BALM Ministries). Her story is a sad one.
In 1969, as the 16 year-old leader of what many consider to be the first contemporary Christian music group, Children of the Day, Marsha wrote “For Those Tears I Died,” which quickly became one of the most popular songs of the so-called Jesus Movement. Featured on Maranatha’s “The Everlastin’ Living Jesus Music Concert” album, her song became one of the best known Christian folk songs of the decade.
Gloria and I, along with hundreds of churches around the country have sung that song for years. Unfortunately, in more recent years Marsha publicly declared herself to be lesbian and took her music and work in a very different direction from where it started.
In December 2002, we had a Gaither Homecoming concert in Phoenix, where someone told us she was in attendance and asked if she could come backstage and say hello. Mark Lowry and I greeted Marsha and her partner and someone snapped a photograph of the four of us, a picture Marsha has exploited on her Web site ever since. False reports of what transpired at the concert have also surfaced on various Web sites so we pulled the videotape of the concert and reviewed it. Here is exactly what happened.
Gloria and I were celebrating our 40th anniversary that night and we sang a number of songs that had been special to us over the years, including, "For Those Tears I Died." I mentioned, from the platform, that the woman who wrote that song "is here tonight." I then said that I love that song because someone "may have seen a grownup with a Jesus that maybe is pushing you away, that wouldn't let you in. And you were never good enough. The only Christ I know is the Christ in that song, with His arms out very wide, saying, ‘come to the water.’ That’s the only Christ I know -- come as you are."
We then continued the concert without any further mention of Marsha or this song. Any other report of this concert is simply and sadly false. I regret that this brief exchange has apparently been used to suggest some sort of endorsement of Marsha and her current life and work. Clearly I do not endorse or support either, though I believe God can, and does still use this song to minister to people. I pray for Marsha and encourage others to do the same.