Speakers aim to create safe haven in ministering to gays

Sunday, August 24, 2008 | 9:12 p.m. CDT; updated 12:06 a.m. CDT, Monday, August 25, 2008
Mary Lou Wallner speaks with Bill Hillenbrand after a talk in which Walner presented her insight about the acceptance of gays among Christians. The talk took place at Missouri United Methodist Church in Columbia on Friday.

Sunset light filtered serenely through the pale blue and gold windows of Missouri United Methodist Church's multipurpose room as the crowd slowly wandered in on Friday evening. Many people sported engraved gold name tags given to them by the church as a tangible symbol of their involvement in the church.

The name tags were adorned with rainbow stickers signifying the wearer's membership in the church's Open Door Ministry. They came not just for fellowship, but to hear a talk and share a few thoughts on a weighty subject dear to their hearts: Christian acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people


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About 90 people attended the talk by Mary Lou Wallner, who with her husband, Bob, and their organization, TEACH Ministries, preaches an inspirational message of unconditional Christian love for and acceptance of LGBT people. TEACH stands for "To Educate About the Consequences of Homophobia."

The Wallners said they learned the lesson they share from personal experience: They began TEACH Ministries after the 1997 suicide of their estranged daughter, Anna, who was a lesbian, which spurred them to closely examine and ultimately renounce their long-held Christian belief that homosexuality was contrary to God's word and will.

"We and our entire lives changed as a result of Anna's death," Mary Lou Wallner told the crowd Friday night.

She told of her and her husband's transformation from being people who "had no use for" gays and wrote off their daughter's sexuality as a troubled lifestyle choice to becoming ones who accept and fight for people they once rejected.

At the talk, the Wallners advocated openness and acceptance of homosexuality.

"After Anna came out, I think I took her spot in the closet," Wallner said. She said she is a strong supporter of Parents, Friends, & Families of Lesbians and Gays. Its Columbia and Jefferson City chapters were among the sponsors of Friday's event.

The question-and-answer period touched with the same frankness Wallner used in her presentation on topics as varied as the murder of gay California teen Lawrence "Larry" King and the struggle of a young lesbian's uncle to accept flamboyant gay pride celebrations. Among the Open Door Ministry's most prominent members are three women referred to as "the three moms" by others in the ministry. The three mothers of gay sons said they share their experiences with the church through Open Door.

Another mom, Mary Ann Shaw, fit the evening's talk into Open Door's mission as "all part of trying to educate people about the painful lessons we learned as parents of gay children." She described her gay son's childhood habit of sitting in the sanctuary at Missouri UMC, staring at the stained glass windows, asking God why he had made the child gay.

"The church needs to reach out to these people," Shaw said.

The Wallners first shared their story publicly in October 1999 at an anti-violence forum with national gay ministry Soulforce and followers of the late fundamentalist Christian preacher Jerry Falwell.

Later, at the time of what they call their spiritual transformation, they were attending the Chicago-area Willow Creek Community Church, where they spent three years trying to work with church leaders to change perception of gays. But, Mary Lou Wallner said, "they really couldn't hear our message," and the Wallners left that church.

After People magazine interviewed Mary Lou Wallner in 2007, the Wallners received an outpouring of angry e-mails, one of which called her "the most left-wing nut" the magazine could have "hunted down" and called Anna's death "an indictment on the homosexual lifestyle."

The Wallners' next stop is Colorado Springs, Colo. The Wallners' activism has also cost them family ties.

"My family is completely not on board with it," Mary Lou Wallner said.

The Wallners' ministry has also built a different kind of family from the one they lost. In lieu of Anna, Mary Lou has grown to know and love what she called "hundreds of surrogate gay and lesbian Annas," some who hugged her, asked for her autograph or took her picture after Friday's event.

"I thought it was beautiful," Dick Blount, the Open Door mentor and a retired pastor, said of Friday's event. "A wonderful experience of people talking together, sharing joys and hurts, searching for understanding."


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daisy core August 24, 2008 | 9:39 p.m.
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Allan Ross August 26, 2008 | 1:40 a.m.

bi-sex-ual-min-gle is a spam posting google it.

How lovely for these people that they are all better now. Too bad their daughter is still dead. I'm not jesus, I will not forgive. They are murderers and should not be allowed to all of a sudden start being looked up to as some kind of redeemed role models.

Gays and lesbians should NOT look to church for support because the risk is far too high that they will run into idiots like these people were, rather than the very few who think the way they do now that their daughter killed herself because of what they and their church taught her about herself.

It disgusts me to see them laughing it up while they are alive, talking about how enlightened they are now, while their lesbian daughter is dead and gone.

They just can't seem to stop preaching that they know what is good for gays and lesbians. Why don't they just shut up about what they think they know and feed and house some hungry homeless young gays and lesbians?

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lily matha September 13, 2008 | 9:30 a.m.
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Ray Shapiro February 9, 2010 | 6:29 a.m.

Persuading those who are anti-Gay Marriage, (which on a level threatens moral, religious, societal, legal, behavioral beliefs and impacts decisions and choices), would be to not use the words Gay and Marriage as the term being advocated for.
The term "Gay Marriage" is seen as the abomination, threat or concern of the "straight."

Hence, those who see "gay marriage" as an institution of rewarding "bad" behavior which can be seen as a sexual act against nature, is affirmed by "punishing" or denying opportunities and rewards to people who are perceived threats to procreation and more traditional Judaic-Christian-Islamic based "family values" and rules of conduct.

Religion was perhaps created to provide a set of rules/laws/expectations for an organized society. Government also sets rules/laws/expectations.

Governments are run by secularists, agnostics, atheists, religious and spiritual people with a multitude of beliefs and opinions which effect their legislative stance and decisions.
I conclude that those who wish to become more quickly accepted by those who make their decisions based on disapproval of others sexual conduct, would be to create a term other then "Gay Marriage."

In fact, in today's more tolerant society, a term like Committed Relationship or Monogamously Vowed or Partnered might be a start towards gays building a better bridge with the more intolerant and traditional.

1. The government does not need to legislate Marriage or Committed Relationships or Monogamously Vowed or Partnered individuals. It is currently being done as a means for government control over its people, companies doing business, cash flow and. legal procedures.

2. Legal contracts can be written up by lawyers and that is where these legal partnered relationships should be contractually documented.

3. Churches can provide a societal/spiritual ceremony as they see fit, and congregation members will come and go based on their comfort level with the church elders.

Our government needs to get out of the Marriage/Partnered People Business.
Leave it to the florists, the caterers and the attorneys.

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