For many lay and clergy members, the United Church of Christ is both a joy and a refuge. Our denomination is a place to celebrate the wide diversity of the body of Christ. It is a haven for many who have come from less welcoming places. With just that dual purpose in mind, three years ago a new support network was founded for bisexuals in the UCC, Bi All Means Necessary! (BAMN!).
At the founding retreat, participants discovered that while each person privately celebrated God's gift of bisexuality, each one also acknowledged it is exceedingly difficult to find a place of safety in the world, even within the UCC.
The BAMN! Leadership Circle, composed of 10 clergy and lay leaders, has been engaged with the UCC Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns (UCC Coalition) and Wider Church Ministries of the UCC in a dialogue on the issues and now is eager to begin a discussion with the broader church on the gifts bisexuals bring to the family of God.
Bisexuality is challenging for many to understand, including gay and lesbian persons as well as heterosexual persons. It often is confused with multiple relationships or non-monogamy, which are ethical choices that persons of any sexual orientation can make. Bisexuals can be seen as indecisive, immature, going through a phase, immoral or unethical.
But the Rev. Darryl Kistler, pastor of United Christian Church in Miles City, Mont., and a BAMN! leader, sees bisexuality as a God-given vocation, a blessed ability to love across a spectrum of people.
"We have a choice," Kistler says, "to let society and the church decide who we are going to be, or to be who God created us to be."
The Rev. John Selders, co-coordinator of BAMN and Pastor of Amistad UCC in Harford, Conn., believes the church must "go beyond our dualisms of straight or gay, and learn to honor our sexualities, plural." Selders notes that Jesus lived his life transparently, and that Christians also are called to live as witnesses, called to be real.
"To truly become an affirming people of God, we must move beyond a binary idea of human sexuality, affectional orientation and gender expression," says the Rev. Yvette Flunder, pastor of City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco. "The truth is, men are not from Mars and women are not from Venus. Rather we are all from God, impacted by our physiological, environmental and spiritual realities and beliefs which result in our being much more wonderfully complex than most of us will admit."
BAMN! seeks to provide a place in the UCC that is life-affirming, faithbuilding, and full of God's Holy Spirit, in order to counter the demeaning messages that bisexuals receive in the church, the gay and lesbian community, and in the world at large.
"I don't think that we have a judgmental God, I think it's the humanness that's the judgmental part," says Charlotte Asher, a public school teacher and a member of the BAMN Leadership Circle. "And I've found places, not in every church, but I've found places where I'm comfortable and I've found a home in the United Church of Christ."
The BAMN! Leadership Circle has planned and led worship, affinity group discussions, workshops, and special presentations in the last two National Gatherings of the UCC Coalition.
This summer, BAMN! will have activities at the National Gathering and the UCC General Synod in Minneapolis.
The Coalition office is creating a confidential database of bisexuals around the country who would like to receive correspondence from BAMN! just for bisexuals.
According to the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC minister for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ministries, this is part of an effort to provide support, fellowship and ministry with bisexual members of the UCC.
The Rev. Louise Green is co-coordinator of BAMN and a member of Riverside UCC/ ABC in New York City.
A 30-minute video, "bi-sex'u-al," is available through UCC Resources (800-537-3394) and Conference Resource Centers. "bi-sex'u-al" tells the stories of three members of the BAMN! Leadership Circle and comes with a study/leaders guide for discussion. The "Bisexual Pocket," developed as part of the UCC Coalition's Open and Affirming program, contains materials on BAMN!, bisexuality in general, and a bibliography for further reading. Go to ucccoalition.org or call 508-856-9315.
The Coalition for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns, the Rev. Mitzi Eilts, National Coordinator, PMB 230, 800 Village Walk, Guilford, CT 06437-2740; phone 800-653-0799; fax 203-789-6356; e-mail email@example.com; website: ucccoalition.org.
UCC Wider Church Ministries—Health and Wholeness Advocacy, the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, Executive, 700 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115-1100; phone 216-736-3217; fax 216-736-3203; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; website: ucc.org/aids.