God Only Knows

What makes lesbians fight to stay in a church that condemns homosexuality? And should that church remain resolute, or bend to the latest trends?

When Marti and Donna Rickard walked into the Vineyard Church in the Heights for the first time, they knew this was the church for them. "They did three or four of our very favorite songs, including the one played at our wedding," Donna says. The atmosphere was contemporary, the band was live, the people were friendly, and the sermon was Bible-based. At the conclusion, Marti says, one of the leaders came up and gave them a scriptural reading. That was all they needed to confirm in their minds that God had called them to this church.

It was all exactly what they wanted.

That was in April 2000. Two years later, on April 9, Marti and Donna were kicked out of the church, told they could not receive its Communion or prayers, and would not be welcome to enter its doors.

Donna and Marti believe they can be good Christians and lesbians at the same time.
Margaret Downing
Donna and Marti believe they can be good Christians and lesbians at the same time.

The church hasn't changed. It still offers contemporary services, live music, friendly people and Bible-based epiphanies.

But then, Marti and Donna haven't changed, either. The out-of-the-closet lesbians have not forsaken their marriage, have not stopped having sex. So the church and its lead pastor, Michael Palandro, told them time was up, that they were engaging in sinful acts without remorse or repentance and would have to go.

In truth, they'd left once before for a period of about six months, feeling increasingly uncomfortable in a church that condemned homosexuals from the pulpit. They'd searched for a new church home, but then decided that they still liked the Vineyard the best and returned.

Like Log Cabin Republicans, Marti and Donna wanted the Vineyard even though the Vineyard didn't want them.

And while Michael Palandro believes God is telling him to stand against the evil of homosexual sex, Marti and Donna Rickard believe God is telling them to stand in testament that one can be a good, Bible-believing Christian and gay all at the same time.

Marti grew up Southern Baptist in Houston before going to college in Louisiana, where she discovered her sexuality. When she moved back to Houston, she began attending the predominantly gay MCCR, the Metropolitan Community Church for the Resurrection (now known as Resurrection MCC).

But Marti didn't feel comfortable there; it was too "high church" for her. She moved to the more charismatic Maranatha Fellowship Metropolitan Community Church, where she became a board member and played drums in the church's worship ministry. It was there she met the church's bookkeeper, Donna.

Donna had grown up Roman Catholic, in a military family who lived all over the place. A single mother with one daughter, she'd been introduced to a charismatic church in New Orleans and liked it. When she moved to Houston, she'd looked for the same type of church.

Eventually they left Maranatha. The church wasn't happy with someone on the board being involved with an employee. Marti and Donna felt that the church, with an average attendance of about 75 people at its services, was too small and inwardly focused. "We felt like God was calling us out of that church," Marti says. They wanted to go out and witness. Not wanting to be segregated from the community at large, they began looking for gay-friendly churches, but not necessarily another gay church.

The majority of churches were not gay-friendly at all, they say, while some, like the Unitarian church, they did not consider Christ-centered. Some friends recommended the Vineyard Church in the Heights because its praise and worship was the type Marti and Donna liked.

They did have some warning of the tensions to come. They were told the church was teaching unification, unconditional love and welcoming everybody and was "geared more toward reconciliation with the gay community but not quite there," Marti says. Still, it seemed worth a look.

After they had attended for about a month, the pastor's wife invited them for coffee with herself and her husband. The four sat together at a Starbucks off FM 1960 for two hours and discussed the church's stance on homosexuality. It did not go well.

"We feel very strongly about what we know, and they feel very strongly about what they know," Donna says. "There's a very thick glass wall in between that. And as much as we can see each other through it, nevertheless, it's a wall that can't be penetrated, and we just kept crashing into it the whole time."

As long as they continued their homosexuality, they could not be members of the Vineyard, could not be church leaders, could not serve in any way except behind the scenes in the food pantry.

Why not walk away? Well, they felt that God had called them there, Marti says. "We just wanted to set the example so that when they did see us, they really saw Christ in us and didn't see what they call a sin."

Nothing too dramatic happened for about a year, then a visiting preacher from Cincinnati gave a positive sermon about the homosexuals in his Vineyard church, Marti says.

As other congregants filed out, the small group of gays and lesbians who sat up front at all the services gathered together. "I told them, 'God's getting ready to move, and we really need to pray, because this is going to be very scary for this church,' " Marti says.

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I have known Michael and Donna Palandro for many year and was not going to the Houston Vineyard during the period described in this article.  I do appreciate you giving the Palandros some time in this article to speak just as you did Marti and Donna.  But I have to say that you are clearly biased towards their side and are conflating some issues.  


From the beginning of Christianity, sin is defined and elucidated both by sense/feeling/hearing AND by Scripture.  If you believe that Scripture is what God says, then you know that it will always trump what you feel.  (E.g., I might feel like I love someone a lot, but that doesn't mean that it is right for me to have sex with them when I'm already married.)  If you feel something is right but Scripture says it's wrong, then it's wrong.  And if you feel that something is wrong, but Scripture approves of it, then it is right.  If you think that the Bible is bunk then you can judge sin and moral behavior by whatever standard you like, but if you say that you believe that the Bible is God's word (as Marti and Donna seemed to), then you don't have a leg to stand on when it comes your actions being in direct conflict with its teaching.  It would be like if you told a police officer that the road you were driving on felt more right at a speed of 85 mph rather than 55 mph.  You're still going to get a ticket, and you're still challenging the legal authority behind that speed limit.


Secondly, your bias is evident in that you believe that sexuality is a given and immovable part of someone's identity like race or gender.  It is true that to marginalize and mistreat homosexuals is akin to a form of discrimination.  But you can't tell a white person that they're "wrong" for being white.  You can say that someone is wrong for being a Hindu, a capitalist, a binge drinker, or a homosexual because these are identities tied into your volitional actions and not into unchanging, born with characteristics.  Now if you want to come out and say, "people are born gay" then you can believe that.  But I would have to say that such an assertion is not a settled matter but rather is debatable.  Thus, it is better to acknowledge that some of us just don't believe that homosexuality is innate at birth.  If we believed that, then we wouldn't feel like we can say homosexuality is wrong.  But you're not getting the whole story right, and you're not trying to understand people if you just assume that everyone operates on this innate sexuality hypothesis.


Finally, there is simply no positive, approving, or even neutral statement about homosexuality in the Bible.  And there is no statement in the Bible that I can find that asserts that homosexuals are so because they were born that way.  Every reference to it that can find shows God's and the early church's disapproval of homosexuality and that it is a choice of behavior.  Please don't believe the Bible if you don't want to, but it is actually more self-consistent to believe in the sinfulness of homosexual behavior if you follow Jesus.  Otherwise, you've got to pick and choose what parts of the Bible you accept and ignore...and I don't think that is a wise thing to do.  It is true that followers of Jesus do not love homosexual as we should oftentimes, but that is a different issue from saying that we should ignore the Bible's clear condemnation of the action itself.


(Please not that never once in this commenting did I express hatred towards homosexuals but rather approval of the Scripture in condemning homosexual behavior.  Also please note that when parents shows "unconditional love" to their children that they still discipline them.  This is exactly the role of the Church as well.)

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