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?

The gay-bashing from the pulpit began in earnest the next week, she says. Every sermon contained something negative about the congregation's homosexuals, who were equated with alcoholics and drug addicts.

"I think the church was honestly at a crossroads and they got scared to death," Marti says. "Out of their fear, they decided to turn and attack as opposed to turn and accept."

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.

Upon meeting Michael Palandro, it's easy to understand his success in overseeing a church that has 500 people at its three Sunday services (one in Spanish). Likable and articulate, he, like Marti and Donna, took a somewhat convoluted religious journey to get to where he is today.

Michael grew up Roman Catholic in Philadelphia. While in college in Missouri, he began attending Southern Baptist services. He worked for the campus ministry with the Assemblies of God church. In 1984, he came here as assistant pastor, as an ordained Assembly of God minister. The Houston church started out with the Assemblies of God but eventually affiliated with Vineyard, which has 530 churches in the United States.

When he discusses Marti and Donna, Michael acknowledges their pain but remains immovable in his beliefs. He is clearly perplexed by their insistence on staying at his church, saying people change churches all the time, looking for one that's a good match.

The Vineyard church is not homophobic and will welcome homosexuals, but it does expect them to change, Michael says. He says he has worked successfully with several gays to change them into heterosexuals.

"Homosexuality is brokenness. Homosexual practice is sin," Michael says. "What we ask of people is to not engage in sexual practice and then let us work with you to address the sexual orientation."

He denies that he or his church "targets" gays. The 11th Street church, founded in 1975, has seen an increasing percentage of gays living in the area, a by-product of changing demographics, he says.

He says he did explain to Marti and Donna that "We do love you as you are. But we also believe we have to call each other to a pattern of life consistent with the Scripture."

Sin of any kind elicits a home visit from the pastor or his staff. "Our aim is for them to recognize that it's sin, to repent of it and then to start taking steps to change."

Last spring, a fellow churchgoer called Donna to urge her to go to a big weekend conference. Topic: healing addictive behaviors, including sexuality. "I said to him, 'That part of my life isn't something that needs to be healed.'" She and Marti didn't go to church that weekend.

They went a couple more times to the Vineyard, but after more finger-pointing, they figured they'd had enough. "In the last service, we just felt that God released us," Marti says.

So in April 2001, they stopped. Their wedding was approaching. They had briefly discussed trying to get married at the Vineyard but knew that couldn't happen. So on May 12, 2001, they were united in holy union at downtown's Central Congregational Church. The invitation they sent the Palandros was returned unopened.

They started looking for a new church, but after six months, they went back to the Vineyard in November 2001. Marti says God told her that she wasn't to move the mountain at the Vineyard, she was only to stand in testimony and that he would do any heavy lifting required.

They attended sporadically. On March 13, 2002, they got an e-mail from Michael, saying he'd noticed them back and asking if they were going to be attending again. If so, he wrote, they would need to rediscuss the church's beliefs on homosexuality. Donna e-mailed back yes, they were attending but didn't want another meeting. On March 22, he wrote them again, threatening to "no longer offer the ministry of the church to you, including prayer and communion."

On April 9 they met, right after Easter. This time the debate went on for about 90 minutes. At the end of the session, Michael handed each of them an envelope, making it official. They were "no longer welcome."

Michael says he took this drastic step only after consultation with other church leaders and that it was done not as a punishment but as a desperate attempt to get Marti and Donna to change.

"It's the nature of the Christian life to call each other to obedience to Christ, to repentance of sin and to a changed life," Michael says. "We felt we would not be the church if we just kind of let things be.

"Christianity is personal, but it's not private."

Marti and Donna feel bitter and betrayed. Marti says Michael and his wife feel they have been called by God to heal the homosexuals, which is fine, except, as Marti explains, "Their belief of that healing means changing them. We believe that, yes, they have been called to heal the homosexuals, but a healing through unification and through acceptance, because homosexuals have been hurt so badly by the church."

Marti and Donna's mission now is to let everyone they can reach know exactly what the Vineyard Church is about.

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My Voice Nation Help

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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