It all began innocently enough.
I am putting together a book called “Sunshine for the GLBTA Person’s Soul: Inspiring and Affirming Stories that Celebrate the Spirit of Being Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allied Persons.”
The “sunshine” – our affirming stories we have to tell as we share the magnificence of what has happened because we have dared to live lives of honesty and integrity – is what I am writing about and having people share with me. I want to hear “the healing and transforming” part of what has happened after each of us has given up being a victim and being in the closet (yes, even allies come out of the closet!) It is daring to live without the fear … and soaring to live with the passion that God/Divine Spirit intended when saying “The truth shall set you free.” It is stories which motivate and encourage us to be authentic and to trust in the goodness of who we are and what we have to offer the world, as well as what the world has to offer us.
Following is an experience that has turned into one of my “transforming” experiences and spiritual markers. In the spring of 2000, I was at a department store buying some cologne.
The saleslady looked at me and said, “I see we have the same boss.”
I looked at her and said “What?”
She said, “Your cross, I like your cross. I see we have the same boss!”
And I exclaimed “Oh, yes we do!”
Anyway, she mentioned her church and so I said to her “May I ask you something. Do you all allow gay people to join your church?”
And she said, “Oh, yes we do and we would love to have you visit our church.”
She told me that I was “welcome anytime” in her church after hearing of my denial for membership (for being a self-affirming gay Christian) in two churches in Lexington, Kentucky (Centenary United Methodist Church and Crossroads Christian Church). The clerk then wrote out the scripture I Chronicles 4:10 on a piece of paper and pressed it into my hand.
“And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, `Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!’ So God granted him what he requested.”
Christ was expressed to me through her and I wanted to “pass on” the Christ energy I discovered in her. Meeting her was such a wonderful experience that happened when I simply shared myself honestly with her. Had I not done that, God would not have been able to work through her to reach me and comfort me since I had been rejected for membership from these churches. I decided right then that this wonderful woman would become one of my stories in the book.
Move forward to the end of July, 2000, when I received the following in the mail: a framed “Prayer of Jabez” and a copy of Bruce Wilkinson’s book “The Prayer of Jabez,” both from Mary Lou Wallner. I was so excited I called Mary Lou and asked her if she remembered the story about the lady at the cologne counter. She did, but she didn’t recall that the verse was the same “Prayer of Jabez” from I Chronicles 4:10.
I immediately read the book and hung the “Prayer of Jabez” on my wall in my home. Then, God began “enlarging my territory” and bringing me this vision of the “Jabez Prayer apostles” and the “Jabez Foundation.”
Mission Statement of the Jabez Foundation
We are dedicated to supporting ALL GOD’s CHILDREN,
including but not limited to,
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allied Persons
by helping them understand that God’s bounty is limited only by us,
not by God’s resources, power, or willingness to give.
We are committed to helping people be empowered
by knowing that they are blessed
when they refuse to let any obstacle, person, or opinion
loom larger than God’s nature.
Truly, we want to encourage people in trusting and believing
that God’s nature is to bless.
In August, I returned to the department store to find the lady who originally gave me the “Prayer of Jabez.” I did not know her name because I thought she had written it on the piece of paper when she originally wrote the scripture. When I met her in the spring, I was home before I realized her name was not on that piece of paper. Several times since I first met her, I went back to the department store and could not find her. So, off I went on August 10, 2000 to “track down” this wonderful lady! And, guess what? I found her! Her name is Sandra Smith. I presented her with a copy of Bruce Wilkinson’s “Prayer of Jabez” and acknowledged her as one of the “original Jabez Prayer apostles.” I also told her about my Web site and about the e-group, where we all can go and share the blessings that we are receiving in our lives.
Now, fast forward several months later to February of 2001. We were contacted by Multnomah Press (publisher of the “Prayer of Jabez”) regarding us featuring the book on our Web site. They accused me of not being an “authorized” dealer of the book (which I am, they simply didn’t do their research to find out the truth about that). They threatened legal action if we refused to remove the cover of the book from our Web site. An attorney representing Multnomah stated that the origin of Wilkinson’s and the publisher’s distress was that I, a self-affirming gay Christian, and the Jabez Foundation Board of Directors chose to include “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and allied persons” in the category of “God’s children.” The author and publisher additionally thought that any “perceived connection” with the Web site might in some way harm their book and Wilkinson’s ministry. Ironically, in some cases, just the opposite was true! One couple, Jeff and Patti Ellis, wrote me the following:
Three years ago my husband and I began the acceptance process after our oldest son told us he is gay. After many restless nights and climbing many mountains, we are all doing very good.
Because of the pain that we went through, we committed ourselves to help other parents find that path. We have been (with the help of many editors and website makers) developing a website sharing our family story and struggle.
I have been searching for positive links for our resources and would like to use your www.EmpoweringDiversity.com and www.EmpoweringDiversity.com/JabezPrayerapostles. Would you allow us to add your link to our resources? Our name will be www.familyacceptance.com. I will look forward to hearing from you.
Since Patti was interested in my Web site about the Jabez Prayer apostles, I felt I should tell her what was going on at the time with Bruce Wilkinson and Multnomah Press.
Under the threat of a lawsuit (which would probably cost $10,000 – $15,000) and after almost a year of failed negotiations, we finally agreed to remove the book from the Web site. Before doing that, however, board members of the Jabez Foundation wrote letters to Wilkinson and Multnomah expressing their disappointment. They also made some simple requests, including that Wilkinson and Multnomah explain in writing why they believed the Web site was not a valid vehicle for the truth of The Prayer of Jabez.
Since I am from Atlanta, Georgia, where Bruce lives, I also issued a plea, asking Bruce to meet to discuss the issue. After being told several times that Wilkinson would meet with me and some Jabez Foundation board members as soon as time could be arranged with his busy schedule, I received notification that he had decided not to meet and that the book must be removed from the Web site. In the end, all of the requests from the Jabez Foundation were denied.
Rev. Dr. Lisa W. Davison, assistant professor of Old Testament at Lexington Theological Seminary and Jabez Foundation Board member, wrote to Wilkinson. She expressed her hope that, “you might truly pray the prayer of Jabez and open your eyes to the way that God has worked through you and your book to bless persons’ lives, despite your best efforts to limit God’s love to only those who are like you.”
Other Jabez Foundation members who wrote Wilkinson included Mary Lou and Bob Wallner. The Wallners lost their lesbian daughter, Anna, to suicide and attend well-known author and minister Bill Hybels’ church, Willow Creek Community Church, in South Barrington, Illinois. Their letter said, “When you refuse to allow Dotti Berry to display the cover of your book on her Web site, you are rejecting people who God Himself would never reject. We can only say that you, too, are a victim of untruth and misinformation taught by the church (universal).” The Wallners continue to reach out to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons through their Web site dedicated to their daughter as well as through a weekly Bible study in their home.
Patti and Jeff Ellis of Fayetteville, Georgia, whose gay son prompted them to develop the Web site www.familyacceptance.com, in a letter to Berry said, “Mr. Wilkinson has the opportunity to really widen the circle a little more, like Christ came to do. He is missing the point by asking you to remove the book. I am sorry for him. But thank you. It was that moment of seeing the book cover on your web site that once again opened my eyes to God’s love for our son.”
I think that it is unfortunate that some of our spiritual leaders have bestowed upon themselves the divine responsibility of judging others. I pray that Bruce Wilkinson will perhaps reconsider the Jabez prayer where it says ` … that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain.’ I made a simple request to him … `Meet with me face-to-face.’ Since Bruce, like me, is a child of God, I wanted that opportunity for us to dialogue together out of love, not fear. For me, I will continue to hold to the “hope” that God will truly “enlarge Bruce Wilkinson’s territory” beyond anything he could ever imagine!
Atlanta native Dotti Berry is a life and relationship coach in Washington state who undertook a road trip with her wife Robynne Sapp and their poodle in 2005 that they nicknamed Gay Into Straight America.