I understand the City Commission has just finished a study report concerning benefits for same-sex partners. I don't know where you stand on this important issue, but as a Lakeland citizen and someone who respects you a lot, I thought you might be interested in my convictions.
As I have grown in my understanding of Scripture, theology, and especially my relationships with others, it has become clear to me on my journey that homosexual practice within a committed monogamous relationship is part of God's beautiful creation. I was proud over and over again during my time in ministry at First UMC that I was part of a church that went out of its way to show hospitality to the LGBT community. As I listened to story after story of members who had spent their lives being shunned from families and churches, only to find a home of love, grace, and acceptance in our church, I cried tears mixed with pain and joy with my new friends. I think its great that FUMC has LGBT persons on staff, on important committees and serving in worship each week, affirming that FUMC is a place that values the gifts God has given all people. I'll never forget how many church members spontaneously stood in support with parents who identify as lesbians when we baptized their daughter. That is what the church should look like!
I am similarly proud of our City and County government. I have listened to many stories of LGBT individuals, some open and some still hidden, and shed tears with them as well. The LGBT community is part of the backbone of Lakeland and I am proud that on the whole, our community has moved past the partisan ideologies that made us more divided than a town that offers liberty and justice for all. One individual that has shared their story with me is in the Polk County Sheriff's Office. I know that if he felt comfortable giving a public voice to the need for equal rights for he and his partner, he would be more vocal. So many I know in Lakeland that serve faithfully on all levels of our government, churches and schools sadly still feel like they have to remain in the closet to protect their jobs.
This is why I believe so passionately that it is time for Lakeland to take this important step of offering same-sex partner benefits. Not only is it the right thing to do, it will give space for those who faithfully give their lives to making Lakeland a better place to come out in the open as who they were created to be. I can't imagine giving my life to something and having to lie about who God has made me to be. Can you imagine that?
From the little I know of you in the interactions we had over the past few years, I know that even if you do disagree with the idea of domestic partnerships, you will want to do the right thing by supporting this measure to provide equal rights for the people of Lakeland. Equality has always been the right side of history to be on, and I would be proud of our city and the commission if we led the way in Polk County as Orlando, Tampa, and St. Petersburg have led the way for Central Florida. I know this will be a tough decision for you, and just wanted you to know that I am praying for you. I trust that in the end you will vote the way you know is right and I will continue to support you no matter which way you vote.
If you would like, I would be happy to meet with you to listen to your perspective. If we disagree, I don't wish to argue, but learn how we might understand each other. Thank you for your faithful service!
Rev. Andy Oliver