SUPPORTER SPOTLIGHT: Mary Jim and Don Shockley

So often our religious leaders speak against the gay lifestyle, calling it an abomination, giving their followers what they think of as a moral right to do everything in their power to put a halt to gay rights and in effect, creating prejudice against the GLBT community. And then there are people like Don Shockley.

Shockley is a retired United Methodist minister who began as pastor of a rural church at the age of 18, later becoming a university chaplain for the remainder of his career. Working with youth became Shockley's passion and he became a person they could trust with their deepest secrets.

“I can’t tell you how many times I have heard gay people say that they knew from childhood that they were attracted to persons of their same gender. But there seemed to be no one they could tell or ask about it. ... Had there been a trustworthy and compassionate adult to talk to early on this would have made a world of difference in their lives.”

Shockley and his wife, Mary Jim, have been active for more than 10 years in the Nashville chapter of PFLAG. “We joined the group because we have several gay and lesbian folks in our family.” The pastor has also been a part of PFLAG for well over 10 years, serving as co-chair with H.G Stovall for three of those.

“I first became aware of the issues LGBT folks deal with during the early years of my career-long service as a university chaplain. Students would come by looking for someone they could trust to listen to their concerns. Much of my life has been spent listening to people of all ages. I know the healing power of listening; listening is the core of my spiritual life.”

In a speech Shockley prepared to give to the Tennessee legislative committee regarding the proposed “Don't Say Gay” bill, Shockley said, “This is really serious business. Scott Ridgway, director of the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network spoke out against the bill you are considering, saying it would limit students’ access to the resource most likely to help them: the teachers and staff members of our schools. He expressed the fear that this bill would lead to more suicides. That you are considering legislation that might have this effect breaks this old chaplain’s heart. Please do not pass this bill!”

Shockley first became aware of the GLBT issues as a chaplain to university students, then later two of his children come out to him, so the issue became even more important to him as a father. “Suffice it to say that concern for the well-being of LGBT men and women has been, and remains, one of my chief concerns. I have felt a special obligation as a minister to speak out because much of the prejudice surrounding the gay community has come from the churches.”

Shockly wants more church participation for members of the GLBT community. “The sharpest pain in my soul is the failure of most of our religious leaders to do anything to welcome the full participation of gay and lesbian folks in the churches. You can't be around PFLAG meetings for very long without realizing that much of the pain and suffering in the LGBT community has its origin in the churches,” he said.

Shockley added, “And I acknowledge this as someone who has spent his life in ordained ministry. The really important words in the Bible are such as love, justice, grace, kindness, and so on. The real abomination is to search the roughly 2,000 pages for words that can be used to disparage other people.”

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