Judge Not Lest . . .
By Alex Distefano
A Claremont Church’s guest sermon comes courtesy of a retired (and lesbian) judge
—now that’s tolerance!
Are you LGBT and thinking of coming out? Go to church.
This weekend, the Claremont United Church of Christ (claremontucc.org) is scheduled to present a guest sermon by Martha Bellinger, a former Methodist minister and retired Superior Court judge . . . who just so happens to be the first open lesbian in California to be appointed to the bench.
Bellinger’s sermon, Oct. 14, entitled “So, What’s In Your Closet,” will come just three days after National Coming Out day.
“My main message will be about integrity of the soul,” Bellinger tells the Weekly. “I will talk about my own personal experience coming out, and other closets that people hide in, that prohibit them from living a life full of integrity.”
Bellinger’s ties and involvement in faith communities go back to the ’70s, when, after attending Princeton, she was ordained as a minister for the United Methodist Church in New York. Soon after, she moved to California and began a career in law, all the while keeping her sexual orientation a secret.
After graduating from law school, Bellinger worked hard to climb the judicial ladder. Eventually, she became a prosecutor for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Later, she was a commissioner for the Los Angeles Superior Court for 14 years, serving as a judge (appointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger) in juvenile and criminal courts.
She retired last year, but currently serves as a mediator for the Inland Valley Arbitration and Mediation Services and helps with divorce matters, child custody issues and other family disputes that can be solved outside of the court system.
Bellinger told the Weekly that she also prides herself in connecting her faith and her career, and helping other members of the LGBT community in their everyday struggles against discrimination, bigotry and outright hatred. She said she hopes her story can inspire others who feel alienated or disenfranchised to succeed in their endeavors and come out when they feel comfortable.
Bellinger is the author of From Robe to Robe: A Lesbian’s Spiritual Journey, which details her struggles against discrimination in her legal career as well as in the Church.
“Unfortunately, I know it all too well; discrimination against people for their sexual orientation will be here for a long time, though we have made some progress,” she says. “The most problematic part of the Christians, who are against us, is the hatred. It mostly comes from the right-wing section of Christianity. That goes directly against the Gospel of Christ to love your fellow man, but these people interpret the Holy Book how they see fit, to meet their agendas.”
Bellinger says that her book’s main focus was to show that people can persevere despite the fact that others hate or disapprove of their orientation.
“I wrote this book to show that hatred and how unnecessary it really is,” she says. “Overall, the Christian Church is still very discriminatory against homosexuals, but we are making some progress. Unfortunately, among some of these so-called Christian groups, we are the last minority it is OK to hate.”
But the United Church of Christ is different, and Bellinger applauds it for its continuing compassion, support and acceptance of all LGBT members.
“I will be signing and selling copies of my book there for $10 and all the proceeds will go to the church” she says. “They are way ahead of the curve and accept people for who they are. They recognize that we are all human beings and deserve respect and dignity just like everyone else.”
Bellinger’s final message to anyone out there in the LGBT community is simple: You are not alone.
“My purpose in life is to help people understand gays and lesbians are human beings just like them,” she says. “I have been able to seek out and find friends and family—both gay and straight—that are kind to me and support me, and for that I am eternally thankful. No one close to me became upset after I came out, and that is the type of support that we all need no matter what your orientation is.”