Fritz and Etta Mae Mutti to Speak at PFLAG-KC Meeting
December 8, 2011
by Bradley Osborn
In December 1988, Fred Mutti, the middle son of Fritz and Etta Mae Mutti, told his parents that he was HIV-positive. Four months later, the couple learned that their oldest son, Tim, was also infected with the virus that causes AIDS. Both young men died within a few months.
“AIDS was up close and personal for us. A huge hole was left in our lives. It can never be filled with total healing. Yet we live by faith…Our task is to help the church break the silence, overcome the denial and end the stigma,” Fritz Mutti said in a statement on a United Methodist Committee on Relief website.
Fritz is the lifelong informal name of Albert Frederick Mutti III, a retired bishop of the United Methodist Church, and Etta Mae is his wife of 52 years. Together they had three sons, Tim, Fred and Marty, two of whom were gay. As a minister, Fritz served in the Kansas City region. He advanced in the United Methodist hierarchy of Kansas and was elected to be a bishop in 1992.
At the 1996 United Methodist General Conference, Bishop Mutti signed a statement, along with 14 other bishops, calling on the church to open its doors with gracious hospitality to persons of all sexual orientations.
Together, Fritz and Etta Mae Mutti (the “mu-” is pronounced as in music) wrote Dancing in a Wheelchair: One Family Faces HIV/AIDS (Abingdon Press, 2001), their personal testimony of unconditional love, perseverance, compassion and the mandates of Christian hospitality.
When the Muttis learned about Tim and Fred’s HIV statuses, they had already known for a few years that both were gay. But there was little time to deal with the orientation disclosures, as their sons’ illnesses became the priority. After their sons’ deaths, the couple shared publicly in church groups about HIV/AIDS and were often asked about Tim and Fred’s sexual orientation. They spoke honestly about the issue but did not dwell on it at that time.
“Judgment was all around us,” they said in a jointly written email, “but we tried to show how persons with HIV/AIDS needed the love and care of family, community and church, regardless of sexual orientation.”
The couple’s complementary personalities helped them to be balanced in their views of AIDS. Always optimistic, Etta Mae continued thinking a cure was right around the corner, while Fritz was realistic about the terminal nature of the illness. They still find it therapeutic to tell their personal story and feel they are teaching people how Christians should respond to this global health crisis.
Asked what advice they would offer LGBT people and their loved ones, the Muttis wrote: “We work to overcome the hostility toward gay persons simply by putting a face on it. When we speak, we take with us pictures of Tim and Fred so people can see for themselves that these were real people who were loved and cared for. We listen to people who are facing this issue with their children. We encourage them and walk with them on that journey.”
Of the support they themselves had along the way, Fritz Mutti said, “Our friends enfolded our family in a blanket of love.”
In 2004, the Muttis were named co-chairs of the United Methodist Global AIDS Fund (goo.gl/2QesN), and they served in this capacity for four years. The fund raises money for AIDS education, prevention, care and treatment, and increases awareness about HIV/AIDS.
Over time, the Muttis say, they have seen views of sexual minorities and compassion vs. judgment change in the church. “In the 30 years since HIV/AIDS came to the world and was (in bias) attributed to gay men, the culture is much more open to persons with HIV/AIDS,” they wrote. “There is much more openness to LGBT persons. The church is moving very slowly on both fronts. A positive sign is that the (UMC) church has contributed $3.5 million to its Global AIDS Fund.”
The Muttis will speak about family and their work with HIV/AIDS awareness at the Jan. 8 PFLAG-KC meeting. See the PFLAG-KC story (below) for location details.
3 p.m. Jan. 8
Village Presbyterian Church
6641 Mission Rd., Room 307
Prairie Village, Kan.