Faith in Pride
On June 9, the Religious Action Center marched in the Capital Pride parade. We were not the only faith group marching, however. In fact, numerous others, from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America to Mormons for Marriage Equality, marched in the parade. This is an indication of how far the faith community has come from even just a few years ago.
This is not to say that many faith groups are no longer involved in harming lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender people. A Catholic hospital earlier this year denied a man access to his HIV medicine after discovering that he is gay, and the harm comes in more subtle ways, too. A Rolling Stone article on bullying published earlier this year comes to mind (link and emphasis mine):
In April, Justin came home from school and found his mother at the top of the stairs, tending to the saltwater fish tank. “Mom,” he said tentatively, “a kid told me at school today I’m gonna go to hell because I’m gay.”
“That’s not true. God loves everybody,” his mom replied. “That kid needs to go home and read his Bible.”
Justin shrugged and smiled, then retreated to his room. It had been a hard day: the annual “Day of Truth” had been held at school, an evangelical event then-sponsored by the anti-gay ministry Exodus International, whose mission is to usher gays back to wholeness and “victory in Christ” by converting them to heterosexuality…Local churches had been touting the program, and students had obediently shown up at Anoka High School wearing day of truth T-shirts, preaching in the halls about the sin of homosexuality. Justin wanted to brush them off, but was troubled by their proselytizing. Secretly, he had begun to worry that maybe he was an abomination, like the Bible said.
We need to recognize that even though in many cases preaching about the so-called “sin” of homosexuality is protected free speech, such language can play a significant role in the depression and even suicide of many LGBT people. Equally, if not more, harmful are the attempts at “ex-gay” “therapy,” which in fact does not change one’s orientation, but instead shreds one’s soul and ability to function as an emotionally healthy person. One writer who was subjected to it observed that while he did not feel coerced into participating, “like nuclear fallout, the damage came later.”
In short, my point is: As people of faith, we have a lot to make up for the harm we’ve done to the LGBT community. One of the ways we can do that is by marching in Pride parades. Because of the centuries of oppression of LGBT people by religion, queer people are often, and understandably, wary of faith groups. This is the case even when those groups say things like, “All people welcome here” – because that attitude has often carried the unspoken disclaimer of, “… because we love the sinner, but hate the sin,” or “…so long as you’re not a practicing homosexual,” or even “… just as long as you’re not gay.” One straight Christian who “came out” as gay for a year to better understand the closet and the oppression of gay people observed, “I realized that ’love the sinner, hate the sin’ is almost as insidious as being rejected outright. How truly comfortable can you be sharing the ups and downs of your life with a family that doesn’t know how to respond to your orientation?”
So, to shed those doubts – and to counteract the harm done by other people of faith – we must be as open and actively affirming as possible. It is written, after all, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16) and “Justice, justice, shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). In both these passages, we are commanded not to merely refrain from sin, but to be actively righteous.
That is why the Reform Movement has been actively fighting for LGBT equality for decades. That is why we march in Pride. That is why our congregations fight against anti-gay referenda. That is why we were among the first religious denominations to accept gay couples and openly gay clergy.
Progressive Jews are not the only ones who have heeded this message, thankfully. Foundry United Methodist Church distributed free lemonade to Capital Pride marchers, and several churches representing the Episcopal, Lutheran, Presbyterian, and other faith traditions rented booths at the Pride festival the next day. Mormon contingents this year are preparing to participate in Pride marches across the United States – from San Francisco to New York.
There is an old story told about two men who, lost in the woods, encounter each other. One says to the other, “I am lost, can you tell me which way to go?” and the other replies, “I, too, am lost – I know only that the way I have come is not the right way, so let us go and find our way together.” Over the past three decades, people of faith have realized that the way we have come from – discriminating against our LGBT brothers and sisters – is not the right way, and we are coming together to find the right way. It will not be an easy journey out of the forest; but, together, we will get there.