12/09/2013 07:32 pm ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Why Can't Holy Spaces Be Safe Spaces?

I grew up in a world in which evangelical megachurches locked sweet kids in closets until they escaped into pill bottles. Fear and faith worked together to transform adolescent love letters into criminal evidence. But since then, religion's looming shadow has by and large disappeared from my radar. Visions of twelve-year-old me bearing crosses and pouring water over priests' palms still linger in the back of my mind, but new figures occupy my foreground. I study the words of Virginia Woolf and Audre Lorde with absolute reverence, opaque pages bearing the kind of truth I can hold on to. Organized religion represented evil hierarchies I had been fed in my sleep, and I was waking up.

I would feel comfortable asserting that organized religion passed Proposition 8. Mormon families donated an estimated $17 million to Prop 8 campaigns. That's more than three quarters of all contributions. Holy dollar bills poured out of Utah, dripping with dread and determination. They fluttered into greedy palms that traded love for power, crushing the hopes of couples that would never even share their sidewalks. I may not agree with marriage as a legal institution, but there's something both devastating and terrifying about such a profound assertion of dominance. The powers vested in religious institutions are undeniable, and to label them evil and carry on is both reductive and incredibly dangerous.

I recently saw a news report about Reverend Oliver White, a man brave enough to declare his unequivocal support of same-sex marriage and LGBT-identified people despite the tension around the issue within the congregation. He lost his church, facing tremendous backlash for his views, but he refused to revoke the statement. He has since founded a new church and launched a project to turn churches into safe spaces for LGBT individuals.

My initial reaction to this campaign was to cry master's tools. The church represented a tool of patriarchy, racism, and classism, and to attempt to use it to support queer youth was misguided. The master's tools can never dismantle the master's house, and a site of institutionalized oppression could not become an equalizing force. But then I thought about it more, exploring my simultaneous celebration of the reverend's courage. Churches were the organizational hubs of the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties. They provide shelter and emotional support for the people I try to erase from my peripheral vision when I walk around at night, draped in privilege. Beyond that, I intellectually couldn't describe religion as an inherently flawed concept. Codifying one's beliefs and convictions and organizing around others who share those beliefs is something I do in my own life all the time. I just don't call it religion. The issue is in practice - historically, those in power have used religion as an excuse to oppress and dehumanize others, thinly veiling bigotry with translucent pages selectively plucked from ancient books.

What Reverend Oliver White is doing is attempting to change these practices, refusing to be another manipulator of the faithful. He's digging deeper than the marriage issue, leading an effort to refuse to let the power-hungry master lay a claim over spaces that have the potential to be refuges of love and support for LGBT people. He's safing Christianity, ushering in a new understanding of what it means to be faithful. He is reclaiming the tools that the master has perverted and using them to dismantle these hierarchies, and he's welcoming everyone to join him.

To learn ore about the reverend's efforts, check out