As a member of the LGBT community, I have a history of being intolerant of intolerance. But I am a compassionate person by nature, and a believer and a practitioner of mindfulness. I was raised by a secular parents, something that I am grateful for and that I explore in my book Tea Leaves, a Memoir of Mothers and Daughters (Bella Books, 2012).
Last year I joined a Unitarian Universalist church and became a lay minister. As a result of having a spiritual awakening, I was suddenly more open to the experiences of those in conventional Christianity. My immediate thought when joining a church (even one that is known to be liberal and to embrace all faiths, including secular beliefs) is that the right wing doesn't own spirituality and religion.
With same sex marriage again in the news, I had the thought that if we really had separation of church and state, the legalization of same sex marriage would be a non issue. As Distinguished Professor of Law, Geoffrey R. Stone recently wrote on The Huffington Post,
For most of American history religion controlled the law on issues like sexual expression, contraception, abortion, and homosexuality. Traditional Christian values dictated the content of our laws. In the last half century, though, due largely, though not entirely, to the Supreme Court, those Christian values have been pushed aside, and individuals have been freed to act on their own personal and religious beliefs, rather than dictated to by the religious beliefs of others.
Clearly, we don't live in a nation that has separation of church and state but perhaps, as Professor Stone alludes, we are evolving in that direction. Another testament to the fact that we live in a religious society (one based on Christian values) is the fact of so many LGBTQ teens committing suicide at higher rates than their heterosexual peers. And the rate of suicide among transgendered youth alone is even higher.
Recently when I reviewed three books on the LGBT community and faith, I included The Peace Seeker (Peace Seeker Press) by Susan E. Gilmore. Susan was raised as a Baptist and her faith was so strong that she did not leave. As I reflected on her experiences -- it occurred to me that the widening of conventional Christianity is important to make more room for LGBT people, their families, friends and allies. Here is my interview with Susan.
JM: In your view, has the Evangelical Christian church changed over the years in its treatment of LGBT people?
SG: Many see the church as unloving and unkind toward gays because of the Church's biblically-based belief that acting on same sex attraction is sin. The Church wants desperately to change their personae, to be viewed as loving as Christ loved toward the LGBT community, but is struggling to find a way to do this without violating their beliefs. So the dialogue on LGBT treatment has begun.
JM: Why is the inclusion of LGBT people and their families important?
SG: Many LGBT people have as deep of a faith as their straight Christian brothers and sisters. It is important that the straight Christian understands that our faith is also the foundation of our lives and for us to be excluded is for us to be lost without a family of faith.
JM: What is your advice to young LGBT people and their families in conservative Christian communities on seeking acceptance in their church or on finding another church?
SG: First they need to find an adult who accepts them just the way they are. Suicide, drugs and homelessness occur at higher rates with LGBT teens because they are told they are sinful and that leaves them feeling dirty. They have to believe they are loved by God. Secondly, they need to find a group of Christians that accept them, whether it is an organization like the Gay Christian Network or an affirming church.
JM: Can you give religious-based advice on why the lives of LGBT people matter?
SG: LGBT lives matter because people matter, souls and spirits matter. Evangelical Christians might be winning the battle, but they are losing the war. They are upholding what they believe to be correct and often ostracizing gays. God came to the earth in human form because he loved us so much he wanted us to know Him. And what we saw in Jesus was someone that knew mankind's issues and still loved us all.
JM: Last year, I read the Bible and was actually surprised to find that so little anti-gay material is included in it. The Christian right would have us believe that it is an anti-gay tract. Can you put the anti-gay material in the Bible in perspective?
SG: There are only six passages in the scriptures that mention homosexuality. Christians, like myself that have been raised to believe that the Bible is to be read as the literal word of God have been taught that these passages condemn homosexuality. In recent years these interpretations have been strongly challenged and have been revealed to be regarding idolatry, rape and incest, not about same sex loving relationships. But this has not affected the mainstream church, the church has not budged from its interpretations. Unfortunately, even if the Church changed its interpretations there is still one final argument that must be hurdled. Many cannot see beyond the idea that God made man and woman and deemed marriage between them. They uphold marriage as only and always between those of the opposite sex. I believe God's plan, as He said was good, but there is still plenty of room for all who have found love.
JM: What does religion mean to you? Why is it important?
SG:Religion can be the best thing that ever happened to a person. Religion is not only a belief in a god but it can be an all-encompassing system of belief that once applied binds people together in a culture of fellowship. To believe like others believe, having the same foundation for this life and the life beyond the grave is the strongest tie that can bind on this earth. It allows people to find kinship and life-long relationships that no hobby or sport or club could possibly compete with.
JM: What are your thoughts on the religious freedom laws?
SG:The religious freedom laws are the Christian Rights final attempts at stopping the tide of moral change. We are a nation that has altered our opinions so drastically regarding sexual standards and the Christian's response is fear and sadness. It was not that many decades ago when many waited for the honeymoon to have sex, now living together before marriage is the norm. Divorce, even among Christians, has skyrocketed. Christians want to stand up for what they feel is the right way to think about the subject of same sex marriage, but their attempts are shouted down as bigotry. I can empathize with some of their feelings, but I cannot condone these laws. As one who believes in liberty for all nothing about these laws seems Christ-like. We cannot force our beliefs about how people should live on others no more than we can force others to believe in the God that we love. We are not called to judge, we are only called to speak the truth in love.
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