To say that Christianity has a troubled public image when dealing with the LGBT community is an understatement. Thanks to a vocal minority of conservative American church leaders, domestic Christianity appears to be synonymous with homophobia and bigotry. For far too long, some obscenely loud church "leaders" have been allowed to lazily paint the queer of our society as a blight on God's good Earth. What started as a childish jibe, "Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve," has exploded into hateful and abusive assertions such as naming AIDS the punishment from God for queer wickedness. Such theologies and rhetoric have left in its wake a good number of straight and queer folk who been minimized, shamed and angered that such a use has been made of their faith. No wonder many Christians consider distancing themselves from religion, much in the same way as Anne Rice did last year, when she denounced the religion of Christianity (but not her faith).
For a religion whose pursuit of love has primacy, it seems unthinkable that any workable theology could endorse a practice that would in any way encourage a devout mother to tell her own queer child to douse herself in gasoline and set herself alight. In or out of the church, this type of behavior is extremely abusive. But the truth of the matter remains, the acts of some so-called "Christians" have tarnished what is to many of its followers a peaceable, inclusive faith.
So why on God's green Earth would any queer person (or straight person, for that matter) want to hold on to such a faith? To attempt to understand, it seems important to make the distinction between spiritual practice itself and the people who practice it. For many, including me, Christianity it is the native language by which we engage our spiritual selves. Whether culturally born into it, raised as Christian by one's family, or adopting the faith by choice, it is a very personal journey that has written itself into the fabric of our personalities as irrevocably as our own sexuality. I can no more adequately explain to an atheist my persistent gravitation to matters of faith than I can my sexuality to a homophobe. The driving question is, will I be allowed to navigate these mysteries with freedom and the companionship of friends, or will I be required to live out my days under the authority of a religious dictatorship?
Here is the truth: "coming out" from the "closet" can be a deeply psychological and spiritual journey. It should not be surprising, nor overlooked, that many who have found themselves struggling for personal identity and self-worth should return to their spiritual communities for support.
The good news is that there is growing support within religious communities of all brands. Many Christians are beginning to recognize, apologize and facilitate LGBT people of faith with strengthened voice. Mainline Christian denominations such as the Episcopal church, the ELCA, Metropolitan Community Churches and Disciples of Christ are just a few of the recognized institutions of faith that are fostering, funding and acting out a progressive vision of inclusion and support.
If the adage is true that evil persists because good people say nothing, then let those who have fostered such debilitating anti-gay rhetoric be put on notice. Gay Christians are pushing back, reclaiming their faith and standing up for their legitimacy to pursue God. Straight allies, clergy, divinity schools and just plain, ordinary Christian folk are no longer content to sit idly by and let the attenuated, conservative few dictate the terms of how anyone should proceed in their faith.
It is precisely because LGBTs have not lost their faith that this has become an issue. We have refused to be marginalized. We have ceased to be insignificant. We have been valuable friends, families and leaders in our churches. We have added to the spiritual conversation: Who am I that God would be mindful of me? We have brought honor to that conversation and the church is listening.
Believe it or not, many Christians are learning from their mistakes. Though some congregations and denominations persist in the practice of removing any in their ranks that would support queer spirituality, others have stepped up and acted with compassion and open-mindedness. The result of LGBTs coming out of the closet not only in terms of sexuality but also with their spirituality has led to amazing dialogue, healing and strengthened church communities.
Just a few faith-centered organizations engaged in the dialogue include Human Rights Campaign: Religion & Faith, the United Methodist Reconciling Ministries Network, Association of Welcome and Affirming Baptists, Gay Christian Network, The Marin Foundation, Believe Out Loud and Faith in America. All are great starting places for educational resources as well as networking to find a local church. Gay or straight, these folks are waiting to hear from you as you share your stories, concerns and needs.
While, for many, the costs remain high, it is vital that those who can speak do so. By sharing what we have been through, we honor those who seek to right the wrongs we have endured. By sharing our story, we create opportunity and sanctuary for those who are still gaining strength. By listening and believing in the journeys that we share, you give us permission to continue to have faith, hope and love.
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