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Some Churches Support Gay Rights

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We have this idea in the gay community that Christianity is against us.

We think that every clergy member everywhere is combing the Bible on Saturday nights, trying to find new ways of convincing their congregations the next morning that gays and lesbians are not equal citizens, that we are condemned by God.

We imagine a Berlin Wall of churches between us and our full civil rights, poking their spires into the sky like impassable spikes.

We think that churches inspire people only to hate us.

We are wrong.

"On a range of policy issues, Mainline Protestant clergy are generally more supportive of LGBT rights than the general population," according to a report released last week from the progressive think tank Public Religion Research.

The report says that 67 percent of Mainline clergy support hate crimes legislation; 66 percent support workplace protections for gays and lesbians; 55 percent support gay and lesbian adoption rights; 45 percent support the ordination of gays and lesbians with no special requirements (like celibacy). One third support same-sex marriage and another third support civil unions, meaning that only a third doesn't think that gays and lesbians should have full civil partnership rights.

When pastors are assured that churches will be free to perform marriages for gays and lesbians or not, according to the doctrine of their denomination and the feeling of their congregations, 46 percent support equal marriage.

Mainline denominations are those, like Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist and Obama's own United Church of Christ, that identify themselves as Protestant but are not born again or evangelical.

We tend to hear a lot about evangelical pastors -- Rick Warren, for example -- in the media, and a lot about evangelical and born again beliefs. But evangelicals, with their conservative, literal view of the Bible, do not equal all of Christianity.

And even evangelicals are starting to move leftward on gay rights (including Rick Warren, who has started publicly softening his previous anti-gay stance). The "New Evangelicals" think that their churches should focus on poverty and improving the environment. In 1987, 73 percent of white evangelical Protestants thought that a teacher should be fired for being gay, according to a Pew Research Center poll. This year, only 40 percent thought so.

Younger evangelicals are, like the rest of the country, more likely to approve of -- or just not care about -- equal marriage. Last summer, a Faith in Public Life poll found that 24 percent of evangelicals 18-34 support gay marriage, up from 17 percent just three years ago. That's a seven-point difference and that's huge.

For a while, I was in conversation with a minister of a small evangelical congregation who was trying to find a way to keep his church's theology while also welcoming gays and lesbians into the pews.

"Know that I'm not the only one," he said. "There are more evangelicals where I am than most people realize."

There are more religious leaders of all denominations who are for gays and lesbian rights than we realize as well. In New York, for example, hundreds of ministers have joined together as part of Pride in the Pulpit to advocate for equality and justice for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.

"Religion" is not a monolith, especially in the United States. There are religious leaders who are for gay and lesbian rights and they are voicing their support in the pulpit.

Take my friend's pastor, a Lutheran minister who on Mother's Day said in his sermon,

I have a very hard time finding any reason to be afraid of what is happening in Massachusetts and Iowa and elsewhere. The institution of marriage is strong; it cannot be damaged by extending it to others who want to get married. On the contrary, marriage is strengthened by doing so.

Christianity is not out to get gays and lesbians, despite the popular perception. Not all churches are barring our way to equal rights. Indeed, some are opening the door.

Jennifer Vanasco is editor in chief of 365gay.com
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