"Jesus wept." This shortest verse in the Bible came to mind in recent days as I reflected on the 2012 HIV/AIDS Conference. I wept at the loss of lives and was angry when I read the tired words of a prominent evangelist who claimed Jesus would have healed people from AIDS but would have told them to stop sinning. It only tells me that he has not held the hand of a dying young man whose church and family have rejected him. I know words can kill -- and words can save.
In 1968, the Rev. Troy Perry wrote the book, The Lord Is My Shepherd and He Knows I'm Gay, which saved lives as some despairing souls sometimes only had to read the title to decide not to kill themselves. Rev. Perry founded Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) and for more than 40 years, we have ministered to the least, the last and the lost -- not because they didn't love Jesus, but because they had been told that Jesus did not love them. The Gospel was held out like a rotten fish to a hungry child. Acceptance was contingent on their willingness to deny that God had created them to be a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender child of God.
In the 1980s, at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, I ministered with the Los Angeles Metropolitan Community Church. As the epidemic grew, hundreds joined our church, and hundreds faced death. We reached out and touched those whom nurses and doctors would not. We even zipped a body bag for a beloved child of God given to us by the hospital and searched from funeral home to funeral home for a place that would accept his body for cremation. We were the family when birth families cringed and fled. We bathed the Kaposi's Sarcoma lesions, and we spoon-fed the ravaged bodies. We marched in the streets to demand research, prevention, and treatments.
We were the church with AIDS -- and we still are, as we commune with our African American brothers and sisters, who are seven times more likely to be infected than white people. But who will commune with all of us? Who will drink from the cup of sacrifice for God's beloved? Who will break the clay chalice of self-righteous condemnation?
The whole church -- Catholic, Protestant, Mormon, Evangelical and Pentecostal -- has AIDS until religious leaders give up the bitter homophobia that has gripped the frightened imagination of religious leaders who value dogma over grace and judgment over compassion.
Today, while change is in the air in the United States, in more than 70 countries, being gay is illegal, and it is punishable by execution in seven countries -- much of it motivated by religion. Political Research Associates published new research that shows how Uganda is a battleground where U.S. Evangelists set up camp to infuse their brand of homophobia -- calling it a Christian value. Hard-line conservatives have lost so much ground in the U.S. that they are exporting their homophobia to foreign shores, making fear the fuel for the spread of AIDS.
Conservatives often lay the epidemic on the shoulders of girls whose abstinence before marriage is supposed to stem the tide of HIV. In fact, Maxensia Takirambule, Ugandan founder of the Lungujji health care network, says, "It is in the marriage bed where girls often meet the virus."
Whereas Uganda was once a model for proactive advocacy for prevention and treatment, it now denies treatment to men who have sex with men, and AIDS is ravaging more people than ever -- regardless of orientation or identity. Uganda's anti-homosexuality bill, on the precipice of being enacted, would call for fines or imprisonment of people who do not report "known homosexuals," and LGBT people could be imprisoned and even executed if they refuse to stop being who they are.
When religion forces men into marriage and silence about sex with other men, religion becomes as lethal as a dirty needle. I weep!
Sometimes out of sheer dogged determination, sometimes out of the joy of being in the community of the beloved, I dry my tears. Thousands now live with AIDS, and prevention and education has the potential to bring AIDS to zero -- zero new infections, zero discrimination, zero deaths from AIDS-related illness. Thousands now also live with faith and assurance of God's love, regardless of whom they love or how they express their gender.
More than 10 million Protestants and Jews have dropped prohibitions against ordination of LGBT people of faith, and as many now allow, or are close to allowing, marriage of all loving couples. Bishop Tutu and other Nobel Peace Prize winners have spoken out for decriminalization of sexual orientation and gender identity. African American Clergy -- both progressive and traditional -- are speaking out against hate.
The faithful saints of MCC -- people in the pews and in the streets marching -- have led the way.
Metropolitan Community Churches have been on the forefront of marrying loving couples and ordaining queer clergy who follow in the ways of Jesus.
As Psalm 30:5 says "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning." The night is not over, but the light is glowing on the horizon. I can see it rising from here.