Dear Mr. President:
As a member of the White House Faith Council, I was waiting with anticipation to hear your comments at the National Prayer Breakfast. I was deeply moved by the mutuality of your prayer with Billy Graham. You reached out to this icon of American religion whose story is so different from yours but who draws from the same wellsprings of faith.
And the description of your simple devotions in the morning rings true, and undoubtedly they have girded you for the attacks you have withstood against you personally, as well as against your policies.
Still, I longed for more. As the head of MCC, the oldest and largest denomination in the world that welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, I was hoping for a friendly word from you, and I want to say it was there -- in the direction of your speech.
When you spoke of those hurt and treated unfairly, I thought of all the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people who have suffered harm from religiously motivated hatred, especially the bullying of children -- and the export of religious homophobia to places like Uganda.
There is a lot of talk about the right to discriminate against LGBT folk as a sign of "religious freedom." But religious freedom requires that all faith traditions be respected. Indigenous LGBT churches like Metropolitan Community Churches, The Fellowship of Affirming Churches, and openly gay synagogues and mosques find our religious freedoms challenged every day. We all want to respect each other's traditions, but as people of faith, it also behooves us to ask religious folks how they understand "love your neighbor" when they bash us with the Bible, work against our civil liberties, and argue for the right to discriminate.
Your respect for the diversity of religious expression and your specific mention of Islam was gutsy and keeps the doors open for all of us to respect each other. I applaud your fearlessness in not backing away from the value of freedom of religion.
Although I don't think a president should be required to be religious, your understanding of spirituality and your own humility and effort to avoid "phony religiosity" resonates with those of us who have been rejected by our faith traditions because of whom we love and how we express our gender.
I really loved it when you mentioned the great reformer Dorothy Day, a Catholic Worker, who said, "The Christians drove me to the communists, and the communists drove me to God." She was one who defied religious and political categories to build bridges, especially for the sake of the poorest of the poor.
Many of us LGBT people and our allies have experienced Christians trying to drive us out of the church. But Christianity is a big tent -- and the love of God is even bigger yet. Today, more than 10 million Protestants belong to traditions that have dropped prohibitions against LGBT people.
But we still have a long way to go to heal from the generations of exclusion and persecution -- and the silence that continues in the face of too many religious leaders and politicians who make their living through our suffering. We need leaders to continue speaking out on God's call to love our neighbor.
Research shows that young people don't feel good about churches. LGBT people, like more and more Americans, talk about being spiritual rather than religious. So many people, for so many reasons, have felt betrayed by organized religion. Jesus Christ reserved his most stinging criticisms for the religious leaders of his day who set up obstacles for the humble; the kindest words of Jesus were directed at those who were marginalized by religion. Followers of Jesus have always struggled with this.
Maintaining a generous and grace-filled heart is no easy task when others wish you harm and do their best to implement it -- we know. We are not celebrities, nor do we occupy the White House, but we know what it is to be personally attacked and to fight for policies that serve everyone.
So, thank you, President Obama, for expressing your thoughtful, sincere spirituality to the whole world. It means a lot. The work you are doing for the poor, the marginalized, and the persecuted is so vital, and there is so much more to do. We need the kind of leadership in our country and the world that will lift up spiritual values that lift up so many who are left out. President Obama, pray for LGBT people. We are praying for you.