In preparation for our L.A. Pride Festival this weekend, the team putting together the materials for our Diocese of Los Angeles booth at the festival came up with the following ten "frequently asked questions about God, Jesus, the Bible and gay people" -- and asked me to give them my best shot. And so I did.
Have I mentioned lately that I love my job?
1. Is being gay a sin?
No. Sins are acts that separate us from God and keep us from loving our neighbors as ourselves. Being gay is not a sin. Bullying is a sin. Being hateful to other people is a sin. Putting yourself in the place of God to judge others is a sin. Being gay is not.
2. What did Jesus say about gay people?
Jesus said the same thing about gay people as he said about all people: God loves you beyond your wildest imagining and calls you to walk in love with God and with each other. He also said a whole lot about loving your neighbor, welcoming the stranger, embracing the outcast and ministering to the marginalized.
3. Does the Bible really condemn homosexuality?
The short answer is no; no it does not. The handful of passages in the Old and New Testaments that talk about God condemning specific sexual acts have nothing whatsoever to do with sexual orientation and everything to do with contexts such as cultic prostitution or gang rape. To put it another way, using the Bible as a handbook on human sexuality makes as much sense as using it as a handbook on astronomy. Just as those who wrote the Biblical texts had no concept of the science that would prove the earth actually revolves around the sun, so they had no concept of homosexuality (which wasn't defined until the 19th century.)
4. How do I respond when people say "God hates "f--s"?
First of all, God's nature is to love, not to hate. We believe that what God cares about is not our sexual orientation but our theological orientation -- and that the question that matters is not "who do you love?" but "do you love?" Recognizing that homophobia causes some folks to project onto God their own fears, prejudices and biases against LGBT people, sometimes the best response is simply no response. It can be a challenge, but getting triggered by hate-mongers prevents us from being the change we want to see.
5. I thought gay men and women weren't allowed to be priests?
The Episcopal Church has been ordaining women to the priesthood since 1974 and we have women deacons, priests and bishops throughout the church -- including two women bishops here in the Diocese of Los Angeles. When it comes to gay men in the priesthood, the issue is not homosexuality -- it is honesty. The church has ordained gay men for centuries but finally the Episcopal Church added "sexual orientation" in the non-discrimination list in 1994 -- ending our version of "don't ask/don't tell." Because the Episcopal Church allows for diversity of practice, the leadership of "out" LGBT and women clergy is more prevalent in some places than others. But the Diocese of Los Angeles is proud to have been in the forefront of inclusion.
6. Can I still receive Communion in your church if I am gay?
Of course you can. In many of our churches you will hear a variation on the invitation "whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on the journey of faith there is a place for you here." God's love is radically inclusive and so is the Episcopal Church.
7. Despite what is happening legislatively, can my partner and I be married in the Episcopal Church yet?
The only accurate answer to this question is "that depends." It depends on which diocese you're in and whether you're in a state that has civil marriage equality. For example, New York State is a marriage equality state. In four of the six dioceses clergy can both solemnize and bless a civil marriage and in one of them clergy can bless but not solemnize (a judge or justice of the peace has to do the civil marriage part). Here in Los Angeles clergy both blessed and solemnized same-sex marriages in 2008 when it was legal and our bishops have been in the forefront of working to overturn Prop 8 and get marriage equality back. As Facebook might put it: "it's complicated."
8. What do I tell people when they say being gay is a sin and a choice?
Tell them that Jesus said absolutely nothing about being gay but he said a lot of things about judging other people. Then tell them that while there is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation there IS consensus that sexuality is a continuum. So the "choice" is not to be gay, straight or somewhere in between -- the "choice" is to build our own healthy relationships ... and give other people the grace to build theirs.
9. Should I try to "pray away the gay?"
No. If you need to pray away something, pray away homophobia. Homosexuality doesn't need healing. Homophobia does.
10. How do I respond when politicians condemn my sexuality, citing their belief in the Bible?
Remind them that the First Amendment protects them in believing whatever they want to about what God does or does not bless but it also prohibits them from using those beliefs to decide who the Constitution protects or doesn't protect. Tell them to stop confusing their theology with our democracy. And then campaign for and donate to their opponent in the next election cycle.
Follow Rev. Susan Russell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revsusanrussell