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Rev. Susan Russell

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Why Our Missing Voices Matter

Posted: 04/16/2012 4:39 pm

It was the week for studies telling us things we already knew.

No sooner had I finished reading and then blogging about the psychological study linking homophobia to repressed same-sex attractions than GLAAD released "Missing Voices," a study finding that LGBT faith voices were underrepresented in the mainstream media. Yes, another study destined for the file folder labeled "Duh!", confirming what we have long suspected, known, and experienced -- and also another opportunity to blog, about not just what the study says but why it matters.

Here's what the data tell us:

Three out of four religious messages came from people whose religions have formal policies opposing LGBT equality, despite the fact that acceptance of LGBT people is growing across faith traditions.

The news media is largely omitting a pro-LGBT religious perspective and ignoring individuals who identify as both LGBT and religious, particularly those who identify as Christian. As a result of this framing, it is likely that media consumers have distorted views of the relationship between LGBT people and religion and follow a false "gay vs. religion" frame.

Said Ross Murray, director of the Religion, Faith & Values Program at GLAAD: "By elevating select anti-LGBT voices the media is falsely representing views of entire religious groups and contributing to a climate that isolates LGBT youth and adults from their faith, a false dichotomy that no one should have to make."

In short, the data tell us that our missing voices matter.

Our missing voices matter because the traditional Biblical values we proclaim -- justice, love, and compassion -- offer an antidote to the judgment, literalism, and condemnation of the religious right. Our missing voices matter because there are legions of folks out there yearning for a spiritual community and thinking they know enough about being a Christian not to want to be one. And who can blame them when everything they know about what Jesus taught is what Jerry Falwell said or Pat Robertson preached.

When I wrote my open letter to the "purpose driven" [sic] pastor, it got over 700 comments, many of them from people expressing amazement that there are Christians who support LGBT equality, economic justice, and contraceptive freedom. Our voices matter, because when we let Rick Warren speak for Christianity, we let Jesus down.

Our missing voices matter because there are LGBT youth growing up with no clue that there's a God who loves them just the way they are, and that there are communities of faith that would support and encourage them as they grow into the full stature of their gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender adulthood. As my friend Bishop Gene Robinson said, "These are kids who couldn't find Leviticus if their life depended on it, and they end up suicidal because they're convinced God thinks they're an abomination." Our missing voices matter because no child should ever believe he or she is beyond God's love, and our voices offer a lifeline to kids who think their precious lives aren't worth living.

Our missing voices matter because in town halls, state houses, and the halls of Congress, legislators are lobbied by those determined to write their theology into our democracy. Our voices matter because in order for the First Amendment to protect our freedom of religion, it must also protect our freedom from religion, and the best rebuttal to the rabid religious right is a mobilized messaged religious left.

Yes, our missing voices matter. We already knew that. What matters most about the data in this week's GLAAD study, then, is that it gives us is the leverage we need to change that.

If information is power, then this information gives us the power to challenge media outlets to balance their reporting; to cultivate diverse religious voices; and to include our voices in the public discourse on LGBT equality. It also challenges progressive people of faith to stand up and speak out, by email, blog comments, Twitter, and even telephone, if necessary, and to "believe out loud" in order to be the change we want to see in the world.

It says in John 8:32 that "the truth will set you free," and the truth is that there are scores of faithful voices ready, willing, and able to offer an alternative to the homophobic rhetoric that has too often hijacked the Good News of God's inclusive love. The truth is that what we proclaim are family values that value all families, and that what we propose is a protect-marriage movement that protects all marriages. And the truth is we can be the change we want to see.

Our missing voices matter. Let's make some noise, people!

 

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