Lisa Larges recently found herself the latest person caught in the untenable Catch-22 of too many churches: How can openly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people demonstrate their commitment to their chosen path - and be a positive example to parishioners who need them - when their own denomination labels them as unqualified to be leaders in their communities of faith?
Larges, who was poised to become the Presbyterian Church's first openly lesbian minister, had her hopes dashed when, last week, the church blocked her path to ordination. And while church leaders did not specifically cite her sexual orientation as the reason for its decision - instead issuing a very technical ruling that the process used to advance her ordination was flawed - the fact remains that the Presbyterian Church, like too many others, continues to deny its congregants the opportunity to be led by clergy who reflect, from the pulpit, the diversity already evident in their pews.
Indeed, LGBT people are part of every tradition of faith, but continue to be unfairly excluded from the leadership of their houses of worship. In most cases, an openly lesbian or gay person who adheres to every tenet of their religion is, nonetheless, blocked from ascending to the title of clergy. The result, unfortunately, is an unacceptable message that lesbian and gay people are somehow "less than" in the eyes of God . . . and that, in turn, has real consequences for families, and especially young people, who worship in houses that still refuse to put out a welcome mat for all spiritual seekers.
The truth is that members of the clergy continue to play a monumental role in many people's lives. For lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, that role can either be life-saving or heart-wrenchingly painful. And in both cases, the effects can be long-term.
At Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians Gays (PFLAG), we know, for example, that the first place many parents turn to for help when a child "comes out" is their community of faith. Mothers and fathers look to ministers and rabbis for insight and guidance on how they should handle their child's announcement. And the difference between a message of love, and a message of rejection, can be all the difference in the world.
A perfect example is the story of Mary Griffith, a devoutly religious mother who, on the advice of her pastor, tried to "cure" and "change" her son, Bobby, when he told her he was gay. Mary, believing her pastor would never give anything but the most righteous of advice, refused to accept her son and consistently drilled anti-gay theology into his head. Ultimately, Bobby committed suicide. And though Mary now crusades for the rights of young gay people like her son, imagine the difference it might have made if, instead of hearing sermons of hell and damnation, she had been able to turn to someone like Lisa Larges instead.
With awesome power comes awesome responsibility, and it is simply irresponsible for church leaders to continue to turn gay clergy away.
We now know, thanks to the ground-breaking work of researchers like Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project, that the reaction of a young person's family, when they come out, can have long-term consequences on their health, happiness and well-being. And so it stands to reason that the guidance those families receive from their clergy is directly responsible, in many cases, for those young people, too.
It is not just important - but imperative - that LGBT people be able to see themselves reflected in their churches and synagogues, too. And until all people of faith are able to serve at the pulpit, we will be doing an enormous disservice to those who are in the pews.
Speaking recently to the Los Angeles Times, Larges said the Presbyterian Chuch's ruling would have "deeply personal and painful repercussions" for her, and no doubt it will. But in turning away Larges, the church has also, in symbolism and spirit, turned away Bobby and Mary Griffith and families like them, too. And the repercussions from that are too alarming - and painful - to ignore.
The time has come for every community of faith to live up to the one tenet they share across all denominations: That to love one another is surely the greatest act of faith any of us can perform.