Today we celebrate a man. A humble man, but an inspired man. A beaten man, but a brave man. A pragmatic man, but hopeful man.
As we celebrate the courageousness of Martin Luther King, Jr. to act in the face of injustice, I can't help but worry that, were he still alive today, he would actually be saddened by our nation's tolerance -- not our tolerance of diversity, but our tolerance of exclusion and injustice. For as he said, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it."
Yet that is just what so many of us continue to do today when we support religions that promote injustice and exclusion.
The number of Americans who believe that homosexuality is a sin is at an all-time low, according to studies conducted by LifeWay Research. In fact, the percentage of Americans who believe that homosexual behavior is a sin dropped a full seven points from the previous year's survey -- from 44 percent to 37 percent. Yet, the question begs: Are these same Americans who do not believe that homosexuality is a sin still supporting a church that does?
Don't get me wrong. I am pleased that a significant number of Americans are realizing that love is not a sin, though I am still concerned that the number is so high. But my relief at the increased acceptance of homosexuality is tempered by my disappointment that many Americans continue to acquiesce to and support a church or religion that continues to vilify individuals who choose to live an authentic, loving and Spirit-filled life.
As I said in this post,
It is time that the countless persons of faith who, like me, favor marriage equality start voicing our support just as loudly -- no, louder -- than those who condemn same-sex marriage. If this lopsided portrayal of marriage equality as a 'religious versus secular' issue continues, we risk hindering marriage equality progress, thereby denying deserving couples of their basic human right to fully engage in a loving and committed relationship. And society is and will be the worse for it.
Yet many mainstream, influential religions and congregations -- most notably, the Catholic Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints -- continue to condemn homosexuality. And millions of Americans continue to support those same churches, despite their differences of opinion with respect to homosexuality.
Religion does not need to divide. Religion can be used to unite, but only if we actually stand up and act in accordance with our beliefs. There comes a time when we need to ask ourselves: Does the church that I support match my spiritual and societal ideals? Or is there a disconnect between my beliefs and those of my church? If the answer is the latter, it may be time to reconsider your religions ties, as difficult as that might be.
For some, abandoning a religion because of social differences may seem like an impossibility. Religion is about more than a faith or theology; cultural ties and familial traditions also play a large part in a person's religion of choice. For many, leaving an inherited faith is too much to ask even if a person does not support their church's position on certain social issues, such as homosexuality or women's reproductive rights.
But there are a number of ways that a person can act in accordance with his or her beliefs without leaving their church. Faith-based organizations that support marriage equality and other progressive social issues, such as Faith for Marriage, Standing on the Side of Love, and even Catholics for Marriage Equality, are readily available for those who want to support marriage equality within their religious tradition. Sometimes a person may be able to find a new congregation within their religion that supports marriage equality. Other times expressing support for inclusiveness to church leaders can make a difference within a congregation.
Religion is powerful and its voice is heard far and wide. So when a person continues to support a religion that does not adhere to one's beliefs -- with his or her pocketbook, participation, or both -- he or she is quietly supporting all of those causes that are spoken loudly by their religion's spokespersons. Moreover, as Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "[o]ur lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
Last fall I asked that persons of faith stand by our homosexual sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends and coworkers. Now, I am taking that one step further. It is not enough to just acknowledge our support for marriage equality; we must act out our support for marriage equality. Write to legislators and bishops, urge pastors and ministers to support marriage equality, find a welcoming congregation. Stop supporting homophobic organizations like the Boy Scouts of America, Salvation Army, and Chick-Fil-A (regardless of how much you are craving a fried chicken sandwich).
Profound and meaningful actions like these may not be easy. It can be difficult -- excruciating, in fact -- to leave a religion or congregation that has been a part of your life for as long as you can remember. It is heartbreaking to be disappointed by a faith that you hold dear to your heart. It can be agonizing to open your mind to confusing and contradictory religious conundrums. Trust me, I went through the full range of emotions when I left a Christian faith for a non-Christian faith several years ago.
But know that your faith, love and Grace will guide you through the challenges. Know that when you act with love by supporting love -- authentic, God-given love in all of its forms -- you have already received your reward. For it is only when we stop becoming silent and start acting in love that we can begin to really know the love that God intended.