By Joseph Ward III
Originally posted 5/16/12 at The New Civil Rights Movement
We all have complicated relationships with faith. Last week when President Obama made the announcement that he supported marriage equality, the LGBT civil rights movement was electrified. Progressives across the country and others in favor of LGBT equality issues joined in a thunderous applause of solidarity.
President Obama made history when he became the first sitting President of the United States to support marriage equality. What’s more, he cited his Christian faith as a motivating factor in his decision. The latter of which brings me to my question: can the LGBT community and straight allies trust Christians?
Homophobic Christianity is rampant in our culture and made even more virulent by a media culture that over-emphasizes conservative Christianity. It also understates (or all out ignores) its moderate and progressive Christian counterparts.
There are over 5,000 congregations in the U.S. that have declared their unequivocal affirmation of LGBT equality. Four of the seven largest mainline Protestant denominations have institutionalized LGBT equality measures – ranging from ordination of LGBT pastors to embrace of same-sex marriage.
These churches and hundreds of thousands of individuals, both LGBT and straight, are compelled by their faith to fully support LGBT equality. Don’t take my word for it. Take a look for yourself at some of the compassionate individual Christian voices from around the country who have responded to President Obama, with gratitude and thanks.
The shared stories are powerful. These faithful Christians, straight and LGBT alike, are thankful not only because the President has come out in support of LGBT equality, but because his statement—as a person of faith—is so important in the context of a society whose elevated religious figures are rabidly homophobic. In President Obama’s declaration they finally see writ large the intersection they embody – of faithful Christian and LGBT advocate. But what they typically fail to receive is respect from either camp. Battered by the LGBT community for their choice to be Christian and battered by other Christians for their support of LGBT equality. Isn’t there a way to end this false dichotomy and unite as allies?
We—lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people—are sometimes those who make these over-simplified generalizations. I’ve been on the receiving end of both sides: I’ve been told my faith is “garbage” by some LGBT people and told I’m a sinner and an abomination by some Christians. Surely everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but nobody is entitled to be intolerant.
Faith is not the problem here. It’s not Christianity, or Islam, or Judaism. The holy books of all these religious traditions can in no way, shape or form be fully and literally followed in today’s world. They simply do not comply with acceptable ways to treat our legal system, nor do they afford acceptable human rights standards around the world. Many people of faith know this, but still make a personal decision “to believe” as they choose. The fact that over 90% of the United States Congress is Christian, yet it is not federal policy to ban the consumption of shellfish (Leviticus 11:10) speaks to this point.
Homophobic Christian culture is fueled by two sources: homophobic and conflicted people. But both of these groups can change. Rather than discount out of hand people who are either quietly conflicted or loudly hateful, we need to continue to challenge them on spiritual and moral terms, but terms that support faith and LGBT equality going hand-in-hand.
Conflicted people of faith along with already LGBT-supportive Christians have the power to eradicate homophobic Christianity. If for no other reason, this is why we must support “conflicted” individuals as they journey towards LGBT equality. Just as President Obama needed to “evolve” on this issue, so will countless others. Our support of this process is essential for true change to occur.
A few weeks ago I attended a conference called “Circling The Wagons,” organized by members of the Mormon community in Washington, D.C. I am not a Mormon, but I respect the opinions and theology of anyone (including these LGBT affirming Mormons) who are causing no harm to anyone because of their beliefs. Towards the beginning of the conference, I attended a breakout session where a powerful experience was shared by a straight woman named Katy Adams. All her life she was Mormon. She grew up in the Mormon church, with Mormon parents, and Mormon siblings who all attended the largest religious University in our country, Brigham Young University (BYU), owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
She and her family were not affirming until Katy’s brother put a human face on “homosexual” when he came out, sharing with them the pain, the grief, the emotional abuse he endured for being gay. Initially rejected by his family, school and others, he was driven to multiple suicide attempts. And it was homophobia’s devastating effect on Katy’s brother that eventually led her family to change their mind and embrace LGBT equality.
Now, as Mormons, they are advocates for LGBT equality and critical of so many in their lives—church leaders, youth leaders, their Book of Mormon, family—who “lied and betrayed” them about LGBT equality.
She tells her girlfriends in Utah, straight and gay, to make sure that they know, and their kids know, “that there is nothing wrong with anyone.” Her father, a professor at BYU, began teaching about LGBT issues from a faith perspective, and provided a safe haven for gay and transgender students whose “LDS families abandon them.” This is the change and awareness that’s happening across the country. And it’s the change that’s needed to create a Christian culture that supports LGBT equality.
No matter what your faith, no matter what you believe, supportive Christian voices are necessary to win full LGBT equality. So today, let’s stand shoulder to shoulder with our fellow LGBT advocates-even those who are Christian.
Joseph Ward is the Director of Believe Out Loud, an online network that empowers Christians to work for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender equality, and a writer on Religion and LGBT equality issues. Follow him on twitter @JosephWardIII.