With marriage equality, some conservatives have declared an all out war against the LGBT community, catching some of their own in the crosshairs.
My social media lit up last week like a rainbow colored Christmas tree. Everywhere I looked, people had changed their profile pictures, headers and tag lines. Some people re-posted stories of pastors who promised to kill themselves, move out of the country, or set themselves on fire. Others sarcastically pointed out that with marriage equality, straight people could now get divorced and break a part their own families, as predicted by some of the doom and gloom preachers of our time.
The intended effect, from an LGBT perspective, however, was quite simply to allow two people who love each other to be like everyone else. Marriage equality is one step closer for members of the LGBT community to enjoy the rights and privileges of every straight couple in America. But it’s not all down hill from here. There is more work to do. In some cases, the ruling for marriage equality only highlighted the fact that there are LGBT people in conservative circles who cannot come out.
“It’s all they talk about in church,” Jerry recently wrote to me. “Once gay marriage went through, it was like they stepped up the cause. It was hard enough before this to think about telling someone I’m gay. There’s no way I could come out now.” My friends Rhonda and Brandon, attended a new church in Sacramento, California the Sunday following the marriage equality announcement. “We ended up walking out during the service,” Rhonda said. “The pastor wouldn’t stop talking about how horrible it was that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage.”
Evangelicals seem to have a difficult time believing that members of their own congregations include gays and lesbians. It’s reminiscent of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s 2007 rant where he told an audience of 700 people, “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.” His statement was met with incredulous laughter. But a cursory look at the science behind sexual orientation shows that homosexuality exists in all human cultures, throughout history, regardless of religion or geography. It is a human condition that has also been observed in a number of non-human species – even if you don’t want to believe it.
Many years ago I played for a black Gospel choir. I mentioned to a friend how effeminate our organist was. Growing up in the white church I’d learn to hide my own sexual orientation and blend in. But in the black church, this man didn’t even seem to try. In my book I describe him by saying that his “sexual orientation entered the room before he did.” My friend responded to my inquiry by saying, “Right. We don’t talk about that.”
Rev. Dennis Wiley of Covenant Baptist United Church of Christ in Maryland said in an NPR interview, “Persons who are in the closet serve on the deacon boards, serve in the ministry, serve in every capacity in the church.” Yet, for some reason, pastors of those congregations talk about gays and lesbians as though they are not in the room. Many, in fact, are standing right behind them, next to them, or are perhaps, the pastors and church leaders themselves are gay or lesbian.
Earlier this year, Associate Pastor Matthew Makela, of St. John’s Luthern Church in Midland, Michigan, was caught on a gay social app describing himself as a “bi-curious guy” who “loved making out naked.” Stories like his are rather common, and seem to most often come from people with strong anti-gay messages.
The insensitive rhetoric not only goes after those struggling to maintain their closeted anonymity, but to the parents of gay children, as well. “After my daughter came out to me, I was suddenly aware of not only things I had said in the past, but what was coming from the pulpit,” one mom told me. “I suddenly felt an overwhelming need to protect my kid. I couldn’t look at people in our congregation the same way anymore. When I went for help, I was met with Scriptures and people telling me I needed to disown her. She’s a great kid. None of it made any sense to me.”
The truth is that LGBT issues, if confronted at all beyond the pulpit, are often met with ignorance on the subject. People are told to pray more, read their Bibles, trust God and stay off the Internet. For the more advantageous and less informed, they may even be referred to conversion therapy through a local ex-gay ministry or Christian therapist. This is often a stop-gap measure that keeps families busy searching for answers as to why someone is gay in the first place, and working on non-related issues. Eventually, however, they realize that the same-sex attraction is not going away and their lives have been put on hold during the futile attempt to change it.
My friend, and civil rights activist, attorney Samantha Ames has worked tirelessly to end this kind of reparative therapy for minors. I asked her how she dealt with the antagonism from some people on the religious right. With great compassion she said, “I’m working for them, too; they just don’t now it, yet.”
A number of organizations have popped up over the last few years to address the fact that there are LGBT people in conservative evangelical circles. Those groups include The Gay Christian Network, The Reformation Project, and The Evangelical Network. They have found some success within the gay Christian movement, particularly with those who have been disenfranchised from their own church families.
Pastor Danny Cortez, of New Heart Community Church in La Mirada, California, spent several years researching the issues and theology behind his Southern Baptist denomination’s stance. He spent time with members of the LGBT community and came to the conclusion that his denomination was wrong.
However, he felt that rather than use the issue to divide his church and denomination any further, he could live with what he called “the third way,” or agreeing to disagree on the rightness or wrongness of homosexuality. He earned the respect of many, but was ultimately defrocked by the Southern Baptist Church. Cortez said, “Maybe it wasn’t a relative but it was definitely people I loved who identified as lesbian or gay that forced me to figure out why the spirit of God wasn’t present in our traditional understanding of Scripture.” Ironically, Cortez’s son came out as gay after Cortez had already changed his view.
While marriage equality has, in some instances, created a deeper line in the sand between those who fight for, and those who oppose LGBT rights, it has also opened the door to the very real fact that this is not a battle of “us vs. them.” This is a battle for unity among all of us, and it is the most vulnerable who are at a greater risk of getting caught in the crosshairs.
Photo – Flickr/ Rodrigo Miranda