Faith in the Movement for GLBT Equality
I confess that in the first hours after the election results in Maine were known, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. As the returns came in, way past my bedtime, I watched the No on 1 party in Bangor and followed the streaming chat room alongside. Especially powerful for me were the number of insults hurled at the church.
But as the conversation unfolded, other voices chimed in, leading to a bit of an exchange highlighting the religious groups who did work to support the No on 1 effort. Yes, the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese was a vocal, active spokesperson for repealing the law allowing marriage of same-gender couples. But there was also an interfaith panel of clergy supporting No on 1 in the weeks before the vote. Catholics for Marriage Equality was a partner of Protect Maine Equality. It may not have gotten us all the way there, but I gradually realized what a sign of progress this is.
In the days of Harvey Milk and Anita Bryant, there were virtually no church leaders willing to speak out in the public square in support of inclusion of GLBT people. Few clergy were willing to step forward and say out loud, we are all God’s children, God loves us all equally, and Jesus teaches us to treat our neighbor as we would like to be treated — no ifs, ands, or buts. Today, there are many.
We pray that our non-religious fellow travelers will not identify us with Anita Bryant and the Bishop in Maine simply because we are Christians. And yet, after so many years of fear and discrimination sown in the name of God, it is no wonder the GLBT community feels ambivalence toward religion. So what can we do? I believe we must accept our responsibility to speak clearly and repeatedly with a religious voice for the goodness, truth and beauty of GLBT people. We must have the courage to lift up our voices with conviction in the public square, including confession and repentance for the hurt inflicted on GLBT people in the name of Christ.
We have so much work to do. As long as people see one another as gay or straight, Christian or non-religious, instead of simply as people, the subtext of discrimination and fear and distrust will continue. And empathy and mutual understanding — the seeds of equality — aren’t won on the battlefield of a political campaign. They grow in the hearts and minds of our friends and neighbors, nurtured through individual conversations.
So have a conversation with someone else today. Talk about how you feel about the place of GLBT people in our society and in our church. Listen without fear. And then get up and do it again tomorrow. Last week I talked about empathy as a spiritual discipline. Now it is time to walk the talk.