Cap Kaylor of University Quakers at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Norman, Oklahoma, addresses a concern about religious treatment of sexual minority people.
In the weeks before Christmas something remarkable happened here in Norman, Oklahoma.
At the instigation of the Quakers, a small coalition of Christian churches, St. Stephens Methodist, United Church of Norman UCC, First Presbyterian Church in Norman, and the University Quakers at St. John’s, co-sponsored an ad in The Norman Transcript that simply read,
NOT ALL CHRISTIANS ARE ANTI-GAY. AS CHRISTIANS WE WELCOME, HONOR, AND AFFIRM LGBT PERSONS AND THEIR FAMILIES.
That’s all. Just those two little sentences. But those two sentences were noticed and talked about around the world, from Australia to California. Such is the power of modern media. Behind those two sentences lay months of visits, networking, appeals to clergy, requests to parish councils and vestries. In the end, four churches, out of a dozen approached, signed on to that simple welcome.
The experience of encouraging Christian pastors to speak a word of welcome to LGBT persons has made me realize why so many gay and lesbian people feel such profound alienation from the Church.
Surveys among LGBT persons indicate a widespread experience of rejection and hostility at the hands of Christians, and a sense that the Church is not the place of healing, compassion, and welcome but uniquely the single greatest threat to their physical safety and civil rights. And can we blame them?
Some Christian leaders are sanctioning violence against gay people around the world. Nigerian Catholic Archbishop Ignatius Ayau Kaigama recently praised as “courageous and wise” that country’s draconian new anti-gay laws which, among other things, makes holding hands with a person of the same gender a crime. And anyone who attempts, officiates at, or attends a marriage between persons of the same sex will be jailed.
Words do indeed have consequences. After President Goodluck Jonathan signed the law on February 12th, mobs roamed the Nigerian Capital, pulling suspected gay persons from their homes and beating them with impunity while the police joined in.
Some American Evangelicals groups have been working for years with anti-gay politicians in Uganda to craft an anti-gay law (Anti-Homosexual Act of 2014, signed into law on February 24th) so extreme that it has been dubbed by human rights groups around the world as the “Kill The Gays” bill.
Groups of Russian grandmothers prowl the streets with vigilantes and stone persons perceived to be gay with rocks blessed by Orthodox priests. These things, and worse, are happening around the world.
They are happening here. On February 11th, House Bill 2453 passed the Kansas House, giving legal cover to any government official or business owner who refuses to provide services to individuals “perceived” as gay, if homosexuality offends their religious sensibilities. The Episcopalian bishops were the only ones to stand up against this Kansas Apartheid.
Violence is not just a matter of stoning, beating, jailing, and torture. Silence is also violence. Cowardice is violence. Ducking for cover behind “I’m personally tolerant, but my congregation just isn’t comfortable with explicitly welcoming gays” is also violence.
Silence makes us complicit in creating a climate where people are dehumanized, disenfranchised, terrorized, and finally, inevitably, murdered.
The Church has been, for a long time, part of the problem. It can also be part of the solution, as was the case with in Norman.
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said recently, “I refuse to worship a God who is homophobic.
I am as passionate about that as I ever was about apartheid.” Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has said, “Anyone who does not show love toward gay, lesbian people is insulting God because God loves every single one of those people.”
Faith is not a club that we are entitled to use to bash, judge, bully, or threaten others into heaven with. Christians have radically misunderstood the gospel if they think that one more law, one more pogrom, one more war, one more shunning, or in other words, one more twist of whatever arm you’ve got a hold of will finally usher in the Kingdom of God.
If our words and deeds fail to mirror forth the power of the gospel, then it is cheap to enlist the power of the State to coerce where we cannot convince.
Jesus never said a word about gay people. Not one word. On the other hand he had a lot to say about people who believed themselves to be morally superior to others.
I think he would have agreed with St. Augustine who wrote, “There are those whom the Church has that God has not. And there are those whom God has that the Church has not!”
If we ever do get to heaven, I’m sure more than a few of us will be very surprised, indeed, by the folks we find there.
Rainbow bench, More Light Presbyterians – Welcoming Churches/Chapters
Open hands, ManhattanLSAT Blog
United Methodists – Reconciling Ministries Network
United Church of Christ – UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns
Presbyterian Church (USA) – More Light Presbyterians
Friends for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Concerns
“Gay-Friendly Churches And Houses Of Worship Growing, According To National Congregations Study,” Huffington Post (11/14/2013)