Saturday, September 1, 2012
Be Not Afraid
I was thinking that I would write an entry about the conclusion (thanks be to God!) of the Republican Convention in Tampa. But given that I purposely avoided much of it, and there are many others out there doing the analysis of who exactly was sitting in that empty chair that Clint Eastwood was addressing, I thought I would stick to commenting on something more interesting, and hopeful, for the future dialogue in this country.
Straight for Equality, the LGBT ally project of PFLAG, has published a short booklet called, "Be Not Afraid...help is on the way." The publication is meant to help those who are friends and family members of LGBT people open a dialogue about gay people and equality issues within their faith communities. I received my package of 25 of these booklets yesterday, and read through the booklet today. It acknowledges that allies are on their own journeys which aren't always moving at the same speed, and assures everyone that--in the words of Buckaroo Banzai--no matter where you go, there you are. And with each step, an ally can become a powerful and important advocate for their LGBT family and friends...and it doesn't require marching in a parade or waving a rainbow flag.
There are also short testimonies from allies and gay people of faith about the struggles they've been through and witnessed within their congregations. As I read some of these stories, I was reminded of the media attention given to the Westboro Baptist Church every time they show up to protest with their "God Hates Fags" signs. Fred Phelps and his band of followers have for some become the face of Christianity, whether we want them to be that or not. That "God Hates Fags" sign, and the many variations on that theme, are what many LGBT people have internalized as what all Christians think and believe about them. End result: gay people make assumptions about anyone wearing a religious symbol around their necks, and will avoid such people like the plague. Time for an ally intervention! There are many stories in the book about an ally...sometimes the minister or rabbi...doing something as simple as being kind to the LGBT person during the service or inviting him or her to take part in the Holy Eucharist, probably the deepest bond that can occur in the context of a Christian service. Such simple acts of kindness presents a much more loving, supportive, and friendly face of God to the stranger. And each of those stories in the booklet is punctuated with the gay person saying, "That made such a difference for me."
This all goes back to the gospel lesson that is in Mark where the disciples are eating with their unwashed hands causing a stir. As Jesus noted for the crowds,"There is nothing outside a person that going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile." A gay person in the church, in the pew or pulpit, or a lesbian couple getting married, does not and should not cause a problem. Yet there are some who will insist that while they don't hate individual LGBT people, they don't approve of our relationships. It's the whole 'Love the sinner, but not the sin' mentality which doesn't spare that LGBT person the pain of a rebuke of their personhood. For most LGBT people of faith, one of the biggest personal hurdles they can face is people telling them that if they have a relationship, they are committing a sin. What a terrible thing to turn love into a sin. And what could be happening in the heart of a person who says to another that the other person is committing a sin by falling in love? No doubt, allies and gay people alike, will run into this kind of thinking as they engage others in their faith communities about LGBT rights.
The key, as I see it, to dealing with this mentality is not to get into an argument. That will only harden both your hearts. The real key is to hear what that person is saying, and remember this lesson of Jesus' from Mark. Their demand that gay people be celibate in order to be acceptable does not reflect God's expansive love. It is more a reflection of their own discomfort with love and sexual intimacy. What can be done about that? Well, besides acknowledging what they've said, and refusing to agree with that position, the only other response is to say your own prayer for that person. Pray that God will be present with you and them in this place. Have compassion for whatever their fears are about relationships and sexual intimacy. And remember it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles and betrays the fears they are harboring in their heart.
We, however, do not need to be afraid. LGBT people of faith, and their allies within religious institutions, know the love and liberation that comes to us from God's grace. Now more than ever is the time for allies of LGBT people and LGBT people of faith to speak up and engage the rest of their religious communities in this dialogue about our equal place in the kingdom, and the importance of outreach to those who have been injured by religion. True religion is Love. It's time for our voices sounding that message to be heard.