Last month we noted the creation of The NALT Christians Project, which is an online platform inviting LGBT-affirming Christians to tell the world via video that all Christians aren’t like the anti-gay religious figures prominent in the public arena. Today, the project’s founders, including Christian author John Shore and his wife Catherine and activist Wayne Besen of Truth Wins Out, held a news conference at the National Press Club to pre-empt the anti-gay messages that will be streaming from Washington D.C. during the Values Voter Summit this Friday and Saturday.
Among the speakers were the Very Rev. Gary Hall, Dean of Washington National Cathedral, who said it is important for LGBT-affirming Christians to say “as loudly and clearly as we can” that not only is homosexuality not a sin, “homosexuality is actually good, because it is a gift from God.” Too many children and youth suffer in silence in oppressive families, schools, and churches, said Hall, and if “those of us in pulpits” can say with energy, clarity and compassion that it is good to be LGBT, “we will save lives.”
Brent Childers of Faith in America also spoke of the pain and emotional and spiritual harm caused LGBT people and their families by churches that promote anti-gay messages. Childers said that he was once one of the people who promoted anti-gay messages. “I am thankful that I was allowed to be liberated from that prejudice,” he said. He urged pastors who are asked to partner with the organizations attending the Values Voter Summit not to “make a mockery of their faith” by embracing the harm those groups cause.
NALT co-founders John and Catherine Shore spoke about leaving their first church home when they were asked to sign an anti-gay document in order to become deacons. The Sunday after they declined, the pastor distributed copies of an article he had written calling Christians who didn’t share his anti-gay views “heretics.” John said that led him to further study of the Bible, and his conclusion that Christians routinely ignore some passages that run counter to the great commandment of love and compassion. Catherine said the preoccupation with fighting LGBT equality not only hurts youth – both LGBT and straight – but is also damaging to Christianity itself.
Other speakers included Vivian Taylor of Integrity USA (an LGBT Episcopal group), who urged LGBT Christians and the straight Christians to support them to “let your light shine,” saying “we need you out there in the world, both showing your faith and showing your love for LGBT people.” Andy Lang of the United Church of Christ Coalition for LGBT Concerns spoke about the growing LGBT-inclusive religious movement and the thousands of congregations of different faiths who believe the capacity to love and be loved is a blessing rather than a curse. Lang said that those congregations increasingly want to be not only places of refuge for LGBT people but advocates for them.
Frank Schaeffer, author and son of the prominent religious right figure Francis Schaeffer, joked about the project’s name, saying that he had in fact once been “exactly like that.” Schaeffer said that the politics of division and polarization practiced by the religious right are now writ large in our society and politics. But, he said, there is a cultural shift going on, and that his own journey away from conservative evangelicalism is the same journey that many young evangelicals are taking. (There’s plenty of data suggesting that many young Christians are turned off by the anti-gay politics of many churches.)
Also speaking was People For the American Way President Michael Keegan, who recapped some of the worst anti-gay rhetoric from religious right leaders scheduled to speak at the VVS; he called them the spiritual heirs to Jerry Falwell, who inspired PFAW’s founder Norman Lear into action by asserting that you couldn’t be a good American unless you were the right kind of Christian, and you couldn’t be a good Christian without sharing his far-right political positions. (NB: I’ll be covering the Values Voter Summit for People For the American Way’s Right Wing Watch blog.)