Like a colonoscopy or head lice, the word Christian is a conversation killer among LGBTs.
The harsh reality for LGBT people is that if they are people of faith, they face a double-edged sword. They are either scorned and rebuffed by the institutional church, or discussed into oblivion by church committees and subcommittees who work for years and years to come up with statements that hope to appease LGBT people without really giving them the acceptance they seek.
Certainly, we expect the church to push back against LGBT people who have agitated for years for full acceptance in the pew and the pulpit. What hurts the most, however, is when members of our own community scorn and rebuff us for our faith. The comment section following Larges’ excellent editorial is full of voices of detraction:
The author of this article’s imaginary friend likes me. That’s nice. If people are going to have imaginary friends and live in fantasy worlds, then I’m happy that they’re nice. However, gods don’t exist in the real world outside the human imagination, so encouraging GBLT people to find religion is irresponsible. We all have brains, let’s use them. Bronze Age superstitions should have been left in the Bronze Age. – Jerry
god does not love us nor hate us because god does not exist. why do we insist on “claiming back” religion in the first place? the only way to real equality is to get religion out of the picture altogether. so long as religion exists, people will be allowed to claim whatever they like. whether someone believes that “god hates gays” or “god loves gays” is irrelevant to me. they are both delusional. let’s focus on the real world and leave religion in the past where it belongs. – Saul (original spelling and grammar preserved)
It is Saul’s comment that especially captures the crux of the problem for the LGBT community. As LGBT Christians, we’re not arguing for others to believe in the existence of God. Freedom of religion does indeed mean freedom from religion. What LGBT Christians are trying to do is exactly what Saul believes we can’t do: reform religion. To get the “real equality” Saul believes LGBT people deserve isn’t a matter of getting religion “out of the picture altogether.” No civil rights movement has ever succeeded by ignoring or marginalizing religion. Instead, religion needs to be brought along with the rest of society if a movement toward “real equality” is to be achieved.
All movements that have gained equality has honored religion and sought its reform on issues like slavery, equality for women, and equality for minorities like African-Americans. The LGBT community ignores the religious community at its peril. The near strangle-hold that the religious right exercises over the Republican Party should be all the proof any LGBT person or ally needs to understand the depth of the roots of religion in any equality movement.
Instead of bashing LGBT people of faith for their “imaginary friends” and religious delusions, the LGBT community needs to embrace the brave pioneers like Larges who are fighting on what is really the front line of the battle for “real equality” for our community. As the old quote, often attributed to Gandhi points out, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” Without the leadership of Larges and others who have gone before her like Bill Johnson, the first openly gay man ordained by the United Church of Christ in 1972, the church would still be ignoring gays and lesbian in their midst. The fact that the church has moved from ridiculing us to fighting us only goes to show that LGBT people are ever closer to a victory in the church.
Larges understands that the bridges LGBT people of faith need to build are not just to the church universal, but within the LGBT community as well. In that spirit, she offers a challenge:
But it will take all of us. Taking a page from Sarah Silverman, if you grew up in a faith tradition, go back to your family, your church, synagogue, or mosque and talk about these issues. Challenge them on what they are doing to make the church more inclusive. Let them know, and know for yourself, that Scripture and theology do not teach homophobia, transphobia, intolerance, or bigotry. Remember the young people who are sitting there hearing the messages of exclusion and judgment that drove you out the door. Our movement needs political, economic, and spiritual strength.
The message to the LGBT community should be clear: You don’t have to believe in our “imaginary friend,” but it’s imperative that you support LGBT people of faith in their struggle. Because, when we win the church (and we will), the path to “real equality” for all LGBT people will be made clear.