I came across a Christian open letter to LGBT Americans. While LGBT Americans span the religious spectrum the majority of LGBT Americans are Christian. Something never acknowledged in this piece. In fact, the opposite is presumed throughout. As a gay Christian pastor I thought I’d offer some thoughts on the issues raised in the letter.
In your eyes, people like me are hateful bigots, not recognizing the validity of your marriages, not recognizing the depth of your relationships, not recognizing the beauty of your families.
While acknowledging the pain of Orlando, we get to this quickly. So quickly that I don’t see this a condolence letter. I see it as an apologetics letter. Most folks would be right to pass this letter by then. But as a Christian pastor I felt it important to consider the letter on its own merits. So my first question to the above statement is: is it true?
That is, do you not recognize the validity of our marriages, the depths of our relationships, the beauty of our families? If not, this is a source of alienation. If, in fact, you do, then who is the source of beauty, of relationships, and of love but God?
1 John 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
So if you acknowledge the above, you could not move to the next statement
We tell you God has a better way, that it’s wrong for you to engage in same-sex relationships, and that, with God’s help, it can be possible to change from gay to straight.
In which case,we are right to believe that you do not acknowledge our loves, our relationships, our families. This may not be a concern for some if there was not an organized effort to support policies of discrimination, at every level of government. Over 200 bills, were submitted to discriminate against LGBT Americans, 29 in Oklahoma!
These bills regulated everything from bathroom usage to being able to be denied services, including health care and governmental services, to adoption and foster care bans to removing protections from being fired, kicked out of our homes, being denied public accommodations. Some bills banned counselors to reaching out to LGBT youth, some even would prevent the name to be used.
This suggests that your claims are not just an a theological point to be made. They have real world consequences in the daily lives of LGBT folks, including those outside of the church. And they, not just words, suggest real harms which are visited on LGBT folks.
None of these efforts were supported by Islamic groups. None have organized to support candidates who would support discrimination. Homophobia is real in the Muslim community, it is real in the Christian community, it is real in many communities. That should be named and tackled. But Muslims in the US are twice as likely to support marriage equality than evangelicals. So if you are asking why so many LGBT Americans identify Christianity and not Islam as the problem, now you know why.
And there is this issue. Most LGBT folks, grew up in the church and with “what the Bible says” as the reason why discrimination, being kicked out of our homes, our churches, called a greater threat than terrorists, and threatened violence against, happened. My impression is you think it’s physical violence that’s the barometer to measure harm.
And as you write:
In reality, if people truly listened to my message (or that of my colleagues), it would never dawn on them for a split second to attack you or try to harm you
I don’t believe most evangelicals wish physical harm on me. I have never personally been physically threatened by an evangelical. But I had an evangelical pastor calmly and patiently explain to me why I should be executed by the state. I have seen American evangelicals support movements in Africa that would call for the execution for gay people, and support for imprisonment of LGBT folks around the world, and in particular, in Russia. And I’ve seen presidential candidates woo these very folks.
When I read the twitter sphere from mainstream evangelicals I discovered that transgender people were the greatest threat to the republic. That where they went to the bathroom should have special sessions to legislate against. And we had folks from James Dobson to GOP officials talk about visiting violence against transgender folks.
So while I will take you at your word that you do not wish violence, I hope there is a context to see why many LGBT Americans are scared of evangelicals. Your counsel for embracing the Bible and embracing Jesus sounds loving to you. Know that it does not come across that way for others. Those terms have been used as weapons.
The reason those terms sound loving to me is I grew up in a church often degenerated by evangelicals. I grew up in a mainline Presbyterian church. One with an old building and more gray hairs than kids. One that had shrunk considerably when I was a kid. And there I learned that I was loved as a child of God. And that I was accepted by God. I learned by word and deed what the hospitality of Jesus looked like. That is, I learned the good news.
Matthew 21: 42Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is from the Lord, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?43Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.…
By the time I came across the religious right I already had been given a faith in God’s love that buttressed my faith despite their efforts. GLBT youth growing up in evangelical churches are not so lucky. In my small open and affirming church we try to share that same message for others. And I wouldn’t trade that work for anything in the world.
Dwight Welch is the pastor at the United Church of Norman, Oklahoma