LGBT People's New BFF-the Faith Community

Editor's Note: Hello everyone, most of you know churchlady already. I invited her to write on TPV on the issues of the progressive religious community. Here's her debut post! Please join me in welcoming her! - Spandan

Yesterday’s two SCOTUS rulings overturning theDefense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and dismissing California’s Proposition 8 both struck a blow for human equality.  What is less obvious is how they affirmed religious freedom as well.

In the Proposition 8 case, an amicus was submitted by the California Council of Churches and several other faith groups. Eradicating DOMA also had strong faith support. Unlike what media would have you believe, numerous large and thoughtful religious organizations support marriage equality. They argued in both cases that refusing to permit their congregations and denominations to perform legal weddings was a bar to both civil rights for people and denominations’ First Amendment rights to religious freedom.

What??  Same sex marriage is a positive religious freedom issue?  Can’t be!  The religious right keeps telling us what a threat it is to the sanctity of Christian principles!  The secular zealots claim all Christians are, well, Christian zealots who hate everyone!  This cannot be true!!!

None of that slavering prejudice is accurate.  A large and growing number of  Protestants and many others support marriage equality.. Over several decades thoughtful people of faith have done major discernment and theological reflection on what equality and justice really mean.  While there remains a diversity of practice, most mainline and progressive people of faith in the Protestant denominations have embraced full inclusion of all people.  Several denominations have simply been waiting for DOMA to fall before taking further steps on marriage per se.

The first denomination to accept full LGBT equality including the right to marry was the United Church of Christ or the Congregationalists.  This shocks the untutored since UCC is the institutional direct descendant of the Congregational Church founded by Puritans and Pilgrims.   While Puritans and “religious freedom” seem hardly synonymous, their descendants have become leaders of almost every significant socially progressive movement in America.  From abolition to labor rights, from the Civil Rights movement to anti-war to women’s reproductive equality, UCC has been in the forefront of advocacy for full inclusion of LGBT people. 

UCC has been joined by virtually every other mainline Protestant denomination.  The Episcopal church was the first to ordain an openly gay bishop. Today Episcopalians think it’s noteworthy when an official is not gay.  Other denominations are placing openly gay LGBT people into pulpits and even the Evangelical Lutherans just chose and openly gay bishop in conservative southern California.  All but the United Methodist Church, have embraced full equality for all people. 

UMC, hobbled by its Southern Methodist branch, has as yet no formal policy of LGBT equality, but in California and other states, it has affirmed the right of individual congregations to be ‘open and welcoming’ fully-inclusive churches.  When marriage was briefly legal in California, hundreds of retired UMC ministers declared their willingness to perform weddings of same sex couples thereby leaving practicing ministers free from any possible repercussions.  Congregations also affirmed that if a complaint were to be lodged against a practicing minister, every other congregation would do the same to its minister simply to overload the system and render disciplinary actions virtually impossible.  The presiding bishops all knew this and uttered no word of caution or opposition.

Religious conservatives sneer that religious progressives are merely being trendy, hopping on any old bandwagon that comes along.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Decades of soul searching, study, and philosophical discernment have underpinned these transformations.  Even after their work in anti-slavery and Civil Rights movements, mainline Protestants had enormous spiritual and political reflection to do in light of the unsavory legacy of missions. Abuses in the 19th century had done significant damage to people whose beliefs and ways of life had been obliterated in the zeal to give non-Christians “The Good News”.

Missionaries discovered that it was they who had to learn from the people they served.  Slowly accepting the magnificence of indigenous beliefs, of cultural difference, of human equality became a part of the respectful work churches and individuals had to do.  Service – medical, educational, etc. – had to be given without conversion and missionaries today accept and embrace cultural diversity.  To do otherwise is to do violence to the very teachings that Jesus emphasized.

Equality therefore has become an absolute.  If churches insisted we were “all God’s children” – then what part of “All” could be left out and still make any sense?  Once you open your hearts and minds, there is no longer any rationale to barring a single human being from justice.

Progressive and mainline denominations obviously are on a collision course with fundamentalists. Protestants coming from the centuries-old strand of Christianity oriented to the promotion of justice and equality run headlong into fundamentalism that is preoccupied with personal salvation.  This strand of Christianity creates a bilateral division of “us vs. them” of the “saved and the unsaved”.  To be saved, church leaders embraced rules drawn from tribal mandates of the Old Testament rather than the teachings of Jesus. To be saved, you have to embrace the rules - and "pray away the gay".  There is no middle ground. There is no other path.

The post-1980 rise of the Religious Right as a wealthy and powerful part of our country has overshadowed the history of progressive faith people in America.  After the death of Rev. King, Jr. and the end of the war in Vietnam, activism shifted to the Religious Right.  The antics of conservative extremists were just good media fodder.  Feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, advocating for ending poverty?  Just not as sexy or compelling as the reactionary harangues of televangelists, the fire and brimstone denunciations of anyone outside their limits on salvation. That hot tempered stuff sells! Angry people make great sound bites!

Given the perception then that all Christians hate gay people or are racial bigots or believe women have no rights, given the voices that say God makes rape victims pregnant, or that God is sending us heat waves and massive storms, the fact there are huge numbers of Christians speaking in opposite way would seem, ummmm, newsworthy?  Well, it’s not. 

It is past time that Americans understand once again that much of the Christian faith community is still working for justice in all areas, and is present to stand with and for anyone whose rights and dignity are being challenged. That we respect the separation of church and state but come from our faith to speak to and about democracy not impose those beliefs on others. That is what prevailed in the SCOTUS decision - democracy won.  We affirmed it.

Since the overturning of DOMA and Prop.8 are now reality, we can build on what we believe -  that morality lies in the power of YES, not the power of  NO.  By standing with our 'beloved community' of LGBT people, we proclaim we continue to stand for an  America that honors equality and justice.  

God bless the world.  No exceptions.

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