In many places around the country, June is celebrated as Gay Pride Month, a time for LGBT people to celebrate their identity and many accomplishments. As senior minister of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles, the oldest Protestant church in the city, I also think the celebration of Gay Pride is the perfect time for faith communities to reassess the kind of welcome (or lack of it) they are extending to people of differing sexual orientations.
Notwithstanding a few notable exceptions, faith communities have been slow to demonstrate support toward LGBT people. In too many cases, these individuals have been condemned, ostracized, and shamed for who they are. Shame is never a good thing, but religiously motivated shame is the most reprehensible of all.
Nevertheless, it’s never too late for faith communities to make a real difference. There’s still time to transform religious perspective and create communities of love, compassion, and acceptance for every LGBT person. This cannot happen, however, unless clergy and religious leaders are willing to stand up and insist that people of faith open both their hearts and houses of worship to all of God’s children. Clergy can help people understand that being gay is more about genetics than it is choice, appreciating the psychological complexity of sexuality. Clergy can emphasize the importance of integrity in all relationships, whether gay or straight. In the end, there is nothing more sacred, more validating to another human being, than when they are accepted for who they are and how they were created.
The LGBT community continues to face daunting challenges at the beginning of the 21st century. Great strides have been made over the past few years, to be sure, including the passing of marriage equality legislation in 12 states. Antibullying education is now becoming part of mainstream educational curriculum, and this past year many notable people, including President Obama, have made it clear that gay rights are essential in our country.
Yet a few days ago in the heart of Greenwich Village, a young man by the name of Mark Carson was taunted and then shot to death for no reason other than that he was gay. Closer to home, a significant report from Orange County, Calif., was released this week indicating that violence against LGBT people is on the rise; reported cases of hate crimes based on sexual orientation has nearly doubled in the past year. There seems to be a backlash taking place in America right now — the more rights LGBT people win, the more antagonism and violence they seem to be facing. And while I applaud the Boy Scouts of America for becoming more inclusive in its membership, its continued ban on gay scout leaders only reinforces an old and false stereotype that gay men are predisposed to prey upon children.
It’s not too late for religious leaders of every denomination and ethnic background to move to the front line on this issue — to open the doors to their respective communities and affirm one of the most basic tenets of religious faith, namely, that all people are created in the image of God, and that each person, regardless of whether they are straight or gay, is of infinite worth and value.
R. Scott COLGLAZIER is senior minister of First Congregational Church of Los Angeles and author of the popular spirituality blog Take a Breath. His most recent book is A Dictionary of Faith: For Open-Hearted, Open-Minded People.