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The Church's Closet Door

The Church's Closet Door


COMMENTARY: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are in the pulpits, choirs, pews, religious education programs, committees, and boards of all houses of worship in this country. They have given extraordinary leadership to our congregations and continue to do so. Yet unfortunately, as has been made painfully clear in recent weeks, many congregations are quick to receive their gifts only if they keep their sexual orientation hidden. The implications of this are devastating. As people of faith, we can no longer afford to be silent.

When clergy condemn homosexuality, they send several devastating messages to the congregation. To young LGBT people they declare that their sexuality is shameful and vile in the eyes of God and that they should loathe a part of themselves. By so doing, they implicitly present LGBT members with an impossible set of choices: to hide part of themselves by "acting straight" and even in some cases marrying partners of the opposite sex; to denounce who they are by joining so-called ex-gay programs; to live a closeted life of isolation and shame; or to live a celibate life. In all of these cases LGBT people are forced to choose loneliness in favor of integrity.

For others in our congregation, the incessant din of homophobia grants permission to engage in bullying and violence. Even though some spokespeople for the radical right, like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, want to deny it, homophobic sermons preached Sunday after Sunday create an environment that legitimizes bullying and violence against LGBT people. Rather than fostering a community of love, homophobia in our congregations creates a wedge between people that breeds both shame and violence.

The evidence continues to mount: Our closets are killing us. When we remain silent about homophobia in our congregations, is it any wonder that many of our youth see nothing wrong in tormenting their LGBT peers in school? Is it any wonder that many LGBT youth come to see this torment as inescapable in life and suicide as the only way out? Those who drove Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, and Aiyisha Hassan to take their own lives were not born hating LGBT people. This hatred can only be learned, and the most effective schools for this type of learning are, sadly, often our congregations.

When pastors like the Reverend Ted Haggard, Bishop Eddie Long, and, most recently, the Reverend Billy McCurdy are accused of sexual improprieties with young men while preaching homophobia from the pulpit, we see the tragedy of the closet in full display. Whether Bishop Long and Reverend McCurdy are guilty or not is beside the point. The closet is warping our churches, and it is killing our young people. The very existence of these scandals is evidence of its devastating effects of the closet on the lives of LGBT youths, ministers, families, and whole religious communities.

There is another way. I have been blessed to serve the Metropolitan Community Churches for over three and a half decades and have been an ordained MCC minister for over 20 years. MCC congregations cherish all God's children as sacred and see the gifts that we bring as God working through us to bless the world. We believe that our sexual orientation and gender identity are a blessing to be embraced as part of the rich tapestry of the human family. MCC churches have provided sanctuary for LGBT and same-gender-loving people across the globe who have been kicked out, shunned, or silenced in their religious home of origin. If you feel alone or isolated, I say join us.

But we do not work in a vacuum, and I am proud to be part of a diverse religious community, as a member of one of many churches that says we do not have to make a false choice between our faith and our sexuality. This past March I experienced one of the greatest blessings of my life, an opportunity to publicly declare my love and commitment to my wife, the Reverend Candy Holmes, as one of the first same-sex couples to be wed in the District of Columbia. Our marriage would never have been possible without D.C. Clergy United for Marriage Equality, a group of diverse clergy who proclaimed loudly that it is the quality of how we love, not who we love, that matters.

Living openly as a married lesbian of deep faith makes me a better spiritual leader and a stronger advocate. More than anything, it has brought me closer to the God I love. God's love is open to all of us. I implore all of us to say no to the closet and yes to the expansive, inclusive love that is at the core of all our faith traditions.
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