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Op-ed: Don’t Be Fooled By a False Conversion

Op-ed: Don’t Be Fooled By a False Conversion

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The recent publication of an ad in the progressive religious magazine Sojourners, placed by the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and created by the Ali Forney Center, brings to light the disproportionate impact of homelessness on LGBT youth. This is a worthwhile endeavor, dramatically articulating an often overlooked but important social justice reality: that prejudice against LGBT youth (and adults, by extension) causes a burden on LGBT people in the form of homelessness, bullying, and attempted suicide. This is an important issue raised in a publication that includes some readers who may be unfamiliar with the stark statistics in the ad.

This chain of events has inevitably resurfaced the recent controversy over Sojourners' refusal to carry ads promoting a Mother's Day video from Believe Out Loud, an organization I oversee. The video called upon church members and leaders to welcome into our congregations those children who arrive with two moms in tow -- and, symbolically by extension, all queer people.

And it is this that makes all the difference.

Those who compare the two ads are really comparing appleseeds to applesauce, a distinction that Sojourners itself has historically made.

The key challenge in the Believe Out Loud video (which can be seen below) and the implicit charge to congregational leaders is to extend extravagant welcome in our congregational life and governance to all, irrespective of sexual orientation or gender identity. Biblical teaching must be reframed, beginning with the blessing in Genesis -- where humankind is said to be created in the image and likeness of God -- and not the curse in Leviticus as a starting point. Only by addressing root causes can real change occur.

Sojourners knows this and has preached it for years. It continues to baffle me as to why there is not unequivocal affirmation by Sojourners of this principle as a way to advance God's love, justice, and abundance for all people, including those across the spectrum of human sexuality.

I have deep respect for Sojourners' work on poverty issues, race relations, workers' rights, war and peace and the like. Decades ago, I learned from them about systemic change, about treating root causes and not simply symptoms as a way toward lasting change that promotes human dignity. To me, though, they have missed the boat on this one. Injustice somewhere means there is injustice everywhere. This is not some superficial question about appropriate vestments to wear or liturgical colors to display on any given holy day. This is about life and death.

In a recent study by the Public Religion Research Institute, two thirds of Americans see connections between religious teachings and higher rates of suicides among LGBT youth. If our religious teachers and our religious communities are responsible -- even in part -- for creating the climate that endangers the lives of our young people, then it seems more than incumbent upon Sojourners, as a leading Christian voice in this nation for social justice, to unequivocally denounce practices and policies in our churches that discriminate against LGBT people, thereby denying them their full humanity.

Of course, both GLAAD and Sojourners should be commended. A core principle of Believe Out Loud is to spark such bold conversations in places where they have not happened before, and so we at Believe Out Loud welcome this discussion and the ability of GLAAD and Sojourners to find common ground needed to place this ad. But homelessness, bullying, and a self-loathing that prompts feelings of suicide are all symptoms and not the cause of a deeper problem that remains unaddressed with the appearance of the current ad in Sojourners.

This behavior grows, at least in part, out of messages -- subtle and overt -- that queer people receive from their religious leaders, their spiritual communities, and yes, even the progressive publications that cover them.

The Reverend Robert Chase is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and the founding director of Intersections International, which is a nongovernmental organization based in New York that works with communities in conflict to promote peace.

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