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

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

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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