On Feb. 25, I was honored to participate in a forum with North Carolina businessman and Faith in America founder Mitchell Gold and Faith in America executive director Brent Childers at a small gay bar/lounge here in Charlotte. Usually, politics and religion don’t go well with bars, but it was a great and attentive crowd — we couldn’t have asked for better. We were able discuss issues addressed in Gold’s book, “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay In America,” to which both Brent and I also contributed.
Before that later evening event, Mitchell Gold was a special guest of Campus Pride and local LGBT youth support group Time Out Youth at Myers Park Baptist Church. There, a little more than 100 folks turned out to hear Gold speak about his book, his experience growing up as a gay youth and issues of anti-LGBT, religion-based bigotry and prejudice.
A day before the event, I spoke to Campus Pride executive director Shane Windmeyer and asked if it would be appropriate to invite to the Myers Park lecture the editor of Voice of Revolution, a Charlotte-area online magazine run by anti-LGBT theologian and activist Dr. Michael Brown. (You can read my previous, in-depth Special Report on Brown here.)
Mitchell Gold and his Faith in America believe that one way to change hearts and minds is to directly engage those with whom we might disagree. It’s a sentiment I share, and one of many reasons why I chose to participate in Soulforce’s 2007 Equality Ride. Mitchell Gold’s lecture at Myers Park seemed like a perfect opportunity to continue reaching out to Voice of Revolution editor Marcus French, Dr. Brown and members of Brown’s ministries’, Concord, N.C. church and school and activist group Coalition of Conscience. Shane agreed.
I’ve had lunch with Marcus before, and I’ve spoken to both him and Brown on numerous occasions. After the publication of my Special Report on Dr. Brown, I was invited to discuss the issues addressed therein on Brown’s radio show, “Line of Fire.” I was thrilled at another opportunity to reach out to my Christian brothers and sisters, and happy Marcus agreed to attend the lecture.
After the lecture, Marcus said he had a question to ask me, but didn’t feel it was the most appropriate venue for an in-depth discussion.
This week, Marcus shot me an email and asked: “During Thursday’s lecture, Mitchell Gold talked about the ‘big pink elephant in the room’ that no one is talking about with regard to growing up gay in America, namely ‘the sin issue.’ What do you believe is the best approach to deal with the belief in many religions and denominations that homosexuality is a sin? Do you intend to come against these religious beliefs, declaring that those that hold these beliefs are wrong in this area? Or do you intend to alter the religious beliefs so that they embrace homosexuality, regardless of what their sacred texts or traditions teach?”
Of course, I was merely one of 40 contributors to Mitchell Gold’s book. I don’t work for him or Faith in America and can’t speak on behalf of either. But, given my ongoing, friendly conversation with Marcus and Dr. Brown I decided to share with Marcus my personal responses to the questions he raised.
My (somewhat lengthy) response to Marcus below…
When Mitchell Gold spoke of the “big pink elephant,” or the “sin issue,” he spoke of many LGBT organizations’ tendency to shy away from religious issues when engaging in debates on LGBT civil equality. The reason, I believe, is that LGBT people have experienced so much pain from religion and the church that they’d rather not address it or think of it.
Common experience shows us that those who know an LGBT person are more likely to support our civil and social equality. The reasons for this are clear: When one knows personally an LGBT person — whether it be a brother, sister, child, parent, other relative or close friend — a person is exposed to the truth: LGBT people are not the sick and sinful monsters the church has taught them we are. Rather, we are loving, dedicated members of our families and healthy, contributing members of our local communities.
All religion, and Christianity itself, is not monolithic. There is not one interpretation of Scripture or other religious texts. And, while we might disagree over theology or doctrine, we can all agree that no child should be harmed by those who love him. The truth is, anti-LGBT religion-based bigotry and prejudice causes damage in the lives of youth. Like other youth faced with loneliness and despair, LGBT youth fall victim to depression and mental illness or turn to drug abuse and suicide to solve their problems. Unfortunately, the rate at which LGBT youth fall victim to unhealthy behaviors is far higher than that of their heterosexual peers. Perhaps it is because LGBT youth often have nowhere — nowhere at all — to turn when they feel as though their families, friends, schools and school officials, faith communities and communities-at-large will not love them or accept them?
You asked me if it was my intent to “alter the religious beliefs so that they embrace homosexuality, regardless of what their sacred texts or traditions teach.” I challenge you to take a deeper look into Scripture, to come to really know God and his magnificently radical, inclusive love. I encourage you to understand and accept that one can have a relationship with God even if they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. One mustn’t ignore Scripture in order to understand that God loves each and every one of God’s children, without reservation, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender-identity. One can live in peace in Christ and in fulfillment of the Gospel knowing that they are who they are as God made them, or that their loved ones are just as much a brother or sister in Christ as they. Perhaps it is the “tradition” that has betrayed God, and not LGBT people or the ones who love them?
But, to directly answer your three questions:
1. The best approach to dealing with the “sin issue” is to engage in direct, one-on-one conversations with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We all agree on at least one spiritual truth: Our God is the creator of each of us, the world around us and all in the universe, and God’s son, Jesus Christ, is our savior. With this agreement, we can have truly honest, brother-to-brother and sister-to-sister conversation, recognizing that while we disagree now, and might disagree in the future, on other areas of theology and doctrine, we are all one in Christ.
2. As much as you might believe I am engaging in sin, I believe the words and actions of those under the influence of anti-LGBT religion-based bigotry and prejudice are deathly harmful, both spiritually and physically, to LGBT people and especially to LGBT young people. For many, at one point including myself, these issues are matters of life and death: LGBT youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and those who come from rejecting, unaccepting families are nine times more likely to attempt suicide. As much as some might be tempted to see or frame these issues in the light of eternal salvation, these are serious issues of the physical here and now. People are dying, and the church has blood on its hands.
3. Christ taught us that there are two commandments upon which the entire law and prophecy must hang. First, that one should love God with all their heart, soul and mind. Second, that one should love their neighbor as oneself. I challenge you to take into consideration the personal stories and experiences of all the LGBT people you know, and even the stories in “CRISIS,” and ask yourself two questions: First, knowing that condemnation and rejection causes so much pain and despair in the lives of LGBT people, especially youth, do my words and actions serve to cause more pain and trauma, or are they creating a world in which LGBT young people can be healthy, loved, accepted and cherished, allowing them to grow into the fullness of their lives and live in peace with God and themselves? Second, if my words and actions are causing pain and trauma in the lives of others, am I living up to and living by Christ’s two greatest commandments?