Standing right beside us in the battle for equality
by Rob Howard
We are hearing a lot about “sincerely held religious belief” from conservative legislators lately. They want to allow persons opposed to marriage equality the right to discriminate against their LGBT fellow citizens. Even more damning are the views of lawmakers who would allow open discrimination against transgender persons, who they relentlessly vilify.
These bigots often cite their sincerely held religious beliefs to justify these positions, usually asserting their Christian faith. It’s easy to fall into the trap of being anti-religion, or thinking that most Christians agree with these concepts.
It’s important to remember that not all Christians hate LGBT people. Certainly, the Catholic Church, Southern Baptists and other fundamental denominations continue to wage a war against equal rights and protections for LGBT people.
But several mainline denominations have been in the fight for civil rights for decades. Take a step back to the 1950s and 60s. One of the bulwarks of the African-American civil rights effort was the tie of many of the leaders to churches. Many of them were members or ministers in the black Baptist churches across the South. But a lot of them were ministers of the United Church of Christ (UCC), arguably the most liberal of the Christian denominations.
So it shouldn’t surprise you that the UCC has often been at the core of the fight for LGBT rights as well. A little history – the UCC was formed by a 1957 merger between Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church. Congregationalists trace their religious heritage back to the Mayflower.
The denomination was an early participant in the effort to eliminate slavery in the United States. It ordained its first woman pastor in 1853, its first openly gay minister in 1972. It fought for the vote for women. And overwhelmingly passed a resolution supporting same-sex marriage equality in 2005.
The UCC isn’t alone in supporting LGBT equality. Although the debate in some denominations was long and rancorous, the end result is that many denominations, their churches and members, support our community.
The list of denominations which affirm ordination of LGBT clergy, and support marriage equality in our country is important. It includes the Episcopal Church, even against opposition from the Anglican Communion, its parent body; the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Metropolitan Community Church; the Presbyterian Church (USA); some Quaker sects; and the United Church of Christ.
Touch these churches, “scratch” a minister, and you will find allies in places you would never expect. In 1988, I was part of a group forming an openly LGBT congregation in Minneapolis. We applied to join the UCC, an application that had to be considered by the delegates to an annual district convention. The senior pastor of the largest UCC congregation in the state, a person who had been active in civil rights advocacy for years, turned out to be our strongest opponent.
But at the convention when we were accepted into the UCC, the white-haired, seventy-ish pastor of a rural church, with only 35 families, came up to me, put his arm around my shoulder, and said, “Don’t worry Rob, we’ll let him have his say, and then we’ll vote you in.” And they did.
When people are citing their Christian faith to defend their anti-LGBT bigotry, remember that there are millions of other Christians out there who support our right to marriage equality, who think it is wrong to vilify and invalidate trans people, and who think we need protection against discrimination.
Their pastors are often right out in front on the issues, and they stand in their pulpits every Sunday and guide their flocks to the right conclusions. Look for them – they are standing right beside us in our battle for equality.
The Gayly – June 6, 2016 @ 7:15 a.m.