When the 2015 Urbana Missions Conference tackled race head-on last December, it seemed that the evangelical Christian community could finally say "Black Lives Matter" without hedging. Some dug through Urbana's archives to find one of evangelicalism's best preachers breaking down the American church's history with systemic injustice and making the case for people of faith to stand up, speak up, and act up.
During the 1970 conference, Tom Skinner was as direct about the Church's complicity with racism and bigotry as any street activist has been this decade. His speech was proof for us that post-Trayvon America isn't the Church's first chance to choose justice, mercy, and humility.
I listened to a handful of Skinner's talks, and as inspiring as they were on race, they also included a few throwaway comments about gender and sexuality that lit up for me like the Bellagio fountains.
Skinner highlighted his vision of Jesus: the ultimate man's man, the forceful, aggressive defender and protector, not a "sissy," not a "punk."
If the only way Skinner could affirm his Jesus was to demonize "effeminate" masculinity, he proved himself willing to cut that deal.
And he wasn't alone in his calculus. In Black churches across the U.S. today, from T.D. Jakes' Potter's House in the South to Jamal Bryant's Empowerment Temple in the North, some communities of deep faith use fidelity to God and their scriptures as a reason to leave LGBTQ people and other marginalized groups on the far side of the church gate.
But that story isn't the only story possible for people of faith. I can envision so much more for us and our communities: so much more hope, wholeness, and healing.
I believe people and communities of faith can be partners in the common good—ambassadors of a just world.
I don't believe the best way to honor the faith of my spiritual ancestors or assertively confront contemporary evil is to demonize others because of where they were born, how they organize their family, how much they earn, or whether they pray.
I don't believe that Divine dignity depends on me using the weight of the law to marginalize LGBTQ people, my unemployed neighbors, my Muslim friends, or people living in immigration limbo in my state.
I don't believe that the integrity of the Church rests on how much I exclude women from leadership or restrict the membership of people with addictions or criminal records.
I don't believe that the good news requires me to stand by while any of us tries to thrive without secure housing, in fear of domestic or state abuse, or in an environment with polluted air, poor food, or poisoned water.
I do believe in a just faith and a just world.
And I want to work with theists and humanists and people of all faiths and none who are committed to do good on matters that impact us all.
The Christian scriptures include the teaching that all humans were made "of one blood": we're related. We're family. And we thrive when nourished and given space to contribute and grow.
As the co-conspirators in #AJustFaith publicize our vision for a world that allows all people room to flourish, we invite others who share this vision to step up, speak up, and act up too.
Let's challenge injustice wherever it's found: all people are worthy of love and belonging, and it will take all of us to build a world that we can all call home.
#AJustFaith is a black LGBTQ multi-faith, multi-ethnic, and multi-generational coalition of people who speak, teach and organize to create a just world for all. We are inspired by our faiths' most positive values to promote love for all humankind and responsible stewardship of our world. Partner with us by using the #AJustFaith hashtag on social media. Our site will be live soon!
Image by A.J. Williams