A generation of young Americans is rejecting Christianity because they widely perceive it to be anti-gay and, as such, “shallow,” “anti-intellectual,” “insincere,” and even “hypocritical.”
That wasn’t the finding of some ultraliberal gay group, but rather the conclusion reached by conservative Christian pollsters, the Barna Group, who conducted a groundbreaking study in the mid-2000s and found “overwhelmingly negative views” of Christians by many millennials and generation Xers, tied closely to the faith’s perceived anti-gay bias.
As an openly gay clergyperson, I wasn’t all that surprised by the findings, because I straddle these two seemingly opposing worlds.
I live my life in the crossfire, and I’ve experienced the anti-gay vitriol often associated with anything and everything “church.”
Almost every day, I hear the pain and I see the antipathy that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people—and their families and friends—have for the Christian faith that they view not only as unaccepting but actively damaging, even dangerous. So when I’m introduced to others as clergy, I often experience the less-than-enthusiastic feedback. And, as a proud gay man, I totally understand why.
Yet, as an ordained minister and national officer of the Cleveland-based United Church of Christ, I also know the other side of the story because, all around me, I experience people of faith, gay and straight alike, working passionately and courageously for LGBT inclusion. And we’re no Johnny-come-latelies to the equality movement either.
We have been at the forefront from the get-go.
The United Church of Christ, with 5,100 churches in all 50 states, has been working for LGBT civil rights for more than 40 years. The United Church of Christ ordained the first openly gay pastor in 1972, and it was the first mainline denomination to support marriage equality nearly a decade ago. In April, in North Carolina, the United Church of Christ became the first denomination to sue a state for the freedom to marry same-gender couples based on the free exercise of religion.
So when Cleveland, our hometown, was selected to host this summer’s international Gay Games, leaders within the United Church of Christ knew instantly that we had a responsibility, not only as a good corporate citizen, but also as a prominent national religious organization, to do all we could in support, because the lives of LGBT people and their families are at stake.
That’s the Christian message of faith, equality and justice we want to emanate from our visible and vocal endorsement.
That’s why we are especially proud that, this August, Cleveland’s own United Church of Christ, headquartered on Prospect Avenue, will become the first religious denomination to be a major corporate sponsor of the Gay Games. The UCC’s Amistad Chapel, built as a shrine to faith-inspired justice advocacy, will host events and extravagantly welcome visitors from across the country and around the globe.
An “extravagant welcome,” we call it because we believe radical inclusion was at the heart of Jesus’ life and ministry and that’s the kind of Christianity we want visitors to Cleveland to experience here.
The Gay Games are, in many ways, a game-changer for the city of Cleveland and, hopefully, for the athletes and spectators who will visit our great city. Let’s use this golden opportunity to show the world that Cleveland, especially its religious institutions, is about building bridges of respect, love, and understanding across all the ugly chasms that would divide us.
From where I stand, that is the good Christian thing to do.