As the faith organizer for Equality Pennsylvania, I am honored to work with people of faith across the state of Pennsylvania to end discrimination against LGBTQ people.
I meet clergy from across the state who support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.
However, many of these faith leaders are afraid to speak up because they fear conflict and division in their congregations. So they are silent.
In one community, a pastor who had never discussed LGBTQ people before invited his congregation to break this silence. They came together during the Sunday School hour to talk about a case of discrimination that had occurred in the town and was hotly debated in the local press.
The pastor helped reframe the conversation to what the Bible says about the morality of discrimination. He summed up the teaching in greatest commandment—to “love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”
He shared that many Christians believe the Bible calls them to love their LGBTQ neighbors just as God made them—no strings attached.
The pastor also helped his congregation understand that there are many ways that faithful Christians approach questions about sexual orientation and gender identity, and Christians often disagree on social and ethical issues in ways that do not cause discord and division in our congregations.
The congregation’s response? “Thank you, pastor! We love Paula and Lori—they have been coming here as a couple for years, and we thought we were accepting them in spite of our faith.” The congregation knew in their hearts that the right thing to do was to love their lesbian sisters, and now they were set free to do so fully.
These conversations inspired one young woman who had been attending the church for a few months to come out as lesbian in the large church gathering. In response, the congregation rallied around her, healing wounds caused by harassment and alienation from her former church.
When an elderly matriarch of the congregation heard what it meant for this young woman to find an affirming congregation, she said: “Joanie, you are beaming! We have to tell more gay people that it is ok to come to church here!”
If the pastor had stayed silent, he would have never realized he was already pastoring a welcoming and affirming congregation!
We know from both statistics and stories that more than two thirds of people in the pews of most congregations support LGBTQ people. And we know that LGBTQ people suffer when the silence of loving Christians means the only Christian voices they hear are voices of judgment and condemnation.
We’re working to equip Pennsylvania faith leaders with the tools and resources to start these conversations. In partnership with the National LGBTQ Task Force, we’re hosting Building an Inclusive Church trainings all across the state in Southeast, Northeast, Central and Western Pennsylvania. Click here to learn more.
It’s time to have courageous conversations, full of grace.
Will you help us lead the way?
Photo via flickr user lori05871
Black or African American