The church saved me when I was a teenager. Maybe that is why my heart breaks each time the church does something like push the passage of Amendment One.
By the time I was approaching high school I was a depressed, lonely kid who had already started drinking and hanging out with older people who were into more dangerous substances. Then I began playing softball with a group from a local church and the youth minister made a big impact on me. I accepted his invitation to come to a Bible study. That’s all it took. I found acceptance, support and a lot of love. Within a year I had gone from a lost kid with no direction to one who was clear he was going to spend his life as a minister.
More than thirty years later much has changed for me. The way I think about God, the world and most other things is very different than the ideas taught to me in that West Texas congregation. After working inside the church as a minister for most of those years I now work on the outside as a counselor. One thing remains unchanged, though. I am grateful that those good people took an interest in me and gave me a direction when I desperately needed it.
That is what faith institutions do at their best. They welcome in lost souls. They give hope to the hopeless. They provide support and nurture. They remind us to be our best, loving selves.
Amendment One is an example of the church at its worst. The overwhelming number of people who voted for the amendment in the rural counties of our state were largely following the teachings of their churches. They were being committed to the faith as it has been taught to them. So, my issue is not with the folks who went to the polls and voted for this travesty. My issue is with the way the church continues to betray its own values when it comes to major civil rights issues.
The church not only was late in embracing the equality of all races, it led the way in this country in reinforcing the crimes of slavery and segregation. The church not only was silent about the unequal treatment of women in our society, but remains a leading force in maintaining patriarchal systems. And the church not only accepts the blatant discrimination against LGBT citizens, but provides the ammunition to blast such good people with weapons like Amendment One.
The church at its worst disregards its own teachings about inclusion, hospitality and welcoming the stranger in exchange for a distorted notion of purity that says anyone who is different is deviant and must be excluded. Then it goes a step further and says not only must those who are different be excluded from the church, they must be excluded from acceptance anywhere in society. How cruel. What a mockery of Jesus‘ spirit and teachings.
I know I am painting with a broad brush and ignoring the fact that many people of faith, and courageous clergy, fought against Amendment One. Their voices may not have won the day, but history will smile on their efforts and celebrate their attempt to articulate a different vision of faith.
I am also neglecting to name the truth that in all the great civil rights movements in this country people of faith were involved in leading the way. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many others who changed this nation in the fifties and sixties were motivated chiefly by their understanding of the Christian tradition. In that tradition they found the truth that justice and equality for all are virtues worth fighting for.
Right now, though, in the aftermath of our state voting discrimination into our constitution under the direction of church leaders, I cannot think about such things. I am hurt and grieving. I am angry and bitter. The church that took me in when I needed support as a teen has led the way in rejecting thousands of people simply because of who they are. Some of those people are my friends and family.
So what do I do when an institution that gave me life and direction becomes the source of hurt and rejection for so many others? Do I turn away from it? Do I face it with fury and cast every stone I can get my hands on? Or do I try and remind the church that the enormous good it has done for me and so many others must be done for our LGBT sisters and brothers too?
I’m not sure. I want to say the latter, but I’m really pissed off right now.