One of the big issues at General Assembly involved a statement apologizing to the LGBTQI community. Unfortunately, a beautiful and well-crafted apology was hijacked, made political, and really changed into something that said nothing. The joke among many bloggers was that it was our denomination’s official un-apology that states regret to the gay community. If people actually read the text, the real irony is that the statement pities conservatives for not being progressive enough to accept the gay community, which was not part of the original. Let us just say that the statement left a lot to be desired.
Before I go any further, I should also state that I think there is a lot that the denomination needs to do to apologize to the more conservative side of the church. As I noticed at the last General Assembly, probably more than at this one, the liberal faction of the church actively went out of their way to suppress conservatives’ voice, and organizations spent too much time trying to get power or win, rather than listening for God. This was wholly evident in this General Assembly when one group used the issue of the gay apology for their own political gain.
But the situation was ripe for that to happen. For the most part, people wanted to be conciliatory, but in doing so, instead of discussing why an apology was necessary, the focus was on what the headlines will say and what the people will think. That is understandable for an institution that has gone through what we have, but we really missed the chance to educate why this is important and how we as a church have the power to change the discourse on LGBT issues within the faith context.
I think the apology really got sidetracked because people didn’t know or understand why an apology was necessary. Fifteen years ago, I would not have known the history, and could have sat on the side asking why this is important. I know that is true for many of you. In fact, a few days ago, I was driving someone from church on an errand. She was marveling at how far they’d come and how quickly the gay community had received their rights. I looked at her saying, “Seriously!” For her, the fight was 20 to 30 years. For the gay community, it goes back through time. Though we only know through documentation, homosexuality and transgender acceptance has varied. At some times and places it was accepted, and other times and places rejected, but even when accepted, LGBT people were still another class of citizen.
Interestingly, prior to the Nazi regime, Berlin was one of the more progressive and accepting communities. Some historians have marveled at how similar it was to our gay community. But like many things, the hate and distrust of those who were different spawned the rarely taught but all too real pink holocaust, where gay men were sent to camps during World War II. Though fewer in number were killed than the Jews, they were often subjected to inhumane experiments, and most were castrated. By the end of the war, this community was not able to integrate back into the society, and some were transferred right from the concentration camps to jails. While the church did not have an active role in the abuse, they turned their heads and did not raise voice.
This complicity with that torture is understandable, since it would be common for men who were found out to be gay to be castrated, jailed, or killed. When I first studied this, I was amazed to learn that in my lifetime people around the world were and are still subjected to this treatment for their sexual orientation. Even today, in parts of the world, the threat of death is a reality. Along with the abuses and persecution of gay men, few know the pains and struggles of lesbian women and transgendered people, who have been raped, jailed, or killed. The worst part is that in almost every instance when you find a justification for this treatment, it is not only with the support and complicity of the Church, but its encouragement.
Some will say, “But that was then.” Unfortunately, as with many things, the justification for bullies to pick on LGBTQI children and societies to make laws against them or target them for other abuses are justified by eisegetical interpretations of a couple minor passages in the Bible, not science or the metanarrative of faith.
We can see these justifications play out in North Carolina, as there really is no basis for laws excluding transgender people from the restrooms of their identified gender, outside of a religious argument. But laws are one thing, our attitudes are something else! Personally, I think that people’s attitudes are more harmful, because unjust laws can be broken, and I know many who are doing just that! But it is impossible to escape people’s attitudes. Even when you try to escape, the painful realities are there.
What makes it even harder for the gay community is that while we have made strides towards inclusion, even in the most inclusive places, the attitudes justified through religious teachings persist. Though not widely reported, gay hate crimes are still high in number. Even in NYC, the famous Greenwich Village area has had a rise in gay hate crimes, and we cannot forget about the Pulse nightclub shooting. For me, it was amazing that the government, who is never quick to label something as terrorism, did so within hours. It took the media, and the rest of the government, to begin to figure out that the issue that was more important than the terrorism was the anti-gay hate that played into the attack in Orlando.
It is time that we stop and think about things. As Gay Pride month comes to a close, we need to think about how we have played into the persecution of our brothers and sisters. We need to think about how our attitudes towards LGBTQI people are complicit within the persecution, as well as how we need to change to let everyone know that there is a place at the table for them, with no qualifiers or political equivocations.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen