Archive for May, 2014

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2014 6 May

Speaking Up for LGBTQ Rights

Posted in Steinbach United

 Speaking Up for LGBTQ Rights

by Moderator  Gary Paterson

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What is it about homosexuality that seems to rile up so many Christians, as if this were something that was about to destroy the world? Seems to stir up far more passion than issues of poverty, war, or climate change. It turns out that playing the “homosexual card” and stoking the fears of a “gay agenda” (i.e. “They’re taking over the world!”) often leads to the most successful religious fundraisers in the United States; that troubles me!

I remember the gathering of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Korea last fall, where thousands of people protested, waving placards that condemned the WCC for supporting interfaith dialogue and accepting homosexuals… and yes, it was good Christian folk who were leading the charge.

More recently there’s been the anti-LGBTQ legislation in Russia, brought forward with the support and encouragement of some Russian churches; on occasion, religious leaders have been on the front lines of those protesting gay pride parades.

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News keeps arriving from various places in Africa where LGBTQ people now face lengthy prison sentences simply for being who they are; and once again Christians have been at the forefront of supporting and even demanding such a position.

In the last few weeks we have seen the reaction to World Vision’s decision in the U.S. that married gay couples were “acceptable,” or, at least, could be hired to work for the organization. Reactions from various evangelical churches were swift and condemning; some denominations leapt into the fray, telling their membership to immediately stop all financial support, even to the point of reneging on commitments to support foster children. Faced by the power and pressure of money, World Vision reversed its position within two days, and ate humble pie; it was not a pretty sight.

And, of course, we have been having our own Canadian discussion about whether or not Trinity Western University can open a law school where all students must sign a covenant that demands celibacy in singleness, and sexual expression only in heterosexual marriage, one of those situations where religious freedom and human rights seem to be in conflict. However, I keep thinking, I am one of “those” people who could not attend Trinity Western Law School – and that seems wrong, especially when the school receives government support, and is graduating lawyers who are sworn to uphold human rights.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA[Photo: Colombian Methodist Church.]

I want to share with you, though, that the news is not all bad; when I recently travelled to Colombia and Cuba, something quite remarkable happened. Our partners knew that I was gay, married, and open about it. Perhaps 10 years ago that would have been a problem, but now, in some parts of Latin America the situation is changing, and Tim and I were asked on five different occasions to present workshops on gender justice and the building of an inclusive community. People wanted to hear the story of what had happened for LGBTQ people in the United Church and how our personal story interconnected with that larger church story. Everyone realized that we were simply telling “our” story, within our context; we weren’t offering answers. But we became “conversation starters” as people talked about the “issue” in their own context; there were lots of questions… and challenges. It was a marvellous experience, filled with an openness and readiness to engage – two workshops with the Colombian Methodist Church congregations, in Cali and in Pereira (where the congregation is served by an openly gay minister); and two workshops with a communication/justice partner in Bogota (CEPALC), that brought together leaders from eight different denominations – and at the end of the day, they all committed to continue the conversation.

Another highlight came at the Ecumenical Seminary in Matanzas, Cuba, when the faculty, student body and members of neighbouring churches came together for an evening workshop. A group of Baptists were part of the event – turned out they had formed an LGBTQ support group at their church, and, thanks to the movement of the Spirit, our presentation became an opportunity for some of them to “come out” publically. One man was 71 – and when he and I were in conversation he said, “I heard you when you said that it usually takes an institution like the church about 25 years to make a significant change on issues of importance or substance.  I think you’re right – which means I’m not going to see the promised land. But I have to tell you that I am very happy to have been here tonight, when we took some first steps.”

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I am so grateful to be part of the United Church, where last August we celebrated 25 years of recognizing LGBTQ people as full members of the Body of Christ, of the church. Sure, our denomination is not perfect, and there are times and places where prejudice still rears its head; but it’s changing, and it continues to get better, more just, and inclusive. I want this news to make the headlines, at least on occasion, so that the world, the “spiritual but not religious,” the great and growing numbers of the “un-churched,” don’t think that what they hear and see in the headlines is the sum total of a Christian understanding of homosexuality. I want them to hear our message about acceptance and affirmation – “There’s a place for you!”

But how to speak up on this issue without sounding self-righteous and finger-wagging? How to do this effectively and creatively – not fostering an old colonial image of “we know best,” while, on the other hand, not daring to speak up about what we believe to be true? And how do we raise questions of justice, and challenge our brothers and sisters in other denominations to take steps towards a more generous and inclusive understanding of the gospel, without hurting important ecumenical relationships? One resource you may find helpful in thinking about this is now available on The United Church of Canada’s website: Moving Toward Full Inclusion: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in The United Church of Canada [PDF].

Questions worth sitting with… and acting upon.

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[Photos by The United Church of Canada, unless otherwise indicted.]

 

Gary Paterson | May 6, 2014 at 9:12 am | Tags: gaygay rightsinclusionLGBTlgbtq | Categories: Uncategorized | URL: http://wp.me/p2RwbK-oh