This post was first published in my hometown newspaper, The Gallup Independent, on October 17, 2015 in the weekly "Religious Perspectives" column. I have been contributing to this column for several years. This is the most personal column I ever submitted.
I grew up in the Navajo Nation and in Gallup in the 1950s and 1960s. I was the child of Christian missionaries. When I was twelve I started teaching Sunday school in the church in Tohlakai. When I was sixteen I taught religious instruction in the BIA school at Ft. Wingate, and I brought gospel messages in the Gallup Detention Center on Sunday afternoons. I longed to receive God’s call to serve him.
Something else happened when I was sixteen. Two women who loved each other were driven away from the mission compound where they served. I realized that I would also be condemned, because I too, loved other women. Later I would find my tribe—the LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Questioning) tribe. At the time, though, I was terrified because I knew that there was no place for me in the only world I knew. I felt utterly alone. It took nine years for me to leave the church that condemned me as disordered and unworthy unless I would live my life without the love of a spouse. During those nine years, I tried twice to kill myself. After forty years of wandering, trying to find my way back, I found a church that welcomed me. Once again I became part of a faith community.
This summer the Supreme Court decided that LGBTQ people have the same right to marry as anyone else. Things got better for a lot of LGBTQ people. They also got worse for a lot of people, especially for LGBTQ young people. Many faith communities have become very loud in their rejection and condemnation of LGBTQ people. Many communities and individuals send out messages of hate, instead of love and welcome. This rejection is especially damaging to young people. A national study of adolescents in grades 7-12 found that lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers. About 25% of transgender youth report suicide attempts.
If you are a member of a faith community, there can be no doubt that there are LGBTQ young people worshipping with you. You see them every week. If your community welcomes LGBTQ people as equals, these young people may feel safe enough to let you know who they are; or they may not feel safe enough for other reasons.
I am not trying to convince anyone in a faith community that homosexuality is right from a religious standpoint. But I do want to help you think about how, as a member of a faith community, you can follow these words of wisdom: “We don’t have to agree about anything to be kind to one another.” I especially want to challenge you to think about the fact that nowhere are LGBTQ people more soundly and roundly rejected than by their faith communities, and especially in evangelical and fundamentalist Christian ones.
More importantly, I want to challenge you, if you are a member of a faith community, to welcome the LGBTQ people in your midst (they are there), regardless of what your beliefs are. That is what Jesus did—he challenged the people of his time by hanging out with the outcasts of that day—adulterers, tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers—to name a few. Who would Jesus hang out with today? Would it be with the church leaders who are stirring up hatred, those who are engaged in judgment?
I want to challenge you to practice that Second Great Commandment—to love unconditionally. To not feel that you have to say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” To not feel you have to quote Romans 1:26 & 27—or any other condemnatory verses. Trust me; they’ve heard them before. Those LGBTQ youth need you, not your condemnation. They need to know that they don’t have to leave parts of themselves outside the door of their faith communities in order to be welcome.
Maybe, really, it comes down to this: If you decide whether someone else is in wrong relationship with God, you are breaking the first of the Ten Commandments. You are placing yourself before God. Looked at another way, you are violating Jesus’ command not to judge.
My faith community should have been the place I could go to for refuge, for safety. Instead it became a place fraught with danger when I was my most vulnerable. A faith community’s job, as I see it, is to support its members and leave the convicting and the judging up to God. There are far more verses in the Bible commanding us to love, be kind and strive for unity than there are verses that people today use to condemn homosexuality.
© Anna Redsand 2015 All Rights Reserved