Editor's note: After a religious coalition in North Carolina joined a lawsuit against Amendment One, we decided to explore the intersections of faith and homosexuality. Last week we published a guest column by a Charlotte rabbi and minister involved in the suit, and this week, Ailen looks into recent events that have challenged inclusive-minded Christians.
For those of us who identify as Christian or LGBT and Christian but also believe in equality, the last few months have been cringe-inducing.
First, there was the World Vision situation. In late March, the Christian charity known for activating your tear ducts and making you reach for your wallet with promises of saving a child's life with less than one dollar a day announced that it would allow married same-sex couples to work in its American branch. The decision was reversed a few days later when thousands of World Vision's supporters cancelled their child sponsorships. Because obviously, children in Burundi don't deserve food and clean water if there is a gay accountant in Washington state processing the donations.
Locally, there was the incident with the nun who led an assembly at Charlotte Catholic High School, where she allegedly linked homosexuality to masturbation and divorce. Never mind that Pope Francis has said, "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Sister Jane Dominic Laurel saw fit to devote half her hour-long lecture to the issue of homosexuality when, as the student who created a petition criticizing the event said, that time "could have been spent condemning world hunger, gun violence, the death penalty, unjust care of the elderly, human trafficking, genocide, discrimination, etcetera."
And most recently, we have the Benham brothers, who got dumped by HGTV because of their anti-gay views. It just happens that David Benham led a massive prayer rally in Charlotte the night before the Democratic National Convention in 2012. At the time he told conservative radio host Janet Mefferd that the location of the rally was decided by the results of the Amendment One vote. "So we had all the rural areas and all the suburban areas but we lost all the cities. So I felt like, 'OK, it's time that we have a citywide church service of repentance,' and that's the reason that we decided to do it right in the heart of Charlotte the night before the DNC."
Basically, Dunham was asking God to send us more bigots.
It's no wonder that, according to the Pew Research Center, the percentage of LGBT Americans who consider themselves religiously unaffiliated is over twice the percentage for the general population. The Rev. Catherine Houchins, pastor at Metropolitan Community Church of Charlotte, an LGBT-inclusive congregation on Eastway Drive, has seen how difficult it is for members of the LGBT community to attend church. "Many of my members grew up in the church, hearing that God loves them. And then they came out of the closet and were told, by that same church, that they were going to hell. It's very difficult for them to feel comfortable in a church setting again. I had a member who had a very negative connotation to the stained glass windows in our building because they reminded him of the church where he grew up."
Houchins, who preaches from the Bible and leads communion every Sunday, says her church is not much different from any other evangelical congregation. And, just like the hundreds of other churches in our city, the most significant value it provides its members is a sense of community. "We have folks come from as far as Salisbury every Sunday because here, they feel like they belong."
Still, while there are pockets of inclusion and acceptance of LGBT folks in the church, the vast majority of Christian denominations consider homosexuality to be a sin. The few Bible verses on the issue — about which Jesus never spoke, by the way — are often used to justify the church's actions. Houchins and many Bible scholars believe that those texts are poorly translated and taken out of context.
I have read many well-researched, thought-out, compelling arguments that come to the conclusion that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality, a viewpoint that I share.
When I tell Houchins that I wish we had more thorough, reasoned debates about this issue with those on the other side, she doesn't see it as a likely possibility. And then she tells me about a workshop she took on homosexuality and scripture several years ago. After going through all the research on the definition of ancient terms and the societal norms at the time the Bible was written, her professor asked the class, "What if none of this is true? What difference would that make?"
He answered by making everything much more simple. "What makes you able to be a gay Christian is if the spirit of God lives in you."