By Robert Mann
Theodore Parker, the 19th century Unitarian minister and abolitionist, was right: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” History takes a circuitous route, but it inexorably gravitates toward acknowledging the dignity and inherent worth of every person. Fitfully – and with some maddening steps backward – minorities, immigrants, refugees and other marginalized people will continue to earn greater rights and wider public acceptance.
And, eventually, perhaps 10 years hence, we will glance back at today’s nasty, politically motivated struggle over transgender rights and ask, “What, exactly, did we fight about?”
I’ve given up hope that Louisiana’s political leaders will soon muster the courage to “bend toward justice” on LGBT issues. That’s one reason, as a person of faith, I find it particularly tragic that so many religious leaders lack the fortitude to lead their flocks towards greater acceptance of gay and transgender individuals. And I’m not talking about hate mongers in the style of Tony Perkins, Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson.
In many churches, you’ll find pastors who regard themselves as something like progressives simply because they deliver anodyne sermonettes about the Biblical imperative to love everyone. These admonitions, unfortunately, too often come in the spirit of the old saying, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”
These lessons usually feature the “normal,” accepted ones versus “the sinners” – those degenerates whom God loves in spite of abhorring their “lifestyle.” We must love these people, parishioners are told, but that doesn’t mean literally embracing them. Like the Levite and the priest in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, too many churches regard society’s injured and marginalized as lovable, but only in the abstract. In the religious world, they are often our modern-day lepers, thus the recent irrational fear of transgender people entering the “wrong” bathroom.
It’s beyond tragic that gay, lesbian and transgender people often find no place of comfort in their faith communities. Certainly, many churches have embraced LGBT individuals. The Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the Reform Jewish Movement and the Unitarians, to name a few, not only perform same-sex weddings; they have also ordained LGBT pastors or rabbis. These are, however, still a minority.
The Roman Catholic Church, most Baptist churches, the Mormons and my own United Methodist Church persist in officially characterizing homosexuality as a sinful lifestyle choice.
Thankfully, my despair over the loveless “love” evinced by so many religious types sometimes gives way to gleams of hope. Over the past week, I had a glimpse into what I pray is the future of the church universal after stumbling across two eloquent columns written by Baptist preachers, one in Dallas and the other in Mississippi. Both demonstrated the spirit our faith communities desperately need – a commitment to share the good news that God doesn’t simply accept us; he pursues and embraces us. Yes, that mean even gay, lesbian and transgender people.
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