NORMAN — In the weeks before Christmas something remarkable happened in Norman.
A small coalition of Christian churches — the Quakers, St. Stephens Methodist, United Church of Norman UCC and First Presbyterian Church in Norman — co-sponsored an ad in The Transcript that simply read, “Not all Christians are anti-gay. As Christians we welcome, honor and affirm LGBT persons and their families.”
But those two sentences were noticed and talked about around the world, from Australia to California. Such is the power of modern media. Behind those two sentences lay months of visits, networking, appeals to clergy, requests to parish councils and vestries. In the end, four churches, out of a dozen approached, signed on to that simple welcome.
The experience of trying to get Christian pastors to speak a word of welcome to LGBT persons has made me realize why so many gay and lesbian people feel such profound alienation from the church. Surveys among LGBT persons indicate a widespread experience of rejection and hostility at the hands of Christians, and a sense that the church is not the place of healing, compassion and welcome but uniquely the single greatest threat to their physical safety and civil rights. And can we blame them?
Christian leaders are sanctioning violence against gay people around the world. Nigeria’s Catholic Archbishop recently praised as “courageous and wise” that country’s draconian new anti-gay laws which, among other things, makes holding hands with a person of the same gender a crime. And anyone who attempts, officiates or attends a marriage between persons of the same sex will be jailed. Words do indeed have consequences.
After the Archbishop’s statement this week, mobs roamed the Nigerian Capital pulling suspected gay persons from their homes and beating them with impunity while the police joined in.
Groups of babushka clad grandmothers prowl the streets in Russia with vigilantes and stone persons perceived to be gay with rocks daily brought to the Orthodox churches to be blessed by priests. These things, and worse, are happening around the world. They are happening here.