Monday, June 27, 2016

Lyle's Words on Sunday: Religion and the LGBTQ Community Post-Orlando

I am posting this with Lyle's permission.  Lyle is one of our very active folk at Clayton Valley Presbyterian Church.  He delivered this on Sunday to much applause as well as many tears.  I am grateful for Lyle's courage in sharing his experience and his challenge to us all to be more and do more for those who are so often mistreated by the Church at large:

Religion and the LGBTQ Community Post-Orlando
by: Lyle Swallow
[Delivered at Clayton Valley Presbyterian Church
Gay Pride Sunday June 26,2016]

"I am a gay man in the San Francisco Bay Area who is proud of and committed to his church."  Let me repeat that statement.  "I am a gay man in the San Francisco Bay Area who is proud of and committed to his church."

I say this for an important reason: I am becoming more rare every day.  What you need to know, if you don't already know it, is that more and more members of the LGBTQ community are rejecting religion of any kind – organized or otherwise.  Sometimes they are just being quietly agnostic or atheistic.  Other times – and it is the loud ones you hear – they are openly hostile and vitriolic about religion.  They hate the church and religion.  They see it as evil and the cause of great suffering in the world.  And they are very vocal about it.  The recent incidents in Orlando have raised the fire under that pot.

Let me give you an example.  The Wednesday after the horrible killings in Orlando I attended a meeting of gay leather men in San Francisco.  People were checking in with each other about Orlando and generally trying to take care of each other emotionally.  Someone mentioned the sermon the previous Sunday by the Pastor at Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento and the room exploded.  A thoughtful man I greatly respect said quietly:   "Religion is the root of all evil."  My reply thought was – "No, evil is the root of all evil".  Please note, in my opinion, in acting this way, the LGBTQ folks are actually engaging in their own unhealthy conduct.  They are doing what they say they don't want others to do:  categorizing peoples or groups and then vilifying the entire group.  They are demonizing all religions and all religious people for the acts of some.

Don't get me wrong.  Among my LGBTQ friends in the Bay Area are some who are actively engaged in religious activities and spirituality.  They include a good friend who is the pastor at MCC San Francisco, a lesbian couple who are both very active in their synagogue and at which one is on the board, faculty and graduate students and Pacific School of Religion, and many people whom I consider to be incredibly spiritual, whether or not affiliated with a formal religious organization. 

But, my impression is that the numbers who oppose religion in any form completely are growing.  And the church has to accept that it has played and IS playing a HUGE part in this.  It is no surprise that so many LGBTQ people feel the way they do:
·       Many of them were rejected by or expelled from their churches because they were gay or queer or transgender.
·       Many were told over and over again by their churches that they are hated, they are evil, they are sinners, they will go to hell.
·       Many have been shunned and excluded by their families because of strict religious beliefs.  It is no surprise that such significant numbers of homeless youth are gay and transgender –they have been kicked out by their families, frequently because of religious beliefs.
·       Some have actually been publicly "outed" by others in their religious organization, which threatened jobs and family relationships.
·       They hear about and have to deal with open hatred from so-called clergy, like the pastor at Verity Baptist Church in Sacramento who only wished that MORE gays and lesbians had been shot and killed in Orlando.  There are way too many clergy who preach that gays should be dead.
·       They see a sign outside of a Salvation Army church after the Orlando shooting that says:  "Well, you asked for a sign from God."
·       They drive by a church marquee that says:  "Satan made gays and transgenders"
·       Daily they hear state and federal politicians say awful things about LGBTQ people as a class, and making ridiculous and unfounded statements to support narrow and bigoted views.
·       State legislatures are trying to pass laws to formally permit and sanction businesses discriminating against LGBTQ people because of their religious beliefs.
·       Religious charities go out of their way to prohibit gays and lesbians from adopting kids.

Over and over and over they experience or hear about awful, terrible things that are done to or said about LGBTQ people because of religious beliefs.

So, is it any wonder that these people have chosen to reject the people and institutions that vilify us, that want to deprive us of our rights, even want us dead, don't want us to exist?

And, is it any wonder that I and so many others are ecstatic when a church like Clayton Valley goes so far as to fly a rainbow flag?  I don't think you can fully appreciate what an amazing thing that is to us LBGT folks.

I am going to borrow some questions from a speech made by the Lieutenant Governor of Utah following the mass killing in Orlando and ask that you consider how you and people you know might respond to these questions:

When you heard about the shooting in Orlando, how did you feel? 
When you heard it was mostly LGBT people who were killed, did that change
how you feel?

You care it is gay people now.  Did you care about them on the Saturday BEFORE the

Let me be clear, I am not asserting or even suggesting that the horrible actions and statements I have described reflect the beliefs of many in the religious communities.  I am fairly confident they are not the views of anyone in this congregation.

But, the bottom line is that organized religion is losing ground FAST in the LGBT community.  And the only way to counter that is for EVERYONE to affirmatively do something.  So, I am going to challenge you today.  I am going to challenge you to ACT.  Action will speak volumes – much more that platitudes.  And there are lots of ways you can do that:

·       Don’t tell me how you feel.  Do something.  
·       Don’t tell me how sad you are.  Do something. 
·       When someone tells a homophobic joke in a meeting, stand up and say “you can’t say that around me”. 
·       Write to your politicians and object to laws that discriminate against LGBTQ people.
·       When you hear someone in your family or circle of friends say bigoted or unkind things about LGBTQ people, stop them and educate them.  Tell them it is not OK for them to feel that way or to say those things.
·       Support fundraisers for the various LGBTQ causes – from the Rainbow Community Center, to youth programs, to housing for LBGT seniors. 
·       Don't tell me you support LGBTQ people – DO something.
·       Don't just say that you disagree with evil Pastor Jimenez in Sacramento or the many other clergy who vilify gays – ACT.  Write to them and to their congregations.  Attend a protest rally at the Sacramento church.

Don't get me wrong.  I fully appreciate and applaud all that CVPC is doing with respect to LGBTQ issues and to many other causes.  I literally applaud all of you for that and, again, say that this church's stand and its decision to fly the rainbow flag is more meaningful and impactful than you will ever know.  And I KNOW some of you individually are already engaged and taking action in many ways on many issues.  For that I say a heartfelt Thank You.  And to the rest of you I urge you to – stand up, speak out, act up.  ACT!  And be sure that the people you engage with know of your connection to this church so that they SEE the face of the church  You are the church.

I want to close the way I began.  I am VERY proud of this church community.  And I am very committed to this church community.  You have much to show others.  So I urge you to Act.  As Christians and as loving people.  As the Dalai Lama has said:  "It is not enough to be compassionate, we must act."  Thank you and God bless you.