Many years ago, when my church went through the United Church of Christ’s Open and Affirming process to declare ourselves welcoming and affirming of LGBTQ people, someone in the congregation asked why we needed to make a public declaration. Of course, we were welcoming and affirming. Why did we need to say it?
The LGBTQ members of the congregation responded that, unless a church specifically stated it welcomes LGBTQ folks, they assume it doesn’t, since so many churches don’t welcome queer folks. The congregation responded with emphatic agreement to declare ourselves “Open and Affirming.”
Sunday, June 4, is the second year for Affirming Sunday, an observation begun by three nonprofits that share a mission to empower LGBTQ people and advocate for inclusion, equity and justice. Affirming Sunday is the first Sunday of pride month each year. Its goal is to encourage churches to offer public support for LGBTQ people.
“More progressive Christians have too easily allowed conservatives to stake out anti-LGBTQ beliefs and practices as the norm for Christian faith.”
Given all the current attacks on LGBTQ people around the nation at this moment, churches that welcome LGBTQ people should participate and proclaim their support loudly and proudly. More progressive Christians have too easily allowed conservatives to stake out anti-LGBTQ beliefs and practices as the norm for Christian faith. We need to be vocal and public in countering their claims that God condemns LGBTQ people and God’s people should do the same.
Now is a moment that calls for courage on the part of the progressive Christian church to speak out, especially in those states that are passing laws, every day it seems, to limit LGBTQ rights and visibility.
Adam Evers, co-founder and executive director of NuFoundation, one of the founding organizations of Affirming Sunday, said, “In the face of the recent flood of anti-LGBTQ legislation, it’s crucial that churches mirror the teachings of Jesus, who reminded us in Matthew 7:12, ‘So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.’ Public affirmation of support for the LGBTQ community isn’t just a political statement, it’s a reflection of our commitment to live by these words. In challenging times, we must embody love, respect and acceptance for all, just as we wish to be treated ourselves.”
In particular, right now, we must stand up for our transgender siblings. In transgender people, conservative politicians and religious leaders have found an easy target for bigotry and hate. We should not be fooled by their rhetoric about protecting women. Women are much more likely to be harmed by male pastors and priests than trans women.
“Women are much more likely to be harmed by male pastors and priests than transwomen.”
In fact, the idea that these politicians passing laws against trans people are doing it for women is laughable. If they want to do something for women, they should close the wage gap or end domestic abusers’ access to guns or take rape seriously.
They use trans women in particular as scapegoats and a way to distract from the real issues of gender that do harm to women but that they don’t want to do anything about. If they can get folks worked up about trans women competing in women’s sports, then people won’t notice how they’re taking away all women’s right to bodily autonomy. If they get people focused on gender-affirming medical treatments, then people won’t notice all the dead children in our schools, shot by legally obtained assault rifles, or all the dead children at the border, or all the dead LGBTQ children who were made to feel wrong, sinful, freakish and unloved and so took their own lives.
If we at all take the gospel seriously, we cannot sit silently by in our churches as legislators, governors, pastors and others target transgender people for mistreatment, discrimination, hate and violence.
The old “WWJD” trope was pretty cliché, but I’ve got to ask, what would Jesus do?
I cannot imagine Jesus would pass laws targeting transgender people or deny trans children medical care that could save their lives. Have we forgotten the people Jesus preferred to hang out with were not religious or political leaders but outcasts, people who were impoverished or sick or disabled, political resistors, sex workers, lowlifes and sinners?
Jesus saw and loved the humanity in each person. His harsh words were for religious hypocrites who prayed in public and then turned around and mistreated poor people and women and minoritized others. For Jesus, God’s community is not the self-righteous who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel or point out the mote in someone else’s eye while ignoring the beam in their own. God’s community is all of us, even the people the self-righteous want to leave on the outside.
“The real sin is not being transgender but being transphobic.”
After all, the real sin is not being transgender but being transphobic.
We in more progressive churches need to be shouting the news of God’s inclusive love from the rooftops. The LGBTQ people in my church were right. If the church doesn’t declare itself on the side of queer people, then we’ll assume the church is not a place that welcomes or affirms us. In fact, we’ll assume it’s a place that condemns us.
Affirming Sunday is an opportunity for churches to take a public stance as we begin Pride month to stand alongside LGBTQ people. Especially, churches can use this moment to proclaim our solidarity with transgender people and commit ourselves to work on behalf of transgender rights.
Like transgender people, God crosses border and barriers, and God calls us to do the same. Let’s use Affirming Sunday as one way to do that.
Susan M. Shaw is professor of women, gender and sexuality studies at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore. She also is an ordained Baptist minister and holds master’s and doctoral degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Her most recent book is Intersectional Theology: An Introductory Guide, co-authored with Grace Ji-Sun Kim.
What our Wilshire congregation learned: Have ‘the conversation’ anyway | Opinion by Mark Wingfield