With his endorsement of an anti-gay Constitutional amendment, President George Bush fired the opening shot in a new culture war. This new war — launched ironically by the President who promised to be a “uniter, not a divider” — has not only divided the larger culture, but has also created a divide between faith groups.
Fundamentalist and conservative religious groups have become the foot soldiers in this new culture war — a war in which LGBT families are the declared enemy.
How did this happen — after four decades of struggle, advancement, and activism for our civil rights? It’s happened in part because the President has blurred the lines that separate church and state. (By the way, let me make a disclaimer: I am a strong believer in freedom of religion for LGBT people who wish to follow a spiritual path — and in freedom from religion for those who do not.)
The struggle for marriage equality is not new — but it is now more visible. In 1969, I performed the first same-sex church wedding in the U.S. at the predominantly gay Metropolitan Community Church of Los Angeles. In 1970, MCC filed the first-ever suit against the State of California seeking legal recognition of same-sex marriages. In 1975, Metropolitan Community Church performed the first legal U.S. same-sex church wedding with a civil marriage license. In 2001, Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto filed the lawsuit that led to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada. (My partner Phillip and I were proudly married under Canadian law in July 2003.) In February 2004, I filed suit against the County of Los Angeles seeking recognition of legal Canadian marriages and demanding the issuance of marriage licenses to same-sex couples. This year in San Francisco, Albuquerque and Portland, MCC clergy have performed hundreds of same-sex weddings with civil marriage licenses. And every year, Metropolitan Community Churches across the U.S. perform more than 6000 same-sex weddings — marriages that are blessed by God, but still denied legal recognition by most governments.
Perhaps the most worrisome part of this debate is the President’s repeated appeal to “protect the sanctity of marriage.” “Sanctity” is word with a religious connotation; it means “holy or religiously sacred.” How in heaven did the current government get involved in that?
Take for example the President’s current favorite phrase “sanctity of marriage.” It’s time we were all asking just how much sanctity there is when the law allows straight couples to marry strangers on reality TV shows and permits couples to be married in drive-through chapels with Elvis impersonators? Want a real debate on the “sanctity of marriage”? How about discussion of a Britney Amendment?
There is a genuine societal threat that is far greater than any imagined threat to heterosexual marriage — and that’s the current attempt by fundamentalist religious groups to impose their spiritual values on the LGBT communities and in the law.
I’ve wrestled with this question: What makes so many conservative religious leaders support the denial of our LGBT legal rights? As a religious leader who has worked for 35 years in the LGBT communities, let me suggest that such views may flow naturally from a flawed and negative view of God.
My longtime ministry with LGBT people reminds me that there is a deep well of spirituality in our communities. The oppression and rejection we’ve experienced from far too many faith groups has not killed our spirituality — for many of us it has served to deepen our faith and strengthen our spiritual lives.
The current culture war has only highlighted the stark and opposing views of God within our culture. And for people of faith, how one views God has a powerful impact on one’s worldview.
Believe me, there is a strong correlation between believing that God is harsh, controlling and vengeful — and a worldview that wants to control people and impose its views on others. The Church did this to African-American people in defending slavery, only later to apologize and confess its sin. For centuries, many churches used the Bible to oppress women, only later to apologize and confess its sin. Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are still waiting for our apology and confession
Many LGBT people of faith have discovered a very different God: a God of creation, love, diversity, joy and hope. Many of us have discovered a God of liberation through whom we integrate our sexuality and our spirituality. This faith view is so profound and positive that many writers and researchers now refer to it specifically as “Queer Spirituality.” Is it any wonder there is such a wellspring in our community to expand freedom and to enjoy the promise of liberty and justice?
As a Christian, the greatest irony is that conservative Christians are using references to Jesus in their anti-gay rhetoric. But here’s what they fail to tell you: Jesus never once mentioned or condemned homosexuality. Not once. Not anywhere. Somehow they left that bit of information out of the discussion. Is it any wonder that one of my favorite bumper stickers says, “Jesus, deliver us from your followers.”
Here’s what I do know: Jesus spent a lot of time talking about love — and that’s something that’s missing in both the rhetoric and actions of anti-gay religious groups.
In my own faith tradition as a Christian, we celebrate Jesus as Love Incarnate. Love is the most noble expression of spirituality. Over the past 35 years, I’ve officiated at hundreds and hundreds of weddings for same-sex couples. Every year, Metropolitan Community Churches around the world perform more than 6000 gay and lesbian marriages. And this is my testimony: In each and every one of those weddings I have sensed the presence of Love Incarnate and witnessed the depth of love present in our community.
How odd — how perfectly odd — that fundamentalist Christians are actively working to destroy our LGBT expressions of love and our commitment to one another. Maybe they should give a bit more thought to those bracelets that read, “What would Jesus do?” And maybe they would benefit from a healthy dose of “Queer Spirituality.”
In the current political debate, be reminded that distorted views of God invariably lead to the distortion of values and freedoms. It’s time for the current presidential administration to stop worshipping the God of political expediency — and take a fresh look at the God of love and justice.
And if political leaders insist on bringing their spiritual views to the public dialogue, maybe it’s time we began asking them: Whose God do you serve?
An American religious leader and gay and human rights activist, Rev. Troy Deroy Perry Jr. is founder of the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches. On June 28, 1970, with two friends, Morris Kight and Bob Humphries, he founded Christopher Street West to hold an annual Pride parade that is now the world’s oldest. His books include the autobiography The Lord is My Shepherd and He Knows I’m Gay and a sequel titled Don’t Be Afraid Anymore, plus Profiles in Gay and Lesbian Courage and 10 Spiritual Truths For Gays and Lesbians* (*and everyone else!). He was a contributing editor for the book Is Gay Good?