Wine and Wafer as Weapons? The Regrettable Politics of Holy Communion

Seems that every election cycle, there’s an unholy alliance of politicians and fundamentalist religious leaders who unite to attack the LGBT community.

Well, here we go again.

In its latest incarnation, there’s a movement ­ an epidemic, actually ­ of religious leaders who have lost sight of religion’s most noble goals. This time they’re using Holy Communion as a political and spiritual weapon against LGBT people.

In recent weeks, one can hardly pick up a newspaper without reading how another religious leader or religious group has turned Christianity’s most sacred rite into a weapon against LGBT people.

  • In Chicago, LGBT Roman Catholics wearing rainbow sashes were denied Holy Communion as they knelt at the church altar.
  • In Dallas, Bishop Charles Grahman has recommended that supporters of same-gender marriage not be given Communion.
  • Arizona’s Bishop Thomas Olmsted said, “Anyone living contrary” to Catholic teaching “should not receive Communion.”
  • In Boston, Archbishop Sean O’Malley has suggested political leaders who support gay rights or reproductive rights stop taking Communion.
  • And taking it to its extreme, Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs suggested that Catholics who so much as vote for political supporters ofsame-sex marriage not receive communion until they “recant and repent.”

I agree that some “recanting and repenting” is needed ­ but it needs to start with religious leaders who have taken Christianity’s most blessed rite and turned it into a political weapon against LGBT people and LGBT-friendly politicians.

For Christians, communion commemorates the life and death of Jesus. It is an act of our faith, and is held in common by every Christian everywhere. Now, what God intended as a spiritual blessing is being used as a political weapon again LGBT people of faith.

In the predominantly LGBT Metropolitan Community Churches, we practice an “open communion.” We believe the bread and wine of the Communion altar do not belong to any one group or church. The ancient creeds teach it is the “table of God, prepared for the people of God.”

And that includes God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender children.

Because so many LGBT people have experienced rejection by faith communities, families and friends, Holy Communion is an exceptionally moving, intimate rite in Metropolitan Community Churches. For thousands of HIV positive people during those awful, early years of the AIDS crisis, the weekly MCC Communion Service was the only time they experienced human touch, as the server placed the bread and wine on their lips, spoke a blessing, and offered a gentle embrace. By its very communal nature, Holy Communion invites and embraces us.

How very sad that any religious leader would build a wall of separation around the Communion altar to which God invites all people to come.

In October 1968, I led the first worship service of Metropolitan Community Church in the living room of my home in Huntington Park, California. I had seen far too many LGBT people who had been rejected by their faith communities. I had seen too many of our people hurt by organized religion ­ religion that had moved far from its roots of love, compassion, healing and forgiveness. I dreamed of a church where God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children could worship God freely and openly.

Twelve people gathered in my home for that first service in 1968. We sang the hymns. We offered our prayers. I preached a sermon.

And at the close of the service I offered Holy Communion.

These are the words that instituted that first Communion Service in MCC ­ and that are repeated in MCC churches around the world each week, “At MCC, we practice an open communion. This altar is God’s table, and God invites all to come. The table of God is prepared for the people of God. You are welcome at this table.”

As each person stepped forward to receive the bread and wine at that first MCC service, the most amazing thing happened. Nothing prepared me for it. Tears began to roll down the cheeks of the person receiving Holy Communion. The tears were spontaneous and authentic and came from some deep place inside. It happened to every single person who received communion in that first service.

Let me tell you what had happened: LGBT people who had been shut out from faith communities had found a place where they were welcomed. They were told that God loved them ­ loved them just as they were. They sensed God’s love and presence at an open communion table. And at a deep and significant place of their being they had a powerful and positive spiritual experience.

Let me tell you what had happened: We experienced the realization of that beautiful little verse in the Christian Scriptures that says, “We who were once not a people, have now been made the people of God; we who once knew no mercy, have now received the mercy of God.” (I Peter 2:10)

And what a stark and sad contrast with those who today use Holy Communion as a political and spiritual weapon.

This coming Sunday, believers and seekers will gather in MCC churches around the world. In city churches and rural churches; in large congregations with hundreds of worshipers and in small churches with 15 or 20 people; in beautiful historic houses of worship and in small storefront churches ­ together they will share the common experience of hearing these words ­ words which will also be uttered in hundreds and hundreds of “welcoming and affirming” houses of faith of many denominations: “This is the table of God, prepared for the people of God. You need not be a member of this church, or any church: God invites you to come. You are welcome at this table.”

For three and a half decades, Metropolitan Community Churches around the world have joined hands with friends from many faith communities to liberate Christianity from the voices of negativity and from those who are exercising control issues in God’s name. We’re reclaiming our spiritual heritage: God is not a God of judgment and anger, but of love and hope. The Church must no longer be a place of rejection for God’s LGBT children; it can be your spiritual home. The Bible is not your enemy; it is your friend. And the Communion Table is not a political weapon; it is God’s altar and God says to you, “You are welcome at this place.”