In Theory: Treatment of LGBT group in church

Progressive Catholic groups are up in arms over reports Friday about the decision of a Roman Catholic school in Massachusetts to rescind the admission of an 8-year-old student because his parents are lesbians. The child was accepted to St. Paul Elementary School in Hingham, Mass., for the fall but was told he couldn't enroll after the school learned that his parents are gay. Since then, the school has been heavily criticized. What is your opinion on the overall treatment of gays and lesbians in churches — and perhaps even within your own faith? Do you believe that gays and lesbians are treated equally and fairly in some of the major faiths?

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The Episcopal Church has made progress on the inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in our communal life. Opening the sacraments of marriage and ordination to openly gay people (they have been open to closeted gays for centuries) is still cause for consternation at one end of our membership spectrum. But it is cause for rejoicing at the other end, with many in the middle who feel either bland approval or mild discomfort, but sleep fine either way.

Some larger congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles are intentional in offering GLBT ministries, and/or parents and friends of lesbians and gays support groups. In other, smaller congregations, there is simply a matter-of-fact inclusion of same-sex partners (and their kids) in couples groups, social events, family ministries, house blessings and the public celebration of wedding anniversaries, in Sunday services.

For our denomination, the next level of inclusion will be more care with our assumptions in our ministries and liturgies across the board. Big “family” holidays, for instance, like Father's Day, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, are oftentimes of crisis for gay people and couples: They are reminders of estrangement from families and friends who aren't supportive, or they are challenges about which extended family members “know,” and how to navigate the “So, are you dating anyone?” question from those who don't.

How can our churches be more supportive at these times? Go slow with those sermons on parents' God-like, unconditional love; some GLBTs have been disowned by parents who don't or can't understand, or they are still on a painful journey of reconciliation with at least one parent. Or those holidays raise specters of unnamed familial inadequacy, for not producing children, or for ending the family name or line.

The next step in the Episcopal Church is to move beyond sacramental/symbolic inclusion (allowing gay marriage and ordaining gay clergy), beyond an explicit but still-segregated welcome (GLBT ministries), and toward a fully inclusive mind set, which takes the lives and needs of GLBT people into account as a natural reflex of caring for our whole community.

AMY PRINGLE

St. George's Episcopal Church in La Cañada

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I am aware that, for many religious denominations, homosexuality remains a complex moral issue. However, Unitarian Universalists have a long history of affirming the worth and dignity of all human beings — regardless of sexual orientation.

In fact, our congregations welcome human diversity as a gift and actively work for equality in our hearts and minds, as well as under the law.

The latter equality, where it has been achieved, affords committed gay or lesbian couples the same rights and responsibilities as heterosexuals joined together in marriage, which among other things, allows children raised in these homes to know themselves and their families as “just like” all others — and certainly deserving of the same right to education.

It is baffling to me that some would be moved to, in effect, punish a child for the God-given sexual orientation of the parents. How can this be considered a moral act grounded in God's love?

It is equally thrilling to learn that our collective understanding of morality has progressed to such a point that there was heavy criticism this past week of the decision by a Massachusetts Roman Catholic school to remove a child of lesbian parents.

It is thrilling to note when religious communities grapple with the practical application of moral standards, choosing to acknowledge and value among them the presence and ministry of gays and lesbians seeking to serve their creator.

My hope is that we get to the point where we don't have to ask whether gays and lesbians are treated equally and fairly — just as we don't have to ask whether there are imposed inequities between people with blue eyes and people with green eyes.

The distinctions would no longer be considered significant in any way, other than that they are gifts to be celebrated.

THE REV. STEFANIE ETZBACH-DALE

Unitarian Universalist Church of Verdugo Hills in La Crescenta

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God's primary desire for his people is that we would become like him. This process begins when we are “born again” through faith in Jesus' blood shed for us on the cross. Romans 5:8 tells us what God is like: “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” His example should guide our treatment of homosexuals both in and outside of the church.

God loved us even when we were alienated from him in our sin. Christians should love all people and “do good to all men” (Galatians 6:10) regardless of others' moral and spiritual condition. The Holy Spirit's work should produce in us “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness [and] self-control” toward others (Galatians 5:22-23). We are never to be violent or abusive, but rather gentle and uncontentious.

But God never denies the truth about the nature and the consequences of our sin, and neither should his people. The Bible, in the Old and New Testaments, clearly teaches that the practice of homosexuality is sinful and prohibited along with fornication, idolatry (believing in more than one god), adultery, immorality, kidnapping, lying and perjury and “whatever else is contrary to sound teaching” (1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10). If “the wages of sin is [spiritual] death,” how is it loving to deny or explain away the sin that is destroying a person's relationship with God? It's not.

The answer to the problem of our sins is that “Christ died for us.” Anyone who repents of sin and holds fast in faith to the cross of Christ is washed, set apart for God and declared righteous before him. No one who wants it is excluded from entering into this new life and new service for God. All who reject the cross of Christ have excluded themselves from kinship with God's people.

Please don't read more into my words than what I've just said. I wish ill upon no one. We all stumble in many ways, but we may all have peace with God through faith in Jesus Christ.

THE REV. JON BARTA

Valley Baptist Church in Burbank

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When Christ was presented with the woman caught in adultery, he was reminded of the law that demanded her punishment and was asked: “What to you have to say about her sin?”

His answer: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Jesus is reminding us of his long-standing teaching: “Judge not lest you be judged.” We have no right to ever judge a brother or sister. It is beyond our capacity and outside the commandment of love. We are called to love, not judge.

All of our brothers and sisters have a right and expectation of our love and respect. They are the objects of our love and respect — not their actions. Their actions are between themselves and their God. I would not dare judge another, for if I do I am making myself liable to the same harsh judgment. And I know myself too well.

What a different world we would live in if we really followed, unquestionably, the Lord's law of love: There would be no war, no violence, no abuse of others and certainly no condemnation of others. There would be peace. Life would be made easier and happier for all, for we would be acting like Christ and not giving in to our human tendencies to build ourselves up by walking on our brothers and sisters.

THE REV. RICHARD ALBARANO

St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Burbank

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This is a topic I have wrestled with.

My view on the gay and lesbian lifestyle has changed greatly since I went to Fuller Seminary and we learned how to treat this particular culture in society. I have a few patients who are gay or lesbian, and I find the work and therapeutic alliance to be strong — something I perhaps would not have foreseen when I was pastoring full time. There are those who are very interested in ideas about God and ask me questions, knowing my background. We are able to integrate that effectively into our therapeutic work. Others have no belief in the idea of a relationship with God. And, thus, it is not part of our work.

From my faith's point of view, I have had only one experience with a gay couple coming into services at the church where I was an assistant pastor. The senior pastor allowed it, but many congregants were upset because of their spiritual views on the lifestyle based on biblical perspectives. While I adhere to the belief that the word of God is inspired, inherent truth, I would need to discuss this issue with other pastors in order to struggle through the numerous questions I have. The perspective of others in the community and their practice on having gays and lesbians as part of their church body would be vital in the development of my own opinion.

Do I think that gays and lesbians are treated fairly in major faiths overall? No, I do not.

I was an adult when I began to see a side of this lifestyle others are more accepting of. I believe many are not exposed or open to it based on their viewpoints of scripture.

The bottom line is, homosexuality is considered a sin, like any other in the Bible. And people with sin are in the church. I believe explaining that to children, who are exposed to homosexuality in church, is difficult when you do not believe in the lifestyle. There are countless things to consider on this topic.

THE REV. KIMBERLIE ZAKARIAN

La Vie Counseling Center in Pasadena

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I feel that the decision made by the Catholic elementary school in Massachusetts was wrong and inappropriate for a religious institution. I assume that the St. Paul School rescinded the boy's admission because of their view that his lesbian parents are living in sin. However, even if the school administration does not approve of a homosexual lifestyle, why should an innocent child suffer as a result? Religious teachings forbid making a child bear the sins of his parents. I was pleased to read that once church officials at the Archdiocese of Boston learned of the school's action, they pledged to help find a new Catholic school for the boy.

At the heart of this matter is the basic question of how we treat people who lead lifestyles that may make us uncomfortable, or who engage in actions with which we do not agree. The reality is that the same Bible that states that homosexuality is incompatible with religious piety also clearly teaches us to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” We should reconcile these two — seemingly contradictory — ideas by recognizing that although we may not approve of a person's particular lifestyle, we should never act hatefully or harbor negative feelings toward that individual.

I believe that religious institutions and houses of worship have a responsibility to accept all members of their faith, even when those individuals may not be in full compliance with the organization's spiritual teachings. We must remember that every human being on Earth is fallible. Who among us is completely faithful and does not occasionally transgress? We need to treat others in a kind, understanding manner — just as we would like to be treated ourselves. For those who believe, as I do, that we are all God's children, it follows that we should strive to act with compassion for our brothers and sisters.

RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN

Chabad of Glendale and the Foothills

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I'm guessing that these administrators understand their decision as one of holy boldness — a courageous and faithful stand against cultural compromise. But how much more courageous would it have been to take a faithful stand against fear and prejudice? How much more courageous would it have been to encourage the school community to accept this family, and to seek to understand how love is made manifest in different family structures? How much more courageous would it have been to come around every parent and grandparent engaged in the challenging work of raising healthy, thoughtful, caring children?

When a Christian school turns a kid away — not for disciplinary or pedagogical reasons, but for the sexual orientation of his/her parents, it communicates to the world that the church is exclusive, judgmental and mean to children. People who do not know Christ, or have heard of him but don't trust him or his church, don't know how to distinguish between one school's closed-minded administrator and the wide world of Christendom.

Those of us who contribute to this column dream that readers engage all of us. We hope that you'll see that our unity in Christ doesn't mean that every conversation about God's grace and judgment is finished and unchanging. We continue to struggle in our faith communities and on this page with the truth of scripture and our lived experiences of God's creative action. We pray that schools like this one don't convince you that the church is intolerant, unloving and irrelevant, and that you then shut off the possibility of a finding a church, a faith family that meets you where you are and offers grace and love grounded in God.

The church of Jesus Christ at its very best is radically hospitable, as Jesus himself was radically hospitable. He says nothing about homosexuality, but he says a lot about reaching out to people who need to be loved and accepted — especially children.

THE REV. PAIGE EAVES

Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church

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The treatment of homosexuals within all faiths worldwide is a very contentious issue, as it clashes with established traditions. As in mainstream Christianity and Judaism, the traditional schools of Islamic thought are unanimous in their position on homosexuality: It is forbidden and unnatural. Although gays have lived in the Muslim world for centuries, there has been a degree of tacit acceptance of gays as long as they kept to themselves or stayed within certain roles as with the wedding-dancer hijras hijras of Pakistan and the Afghan halekons.

Political ideologies usually trump religious theology, so conservative and liberal Muslims tend to have similar beliefs about homosexuality as conservatives and liberals in other faiths. Focusing on the American Muslim community, there is no overwhelming consensus. According to a Pew survey, 39% of American Muslims either accept or are ambivalent about homosexual lifestyles, while 61% believe that it should be discouraged by society. The established leadership of the American Muslim community follows and teaches the majority opinion, while splinter groups of politically liberal and younger generation Muslims have provided a contrary narrative of acceptance and revised theology under the banner of “Progressive Islam.”

Another dynamic in our country is the social engineering of the media. Gay Muslims have been getting a disproportionate amount of media coverage recently, thanks to award-winning documentaries like “Jihad for Love” and even Showtime's new show “Nurse Jackie,” which co-stars Haaz Sleiman as a gay Muslim nurse. Although the coverage is rather sensationalized, hopefully it can spark the development of a new pluralism of Islamic thought regarding the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Muslim community.

“Being gay and Muslim is not an oxymoron,” says Faisal Alam, founder of the gay Muslim group Al-Fatiha. “We are living proof that it's not.”

But Muslim leaders remain unconvinced.

“If one considers it acceptable in Islam [to be gay], then he or she is not considered to be a Muslim by consensus of the scholars,” says Hamza Yusuf, a leading American Muslim scholar and founder of the Zaytuna Institute. “On this I know of no debate whatsoever.”

Both these organizations represent equal and opposite insensitivities of the heart of Islamic fellowship.

For now, the two sides need to subordinate their ideological positions and agree to disagree with love for the sake of the community fellowship.

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

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The issue of what to do about gays and lesbians in the church is analogous to the issue of slavery and segregation. In fact, the gay/lesbian issue is the new slavery issue, in my opinion. It was wrong to have slaves and to discriminate against blacks, and it's just as wrong to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Just as the ancient Hebrews were urged to welcome the alien in their midst and not oppress him/her (Exodus 23:9), “For you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” And just as Jesus reached out to the hated Samaritans (John 4:9), “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans,” so too must we reach out to those who are considered outcasts in our society.

I am certainly aware that there are proscriptions against homosexuality in the Bible, but there are also proscriptions against working on the Sabbath, too. I go to convenience stores on the Sabbath; don't you? I sometimes eat meals in restaurants on the Sabbath; don't you?

If you answered yes to either one of those, you are forcing others (clerks, waiters, cooks, etc.) to work on the Sabbath, so how do you feel about that? Biblically, you are causing others to sin, and that's not good.

For Jesus, compassion trumped the law every time. Those of you who claim to be followers of the man from Nazareth, shouldn't we do the same?

REV. CLIFFORD L. “SKIP” LINDEMAN


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