by Kath Mason
How strong does a person have to be to reconcile their GLBTQ identity and their faith in the face of family, religious and community rejection? The short answer is: Incredibly strong.
For 80+ attendees of “Coming Out and Keeping the Faith” at Northern Essex Community College in Haverhill, MA, that strength was demonstrated by 6 panelists, 3 young adults from the GLBTQ community and 3 religious leaders from the community.
Sponsored by LGBTQ Welcoming Communities of Faith (Welcoming Faiths), a coalition of open and affirming congregations in the Merrimack Valley, MA, and PFLAG Greater Boston, the evening’s discussion addressed one of the biggest and most divisive issues facing the GLBTQ community: bullying in the name of religion.
The three young adult GLBTQ panelists illustrated how religion factored into the anguish and rejection they felt from family, community, and even themselves, as they struggled to reconcile their faith and their sexuality. Kate spoke of her conservative parents who rejected her based on their religion. Carlo talked of being afraid he would “burn in hell” for his growing realization of his sexuality, Zach prayed nightly that God would “make him straight” and faced abuse from his peers that ultimately lead him to attempt suicide.
In response to these emotional stories, the religious leaders on the panel offered perspectives on how their faiths focus on acceptance, inclusion and understanding. Reverend Lara Hoke of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Andover and Rabbi Karen Landy of Havurat Shalom, Andover talked about their congregations’ long-time acceptance of the GLBTQ community. Bill Henson, founder of Lead Them Home, spoke of his evangelical beliefs and his commitment to including all people who want to embrace his faith, regardless of sexual orientation. Personally and professionally, they expressed their own stories and reiterated their belief that everyone, no matter who they are, deserves a chance to embrace a faith. As Reverend Lara Hoke put it “God loves diversity.”
It is the ongoing mission of Welcoming Faiths to build upon the strength of the open and accepting spirit of their member congregations so that we can be as strong as the people who choose to join us. To find out more about Welcoming Faiths find us on Facebook at facebook.com/WelcomingFaiths or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
endorsed by the ONA Ministry Team of the Massachusetts Conference, UCC