The summer has slowed down the rate of letters in the #WeAretheRCA series, but I’m happy to say that it is not over! Today’s letter is from Michael and Laura Cooper, members of an RCA congregation in the Capital Region of New York. If you are an LGBTQ+ person or a supportive ally, and have a response to the actions of General Synod 2016 with regards to same-sex marriage, you are invited to submit a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition to being published here, the letters will be collected into a display to be shown at the time of General Synod 2017.
Dear 2016 General Synod,
The first heartache came the morning of June 12, 2016, when we awoke to news of the nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida. Over the coming days, 50 people were confirmed dead, and another 53 injured, most of them gays and lesbians who had come to the club for an evening of community, entertainment, and safety from the taunts and bigotry they too often faced in the outside world. This feeling of inclusion and safety was instead shattered in a hail of bullets. Much about the attack remains cloudy, including the motives of the shooter, who was killed at the scene. But it seems clear that the patrons were quite possibly targeted for their sexuality.
As the story unfolded over the coming days, we couldn’t help but think about another recent shooting that occurred almost a year earlier, on June 12, 2015, at a church in Charleston, NC. During a prayer service and Bible study, the members of the group welcomed a newcomer to their meeting. In an age where religious conviction is too often mocked and disavowed, such meetings are vital to members of churches who are free to share their beliefs and communal love for each other that too often they have to hide from the outside world. Again, this sense of peace and community was shattered when the newcomer pulled out a gun and killed nine members of the group and injured one other. What makes this tragedy especially ironic is the large role this particular church played in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
With our minds reeling from yet another senseless crime that seemed to target the victims for being who God created them to be, we forgot that the General Synod of the Reformed Church of America was meeting that very weekend. One of the largest topics for discussion was the Synod’s decision in 2012 to reaffirm the church’s stance that homosexuality is a sin and stating that “any person … [who] advocates for homosexual behavior … has committed a disciplinable offense….”
Like many, we are shocked and horrified by this statement. As lifelong Christians, first within the Catholic church and later as Reformed Christians, we have never been able to reconcile the condemnation of homosexuality in the face of Christ’s commandment: “So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other.”
We have gay members in our family and dear friends who are gay. While we love our church, and we know that these people would be welcomed in the door, at the same time our theology teaches that if they practice love in the form God created them that they may be denied entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.
There is endless debate over Biblical passages involving Sodom (even though the word “homosexuality” is never used in the Bible), but we leave it to Biblical scholars far better versed than we are to discern the nuances in the meaning of these passages.
However, even a casual reading of the Bible reveals many things that were evident at the time, but are no longer taken as fact given the knowledge we have gleaned from centuries of scientific knowledge.
Particularly over the last 50 or so years, we have learned much about the roots of human sexuality. We now know that sexuality is not a “choice” one makes, but is instead somethings we are born with. For decades, it was thought that conversion therapies could help people who are gay to turn to a heterosexual lifestyle. After many years of research, and far too many medical commitments for profound depression and countless suicides, the medical community has decided that such therapies are ineffectual and harmful. Thankfully, at the 2016 Synod, a statement in opposition to such therapies was approved, though they also affirmed “the power of the Holy Spirit to transform all lives,” keeping alive the misbelief that one can change one’s sexuality.
Readers of this blog are well aware of the grave harm that was perpetuated at the 2016 Synod and we don’t need to go into the specifics.
We all love our churches for a multitude of reasons, but one should be that we are free to be who we are, without shame. As it says in Romans, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Yet in far too many churches, our brothers and sisters who are gay or lesbian feel the need to hide this fundamental part of their being in order to be accepted in God’s community. In John, it says “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” It does not include a clause excluding certain groups from God’s love.
In closing, we’d like to suggest a simple exercise. The next time you are at church, look around your congregation. Demographics on the LGBQT community here are very difficult to gauge, especially since many study instruments rely upon self-identification, which may not take into account the many people who remain in the closet. But, some scientists put the number as high as 10 percent of the population. As you look around your congregation, stop at every 10th person and ask yourself, “Can I honestly say to that person that they may not be welcomed into God’s Kingdom?” Once you put a face to the question, your answer may well change.
Submitted in God’s Love,
Michael & Laura Cooper