Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Church's Closet Door

The Church's Closet Door

The Reverend Darlene Garner says the closet door and closeted pastors are warping the church and killing young people.
By Rev. Darlene Garner

COMMENTARY: Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people are in the pulpits, choirs, pews, religious education programs, committees, and boards of all houses of worship in this country. They have given extraordinary leadership to our congregations and continue to do so. Yet unfortunately, as has been made painfully clear in recent weeks, many congregations are quick to receive their gifts only if they keep their sexual orientation hidden. The implications of this are devastating. As people of faith, we can no longer afford to be silent.

When clergy condemn homosexuality, they send several devastating messages to the congregation. To young LGBT people they declare that their sexuality is shameful and vile in the eyes of God and that they should loathe a part of themselves. By so doing, they implicitly present LGBT members with an impossible set of choices: to hide part of themselves by “acting straight” and even in some cases marrying partners of the opposite sex; to denounce who they are by joining so-called ex-gay programs; to live a closeted life of isolation and shame; or to live a celibate life. In all of these cases LGBT people are forced to choose loneliness in favor of integrity.

For others in our congregation, the incessant din of homophobia grants permission to engage in bullying and violence. Even though some spokespeople for the radical right, like Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, want to deny it, homophobic sermons preached Sunday after Sunday create an environment that legitimizes bullying and violence against LGBT people. Rather than fostering a community of love, homophobia in our congregations creates a wedge between people that breeds both shame and violence.

The evidence continues to mount: Our closets are killing us. When we remain silent about homophobia in our congregations, is it any wonder that many of our youth see nothing wrong in tormenting their LGBT peers in school? Is it any wonder that many LGBT youth come to see this torment as inescapable in life and suicide as the only way out? Those who drove Tyler Clementi, Billy Lucas, Seth Walsh, Asher Brown, and Aiyisha Hassan to take their own lives were not born hating LGBT people. This hatred can only be learned, and the most effective schools for this type of learning are, sadly, often our congregations.

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