More vividly than in any previous historical moment, elements of the Christian church are at war with anybody involved in promoting equal treatment for gay and lesbian people. The recent elevation of V. Gene Robinson to the clerical rank of bishop within the Episcopal Church did not start this war, but it has crystallized the battle lines. But do gay people realize the significance of this war?
The antigay forces in this confrontation--ranging from the Vatican to the Family Research Council--are well-organized, well-financed, well-led, and worst of all, they believe that God is behind them. With the exception of our own deeply held conviction that God is on the side of equality and love, we gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians have none of these other things going for us. And there are few signs that this will change--in part because the larger GLBT community, Christian and non-Christian alike, does not appear to grasp the critical importance of this fight.
The week of November 3, in the days after Bishop Robinson took office, I awaited acknowledgment from any national gay organization, any national gay leader, that a historic moment was upon us, that the new bishop's elevation marked an unprecedented advance in our fight for equality. I heard nothing. Activists heralded the election on November 4 of a few more openly gay politicians to state and local offices. But no gay leader with a national platform, outside of Christian circles, rose to congratulate New Hampshire Episcopalians for electing an openly gay bishop and for weathering the storm that followed. No one seemed to notice that a 2,000-year-old barrier within the most powerful religion in the world had been shattered.
Across the Atlantic, rabidly antigay forces am creating a whirlwind of discontent. The Christian church in Africa is becoming a most dangerously vocal opponent to GLBT equality. Anglican leaders there have denounced the Robinson election, have severed ties with the diocese of New Hampshire, and have threatened the stability of the entire Anglican Church. South American church leaders run a close second in their vehement opposition to embracing openly gay Christians. These are also the two continents with the fastest-growing Roman Catholic populations. It is not out of the question that the next pope will come from one of those continents and thus continue the medieval philosophy of Pope John Paul II for years to come.
What's at risk in this battle is not simply control of liturgical rules, biblical interpretations, and where we may hold civil union ceremonies. What's at risk is the very future of the gay community. What's at risk is our children and their lives.
Young GLBT people everywhere see in American popular culture examples of acceptance. Television shows us the antics of Will & Grace, the raw sexuality of Queer as Folk, the campy empowerment of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the family unity of It's All Relative. Yes, there is misunderstanding and ignorance, but there is rarely any physical, mental, or spiritual violence committed against the gay characters. (And when antigay violence does happen on TV, justice is typically swift.)
But there remains a significant population of GLBT kids who know that reality television does not reflect reality. Their parents take them to churches one or more times a week, where they're told gay people are sinners, sick, and damned but that they can be cured through the power of prayer. They live in communities where people may be harassed, fired, beaten, and even left bloodied on a fence to die for the sin of being "queer." They consider suicide; some succeed. The power of Nielsen ratings is nothing compared with the power of preachers and Sunday school teachers who tell our youth that God, the omnipotent creator of the universe, hates them as individual human beings and damns their eternal souls.
The questions of faith that continue to arise around homosexuality have forced well over a billion people to examine their hearts and souls about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. …