Few issues divide our houses of worship today more than the issue of gay marriage and the role of inclusion in faith. Often, coverage of gay marriage debates demonizes either LGBT people or religious followers who grapple with acceptance. Struggles for inclusion across many differences have been part of my faith journey my whole life: to work for inclusion is to follow Jesus.
When I was 13 years old, my mother became the first woman elder in our Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ken. It was a day of tears and anger, of proof-texting with Bible passages, and some people, even those who loved and respected my mother, left the church. During my early childhood in the '60s, I was aware of the great struggle for civil rights within the walls of the church and in society at large.
As a young woman who had "lost my faith," a non-judgmental welcome to a worship service from a Catholic priest returned me to the faith of my birth. His acceptance reconnected me to God. From deep in my memory bank I recalled an important text: "No one who calls on the name of the Lord will be shamed; all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved."
Monday night, PBS will air Love Free or Die, the inspiring story of Gene Robinson, the first openly gay person to become a bishop in the Anglican church. Bishop Robinson has long been a partner of Auburn Theological Seminary, and I'm proud to say Macky Alston, senior director of Auburn Media, directed the film and brought Bishop Robinson's story to life. The film, which won the Special Jury Prize for Documentary at this year's Sundance, traces Robinson's history from small-town churches in New Hampshire to Washington's Lincoln Memorial, and America's pilgrimage from anti-gay bias to a rapidly growing groundswell of support for gay marriage. Love Free or Die tells the story of the Church as it wrestles with this issue. It also gives a unique look into evolving Christian attitudes about gay marriage and LGBT people and the church.
While the public battles over gay marriage laws are often what generate news, it is the conversations, relationships, storytelling and learning that are happening every week in religious houses of worship and seminaries across the country that truly change hearts and minds. A growing multifaith movement of religious leaders from various traditions is helping the faithful understand how religious teachings and text compel acceptance of LGBT people, not rejection.
For Auburn, creating the space for opposing sides to come together in dialogue is foundational to our work. That's why Auburn has led Love Free or Die screenings in hundreds of communities across the country as part of our "Each One Move One" campaign, generating important discussions in church basements, on college campuses, and in small town living rooms among people who otherwise might not have had them. With Reveal Productions, we have launched the Friends & Family Plan, a first-of-its kind website that provides allies with the best research, strategies, messages, and resources to prepare for conversations about LGBT equality using the conversation partner's demographic factors, like age, race and religious affiliation.
As I speak with conflicted Christians, I'm often reminded of the shared humanity that Christ offers us as God's beloved children. Galatians 3:28 reminds us that we are "one in Christ Jesus." We are all included. Jesus, in embodying God's love, especially reached out, and evidently preferred, the company of those whom society and the "righteous" often rejected. His greatest commandment was to love one another as God has first loved us. God's love will prevail over prejudice and fear.
Bishop Robinson and his story are a light for the Church to follow. LBGT equality is a key issue, but we know that, when changing hearts, the focus must be on the actual journey of people toward understanding, not on an abstract view of the truth. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us that the arc of history "bends toward justice." Just as it was in the civil rights and women's rights movements, the church can -- and will -- be a powerful force for shaping that arc. For it is in embracing LGBT people as made in God's image that we fully incarnate God's love.