Many people have a stereotype that all Christians are homophobes who are against any laws that protect the rights of LGBT individuals. In 2008, for instance, the Evangelical, Roman Catholic and Mormon Church lobbied strongly for the passage of Proposition 8 in California, which outlawed same-sex marriages in the state. In spite of this impression, though, in reality many Christians do support LGBT rights and marriage equality. Since 2008 I have occasionally written blogs that highlight Christians who fight for LGBT rights. Even in the three denominations that had lobbied for Proposition 8 in 2008, more of its members are supporting the civil rights of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people. Today 58% of American Catholics support LGBT rights and marriage equality. Though 70% of older white Evangelicals are still against LGBT rights, around 50% of younger Evangelicals support LGBT rights and marriage equality. In this blog I will highlight some of the latest news that I’ve encountered about Christians who fight for LGBT rights within their churches.
FATHER ROBERT NUGENT, NEW WAYS MINISTRY CO-FOUNDER, DIES ON NEW YEAR’S DAY
The first news is sad news. Father Robert Nugent, a co-founder of New Ways Ministry, a Catholic LGBT rights group, died on January 1, 2014 after a three-month battle with cancer. Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeannine Gramick founded New Ways Ministry in 1976 to service to the needs of gay and lesbian Catholics who were hurt by the treatment of the Church and the greater society. Father Nugent was inspired by Vatican II to fight for those who are marginalized in society, and this led him to minister to the Catholic LGBT community. The work of Father Robert Nugent and Sister Jeanine Gramick led them in conflict with more conservative Catholics and they were eventually silenced in the late 1990s by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger because of their refusal to accept church teaching on the “intrinsic evil of homosexual acts,” and Nugent was condemned for questioning “the definitive and unchangeable nature of Catholic doctrine in this area.” In 2010, New Ways Ministry again drew the ire of U.S. Catholic leaders for criticizing the hierarchy’s fight against same-sex marriage.
Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director, wrote about Father Nugent’s life:
When few priests would do more than whisper about homosexuality, Father Nugent was meeting with lesbian and gay people and encouraging them to claim their rightful place in the Catholic Church. During a time of intense homophobia in both church and society, he exhibited uncommon courage and foresight in welcoming and affirming the goodness of God’s lesbian and gay children.
“But his ministry was more than a welcome. He had the wisdom to know that the real moral problem in the church was not the lives of lesbian and gay people, but the ignorance and fear out of which many church leaders and officials operated. An uncommon prophet, instead of railing against this ignorance and fear, he and Sister Jeannine set out to educate people about the reality and holiness of lesbian and gay lives. Instead of battling the institution, he attempted to build bridges of education and dialogue, helping to enlighten Catholic leaders who were sometimes reluctant to break free from their traditional ways. A loyal son of the Church, he attempted to help the institution live up to its most cherished ideals of human dignity, equality, and respect.
“In founding New Ways Ministry with Sister Jeannine, he helped establish an institutional resource for the Catholic Church on lesbian and gay issues. Their dream was for New Ways Ministry to be a resource and advocacy center to which pastoral leaders, lesbian and gay Catholics, and family members could turn. For decades the duo crisscrossed the nation providing support and guidance to those Catholics who were willing to open up to their more inclusive model of church. He bravely withstood the disapproval of many Church leaders, often experiencing the alienation and marginalization of the lesbian and gay people that he served.
Thomas C. Fox, publisher of the National Catholic Reporter, wrote:
Nugent will be remembered in Catholic history for his early efforts to minister to gays and lesbians at a time when few, in any, other clergy and religious would do so publicly.
In some ways, gay and lesbian ministries have made great strides since the Nugent first reached out to that marginalized segment of our church. In other ways, those ministerial efforts have made only small gains. Gay and lesbian ministries are still not the norm in Catholic parishes and New Ways Ministry is seldom welcomed into parishes.
Pope Francis, as if taking the lead from the now deceased Nugent, when asked how he views gay clergy, responded: “Whom am I to judge?”
That was precisely Nugent’s attitude — and he lived as Francis now preaches
John Becker of the Bilerico Report wrote:
CDF attempted many times to convince Sr. Jeannine and Fr. Robert to stop challenging the Catholic leadership on LGBT issues, but without success. As a result, in 1999 CDF censured Nugent and Gramick and forbade them from engaging in “any pastoral work involving homosexual persons.” The following year, both were formally silenced by the Catholic church…
…Although Fr. Nugent stopped leading public workshops and retreats about LGBT issues, he continued ministering one-on-one and with small groups. He maintained his pro-equality beliefs until the end of his life.
The LGBT community has lost one of our heroes, one who stood up and spoke out against the Catholic Church’s institutional homophobia when few others within that church would.
Well done, good and faithful servant.
Catholics are fighting the recent trend of Catholic schools and churches who are firing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals from their jobs. William Hudson and Kristen Ostendorf were fired last year from Totino-Grace High School. In Glendora, California, silent protesters tried to attend a school board meeting for St. Lucy’s Priory, a Catholic high school to protest the termination of gay educator of seventeen years Ken Bencomo. Students in Washington led a massive protest when Mark Zmuda was let go from Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish Washington in December of 2013, after school administration discovered he was in a state-recognized marriage with another man. The students created a facebook page called Keep Mr. Z and have led various marches in December 2013. In February, 2013, Mike Moroski was fired from his position as Assistant Principal at Purcell Marian High School in Cincinnati because he believed that the State should recognize same-sex unions and he said so on his blog. In April, 2013, Carla Hale was fired from her position at Bishop Watterson High School in Clintonville, near Columbus for being a lesbian.
A December 19, 2013 student protest to reinstate Mark Zmuda to the staff of Eastside Catholic High School
Last year several Methodist clergy challenged their church over its opposition of same-sex marriages by officiating same-sex wedding or openly living with a same-sex partner. In December 2013, Methodist pastor Frank Schaefer of central Pennsylvania was defrocked after he officiated at his son’s gay wedding. The Rev. Thomas Ogletree has also been suspended for violating church law against officiating at gay unions by officiating at his son’s gay marriage. In November 9, 2013, over 50 United Methodist clergy attended the wedding of Richard Kevin Taylor and William Robert Gatewood in Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia to show their support of marriage equality. Rev. Bill McElvaney, a retired minister who served for 40 years at Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, announced that he will officiate at the weddings of same-sex couples, telling WFAA in Dallas, “I think we need to speak out about this. We are long overdue in the United Methodist Church.”
Pennsylvania Reverand Frank Schaeffer talks about his officiating of his son’s same-sex marriage
One of the big shifts in the Evangelical Christian community is the growing support for LGBT rights among younger Evangelicals. One sign of this is the move by certain Evangelical groups to apologize to the LGBT community for the church’s role in harming LGBT individuals. One of the most publicized of these is when Alan Chambers, leader of Exodus International, a Christian ministry that worked to help people repress same-sex attraction, apologized to the gay community in June 2013 for inflicting “years of undue suffering.” Evangelical Christian groups like The Marin Foundation and Str8 Apology have attended LGBT Pride Parades across the nation to apologize to LGBT individuals for the way the Christian Church has harshly treated them.
A Str8 Apology video with Kathy Baldock where she apologizes to LGBT individuals in the San Francisco Pride Parade for the way Christians treated LGBT individuals
“I’m Sorry” – The Marin Foundation at Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade 2010
One of the sad things that is happening in countries like Russia, Uganda, Nigeria and other countries is that laws are being passed that criminalizes individuals who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. This has led to a violent homophobic atmosphere in those countries where LGBT individuals are harassed, beaten, and even killed. The documentary God Loves Uganda shows how American Evangelical missionaries have fueled this violent homophobic atmosphere in Uganda. Stanley Ntagali, the head of the Uganda Anglican Church, rejected the position of the U.K. Anglican bishops on homosexuality, saying that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture”. In the past, people have used Christianity to justify racism, sexism, antisemitism, islamophobia and other prejudices. It is only when Christians and Church reformers spoke out against this misuse of their religion that it changed.
Some Christians are speaking out. South Africa’s Roman Catholic bishops have condemned the anti-gay laws in Nigeria and Uganda, stating:
While the Church’s teachings prevent her from standing with homosexuals on many issues, especially same-sex marriage, she has an obligation, mandated by Christ, to be in solidarity with all those who are unjustly marginalised and persecuted.
“Alas, the Church has been silent, in some cases even quietly complicit, in the discourse on new homophobic laws. This absence of intervention for justice may well be interpreted, wrongly or not, as approval of injustice, in line with the maxim Qui tacet, consentire videtur (Silence gives consent).
“Instead, the Church should present herself as compassionate and courageous in standing with the those living in fear.
“African bishops especially ought to speak out, as loudly as they do on same-sex marriage, against the discriminatory legislation and violence directed at homosexuals, many of whom are fellow Catholics.
“Where is the prophetic voice of the Church in condemning the general homophobia in society?
No More Triangle Nations has a petition sponsored by Catholic LGBT rights groups New Ways Ministry, The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, and Call To Action, to urge Pope Francis to speak out against global anti-gay legislation and persecution. The papel nuncio in Uganda, for instance, has spoken out against that country’s anti-gay laws, but the Ugandan Catholic bishops have remained silent. These groups feel that the Pope’s voice would carry weight in speaking out against persecution of the LGBT community in countries like Uganda, Russia, India and Nigeria. The group urges Christians to email the Pope with this message:
Dear Pope Francis,
In less than a year, you have done as St. Ignatius asked of us and “set the world on fire” by creating greater welcome for gay and lesbian people in the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately, not all have heeded your call to love each other regardless of a person’s sexual orientation, and several nations have passed laws which criminalize being gay.
For the World Day of Peace, you wrote that fraternity can lead us to a more peaceful and just society when we recognize other human beings as our brothers and sisters under God. Help us to stop discrimination, hate, and violence against gay and lesbian people by condemning Uganda’s anti-gay bill and similar efforts in other nations.
Please defend the human rights of gay and lesbian people in Triangle Nations all over the world such as Nigeria, India, Uganda, Russia, and Jamaica. The lives of God’s gay and lesbian sons and daughters may depend on our witness as Catholics to speak Christ’s love.
A Human Rights Watch video of harassment of LGBT individuals in Russia
A Human Rights Watch video criticizing anti-gay laws in Uganda
Southern Africa’s Anglican archbishop Revd Dr. Thabo Makgoba calls for an end to violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity
Here are some links for straight Christians and LGBT Christians who are looking for groups in support of LGBT equality within the church.