In this city, where most of our gay and lesbian friends are closeted, because to be out is to risk being morally judged or fired from their job —
In this city, where it can even be risky to come out as an ally of your GLBT family and friends for the same reason —
In this Commonwealth that, in 2006 established bigotry as the law of the land when it excluded same-sex couples from the rights and protections of the constitution, proclaiming their status as second-class citizens —
In these days when the voices of fundamentalist bias drown out the voices of compassion and reason and acceptance, it is of supreme importance that religious communities that dare to be Open & Affirming declare their purpose to the world.
As a neighbor and friend of an Open & Affirming Disciples Church, I have felt a real sense of reassurance and encouragement to dare to be bold in my own ministry because I know I am not the lone voice in this wilderness of central Virginia. At my Unitarian Universalist congregation, we have grown in our courage as a Welcoming Congregation, to respond to the calling of our age, in part because we have held hands and raised our voices at many vigils with our friends from First Christian Church, Disciples of Christ in Lynchburg. Together we have made great efforts to let the people know that there IS liberal religion in Lynchburg. There are communities of faith that value each human personality, and do not judge or shun them because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Though our Christology and liturgy are rather different, we have built a cooperative and mutually supportive relationship between our congregations. Together, we serve a real need for those people who are looking for a community of faith, but who have been burned by religious bigotry.
Our religious diversity is of real importance, as each congregation provides a safe haven where people need not apologize for their sexual orientation, but can connect with religious community that fits their outlook. It really just depends on how much Jesus a person is looking for in their life; if their relationship with the gospel is of central importance in their spiritual path, they might go to First Christian; if they want a more eclectic approach, they might come to First Unitarian. Together, we create more opportunities for seekers to connect with a supportive community that speaks to their spiritual needs.
My mostly humanist congregation has very warm feelings toward our friends in the Disciples church, and we understand that uniting across theological differences to work for justice has enhanced our congregational life. It keeps us connected to the larger realm of faith in our community, where being a religious liberal can be rather isolating. Our experiences have made us eager to collaborate whenever the opportunities arise.
Someday our churches will be able to conduct same sex weddings that will include a state issued marriage license. Someday GLBT folk in Lynchburg will not be the subject of discrimination and derision. I don’t know when that day will come, but I know that we have already made great progress. Our congregations are saving lives by providing supportive community for those folks who find us. We are giving courage to the timid allies who long to make a difference. We are changing minds of those who are struggling to reconcile destructive theologies they have been taught with the spirit of love and acceptance that their hearts are calling them to accept. Truth and love are on our side, and we stand on the side of love and truth.