Once upon a time, when I was a young and idealistic college student voting in my first election at the age of nineteen, there was one proposition that I felt particularly passionate about. The state courts in California had previously made marriage equality the law of the land: all couples could be legally wed, whether those couples consisted of a man and a woman, two women, or two men. However, in 2008, there was a proposition on the ballot to take that right away.
I was horrified! How could we TAKE AWAY the established right of a minority group? How could we limit our identity as human beings to a simple one-or-the-other system of men and women and make the love of two consenting adults illegal? How could I believe that God was anything but love? How could people get so caught up in hating other people who just wanted to live in peace with the partners they loved? Why couldn’t two men or two women raise families with all the rights and legal benefits of anyone else? What ideal could possibly be so important that it could ignore the tragedies experienced by the LGBT community? How could we justify being a society that legally discriminated against a minority group? And after all…I was raised by two women and a man with no father in the picture–how could I have taken any other stance?
So I went to one of my friends, who happened to be serving as the president of our college’s Gay-Straight Alliance, and I asked her what I could do to help. She looked surprised. Later, she made a comment about how I had “come out of the woodwork.” When I asked her what she meant, she explained that since she knew I was a Christian, and since she knew I wanted to be a pastor, she just assumed that I condemned her “lifestyle.”
That one little comment is forever burned into my mind.
It breaks my heart to know that when some people think of the church, they think of a closed-minded and exclusive social club that turns people away at the door.
It breaks my heart to know that the name of God is used to condemn anyone as not being good enough to deserve the love of Christ.
It breaks my heart to know that as a Christian pastor, there will always be people who see the cross around my neck and assume that I would judge them if they were open with me.
I made signs. I started conversations. I made phone calls.
I attended a rally, shivering in the November cold, feeling the spit on my face from passengers in some of the cars that went by. Sure, many cars honked and many people yelled out their support, but what I remember most vividly is the feeling of wiping spit off of my face with the sleeve of my pink sweatshirt.
The proposition passed. Justice and equality did not win that day, not for the thousands of couples across the state whose rights had just been taken away; not for the thousands of people who were officially made second class citizens unworthy of the hundreds of legal rights conferred by a marriage license.
I felt ashamed. Ashamed at what my state had done. Ashamed that maybe I hadn’t done enough. Ashamed that hatred had come in the name of the God whom I loved.
And so today, I wear rainbows because one of my most deeply-held beliefs is that if Christ would never turn anyone away, neither can the church, and neither should I.
I wear rainbows because I will never forget the feeling of wiping spit off of my face with my sleeve.
I wear rainbows because I have hope that humanity can do better.
Many of my friends and classmates and peers and I have been told that there is something wrong with us, that we are disgusting or broken or wrong or in some way not good enough—not good enough to preach the gospel, not good enough even to belong in the church, not good enough to be a part of the body of Christ. Many people in my life have been really hurt by this rejection and some refuse any ties to organized religion at all. I get that. Under slightly different circumstances, I might very well have left, too.
So just in case you haven’t heard it recently, you are not only “good enough” but you are a beloved child of God and precious in the sight of God.
Just in case you haven’t heard it recently, the Jesus Christ who hung out with lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes and jerks and kids and poor people and people whom no “decent” people liked…that Jesus Christ would welcome you with open arms. Yes. You. He welcomed all people. That was like, his thing. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Just in case you haven’t heard it recently, the Holy Spirit hovers above your head and sustains your soul and she dreams of lighting a spark inside you—a spark of hope, of faith, of creativity, of language, of joy, of passion for justice.
This summer, we are embarking on a four-part series of adult education on the Second Sundays of the month:
-“LGBTQIA 101,” setting out some definitions of key terms plus a short history of the gay rights movement and the church’s responses to it (May 12, with a makeup session on June 2)
-“What is Marriage?,” considering what marriage looks like in the Bible and how it has been defined by the church and by secular laws over the centuries (June 9)
-“Does the Bible Condemn Homosexuality?,” looking at the key passages used to condemn LGBT persons and what those passages really say (July 14)
-“Rainbows and Representation,” discussing how LGBT persons are portrayed in the media and why it is important to tell their stories (August 11)
At the end of the series, we will write a statement together about our journey towards acceptance and submit it to the More Light Presbyterians Network in order to be put on a national registry of open and affirming churches. I hope that many of you will come and join the conversation!
shalom and agape,
Rev Leia Rose Battaglia