Rev. Jim Mitulski, interim pastor of MCC of the Rockies
Religion and Spirituality have a role to play at Pride! Some of us grew up around healthy religious communities, where we were taught that all of humanity is made in the divine image, therefore worthy of dignity and respect. Others grew up around pathological religion that instills hatred for self or others, or that stigmatizes difference, or progress. All of us live in a society where religion can influence public policy, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill.
The great gay American poet Walt Whitman recognized the positive potential of religion to liberate if we do not surrender control of our spiritual lives to others:
We consider bibles and religions divine — I do not say they are not divine, I say they have all grown out of you, and may grow out of you still, It is not they who give the life, it is you who give the life.
Religion can be life-giving, or it can be twisted to control people, or to subdue them. It has long played a part in the LGBT liberation movement. In his new book, Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation, historian Jim Downs devotes an entire chapter to how LGBT religious movements have been one place where we formed essential community:
“Gay people in 1970’s America found one another and together created a lexicon, an idiom, newspapers, prayer groups, churches, beauty contests in bars, bookstores of their own — a culture and a history that said their name.”
In many instances these religious groups were life-saving. It took religion, reclaimed through a queer lens, to liberate people who had been oppressed by religion.
In the just-concluded CO legislative session, homophobic religion was instrumental in preserving conversion therapy, and in promoting anti-gay prejudice whenever any law relating to gay civil rights or to women’s reproductive rights was under consideration. To listen to the religious right, God is a vengeful, anti-intellectual misogynist being that legitimizes intolerance in religious language. Thanks to the strategic efforts of the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado and One-Colorado, these bigoted distortions of religion were not the only voices that were heard. Many religious leaders also defended the rights of LGBT people as an expression of their faith. Some of these progressive leaders themselves are openly queer, and many more are our faithful allies.
The diversity of Denver includes many LGBT-affirming religious communities. Times are really changing. For the first time this year, the historically gay Metropolitan Community Church was included in the Citywide Interfaith Thanksgiving Day Service held at the Tri-State Buddhist Temple downtown, and the gay church’s musical group led the assembly of Jewish, Protestant Roman Catholic, Muslim, Unitarian-Universalist and Buddhist worshipers in South African freedom songs. While the United Methodist General Conference recently tried to definitively exclude LGBT people, Christ Church United Methodist here bravely challenged their denomination’s regressive stance, and they proudly provide a home to the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus, in defiance of United Methodist guidelines. While Southern Baptists denounce religious liberty in the Capitol Building, First Baptist Church of Denver stands proudly across the street as a gay-affirming sanctuary where all are welcome. On numerous occasions, I’ve heard the pastor of Shorter African Methodist Episcopal Church defend gay rights at this historically black church, linking the fight against homophobia and racism. The gay/straight co-pastors of the Lutheran/Episcopal House for All Sinners and Saints spoke up in favor of banning reparative therapy. Sixth Avenue United Church of Chris hosted a Transgender Day of Remembrance service. The city’s two Unitarian Universalist Churches have always been a haven to LGBT people. While the Roman Catholic Church denies full equality to women in leadership, Pax Christi Ecumenical Catholic Church models an egalitarian model of leadership, ordaining women to the priesthood. The Highlands Church risks censure from their evangelical counterparts by moving past tolerating and into embracing our people
These are just a few examples of spiritual options available to us. Metaphysical churches, synagogues, meditation and recovery groups, temples, and many other expressions of faith welcome and encourage our participation. This year, let your Spirit be part of what you claim, reclaim, or re-invent as we gather to celebrate Pride.