Op-Ed: Leading the Religious Faithful to the Humanity of LGBT People

‘Love Free or Die’ director learned firsthand the best way for devout Christian’s to learn that God loves gays.

Openly gay Anglican bishop Gene Robinson outside the 2008 Lambeth Conference, a meeting of Anglican bishops held once every decade, in Canterbury, England. In 2008, Bishop Robinson was barred from attending the conference. Lambeth has six years to catch up. (Photo: Andrew Winning/Reuters)

Nov 1, 2012

Marriage equality has been one of the most divisive issues that America’s religious faithful have faced in recent memory, and our grappling with LGBT acceptance has been widely chronicled.

Unfortunately, much of that chronicling has either demonized LGBT people or judged those Christians who are conflicted. Very rarely do news accounts focus on the hard work that’s happening in houses of worship across the United States to unite churches in celebrating the humanity of LGBT people. But that work is creating a fundamental shift in how the religious faithful understand marriage equality and LGBT acceptance.

As a documentary filmmaker, I use stories to tell important truths. When I met Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay person to become a bishop in the 80-million-person Anglican Communion, I knew I’d found an opportunity to weave together my passion for film and the need to tell the broader story of the Church’s changing views on LGBT equality.

MORE: Gene Robinson: Sexuality Isn’t the Issue; Humanity Is the Issue in ‘Love Free or Die'

As I followed Bishop Robinson to make my latest film, Love Free or Die, he encountered the Church’s struggle, and captured the Church’s evolution, on this issue and led and participated in many of the kinds of conversations and interactions that are making this shift to accepting and embracing LGBT people possible.

Though public battles over gay marriage laws generate news, the conversations, relationships, storytelling and learning happening every week in services and seminaries across the country, led by believers like Robinson, are changing the hearts and minds of Christians on gay marriage and LGBT people. 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.

I’m glad to say that Auburn Theological Seminary, where I’m the Senior Director of Auburn Media, is a key participant in this journey.

My experience as a storyteller has taught me that people are dying for safe spaces to talk to one another, especially if they disagree. Since Love Free or Die premiered at Sundance in January, Auburn has created more than 300 of those spaces for thousands of people who engaged in dialogue by leading Love Free or Die screenings across the nation as part of our Each One Move One campaign.

These events generate important interactions in church basements, on college campuses, and in small-town living rooms among people who might not otherwise have had the opportunity to expand their viewpoints  through the exchange of ideas and experiences.

To provide a platform for even more discussions, Auburn, along with Reveal Productions, recently launched a one-of-its kind program, the Friends & Family Plan. This unique, interactive website provides allies with the best research, strategies, messages and resources to prepare for conversations about LGBT equality.

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.

Factoring in the conversation partner’s demographic data, like age, race and religious affiliation, the Plan creates a specialized guide for LGBT equality advocates. Unlike many other resources, the Friends & Family Plan leads conversations through a faith lens, and helps allies speak to conflicted Christians using messages that resonate with the faithful.

Like so many Americans, I learned first-hand that change on this issue happens loved one to loved one. When I came out to my father, a Presbyterian pastor, almost 30 years ago, I watched his love for me shift his view on the issue.

Like so many Christians, it wasn’t enough for his heart to move. Once it did, he needed to go back to the books.

I remember the day that my father called me and said that he had found the theological case for supporting LGBT equality as a Christian that he had been seeking. Once he did, there was no holding him back.

I will never be able to quantify what it means to me that he preached for the liberation of my people from his pulpit—losing some parishioners, but gaining others, as well as the theological grounding that enabled him to marry me and my husband some years later and baptize our two children.

LGBT equality is a key issue for the Church today. We know that to change hearts, we have to focus on people’s journeys to understanding, not on an abstract view of the truth. Love Free or Die and those who will use the Friends & Family Plan to minister to loved ones, provide a light for us to follow.

As we follow that light, embracing LGBT people made in God’s image, we not only unite the Church, we fully incarnate God’s love.

Do you have a religious friend or family member who accepts LGBT people as an article of faith? Tell the story in COMMENTS.

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