Ty McCarthy is the Religion & Faith correspondent for The Gayly, the South Central USA’s LGBT monthly newspaper and founder of Nazarene Ally, a non-profit advocating for LGBT inclusion in the Church of the Nazarene. This article was first published in The Gayly regional newspaper, June 2013 issue.
Stonewall may have signaled the beginning of the gay rights movement, but marriage equality does not signal its end. No amount of legislation or court rulings can change a person’s heart or mind who is opposed to gays and lesbians participating in the life and rhythms of the Church, or to be able to be married in the Church they call their own.
In many denominations, momentum is growing calling for Church leaders to change policy. Many of these groups work from within their parent denominations to build relationships and let church members know there is an alternative narrative out there. I know that this is a steep, uphill climb thanks to firsthand experience from creating the nonprofit group Nazarene Ally, which advocates LGBT-inclusivity to my church, the Church of the Nazarene. Church leaders can no longer pretend this not happening at their church. Large denomination or small, liberal or conservative in theology, change is brewing in the Church.
If all churches tomorrow removed anti-gay statements from their governing rules, people in the church still would wholeheartedly believe it is as wrong as they do today. After all, you can’t simply legislate love and respect. And it works the other way, too, the wounds church people have inflicted upon their fellow gay and lesbian congregants won’t instantly be forgotten with a church’s reversal. It will take time, difficult conversations and a lot of prayer before anyone can offer forgiveness.
Having an open and affirming denomination is great, but must be accomplished by recognizing the scars of the past will carry over. Rather than see our scars and become embittered, we look at our scars and remember. Forgiveness shields us from bitterness, but it is awkward, messy and unfair. Forgiveness doesn’t erase the past, but it calls us to do better in the future by remembering from where we came. Just as Stonewall reminds us of a time before we had a voice in society, gay Christians still await their own ‘Stonewall moments’ inside their churches.
When marriage equality is the law of the land, what will be the next move for those in the Church who oppose it? And when the time comes for the churches not already open to change, how will we, the opposed, react? What bridges can we build to allow healing of relationships with those who opposed us?
Events such as Stonewall and marriage equality in all 50 states are important markers of progress. However, the road doesn’t end there, it continues to non-affirming denominations, and then into the hearts and minds of the opposition. The end isn’t marriage equality; the end of our journey to true equality is in forgiveness and reconciliation.