Article of faith: A call to people of faith to stand against anti-LGBT violence
Pedro Julio Serrano, Communications Coordinator
“The annals of history, ancient and contemporary, are strewn with death and destruction wrought by the hands of the religious. However, the core teaching of every major faith is peace, not violence.”
— Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, National Religious Leadership Roundtable
WASHINGTON, March 5 — On Jan. 29, an anti-gay mob invaded a private home in Greenvale, Manchester (Jamaica). The mob attacked three gay men inside, beating them and hacking them with machetes. Two of the men have been hospitalized with serious injuries; one had his ear cut off. One man remains unaccounted for and is feared dead. This is only the latest in a long series of hate-filled crimes against LGBT Jamaicans.
Just two weeks later in Oxnard, Calif., Lawrence King, 15, was shot in the head by a 14-year-old classmate. Prior to his death, King had been harassed on a daily basis because of his sexual orientation and gender expression. What follows is an Article of Faith addressing this terrible violence and the need for a response from the faith community.
Article of Faith by the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer
National Religious Leadership Roundtable
A few weeks ago I received a phone call as I boarded a flight. It was from the secretary of a church in Ventura, Calif., with whom I had left a message concerning their response to the violent death of Lawrence King. I was appreciative to receive the call back, but my heart sank when the call ended and I began to weep. A wave of grief washed over me, not because of what this church in Ventura had done, or not done. They had done something, they had prayed for Lawrence, his family and the community. But I recognized how inadequate such a response is without a deeper engagement to understand and address the roots of such violence in our midst. A profound sense of having failed Lawrence King and a deep sense of responsibility fueled my tears.
Later that day, I received an e-mail from Pastor Judy Hanlon of Hadwen Park United Church of Christ, in Worcester, Mass., who wrote, “A horrible situation had LANDED in their pews.” Actually, the pastor was writing to get my attention and share the news of an important opportunity. Two gentlemen from Jamaica shared with the congregation their story of horrible abuse, oppression, burning and even death, and the congregation has committed to accompany them as they seek political asylum in the United States.
I already knew a little of the situation in Jamaica, because, like others, I had received a Call to Action several days before from Nancy Wilson, moderator of the Metropolitan Community Churches. Her message also told the story of the horrible abuse, violence and death experienced in Jamaica by LGBT people of faith gathering for worship and support. It called on religious leaders, people of faith and political leaders to take action. She encouraged us to send letters to the Jamaican government and participate in Valentine’s Day rallies at Jamaican embassies and consulate offices around the world to demand that the Jamaican government intervene to stop the violence and protect these citizens.
I was glad for her Call to Action, but I had done nothing to support the effort. Lawrence King and my brothers and sisters in Jamaica weighed heavy on my conscience. I could not help wondering about why we people of faith so often remain silent in the face of suffering, violence and death, and some actually seem to promote it. The faith voices reported in a story published in the Jamaica Gleaner seemed willing to tolerate the violence against their LGBT brothers and sisters of faith. I can’t help believing that what those Jamaican religious leaders are teaching is fueling the homophobic hostility and violence for which Jamaica is too well known.
Some essentialists will argue that religion is inextricably connected to violence. It is indeed rare to find a religious text of any faith that does not have references to violence, especially in dealing with real or perceived enemies. So, does religion justify and inspire violence? Does the violence come out of the religious teaching? Or is the teaching being manipulated to justify the violence, used as a tool of intimidation, oppression and domination?
The sacred texts of our religious heritages do give us a window into human nature and our proclivity to violence. The annals of history, ancient and contemporary, are strewn with death and destruction wrought by the hands of the religious. However, the core teaching of every major faith is peace, not violence.
Thirty-six times the Hebrew Scriptures express the commandment to love the stranger because they themselves were strangers in the land of Egypt. The central commandment of the Christian Scripture calls the followers of Jesus to love their neighbor as they love themselves. In calling for dialogue between people of all faiths, Muslim scholars from around the world quote from the Quran, And the servants of the Infinitely Compassionate are those who walk on the earth in humility and when the ignorant accost them, they only reply with “Peace!” (Quran 25:65). Every major religion has some version of the golden rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
To use sacred texts to justify violence or being complacent in its face does a gross injustice to them. It is essential that people of faith confront the sources of violence. In doing so, let us ensure that we are not just opposing violence “out there” but are acting with justice in our own country and neighborhoods as well. Violence in Jamaica or violence in Oxnard, Calif. — the context and the geography are different, but our call to stand for peace and justice is the same.
Across the religious spectrum, if on nothing else, can we not be in solidarity on this, engaging our religious and ecumenical partners here at home to stand against the kind of violence that killed Lawrence King — to put an end to the violence on our campuses, in our communities and in Jamaica? Is it not possible for people of faith in Jamaica to stand up against the violence and for all of us to stand with them? What is keeping us from engaging our religious and ecumenical partners around the world in the call for an end to the violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people? Let us work together, engaging the prophetic courage of our faith traditions to create change in our neighborhoods, move the mountains of indifference and build communities which are safe, welcoming, inclusive and just.
In the words of the poet and Swiss Muslim scholar, Tariq Ramadan, may we never cease to ask,
Is that all?
Is that “all faith can do”?
No, we will not be silent!
About the author: The Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer is the executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy in Wider Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ (UCC), and is a member of the steering committee of the National Religious Leadership Roundtable.
Responses from National Religious Leadership Roundtable Members
“If the suffering we are seeing in Jamaica were happening in Ft. Lauderdale or Chicago or San Diego, there would be an unbelievable outcry not only from the LGBT community, but from many of our spiritual and activist allies. To date, the silence of our community about atrocities so near our shores is overwhelming. We must speak up and not shut up until we know the tide is turning towards justice and safety for our brothers and sisters in Jamaica!”
— Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson
Metropolitan Community Churches
“Is there no end to injustice? Is there no shame among religious people who would use their faith as an excuse to mistreat, exclude, yes, even murder others? Is there no force in the world to stop these barbaric acts, to soften these hard hearts, to teach these misinformed people that same-sex love is simply love? We of the progressive religious community have work to do and no time to waste as our children die. God help us.”
— Mary E. Hunt, Ph.D.
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
“The National Black Justice Coalition stands in spiritual solidarity with the powerful message of the Article of Faith: A call for people of faith to stand against anti-LGBT violence. We are called to speak truth to power and vigorously speak out against violence. The violence that is inflicted upon God’s LGBT children is a global disgrace. It is a phenomenon that receives too little notice and apparently, scant concern. This can’t go on. Indifference to human suffering dishonors all people. We have to speak out loudly in a chorus of protest against the unholy, treacherous maiming of body and soul.”
— Sylvia Rhue, Ph.D.
Director of Religious Affairs
National Black Justice Coalition
“Violence against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is the last, cruelest and most reprehensible act of an oppression that fails to get its way by other means. This violence is so far removed from religion and God that its perpetrators can lay no claim, offer no Scriptural defense, proffer no justification that removes their guilt. Such violence is abhorrent to all right-minded people, of any community of faith, and those who use it are rightly called what they are — criminals.”
— Emily Eastwood
Lutherans Concerned/North America
“Thank you Rev. Schuenemeyer for bringing our awareness again to the increasing horror and pain of hate crimes and our responsibility, in any and all communities, to combat it.
“Righteousness and indifference are as malicious and dangerous as any fist or voice raised against another human being, and how subtly and sneakily can they creep into our daily lives.
“Righteousness gives us ‘permission’ to do or say things that are hurtful to others while standing on high ground. Indifference gives us ‘permission’ not to care about others suffering, allowing us to stand by and do nothing. It is hard to keep our hearts open and have real empathy for others; it is hard to have humility and acknowledge that we may not always be right, and may not have answers for everything. But just because these things are hard to do, doesn’t mean that we should stop striving every moment of every day to be the compassionate warriors we were born to be.”
— Swami Dhumavati
Member of the Roundtable Steering Committee
“It is a tragic truth that stories of anti-LGBT violence are so common. A few years ago a grade-school-age child was beaten to death here in Georgia, because he acted too ‘feminine.’ As people of faith we are called not only to loudly condemn these actions but also to challenge the misuse of Scriptures that motivate such violence. From a personal perspective I will work to see that faith-based refugee resettlement efforts through Lutheran Services in America, the largest social service agency in the United States, recognizes the need to provide asylum and resettlement services to people whose lives are in danger simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
— Bob Gibeling
Lutheran Services of Georgia
Member of the Roundtable Steering Committee
“You cannot get more basic than, ‘Thou Shall Not Kill.’ There is no religious tradition, Christian, or other spiritual path that condones such behavior. And while religious teachings have often been used to incite terrible acts, preaching hate and violence is not the word of any God that I know. As religious people, as LGBT people or any person with a connection to a moral tenet, what do we need as a call to action? The atrocity in Jamaica is thousands of miles away so perhaps I can ignore it. How can I also ignore the murder of 15-year-old teenager Lawrence King which took place 40 miles from my home? It should not be the proximity or number of people injured or the level of atrocity that moves me. As a human being created in the image of God, I have a duty to speak out against the corruptions of God’s teachings that let some people think that they can attack and kill a neighbor and that this is somehow acceptable behavior. If I do not speak out, I have failed as a divinely created being. So I am speaking, and asking others: What we can do together to address this? And, I am asking them to ask others as well. If we both ask and take action, we have a chance to restore communities where we can recognize that of God in each of us. Shalom.”
— Joel L. Kushner, Psy.D.
Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation
Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion
“Faith In America calls upon Jamaicans to recognize and understand the immense harm caused when a social climate of rejection and condemnation against its gay and lesbian citizens is justified with religious teaching.
“History has proved it wrong — from the time when Gentiles were treated as second-class citizens in the early church to the persecution of Reformation leaders in the 15th century and still today as gay and lesbian individuals are rejected and condemned as immoral by the church.
“It should not be difficult for everyday Jamaicans to recognize bigotry and discrimination in all its ugly forms. A poll of Jamaicans last year living in Britain showed that 96 percent of those of polled believed they were the target of racism.
“We believe the majority of Jamaicans can recognize the harm of social injustice.
“There is no greater injustice than justifying rejection, condemnation and violence with religious teaching and we ask Jamaicans to denounce those church leaders who seek to disguise bigotry as religious truth.”
— Brent Childers
Faith In America
“In a time when war rages in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Sudan, in Sri Lanka… and the list goes on and on, it is critical that people of faith make it emphatically clear: religion at the end of the sword is blasphemous. At a time when LGBT people are executed in Iran, murdered in the United States and viciously attacked in Jamaica… and the list goes on and on, it is critical that people of faith make it emphatically clear that hatred cloaked in religious garb desecrates God.
“The God we worship celebrates the humanity of ALL God’s children. The God we worship rejoices in the diversity God has created. Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Voodoo, Paganism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex, straight; African, Asian, European, North American, South American, Australian — all give rise to a different voice, a different perspective, a different praise. But, together, they only begin to articulate the grandeur, the beauty, the creativity of God.
“Our religious traditions should inspire our awe in this kind of a God and in this kind of a creation. Praise, not killing, ought to be our work of faith.”
— Rev. Rebecca Voelkel
IWR and Faith Work Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force
“DignityUSA strongly condemns religiously motivated violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people everywhere in the world, and especially the recent attacks in Jamaica. We call on all people of faith, and especially religious leaders, to respect the diversity of God’s creation, to remember that faith is rooted in love, and to affirm the rights of all people to live in safety and in peace. We pledge our support for Catholics in Jamaica working to create a climate of respect and tolerance that is consistent with the message of the Gospel, and Jesus’ call that all may be One.”
— Marianne Duddy-Burke
The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the grassroots power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community. We do this by training activists, equipping state and local organizations with the skills needed to organize broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.
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