We’ve come this far by faith

Rev. Rebecca VoelkelBy the Rev. Dr. Rebecca Voelkel, Task Force Faith Work & IWR Director

Those of us who spend our life’s energy and passion working to bring about systemic and structural change measure time differently. Decades are the parlance more often than days, weeks or even years. But sometimes time and transformation merge in a kind of “tipping point.” As one who has spent much of the last twenty years working within the pro-LGBTQ religious movement, it seems as if we’re living in one of the moments.

Since last Friday, Bishop Desmond Tutu  addressed a United Nations-sponsored gathering and decried a “homophobic heaven” painted by and perpetrated by religious bigots even as he spoke of his work around LGBT justice as equal in importance to his anti-Apartheid work.

On the other hand, Pope Francis, during an impromptu press conference following his first international trip since becoming pope, signaled a more gentle approach to LGBT persons when asked.  His oft-quoted comment about gay priests “If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … they’re our brothers”  is certainly a shift in tenor for the Vatican.  It remains to be seen if it is anything else.

And Pat Robertson was uncharacteristically gracious when talking about transgender people. “I don’t think there’s any sin associated with that. I don’t condemn somebody for doing that.”

While Bishop Tutu has long been a clarion voice of gospel-rooted justice of all kinds, including that for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, both the Vatican and Pat Robertson have consistently embodied the worst of “Christian” bigotry, using the Bible and the Christian tradition as weapons against the dignity, worth and even humanity of LGBT persons.

So to have all three of these internationally recognized Christian leaders speak in ways of extravagant welcome in Tutu’s case and in less judgmental ways in Pope Francis and Pat Robertson’s cases within the same week, is a moment to recognize that something has shifted. The once rock-solid false dichotomy that “all the people of faith are anti-LGBT and all the LGBT people are anti-religious” has been broken. The religiously-rooted, prophetic vision of love, hospitality and transformative justice for ALL people is beginning to bubble up all over.

But let us be clear, this doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to be done. Around LGBT issues, much of the hatred that has existed within US-based radical right churches is being exported — to Uganda and Brazil and parts of Southeast Asia. And we only need to look as far as Pope Francis’ comments about the role of women in the Catholic church or the religious support for a host of stand-your-ground, anti-choice and voting-rights suppression bills that have passed in Texas, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania to know that those of us who work for justice because of the dictates of our faith have a lot of work yet to be done.

But for those of us who work toward building movements at the intersections of justice and liberation, our hope is built on nothing less than the reality that, no matter how we measure the time, the arc of the moral universe bends toward justice.