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Interfaith Pride Celebration Santa Barbara, CA

Interfaith Pride Celebration, July 12, 2015, Santa Barbara, California

Members of our church recently participated in the first Interfaith Pride Celebration in Santa Barbara. I was pleased to be part of this outdoor worship service in support of the LGBTQ community. There were about 20 sponsoring faith communities, including ours, and an estimated 250 to 300 people in attendance.

The reason we were there is simple really – if Jesus were here it’s where he would be. We are Christ’s body on earth and so it follows that we will go where Jesus would go, and we will spend time with people with whom Jesus would spend time, and we will be the bearers of grace and peace to those with whom Jesus would do so.

It was a beautiful afternoon, with great gospel music and inspiring speakers. I was among the faith leaders who read a Confession written by the Rev. Frank Schaefer acknowledging the wrongs that faith communities have done to LGBTQ persons. We have not always been welcoming and affirming of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. We have failed as churches and people of faith to acknowledge the human dignity and worth of LGBTQ persons. We, the Church, have treated them as second-class believers and have harmed them with words of exclusion and hatred, defining them as “sinners,” “perverts,” and “abominations.”

We have not given them their own voice to express their love of God. We have subjected them to abusive “religious counseling” and harmful “conversion therapy” in a misguided effort to fix them. The heterosexism and homophobia of our faith communities has caused real suffering in the lives of our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ community. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, told us to “Do no harm.” But we have been doing harm for decades now.

Following the service, a woman came up to me with a couple of her friends, and with tears forming in her eyes she said, “It was very moving for me to hear the words of confession. It is the first time I have heard anyone say they were sorry for the hurt we have felt. Thank you so much.”

My heart is with my LGBTQ brothers and sisters, who have been harmed by the Church’s message of exclusion and condemnation in the past. I have been involved over the years in advocating for marriage equality. I have been involved in trying to change the language in the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church so that it no longer singles out one group of people based on sexual orientation to deny them the ability to be ordained as ministers or to receive the blessing of the church for their committed relationships. I will continue to do these things because I owe my primary allegiance to Jesus Christ and his reconciling grace and not to the United Methodist Church.

I want to be unequivocal and stand on the side of love, because as I see it, “love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love” (1 John 4:7-8). “Those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16b). As long as I am the Pastor-in-charge in the church I serve, we will be working toward full inclusion of all people in the church’s ministry, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or any other ways we have of dividing people into classes.

Christ is our peace, my friends. Christ has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. We become people after God’s own heart as we continue this work of tearing down the walls that have harmed others, and indeed have harmed us all.

Words (c)2015 Mark Lloyd Richardson
Photo credit: Dallis Day Richardson