This essay original appeared as an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune on May 28 2016.
It’s a beautiful Sabbath morning. I am in my Sunday best, meeting with friends and family who share my faith. We begin with a prayer and sing a beloved hymn. For the next two hours, I won’t be in a chapel. Today my congregation-by-choice is joining the throng in the Utah Pride parade.
We carry signs that read “Jesus Said Love Everyone” and “All Are Alike Unto God” as we push our kids in strollers and hold hands with our spouses. We are living our religion by standing for the unconditional acceptance of all our brothers and sisters that Christ taught. We are worshiping with our feet.
Plenty of my family and friends who are not here want to know: How can I participate in a festival that celebrates gay relationships? Relationships that are considered immoral by my church? Aren’t we counseled to stand for the family, and aren’t Pride festivals threats to traditional families? How can I condone same-sex couples, or support a person whose gender identity is different from that they were born with?
Good questions. They speak to a tension that runs deep for people of faith. We are commanded to love unequivocally, but we are often afraid that this very same love will somehow cloud our judgment, will blur the boundaries between right and wrong. So we deliberately stand back, polite and pleasant but unwilling to commit heart and soul to connecting with other human beings because we perceive them as sinners, and ourselves as defenders of the faith.
Drawing these kind of lines is human. We live in a confusing world, where treasured principles that we thought were immutable too often seem up for grabs. We seek safety in going this far but no further when it comes to understanding the experience of those who are different from us. We are oh so aware of the mote in our brother’s eye but unwilling to acknowledge the beam in our own.
Unconditional love is no threat to doctrine. I believe it is the doctrine. It is the fuel with which the Christian engine runs. I sustain my ecclesiastical leaders as they minister to those in their flock who are gay and transgender. They are called upon to make judgments and maintain boundaries. But the vast majority of us have not been so called. When we appoint ourselves moral arbiters over our fellow humans we do so at our peril. In The Good Samaritan story it was the doctrinal experts — the priest and the levite — who passed by the man lying beaten by the side of the road. The Samaritan — reviled by the Jews as impure and impious — he was the one who came to the victim’s aid.
I march in Pride parades because I want to meet my LGBT brothers and sisters on their turf. I want to hear their stories. The issues they grapple with can be uncomfortable and complex, but is not someone living in that complexity worthy of all the support I can give? There is so much to learn from people who live at the crossroads of faith and identity: journeys of connection, loneliness, sacrifice and joy. There’s plenty there to help me on my own path of discipleship.
C.S. Lewis wrote, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” This is what my faith helps me see at a Pride parade, in all its happiness and sorrow:
- Moms and dads who have learned the power of parental love through the gift of a gay son or lesbian daughter.
- Transgender people who are doing the hard work of maintaining family relationships as they become the people they always knew they were inside.
- Gay and lesbian youth who may see positive role models in the national media but hear only derision and judgment at home and in their congregations.
- LGBT people who have felt compelled to leave their faith communities to stay healthy and emotionally intact, but ever after have a hole in their heart that won’t be filled.
I also see glitter, and rainbows, and way too much skin, but that’s what happens when you take love out of the abstract. It gets messy. It gets real. It gets beautiful. You learn so much more traveling with another than waving at her from the far distance. Pretty soon you realize that we are all broken, imperfect sinners, and we’re all on the same journey to discover our divine potential.
So while most Sundays I’m teaching 9-year-olds about God’s love, on Pride weekend I’ll be sharing that message in a different way, walking the talk step-by-step, and in the process receiving much more than I give.
Erika Munson is a co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges.