Editor's note: this blog post is the sermon that author Lucy Webb shared at an interfaith pride service in Brattleboro, VT on Sunday June 28 2015 at the First Congregational Church. We are pleased to share it with you here for those of you who were unable to make the service in person. Enjoy!
By Lucy Webb
When I started college, I did not — yet — identify as queer. I guess in 1989, almost nobody did. To be clearer, I identified as straight. I was very pro-gay-rights, but hadn’t had much opportunity yet to put that support into action; I didn’t know real-life gay or lesbian people, and the rest of the LGBTQIA alphabet soup wasn’t even on my radar yet. But I was ready. Before I even joined the college Anti-Apartheid Movement, I joined The Alliance.
In those early weeks of college, I made friends, I met people — but when the first meeting of the Alliance happened, I went alone. I didn’t know anyone else who was planning to be there. I entered a room overflowing with people, all strangers, mostly older than I was. They all seemed so cool, and also like home. I know now that I was recognizing myself as one of them, but I wouldn’t even admit that to myself for another couple of years.
So at that first meeting of the Alliance, back in the olden days of the late 80s, the co-chairs
emphasized confidentiality. Who attended those meetings was private information. People
needed to feel safe there. We went around and introduced ourselves, which took forever,
because there were so many of us there, and talked a little about what the Alliance would be doing, politically and socially, in the coming semester. And as it got late, the co-chairs were ready to close the meeting, unless anyone had anything else they needed to share.
Two young men, apparently not students, as it turned out, stood up and began to pray, loudly, hoping that we would all repent of our wicked, sinful ways. One of them was himself an ex-gay, and he could assure us that change was possible.
We all froze. None of us knew how to make the shift from feeling safe to feeling trapped. And I stood up, less than a month after my 18th birthday, and announced to the two men and to the group that I was also a Christian, but that my God was a God of love, and that God had also told us not to judge each other, and that it was not possible to me that God would condemn people for finding love where they could. I was rambling and terrified, but I was loud, and it interrupted the conversation long enough for the co chairs to call Campus Security and for other deer to get themselves out of the headlights.
I left, too, and walked back to my dorm, trembling so hard I dropped my keys at the front door. Another first-year-student who’d been at the meeting had walked me back, and he picked them up for me and unlocked the door to let me in.
I have never been more certain than I was that night that God was speaking through me. I am a New England Episcopalian, and if you don’t know a lot about my people, you should know that we mostly do not get in shouting matches with evangelicals about God. I was in no way brave enough to take action, to interrupt what felt like a deep betrayal and violation of so many people’s first attempt to find a safe place in an unsafe world. But God was brave enough. And God has been there for me many, many times, as a source of strength when I needed to take action, and as a source of forgiveness when I know that I have not done all that I could. If you had told my scared 18yearold self that that night was the beginning of a lifetime of seeking — and finding — communities of queer people, she could not have believed it.
But if you’d told her that she’d be participating in an interfaith Pride Sunday service now, she could not ever have believed that, either. And I was in the most privileged possible situation — I was white, I was a college kid, was not in any physical peril and in almost no social peril, even. I thought I was straight, which gave me some power the other privileged white people in the room didn’t feel they had.
My identity as a queer person and as a person of faith are inextricably linked, both to each other and to my sense of social justice. We have made so many wonderful strides, and there is so much still to be done to ensure the health and safety of our community, to say nothing of equality.
I talked with a friend yesterday about what kind of messages I was going to be able to share in a few minutes here, and he rightly, I think, suggested that the tone I should be shooting for is both grateful and a little challenging.
And I am so, so grateful. I know that, though many LGBTQIA people have been hurt and
scarred deeply by people who use religion as a weapon, many others have found homes in faith communities and have found support from faithful straight allies. I am grateful that that healing continues and I am grateful that there are churches and synagogues and faith communities that recognize that the burden for that healing is on us, the faithful, and not on the wounded.
But to challenge, just a little, while we celebrate a history of liberation and change — we must all think about when we have opportunities to interrupt conversations, and when we must be ready to do that, even as we tremble. Where, in our families, in our faith communities, in our workplaces, could we be disrupting darkness and ignorance, and what are we willing to risk to do that? When LGBTQIA people are dying, are homeless, are assaulted by agents of our government and our communities, what do we have the power to understand, and what do we have the responsibility to interrupt? How does our faith connect to our sense of justice?
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Lucy Webb is a member of the GMC board who found her rural queer community through bowling leagues, summer camp, and online dating sites.