We must now have the courage to take the final step and call homophobia and heterosexism what they are. They are sin.
Fifteen years ago, Matthew Shepard was killed in Laramie, Wyoming. Three years ago, Tyler Clementi committed suicide in New York City. Matthew was 21 when he died, Tyler 18. Both young men were gay. A lot has changed socially and culturally in the last 15 years in America with regard to attitudes toward sexual orientation and gender identity. But still, as far as young people are concerned, the distance between Laramie, Rutgers, and the rest of the country is not as far as we might think. Every day, all across America, countless unnamed boys and girls suffer indignity, humiliation, bullying, and violence, and they feel that they are in it all alone. And I’m sorry to say that much of the blame belongs to our churches, which give religious cover to the stigmatization of a person because of sexual orientation or gender identity. That prejudice persists because churches continue to promote it.
Today’s Gospel begins with a very strange request to Jesus by his companions: “Increase our faith!” they demand. Step back from that question and think about it. More faith: isn’t that a weird thing to ask for? But as odd as the “increase our faith” question is, Jesus’ reply is even stranger: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6).
Have you ever seen a mustard seed? Jesus responds to his companions by means of a startling comparison. If you had even an atom of faith you could work miracles. “You don’t need more faith,” he seems to be saying. “You just need some faith. Right now you don’t seem to have any faith at all.”
I don’t know what I would have done or said in Laramie, Wyoming, in 1998 or in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 2010, but I do know what today’s Gospel calls me (and I believe you) to be doing and saying this morning. It’s tragic that we still live in a nation and in a world where the last socially acceptable prejudice is against LGBT people. It’s tragic that we still live in a nation and a world where LGBT youth are vulnerable because of that prejudice and the way it combines with the other stresses of adolescence and young adulthood. But it’s more than tragic—in fact it’s shameful—that faith communities, especially Christian ones, continue to be complicit in putting our children at risk and abetting the attitudes that oppress them, thereby encouraging the aggressors who would subject our children to pain, humiliation, and violence.
I’m old enough to remember a time when Christian churches, including our own Episcopal Church, segregated its churches and actively participated in racism. I’m old enough to remember the ordination of women movement, when many in our church found ingenious theological arguments to deny women leadership roles and so promoted sexism. In its wisdom, the church came to its senses and labeled both racism and sexism as sinful. And now we find ourselves at the last barrier—call that barrier homophobia, call it heterosexism. We must now have the courage to take the final step and call homophobia and heterosexism what they are. They are sin. Homophobia is a sin. Heterosexism is a sin. Shaming people for whom they love is a sin. Shaming people because their gender identity doesn’t fit neatly into your sense of what it should be is a sin. Only when all our churches say that clearly and boldly and courageously will our LGBT youth be free to grow up in a culture that totally embraces them fully as they are.
Those of us who gather around this table believe that God has done a new thing in Jesus and is continuing that new thing in us. God is breaking down categories and barriers between people and creating a new humanity in which all the particularities of how we identify ourselves are accepted and blessed as they contribute to the expanding wonder and diversity of a human race created in God’s image. It is not only just okay to be gay, straight, bisexual, or transgendered. It is good to be that way, because that is the way God has made you. And the Christian community, the world community, needs you to bring the totality of your being—including and maybe especially your sexual and gender identity—to the table. Amen.
—The Very Rev. Gary Hall, October 6, 2013