‘Just Talk Live’ features panel of LGBTQIA+ pastors
November 12, 2021
Leonard, the associate for Gender & Racial Justice in the PC(USA) Office of Gender, Racial & Intercultural Justice, pointed to the history of queer people in the church, out and not, in the formation of such mainstays as gospel music and the civil rights movement.
“I read the question, ‘Why does the LGBTQ+ community need the church?’ and my knee-jerk reaction is to say they don’t, they don’t need the church,” said the Rev. Shelley Donaldson, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Stamford, Connecticut. “Look at the history. The history is that the church has been harmful. And I know that there were times where I wanted to walk away. There were times I tried to walk away. And I came back, one time after a year of therapy, of figuring out what was right for me.
“I think of it, in a sense, like a marriage. I don’t need to be married to my wife, but I’m a better person when I’m with her. And so, in a sense, I do need to be with her because I’m the best version of myself. And so, I think the church needs the LGBTQIA+ community, because if the church really wants to live into the fullness of God, of really embracing all of God’s Creation, then the church needs the LGBTQIA+ community. But, you know, the queer community has existed without the church for a long time. And so, I don’t know that I can honestly say that the queer community needs the church.”
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has been on a long journey with the LGBTQIA+ community from, like most other churches in the Western world, rejecting homosexuality to being one of the most affirming denominations in the United States through a series of General Assembly policies that have, among other things, allowed the ordination of LGBTQIA ministers, elders, and deacons and approved clergy to perform same-sex weddings. While these affirmations are not yet accepted in all PC(USA) congregations and mid councils, they are the position of the national church.
The Rev. Kim Rodrigue, recently retired and based in New Orleans, has lived that change, ordained in 1987 and coming out at 36 when she fell in love with a woman. She recalled pastoring a church in Washington, D.C., in the years after that.
“Pride in D.C. happened about a mile, a mile-and-a-half from the church I served,” Rodrigue recalled. “The church wasn’t safe at the time, but I could walk around Capitol Hill and go to Pride, fully confident I wasn’t going to run into people from my church and feel like it was a place that I could be less scared, that my wife and I could be a couple.
“The experience that sticks with me, that was foundational for me, was that Pride is over here, and the church was over here, and the safest thing to do was to keep those things separate, and I feel like we’re still figuring out how to bring them together.”
The panelists and co-host the Rev. Lee Catoe said that while it is a much more open time for queer people in the church, there are still many challenges.
Catoe pointed out that in Tennessee, where he lives, the state legislature has recently passed a number of anti-LGBTQIA+ laws, reflecting the actions of state legislatures across the country. Catoe said many of these laws are driven by the legislators’ religious beliefs.
“There’s a whole system that’s trying to shut down trans rights across this country, and it’s happening, and it’s been successful,” Leonard said. “We are still fighting a battle to be accepted and just to live and to be accepted as who we are.”
Rich Copley, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: ‘Just Talk Live’ Podcast
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Father, thank you for our churches. Please help us to welcome everyone as you would. Holy Spirit, please teach us how to serve together in generations. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.