By Rev. Lacette Cross | I sat in my seat stunned. I could not believe what my ears were hearing and eyes were seeing. All that kept roaring in my head was “Does not compute. Does not compute.” And yet a touch from my then boo brought me back to the moment…it actually was real. I was sitting in church happily listening to the sermon, a little giddy from having my new love with me. This was a place I loved, with people I trusted and worshiped with. The preacher, who I had directly shared my sexual orientation with, who claimed to fully accept me and my gifts, was single handedly crushing my spirit. The one I viewed as a spokesperson for God, in that moment, decidedly took a significant detour in his sermon to explicitly condemn the personhood of LGBTQ folks.
This article originally appeared in Virginia Pride & GayRVA Pride Guide Summer 2017, check it out HERE.
I was mortified. My heart was bruised. My faith was shaken.
Many of us in the LGBTQ community know some variation of this story and the ways the church has been a place of hurt instead of help. We know amazing women and men who have vowed to never return to traditional religion because of deeply wounding experiences that have disrupted their sense of self and distorted their view of faith.
Faith, for many, is understood to be a strong belief or trust in someone or something. It is also used to express a belief in God or strong religious feelings and beliefs. In fact, for many people, the idea of faith has strong connotations of church. This connection between faith and church is problematic since the church, historically, has not consistently been the most accepting, understanding or welcoming place.
But we don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The church is many things, but it does not hold the monopoly on faith.
Faith is bigger than church. Faith resonates from the heart of humanity. Faith connects us to that which is greater than us and is integral to how we see ourselves and others. In times like these we may not hold on to a traditional church, but we gotta have faith.
Pew Research Center reports that 83% of adults are absolutely and fairly certain of their belief in God. This was part of Pew’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study. This large percentage tells us that 8 out of 10 folks have some kind of faith in God. That is a large number. It helps us see that many do believe in something. However, most often our belief in God is challenged by the actions of the people around us. How can we have faith when the very dignity and worth of our humanity is disregarded by others?
I remember questioning my faith in the summer of 2016 when I tried to make sense of human suffering between the violence of the Pulse Orlando tragedy, police shootings of two other unarmed Black men – Alton Sterling and Philando Castile – and the continued murders of Black transwomen. Those were some difficult times for many of us. It definitely pushed me as a person of faith who believed in the goodness of humanity. I couldn’t reconcile the senseless acts of violence and casual dismissal of some people’s personhood.
The events of those months raised significant questions for many of us. But I think it was our faith in ideals of hope, unity and justice that pushed us to engage questions like: How would we get through this? What can we hold on to in the face of evil? How can we protect ourselves and others against violence?
Then Trump was elected and once again we were collectively thrown into deep reflection on how to see the dignity and value of all people. In many instances we were grasping for words to articulate the visceral feelings experienced in the face of an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. We were compelled to connect to what we deeply believed in. We were invited to engage our faith.
Faith, according to Melvin Bray in Better: Waking Up to Who We Could Be, is a “lens through which many…recognize that things are not as they ought to be. [It] gives hope and a sense of direction for how to move toward the better world” we all want to see is possible. This is the kind of faith we gotta have.
Summer 2016 and November 9th, 2016 were the times when faith served us well. It was our faith in the ideals of love, equality and justice that propelled us forward in action. It was our belief that we can make a difference in our community, state and country. It was trust in seeing each other as equal partners in working together to overcome injustice, celebrating our differences and embracing our commonalities. All of this, I know, was because of our faith.
So for this, and many other reasons that will keep on presenting themselves, we gotta have faith!