After I first started writing a column, in the fall of 2002, it wasn't long before I heard regularly from those who brandished God as a weapon in opposing LGBTQ rights.
This was not surprising. Back then, I was on staff at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, and I was long familiar with the bigotry in my home state. Most of the hate mail came from strangers, but I got my share of lectures from blood relatives, too. Few things anger right-wing Christians more than a family member insisting she's acquainted with a different version of God.
Goodness, the hate. That stuff stays with you. Just last week, I was reminiscing with a friend about a 2004 speech I gave at a women's event. More than 500 women in the audience, but when it was time to take questions, the first came from one of the handful of men in attendance.
Why, he demanded to know, did I have to "go on and on about the homosexuals?" Grasping the microphone with both hands, he yelled, "I don't want to think about those people having sex."
I assured him that nobody I knew in the LGBTQ community wanted to imagine him and his wife having sex, either, so it looked like he had more in common with them than he was willing to acknowledge. When he refused to stop shouting, the floor manager cut off his mic, and many of the women cheered. Of course they did.
That same year the Rev. William Sloane Coffin published his book Credo. It was a collection of excerpts from his sermons and writings, and it was a lifeline for me. Worn down by the rage of right-wing believers, I was becoming a too-quiet Christian out of fear of being associated with them. Coffin helped me find the words for my heartache and the map to higher ground.
"The problem," Coffin wrote, "is not how to reconcile homosexuality with scriptural passages that condemn it, but rather how to reconcile the rejection and punishment of homosexuals with the love of Christ. It can't be done."
If Coffin were alive today, I'm certain he would include all of the LGBTQ community. That's what a Christian should do.
Yesterday morning, one of the first things I heard was an NPR report about conservative faith leaders' opposition to the Equality Act, which would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to ban discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity. It has passed the House twice and is headed to the Senate, where there is no longer a Republican majority to block it.
A partial list of those who oppose it: the National Association of Evangelicals, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Seventh-day Adventist Church and Orthodox rabbis' Coalition for Jewish Values.
As NPR reported, their concern is that, if the Equality Act passes, their institutions will no longer receive federal funds if they discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community.
"Many faith-affiliated schools, however, require that students abide by strict moral codes related to sexual conduct, or they have gender-segregated housing that does not accommodate transgender people. Critics of the Equality Act say such policies would mean that students attending those schools could lose access to government aid programs."
In 2021, this is their grievance.
I'm back to 2004, when Ohio voters, egged on by too many pastors and priests, passed an amendment that was the harshest such legislation of its kind in the country. It banned same-sex marriage and all civil unions, and stripped health benefits to unmarried couples — gay or straight — at public colleges.
This, because of who they loved.
As I wrote at the time, in word and deed, Ohio told thousands of gay and lesbian couples that they, and their kind of love, aren't welcome here.
An elderly man left a long phone message for me. He felt bad for having voted for the amendment. He was raised to be conservative, he said, attended conservative schools and belonged to a conservative church. He was trying, he said, to get where I was on LGBTQ rights.
"Please be patient with me," he said.
For years after that, I tried to be. I found one way after another to nudge people like him to open their hearts — to catch them off guard, which is how love seeps in. Throughout that time, though, I was mindful of what one of my dearest friends had said to me over dinner one evening: "I don't want to be tolerated. I want to be accepted."
We've seen progress, but it's not enough, which is why the Equality Act is headed to the Senate. And once again, here they are, those self-declared Christians claiming they can love Jesus while, in his name, conspiring to inflict further harm.
It can't be done.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University's school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including "...and His Lovely Wife," which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, "The Daughters of Erietown." To find out more about Connie Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com
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