Make houses of worship truly inclusive

The doors to our houses of worship ought to be open to all. That includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans, who often feel that religion has been used to divide and conquer their families and their rights.

On Saturday night at the Saddleback Church forum, Pastor Rick Warren asked both candidates about their definition of marriage, and both said that it was between one man and one woman.

This felt like exclusion, if not discrimination, to many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans. And unfortunately, neither presidential candidate was asked about how they would welcome the LGBT community into the conversations about faith.

That’s too bad because history and progress are often made in the pews. The struggle for civil rights for blacks began largely in our churches — and was led largely by clergy — and was born out of a deep sense of religious conviction, rooted in the tradition of loving thy neighbor as thyself.

Today, however, LGBT Americans struggle to find the same passion for equality within some communities of faith.

As the Anglican Church threatens to divide over the issue of welcoming all seekers of faith, and the Vatican continues to routinely marginalize some of our families, it is becoming clear that some religious communities are eagerly adopting a doctrine of hate.

Too much blood is still being spilled — literally and figuratively — in America’s pews as the struggle for full equality continues.

In July, members of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Church in Knoxville were victims of a brutal shooting spree sparked by a gunman who targeted the church because of its open and welcoming policies. The Unitarians’ embrace of gay people of faith, the shooter believed, was in direct contradiction to what he believed “faith” was all about. His actions show just how dangerous it can be to perpetuate stereotypes and prejudice in the name of religion.

More churches, synagogues, mosques and temples must make clear that lashing out with violence because of misdirected hate is always wrong.

And more public leaders must insist, in public debates like the one at Saddleback Church, that it is not only acceptable, but expected, that our faith demands we believe in all families.

In 1963, a bombing at a church in Alabama ignited a national crusade that marched from the pews to the streets, to the White House and beyond. America’s religious leaders joined political leaders to change the course of history and change the way we treated our blacks neighbors, friends and loved ones.

In 2008, the shooting in Knoxville should spur our leaders — both religious and political — to do the same.

If faith is going to continue to play a dominant role in the American destiny, it must be the faith of embrace, personified by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and practiced by his followers, not the faith of division that is too often present today.

Real leadership — both moral and political — requires including everyone as part of the conversation, and everyone as part of our American family.

Jody M. Huckaby is executive director of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. Huckaby, who holds a degree in psychology, has also been a graduate student of theology at the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Ill. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org