Isla Vista religious leaders congregated on Monday, May 2, in solidarity with the LGBT+ community, condemning the hate and prejudice that all queer people face. The inclusive attitude exhibited by these local religious groups is a major contradiction to the hateful, anti-gay sentiment expressed by Christian churches nationwide. Our home of Isla Vista has one of the few religious communities turning the tide toward acceptance and inclusivity for the LGBT+ community.
There is a clear division among religious denominations regarding where they stand on LGBT+ rights. A large portion of Christian communities promote anti-LGBT+ media that are fueled by biblical interpretations. The Westboro Baptist Church is the notorious face of religiously-inspired LGBT+ hate, infamously known for their disrespectful picket protests at military funerals which include offensive signs that say “God hates fags” and “God hates fag-enablers.”
The American Family Association is an anti-LGBT+ activist group (recently listed as a hate group by Southern Poverty Law Center) currently known for the ongoing boycott against Target for their new policy allowing transgender people to use the bathroom according to their gender identity. According to the AFA website, the organization believes that a “culture based on biblical truth best serves the wellbeing of our nation and our families.”
Religious groups who exploit biblical interpretations to warrant the promotion of prejudice and hate are not exclusive to LGBT+ rights.
The Westboro Baptist Church website has a page named as, “God’s Hatred in the Bible,” which lists off specific lines of various biblical passages that support who their lengthy grocery list of who they think God condemns — America, Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Catholic priests, lawyers, the media and the entire world. A related link to this page seems to sum up the overall sentiment of the Westboro Baptist Church, “God Loves Everyone: The Greatest Lie Ever Told.”
Although they exist as an unfortunate minority, there are religious groups out there who see religion to be rooted in uplifting communities through faith in a higher power and uniting together through love.
“God so loved the world, love is not a zero-sum game,” said Rev. Dr. Mark Richardson of the First United Methodist Church. As reported by the Santa Barbara Independent, religious leaders of the Isla Vista and Santa Barbara community convened in order to establish I.V. as a “safe zone” for the LGBT+ community. A rainbow flag was mounted in front of the United Methodist church in order to materialize the spirit of the inclusivity for the newly declared safe zone.
“There is no place in the church for homophobia, transphobia and other forms of sexual prejudice,“ Rev. Dr. Mark Richardson said.
There has been an evident increase in the community of religious congregations accepting of the LGBT+ community. In a 2013 survey of Christian denominations in the U.S., there has been an increase “gay affirmation” within the denominations United Church of Christ, Episcopal Church and United Methodist Church. Gaychurch.org is a resource available for the LGBT+ community to connect to “gay affirming” churches all across America.
Even the Catholic Church, the oldest conservative institution in the world, has shown a shift towards a direction of including the LGBT+ community, instead of condemning them.
Pope Francis has made statements encouraging priests to be more accepting of the gay community. According to CNN, the Pope has stated that the “‘unjust discrimination against gays and lesbians is unacceptable.”
The Pope also wrote, “By thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and growth.”
There have been steps made in the right direction, yet there is such a long way to go. Isla Vista, our one-square-mile college community, is now one of the few religious communities accepting of the LGBT+ community, and hopefully not the last.