One day before a conference hosted by the anti-gay Family Research Council is set to take place, Christian leaders are turning up the volume on their message that the social conservative group doesn’t speak for everyone and their faith, in fact, welcomes LGBT people.
On Thursday, religious leaders affiliated with the “Not All Like That” Christian project held a news conference at the National Press Club to decry the anti-gay sentiment often expressed by others in their religion and leaders at the upcoming Values Voter Summit.
Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral in D.C., which earlier this year made the decision to conduct same-sex weddings, said it’s not enough for the religious to say they accept LGBT people, but also embrace them.
“It’s really important for the church to say, first, that sexuality is good and that sexuality is a gift, and that human beings are called to live out their sexuality freely and responsibility and creativity and compassionately and ethically with other people,” Hall said.
Heading up the conference was Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, who attributed the current gridlock in Washington to the kind of vitriol coming from the religious-right in American politics.
“I ask you: are politics in America more civil, more humane, dare I say more Christ-like since the infusion of the religious right?” Besen said. “The answer is clear, Washington, and much of the country, is angrier, more dysfunctional and more fractured than ever. It’s time for change.”
The Values Voter Summit is set to take place in the Omni Shoreham Hotel in D.C. and will feature prominent conservatives like the National Organization for Marriage’s Maggie Gallagher, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-Minn.). Another prominent speaker is Ben Carson, a conservative neurosurgeon who once compared LGBT advocacy to endorsing pedophilia and bestiality.
Michael Keegan, president of the People for the American Way, said the upcoming Values Voter Summit marks the “high holidays of extremism” for leaders of the religious right.
“They are extremists that have pushed vicious smears against progressives, against immigrants, against non-Christians, and, I think, most importantly, and most frequently, members of the LGBT community,” Keegan said.
Brent Childers, executive director of Faith in America, expressed regret that he once partnered with organizations that held anti-gay views and decried that their actions are contributing young LGBT people’s decision to take their lives.
“If a pastor or church member asks you to partner with that message coming from those anti-gay religious organizations, tell them that you do not want to make a mockery of your faith,” Childers said, “because the message that would cause that type of harm cannot be sanctioned by the Christian faith.”
The news conference highlighted new videos for that NALT Christian Project, which aims to provide a voice for Christians who want to post online videos of themselves to proclaim they’re “not all like that” in terms of holding anti-gay views. Among the new videos were from Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop.
In response to the Washington Blade’s inquiry on the news conference, the Family Research Council replied by sending its own video depicting Dan Savage, a co-founder of the NALT Christian Project, as bully to Christian teens. The video includes Savage using profanity as he rails against the religious right.
Besen responded to the video by saying that the Family Research Council is seeking to deflect attention away from its “insidious message” by taking Savage’s comment grossly out of context.
“Savage may use naughty words, but he is correct to point out FRC’s naughty behavior,” Besen said. “Furthermore, Savage has never worked to strip fundamentalist Christians of their rights, while FRC is a lobby group that works tirelessly to keep LGBT people as second class citizens.”
Following the news conference, Besen told the Blade he thinks progress can be made in encouraging religious leaders to be more pro-LGBT because younger people of faith, like other young people, tend to be more accepting. Still, Besen noted there’s still challenges.
“There’s still a heavy price to pay if you come out in support of equality, you could have a divisive issue, you could lose your job,” Besen said. “We’re starting to see the change where we you can speak out, I believe, but it’s going to take a lot of work.”