When I read the announcement that the Washington National Cathedral would begin officiating LGBT weddings, I felt a profound sense of homecoming. LGBT people across the country have often felt exiled from faith communities and this gracious symbol of welcome into the nation’s spiritual center feels like a call to begin anew. LGBT people of faith have spent years in the trenches struggling to make marriage equality a reality but have often gone unheeded in favor of the louder and shriller voices of the opposition who have repeatedly used religion as a weapon against LGBT people. As I discussed in a previous post, we have seen this image of religion change as the nation saw people of faith not just in support of marriage equality but often serving as the linchpin in the key ballot states of Maine, Maryland, Washington. This recent grace-filled gesture by the Cathedral’s Dean is a fitting symbol for how far we have come in a long journey toward reconciliation between people of faith and the LGBT community.
A few years ago, I attending a Maundy Thursday service at the National Cathedral. I had a particularly hard day. I needed anonymity, and I thought I would find it at the cathedral’s service. Instead, what I encountered was one of the most intimate services I’ve ever experienced. At the end, all were invited forward to the chance to wash each other’s feet in remembrance of Jesus’ commandment that we care deeply for one another. It was a powerful ritual act of healing and a reminder that we were all part of the human family where the things that divide us--rank, occupation, and identity--could literally be, at least for that brief moment, of service, washed away. The intimate act of humility was made more powerful by its setting in a beautiful and august hundred-year-old church. It was as if the religious establishment was humbling itself to its deepest calling to honor God through the simple act of loving and caring for one another. The service that night helped me find my way back to my own humanity and my faith by connecting me to something more profound than my individual struggles that day. I have that same feeling today as I reflect on the decision to open the cathedral to LGBT couples wishing to marry.
The best of who we are, as a nation and as communities of faith, is summed up in how well we love. When the National Cathedral welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender relationships because they have within them the same seeds of an expansive love that exist with straight couples, the church itself can be healed. Conversely, when our faith communities diminish our love or construct it as a disembodied political issue as if real lives were not at stake, we all suffer. When the National Cathedral takes the stand to value the most intimate relationships between people, it is in many ways humbling itself -- like Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. In so doing the church can find its way back to being the church again.
Of course, our work in religious communities is far from done. A great dialogue is currently happening between faith communities and LGBT people of faith. This is a very good thing. As we engage in this dialogue, LGBT people and allied people of faith are discovering a new found confidence. We are not simply defending ourselves from specious readings of the Bible but are asking boldly what does God call us to do? In Illinois, where marriage equality is up for debate, the Episcopal Bishop Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee wrote recently, “As a Christian, I believe that our society needs all of the sources and signs of grace that we can get. As a citizen of the United States, I believe in equal protection under the law. I believe that both ends will be served when marriage equality is the law of the land in Illinois, and I am grateful to be bishop in a church that offers all couples a community of faith, love, support and accountability.”
Celebrating marriage equality in our congregations is a celebration of love and thus is as Lee states, “a source and sign of grace.” Communities of faith still have a long road of reconciliation to travel, but the welcoming of committed and loving LGBT couples into the Washington National Cathedral is a profound symbol of how far we have come and of the healing that is emerging.
Dr. Sharon Groves, director the Religion and Faith Program at the Human Rights Campaign.