It's no small feat to come out when your community refuses to affirm your identity. The first gay man I met was a Christian. While he is no longer involved in a church, we first connected at Waverley Baptist -- the church which was recently vandalised with graffiti stating 'crucify 'no' voters'.
It's a bizarre slogan to read on the walls of a building which (perhaps unintentionally) shattered my own homophobia. And yet, it's not surprising that a community which earnestly values open doors and open hearts has led to a few more open minds.
When I met my friend at Waverley Baptist, I had attended this church most my life. It was precisely because of the stories I learned in this place that I saw no problem in accepting and affirming my friend and his sexual identity.
Every Sunday we would hear stories of God's heart for those on the margins and God's anger towards the powerful who exploited their power to maintain their privilege. It's hard to hear these stories each week and not be filled with compassion for homosexuals who have been driven to suicide because people in positions of social and cultural authority continuously denounce their identities.
At Waverley Baptist we learned to read scripture in its social and historical context. A handful of the Christian Bible's 30,000 verses appeared to endorse slavery and the oppression of women. Yet when understood through the broader narratives of love, justice, and grace, I learned that it was dishonest to strip a few verses from their historical context and use them to persecute others. While it wasn't the unanimous opinion of all church members, some of us saw no reason why we shouldn't use the same literary lens for the half-dozen references to homosexual acts in the Christian Bible.
I also spent several of my formative years involved at another church, which on the same weekend was graffitied with the slogan 'bash the bigots'. Behind these walls I played in a worship band singing the words of lesbian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching who described God as 'always merciful and good, so good.' And again, seeing the graffiti on these walls left me amused: this was another sacred place which caused me to be less bigoted than I otherwise would have been. Authentic religion has a way of cleansing us from such sin.
I distinctly remember discussing gay marriage with a pastor at the church's youth group about 10 years ago. He told me that gay marriage would inevitably be legalised and that he wouldn't be out with signs protesting its legalisation. My own concerns that all Christians were actively trampling upon the rights of homosexuals were now starting to crumble. And it seemed as if Christianity was the very cause of this.
Even more influential were the people I met at these churches who dedicated their lives to sustainable overseas development, fair trade initiatives, prison ministries, refugee rights, and yes -- even the rights of sexual minorities. It seems to me that these are the natural outworkings of a life dedicated to a homeless Palestinian man who called on us to risk everything we have to love our neighbours, and even our enemies.
Religious institutions are notoriously slow to support social change. Perhaps this is a symptom of their love affair with power. However, it is their very teachings which shattered my homophobia. Perhaps they could shatter yours, too.