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By Sharon Gittleman
What can the gay clergy and their allies do to help bring positive change to their parishioners lives?
A great deal, if Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer has his way. Schuenemeyer was one of the speakers at a forum spotlighting the role faith has in improving civil rights for members of the LGBT community.
“The primary message was know what your story is and organize so you can share it,” said Schuenemeyer, minister for LGBT concerns for the United Church of Christ’s national office.
More than three dozen members of the Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Jewish and other denominations listened to speakers talk about their experiences in their faiths.
They heard Schuenemeyer and others share practical ideas about establishing equal rights for all with the help of members of religious communities.
“Make sure your elected officials know your positions and encourage others who share your views to contact them,” he advised. “Work with other statewide and local organizations that want to build the movement for equality.”
Schuenemeyer urged attendees to be prepared to be the voice championing equal rights especially when there are opposing views expressed.
“Heterosexualism” and misogyny are deeply rooted in our culture, he said.
“It’s trying to hold on to this patriarchal system,” he added. “People become the scapegoats for people trying to hold on to the patriarchy.”
Some carry an irrational fear that their children will be corrupted or exposed to extreme vulgarity by gay people according to Schuenemeyer.
“The bottom line on turning the tide is people who are LGBT telling their stories. People are realizing they’ve been told lies about what this is all about,” he said.
Schuenemeyer says that many mainline churches are in the middle of their struggles for equal rights for all members.
“They’ve continued to make strides,” he said.
Rev. Henry Brinker, interim pastor at First Congregational Church – United Church of Christ Imlay City, helped organize the forum, held at the Congregational Church of Birmingham, United Church of Christ Feb. 10.
“Our church denomination is in the forefront of taking leadership in this area,” said Brinker. “We believe in the teachings and example of Jesus, particularly in the area of peace and justice, faith issues and equality for all human beings.”
Brinker leads a group called the “Circle of Hope,” LGBT people seeking spiritual strength and support.
“I’m openly gay,” he said. “I was a Lutheran church pastor for 23 years. When I came out of the closet I had to resign. It changed my whole life.”
He lost his faith in God and his religion, he said.
“I lost all the dignity I had,” said Brinker.
He regained his life after he was invited to preach in a church following a period of years.
Brinker said the forum was even more successful than he’d anticipated.
“That a group like this was willing to come together, to work as a common cause for LGBT people and their families,” he said.
People at the forum spoke about their experiences of homophobia and bigotry.
“One person shared how he was beaten in the head with a tire iron and left for dead,” said Brinker. “My goal is to help people who have been wounded or given up hope because of their experience with the church. I’ve come through it myself.”
Brinker added he’s never felt more fulfilled and happier in his life.
Penny Lowes is the pastor at the Congregational Church of Birmingham, United Church of Christ.
“We are a church that is totally open and have ordained gay members since 1972,” she said.
Christianity has sometimes used a narrow and literal interpretation of the bible to condemn LGBT people, according to Lowes.
“Some faith traditions say you’re in or your out,” she said. “Many of us say we need to look at the historical, social, and health traditions of that time.”
Jesus’ great commandment is love God with all your heart, mind and strength and love your neighbor, said Lowes.
“I think personally, people use scriptures to perpetuate certain myths that give people power over others,” she said.
LGBT people and their friends would do well to build relationships with religious and other authorities before they share their stories.
“Form alliances between gay and straight folks within churches so there’s an understanding we’re all people together,” she said. “Advocate for equal rights.”