The separation of Church and State is one of the strongest foundations of our American democratic system, and is a principle taught in every school nationwide. The delicate and precarious balance between the two is illustrated by the fact that secular law is a variable, while sacred dogma is a constant. Civic leaders must respond to the changing needs of an evolving society, while leaders of faith have the responsibility to inform the conscience of their congregations with the eternal verities. The two in combination constitute our culture at its best: literate, energized, integrated, and operating from reference points of understanding and integrity. In times of unrest and change, however, extremists from both sides have tended to blur the distinction between the sacred and the secular.
As the LGBTQ segment of the world population takes giant steps toward achieving full equality, it has elicited just such an extremist response from two very powerful religious sects in the United States. The Moral Majority and the Roman Catholic Church have taken a firm stance as the political opposition, making little or no reference to the humanistic aspects of what is certainly a very complex situation.
David Lane, in his third op-ed for WorldNetDaily, wrote, “Christians must be retrained to war for the Soul of America and quit believing the fabricated whopper of the “Separation of Church and State,” the lie repeated ad nauseam by the Left and liberals to keep Christian America—the Moral Majority–from imposing moral government on pagan schools, pagan higher learning, and pagan media. What is our goal? To wage war to restore America to our Judeo-Christian heritage with all our might and strength that God will give us. What is our aim? One word only: victory, in spite of all intimidation and terror, victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory, America will ultimately collapse.”
New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, America’s highest ranking Roman Catholic, was silent for ten days following the murder of Mark Carson on May 17, finally offering a 19-second-long remark at the end of a 45-minute radio talk show appearance, saying, “You look even at the violence in our own city with some homosexuals who have recently been beaten and killed. I mean that’s just awful, that flies in the face of Divine Justice. Every human life deserves dignity and respect, right? Anytime life is attacked we all suffer.”
Simultaneously, as head of The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Dolan issued a nationwide bulletin to every Roman Catholic parish in the U.S. entitled “Marriage and the Supreme Court,” stating, “A broad negative ruling [against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8] could redefine marriage in the law throughout the country, becoming the Roe vs. Wade of marriage.” The document goes on to urge that parishioners oppose change of any sort and uphold the traditional form of marriage, with the injunction to “Fast, Pray, Sacrifice” and “Advocate for Marriage”.
The Moral Majority and The Roman Catholic Church are related as Christian in only the most remote sense, but their messages and methods are virtually identical. David Lane would serve up misinformation in the name of truth and stir up an emotional frenzy in his audience. Cardinal Dolan would deprive his congregants of the ability to think logically by imposing fasting and other forms of self-mortification, and induce in them a sensation akin to, but categorically different from, spiritual rapture. Both messages are unabashedly violent and secular: war is war, the extremist response to Roe vs. Wade is to bomb clinics and shoot doctors in their offices, and nowhere in Cardinal Dolan’s document does the wording “sacrament of marriage” appear.
Gruesome illustrations of the merging of Church and State are occurring daily in Russia and Iran, where in the one land it is now a serious crime to teach anyone under the age of 18 about homosexuality, and in the other, thousands of homosexual deaths have been documented by Human Rights groups.
News of escalating violence against LGBTQ’s in France, the Near East, the country of Georgia, Nigeria, across the continental United States, and here in the Five Boroughs delineates what has become a global divide, characterized by staggering degrees of both oppression and suppression.
In New York City, three congregations have stepped forward with courage, clarity, and simplicity, and have raised voices of reason and compassion in their effort to harmonize discord.
On West 31st Street, only blocks away from the recent Herald Square bias crimes, the Roman Catholic Church of St. Francis of Assisi issued an immediate public statement of support to the LGBTQ community, possibly under threat of diocesan censure, saying, “Every act of gay bashing, or violence against homosexuals because they are gay or lesbian, is a sin and a crime against human dignity. To our gay brothers and sisters, we assert our solidarity with you. To any members of our church who struggle with anti-gay prejudice, we call upon you to reflect on Jesus’ words at The Last Supper: “As I have loved you, so you should love one another.” (John 13:34)
From the heart of Christopher Street, Reverend Mark E. Erson, of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, preaches that it is necessary to “re-think our thinking” and to “summon religious leadership to do what it is that churches are meant to do,” take on active and essential roles in the community, and purge all hate and prejudice from language, using the words of Jesus, the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles as their guide. The language of the New Testament is “a language of welcome to all,” says Rev. Erson, and Christ continually encourages us to “Be not afraid.”
As a central component of Erson’s church’s dialogue with both parishioners and passers-by, he has installed an impossible-to-ignore memorial to those persons who have been injured or killed in anti-LGBTQ bias crimes: lavender name tags attached to the wrought-iron gate which serves as the main entrance to both the church and the parish house. There is supreme eloquence in this silent tribute.
On the institutional level, Judson Memorial Church, represented by both Community Minister of the Arts Micah Bucey and Reverend Michael Ellick, is on the verge of issuing an ecumenical invitation to believers and non-believers alike. Rainbow Door is a multi-dimensional initiative which, in a draft mission statement, proclaims, ”Our respective faiths call us to not only stand up for victims of direct violence and oppression, but to co-operatively work to transform violent religious rhetoric until all LGBTQ persons are safe inside and outside of faith communities. We commit to this call not because of changing times, not because of shifting politics, but because our faith has commanded and will always command such truthful, anti-violent action.”
Crucially, Rainbow Door will offer 365/24/7 no-questions-asked, non-conversion, safe houses for members of the LGBTQ community under threat of violence. Participating institutions will announce their sanctuary practice by prominently displaying the logo of Rainbow Door.
A congruent gesture from overseas has just become news: in the United Kingdom., the parents of an 18-year-old boy, who was killed in an anti-gay hate crime, have announced a campaign to raise one million pounds to create a safe haven for gay, lesbian, and transgender youth who are displaced.
The guiding principle for these initiatives is indeed to be found in the New Testament: “For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; thirsty, and you gave me to drink; a stranger, and you invited me in.” (Matthew 25: 35-45) Had this ministry been undertaken by St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church on Waverly Place and Sixth Avenue, only half a block from the scene of his murder, perhaps Mark Carson would be alive today.