The Right Rev. Gary Paterson is Moderator of The United Church of Canada
Even though I lead a mainline Christian church, I seldom wear a clerical collar. But I will wear one this weekend – for a very particular reason.
I have been invited to participate in the WorldPride 2014 Parade in Toronto, and I will wear this symbol of Christian ministry as a visible sign that not all Christians think LGBTQ people are sinners. In doing so, I want to convey, without having to use words, that the condemnation and judgement inflicted on LGBTQ people by some in the Christian church, both in Canada and around the world, are wrong. I also want to proclaim my conviction that using biblical texts to justify discrimination against the LGBTQ community does not reflect a true understanding of scripture.
I say this, not just as the spiritual leader of Canada’s largest Protestant denomination, but also as an openly gay man who is married to another United Church minister. My husband, the Rev. Tim Stevenson, will join me in the parade as we both proudly bear witness to our church’s belief that all people, including those who are LGBTQ, are made in the image of God and are loved by the Creator.
But I will also be marching with humility because, as progressive as The United Church of Canada has been, particularly with regard to breaking down barriers for LGBTQ people in ministry, it has not always been so. And challenges still exist in some places.
Nevertheless, I will be there because I want to model an alternative Christian view that acknowledges God’s delight in diversity and variety, affirms LGBTQ people, and celebrates their gifts. I want to declare loudly and clearly that LGBTQ people are God’s children and should be accepted and welcomed as full members of the church. I feel deep sadness and anger when religious leaders and organizations fail to recognize that reality and condemn LGBTQ people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. The cost has been tremendous suffering, oppression, and diminishment of their humanity.
I hope that by marching in the WorldPride Parade, my presence will serve, in some small way, to counter the voices of exclusion and hatred that target members of the LGBTQ community in the church and society.
As I march, I will pray for those who have been rejected by their families, friends, and communities because they have refused to hide in the closet any longer.
I will pray for those who face discrimination and harassment at work, in church, in school, and in their communities.
I will also pray for those who have taken their own lives as a result of being shunned or bullied, and for those who have been jailed, tortured, and murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I will also be marching for those who still live in closets of shame or fear, with doors sealed shut by churches that misuse scripture to justify their prejudices. I hope that my presence in the parade will give these LGBTQ individuals courage - knowing that some of us believe God’s love is far more encompassing and inclusive than the messages of hate and condemnation that they have been hearing from some within the Christian church.
And so, in the end, my hope is that a simple clerical collar will say it all. Whether you identify yourself as a person of faith or not, and whatever your sexual orientation or gender identity, I hope you will know that you are a beloved child of God.