“There is no they,” writes Andrew Marin in his new book Us Versus Us: The Untold Story of Religion and the LGBT Community, “It is, and always has been, us versus us.”
Marin’s book is timely and exceptionally well researched. His findings show that 86% of the LGBT community grew up in a house of worship, most likely a church.
86%. It took a while for that number to sink in. That’s why Marin reframes this discussion from “us versus them,” to “us versus us.” In Marin’s own words, the church has been in a “civil war.” The battle has been fought primarily by religious people against our LGBT sisters and brothers in the faith. Us Versus Us is full of stories about LGBT folk who have grown up in a church.
Some stories are painful to read. One woman “came to hate her faith because she believed her faith hated her.” Yet there are also a few stories of hope. One teenager came out to her conservative evangelical church. She felt “horrible” leading up to the conversation with her pastor and the church. Unlike many LGBT people, her story had a happy ending. “To my complete shock, when I came out everyone told me they loved me. The most memorable response actually came from my pastor. He said, ‘We are going to learn to overcome hate together. We aren’t going to hate each other. Then we’re going to help our congregation learn to not hate either.’” (Itals in original.)
It’s a beautiful but also painful quote. Beautiful because it speaks to that ability to listen and faithful grow together. Painful because of its honest hatred. For too long, the church has taught religious people to hate the LGBT community. To hate the people sitting next to us in the pews. That we have to learn to overcome hate, when Jesus taught us to love all people, points to the sad state of affairs within Christianity. But not just Christianity. Marin’s book shows the same pattern in Judaism, Islam, and other religions. Sadly, religion is often used as a justification to form an oppositional identity, one that is “us against them.”
And Marin is right. It’s time for the church to apologize and seek reconciliation with our brothers and sisters. He claims, “I believe the responsibility toward reconciliation belongs first with the church, which has much to lament.”
I received Us Versus Us in the mail on in June. Coincidentally, as I read Marin’s statement that the church needs to apologize, Pope Francis apologized to the LGBT community on behalf of the Catholic Church. After saying the church should apologize, he explained, “When I say church I mean Christians. The church is holy but we are sinners. Christians must say sorry for not having accompanied them … Christian must say sorry and not only for this. They must ask forgiveness, not just say sorry.”
Many are cynical. After all, while I love his words, Pope Francis doesn’t seem to be willing to make changes to Church doctrine. Fr. James Martin has a helpful analysis of this tension. He writes that Pope Francis’s apology is “groundbreaking” and continues by stating, “No pope has spoken like this regarding the LGBT community. Just a few years ago saying that the church should apologize to gays and lesbians would have probably gotten a person censured, disciplined or silenced. Why? Because a few years ago any call for an ‘apology’ would have been seen as a critique of church teaching on homosexuality.”
But, as Fr. Martin points out, the Church does teach that and LGBT person’s “inclination is objectively disordered.” In a pastoral, but also prophetic voice, Martin states, “… for most LGBT people [the phrase] is deeply offensive. (Imagine being told that a deep part of you, the part that feels love, is disordered.)”
Indeed. Imagine being told that you are “objectively disordered.” How would you respond? Imagine.
Andrew Marin’s book is important because it helps us imagine. It puts the stories and experiences of the LGBT community before us. Pope Francis says that the church needs to apologize because it hasn’t accompanied LGBT people. In fact, it has marginalized them.
The Good News for us is that more people within the LGBT community and beyond are speaking up. We can no longer have the categories of “us and them.” Indeed, as St. Paul wrote 2,000 years, we “are all one in Christ Jesus.”
It seems as though we are just catching up to Paul’s wisdom. There is no “us and them.” There is only “us” – one big human family. And so I’m grateful for Us Versus Us. It is an eye opening book that will help us accompany one another a little better.
Images: Book cover of Andrew Marin’s book Us Versus Us. Pope Francis at the canonization for John Paul II (By Jeffrey Bruno from New York City, United States – →This file has been extracted from another file: Canonization 2014- The Canonization of Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II (14036966124).jpg, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32436736)