Standing in a sea of people literally jumping for joy — word just got out that the Supreme Court struck down the ban on gay marriage — James Rowe held a sign over his head that read, “God Loves Gays.”
Not only is he a gay man, but he’s a man that loves God and the Catholic Church, two things at one point he never thought he could be at the same time.
“I never would have dreamed that after a decade long absence that I would one day want to return to the Catholic Church…and I have,” he said. “Or that I would want to stand at the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court holding a sign in front of thousands of people that says “God Loves Gays”…and I have. I had no idea just how much healing I had left to do before I started working at Believe Out Loud.”
Rowe is the director of Believe Out Loud, an online community working to encourage Christians to assert their support for the LGBT community. It all started with a study released in 2009 by the Public Religion Research Institute, “Clergy Voices,” that concluded that if you had the support of the mainline Protestants for equality, the rest of the country was sure to follow.
“This is about love and as Christians, we are taught to follow the teachings of Christ and Christ never said a word about LGBTQ people,” Rowe said. “If your church is telling you that you are not loved by God or worthy of God’s love because you are LGBTQ – it might be time to find a new church.”
And Believe Out Loud can help with that – the nonprofit has created an online database of welcoming and affirming Christian churches across the country, with 5,000 and counting as a part of the list.
Many branches of the Christian faith have been in the forefront of supporting LGBT equality, including the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church. In fact, the latter has been welcoming of LGBT people since 1976, and over time the church welcomed openly gay bishops and even conducted same-sex union blessings. In fact, right after the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage in June, the Episcopal Church voted in its General Convention to support same-sex marriages in their churches.
“One of the holdouts right now is the Methodist Church and then of course you have the Catholics who are trailing way, way, way behind,” Rowe said. “I’m Catholic myself, so it’s very important to me to help get them on board with this.”
With marriage equality now the law of the land, Believe Out Loud has been vocal against businesses and people claiming religious exemptions from conducting marriage ceremonies or catering to “gay weddings.”
“We are here to also counter those voices,” Rowe said. “It’s our Christian values and our Christian faith that propels us to stand up for equality and for justice for the LGBT community as well.”
One of the agency’s biggest projects is the Paint America campaign. Believe Out Loud mails thousands of rainbow cross bumper stickers and flags to churches across the country from June to October with the hope they will display them. Seeing a rainbow flag or cross at the door of a church can mean the world to an LGBT person wanting to find a safe place to worship.
In September, Believe Out Loud will be going to Philadelphia and joining with Catholics to see Pope Francis during the World Meeting of Families, representing LGBT Catholics.
Other issues that Believe Out Loud is tackling include spiritual abuse, LGBTQ homelessness, violence against transgender women of color, racial justice, employment discrimination, and inclusive healthcare.
The Catholic Church became an important part of Rowe’s life early on as a child, when he would go to church services by himself. When he came out as a teen in the ‘80s, the AIDS crisis was in its infancy and being gay was not welcome both in society or in the church. He decided to leave the church, a decision he thought he was fine with until he learned about Believe Out Loud and began working there. Now, he regularly attends Pride services at Saint Francis of Assisi in New York City.
“What you see in the mainstream media isn’t always the case as it relates to welcoming LGBT people in the Christian church,” he said of religious stereotypes. “Don’t give up on either of your identities. Don’t’ give up on identifying as LGBT and don’t give up on God and Christ. What you’re taught in the church isn’t necessarily what Jesus taught.”