The following is the twentieth, and final, installment of the “Out of the Closet and Into the Pews” series. The series features members of The Reformation Project’s Inaugural Conference – a leadership conference for 50 straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians who are committed to reform.
The Conference will begin this Wednesday, September 18, 2013. You can follow and participate by using #TRP13 on Facebook and Twitter.
by Devin Kennamer (BEA guest writer)
On Sunday morning, September 15, 1963, four men planted dynamite under the back steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. At 10:22 in the morning. The bomb exploded, killing Addie Mae Collins, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, four little black girls who were attending church that day. This year in Birmingham, 50 years after the horrors of police brutality, segregation and “Bombingham,” the city is celebrating “50 Years Forward.” This celebration of progression towards the good has had me reflect on the thought of where we are now. How far have we come?
Although he ran virtually unopposed, in 1962, George Wallace carried 96% of the vote before going on to make his famous inaugural address that included the line,
“segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”
Wallace went on to be Governor of Alabama for 16 years, retiring in 1987. Wallace is also known for his famous “stand in the schoolhouse door,” where he attempted to stop the integration of the University of Alabama.
On the day that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was named unconstitutional throughout the land, our Governor, Robert Bentley made sure to emphasize that he still believed that marriage was a “sacred union between a man and a woman,” and that the topic of gay marriage is a “states issue.” The Governor also made it clear to say that the majority of Alabamians share that view, citing a 2006 referendum in which 81% of Alabamians voted to make same-sex marriages illegal.
Clearly, Alabama is not known to be a very progressive state. We’re often cited as being a little behind the rest of the country on civil rights issues. We’re leaps and bounds from where we once were, but we have quite a distance to go.
Reflecting on the bombing on the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, it really gets me thinking about the church and what it means to the shunned and oppressed. In 1963 Birmingham, churches like the Sixteenth Street Baptist, Bethel Street Baptist and others were refuges for those suffering under fierce community violence. Although organizations like the KKK claimed Christian roots, we never think of these organizations and actions to be modeled after Christ today. And, although Birmingham churches were mostly segregated in 1963, white businessmen and clergymen who had conviction in their heart spoke of integration and eventually started to change things from within.
But where has the church left the LGBT community? In many cases, unapologetically ousted. Kids are kicked out of their homes, pushed towards rebellious lifestyles and prone to suicide because of the anti-LGBT actions of the Christian church in America. Instead of having a place to seek refuge from all that is dark and hateful in this world, many are kicked to the curb simply because God made them different.
Of course, times are changing, and slowly, as more and more people re-examine their heart on this issue, the change is once again coming from within the church. Many denominations now officially recognize gay marriages, clergy, officers and of course members. There’s at least a small movement within nearly all denominations who are working towards a church of inclusion for LGBT people.
It’s happening nationwide, and it’s happening in the South too.
This past summer, I attended my first ever Pride event with a few close friends from college. The Central Alabama Pride Parade was scheduled to pass through Five Points South, just a small distance from my apartment in Birmingham. In all honesty, we didn’t expect to get much out of the experience, just that it would be a fun way to spend the afternoon. I was honestly concerned more protesters than marchers would attend it.
After arriving, I was shocked at the amount of people who were filling the streets: families, friends, and people from all walks of life were gathered to celebrate one single cause: love. It was a wonderful parade. Not a single protester in sight as the parade passed by Chick-Fil-A on the corner of 20th and Highland. After it was over, one of my friends erupted in tears. Hurt by LGBT oppression stemming from within the church, he was overwhelmed by the joy and love that was being poured out from every imaginable organization participating in the parade. (banks, churches, department stores, restaurants, etc.)
I’ve been fortunate to see firsthand the recognition of LGBT people in this city, and in this state expanding even within the past few years. In 2006, Alabama’s first openly gay member of legislature, Patricia Todd, was elected. Birmingham’s current mayor, William Bell, has also been extremely supportive of the community.
Although we may be further behind than most of the nation on this issue, our Southern love, hospitality, and passion for our beliefs is firing our community up – we’re ready for change, and times are changing.
In 2013, we’re in the middle of a new movement, and once more this movement is starting from within. Next week, just a few of many fighting for LGBT inclusion in the church will gather at Asbury United Methodist Church in Prairie Village, Kansas to educate, encourage, and organize with each other – just as great reformers in the civil rights movement did 50 years prior.
So 50 years later, as we reflect on what horrible things hatred can do, and seek encouragement in our battle for civil rights, I keep thinking about simple words I saw etched on a passing pickup truck’s bumper earlier this week:
God is good. Love wins.
Devin Michael Kennamer is a marketing professional living and working in Birmingham, Ala. Growing up in rural Northeast Alabama, he attended Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Fort Payne and spent many summers working at Ponderosa Bible Camp in Mentone. Devin was homeschooled from K-12 under the care of his loving parents and the supervision of his church. In May 2012, he received his B.S. in Mass Communications from the University of North Alabama in Florence.
Devin strives to spend his free time using his gifts to help give a voice to the LGBT community in the rural south. His ultimate desire is not only to see churches throughout the country embracing LGBT people, but to help make the LGBT community comfortable returning to the church.www.devinkennamer.com @DvnMichael