Comments from CLGS Executive Director Bernard Schlager on American Prayer Hour

February 4, 2010

On the morning of February 4, 2010, CLGS held an interfaith service in PSR's chapel to pray for peace, justice, and dignity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people around the world. It was part of a national gathering called the "American Prayer Hour," with key events in Washington, DC, Dallas, Chicago, and Berkeley. The following were the introductory comments by Bernard Schlager, executive director of CLGS.

Good morning and welcome. My name is Bernard Schlager and I serve as executive director of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry here at Pacific School of Religion.

We come together here this morning at The Chapel of the Great Commission as the West Coast site of The American Prayer Hour, a multi-city prayer gathering being held throughout the United States today to celebrate our humanity in all of its wonderful and beautiful diversity, and to affirm, as people of faith, the values of full inclusion and deep respect that are due to all of us, everywhere, as God’s children.

We are lesbian, transgender, queer, bisexual, and gay people of faith who join with our allies here and throughout the country today to pray for the survival and well-being of LGBTQ people here in the United States, in Uganda, and throughout the entire world.

We assemble this morning to offer a positive response, as people of faith, to the work of "The Family", an international and highly secretive organization of conservative Christians which today, in Washington, DC, hosted The National Prayer Breakfast, an event that it has held annually since 1953. Every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has attended this breakfast and last year, over 3,000 politicians from the U.S. and around the world took part in the event.

We gather now and here in this Hour of Prayer to raise our voices in protest to the role that "The Family" and other conservative Christian groups have played in supporting and encouraging the homophobic environment which led to the "Anti-Homosexuality Bill" recently proposed in the Ugandan parliament, a bill that would criminalize homosexual acts, severely punish gay rights advocates, incarcerate, and, in some cases, even execute, homosexuals in Uganda. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and David Bahati, the member of parliament who introduced this bill, are both friends of "The Family."

If passed, this Anti-Homosexuality Bill would require Ugandans to report suspected homosexuals to authorities under penalty of law; make homosexuality a crime punishable by life imprisonment; and, in some cases, punishable by death. This law, if enacted, will make criminals of the family, friends, neighbors, and acquaintances of LGBTQ people who fail or refuse to report LGBTQ persons to the authorities.

What are the reasons given by its sponsors for proposing such a draconian law? What, in the minds of these politicians and others, provides the justification for a statute that would imprison and murder human beings who are LGBTQ? Quite simply, it is this: their belief that Jesus has called them to rid their country of all homosexual persons.

Now we fully support the rights of people of faith everywhere to speak out and act upon the convictions of their faith but we believe – with a deep, deep conviction – that when people support and promote intolerance, hatred, violence, or death in the name of faith that we – as people of faith– have not only a right but we have a special responsibility – indeed, we have a sacred duty – to respond in a clear and resounding voice and to name such actions as what they truly are: hateful, inhumane, and contrary to the most basic teachings of the world’s great religious traditions.

Just a few hours ago in Washington, DC, at the National Prayer Breakfast, President Barack Obama had this to say to those assembled about this Anti-Homosexuality Bill:

"Surely we can agree that it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are – whether it’s here in the United States or, as [Secretary of State] Hillary [Clinton] mentioned, more extremely in odious laws that are being proposed most recently in Uganda."

And so, we come together here today as people of faith who belong to a variety of spiritual traditions, including Jewish, Buddhist, Christian, Pagan, Hindu, Unitarian Universalist, and many others.
We assemble together this morning to respond--through prayer, through song, through silence, and through the peaceful and non-violent action that our faith traditions call upon us to take--to respond to the injustices that LGBTQ people experience on a daily basis in this country and throughout the world because of our gender expressions and because of whom we love and how we love.

But we know that we must expand our concern and our commitment to prayerful reflection and responsible social action so that it include the many other persons in our society and in our world who are excluded, discriminated against, and experience injustice of all sorts because of their race, their ethnicity, what they believe, their age, country of origin, socio-economic status – and for countless other reasons offered by those who advance agendas of exclusion and intolerance.

We join here in prayer and protest today to respond to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill now under consideration in Uganda because we know that, by failing to respond, we fail our sisters and brothers there and, indeed, everywhere who are at risk of assault, injury, and death because of who they are and how they choose to live their lives with integrity and honesty.

Please join us in writing letters of protest to the Ugandan Ambassador to the United Nations; the Embassador of Uganda to the US; and the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Ugandan Embassy in Washington, DC. Their names, titles, and mailing addresses are listed at the top of the information sheets placed at the doors at the back of the chapel. This handout also reprints an article from last month’s New York Times which documents the role of three American evangelicals who presented a conference on homosexuality in Uganda, a conference which promoted their messages of hate among Christians in that country. I quote from the Times article:

"For three days, according to participants and audio recordings, thousands of Ugandans, including police officers, teachers and national politicians, listened raptly to the Americans, who were presented as experts on homosexuality. The visitors discussed how to make gay people straight, how gay men often sodomized teenage boys and how 'the gay movement is an evil institution' whose goal is 'to defeat the marriage-based society and replace it with a culture of sexual promiscuity.'"

The names and mailing addresses of these three Americans are also listed on the handout at the back of the chapel. Please write to them as well to express your outrage about their campaign to target and persecute LGBTQ persons in Uganda.

Let us also take the opportunity offered us in this hour of worship today to reflect upon our own personal and communal responsibility to build a world in which the values of full inclusion and deep respect (that are due to all of us as God’s children) become a reality because we work to make it so.

And we gather together here this morning to look more deeply into our own hearts and to examine our own lives so that we might root out the many intolerances that we harbor within ourselves and so that we may rid our own souls of the prejudices that we have allowed to fester and grow within. We come together because we know that we need each other to become the people we profess to be; we need one another to live into the persons we know that we are called to become.

I welcome you to this American Prayer Hour. Let us join together – in song and prayer, through silence and the spoken word – to build a world "where justice shall roll down like waters, and peace like an ever-flowing stream."