Last week, SF Weekly reported that antigay group Stop SB48 had started collecting signatures for a referendum to overturn the FAIR Education Act, the nation's first law requiring public schools to include LGBT history in the curriculum.
We were contacted by the Evangelical Network, an S.F.-based group of LGBT Christian activists who support the FAIR Education act. SF Weekly interviewed president Todd Ferrell, who explained that Christianity is not at odds with gays and why the bill is necessary to prevent bullying.
What is the Evangelical Network?
It is a network of LGBT and straight evangelical Christians. We started in 1988 with the mission of letting people know that they can be gay and Christian and have a relationship with God. That has been our primary mission. In addition, starting in 2005 we have started another endeavor to build bridges with mainline evangelical churches and pastors, to help them better understand what and who the gay community is.
We're not coming at this from a political agenda. We are coming at this because there are lives at stake. We hope to make the church a safe place for future generations, to save lives in the process, and I really believe we're helping to create the church as it was intended to be, a place to welcome everyone.
How big is the Evangelical Network?
We have affiliates located throughout the U.S. and Canada. There are 25 churches affiliated with us, but our circle of influence (through our mailing list) is pretty big -- we've reached over 600,000 people.
How have the mainline churches responded to your outreach?
What I've found is that their idea of the gay community is that every day is gay pride and we all dress in drag, and everyone has 50 partners. But by developing these relationships with them, their whole paradigm and mindset is shifted and the negative stereotypes are all washed away. We've had some great conversations with churches in Sacramento and Southern California. Everyone we have talked to has recognized the need for discussion and so they are always very welcoming. It has not always been agreeable, but we agree to disagree.
When most people hear "evangelical Christian" and "LGBT," they think they are irreconcilable. How do you respond to this?
Well, I think you have to go back to the roots of what evangelical means. Unfortunately, most people hear that and think "right-wing" and "Republican." What evangelical means is that we believe that the gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. We believe that the Bible does not condemn LGBT people for being gay. We don't see that there is a conflict.
But many churches claim that the Bible condemns homosexuality. How would you respond to them?
I think that they're often misquoting scriptures. If they actually do the studying they'll find that those passages that have been used to condemn the gay community are taken out of context. They often deal with rape or with idol worship -- people who are worshiping pagan gods.
Last year we sat down with 23 evangelical pastors in Sacramento and spent all day going through the scripture with them. Most of them had never done the research on their own -- [what they taught] had just been passed down generation to generation. But we think they must do that investigation themselves, because there are people killing themselves over this situation. There are suicides, there are people leaving the churches, feeling like they are in a situation where they have to choose "God or gay?" and unfortunately many evangelical churches have put them in that position.
If they are misconstruing Scriptures, why have the antigay clergies had such a loud voice that they've come to represent American Christians?
Well I think it's for a number of reasons. I think money's involved. The evangelical church always has a topic de jour which they collect money off of. And if it's not abortion, it's gay rights. In the past, it was women in roles of leadership, and at some point, it was whites and blacks being able to go to church together.
Those were the devil issues at the time; they worked their way through that. Likewise, I strongly believe they will work their way through this issue too.
So you think that the Christian stance on homosexuality will change?
Yes. Another reason why a change is coming is that the younger generation don't have issues with homosexuality the way the older generation had. It's a generational change. Evangelical churches are losing membership and they are having to take a serious look as to why. The church is starting to wake up and realize that their future is at stake. I also think that it's coming through education.
Stop SB48, the group seeking a referendum, says that the FAIR Education Act "forces schools to use a social science curriculum that promotes the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender lifestyles that undermine traditional family relationships."
When I sat down with these pastors, I've let them know that the gay community has no agenda. What [the bill] is doing is recognizing the contributions and involvement of gay community in society. It's not a matter of special interest. There are all kinds of groups that have been [historically] excluded, like the Chinese community, or women, and this is just being inclusive. I'm very fair minded. I don't think it should be anything more or less than any other community's contribution. But it's part of the fabric of our society and those voices need to be heard and understood.
I don't think that you can ever go wrong by educating people and helping people understand. That's what we do as an organization. We share our lives and our stories. We become real people to [the people we talk to]. Before that it, it was as though we were three-headed monsters. "You're not so different from me," is what they're realizing. These textbooks would probably limit the bullying because it would start to strip away at the negative paradigms about the LGBT community.
Also, there's no science to prove that [teaching about LGBT contributions would undermine traditional family relationships]. There's no scientific study that substantiates that claim.