All across Alaska, there is a rich and strong history of LGBTQ-affirming faith communities that are getting to the heart of everyday dignity and justice for our neighbors.
For more than 20 years, I’ve been serving as the rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, a welcoming and affirming congregation in Anchorage. My position at St. Mary’s sometimes leads to opportunities to walk alongside those who are struggling. I have spoken with many Alaskans who have a hard time understanding their LGBTQ family members and reconciling their deep love with their religious upbringing. I understand that many people may have complex views on LGBTQ people, but Holy Scripture itself is clear: We’re all made in the image of God, worthy of love, dignity and respect.
Each Sunday, we gather for the celebration of Holy Eucharist. This central sacrament and ritual of our faith is a means of God’s grace to us. In it, we experience healing and forgiveness. By it, we are strengthened and renewed to be instruments of God’s work in this world. In the longstanding tradition of St. Mary’s, all are welcome at the Lord’s table, and both our leadership and our faith community are blessed with many members from the LGBTQ community.
Here at St. Mary’s, as well as in many of our sister faith communities, we open our hearts and minds, and our churches and spaces to all people. I have come to know LGBTQ Alaskans and learned the bigotry and discrimination that they sometimes face. I hear their gut-wrenching stories about how they were unfairly treated by a landlord, a homeless shelter, a retail clerk or a medical provider who point to their religious beliefs as a justification for discrimination. These cases are not unique to Alaska. A recent survey found that more than 1 in 3 LGBTQ people in the U.S. faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including more than 3 in 5 transgender Americans. We all have a right to our religious beliefs, but this does not give us the right to use our religion to harm others.
Failing to protect others from discrimination goes against our values as both Christians and as Americans, and it hurts us all. I believe treating others the way we want to be treated is a core value that should never remain absent in our laws. It is not enough for us to talk about faith — we must live out our faith. We must do everything in our power to make sure that Alaska is a safe place to live, work, and raise a family for all people, including those who are part of the LGBTQ community. They are our neighbors. They are “us.”
Because of a lack of comprehensive laws at the federal level and in many states like Alaska, I stepped into a new world of advocacy by helping found “Christians for Equality” to advocate for nondiscrimination protections across The Last Frontier. With many other faith leaders, pastors, and lay people, I knew I was not alone in believing that LGBTQ people are loved by God. There are many faith leaders who know and practice this belief in Alaska. For nearly a decade, we fought for and championed freedom and equality in cities like Anchorage and Ketchikan. I’m proud that our communities recognize the immeasurable value of protecting our LGBTQ neighbors. While 21 states and more than 350 cities in the U.S. have passed LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, this patchwork of protections is unsustainable and leaves too many people behind. In America, standards of equality shouldn’t change based on where you live, work or travel. This is not who we are as Americans.
I hope our federal lawmakers from across the political spectrum – Republican and Democrat alike – come together to pass federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. Across the country, 76% of Americans say they support LGBTQ protections, including 62% of Republicans, 79% of Independents, and 85% of Democrats.
America is ready for Congress to pass clear, comprehensive, and secure nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Americans nationwide. It is my hope that Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan show moral leadership and engage in good-faith negotiations to get a federal nondiscrimination law like the Equality Act passed as soon as possible.
When we take action to protect the most vulnerable among us, we are declaring that we will lead with love, with kindness, and with compassion.
Rev. Michael Burke is the Rector of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Anchorage and a co-founder, along with other clergy and lay people, of Christians for Equality, a coalition of churches and faith leaders committed to living out the loving, liberating and life-giving Gospel of Jesus Christ.
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