I have been distressed in recent weeks by letters appearing in The Westerly Sun to advocate for the removal of certain books from school libraries. A little online research reveals that the books in question are graphic novels created by members of the Queer community and written with the LGBTQ+ community in mind. The first of these letters was from a group of clergy in the area asking for the books to be removed as “pornography.” I commend these colleagues for signing their names to the letter. I do note the letter, and at least one subsequent letter, seemed to assume that the inclusion of such books in school libraries was a threat to parental rights concerning books their children might have access to in the schools. Unfortunately, they remain unaware of the pain their unwarranted claims about these books causes LGBTQ+ youth in our community, and their parents.
If one researches the two books in question — “Gender Queer” by Maia Kababe and “Fun Home” by Allison Bechdel — one soon finds that they both came out of major publishing houses, Simon & Schuster and the Houghton Mifflin Company. These are giants in the publishing industry with all the many layers of editing and legal expertise that is part and parcel of their decisions to publish any book. I doubt any pornographic book would ever survive review by their legal teams. These books also have Library of Congress catalog numbers and both are for sale on Amazon and in local bookstores. I find it difficult to believe any of these entities would ever put their own reputations at risk by endorsing or selling pornographic materials.
This is why I want our community to know there are Christian churches in this area, mine among them, which are supportive and fully inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community. This is because we believe God creates each person as God intends them to be. We leave the judging to God. Therefore, these folks who claim to be speaking on behalf of Christian values as they brand legitimately published materials as pornographic need to be seen as representing only one voice in the Christian community. They certainly do not speak for me. I recognize these folks hold values on this topic which are deeply and sincerely held. Mine are too. I write today to remind us that theirs are not the only faithful voices in our community. Theirs are not the only Christian voices in this community. In the progressive Christian tradition, we believe each person is equally beloved of God, especially those people pushed to the margins of our society. This includes people in the LGBTQ+ community, created by God to be who they are.
The unconditional love of God is beyond mere human ability to understand. This is why God is God and we humans are not. This is why our laws call for the separation of church and state. This book-banning request is a perfect example of the wisdom of that law. So is the recent request to the Stonington schools to remove PRIDE flags from individual classrooms. History tells us these kinds of intentionally exclusionary actions put us on a dangerous path where one religious voice is allowed to drown out all others. This is why my Christian faith requires that I speak out to remind us that human rights belong to everyone as equally beloved of God. No exceptions. This knowledge is the foundation of my faith, and my life as a follower of Jesus. It is for many others as well. We want our voices heard too.
The writer is pastor of United Congregational Church of Westerly in Pawcatuck and president of the Westerly-Pawcatuck Clergy Association.