A Rainbow Pilgrims panel Monday (5 Sept.) called “Do No Harm” focused attention on how churches either help or hinder advances in protection for LGBTIQ+ people in multiple contexts.
Misza Czerniak, co-president of the European Forum of LGBT Christian Groups, is from Russia originally and now lives in Poland. In Russia, sexual activity between same-sex couples has been legal since 1993, but there is no anti-discrimination protection for LGBTIQ+ people, or specific prohibition of hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.
“Harm is not isolated,” he said. “It usually escalates to include more people being harmed and offers more ‘reasons’ for causing harm.”
The harm that is done is systemic, he said, noting the words of Patriarch Kyrill of Moscow justifying the war in Ukraine—gay rights in his opinion being a sign of corruption—and opposing Western influence. Much more is needed from churches than only fighting the symptoms of LGBTIQ+ oppression. “Fight systemic sin systemically!”
Czerniak was lead signator of a 2016 letter to Orthodox Church leaders.
Shirley Lam of Hong Kong spoke of different levels of legal protection in east Asia, but it was her words about personal experiences of discrimination even in LGBTIQ+ spaces that drew strong responses from the Canisiushaus audience. Gender bias against women persists, as does discrimination against bisexual, pansexual, and transgender people. She was forced to leave a church in Hong Kong because the male members would not allow female members to go beyond servant tasks, like governing and preaching.
She was asked, “As the harm towards LGBTQ+ people is systemic, what can churches do systemically to change this?” Her response: “If your church has missing pieces, there is a reason behind that. You need to find out what the reason is and address that systemically.”
Speaking of a variety of different situations in the Americas, Canada’s Jim Hodgson focused on the ways that some evangelical churches and mission organizations ally themselves with conservative political forces to attack gender-justice advocates and LGBTIQ+ people. These groups, usually funded from the global North, endanger hard-won political and legal protections.
In Colombia, the stories of victims of the long civil war, including women and LGBTIQ+ people, are being finally told. “But the very act of gathering such stories, and then the strong influence that voices of victims had in the peace process, enraged conservative politicians and their religious allies,” he said. “To them, telling the stories and demanding change represented the imposition of gender ideology.”
Christian fundamentalists justify themselves by waving the banner of religious freedom, he added. “Freedom of religion is like freedom of speech. Neither can be upheld in ways that promote hatred or undermine the rights of women or people who are discriminated against.”
*As you might have noticed, your reporter was part of the panel. Thanks to Wielie Elhorst of the European Forum and Abbey Hudson of the Global Interfaith Network whose posts on Facebook and Twitter contributed to this article.