The Rev. Roger Butts, interim minister at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, couldn’t sleep the night of Nov. 20. Some 700 people had come through the doors of his church that day for three vigils of a mass shooting that happened at a queer nightclub in Colorado Springs the night before.
So he sat in his Archie Bunker-style favorite chair and began writing.
“I have all these friends who are clergy people, and I decided to write to 10 of them and say I really think we need a letter that asks for an end to hate speech and affirms in direct language our acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community,” Butts said.
He received enough positive response that he invited other clergy to sign the letter.
“The idea was to express our sadness and grief that there’s so much hate speech around this community and to just say despite all of our differences the one thing that we affirm is that there’s beauty, worth and dignity in that community,” Butts said.
A total of 53 clergy representatives from denominations including Mennonite, Baptist, Episcopalian, United Methodist, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Unitarian Universalist, Congregational, United Church of Christ, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Community of Christ, nondenominational community churches, two local Jewish synagogues, a Zen school and a Buddhist center signed the letter and sent it to The Gazette.
The letter published in the Nov. 27 edition of the newspaper and online at gazette.com.
“Despite our different theologies and approaches, we wanted to say you may have heard about religions that want you to change — ours are not among them,” Butts said. “We want everybody to grow in wisdom and spirit, but we don’t believe one’s gender identity is in need of change.”
The primary call is for the community to end the "political, civic and religious hate speech" against LGBTQ+ people and provide "unconditional affirmation."
The group also wants to "convene a summit to address specific policies that will create a "safe space" for the LGBTQ+ community. And the faith leaders want residents and candidates for public office to sign a "Not in Our Town" pledge to "address hate and bullying and create safe communities for all."
Many congregations that backed the letter are considered progressive churches known for supporting LGBTQ+ people, Butts said, but others are not so public about their views.
“I am proud of the fact that this is so interfaith, and it’s not the usual suspects — there are all kinds of folks,” he said.
But not everyone who received an invitation to sign the letter did.
One faith representative thought it was too Judeo-Christian, Butts said. Another said it was not in line with the theology of their organization.
“I say to my siblings on that side of the aisle, love people more than your ideas, love people more than your theology, love people more than your politics,” Butts said. “I am not going to spend any time worrying about those who didn’t sign,” he said. “All we can do is bear witness to our deepest values.”
Among those who don’t agree with the letter's messages is Colorado Springs resident Joseph Ford, who has taught classes on Bible studies.
“It’s absolutely horrible what happened, but the way the clergy is responding saying we affirm what you’re doing at the club or at home or wherever and it’s fine — but it’s not what the Bible says,” he said.
“We should absolutely love them, but they need the gospel as much as anybody including the killer, and that’s not hate to tell somebody that," Ford said. “That’s love because you want to save their soul; their soul is what’s important.”
The letter is off track because it only shows the loving side of Christianity, Ford added.
“They’re saying Jesus loves you, but he doesn’t expect you to change, which is not true,” Ford said. “Jesus does love everybody. He does not love sin or condone sin.”
The Rev. Mike Cole, interim pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church, said he signed the letter not on behalf of his congregation but on behalf of himself.
“I felt it important to state to the community at large, and particularly the LGBTQ community, that there’s no place for hate in our community,” he said. “Also, that there are people of faith who want to welcome and encourage all of God’s children.”
Cole said he hopes that the letter’s call for action will “decrease the divisions in our community and the open hatred and hostility that the LBGTQ community receives.”
The Rev. Jen Williamson, a minister at Grace and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, signed the letter because the church wanted to show it “stands in solidarity with all those affected, and we’re a place where everybody is welcome and affirmed."
“In the Episcopal church, you can be LGBTQ and be a bishop, a priest, a minister,” she said.
“We do marriages, which some people may not know because it’s not the first impression people get from churches,” Williamson said. “We are a safe space, a place of love and acceptance.”