The LGBTQ+ community and Christianity in the South

By Hatim Saifee

Cathy Hope, who serves as the Grace Presbyterian Church pastor, opens the church doors to all members of the community, regardless of race, gender and sexuality. June is pride month and celebrations are causing excitement throughout the nation among the LGBTQ community.

Pastor Cathy Hope stands in front of her stoles at her office at the Grace Presbyterian Church, Tuscaloosa.

Hope is one of the many pastors who supports the LGBTQ community and promotes equality and acceptance. Her passion for LGBTQ rights was sparked by her disbelief in the traditionalist interpretation of the Bible.

“There are clobber scriptures that people use to condemn homosexuality,” said Hope. “However, there are also many Christians who will say that if you go back to the original languages, culture, time and place, what you discover is that it is not same-gender-loving relationships that are being condemned in any of the scriptures.”

Instead, she chooses to interpret the scriptures differently.

“Our understanding of human sexualities and our scientific research about sexuality has expanded very much,” said Hope. “It is important to bring scientific knowledge into conversation with our holy scripture and see how that dialogue unfolds.”

Growing up, Hope did not pay much attention to the LGBTQ community. Her experiences in Nashville, however, helped her become aware of the discrimination faced by LGBTQ members.

“When I was in Nashville, I was responsible for children’s activities at the church. What broke my heart was encounters with homosexual couples who visited our church, telling us that they were not welcome at churches, which are supposed to represent love. I said, ‘we’re going to do whatever we can to make you feel comfortable and safe.’”

Cory Armstrong, director of Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, faced this discrimination.

Armstrong first met her wife Sharon Baldinelli in 2004 and *had* a commitment ceremony in 2007 in Florida. However, homosexual marriage was not yet legal there, so Armstrong and Baldinelli flew to Maryland to get legally married in 2014. Although legal documents indicate their wedding year as 2014, they personally consider their real wedding date to be in 2007.

Despite their marriage in Maryland, Armstrong and Baldinelli were not legally recognized as a married couple when they moved to Texas, which forced them to pay for separate insurance.

“In June of 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court recognized same-sex marriage, it finally gave us what we were looking for — we could share our insurance, which helped us financially,” said Armstrong. “It had cost us an extra $5000 for separate insurance, which was absurd. So, we were incredibly thrilled.”

To advance toward equality for the LGBTQ community, Hope emphasizes the importance of making efforts toward acceptance and respect. She said the most important step is to accept LGBTQ people as regular people. The next step is to make efforts to empathize with them and understand their experiences. Additionally, people should educate themselves about the LGBTQ community and familiarize themselves with the terminology. Along with these steps, Hope wants people to respect and honor LGBTQ people for the values they embody.

“We need to be encouraged to see that we are all made in God’s image,” said Hope.

As for whether this change seems realistic in the near future, Hope is concerned about delayed progress.

“I think it will be a long time for many churches to come in support of this issue. But a lot of denominations already have, so there is hope.”