Support From community and Religious Leaders
When it comes to the compatibility of Christianity and LGBTQ+ inclusion, the simple truth is that this debate is entirely cultural and, sadly, the Bible is the weapon of choice. As societies gain knowledge and grow, understanding of the Bible and how it informs our daily lives also grows.
Jesus spoke about condemning divorce, but today we see many divorced couples who are also wonderful Christians. Why? In Jesus' time, there were many men divorcing their wives without cause. In that culture, divorced women were left socially and economically abandoned which was offensive to who Jesus calls us to be as Christians. In the modern world, women do not need to rely on a partner for social and economic stability and we recognize divorce as a means, if necessary, to a healthier life.
In Genesis, we see the creation of Adam and Eve. However, our scientific understanding of biological sex tells us that there are more than male and female. Intersex persons are born with bodies that exist outside of the male/female binary. Either the writers of Genesis did not have this biological knowledge at the time of writing, or they were aware of more than two sexes but never anticipated the creation stories to be read as an exhaustive list of created species.
Now, the conversation about LGBTQ+ inclusion. First, the word 'homosexuality' was not created in the English language until the 20th century. Second, what has been translated as 'homosexuality' in English translations of the Bible refers to the use of same-gender sex for military or political gain, or in association with pagan rituals that would have been unacceptable to the Israelites. The biblical compatibility of LGBTQ+ inclusion is, frankly, a non-issue.
Why the debate?
LGBTQ+ inclusion is a face issue for foundational, theological dissonance that begins with the belief that the Bible is the literal Word of God. (I begin with this belief because as an LGBTQ+ person myself, my faith has been doubted by others who claim I do not follow the Bible as the literal Word of God.) If the Bible is the literal Word of God, then am I disobeying God by asking questions? If I am disobeying God, then will I be judged by God as unfaithful? Can I trust my pastor or my faith community who rely on the Bible as the literal Word of God for guidance? Will my pastor and faith community still accept me if I ask questions? If the Bible is not the literal Word of God, then where do I look to for an authority of moral and religious problems?
Is my pastor, my faith community, my family, my worldview, my understanding of Scripture and faith worth losing and rebuilding because my best friend/my sibling/my parent/my coach/my child told me they identify as LGBTQ+?
Many in the LGBTQ+ community ask themselves: Is my pastor, my faith community, my family, my worldview, my understanding of Scripture and faith worth losing and rebuilding because I, myself, identify as LGBTQ+?
LGBTQ+ youth are three times as likely to seriously think about suicide as their straight peers. LGBTQ+ youth are five times as likely to attempt suicide. LGBTQ+ youth make up 40% of the homeless youth population due to family rejection. Our young people are losing their lives. And, Jesus weeps (John 11:35).
When it is all said and done, I like to think that Jesus will ask each one of us not whether we got it "right" each moment of our faith lives but whether we lived out our faith in such a way that people found belonging and the love of God in us.
At St. Andrew, Rev. Mark Feldmeir begins each worship service with these words:
"No matter who you are or where you are on your journey,
No matter what you believe, or even if you believe at all.
Whether you’re a believer or a seeker, a saint or a skeptic, the lost or the found, you matter to God.
You are not alone.
You belong here.
Whether you’re feeling blessed or discouraged, emboldened or disillusioned by God or life, wondering or wandering, you’re welcome here.
You are not alone.
You belong here."
If you need a space to belong, know that you can always belong here at St Andrew.
RevX. Kendall Kridner-Protzmann
on behalf of St. Andrew United Methodist Church
My name is Claudia Aguilar Rubalcava and I am a pastor at First Mennonite Church in Denver, Colorado. In my almost 20 years in ministry, I have spent much of my time ministering to the LGBTQIA community. It is there where I have found some of the most committed and faithful followers of Christ, and I have seen firsthand the harmful effects of non-affirming theologies, especially among youth. These effects go from low self-esteem to anger issues to self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Having at least one affirming adult can save a child’s life.
I pray that Valor changes their stances on the LGBTQIA community as part of our call to radical hospitality as followers of Jesus Christ, the One who welcomed us all.
Claudia Aguilar Rubalcava
First Mennonite Church
Hello! I am a stranger to Valor, but I am no stranger to the kind of threats and anxieties that form the daily existence of a gay/queer person in Christian settings. The denomination I was raised in, the Evangelical Covenant Church, has recently stripped pastors of their credentials for performing gay marriages and has removed one of the oldest churches in the denomination for being generally welcoming to LGBTQ people. My undergraduate institution, Seattle Pacific University, will not hire openly gay professors, and it is currently facing lawsuits stemming from their recent refusal to promote a part-time nursing faculty member to full professor status dueto his marriage to a man.
All that to say, I was formed as a Christian within institutions that welcomed me on the level of participation in social life but would bar me from leadership positions. When institutions perform this kind of double speak, they are at best, confusing, and at worst, playing God with the lives and faiths of their members. We know that churches and Christian organizations that shun gay/queer people have caused a mass exodus of people from the church, some of whom who have quite reasonably lost faith. If God’s church hates me, why should I believe that God loves me? And why should I show up? These questions should be haunting the sleep of those in leadership at Valor who have made themselves instruments of this life-defying, God-defying judgment (Matthew 7:1).
The two-faced Christian formation I have described has resulted in deep questions and
contradictions in my own life and faith, and I have tried to learn from them. What does the church’s longstanding hatred of LGBTQ people mean about the church? What does it teach us about God? I am currently a doctoral student in theology at Yale. At Yale, I am part of a cohort of theology students which includes many queer people, and there are many queer professors on our faculty. I will be teaching Intro to Theology this new semester at our Divinity School, so the question is fresh in my mind: how does one teach theology in a way that opens up the study of God and God’s people to people who have been written out of the field and are still today removed from Christian communities?
Christian institutions keep LGBTQ people out of leadership in order to prevent LGBTQ students from learning about ourselves, both by seeing someone like us in a place of authority and by blocking gay/queer/trans topics from what is discussed in the classroom. I recently wrote an open letter to students at my undergrad college about what a queer mentor and teacher might tell students at a moment like this, and I’d like to share some of these things with the LGBTQ students and alumni at Valor. Others are more than welcome to keep reading.
It’s possible that you have experienced a community at Valor that—despite the rhetoric and actions of the administration—have made you feel like you belong, at least with them. Based on the recent media coverage of the situation at Valor, it looks like many of your fellow students as well as alumni are speaking out, so it may go without saying, but you are not alone. Pockets of queer joy and resistance may be created even in the most unlikely places.
Some of you may be feeling seriously hurt. Moments like this can have a huge impact both on who you know yourself to be and how you think about God and the world. Maybe God feels distant, maybe you know God is with you despite it all, maybe you want to fight vocally for LGBTQ people at Valor, maybe you are already exhausted. Regardless of where you are now and where you might be going, the awkward truth for the leadership of Valor is that whenever we draw a line between ourselves and others, God is on the other side. God will meet you where you are, wherever you are, even if that might look like a new home. Even if it sounds like singing a new song.
Valor’s mission is to “Prepare tomorrow’s leaders to transform the world for Christ.” In its homophobic policies, Valor is telling LGBTQ members of its community that they are not part of the community that is to help transform the world, but part of the world that needs to be transformed—a missiology of conversion therapy. However, Christ is already with you, and Christ is already out in the world. The image of God is a gift to you and all in creation; the indwelling presence of the Word is given to you and all in the incarnation. And the Spirit’s tongues of fire are a gift of Pentecost. Do not silence your tongue. Do not be naïve, but do not be afraid of the world. Do not be afraid if and when the church and Christian institutions throw you out into it, for the world, too, is a gift. And you are already part of it.
If you are desiring to remain in relationship with God after all of this, be willing to be transformed in encountering God and others, not through something like conversion therapy, which is evil, but in growing into your difference, growing into your gay/queer/trans-ness. Oftentimes, queer people seek acceptance by saying “I was born this way,” which is well and good, but it makes queerness sound like something to be ashamed of and only reluctantly tolerated. It is not: choose to live into it, as well. Sometimes following Jesus does mean leaving certain things and people behind—bringing not peace, but a sword, in the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. That, too, is faith.
This moment may consume you for a while, and that is to be expected, but do not be totally consumed. Few Christian institutions change unjust policies quickly, and many others will drag you through endless listening sessions, consultations, and lawsuits, dangling the possibility of change before you, maybe for decades. If just change is possible, it is worth fighting for. But don’t forget that you have so much more life to live. You have so much more to learn about God and the world and yourself. You have many more people to meet, more love to give and receive, more to do beyond coaxing respect and recognition from those who do not want to give it to you. There is more to your future than anything Valor can take from you or give to you.
May you live into that overabundance of life even now.
With much love,
doctoral student in theology
The Center on Colfax is saddened to learn of the mistreatment of LGBTQ+ alumni, faculty, staff and students at Valor Christian High School. A learning institution should be a welcoming space where all students can thrive and feel supported from classmates and staff no matter what their background. Using religion to mask discrimination is not okay. It’s incumbent on the leadership of Valor to thoroughly investigate these claims and find ways to support their LGBTQ+ students regardless of the school’s religious mission. The Center on Colfax stands ready to assist current LGBTQ+ Valor students through our Rainbow Alley program where we will be happy to refer them to counseling services while also offering a safe space for them to be their most authentic selves.
Vice President of Development & Communication
The Center on Colfax
A Pastoral Word to the Leadership of Valor Christian High School, Highlands Ranch, Colorado
I have been a Baptist Christian minister for almost two decades. I have followed God in the way of Jesus for even longer. As a minister, a parent, and a straight, white, cisgender man, I stand as an ally with Valor’s LGBTQI+ students and staff.
To be queer and Christian is not a spiritual or theological contradiction. Sure, it may be the school’s constitutional right to terminate staff who do not align with the institution’s Values Statement. But just because a so-called Christian school like Valor may have legal standing to ignore nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people does not make such actions morally and ethically right.
To summarize St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: Just because something is lawful doesn’t make it right. In fact, Christian history teaches us that the church has often believed it is right about Scripture when it has been patently wrong about the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What this circumstance has brought to light is destructive and sadly antithetical to the spirit of Jesus. To terminate a staff person for identifying as gay shuts down any chance for transformative conversation. It closes the door to any positive change. To put it bluntly: It’s the easy way out.
The claim of a Christ-like culture at Valor is proven heartbreakingly hollow when religious dogma is esteemed above human dignity. What’s being done in the name of tradition or even Christianity protects the privilege of the school’s leadership and decisions, but it does not protect queer staff and students from discrimination, prejudice, and abuse. It does not protect the vocational integrity of Inoke Tonga and Lauren Benner. It does not cancel out that what’s done in the name of religion or even religious freedom can inflict the deepest damage and trauma, as is the case with Valor LBGTQI+ staff and students based on their own testimonies and stories of pain and shame.
The time has come to reassess Valor’s values when it outright inflicts harm on students’ psyches and spiritual development. Many of our children’s lives and well-being depend on institutions like Valor to have as much valor as their LGBTQI+ students have shown by coming out with their stories. It is time for gracious inclusion, not gross condescension. Now is the time for Valor Christian High School to live up to their name. Now is the time to use their employment rights to do what is right; for repentance to be made and repair to be done.
Especially to Valor’s LGBTQI+ student community, know this: You are loved by God deeply and profoundly. You are accepted by God deeply and profoundly. You are celebrated by God deeply and profoundly. You are God’s dearly beloved, beautiful children. Valor is wrong. You are not.
Rev. J. Andrew Daugherty
Pine Street Church
As a Christian, my faith compels me, in imitation of the wild, inclusive love of God revealed in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, to include all those already embraced and graced by God. This includes our LGBTQ Siblings, who have long been a part of the family of God; those who identify both as queer and Christian.
But there is still much work to be done. Many, under the guise of Christian faith, advocate for something different. In the name of Jesus, they exclude people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is about far more than a theological issue or a doctrinal argument. This is about human beings fashioned in the image and likeness of the Almighty God.
The teachings and beliefs found in unhealthy religion are harmful and damaging, not just to the witness of Jesus, but to those in the LGBTQ Community. Research has shown that LGBTQ children who grow up in Christian communities that condemn and exclude them are eight times more likely to contemplate suicide compared with their heterosexual peers. This is directly tied to the way they are excluded and marginalized, and the teachings they hear from the pulpits and lecterns in their communities of faith.
We must remember what Jesus taught in Matthew 7 about true and false teachers. He insisted we can recognize teachers “by their fruit you.” He observes, “… every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 7:15-19 ©NIV). When we consider the fruit of teachings that harm friends, siblings and children we rightly understand this to be “bad fruit.” According to Jesus, those kinds of trees - meaning this kind of teaching that harms others - should be discarded, thrown into the fire.
As one of many faith leaders in the city of Denver, I am keenly aware that excluding anyone only works against the heart of God displayed in the person of Jesus. We must never forget; Jesus was not just for all people. In becoming one of us; he was, in his full humanity and divinity, one with all people - regardless of the norms unhealthy religion demanded of the faithful in his day. In doing so, Jesus offers dignity, compassion, love and grace to all people. This heart of Jesus does not do harm, but serves to heal and make whole.
It is in imitation of him, that we are to understand how to relate to all people, regardless of the demands unhealthy religion places upon us. This is why our longing is to exist as one with all people, so that we might be a part of the healing and wholeness that comes through the arms-wide-open, inclusive embrace of Jesus.
Rev. Michael J. Hidalgo
Denver Community Church
The view of "the angry God of the Old Testament" is so offensive to me, that I had to start with that. It relies on ignorance and willful anti-Semitism; its purpose is to show supersession--how Christianity not only evolved out of Judaism, not only completes it, but actually supersedes it. What an elitist perspective. And of course it is ignorant of the context, the historical/theological development that the Torah embodies, AND its essential message. God' anger is directed against those who veer from God's ways, which are pretty much outlined in Leviticus Ch. 19, particularly v. 18--a verse that is attributed most often to Jesus but appears first in this section of the Torah, and is then referred to by both Hillel and R. Akiva as the essence of the entire Torah.
The argument that the Torah is a living document--one that is given to interpretation and amendation--is wasted on those who believe that the entire Bible is the Word of God and that therefore it must never be understood any other way than literally. Unless struck by lightning, this kind of person will never change their mind. So good luck trying.
My belief, based on years of study of Torah, Talmud, Midrash and commentaries, is that God has given the Torah to humanity to interpret, explain and understand. In a famous Talmudic story, a fundamentalist rabbi is basically excommunicated because of his unyielding views. There are many other examples that teach this philosophy. The Torah is God's teaching, but it speaks in human terms and is steeped in the time in which it was written/revealed. There are many commandments we no longer obey--such as killing witches, etc. The laws forbidding homosexual love show a lack of understanding of sexuality (the kind of understanding we only reached towards the end of the 20th century--even psychiatrists called it a disease for almost the entirety of the 20th century).
The Torahitic disapproval of homosexuality is based on: 1) the ancient belief that the purpose of Creation is procreation (and therefore any sexual act that does not lead to procreation is sinful); 2) observed behavior in the rites and rituals of other religions; 3) observed behavior in everyday life in other cultures. While there is some truth in all of these, current understanding is that homosexuality is neither a disease nor sinful behavior for any reason (other than in sexual abuse of various sorts), but rather that it is a normal feature of human gender identification and sexuality--one of many.
God's blessings--representing holiness and goodness--are found in acts of love and kindness. Sanctification of a loving relationship that might exist between individuals is neither wrong nor sinful.
Those are my beliefs, and I am proud of them.
With blessings of peace and love,
Rabbi Boaz D. Heilman
Congregation B'nai Torah
Dear Valor Christian High School,
As a local faith leader in your community I wanted to express my concern and sadness not only over the discrimination that has been reported upon, but on the limited scope of your biblical accountability.
While you might point to a limited number of scriptures to defend your actions, I ask you to take seriously the entirety of our Sacred Text. The story of God and God’s people is a story of love and peace, justice and struggle. Every time a group of people believe they are right and others are wrong, God offers correction. Likewise, much of Jesus’ time was spent pushing back against those whose faith was in the law and not in God, not in the way Jesus set before them. I invite you to consider that one way of reading a few passages is not the only way to take the Bible seriously. In the Hebrew Bible we read that God knit each one together in their mother’s womb. This includes those in the LGBTQ community. God did not make a mistake. God gives each one of us the ability to love. Those in the LGBTQ community are asking only to be free to offer that love. You are free to do so, and I ask that you use your freedom to build the kin-dom by choosing love. Even if you don’t understand. Choose Love. Even if you are afraid. Choose Love. That is the gospel message. I hope we as people of faith, as followers of Jesus can be known not for exclusion or discrimination, but always – always – for love.
Rev. Selena Wright
Kirk of Bonnie Brae United Church of Christ
As a transgender man, an ordained priest, and one of the co-founders of QueerTheology.com I’m writing today to express my support for the Valor Students (and all LGBTQ+ students at Christian schools everywhere). Being LGBTQ+ and Christian is not a contradiction. There are thousands of churches all over the world that affirm LGBTQ+ people not in SPITE of reading Scripture but because of how we read Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation the arc of God’s work in the world is justice. God is continually centering the most marginalized, obliterating boundaries between who’s in and who’s out, and calling all of us to be a part of creating a more just world.
Throughout Scripture we see stories where the people of God not only make room for, but hold up as examples those society considered outsiders. People like the Ethiopian Eunuch, Mary Magdalene, and so many others. Our calling as Christians is to do the same. To make space, to extend the table, to proclaim the Kingdom of God is found among the least of these.
I could overwhelm you with dire statistics like: 75% of trans youth feeling unsafe at school, 62% of trans people reporting depression, 15% of trans people living in poverty, trans people postponing necessary medical treatment because of prior mistreatment, and the astronomical rates of suicide attempts in trans youth, which include 50% of transgender men making attempts. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s vital to note these statistics are dire not because being LGBTQ+ inherently causes mental illness but because adults have created environments that are toxic to the health and well-being of LGBTQ+ young people. How do I know?
Because we also know the counter statistics, things like just one affirming adult in a young person’s life reduces suicidality by 40%. It’s our responsibility as adults and as Christian leaders to make spaces where LGBTQ+ youth can thrive. Where they can learn safely, be affirmed in all of the complexities of their identities, and where they can connect their faith to their entire being.
To the students of Valor (and students everywhere): I applaud your courage (even though you shouldn’t have to be exhibiting it). Know that you are deeply loved. Know there are people cheering you on. Know there is a future for you as LGBTQ+ adults who are healthy, happy, and whole. God loves you not in spite of your gender identity and/or sexuality but because of it. Your gender identity and sexuality is a gift to you from God and you are a gift to your school, to the larger church, and to the world. Never let anyone tell you your gift is a detriment. Your faith is beautiful. You are so loved by God and by us. Take heart, you are not alone.
Fr. Shannon TL Kearns
For generations, the church has rejected people based on gender identity and sexuality. However, there are many Christians who believe God made us—all of us—in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and knit us together in the womb (Psalm 139:13). God desires for us to flourish, and that means living fully into the people God created us to be, including our sexualities and gender identities.
Furthermore, Jesus teaches us to seek out the most vulnerable people and embody God's love for them (see, for example, Mark 1:40-45, Luke 6:20, Luke 14:13-14, John 5:1-15). In our society, LGBTQIA+ children and youth are some of the most vulnerable. But studies show that the LGBTQIA+ youth who experience unconditional love have drastically reduced risk of suicide and self-harm.
All of this means that I support LGBTQIA+ people living their full, authentic truths—not in spite of my faith in Jesus but because of it.
The Rev. Helena Martin
Episcopal Priest in CT
The overarching message of Jesus’ ministry was love: love of God and love of neighbor. Jesus embodied God’s love for all people—all people—without condition. To those in the LGBTQ+ community, especially young people, please know that we believe that our call as followers of Jesus is to love you, support you, and accept you as a beloved child of God, just as you are. We see you, we hear you, and we stand with you. Together we are part of the magnificent diversity of humanity that God created and called good. To walk with Christ is to hear the invitation to love, and to live lives of authenticity, integrity, and wholeness.
Pastor Ann Hultquist
Augustana Lutheran Church
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
As a Colorado resident who grew up in Littleton Colorado, and remembers when Highlands Ranch was simply an isolated street that came down off of Jackass Hill, I was so disheartened, saddened and angry to hear that Highlands Ranch is making the news for an example of ignorance and bigotry that is right out of the 1970’s homophobic playbook. The fact that a very beloved and competent coach would be fired for no reason other than his sexual orientation in the year 2021 is beyond disturbing.
As a faith leader in Colorado, I can unequivocally state that the theological paradigm that would justify discrimination against a person for his/her sexual orientation is outdated, not theologically sound and quite frankly unchristian. There is so much scholarship on this topic that it should be null and void in the year 2021. But, apparently it isn’t.
And so, I assume that my words will fall on deaf ears to the leadership at Valor Christian, so I write these words to the faculty, the students and the parents who need to hear this.
You have inherent worth and dignity regardless of your sexual orientation. You are a valued member of our society, and the theology behind this point of view is flat out wrong, misguided and simply not an accurate reflection of what the love of God stands for. The Unitarian Universalists stand with you, alongside many other people of various faith traditions. Do not lose heart. Stand strong, and know that justice in the form of unconditional love will always prevail against ignorance, hate and bigotry. To borrow a phrase from a very wise man, ‘’the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” You do not stand alone.
Rev. Wendy Jones
Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Grand Valley
Grand Junction, CO