Why I stood Vigil November 9, 2004 during the Soulforce National Day of Prayer and Vigils

by Chris Hubble

On April 3rd, 2001, a Texas jury sentenced 17-year-old Jon Paul Marsh to 70 years in prison for killing Nathan Mayoral, a 14-year-old friend and intimate companion. When questioned by police, Marsh related how his religious upbringing condemned homosexuality and described himself as an “abomination”. Marsh, who had been in “therapy”, felt that the killing was necessary because his relationship with Mayoral was "the last thing keeping me hating myself".

This three-year-old story still serves as a heartbreaking reminder of the core issues the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community faces in its struggle for justice and full equality. For a more current reminder of the role religious-based, antigay rhetoric and activism plays in this struggle, one need only study the results of the recent presidential election. Same-sex marriage bans were placed on the ballot in eleven states. All eleven passed. In Ohio, where President Bush won by a mere 136,483 votes, volunteers from 17,000 churches across the state collected 60% of the signatures necessary to place “Issue 1” on the ballot, registered 30,000 new voters, and conducted a massive get-out-the-vote drive. Because non-profit organizations are not barred from participating in non-partisan campaigns, these efforts were perfectly legal… and instrumental to Bush’s reelection efforts.

It should now be clear that the untruths about LGBTs propagated by religious policies and teachings DO matter a great deal to our collective struggle. The misguided notion that the Bible (or God) condemns sexual minorities is rooted in the mistranslation, misinterpretation, and misrepresentation of a ridiculously small handful of biblical passages. For nearly 30 years, theologians and scholars have debunked and refuted the “Terror Texts”. In fact, in 1983, over two decades ago, when it commissioned a study of the issue, the National Council of Churches could find no credible Biblical scholars willing to argue that the Bible condemns sexual minorities. Yet, the debate rages on. And the Catholic Church hierarchy has taken an active, leadership role in its fight against civil marriage equality.

Soulforce, Inc., a nationwide interfaith movement “committed to ending spiritual violence perpetuated by religious policies and teachings against gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals,” recently issued a National Call for Prayer and Vigils on November 9th as part of its nonviolent campaign to “end Roman Catholic Church leaders’ attacks” against our community. I was proud to participate in the vigil on November 9th because the rhetoric and actions of the Catholic Church hierarchy lead directly to the continuing denial of full equality for the LGBT community… and because my conscience demanded that I no longer remain silent.

Those of us who stood vigil on November 9th expected that we might elicit some hostile reactions. As we were preparing to leave after the conclusion of the vigil, a woman approached us and told us that we really should have attended the Mass inside; that the readings and sermon were about how the body is the temple of the Lord; that the worst form of spiritual violence is defiling the Spirit’s temple through acts of sexual immorality. But the power of nonviolence spoke through our response… we simply thanked her for sharing with us and treated her with dignity and respect.

We were encouraged to also receive many supportive responses. One woman walking by with her young son pointed to us and told him, "Look… those people are standing up for something they believe in and that’s what America is all about." Others were honking from their cars and giving us the "thumbs up" as they drove by. Still others thanked us as they walked past.

The nonviolent vigil at the Cathedral Basilica was only a beginning. I am convinced that our movement must adopt more persuasive and provocative approaches in our struggle for justice. I am similarly convinced that nonviolent methods of resistance are no longer an option… they have become an absolute necessity. Martin Luther King, Jr. once wrote that, “the Gandhian method of nonviolence was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom,” (“Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” as published in Christian Century, 1960).

And Henry David Thoreau, in his essay titled “Civil Disobedience”, wrote: “A minority is powerless while it conforms to the majority… but it is irresistible when it clogs [the machine] by its whole weight.” The machinations of right-wing religious and political groups, bent on denying full equality to our community, may at present appear unstoppable. But our opponents will soon discover the LGBT community’s resilience and determination… and that all reactionary movements ultimately fail.

Chris Hubble