Speakers focus on the impact of prejudice on the LGBT community
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
The more that members of Midway Hills Christian Church talked about bullying, the more they realized how frequently the issue of religious intolerance came up, usually as the root of bullying.
“We saw it impacting people’s lives across the spectrum,” said Roger Wedell, an openly gay Midway Hills member.
And as the discussions continued, the more adamant the church members became about the necessity of finding ways to combat intolerance and bullying.
Out of those discussions was born the church’s new Tolerance Task Force.
The task force has since issued a Statement on Religious Intolerance and on June 12 hosted its first town hall on the subject. A second meeting will be held on Monday, June 20, and the public is invited to share their personal experiences.
The Rev. Terry Zimmerman, the senior minister at Midway Hills, called the statement “a call to solidarity of faith groups which present an alternative voice to the ones that speak the loudest and provide the most inflammatory sound bites for the media.”
But Zimmerman hopes the meetings result in more than just preaching to the choir.
“We’re hoping there are other groups out there as interested as we are, to form an alliance and share information,” he said.
Zimmerman said it’s the bad news that always makes headlines. But he recently attended a conference of clergy sponsored by Human Rights Campaign where he learned that studies show a majority of people want equal rights for everyone.
“That says to me they want tolerance,” Zimmerman said.
He said that recent events such as passage of anti-bullying legislation have helped bring his traditionally liberal congregation alive again.
“So much damage has been done in the name of religion,” Zimmerman said. “So many people have given up on church when it doesn’t stand up for what it knows is right.”
He and members of his congregation want to make sure, through the Tolerance Task Force, that people know Midway Hills does stand up for what they know is right.
“We’re hoping through this to let a broader spectrum of the community know there are other voices out there,” Wedell said.
Midway Hills has been an open and affirming congregation since the 1970s. When the AIDS crisis hit, they were one of the original churches that worked with AIDS Interfaith Network. Beginning in the early ’90s, they hosted P-FLAG, which met at the church for more than a decade. The church is a member of Disciples of Christ.
Just because there are louder voices that are intolerant, he said, doesn’t mean those are the only voice.
The first panel included two people who discussed the impact of intolerance.
One is Becky Holmes, a candidate for ordination at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. She spoke about the impact intolerance has had on her, first as woman dealing with leadership of the Southern Baptist Church and then as a lesbian.
The other is Jeremy Liebbe, a volunteer with Youth First Texas who spoke on the struggle youth have with their sexual orientation and gender identity.
After surviving several suicide attempts, he assists other youth deal with the intolerance they face.
The upcoming panel includes three speakers. One is a counselor who works with Youth First Texas and will talk about youth issues.
In addition, Betsy Winter will discuss the journey of the Presbyterian Church to reach its new position on the ordination of gay and lesbian clergy, and Melissa Weaver, a staff attorney with Human Rights Initiative, will speak about the impact on immigrants seeking asylum.
Zimmerman said that at the first meeting, he felt a sense of helplessness that feeds on itself.
“We need to break that chain so people can be empowered,” he said. “We’re helping people find their voice.”
Midway Hills Christian Church, 11001 Midway Road, Monday, June 20 at 7 p.m.