Religion, COVID-19 and LGBT+ inclusion

Let me preface this post by reiterating my belief that spirituality is a key aspect of a successful life. Countless studies have shown that people who have a strong spiritual connection also have a better quality of life. In fact, one of the worst and cruelest forms of prejudice against LGBT+ people might be to push them away from places of worship. It is also worth reminding that organized religion has been at the forefront of care for COVID-19 patients.

The Pew Research Center has published over the years several studies showing that while LGBT+ adults in the United States feel that most major faiths are “unwelcoming to their community,” a majority of LGB adults are religiously affiliated. In fact, their latest study on the topic, published in April 2019, shows that about 77% of LGB adults believe in God (against 89% of their straight peers). However, “four-in-ten (41%) identify as atheist, agnostic or “nothing in particular,” compared with just 22% of straight adults who say the same.”

The conclusion of the study, and a direct consequence of homophobia in organized religion, is damning: “At the same time, LGB adults are less likely than straight adults to say they feel a deep sense of spiritual peace and well-being at least once a week, and are somewhat less likely to say they regularly feel a strong sense of gratitude or thankfulness.” The study does not cover trans individuals, but it is not difficult to imagine that they experience even more fully the brunt of anti-LGBT bigotry.

While the impact of systematic exclusion from places of worship on the psychological well-being of LGBT+ is tremendous, major faiths unfortunately do not always stop there. Organized religion tends to also hunt LGBT people in the public sphere by opposing efforts towards equality. This was the topic of three recent Out Leadership posts on the role of the Catholic Church in fighting decriminalization globally, the role of some religious leaders in promoting conversion therapy, and the mushrooming of so-called “freedom of religion” bills in the U.S.

The root of the issue is of course a wrongful interpretation of God’s intent for us. I could not help but make a parallel with the resistance by a handful of pastors globally to practice in social distancing. Florida pentecostal prosperity preacher Rodney Howard-Browne was famously arrested last week because he refused to comply with lockdown orders. The New York City Mayor warned last week that the city could shut down certain places of worship if people continued to violate the social distancing recommendations.

New York Magazine best summarized the issue this week: “[In] COVID-19, whenever two or more Christians gather to share prayers, hugs, meals or the bread and wine of communion, there among them could also be coronavirus.”

Not unlike vaccine exemption policies, the belief that God is enough of a protection against coronavirus can at times be dangerous for the community-at-large. Similarly, stigmatization of LGBT people by organized religion, over misinterpretation of scripture, has served no purpose but to delay much needed acceptance of LGBT people globally.

As religious institutions start live streaming their activities to avoid physical gathering and the propagation of the Coronavirus, it might unleash its most fundamental metamorphosis ever. Hopefully, discovering that change is possible could be an opportunity to end a harmful stance against LGBT people and reinvent religion as a way to bring people together in the post COVID-19 world.