In the fight to secure non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people nationwide, it has been important to develop various coalitions that can add their voice and influence to help amplify the issue, and show the diversity of communities that stand in favor of such protections.
One of the most impactful groups fighting for LGBTQ non-discrimination is a strong coalition of people of faith, including faith leaders. People of faith are too often painted with a broad brush as being unsupportive of the LGBTQ community – but when the voices of faith leaders are amplified, this misconception crumbles and brings people of faith to stand shoulder to shoulder with many others in the movement for fairness and equality.
One of the most well-known faith leaders in support of the LGBTQ community is the Reverend Ed Bacon. Now retired and living in Birmingham, Alabama, for 21 years Reverend Bacon served as the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, one of the most prominent Episcopal Churches in the west. During his time as rector, the Reverend became a national leader in anti-war, civil rights, and LGBTQ rights movements, and continues to be an advocate for these issues.
“Bigotry is bigotry is bigotry,” the Reverend told Freedom for All Americans. “You cannot discriminate and be a practitioner of bigotry if you call yourself a Christian.” He added, “To distort or contort religion to justify one’s discriminatory practices is a hijacking of that religion.”
Throughout his life, Rev. Bacon has practiced the principles of love, acceptance, and inclusion, which he says he understood from a very early age.
“I had an experience of God when I was a child, in which I heard the divine inaudible voice say, ‘You are the most special creature God ever made, and so is everybody else.’ I knew then that there was a democracy of souls, and there was no ‘ranking of worth’ when it came to people.”
Rev. Bacon believes that for many years, there has been a fundamentalist hold on many practicing churches that promotes a culture of fear as opposed to a culture of love and acceptance.
“There seems to be this perverted, distorted view of God, that He is up there and easily offended at the ‘sin of man.’ There also seems to be a hierarchy they’ve developed — straight white men at the top, followed by straight white women, and then continuing down to communities of color and the gay community.”
In a way, the Reverend says, he has practiced a sort of “holy atheism,” presenting what he believes to be the true vision and intention of God.
“You cannot discriminate and be a practitioner of bigotry if you call yourself a Christian. To distort or contort religion to justify one’s discriminatory practices is a hijacking of that religion.” – Rev. Ed Bacon
“I feel I’ve deconstructed that inherited toxic theology and reconstructed what I call a love-based theology, about equality, inclusion, justice for all, and interconnectedness.”
In his book 8 Habits of Love, one of the habits Rev. Bacon discusses is building community and finding those around you who are supportive and welcoming.
“We are created to be in community,” he said. “You cannot be yourself alone, you cannot be a human being alone, you cannot speak truth alone, and you cannot move toward justice and inclusion alone. It’s important to have community for personal development, growth, and critique as well.”
One of the Reverend’s most notable public moments came in 2009, when he was a featured guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show. That day, the topic was spirituality and “living your best life.” During the show, a young man from Georgia called in to speak about a crisis of faith he was having, living in a rural area as a gay black man. While speaking to him, Reverend Bacon made a statement that has resonated the world over: “Being gay is a gift from God.”
“I had no idea about the impact of that statement,” he said, “because it wasn’t a strategically chosen one. I didn’t think about it or want to do it for a certain kind of impact.” He continued, “It’s a universal truth, and now millions of people have heard that. Everyone who comes out to themselves and their families and have done so with confidence in their faith has acknowledged that.”
“Being gay is a gift from God…It’s a universal truth, and now millions of people have heard that. Everyone who comes out to themselves and their families and have done so with confidence in their faith has acknowledged that.” – Rev. Ed Bacon
At the end of the day, Rev. Bacon believes that practicing and believing in love offers the true purpose of faith — to bring people together in support, understanding, and community.
“This [principle] has energy and is loose in the universe. You don’t even have to use the word ‘God,’ but just know that you were lovingly created as you were meant to be. Coming together to expand our horizons is essential, and if you are in community seeking support, critique, and imagination, then you are in a faith community, and not necessarily a religious one.”
Near the end of 8 Habits of Love, the Reverend leaves us with a quote that entirely sums up his philosophy, and inspires us to further explore our faith and connect with those around us, as well as continue in our movement to make sure that all people are protected and feel safe in their communities.
“Together, we will transform the brokenness of this world into a masterpiece of justice.”