(Please note, I have no formal religious affiliation whatsoever. I just appreciate Minister Bott's open mind and position.)
The following is from __________, published Wednesday, October 27, 2010.
St. Andrew’s United OK with gay
A message of love can have a powerful impact, and perhaps few know this better than Richard Bott.
He’s the minister of St. Andrew’s Haney United Church, and after hearing the news of yet another gay teen committing suicide after being relentlessly bullied, he says he felt he needed to send a clear message about where his church stands.
“Gay, Lesbian, Straight, Bi or Transgendered? You are loved by God, and … you are welcome here,” the LED sign at the corner of Dewdney Trunk Road and 222nd Street reads.
It is a different message than is being sent by many right-wing Christian groups, but one Bott believes is more consistent with the teachings of Jesus Christ.
“I believe in a God of love,” he says.
“And the guy who said, ‘love one another as I have loved you,’ would welcome these people.
“To be loving is to recognize the humanity in each and every person.”
Bott put the sign up prior to National Coming Out Day on Oct.11, and decided to leave the sign up for the Oct. 20 Spirit Day, which encouraged people to wear the colour purple to honour children who have committed suicide in recent months due to homophobic abuse in their homes and schools.
“The sign was put up because we want people to know that if they are being bullied, this is a safe place,” says Bott.
“We will listen, we will support, and we will care.”
His congregation, which includes members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, has been supportive of the message, says Bott.
The reaction from the community outside the church, however, has been mixed.
While Bott has received phone calls of support, there have also been some who take offence to the sign and its welcoming message.
“I asked them which part of the message do they find so upsetting,” says Bott. “That God loves all people, or is it that we would welcome these people here?”
This isn’t the first time St. Andrews Haney United Church has taken a stance in support of the LGBT community.
Following the legalization of same-sex marriages in B.C. in 2003, the board of St. Andrew’s wrote its own marriage policy, removing sexual orientation from the question of whether two people can get married in the church. The policy, the first of its kind in B.C., has since inspired other churches to do the same.
St. Andrew’s belongs to the United Church of Canada, which is the single largest Protestant denomination in Canada, and the second-largest Christian church in Canada. The United Church was formed in 1925 through the unification of Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational churches, and has been progressive from the outset. The United Church began ordaining women in the 1930s, and in 1988 removed homosexuality as a barrier to joining the church and its clergy.
In 2003, delegates from the United Church of Canada lobbied in favour of same-sex marriage, and even presented before the House of Commons Justice Committee.
The persistence of who use the word of God to justify hatred and fear-mongering saddens and angers Bott.
“Unfortunately, the more traditional way of reading scripture has had a much louder voice, for much longer,” he says.
The bible was written by many different men, over thousands of years, and features stories, poetry, and songs, notes Bott.
Some sections are rather legalistic in nature, such as the book of Leviticus, which states, “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination,” in verse 18:22 of the King James translation of the Old Testament. The verse has been used by many right-wing Christians to justify hate against the LGBT community, but scripture must be considered within the context in which it was written, says Bott.
Leviticus also states that if a man cheats on his wife, or vise versa, both the man and the woman must die (Leviticus 20:10). Anyone who curses their mother or father, must be killed (Leviticus 20:9), as must anyone who curses God (Leviticus 24:16), or anyone of a different religion. (Deuteronomy 17:2-7).
But the common theme throughout the bible, specifically the new testament, is love, says Bott, and that should be held paramount over every other lesson.
“My hope is that in time we move away from fear and hate of the other,” Bott says.
“I think faith can be part of that understanding.
“We were called to do more than just tolerate.”