Kentucky, where I live, is a very red state. So red, in fact, that some churches hold gun raffles to draw people in.  And when it comes to LGBTQ equality, some people would rather allow their ministry to suffer than embrace progress. So it isn’t surprising when someone who might otherwise call themselves a Christian elects not to do so, in an attempt to distance themselves from others who have claimed the name; some who are among us now, as well as people throughout history who have used our religion to justify their ignorance or violence.

But there is reason to hope. Even in a state where the Governor is fighting to preserve marriage inequality after Attorney General Jack Conway took a stand for the rights of LGBTQ Kentuckians – a decision that continues to ruffle feathers across the Bluegrass.

Last month, a conservative group placed a billboard in a neighborhood where several gay-friendly bars are located. The organization promotes conversion therapy, despite the fact that such methods have been deemed harmful by many in the scientific and medical fields. The sign read, “Not everyone who is gay is happy. You have options.” It also provided information to contact the group. The LGBTQ community in Louisville rallied together in protest of the billboard’s message. A peaceful demonstration was held near the sign. And many people of faith attended – including someone representing More Light Presbyterians with a rainbow scarf and an MLP button! Several participants spoke about their open and affirming churches, and invited others to visit. A couple weeks later, the billboard had a new sign – still from the same organization, but now displaying a rather inclusive Bible verse: “Indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39b, NLT)

The pastor of my church recently spoke about the hesitancy that many of us experience in declaring that we are Christians, in light of what we see in the news on an almost-daily basis. She made an excellent point: if we stay silent about our faith, the people whom we interact with may never learn that there is another side to our religion. If we are appalled by the atrocious acts being committed in the name of Jesus, the most effective way we can respond is by showing our friends, neighbors, and colleagues that being people of faith means something different to us. We are called to extend God’s grace to the world in ways both tangible and intangible, and as we fulfill that mission – in our work, in our volunteering, and in our personal relationships – we should allow our identities as Christians to be known.

My church has been an open and affirming congregation ever since its beginning as a New Church Development, many years ago. But as the controversy regarding marriage equality in Kentucky grows more heated, it is becoming increasingly clear that welcoming churches here are still the exception rather than the rule. And that is part of why my church, Covenant Community Church, has voted to become a More Light Church. We want to show our city and state a different side of Christianity: the one of inclusive love.

Melissa Deaver serves on the MLP Editorial Board and is a Louisville, Kentucky native. She graduated from Asbury University, and she now works as an IT professional in the insurance industry. She is a member of Covenant Community Church, where she also serves as a ruling elder. Melissa has recently become an avid runner and hopes to complete a marathon this year.

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