Excluded from traditional churches, homosexual Christians in Latin America are forming their own congregations with help from the biggest homosexual denomination in the United States.
"Gay and lesbian people throughout Latin America are buried, they're frightened, they're ashamed. Our churches in Latin America are like the catacombs of the early Christians, they're new millennium catacomb congregations where people can hide and yet still believe," according to Judy Dahl, a pastor and director of global outreach for the US-based Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches (UFMCC), which ministers to gay people.
Dahl was interviewed by ENI during a two-day visit to Honduras, one of seven countries on her 18-day tour of Latin America. A former Catholic nun, Dahl came to Honduras to meet members of the Violet Collective—a national gay and lesbian organization—about forming a UFMCC-related congregation here.
As she celebrated a worship service with members of the Violet Collective on September 12 at the collective's headquarters in Tegucigalpa, Dahl declared: "Christ has come to free you of your sins, not your sexuality."
According to Nelson Arambu, of the Violet Collective, it was the first formal worship held specifically for gays and lesbians in Honduras. "Given the dominant culture of Honduras, it's very difficult for homosexuals or lesbians to enter a church without being rejected," Arambu told ENI. "A majority of homosexuals here are people of faith, but the attitude of the churches toward us has been very negative. They see us as sexual aberrations, people who aren't capable of positive lives, much less of having access to the glory of God. And since the churches have a lot of influence with the government and society, they contribute to an environment where we're rejected by our families, forcing many homosexuals into the streets where they have to sell their bodies to survive, or end up committing suicide."
Arambu said Dahl's visit gave him his first opportunity to participate openly in a religious ceremony. "I give thanks to God that the people of the UFMCC have helped us, and I hope we'll soon have a church for gay and lesbian people here in Honduras," said Arambu, who is studying international diplomacy at the Catholic University of Honduras.
Arambu told ENI that Latin American homosexuals had watched with "hope and melancholy" as their counterparts in northern countries had formed "out-of-the-closet"—openly gay—congregations.
"We're happy that our gay sisters and brothers can have an opportunity to know God in that way," Arambu said. "And, despite all the obstacles, it won't be long [before it happens] here. In Latin America we have a long custom of importing culture from other places. So if the church is opening up to homosexual persons elsewhere, it gives us hope that the doors of the churches here won't remain forever closed to us."
The Violet Collective has been examining religious issues since 1998, when it began holding discussions about homosexuality and religion, with assistance from the Christian Commission for Development (CCD), a local ecumenical organization.
Established in the US in 1968, the UFMCC now has 320 congregations in 19 countries. Dahl said that in Latin America the UFMCC had established churches in Mexico, Puerto Rico, Brazil, Venezuela, Argentina, and Nicaragua. Two days before her visit to Honduras, she ordained two new pastors of the UFMCC congregation in Managua, Nicaragua.
Yet Dahl told ENI she was uncomfortable being called a missionary. "In the last decade or so we've changed our understanding of missiology. Today we are responding to the remnant," she said. "Rather than going out to proselytize, we respond when people contact us. Since the advent of the Internet we're getting a lot of connections from people all over the world. And so we try to respond to people who have called us.
We're not into ecclesiastical colonialism. We don't superimpose our values or ideology or theology. Rather, we share the best news of God's love with people, especially with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who are marginalized and traumatized in Latin America."
More information about the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches is available at the UFMCC homepage. Also available are photos from Dahl's trip to Latin America.
Exodus of Latin America is a ministry for people interested in breaking free from homosexuality.
Previous Christianity Today stories about churches who support homosexuality include:
Lutheran Church of Norway Appoints Practicing Homosexual | Oslo priest's relationship prompts lively debate in the Norwegian church. (Sept. 19, 2000)
Presbyterians Support Same-Sex Unions | Northeast Synod rules 82 in favor of continuing church's "holy union" ceremonies. (Dec. 10, 1999)
Homosexual Group Institutes Award for Straight Religious Leaders | Former United Church of Christ president receives first award for championing gay rights. (Dec. 7, 1999)
Copyright © 2000 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.