Like some of you, I grew up in religious fundamentalism. It doesn’t really matter which brand. They all have commonalities. Fundamentalists live in closed systems where questions are discouraged. Thinking outside the box is forbidden, and radical acceptance of dogma is required. Outsiders are judged, othered, and divided into the two basic categories of the converted or the damned. At least, that’s the sort of fundamentalism I experienced. 

As we approach the annual observance of World AIDS Day, I recall the church and minister of my youth and his response to AIDS in the early 80s. A vivid, disturbing memory remains with me after all these years. From the pulpit, the minister preached that no one with AIDS would be welcomed through the doors of his church. Unknown to him, one of his flock already had AIDS. The person contracted it from their spouse who received tainted blood during a procedure at a local hospital. Eventually, they both died from complications related to the disease. One of their family members blamed “the homosexuals” for her loved ones’ demise. I wondered why they didn’t blame the administration or the culture which was too filled with hatred and fear to realize that HIV and AIDS was not limited to one very marginalized population. While more progressive countries with more compassionate leadership were building AIDS clinics, the U.S. lagged behind, mired in ignorance and bigotry. It took Reagan four years to publically mention AIDS. By then, the crisis was of epidemic proportions. Unfortunately, fundamentalists fueled the flames of fear, proclaiming that AIDS was a punishment from God. Homophobia ruled the day, and while that mindset still has a hold in some circles, I rejoice in sharing that not all religions or denominations continue to propagate prejudice in the name of what is holy. 

Many self-proclaimed religious individuals have lost sight of common tenants of every major religion ever studied. We are called not just to love one another but to be kind to one another from a place of compassion. This is the thread that runs through all religions. Our holy task is to love one another. 

Religion is not the enemy, but it has been misused as a tool of oppression in many of our lives and certainly across time; however, many religious institutions now seek to cultivate a truly welcoming and loving presence in the world. They recognize the beauty of diversity and offer hospitality without any requirement that we leave pieces of ourselves or major parts of our identity at the door. 

While some religious institutions continue to spread prejudice and promote discrimination, distracting its followers from what is truly holy, religion in its purest forms will always point us in the direction of light and love and acceptance and compassion. It will always direct us to make this world a better place for all beings–especially those groups often targeted in the name of religion: LGBTQIA+, people of color, immigrants and asylum seekers.

May those of us who believe in an ineffable presence in the world be harbingers of hope for our siblings who have been rejected or harshly judged in the name of religion. May we live into who we say we are as liberal religionists by modeling revolutionary love and kindness. I wish you blessings as you simply seek to be who you are in a world that often sanctions your truest self. You are worthy, and you are beautiful. May you be filled with hope and surrounded by love.

~Rev. Mary Frances Comer uses she/her or they/them pronouns. She is a Unitarian Universalist minister who graduated from the Episcopal Divinity School, a member of the Boston theological Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2012. She was the minister at Piedmont Unitarian Universalist Church in Charlotte