Donors ditching Kansas City school over LGBTQ rights isn’t Christian. Can it be saved? | Opinion

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Kansas City soon could lose a valuable educational option. Urban Christian Academy, a private Christian school, will close because its former backers withdrew their support after the school announced its support for LGBTQ rights. This time, bigotry will triumph over love and inclusivity. The long-shot hope — if it isn’t already too late — is that like-minded churches, groups and donors will intervene. It’s in their best interest to do so.

Urban Christian Academy enrolls K-8 students mostly from low-income families of color in the 64130 ZIP code. For nine years, several local churches and other donors made sure those children could attend tuition-free. Students tested well. They received breakfast and lunch, critical nutrition for many. And the school engaged parents in the educational process, requiring them to attend mandatory events throughout the year.

Since its inception, Urban Christian Academy also has been a safe place for LGBTQ students and staff. It adhered to “inclusive theology” and a Christian perspective that all people are worthy of dignity and love. It kept those views quiet, though — at least until last winter, when it posted support for LGBTQ rights on its website and in its mission statement.

Within a year, financial backers and some families had abandoned the school. That does not necessarily make them haters. Urban Christian Academy has every right to espouse its Christian views on LGBTQ issues and to teach them to students. Parents who disagree have a right to pull their children from the school. Financial backers have a right to stop donating. Such is America’s marketplace of ideas.

The school averaged $670,000 in donations for each of the five years ending in 2019, the most recent year for which IRS records are available. After announcing support for LGBTQ rights, most of those dollars disappeared. School officials say they reached out to other potential donors. They found sympathy, but not help.

Count us shocked that they came up empty. There are dozens of inclusive churches, temples and other faith communities in the Kansas City area, such as Second Presbyterian, Immanuel Lutheran and All Souls Unitarian Universalist. Urban Christian Academy officials declined to say whether they contacted any of them. If they haven’t, they should.

Inclusive secular organizations and like-minded religious groups have a tremendous opportunity in this crisis to make inroads in communities that are skeptical or even hostile to LGBTQ rights. A Christian school in a struggling neighborhood could be an exemplar that educates future community leaders in Christian love.

The list of ways in which people of faith have oppressed others in the name of religion is heartbreakingly long. It is a problem that afflicts most religions. Here we focus on Christian faiths only because Urban is Christian, not because Christians are any worse than Islamic nations that treat women and LGBTQ residents abhorrently, for example.

Some Christians have used the Bible to justify slavery and racial segregation, to silence women and to prevent them from being ordained to ministry, and to justify physical and cultural genocide committed against Indigenous peoples. Now they use it to oppress the LGBTQ community.

In many of those cases, hearts and minds changed eventually. The misuse of scripture to justify injustice either stopped or was limited to a small group of true believers adhering to a literalistic reading of sacred texts — but only after much damage was done to countless people.

Change is underway on LGBTQ rights. The catalog of welcoming places of worship grows. And just this Sunday, Pope Francis warned Catholics around the world that laws criminalizing LGBTQ people are sinful.

But change is not happening fast enough. One need look no further than the Missouri State Capitol — where lawmakers are currently debating some of the most shamefully discriminatory anti-LGBT legislation in the nation — to see that bigotry remains strong.

The leaders of the Urban Christian Academy, the school’s teachers and the children they educate are paying the price for choosing love and dignity for all people. At this point, saving the school might take a miracle — but that miracle could be within the power of secular and faith communities that share its mission of inclusivity.