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22 June
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Beyond Thoughts and Prayers: What Churches Can Do to Respond to Orlando

In the week-and-a-half since the horrific attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, much has been made—understandably—of the role religion plays in feeding and justifying homophobia. And, as if on cue, several pastors delivered repulsive sermons, thankful for the terror attack. It’s been intensely frustrating and depressing for me, as a progressive Christian.

Thoughts and prayers are important, but there’s work to do. Here are my thoughts about what we in the progressive Christian community should be doing in response to Orlando and, more generally, because we just should.

BE IMMEDIATELY VISIBLE.

Many of our churches are welcoming to LGBT people. They serve in positions of authority, up to and including as our clergy and church leadership. We do a lousy job of letting outsiders know it, a lousy job demonstrating our commitments to equality and faith. I’m not sure why—maybe we’re just bad at PR, maybe we’re uncomfortable being self-aggrandizing, visions of Pharisees haunting our dreams. Maybe we’re just scared. But when hate is so visible, love and inclusion need to step up and be seen.

  • Put a rainbow flag or banner on your property—maybe by your church sign or your front door or both. Make your welcome known to people who drive by.
  • Make it clear on your church website, social media, and marketing materials that yours is an LGBT welcoming church. Make sure photos you use reflect the diversity of your church—in age, ability, race, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
  • Make sure visitors know how welcoming you are. If your church uses bulletins, make your welcome explicit in the bulletin. If you put information on screens, publicize your welcome on the screens before the service starts. If you have a church brochure, include your commitment to LGBT inclusion in it. Ask your minister or worship leader to announce the church’s commitment to LGBT welcome at the start of every service.
  • March in your local Pride parade with a church contingent. Carry your church banner, wear your church T-shirts. Be seen.
  • Find out if your local LGBT community center has a list of gay-friendly congregations. If so, make sure you’re on it. If not, offer to compile one. (And don’t take it too personally if they decline.)
  • Remember: It’s not enough to say that you welcome “everyone.” You need to be explicit. Many people see an invisible asterisk when they see “We welcome everyone!” After all, some churches “welcome” LGBT people, but only if they are willing to try to “change” their sexual orientation or gender identity. Make it clear that in your church, “everyone” includes LGBT people—just as they are. This goes for other marginalized groups, too. Be overt about the depth and breadth of your welcome.

BUILD ON EXISTING MISSION COMMITMENTS.

Many churches have long-standing commitments to service in their communities. Build on those commitments in a way that lifts up LGBT concerns. For example:

  • If your church works on education, find out how good your local schools are at preventing bullying. Find out how they treat LGBT kids who want to take same-gender dates to prom and other social events. Find out if they use dress codes or bathroom rules to make life difficult for LGBT kids, especially transgender kids. If your schools are doing well, make sure they know you appreciate it. If they’re trying to get better, find out how you can support them. If they are doing a poor job on these issues, help—and pressure—them to get there. Hold your schools accountable.
  • If your church works on issues around foster care, make sure the needs of LGBT kids are addressed in those settings. Help recruit foster parents willing to take in and support LGBT kids. Support those foster parents. Be those foster parents.
  • If your church works with seniors, make sure your outreach gets to LGBT seniors. If your church visits people in nursing homes or other care facilities, make sure LGBT elders are respected and not expected to return to the closet.
  • Almost any issue—immigration, criminal justice, poverty—has an LGBT angle to it. Make sure to account for those concerns in your mission work.

MAKE SURE YOUR OWN HOUSE (OF GOD) IS IN ORDER.

Has your church made a formal commitment to endorse and support full equality of LGBT congregants, clergy and staff? If not, consider doing so. Some denominations have formal processes to get a church to such a status. Make sure your employment non-discrimination statements include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Formalize your commitment to equality and inclusion.

Then take a look around. Are you living it?

  • Do LGBT people serve on your church council? In your choir? Are they comfortable and accepted in positions of authority in your congregation? If not, find out why not. Ask them. Do they visit once and not come back? If so, try (gently) to find out why.
  • Would a same-gender couple be welcome at a couples retreat or social event, such as a dance? If not, why not—and what will it take to fix that? If they would be welcome, do they know they would be welcome?
  • When your church works in partnership with other organizations (e.g. homeless shelters, food banks, etc.), do you check that those organizations treat LGBT individuals, couples and families on par with their straight, cisgender counterparts? If not, can you get them to change their practices or else find another partner?
  • Does your preaching on family and love and community reflect the diversity in your pews? If and when your pastor highlights current events or historical figures, are LGBT individuals ever featured? If so, are they discussed as having agency and doing something, or are they merely serving as object lessons for straight, cisgender people? Are the references to LGBT people always to white LGBT people? (While you’re contemplating all that, how does your preaching treat people of color? How’s the gender breakdown in these references? Where do people with disabilities factor into your preaching?)

UNDERTAKE EDUCATION AND TRAINING ABOUT LGBT ISSUES.

Many of our congregations have our hearts in the right place, but we aren’t well prepared to be advocates on the issues we care about, be they race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression or other topics. This is totally fixable.

  • Use your Christian education program to cover LGBT (and other) topics.
    • Familiarize your congregation with the so-called clobber passages in the Bible and give people rhetorical tools with which to respond.
    • Dedicate yourselves to tackling the idea of privilege—white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, cisgender privilege, able-bodied privilege. The point isn’t to demonize the holders of privilege, but to understand how it operates to systematically disadvantage those without it and look for concrete ways to change that.
    • Offer a session or series of sessions to parents in your congregation on raising progressive Christian kids in our society. How should we talk to our kids about race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression and disability, drawing on our religious foundation?
  • Incorporate books that cover LGBT themes in your church book club.
  • If you have a group that gets together for informal meals and perhaps has a discussion on some topic, be sure LGBT-related topics make it into the mix.
  • Make sure you’re conveying your church’s beliefs about sexuality and gender to the youth of your congregation through Sunday school, confirmation preparation, youth ministry, etc. Does your church offer sexuality education to young people, such as the OWL program put together by the UU and UCC? If not, consider it, possibly in collaboration with another church if you don’t have enough kids to make it worth doing on your own.

SPEAK UP—ON LGBT MATTERS AND OTHER ISSUES.

Conservative Christians have spent decades getting organized and getting vocal. We need to catch up and get our ideas into the marketplace.

  • On an interpersonal level, challenge your congregants to talk with several friends who are not part of your church each quarter about LGBT and other social issues in the context of progressive Christianity. Use these opportunities to affirm the existence of progressive Christianity. Let people know “we’re here” in an informal way.
  • Be visible in the press. Learn to write op-eds and letters to the editor, and tie them to your faith and your congregation. Be brief, be on point and be timely—and identify your faith and, if possible, congregation, in the letter.
  • Get media training for people who are willing to be public faces of progressive Christianity. It might help to work with other congregations on this to make it cost effective.
  • Once you have a list of people willing and able to be public faces, make sure your local media know about them. Contact assignment editors and metro editors at your local broadcast and print media outlets and share bios and contact information of these people. Encourage your local media to think beyond the simplistic dichotomy of secular left versus Christian right on LGBT (and other) issues.
    • Thank your media when they include a broader range of Christian opinion. Call them on it when they don’t.
  • Reach out to policy makers on LGBT (and other) issues—and let them know you are speaking about these issues because of your faith, not in spite of it. They don’t hear enough from progressive Christians, and many times progressive Christians who do contact their legislators don’t emphasize their religious identity when expressing themselves.

RESOURCES:

Need help? Here are some places to start.

Theology: http://www.soulforce.org/ and http://www.hrc.org/explore/topic/religion-faith

Media training: http://auburnseminary.org/

Sexuality education: http://www.ucc.org/justice_sexuality-education_our-whole-lives

 

 

01 July
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Sullivan on Dignity, Catholicism and Marriage Equality

British-American Catholic Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) appeared on “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN Sunday, speaking to Catholicism and marriage equality. Says the classically conservative blogger:

[D]ignity is a very important word in Catholic theology. Once you’ve understood a person, a human being has human dignity, there are certain things that will not and cannot be morally done to that person. And I think what he revealed was how gay people before that had been denied that dignity, even by their own church. And I think it’s a tragedy that the Catholic hierarchy has taken this position.

But I do believe also that a lot of this was driven by many of us who do have faith and who really believe deep down that God loved us and that what we were doing was God’s work. And I think the critical work we did in the ’90s and early 21st century was to bring the religious groups, and reach out to religious groups. Because remember, Reformed Jews, Episcopalians, many denominations support marriage equality. And if you look at the polling, you’ll find that Catholics are the second ethnic group most likely to support it.

And my experience was, as a Catholic in the pews, was callousness in the rhetoric from the Vatican, but incredible compassion and support from the people right and left of me in those pews celebrating the same God, wanting the same communion.

Watch the exchange with Zakaria below.

27 June
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Jim Wallis on Marriage Rulings

A strong statement today comes from Jim Wallis of Sojourners, who only recently came around on marriage equality. I know many people who have been heartbroken and angered by Wallis’ previous views and by his recent opinion that gay and lesbian binational couples should be excluded from the immigration bill to better its chances. Still, this is progress:

We need to stop blaming same-sex couples for the breakdown of the family. Heterosexual dysfunction, moral selfishness, sexual promiscuity, and economic injustices that pressure too many families’ lives are to blame. It remains an irony that many of those who speak out so strongly for marriage and family values are also so strongly against allowing gay and lesbian couples to get married and have a family. I wish I heard those same people speak as often or as strongly about Christian men who cheat or abuse their wives, or about too easy and convenient divorces, or about parents who don’t make their children their first priority.

Gay and lesbian people are children of God, fellow human beings, and American citizens. I have long believed that our LGBT brothers and sisters should have equal rights and protections under the law. The public policy conversation on what this means has clearly evolved. Years ago, civil unions seemed like a common sense, common ground solution, but I am now convinced that civil marriage equality is the best way to ensure that the principle of equal protection under the law is applied.

Read his whole reflection on this week’s Supreme Court decisions regarding marriage and the Voting Rights Act here.

26 June
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Faith Leaders Celebrate SC Marriage Rulings

At long last, the Supreme Court has ruled on Prop. 8 and DOMA.  I want to highlight statements from people of faith. The Washington Post did a nice roundup of responses from those who oppose marriage equality and from its supporters.

A few other statements:

A quote from Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer (@mikeschue) in a statement of support from the United Church of Christ:

Today’s rulings from the US Supreme Court are great steps forward in the movement for equality and justice,” said the Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, UCC Executive for Health and Wholeness Advocacy. “The decision means a great deal to so many of our UCC members and their relationships. The General Synod has supported marriage equality in each of these cases by joining friend of the court briefs. …

Ultimately, this is not about what the UCC believes or what another church believes or what any other faith tradition believes,” Schuenemeyer said. “This is about the core values of who we are as a nation, in which our founding documents say, ‘All are created equal,’ and call for equal protection under the law for everyone. Every citizen places their hand over their heart and makes a solemn pledge of liberty and justice for all. Not just for some, but for all.

From the supportive statement of the Union for Reform Judaism:

There is no more central tenet to our faith than the notion that all human beings are created in the image of the Divine, and, as such, entitled to equal treatment and equal opportunity. Many faith traditions, including Reform Judaism, celebrate and sanctify same-sex marriages. Thanks to the Court’s decision, the federal government will now recognize these marriages as well, while still respecting the rights and views of those faith traditions that choose not to sanctify such marriages.

From a statement by the president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, Rev. Peter Morales (@uuprez):

While I am disappointed that the Supreme Court did not declare the freedom to marry as a constitutionally-protected “equal protection” right that would apply to all states, I applaud this historic step towards equality.

The Unitarian Universalist Association joined two amicus curiae briefs in these cases with other religious organizations in support of marriage equality. In both cases, the UUA argued that a broad cross-section of religious denominations recognize the dignity of lesbian and gay people and their relationships, recognize the necessary distinction between civil and religious marriage, and recognize that civil marriages of same-sex couples will not impinge upon religious beliefs or practices, but rather will prevent one set of religious beliefs from being imposed on others through civil law.

Unitarian Universalists have been vocal supporters of marriage equality for decades.  I thank them for their dedicated commitment to our Unitarian Universalist principle of affirming the worth and dignity of every person.

There is still so much work to be done to ensure equal protection for all who live and love in our country. As we know, marriage equality strengthens families, protects children, and ensures the basic rights of citizenship for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender couples.

It remains my fervent hope that soon marriage equality is afforded to all in this country. Unitarian Universalists will continue to stand on the side of love with all families.”

From a Huffington Post piece entitled “Movement for Justice: Changing the Story” by Rev. Dr. Jacqueline J. Lewis, senior minister at Middle Collegiate Church in New York City:

;”>The U.S. Supreme Court rulings today are a testimony to the ways time and personal stories change our understanding. The decisions are part of an ongoing narrative of change in the movement for justice. It took time, but Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat changed the story of segregation in the south. It took time, but Martin Luther King’s inspired speech helped us all to dream dreams of reconciliation. It took time, but the court ruled it is unconstitutional to deny married same-gender couples federal benefits and the court paved the way for California to allow same-gender marriages. Congregations and religious leaders who testify for marriage equality change the story. We do it because we hear the still-speaking Word shout into our hearts: Now is the time for justice.

Finally, check out a prayer of thanksgiving by John Shore (@johnshore). Here’s an excerpt:

Thank you for this victory today. We need to know that justice can be done. And once again you have shown us what we so often fail to remember and believe, which is that we—us, ourselves, right here, right now—are the means by which your justice—being the truth of the love you instilled within us—is realized, presented, practiced, done out here in this cruel world we know.

Today the weak have been defended, the vulnerable protected, the persecuted relieved.

Today is your day, Lord. Today is our day. Today is a day for everyone who loves love. And that, whether any given person realizes it or not, does, and must, include us all.

23 June
1Comment

Exodus’ Exit Greeted with Relief, Skepticism

The big LGBT news did not come from the Supreme Court his week–that’s likely to be next week. Instead, it came from Exodus International, a long-time champion of “reparative therapy” to turn gay people straight (or straight-ish, anyway). Alan Chambers, leader of the 37-year-old organization, acknowledged that efforts to change sexual orientation are ineffective and apologized for the damage Exodus has done to gay and lesbian people. The dissolution of the group was covered on Our America with Lisa Ling in an episode alliteratively entitled “God & Gays.” Chambers says a new group, Reduce Fear (or possibly “Reducing Fear”), is being formed from the ashes of Exodus. Reactions to the announcements were mixed.

No one who believes sexual orientation is a given–not subject to nor warranting change–was sorry to see Exodus go, but the existence of the Restored Hope Network and the emergence of Reduce/Reducing Fear dampened the relief. And not everyone was impressed by Chambers’ apology. One of the best (read: snarkiest) take downs comes from John Shore (@johnshore), who identifies as an “Unfundamentalist Christian.” Shore, who frequently writes about how badly the Christian church has handled sexual orientation on his blog and in a recent book, doesn’t buy Chambers’ contrition. Says Shore in “An open letter to Exodus International’s super-remorseful Alan Chambers,” after reading the apology and listening to Chambers’ speech at Exodus’ last conference, held last week:

Not once in your speech—which I’ll be the first to say was veritably jammed with talk about God and forgiveness and healing and welcoming and redemption and reconciliation and peace and love and joy and salvation—did I hear you express regret for you and Exodus having spent over three decades helping to destroy the lives of gay people and their families through your peddling and capitalizing upon the message that God’s greatest desire for every gay person is that they cease to be gay.

I heard you say that you regret the way in which Exodus communicated that message. … And I definitely heard you repeatedly say that it’s high time for the church to start welcoming gay people, and all others who are marginalized and “in need.”

But (as opposed to them being “in need”) I never heard you say that it’s okay for people to be gay. You didn’t come close to saying anything like it. What you said—though one must resolutely gaze into the haze of the great many other things you said before this critical message of yours clearly emerges—is that your new house, Reducing Fear, will be built upon the same dark foundation upon which the ruins of Exodus now sit. …

I assume you’re aware of this, but just in case: acute remorse usually engenders a sense of profound humility. A lot of people find heart-wrenching regret incompatible with pride and ambition. I must admit that I am one such person. When I feel the full weight of something egregiously immoral that I have done, the last thing I want to do is go wading amongst the very people whom I’ve damaged, and start telling them about all my new plans for championing their best interests. But maybe that’s just me.

 

18 June
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Faith-Based Support for Marriage Equality

With the Supreme Court about to issue rulings on marriage rights any day now, the Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, president of the very cool Auburn Theological Seminary (@auburnseminary) wants it known that many people of faith support marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples.

From her Huffington Post piece entitled “A Faith Voice Weighting In on Marriage Equality”:

Now is the time to dispense with the classic stereotype that religious leaders oppose same-sex marriage. A growing multifaith movement of religious leaders is helping the faithful understand how religious teachings and text compel acceptance — and celebration — of LGBT people and relationships, not rejection. …

Extending marriage to all couples is an important step toward acknowledging the shared humanity and equal worth of all God’s children, and I, along with many others, certainly hope the court will do what is fair and just to advance equality for all.

 

11 June
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Bradley Whitford: Make Grace Happen on Earth

The web site Babble has posted “15 of the Best Graduation Speeches Ever,” a compilation that includes Bradley Whitford‘s 2004 speech to graduates of the University of Wisconsin. It’s a good speech. Here’s the bit that Babble highlights:

Take action. Every story you’ve ever connected with, every leader you’ve ever admired, every puny little thing that you’ve ever accomplished is the result of taking action. You have a choice. You can either be a passive victim of circumstance or you can be the active hero of your own life. Action is the antidote to apathy and cynicism and despair. You will inevitably make mistakes. Learn what you can and move on. At the end of your days, you will be judged by your gallop, not by your stumble.

But the part that really captures my attention comes a little later. From the transcript:

Infuse your life with action. Don’t wait for it to happen. Make it happen. Make your own future. Make your own hope. Make your own love. And whatever your beliefs, honor your creator, not by passively waiting for grace to come down from upon high, but by doing what you can to make grace happen — yourself, right now, right down here on Earth.

Don’t wait for grace; be grace. A fine progressive faith manifesto.

I recently discovered, somewhat to my shameful surprise (more on that later), that Whitford has been engaged in progressive faith activism for some time. I knew he was a liberal activist–I’d seen video of him speaking in Wisconsin during the battle between state workers and Gov. Scott Walker–but I was surprised to learn that he was part of a religious community and involved in social causes through his church.

And then I was bitterly disappointed in myself for being surprised. It’s too easy to fall into the false assumptions that all people of faith are conservative and all liberals are secular. I know liberal Christians exist–really, I know it–and, still, I was startled to learn that Whitford was one of them (us).

I discovered Whitford’s religious activism when I stumbled onto a piece he wrote for the Huffington Post in 2005 in defense of his church, All Saints (Episcopal), which found itself under IRS scrutiny for a sermon delivered just before the 2004 election. Whitford’s defense of the sermon is short yet eloquent, and his larger argument in favor of churches holding political leaders to account is plain but powerful, as is his discussion of what Christianity is and is not. Notes Whitford:

Jesus Christ was the Prince of Peace, not the Prince of Preemptive War. He was an advocate for the poor, not of supply-side economics. And let’s not forget that Jesus himself died in a bogus death-penalty rap. His was the original “bleeding heart,” yet I am afraid he would be described pejoratively by many today as a “do-gooder.”

Whitford has been involved in pro-marriage equality activism, and last fall, he conducted a Q&A at All Saints with Bishop Gene Robinson (@BishopGRobinson) about Robinson’s book, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk on Gay Marriage. It’s worth the hour.

06 June
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God and Gays: Helpful Material for Pride Month

Rev. Susan Russell (@revsusanrussell) has posted her annual update to “Frequently Asked Questions About God, Jesus, the Bible and Gay People” on Huffington Post. In it, she addresses whether being gay is a sin, what Jesus had to say about the matter and how to respond to politicians who condemn homosexuality by citing the Bible. It’s all solid, straight-forward advice, great talking points from the Episcopal priest from All Saints Church in Pasadena. Her pithy closing:

Should I try to “pray away the gay”?
No. If you need to pray away something, pray away homophobia. Homosexuality doesn’t need healing. Homophobia does.

Read the whole thing.

Evangelical preacher Rev. Mel White (@melwhite) of SoulForce put together a much longer take on these questions–“What the Bible Says–and Doesn’t Say–About Homosexuality”–several years ago. It includes a very useful discussion about how to think about the topic and then dissects the Scripture passages commonly cited in opposition to homosexuality. It’s long, but useful.

This is by no means new, but this clip of Mel White debating Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council on Anderson Cooper 360 still feels timely:

31 May
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Rev. Ed Bacon on gun violence, marriage equality

This is almost a week old, but in case you missed it…

Rev. Ed Bacon of All Saints Church in Pasadena was on Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” program (May 26, 2013) talking about gun violence and marriage equality, among other things, with Susan Lesser, Mark Lepo and, of course, Oprah. Good material here, including Bacon’s discussion of how marriage equality enhances the institution of marriage. (The gun violence material starts just before the 12-minute mark. The marriage material starts at about 29:25.)

31 May
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Dan Savage: Half Right About the Christian Left

For some time, Dan Savage has been challenging liberal Christians to do something to dislodge the notion that all Christians are conservative and, in particular, anti-gay. I think Dan is right–we do need to do something–but I think he is wrong about what we ought to do.

As he promotes his new book, Dan has returned to this issue, with this video and this interview (also with video) on Huffington Post. Dan recognizes the existence of “Not All Like That” Christians–NALTs–the ones who are not like the religious right. He suggests that proclaiming their existence to him is beside the point, what they should be doing is taking on the religious right and getting in their faces. He mentions other possibilities in his video, but he tends to return to the getting-in-their-face option.

Um, no. Bad idea, Dan.

What the progressive faith community has to offer is not more screaming, but a reasonable, faith-based alternative to the screaming. We need to do a better job finding our voices, but not to out-shrill the other side. Indeed, we are most effective when we speak quietly and when we listen. We are most powerful when giving witness to the value of our gay and lesbian family, friends and clergy. To the duty we have to care for our God-given environment. To the need for tax and energy and health care policies that reflect our religious values to care for one another. We are most successful when we demonstrate that there are liberals who are liberal because of our faith, not in spite of it. We win by being who we are.  And there is no point at yelling at those on the far end of the other side. We are not going to convince them:  Frankly, too many of them think we’re Satan. Our audience is the larger community.

And we need your help. The next time you get invited onto a cable show to debate an issue with a member of the religious right, suggest–or even insist–that the show feature a progressive faith voice, too. Use YOUR voice to help us use ours. Use your status to help us defeat the idea that people of faith are all “like that.” I will gladly connect you with folks who are great for this!

Oh, and drop the NALT label. It’s clever, granted, but no one wants to be defined by what they are not.