For the most part, I have little faith in the majority of organized religion. It tends to have undesirable side effects such as crusades, Inquisitions, witch burnings and the election of George W. Bush. To me, the idea of blind faith is baffling. It seems like some people are compelled to create an imaginary, invisible friend to help them cope with pain and tragedy.
With such strong, secular views on religion, you might be surprised to know that I believe the gay and lesbian community desperately needs to find God. Unless we win the battle of heaven, the right wing will continue to make our lives hell. To win the hearts and minds of most Americans, powerful alliances with religious organizations must be forged and GLBT people of faith must be respected.
Fortunately, I am not alone in this assessment. In Matt Foreman's keynote address at this month's Creating Change conference in Oakland, The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's executive director wisely underscored the need to welcome religious viewpoints.
"The secular part of the movement has distanced itself from people of faith, and that's got to end," Foreman emphatically stated. The annual conference also featured a seminar by the Empire State Pride Agenda called "Pride In The Pulpit."
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest GLBT organization, has also jumped on the faith bandwagon. In June, they hired respected gay advocate Harry Knox, a 1989 graduate of Lancaster Theological Seminary, to run their newly created religious and faith program.
"We must bring faith discussions back to their roots of seeking understanding," said Knox. "A vocal minority is falsely promoting the notion that religious people stand in opposition to equal rights. Our job is to promote the truth that a majority of people of faith believes strongly in fairness and justice."
Knox may be a bit optimistic, but he is correct to suggest that the religious right is not God's mouthpiece. Unfortunately, the media has all-too-often presented religion as monolithic and uniformly opposed to gay rights.
Bloated and bloviating buffoons, such as Rev. Jerry Falwell, are chosen to represent the "religious viewpoint" while mainstream religious leaders are frozen out of the debate. This creates a huge problem because the public has been conditioned to watching cable television shouting matches dangerously billed as Gays vs. God. For even the most talented and trenchant debaters, defeating God is a tall order.
Changing this dynamic will be difficult because news directors love conflict, and who better to churn the waters - and turn up the ratings - than fire and brimstone preachers? Let's face it, people love (or love to hate) Rev. Pat Robertson's messianic meteorology routine. The more he behaves like an airhead, the more airtime the networks give him.
One of the major challenges is finding dynamic, TV-friendly religious leaders who will openly champion gay rights. One such leader is Rev. Al Sharpton, who endorsed the freedom to marry during his presidential campaign and who continues to be a strong advocate. His voice is key, especially in African American churches, where a lot of work needs to be done to break through a wall of entrenched homophobia.
Another strong voice is that of Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, representing about 900 synagogues in North America. In a memorable speech last week in Houston, the Associated Press reported that he blasted the religious right and offered his support for gay rights.
"Religious right," leaders believe "unless you attend my church, accept my God and study my sacred text you cannot be a moral person," Rabbi Yoffie thundered. "What could be more bigoted than to claim that you have a monopoly on God? We cannot forget that when Hitler came to power in 1933, one of the first things that he did was ban gay organizations. Yes, we can disagree about gay marriage. But there is no excuse for hateful rhetoric that fuels the hell fires of anti-gay bigotry."
It is imperative that spiritual leaders, such as Sharpton and Yoffie, take-on the right wing because it gives cover to people of faith who believe in gay rights, but need to be able to theologically justify their support.
Look, religion will always be with us, whether we like it or not, because it fulfills a deep need and spiritual longing in millions of people. I will personally never understand why man thinks he can truly know, explain or comprehend the enigma of what we call God.
But, maybe I don't have to, anymore than people of faith have to fathom why I feel no need to pray. What matters is that there is mutual respect and a strong desire live in a free society where the government does not mandate a particular religion or discriminate.
If a person with my secular beliefs can enthusiastically embrace our religious friends and allies, I think anybody can. Having visited dozens of churches in the past couple of years, there is a lot of good happening that must be acknowledged. If the GLBT movement has a prayer at winning full acceptance, it better find religion fast.
Of COURSE a person of secular beliefs can embrace people of faith.
But what we have to be cautious of is watching for the character markers. Who DOES call their congregation to treat gay men and women as if they are inferior or badly behaved children? Who among that flock has a gay child, but speaks of them as if they died?
What church is willing to slander or libel a political aspirant, or support laws, merely for their support of gay equality? What activity within certain faith neighborhoods, follows similar behavior of segregationists?
That 'we like gays just fine, in their place' sort of belief and twist of moral values.
Which faith community's core value is fairness first, equality first, equal justice first. Most of those faith communities have diverse congregations. That are inclusive of EVERYONE who is different-even those that don't share the faith, but are willing to share in community and those core values that are good for everyone.
I'm a believer in my family's native american faith. I enjoy church, or temple (Buddhist or Jewish), and those houses of worship that welcome me, tend to have congregations that reflect the normal diversity of the human race. By all means, they should have our support.
posted by Regan, at
11/22/2005 11:47 AM
Don't forget to count the United Church of Christ as a strong ally, at least at the national leadership level. General Synod's vote supporting full marriage rights was a daring act of solidarity with the LGBT community, but also quite costly to the denomination as some of our more conservative and rural congregations withhold support of Conference and the National setting of the UCC, and in some cases withdraw altogether. Offsetting this, some gay and gay-friendly congregations (including Cathedral of Hope in TX) and individuals are affiliating with the UCC - but this is a real time of turmoil. For those who are so led, please check out the UCC - www.ucc.org
posted by Conshieguy, at
11/22/2005 12:00 PM
Great comments Wayne. I totally agree with you! Not only are you cute, but you are smart, too. Want to get married?
There you people go again, trying to steal God's true, honest and good word and hijack religion. I guess you won't find out the real whole truth to the awful day the devil has his pitch fork in your homosexual asses.
I will save for a later time debate on the place of religion in the individual conscience and in society. Suffice it to say for now that Freud and Marx have uttered wise thoughts on these matters. A former Christian, I am today a revolutionary Marxist, a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, and active with Chicago's Gay Liberation Network.
I am able to identify with the very human anguish of my sisters and brothers who have been battered by the "reparative therapy" of the Evangelical fascists. I applaud the embrace of gays and equal rights that have come from clerics like Al Sharpton and Rabbi Eric Yoffie. I have urged other liberal religious leaders to speak out for equality, and not surrender the field to the bloviating bigots like Jerry Falwell and Chicago's Peter LaBarbera. Liberals have not so much been "frozen out" by the media, Wayne, as by their own fears. They think pasting a rainbow sticker to the front door will placate the gays and not rile the frequently nervous straight majority.
However, I am more than wary of groups like HRC adding a "religion desk" to their already polluted mainstream approach. Will they end up like Hillary Clinton, backpedaling on abortion rights (or marriage rights) to corral a few conservative backers? In fact, will HRC embrace Clinton, no matter how far removed she ends up from backing our full equality?
Gays don't need so much to "find god" or religion, but to discover our strengths in numbers, people of faith and secular folk together, to change the course of history for our equality by organizing for direct action.
posted by Bob Schwartz, at
11/22/2005 4:49 PM
I am a Gay person in a community of faith. There are many religious groups out there who embrace Gays, Christian and non Christian. UCC Coalition is one of the Christain faith based that does..Gays do not have to find God,if they don't want to or even find a church they can join, BUT finding and working with a Church organization helping to fight for us is a great idea. There is strength in numbers. There is a reformed Jewish group that is 1.5 million strong and I know that UCC Coalition is 1.5 million strong. If they combined to work together with all the other churches who are our allies and if the secular folks joined and stood together with these groups we could be a formidable force to reckon with. That's how the Religious Right folk do it. They stand united while the Gay Community fight each other about religion & Lumping all religions together and we the Progressives don't want to be lumped with those morons! The debate about Gays is Political on a Religious agenda no matter how much those secular folks want to fight it..
Come together and let that dolt who logged in and smeared us with his assine Religious Right remark that he's the one who will spend enternity in hell for his misleading and stupid rhetoric!!
Love the flat out ridiculousness of this post, here we see ladies and gents a lost soul . That's ok when you dont in the process knock around a couple other millions peoples faiths. The Greatest part though is that we will all surley find out one day the final answer I gaurantee each and every one of us will.Why cant anybody just admit they dont know every thing instead of being a know it all, trying to figure it all out? There are so many things just in are day to day life we take for garnted that have aspects to them that we have no explanaion for , look up in the sky one star fill night , there are millions of stars , millions???? Many people really dont even have a comprehension of how many one million really is in its self. I find the whole thing so tiring stop arguing know it alls and love the life your in today. Leave the arguing and blame on those that are one dimensional. There are so many things that people just dont see in front of them ,that in there selfes are mind blowing. Oh sorry back to Wanyes post, I guess he isnt aware that there already is a strong segment of the gay community that is in peace with there sexuality and there churches and faiths. Much less things that are just better left unknown and to have faith in them.
posted by Anonymous, at
11/23/2005 1:21 AM
From today's New York Times:
A new Vatican document excludes from the priesthood most gay men, with few exceptions, banning in strong and specific language candidates "who are actively homosexual, have deep-seated homosexual tendencies, or support the so-called 'gay culture.'"
"Sounds to me like 'God' needs to ask forgiveness from the gay community." posted by Dartanyon
Hi Dartanyon, clever cavalier name :), well, this is in reference to your whole post not just what I pulled out to quote. Anyway, I think God is working through the Catholic church, in this manner, to finally show the whole world and their staunch church suporters their true bigotry and just how homophobic they truly are. I think as the "people" of the church start seeing more and more of these shenanagans they will start leaving faster. Maybe one day we will see a split come about just like the Episcopal church..
Let the new Nazi Pope kill them off. Catholics in general are a great people, it's their leaders that suck!
I disagree that we secuarlists have distanced ourselves. My experience is that all gatherings including both Creating Change conferences in Oakland are predominated by the religionists. I did a workshop at the last one on the separation of state and church where I was almost ignored. The few people who attended the workshop seemed quite pleased, yet I was never thanked or given the evaluations I was promised.
It was refreshing to see that the Creating Change conference has finally come to terms with the fact that the right wing has claimed ownership of moral values. This has been true for decades. In fighting Anita Bryant back in 1978 the gay movement used the expression that gay rights was not a moral issue but a civil rights issue. At that time I said that civil rights is a moral issue which did not go over with our “leaders.” Since then I still have rarely heard anyone say that.
Unfortunately it seems that the Creating Change folks are still buying into the idea that morality should be decided by Christians. The morality of most Americans has usually been based on fairness some Deity or Scripture says is moral. I hope that the movement is finally coming to terms with the fact that Constitution has nothing to do with religious morality and a lot to do with freedom and rights.
Whenever Biblical arguments are used for or against an issue, my response is “Do we really want the government in the business of interpreting the Bible?” I hope not. Let’s claim that any argument for equality is a moral argument based on democracy and fairness. It is not a theological or Biblical argument.
Wayne, great column. Here in California, I have started Jews for Marriage Equality (http://www.jewsformarriageequality.org). The goal is to defeat the pending ballot intiatives to modify California's constitution to prevent same-sex marriage and repeal domestic partnership rights. I have the support of many distinguised rabbi's and community leaders. The Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Jews all support equal civil rights for gays and lesbians. Keep up the good work, Steve Krantz, PFLAG Los Angeles Co-President and Chairperson of Jews for Marriage Equality.
posted by Steve Krantz, at
11/24/2005 12:06 PM
It is a sad fact that if Jesus were to return today he would have to say very similar words to many of the so-called "spokespersons" of organized religion in the world. You know Jesus was always at odds with those that thought they had all the religious rules down pat. It was the "sinners" of his day (including the "sexually immoral") that found acceptance in his kingdom of love; while the religious he called "vipers." But of course the religious leaders would kill Jesus today if they could get their hands on him -and no I'm not talking about Jews. What we must do is be awakened to the fact that God loves us, even if "they" hate us. Then we will be able to forgive them (as Jesus did)and work for justice and equality.
posted by Kennon Wallis, at
11/24/2005 11:42 PM